Pets From Space

Pets in Space!  Science fiction—so far.  Someday. . . .

But how about pets FROM space?  Not fiction, but historical fact.

In August, 1960, two dogs, Belka and Strelka, were launched into space aboard the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 5.  They were the first animals to successfully orbit the Earth and survive their adventures.  They did more than merely survive:  Strelka (the name translates to “Little Arrow”) later gave birth to five puppies.

The successful space flight of Belka and Strelka did more than enable Strelka to start a family; the two dogs also served as tangible—indeed, pettable—evidence of Soviet superiority in developing space technology.  In fact, it was the event that motivated President John F. Kennedy to commit to sending human beings to the Earth’s Moon by the end of the decade.  (Kennedy made his announcement on the Rice University campus, my alma mater and just a few blocks from where I am right now.)

At a state dinner in Vienna, early in June, 1961, Jackie Kennedy, seated next to Nikita Khrushchev and at a loss for innocuous dinner-table subjects, thought to ask about Strelka and her puppies.  Some time later, a mysterious package arrived at the White House.  Inside was one of the litter—a puppy, Pushinka.

Pushinka was cute and fluffy, but that only made sense:  the name Pushinka actually translates to “Fluffy.”

In October 1962 the world held its breath as what became known as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded.  Nuclear war was averted, and the personal relationship between JFK and Nikita Khrushchev is often credited with making this possible.  Perhaps, too, the world’s first Pet FROM Space had a paw in this.

We’ll never know, but we can wonder.

In this photo, Pushinka in the middle is flanked by parents Strelka (left) and Pushok (right).

Pushinka thrived in White House care and eventually gave birth to her own litter, which JFK referred to as “pupniks.”


 

Pets in Space 2

There’s going to be another anthology of science fiction romance with cute, helpful and/or valiant pets!  The authors in Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 are S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and me.

Our Island Home

When I write speculative fiction, I do a lot of world-building. I imagine a fictional world in sufficient detail and logically consistent enough to potentially exist—and sound plausible to knowledgeable readers. (I have to do the same thing with the contours of the human heart; our shared, different-but-alike internal landscapes must be recreated in a way that always rings true.)

When building worlds, for my jumping-off place I start with the world we all share: the beautiful blue oasis we sometimes call Earth, sometimes call Terra—and always call “home.”

The image below shows a part of the world familiar to transatlantic airline pilots. You can spot the lights of Goose Bay, where an airport large enough to land an airliner serves as a sort of emergency “what-if” option for flight planning.

In the lower right portion of the image you see the white ring that marks the perimeter of the Manicouagan Crater, a meteor crater fully 70 kilometers in diameter. In wintertime it’s covered with frozen water, making it so striking and so readily visible even from orbit.

And the aurora borealis crowns the Earth with fire.

Auroras figure into my Aeon’s Legacy series – in the novel Hurricane Moon, in which an aurora on the colony world Green is injected with the ashes of dead starfarers, adding colors to create a luminous memorial; and in Star Crossing, in which the auroras of Green are transformed into a generator for a radio message across the stars.

And a meteor crater in Canada figures significantly into my novelette “The Vigilant Ones.”

This photo, courtesy NASA, was taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station on February 3, 2012.

THE TIDE

This excellent book adroitly weaves together  the scientific understanding of tides, the role of tides in history and literature, and the author’s own encounters with tides. And Aldersey-Williams writes so well that his meticulous account of spending a solid day on bit of shoreline near his home in England, watching the tide go and come, is page-turningly interesting!

THE TIDE was published by Viking in 2016.

Among the interesting scientific angles is that Earth’s tides likely had much to do with the evolution of life on Earth, including stabilizing the tilt of the Earth’s axis, which limited evolved life’s exposure to climatic extremes. In looking for life on other worlds, we may need to focus on exoplanets with moons.  This idea played into my science fiction novel Hurricane Moon, in which a star colonization mission seeks (and at first fails to find) a world with a large moon.

