Conversations about space warfare, firsthand experience, landmine-sniffing rats—In this illuminating Q&A, M.T. Reiten traces the three sparks of inspiration that led to the creation of “Dangerous Orbit” [in our May/June issue, on sale now].
Analog Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
MTR: I had a panel at FenCon on space warfare, focused on what it would really be like. I think I was using my science/military credentials more than my writing credentials to get on this particular panel. We had a great back-and-forth, lots of enthusiasm all around with a very interactive audience. But I was struck with the focus on the engagements, the shooting and explosions. Then I thought about the aftermath. I’ve seen the aftermath firsthand in Bosnia and Afghanistan. First spark.
AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
MTR: I served in the US Army and got deployed to Bosnia and Afghanistan. These were locations that had been scarred by years of warfare. And in the case of Afghanistan, was still an active low intensity conflict zone. Both places have the legacy of past war left in minefields and unexploded ordnance. The people clearing minefields were contractors or dedicated staff of non-governmental organizations. No one who planted the now abandoned minefields came back to pick up their weapons. Second spark.
AE: What is the story behind this piece?
MTR: The Kessler Syndrome has gotten a lot of attention recently, though it was first proposed in 1978. Governments, scientists and space programs around the world are concerned that the existing space junk will render orbit inaccessible. A war in orbit with all the debris cinematic explosions generate would certainly accelerate this problem. But wars end and someone has to pick up the pieces.
Then I read an article in National Geographic (actual print edition—gifted by my parents) about the African giant pouched rats used to sniff out land mines. Rats can’t smell in space and the tiny suits are difficult to manufacture. But semi-autonomous robots could help, spectroscopy would replace sniffing, and bio-mimetic programming is a potential stepping-stone in AI development. Third spark flashed and the story coalesced.
Of course, technology, once invented, will be used by everyone.
I’m around all flavors of scientists and engineers with a focused common goal. Well as focused as you can get when you cram a bunch of PhDs into a big laboratory stuck in a little town. All experiences—personal, cultural, environmental—shape the author’s voice. So it impacts all my fiction, because the voice of the scientist needs to be part of the conversation, too. It is one of my voices.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
MTR: On the science side of my life, I earned a PhD in Electrical Engineering, but really did physics. Engineering tends to pay better, so I didn’t complain. I work at a major government laboratory in the desert southwest. I’m around all flavors of scientists and engineers with a focused common goal. Well as focused as you can get when you cram a bunch of PhDs into a big laboratory stuck in a little town. All experiences—personal, cultural, environmental—shape the author’s voice. So it impacts all my fiction, because the voice of the scientist needs to be part of the conversation, too. It is one of my voices.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
MTR: Sometimes titles are obvious. This was not one of those times. I considered “After Kessler” for obvious reasons and “Primary Target,” a phrase lifted directly from the narrative, or even “Picking Up the Pieces” which is fairly self-explanatory. “Dangerous Orbit” came to me after a lot of mulling around and querying my writing groups. I grabbed onto “Dangerous Orbit” precisely because it felt like a Golden Age short story title.
AE: What is your history with Analog?
MTR: I don’t want to admit to how long I’ve been trying to get published in Analog. I treasure my Stan Schmidt “I rather like your style of writing” rejections, but not as much as I treasure my Trevor Quachri “I like it quite a bit and I’m going to take it” email.