Friday, February 1, 2013

"Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction": Five Questions With AJ Fitzwater

You might recall the Five Questions my Third Person Website Administrator did when "Fat Girl" was released this time last year. PT has been released from their cage once more, and has formulated (ie: pulled from their arse) five more questions about my latest release. And so ensues Five Questions about my story "Diamond in the Rough" from the recently released Crossed Genres anthology "Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction".

PT: (flings open cage door) Amanda! How the hell are ya since we last spoke?

Amanda: I'm presuming this is just politeness and not one of the questions, since you're so good at squeezing an extra out of me. But to answer, I'm doing great. I made my first pro sale since Fat Girl was released, so in writing terms its been a really good year of writing.

PT: That's fantastic! Confrabulations. So, let's talk "Diamond in the Rough". That's a title very reminiscent of a scene from a particular Disney movie.

Amanda: Well, I am a bit of a Disney geek. I didn't deliberately crib the line from 'Aladdin', because it is a well known cliche, but I chuckled a little when I wrote it down and it stuck.

While I won't say Magpie is much like Aladdin - they reclaim rather than relieve, return what they find, and only keep a precious if its not wanted  - the do share a cocky spirit. I also liked the play on words. Magpie is well and truly in the rough of it on this spaceship.

PT: You're talking poo, right? Hanging out in the sewage tanks. Where did the idea for a treatment worker come from?

Amanda: After the Christchurch earthquakes, I read a story about local sewage treatment workers having to don protective wet suits to inspect the treatment ponds for cracks and leaks. I was fascinated, and probably like most people a little squicked out, at their temerity. It must have been a horrible job, something worthy of Mike Rowe's attention. I thought at the time "there's a story in that", and I stored the mental image of a treatment worker in a wet suit away until I could find a use for it. And I did.

PT: So you used that idea for this submission call specifically?

Amanda: Yes. I wrote "Diamond" especially for this anthology call, weaving in many themes important to me with the hope it would be accepted. Themed anthologies can be great inspiration, and Crossed Genres comes up with really interesting themes which align well with my politics and writing. CG are very open to diversity, and like to explore ideas not commonly seen in speculative fiction. I thought "Menial" was a very relevant theme, considering the Occupy movement and focus on worker's rights that have been forefront in the last couple of years. Watching the erosion of union power, the attack on the minimum wage, and disfranchisement of workers by governments here and overseas has been disheartening.

We need to envision a different future, and that's not just about rockets going to the stars - breaking the bonds of capitalism, maybe morphing it into something more useful, is part of our future too. We're not getting to the stars without getting through the everyday things like cleaning the toilets first.

PT: Why is your character called Magpie?

Amanda: Magpies have a reputation of being attracted to shiny objects, accumulating things. While I can't attest to the veracity of the claim, I have been eye-witness to the intelligence and cunning of magpies. I once watched four of them dive-bomb a harried dog in a park, lining up one after the other to have a go. I've spent enough time on farms in my life to see them protect nests by swooping on people. They're scavengers.

I thought the name Magpie suited someone who lived it rough, protected their territory fiercely, and accumulated wealth through the discards of others.

PT:  Magpie seems a bit of a loner, by design and by job. Do you think that's possible in an intimate environment like a space station or ship?

Amanda: Part of Magpie's isolation is also a side-effect of their disability. They prefer to be in a low-g environment, which might not be a place many people will feel comfortable in or adapt well to.

I read lots of stories about communities on board ships and stations that interact well, but no explanation how humanity got from enjoying wide open spaces on a planet to being comfortable with a few square metres of living space and a small shared working environment.  Privacy in an intimate environment is a great theme I'd like to explore more. Many years ago I wrote a story about a space explorer with claustrophobia. I'd like to revisit that story - it was one of my first (actually got a Highly Recommended in the 99 'Writers of the Future' competition), and while the writing quality could certainly use tweaking the story concept was good.

Which cultures or personality types will cope with a restricted environment better? How many generations of explorers will it take before humans are comfortable living in a tin can? Will the first generation born and brought up in space adapt better? What physical adaptations will be required, what will disability in space mean, and what will this bring to the meaning of being post-human? I'm always full of questions and What-ifs! Our space-faring communities must have a wealth of research to draw on. Just think of the small teams who spend months at a time alone on the ISS. It's definitely worth looking into.

PT: Thanks for your time Amanda, and I hope "Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction" gets the attention it deserves.

Amanda: Thanks! Back into your cage now, PT...

PT: Awww....

AJ Fitzwater is a speculative fiction writer from Christchurch, New Zealand, currently living on shaky ground and becoming adept at skipping cracks. They can be found at Good Reads, and Twitters as @AJFitzwater.

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