Unexpected Questions with John E Stith

John E. Stith’s first science fiction sale was to FANTASTIC SCIENCE FICTION, a sister magazine to AMAZING STORIES. His second sale was to AMAZING STORIES.

Since then, he has sold eight science-fiction novels to Ace Books, Tor Books, the Science Fiction Book Club, and numerous translations. His works include REDSHIFT RENDEZVOUS, a Nebula Award nominee, and MANHATTAN TRANSFER, currently in development for television. His most recent novel is PUSHBACK, a mystery-suspense thriller set in Colorado Springs, where he lives. PUSHBACK was a finalist for the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense and the Colorado Author’s League Award.

He appeared on live national TV on the SCIENCE-FICTION SCIENCE FACT (SF2) PBS broadcast with Ben Bova, Arthur C. Clarke, Charles Sheffield, G. Harry Stine, and Jesco von Puttkammer.

He has optioned several feature-film screenplays and has sold to television (Star Trek). Complete information on his works may be found at https://www.neverend.com. His latest novellas are the young-adult TINY TIME MACHINE and TINY TIME MACHINE 2: RETURN OF THE FATHER from Amazing Select, the imprint for stand-alone volumes produced by AMAZING STORIES. He is at work on TINY TIME MACHINE 3: MOTHER OF INVENTION to complete the trilogy.

“Stith” rhymes with “Smith.”


What Pre-1960s SF television show or movie would you like to see get a big-budget remake, and why?

I can think of only two. My first choice is TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET (1946). Despite this being a TV recommendation, I haven’t seen any of the episodes. They also made the property into a radio series. Again, as far as I know, I never heard it. But the novels, oh, wow. Eight novels, starting with STAND BY FOR MARS and ending with THE ROBOT ROCKET were right up there for me as a kid, right along with Heinlein’s SPACE CADET, which appeared on the scene around the same time (late ’40s) and could have been part of the inspiration. The eight novels made an even bigger impression on me, maybe because of the page count. I loved following the adventures of Tom, Astro, and Roger Manning as they moved through school and into space, fought with each other along the way, and eventually formed a tight friendship.

The books aspired to a higher degree of plausibility than did LOST IN SPACE, even advertising to have Willy Ley as a technical advisor. I still don’t know who actually wrote the books, which were published under the house name Carey Rockwell. They reportedly had their genesis in a book proposal by Joseph Greene, who wrote another one of my favorites, THE FORGOTTEN STAR, about some youngsters discovering a large spherical asteroid that turns out to be artificial. I honestly didn’t make the connection between that element and my own RECKONING INFINITY until just now.

My second choice for a TV remake is SPACE PATROL (1950). SPACE PATROL, which I did in fact see, was cheesy, totally free of the constraints of plausibility and verisimilitude. It was riddled with shameless merchandising that would be fun to spoof with fake products. It had diabolical alien adversaries and lots of space derring-do. Its value is far bigger in nostalgic memory than in real life. SP was pitched as a cop show in outer space, but it evolved to something a bit closer to STAR TREK (it even had the short skirts).

If you had to choose between being a time traveler or a space explorer, which would you pick and why?

Definitely a time traveler. That way, I could do both and have a long life, assuming we don’t destroy our own civilization before we can spread out among the stars, the new frontier. If we can get through the next fifty to 100 years, we might become spread out enough to survive the ever more powerful disasters that come with the territory of growing up physically before we grow up intellectually. And emotionally.

If you had to choose between having the ability to speak with animals or plants, which would you choose and why?

Animals, firstly so I could speak to my cat. I’d love to understand the taste attraction of eating a moth. Does he suddenly stare at some imaginary threat in the room just to screw with me? What was his early life like, to explain his quirky need to frequently mimic feeding behavior? Is he jealous of the big cats who roam free in the wild, or happy that he has a safe place to sleep 22 hours a day with catered food and someone who cleans his toilet?

If you could alter any one single natural law, what would it be and how would you change it?

