Scarily Timely: A Q&A with Edward M. Lerner
Edward M. Lerner discusses Energized, his newly released near-future, alternate-energy thriller.
Question: Energized has a very striking cover – but what is that thing in the foreground? Besides, apparently, big.
Answer: It is big: a square two miles on a side. And although it’s wafer thin, it masses three times as much as the International Space Station.
As for what: a solar power satellite. In a few words, it’s an orbiting power plant.
Q: And in a few more words?
A: Let’s start with the solar part. We all know that sunlight is free, and that solar cells turn sunlight into electrical power. Solar farms are, if not common, no longer the rarity that they were a few years ago. What’s not to like?
A lot, it turns out. Solar cells don’t produce power at night, or in the rain, or covered in snow. Nor is sporadic output a solar cell’s only drawback. The “fuel” to solar farms is diffuse, because the atmosphere scatters sunlight (as in: why the sky is blue). A solar farm must be huge to produce as much power as, say, a coal-fired plant of equal capacity. The rain- and snow-free areas where solar cells work best (saylike, southwestern deserts in the US) aren’t where people live and consume power. Widespread use of solar farms (or, for that matter, wind farms) must entail vast upgrades to the national electrical grid.
But that’s solar farms on the ground. A solar power satellite – an orbiting array of solar cells – captures unscattered sunlight 24/7. It beams that power, converted to microwaves, wherever it’s needed. The same SPS that heats Boston in the winter can cool Atlanta in the summer. Or, a few years hence, that SPS might recharge electric cars in places where the local power infrastructure has lagged behind the surge in demand.
Q: Sounds neat. Why don’t we have any SPS?
A: Launch costs. A one-gigawatt SPS (and the US uses terawatts of power) might weigh a couple million pounds, and – alas – it can cost more than a thousand dollars to put one pound into orbit. But in Energized (not a spoiler: this emerges in the prologue), NASA has captured an Earth-threatening space rock.
Imagine a trillion tons of supplies and building materials already in orbit…
Q: I know a segue when I hear one. You’ve called Energized an alternate-energy thriller. I get the alternate-energy part: SPS. What about the thriller?
A: Consider some recent energy problems: an oil-well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Chaos, revolutions, and oil-supply disruptions across the Middle East. Meltdowns of Japanese nuclear power reactors. Four-buck-a-gallon gas. Together they can’t match the Crudetastrophe, the (as yet fictional) petro-crisis that sets the story into motion. The crisis from which a fleet of SPS might provide relief –
If the countries that control the remaining oil, more precious than ever, don’t get their way. They’ll do anything to keep Powersat One from succeeding – and Our Hero will do anything to stop them. Or he’ll die trying.
Q: Disruptions to the world’s energy supply. That sounds eerily familiar. Coincidence?
A: Not at all. Too much of our energy comes from unstable, even hostile, regions and regimes. Too much energy infrastructure – refineries and power plants, pipelines and electrical distribution – is old and rickety. It’s in a novelist’s nature to extrapolate worrisome trends. In Energized, I hope to point the way to solutions.
Q: Thanks, Ed. I enjoyed talking with you.
A: It’s been my pleasure.
Energized by Edward M. Lerner was released by Tor on July 17th. Learn more about Ed and his work at the Edward M. Lerner, Perpetrator of Science Fiction and Technothrillers website and at his blog, SF and Nonsense.
From the Tor/Forge August newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the August Tor/Forge newsletter:
- The Best, Worst, and BESTWORST Stephen King Adaptations by Kendare Blake
- London: The Ideal Setting by Carrie Vaughn
- The Wildness of My Head by Col Buchanan
- Rule the World with Math and Magic by Anthony Huso
- Cory Doctorow Collection Sweepstakes
- An Editor’s Dirty Little Secret
- On a Bus to New York
- Sister, Healer, Soldier, Spy
- Tor/Forge Blog is Moving to a New Domain
- The Week in Review
- Not at New York Comic-Con Sweepstakes
- Starred Review: Ask Not by Max Allan Collins
- New Releases: 10/8/2013
- Goodreads Sweepstakes: Watcher of the Dark by Joseph Nasisse
- Tor Books Announces Programming for New York Comic-Con 2013
- Don't miss out on this chance to win @seananmcguire's DOWN AMONG THE STICKS AND BONES! bit.ly/2nL5PCd https://t.co/5pPynq3NB4 15 hours ago
- The Deadmen definitely aren’t choirboys…read an excerpt of @kenyonsherrilyn’s upcoming novel #DeadmenWalking:… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 17 hours ago
- Read "Selfies," a dark fantasy story by @lavietidhar about the peril of cell phones: bit.ly/1P3Fogq https://t.co/yogBayVnfz 1 day ago
- The Sin du Jour crew caters to the Shadow Government in @MattFnWallace's GREEDY PIGS. Read an excerpt:… twitter.com/i/web/status/8… 1 day ago
- Read an interview with #Skullsworn author @BrianStaveley on @FantasyFaction: bit.ly/2on9k28 https://t.co/x2J3mFxKhy 1 day ago
- Tiny Jyn Erso Heads to Star Wars Celebration, Hands Every Leia a Copy of the Death Star Plans
- What is the Best Collective Noun for Authors?
- New To The Wheel of Time? This Video Gives You the Basics in 60 Seconds
- American Gods Showrunners Talk Sex; Reveal Favorite Deities
- Night Magic
- Where Do We Go From Here? The Magicians, “We Have Brought You Little Cakes”
- The Speculative World of William Shakespeare
- Supernatural Urban Decay: Night Train
- 5 Books That Get Ruined If You Take Away a Key Piece of Technology
- Firewalk Without Me, Please: Firestarter