Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interview: Thomas Wm Hamilton

I now present my interview with Thomas Wm Hamilton, author of Time for Patriots:

Welcome to The Update, Thomas. Tell us about yourself.

Born in San Francisco, raised in New York, with a year in New Hampshire. Educated at Columbia University. Worked on the Apollo Project for several years, and then went to work for a planetarium manufacturer writing canned shows. From there went to run the planetarium at Wagner College and teach astronomy. Trained a number of students to work in the planetarium field.

Apollo Project? The Apollo Project? Please tell me more.

Yes, The Apollo Project. Worked on the second floor of Plant 35 of Grumman Aerospace in Bethpage, NY. In fact, I was at lunch when JFK was shot, came back and as told by a draftsman with a sick sense of humor, so I didn't believe him until I called the Associated Press's special verification number and a woman picked up, and before I could speak she said "It's true, he's dead." and hung up. Got to play with a 1620 computer, did my main work on an IBM 7094.

My job title was orbital analyst. The member directory of a political club I was in printed that as "arbitral analysis". Saw several astronauts walking through, as my desk was about twelve feet from the entrance to the resident NASA liaison office.

In 1964 Grumman circulated a memo asking for suggestion on uses of the spacecraft after the lunar landings ended. I submitted the first ever proposal for a visit to a near Earth asteroid. Grumman loved it enough to submit to NASA, but about four months later got word they turned it down. Only 8 NEAs were known then (today >1200), and launch windows were too rare.

You are the first person I interviewed who has an asteroid named after them. How does one get an object in space named after them?

When I worked on Apollo I had to determine how accurate the on board radar needed to be and expected fuel usage in lunar orbit. While running the Wagner planetarium I got a federal grant to write planetarium shows in a dozen foreign languages and distribute them to interested planetariums throughout the country. 260 took up the offer. Years later at an astronomical convention I ran into Eleanor Helin, who is famous in the field for the number of asteroids she discovered. I was doing a cable show at the time, and interviewed her. Some years later someone submitted my name to the committee of the International Astronomical Union that handles naming small objects, and I was approved. Since Eleanor knew me, one of her asteroids was picked.

I might add two of my former students have asteroids, as does my former professor, Jan Schilt, and his former professor, Jacobus Kapteyn. And Kapteyn's academic genealogy goes back to Kepler.

Speaking of space: are those star registries complete crap? I have always wondered.

Worse than crap, they are scams that enrich scam artists. I have colleagues who tell heart wrenching stories of people who come to planetarium shows or observatories expecting to be shown stars named for deceased relatives, often children, and their distress on hearing it was a fraud.

So why are star registries, like the International Star Registry, allowed to stay in business?

Law enforcement just does not care. I care for a colony of feral cats (have seven of my own, the colony is over a dozen), and the police have ignored my complaint of shelters being stolen--in fact one was taken as I was talking to two cops, and when I complained about their inaction was threatened with arrest.

As an astronomer, what got you interested in alternate history?

My interest in astronomy began before I started school. I ran through the very few astronomy books in my local public library before I was ten years old. A sympathetic librarian suggested I read Heinlein's novel Rocketship Galileo. Combined with Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court my fate was sealed!

What is Time for Patriots about?

A military academy on Long Island is zapped back to 1770 by a physics experiment gone wrong, along with some neighbors. They decide to aid the Revolution, but also to work to end slavery and get women the right to vote earlier than in our timeline. Special rules are designed to prevent most downtimers from knowing about them, but they reveal themselves to Washington in a manner that reflects my background: a planetarium show about Apollo 11! Franklin steals a history book from their library, so he also knows.

The Revolution is drastically altered and ends early. They then advise Madison on making some changes in his draft Constitution.

In violation of the rules, three uptimers decide to prolong Mozart's life (he died before his 37th birthday). They join an expedition to put down Barbary pirates, which does a job on the Bey of Algiers. In traveling from Naples to Vienna to see Mozart, they create a drastic butterfly effect that greatly alters the map of Europe. Mozart lives to write an opera about Franklin, and his librettist repeats his own life from OTL by fleeing with his wife to New York, winding up teaching at Columbia. Over a century later his papers reveal the time travel interference.

Did you originally publish Time for Patriots at Changing the Times?

Portions were, mostly chunks of the first five chapters.

What inspired you to write it?

I always wanted to write, or rewrite, the early history of the country to improve the outcome.

Who designed the cover?

That's a sore point. I wanted the cover to show Washington in his general's uniform mounted on a horse pointing to a distant line of redcoats, with two or three people standing near him wearing modern combat gear and holding modern rifles. The publisher said such art work would cost too much. We settled on an astronaut on the Moon saluting combined with the famous (and long out of copyright) Leutze painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. In my book the painting is of Washington crossing the Hudson to accept the surrender of Staten Island, and the flag on the Moon should have only 47 stars.

Do you have any other stories set in the same universe?

Three short stories in my anthology, The Mountain of Long Eyes, are set in the same universe but in the year 2060.

Are there any more upcoming books?

I have a book on dwarf planets and asteroids coming out in a month or so, and am thinking of one more book in astronomy, on the nearly 300 craters known to exist on Earth. I also am working on another SF anthology, and it is possible there could be a story or two set in the Patriots universe.

What are you reading now?

Just keeping up with the promags.

Any advice for would be authors?

Write something every day. Don't let other responsibilities stop you. Stay up an extra hour, cut lunch time short, whatever, but find the time.

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