Genevieve Valentine, author of “Carthago Delenda Est”

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

In the distant future, astronomers on Earth pick up a message from the wreckage of a planet they’ve named Carthage; the message is so powerful that every planet in the galaxy sends a ship to meet Carthage’s incoming delegate. The story explores the ways in which each society deals with the problem of an uncertain, centuries-long wait (Earth, for example, clones). Is peace feasible, or will any species eventually turn to war as a means of progress? Can any being of great power be benevolent, or does its very power render it a conqueror? In the more intimate story of Octa-Yemmeni’s life, I wanted to examine issues of identity, inheritance, self-determination, and the concept of hope as both an ambassador and a weapon.

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

My favorite parts of old war movies are the nights before or the moments between battles, when tension is building and character is revealed in the short silences between engagements. The story sprang from the concept of this overnight waiting presented on a galactic scale; what happens after hundreds of years of waiting for something, based on a beautiful promise?

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

The most challenging part of the process was balancing a very tight, intimate story against the galaxy-wide collection; to keep the story tight I pared down where I could, so in the crowd of dozens of ships, I could only give face to a few.

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

As a clone myself, I hope this story is a catalyst for clone-rights issues. I also hope it inspires the pre-empting of any attempt by Neptune to send a spaceship full of hippies to meet intergalactic visitors; Neptune doesn’t deserve it.

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

I did some research into planets and celestial bodies that would feasibly be able to send a subspace ship to a proscribed point in the galaxy within the same hundred years or so; however, I am no astronomer, so don’t use the celestial bodies here for answers during Trivial Pursuit or anything.

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 everyone enjoys a human conflict writ large; there is a new sheen to the everyday comedies and tragedies of human (or alien) life when given the novelty, or the burden, of strange technologies and the vast unknown.

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

Bookwise, an early and enduring favorite was Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which has stayed with me since I first read it, because it shows an inscrutable relationship between two people playing out on unfathomable (and familiar) planet.

On the less literary end of the spectrum, I’d have to not the hundreds of hours I spent sitting on the floor in front of the television: Star Trek, Babylon 5, the Alien movies, and Farscape are all well-written, interstellar SF.

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

So far this year, I have stories forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Escape Pod.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The title “Carthago Delenda Est” is a Latin phrase attributed to Cato the Elder, who would end his Senate speeches with, “Carthage must be destroyed,” regardless of the prior topic of discussion. I chose it for this story both because of its history as a war cry, and because Cato’s single-mindedness is reflected in the dedication of the Yemennis to a purpose someone else chose for them.

To learn more about Genevieve, visit her website.