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Mission Critical

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[Q] A company wishes to produce licensed Mission Critical merchandise, for sale to the public. They believe there is a market for it, and will give you royalties so long as you are willing to grant them the right to use your ideas. You accept. What merch is that company producing?

More plausible: mugs and shirts with the emblems of the ERA and Alexandria Systems; NASA-style mission patches for the Malang crew; Anthropocene Park t-shirts (pending copyright approval); souvenir-postcards from the Schiaparelli Resort and Casino, New Svalbard, Lagos’s Lunatown, and the Gabon Elevator.

Less plausible: New Svalbard Pulsars/Chang’e City Crescents caps and jerseys; the coats of the specific ERA Corps; Alexandria body pillows.

 

[Q] what Pokémon starter would each crewmember choose?

I'm not familiar enough with Pokémon to give answers for all of them, but Alexandria would have Porygon or Mewtwo.

 

[Q] which fanfiction of this story do you most want to read, and which do you fear reading?

I’d love to see some in-universe-style Alexandria fic, although I’m terrified of the depths of Internet Depravity that might unleash. Besides that, I’d also love to see a biography of Aryabhata Singh, one of my favorite side characters who doesn’t get to do much on-screen. Backstory vignettes for AU crewmates would also be really cool, and I have a few ideas for those myself...

 

[Q] You've been publishing updates to this story for more than a year now. How have you changed as a writer in that time?

I think my sentence-level writing is getting better, since I had to do much less copyediting as I made my way through the draft - just getting a better ear for word choice and assonance and flow. I also didn’t have a solid idea for the overall story structure until I started writing Delve, at which point I finalized that the the crew should also find some sort of monument and then be contacted directly. With Stellar Elegy, I already have a fairly clear idea of the central themes and how it’ll end, but the middle details are unfilled/molten at the moment. I also try not to start chapters now until I have a decent idea of all the main story beats in them (I used to make comic pages without a clear grasp of how the page would end! My workflow was horrifying!)

 

[Q] what would each crewmember's preferred type of meme be?

Alexandria - Bots of New York-type surreality, and jokes about Anime Tiddies
Arjun - niche in-jokes among fellow ERA brats
Kuiper - dense wordplay and humor drawn from Lunar culture and dialects, a la Letterkenny or Scottish Twitter
Emmanuel: deadpan academia jokes and tonal swerves, like “Source: This was once revealed to me in a dream”
Eun Sol: people mimicking video game-style movement and glitches in real life, especially speedrunning techniques

 

[Q] Will we get to see Mission Control's response to the letter from The Five?

In a manner of speaking~

 

[Q] Would this story work as a coffeeshop AU, or some other AU? Which setting would your characters insert best into?

Maybe it’s because I’m just not very well-versed in coffeeshop AUs but I don’t really see how that would work, but a fantasy AU could be fun with planes of existence taking the place of planets.

Or maybe a reversal AU where Eun Sol grew up in ritzy downtown Seoul, Kuiper’s a Martian scion, Arjun’s parents are corporate lobbyists, Emmanuel lives on a space station and studies atmospheric science, and Alexandria is a human with an AI imprinted into them.

 

[Q] Are Kuiper's tattoos something you have yourself, or would like to have? Also, hypothetically, how would you feel about someone getting similar tattoos after reading your story?

Currently, the only tattoo I have is an abstract sun emblem based on my college's seal to commemorate finishing up my whole educational career (which I got on March 4th, 2020!)

I hope to get the solar system map on my forearm when it becomes possible, since the Voyager/Pioneer probes are important to me in many ways and I want to bookend my quarantine with tattoos.

And if anyone else wants to get Pioneer probe tattoos, I'd be thrilled!

 

[Q] Do you have any picture/image inspiration for Malang and the monuments on it?

The final probe is very much based on the Pioneer probe, the statues are inspired by things like the Terracotta Warriors, and I wanted the initial crypt to feel like a fairly unadorned chapel. I referred to some of Malang's trees as specifically "baobabs," since I think it's a wonderfully weird shape for a tree. China's karst mountains are also a big inspiration for the kind of weird, craggy feel I was going for, and I wanted the basin to feel as eerily empty as driving across a stretch of barren desert.

 

 

[Q] What smells would Thisbe use in a smelltrack of the Malangya scenes?

Probably earthy spring rain, sweetly humid air, and very subtle notes of smells people are likely to have strong formative associations with.

 

[Q] Were other alien species considered besides the Trilaterals?

The genesis of the whole project was the notion of "a crew exploring an exoplanet, and finding a subterranean chapel-like structure;" I didn't have a clear grasp of who had built it until I was writing Delve, when the plot spine of the rest of the story took shape and I assembled the Trilaterals from some idea-fragments that had been coalescing for a while.

 

[Q] What have been the biggest sources of inspiration for this?

