This story is beyond carrion birds as sin eaters—the ravens are in the same fix, and potentially on the same menu as all the other creatures. What drew you to explore these layers of extinction?
I have been thinking through a space opera novella where the worldbuilding all stems from the idea that high intelligence in primates is a failing (and eventually failed) experiment, and that the high intelligence that would arise (or further develop) in other animals to fill the gap we leave will operate radically differently than ours. If technology and science are developed, they will be understood differently, and they will likely be used in entirely different ways. The novella is a real challenge to think through (how do I capture nonhuman speech patterns in a way that keeps the the characters relatable and understandable, yet authentically nonhuman?), and meanwhile, all these side ideas start to come out, as well. This was me thinking specifically about how we have been here on the brink before: In fact, we have thought about all this before (in myth, anyway) and even recognized it as an extinction event—and yet the lesson we focused on turns out to have been the wrong one.
Did you do research for this story or did it come out of a pursuit you’ve had for a while?
Yeah, it’s based in research I was already doing. I’ve been reading a lot about corvid intelligence and doing thinking about how they would develop as thinkers. When I am doing something like this, I end up trying to create the art of the creatures I am hoping to understand. What does a dog riddle look like? What is squid poetry? What myths do crows tell one another? Some of these are accessible, but most are opaque to anyone but me, so I never show them to people. “Noah’s Raven” is not a myth a crow would tell—anthrocentric and not based on the things that crows would actually care about, and Bessary thinks much too much like a human—but thinking about crow myths took me to thinking about human myths with corvids in them, and then I realized I wanted to tell this particular story.
Are there any Easter eggs in this story? Your work is famously open to interpretation, but what do you think the ideal reader might notice or take away from this?
There are lots! I always pile a lot of references of every sort into my stories. Talking about them takes some of the fun out of them being there, but I’ll tell you that there are references to Julian Barnes, Stephen King, Bernt Heinrich’s prose, Narnia, and ancient bestiaries, just off the top of my head. There are some specific phrases which hat-tip to authors I love or have been reading. And of course Bessary and Arum are also the Norse ravens who advise Odin, Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory.
What kind of class would you most like to teach? Or attend? Doesn’t have to be writing-related.
I would love to take a really deep dive into writing about nonhuman intelligences from a craft standpoint. How do I balance the reader’s ability and willingness to read with the requirements of a truly alien voice and perception? I do most of this work alone, but wouldn’t it be great to have a roomful of peers thinking about the same stuff? I am lucky, though, in that I teach writing every year in venues that allow me to do whatever I like. I would love to take Icelandic classes, though I am not great with languages.
What are you working on? What can we look forward to next from you?
I am slooooooowly writing a short story to get it out of my hair before I start really drilling into the space opera. I am thinking a lot about another Vellitt Boe story, as well, but this one is waiting in the wings.
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