Walter Jon Williams found a unusual e-mail in his inbox in August. It was from NASA. Col. Mike Fincke would be lifting off in October, heading to the International Space Station for a four-month stint as its commander. The colonel’s a fan of Williams' work and is reading Implied Spaces—in space.
NASA set up a teleconference between the author (on the ground) and the commander (in space) on Nov. 10. New Mexico Tech helped make it happen. "They're basically looking for ways to keep him entertained," laughs Williams. There is no recording of the conversation, but Williams was happy to talk to the Alibi about the experience.
How much of your work involves space?
I'd say roughly half. I'm more of a social science-fiction writer than a high-tech science-fiction writer. But I greatly respect the tech and the engineering and the scientists and engineers. I try to get all that stuff right. Relatively little of my fiction deals with a near-future space program.
It's the biggest boost to my ego that I've had in a long time.
How awesome is it that a commander on a space station is following your work?
Let's just say that it's the biggest boost to my ego that I've had in a long time.
Did you ask him about anything that you could include as details in your work?
What I try to do is provide the vision and let the people with the PhDs decide how to implement all of that.
Do you think you'll write about this experience in some way?
I never can predict what I'm going to be writing about. It's wonderful to have somebody who's a firsthand source of information. I may find myself picking Col. Fincke's brain at some point.
What was the most surprising thing about speaking to him?
I think the fact that he was so conversant with my work. I'm sort of one of the better-kept secrets of New Mexico. I'm better known in Poland and France than I am here. I'm always faintly surprised when somebody has read my stuff.
Why did you choose to keep the conversation totally private?
That was their [NASA's] decision. I think the astronauts have quite enough talking to reporters and answering reporters' questions, so they just wanted this to be a private conversation.
Did you ever want to be an astronaut?
Oh, sure. I mean, who doesn't? I would love to be the first volunteer for the Writers in Space Program if they ever institute one.