Michael Flynn Interview: The Stars Series
Firestar 
Lodestar
Rogue Star 
Falling Stars
(review)

 


SFRevu: Congratulations! You finished the Stars series just in time for the first asteroid landing by a human spacecraft. How did you feel about that?

Michael Flynn:  It was really hard getting NASA to coordinate that flight with my books. 

SFR: How long did it take to write the series?

MF: About 1.5 years/book.  The third and fourth books were originally one, but we split it into two because the two subplots were so distinct.  That required a bit of tinkering and filing at the break point. 

SFR: Were there any notable challenges?

Staying ahead of the technology is a hazard for near future stories.  There is a need to remain plausible and to let the future grow out of the recognizable present of FIRESTAR.  I asked some people what they saw in their fields in the next 20 years.  Unfortunately some of what they saw was in the next twenty weeks.  Cheeseheads and medbots have already made the news, though not under those names. 

It was also a challenge keeping the generations distinct.  Giving each crop of kids, for example a distinctive slang.  Some of the characters were trailing edge Boomers, like Mariesa and Phil.  Some were leading edge GenXers, like Ned or Adam, and trailing edge Xers, like Roberta, Chase, and the other “Kids” from Book 1.  There were even leading edge Millennials, like Flaco and Jacinta.  Every generation tends to see the future as their own weltanschauung triumphant (or repressed).  But kids in 2017 are not going to use 60’s slang or even adhere to 60’s ideals any more than we went around in the 60’s wearing zoot suits and calling each other hep cats.  I had to keep telling myself: the future might be different, and so may the future of that future.  Some “irreversible” trends may reverse themselves.  Some small things today may become large things tomorrow.  Readers may note, for example, that not everything that Mentor Academies tries turns out to work well and even by ROGUE STAR some schools are closing because the public schools have started using many of the same methods. 

SFR: Did your vision change over the books or did you know where it was all going?

Yes.  I wear reading glasses now. 

 I knew what I wanted to do – portray a complete turnover of generational sensibilities -- but not how I would do it.  The final confrontation is not what I had originally imagined.  (In fact, I had hesitated at all to throw a rock at the earth – this was at the very start -- because it had been done so often before; but Larry Niven told me I had to do it.)  I think it was Jerry Pournelle, at the same dinner, who suggested the intelligence test aspect.  I comfort myself in that the story arc was not “about” asteroids, in the final analysis. 

 SFR: What was it about, then?

 I wanted to show the future as process.  The reckless, edgy, slacker kids at the beginning of the first book become the pragmatic, do-what-it takes “middle managers” by the end.  The narcissistic and moralistic boomers at the beginning become visionary elders by the end.  (And no, they don’t all have the same vision.)  The first book begins in the recognizable present.  In fact, it’s two years in the past by now!  Gradually, things change: not just the technological gimcrackery, but also the cultural context.  Some things for the better; some for the worse; some just different.  (I do not like McRobb and his American Party, but I can see it stirring around in the political ylem today.)  The original coda (an extended reflection by Flaco’s by-then middle-aged son, Memo, set some years after FALLING STARS) might have clarified that point, because the youths and adults of his era share the zeitgeist of the earlier books no more than the youth of the ‘60s shared the outlook of their Depression and GI elders.  But we decided not to use it because its characters and context were too far removed from the storyline and in spirit, it struck an odd note to be a finale.  I plan to use it elsewhere, though, in the modern spirit of recycling. 

SFR: How do you feel about the books? Did they turn out as well as you'd hoped?

What ever turns out that well?  The original notion was that it would be one book covering 30 years; but when after 200 pp I was still in the second year, I knew it was time for plan B.  Still, I had to spend that time establishing who those Kids were, so that they could grow and change in the later parts.  One indication that I did not achieve what I wanted is that so many people think the stories were about “asteroids” or “future tech” or even the superiority of some systems over others.  But look again: among the supporters and opponents of Mariesa’s vision are businessfolk, environmentalists, government types -- on both sides.  In the end, some opponents learn that they had more humanity in common than they had thought and even become allies.  Phil and Mariesa, for example.  Even Bullock joins in when it comes to saving the world. 

SFR: What were the themes of the different books? 

FIRESTAR was about how people with utterly different motive and personal goals can work together to achieve something.  Look at The Cadre at the Peoples’ Crusades, or the test pilots on Fernando de Noronha, … or the Prometheus team itself.  They all had different reasons for what they were doing and they sometimes quarreled among themselves, but they could all work together.  Consider the respective motives of Belinda, Dolores, Correy, Joao, and other Prometheans; and then how the team later fell apart because of Mariesa’s hubris. 

ROGUE STAR was about the temptation to go too far.  Mariesa lets “The Goal” distort her judgment and she does rash and terrible things in consequence, so that in the end she voluntarily relinquishes power in order to concentrate on what really meant something to her all along: Roberta Carson.  And Roberta, too, in her quest for revenge.  And the people on the space station.  Each of them must deal with a line in the sand and whether to cross it.  For some, crossing is the right thing to do; for others, not.  And of course, the story also shows how chance “collisions” can send people off in different directions.  Even Forrest, way out on the Long Orbit, affects and is affected by the other story threads. 

LODESTAR is about trust.  Who can you trust and how far?  Who has betrayed whom and why?  As for FALLING STARS, that is left as an exercise to the reader.  You will pardon me if I don’t go into more detail about those two. 

SFR: What's next for Michael Flynn?

A novel THE WRECK OF THE RIVER OF STARS is nearing completion.  Because I’m lazy, it’s set in the same future as the FIRESTAR series, but eighty years further along, and the story has no connection with the series.  Well, okay, there are passing references to Port Rosario on Mars, so I suppose there will be another story in between there someday.  Next up is a new edition of my first book, IN THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND.  Some fat has been cut, and I changed “DataNet” to “Internet” because the future caught up.  Readers will note some tangential connections to the FIRESTAR books.  After that comes EIFELHEIM, which is based on a novella of that name.  It’s set mostly in the 1300’s and the only thing it has in common with FIRESTAR is that the “present time” archeology takes place during the recession at the beginning of FALLING STARS. 

SFR: Have you and your co-authors ever considered a sequel to my favorite Flynn...Fallen Angels?

No.  But we are gathering notes for a book called, so far, THE MOON BOWL.  More than that, I will not say, since plans are mulling even now. 

SFR: What do you think the new century holds for space exploration? Do we have any reason to go out there anymore? Should we dash off to Mars or build space stations near the Earth and Moon?

Heck, I laid it all out already in the series.  I do have some sympathy for Mars Direct, though.  There is something to be said for Theater.  But we won’t be in space to stay until people think they can make a living at it.  As long as space is captive to politics, I don’t expect much. 

SFR: How long do you think it will be before civilians can buy a ticket to orbit?  To the Moon?

They can already do the orbit, only they have to a) be rich and b) hire the Russians.  Tickets won’t become realistic until price per pound to orbit comes down, which it will not under the Space Shuttle paradigm that NASA seems stuck with.  I know of several private ventures into SSTO models, and in at least one instance, a pending investment was deliberately discouraged by NASA. 

SFR: Do you really think that artificial intelligence, pardon me, stupidity, will top out at an idiot savant sort of level or do you think we'll see Vernor Vinge's "Singularity" more or less on schedule? 

I think continuity plays a greater role than singularities, but I would not dare predict a “topping out.”  I don’t think we understand intelligence well enough to recreate it any time soon, but it is possible we may understand the process that leads to intelligence to enable its evolution.  Notice that Artificial Stupids become slowly more flexible.  And of course THE WRECK OF THE RIVER OF STARS isn’t published yet.