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Most Read Interviews

All TopShelf Interviews

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How does it feel to have your first full-length novel recognized and supported?

Exciting and unexpected. To be named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best novels of 2020 is mind blowing. Its weird to even just say it out loud. I feel like we got lucky, the right reviewer picked it up on the right day and saw something there they liked.

Tell us about your book and where the idea came from?

It was inspired by a dream about the whole of our society leaving the cities to dig up the earth into strange monumental labyrinths. The book is a working out of what the ramifications of such an occurrence would be, written from the perspective of those who were excluded from this uncanny revolution. 

As an author, asking your favorite part of your book, is like asking you to choose a favorite child, so what is a highlight in your book that you think will capture anyone who reads it?

The main character Miranda is pretty remarkable. Self-contained, totally independent, observant, quiet. I think for the readers that have enjoyed the book that enjoyment begins with Miranda.

You call this book a “meditation on the meaning of humanity?” What does that mean?

What I mean is that while it is in some ways a relatively straightforward road story it is ultimately not about a single character’s heroic journey but a story about the way we construct and reconstruct our identities depending on the circumstances we find ourselves, and how ultimately the universe that does not appear to care about those identities one way or another.

Is there a particular message you are trying to convey by telling this story? 

I think basically what I said above. One of the things that is most interesting to me about postapocalyptic situations is the disintegration of old social relations and the creation of new ones. What we can learn from thinking about such situations is that what seems fixed about ourselves and our identities, mother-father-son-daughter-writer-nurse-teacher-lawyer-extrovert-introvert-Canadian-American-white-black-straight-gay, are identities that are constantly being negotiated and renegotiated as we live, and it is a mistake to pretend they are fixed or permanent, even if in the course of one particular life they do not seem to change very much.

You’re Canadian, what is the one thing you miss the most since you moved?

Universal health care. Don’t screw it up, Canada.

What prompted your move to the United States?

My partner got a job teaching at a university down here so we up and moved.

Where does your love for science fiction come from?

Childhood  visits to the library with my older brother to begin with, but I made a relatively recent return to the form in the last few years and I think that was driven especially by the idea that it is so much a “what if” way of writing. It is very fun to write that way. What if a computer went mad and took over a spaceship? What if we discovered aliens and could not communicate with them? What if the internet broke? There is a real pleasure in setting up a few basic rules for a scenario and then trying to write within those rules.

Why and how does this book vary from other books of this genre?

I think it is quieter. It is not as interested in the big how and why and what now questions, in who gains power and who loses it, so much as it is in the day-to-day consequences of major change. If we think about covid, the big policy issues and the numbers and the science are all very interesting and important, but just as surprising and unexpected are the ways day-to-day life changes, how rapidly we get acclimatized to certain things, the way zoom became such a part of life so quickly is the obvious example, but also the countless myriad of traumatic and stressful experiences that shape the way people interact with each other. The way we think about childcare changed. The way we think about what it means to be at work. What does radical dislocating change do to our families? To our sense of selves? To our ethics? How does trauma play out in such situations? Those are themes in a lot of postapocalyptic writing but I pursue them pretty single-mindedly in Strange Labour without paying too much attention to the usual fantasies about dudes with mohawks and crossbows blasting about on a motorbikes.

You are the founder and editor of “Big Echo: Critical Science Fiction”. What is “critical” science fiction?

The short answer is “less fun.” A longer answer would be that the “critical” means writing that pays attention to contemporary power dynamics and how science fiction can help us see things about our society that we might not see without it. Star Wars, for example, is fun, but because it is constructed almost entirely out of stereotypes it has tended to reinforce our ideas about the world in which it was created rather than question them. The Handmaid’s Tale on the other hand, makes for deeply uncomfortable reading because it deliberately is showing us how deeply embedded in our worldview sexism and misogyny are, and how religion can be used to make sure things stay that way. That is what the critical does. It makes you think about who you are right now, not about who you would like to be in a galaxy far far away.