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Star Geezer

A grizzled engineer turns his talents to science fiction.



Sometimes it takes a while to realize what you want to do in life. Just ask Howard Johnson. After 58 years as an engineer, he embraced a long-simmering passion for writing. A college teacher advised Johnson to abandon engineering and pursue a writing career. But he didn't listen. Until now.

At age 75, Johnson has written his first novel, Blue Shift, the first in a proposed science-fiction trilogy that unfolds after an astronomer discovers a rapidly moving star headed toward Earth. Blue Shift examines the dilemma of alerting people to the imminent crisis. The second book will detail the period right before the star crashes. And the final part will explore the aftermath of the catastrophe.

Think the premise sounds far-fetched? Think again. Johnson, an amateur cosmologist, was pleased to learn that science confirmed his theory shortly after the novel was published last year. (Remember that brief scare about a meteor -- or some other celestial body -- crashing into our planet sometime in the next few decades?)

Johnson came up with the idea 25 years ago, but his busy schedule left little time for writing. "I finally realized that I'm not going to live a whole hell of a lot longer," he says. "I better get started if I'm ever going to tell this story." For eight months, he got up at five and wrote for five hours. "I've never done anything that I had more fun doing in my life," he says.

And that's saying something, because Johnson has led a very busy life. The Indiana native and resident (who lived in Cleveland for more than 40 years) earned a degree in chemical engineering, ran a family-owned business, headed a consulting firm that supervised the design and building of dental facilities, worked as a military consultant, and launched a computer consulting firm. He now devotes his time to writing Blue Shift's sequels.

"It's been a wonderful life," Johnson admits. "I've done a lot of things, been a lot of places, and met a lot of people. I've had a blast."

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