Take any red-tape wrapped bureaucracy you can think of and imagine it worse.
Take today's international nuclear competitiveness and extend it 50 years.
Take a middle-level American bureaucrat who went through 15 years of producing government gobbledy-gook and lived to tell the tale and then some.
Put them together and they add up to Alexis Gilliland, who's just proved there really is life after GSA.
Gilliland, at 50, has just won science fiction's coveted Best New Writer award for the first two novels in a tetralogy about a neglected space colony and its unlikely residents.
He may have invented a new genre of fiction: science fiction by specification, or, in other words, bureaucratic science fiction, but although the books, "The Revolution from Rosinante" and "Long Shot for Rosinante," are selling briskly, Gilliland worries that people aren't laughing. Apparently, the rangy Arlington chemist, retired civil servant, cartoonist and author has found that outside of Washington, bureaucracy isn't especially funny.
Not that Gilliland's bite is limited to memos and specs -- he was a specification writer at the General Services Administration for 15 years, and memos and specs tell a lot of his story. But also targeted for his satire are bureaucracy's underlying politics, anybody's military, government in general and people on the whole. Not to mention the media and multinational corporations.
His publisher (Del Rey, the science fiction arm of Ballantine) calls "Revolution" "an exciting novel of technology and intrigue aboard a struggling space colony."
Well it is, rather. It's breezy space opera about a kicked-around space station more or less marooned because of earth's damaged ozone layer and a lot of political hanky-panky. Its hero is a cheerfully cynical and reluctant leader who must cope with a thousand or so students who were shot off to space after they tried to prevent the Alamo from being turned into a low-cost housing project.
If that sounds complicated, throw in some sophisticated (and sophomoric) computer-entities -- "uppity robots" says publisher Judy-Lynn del Rey, as well as a batch of Korean wives, donated (or cast off) by the Japanese to marry the students.
But also keep in mind that the colony is named for Don Quixote's horse; that the now de-federalized North American Union (NAU) is, in the 2030s, as riddled with racial tensions and bigotry as anywhere ever; that, in any case, greed prevails and right-to-lifers have become missile-launching enemies of gene splicing.
At any rate, suffice it to say, if the 21st century shoe fits the 20th-century foot, well, who is Alexis Gilliland to say nay?
Regarding your proposal to substitute the "classical, well-proven alaminum/mylar mirror" for the dichroic layered mirror presently specified, I regret to inform you that you have used the wrong numbers to develop your cost estimates. Atteroid Rosinante moves in an elliptical orbit, 1.32 AU at perihelion to 3.85 AU at aphelion. This is not the same as moving in a circular orbit at 2.58 AU."
From "The Revolution From Rosinante"
Alexis Gilliland was born in Bangor, Maine. His father was a chemistry professor at the University of Maine and a reservist in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps called to active duty during World War II. The elder Gilliland and his family traveled from Army base to Army base and, Alexis Gilliland recalls, when they landed in Brownwood, Tex., he was "amazed to discover the people of my age group [about 12] still thought the Civil War was a big deal. They asked where I was from and I told them Baltimore [the last place the family had been] because I figured they wouldn't like it if I told them I came from Maine. They didn't like it that I came from Baltimore, either."
The elder Gilliland ended up as a Purdue University chemistry professor and Alexis Gilliland graduated from Purdue in 1953 with a degree in chemistry.
He started studying for his master's degree, but was drafted anyway. After a stint at Fort Benning in Georgia, he found himself in Washington at Fort McNair. "It was a great improvement," he says, "over the Harmony Church area of Fort Benning which at that time didn't have paved streets. It was so nice to have sidewalks again..."
So he stayed in Washington, found a job first at the Bureau of Standards and, in 1967, switched to GSA where he retired after 25 years, not because he wanted to, but because his job was being abolished.
Dolly Gilliland worked at GSA, too, and has been retired for several years on disability. The Gillilands have a son, Charles, a 17-year-old junior at Wakefield High School in Arlington. (The dedication to the second book reads: "This book is dedicated to Charles, who has started to clean up his room")
Twentieth-century money machines on banks send back receipts through little slots that tell you about your transactions and say, "Thank you Jane Doe."
Gilliland's 21st-century missiles describe their warheads with similar courtesy: "Nominal yield of warhead #412487.42 is one megaton. The warhead, however, is 9 years, 4 months old and will probably yield no more than 96 percent nominal value with normal detonation protocol... This missile is gratified to be of use."
The Gillilands have been members of the Washington Area Science Fiction Association for years, and half of its meetings are held in their house, a comfortable, book-filled, four-level split in suburban Virginia. (The other meetings are held in Maryland.) The organization dates back to the late '40s and is about to celebrate its 24th annual Halloween party.
Gilliland gave up reading science fiction -- well not gave up, exactly, but cooled his ardor for it -- during a brief 1950s period when he was earning his MA (finally) at George Washington University and served as captain of its chess club. The club won considerable honors under his leadership, he says cheerfully, adding, just as cheerfully, that "of course we counted part-time students and alumni."
But science fiction was not to be denied.
Ever a doodler and cartoonist, Gilliland would send cartoons to assorted "fanzines," those more-or-less underground communications between science fiction fans that are often mimeographed or photocopied.
His first science fiction award, indeed, was as "best fan artist."
As his job frustrations increased, so did his cartooning.
Gilliland blinks his pale blue eyes as he describes his drawing as "my primal scream. It was primal cartoon therapy... Kept my disposition sweet and helped maintain my equanimity."
An example of frustration: The Army wanted a gloss for their floors that would shine without a lot of labor, recalls Gilliland.
"We found them a finish you apply with a mop and it dried clear and bright. But they didn't like it. There weren't any swirl marks and the general was used to seeing swirl marks..."
Primal cartoon therapy finally ended up in a relatively popular cartoon book published in 1979, "The Iron Law of Bureaucracy," with such entries as a general proclaiming: "Of course the army is dumb. Any nation relying on smarts to survive has got to be in serious trouble." Or a bureaucrat: "Any language incapable of ambiguity and paradox is too simple-minded to be of any use in the real world."
"Gilliland was popular among the science fiction people even before he began to write," says Marie White of the Moonstone Bookcellars, the Washington Circle-area science fiction specialty bookstore, "so there was a built-in interest in his books. But they are more popular than even that would indicate..."
Judy-Lynn del Rey, newly appointed publisher of Del Rey Books, says that the "Rosinante" books mark the current science fiction trend back to so-called "high-tech" fiction in the manner of James Hogan and Arthur Clarke. That, plus "good writing and plenty of humor," she believes, got him the new writer award (at the Chicago science fiction convention over the Labor Day weekend).
The "Rosinante" books have kept Gilliland busy for the past couple of years, occupying, he notes mischievously, "his midlife crisis attention." The third will be published in a few weeks and the fourth is underway.
Says Dolly Gilliland, "We hoped that by calling the third book 'The Pirates of Rosinante' people would make the connection with 'The Pirates of Penzance' and realize there is humor there. But," she sighs, holding up the just-received cover of the new book, "it looks positively sinister. "