Interview: Ted Kosmatka, on "The Art of Alchemy"
Ted Kosmatka–author of "The Art of Alchemy," which appears in our June 2008 issue–said in an interview that it’s a story about corporations that have become so huge that they’re not about making anything anymore, but instead exist as climax predators in the global economic food chain.
"Here in the West, we think of capitalism as a driving force behind scientific advancement, but what happens when advancement is at odds with corporate profits?" Kosmatka said. "In this story, Veronica, a high-level corporate bureaucrat for a huge, multi-national steel company, is contacted by a man who carries a secret that could change the world. It’s the holy grail of materials science– the secret to producing structural-quality carbon nanotubes on massive scale. But why bring that information to a steel company? The answer: for the same reason you’d bring an engine that could run on water to an oil company. Because they’d be sure to buy it. Veronica knows her company will bury the discovery, so she enlists the help of one of the corporate scientists, and together they take steps to release the information to the public. But the company finds out and sends a problem solver to deal with the issue once and for all."
If this story has a genesis, it happened during a metallurgy class Kosmatka was taking. "God has made it pretty clear, I think, that He has a favorite element: carbon," he said. "Carbon was given a special twist, a certain kind of magic. Carbon is what changes iron into steel. It is what our bodies are made of. It will be the building material of the future. … I’ve read a lot of science fiction stories where future advances in materials science are taken for granted. (For example, any space-elevator story; a cable strong enough to do that does not now exist.) I wanted to write a story about those advances themselves, rather than skipping over them."
Kosmatka usually struggles with his stories, but this one came easier than most. "I wrote the opening few pages in a single sitting, focusing on this incredible character, Veronica, that I’d been wanting to capture on paper for a while," he said. "She seems so sad to me, and I wanted to know why. The story was at least partially about finding the reason for that. The rest just kind of filled itself in."
Kosmatka has always wanted to write a story that was set against the backdrop of the Indiana steel mills. "The mills have been good to my family," he said. "They’re an important part of the culture here, and they put food on a lot of tables. But there’s another side to them, too. I wanted to capture both sides, and I wanted to look ahead to the future to where things might be going as society cedes more and more control to these huge corporations."
Because Kosmatka has worked in various labs for the last eight years, a lot of the research for the story came in the form of life experience. "There’s actually a ton of technical geek stuff I was dying to include, but I restrained myself for the sake of story flow," he said.
For more information about Kosmatka and his work, visit his website at www.tedkosmatka.com.
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