Kalamazoo Audio Drama Flies to Mars

Aug 11, 2014

CD cover art for "Shalbatana Solstice"
Credit NASA/Tom Chmielewski

Writing your first novel is hard. Writing a first novel and producing a companion audio drama is even more challenging. But that’s just what a science fiction writer in Kalamazoo decided to do as his debut. Tom Chmielewski’s audio play Shalbatana Solstice takes us to Mars where an irritated scientist has just missed her flight to a remote research outpost.

Scientist: “A hopper can make that trip. Is there a hopper I can charter to take me there?”

Hafeez: “Even if you could afford it, we just don’t have any hoppers available. And I don’t know of any other craft in Marsport right now.”

Frenchman: “The poor woman! She’s out of options.”

Scientist: “I can’t believe this is happening.”

Ed: “I just hope she doesn’t find out that I’m the pilot heading to Marineris. I’m quite happy having Hafeez take all the heat on this one.”

Scientist: “I have to make some calls, then I’ll be back, trust me!”

The scientist does find out that Ed the pilot is hearing her way. And they do get to Shalbatana Station, where it turns out a mysterious festival is about to start: “Something happens at this festival that makes it particularly special: somewhat alarming to some people, hopeful to other people.”

Recording "Shalbatana Solstice" in Kalamazoo
Credit Tom Chmielewski

But Chmielewski (pronounced "mull-ESS-key") says Shalbatana Solstice is about more than just the festival. Recorded in Kalamazoo with local actors and voice-over artists, it also has music composed and performed by two members of the Celtic ensemble Embarr.

“I wanted a song to be a catalyst. And the song in this case, “The Ways of Shalbatana,” is really a song about urging the terraforming of Mars and to do it quickly. But that song is also (about) a conflict with those who say, ‘Wait a minute! Maybe we should let Mars change us.’ And the story is really about that conflict.”

Chmielewski grew up in the Detroit area reading science fiction during the heyday of the Space Race. He later attended the prestigious Clarion workshop for budding science fiction writers. But a career in journalism and publishing beckoned. So it wasn’t until recently that Chmielewski had time to write his novel, Lunar Dust, Martian Sands and its audio prequel, Shalbatana Solstice. He says both are explorations of humanity’s future on other worlds like Mars.

“The idea is to show a society that’s half-a-degree off from what we see here. Gravity is lighter; you’re living in domes; there are none of the real amenities – there are no oceans, at least not yet. That attracted me. How does a society live there? And while Lunar Dust, Martian Sands is an action novel, I still had a good time describing that society.”

"Lunar Dust, Martian Sands" cover
Credit Tom Chmielewski

Events in the book take place several years after the festival on Mars. By this time, Ed the pilot is flying an interplanetary spaceship and manages to get entangled in high-level intrigue. Chmielewski says, "Basically, it’s a murder mystery. It’s a question of why would someone do the murder (and) what were the causes? And a lot of that has to do with earth corporations trying to protect profits and a revolutionary drive that would cut the time to go to Mars from weeks or months to, like, four days.”

The stories in science fiction’s “Golden Age” of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s written by authors like Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein had a big impact on real space missions. They inspired the scientists and engineers who got us to the moon. But since then, enthusiasm for exploration of space by people rather than robots has waned. However, Chmielewski says he thinks that’s changing: “I think people – writers – started realizing that the push to the moon and the push into space, in a very major way, was driven by the literature about that. We needed to start writing about the near future of going to Mars, leaving earth orbit. I kind of want to be part of that.”

Tom Chmielewski’s debut novel Lunar Dust, Martian Sands, and the audio drama Shalbatana Solstice are available at his webpage Martian Sands.