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Editor Mike McPhail's So It Begins reviews




Author Dr. Charles E. Gannon

Charles E. Gannon

To Spec

Biography of


2009-05-28: interviews Dr. Charles E. Gannon, contributor to the military science fiction anthology, So It Begins, book two in the Defending the Future series.

MilSciFi: "Welcome. Please tell us a little something about your story Recidivism."

Gannon: "'Recidivism' is probably the most atypical story I've ever written.  It is not a story in the traditional sense, but more akin to one of those "fictionally-structured essays" that used to show up in (especially military) Sf anthologies, such as Imperial Stars, There Will Be War, and anything that Reginald Bretnor had a hand in.  And in the Golden Age magazines, similar 'thought experiments in fictional format' would make occasional appearances.

I purposely worked in that tradition—right down to the old-fashioned mannerism of ending with a swapped-species perspective (i.e.; the individual we presume to be human turns out to be an alien; the approaching alien invaders turn out to be the humans: Twilight Zone MUST have done something like that…).  Consequently, there's not a lot of character development, not even a lot of "action" (in the very kinetic sense that I usually mean and write it): this was all about the idea of how vulnerable we really are, and the foolishness of a) turning our backs on the dangers as though they don't exist, and b) mothballing or abandoning the technologies that might save us.  These "politically correct" behaviors also run in direct contradiction of the evolutionary survival imperative, and are hence, recidivistic.  Of course, because the protagonist had the temerity to try to indirectly point this out, he's labeled a troglodyte, a throw-back, a primitive: in short, the doyens of "right thinking" label him as being recidivistic.  In fact, he was their last hope."

MilSciFi: "Is this part of a large series or universe?"

Gannon: "Absolutely not: a one-shot deal.

MilSciFi: "What inspired you to write this story?"

Gannon: "The ostrich-with-head-in-sand attitudes that prevail about earth-crossing objects.  The threat (eventual or immediate: who can tell?) should be enough to get us serious, and keep us serious, about finding hi-ISP thrust agencies that will allow us to get early intercept on inbound rocks that might exterminate or severely damage life on Earth.  In turn, that train of thought sparked the idea for a story in which a character presented the various ways a biosphere could be at risk, that planets can be destroyed.  And so, "Recividism" was born.

MilSciFi: "Does science and technology play an important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it secondary to the story telling and characterization?"

Gannon: "Because the story is a "thought experiment" first and foremost, there is actually very little "technology" seen in it—although much is referred to.  But yes, in "Recidivism" the character is definitely relegated to being a foil for the idea—and that change of narrative focus and objectives makes it a unique story for me. 

MilSciFi: "Do you have plans to expand upon, or write other works based on this story?"

Gannon: "None."

MilSciFi: "Please tell us a little something about your other story To Spec."

Gannon: "It's about a crusty but savvy career NCO, zero-gee combat, the weapons and skills you need to fight in that environment, risking your life to protect a national secret, coronal mass ejections, the radiation dangers of outer space, and saving your neck by learning how to use a new weapon while people are trying—very hard—to kill you.  Pretty dull stuff: sorry."

MilSciFi: "Is this part of a large series or universe?"

Gannon: "Absolutely.  Most of what I write is part of a simulation/projection-driven "future-history."  The main story-arcs of that universe kicks into high gear in 2097, when the first evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, or "exosapients," is discovered.  (The "whole truth" about the discovery of exosapients is a little more complicated, and would also be a spoiler if posted here, so I hope you'll buy my books to explore the deeper secrets of that world.)   The events in "To Spec" transpire about 13-14 years earlier, as the bloc known as the New Worlds Commonwealth (US, Canada, Australia, and—at arm's length—the UK) is about to complete work on an FTL prototype ship.  (Okay, it's not really FASTER than light, but, well—that's something else you can learn about by reading the books.)"

MilSciFi: "What inspired you to write this story?"

