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today 6/2/16 on aobibliosphere™ [aobibliospotlight™: A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart]

Friday, May 13, 2011

01 Enchanted Book Tours guest post + giveaway: Kea's Flight by Erika Hammerschmidt & John C. Ricker

Authors sometimes think of their books as their children. I’m not completely sure, yet, whether I feel that way about Kea’s Flight. The novel fits much of the description of a child: a co-authored work by my husband and me, which started out chaotic and disobedient, requiring years of work to shape into what we wanted.  It would be a lie, though, to say that this book’s life began at its conception.
The idea first occurred to the two of us when we were having a philosophical conversation with John’s father, a pastor in small-town Minnesota. The subject turned to the controversy of abortion, and after much talk, I became wistful. “There aren’t really any good options,” I said. “It would be so much better if people didn’t have to make that choice in the first place. If unwanted embryos could be removed and kept alive, they could just be saved until someone wanted them.”
John burst out laughing. “There would be so many. There would be warehouses full of them. You’d have to start sending them into space!”
That was how it happened: a thought from my own mind, fertilized by a thought from John, began growing inside me. Its growth was stunted, though. At the time, I was depressed and frustrated with issues related to my first book, a memoir titled Born on the Wrong Planet that had been published by a small company in California. I didn’t feel capable of writing anything more than a short story, and possibly not even that. If it weren’t for John’s encouragement, Kea’s Flight would have been stillborn before it got onto paper in any form.
It sat in my mind, partially developed, for months, before that encouragement finally coaxed it into further growth. And then it wouldn’t stop. After a certain tipping point in June 2006, I was on a roll, writing whenever I had a spare moment, spending my days at work brainstorming plot points, then exploring them in conversation with John whenever we were together.
Our imagined world where embryos were saved for later became a dystopian future, with dictators who prohibited abortion but required genetic testing during pregnancy, and a widespread system in which embryos predisposed to disorders were exiled to space. Protagonists arose, including a troubled young woman whose parents got rid of her in the embryonic stage for having autism spectrum genes. Raised by robots and exiled convicts on a dysfunctional starship, she rejected her name, Karen Irene Anderson, and called herself Kea after a species of parrot.
Her story developed, scene by scene. She struggled to overcome her emotional and social challenges, build a group of like-minded rebels, and find love with a socially awkward computer hacker who called himself Draz.  My own fascination with language and John’s fascination with computers manifested themselves in Kea and Draz’s rebellious efforts against the system, and even more in the intricate surprise climax of the book, after the renegades took matters into their own hands in an attempt to save the ship from hazards posed by the corruption of its crew.
For the six months it took for Kea’s Flight to be born, my husband was at my side helping me through it, soothing my frustrations, encouraging me to keep going. By the end of 2006 our novel had a beginning, middle and end, though it was a tiny newborn, just over a hundred pages long.
Like most children born so soon after conception, it was too undeveloped to be ready for the world. The editing phase took several times as long as the writing of the initial draft, and this was where John became even more involved. He helped the story grow far beyond its premature size, creating plot points and even whole new characters to add. His technological expertise fleshed out the parts that involved computer hacking. His understanding of motivations helped solidify the actions of the characters, including a detailed new subplot from the viewpoint of the antagonist. Though I was the one typing the words into the document, John had provided close to half of the book’s material by the time it reached its current 500+ pages.
At the age of four and a half, after countless hours of our parental guidance, and lots of helpful advice from our friends and family, Kea’s Flight was ready to go out in the world. As a self-published book on Lulu and Amazon, it will face challenges beyond anything my first book had to deal with, but so far it’s the biggest thing John and I have created together. We’re not planning on having any biological children— perhaps someday we will adopt one of the many unwanted, emotionally troubled older kids out there— but for now, Kea’s Flight is the greatest example of what we can make together.

It's the 25th century, and humans have learned how to end unwanted pregnancies by removing and cryogenically freezing the embryos to save for later. But they never planned for how many there would be, or how much control people would want over their offspring's genetic makeup.

Kea was an exile before she was born. Grown from an embryo that was rejected for having autism-spectrum genes, she has been raised on a starship full of Earth's unwanted children. When a sudden discovery threatens their plan to find a home, Kea must join with other rejects to save the ship from its own insane government. 

excerpt from Kea's Flight:

History essay, June 22, 2453 
written by Karen Irene Anderson, age 12

My thesis is that the ancient custom of abortion was terrible, but it was not as bad as the customs of birth control and abstinence that are still in use today. This is because, with abortion, the fetus at least gets to live a little bit before it dies. But with birth control and abstinence the fetus never gets to exist at all.