THE TIDE starts with an epigram that quoted John Steinbeck in The Log of the Sea of Cortez:  “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

 

Enchanted Rock

Brilliant red Indian paintbrush wildflowers below the Enchanted Rock batholith
Indian paintbrush below Enchanted Rock

In celebration of my birthday, I finally visited Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Llano, Texas.  I went with a photographer friend, and we spent a night in the primitive camping area – which you reach by backpacking your stuff in.

Alexis wearing backpack
Me and my backpack

When the stars came out in the cloudless night sky, we saw satellites and the Milky Way. It was cold and a bit windy so my friend put the rain fly on the tent the better to keep us (or to be more accurate, me) warm. In the middle of the night, unzipping the rain fly and looking out, I saw how the constellations had moved around the axis of the Pole Star, and a shooting star.

We did have a bit of trouble with the local raccoons. When two of them started snarling over their right to plunder our backpacks, I levitated about three feet out of a sound sleep.  My wilderness-rated friend put our trail food into the tent stuff sack and suspended it from a tree.  Problem solved.  I will say I can now better empathize with those of my characters who spend a long, cold night in a wild place or in a wilderness of stars.

And I have never seen the stars like I did that night.

At dawn the rising sun brought out all of the colors of the landscape.  We broke camp, hiked back to the parking area, then hiked to the top of Enchanted Rock—a vast granite batholith.  From the top we could see for miles across the Texas Hill Country.  After that we hiked around the Rock.

Eroded granite menhirs framed by aloe plant in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, TX
Rock formations near the trail around Enchanted Rock

After leaving the park we spent a night at a lovingly restored old railroad hotel in Llano, the Dabbs.  It’s a sweet old place, located on a bluff above the Llano River, with a lot of carefully selected, vintage train decor.

The next morning, by old railroad tracks nearby, we found a man and his friends putting an old railroad motor car, or “speeder,” on the rails.  He was going to be checking out the track for the safety of another dozen or more fellow enthusiasts who were planning a speeder group excursion the following day. He was happy to talk about his speeder and offer a photo op to an itinerant science fiction writer.

Alexis looking back over her shoulder from her seat on a railroad motor car
All aboard!

It was a happy birthday and I hope for many happy returns to the Hill Country!

Return to Flight

Finally the stars aligned for me to regain my currency as a sailplane pilot.  The weather, the gliderport runway conditions, the two-seat sailplane and the instructor all became suitable or available at the same time!

While flying with an instructor at the start of a new season or after a long layoff isn’t really mandatory, it IS a good practice.  In this case, I took advantage of the excellent instruction provided by CFIG Keith Miller and under his watchful eye performed two complete flights and one simulated emergency:  a “rope break” at low altitude, necessitating an immediate return to the runway.

It was a good workout and Blanik 5 (a Czech-made Super Blanik L-23 trainer) is a good ship.

 

Seen from the flight line, this is SCOH’s L-23 “Blanik 5” on final approach.

Under Construction

I am in the process of renovating – and combining – my Website and my blog, incrementally and with the much appreciated skill set of WordPress consultant Chris Merle.  Results will gradually become apparent!

"underconstruction" graphic
© Marinv | Dreamstime.com – Under Construction Blueprint, Technical Drawing Photo

Sign for the Times

A few days after the November 8 election in the US, I found myself at El Pueblo De Los Angeles Historic Monument.  This was after taking the Amtrak Sunset Limited train from Houston to L. A. and arriving very early on a cool, clear California morning.  So we walked across the street from Union Station to see this park.  The colorful vendors mostly weren’t open, but the buildings and works of art were there to tell of the history of Los Angeles.

This spirited artwork caught my attention.

wishing-well decorated with flowers and Day of the Dead skull art

How amazing – this is Northern European and Mesoamerican pre-Christian imagery, wishing well and decorative skulls, intertwined just as these cultures are woven together in the Southwest.

All kinds of public fountains can turn into penny-strewn wishing wells, but that likely dates back to tossing coins into sacred springs as offerings to deities that live there – water being a source of life and a sometimes scarce necessity. The Day of the Dead abounds in sweet sugar skulls and lively skeletons, but that comes from Aztec religion which took death very seriously and graphically – with the skull an image of hope.

This decorated wishing well was an unforgettable reminder that our world has roots that are deep and dark and yet, though not optimistic, profoundly hopeful.

