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Creator / Charles Sheffield

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Charles Sheffield (1935–2002) was an English-born Science Fiction writer who moved to America before taking up writing. With dual degrees in mathematics and physics from St. John's College, Cambridge, his work tended towards hard science fiction. He was also, quite literally, a space scientist, who worked for the Earth Satellite Corporation on remote sensing data.

He shares credit with Arthur C. Clarke for being the first to introduce the Space Elevator to SF. Sheffield's The Web Between the Worlds and Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise were published nearly simultaneously—a coincidence which amused both authors.

He served as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America and the American Astronautical Society. He was also a columnist for the Baen Books website. At the time of his death, he was married to fellow SF writer Nancy Kress.

Works with a page on this wiki:

Selected other works:

  • The McAndrew series (short stories, started in 1978, collected as The McAndrew Chronicles, One Man's Universe, and The Complete McAndrew)
  • The Behrooz Wolf series:
    • Sight of Proteus (1978)
    • Proteus Unbound (1988)
    • Proteus in the Underworld (1995)
  • The Web Between the Worlds (1979)
  • The Heritage Universe series:
    • Summertide (1981)
    • Divergence (1991)
    • Transcendence (1992)
    • Convergence (1997)
    • Resurgence (2002)
  • The Selkie (with David Bischoff, 1982)
  • My Brother's Keeper (1982)
  • Brother to Dragons (1992)
  • The Cold As Ice series:
    • Cold as Ice (1992)
    • The Ganymede Club (1995)
    • Dark as Day (2002)
  • Godspeed (1993)
  • The Chan Dalton series:
    • The Mind Pool (1993)
    • The Spheres of Heaven (2001)
  • Georgia on My Mind and Other Places (1995, short-story collection)
  • The Jupiter series (YA)
    • Higher Education (with Jerry Pournelle, 1996)
    • The Billion Dollar Boy (1997)
    • Putting Up Roots (1997)
    • The Cyborg from Earth (1998)
  • Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1997)
  • The Amazing Mr. Darwin (2002, collection of shorts about Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus)

Tropes in his other works:

