Astronaut Chris Hadfield launches literary career with authentic murder mystery spy set in space


Chris Hadfield has an unsurprising analogy when discussing his approach to writing a novel.

It has to do with space. And missions. And be an astronaut.

“It’s like another form of space launch for me, where years of hard work and expertise are now put to the test,” says Hadfield, in an interview with Postmedia. “So alright, my next launch is October 12th. I’m not really nervous about it. I’m just super excited about it. I feel the same as before my three space launches.

On October 12, Random House Canada will launch The Apollo Murders, Hadfield’s first essay writing fiction. Obviously, the esteemed astronaut and former commander of the International Space Station is an adage of the adage “write what you know”. But it goes further. Over the years, Hadfield’s long list of extracurricular activities has always been inextricably linked to his experiences as an astronaut. Whether it’s singing David Bowie’s Space Oddity for a weightless video from the space station, presenting a TED talk on fear, co-creating the National Geographic One Strange Rock miniseries with Will Smith or embarking on memoir writing with An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and children’s literature with The Darkest Dark, Hadfield always seemed eager to use his specialist fame to shed light on the space program.

It turns out that accepting the new challenge of writing a novel of nearly 500 words was not originally his idea. But Hadfield’s approach was similar.

“Obviously, I had my own reputation for fixing it,” he says. “I also had an ulterior motive to try to let people see what spaceflight really looked like. How do people react? What does it do? How do people talk to each other? what jargon do we speak? What value systems do we have? How is a bad day? How is a good day? ”

Of course, if the technical details are important, so is the plot when it comes to writing a thriller. Hadfield was first approached to write a novel after writing a new intro for the 2015 reissue of Ray Bradbury’s 1950 classic, The Martian Chronicles. Jon Butler, who is managing director of UK publisher Quercus Books and worked on An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, contacted Hadfield after reading the introduction and suggested he try his hand at fiction. Butler was the one who set some parameters for the novice fiction writer by simply coming up with the title.

“It has become quite defining,” says Hadfield, who will host an online event Oct. 21 for Wordfest in Calgary. “It’s ‘Apollo’, so you know when it was, and it’s ‘Murders’ with an ‘s’ at the end. It really sparked my imagination and I kind of jumped into it.

The Apollo Murders is a page-turning thriller that also serves as an interesting introduction for anyone interested in the essential details of space travel. It’s also a period play and alternative history novel that immerses readers in the paranoid world of the Nixon-era Cold War through the prism of competing space programs. In real life, NASA led the Apollos missions until 1972, when it was canceled by Nixon for budgetary reasons. In The Apollo Murders, Hadfield reimagines Apollo 18 as having occurred in 1973, but with the additional plotline also involving a secret Cold War mission.

Hadfield was just 14 in 1973, so the period predates his time in space. But before flying three space missions, becoming the first Canadian to walk in space and commanding the International Space Station, Hadfield was a “Cold Warrior” fighter pilot in the 1980s who embarked on risky missions. fighter plane while posted to Canadian Forces Base Bagotville. . His adventures there included the interception of a group of Soviet “Bear” bombers approaching Canadian airspace off the coast of Labrador. He was also NASA’s director of operations in Russia for years, which gave him a better understanding of the country and the culture.

“I looked at my own experience and the period and then it was pretty much like how I learned to do it all the rest of my life,” Hadfield says. “What am I trying to accomplish? It’s like I’m nine and want to walk on the moon. This is what I want to do, so what am I not sure yet? I have to learn to do all of these other things. So I did a whole bunch of research on how to write. I read Stephen King’s On Writing, I watched James Patterson’s Masterclass. And then I read a lot, a lot of books just to see how they did this stuff. But then I needed, of course, a reason for the murders. Maybe I could have added it to an existing Apollo flight. But no one was killed, at least not on purpose. So I thought we were going to do Apollo 18. So what happened? Apollo 17 was in December 72. So in winter, spring, summer 1973, what was going on in the world? And I remembered some things.

Which led Hadfield to insert a reality stranger than fiction into a tale that finds our protagonist, Houston-based flight controller Kazimieras (Kaz) Zemeckis, trying to keep a NASA crew safe as they compete. with a Russian mission determined to collect mysterious bounties on the surface of the moon. The plot brings real-life, and perhaps largely forgotten, snippets of the history of the period. This includes the Almaz Space Station, a Soviet spy station armed with a machine gun. There is the shady relationship between the KGB and the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1970s. There is also the adoptions of refugee children in the United States after WWII, a program that brought in nearly 5,000 children. orphans from Europe to America.

The tale also involves a mysterious helicopter crash, gunfire and explosions in space, and punches among the astronauts. But these action sequences intermingle with less than pleasurable realities of space travel, whether that’s what it feels like to experience the G-forces of launch, the science behind why some astronauts let gas in. space and the grotesque dangers of throwing up in your spacesuit. Since this is a thriller, some astronauts are not what they seem, of course. But Hadfield also wanted to make sure that the personalities of his characters looked genuine. He has long been critical of the way astronauts are portrayed in pop culture, naming films such as Space Cowboys, Armageddon (“They just make me cringe,” he says.) And Gravity (“Gravity has pushed back. a whole generation of women. It’s so insulting to female astronauts, who they are and what they’ve accomplished. ”) as particularly egregious examples. He cites the character of Matt Damon in Ridley Scott’s 2015 film, The Martian, as a rare example of a successful Hollywood film.

He’s “incredibly technically proficient, in very good physical shape, but also with continuing depths of optimism and ingenuity and of never saying die, solve the problem,” he says. “This is what astronauts look like. We are not thrill seekers, we are risk managers and a very professional group of people. But also a group of very motivated people with a wide variety of personalities, backgrounds and cultures. There are quite a few relatively demanding people, a bit psychopathic.

While The Apollo Murders is a period article about NASA missions that no longer exist, Hadfield says it should resonate with modern readers because there is renewed interest in the space program. Hadfield says we live in exciting times when it comes to space travel.

“Hasn’t it been an amazing summer? he says. “I mean, we’ve been waiting for a private space flight for 10,000 years. Three different companies took tourists flying in a two-month period after waiting 10,000 years. It’s weird and amazing. But, also, we’ve been living on the space station for 21 years and what Elon (Musk) is doing with his new big ship is amazing. Along with the spacecraft, he’s going to reduce the cost by another factor of 10, which will open up space commerce like we’ve never seen before, and lunar colonization and eventually Martian colonization. Everything that is happening around us right now. So I think a clear picture of what it was like in 1973 with the personalities involved will only add one more piece to everyone’s puzzle of how we got to where we are now.

Imagine on Air at Wordfest will present Chris Hadfield on October 21 at 7 p.m. for an online event. For tickets and information, visit The Apollo Murders will be released on October 12.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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