Zombie Satellites

Last night, someone asked if I do anything specific to generate concepts. This is barely a step removed from “Where do you get your ideas from?”, and the asker apologised even as they posed the question. But honestly, I almost never try to generate ideas. That way lies a lot of frustrated angst, and plenty of imposter syndrome to boot, at least for me. On the other hand, I'm fairly opposed to the idea of some kind of otherworldly “inspiration” that visits us from the aether.

So what's the middle ground? For me it's being open to the world, and everything going on around you. And, as I said in response last night, “Wherever you go, look for whatever doesn't belong.”

Example: here's something that doesn't belong – a ‘zombie satellite’ that NASA didn't even know was still orbiting.


That story popped up in my news feed just this morning as I ate breakfast. Now, the phrase ‘zombie satellite’ is itself enough to have a bunch of SF writers scrambling for their keyboards. That aside, I immediately wondered: how many more might there be? Could they be hijacked for nefarious purposes? What if someone deliberately hid them by faking malfunctions? Put enough of those together, spread around the tin-can traffic jam that is our overcrowded geostationary orbital belt, and you could create an entirely secret private global communications network. Or you could modify their re-entry trajectories to fall on major metro areas; how's that for a terrorist threat?

None of these thoughts would have come to me if I hadn't idly scrolled through a newsfeed, seen that headline, and thought, “huh.”

Of course, I'm not the only writer clicking that link. And it's almost inevitable someone else will beat me to the punch, as it were, to use it in a story. That's OK. It took me almost ten years to find a place for Facial Dazzle; I wanted to use it in a story from the moment I saw it, utilised by criminals as much as activists to evade AI facial recognition. But it wasn't until I began writing THE FUSE that I discovered the perfect home for it. By then several other people had used dazzle in their own stories, for sure. But that didn't matter, because none of them were like mine. How could they be? I didn't write them.

So don't be surprised if you see ‘zombie satellite’ appear in a comic/TV show/Bond movie/whatever soon. By the time I get round to using the idea – if I ever do – they might already be old hat.

Again, that's OK; the great thing about ideas is, they're just ideas. It's what you do with them that counts.

Originally published January 2018

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