Darren Beyer, former NASA space shuttle engineer and author of debut novel Casimir Bridge, joins us to talk about the evolution of science fiction.
Science fiction may have begun with the pew pew of laser guns, but as we evolve, so has the sci-fi genre. It’s getting smarter and more realistic, and Darren Beyer explains how that has affected him.
Smart science fiction as an emerging sub-genre by Darren Beyer
Most nights after I get into bed, I pick up whatever is my current novel and read to clear my mind of the stresses of the day. It tends to be a little too effective – usually after just a few pages, my eyes grow heavy and I’m forced to close the cover. A couple years ago, while searching for another science fiction novel to grace those few minutes each night, I came across Andy Weir’s The Martian. It seemed to have an interesting premise, was science fiction, and was getting good reviews. I was happy the day it arrived, as my previous book was now sitting on the shelf, and I needed something new to bring on my slumber. The Martian failed miserably to meet that need. When, on the first night of reading, the clock hit two, I had to force myself to put it down. It grabbed ahold of me from page one and wouldn’t let go. I finished it two nights later — so much for a good night’s sleep.
Science fiction novels tend to rely on action and the genre itself as a means to draw readers. The Martian is science fiction, but it differs from the norm. It is a novel first and science fiction second. It is every bit as engrossing a story as Robinson Crusoe — just in a science fiction setting. As such, it appeals to a wide variety of readers, including those who would have never otherwise even looked at the cover of a pure science fiction novel. People who had never shown interest in anything resembling a space ship were drawn to theaters to watch the movie adaptation. The technology and science Weir depicts is nearly flawless. The challenges that must be overcome, real and relatable. The plot, the details, the ingenuity are what made The Martian so successful — the genre played a role, but the work as a whole appealed to everyone.
Last year I had the luck to fall into another novel from a first-time author. Like The Martian, this book had a science fiction theme to it, but it wasn’t what made it so appealing. It treated me to as detailed and interwoven plot as one could hope for. It brought in historic world events, science, and technology to tell a history of humanity that had never before been explored. The book was The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle. It was followed by two more enthralling installments: The Atlantis Plague and The Atlantis World. Even though the books have decidedly sci-fi components, Riddle bills them as techno thrillers. I like to call them, and The Martian, something else: smart science fiction.
Novels like The Martian and the Atlantis series rely on plot, theme, tempo, and realism to draw the reader in, versus attracting them simply because they belong to a genre the reader finds appealing. They have detailed back stories that draw on real history, science and technology to create believable worlds into which the reader can fall. I’ve read a myriad of science fiction novels. They’ve painted wonderful pictures of far-off worlds, star ships, alien attacks and interstellar wars. As a fan of the genre, I’ve enjoyed the reads, but aside from providing those few minutes of escape each night, most left me with little else. In fact, aside from a select few like Dune, Ender’s Game, I Robot, 2001, and Ring World, I can’t even recite most of the titles I’ve read over the years.
Science fiction authors are now beginning to weave more stories that transcend the genre and attract a wider audience. This metamorphosis is taking place in film as well. Movies like Avatar and Interstellar are less about laser beams and explosions, and more about the story, science and character development. Certainly, no one can say this type of science fiction didn’t exist over the years — it’s been there from such greats as Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, and others. But it never made the leap to mainstream, primarily because the majority of works in the genre catered to the same old themes and diluted those that could have broader appeal. For the longest time I was happy reading those nameless novels, but now authors like Weir and Riddle have ruined it for me. Now I demand more from my reads. Now I demand smart science fiction.
About ‘Casimir Bridge’
A manned, interstellar survey ship has gone missing. A nuclear terror plot is thwarted just outside Washington, D.C. And it’s an election year.
While on a trip to Africa to connect with her roots, junior reporter Mandisa Nkosi is contacted by an anonymous source who presents evidence that the nuclear material seized from the terror plot will point squarely at one of humanity’s largest companies as the supplier—the source also unveils that it’s a setup and part of a conspiracy that could go to the highest levels of the corporate world and even the government.
Jans Mikel is the CEO Applied Interstellar Corporation (AIC). The company uncovered the secret of interstellar travel decades, if not centuries, before Earth’s brightest scientists thought possible. AIC not only discovered the technology, it also holds mineral rights to the lion’s share of the newly uncovered element that makes it all possible: hyperium. But AIC has too much power and others want a piece—to control the amazing metal and learn AIC’s secrets. More than a decade ago, AIC moved its corporate headquarters off Earth in an effort to gain some distance from its corporate and political foes. But even being located fifty-seven light years from those that would bring it down may not be enough to save it from the biggest conspiracy in human history.
When Mandi gets too close to exposing the conspiracy, she becomes a target. Only intervention from Grae Raymus, AIC’s top security agent, saves her from an unfitting end. Together they escape, flee Earth, and take the investigation to the stars.
Will she and Grae be able to unravel a plot that not only threatens AIC, but the future of humanity as well?
About the author
Darren Beyer was born in Washington, D.C., but quickly became a child of the world. His family moved overseas when he was age two and together they traveled extensively throughout his childhood. Darren draws on these experiences to add an element of realism and depth to his writing. At the age of six, he was awakened in the middle of the night by his mother to watch live pictures being broadcast from the surface of the moon during the Apollo 17 mission. At that moment, even at so young an age, he decided to pursue a career related to the space program. In high school, he took classes in math and science. In college at Virginia Tech, he enrolled in the engineering school and received a degree in aerospace engineering in 1989.
Following graduation, he was hired by NASA at Kennedy Space Center, where for nearly 10 years he worked as a Space Shuttle experiment engineer. While there, he worked on the Hubble launch, as well as numerous Space Lab and other scientific missions. Experiments he was responsible for ranged from telescopes to frog life support. He conducted astronaut training, performed installations onboard the Shuttle just prior to launch, and was part of the recovery crew following landing. Darren has had the honor of working onboard every Space Shuttle orbiter except Challenger. In late 1998, Darren left NASA to become an entrepreneur, and, after more than 17 years, an author. He is a student of science and technology and is an instrument-rated private pilot. Darren lives in California near San Francisco with his wife, dogs, cats and fish.