Interview with Astrophysicist & Author, Alan Smale – Part 2

alan small author interview

We’re back with the second part of our interview with Alan Smale! His new book, Hot Moon, is rooted in an alternate 1979, where Soviet spacecraft meet NASA ships in space.

In this part, we continue our conversation about Hot Moon, as well as Smale’s future plans and writing process.

To read the first part of the interview, click here.

IP: What was it about the Apollo program specifically that sparked the idea for Hot Moon?

AS: One of the great things about the Apollo program was its ambitiousness. We went from zero-to-sixty in space very quickly, with the Mercury and Gemini programs leading up to it. All of which had the obvious aim of sending Americans to the Moon and back again.

And that goal caused a huge amount of technological innovation in a very short time. There were a lot of risks involved and a lot of hairy moments, especially with Apollo 13. There was a great deal of improvisation and ingenuity, on top of those aspects which were extremely well-planned. So I think it’s very fertile ground for fiction.

The Moon landings themselves were incredibly impactful, and it was just great fun to see people bouncing around on the Moon’s surface. In Hot Moon, I tried to bring out that excitement. I mean, the book is a thriller, but I think I managed to get quite a bit of the thrill over the space program in there as well.

Plus, there’s the conflict aspect of the story. In Hot Moon, we see the first space battle, between the Apollo spacecraft, the combined Command and Lunar Module, and the classic Soyuz Soviet craft. These spacecraft were frankly very clunky technologies, and I think those scenes are unlike anything people have seen in fiction before, or at least I haven’t read anything like it. Writing it was great fun, and it was exciting to extrapolate and think about how the technology could have been improved in the late 1970s and early 1980s, if the two superpower space programs had continued on with the same frenetic pace.

So I had a blast writing it and it’s getting good reactions from readers so far. I’m very happy with it.

IP: Had your timeline been a reality, and the US had continued at the same pace, what would your prediction for 2079 be, in terms of space exploration?

AS: When I was a kid, I was convinced that my future lay in space, that by the time I was the age I am now, I’d be living and working in space. In the 1960s, there was no particular reason for me to think that wouldn’t happen. People were talking about going to Mars by 2000, and if we’d kept up the investment in space and everything had gone well, we could possibly have done that.

Of course, there would have been factors that slowed down progress. There would have been a lot of the same societal pressures that happened in our existing timeline. Some people would have been concerned about the cost, and the value of going off-world. 

But if we’d managed to keep up the momentum, I certainly think that we could have visited Mars, and had human flybys of Venus, among other things, in my lifetime.

2079? Whether we could have set up permanent colonies in space by that time, I’m not really sure. I guess if we’d pushed really hard, we might’ve gotten to it in one hundred years, but it’s very hard to extrapolate that far. There are so many factors that go into making space colonies or visiting Mars a reality. The politics, in particular, are challenging. Incoming administrations like to shape the space program in their own way and set new priorities. In our own history, the flow of money to NASA was a constant issue all the way through that period, and remains so today.

IP: Do you think privatized space operations like SpaceX or Blue Origin are improving our chances of getting to Mars and exploring farther?

AS: I think the energy that has come into the human space flight arena from the private sector is generally a good thing. There are obviously some personalities involved that can be a bit problematic, but I think in terms of increasing the pace of exploration, and pushing the envelope, the private space companies are a welcome addition to what NASA is doing.

And, to be honest, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the first human to land on Mars got there as a result of a private space flight rather than a NASA mission.

IP: Is there any level of collaboration between NASA and these other privatized space programs?

AS: Oh yes, there certainly is. A lot of the flights to the ISS, the International Space Station, are being conducted by the private sector. There’s actually quite close collaboration between many of the private companies and NASA.

IP: Interesting! Jumping back to Hot Moon for a second, can you tell me a little more about the Apollo Rising series? Can we expect to see another 15 books or will it be a trilogy?

AS:  I think it’s very unlikely that it will turn into 15 books. I don’t have the energy for that! I put quite a lot of effort into writing Hot Moon.

I originally conceived Hot Moon as a standalone, and that’s how I was marketing it and trying to sell it. My agent was considering it that way when she was sending it out to publishers, too.

But then, once CAEZIK bought Hot Moon, we got a lot of positive reactions and a number of nice blurbs from really high-powered authors. My publisher, Shahid Mahmud, had a lot of faith in the book, and so we started talking about a sequel. I admit, I didn’t immediately jump at the idea. I wanted to go back and think it through.

