February 15, 2017
The Mystery Book Club meets monthly at the Brunswick Library in South Georgia. The February meeting is set for this evening. I was surprised to receive an invitation to attend. Until I found out they are reading The Engines of God. It's Priscilla's first appearance in a narrative I'd never thought of as a mystery. But I'm beginning to realize that almost all my novels are mysteries. Alex and Chase, of course. Some of the Academy books. Even some of the stand-alones that I hadn't thought of in those terms.
Infinity Beach, e.g., was published in 2000, at a time when I was deliberately staying away from sequels. I had the impression at the time that sequels tended to be weak reruns of the original work. I don't know why I had that crazy idea, but the result was a novel that would have been a perfect fit for Alex and Chase. An expedition sets out looking for intelligent life in a largely empty universe, and vanishes.
Kim Brandywine sets out to solve the mystery and encounters a few shocks along the way, including the truth about perhaps the strangest starship any of my characters have ever encountered.
Then there was The Cassandra Project, written with Mike Resnick. The early Apollo expeditions apparently found something on the Moon. But it was kept quiet. The discovery led eventually to Watergate. Among the heroes of this one was Dick Nixon, who sacrificed his career for the safety of the human race. (Okay; so it's got a fantasy element.)
Eternity Road is set a thousand years after the collapse of civilization. People living in that period remember us as the Roadmakers. But they don't know much about us. There is a place called Haven in the northeast that, according to legend, contains a library with the history and science of the earlier civilization. A mission sets out to find it, but only one member survives, and he eventually walks into a river. The novel, of course, centers on the follow-up mission. And, inevitably, it's led by another woman, Chaka Milana.
The heart of this came up during an interview with Michael Prelee, who wondered why I was writing strong female characters before they became popular. I was just getting started with novels when the Customs Service –my employer at the time—assigned me to conduct leadership and management seminars. One of the exercises we developed consisted of introducing a virtual problem and assigning five-person teams to confront it. The problem usually required life-and-death decisions. For example, a group traveling across Arizona in a plane crash-lands. Nobody is hurt, but there wasn't time to get a message out and the radio is dead. The question: How to survive? It's mid-July, around 10:00 a.m., hot and getting hotter. Do we stay with the plane? Or head out and hope to find a town? There are other issues as they proceed. Basically we were looking for communication skills. Talk it out and get to rational decisions. We had a wide range of similar exercises.
The teams were sometimes composed of inspectors, other times of agents, of administrators, and so on. It didn't matter. They all lived and died at about the same rate. With one exception: there was only one area where composition of the group seemed to make a difference: gender.
There were three gender groupings, of course: All-male, all-female, and mixed. The group that survived most frequently? It was the ladies. They came through consistently. And who died most often? Not, as you might expect, the men. But the mixed groups. They rarely made it home alive. Why? When men and women were together, and under pressure, they behaved differently. The guys became more aggressive when women were present. They took chances they would probably have avoided had they been alone. Often unnecessary ones. And the females became more submissive, less inclined to argue for their views, more inclined to accept the risks their compatriots were advising.
Women also seemed to be better at listening to one another. The result of all this led me to conclude that, when I fly, I prefer a female pilot if I can find one. And when I write, I feel more comfortable riding with Chase or Priscilla.