Interview: Astronomy, Astrology in Lydia Netzer’s How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky

My 10th New Books podcast is live. It’s with Lydia Netzer, who kept my laughing as we discussed her second novel, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky. Here’s my write-up for the podcast:

Astronomy and astrology once went hand in hand: people studied the location and motion of celestial bodies in order to make astrological predictions.

In the 17th century, the paths of these two disciplines forked so that today astronomy is a well-established science while astrology is allowed as close to the word “science” as the suffix “pseudo-” allows.

Lydia Netzer, in How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, tries to turn back the clock, inventing a world where astronomy and astrology harmonize once again. The novel centers on two best friends (both astrologers), who conspire to raise their children (both astronomers) so that when they encounter each other as adults, they fall hopelessly in love.

All this takes place in the shadow of the Toledo Institute of Astronomy, a “world renowned Mecca of learning and culture” that’s as fanciful as Netzer’s fictional Toledo, a city where “astronomers and mathematicians walk arm in arm down the street and discuss philosophy and cosmology,” she tells me on New Books in Science Fiction.

For Netzer, writing is an opportunity to explore every cranny of her imagination. “Every time you write a book, you go into your kitchen and get everything you made, every dish in the oven, everything in the refrigerator, bring it all out, put it on the table because you might not get the chance to write another one, and you just want to say everything you can possibly say,” she says. “Holding back for me is a big mistake.”  

Among the many topics Netzer addresses in the interview are lucid dreaming, which figures prominently in the novel. While her protagonists gain mastery over their dreams, Netzer, in her own life, has met with less success. “One time … I was able to move a crate of lettuce closer to me in a dream grocery store, which was incredibly disappointing as an outcome. ‘Oh, you’ve managed to control your subconscious, and all you’re going to do is make it easier to buy produce.'”

She also discusses the various iterations of How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, including a first draft without dialogue. “It was terrible, and I don’t have that draft anymore. Thankfully a very kind friend helped me to not share it with anyone else.”

Other topics she tackles include the mysteries of memory, the differences between first and second novels, homeschooling, and much more.

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