I took a couple of months to think about where the story would go. Surprisingly, I discovered in reading back through my notes that there were actually quite a few ideas that I hadn’t made the most of. Not loose ends, as such – Hot Moon is still complete in itself, and still reads well as a standalone. But there were characters that hadn’t really come to the foreground in the first book, people who could make a big mark in the second. The ideas started flowing, and I began to see all kinds of opportunities to continue the story, and came up with what I think is a very satisfying plot.

Just like Hot Moon, the second book – Radiant Sky – will stand up on its own, with its own story arc. We have the same lead character–my astronaut, Vivian Carter–and many of the other people from Hot Moon will be returning. There will also be a number of new characters, and the story will go in directions that I don’t think most readers will be expecting.

Whether there’ll be further books beyond Radiant Sky, I don’t know. I’m only contracted for the first two books, so we’ll have to wait and see. If they’re successful, if they find their audience, I’d hope there’s a good chance of a third book. I doubt that I’d want to go beyond three …  but then again, in the beginning I thought Hot Moon would be a standalone. So I guess anything could happen. It’s kind of an evolving process, I’d say.

IP: Have you started writing the second book?

AS: Yes, I have. When I pitched it to CAEZIK I sent a very detailed outline – probably a lot more detailed than they were expecting. They’d asked for something relatively short, but what I sent was eighteen pages of fairly dense prose. In addition to describing the plot in detail, I really wanted to work through the politics in the background, and the new technology as well. I guess I was proving to myself as well as to my publisher and editor that I really had the goods to do this.

I think I must be one of the few authors who pitches books with a technical appendix!

As far as the writing goes, I have about 50,000 words of Radiant Sky written now, but they’re very, very rough draft words.

I still need to do quite a bit more editing on them before I can really show them to anybody, but I’m working through various scenes, fleshing out my ideas, and making sure everything hangs together. I’ve made decent progress, but I have a lot more work to do.

IP: In addition to the Hot Moon sequel, what other projects do you have in the works?

AS: I do have a number of new ideas rattling around, and I still have some activity going on with my first trilogy, Clash of Eagles, which came out from Del Rey. Those books are set in a completely different world, in which the Roman Empire survives into the 13th century in its classical form and is now moving into North America.

The Clash trilogy was published between 2015 and 2017, and even though the series is finished, there’s still quite a bit of interest in them. I still get interviews with people wanting to talk about those books. I might go back to that world in the future for some shorter fiction, and I still think about that a lot.

But I do like dotting around history and exploring various times and places. I have several pieces of short fiction fermenting in my mind, and when I get time I’ll start on those.

Also, Rick Wilber and I collaborated on a long novella, or maybe a short novel, called “The Wandering Warriors” which was originally published in Asimov’s, and then came out as a book from WordFire Press in 2020. Rick and I are very keen on this world that we made. It’s a time travel story that combines his passion for baseball and my interest in ancient Romans. So we’ve actually written a story about Roman baseball, and it was quite successful. And he and I are working together again, throwing ideas back and forth about how we might write a sequel to that. It’s a really open-ended concept that we could continue to have a lot of fun with.

So I have various projects going on in the background and a lot of ideas percolating, but promoting Hot Moon and writing Radiant Sky are really my main focuses right now.

IP: So this is kind of a different question. How do you manage keeping a balance between writing fiction and writing professionally for your job? Can you describe what that process looks like?

AS: Yes, certainly. If there are days when I’ve done a lot of technical writing for work, like writing a paper or a report, I would say it’s very difficult to write creatively after that.

But there are other days where I spend a lot of time in meetings, reading up on something, or talking to people. On those days I can really focus on writing in the evenings. For obvious reasons, I do most of my writing on evenings and weekends. I have a lot of very busy weekends where I’m trying to get down to as many words as possible and also do all the day-to-day life stuff that I have to do.

So, I’m not sure I have a process as such, but I do have to manage my time very carefully. And yes, it is sometimes hard to get my brain to do all the things I need it to do!

A big thanks goes out to Alan for having this chat! If you like the sounds of Hot Moon, it’s available for pre-order now from most major retailers.

The book is slated for release on July 26th, 2022.

To learn more about Alan’s writing, check out his website!

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