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Interview: Ingrid Garcia on “Racing the Rings of Saturn”

Tell us a bit about “Racing the Rings of Saturn”

It’s a story about a convergence of unrelated events leading to an upheaval. Historical examples are the solar eclipse of AD 1133 that happened when King Henry I of England died, leading to chaos and civil war. The opposite happened during the Battle of Halys on May 28, 585 BC when a total solar eclipse took place during an indecisive battle between the Medes and the Lydians, leading both parties to halt the fighting and negotiate a peace treaty. Relatively recently—1970—there was the Football War between El Salvador and Honduras, where a FIFA World Cup qualifier—that stretched over three games—ignited a short war (it’s also called the 100 Hour War) between the two nations.

Keep in mind that the unrelated event did not cause the upheaval, but was basically the catalyst that ignited built-up tensions to erupt (or in case of the Medes and Lydians, possibly catalysed a pent-up desire for peace). Similarly, in “Racing the Rings of Saturn”, tensions have been building up as two resistance movements have been fighting oppressive regimes for years. Then, in order to increase the chances of a full-on uprising, they join forces against the weaker of the two regimes and decide to utilize a massively popular event as the catalyst.


Ingrid GarciaWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

For one, I was wondering how huge sports events almost always proceed, even if they’re held in countries run by dictators or countries that have no respect for human rights and use that event for their own propaganda. Obvious examples are the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany and the World Championships Football in Argentina in 1978 (during the Videla junta). Should an athlete attend such an event, or boycott it? Should Jesse Owens not have attended the 1936 Olympics? Should he have done an avant la lettre Black Power salute (which in reality happened at the 1968 Olympics)?

I wanted to take that dilemma a step further in an SF setting, for which I needed to invent a sport that would translate well on different planetary settings. First thing that came to mind was a Formula One race in space, basically with rockets instead of cars, the biggest race obviously being a fictional ‘Racing the Rings of Saturn’, where Saturn space is run by a junta.

Then present my racing heroine with an even bigger dilemma: boycott it—the single interplanetary Formula One race she hasn’t won, which is also the biggest of them all—or race it and win and ignore the political situation? Or maybe there’s a third way?

In that sense it’s classic SF: present your protagonist with the hardest choice of her life, on the biggest platform imaginable, with far-reaching consequences. I hope the story pulls that off.


Was “Racing the Rings of Saturn” personal to you in any way, If so, how?

There are no autobiographical elements in it, as I’m not a racer. I do empathize with Tsaraki in the sense that when you choose your vocation—Tsaraki’s racing, mine’s writing—you try to be as ambitious as possible, or fail utterly rather than being merely middling (cue to shouts of “Mediocre! Mediocre!” from Mad Max Fury Road).


Can you tell us about any research you may have done for this story?

A huge amount of calculations to check if my crazy idea—literally racing the rings of Saturn—was possible at all. Including, but not limited to the possible speed of the racers after a rocket boost and a gravitational slingshot from Mimas; the forces involved for changing course as the drivers dive through the A-ring and if superconducting coils can deliver those in Saturn’s magnetic field (barely—that’s why the car’s flip-flop wings are huge and the cars and the drivers are extremely light); the need for Faraday cage shielding in those immense electromagnetic fields; checking the maximum G-forces humans can endure, how often and how long; and probably some things I’m overlooking right now.

To the best of my knowledge—I do have an engineering degree—it all works out, it’s theoretically possible. Then—well after Charlie had accepted the story—I found out I made a simple mistake (using the radius of the A-ring rather than its diameter) through which the total racing time doubled from about four hours to about eight hours. Thankfully, we were able to fix that in the final edits. Long live final edits delivered well in time!

A nagging problem with that remains. Today’s Formula One’s racing time is two hours maximum where racers experience G-forces up to 8 G. So initially, I extrapolated that four hours racing time with G-forces up to 30 G should be possible in the future with drivers completely encapsulated in shock-absorbing foam in their cars and those drivers being genetically modified in combination with highly advanced medicine.

Extending the punishment experienced by the racers to eight hours is a bit of a leap of faith, but I preferred that over a simple miscalculation that any tech-savvy reader could easily find.


What are you working on now?