 

Veronica Scott Guest Blog: Cats in Space

new-releasePets in Space is a new science fiction romance anthology in which I and eight other authors have stories about – pets in space!

We authors are trading blog posts.

Today Veronica Scott tells us about cats on Earth and across the stars.

 


 

I first encountered the concept of pets going into space in Andre Norton’s Solar Queen series, where the captain of the ship kept a very unpleasant  blue, six-legged toad-parrot in a cage in his quarters and the Cargo Master had a tiger striped tom cat. Of course Ms. Norton also wrote many other science fiction stories where animals were featured, often as enhanced telepathic companions. Beast Master is one of the best. Catseye, which was actually the first Andre Norton book I ever read, has cats and other animals but they weren’t going into space – they were already on an alien planet. The crew of the Solar Queen, however, had their pets on board the ship.

Pair this with all the research I did into the sinking of the Titanic a few years ago, including the details of all the dogs on board (who sadly perished). I loosely based my novel Wreck of the Nebula Dream on the Titanic, but set in the far future on an interstellar liner.

So I was primed to write my own story with pets in space when Pauline Baird Jones and I first started discussing the possibility of putting together an anthology with this concept as the central theme. I’m a cat person, so of course Owen Embersson, the cargo master on my ship, has a cat named Moby, and I wanted to include an alien pet of unknown origin, so I took the ‘character ‘ of Midorri from my book Star Cruise: Outbreak and left her on the ship after the adventure in Outbreak concluded. Midorri is kind of a six legged, green puffball, equipped with a tail to rival a red tailed panda (my favorite Earthly animal after cats). And she purrs. Moby and Midorri pretty much have the run of the ship, which is useful to Owen as he attempts to watch over his stowaway and later to rescue her from the very bad guys.

veronica_catveronica_catsI don’t think my cats Jake and Keanu would be all that effective in rescuing me and despite their efforts to brainwash me into feeding them more often, we have no telepathic link. I can’t imagine not having them to keep me company though, so it makes sense to me that when humanity moves out into the galaxy, we’ll take pets with us and find new pets to love as well.

Here’s a short excerpt from near the start of “Stowaway” as Owen Embersson knocks off work for the day:

Stepping onto the echoing deck, he called for Moby. She spent most of her evenings hunting vermin lurking among the monstrous crates and containers, but she usually passed the first part of the evening in his cabin, eating the incredibly expensive cat food he had the ship’s AI keep in stock. Not much else to spend his salary on. “Come on, cat, I want my dinner even if you don’t,” he said to the elegant vision in white fur who trotted from the murky recesses of the deck. How she stayed clean when she spent her days prowling the cargo deck, he’d never know.

Purring, she came to his steel-tipped work shoes but evaded his effort to pick her up, moving just out of range the way felines did, as if cats could teleport. Moby scampered toward the towering stacks of cargo then turned. Seeing he’d failed to chase her, she sat, tail twitching, head tilted, eyeing him.

“What‘s the matter with you? I’m not in the mood to throw cat toys and retrieve them right now.” Embersson headed toward the gravlift. Moby regarded the entire ship as her territory and could find his cabin for her dinner when she was hungry.

In the next minute, he nearly tripped as she rubbed his ankles, nipping at one in passing. Swearing, he caught himself with a hand to the bulkhead. “What in the seven hells is wrong with you tonight? Giving me a concussion won’t get you fed.”

Moby yowled at him and ran toward the stacked cargo again.

Moby and Midorri Art by Nyssa Juneau
Moby and Midorri
Art by Nyssa Juneau

Photo of Veronica Scott

Best Selling Science Fiction & Paranormal Romance author and “SciFi Encounters” columnist for the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, Veronica Scott grew up in a house with a library as its heart. Dad loved science fiction, Mom loved ancient history and Veronica thought there needed to be more romance in everything. When she ran out of books to read, she started writing her own stories.

Three time winner of the SFR Galaxy Award, as well as a National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award, Veronica is also the proud recipient of a NASA Exceptional Service Medal relating to her former day job, not her romances! She recently was honored to read the part of Star Trek Crew Member in the audiobook production of Harlan Ellison’s “City On the Edge of Forever.”

