Bygone days of the Astroliners

From the outside, the rocketship looks like some relic of the early Cold War. It’s little more than a lengthy cylinder like some retrofitted ICBM, with a bright red needle on the end like a painted narwhal tusk. The words ASTROLINER adorn the flank, and there’s a ramp leading to its embarkation hatch.

The carnival has a number of other rides, brighter and glitzier and–judging by the lines–more popular. Once a year, these garish rides arrive in trucks and open up like mechanical flowers across the asphalt parking lot of my grammar school, St. Francis Xavier, located on a truncated little street in Waterbury, Connecticut. I’ve already ridden the slides and Ferris wheel and merry go round, but now it’s time to check out this odd little escaped-from-some-missile-silo ride.

I’m six years old.

Once inside the Astroliner, I find twin rows of had plastic seats and a viewscreen at the bow of the vessel. The lights go dark. The ship begins to shudder and change orientation. We’re aiming up at the sky now. The speakers crackle with a garbled countdown.

We blast off into space.

It was my first simulation ride, and for a long stretch of time the very concept seemed to have evaporated from amusement parks everywhere, abandoned like so other fads. But for my six-year-old self, it was a mind-blowing adventure. Our Astroliner visited the planets, crept into immense asteroid caverns, encountered glowing alien creatures that menaced us. The ship jerked, twisted, rotated, accelerated from one locale to another like a science fictional interpretation of Odysseus island-hopping his way home.

Home? Who wanted to go home? I was a space cadet exploring the cosmos.

When the ride settled back into its cradle and the hatch opened to let us out, I wandered down the gangplank and looked up at the stars.

We’d go there someday, I thought. It was perfectly obvious and absolutely inevitable. The world of my childhood was practically a mirage that, with very little effort, I could disregard. It was all transitory, I knew in my heart. Later that night my parents would drive me home in their Dodge Charger, but one day we’d have hovercars or transporters. The highway was asphalt and guardrails and golden-eyed cars, but it was easy to imagine the future when we’d be zipping around the galaxy: the distant city lights were galaxies, the highway exits were the gravity-wells of strange new worlds that would require us to decelerate, and when we parked and exited the vehicle we were naturally stepping onto a planet. An ice world in winter, a rainy world in spring, a jungle planet in summer, and in the fall–which was a particular gorgeous season in New England–it was a planet with bizarre flame-hued foliage.

The question wasn’t “What did I want to be when I grew up?” It was “Where did I want to be?” And I wanted to be up there among the stars.

I think that, more than anything, set me on the path to becoming a science fiction writer.

 

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On the publishing front, I have sold a few stories to share. My reader favorite “Sparg” is featured on Escape Pod, read by Alisdair Stuart himself and hosted by the always-wonderful Tina Connolly.

“Alien TV Shows are Bad for Your Eyes” was bought up for Third Flatiron’s Monstrosities anthology, and presents a rather odd angle to the SETI venture.

In response to a delightful open submission call, I wrote and sold “The Anzu Protocol”, which allowed me to combine two passions: Mesopotamia and science fiction. I’m an admitted Akkadian-epic junkie, with an array of translations of history’s oldest stories. This obsession found one outlet in my novel “Rahotep” and its sequel “The God and the Gate“, but I’d like to thank the anthology’s editor D. Avraham for coming up with such a glorious new outlet. (By the way, the anthology is called Holy COW: SF Stories from the Center of the World, and will feature Fertile Crescent tales from Mike Resnick and other genre masters.)

And speaking of Resnick, he and I are TOC-mates in Baen Books’ stellar anthology THE CACKLE OF CTHULHU, edited by Alex Shvartsman. I’ve read every story in there, and each one is brilliant and hysterical and perfectly aligned with Lovecraftian tropes; Shvartsman has really achieved something special here. This comedic take on eldritch horror includes literary gems from Neil Gaiman, Ken Liu, Esther Friesner, Rachael K. Jones, and many more. I think my favorite is “To Whatever” by Shaenon K. Garrity. My own contribution is “The Doom that Came to Providence”, and is set in a 1934 in which all the Elder Gods have returned and Earth is crawling with their respective monsters; HPL himself is unwillingly recruited into a scheme from a mobster who figures that profits can still be made in the apocalypse.

Lastly, I sold a sinister little time travel piece, “Aftershock,” to Galaxy’s Edge, marking my sixth appearance in that magazine.

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