Prior to feeling the call to become an educator, Nalin A Ratnayake was a aerospace propulsion research engineer. He holds a B.S.E. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering and has published 11 peer-reviewed technical papers on supersonic air-breathing propulsion, environmentally responsible aviation technologies, and advanced access-to-space systems.
After changing careers, Nalin completed an M.Ed. through the Boston Teacher Residency, focusing his studies on the connections between scientific literacy and social justice, particularly in the context of urban schools and communities.
After five years of teaching Physics and Engineering at an urban public high school in Boston, Nalin recently returned to research engineering, at a research center near Norfolk, Virgina.
Nalin writes fiction under the name N.A. Ratnayake. His speculative fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres Magazine as well as the post-colonial SF anthology We See A Different Frontier. His short story Remembering Turinam received an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-First Edition.
As an engineer, writer, and educator, Nalin is strongly committed to exploring ideas for creating a more positive and sustainable future for all people.
You can find Nalin on Twitter as @quantumcowboy, and on the web at www.naratnayake.com.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I've lived in many places, but I did almost all of my growing up in Boise, Idaho. That's where I went to school and graduated from high school. To this day I consider Boise my "hometown."
I think growing up in Boise specifically affected my writing in two major ways: the power of community, and how to be comfortable being different from the community. The northwest is a friendly place -- neighbors know each other. Kids grow up together, live on the same street, go to the same school, play in the same sports leagues, etc. You're bound to meet someone you know in the grocery store, and even if you don't know them they'll still say hi to you in line and ask how you are. And when a neighbor is in trouble, the whole neighborhood rallies and provides support in any way they can. I like that sense of community, and I think some of that sentiment has made its way into Red Soil and my other writings.
I did have to learn how to be comfortable in my own skin though. I'm sure Boise is at least relatively more diverse these days, but in the late eighties and early nineties, it was a pretty white, Christian (mostly Mormon), conservative place to be. I was the ONLY student in my first elementary school that did not meet 100% of these criteria. I never encountered outright or malicious racism, but plenty of simple ignorance or unassuming exclusion-by-default. My hometown gave me a head start in thinking about a balance between assimilating to the dominant culture of a community versus outright self-ostracizing in the name of individual identity.
More broadly, I think the American West in general has had a powerful influence on my writing. I also lived in Washington, Arizona, and California before moving to New England in 2012. As a region, the West is the backdrop for a rich interplay of conquest, struggle, colonialism, industry, idealism, identity, and hope. These motifs no doubt emerge in my fiction.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I don't remember what the first story I ever read was. However, my mother assures me that "Big Wheels" by Anne Rockwell was an oft-requested favorite. I'm sure it played a subtle effect in my eventual fascination with machines, systems, and, as my first career, engineering.
A Mars colonist accepts a deal with a mining company to start a new life on humanity's off-world frontier. But idealism turns to unease when reality becomes darker than the fine print foretold. With his farm under bio-genetic attack and the most powerful player on the planet as an enemy, Mahela has no choice but to run... and expose economic slavery on an interplanetary scale.
Salai returns to his childhood home with turbulent questions — he leaves with a mission. Originally published in "We See A Different Frontier", this short story received an honorable mention in Gardner Dozois’s "The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty First Edition".