Interview: Genevieve Valentine

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

“The Last Run of the Coppelia” follows the Coppelia, a ramshackle spaceship crewed by ex-cons and other societal castoffs, who use homemade mecha to harvest algae and other biological terraforming material from international waters. It’s a ship full of gray areas – the legality of their work, the allegiances of its crew – and things don’t improve when Jacoba, the head of the retrieval team, finds a data drive with some footage that could start an interplanetary war, and they have to decide what they’re going to do about it, just as some new enemies descend.

What was the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I wanted to write a story about a crew with an interesting but decidedly not-badass vocation getting in way over their heads in the sort of diplomacy that involves both moral quandaries and ass-kicking. Mecha-wise, I liked the idea of gear whose primary purpose wasn’t actually battle, and the disadvantages—and unique advantages—they might have when pressed to fight. (The mecha of the Coppelia look a bit like orangutans with fishbowl-y heads and and octopus hands, which can come in handy from time to time in combat, but also don’t tend to strike fear in seasoned soldiers, either.)

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Fight scenes are always a little challenging, just because you have to make sure nobody sprouts a third shooting arm at the last second because you lost track of things. (This also applies to things like folding arms one has already folded, forming some impossible human pretzel in the middle of a casual conversation.)

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I definitely found myself wanting to follow these characters past the end of the story, so it’s become more personal as I went along, and hopefully this isn’t the last I’ll get to write about them.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

Since the algae-harvesting mecha have structural similarity to old diving suits, I did a lot of research on their inception and design to make sure the mecha I had in mind would work.

What is the appeal of power armor/mecha? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do you think readers/viewers/gamers love it so much?

I think it has appeal on several levels, both in terms of theme and of imagery. It’s a superpower you can wear, and a metaphor for a character that’s emotionally closed off, and a fighter plane only cooler, and depending on the level of sentience in the machinery, you get some nice opportunities for Mecha is My Copilot. (Plus, in terms of shallower appeal, it’s hard not to look cool when you’re commanding a few tons of robot with ammunition built-in.)

What are some of your favorite examples of power armor/mecha (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I think my most formative example is Ripley stepping out of the steam with her exosuit cargo loader and beating the alien queen into the ground. It’s a simple mecha, as they come, but Ripley’s such a force by herself that the effect is exactly as badass as it needs to be.