Why Stephen Hawking is not the only reason I write science fiction

This is a blog writ­ten by a writer, but it isn’t aimed only at writ­ers. It is aimed at those who have cher­ished dreams, felt awe at the achieve­ments of oth­ers, yet never got around to doing any­thing about it them­selves: Too many respon­si­bil­i­ties. Never enough time. Too much self-doubt. Sounds famil­iar? It should. This blog, then, is really about you and me and the inspi­ra­tion which makes any achieve­ment pos­si­ble.

For a while, I con­sid­ered mak­ing Stephen Hawk­ing the main focus of this sub­ject. After all, my novel, Scarab, draws its moti­va­tion from quan­tum physics, an area that Stephen Hawk­ing has writ­ten exten­sively about. In many ways, Hawk­ing per­son­i­fies the best in all of us — for­mi­da­ble courage in the face of debil­i­tat­ing ill­ness, high-octane bril­liance, and an insa­tiable sense of humor. His work on astron­omy and black holes is a source of inspi­ra­tion to sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers every­where. Surely, the great­est mind since Ein­stein would offer the best back­drop to any rumi­na­tion about sci­ence, art, and the imag­i­na­tion? Per­haps. But it would not be com­pletely hon­est. There is another man, not as bril­liant, nor as famous, who inspires me even more. That man is my father.

As a small boy grow­ing up in Athens, I loved sto­ries – Twenty Thou­sand Leagues Under the Sea, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Moby Dick, Alice in Won­der­land, The Time Machine. My par­ents would take turns recount­ing these tales to me from mem­ory, since we had no easy access to books. We were des­per­ately poor. I’m told that we had fled Egypt years pre­vi­ously with only the clothes on our backs — in my case, a nappy, since I was barely a year old at the time. Greece, then, as now, was in the midst of a sus­tained eco­nomic cri­sis. My father was a skilled fitter-and-turner, and often worked three dif­fer­ent jobs a day to make ends meet, yet, he barely man­aged to put enough food on the table. There was cer­tainly no extra money for books. But that did not stop me from mak­ing up my own sto­ries.

My favorite topic was outer space. Russia’s Yuri Gagarin had been the first man to orbit the earth a few years pre­vi­ously, and that left a last­ing impres­sion on every­one. In response, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy announced that Amer­ica would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and got busy get­ting it done. Maybe it was because the space pro­gram kept our chins up by forc­ing our gaze sky­wards; maybe it was because it touched the inef­fa­ble in us; what­ever rea­son, we couldn’t not stop talk­ing about it. We talked about it at the gro­cery store, the bus stop, the church, and at school; and, of course, we talked about it around our Spar­tan din­ner table. What keeps the moon up, I wanted to know. What lies beyond the edge of the uni­verse, my mother would ask and dunk another ladle of hot lentil soup into my bowl. And my father would glance up at the ceil­ing and laugh in awe of it all.

He had a small lathe and some old tools in one of the rooms of our small house that he used to make shafts and pis­tons for clients for a bit of extra money. One day he decided that he’d make amends for my lack of books. He mounted some rods left over from past jobs into his lathe and, like a magi­cian, pro­ceeded to turn them into mag­nif­i­cent toy rock­ets. He painted them red, yel­low, sil­ver and blue with old paint he had mixed him­self, left them to dry, and then sur­prised me with them the fol­low­ing day. It was the best gift any­one had ever given me, then, or since, and some­thing I have never for­got­ten. I picked them up in awe and won­der and took to rac­ing through our tiny house and even tinier gar­den with a rocket in each hand, try­ing not to bump into things, but really, I was trans­vers­ing the stars.

Recently, my father turned 82. He now lives in South Africa with my mother. I live in Aus­tralia. My sis­ter, born ten years after me, lives an hour’s drive from them. Father still runs his own busi­ness and still works with lathes and tools, although the lathe is now called a CNC machine and the tools are best and lat­est of their kind. A man of small stature and lit­tle for­mal edu­ca­tion, he ban­ished self-doubt, made the time, found the inspi­ra­tion, and relent­lessly set about achiev­ing every goal he ever set his mind to. How can I do any less?

Decid­ing to take the Indie route to pub­lish­ing, dar­ing to imag­ine a time when our hobby is our full time job is daunt­ing. Some­times the fuel runs low and inspi­ra­tion wanes. But as I amble towards my key­board to begin work­ing on my next novel since Scarab, I can’t help think­ing about my father, Gagarin, J.F.K., Hawk­ing, and those red, yel­low, sil­ver, and blue toy rock­ets that started it all. And this fills me with a quiet confidence.