Richard Paolinelli began his writing career as a freelance writer in 1984 and his sports writing career in 1991. After retiring he returned to his fiction writing roots, releasing two short stories and a full-length sci-fi novel, Maelstrom. He has since released a sports non-fiction, the first book of a mystery-thriller series and was a part of a Sherlock Holmes anthology.
He currently lives in Thousand Oaks, California.
- When did you first discover your love for writing?
I started reading at an early age and we started moving around the country a lot with my dad’s business so to pass the time in the back seat of the car, I started writing my own stories. It just kept growing from there.
- Do you have a favourite place to write?
I have a pretty nice home office setup that gives me a nice environment to write in.
- Do you have a writing routine or process that you adhere to?
Not really, no.
- Are there any authors or specific books you aspire to?
No one specific author, but I try to take a little bit of what I like most from the writing styles of Frank Hebert, Jack McDevitt, Harry Harrison and Edgar Allan Poe and work it into my writing.
- What inspired you to write Maelstrom?
There had been a lot written about the possibility of a meteor striking the Earth and there had been two films, Deep Impact and Armageddon, released. I got to wondering what would happen if someone figured out a way to prevent such an event but in doing so actually caused the very extinction-level event he was trying to prevent.
- Can you tell us a little about your book?
It tells the story of Dr. Steven Collins who devises a way to use the Earth’s own magnetic shield as a way to deflect any foreign object from penetrating the atmosphere. But when he tests the device it tears open a hole in space and time and hurls him forward a century into the future. There he discovers that his creation has very nearly destroyed the Earth and only one million human beings have survived and the numbers are dwindling under the shield as they are trapped underneath it. Collins now has to find a way to shut down his creation and save what is left of humanity.
- Do you have a favourite amongst all your characters?
Man, that’s like asking me to pick a favorite of one of my kids. I am kind of partial to a species of telepathic miniature polar bears that Collins runs into on Europa though.
- Does your book contain a message for readers to consider?
Redemption. No matter how far you fall, no matter how bleak and dire things may seem, there is always a chance to win through as long as you keep fighting.
- Would you be interested in sharing a teaser?
“Where am I?” he asked, trying to comprehend what he was seeing.
“You’re still in San Francisco, Dr. Collins, just one hundred and two years later. A lot has happened since you last saw the city.”
“You have a talent for understatement.”
The hellish scene outside bore little resemblance to the San Francisco he knew. There were bits and pieces strewn about, the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance with the northern half of its span missing, a building here and there that he recognized, but precious little else. The rest of the city that was laid out before him was like nothing he’d ever seen.
Where the city had once been a collection of skyscrapers towering above the bay, now there were only a handful of buildings that stood above six stories in height. Instead of reaching for the sky, they were buried into the hills like bunkers. No doubt they were buried into the ground below as well, but he couldn’t tell how far down they went. There were barely any pedestrians on the streets below and even fewer ground cars. Most of the traffic, he noted, was in the air. Flying boxes with windows flashed by in silvery streaks. There was a pattern to their flights, as if there were paved streets in the air.
But the real horror lay in the sky behind the flashing streaks. The sky he grew up under was blue, spotted with clouds and the occasional gray overcast of a storm. The sky he now beheld was an angry orange, as if the atmosphere was on fire, shimmering and dancing in waves and laced with the occasional purplish-white fingers of lighting that ripped through the air. The bolts never struck the ground, silently lacing through the upper layers of the sky. It struck him that the combination of strange colors reminded him of the ball of energy that had formed in his lab just before the explosion. When he could no longer stand the bizarre sight and the sickening hue that it cast below, he let the drape fall back over the window, sealing him away from the nightmare outside.
“History tells us you did, Doctor,” she answered, “or rather, your shield did.”
“But if there was an explosion, how could it be working like that? The lab must have been badly torn up…”
“It was. In fact the entire building was leveled. There was hardly anything left of it and no trace of your body was ever found. It was assumed that you died in the blast, but apparently that is an incorrect assumption, for here you are.”
“How is the shield functioning over a century later, if you never built it?” she finished. “In the aftermath of the accident Microtech’s ties to the military were exposed and you were accused of developing a super weapon. Your brother Scott and your assistant came to your defense and fought to prove that your project was intended for peaceful purposes.”
“That sounds like Scott and Laura, my assistant’s name,” he added for Elizabeth’s benefit. “I had a sister, Mary. Does your history tell you anything about her?”
