Throw Away These Numbers
Throw Away These Numbers is a story written by Himawari and illustrated by EMINA. It ran in Issue 52 at http://s2b2.livejournal.com/296692.html, and is mirrored at http://www.shousetsubangbang.com/mirror/throw-away-these-numbers/.
Cameron Darling: father, industrialist, widower, solar sail pilot. He puts on his best smile for the cameras, but some folks know better.
From fairyninjas.wordpress.com: "A very science-fiction (with very realistic science!) 2-parter."
I needed to write about these men, but the story just wouldn't come together, even though forty-five percent of it was written back in June. I got excellent feedback from Kimyō Tabibito in September, which I actually could not bear to read over for a while, even though it was perfectly fine and I utterly agreed with it! Ultimately I had to figure out what I could put in place so that you could see EMINA's amazing illustrations, and then just let this one go. I kind of want to talk more about exactly how this story interacted with my anxiety disorder, because the writing was okay. You know how some folks can't open their mail or listen to their voicemail when they're depressed? I was having anxiety attacks whenever I tried to discuss or read about how to edit or improve this story. NO idea why. I'm fighting that right now as I type this, which is why it's staying in here, just to fight that urge. Speaking this frankly about my anxiety and depression is very scary right now, but I think speaking about it is important. I hope this problem doesn't happen again any time soon. I could read feedback for my professional writing and guide my coauthors in editing this past month with no trouble. I'm hoping this was just a fluke, or my brain deciding to dump its inability to cope on my SSBB story rather than let it out at work or at my family.
I could have done an entire story about the re-entry jumping if I had figured out in time how that would have made sense on its own. It's a technology we're working hard on right now, but it wasn't a good candidate for the subject of an entire story, because it wouldn't be something we're still working hard on then. I'm also fascinated by the idea of yacht racing with solar sails, and interested in space elevators, and in love with magnetic levitation trains, and curious about mass drivers, so you got a hodgepodge. I'm going to ramble about how I got there; buckle up and hang on.
There's an Arthur C. Clarke story called "The Wind From the Sun" which is about a solar yacht race. I've never read the whole story but it was made into a comic here. There's also a great P.J. O'Rourke piece on realio-trulio rich folks racing yachts, that I read bits of: it's called "At Sea With the Americas Cup" from the book Holidays in Hell. Ultimately, I got more excited about the space elevator, solar sail development, and re-entry jumping than about rich people racing. For the sail design part I got a lot of information from the UP3 website and I strongly recommend the documentary Between the Folds about the mathematics and materials science of origami. Robert J. Lang is the man. The sail fold design is based on something they're doing with solar panels at Brigham Young University, here's a video and a story about that.
The re-entry jump was originally earlier in the story. It grabbed me and wouldn't let me go work on the rest of the piece. Sometimes the answer isn't to kill your darlings, exactly, but to split them out into stories of their own. I didn't manage to remove this darling because I was running out of time to finish something, so I reorganized the plot and put it nice and late to be climactic and stuff. Here's why it was important to me.
I was in my friend Ben's living room. I'd gone for a run while he was making his awesome banana muffins, and he'd turned on NPR while I was out. As I walked in they were covering on the shuttle Columbia's landing and quietly reporting what little they knew, that something had gone wrong and the shuttle had fallen out of contact. I can remember sitting on his futon, my intention to shower forgotten, listening to that broadcast. It was February 1, 2003. I can remember reading, about a year or so later, that Dr. Jonathan Clark, the husband of Dr. Laurel Clark who had died in that event, was not only on the panel investigating what happened, but was hard at work on technology that could enable future space travelers to re-enter atmosphere safely without a ship. I mean, he's a doctor, sure. But he's discussing the remains of his wife and her coworkers and their ship. Bloody hell! That guy is my fucking hero, I'll tell you what. I've since heard more stories about how disasters like that affect the communities around NASA. I knew someone who lived in Houston at the time of the Columbia disaster and it turned out his roommate knew Kalpana Chawla's nephew and had a pretty front row view of how it affected a space town like Clear Lake. Later, I talked a lot with my coworker who can describe what it's like to be sequestered from the media as family of the astronauts (her husband went up three times, and did four spacewalks), while you wait to see how the launch went, and how each family has a NASA representative with them, to help answer their questions, assist them if something does go wrong, etc. She still talks about how even though Houston was so not her kind of place, the greater NASA family continues to be a force for good in her life. I'm just thinking about the space shuttle pendant she routinely wears and getting sniffly. Sorry, got a little space exploration in my eye.
Two years ago when it was going on, I was fascinated by the RedBull Stratos mission, because I knew that the idea of "jumping from the edge of space" was a step toward safe human re-entry equipment. Cameron and Olin borrowed a lot of their vibe from Felix Baumgartner and Joseph Kittinger, who were the jumper and the CAPCOM for that project. They were very honest about how flat-out fucking scary it is to do a jump like that, and how Baumgartner struggled with it, and how Kittinger was the only man whose voice he wanted in his ears. Meanwhile, I was researching the re-entry system they used, and I thought, hey, I wonder what Jonathan Clark is doing these days, does he work for the company that makes these suits, or something? Turns out he was the Medical Director of RedBull Stratos. Again I tell you that Jonathan Clark is my fucking hero, still working to protect others in this young, but growing, spacefaring family. Some of the RedBull Stratos altitude and speed records have already been broken, but the full video of the Baumgartner jump remains one of the most intense things I've ever seen.
Let's end on a cheerier note. If you've read The 100th Thing about Caroline by Lois Lowry, which was one of my favorite books as a child, you'll recognize the bit about Cameron's socks. And if you haven't read it, oh man, find someone you love and share it with them. And finally, the title is from "Might Tell You Tonight" by Scissor Sisters and I sang it to myself a lot while I was working on this.