Newton’s Third Law: For every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction. One way of restating the law is to say everything has consequences. It would be cool to live consequence-free, doing whatever one wanted with zero repercussions. Perpetual motion machines would be possible. Free energy. Of course, there might be some downsides. This might prevent air travel and sea travel. Even walking might not be possible. Without this foundation, much of human life would be unpredictable. More unpredictable.

If aliens were to visit Earth, what do you think their first impression of humans would be?

They might well be astonished by a species that matures physically before maturing emotionally. What a recipe for disaster and so much needless suffering. If the order were reversed, we might well have the very best humanity has to offer. If we didn’t procreate before we separate most of the murderers from the general population, we might have a much different civilization. Instead, we have more randomized progress. Of course, it could be the model in IDIOCRACY is right, and with more thought given to procreation, we might cut off many lines that might be advantageous. Regardless, I can’t wait to see what we’ll become when we grow up.

If you had to live on a spaceship with one fictional character for the rest of your life, who would it be and why?

Jessica Rabbit, the good Jessica in the film version, not the bad Jessica in the book version. She deeply loves her partner. She’s drop-dead gorgeous and sexy. She’s made up, so she comes without all the baggage and complexes humans have. And everyone knows what they say about rabbits.

Which trope of science fiction (phasers, transporters, time machines, much more) would you like to see put into our own reality? And how would you use it in a mundane way?

Probably the sonic screwdriver. It’s a combination skeleton key, remote detonator, universal crypto key. It can activate computers, deactivate computers, override anything with an override, and act as a universal remote control. It burns, it cuts, it slices, dices, it’s a flashlight, and lights candles. But wait, there’s more. It’s a powerful plot-obstacle remover., and … wait for it … it even loosens and tightens screws.



John’s TINY TIME MACHINE 3: MOTHER OF INVENTION should be released later this year or in early 2024, after which the entire trilogy will be published in an omnibus volume. In TTM 1, two loners, Meg and Josh, come into possession of a time machine built into a cell phone and have to save the Earth from disaster before the cops capture them. In TTM 2, they survive threats from a former business partner of Meg’s dad and go back into the past to save Meg’s dad. In TTM3 they will try to go even deeper into the past to save Meg’s mom, whose death initially triggered Meg’s dad’s obsession with inventing a time machine.

Currently, Sky Conway, an award-winning producer, is leading a team to turn John’s novel MANHATTAN TRANSFER, about the kidnapping of Manhattan, into a television pilot. The pilot script is ready, and most of the cast is already attached, including Walter Koenig, Kevin Sarbo, and Robert Funero. This summer a Kickstarter project will be used to raise the funds not already covered by an investment group. When the pilot is ready, the team will decide whether to continue self-financing or make a deal with a streaming major. The MANHATTAN TRANSFER IMDB page will show updates to the cast. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt23056248/reference/
John can be found at:
TINY TIME MACHINE on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Tiny-Time-Machine-John-Stith-ebook/dp/B0C15QXRPQ/
Web https://www.neverend.com/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/john.e.stith/
Twitter https://twitter.com/johnestith
Mailing List: https://eepurl.com/bGL4kj


Here’s an excerpt from TINY TIME MACHINE by John E. Stith. Our heroes, Meg and Josh, have fled Meg’s father’s laboratory where they found him dying and he gave Meg what looks like a cell phone. He told her to be extremely careful with it. Oh, and they are on the run from the police for an entirely separate matter.

We reached my house without attracting a SWAT team. I attribute that mainly to avoiding public transportation and keeping to alleys when we could.

I call it “my house,” and maybe it truly was my house then, but it had been our house, my dad and me. But we argued so much, and his research took so much of his energy, he eventually just started sleeping in his lab most nights.

Josh helped me inside, and then through the living room, down the hall, and into my room. I sat heavily onto the bed.

Josh looked around the room wonderingly, and it was only later that I realized he was taking in the familiar “green” posters, a couple of empty Pepsi cans, and the same redwood forest poster he had.

