The Solar Sea on Clearance

This past week, I’ve been reading the fine steampunk adventure Arabella on Mars by David D. Levine. It’s a fine novel that won the 2017 Andre Norton Award for best young adult novel. One of this fantasy novel’s conceits is that it imagines an atmosphere in interplanetary space that allows ships to sail between planets in the 1800s.

When I read the novel, I couldn’t help but think that while sailing between the planets without an atmosphere would have been beyond nineteenth century technology, it’s not beyond our current technology. In fact, I wrote a futuristic science fiction novel about such a journey called The Solar Sea. Solar sails don’t work by harnessing wind, or even the so-called solar wind, but they move by light pressure. About three years ago, I wrote a post that goes into some detail about how it works. You can read more here: https://davidleesummers.wordpress.com/2014/02/01/solar-sailing/

In my novel, I imagine a future where humans got as far as building lunar factories, but the will to go farther out into space died. While I know there’s still a strong interest in exploring space, I fear many of the people who control this country’s money don’t see the value in investing real money in all aspects of space exploration. As an example, the Trump administration routinely touts it’s support of space exploration, yet proposed significant cuts to astronomy funding in its initial budget.

I sometimes wonder if it will take a major discovery to give us the impetus to push out into space again as we did in the 1960s and 1970s. In the novel, a technician from the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico discovers powerful particles orbiting Saturn’s moon, Titan, which could be a new energy source. When the discovery is announced, whales around the world changed their songs.

This chain of events encourages the owner of the powerful Quinn Corporation to build a solar sail to find the source of these particles in Titan’s orbit. He gathers the best and brightest team to pilot his craft: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist specializing in whale communication; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. All together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.

Earlier this year, my publisher and I decided to take The Solar Sea out of print. There were several reasons for this. Partly, science and technology have caught up with the novel and I thought I worthwhile to revise it to make it more accurate. Partly the ebook was created ages ago and wasn’t up to the standards of newer ebooks, so I want to address this aspect as well. Once I finish work on my steampunk novel Owl Riders, I will turn my attention to some of my out of print titles.

In the meantime, I have a few copies of the first edition of The Solar Sea left in my stock and I’m even offering them at half off the cover price. You can order copies at http://www.hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#solarsea. I would be delighted to sign any copies you buy. Just email me at hadrosaur [at] zianet [dot] com (replacing the info between the brackets with the relevant characters) and let me know that you would like it signed. If you would like them personalized, just tell me so and let me know who to sign the book to.

Elusive Mars and Majestic Jupiter

The weather in the Southwest has dried out and warmed up, which inspired another session in the back yard with my Celestron 8-inch telescope and Orion StarShoot USB Camera. My primary hope was to capture Mars. Now Mars is a notoriously difficult target for a small telescope. It’s an orb in slightly varying shades of red. To see any detail at all is a challenge. In the book Cosmos, Carl Sagan described Percival Lowell’s challenges observing Mars:

    Observations of this sort are not easy. You put in long hours at the telescope in the chill of the early morning. Often the seeing is poor and the image of Mars blurs and distorts. Then you must ignore what you have seen. Occasionally the image steadies and the features of the planet flash out momentarily, marvelously.

I couldn’t say it better myself. I watched the planet for several minutes. Every now and then I’d see the polar cap appear and occasionally a dark feature would join it. I put in my video camera and most frames came out as red blurs, though a few showed a hint of structure. I used the RegiStax 6 package to combine the images and work to bring out the structures and was able to get this image.

Mars-160211-Color

When I first saw the images, I thought the telescope was slightly out of focus because Mars was slightly oblong. However, checking Sky and Telescope magazine, it turns out that the relative positions the planets mean Mars is in a slightly gibbous phase right now. We actually can see the terminator from Martian day to night. Perhaps it’s because this little desert world is at once similar to ours but challenging to really resolve well that we find it so fascinating.

Looking at it through the telescope and even on the video screen, I thought I could convince myself that I saw linear structures like canals. Even without canals, a visit would be fascinating and I’ve imagined going there in my fiction. In my story “Arachne’s Stepchildren” which appears in The Martian Anthology, I imagine miners on Mars actually finding life deep underground. In my novel The Solar Sea, the solar sail Aristarchus stops by the planet and a landing party visits the summit of Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the solar system. In the novel, the astronauts continue on to Jupiter and so did I. Here are images of Jupiter without a filter and through a blue filter.

Jupiter-160211-Comparison

The exciting part of this image is that you can see the Great Red Spot, the solar system’s longest lasting storm, in the upper brown belt near the planet’s center. It’s a bit faint, elusive like Mars, but it’s a little more apparent in the blue filter.

Even without a telescope, it’s worth stepping out the door if you happen to be up a little before sunrise. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all visible without a telescope. In fact, with a sufficiently large telescope, you would find Pluto not far from Mercury and Venus right now. I enjoy going out and looking even though my “day” job involves long hours with the telescope. It helps to make a personal connection to those objects in the sky which inspire us and it gives me the opportunity to share those wonders with my family.

