Eating Authors: Martin L. Shoemaker

4 comments Written on March 4th, 2019 by
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Martin L. Shoemaker

Back in January I attended the annual ConFusion convention in Detroit. I did a couple panels and a reading, attended a few other readings, but mostly just hung out with other authors, which is what one tends to do at cons, but moreso at this one than any other I know. The only downside of the convention was the weather, which was so cold (Detroit in January? Go figure) that I never got away from the hotel restaurant. On the final night, I fell in with this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest, Martin L. Shoemaker, and some of his friends. That dinner lasted about five hours, I think, and believe me we didn’t stay there because of the food.

Somewhere in the midst of great conversation I learned that Martin had his first novel coming out soon, with a second on the way as well. Since we’d shared a meal, I naturally invited him to come on this blog and share another.

By day, Martin is a programmer, though to hear him tell it, he’s not sure if he’s a programmer who writes science fiction on the side, or the other way around. I can’t comment on his code (pun intended), but one look at his story telling makes the answer clear in my mind. His short fiction has been selected for multiple Year’s Best anthologies, made him a finalist for the Nebula award, and earned him the WSFS Small Press award. Tomorrow he follows this up with the release of his debut novel, Today I Am Carey from Baen Books.

LMS: Welcome, Martin. Tell me about your most memorable meal.

MLS: This is the story of why I have to get Richard Johnson very drunk.

In 2012 I was delighted to learn that my story “Scramble” had received second prize in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award, a contest aimed at promoting interest in space exploration (a topic near and dear to my heart). Second prize included a year’s membership in the National Space Society, which is pretty cool! And considering to that point I had sold only two stories, a second place in a prestigious contest was a pretty good boost to my ego.

But in the same conversation, contest administrator Bill Ledbetter informed me that first place winner Richard Johnson couldn’t attend the International Space Development Conference to accept his prize – due to living in Australia and being unable to travel that far. He asked Bill to ask me if I would attend in his place, read his speech, and accept on his behalf – and Bill added that Ben Bova (http://benbova.com/) would be presenting the award.

I Am Carey

There’s a scene in “From the Earth to the Moon” where Deke Slayton asks Jim Lovell if he’d like to join the astronaut corps, and Lovell answers, “Well, Deke, I’d have to think about that yes.” I pretty much reenacted that scene. I wasn’t going to give Richard or Bill time to realize their mistake. And that’s when I vowed that if I ever get to Australia, I owe Richard Johnson a beer.

So I flew to Washington, and I met Bill for the first time – forming a strong friendship that continues to this day. I got dressed up in my best suit, and we went to the ISDC lunch, where a number of awards were to be presented. (Bova himself would receive a lifetime service award that day.) It was an elegant affair, a delicious lunch in a delightful setting. Unlike science fiction conventions, this was a business conference for people who actually work in the space industry. So we were surrounded by people who actually do what I only write about. It was a science fiction writer’s dream, a chance to research simply by listening to the arguments while enjoying a fine meal.

And oh, did they argue! Or at least the group at our table did. Bill and I were seated with a group of around six or eight professionals in the field; and every one of them was firmly confident that their plan for space was the plan that would take mankind to the Solar System and beyond. The discussion was spirited; but I noticed something odd. There was one older gentleman at the table with very strong, very vocal opinions; and I noticed that while others clearly disagreed with him, they did so very deferentially. He was someone they didn’t want to offend. I didn’t know why… until I leaned over my salad, scooped up some lettuce on my fork, turned my head sideways, and happened to read his nametag.

It read Buzz.

And I can tell you exactly what went through my mind at that moment: Don’t drop that fork do NOT drop that fork PLEASE WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T DROP THAT FORK!

I was cool. I was calm. I didn’t miss a beat. I didn’t show a single tremor at the realization that I was having lunch with the second man to walk on the Moon.

Blue Collar Space

But I did decide right then and there that I owed Richard Johnson two beers.