“Thanks,” I said. It didn’t seem enough.

“Don’t mention it.” He moved tentatively toward the door, probably as accustomed to being on his own as I was. At the door he waited. “You going to be OK?”

I sat there silently, the wheels turning. I think Josh was about to ask me again when I said, “You’re not curious?”


I pulled out my dad’s cell phone. It looked like an ordinary phone. “This.”

“I’ve maybe had a sheltered life, but I’ve seen cell phones.”

“My father was insistent.”

“He was out of his mind with pain.”

I unlocked the screen and examined it intently.

Josh relented and moved so he could look over my shoulder.

“Here’s the file,” I said.

“And?” Josh look around room, his gaze stopping on my desk computer. Same green home page as his. “Green Targets in San Francisco.”

“In case of my death. Use extreme caution with the camera function. The viewing window will show the other side. Do not press the shutter button until you read more.”

“Other side of what?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“Maybe he was already a little loopy before whatever happened.”

Yesterday I would have joined in on putting my dad down. “No, actually, if he said something, it was usually right. It made me angry that he insisted on being right about almost everything. But he generally was.”

I pressed the camera button. The camera viewfinder took over the screen. But something was wrong. At first it looked the viewfinder was showing black and white.

I scanned the phone around the room. I felt strange. This didn’t make sense.

Josh said softly, “Holy … crap.”

The viewfinder showed a dirty, dusty, faded, messier view of my room. Some of the furniture was gone, some of it was moved around the room. Some of it had been upgraded.

Pointing the phone out the window was weird, too. The building across the street wasn’t there in the viewfinder. Instead the screen showed just a pile of rubble.

The awe in Josh’s voice made him a little hoarse. “Maybe we should read the frickin’ manual.”

I went back to the help file and continued reading. “The shutter button opens a portal to the other side for ten to fifteen seconds, depending on the battery level. If you use the camera from there, the portal opens back here.” I glanced at Josh and continued. “Do not pause halfway through.”

Josh said, “Go back to the camera.”

I did. I scanned around the room.

Josh jumped back. “Don’t point it at me!”

Josh saw me struggling to get up, so he helped. I limped into the next room. I pointed it toward the computer desk. A newer model showed in the viewfinder, one with an enormous screen.

I hit the shutter button.

What we’d already seen was strange. This was off-the-charts weird. The phone didn’t make a shutter noise. Instead, there was a faint electrical buzz and a window opened in mid air. Here in the room, everything was normal. Through the “window,” this rectangular opening hovering in mid air, we could see what we’d seen through the viewfinder.

I put the phone down and we both approached the opening. It stayed fixed, just hanging in the air. Through the window, the portal, we saw a dusty, beat-up, “new” computer. We looked through at various angles and see the different-looking room on “the other side.”

I started to point at the computer on the other side.

Josh batted my hand away. “Careful!”

The portal abruptly vanished as though it had never been.

Josh said again, “Holy … crap.”

I aimed the phone in a new location and “snapped” a new picture. A new portal opened.

Josh made some noise behind me and before I could stop him, he tossed something through the portal–a paperweight my mom had given me.

“Hey!” I said.

The portal closed. The paperweight had vanished.

I pointed the phone at where the paperweight had fallen and clicked the shutter again. There was the paperweight, lying on the floor on the other side.

Josh said softly, “What else does the help file say?”


Thumpthumpthump! A loud pounding sounded at the front door, like a giant wanted in.

“Open up! San Francisco Police!”

Josh said, “Holy … crap.”

“Maybe we should just let–”

“No way!”

Things might have turned out a lot differently but for his impulsiveness. We’ll never know.

He grabbed the phone from me and “snapped” a picture. The portal to the other side opened up. “Through there! Fast!” He tugged at my hand. “Come on!”

I almost didn’t make it through in time. Josh scampered through and then helped me over. The edge of the “window” felt sharp, so I tried to avoid it. The pain in my hip and leg was better now, but I wouldn’t have made it through without him.

