Folks, please give a warm welcome to Peter Riva, author of The Path. We chat about space exploration (real and fiction), memory virginity, a fantastical book club meeting, and plenty more! And don’t forget to check out the print, audiobook, & gift card giveaway (International!) at the end of the post!
It’s time for you to host the book club. Who do you invite (living, dead, fictional, real)? And what 3 books will you be discussing?
Dr. Norman Borlaug, Dr. Linus Pauling, Robert Heinlein, Joseph Conrad, and Arthur C. Clarke. Let me explain why.
Arthur because I was lucky enough to have him write a foreword to a book I did on NASA photography in 1985 – at which time he and I talked for hours discussing the state of astronautics and the hopes and dreams he had for a space elevator in Sri Lanka – if only they would perfect single, continuous molecular wire that would be able to take the strain – Arthur was an eminently practical person who would add to any discussion with feet firmly planted in the possible, not fantasy.
Conrad because he always saw accurately into the heart of man, understood that the real danger was always in the well-meaning do-gooder, a person so myopic that they do not realize the dangers they pose.
Heinlein because his ability to be prescient of the actual future we all face – everything from Waldos (robotics), video glasses, omnipresent recording everything, portable telephones, commercialization of space, burgeoning open sexuality and so on – that vision of his would open up any conversation in a hurry.
Pauling because I met him, through his grandson who I went to school with for a while, and he struck me as a very frustrated man, way ahead of his time, pushing the boundaries of human biomechanical possibilities. In any discussion, he would be able to assess the effects of any postulation upon humankind’s ability to tolerate a different future.
And Dr. Borlaug? People don’t know him very well. They should. The Nobel Peace Prize winner said, in his acceptance speech (for growing more wheat per acre and thereby avoiding conflict due to want) that more food also could mean more people and that is NOT what he had in mind. Dr. Borlaug, America’s leading environmentalist and an admirer of Teddy Roosevelt, understood the real global environmental threats better than almost anyone.
The choice of the three books is selfish – I would love to listen to such great minds discuss the future of humanity, this planet, and space.
“Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology” – the writings of the man who said about humans (to paraphrase), “It is a paradox that the only creature able to appreciate the beauty of nature is also the only creature on earth able to bring about its destruction.” Wallace also hinted at something gaining traction today – that survival of the individual is not the main evolutionary pathway – survival ability of the tribe leads to greater evolutionary changes than the individual alone.
“The Heechee Saga” by Frederik Pohl – a most optimistic look at a futuristic confined galaxy around us – replete with seriously flawed humans. The conclusion of the novels being a version of “duck and cover” – escaping a deadly outcome by hiding inside the edge of a black hole – so typically human.
Well, I was going to pick “Remembrance of Things Past” by Marcel Proust (only the first book)[i] but then Orson Scott Card dealt with the same issues brilliantly in “Speaker for the Dead” – where people’s memories are questioned for recall for what they wanted (or tried) to remember or actually did remember – which brings into question the whole concept of the human brain’s ability to store anything accurately or, indeed, what the brain conjures up as a parallel memory or original thought. Bang goes copyright in one paragraph.
[i] – sticking especially to the Episode of the Madeleine….
No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. … Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it? … And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of Madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray… when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it. And all from my cup of tea.
—Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time
If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?
A supernatural creature, of course. If you consider that evolution has confined all our muscular and brain ability in favor of increased longevity (and thereby accumulation of wisdom which is better for our tribe’s survival), my hope is that a supernatural creature would have the ability to unlock those restrictions – mental and muscular – and save me from doom.
If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?
What an interesting thought – memory virginity… putting thoughts back into the (Pandora’s) box… someone should write that book.
I remember loving Bonanza, first time color TV and all the wonderful Colorful World of Disney hours – especially the science ones. I guess I would add the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World and my friend James Burke’s brilliant Connections – these always blew me away.
Seeing one of my favorite films for the first time again – Lawrence of Arabia – on the giant screen, or, indeed, yes, 2001, A Space Odyssey, sitting in the front row, staring up at the screen, being blown away. It was a time of societal “otherness” and 2001 fit the bill perfectly.
