Processing My Way through the Launch Pad Experience; or, How My Brain Was Destroyed, Rearranged and Rebuilt by the Shockwave of an Exploding Supernova

Ok, fine, that subtitle is slightly misleading. Still, given the transformative power of an exploding supernova – both destructive and constructive, leaving that part of the universe indelibly altered – I’m starting to feel a lot of kinship with nebulas.

First: let me tell you about Launch Pad. It’s a free, NASA-funded astronomy workshop for writers and editors. Essentially, they gather a bunch of nerdy, science-loving wordy-types and gives them a crash course in astronomy. We sat in lectures from ten in the morning until six, then seven, then eight at night, and then often went out after dark to play with telescopes. The whole thing is the brainchild of one Mike Brotherton: astronomer, hard sci-fi writer, and all around good guy. And for most of us, having the chance to spend the day learning, then playing with high-tech toys – well, it was a geeked-out paradise that I was, quite frankly, loathe to leave.

Now, I have a lot to say on the subject, but I’m not going to go into the nitty gritty of day-to-day learning, since some of my fine compatriots have done it for me. (See Rachel Swirsky’s detailed and day-by-day accounts here, here, and….aw, hell, there’s a bunch of them. Just click on the Launch Pad tab and you’ll find the rest) Indeed, this is just the first of likely a few posts, since I’m still processing the whole experience and it’ll take me a while to really allow the thing to crystallize in my head.

Anyway, since I am, in my soul, a relational person, I always understand an experience in the context of the people with whom I shared the experience. In other words, anything I have to say on the subject of my time in Wyoming will be utterly meaningless unless I can say a few words about the people who sat in that room with me as our worlds were collectively rocked by SCIENCE!

First, here’s a picture of us:

Aren’t we adorable?

So, here are the folks I hung out with last week:

Walter Jon Williams – Author of like, nine million books, video game designer and writer, and a black belt, so he’s a person to whom you’d lose in a bar fight. Also, asker of incisive questions and cracker of the occasional wry joke which kept me giggling on my end of the table.

David J. Williams – The guy whose book I already bought and who also has a kick-ass accent. Also: every time he asked a question or made a comment, I realized that everything I thought I knew I didn’t know at all and I had to go back to the drawing board.

Carrie Vaughn – Author of some really cool werewolf novels (among other things), philosophizer, contextualizer, and explainer – not to mention a super-nice person and it was a pleasure to get to know her. Also: she’s the first person I’ve ever met who had watched Dorkness Rising! More on that in a minute.

Marjorie Liu – Woman of spirit and grace. Unfortunately, also susceptible to altitude sickness. Still, the creative output during the course of this lady’s early career is nothing short of amazing and I have no doubt that she is likely to one day rule the world with her bookish prowess. Plus, she’s sharp, funny and holds her ground in an argument.

John Joseph Adams Dude. I love this guy. Fer serious. He’s an editor, writer, publicist, and generally made of awesome. Also: funny. I appreciate funny.

Rachel Swirsky One of my favorite writers ON EARTH. Also, someone with whom you never want to get into an argument with because she’s smarter and better informed than 99.999% of the world’s population. From now on, if I’m confused about something, I’ll ask Rachel and she’ll always know. Also, she’s a wonderful person and it was really fun to meet her.

Cecilia Tan – Another person placed under the heading of “People Smarter than Me”. Editor Circlet at Press – the press that Neil Gaiman famously called the “naughty books” of science fiction, and someone who truly gets the power of speculative fiction to transform how we understand and interpret the world around us. She’s like the Jules Vern of sexual politics.

Alice Henderson Ah, the juxtapositioning of the Light and the Dark! Author of some delightfully wicked novels – both original and those part of a larger universe (Buffy the Vampire Slayer Choose Your Own Adventure novels, for example. I mean, does a person get cooler than that? No, my friends. No they do not.) and one of the most light-filled souls I’ve ever met. So enjoyed meeting her.

Genevieve Valentine Love this woman. Millions and millions of love. First of all, if you haven’t come across her fiction (Strange Horizons, Clarksworld, Federations and like nine million other places) than you really need to. Like, right now. She’s also smart, snarky, wickedly funny and a lovely, lovely person.

Monte Cook is the most famous man ALIVE!!!! Or, at least he is to me, after we found out – through my incessant prodding, of course – that he had a bit part in Dorkness Rising! I’ll pause for a moment to let that one sink in. (!!!!!!!!!) Monte’s been writing novels and RPG stuff since forever and has won scads of awards and has a really cool book that I must purchase called The Skeptics Guide to Conspiracies. Mostly, though, he’s like the geeky big brother that I never had, and it was my great pleasure getting to know him.

Jeremy Tolbert, our elder statesman of the group as he had been in the workshop before – also he and Mike Brotherton go way back. Cool-headed and thoughtful, a terrific writer and photographer, and an entrepreneur. I like people who have made the self-employment plunge because it makes my own situation seem less insane.

Ian Randal Strock The man with the van, and yet another on our roster of editors in the group. You know, I’ve often thought that editors only exist to throw water on the positively brilliant ideas of writers and to generally crush our fragile little spirits, but I’m starting to understand that’s not true. Ian is a man of ideas: able to stare down treacherous mountain tops and sinister small-town sheriffs with grim determination and verve. Also, he can follow an astronomer’s directions and those guys think that getting something in the range of a power of ten is pretty darn close.

Bud Sparhawk Avuncular and gentle presence on my side of the room, punctuated by the occasional one liner – sharp and bright as the tip of a pin. Also has written more short stories than anyone alive as far as I can tell. I so enjoyed his company and running commentary throughout the week and even today have found myself waiting for a Bud-type comment that never comes as he is far, far away, alas.

Nicholos Wethington (that link goes to the website he writes for rather than his own – which, if it exists, I couldn’t find it. Which is a shame, because the guy is friggin brilliant) Our own Gentleman Scientist in the Edwardian sense – though without the tweed nor the pince-nez. This guy is amazing: got excited about astronomy one day and set off to learn everything possible on the subject. And then did. And now he’s building his own telescope, and will likely have a home-made rocketship in his back yard by spring. Also, a lovely person who was kind enough to share his knowledge with me on more than one occasion when I was clearly floundering.

Okay, fine. I was floundering all the time. This is why it’s good to know smart people.

Anyway, that was the group. And they were magnificent. I’ll be writing more on what we learned and its impact on me as a writer moving forward, but it was an exhausting week and an exhausting re-entry into family life, and now I need to get to bed. More tomorrow.

But while you’re all thinking about outerspacy-goodness, watch this video on the origin of the moon and be amazed.

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3 thoughts on “Processing My Way through the Launch Pad Experience; or, How My Brain Was Destroyed, Rearranged and Rebuilt by the Shockwave of an Exploding Supernova

  1. Pingback: Some Launchpad Inspired Starlinks, or Why No Launch Pad for ME!

  2. Pingback: On Entropy, Accretion and Exploding Novels | Kelly Barnhill: Author, Teacher, Mom.

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