by Randal Keith Jackson
It's like camping out on the fuzzy border between science fact and science fiction. I mean, this is a place where SF story ideas lie strewn on the ground like gold nuggets, waiting to be picked up and smelted into narrative. Here's a small sampling of the mind-bending discoveries in which JPL has played a role in recent years:
• More than eight-hundred new planets have been found beyond our solar system, some of them weirder than anything dreamed up by the creators of Star Trek.
• Interplanetary probes have returned pictures of vast methane lakes on Saturn's exotic moon Titan.
• Satellites have revealed mysterious, tantalizing cave openings on the surface of Mars.
• Spacecraft have photographed cryovolcanoes on the Saturn's moon Enceladus that spew fountains of ice hundreds of miles into space.
• Scientists have found mounting evidence that a vast, salty ocean swirls just below the ice crust of Jupiter's moon Europa.
With such rich fodder to draw upon, you'd think I'd write some science fiction, right? Well, for some reason, when I sit down at the computer after-hours to tell a story, my imagination always seems to turn in a different direction. I write about what makes people tick; the riddles, mysteries, and occasional ghastliness of human behavior. My muse wants to explore inner worlds. So I write psychological thrillers and horror.
But it's tricky; I have to be very careful that I keep the two worlds separate. Day job: robots, planets, and space. Night job: Psychopaths, monsters, and ghosts.
I mean, we can't have a story about sociopaths living in a haunted Victorian mansion that overlooks the icy fountains of Enceladus, can we?
Then again … that actually sounds kind of cool. I'll have to think about that one.
Randal Keith Jackson is an Internet Manager at NASA and a produced playwright. He's originally from Georgia and now lives with his wife and son in Santa Barbara, California. He has been known to rescue neighbors from snakes and build elaborate Halloween experiences in the garage. His first published short story, "All the Devils," will appear in the October issue of Penumbra.