So much to read

My current to-read stack, in no particular order. (This is in addition to a gazillion papers and articles on orbital dynamics, Earth-Mars cyclers, starvation, malnutrition, and food production on Mars that I am reading for the next book.)

What’s in yours? 


I just listened to the latest episode of the Song Exploder podcast, which discusses Green Day’s Basket Case ( Turns out that the epochal ode to questionable mental health started out as a love song. Go listen to a few minutes right now, from 2:45 to about 5:10. Or listen to the whole thing if you want. I’ll wait…

That’s about how writing a book works for me (minus the crystal meth). Honestly, I don’t know exactly how I do it. I have an idea for a story; I read a bunch of stuff; I start typing every day: fragments, Socratic dialogues, technical notes, whatever bubbles up into my consciousness; eventually, the story begins to take shape and I move out of the journaling phase and into the real writing. And then surprises happen: ideas that sound good one day seem terrible the next; minor characters suddenly take on personalities that require a major plot thread; other threads that seemed critical lose their meaning and are cast aside. Finally, almost mysteriously, there is a book, and I can say with certainty that it ends up nowhere I might have guessed when I set out with that first idea.

I love that. The surprise is why I write. I can’t speak for others, but I would guess that even the most organized and methodical writers cherish that surprise when it happens. I hope they do.

(image: first draft of Kerouac’s On the Road, cc-by-sa-2.0,

Dawn Colony

“What brought you to Mars?” said Ori. The adults in the colony had grown up on one planet then decided to move to another. Why they did this was a topic that interested all the kids.

“It was the culture,” said Katy. “I realized Dawn was the greatest experiment in human culture ever conducted, so I came to see it myself. I only planned to be here one year, but then the Schism occurred.” Ori knew that term meant the time when the Martian colonists refused to return to Earth. “I knew the changes that would cause would be profound,” said Katy, “and I had to be here to record them.” She paused, remembering. “That’s partly true, at least. But, also, I loved what I saw happening on Mars and wanted to be part of it. So, when the last transport left for Earth, I stayed.”

From Water: Generation Mars, Book Three. Available now at


Image: Dawn Colony mission patch



The opening was a ramp leading down into darkness. Tomás went into a small booth next to the hole and flipped some switches. The darkness below suddenly blinded them with brightness as the lights came on and reflected up at them from the blue-whiteness of the ice. Their visors quickly attenuated the difference in lighting, and they were able to see again.

“That should keep zombies away, no?” said Tomás.

The kids looked at him questioningly. Katy cleared her throat. “Tomás is referring to an old computer game from Earth. We don’t need to worry about zombies.”

“Si, not now,” he said.

She slugged him in the arm. The kids smiled.

From Water: Generation Mars, Book Three. Available now at

Image: my own


“What happened to all that hydrogen?” someone asked.
“Until trade stopped, most of it went to Earth via the cycler,” said Katy.
A hand went up. “What’s the cycler?”
Tomás looked at Katy to see if he could answer. Katy nodded. “Is spaceship,” he said, “in a special orbit around the Sun that brings it near Mars every sixteen months. We load it with hydrogen and, 146 days later, it pass near Earth. They unload. Then off it goes for sixteen months until it comes back by. There are actually two of these in different orbits. Other is used to send supplies and people from Earth to Mars.”
A hand went up. “Are they still there?”
“Oh yeah,” said Tomás. “Some of you might remember the last time we have delivery from Earth several years back. Now they just circling around, waiting.”
A hand went up. “Waiting for what?”
“Until Earth need our hydrogen again.”

From Water: Generation Mars, Book Three. Available now at

Image: Aldrin cycler orbital diagram from Hawkeye7,



After a few minutes of questions and answers, Nour started the rover and resumed the descent. Several minutes later the big rover drove out onto the ice sheet. Here, perhaps owing to the protection of the crater rim, the road was more distinct. The ice, which did not look like ice, was not flat. There were ridges and contours that mimicked the shape of the crater. These were called concentric crater fill and were caused by the slow movement of the ice as it had receded and grown, receded and grown through the millions of years it had existed in this crater. The road wound its way through these ridges until it reached the cluster of buildings and tanks and that gaping hole.

From Water: Generation Mars, Book Three. Available now at

Image: NASA


Life meets fiction

I try not to write badass characters. Rather, I strive to write real characters dealing with real problems as best they can. Sometimes, however, this very effort makes them badass and there’s nothing I can do about it.

In my most recent book, Water, one of the characters suffers a broken lower leg due to a fall, and she must deal with her rescue and first aid herself. Speaking from experience, now, after the fact, she is an undeniable badass.

Image: The author after a recent fall

On the rim

Nour guided the rover to the south side of the crater. A natural gap in the rim here provided access to the inner crater, and a road had been cut that ascended to this gap then descended the rim in several broad switch-backs. The kids oohed and cooed as the rover tipped and swung its way up the road. A couple of them looked a little ill from motion sickness.

From Water: Generation Mars, Book Three. Available now at

Image: illustration (color version) by Luis Perez for Water, Generation Mars, Book Three (please note: book interior illustrations are grayscale)


School bus

Once the kids were buckled into their seats and the cabin door was closed, Nour started the rover. It ran on an internal combustion engine burning methane, a fuel that was made on Mars from the water and atmospheric gases available. Most of the kids had never been in a rover, and the vibration of this engine was unlike anything they had experienced.

From Water: Generation Mars, Book Three. Available now at

Image: public domain (,_Utah_c_1912.jpg) with a few added tweaks