Catherynne M. Valente, author of “Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy”

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

It’s about the interstellar wine trade, and how wine changes as humans populate other planets with unique ecosystems. It’s about a war over shipping rights and taxes, and a winemaking family struggling to get out from under the control of the massive organization that controls imports and exports to and from earth.

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

I saw a movie called Bottle Shock, which is about the California wine industry and how it grew into its own despite intense efforts from the French wine industry to crush it. I immediately started thinking about how this would play out in the future, when the snobbery about Old World vs New World was literal, and wanted to write a story paralleling the real history of warring wine companies.

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

Enormously so. This was my first real science fiction story–I’m primarily a fantasy writer. I felt like all my familiar tools were gone, and everything in my box was rearranged and relabeled. It took me months just to organize the first paragraph. On top of that, there was a tremendous amount to know about wine before I could even start. I’m no slacker when it comes to wine–my mother lives in California wine country. But the world of extremely high end French wines was beyond my ken. Fortunately, I have a few friends in that world who were kind enough to sit me down with their favorite tasting menus and talk me through the jargon.

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

As I said, my mother lives in California wine country, and I have come to associate wine with her and her warm house. We take trips through the tiny wineries just down the street from her, and they are full of passionate people pursuing dreams on small scales, and I’ve always been touched by it. My love for that country and connection between wine and family, no matter how strange and far-flung that family, or that wine, is, fueled this story from the start.

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

You have no idea. I went to tastings, read wine histories and about a hundred definitions of French terms, and interviewed friends of mine who have lived in France and gone to tastings you and I will never even dream of. Not to mention extended conversations about interstellar travel and economics with other acquaintances. I have never done so much research for a single short story.

What is the appeal of this type of fiction–stories that take place in interstellar societies? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

I think because we want out own society–highly organized–reflected back to us with the glamor and excitement of space added in. We want to believe simultaneously that we are destined for a strange and fabulous future–and that that future will be safely the same as the present.

What are some of your favorite examples of interstellar SF, and what makes them your favorites?

Oh, I’ve been a Star Trek girl from way back, though I think Farscape surpassed it in terms of television SF. Iain Banks and Samuel Delany are my favorite writers of this sort of thing, because in their worlds, the future is organized, but not at all safe.

Any new work of yours just out or forthcoming you’d like me to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

My newest novel, Palimpsest, a baroque meeting of science fiction and fantasy, came out on February 24th.

To learn more about Catherynne, visit her website.