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Interview: Alex Irvine on “Number Nine Moon”

– Tell us a bit about “Number Nine Moon.”

Every once in a while I get an urge to write an old-fashioned problem-solving SF story. Also I love Mars and fiction about Mars. So “Number Nine Moon” puts those two things together. It follows a couple of good-natured looters who decide they’re going to take advantage of the failure of Earth’s Mars colony by digging around in the abandoned settlements before they catch the space elevator up to the last transport. Then something goes wrong and they’re stuck on the other side of the planet while the bus is leaving. How do they get off? That’s where the problem-solving comes in.


– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

Gordon sent me the cover image (of the issue that this story appeared in) and two things struck me about it right away. One, I loved the retro look of the rocket. Two, I saw the number 9 up in the sky well before I figured out that it was actually Phobos. So right there the title popped into my head, and the next thing I thought was that I didn’t want to write an alternate-past-future kind of story, so how was I going to work that rocket into a story set on Mars in a near future that made sense for our current situation? The story came together from there, especially once I figured out that Steuby was in it.

I’d been tinkering with another story involving Steuby, and when I saw the cover I realized that actually he should be in this one. I’m still writing the other one, which is about his time on the Moon working at a tourist trap.


– What kind of research, if any, did you do for “Number Nine Moon?”

I like to get as many of the details right as possible when I’m writing a science fiction story, unless it involves something like teleportation or FTL. Even then I tend to pick a likely sounding theory and work with it. So for this story I caught up on Mars developments, did some general reading about the Martian environment, and also researched different kinds of rocket fuels. That turned out to be pretty interesting, and I developed a love for the word hypergolic.


– Most stories of Mars revolve around its colonization, not its abandonment.  Why did you decide to write about a less hopeful idea of Mars?

History is full of abandoned colonies, right? Vinland, Roanoke, Santa Elena…those are just the ones in the New World. They’re all fascinating stories because they start out with optimism and striving, and then reality sets in. That’s a pretty common process in many areas of human endeavor, I think, and bears some exploring in fiction. At the end of “Number Nine Moon,” the characters haven’t given up on Mars permanently. They know they’ll come back someday. They’re just going to have to keep trying, like the rest of us in real life.

Plus the idea of the abandoned colony is a powerful figure for the broader idea of reach exceeding grasp. We have dreams and ambitions, and we try to make them come true…but sometimes they don’t work out and we have to take a look at how we might handle those failures and use them to succeed (or at least fail better) next time.

I have all kinds of hope for establishing colonies on other planets, but I also wonder if maybe the real problem with colonies isn’t going to be the Martian environment, but upheavals back here at home that make it impossible to support the colonies. So “Number Nine Moon” touches on that idea.


– What are you working on now?

All kinds of things. I’m about to finish my first original novel in a long time, which is sort of about HG Wells but also involves World War I, the Partition of India, and some other stuff that I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about too much.

I recently finished a book tied into the new Ubisoft game Tom Clancy’s The Division, called New York Collapse. It’s a little different than your average tie-in, because it takes the form of a survival guide that is also full of marginalia and doodles written by the woman who has it during the actual collapse of civilization that forms the game’s backstory. Then there are puzzles both in the main text and the survivor’s notes. That was a really fun project to work on.

Other stuff: I’m still writing the Marvel games Avengers Alliance, War of Heroes, and Marvel Puzzle Quest. Also a series of Deus Ex comics and a couple of other things I can’t talk about yet. You know. Staying busy. Plus we just added a new baby to the family, so there’s a lot going on.

Alex Irvine is on Twitter at @alexirvine and easy to find on Facebook, so he says.

“Number Nine Moon” appears in the January/February 2016 issue.  You can buy that issue here:

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