A whole lot, and I hope to provide a full bibliography soon! Most directly-

  • Terra Ignota shaped a lot of the setting, a mid-future world that's doing quite well but still has deep flaws, and on its way toward blooming into a far stranger future.
  • Red Plenty and The Dispossessed influenced a lot of Lunar culture, and Social Climbing is pretty much "what if The Dispossessed was also Parasite?"
  • Alexandria is very much a mix of Janet from The Good Place (general appearance and genderlessness), Sulla from O Human Star (being both literally and metaphorically trans, having a very awkward relationship with the circumstances of their creation), and Hatsune Miku (fashion icon, very large and at times extremely horny fandom.)
  • The Good Old Bad Old Days by Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird is a fantastic song about very mixed feelings for the end of the Soviet bloc, and Eun Sol's backstory takes a lot of cues from it.

 

[Q] How did the isolation of quarantine factor in to the isolation of the crew members?

I swear I didn't intend to write a COVID-era novel centrally about being stuck in close quarters, but I definitely Drew From Experience when describing how cabin fever set in :P

 

 

[Q] Do you have a particular mix/preferred tunes you listen to while writing?

I typically listen to instrumental music and/or songs I've heard a million times already, so that I can keep focus on the work; I usually have about a dozen songs in rotation that change glacially slowly, but the story's soundtrack-mixtape shades into "songs I like writing to."

 

[Q] Which real-world foods would you say best approximate Lunar cuisine?

My parameters for Lunar food were "large livestock is off the table, access to pretty much any plant that's ever been documented, mostly South/Southeast Asian and Scandinavian influences, some very weird cultivars after decades of hydroponic tinkering."
So, maybe there are deeply weird fusion restaurants making food like this, but more conventionally I was thinking of a kind of Vietnamese/Korean flavor palate plus dense hearty breads and pastries.

 

[Q] what are your hopes, and also your dreams?

I feel much less of the gnawing need to Become A Successful Author than I did a year ago, now that other things in my life are looking up, but I'd like for it to be an ongoing hobby. My dreams have gotten kinda weird thanks to wellbutrin, but nothing worthy of a trip report.

 

[Q] Do you believe the ERA to be an admirable goal for a government?

I wanted them to be a bit clunky and bloated and neoliberal in a way that any venture of that scale will be, but still doing genuinely good work at a scale that only that kind of organization could work at. I wish I had more room to delve into their ideological split with the Moon - basically, "environmentalism without a personal verdant touch is soulless" vs. "if you can't repair the world at scale, then what's the point?"

 

 

[Q] How much time do you dedicate to writing on average?

I typically use my computer for ~2 hours a day on my days off, and try to expend all the Writing Juice I have; I've now started doing it in downtime at work, and have written a fair bit there despite the constant distractions. (How dare people come in and buy stuff while I write about dysfunctional gay astronauts!)

 

Making a one-person Discord server has also been a great way to centralize notes and ideas, and keep a running draft that I can work on anywhere.

 

 

[Q] It's interesting to have watched your own gender shift around while you were writing about Alexandria. Do you think these are connected, and in which way?

(Context: while writing this story, I started going by the name Alexi, using 'she' in addition to 'they,' and physically transitioning.) I think writing Alexandria mostly accelerated existing trend lines for me. I probably would have done those things eventually - maybe with a different name - but hashing out my ideas in a character has really helped. (And I'm proud of Alexandria's popularity with other Weird Trans Nerds, and will be honored if they help crack any other eggs.)

 

[Q] What's your writing medium? Emails or Google Docs or something else?

The final drafts are all in Google Docs, but with notes scrawled Literally Wherever, though I'm trying to centralize them in my solo Discord server.

 

 

[Q] were any characters inspired by anyone in particular? celebrities, folks you know, etc.

Aryabhata Singh, my favorite character who almost never appears at all, was inspired a lot by Hasan Minhaj's Patriot Act persona: a brilliant, energetic, exhausted young guy who broke through a stagnant political system and has no idea how much time he has before it all comes crashing down for him. In my pipe-dream animated adaptation, Singh would 100% be voiced by Minhaj (and hopefully have more screen time.)

 

 

 

[Q] Were there many scenes you wrote out and loved but later had to cut bc they no longer made sense for the plot? can you tell us about them?

Some of my earliest notes have lines for an argument over the point and value of the trip, like “Of course we all have reservations about this, the ERA didn’t want yes-men! They wanted us to actually weigh it with all of our moral judgment!” vs. “They have a thumb firmly on the scales, like always. Our trip is just a formality.”

The argument in the crypt filled that same kind of narrative role, and kind of made that dispute moot :P

 

 

[Q] Given that you post your stuff on AO3, how does it feel to be a Hugo Award winner by association?

Honestly, I considered making a sticker for the cover that said "(originally posted on a site that is a) HUGO AWARD WINNER" but that seems both a bit too bitter and selling myself short.

 

That aside, it feels good, though I'm much less worried over (very distant) Awards and Status and Honorifics than I was a year ago, probably due to both growing in confidence as an author and having more and more other fulfilling things in my life.

 


 

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions for the AMA, and stuck around for the premiere of Stellar Elegy!