How did “Turnover” come about?
I was on a panel about generation starships and people kept talking about how small they could make them, the minimum number of people you could have and keep genetic diversity and have enough people to work the ship. And I said “But what if they didn’t all want to do their jobs, after the first generation?” and Alison Sinclair said “What if they don’t want to be engineers, what if they want to be ballet dancers?” And I was excited by the idea of a ballet dancer on a generation starship.
You wrote on your blog last May that you had given up on “Turnover,” but it was published as a chapbook for Novacon this year—what happened?
I wanted “Turnover” to be a novel, and that’s what I gave up on. What we have here may seem like a short story . . . but it’s really the first chapter of a novel I’m not writing.
You said once that “As well as history, all of my books are very informed by landscape. Almost all the places in all my books are real.” Since Speranza is set in space, is that why you recreated the Teatro del Sale in Speranza? Have you ever been to the Teatro del Sale in Florence?
Yes. I am a member of Teatro del Sale in Florence, which is exactly the way it’s described in the story, except for being in Florence and not on a generation starship. The first time I went there, my son said that it was the ultimate form of Western food, as dim sum was the ultimate form of Chinese food—and it does have something in common with dim sum, in terms of multiple small, delicious courses. Thinking about that, I naturally thought that these are the food arts we should take to the stars. Speranza, the spaceship, is made up, of course, but I have very solid imaginations of what it looks like and feels like, extrapolated out from real places. It’s about the size of Montreal, where I live, and, like Montreal, it has two major languages and cultures, with other cultures all over the place.
There’s a lot of discussion of choice in this story and how not making a choice to change the way things are is still as much of a choice to keep on with the way things are. Is clarity about the choices one makes the theme of the story?
Yes. Everyone makes choices every moment, and that’s what shapes the future. And the present is shaped by everyone’s past choices—our own, and other people’s. A generation starship allows us to see that in focus, because, after all, there they are, partway through a voyage they didn’t choose. They are the middle generation. But it’s true for all of us all the time—we didn’t choose where we’d be born or the choices made that shaped our world—and yet here we are, shaping the future and the choices of people who don’t even exist yet.
I like that none of the characters have physical descriptions: What was your thinking behind this?
In first person, I only write about what the character notices. People don’t really see their friends unless something has changed about them—a haircut, a new shirt. They just see their familiarity. So Fedra’s having lunch with friends and she’s noticing their expressions and what they’re saying, not what they look like. And she comes from a culture where what people look like is significant in different ways from ours. It’s more interesting that way.
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