The portal snapped shut.

Aside from the strangeness of the room on “the other side,” the room was hot. Maybe in the nineties. And it was quiet. No road noise. No city noise. No sirens.

“What the–” I started, and then fell silent.

I looked out the window. Just as we’d seen in the viewfinder, the building across the street, formerly an apartment building, was now something closer to an enormous pile of bricks and exposed pipes. The rubble lay in bright sunshine. The sky was cloudless.

Motionless cars clogged the street. No birds. No motion of any kind.

“Oh, hey!” Josh said. He had pulled up the phone and was looking at the viewfinder screen. Now we could see my familiar house and out into the living room. We moved a few steps forward.

I nearly jumped. The scene was silent, but our front door crashed open and two cops zipped through, one after the other. They had guns out, like they were pursuing bank robbers.

One of them seemed to speed right through us as he swept into my room. We tried to keep the viewfinder on him. He barked a single word. The word was, “Clear!” if any of my NCIS-watching time was paying dividends. I’d like to think it was worth something.

Cops converged in the center of my living room. Four of them. I bet even Bonnie and Clyde probably had only one cop visit them the first time.

As they started looking around more closely, they looked behind paintings, checked the thickness of walls. At that point Josh started making up a soundtrack for the silent scene we were witnessing.

“The neighbor said he saw them come in. Where the hell are they?”

I said, “Yes. Where the hell are we?”

Josh ignored me. He said in a goofy voice, “Maybe they have a safe room, disguised to look like something else. Or a fake wall.”

One of the cops actually opened our refrigerator. Josh affected a French accent. “No sign of them in here, Inspector. It’s spooky, I tell you.”

“Shut up.” Josh’s goofy voice dropped an octave.

“Yes, sir. But it is spooky, is it not?”

I interrupted his running narration. “It is spooky. Where are we?”

He shut the phone off and we took another long look around this imitation of my house. Most rooms contained little of my furniture. Instead, the place was mostly populated with stuff that looked cheaper and strangely more modern, but worn and dusty. The replacement sofa was covered with some odd fractal-looking fabric that felt shiny and soft.

We looked out the window again. Empty, stalled cars. The collapsed building across the street.

“What are we looking at?” he asked. “A parallel world where things went wrong?”

“Or the future? Maybe the sun went nova.”

He smirked. “I think we’d be inside the sun at that point.”

“Maybe it’s a nova tremor. I don’t know.”

Josh looked sharply at me.

“You’re right.” I said. “Stupid. Can we go back home yet?”

He ran the camera app again, and we walked back to the living room. A single cop remained in the house. He was settled into an easy chair to wait.

Josh said, “It looks like someone else is living there now.”

Unable to go back, we killed a bit more time exploring the house. It was more modern than before but it was dirtier, beat up, more years of being lived in. What we saw of personal possessions and photos had nothing to do with me or dad. Paint peeled on doorframes.

Finally I could stall no longer, and I said, “So maybe we should explore outside.”

“Yeah. But let’s be careful. What happened to your dad might have happened on this side.”

I nodded. “You know, when you park at the mall, everyone needs to remember where the car is?” I caught his eye. “If we get separated, meet here.”

Josh agreed.

Outside, I was about to pull the door closed, when Josh said, “Check your key.”

I did. My key wouldn’t unlock this lock. “Thanks. I’ll leave it unlocked.”

We stepped out into a post-apocalyptic city-scape.

No indications of life. Just heat and bright sunlight and the aftermath of a collapse. The scene felt weirdly familiar, from The Last Man on Earth, but at the same time it felt absolutely unreal. My house stood behind me, but it looked dozens of years older. The roof was battered and faded. The yard, such as it was, was dry and dusty, the plants all dead. The neighbor’s plum trees were long dead. And it was hot. Maybe a hundred degrees. Everything just felt wrong. The air felt like Phoenix, not the Bay area.

I walked to the middle of the street. Chaos stretched both directions into the distance.

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