What Were You Thinking?

Tomorrow is the big day, which I’ve been waiting for since this time last year when Baen accepted Frozen Orbit for publication. And let me tell you, the intervening twelve months have been a rollercoaster: Graduated our youngest from high school, quit my job of 20+ years (a good run by any standard these days, much less in aviation), and moved to Tennessee. So other than that, not much…

No doubt you’re asking, “what were you thinking?” There’s much to say about that which I’ll get to in another post, but with my first “real” novel out tomorrow I’d rather talk about what was in my head while writing it.

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If you’ve read any of my work, it’s obvious that I’m not your traditional science fiction writer–if there is such a thing. I’m not into space aliens, don’t believe in UFO’s, and am not that drawn to space opera except for the original Star Wars (including Rogue One and The Mandalorian. Wow). And Trek, of course.

Having said that, I’ve never been much into the books from either series. My tastes in reading have always run more towards near-future fiction: what could we be doing, if not right now, at least in my lifetime if somebody really wanted to? Since we live in the age of SpaceX and Blue Origin, who are doing exactly that, I fully expect my brand of stories over time to become less science fiction and more technothriller. I was a huge fan of Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton and that’s kind of how my style evolved.

Plus, it’s the twenty-first century and I want my flying car.

I knew from the outset that Frozen Orbit would be different from my other two novels. The basic idea was this: Until a few years ago, we had never laid eyes on Pluto. What if our first look revealed something nobody expected–something decidedly not natural? Not being into space aliens, this presented a story challenge until the idea that the Russians got there first eventually hit me. Still, even that wasn’t going to be enough: What was the compelling idea that would pull it all together?

I have to be careful not to give away too much here, but it’s a topic I wanted to explore. Namely, where did we come from? How did we get here? Were we created, or did we just evolve out of some grand cosmic accident? Or was it a little of both: That is, did our creator put the evolutionary process in place with humanity as the end goal?

This leads to the question of what else might be out there. It’s a big universe, after all. If life could develop here, why not somewhere else? If it has, then why haven’t we detected it yet (i.e. Fermi’s Paradox)?

Well, who says it has to be intelligent life (ignoring the obvious joke that we still haven’t proven intelligent life even exists on Earth yet)? Remember back in the 90’s when NASA thought they’d found fossilized microbes on Mars? I vividly recall some talking heads on CNN gleefully speculating that Christians were going to have a difficult time with that.

Ignoring their obliviousness of the other major religions, I thought, why should we have a hard time with that? How was this any different from discovering a new species in the Arctic Ocean or the Atacama desert?

I fully expect us to eventually find life elsewhere right here in our Solar System. There are likely candidates orbiting Jupiter and Saturn right now: Europa, Enceladus, and even Titan. I see them no differently than I do the under-explored regions of Earth, and finding life would certainly not pose a threat to the notion of Humanity as God’s chosen creation.

Intelligent life in another solar system would, however. If you hold the view that humans were uniquely formed as and God’s favored creation (above the angels of Heaven, in fact), then yeah, that’s a problem. I can easily see how that would lead a lot of people, myself included, into a crisis of faith.

There are a lot of good arguments for why we haven’t detected intelligent life yet (either through radio signals, drive signatures, alien megastructures, etc). One is that all of these presuppose other intelligent species would be much more advanced than we are. Even a hundred years’ worth of technological advancement would look like magic to us. A thousand years? We’d think they were miracle workers. We might not even be able to recognize the signs of a civilization that advanced.

Then there’s this: If it’s taken fourteen billion years for us to get to where we are, why exactly would we think other species somehow jumped ahead of us? What if we haven’t detected intelligent life yet because we’re all at about the same stage and the distances between us are so great that there just hasn’t been enough time yet?

Here’s another idea: there are other, very advanced civilizations, and they’re not particularly nice. Maybe we live in a dangerous neighborhood and just haven’t learned to keep our electronic mouths shut like everybody else.

It always struck me as hopelessly optimistic to assume any advanced civilization would naturally be peaceful because otherwise, they’d have surely destroyed themselves by now. This never made sense to me. What if there’s a whole race of predatory aliens out there, and we’re blasting EM radiation all over the place just waiting for the peaceful Vulcan space hippies to show up and throw out their Live Long and Prosper gang sign? What if instead, we just attracted marauding Klingons? If that’s the case then eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow may be a good day to die.

That appeals to me from a storytelling point of view, but I don’t find it especially likely either. I’m more intrigued by the one question I’ve not heard asked enough: what if we’ve never found intelligent life because we’re the first?

Mind. Blown.

Scary, but also reassuring from a theological point of view. If you believe we’ve been commanded to go forth and multiply, well…that should affect how you view our role on this planet and our responsibilities to each other and the majestic Creation that has been provided for us to explore. God gave us big brains, opposable thumbs, and a boundless universe to use them in.

What if, when God told us to “go forth and multiply,” he really meant it? What if one of His purposes for us was to spread life through the universe? How might He do that?

Buy the book and find out tomorrow.