Of clans and culture: Aerospace engineer turned writer of Irish tales sees warnings ahead
Stephen Finlay Archer will chat with readers, sign novels at Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills Sept. 15
Stephen Finlay Archer spent nearly four decades launching satellites into space, building a global network of light-speed radio waves that eventually lit the internet’s Promethean spark. But the aerospace engineer has had a lot of time to look back on those achievements, including what instantaneous thought-transmission has done to reading habits, writing skills and societal intelligence. Now he’s looking to the literary gods for absolution—by reaching into the past.
Archer is penning a series of historic fiction novels known as The Irish Clans saga. On September 15, he’ll appear at Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills to chat with readers about the first two tales of the epic to be published, as well as what a violent, century-old “Poets Rebellion” might tell us about pieces of the American character on the verge of being lost.
Archer was firing his imagination into the stars long before he was looping it through history books. He spent most of his career working for Hughes Communication Inc., formerly one of the top satellite designers in the world. Archer helped construct everything from launch vehicles to advanced delivery-and-orbit spacecraft. He helped envision state-of-the-art weather satellites for NASA and NOAA. Arguably, his most impactful job was working on a program called Spaceway, which eventually put the internet in the sky.
Archer retired in 2003 and suddenly had more time to observe the ways technological hyperspeed is affecting the human experience. He saw the warning signs that a lot of people have been noticing: Reading books is being replaced by drooling at video snippets and scripted “reality” television; ambitious writing is losing steam to emojis and fumbled 140-character tweets; the all-consuming connectedness of social media has affected emotional gratification. Not only has Archer noticed all of these trends, he’s observed his own small role in the tech that helped advance them.
“In the process of building communication satellites, over the years, the industry developed a lot of microprocessor chips,” Archer recalled. “That spawned, if you will, the instantaneous, ubiquitous communications systems we have around the world today, which clearly have a lot of benefits, but also offers a lot of opportunity for misuse—and I don’t think we understand the downstream effect yet.”
These developments began weighing on Archer’s conscience around the same time he was tracing his family roots in Northern Ireland. That got him delving into the history of the Easter Rising in 1916, Ireland’s pivotal fight for independence from Great Britain, which was also known as “the Poet’s Rebellion.” It was the fight that eventually shattered the Emerald Isle into two separate nations.
In studying the Rising, Archer saw a moment in time he thinks also encapsulates the best of the American character: bravery in the face of oppression; blood-soaked sacrifice for high principals; the power of persuasive writing when it’s aimed at finding justice.
The five-novel saga that Archer’s midway through writing brings fictional characters inspired by his family into the very heart of that struggle. His first book, Searchers, was published by Manzanita Writers Press in 2016. Its follow-up, Entente, was just released last month.
“I thought if I wrote about those ideals and added an interesting story, maybe it would get some readers thinking about our own society, and where it’s heading today,” Archer said.
With a wry grin, he added, “I fully understand that people who watch 12 hours of reality television every day aren’t likely to read my books, but it’s still my way of atonement for helping create all this.”