As I completed the final sentence of The Mandate of Earth, I sat back in my chair and breathed a sigh of relief. 12 years of struggle finally over. I started writing this novel in 2003, inspired by a lifelong love of science fiction, a fascination with artificial intelligence, and even to a small degree, a video game called Homeworld (by Relic Entertainment).
I had been writing short stories for a couple years, and didn’t try very hard to get published, mainly due to a heavy work schedule. Which never did let up over the years, from one job to the next, at times a software engineer, sometimes a teacher, always tired. Every so often I would open it up and dream of finishing the story, and never quite sure about how to conclude it.
I rewrote it many times, I suspect due to self confidence. Meanwhile, I began a side career as a technical writer and now have 19 books under my belt, some of which have been revised several times, 2nd, 3rd, 4th editions. In late 2012, I decided to retire from technical writing and use that energy reserve to return to fiction. It worked. I still worked full time as a programmer but was able to muster the energy again for the novel. So, for 15 months, I labored, first to fill in the story, add details, and then to come to a satisfying conclusion. For some writers, this is no big deal, but this had been on the back burner for so many years that it was tough to finish it.
I don’t write once-through, I use the iterative process of a programmer: write a rough working piece, then revise, revise, revise until perfect. Or, functional, anyway. So that’s what I did. I did about four complete revisions, the last one being more of a read-through, not requiring any major edits. I was able to add consistency among characters and scenes and fill in a back story, and bring the characters even more to life. The protagonist really isn’t a hero, he’s just a man with flaws and weaknesses. Aren’t we all? During the last revision I was also able to get it proofread by beta readers which added quick strength.
So what’s this story about? It’s epic in scope, traversing a man’s lifetime from childhood dreams to old age. The story is set in the near future with familiar themes like private spacecraft, a difficult economy, global tension, corporate espionage, government corruption. But overshadowing these issues are grand ideas about man’s future in space. The story begins with a devastating tragedy that changes the landscape of the United States in many ways–geographic, political, and economic.
In the wake of that disaster, Jack Seerva rises to the top of the aerospace industry with innovative new booster and spacecraft technology. His vision is to expand into space, far beyond Earth orbit, to keep the human race from an extinction-level asteroid or comet impact. He meets great resistance to that goal, and in many ways, is defeated by his rivals, without a Randian-style deus ex machina to save the day. This is a real world, and this is hard science fiction. There’s no spring in front of his hurdles.
The old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention,” truly applies to the events in this story. Certain new technologies are needed for long-term living in space. And yet, without making the effort to branch out into space, there is little motivation to create those technologies, which become synergistic and lead to spontaneous artificial intelligence. And that development is a real turning point that changes everything. Will humans be rendered obsolete, replaced? Will there be a war?
None of that pessimistic, cynical view of A.I. is found here. Not a hostile, cold mentality–more like a brilliant child, that comes to think of itself not as superior to people, but a fellow child of Earth, with the same responsibilities, and then some. The A.I. eclipses humans, Kurzweilian-singularity style, but remains accessible. Ancient, yes; brilliant, yes; psychotic, not at all. Instead, A.I. leads humanity into a new age of high technology that redefines industrial production, and eventually eliminates mining on Earth. And, with that tipping point comes a new player in human affairs with a devastating threat.
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