Then the time came to deliver Richard’s speech and accept his award. The speech opened with a joke, paraphrased: “I apologize for not joining you today. It took 43 years to get from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility; and yet now, 43 years later, you still haven’t gotten me my space plane.”

And yes, there’s a math error there, though I never caught it. And to be fair to Richard, I don’t think 43 was the number he used; but he did use the wrong number of years, whatever number he used. I know, because after I sat back down, Buzz leaned over and asked, “Did you write that?” I explained that no, I was just reading Richard’s speech. “Ah,” he answered. “It’s wrong, you know. It was 66 years from Kitty Hawk to Apollo 11. And 66 years later would be 2035. I think that would be a fine year to land on Mars, don’t you?”

So thanks to Richard Johnson, I actually talked with Buzz Aldrin! But since Buzz corrected Richard’s math… no extra beer scored.

After lunch were a number of presentations by various experts. These were yet more great opportunities for research. I took lots of notes. And when I saw that Buzz was giving a talk on his Mars mission plan, I had to attend that one! That was the first time I ever heard about his Mars cycler plan. I was so enthralled, I only took time to write one note, and I remember it to this day: Something aboard a Mars cycler.

And after that, we had dinner with Baen editor Tony Daniel and his family, and with Ben Bova. The chance to dine with a legendary former Analog editor and a Baen acquisitions editor? Another beer for Richard Johnson! After that we spent a fine night in the bar with Ben and his then-fiancée. Four beers for Richard Johnson!

The Jim Baen Memorial Award

And since the ISDC was in Washington D.C. that year, the next day I finally got a chance to see the Air and Space Museum and the Apollo 11 Command Module. Five beers for Richard Johnson! Quite a lot of beer earned for one lunch.

Postscript: But the story continues long past that lunch. Three months later, I started thinking about that scribbled note: Something aboard a Mars Cycler. A story started to form. By that time, I had sold my first story to Analog, and I wanted this to be my second. By the time it was done, though, it was a novella. Conventional wisdom said Analog would never buy a novella from a practically-first-time author.

Analog bought it. Six beers for Richard Johnson!

And then a year or so later, “Murder on the Aldrin Express” came out. And that fall, at FenCon in Dallas, where Bill Ledbetter had encouraged me to attend as a science panelist), I sat down to another lunch. Not so fancy, just a small hotel restaurant, and no astronaut this time. I was eating alone, so I checked my email. And there was a message from… My eyes must’ve failed me, Gardner Dozois? “Dear Martin, I quite enjoyed Murder on the Aldrin Express, and I’m considering it for Year’s Best Science Fiction…”

After I pinched myself several times to confirm I was awake, my first thought was: A keg of beer for Richard Johnson!

And after that I wrote several more Aldrin Express stories, and sold most (but not all) of them to Analog. And then I added material to turn them into a novel. The Last Dance will be published by 47North in November. And Tony Daniel bought my other novel.

So… Does anyone know how I can ship three kegs of beer to Australia?

Thanks, Martin. I suspect your real goal in publishing these novels is to get a distribution deal in Australia and have them pay your royalties in beer. If you accidentally give them Richard’s address, it’s a win-win.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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4 comments “Eating Authors: Martin L. Shoemaker”

That’s fantastic!
G

All true! I was there and enjoyed it as much as Martin.

This is one of my favorite-ever Eating Authors posts! It has Buzz Aldrin. It has writer success. And it lets me know that one of the best short stories around — “Today I am Paul” — has a novel version. Thanks for the post Lawrence (and Martin!)

Kate, this one made me cry as well. I had so many thoughts and feelings as I listened to this. This hit me on several levels. The science and scifi lover in me marveled at the beauty of how well Mr. Shoemaker described the Caretaker’s perspective as an emergently complex, living, self-aware being still bound to programming. As a sociologist the idea that empathy could be an important component of emergent consciousness makes perfect sense. In many ways Caretaker is specifically designed to be the best role taker in the world. I wonder what will happen if someone will realize what is occurring with all these empathy net equipped androids? Will we nurture the new life? Or will companies freak out at possible litigation and snuff them out?


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