January 28th, 2009


Challenger Anniversary

Today is the 23rd anniversary of the Challenger tragedy, the day when the space shuttle exploded and NASA lost seven astronauts: Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. Their sacrifice is memorialized at Arlington National Cemetary.

For the people of my generation, the Challenger tragedy was our equivalent of the Kennedy assassination. Because a schoolteacher, McAuliffe, was on board, many schools had chosen to show the launch live to their students over television. The launch took place around 11:30 AM EST, and seventy-three seconds into the flight, the shuttle exploded. People were confused at first, but it soon became clear that NASA was experiencing what they euphemistically refer to as an LOCV: loss of crew and vehicle.

I didn't see the explosion live, but I still remember that day vividly. My own story is as follows. I was in 11th grade at the time at Hunter College High School. One of our school's Chemistry teachers, Francine Salzman, had applied for the Teacher-in-Space program but not been accepted. So we were all keenly aware of the meaning of the launch.

The school's lunch period took place from 11:10 AM to 12noon, if I remember correctly, and after eating lunch I went to hang out in the school library with friends. I was sitting in the front area of the library when my friend Christina Sormani walked in and asked if I had heard the news about the shuttle. I said no, and she told me that it had blown up during the launch. I protested that she was kidding, and she assured me that she wasn't.

I realized she was serious and I started to cry. I cried so much that Tina thought I personally knew one of the astronauts. I didn't, of course; at the time, like all of us, the only one I could actually name was McAuliffe. But I was crying for them nevertheless, and for the dashed hopes and dreams of an entire human race that yearns to go to the stars. I knew that this would cause a major setback in our space program; and I could only hope that it wouldn't crush it entirely.

That afternoon, when we got home, there was an ironic coda. My father had been applying to the Journalist-in-Space program, and on that very day we received the postcard from NASA indicating that all his applications materials were in. And years later, in 2003, McAuliffe and my father were my own inspirations as I applied unsuccessfully to be an Educator Astronaut.

SF Signal's Mind Meld: Writing Advice

Once again, I'm pleased to note that I was invited to participate in a Mind Meld discussion by the fine folks over at SF Signal. This time, the question they asked was, "What's the best writing advice you ever received and who gave it to you?"

They got quite a few excellent writers to participate, including (deep breath): Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Gene Wolfe, Paul McAuley, Kage Baker, Ben Bova, Kit Reed, John C. Wright, Marc Gascoigne, Jeff Carlson, Patricia Briggs, Alan Dean Foster, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Matt Hughes, Walter Jon Williams, Liz Williams, James Patrick Kelly, and Paolo Bacigalupi. I'm honored to be among such illustrious company.

In my own case, I share the advice I learned from former Star Trek editor John Ordover on when to revise a story. But if my own tale isn't enough to get you to check out the Mind Meld, surely one of the other authors listed has written a tale to spark your interest.

Go check it out:

Mind Meld: Shrewd Writing Advice From Some of Science Fiction's & Fantasy's Best Writers

[IRTF] Some Nice Praise

Freelance writer, illustrator, and comics artist Mike Dominic recently had some very nice words to say about I Remember the Future on his blog in a post titled Aiming for Peak Traffic. With his kind permission, I'm quoting him here (italics mine):

I'm currently reading Michael Burstein's "I Remember the Future" (available from the Apex store in hardcover and from Fictionwise in handy ebook format), and I'm enjoying it so much that I've purchased a hardcover copy for a friend of mine. As I said in my note to said friend, this is a book that makes you feel more human for having read it. Burstein manages to combine just enough hard sci fi to convince you that you've learned something, with humanist themes that appeal to your empathy. It's good sci-fi, not space opera, in the tradition of some of the great masters like Asimov and Clarke, and well worth the read...

Thanks, Dominic.