Visit Veronica’s Blog to learn more about her books and her USAT HEA column.

 

Susan Grant Guest Blog: To Name a Dog . . .

new-releasePets in Space is a brand new science fiction romance anthology in which I and eight other authors have stories about – pets in space!

We authors are trading blog posts.

Today Susan Grant tells us about a remarkable real-life dog and the naming of the dog in her Pets in Space story Stray

 


I adore dogs and cats, and I feature them in many of my books. Both rescue pets and show pets have brought joy to my life. So it was a thrill when Erin, one of my readers, wrote to tell me that she planned to name a newborn Collie puppy “Banzai” after the heroine in my action romance The Legend of Banzai Maguire. She loved the story, but more than that, there was something that really struck her about the book and the whole 2176 series.

It turns out Erin’s dad was a Marine Corps “Gunny” (the highest non-commissioned officer rank). She was always so proud of him and also her brother, who was a captain in the Air Force (like I was). Erin wanted to join the military herself, but life intervened. But the great thing about books as we all know is that they let you live vicariously through the characters. While reading the 2176 series, she was flying right along with Captain Bree “Banzai” Maguire in the cockpit of a fighter jet.

Back in 2007, Erin and her husband showed Vita, Banzai’s mother, at Westminster (think: the Olympics of dog shows in the USA). At the time, Erin’s favorite book was The Legend of Banzai

It was love at first sight.
It was love at first sight.

Maguire. She planned to breed Vita and told me that she hoped to have a good female in that litter to name after Banzai. Well, not only did Erin get a good puppy, she got a great one.

From the beginning Banzai was special. She started winning right away, like a great athlete who is undefeated. I always looked forward to the updates Erin emailed me. It was amazing that after only a couple of years Banzai was the #1 female Smooth Collie in the country, living up to the female hero after which she was named. “WHAT A THRILL ride she has been!” Erin says. And for me, too (!!!), as the author who penned the story that inspired Erin to name this incredible dog after a character in my book.

Banzai at the Westminster Dog Show
Top Dog!

Erin says, “I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of her. There will NEVER be another like her.” No, there won’t be. BIS/BISS Gold Grand Champion Tir Na N’ Og The Legend Of Banzai Maguire, aka “Banzai” is one of a kind, just like her namesake, Bree “Banzai” Maguire.

Have any of you ever named pets after characters in books? I love the idea. Naming your pets is definitely an art. It has to be just the right one. Often it’s not easy. We named our two-year old Border Collie “Skye” only after trying out Harriet, Jamie, and Casey. We worried she thought her name was “No”. Skye was a very naughty puppy, haha. But that is another story for another time…

Here’s an excerpt (in the dog’s point of view!) of that naming process from Stray, when the hero, Lt. Lukas Frank, comes up with a great name:

“There’ll be no getting rid of him now, Sir. You’re gonna have to name him. How about Kabob? We can call him Bobby.”

“Kabob? What the f—?” The Tall One sounded unhappy.

He cowered all over again, tucking his tail.

“Because the Baréshtis like to eat street dogs—”

“That’ll be all, Staff Sergeant.” The Tall One turned back to study him. “A backfire sent you running—straight to me. I could call you Backfire…” Then he shook his head. “Nope. Doesn’t fit. It was more like a double bang. A bang, bang.” A hand ruffled his fur. “That’s it. Bang-Bang. A good name. Come on, boy. You’ve just been recruited to be an Interplanetary Marine. Bezos Station could use a few good dogs.” The Tall One hoisted Bang-Bang high off the ground into his arms. “But first, dinner and a bath. Definitely a bath.”

Drawing of Bang-Bang from the story Stray
Bang-Bang drawn by Nyssa Juneau

Thank you for having me on your blog! I always enjoy chatting about pets and books, so to be able to do both? A win/win.


Jumbo jet pilot Susan Grant is a NY Times bestselling and RITA Award-Winning author of science fiction, time travel, and paranormal romance featuring strong women and honorable men.  Visit her Website to find out more about Susan and her books.

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Novels of science fiction with wonder, hope and love