On the book front, that is harder. Book memories are always colored by where I read them, and the more thought-provoking titles rarely were a pleasure to read initially, only to savor in the coming months. I suppose I would love to read any of the Dr. Seuss stories for the first time again, there is an innocence there that is still captivating – similarly, I miss Paul Gallico’s “The Hurricane Story” that thrilled me to my core. That I would love to re-experience.
Conventions, book signings, blogging, etc.: what are some of your favorite aspects of self-promotion and what are some of the least favorite parts of self-promotion?
To be frank, this is about the most fun an author can have – answering serious questions without restriction. Book writing is all about sharing. In my case perhaps a bit too much of a desire to impart what I know before it is all gone… “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” well, perhaps, but if no one ever hears of them, how can they be evident to everyone? It causes me to want to talk too much, makes me feel I am bragging, when in fact I really don’t like to talk about me, I just want to give all this information to people so they can color their own lives the way they want. Book promotion should not be about self-promotion but about imparting the stuff you write about. Sadly, often it is about people only wanting to buddy up to the author – and for that you need to open your sphere and promote yourself – but hopefully as little as possible.
What has been your worst or most difficult job? How does it compare to writing?
I grew up with the notion of responsibility. Jobs were merely the manifestation of responsibility. Every “job” I have ever had was deeply personal and I attacked each one from that perspective. That includes writing. You want to write? Write, finish. Re-write.
I have a life motto – try and be at the vanguard at least three times in your life.
One of the least rewarding jobs I ever had was like pushing boulders up a huge hill. UCAR set up a team to negotiate, in 1986, to make NASA leave the Shuttle External Tanks in high Earth orbit instead of ditching them in the Indian Ocean. Vast pressurizable islands in space, they could have formed the habitat for space living for centuries to come. I got the program as far as a MOU with NASA and then they pulled the rug – NORAD and others didn’t want more space “junk” floating up there. Three years and countless hours, all for nothing. I put it down to shortsightedness, but the truth was, we tried to get NASA corporate on board before we got Congressional approval and support. That one failure still hurts.
If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?
“Caution: He tries, hard – but means well.”
Care to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?
Well, it has to be me with John Young the astronaut, America’s first real spaceman. He seems to be a most boring person… totally disinterested in mundane trivia – until you ask him anything about walking on the moon – then his eyes light up, he smiles and won’t (thankfully) stop telling you how great it was, how mind-expanding the new reality to stand on another planetary body… His outpouring was interrupted by fellow spaceman Robert Crippen, in building 2 at JSC where we were editing astronaut’s images, because they had a meeting to go to… my plea, said like a five-year-old, squeaky voice and all, “Please, don’t go! I want to hear more!” John smiled and patted me on the back as he walked out. My face was red for long time.
All life on earth is about to be terminated by an entity as old as the galaxy itself. To make matters worse, Simon has broken everything already.
In a future world that is run by computer systems and that is without want, how can a man find his role? Then, if the very computers he works on to try to make them more human suddenly try to kill him, revealing a secret so vast that it affects every living soul on the planet, can that man be a hero?
These are the questions that face the stumbling, comic, and certainly flawed Simon Bank. His job is to work with the System’s artificial intelligence, making it fit more perfectly into human society so that it can keep the country running smoothly. But when the System threatens the peaceful world he knows, Simon suddenly must rush to save his own life, as well as the life of everyone on earth. Forced to reassess everything that he thought he knew, he is caught within circumstances way beyond his control.
Simon’s only hope is to rely on intellect and instincts he didn’t know he had, and on new friends, not all of them human, to change himself and all humanity. And he doesn’t have much time.
Peter Riva has worked for more than thirty years with the leaders in aerospace and space exploration. His daytime job for more than forty years has been as a literary agent. He resides in New York City.
There’s plenty of more interviews, guest posts, reviews, and book spotlights on this tour, courtesy of iRead Book Tours. You can check out the tour schedule HERE.
Win 1 of 10 print or audiobook copies of The Path and (2) $25 Amazon gift cards (International)