Everyone has a right to exist. This is why so much effort was put into eliminating abortion until the year 2256 and the invention of removal technology.

When it became possible to end a pregnancy by removing the embryo and keeping it frozen and alive until someone wanted it, there ended up being many more unborn babies than anybody wanted. But the government understood that life always has a right to exist, and so they did not murder the extra embryos. Instead they put years of work and trillions of dollars into making spaceships with freezers and artificial wombs and childraising robots and volunteers from Earth, so the children could go colonize other planets.

The reason I am grateful for this is because otherwise I would not be alive, and neither would any of the other children on our spaceship. Our government was very kind to give us a chance at life, and a hope for a new home on the planet we are being brought to. Someday we will reach that planet and we will found our new nation there in the name of our leaders on earth.

When we start our nation, I think we should follow the vision of our great leaders that every child should get to exist. But I think we should do it even better than they did it. This is not an insult to them, it is a greater honor for their ideas. To fulfill their dreams to the fullest, it is necessary to do the following:

Every person should start having babies as soon as he or she reaches puberty.

Every person should not stop having babies until they are too old to be able to.

This way we waste as few eggs and sperm as possible, because when eggs and sperm are wasted, it means someone does not ever get to live, which is worse than killing somebody.

Life is the important thing, because any life at all is better than not existing. If there are too many people alive, we can always send some of them into space.


         “My God, Kea. You actually wrote that?” Blaro tried and failed to keep a straight face, glanced at the cameras placed all along the wall of the lounge, and settled for trying to make her laugh look like a response to my chess move.

         Blaro was the one who always came close to forgetting that any sound or motion had to fit into the game. I closed my eyes for a second, fighting annoyance. She had a raucous laugh—too loud even in the proper context—and the possible breach of secrecy wasn’t the only reason this context seemed inappropriate to me.

         “Hey, give me a break,” I said, my eyes focused on the motion of my pieces on the board. “Yeah, I wrote that, more or less. I’ve quoted it as closely as I can remember. But that was over seven years ago. I was twelve—a clueless little kid. I thought I was saying what they wanted me to say. I thought I was taking the lesson...”

         “...to its logical conclusion.” Blaro couldn’t stop grinning. “You were a genius. You took exactly what they taught you—the lesson on the history of removal technology, the lesson that everyone has a right to live, the lesson that we should all be thankful for being carted into space like garbage—and you took it to the conclusion that followed from it in the most perfectly, perfectly, perfectly logical way. How long did they put you in the re-ed room? A month?”

         Draz tilted his head and reached for the chessboard. “Nobody gets put in the re-ed room for more than half a day.”

         “I know,” said Blaro, rolling her eyes as she made the chess moves that formed her sentence. “I was joking. Seriously, though—that’s just priceless, Kea. ‘To fulfill their dreams to the fullest, every person should start having babies as soon as they reach puberty...’ I can’t stand it, that’s so priceless.”

         I scowled. The lounge seemed to darken, a haze settling over the hard polymer tables and chairs, the gray floor, the scattering of rems playing half-hearted games and re-reading books on their hand-comps and sleeping with their heads on the tables. The doorless doorway leading from the bedroom seemed to be letting in less light than usual. But it was just my mood, so I ignored it.

         Blaro looked at me quizzically. Out loud, Draz said, “Your turn.”

         “It’s not funny,” I spelled out in forceful motions. “The re-ed room isn’t funny. Me getting misunderstood and locked up when I was a little kid without a clue what they wanted of me—that’s not funny. That’s something I cry about at night.”

         “Sorry,” said Blaro. “I meant to laugh at them, not you.”

         “It sounded as if you were laughing at me. Laughing at specific passages from my essay, even.”

         “Laughing at how smart your essay was.” Blaro was squinting and smiling at once now, seeming half-amused and half-puzzled.

         I looked down. “Why does smart equal funny?”

         Blaro shrugged. “People laugh when someone brings up an insight so brilliant that we’ve never thought of it before. We laugh when we’re surprised. That’s what laughter is.”

         “Okay.” I raised my eyes. “I’ll take it as a compliment, I guess. Even though I still feel like clenching up all my muscles when I think about it.”

         “Wait,” said Draz, visibly confused. “Why were the teachers mad about your essay? I don’t get it.”

         “What do you mean?” I asked him. “I’ve told you this story before.”

