This story starts out bleak, and only gets bleaker, until the ending where we learn that this is a simulation of a historical event, one that ultimately saved this world. Did you know when you started writing that this was a simulation? What was behind that choice?
I had no idea until I got to the end. I’ve written a lot of bleak stories in my time, and when I got to the end of this one, and Yousra kills herself and I wrote that last sentence in her section, that was the original ending. And I just looked at that and went “So what?” Like, we went through all this war and horror and she makes this sacrifice, but who is served by it? Who is saved? Does it matter at all to the world?
I think it was the author Damon Knight who was famous for writing “So what?” at the end of a story if there was no emotional payoff. And that’s exactly what I thought of when I finished the story with Yousra dying. The reader needed to know that this wasn’t for nothing. They needed to know that the world went on, and was better, because of that sacrifice. So I went back and looked at what I’d put in there. I remembered the rooms full of bodies that I’d had her ransack. And I thought, okay, what if these people were programmed to wake up thousands of years after the coming of the invaders in the hopes of outlasting them? What if they wake up long after Yousra is dead? Their ship would still be alive, so they could record this, right? I often put a lot of stuff into the front of my stories, many little elements, in the hopes that my brain will connect them in the end. In this case, that’s exactly what happened. I had all the elements I needed, I just needed to link them.
I’ve noticed that colonialism is a theme in much of your work—and certainly central to this story. Has this been an interest of yours for long? Do you recall how it started?
This story has been bubbling around in my head since 2006 or so, I think. But it wasn’t until late last year that I realized it was a story about colonialism. It was in realizing that that I actually got stuck again, though, because the idea intimidated me. What did I have to say about colonialism and civilization? It wasn’t until I realized that I wanted to play with the idea of how we define “civilized” and “civilization” that it all came together. The ways that various cultures define civilization and humanity have always interested me. What if, for these people, the definition of civilization was people who could commit terrible atrocities? What if they believed that goading a people into destroying itself was actually helping them become more civilized? Looking out at the history of colonialism here in the U.S., that definition isn’t that far from the mindset of many European colonizers.
Is “War of Heroes” at all related to any of your other fictional settings, or are you planning to write further in this world?
This is a stand-alone world. For the time being, I don’t see anything else being set here. It served its purpose for this particular story.
This story was first released to Patreon donors. How do you decide what to write for them? Do you use an editor or beta-readers before sending it out?
I pretty much write what I want for the Patreon backers. One of the reasons I love writing with patron backing is because it frees me up to write exactly what I want. I don’t feel pressure to write for a market. This has allowed me to explore many different types of writing that I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I generally don’t use any editors or beta readers anymore, though for this story my agent did ask if I wanted a quick read beforehand, and I took her up on it. She had some good feedback for tightening the plot a bit and clarifying a few things, so I made those edits before it went live. I tend to write stories and novels so close to deadline right now that there’s no reasonable amount of time left to hand it off to beta readers and get feedback. I was lucky with this one in that my agent had some downtime and reads very fast.
Where should fans look for your work next?
My essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, is out now. On January 10th, my next novel, The Stars Are Legion, will be out. It’s an all-women space opera about two families battling it out for control of a Legion of starships. Review copies have already gone out, and I’m getting some great responses so far. Looking forward to seeing it on the shelves come January.
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