In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Will McIntosh to tell us a bit about the background of his story for Lightspeed, “Defenders.”
I’ve always found starfish kind of creepy. They just don’t seem like they could be alive, given their appearance. So when I wanted to create an alien race that would be repulsive to Lila, starfish came to mind. I got the name of their species—Luyten—from a star chart. I wanted a name that didn’t seem made up, so I looked at names of stars until I found one that had the right ring to it.
The Defenders came from the statues of Easter Island. The thought of one of those statues coming at you seemed intimidating, but they needed legs, so I gave them three long ones to ramp up the strangeness factor.
Why do you think Lila became an ambassador?
She idolized the Defenders. They saved her, personally, from a terrible fate. In her childhood eyes they were superheroes come to life. So the opportunity to represent humanity when the Defenders reopened communication was to her the ultimate honor.
Did evolution play a role in the lives of the Defenders, perhaps in those twenty-eight years of their self-imposed exile?
I don’t know if I’d say evolution so much as seeking a reason to exist, seeking an identity. I envisioned this newly formed species standing around, not knowing what to value, how to go about creating their own culture and norms after their mission was complete. It’s a bit like several million Frankensteins left to their own devices once Victor was through with them.
In a way, it almost seems like the Defenders had taken on more human characteristics than they might have realized; gloating, manipulation, etc. Was that why they invited the ambassadors down to Australia in the first place?
They’re looking for some standard with which to compare their accomplishments. Having been left with a void after the Luyten are defeated, they’ve been trying to forge an identity, but they’re not terribly self-aware and find themselves with no way to judge if they’ve done well. As their creators, they hold humans in awe to a certain extent (although mixed with a seething unconscious rage at the haphazard way they were created).
While the ending is satisfying in terms of Lila’s emotional journey regarding the Luyten, the war between man and Luyten against the Defenders has just begun. Why did you choose to end the story at this point?
I didn’t think it mattered much who actually won. At least, as I wrote it didn’t matter much to me. There were two levels of the story that interested me. First, Lila trying to come to terms with having to look at a species she grew up utterly despising and fearing—the ultimate boogeymen who haunted her every waking (and sleeping) moment—as her allies and saviors. And conversely learning that her childhood saviors are in actuality psychopaths. Second, I was interested in the larger idea of developing a weapon out of desperation, then not knowing what to do with it when you’re finished fighting. It came out of stories I’ve read of some community that releases mongooses (or whatever) to fight their snake (or whatever) problem, but when the snakes are all killed the mongooses keep multiplying. In this case the human race had no choice but to release the mongooses, but that doesn’t make the problem any less difficult.
Your novel Soft Apocalypse was just released. Based on your biography, (and this story not withstanding), you seem to have a fondness for apocalypses (which most of us here at Lightspeed appreciate!). How did that come to be?
I’m not sure. I’ve always been fascinated with old, broken-down things. The thought of a junkyard filled with old buses, jalopies, appliances gives me chills of delight. Exploring old abandoned buildings is my idea of a fabulous afternoon. I love New York City because so many of the buildings are ancient, and have those water towers on them that are a hundred years old. That’s where it starts for me—I’m fascinated by wreckage. It’s funny, because my sister shares my fascination with apocalypses. She’s not a science fiction fan, only a fan of end-of-the-world stories. It must be something lost in our personal history.
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