Conversation with “Frozen Sky” Author Jeff Carlson, Part II

Recently I conducted an interview with Jeff Carlson, author of The Frozen Sky. In the first part of the interview I asked Jeff about the writing process, communication, and alien personalities, but I saved the question I cared the most about (the motivation of applied researchers) to the second half. As an applied researcher — someone who who leverages scientific methods and findings to practical ends — the behavior of the European team, both which each other and others, on the frozen moon Europe was fascinating.

The interview trended into areas I’ve discussed on my blog before. So without further ado:

Q: What motivates the human characters in the novel? Does this reflect your view of human motivation in general?

A: Unfortunately, yes. It’s my humble opinion that many people are stupid, inconsiderate, unimaginative, delusional, self-centered, greedy, or cruel. Heck, a lot of the time they’re some combination of all of the above.

The great news is humanity is also peppered with heroes and geniuses and big-hearted people who are proactive and caring and good.

I tried to infuse The Frozen Sky with enough complexity that it’s not simply a scary book about freaky blind killer aliens. Too often we’re our own bad guys. Some readers have rightly said that casting the evil corporate henchmen as the villains isn’t a fresh concept, but, again, it is a real-world notion that many adults are inconsiderate and greedy. Money is their god. And in the immortal words of Ellen Ripley, ‘Christ, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.’

I’ve previously written that even scientists are driven by power, influence, and money. But my difference with Jeff — which I think lead to some dissonance while reading The Frozen Sky — is his relative optimism about humanity. If humans really were divded between “stupid inconsiderate, unimaginative, delusional, self-centered, greedy, or cruel” people on one hand, and “heroes and geniuses and big-hearted people who are proactive and caring and good” — we would be a lot better of: just get rid of the mean folks, and everyone will work hard and get along!

Rather, humans are stuck in a situation where we are most successful when we do something that we’re great at, we enjoy, and we make money at. There is every incentive in the world to take the perspective of your profession — if you’re really want to enjoy your work, it should be something you are good at, and something that is profitable to you. But this also means there is every incentive to be blind to the world, if sight would rob you of effectiveness, or joy, or the ability to make money.

Q: Would you want to visit Europa?

A: I’m there right now, my friend. The worlds beneath the ice were too big not to go back, and Von’s crew barely scratched the surface after meeting the sunfish clans. What about deeper into the ice? What about the ocean further down?

Currently I’m writing The Frozen Sky 2 😉

Stay tuned, for my review of The Frozen Sky.

Professional Jobs and Graduate Degrees

In earlier posts, I dissed the humanities ghetto and wrote this in particular about International Relations:

The obvious answer is that International Relations does not teach actually useful methods for the disciplined extraction of data. It does not teach critical thinking or logical reasoning. It teaches something that apes these skills, a rhetorical ability that impresses old scholars and does not help society.

International Relations is a non-progressive field where, by and large, it sucks to be young.

Because professors are driven by power, influence, and money, they harvest the few good job openings for those without useful skills into patronage networks, and push others aside.

Stephen J. Mexal, who Jason Heppler pointed me towards, apparently agrees:

SO SHOULD YOU GO to graduate school in the humanities? Yeah, sure, if you really want to. Why not? Just don’t expect it to have a predictable professional outcome. You cannot go to graduate school in the humanities and be placed into a job as a professor, a financial analyst, or as anything else. But graduate school in the humanities has always been this way.

So if you decide to go to grad school, remember that it’s not a place to escape the larger marketplace. You may think you are uninterested in capitalism, but capitalism is interested in you. The years that most students spend in graduate school are also prime years for building a career, and the opportunity costs of graduate school—the resources that could be spent pursuing other things—are steep, and must be taken into consideration.

Graduate school is a lot of fun. I have a PhD. I have many friends with advanced degrees in numerous fields.


But protect yourself. Get useful skills that you enjoy using. And get paid for using them.

Conversation with “Frozen Sky” Author Jeff Carlson, Part I

Two years ago I reviewed The Frozen Sky, a novella by Jeff Carlson. Jeff’s now released the novelization, which I have read, but before I post a review I want to share an interview and discussion I had with Jeff. This is in two parts.


Q: The Frozen Sky was a breathtaking novella. What was the path from that to writing the novel? Did you always have the rest of the story in mind? Was it an independent creation or something else?

A: Thank you! Transforming the original story into a full-length adventure was always a book I wanted to write. Let’s face it. It’s a really cool idea. In fact, The Frozen Sky: The Novel was my first pitch to my editors at Ace/Penguin as a follow-up to Plague Year.
There aren’t many similarities between the two concepts except that both books are about bizarre environments, and I’m fascinated by how our worlds shape us. Plague Year deals with scattered human survivors above 10,000 feet across the Earth. The Frozen Sky features a bizarre alien race living in vertical catacombs inside Europa’s icy crust. But Plague Year is a present-day apocalyptic thriller and The Frozen Sky is straight-out sci fi, a near-future ‘aliens vs. battle suits’ adventure with artificial intelligence, genetics, cyber warfare and gun-toting mecha set against the spectacular panorama of Jupiter and its moons.


My editors and the marketing team at Penguin already had me branded as a contemporary thriller writer. And they were right. I ended up writing Plague War and Zone, a career decision that worked out well for everyone involved. Writing the rest of the Plague Year trilogy was a LOT of fun. I love blowing things up!! Aha ha ha. But in the back of my mind, I was always developing the alien worlds beneath the ice.

Q: The theme of communication is very strong in the novel The Frozen Sky. When you were writing it, did you have other works in mind? Where there any fiction or non-fiction sources that served as inspiration for how communication is treated in The Frozen Sky?

A: Well, let’s not pretend I haven’t read classics like The Mote In God’s Eye or Double Star or The Forever War twenty times each. Absolutely I had inspiration. That’s the mystique of science fiction — big new ideas, haunting scenarios, and smart people in bad situations. Even hoary old movie adaptation of stories like Enemy Mine resonated strongly with me as a boy.


Q: There are AI personalities that are (or at least seem to be) self-aware in both the original novella and the book-length version of The Frozen Sky… How did you intend for us to see those AI? As humans? Aliens? Computers? Something else?

A: I like your second suggestion best. Yes, in many ways the artificial intelligences in The Frozen Sky aren’t human, are they? Not even the human-based AIs. They can’t be.

A super-computer artificial intelligence processes information so quickly, it’s inhuman. Or in the case of AIs corrupted by suit malfunctions or electronic warfare, they’re insane and untrustworthy.

To be continued…