Gannon: "That's a pretty funny story.  Mike McPhail knew my work in gaming and (despite that knowledge) approached me at Ravencon (2008) to write a story for SIB.  That same night, I was chatting with people at Baen's Bar, and my soon-to-be pal Julie Cochrane asked about a hypothetical weapon—a liquid propellant rifle—I had given a talk about at the Battelle Corporation's Joint Services Small Arms Program (JSSAP) meeting a month before.  As I was explaining the operation—and zero-gee advantages—of the weapon to Julie, I started realizing that a) the weapon needed a story of its own, and b) the story was starting to take shape as I spoke.  The dramatic setup—that the weapon has its trial by fire defending the Prometheus Project—came first.  The character—the sergeant who is suspicious of new gadgets—followed right along behind.  By the next morning, I pretty much knew how the story was going to unfold."  

MilSciFi: "Does science and technology play an important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it secondary to the story telling and characterization?"

Gannon: "Yes and yes." 

Actually, this is one of those either/or questions that I have to demolish in order to answer.  Issues of character and technology go hand-in-hand in most of my SF.  Sure, "To Spec" is about a new weapon and about the dangers of space that we don't always see represented in detail.  But if these aren't made integral, dramatic elements that determine the fates of believable, fleshed-out characters, then all these novelties are just a collection of  interesting pseudo-facts.  Fiction—science or otherwise—is about people.  And whether we're talking about people from a century ago, or from the century to come, the primal constants don't change: life, death, hope, despair, joy, anguish, what's worth living for, and—above all—what's worth dying for.  "To Spec" asks these questions within a frame boundaried by new technology and novel environments.  I don't know how to say which is "secondary" when they come as a completely fused and integrated package."

MilSciFi: "Do you have plans to expanded upon, or write other works based on this story?"

Gannon: "I'd reverse the presumption of the question: THIS story is the expansion, and continuation, of linked events in the story arc of the Consolidated Terran Republic.  In "To Spec," the almost elderly intel-expert on site—Darryl Wilder—appeared as a young man in my novella The Power of Visions (Analog, June 2003), which dealt with an earlier attempt to sabotage a technological test-bed—an fusion reactor-- that was a stepping stone along the way to Project Prometheus.  So this story and that one are arranged to function the way pearls do on a necklace: they are bright highlights that, taken in sequence, describe a greater shape, the arc of a larger story of the future."

MilSciFi: "Most authors we encounter write novellas/novels, do you find it a challenge to write short stories?"

Gannon: "For me, the shorter the story, the harder it is to write.  This one just verges into novelette length, and so gives me enough room in which to work comfortably.   The length of novelette (and more) also lets you explore on most ideas.  However, when you start falling under 6 or 5 thousand words, you start bouncing your nose into the fact that a great number of fine story ideas just CAN'T be told adequately in that length."

MilSciFi: "Since time is of the essence for getting a reader up to speed in a short story, do you have a strategy, or preferred method for doing this?"

Gannon: "Yes.  Start on action and with a mystery hook.  That said, it can be an excruciatingly fine line between getting a reader to wonder, "hey, I really want to know what's going on here" but without going so far as to make the reader feel disoriented, as per "what the hell is going on here and what's more, why should I care?"  If you've achieved the first reaction, then you can start seeding in the "background facts" without it seeming like a dull briefing room scene.  But this is ALWAYS a challenge."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any other projects in the works?"

Gannon: "Yes: many.  Look for the novel(s) Fire with Fire , another one tentatively titled Who'll Stop the Rains (no, I didn't forget a question mark), and more novellas—one of which will (I hope!) be in Defending the Future 3.  They are all part of the future history of the Consolidated Terran Republic."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any upcoming author events?"

Gannon: "I do about 8 East Coast cons every year.  Look for me at Arisia, Lunacon, I-Con, Raven Con, BaltiCon, CapClave, Philcon, and usually World Fantasy (wherever it happens to be).  I'll probably be adding 1 or 2 more in the years to come."

MilSciFi: "Do you have a website?"

Gannon: "My website is just going back up now, after moving to a new host, and getting some hassles with domain registry and names sorted out.  By August of 2009, there should be a whole lot of meaty content and eye-candy to check out at  You'll also be able to get there by  Come by for a visit!  There will be new content every week, because there's always a new story in from the Interstellar News Service—the unofficial chroniclers of the early years of the Consolidated Terran Republic."

MilSciFi: "Thank you"

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