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Interview: Gregor Hartmann on “A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain”

Tell us a bit about “A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain.”

In the near future there’s a revolution on Gaia. The new government is determined to end human expansion into space. A Foundation left over from the previous era (= ours) is scheming to launch one last starship before the sky closes. Lili is a sociophysicist trying to devise a ship social system that will be stable for the 400-year journey and not degenerate into civil war and cannibalism.


Gregor HartmannWhat was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

In October 2017 I attended a conference of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, an organization that wants to launch space probes toward other solar systems. Hopefully within our lifetime, not in the distant future. One of the presenters was Ore Koren, now an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Indiana University Bloomington. A science fiction fan, he was interested in the problem of how to design a society that would remain stable for centuries despite being isolated inside a generation ship. His approach was to use countries with a high population density to generate predictive estimates for civil disobedience. The concept of a “constitutional captaincy” is his. He was constrained by scientific rigor and realistic modeling; I was able to riff on his idea and make up stuff.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain?”

I read novels about generation ships. It’s a frequently utilized idea. Heinlein. Wolfe. Aldis. Bear. Steele. Robinson. Baxter. I’m not sure if that counts as “research,” since everyone was winging it, but it interesting to see how other writers framed the idea and what sort of dilemmas they forced the crews to address. I am pleased to have come up with an unorthodox way to make that voyage succeed. One reviewer called my solution hideous. I must concur.


Can you tell us anything about the writing process for this story?

It was my usual shambolic and chaotic journey toward something that worked. So many outtakes!


What are you working on now?

Zephyr, a cold paxoformed moon orbiting a gas giant, is the venue for many of my stories that have been published in F&SF. Inspector Song of the Zephyr Stability Police and her detective trainee Jun are investigating another intriguing murder with political overtones.


“A Solitary Crane Circles Cold Mountain” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

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