“It does,” Elizabeth replied, a strange looking passing over her face. “She joined with those denouncing your project. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, that sounds like her, too. She never could see the big picture…,” he paused. “Well, I suppose she’s dead now and I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. Her middle name was Elizabeth. You know, you remind me a little of her.” He paused, again blinking hard against the moisture building in his eyes. “You were saying?”
“Your brother was able to recreate the equipment in your lab with your assis… with Laura’s help,” she continued as that sad little smile reappeared on her face. “He came up with a plausible theory about what you had done to trigger the accident and made some minor corrections. Then, much like you had done, he tested the generator without telling anyone first.
“He intended to show the world that you had been right, that such a shield was possible and that it would do what you had intended,” she continued sadly. “Only he chose to do so on a much grander scale than you had. The shield he generated covered the entire Bay Area, an impenetrable dome centered over San Francisco that extended one hundred and twenty miles in every direction. Your shield.”
“Son of a bitch did it,” Steve muttered under his breath, a look of joy on his face. “The damned thing actually worked!” Then, remembering where he was and what he had just seen, he suddenly sobered. “But how did it lead to that?” he asked, pointing at the window.
“Your first test had every military branch of every government on alert, many still believed you had developed a weapon, others believed you had created a defense that gave the United States an advantage that it would use against other countries without fear of reprisal, ” she explained. “At any rate, when your brother erected the shield over San Francisco somebody, history does not tell us who, hit a button and launched their arsenal of nuclear missiles at the shield. Others launched their missiles in support or in defense against the initial launch and it dominoed from there. Within minutes, every nuclear weapon in the sea, on land and in space had been launched. World War III had begun.”
“Oh, my god.”
The holocaust he had been trying to prevent, the complete extermination of humankind, had happened and it had been he, not some mindless piece of rock from space, who had caused it. He sat back down on his bed heavily, trying to come to terms with what he had been told. But she wasn’t finished with him; there was more to come and he was sure it wasn’t going to be any better than what he’d already heard.
“If it’s any consolation, your shield deflected the missiles aimed at it. The Bay Area was spared death by fire,” she continued. “But the rest of the planet suffered mightily. No corner of the globe was spared from the explosions, the fire, and the fallout that followed. Very few people, we estimate less than a half million, living outside the shield survived. At some point after the missiles struck, the shield expanded to encircle the entire globe. We haven’t been able to determine how or why.”
“It was part of the original programming,” Steve explained, his voice barely above a whisper. “The shield was designed to use the magnetic field to protect the entire planet. It probably expanded in response to the missile strikes and all of the energy being released from the explosions.”
“San Francisco didn’t escape unscathed, as you have noticed,” Elizabeth continued. “For the next ten years the Bay Area was ravaged by quakes, the last one occurred in twenty-nineteen and was so savage that nearly half the population perished. California was split into two separate pieces. The entire Los Angeles Basin is underneath two hundred feet of water….”
On and on she went, reciting the death toll and damage done, how they tried to rebuild over and over, only to have it destroyed by a new catastrophe, until they finally started to get it right in the third decade following the war. A ruling council was in place now and she was its president.
At the end she added that their records showed Laura’s remains had been found at the generator, her body torn apart by electrical discharge. Elizabeth’s security advisor had silently entered the room — when, Steve couldn’t recall — and had kept quiet during her recital. He had offered to show Steve the record regarding Laura’s death, as if Steve would take some pleasure in seeing firsthand the suffering he had caused. Steve declined and asked instead about Scott’s fate.
“No sign,” the advisor answered. “Much like you he vanished and no body was ever found. Perhaps he suffered the same fate as you and he’ll miraculously reappear. Then you both can take a tour and celebrate your wondrous accomplishments for humankind.”
Steve shot an angry look at the man, but otherwise let the comment pass. They were telling him the truth; the view of the outside world left no room for doubt. Billions dead, the planet’s population down to just barely above one million and an entire planet ravaged. Nice going, Steve, he accused himself bitterly.
“There’s more,” Elizabeth added softly. “If you’d really like to hear it.”
As if what he’d heard so far hadn’t been hard enough to take. He nodded for her to go on.
“We have made great strides in extending the human life span in the past few decades to well over one hundred years. Even so, there are only two people remaining who were alive when the war began who are still alive today. I am one and the other is a man named Andras. He’s the other reason why you are not much of a celebrity here.
