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Interview: Bennett North on “A Bridge from Sea to Sky”

Author photo of Bennett NorthF&SF: How do you describe this story to people?

BN: Other than as “my space elevator story,” I tend to describe it as a story about a woman trying to prove, both to other people and to herself, that she has earned the right to belong somewhere.

F&SF: We live in a country with a lot of neglected infrastructure, and here we have a story about the future where, instead of shiny new engineering triumphs, we have neglected infrastructure. Is that one of the things that inspired you to write this story right now?

BN: The last ten years have been full of exciting things happening in space—the Curiosity rover, the InSight lander, and SpaceX, to name just three. That’s the environment that inspired this story—the feeling of community that comes from being able to observe these things happening in real time. Astronauts posting their shots from the ISS on Instagram. Live-streamed space walks. Seeing pictures of Pluto for the first time.

Yet at the same time, the idea of the world coming together to fund the construction of a space elevator today seems far-fetched, especially when we look at the massive amounts of deferred maintenance we have on infrastructure that’s a lot closer to home. We’re not in the place we were when the ISS was constructed in the late ’90s and early ’00s. This is the world that I was exploring with “A Bridge from Sea to Sky”—one that had, at one point, made huge advances into space, but was now finding itself with shifting priorities.

F&SF: How is this story personal for you?

BN: As someone who works in the humanities, I’ve seen my fair share of promising projects losing funding due to budget cuts, so that was certainly part of it. But beyond that, I feel that science and the pursuit of knowledge is extremely important for the human race. It’s essential that, as a species, we look beyond the short-term considerations of profit and politics in order to ensure that we develop, advance, and, frankly, exist in the long-term.

F&SF: What were the challenges of writing this story?

BN: It took a bunch of research! I based the majority of my story on a report by NASA published in 2000 titled “Space Elevators: An Advanced Earth-Space Infrastructure for the New Millennium,” but I also read a lot about space elevator concepts through the decades—notably by Yuri Artsutanov, who proposed the idea of getting into space via an “electric locomotive” in 1959, and Arthur C. Clarke, who addressed the XXXth International Astronautical Congress about the topic in 1979 and endorsed the idea of calling it a “space elevator.”

F&SF: Your first story for us, several years ago, was a beautiful and heart-wrenching piece of fantasy called “Smooth Stones and Empty Bones.” It’s completely different from this story in so many ways. Can you talk a bit about your writing process, and whether it varies depending on what you’re writing?

BN: The main difference in writing the two stories was that the first draft of “Smooth Stones” was written in one sitting with no outline, while “Bridge” took a lot longer and had a lot more planning. These stories represent two extremes of my writing method—most of the time, I have a general idea of where the story starts, and very little idea of where it ends, and I feel my way from there.

F&SF: What are you working on now?

BN: I just recently finished writing a sci-fi novel about space bounty hunters that I’m really excited about. I also co-edit the biannual speculative fiction magazine Translunar Travelers Lounge. Our third issue just came out on August 15.

You can find Bennett North at…

Twitter: @BennettNorth
Translunar Travelers Lounge:

“A Bridge from Sea to Sky” appears in the July/August 2020 issue of F&SF.

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