I’m probably fooling no one by presenting Whippleshield Books as if it were more than a one-man band which has, to date, published only a single book by myself. But since I intend to be more than just a self-publishing press, I thought it best to act as if that separation existed… Which means that in this post, I am acting as Ian Sales the writer, and not Ian Sales the publisher.
And as Ian Sales the writer, I thought it might be a good idea to give a little bit of the background to how the Apollo Quartet came into being. I was three years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic journey to the Moon. I don’t recall seeing it on television, but I do remember seeing some of the later Apollo missions. My clearest memory is watching the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project on John Craven’s Newsround. As a kid I had posters of rockets and astronauts on the walls of my bedroom, and I wanted to join NASA when I grew up.
But then I discovered science fiction.
After that, I sort of lost interest in rockets and astronauts. A few years ago, I came across a copy of Moondust by Andrew Smith. I loved the book, and it rekindled my interest in space exploration. I started reading more books about it. I even set up a blog to reviews books on the topic: A Space About Books About Space.
I’ve been writing science fiction for a couple of decades, but have had only a handful of short stories published so far. I have an agent, but he has yet to sell one of my novels. It occurred to me I could conflate two of my interests and write science fiction stories based on real science and technology. And since I had all these books about the Apollo programme…
It was always my intention to write four stand-alone novellas that were linked only by their use of Apollo hardware and a similarity of theme. I chose the title Apollo Quartet for that reason. I don’t want to write too much about the plots of the forthcoming books of the quartet – they may change, for one thing – but I will say it is not a continuous story. In fact, each one takes place in an alternate twentieth century in which something different happened to the Apollo programme. Well, all except the last book that is, which takes place in the real twentieth century. Adrift on the Sea of Rains, of course, happens in a world in which the Apollo programme continued throughout the 1970s and was then militarised, leading to a base on the Moon. Book two takes place on Mars and on an exoplanet, book three in Low Earth Orbit and on the Atlantic Ocean, and book four in Texas and Florida. They are also about science fiction as much as they are about space exploration.
There’s something else about the Apollo programme which appeals to me. The 1950s and 1960s were periods of great optimism – better living through science and engineering, so to speak. And this despite the Cold War. I like that, I like how that optimism is reflected in the technology and designs of the time. Not just the grandiose plans to explore the Solar system drawn up by NASA, but also the quest for ever-faster jet fighters and bombers, cars like the Lamborghini Marzal and the Jensen Interceptor, Modernist and Brutalist architecture…
I wanted to write about that as much as I did about CSMs and LMs and A7LBs. I wanted to explore what we’d lost when the glamour wore off the Space Race, when science fiction stopped writing about plausible futures but instead churned out sophisticated versions of its pulp forebears. I have said before that I don’t think science fiction needs gosh-wow special effects to provide sense of wonder. There is plentiful wonder and drama in the real universe.
When I look at photographs of the surface of Mercury in my web browser that were taken by the MESSENGER space probe millions of kilometres away… I wonder why so many of us can’t see just how amazing that is.