NuTay believes that “dunyshar had no planet, no cultures to imitate, no people”—but I wonder, did you have any specific origin of the dunyshar in mind?
I didn’t have anything too specific in mind beyond what’s offered in the story (that offworld humans help sustain their population by becoming surrogates and donating babies to the Port, to get bartering power in the interstellar economy), but I see them as the casualties of progress—because humanity never moves forward in lockstep, always sacrificing the majority for the benefit of a privileged minority with the most power, privilege, and wealth (on a global scale—in this case, a galactic scale). The dunyshar are the people left behind, the people left to do the dirty jobs that others travelling through interstellar space can’t or won’t do (like people in poverty in India, who literally prop up the middle and upper classes with their labour). Since the Planet of Arrivals and Departures has alien ruins that are vital to space travel, I imagine there were (or are) wars fought on it, between different human factions, and the dunyshar might have descended from the people disenfranchised and stranded by those wars, divested of their original cultures and left by this travel hub to facilitate the movement of more privileged humans through the galaxy.
Samuel R. Delany explored some similar issues in his novella “The Star Pit,” which I heard about while reading a Jo Walton essay about his work days after writing “The Worldless.” I was stunned at the similarities (it’s about a working-class—or equivalent, in a future with FTL travel—starship mechanic working at a star port at the far edge of the galaxy, and how the grinding gears of human social machinery can trap people in certain places and contexts) between it and my story. I sought it out and read it—it’s actually quite different (despite even having a character, Ratlit, that sounds like “Satlyt,” one of my characters), but also thematically similar. It’s a fantastic novella—one of my favourite science fiction stories ever, and one of my overall favourites in Delany’s ouevre. I like to think “The Star Pit” retroactively inspired me to write “The Worldless,” reaching back through spacetime (the story was actually sparked by a dream I had).
I was intrigued by your use of pronouns in “The Worldless.” For me, this evoked the feeling of some other language, with different usage than English. Am I on the right track there, or did you have some other intention?
I like that reading—that they’re speaking a different language. I didn’t specify gender, and used gender-neutral pronouns, because I imagined that the spectrum of gender is less stifled so far in the future—so it’s fairly normal to be genderqueer/genderfluid/agender. But specifically, I also saw the dunyshar themselves as not really having a culture that specifies or sees the construction of distinct genders as important or useful.
It’s only a minor part of the story, but I was very intrigued by these spaceships that can only go to or from a single planet, that contain some living (sentient?) component from that world. Do you have any other stories set in this universe, or plans to write them?
I do have plans to try and write a novel set in this universe, and explore it more, but I have plans to do that for pretty much every universe I write. We’ll see how many of them I can open up into novel length! It’s interesting that you saw them as being able to travel only to a specific planet. Different readers see the starships differently—which is what I wanted. They’re meant to be a mystery. I didn’t want to be too specific about the mechanics involved.
When you’re not writing, what else do you like to do?
Reading, watching TV and movies, listening to music, playing video games, eating, drinking, spending time with people I like and love, going out, exploring new cities, exploring old cities, travelling (I do very little of that, because of money and time), being a twenty-first century data-cyborg by constantly saturating myself with digital stimuli and information (though I hate that, too, with a passion—like many twenty-first century cloud-cyborgs), making shit up (whether or not it ends up on a page), constantly hoping the world becomes less dystopic.
What are you working on lately? Lots of new stories, I hope!
I have a very haphazard process of writing, so I am working on lots of new stories at the same time, some of which will never become stories (or won’t be published), others that hopefully will be. But the priority is a new novel, which I hope to have a first draft of this year. You’ll forgive me not talking about it in detail—it’s not at that stage yet.
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