In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Justina Robson to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “The Little Bear.”
Can you tell us some about how this story came about? It’s poignant, and deals with the acceptance of loss with great deftness and care. Was there anything in particular that was difficult in writing this story?
I knew the basics of the story before I started but I didn’t know how it would all work itself together until I was writing it. As I went along I kept a lookout for interesting points and connections and just worked on tying things up until I reached the point where there was no more to say, which was the end. It was fun to figure it all out and one of those times when everything seems to fall in a serendipitous manner. After I finished it I did wonder if it was clear enough to decode for the reader but as I liked it the way it was I didn’t add any further explanation and I’m glad about that.
Constellations as being unfixed or fixed points appear to be a reoccurring motif in this story. So, it seems that perhaps Guy and Violette’s house, or more likely their daughter, might be the “fixed point” in their lives. Would you tell us more about this connection?
Yes, you are right about my attempt to make constellations the metaphor for the relationships each person has with the others in their lives. Originally “constellations” was the theme of the anthology this story first appeared in and as soon as the subject was mentioned and I had the project to do I thought of how the patterns in the stars were manmade things, objects of whimsy, and how humans over the ages must have seen different combinations and connections in the same arrangements. I was also thinking about astrology and how people try to find meaningful relations about their life experience explained by celestial movements—something apparently quite unattached to them, but of lasting magnitude—and then the metaphor appeared quite naturally to me. The other meanings assigned to “stars” in my mind came into play at that point, as well as the illusion of our solar system being a fixed point in space with the sun at the centre—it revolves around in the galactic arm of course and the galaxy itself is also on the move. The aptness of all this in relation to human families and significant others seemed perfectly suited to a story. Finally the use of constellations as navigational tools put the icing on the cake for me and I knew that it would be a story about the journeys of the heart, finding and losing.
There are several worlds in “The Little Bear.” Did you imagine a world where Guy and Violette’s experiment would have worked the way they hoped? If so, why did you decide not to include it?
Because of my preoccupation with the metaphors at work in the story, trying to push them but not slam into them, I didn’t consider the alternate worlds in which other things might have happened, although the characters do think of it. I didn’t want to get into multiple reality theory on top of everything else; it would have been too complex and also, although it might have provided a consolation to the reader, I didn’t want to give that consolation as the focus of the story is the deep, fundamental doubt with which the characters must struggle and come to terms. Their position is what I think of as our human position in life—longing for certainty but unable to find sufficient information to get it.
Rafaella is fierce, loyal, and aptly nicknamed as “Little Bear.” Were there any particular influences that brought her to life?
She’s the embodiment of passionate commitment, love and human devotion pitted against an essentially insentient and unfeeling cosmos—I wanted her to have that role to balance the nebulous and sad aspects of the story. She’s the fixed star, although her being that is an act of faith, not of rational decision-making. She’s there like the astrological bear, to defy chaos, entropy and death, at least for a moment or two.
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