I liked how timely this story felt, despite such an exotic setting. The economic/energy cycle, where spaceship flight causes damage . . . which leads to more energy sources . . . which leads to more damage, seems awfully familiar. Rather like what we’re doing to this planet, now. And of course the endless debt that rules a person’s life is also far too familiar. Were any of these current issues on your mind when you were planning this story? How did it all come about?
This story rose out of the remains of an idea which I had simmering on the backburner for years. I wanted to write something about a salvage operator, an affable guy who puttered around the galaxy in his junker ship, scavenging crap leftover from extinct civilizations. I just thought it was a good arena for stories, but I never did get the details sorted out. The idea just remained a low hum in the background for a long while.
Then I happened on a reality-style PBS show where they send people to live in some past time period. This one was set in Victorian slums. As I watched, it became clear that we haven’t evolved at all in how we treat those in poverty, not to mention the way we trap generations of people in debt. It was depressing and rage-inducing.
So debt became an organizing idea that sparked a new take on my junker story. My salvager guy transformed into someone with much more at stake. And while the story isn’t a direct retelling of Oliver Twist, there were elements and echoes that worked their way in. Finally, the shattered universe became another riff on that cycle of endless exploitation. While I didn’t start out with poverty, debt, and environmental destruction in mind, those issues brought meaning and relevance to the story which motivated me to explore the world and follow Olive into that ship. It was the key to finally unlocking the story for me.
Your setting here is so rich and full of possibilities. Do you have any other stories in this world, or would you consider writing more?
I wasn’t thinking beyond this one story when I started because I had such a big world to wrap my mind around. Plus, I had remnants of a whole other version of the story I had to fight to keep clear out of my head. I was just hoping to make it to the end of the story with my sanity intact.
Not only did I keep my sanity, but it was a blast to write. I loved spending time with Olive and Jakk. It was hard to say goodbye at the end. I can’t wait to go on more adventures with them. My dream is to write seven or eight Olive and Jakk novelettes—there’s something about the condensed, fast-paced nature of that length that appeals to me. It works well with this world and these characters. I’m sketching out some ideas for both the next story and the broader arc of the characters and the series.
I didn’t even realize you wrote short science fiction, and now here’s this excellent story! How long have you been at this, and what else have you been creating lately?
My first love is science fiction. I started out wanting to make movies. When I was a kid I couldn’t afford a camera and film, so I wrote scripts for the movies I wanted to make. My first science fiction epic was called It Came from The Black Hole and I typed it in the fifth grade on a toy typewriter that only printed IN ALL CAPS.
Over the years I switched back and forth between prose and screenwriting and eventually landed in UCLA’s MFA screenwriting program. I sold a TV show to Amazon Studios and thought I would be a TV guy for the rest of my life. I’m very proud of my show but I learned quickly that I needed to have more creative control over my work. You basically give that up when you make a TV deal.
I have retired from TV writing and I’m very happy writing fiction now. I’m thrilled that my first story found a home in Lightspeed. I have also completed a middle-grade novel (a science fiction thriller), and I’m on the hunt for a literary agent. In the meantime, I’ve started writing my second novel, another middle-grade thriller I can only describe as “Lord of the Flies set in an escape room at the top of a sentient Trump Tower.”
Where else can readers look for your work?
My TV show, Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street, is available in the US on Amazon Prime. The first episode is free even if you don’t have a Prime membership. I believe the pilot episode is also free on YouTube. Outside of the United States, availability varies, but check Amazon first. I also wrote for the animated science fiction action-adventure show Glitch Techs on Netflix. Readers who want to keep tabs on me and my work can find me on Twitter as @davidanaxagoras, where I’m very active.
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