“He’s out there, on the other side of the shield, pinning us down here and keeping us from establishing colonies on the moon and Mars until we can repair the damage done to Earth and make it livable again,” she explained. “There is one good point about the shield. While we are trapped down here, at least it keeps him out there.”
“The shield was designed to keep objects out, not to prevent objects from leaving,” he said, puzzled. “But I don’t understand; it was also designed to be lowered to allow for spacecraft re-entry.”
“Perhaps,” she conceded. “But that is not how it has functioned over the years. We can send ships through the shield and into space. We’ve even found a way to navigate through the shield to allow a ship to reenter. But the shield cannot be turned off or lowered. Even if we could find a way to do so, we wouldn’t dare.”
“You mean the shield has been up and running non-stop for over one hundred years?” he asked incredulously. “Impossible, it was never designed to do that.”
“It seems your shield has done quite a few things you never intended it to do,” Carel jabbed.
“Intended or not,” Elizabeth interjected, “that is what it has done. There are as many theories as to why it has as there are as to why the shield expanded in the first place. I believe the leading theory agrees with your assessment that of all of the energy simultaneously released by the thousands of missiles caused an arc between the shield and the magnetic field. It seems your generator merely followed its programming once a pathway was established to its intended destination. Now the shield seems to feed off the generator for its energy and vice versa. A never-ending feedback loop of power that has no on-off switch.
“And, as I said, even if we could find one, we wouldn’t dare use it,” she added. “For Andras waits outside that shield and he has sworn to finish the job you started. He went insane shortly after the war, partly from the injuries he sustained, and swore he would have his revenge. We managed to drive him off the planet years ago, but he still remains a very real and dangerous threat to humankind. He looks more like a monster than a man now and he is the reason why we cannot leave Earth.
“We try to establish bases outside the shield, he destroys them. We send emissaries to seek peace, soldiers to destroy him. They never return and he is still there, waiting, probing for a way to penetrate the shield. When he finds a way through, or if it should ever be shut down, we are doomed. We may be doomed already.”
“Because we are slowly dying off,” she answered sadly. “I told you earlier that our population count was a little over one million, that’s down from two million just twenty-five years ago. Attrition and dwindling resources have been chipping away at us. The classroom of twenty-five students you appeared in represents half of the population under the age of fifteen years. We are not reproducing enough to maintain our population, another effect of living a lifetime under the shield. The human race is on the brink of becoming an extinct species unless we find a way to get out from under the shield. The last estimate, provided Andras doesn’t break through first, gives us less than thirty years before the last human being dies on this planet.”
Steve struggled to his feet again and returned to the window. This time he drew the drape back and tied it off to the side. He looked long and hard at the scene outside, at the hellish world he’d created. He’d killed billions, condemned uncounted millions more to an unacceptable existence and how many more had never been born because he’d killed off their parents. He’d even managed to create a pair of monsters, one an unfeeling terror in the sky that kept its victims pinned to the ground and the other an uncaring madman waiting beyond to consume any who managed to escape the first. For some insane reason, a quote from an old book he’d read as a child burst from his mouth as he stared out the window.
“My name is Ozymandius,” he began, his tone thick with bitterness, “King of Kings. Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
- What would say has been your biggest challenge and achievement in writing Maelstrom?
The biggest challenge was trying to find the time to write it while working full time as a sports writer and editor and also making sure I was involved in my kids extra-curricular activities at school as they grew up.
The biggest achievement was finally finishing it about 15 years after I had first started on it.
- What have you learned about yourself as a writer through writing Maelstrom?
How to be more disciplined in setting aside time to write and not taking any easy excuse to “write later”.
- Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
Don’t worry that not every reader will love your work. No one in the history of writing has ever had a 100% approval rate. Write what you love to write and never stop just because of someone else’s negativity.
- Anything else you would like to say?
Just that I hope the reader, whether they are reading my science fiction story, my mystery-thriller or sports non-fiction, was entertained.
- And finally, do you have any future works planned?
The second book of my Jack Del Rio series, Betrayals, is due out later this fall as is another Sherlock Holmes anthology that I have a story in. My second sports non-fiction, Perfection’s Arbiter, will be released on October 8th and I am almost finished writing another sci-fi novel, Escaping Infinity, that I hope will be out sometime in 2017.