Marcha Fox is another good friend and fellow author whose Star Trails Tetralogy series is an essential contribution to the indie sci-fi genre. She is also an accomplished astrologer and spent twenty-one years at NASA. Marcha brings a lot to the table and I was fortunate to have her share with us…
You’ve gone from being a professional astrologer to a science fiction author. It appears as if a flawless transition, yet the lack of reference to astrology in your novels seems somewhat surprising.
Actually I’ve been a science fiction author long before I became an astrologer. Would the truth be known, I was writing an SF novel back in the 80s and was developing the character of the physicist protagonist’s ex-wife who I thought would be all the more annoying if she was into astrology. At the time as a college student majoring in physics I didn’t believe in it. However, to develop the character I had to learn something about it and in the process I discovered that it worked. Needless to say that was a rather large “Aha!” moment. It wasn’t until around 2004 that I really got into astrology to the point I obtained formal training and went professional. Prior to that I worked in the aerospace industry, mostly as a NASA contractor for over 20 years.
As far as having astrology in my books, they were in the process of being written before I got into astrology other than my brief introduction to it back in the 80s. That said, I’ve actually developed a zodiac for my fictitious planet, Cyraria, and my minor character, Zahra, is an astrologer. The references she uses in “A Dark of Endless Days” relate to Vedic astrology and aren’t recognizable to most English-speaking readers. She predicts bad times based on the double eclipse that occurs in that novel.
Since my target audience is young adults I actually need to avoid astrology to some degree as one of those verboten, controversial subjects. Since I believe my books have educational value (which is further supplemented by material on my website to assist parents and educators in using the stories as a springboard for discussion), I tried to promote them to the homeschooling market. One magazine to whom I’d inquired about advertising wanted to read them first to make sure they were “suitable” so I sent off hardcopies. I never heard back from her again, even when I inquired about them. The only explanation I could conceive of was that many homeschoolers are fundamental Christians and if she googled my name online and found out I was an astrologer that could explain her behavior. So I try to downplay it as much as possible, especially here in the Bible Belt. Rather than making me more interesting or diverse, it makes me suspect. Another interesting experience that will make its way into a novel someday.
What seems to set your Star Trails Tetralogy apart is the subplot involving Merapa as a tragic figure, trying to maintain his integrity while his family’s dignity is being compromised. Did you consider the fact that the sci-fi audience might be drawn into the more human and less technical aspects of the plot?
A common criticism of science fiction is that it often employs “cardboard characters.” I didn’t want to fall into that trap. I think one of the reasons for Star Wars’ success was due to the characters being so credible. As someone who has worked in a technological environment I know that it is only a setting, that people are people, regardless. If the reader can relate to the characters it gives the story another dimension. Even if readers are into “hard” SF I don’t think they mind entering the world through characters they can relate to. Human emotions and needs haven’t ever changed, only the setting in which they operate. I think convincing characters make the SF elements more credible as well.
Tell us a bit about your time at NASA. Were there any specific projects that inspired your ‘what-if’ imagination in developing the Brightstar family legacy?
The NASA experience really had little effect on Star Trails as far as the Brightstar family legacy is concerned. There is one specific part of “Beyond the Hidden Sky” that did relate to my experience there, however, and that is when Creena is in the pod which does not have a gravity simulator. She refuses to follow directions to exercise and stay in condition so when she finally arrives on Verdaris she can’t even stand up. This is all based on true research and experiments related to the effects of zero gravity.
Of course the bureaucratic nature of a government agency teaches you a whole lot about politics, blind ambition, “empire building” as we called it, and seeing the darker side of human nature in that respect so that helped with developing the political structure within the novels.
When I worked there I had an idea for a novel that I never had time to write that was based on the space shuttle making an emergency landing in Africa at one of the TAL (trans-Atlantic Landing) sites. They actually had numerous sites over there if problems arose after launch and they could make it that far. Many of them were in tiny, unstable countries so I was going to have the locals take the shuttle and its crew hostage. I gathered quite a bit of research along the way for it but now that the shuttle isn’t flying anymore I doubt it would be of interest. It would have been fun to write, though, and I could have really put a lot of my experience to work. C’est la vie.
You visited the European Space Agency as a NASA representative. How do you see the European Union’s role in space exploration in comparison to the USA and the Russian programs? What would make them a true competitor?
Funny you should mention that because at this point they are probably all ahead of us or will be soon. NASA doesn’t even have a vehicle to get to the International Space Station anymore and is thus dependent on the Russians, private contractors such as Space-X and other International Partners including Japan to provide transportation to and from there. NASA is crumbling under the policies of the current administration and the nation’s economic woes. The Europeans have similar money problems and space programs are expensive but they seem more dedicated to it than we are these days.
Frankly, I don’t even see us as a competitor anymore, even with the Chinese rapidly overtaking us. While I was working at NASA the Chinese downloaded all of our requirements documents and built themselves a shuttle. They took advantage of many of our “lessons learned” which came from blowing things up and various accidents which of course accelerated their progress. By the time NASA figured out what was going on secured their documents they were basically closing the barn door after the cows got out. I don’t doubt the next ones on the Moon will be the Russians or Chinese. They’ve stated it as a goal and they tend to do what they say.
