In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Vylar Kaftan to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno.”
Which came first while writing this story, the relationship between the narrator and her absent partner, or the progression of science? How did you decide that one best served the other? Did you consider telling the story a different way?
Kaftan: I have some friends in a multi-decade on-again/off-again relationship. Like the characters in the story, they get together, break up, see other people, reconnect, and do it all over again. They love each other, but they’ve never been able to make it work. I was thinking about them and their endless circling around a center they never seem to find. They reminded me of Newton’s cradle, also known as a “kinetic motion toy,” with metal balls on strings that transfer energy to the endpoints. It always seems like when one is in love, the other is looking away. In addition, the passage of time often changes how we view our past and present loves, and I wondered what would happen if one person had a lot more time to change than the other one. I don’t plan stories much, so I can’t say that I considered telling the story differently. I didn’t know how it would end when I started it.
Do the limitations of relativity make it more interesting to write space-faring science fiction or just more difficult? What kind of scientific obstacles did you run into while writing the story?
Kaftan: There’s always problems with science not wanting to cooperate with imagination. I imagine a world where I can shoot lasers from my eyeballs, but so far, science hasn’t cooperated. That said, I don’t think relativity is limiting at all. Creativity thrives on boundaries. If you don’t have boundaries, how can you push what’s possible? I fussed with the numbers to make the math come out right (thanks, Mike Brotherton and the Launch Pad workshop!) But other than that, not a lot.
Your story contains a lot of intricate wordplay, in which you apply scientific terminology to relationships. How difficult was that to execute?
Kaftan: Not especially. It’s how I think. Metaphor is how I learn science and math concepts—from happy little numbers dancing together on Sesame Street to the uncontrollable lust of alkali metals for halogens. You should see some of my chemistry notes from college. Dear Penthouse: I never thought I’d form a double covalent bond…
What can you tell us about using the language of science to describe love? Of the many scientific metaphors you apply to relationships, is there one that is your favorite?
Kaftan: It’s right there in the story: “And if love isn’t subject to physics, then it has no grounding in our universe. I can’t believe that’s true.” Everything in this world works through science—even if we don’t understand what that science is yet.
Perhaps the most famous SF story dealing with relativistic travel is Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. Are you a fan of that novel? Are there other stories in that vein that you’ve enjoyed or were inspired by?
Kaftan: Yes, I enjoyed it. I think the novel which underpins “Reno” is Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, a book which I affectionately call “Physics for Poets.” It’s not a traditional novel—more like a meditation on how time works, or doesn’t, or might. This book wasn’t a conscious influence; I only noticed it later. Italo Calvino is a good general influence too.
Authors will sometimes find that they write often about a single theme. Is there a theme in “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno” that runs through your other work as well?
Kaftan: Most of my stories are ultimately about power and control. In “Reno,” the narrator alternates between control of the relationship and response to it, between action and reaction. Yet power comes when she gives up control, when she relaxes into the rhythm of their relationship and accepts what it is. The secondary theme is that love conquers all, which is a feeling I believe in. (Although love is vulnerable to the occasional bear trap.)