What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?
I watch a lot of SF movies and television shows and grow annoyed with missed chances at depth. I’m especially an un-fan of the idea that alien races all have a monoculture. Like on Star Trek, when they go to alien planets, they generally deal with one government, one group of people, one culture, as if that planet is made up of one huge, happy group who work together and have no internal differences. To be fair, Star Trek also paints earth with this brush — in the future all humans are one culture: American!
I also take issue with the notion that should aliens come to this planet, their first stop would be the White House. One thing I love about Doctor Who is how UK-centric it is. When the aliens come to earth in the Whoniverse, their first stop is Downing Street. Love it! Of course, it’s the same problem, but as an American, I appreciate the fresh outlook.
So I started thinking about what it would be like if the aliens that came here had the same problems we have — fighting between groups and cultures and such, also sketchy colonial attitudes. I also thought it would be nice to show that they wouln’t necessarily come to America first, or, if they did, it wouldn’t be because they think we’re superior.
Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?
Getting the voice right was a big challenge. And modifying the text a bit to note the change in our real life political climate.
Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?
I’ve made a point of setting stories in Ohio for the past few years because I grew up there and I have a lot of mixed feelings about it. Until this last election it was a solidly red state as far as national politics, but internally there’s a lot of complexity. And while I did my best to get as far away as soon as I could, I have never been able to paint Ohio as a lost cause, a hick state, or the den of conservative evil that people from the coasts or even the southwest tend to do. One of the reasons for giving my character the voice he had and explicity setting the story in Ohio was to challenge that stereotype on the way to poking some other tropes.
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?
For me, I just like the idea that someday people will have a bigger stage to play out our dramas on. I also like the idea that though having to deal with intergallacticness will change us, in many ways we’ll stay the same. I’m also a huge culture geek, and I live for the stories and epiodes and movies where I’m shown a truly interesting culture and, even better, that culture is not made out to be inferior to our own.
Also, as with most SF, it’s a great way to explore the problems we face without having to be direct about it. We haven’t moved on much from that classic Star Trek episode with the two-toned people fighting to extinction over “nothing” (which is everything).
What are some of your favorite examples of interstellar SF, and what makes them your favorites?
I have always loved how messy and complicated the Star Wars universe is. I also always mean to read more of LeGuin’s Hainish novels, because the world she spins there is so deep and interesting.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Visual media first showed me the possibility of traveling to other worlds, but fiction has always been better at making me think about the real implications of doing so.