Researchers have theorized about the moons of Saturn having ice caps that might indicate the presence of water that could support life. Yet they’ve never even considered placing a station on our own moon. Are any of these things we may see in our lifetime?
If they ever want to get to Mars they need to establish a permanent base on the Moon first. This was in the planning stages when Bush was in office. Such things are planned for years and even decades only to be zapped according to the political leanings of the prevailing party. This has happened numerous times. You may recall Reagan’s plans for Space Station Freedom, which were pretty far along when they were zapped by Bill Clinton who eventually brought it back as the International Space Station. Our space program is a political tool and if it doesn’t fit in with their current ideology then it’s not funded consistently enough to make progress.
Thus, major projects that require years of planning and technological development to say nothing of a whole lot of money tend to die on the vine, wasting all that was done up to that point. Our system of funding projects year to year based on Congressional approval isn’t conducive to major, longterm projects. Whenever a new political leader comes in everything starts over from scratch, essentially reinventing the wheel. It’s no wonder we haven’t made much progress.
Saturn is a whole lot farther away than Mars so I doubt the USA will have anything there in even my children’s lifetimes, at least as far as a manned base is concerned. However, some other country very well might. Technology really isn’t the problem. Money and commitment are the problem.
Your trilogy demonstrates how politics often creates obstacles for human advancement, even when issues of survival are in question. Were there times at NASA when corporate interests obstructed and even interrupted groundbreaking projects?
It was more often the other way around. NASA hires contractors because they can be fired, civil servants can’t. Thus, when those political whims come along, they can ditch the contractors, which is really a misnomer since the “contract” really doesn’t mean squat when NASA decides they no longer want or need you. As a former subcontractor I can tell you that we often felt like slaves. NASA held our fate in their hands, both as individuals, companies and corporations, and they knew it. While there were many honest, hardworking and intelligent people who worked for NASA it also had its share of power-hungry drones. It didn’t matter how high up the corporate food chain you were, you had to kow-tow to the lowest civil servant. All it took was a contract rebid and the corporation who had been the prime contractor literally on top of the world could be out on its keester, often to be replaced by a slew of small disadvantaged businesses due to congressional edict. Politics and aerospace development mix as effectively as oil and water.
You got your degree at Utah State University. Were you thinking about writing back in your scholastic days? Has your life in Utah influenced your worldview as a writer?
HAHAHA. I’ve been thinking of writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I went back to college at the age of 35 with 6 (count them, six) kids at home to get a physics degree so I could write convincing science fiction. I indulged myself by getting a minor in English along the way. I kid you not. I always wanted to be a writer but wanted to be a good one which requires education and experience. Thus, the physics degree and 20 years NASA experience. Maybe now I have something to work with.
As you can guess one of my pet peeves is when people write a story when they don’t know squat about the subject, setting or environment. They say “write what you know” and it’s blatantly obvious when they don’t and are just making it up, at least to someone familiar with the industry. That’s what Hollywood tends to do. I just wrote a blog about that, actually, complaining that most movie producers don’t bother to hire an engineering or scientific consultant for a few thousand dollars to help them not violate the laws of physics with their dialog or special effects.
My life in Utah was another wonderful experience that feels like another lifetime. Small town Northern Utah in the 1970s is totally reflected in Creena’s sojourn on Earth in “A Dark of Endless Days.”
Augustus Troy seems to be emerging as the bad guy in your trilogy. Yet he seems to be a two-dimensional character that symbolizes the detached, impersonal evil of the regime. Who would you compare Troy to in your own favorite literature? Are we ever going to get inside the mind of Augustus Troy?
Just wait until the 4th and final volume! Like they say, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He is a bit of a stereotype villain whom I’ve sidestepped a bit since these books are intended for young adults. More of why he has it in for the Brightstars will come out and he will ultimately have quite a run. I suppose he’s similar to Darth Vader in some respects, being power hungry and ruthless. That nasty guy in Dune comes to mind, too, but I can’t remember his name offhand.
There’s a lot of pathos in the family relationships between Merapa and his children, and the sibling rivalry between Creena and Dirck. Were you making a statement about the dysfunctional family syndrome that is afflicting our own society?
No, not deliberately. I was trying to make it realistic as far as family dynamics are concerned and point out that kids don’t always get along, usually because they are programmed differently. (I could have really gotten into the astrology on that, and actually did on the side to develop the characters.) I was making a statement about dealing with unexpected problems, being prepared for the unexpected, not taking prosperity for granted (I’m a bit of a prepper at heart), and that working together to combine disparate traits in a complementary manner ultimately pays off.
Your biography reflects a desire to see science, religion and astrology become more interrelated in our educational system. Are you planning any novels in future that may provide a platform for that discussion?
No, but I am planning a nonfiction book that covers the history of them all, how they were once one general philosophy but split ways, and how new discoveries related to quantum physics have the potential to unite them again. Stay tuned.
Click on Marcha’s Amazon page! http://www.amazon.com/Marcha-Fox/e/B0074RV16O/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1401909101&sr=1-2-ent