  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Averted in "All the Colors of the Vacuum" (part of his McAndrew series). Everyone who goes into space receives hypnotic programming in vacuum survival. Without having to think about it they, e.g., gasp and yawn to empty lungs, and keep their eyes closed with occasional glimpses. The characters manage to remain conscious for more than 30 seconds while crossing from one ship to another, though not without damage. After first aid:
    Jeanie: [McAndrews'] face was beginning to blaze with the bright red of broken capillaries, ... His hands were yellow paws of surrogate flesh, his face and neck a bright blue coating of the ointment Wicklund had applied to them. The dribble of blood that had come from his mouth had spread its bright stain down his chin and over the front of his tunic, mixing in with the blue fabric to produce a horrible purple splash. ... He looked like a circus clown, all smears and streaks of different colors.
  • Bloody Murder: There was a Weaponized Blood of Mass Destruction version in his last novel, Dark as Day. A character carries nanomachines in his bloodstream that, when dropped into a gas giant, will shift high-pressure hydrogen into a denser configuration, collapsing the planet and releasing a big enough burst of energy to destroy civilization. The character also has mental programming to seek out an opportunity to dive into a gas giant...
  • Brown Note: In "The Lambeth Immortal" (one of his Erasmus Darwin stories), the new owner of a British estate investigates a supposed "Beast" that arises from a flint pit on windy moonlit nights near a centuries-old mill. The Beast turns out to be an epilepsy-like affliction passed down the estate-owner's family line, that turns them into The Berserker when they witness the moon shining brightly thorough the mill's vanes, rotating at a fast clip.
  • Charm Person: The short story "What Song The Sirens Sang" uses the premise that sufficiently sophisticated analysis of human reactions makes it possible to automatically generate highly compelling political speeches.
  • Cult Colony: The interstellar arks in the McAndrew stories include the "Amish Ark" of people seeking a low-tech life and the "Cyber Ark" of people dedicated to the development of AI yes, they found out the hard way that A.I. Is a Crapshoot.
  • Distress Call: In the short story "With McAndrew, Out of Focus", the title character's fellow physicists are busy making observations of a supernova at one solar focus. They also detect a distress call from a Generation Ship, but can't locate the source of the signal and thus identify which Generation Ship sent the message (the signal quality is very poor). McAndrew works out that the Generation Ship's signal is coming from the other solar focus, which is displacing the signal, and leads a scouting / possible rescue mission. He and his partner, the narrator and The Captain, have narrowed the candidates for the Generation Ship down to a couple of possibilities by the time they reach it. Just before it's too late, The Captain identifies the Generation Ship as the CyberArk, which learned too late that A.I. Is a Crapshoot.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Summertide (book 1 of the Heritage Universe) has excerpts from Lang's Catalogue of Builder Artifacts to explain the mysterious structures mentioned throughout the book. Extra points to the fact that the author of the catalogue is a main character.
  • Explosive Decompression: The McAndrew Chronicles offers what seems like a realistic aversion in the Sturm Invocation, a training protocol that, when activated with a special whistle, invokes an involuntary reaction of quick blinks to preserve your eyesight plus other adaptations that allow one to stay in vacuum just long enough to cross a short distance (from one ship to another) and get to safety. The penalties for false activations are very severe. Notably, blinking is inverted—instead of eyes open most of the time your eyes are closed most of the time. This has nothing to do with pressure, but is designed to prevent eye damage from excess UV radiation.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Tomorrow and Tomorrow has its protagonist awaken in the insanely-far future, where most sapience has existed in the form of computer software for untold ages. The locals have no clue how to communicate with the uploaded copy of a 20th-century mind, and he has to teach this trope to them simply to avoid having his mind shattered. All the story's 'characters' from there onward are instances of this trope, technically including the protagonist himself.
  • Humans Are Warriors: In the Mind Pool duology, humans are the only intelligent species that actually kills other intelligent beings. The other races consider intelligent life too sacred to harm, and are horrified nearly to the point of physical illness at the very thought of murder. This means that many of them fear humanity... but it also means that humanity is extremely useful on the occasions a hostile power makes itself known.
  • Inertial Dampening: The "balanced drive" in the McAndrew stories uses a flat plate of superdense matter at the front of the ship, with the crew pod trailing behind at just the right distance so that acceleration g-forces in one direction and the plate's gravity in the other add up to a comfortable 1g. This form of inertial dampening works without bending any of the known laws of physics—it merely requires solutions to the slight engineering problems involved in making the superdense plate, keeping it compressed, and accelerating its immense mass.
  • Left Hanging: The novel Cold as Ice follows this trope to ridiculous extremes as the writer tells the story of several, unconnected main characters. One of these, a standard End of the World plot, is resolved in the main story. The others are swiftly, and without explanation, dealt with in the Epilogue.
