In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Cat Rambo to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Amid the Words of War.”
Not every story must derive from modern day events or be an allegory of sorts, but will you share with us how this one came about?
This story resulted from a conversation with Octavia Butler, who I was privileged to have as an instructor at Clarion West. We were talking about prisoners of war and what happens to them. I had been working on a series of stories set on the TwiceFar space station involving the brothel called “The Little Teacup of the Soul,” and I decided to write Six’s story as a result.
Six feels many emotions that we empathize with, including pleasure, loyalty, and longing. Yet it doesn’t feel anything for either side of the war, including the human-like Espens it devours and those it intended to kill before it was caught. Do you think the spectrum of emotion we as humans experience is paramount to our humanity?
I think empathy is crucial to being human and one of the skills that we don’t teach, but should. I am always, sadly, amazed at our ability to rationalize treating other living beings with discourtesy and our willingness to accept things like the deceptively named term “collateral damage” in warfare.
How much do you think Six’s need for companionship and its clutchmates factored into where it ended up?
Totally. I tried to make it clear in the story that Six requires some sort of interaction with other creatures to live, and it’s only the messages of hate it receives, along with its communication with its clients, that keep it alive.
War is a common theme in science fiction literature, and the backdrop of this story is the interstellar war between two very different species. In addition to that, it can’t be denied that humanity is no stranger to war with itself. If we jumped ahead in time a few hundred years, what do you think we might find, keeping these stats in mind
A lot depends on scarcity. We’ve got no qualms over battling for things that are in short supply, and I don’t see any reason to think that will change in the future. I’d like to think we’ll learn a bit more tolerance and stop attacking other people over beliefs, but nothing in the current political scene convinces me that it’s possible.
What do I think we’ll find in the future? If we don’t act to stop it, even more massive class differences than today, with corporations controlling the resources and working to make a very small group privileged while the rest of us are trained as service workers. I’m quite serious about that, and it’s a vision that fills me with despair and rage.
You’ve got quite the plate right now; an impressive writing output of short stories, and guiding the fiction helm at Fantasy Magazine. How does holding that position affect what you want to read, as well as your own writing?
I read pretty omnivorously, but I’ve found myself reading more and more nonfiction lately, partially as research for story ideas, but also because I find myself very intolerant of badly written or constructed speculative fiction. I have some authors I read for pleasure, but with most authors, I’m reading with a divided eye, half of it involved in the pleasure of the text while the other half is busy trying to figure out how that pleasure was achieved.
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