This week on New Books in Science Fiction, I speak with Charlie Jane Anders, the award-winning author, who is also a publisher, performance artist, podcast host and, as organizer of the monthly Writers With Drinks reading series in San Francisco, a patron of the arts.
Her new book, The City in the Middle of the Night (Tor Books, 2019), is set on a planet of rigid social classes, harsh climate and frightening aliens. It is a story that tackles heavy themes: revolution, genocide, colonization, and the decline of human civilization.
It is also a coming-of-age tale about Sophie, a young woman who ventures where no human has gone before: into the planet’s permanent dark side. There she befriends the Gelet, the tentacled native inhabitants whom humans fear and hunt but who turn out to be sensitive, sentient, and able to communicate with Sophie through touch.
Eventually, Sophie submits to transformative surgery that makes her neither fully human nor fully Gelet, and yet places her squarely between the two species, the perfect spot (one hopes) to serve as an ambassador and halt (with the Gelet’s help) humanity’s decline.
Humans are never going to be able to adapt to life on this planet because it’s so different from Earth. We’re an invasive species, and the most we can do is come up with systems that enable us to approximate something that makes sense to us. But it’s not going to work forever.
–Charlie Jane Anders
Anders, whose previous work has earned Hugo, Nebula, William H. Crawford, Theodore Sturgeon, Locus and Lambda Literary awards, is an advocate for the power of science fiction to help humans prepare for the future. “I think that thinking about the future is a muscle. And the more you think about the future and the more you try to imagine different possible futures, the stronger that muscle gets and the more prepared you are for whatever is coming,” Anders says.