In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Andrew Penn Romine to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “The Parting Glass.”
I’d been toying with this story in anticipation of my Clarion West Workshop Week 6 instructor Ian McDonald (whose own fiction I admire). Tired, and feeling like I might not be up to the challenge, I was on the verge of writing something else instead. I remember voicing my reluctance in conversation with Nisi Shawl and Eileen Gunn at a party and they told me to just write the story. So I did.
There are aspects of “The Parting Glass,” including the transhuman elements and the Saturnian setting, that evoke John Varley. Did his works help inspire this story?
I’m a big fan of Varley’s Eight Worlds stories for many reasons, but one of the things I like best are his bizarre, transhuman characters. Despite all the changes they undergo in body and mind, they still seem very human to me—full of all the strengths and frailties we’ve always had. He’s written some of the toughest, most vulnerable characters that I’ve read. I find them fascinating and am drawn to writing similar types in my own fiction. Obviously, that setting also includes the planets of our solar system as individual astro-political entities. That concept is a fun playground.
Were there any other influences?
Richard K. Morgan for his noirish SF, Charles Stross for his unflinching worldbuilding, and Ian McDonald, of course, for his gritty portrayal of non-Western cultures. In a more general sense, I am inspired by the works of John Steinbeck as well, who pits his protagonists against stark, epic landscapes and societal forces. “The Parting Glass” just touches on that very lightly, and many of the spaces in it are claustrophobic to a degree, but the influences are there.
Richard K. Morgan is known for creating main characters that are augmented outcasts, and he envisions cultural settings based on today’s developing countries. I love that you’ve imagined a Filipino archipelago in Saturn’s rings and moons. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to create the gritty Jake and his richly described environment?
Who knows what the colonization of our solar system will look like? Old narratives always suggested that the U.S. and other Western powers would be the dominant shapers of our future in space. I think with the rise of Second and Third world nations today, we could be looking at a very different reality and I wanted to explore that possibility in this story. It seemed a natural fit to transpose the cultures of Oceania to the artificial “archipelago” of moons and space habitats in the rings of Saturn.
As for the grittiness of the setting, all you have to do is look to our own world to see the growing gap between the rich and poor. I’m going to sound a bit pessimistic here, but it’s hard for me to imagine that even when we get around to building our gleaming cities in space we won’t still have the same old human problems of the have and have-nots.
I especially love how you depicted the incremental malfunctioning of Jake’s body: the unchanged filters, his fried receivers, his sticking adrenal pumps. I see parallels to the betrayal of our own bodies as we get sick or grow old. Can you comment on this, and the importance of cybernetic enhancements and full body renewal in your story?
Well, I go back to what I mentioned earlier about the contrast between our augmented selves and our essential humanity. Even if we find some way to live forever, whether it’s through augmenting or discarding our flesh, we are still the same people in our heads. Anxieties about mortality and all those million little neuroses that make us us will still be there. Maybe our silicon bodies or transubstantiated brains will still be fuming over past slights and petty hatreds. I think we’ll still feel the march of time in our minds, and that’s bound to age us.
In the bar, Jake says that he’s “been gulping Hermán Santiago’s shit his whole life.” This is our first glimpse of Santiago. Jake’s animosity towards him is strong, and propels this story, but there is still much that we don’t know at the end. Can you tell us more about their relationship, or at least why you chose to conceal aspects of it?
Santiago seeded copies of himself throughout the Republicá because it fed his ego, his desire for some sort of godhood. It’s certain that he took liberties with these people that he just considered extensions of himself. He broke into young Jake’s bedroom at night, and while we’re not sure explicitly what transpired there, we know it led to a lifetime of manipulation and control of Jake. When Jake was finally able to escape from that cycle, he carried a lot of anger with him.
It’s a careful balance of what to reveal and when to reveal it. In the end, I really wanted to focus more on Jake’s fateful decisions in the present rather than dwelling too much on the past.
Before we part, is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers about “The Parting Glass”?
I’m reluctant to say what anyone should or shouldn’t read into this story, but I hope that anyone who’s ever considered writing science fiction but was afraid to try will go ahead and give it a shot. It’s fun!
Finally, what do we have to look forward to from Andrew Penn Romine in the future?
I’m working on several short stories at the moment, and have a few ideas for more set in the world of “The Parting Glass.” Sometimes it takes awhile to let those ideas percolate, though. I’m also working on my first novel. It’s not science-fiction but it definitely continues to explore some of the same issues that “The Parting Glass” raises.
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