Interview: Lauren Beukes

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

It’s about alien bio-harvesting in very hostile conditions for experimental medical applications that goes, well, very wrong.

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

I was interested in corporate exploitation of natural resources from the blood history of rubber to child slaves mining coltan for electronics in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to pharmaceutical companies trying to patent a natural appetite suppressant herb used by South Africa’s Khoi San for long hunting trips. And I’m inspired by how nature is not, as we’d like to believe, some green and pleasant pastoral. It’s scary and uncontrollable and infested with many things casually inclined to kill you. I wanted to write something about the pressures of being under constant assault. The armor in the story provides (some) protection against the environment, but not against the threat within.

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

It reflects the things I’m interested in and there’s a sly reference to my novel Moxyland.

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

Reading up on really gross and disturbing parasites, fungi and insect-borne diseases.

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?

It’s the opportunity to be more than we can be in a way that seems totally feasible (unlike your chances of being bitten by a radioactive spider, say). Superpowers in a suit.

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

I’m going old-school. Robotech was a huge influence, for the power of its storytelling and great characters as well as giant freaking robots. The third installment in Alan Moore’s The Ballad of Halo Jones, set on a world where the gravity is so dense that battle is played out in terrible slow-motion in pressurised suits while whole decades pass outside the war zone was a devastating indictment on the horror and futility of war.Game-wise, I played MechWarrior and Warhammer 40k as a teenager and Bioshock as an adult. And I wrote a totally mad story about a displaced hip Soweto girl with a giant mecha who has to fight art monsters in Tokyo, which is one of my favourite shorts ever.