By Marlena Chavira-Medford
An alien ship is orbiting around Earth, and after investigating from afar, NASA has decided to send a couple of astronauts to make contact. After boarding the ship, they've discovered all of the aliens are dead, and now that the astronauts have been exposed to whatever killed the crew, NASA must decide whether they can come home or not.
That's the synopsis of Del Mar author Woodrow Wilson's latest book, 'Dead Astronauts.' Wilson, a Caltech Ph.D. with a career in research and development — including military and intelligence applications of space, pulled on his many years as a scientist for the plot of his new book. Here, he sheds some light on how he developed these extraterrestrial characters, and whether he thinks we really have reason to worry about alien invaders or not.
How did you make the transition from the science world to the literary world?
Well, I've been writing long before I ever really could. After graduating from college, I decided I was a functioning illiterate. I started working on my spelling, going back and studying grammar nobody had ever taught me. Becoming a writer helped me be a better scientist because you have to be able to communicate what you find
Where did the idea from this book come from?
This book is the result of some deep contemplation, just looking at stars and saying to myself: 'How would anyone get here?' Even at a hundred times the speed of the Apollo mission, the journey to get here would be a thousand years. A lot could go wrong in that time, and in this case, it does. I wanted to explore the possibility of aliens coming here, but the science behind it is all real, some of it is an extrapolation, but it's all real. I've even deeply disguised some quantum mechanics in this story.
All the science may be real, but how did you conjure up your fictional aliens?
I didn't want to look at TV or movies for inspiration because all of the aliens portrayed look like humans. They don't have enough money to make them very alien, so they dress them up and give them pointy ears, and they end up looking like guys in rubber suits. I don't' think other intelligent life beings would necessarily follow our template. Look at dolphins: they don't look much like you or me. Or look at giant squids, another intelligent being, and they look even less like us. For this book, I decided that these aliens came from a liquid planet, and they were interested in Earth because we were the nearest planet with water. So, I went with the squid model. And I didn't just create aliens, I create an entire world where they came from. So when the astronauts board their ship, they explore quite a bit. Being from a liquid planet [the aliens] eat seafood, so these astronauts run into fish farms.
Where did the inspiration for your human characters come from?
Characters always start out as someone you know, but over a period of time they grow. You synthesize these characters and by the time you're done, they're not the person you knew in the first place. These characters are a totally new person that you know so well because you just spent a year with them inside your head.
Stephen Hawking, the famed cosmologist and black hole expert, warns mankind about alien visitors. Do you agree with him?
I don't agree with Hawking on that. I don't think Earth has anything worth the time and energy it would take to come and get it. If we did, aliens couldn't detect it. Even from the nearest star, it would take superb optics just to see Earth as a dot. They couldn't resolve it into a picture. Spectroscopy could tell them we have air and water here. That's about it. They couldn't detect life here — much less tell that we taste like chicken. The spoils of raiding the planet wouldn't be worth the cost of getting here.
What book are you working on next?
My next book will likely be a medical fiction. I did a lot of medical research where I was involved in developing ways to defend against biological attacks, so again, I'm pulling from that. This next story will include subplots on anthrax—and, of course, there will be a twist, because it wouldn't be any fun if there wasn't a twist.
Wilson's book, Dead Astronauts, is available on his website
, and from most on-line book dealers.
Wilson, who is also an accomplished Toastmaster, will also lead a free youth program at the Solana Beach Library beginning Oct. 12. During this Toastmaster-sponsored program, middle school students will learn public speaking and leadership. For more information, call the Solana Beach Library at (858) 350-7877.