All Of These Worlds Are Yours . . .
On July 1 2004, seven years after its launch, the Cassini spacecraft crossed the plane of Saturn's ring system. Its chunky body, wrapped in gold-colored Kapton insulation and crowned by the dish of its high-gain antennae, bristled with instrumentation; an independent instrument package, the Huygens probe, clung to it like a limpet. After falling through the gap between the F and G rings, it fired up its engines for ninety-six minutes, skimming just 100,000 kilometers above Saturn's cloud tops as it ended its interplanetary trajectory and inserted itself into an elliptical orbit.
I had some small personal interest in Cassini's success. In the year it was launched, 1997, I published a short story, "Second Skin", set on Proteus, a tiny moon of Neptune: it described an attempt to assassinate an enigmatic but fearsomely accomplished gene wizard, and was the overture to a long love affair with the outer regions of the Solar System. I wrote eight more stories that shared the same future history, and began to plan a pair of novels, The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun, about life in the outer regions of the solar system . . .