Of Comic Cons and Solar Sails

I spent last weekend at Las Cruces Comic Con. Las Cruces is a relatively small town with a modest-sized convention center, so this was a much smaller event than say Phoenix Comicon, Emerald City Comicon, or the granddaddy of the them all: San Diego Comicon. Still, it was a great event with media panels featuring such people as David Zayas who played Sal Moroni in Gotham and Wendy Schaal who voices Francine Smith in American Dad. Lots of people turned out in some really inventive costumes and I was impressed with the photo area the convention organizers set up, which just allowed people to play. Here you see my youngest daughter and a friend having a light saber battle on Tatooine.

Tatooine

For me, it was an unusual convention in that I was the only writer in attendance. The organizers surprised me by giving me a “special appearance” credit in the program guide which was wonderful. Even though I was the only writer in attendance, I still managed quite a bit of networking. I got to speak to several of the artists in Artist’s Alley, had a productive chat with a film production team about possible book trailers, and of course, I got to speak with several friends and fans, some of which I knew from events in Phoenix and Tucson.

Unfortunately, at some point on Saturday I ate something that really disagreed with me. I didn’t sleep well Saturday night and I spent Sunday at the booth with my stomach churning. Still, I managed to have several nice conversations with people and by Monday morning I finally felt better.

Another feature of the weekend was that the DSL line to my house went dead on Friday, so even though I was at a local convention, I had limited internet contact. Fortunately, I still had access to wireless through the Convention Center, but it always amazes me how helpless I suddenly feel when instant communication—something that has come into existence during my adult life—has gone away. Still, I find these experiences helpful because I can channel them into my steampunk novels such as The Brazen Shark where my characters get to discover the novelty of instant, international communication, or my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt where my characters are literally and figuratively in the dark through the night and can’t even communicate with each other reliably through a building or across a mountaintop.

The Solar Sea

On Monday night, my older daughter called to say she got to hear Bill Nye the Science Guy give a talk in New Orleans. She said the talk was very inspirational and came right when she needed some encouragement about her recent decision to pursue a mathematics major. In addition to generally encouraging interest in STEM fields, Nye mentioned the Planetary Society’s recent success raising money for their LightSail Project.

In some fun synchronicity, the next day, Lachesis Publishing shared a guest blog post I wrote about creating a reading guide for my novel The Solar Sea. The novel imagines the first voyage to Jupiter and Saturn aboard a solar sail spacecraft. The reading guide presents activities and questions for any classrooms or book clubs who might be interested in reading the novel.

You can read my post at:
http://lachesispublishing.com/?p=6042.

You can learn more about The Solar Sea and download the reading guide at:
http://TheSolarSea.com

The Solar Sea

My publisher is currently marketing The Solar Sea as book 4 of the Old Star/New Earth series. In a way that’s a misnomer and in a way it’s reasonably accurate.

When The Solar Sea opens, humans have all but given up on space travel. They do have industrial complexes on the moon, but they haven’t gone any further. Young Thomas Quinn dreams of building a solar sail that can traverse the solar system, but Jerome Quinn, his father, tells him to set his dreams aside. There’s nothing to be gained by exploring the solar system.

Fast forward about a decade and two things happen at once. Whales all around the Earth have changed their songs overnight and particles that can travel through time are discovered orbiting Saturn. Suddenly Jerome Quinn sees a reason to build a solar sail. He assembles a team of the best and brightest to travel on the craft and learn about the time particles.

The reason I say it’s a misnomer to call The Solar Sea book 4 of the Old Star/New Earth series is that it’s not a sequel to Heirs of the New Earth. The action in The Solar Sea is set several hundred years before the action of the Old Star/New Earth trilogy. That said, the book is set in the same universe. It tells how humans finally got into space and met the Titans and Rd’dyggians of the Old Star/New Earth books.

The Solar Sea is the first novel I ever tried to write on my own. I started it during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. I had been inspired by a story in the Planetary Society’s newsletter about solar sails. I envisioned a story about people setting out aboard a solar sail bound for Saturn. I made it about halfway through the first draft before the summer ended. As time progressed and my writing matured, I wasn’t very impressed with what I had written and I simply threw it in the trash.

I made another attempt at writing The Solar Sea in the mid-1990s while working on Children of the Old Stars. That version became mired down in details and again, I didn’t make it very far. I finally sat down and wrote the novel in 2004, when my publisher challenged me to write something for National Novel Writing Month. By that point, it had been in my head for about two decades and it just flowed out.

The novel expresses some of my frustration that enthusiasm for human space flight has waned since I was a kid. It also expresses much of my love of science. It was always meant to be a grand adventure that gave the young and young-at-heart a glimpse of the other worlds of our solar system and addressed the fact that no matter how much we think we know about the universe, there may yet be surprises.

There is a website devoted to The Solar Sea at http://thesolarsea.com.

You could choose to read The Solar Sea as your introduction to the Old Star/New Earth series, or you could read it after you’ve finished, in order to see how the world of today became the future I envisioned. Either way, if you would like to set out on a journey through the solar system, The Solar Sea is available: