LIFE IMITATING ART IMITATING LIFE –
OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT
GUEST POST BY LOREN STEFFY
Originally published July, 2021, on the author’s blog
Perhaps I should have used a rocket company instead of a semiconductor manufacturing plant.
I found myself thinking that earlier this month, as all eyes were on West Texas for the launch of billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket.
I started writing my novel, The Big Empty, almost 20 years ago, and the idea of a rocket factory in West Texas would have seemed even more over the top than a chip plant. Besides, I knew what chip factories were like. I had toured several of them, and I covered the semiconductor industry.
While my brother is in the private space business, the idea of making the outside company moving into the tiny town of Conquistador an aerospace firm never occurred to me.
At any rate, all this came rushing back to me with the Blue Origin launch, in part because of some excellent reporting by my old paper, the Houston Chronicle. Andrea Leinfelder has a thoroughly reported series on the impact of the private space on small-town Texas. She takes a deep look at both Boca Chica, Space X’s launch site in far south Texas, and Van Horn. The Van Horn piece, in particular, sounds eerily familiar:
This town, like a thousand other rural communities, has seen agriculture diminish and infrastructure deteriorate. Its local improvements often depend on grants. And with Blue Origin’s higher-paid workforce, the town no longer qualifies for citywide grants reserved for low- to moderate-income communities. Residents talk about the tight housing market and problem-plagued water system.
Still, people are excited to see what comes next, with the possibility that Van Horn will become a major launch site for space travelers.
Those were many of the same ideas I tried to capture in The Big Empty. It was what I saw first-hand in the late 1990s when, as I described in my recent guest essay for the Chronicle, I found myself on a sprawling West Texas cattle ranch to cover a tech story.
I’ve always been fascinated with how people live in different environments. When I visit a new place, I like to see what life is like for the residents. I’ve found myself driving through neighborhoods in the interior of Maui and walking through the residential streets of Riyadh (against the “advice” of my government handlers).
Of course, the issues facing small towns in Texas — and across the country — have been going on for decades. But with the Blue Origin launch in Van Horn, I was struck by the old idea of life imitating art (not that I’m ascribing the “art” tag to my book, but you get the point).
In a way, it’s happening again. I’ve been working on a sequel to The Big Empty, which could be described as “a billionaire comes to town.”