Science Fiction & Fantasy




Author Spotlight: Kristine Kathryn Rusch

In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Kristine Kathryn Rusch to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “The Observer.”

This story, while short, packs a horrific punch. Where did you get the idea?

A lot of what I write is about the horrors of war. I became a history major just after Vietnam to understand why humans went to war in the first place. I never really did figure that out, but it led to a lifelong obsession. This is a companion story to my tale, “Elites,” which I wrote just after I finished a mystery novel set in 1969 that dealt with Vietnam. (The novel is War at Home, which I published as Kris Nelscott.) “Elites” deals with PTSD. But I got to thinking about the women who couldn’t be rehabilitated. What happened to them in this future world? And with that, I came up with “The Observer.”

Why did the narrator, or rather, the Remembered One, sign up for these tests in the first place? Was it as simple as just recruiting for the armed forces, or did she have an idea of what might be at stake?

She had no idea what was at stake. I don’t think anyone does who hasn’t been to a real war. This war is extreme, of course. Even in non-extreme circumstances, though, the battlefield can break the toughest person. She signed up for the benefits, which of course, she cannot enjoy because of what has happened to her.

The maternal instinct, which we all know (and if we didn’t, we do now) is a strong, almost primal force of its own. Why do you think this instinct was extracted from the women, rather than (or with) the paternal in men?

Women never really get credit for the ferocity with which they protect their own. Women can be even more violent in those circumstances than any man. Societies throughout history have used male warriors, partly because they don’t lose time to pregnancy. Once birth control became common, the viability of female soldiers became possible. So I just extrapolated, thinking if I wanted the most ferocious warriors, I would use women protecting their young. Then this idea was born.

The narrator separates into three personalities, which doesn’t happen to all the women. Why do you suppose it happens to her? Something in her genetic, or even emotional, make-up?

I think it had to do with her emotional make-up. And probably her intellect.

If she’s right, and there’s not a war, what do you imagine is the purpose of the experiments and research?

There’s always a war, just not the one that we think we’re fighting. Besides, advanced cultures are always preparing for war. I think she’s part of the preparation.

There’s no way they’re going to give her what she wants, is there?

Sadly, no. That’s part of the horror in this story, I think. The futility of it all. (Which is probably why it’s so short. I can’t stay in this emotional mode as a writer very long.)

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Erin Stocks

Erin Stocks Lightspeed Assistant Editor Erin Stocks’ fiction can be found in the Coeur de Lion anthology Anywhere but EarthFlash Fiction Online, the Hadley Rille anthology Destination: Future, The Colored Lens, and most recently in Polluto Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @ErinStocks or at