In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Julie Czerneda to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “The Passenger.”
“The Passenger” holds quite a surprise for the reader; halfway through, it spins around and takes us in an entirely unsuspected direction. What was the inspiration behind those choices?
To play with perception. That of the main character, of the others portrayed, and of the reader. Can we trust what we see? If we do, and what we see is a lie, what terrible mistakes might we make? And what astonishing heights might we reach, even so?
The Artist first sees the world around him as horror, including the tentacled beings that have “captured” him. A horrifying fate, especially in context: Punishment, from the jealous husband of the Artist’s lover. Was this alien environment all in the Artist’s mind, then, the sim environment simply keeping him stable through years of these mind games?
Oh no. What he sees is exactly what’s been shown to him. That’s the rub, you see. The true horror in the story isn’t that the Artist has come to some peace with what he believes, but that those who could “save” him don’t know that they should. They don’t see what he sees; they assume it’s something comforting. If I were to rework the story, I suppose I could make that more plain, but I do state that it’s when he’s unconscious that the automatics handle him. No one else has stepped inside that space.
One of the main arguments for the scientists to hold back the truth was the belief that the truth would stop the Artist’s art. What was His artwork giving to Susan, one of the shipborn, that she didn’t want to go without?
His passion for humanity as defined by its place on Earth, which they have by choice already left behind. His obsession with sharing that passion would be something beyond any of the shipborn, distracted by their jobs, expectations of the future, even their families. There would be artists, but they would be influenced by the ship or by static images. His imagery can only come from inside his mind. His memories, his experiences.
The other important aspect for the shipborn is novelty. They have no control or input into what the Artist creates, so each new work is an astonishment in an environment regulated for its own good.
Do you think the truth really would have killed the Artist, had Huong successfully convinced the rest of the scientists to agree upon revealing it? Or would He have been more relieved that humanity wasn’t gone?
Break out the beer! He’d have been thrilled. I’ve no doubt at all he would have rejoiced to know he wasn’t the last of us, and likely would have been an instant celebrity. Sure, he might have lingering issues with closed rooms and nightmares, but what a resilient person he’s already proven to be. What depth of character! This is a person who would rise to any challenge and find a way to thrive. Which makes it all worse, of course.
The Artist essentially ends up providing what the sim chambers were originally intended for: A glimpse back at the world which only the planetborn had experienced. It was interesting to me, then, that these scientists, most of them being shipborn, still hid this particular chamber from their superiors. Wouldn’t their superiors have wanted this Art, as well as the world it represented, to flourish? Or was it a chance the scientists weren’t willing to take?
They were afraid he’d stop, because they didn’t understand why he created the art in the first place. If he was mad and functioned only in the chamber, well, that was that. Wasn’t it? If only they’d known his life’s work was to save something of humanity’s past—humanity itself—the only way he could. That he believed himself the end. I’d hope that would make a difference. But would it? Another question for readers to ponder.
Even if other officers agreed with them, they’d committed two sins against the Ship and its company. First, they’d acted outside the chain of command. Second, and to me more importantly, they’d declared themselves entitled to make decisions about another person. My feeling was that the ship’s population as a whole would never tolerate one of themselves being isolated. Hard enough, accepting life while trapped on a ship. To be trapped alone? That would be a nightmare.
In a sense, the Artist has the firmer grasp on reality. His life is what he was led to believe. He’s an object instead of a person, stared at by strangers whose reasons he doesn’t understand. He’s the last of those who didn’t choose to leave Earth. And, just possibly, he’ll have left the legacy he hopes.
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