In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Alice Sola Kim to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters.”
You tell this story using sections that jump back and forth in Hwang’s life, similar to the way Hwang himself jumps back and forth in time. What drew you to that pattern?
Part of the answer is in the question itself—I wanted the structure of the story to mimic the time-jumps that Hwang endures over and over again, in order to evoke at least a ghost of that instability, that sense of unease. I also had some ideas that I wasn’t sure how to make use of individually. Those began to form the substance of the story, as I wrote it. I love throwaway ideas in science fiction—those weird, vivid little things that are more extensive than eyeball kicks but aren’t necessarily vital to the narrative. One favorite of mine is the telepathic Martian jackal (excuse me, WHAT) in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick.
And, someday I’d like to revisit the Chip and Barbara pills. Maybe they’ll get a bigger role, or they’ll pop up briefly but meaningfully, like telepathic Martian jackals.
Hwang is drawn to women, a calamitous combination, and we assume it’s because of what happened to his original daughters. He longs for a family again, for love. Are these feelings what drove him to Grishkov’s lab in the first place, which begot this endless cycle? If he ended up letting go of his daughters, would that change his future?
Like many stories before mine have admonished, never use a time machine to fix your problems. Never use a time machine to settle a score. It’s best to use it for something minor and boring and not-at-all personally meaningful, like traveling two minutes into the future to buy a pen. Even then, something will probably go wrong. Hwang does go to Grishkov’s lab in the hopes that he’ll be able to save his daughters, but everything goes extremely wrong.
As Hwang goes farther into the future, I think it would be increasingly hard for him to let go of his daughters. His daughters are the only constants he would have, as things like bananas and language as he knows it disappear. I think this can be both depressing and not-depressing. Whenever he goes, there is love. Love of a sort. New scenery. A mission to serve and protect. And maybe I don’t need to outline the more depressing implications.
Hwang also has a son, although after waking up the first time, he never sees him again. Why do you think that is, given his obvious desire to belong with those he loves?
There is the tragedy of what happens to Hwang’s daughters in the present-day timeline, but there is also the smaller, less dramatic tragedy of what happens to Hwang’s son. Hwang is consumed by the former, so much so that he can no longer live a normal life and be present for the people who do still need him. As badly as I feel for him, this is something that he has brought upon himself and his son; he is sorry when he realizes it, but by then, it’s too late. I don’t know if Hwang would find sons if he looked, and that’s another little tragedy right there—he never looks.
There are several constants in this story, objects and personas that anchor the reader in this story of time travel, as well as Hwang. Obviously his daughters, but also his frumpy clothes in which he always wakes up, the constantly changing world, and bananas. When bananas—“no one’s favorite fruit”—no longer exist, what does that finally do to Hwang?
The Cavendish variety of bananas is at risk of being wiped out by a fungus, and even though there are many other varieties around to replace it, I plonked Hwang down in a future in which those varieties are gone too. No bananas whatsoever! Bananas are the ever-present background players of fruit baskets; they’re dangling from those weird mobile-like things that are supposed to prevent bruising; they’re even hiding inside bread. The disappearance of this familiar element is a last straw for Hwang. Now he knows he has been flung away from his world, and he’s not stopping. Everything will only get weirder, colder, more alien.
At the end, we learn the nostalgic and sweet tone of the narrator is because she is one of his daughters, watching over her father as he sleeps. Is it possible Hwang is dreaming this all along, fixated on these memories of what might have been, jumping through “time” because of the endless possibilities of his daughters’ futures which he will never truly know?
It’s certainly possible!
What’s coming up next for you?
I’m writing this now from a little studio at I-Park (an artists’ residency in Connecticut), where I hope to get a lot of writing done for a novel. I also have some short stories in various stages of completion. So, after “Hwang’s Billion Brilliant Daughters” comes out in Lightspeed, what’s next is a lot of writing unleavened by the joys of publication.
Spread the word!