  • Lightspeed Leapfrog: Summertide starts with ships carrying Human Popsicles. They are programmed to wake the people if they reach the destination, if a problem arises the computer cannot solve—or if they receive a transmission that FTL has been invented.
  • Mistook the Dominant Lifeform: An interesting example in the Heritage books. There is an alien species which passes through three stages in their life. The first is a totally non-sapient larva, while the second is an arthropod predatory nymph which is sapient but lacks culture and society. The third stage was originally thought to be civilized, due to being a big-headed biped. It turns out, however, that this is a literal case of Hollow-Sounding Head: it is merely a resonator for mating calls, the animal-sized brain is elsewhere in the body.
  • My Grandson, Myself: In the backstory of The Ganymede Club, a spaceship crew ran into something that apparently made them immortal. They cover this up by occasionally faking their deaths and starting over with new identities (this is made easier by a massively destructive Earth-Belt war between the incident and the time of the story).
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: In Starfire, the detective protagonist figures out the murderer's identity, but has no proof. He draws the murderer out into open by announcing he found a supposedly missing victim, and where he stored the corpse. The villain can't help but go check on the body, where confronted by detective. Even then the villain could have saved the situation by simply feigning ignorance and leaving. With security cameras on, detective could not exactly initiate violence. Villain solves his problem by drawing weapon first—on camera. Detective is a much faster shot. Nice going!
  • Person of Mass Destruction: In the novel Dark As Day, one character has a bloodstream full of nanodevices that, if dropped into a gas giant, would cause the planet to collapse and release a burst of energy sufficient to wipe out civilization... and an obsessive fascination with the kind of turbulent weather patterns gas giants are full of.
  • Powered by a Black Hole: In "Killing Vector", energy extracted from a Kerr-Newman black hole is described as powering the rocket engines.
  • Precursors: In the Heritage Universe novels, the Builders left behind artifacts the size of planets—e.g. Cocoon, the first such artifact discovered by humans, was so named because that's what it looks like if you're far enough away from the planet it surrounds. A whole discipline of Adventurer Archaeologists exists to study Builder artifacts.
  • Recycled In Space: Godspeed is Treasure Island IN SPACE!!
  • Resurrected for a Job: A related concept appears in the short story "Out of Copyright"—past geniuses are cloned and recruited as research scientists. Under the "copyright" rules referenced in the title, only people dead for seventy-five years may be cloned and only one clone per person may be created, leading to a corporations competing for their services in a manner resembling a sports draft.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: The novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow features Drake, who cryo-freezes himself and his wife to await a cure for her fatal illness. While he's nowhere near badass by our standards, an ultra-advanced future society which has forgotten the whole concept of "war" has a different perspective.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: The novel The Selkie (written with David Bischoff) is a modern treatment of the selkie legend.
  • Sinister Geometry: The Phages in the Heritage Universe series of novels, found swarming around hundreds of Big Dumb Objects left behind all over the galaxy by a mysterious and long-vanished race known only as the Builders. Phages resemble dull grey dodecahedrons 48 metres to a side and can open a maw on any of their faces to consume anything (or anyone) that gets in their way. It is eventually revealed during the course of the novels that the Phages may be the degenerate remnants of the Builders themselves.
  • Space Elevator:
    • The novel The Web Between the Worlds was published almost simultaneously with Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise, and bears some close similarities, including a near miss with the name of the protagonist. However in a foreword to Sheffield's novel, Clarke discounts any suggestion of plagiarism, pointing out merely that the space elevator was an idea whose time had come.
    • Summertide, in the Heritage Universe series provides us with a retractable space elevator, the Umbilical, strung between two planets that, of course, share a barycenterQuake and Opal—in orbit around the stellar focus of their planetary system.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: In the Mind Pool duology, Angels (a species of plant-like creatures; no relation to messengers from heaven) can survive underwater for extremely long periods of time. One describes it thus:
    Angel: "We can not breathe underwater... however, we can not breathe underwater, as well."
  • Time Abyss: Tomorrow and Tomorrow is about a man who has his wife cryogenically frozen to search for a cure to a nonspecific brain malady. He himself is frozen, after reading up on contemporary music to provide research as a reason to thaw him out. No matter how far into the future he goes, however, his wife's illness is never cured. Eventually most of humanity transcends its former species and leaves him in the dust. His body eventually falls apart from all the freezing and thawing and his brain gets uploaded into a computer. Eons pass, he gets cloned a few billion times, merges with the clones, becomes a god, and restores his wife on his own. The end.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: In the short "The Treasure Of Odirex", a dwindling tribe of Neanderthals lives in hiding in an abandoned Derbyshire gold mine, and make necklaces and other simple ornaments from a shiny yellow mineral they occasionally come across.