On writing

Chris Hadfield: a valuable resource for science fiction authors

Commander Chris Hadfield is the best thing to have happened to the western space program since the moon landing.

It’s not just in the stunning photographs he sent back from space, or the demonstrations of everything from how to eat a sandwich to what happens when you cry in space. It was the sheer accessibility of everything and the sense of wonder he brought with it. Sometimes we humans get so jaded we think there is truly nothing new under the sun. Then we see Chris Hadfield show us what it’s like to cry in space and that sense of wonder returns.

For science fiction writers, Hadfield is also a truly accessible source of research that we wouldn’t normally have access to.

For me, some of the most fascinating facts have come out of Hadfield’s interviews on his return to earth. In particular, CSA’s first interview with Canadian journalists, and Maclean’s The Wonder of Chris Hadfield, where he talks about, among other things, how long periods in weightlessness emulates the symptoms of aging.

Coming back to Earth there was dizziness. His body doesn’t remember how to get blood back to head, so he has to wear a G-suit to push it back up. He hasn’t held his head up for five months, so his neck and back are sore. He is tottering around like an old man. His blood vessels have hardened and his cardiovascular system has changed. His bones have lost calcium.

He is, in fact, displaying many of the symptoms of old age.

When he lays down on the mat to do exercises, it feels like two people are laying on top of him, that someone is squeezing him into the floor.

After Hadfield landed he could feel the weight of his lips and tongue and had to change the way he talked. He hadn’t realised he had learned to talk with a weightless tongue.

Weightlessness is a superpower. You can fly.

Right now he is trying to learn how to walk again.

He has to sit down in the shower so he doesn’t faint or fall down. He doesn’t have callouses on his feet, so it’s like walking on hot coals.

Hadfield brings these symptoms to life. He talks frankly about them and the impact they have on him.

For a science fiction writer, he’s a dream. It’s as close as you can get to being in space yourself without actually going there.

Not only that, it makes you think about how you write your own space scenes. For example, I’m really glad that in the Linesman series we chose to give our spaceships artificial gravity, because given the above symptoms there’s no way our spacers could do the things they are doing in the story if they didn’t have it.

In Linesman II our POV character rescues someone who has spent six months drifting in space in an emergency pod.  Let me tell you, Griff’s symptoms are going to change.

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