         “Only a couple times, and you never explained why they were so mad at you. Maybe you thought it was obvious, with your slightly superior social skills, but what your slightly superior theory of mind didn’t tell you is that I failed to get it.”

         I half-sighed, half-laughed, feeling the warmth that Draz somehow managed to incite at the most unexpected times. He could be more autistic than any of us, sometimes, and it only made me adore him more. The imagined dimness in the lounge lightened a bit, as if a little extra power had surged to the OLEDs on the ceiling.

         “Okay,” I said, “first of all, they were mad because I said that there was something worse than abortion. Especially because the thing I said was worse was something that the government on Earth allows and approves of.”

         Draz made a subtle affirmative gesture, and I continued. “Second, they were mad because I suggested that things could be done better than the government on Earth did them. Even though I put in that ‘greater honor for their ideas’ disclaimer.”

         Blaro stifled another laugh.

         “Most of all, though, they were mad because I showed them that the logical conclusion of their lesson wasn’t logical at all, it was ridiculous. That’s the one thing an oppressor can’t stand. What was it that Jake said the other day? ‘If there’s anything worse to oppressors than a stupid criticism of their doctrine, it’s an intelligent criticism of their doctrine.’”

         “You are, as I said, a genius,” Blaro repeated.

         “Not as much as it seems now. I didn’t realize what a good political satire my essay would make, not at the time. All I cared about was making them happy and doing what I was supposed to do. I thought they wanted me to write something like that. I really did. It wasn’t until years later that I understood why I got punished for it.”

          I paused, getting another unwanted flash of memory: the door of the re-ed room closing; Screen Man’s voice crooning the words “I’m very disappointed in you, Karrie,” before everything went dark. That voice was why I had always called him Screen Man—it reminded me of the droning background noise made by the screens that played propaganda in the re-ed rooms. None of the teachers could hear that noise, and they didn’t believe me when I said it drove me into a panic.

         Shaking my head to get the images out, I stared down at the end of the sentence I’d just spelled out on the chessboard.

         Blaro’s fingers on the pieces brought me back. “You’re the most autistic geek of all the rems on this ship—besides Draz, and maybe some of the embryos that are still frozen. But you’re brilliant anyway.”

         “Thanks,” I said. “I think that’s why I was removed. The prenatal tests can probably detect intelligence two weeks into the pregnancy, and Earth probably has a law that any embryo with that gene has to go into space.”

         “I thought you were removed because you had the Asperger’s Syndrome genes,” said Draz. “Like me.”

         I looked at him. “Of course I was. I was making a bitter joke. Sorry.”

         Blaro smirked. “Zoom, right over his head. Sometimes I think Draz was raised completely by the robots. The BGs just forgot about him until he was, like, seventeen.”

         “But Asperger’s and intelligence aren’t totally different things, you know,” I added. “With all the savant gifts that come with autism spectrum disorders, it’s pretty fitting that our truth-phobic government considered them diseases. I mean, look at you, Draz—your computer skills are well worth your social handicaps. Especially with all the hacking you’ve been doing. If we ever get off this trash barge, it’ll be because of people like you.”

         “Sometimes, Kea,” Blaro said, “you are full of contradictions. You’re so shy, and tongue-tied, and... and socially inept, when I see you with people you don’t know. But when you’re with us, you hardly seem autistic at all. You’re weird, of course... but you’re so eloquent, so fluent in conversation.”

         I responded with an almost imperceptible nod, and reached for the chessboard. “That’s because I know you guys. First of all, I’m not severe autism, just Asperger’s. The nerd syndrome. Social disabilities combined with remarkable academic skills in specialized areas. But nerds aren’t always antisocial... we just seem like it, when we’re with people we can’t relate to. Put nerds together with each other, and you get some of the best social interaction ever.”

         There was a brief silence... or rather, a minute when none of the moves we made on the chessboard had any significance. Our hands just played out the meaningless moves we had designed for filling wordless time so anyone watching us wouldn’t get suspicious. There was enough danger of suspicion just from the fact that some of the ship’s smartest students spent their free time in the lounge playing multi-player chess with highly unconventional house rules.

         Finally, when it seemed clear we’d run out of things to say for now, Draz tipped over two randomly chosen pieces and said out loud, “Checkmate.”

         Blaro and I rolled our eyes and groaned, faking frustration at being defeated in chess. Vocal conversation resumed, each of us aware that our words were once again being recorded.

         “You’re only so good at it because you don’t have a real life,” I said, ruffling Draz’s hair with one hand as I reached to gather up the chess set with the other.

