Ever thought about the logistics of microgravity sex? D.G.P. Rector has, and he spoke with us about his unbridled curiosity, his writing process, and other topics. Read his new story “The Hard Law,” his first for Analog, in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
D.G.P. Rector: One of the things I love to speculate about is the way in which cultures might shift and change in the future. Communal cultures are quite common in human history, and I started thinking about what possible shape a highly communal colony might take. I was also doing a little reading about the historic concept of the “Hue and Cry,” how in medieval England, members of a community were legally obligated to render aid in capturing fleeing criminals. I thought the tension between a mostly peaceful communal society that still has these strict, almost medieval customs of obligation would be fertile ground for a story.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
DGPR: I’ve always been a big fan of SF with evocative titles. Stuff like the classic “The Cold Equations” by Tom Goodwin, or “And Seven Times Never Kill Man” by George R. R. Martin, titles that hint at danger and mystery. Sometimes I dive into a story based purely on the title alone. In this case, I thought “The Hard Law” was nicely evocative. There’s something ominous about the word “Law”, it implies immutability and stern, unyielding judgment.
AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?
DGPR: Yes! Tenlok the Bondsman, the ruthless mercenary who accompanies the protagonists on their journey, is featured in a number of my stories. He’s a sort of lens through which I’m currently exploring a grander science fictional setting, a vast frontier of unaligned colonies and space stations between two opposing interstellar empires.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
DGPR: I write about the Clash of Cultures pretty frequently. As technology has advanced, the ability of people in developed societies to self-select their community has increased. In past generations, for good or ill you were bound to the place you were born. If your personal values clashed with those of your clan or tribe, you had to either work it out with them, or grit your teeth and accept the will of the majority. Thanks to the ease of travel and communication in the modern world, it’s become increasingly easy for subcultures to develop. You can easily find and meet people who share interests and ideologies and form your own micro-communities, either online or in the real world. I think that in the future we may see similar tendencies taken to extremes: if the colonization of a planet or the creation of a space station is viable, then its occupants could easily form around some shared ideology or belief. This might seem ideal, but what happens when people raised in radically different cultures come into contact, for whatever reason? Does xenophobic suspicion prevail, or enlightened mutual respect? Of course, characters with radically different backgrounds make fantastic foils for each other, and so it’s ground I come to again and again.
AE: What is your process?
DGPR: When an idea comes to me, I try to write it down as quickly as I can. I use a pad and paper, a note-taking app on my phone, or whatever is closest to hand. Usually, I put in a very rough sketch of the story, its themes and protagonists, and hopefully a nice, punchy working title. After that, I give it the “one page test”. I sit down and try to write out about a page or three of the story. Usually I start at the beginning, though sometimes I jump ahead to whatever critical moment is in my head. If I find I don’t utterly despise the piece after that, then during my next writing session I batter away at it. My per-session goal is between two thousand and three thousand words, though sometimes I write a little more and frequently I write far less. Unless I become well and truly stuck, I try my best to attack the same story over and over until I have a rough draft done before I move on to other projects. If a story doesn’t pass my “one page test,” I let it sit and germinate for a while. Usually I can find a way to reshape it or re-frame it in my head into something I feel enthusiastic about finishing, but I have to admit I have my fair share of barely started drafts moldering away in the darkest recesses of my hard drive.
AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole you’ve ever gone down?
DGPR: Microgravity sex. I don’t write a lot of romance in my stories, but all those little baby space-explorers have to come from somewhere! There’s a funny trope in a lot of harder SF in which the author describes how mind-blowing intimate encounters in low-G are, but as far as my research has led me to conclude, that’s just not the case. Getting intimate in space would actually be quite an awkward, bumpy affair, and probably best be facilitated by the proposed “two-suit,” a specially designed set of strapped clothing that would allow two space travelers to share intimate contact without bouncing all around their craft and possibly smashing vital instruments. Subsequently, I started using “two-suiting” or “hopping in a two-suit” as spacer’s slang in a lot of my stories.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be and why?
DGPR: Well, my tastes in SF tend to run to the dark side, so my default response is none of them! Even the Utopian Federation of Star Trek fame has its fair share of unstoppable galactic conquerors, capricious space-gods, and brain eating alien parasites! However, the hyper-advanced world of interstellar intelligences portrayed in Asimov’s “The Last Question” has some appeal. Drifting around observing the birth of stars and chatting with other disembodied intellects doesn’t seem like the worst way to spend a few billion years.
There’s a funny trope in a lot of harder SF in which the author describes how mind-blowing intimate encounters in low-G are, but as far as my research has led me to conclude, that’s just not the case.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
DGPR: I’m not the most optimistic person in the world, but I think a lot of recent advances in robotics and prosthetic technology are very interesting. I’d love to live in a world where a cheap, effective, and easy-to-maintain synthetic organ is a viable alternative to a donor’s list, for example. I also find some of the less conventional research into prosthetics quite interesting, such as experiments with synthetic limbs based around octopus tentacles. I wouldn’t necessarily be eager to replace one of my arms with a cybernetic tentacle, but it might well prove to be of fantastic use to someone who’s lost a limb through injury or accident.
AE: What are you reading right now?
DGPR: I just finished Armor by John Steakely, a classic bit of military S.F. I put off reading for far too long. It’s a real delight: a grim, gritty look at the psychological costs of warfare in a futuristic setting.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
DGPR: I’m currently revising my debut novel, The Exile, set in the same broad universe as “The Hard Law”. As always I’m writing and submitting short stories to various online and print magazines. Finally, I’ve started audio recording some of my short stories, with the ultimate goal of making them available on my web page and other places.
AE: How can Analog readers find more of your writing?
DGPR: Check out my website at http://www.rectorwriter.com, my Facebook @DGPRectorAuthor, and my twitter @DgpRector.