When an author is born in South America, grows up in Canada, and has worked in the Arctic, you expect them to have a broad view of the world. And you can easily believe they’d land their writing in the genre of science fiction. That’s the case with author Karin Lowachee, whose short story “A Good Home” — about a wheelchair-bound war veteran who takes in a recently retired soldier android suffering from PTSD — got a well-deserved mention in our review of 2017’s The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 2. Lowachee has won several awards for her writing (listed in her bio below). She agreed to chat with us about her writing.
RECURSOR: What first drew you to writing?
LOWACHEE: I’ve been writing since I was a child, since around kindergarten, so I don’t know where the urge came from other than I got to create worlds with just my imagination and words.
What is it about sci-fi that appeals to you as a writer?
Maybe it’s the same reason I began writing in the first place. I get to create worlds.
I think I keep going back to the genre because there’s a way to say so much, in layers and with very little narrative restriction, because I believe science fiction is a metaphoric literature. It can find specificity and truth in the metaphor, like great poetry.
Why do you think it appeals to readers?
It’s such a broad genre, so what readers like about it can vary. Maybe some like the intellectual exercise of it; others might want to experience a world that isn’t our own but is still recognizable. Yet others want the character study. Some, like me, appreciate a balance of everything.
I want good storytelling; it doesn’t matter to me what genre it’s in. All great stories across literary genres explore the human condition. The best science fiction, to me, does that.
Who/what are your sci-fi influences, and how have they influenced your writing?
I saw Star Wars as a child, and that definitely influenced me. My sense of wonder was ignited or at least the flames were fanned. I watched Japanese anime on TV as a kid too, and they were all science fiction.
As I grew older, I began to read in the genre: Monica Hughes, Madeleine L’Engle, Douglas Hill. One of the first adult science fiction writers I fell in love with was CJ Cherryh. From there, Maureen F. McHugh, Elizabeth Moon, Neal Stephenson, Isaac Asimov. I watched a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5, then later Battlestar Galactica (the reboot, though I’d watched the original too), and my latest TV science fiction obsessions are The Expanse and Westworld. Maybe Legion counts too? The list would just go on…
Right now, I’m really into SF that explores AI; there’s a show called Humans that is so well done. I love the visual work and narrative themes of films like The Arrival, Moon, or Mr. Nobody, but I also love the Mad Max series, Blade Runner, District 9, The Matrix… Like I said, good storytelling.
Visual art and music all inspire me too, and poetry. It’s never just SF influences. Everything that I intake as a human being goes into the well from which I draw in my writing. It can be something literal like a painting or photograph that inspires a scene and a short story; but more often than not, it’s in lateral ways. I love to read science articles too — non-fiction, history, biography. As a writer, I feel the entire universe is your research and inspiration source. I don’t limit myself.
Your story “A Good Home” (first published in Lightspeed Magazine as a part of their People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction anthology) is a hauntingly beautiful look at issues around artificial intelligence and the aftermath of war on the human psyche. What inspired the story?
I’ve always been interested in the aftermath of war as a crucial aspect to investigate, talk about, and think about with compassion. The idea of an android suffering from PTSD was the initial jumping-off point. From there, I just asked the question: What would the government do with their AI soldiers if that was the case? Telling the story through the lens of a human veteran bridged the distance between the AI soldier’s story and the human one.
What is it about the effects of war that has inspired you to write about it? Does the sci-fi genre open up unique ways of talking about it?
I’ve been reading about war (on my own, not because of school) since early high school. I was drawn to the soldiers’ accounts especially — their diaries, journals, letters, interviews — first-hand accounts. I read history books too, but the first-person accounts were always what I sought out.
Having my first published novel be a novel overtly about the effects of war on children was probably natural in that case. Warchild was propelled by a passion to tell that story, and in a lot of ways I’m not finished telling it. I naturally love science fiction as a genre, and rather than be tied down to a specific war in history, I was able to explore some themes and real-life aspects of history in a future setting that allowed for creativity and expansion, rather than a strict adherence to historical fact.
Science fiction is telling truth in imaginary circumstances, and I’ve gotten enough feedback from readers who say that while they ordinarily might not engage in a strict historical account of a child in war, reading the books made them more aware. And then they sought out the real-world accounts. Sometimes people find the real world too bruising to confront head on, so genre fiction allows for a buffer while still investigating the same issues. If the stories are “true” emotionally, people will respond to them hopefully, regardless of genre.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m working on the fourth novel in the Warchild Universe, and a companion/adjacent novel to the series – both through my Patreon. I’m always writing short stories and have a few of them coming up. And then there are non-SF related ideas that I’m working on, particularly a new novel unrelated to anything I’ve done before.
Karin was born in South America, grew up in Canada, and worked in the Arctic. Her first novel WARCHILD won the 2001 Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. Both WARCHILD (2002) and her third novel CAGEBIRD (2005) were finalists for the Philip K. Dick Award. CAGEBIRD won the Prix Aurora Award in 2006 for Best Long-Form Work in English and the Spectrum Award also in 2006. Her books have been translated into French, Hebrew, and Japanese, and her short stories have appeared in anthologies edited by Nalo Hopkinson, John Joseph Adams, Jonathan Strahan and Ann VanderMeer. Her fantasy novel, THE GASLIGHT DOGS, was published through Orbit Books USA.