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Interview with Robert G. Williscroft

Retired submarine officer, deep-sea and saturation diver, scientist, author, and lifelong adventurer. Spent 22 months underwater, a year in the equatorial Pacific, three years in the Arctic ice pack, and a year at the Geographic South Pole. Degrees in Marine Physics and Meteorology, and a doctorate for developing a system to protect SCUBA divers in contaminated water. A prolific author of non-fiction, Cold War thrillers, and hard science fiction. Lives in Centennial, Colorado, with the girl of his dreams and her two cats.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I don’t like onions.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
I am finishing the Second Oort Chronicle, following Icicle: A Tensor Matrix. Federation: To the Stars will be released later this year, in plenty of time for Christmas. It continues the saga of Braxton Thorpe, the wealthy entrepreneur who had his head cryogenically preserver when he died prematurely of cancer, and who awoke in an electronic matrix about a century later. In Federation, eThorpe (Thorpe’s electronic upload) and his new companions prepare for and ultimately visit the homeworld of the aliens that attacked the Solar System in Icicle.

Q.3 What inspired you to write The Starchild Trilogy?
Two separate matters pushed me into this trilogy. First, I spent a year at the geographic South Pole conducting atmospheric research. I took several scientific papers with me to study during my year-long sojourn. One paper, by Keith Lofstrom, detailed the construction of a Space Launch Loop, a way to move people and cargo into space without rockets. I was fascinated. When I returned to the U.S., I looked Keith up, and we spent several days discussing the math and physics of such a project, and then laid out an outline for a novel describing the construction of a Space Launch Loop-Slingshot, the first book in The Starchild Trilogy.

Second, I was reviewing images returned to Earth from the Cassini spacecraft that visited Saturn. In particular, the images from Saturn’s moon Iapetus showed a peculiar ridge around the moon’s equator, about 20 km high and wide. It also indicated that Iapetus’ density was about that of snow, but it is a rocky moon. I realized that if Iapetus were hollow, then the numbers would fit nicely. I then imagined that this moon could be a derelict starship, and that became the basis for The Starchild Compact, the second book in the Trilogy. Book three of the Trilogy is a direct continuation of book two. The first book, Slingshot, takes place a couple of decades earlier. Some of the characters and the Space Launch Loop carry forward into the rest of the trilogy.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Making sure that I remain true to a woman’s genuine feelings and thoughts-not what I as a man think they might be, but what they really are.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
From my initial idea, I set up an Excel spreadsheet where I lay out each chapter and subchapter and a listing of my characters, where I include everything I can discover about who each character is, thinks, believes, likes, dislikes, etc.

Q.6 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
Nineteen. I don’t have any favorite, but books two and three of The Starchild Trilogy taken together would be a favorite. Also, my Mac McDowell Mission Series, Cold War Technothrillers, taken as a whole would also qualify as a favorite.

Q.7 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintain its independence or intertwines with other literary genres?
Science Fiction as a genre is misnamed. There is as much difference between hard science fiction (which I write) and fantasy as there is between westerns and modern romances. Quality science fiction has always intertwined with other kinds of literature, often finding large audiences in many different groups of readers. I think this will continue.

Q.8 To what extent can science fiction affect or improve the developments in science and technology in human life? Is it right to say that science fiction can change what human life looks like in the future?
The effect of hard science fiction that deals with realistic projections of today’s science and technology has had and will have significant effects on the direction humanity grows.

Q.9 In many science fiction stories, the existence of God is denied. Could we call science fiction an atheist literary genre?
It is not so much that God is denied as to that God’s existence is immaterial to the story. Robert Heinlein, the famous hard science fiction author, wrote a novella titled Magic Inc., in which the FBI had discovered and was using flying carpets for transportation. A problem was that these devices did not work over consecrated ground churches, cemeteries, etc. This, of course, implied God. Many other far-reaching tales do something similar.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularizing the genre?
Science fiction is popular because it helps ordinary people to see possibilities that they may not have seen on their own. I think this is especially true for hard science fiction.

Q.11 Ray Bradbury considers sci-fi as “the important literature in the history of the world because it’s the history of ideas and the history of our civilization birthing itself”. Do you agree with him, as many sci-fi stories do, indeed, depict disaster?
I agree with Bradbury, but NOT because science fiction often depicts disaster. This is not what he meant. Instead, he meant that it allows ordinary people to reexamine how humanity came to be and where we might be going.

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in the whole history of the genre?
The 1950s and 1960s produced some of the most memorable science fiction novels ever. Much of what I write falls into this general category. Nevertheless, some of today’s writers have given us startling insights as they employ what we have learned about science and technology since then. Andy Weir’s The Martian is a good example. Another good example is Alastair Mayer’s T-Space Series.

Q.13 Among all your protagonists, who is your favorite and why?
This is difficult because my characters are varied and often at cross-purposes. I guess I like Mac McDowell (from my non-science fiction Cold War Technothrillers) because he is so much like I was at his age. On the other hand, I really like Margo Jackson in Slingshot and Ginger Steele in The Starchild Compact & The Iapetus Federation because they both are modeled in significant part after the girl of my dreams, my wife, Jill.

Q.14 What about supporting characters? Who is dearest to you?
Slingshot has 69 characters. Several are special. Apryl Searson, who also appears in The Daedalus Files, is a delightful woman of many talents, technical and otherwise. Pearl Wells, a black, tough-as-they-come Gullah-Geechee oil rig diver from the Carolina barrier islands. Michele DeBois - Mission Specialist and Biologist/Botanist in The Starchild Compact & The Iapetus Federation because she is a competent scientist and a delightful woman. Daphne and Kimberly in Icicle & Federation because they are well, Daphne and Kimberly. Borysko, a 20,000 pound 30-foot Orca in just released Operation Arctic Sting, the third Mac McDowell Mission.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select him/her?
I did the basic designs for all my covers. I then used a commercial artist for the final artwork. I did a lot of comparisons on the web.

Q.16 How do you select the names of your characters?
I research names on the web.

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
Of course! I love the good ones and hate the bad ones.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
This really is impossible to answer. Here are a few Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clark, Xaviera Hollander, and Philip Wylie. There are so many others…

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
A. Robert A. Heinlein
, Time Enough for Love, because he ties up much of his writing and creates a framework that makes virtually all his writing come together. James P. Hogan, Voyage from Yesteryear, because he depicts a world run virtually entirely on Libertarian principles.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
I published my first commercially published book in 1983-released by the U.S. Department of Commerce (NOAA). After four more books, I decided to become my own publisher in order to retain more of the books’ profits. Three years ago, I associated with Fresh Ink Group as my publisher. I have 19 books under my belt with many more to come. “A thousand words a day keeps the bill collector away!”

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