Characters for the Frontier
During the Apollo era, Walter Cronkite, the famous TV newsman, told a story about
interviewing Neil Armstrong. He had asked him what he and Buzz Aldrin
would do with their last hours of life on the Moon, should the Lunar
Module Ascent Engine fail and strand them there. He was hoping, he said,
for some poetic response about doing a last experiment for the benefit
of Mankind or contacting their loved ones back on Earth.
What Armstrong actually said, though, is something any one of our major characters in
Lunatics! would understand implicitly: “Well. I imagine we’d be working on that engine.”
Of course. For real frontier people, it’s not about how you face failure, but
about how you don’t ever give up, and you do everything you can to
succeed. There’s no glory or morality in failing beautifully.
Hollywood has given us romantic fatalists and downtrodden anti-heroes in space.
But while these characters might make it easy to create drama, they are
not very true to the reality. And that’s lazy writing.
The truth is that there are far more people who want to work in space than can do
so. This is certainly true now, and probably will be in the 2040s. The
truth is that just getting anywhere near this business makes you a minor
celebrity, and you’ll have much more problems with unwanted attention
than with languishing in obscurity. The truth is that you have to be
deeply dedicated, idealistically committed, and fanatically devoted to
idea of exploring and developing space to do so. You have to be almost
on the point of madness, because you have to want it that badly
to spend this much of your life on the tedium, hard work, and risk that
is involved in pursuing a space career, let alone becoming a colonist.
Any realistic story about the space frontier needs to address that truth.
And that’s what we’re doing. And I think it’s going to work. We may find
it easy to identify with losers, but it’s incredibly cynical to think
that we can’t also identify with winners. Our characters are by no means
without fault, but they are also self-selected people with the drive to
be on the frontier in the first place.
It wasn’t easy getting there. They’ve sacrificed and spent many years of
unrewarded hard work, experienced set backs, and in the end, overcome
those setbacks in order to get here. Now they’ve finally got their chance,
and there is simply no way in Hell they are going to give up.
Our story is partly about how you need that little spark of lunacy in your life to reach your full human potential.
You also need extraordinary practicality and rationality. Our characters
live very much in the real world, and they very much have their minds
engaged in doing it. They take risks seriously and carefully – but they
And this is another major challenge, because so many
people don’t think rationally about these things. These are the things
that influence the characterization in Lunatics! Ultimately our story isn’t
about lunar settlement, but about the lunar settlers.
And the truths we’re trying to expose are going to be true of the
people on the frontier whether on the Moon or Mars or beyond.