CEDAR FALLS — Imagine a space elevator that connects the Earth to an orbiting space station.
Jim O’Loughlin has, and he’s made it the premise of his new science fiction novel, “The Cord.”
“I once read about the idea of a space elevator, and it stuck in my head. I tried to envision what the experience would be like on either end of it. It’s a science fiction concept that won’t happen in my lifetime, but maybe in my children’s lifetime,” said O’Loughlin, University of Northern Iowa professor and a department head in the College of Humanities, Arts and Sciences/Languages and Literatures.
O’Loughlin will be at the Octopus, 2205 College St., on Tuesday for a release reading from the novel, published by BHC Press. The event begins at 7 p.m., and weather permitting, will take place on the outdoor patio.
He’s been working on the novel for about a decade. “It really is kind of a golden age for doing research because you can find all of it online. I wanted to envision what would be the materials and technologies that could be available in the future. I also read some engineering textbooks to explore the feasibility of something like a space elevator,” the author explained.
In his novel, the cord is tethered to the Earth and people travel back and forth to the low-orbiting space station without rockets. The result is unprecedented space exploration and space tourism.
“The interesting thing about a space elevator is, it has to be based right on the equator to geo-synchronize the orbit. People cycle up for a certain amount of time, then return to the planet because of the challenge of being weightless for long periods of time,” O’Loughlin explained.
He tells the futuristic story in a series of vignettes that are set in different future locales and across multiple generations. While he invents various technological advancements, such as brain wave transfers, new populations of people and unusual languages, at its core the stories are still about relationships, emotional turmoil and the tenuous strings that connect family, friends and strangers as they travel along the cord.
One story revolves around a depressed wife who seeks serenity and whose husband spends their limited funds on an expensive trip to the space station. His tour-guide brother invites the family in an effort to reconnect, but begins to regret their arrival as his own problems mount. In other vignettes, a teenage girl is drawn into a revolution when a Mars-bound space ship explodes, a robot repairman discovers a conspiracy, and a hustler who is also immortal is driven to extremes by the desire for revenge.
“Each chapter is from the perspective of a different character related in one way or another to the main chapter. It’s an unusual format, a reverse narrative that starts toward the end and moves backward. For me, it’s the way people discover aspects of history – they know the present and learn about the past,” O’Loughlin explains.
O’Loughlin is founder and host of the Thursday Reading Series in Cedar Falls, and author of the flash fiction collection of “Dean Dean Dean Dean” and “The Last Caucus in Iowa.”
He also edited “Kurt Vonnegut Remembered” for the University of Alabama Press, and edited and published “Planting Red Geraniums,” a collection of previously unknown James Hearst poems that he found. He also co-authored “Daily Life in the Industrial United States” with his wife, Julie Husband.
“The Cord” is available through online booksellers, and copies will be available to purchase at Tuesday’s reading. Cost per book is $28 for hardcover; $16.95 for paperback.