In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Maggie Clark to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Saying the Names.”
Will you tell us about what inspired the Bo?
Twitter did, actually. I’m part of the new media generation, but more fascinated by the conversations around such advances than the advances themselves. Ever since the rise of search engines we’ve been inundated by analysis arguing that easier access to (and distribution of) information might negatively impact the way we think and act. I wanted to approach this range of theories from the other side of the spectrum, so I envisioned a species that had no evolutionary imperative towards competitive behaviors, and as such thrived on constant, snail’s-pace communication routines that similarly kept all members of any given community bonded at all times.
Given Nia’s being raised by her mother with certain perceptions about the Bo, not to mention her father, why do you think she decides to make the trip to the alien world?
The quest to reconnect with an absent parent is a common one, though often blocked by overt discouragement or anxiety on the part of other guardians. In this case, Nia’s mother didn’t speak to Nia at all about her father after the initial conversation, so there was no explicit disincentive when the opportunity arose to learn more about this man. Furthermore, the way this particular opportunity arose allowed Nia to believe she was in charge of her father’s fate. This perceived inversion of the helplessness Nia surely felt as a child, stripped of all say in her father’s permanent absence, couldn’t help but make the journey to meet him all the easier.
The Bo’s ability to regress is fascinating from many perspectives. Will you tell us about how that process came about?
I’m not a fan of writing real creatures into stories just because they’re “cool,” but when I conceptualized the Bo, I soon realized turritopsis nutricula, an honest-to-heck species of jellyfish that can revert to its polyp stage even after sexual maturity, had to be my guiding light.
As a species with minimal opportunities for geographical isolation, and few evolutionary niches to fill even within its available territory, the Bo would have found little adaptive advantage in rigid taxonomic forms. By taking the interesting case of the “immortal jellyfish” to even wilder extremes on the Bo’s home planet, I was able to flesh out a species with a biological make-up that would best drive the social behaviors I most wanted to explore.
Nia’s father explains that despite their “wealth of intermediate features,” the Bo don’t evolve much, but typically regress, which is logical given the nature of their extreme planet. Do you think it also has something to do with the fact that the Bo aren’t interested in the rest of the galaxy, and haven’t experienced any other possible evolutionary examples? Has keeping to themselves helped to retain the purity of their culture?
It’s hard to answer this without saying too much about a fundamental part of the story’s ending. However, even without touching on the implications of the research carried out by Nia’s father, I’m hesitant to mix the colloquial term “evolution” with the biological term. When we speak of evolution in a cultural sense, the word carries a lot of misleading implications, not least of which being the notion of consciously-manufactured species outcomes.
In contrast, biological evolutionary processes drive themselves, whether we’re cognizant of them or not, so to suggest that exposure to other evolutionary examples might lead the Bo to pursue other genetic paths might be akin to suggesting that the aforementioned jellyfish, if granted comparable sentience, might look upon all the creatures in the world that can’t also revert to their polyp stages, then change their genetic make-up to fit the status quo.
Suffice it to say, the Bo’s cultural disinterest in the rest of the galaxy is an understandable extension of their species’ biological development, but even if they were to engage with the cultures of other, more competitively-driven species, the Bo’s biological survival would still depend by and large upon their ability to monopolize an environmental niche no one else could quite as handily fill—which their current genetic code already gives them ample means to do on the planet of Bo.
Her father seems genuinely grieved over the death of the Bo at his hands, and doesn’t hesitate to tell Nia to use his own flaws to support him in the trial. Do you think he really cared for that particular Bo? What made that relationship different than his love for Nia and her mother, thirty years earlier?
The great trick of first-person writing is that the narrator’s own hopes and hurts seep into every line of the story, allowing readers to similarly mistake one person’s hope for another’s reality. My interpretation of the father is very different: What might be taken for genuine grief is just as easily a fear of punishment, an intimate knowledge of ideal psychological gambits for negotiations with the Bo, and a willingness to sacrifice anyone and anything to his work and current needs.
This isn’t to suggest that Nia’s father is, in fact, a heartless man, but to emphasize that whether he is or isn’t matters less than how Nia projects her own hopes and hurts over the reality of the man, and his crisis, which in turn involves much that will always lie outside her full comprehension.
Nia discovers, and clings to, a new anger at her father in this story as she tries to understand what’s happened. By the end of the story, I think she finds more in common with her father than she might have believed. Do you think that impacted her choices with Captain Sedgwick?
I’m hesitant to suggest that a grown woman’s pursuit of casual sex is driven, to put it glibly, by “daddy issues.” Rather, I see Nia’s type of engagement with the Captain as common practice in any routinely space-faring human society, though certainly Nia’s desire for intimacy of some caliber would be heightened after an utterly estranging first encounter with a long-absent parent. The very fact that Nia calculates the possibility of such an encounter before even meeting her father, however, hopefully dispels the sense that later revelations about her father, and herself, expressly drove her to such ends.