         “I don’t need one,” he said, grabbing me off guard and pulling me across the table for a voracious kiss. I stumbled and almost lost my balance, and chess pieces went everywhere, but I didn’t notice for a good fifteen seconds.

         “Mmm,” I said as our mouths parted. Then, snapping out of it: “Draz, you got spit on me all the way out to my cheeks. One of these days a robot’s going to come and drag us away for a public scene like that. Plus...” I glanced at the hand-comp strapped to my wrist; the screen was on an unfamiliar setting. “You pushed a couple buttons when you grabbed my arms. I’m going to have to reset it. And look at the chess stuff, all over the place.” We were still leaning over the little table, arms around each other’s shoulders. A precarious position.

         “You two need to control yourselves. Seriously.” Blaro shook her head.

         “Us two? What did I do?” I laughed.

         “Just as much as he did. And you don’t seem to want to let go of him just yet.”

         “I’m barely balancing. If I let go I might fall.”

         “Yeah right.”

         I began to extricate myself from Draz’s arms. “Don’t distract me.”

         “You mean like this?” Blaro ran over and pulled on the back of my shirt, and I shrieked in surprise. My foot caught in what felt like a corner, everything turned upside down, and the next thing I knew, I was on my butt on the hard floor.

         “Ow ow ow. I told you. You are so immature! We’re almost twenty years old, Blaro... why don’t you act like it?”

         Blaro gave me a reproachful look, and I lowered my head. I’d overstepped a line there, more than she had. Accusing another rem of being childish was a low blow, an unwelcome reminder of the self-serving cycle through which the BGs controlled us. Their rationale for treating us like children was that we acted like children. Of course we did—what choice did we have? Were there any responsible, adult activities to do in this garbage can? Go to work and pay bills? Not applicable. Care for those younger than us? There weren’t any. Marriage and sex? Forbidden. We acted like children because we were treated like children. We acted like children because the role of children was the only role available to us.

          Finally, Blaro forced a laugh. “I couldn’t believe you’d actually fall. Are you that clumsy?... I mean, I’m sorry.” She looked nervous, probably about the very real chance that she would be taken to re-ed. It was hard to predict whether the computers would be too busy to prioritize something like this, and whether they were smart enough to tell that she hadn’t meant to knock me down. “You’re okay, aren’t you?”

         “I think so. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t tripped on something on the floor. It felt like there was a dent there or something.” I bent down to look.

         “Oh yeah... it’s not being clumsy, it’s a dent in the floor.” Blaro rolled her eyes.

         “No, she’s right,” Draz said, kneeling on the floor beside me. “It’s a weird rectangle-shaped dent. Why would that be there?”

         “Probably that’s where one of the big chairs used to be,” I said, standing up. I pointed at the cushioned seats over on the other side of the room, each of them perched on a single rectangular stem permanently fixed into the hard surface of the floor. “See how much better they fit into the space over there? If one of them used to be at this table, it would have made sense to move it. And since they’re built into the floor, moving it could easily have left a dent like that one.”

         But silently, I wondered. The dent wasn’t quite the shape of the chair stem. Its proportions reminded me of something else, and if my suspicion were right, we didn’t want to be talking about it out loud. It might be completely innocuous... or we could be on the verge of finding out some secret.

         I tapped a few icons on my hand-comp, trying to look as if I didn’t care. Once the screen was back in normal mode, I glanced at the hour and minute display in the lower left corner. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m fine. Let’s get the chess set cleaned up—it’s almost time for morning class.”

Erika Hammerschmidt was born in Minnesota and graduated from Augsburg College with two language majors and an art minor. She was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 11, and has written Born on the Wrong Planet, a memoir about her childhood. 
Her husband John C. Ricker was born in Hawaii, received a diagnosis of Asperger's at the age of 24, and studied computer science before working in vacuum technology.
They live in Minnesota with their parrot, Rain Man. Together they have co-authored the science fiction novel Kea's Flight.

follow Erika and John around the web: 

Kea's Flight can be purchased through: 

i would like to thank Erika and John for guest posting today and to you as well for stopping by. 

Erika and John are giving away one print (US) and one ebook copy (International) of Kea's Flight. please leave a comment with your valid email address. specify if US or International. contest ends Friday May 20, 2011 at 11:59pm EST. winners will be drawn through random.org and announced on Sunday May 22 , 2011.

good luck to everyone and happy reading!

1 comment:

L.J. said...

This sounds wonderful. What a great way to show how ideas can start just about anywhere. Great post!

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