Interview: Jack McDevitt

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

A supply vehicle arrives at a pulsar research station, but finds the place has been destroyed by an asteroid. The only survivor is a cat. There’s no obvious way to rescue the animal. And to attempt it would be exceedingly dangerous. So let’s just leave it. Right?

Everybody loves a kitten. They’d like to help it, but a rescue doesn’t look possible. And ultimately, how much are we willing to put on the line for a cat?

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

Years ago, the kids left home, and our black Labrador, Spike, died. We thought we were done with pets. But a kitten, apparently abandoned, showed up. As did ultimately five more cats and a German Shepherd. They inevitably become part of the family. And we began spending substantial amounts of money on surgery for one of them.  No way our two resourceful star pilots would abandon Tawny.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

The challenge came from devising a rescue method that had a decent chance to work. For me, the most difficult part of the process comes from managing the conclusion. Set up the problem and work out a rational conclusion. Once that’s done, the story writes itself.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

The easy response would be to admit that we have an affection for cats. Especially ones in trouble. But “The Cat’s Pajamas” needed a pilot in training. And that turned out to be Priscilla Hutchins, a major character in the six Academy novels. I’ve always enjoyed writing about Hutch, and this was an opportunity to go back and visit with her at the start of her career. Bear with me here, but it was good working with her again. Odd that you can get emotionally connected to a fictitious character. But there you are–

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I needed to go back and review what I knew about pulsars. (It’s always the stuff you think you know that gets you in trouble.)

What is the appeal of power armor/mecha? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do you think readers/viewers/gamers love it so much?

In this case, it allows action in an extremely hostile environment.