How did this story come about?
“Children of Dagon” was written in response to a call that had gone out for a cli-fi anthology, and it very much deals with the sort of SFnal issues I’ve recently been playing around with in my novel Children of Time—the clash between a failing humanity and the monsters it has made.
In “Children of Dagon,” I love how we slide from fantasy expectations into a grittier oceans-rising dystopian future. What was your process writing this story? Were you surprised when the Children of Dagon turned out to be genetically engineered? Or was that what you always had in mind?
When I have my SF hat on, I try to rein in the more fantastic elements so I can at least pretend to a veneer of scientific respectability. The idea that one response to a more sea-bound world would be to engineer a human subspecies that could make use of all that coastal land we’re likely to lose seemed just on this side of plausible (especially if the attempt, as per the story, is not exactly government-sanctioned).
From that germ idea, the rest followed relatively logically, if veering somewhat towards a worst-case scenario. The details of the societal collapse landbound humans have suffered are not gone into, although I can imagine a variety of scenarios that might bring such a state of affairs about. The collapse itself gives me the opportunity to showcase the titular Children in the ascendant. Although it might not seem it, this is me doing “optimistic” SF. Even if people fumble the baton, something is around to take it up and run (or, in this case, swim).
How do you balance the collaborative creativity of RPGs with the more solitary creativity of writing stories? Was it scary to go from what (at least to me) feels like the safer creative space of RPGs into more solitary fiction writing? What were the greatest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Well, I tend to GM more than play, so I’m used to shouldering the lion’s share of the creative burden. I’ve always had a story-telling, revelatory style when running games, and in the same way that I allow the players’ responses to dictate the future course of the plot, in long fiction I let the ongoing story arise from the logical ramifications of past events (ramifications generally not in my mind when I’m writing those events). I have a very organic plotting process, and I suspect that is drawn very much from running games.
The rising ocean geography seems very precise; did you spend a lot of time poring over cartographic maps? And if so, which was the coolest thing you discovered that you couldn’t fit into the story?
I had an indecent amount of fun looking at online maps of flooded London—because it’s such a hot global topic, there is plenty of reference material to be found. What’s fascinating is really how piecemeal it all gets. You won’t ever get Costner’s Waterworld out of global warming—there simply isn’t enough water, and even a city like London, that you might think would be conveniently flat, has lots of topography that turn your new flooded coast into a maze of little islands and lagoons. I think my favourite element was the underground system, which is a real symbol of modern London, but becomes the domain of the Children once the waters rise.
Why do you think Dr. Deacon got rid of functioning legs? I love the visceral nature of these creatures humping along on ground, but split legs seem so useful in a hybrid environment! Is that very bipedal-centred of me?
Precisely what Dr. Deacon was intending is up for debate—he may not have had in mind the manifest destiny that his creations assume. Possibly he was aiming at something that was primarily pelagic—so rather less in competition with baseline humans—and animals that adapt to the sea tend to get rid of their legs—it’s a repeated theme, evolutionarily. Michael Phelps aside, human legs are not very efficient for swimming, and from a practical perspective I didn’t think keeping the legs (even reduced legs) but growing a separate swimming tail was an avenue that engineering would easily go down. I also wanted to visually avoid a sort of Creature from the Black Lagoon/man in a rubber suit look for the Children.
It was tragic to reflect that the mermaids (if sailors used to mistake seals for mermaids, we can call these entities mermaids, can’t we?) were possibly created to help humanity, but violence drove them onto a different path. Do you see mermaid culture and relationships evolving differently in different geographies and conflict zones or will ocean acoustics facilitate some unifying culture? What do you think it will take to end this cycle of violence?
It would be nice to think that there are parts of that world where the Children and their parents have found an equilibrium. I tend to be cynical about the ability of people to accept and live alongside difference, but it’s possible. To live alongside changed humans, humans would have to change themselves, and let go of a lot of bad habits.
In your fantasy series Shadows of the Apt we have peoples shaped by insects, and in “Children of Dagon” we have a new ocean mammal species—do you have other animals you’d like to stick into humans?
I have a new series in the works where all the different cultures are shapechangers—tigers, wolves, bears (oh my!), which gives them a very complex relationship with the natural world. People are shaped by but also chafe against their animal natures, and all of their beliefs and customs, their entire worldview, is very different to ours because of it. One of the main elements that always seems to arise, in this and “Children of Dagon,” and with the non-human characters in Children of Time and Spiderlight, is the way different senses impact on characters—having a wolf’s sense of smell to call on, for example, or a spider’s ability to sense vibrations or taste chemicals.
What are you working on now?
Well, with Children of Time out now, I’m working on the second book of the shapechangers series—the first is The Tiger and the Wolf, and the current one is The Bear and the Serpent. That series should run to four books, but I’m also kicking around some other ideas that I’ll probably explore before returning to write book three, mostly fantasy for now. I would like to go back to SF in the future, though—I’m not short of ideas. I will also be getting some Shadows of the Apt short fiction in print in the near future, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
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