I’m busy writing, submitting, and promoting other stories set in the same solar system, let’s call it the ‘Inner Hotspot/Outer Cool’ solar system. Planet by planet:

—Inner Hotspot—

  • Mercury:

o   A story where Tsaraki and her rival Dougie Smouck face off as they race “The Mercurial Day/Night Scorcher”. To be written;

  • Venus:

o   A story called “Under Venusian Skies” about life and transformation, but not as we know it, that just appeared in Ride the Star Wind;

  • Earth:

o   A story called “Space Bike Zombies FTW” that appeared in EOS Quarterly (together with my very first interview);

o   A follow-up story called “Have Space Bike, Will Travel” that appeared in Futuristica Volume 2;

o   A follow-up novelette (title needs work) where the heroine of the previous two stories sets up a foundation to tackle the huge problems facing Earth such as pollution, environmental degradation, climate change and overpopulation. This one’s doing the rounds;

o   Moon:

  • A novella called “Jamal and the Jinnee in the Klein Bottle” about the future of interplanetary warfare, extrapolating extreme automation. Doing the rounds;
  • Mars:

o   A novelette called “In the Lap of the Gods” that’s both Tsaraki’s origin story where she rises through the ranks and races Olympus Mons, but that also covers terraforming Mars and its ‘lost generation’. Doing the rounds;

—Inner Hotspot—

  • Asteroid Belt: a story where Hermana experiences one of the skirmishes between the two faction as be tries to make a living as a prospector. To be written;

—Outer Cool—

  • Jupiter Space:

o   Europa:

  • A novelette called “In the Cracks of Europa” that’s both Hermana’s origin story and a mystery that shows part of the inner working at SyntMoon—the company that holds the secret to the extreme longevity serum—and how one of its new products will change the face of society. Doing the rounds;

o   Callisto & Jupiter Space at large:

  • A novella called “Cold Days in Hell” where the fates of Hermana and Feydar—who will become the sole ruler of the Outer Cool—intertwine, and where Hermana becomes the leader of the Resistance;

o   Ganymede:

  • A story/novelette (length & title TBD) where Hermana liberates a group of ‘sexual deviants’ ready to be sent to the secret concentration camp on Thebe, and where be meets Solarita. First draft being written;

o   Io:

  • A story (length & title TBD) where Tsaraki and Dougie Smouck race against each other in the “Io Erupting Pothole Spectacle” amidst a Jupiter Space that’s politically at least as volatile. To be written;
  • Saturn Space:

o   Saturn’s Rings and several of its moons:

  • A novelette called “Racing the Rings of Saturn” where Tsaraki has to make a life- and history-altering decision, and where Hermana’s Jupiter resistance joins the Saturn rebellions in an effort to liberate Saturn space. Just appeared in F&SF;

o   Just outside Saturn’s Rings:

  • a short story called“Pirates for Life” where bimorph artist and interplanetary choreographer Andro Gyne is kidnapped by pirates. Gyne converts to their cause, realising that SyntMoon’s immortality elixir is holding humanity back, composes ber masterpiece and uses the proceeds to (crowd)fund an interstellar project. Slated to appear on February 12, 2017 in Wild Musette;
  • Uranus:

o   A story where Tsaraki and her rival Dougie Smouck race the “U-Turn around Uranus”. To be written;

—Outer Cool—

(Note: Neptune’s neutral in the ongoing Inner Hotspot/Outer Cool war in a similar way that Switzerland was neutral during World War 2)

  • Neptune:

o   A novelette called “In Purple Purgatory” where Tsaraki scours Neptune Space in search of the mastermind of the ‘pop-up Buddha’ phenomenon. The sequel to “Racing the Rings of Saturn”, it ties up that story and “Jamal and the Jinnee in the Klein Bottle. Finished but kept on hold;

That’s all for now. Eventually, I’ll have to wrap everything up in the inevitable novel, whose title and main plotline I already have in my head, but which I probably won’t start until late 2018, early 2019.

Finally, a few pieces that are outside the whole Inner Hotspot/Outer Cool solar system:

  • A poem called “Signs of Life” that appeared in Ligature Works(my very first published piece);
  • A fantasy story called “The Taste of Things to Come” that’s doing the rounds;
  • A near-future story called “The Ethical Cloud” that’s doing the rounds;
  • An interplanetary story called “Five Wise Whiskies” that’s doing the rounds;

All that, and setting up a writing website very soon (in the meantime, I’m on twitter as @ingrid.garcia253 ). Too much to do, too little time.


“Racing the Rings of Saturn” appears in the November/December 2017 issue of F&SF.

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