Interview with Maggie Slater about “Memories of Hope City”

17 10 2010

Tell us, in brief, what your story is about.

“Memories of Hope City” is about two things, really. On the surface, it’s about a boy’s love for his brother, and a need to right a seeming wrong. Beneath that, it’s a story about faith, be it faith in someone you loved, faith in your world view, or faith in something far more elusive and mysterious that keeps you from feeling alone in the universe. It also has man-eating pigs, zero-g decomposition, drugs, sex, and lots of violence.

What was the inspiration/genesis of your story?

The core idea for me started when I was reading Gerard K. O’Neill’s book The High Frontier. It had been recommended to me by my Explorations of Space professor as one of the best books out there on future tech and the inhabitation of space. I really enjoyed the book, but the tone of the author’s voice—particularly the overly optimistic belief that once we live on space stations, all our problems will be solved—didn’t resonate with me. Perhaps it was the generation gap: him writing from the hopeful, forward-thinking ‘70s right after the first Moon landing, and me from an era where we’ve both not sent people back to the Moon, nor have any plans to. The idea that simply displacing people from Earth would eradicate hatred, anger, jealousy, violence, and all those other ugly human attributes felt naïve to me. Humans have been around for a long time, and if we haven’t solved those problems yet—despite globalization and technological advancement—I somehow doubt that taking ourselves up into space would magically solve them, either.

With that, I also saw an illustration of a spherical station, like a city built inside a ball, rotating around itself with a column of zero-gravity in the center, I immediately revolted from the design. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not as social as other folks, and I’ll also admit I was raised in a small town so cities don’t enchant me much, anyway, but the thought of having both city around me and city in the sky above me was terrifying. The feeling of claustrophobia made me immediately think of being trapped there, and of how a design like that—technologically savvy though it may be—could be strangling to a human population.

It reminded me of the “dead spaces” described in The Timeless Way of Building, a zen-like book on design (also from the ‘70s) by Christopher Alexander, that emphasized architecture being not just functional but having a life and spirit of its own. The book also discussed spaces that, no matter how intellectually “well-designed,” simply could not make people feel comfortable in them. These are considered dead spaces which people avoid.

Thus was born Hope City, a spherical station once designed by its developers to be a perfect utopia, until everything goes to crap and it becomes a den of gang warfare, wild pigs, and the “recreational” zero-gravity column in the center becomes polluted with smoke, garbage, and trash. Hopeful ‘70s? Meet cynical ‘00s.

What about the future frightens you (other than inevitable death!)?

To be honest (outside of the obvious), not actually a lot. Despite “Hope City” being so dubious about the future, I think we’ll do all right. Naturally, there are fears of wars closer to home than I’ve experienced, the threat of terrorism, the never-ending political games of the powerful; but if I don’t believe that the future will bring out the miraculous best in us, I do believe that we’ll bring some good with us wherever we go. Maybe my biggest fear is that we simply won’t ever try to go anywhere.

Do you have any favorite dystopian stories or novels?

I think typically I lean more toward post-apocalyptic, but I’m a huge fan of Aldous Huxley. Brave New World is one of my favorite works of SF. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is another one of my favorites.

But then, I’m also a movie fanatic, and flicks like Soylent Green and Gattaca are high on my list of dark futures, too.

How personal is your story? Jugs and jugs of blood, sweat, and tears?

There’s certainly some personal stuff in here. I’d say the third section is probably the most so, which is maybe why it’s one of my favorites. But there are a lot of things I drew from for “Hope City.” The Hope Canal, actually, is really just a nastier version of the Ala Wai Canal in Honolulu, a city I called home for a year and a half during college. Rion is just a space-age version of one of my early childhood friends, who did—unfortunately—have a home life a bit too similar to that in “Hope City,” and who was not a stranger to what people—especially siblings—can do to themselves in desolate, depressed circumstances.

But other than that, the story itself holds very little resemblance to my own life, and owes more to the experience of others whose lives I’ve witnessed, than to my own experience. And it is—at it’s core—just a story.