May 16, 2021

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What would it take to actually settle a foreign world?

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David Gerrold is the author of dozens of science fiction books, including The Martian Child and The man who fell back. His new novel Hella, on a low-gravity planet inhabited by dinosaur-like aliens, was inspired by the 2011 television series New land.

“The world-building they did was very interesting, very exciting, but because I was frustrated that they didn’t go in the direction I wanted to go, I was like, ‘Let me do a story where I can actually tackle world-building issues, ”Gerrold says in episode 454 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast.

Hella goes into detail about the logistics of colonizing an alien world and asks questions such as: Would it be safe for us to eat alien protein? Would it be safe for us to breathe in extraterrestrial germs? What effect would Earth’s plants and animals have on an alien ecology? That’s a far cry from a lot of science fiction stories that assume alien planets would roughly look like Earth. “My theory is that there are no Earth-like planets, there are only lazy writers,” Gerrold says.

Hella is told from the perspective of Kyle Martin, a neurodivergent young man who struggles with social intricacies but has a great curiosity for technical details. Gerrold says telling the story from Kyle’s point of view meant doing worldbuilding Hella particularly rich.

“I think it’s a synergistic phenomenon,” Gerrold says. “I wanted to explore the world, Kyle was the right character to explore it, and the more I got into Kyle’s head, the more I wanted to explore the world from his perspective. There are entire chapters on how predators stalk megafauna herds just because Kyle cared.

Gerrold hopes that Hella will inspire readers to think more carefully about the effect our actions can have on ecosystems here on Earth. “I’ve seen articles that suggest that faster-than-light travel and the colonization of planets around other stars is simply beyond our technical capabilities,” he says. “I hope they are wrong. But as a thought experience, going to another world and finding out what is different is also a chance to consider how things are on this planet.

Listen to the full interview with David Gerrold in Episode 454 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

David Gerrold on Tunnel in the sky:

“I think what [Heinlein] realized at any given time is what you really need to survive, it is a partnership with other human beings, that individualism is an illusion. Because Tunnel in the sky, all human beings on the planet, all the children out there, have to come together, protect and work together to survive. And I think that’s a very important point that a lot of fiction lacks. A lot of fiction talks about: “The hero comes in and solves the problem on his own. He is the great mighty warrior. And while it’s very exciting, what we see in real life is that a lot of problems are really solved through teamwork and partnership.

David Gerrold on ecology:

“When you go to colonize a planet, you don’t come up with Martian war machines and burn the cities. You come in with all of your ecology, because if you intend to live on a planet, you need all of your ecology. You need your microbes, on the lower level, because the microbes manipulate what’s going on in the soil so that the plants that you’re going to bring in – your corn and your beets and your turnips and everything in there – their roots will feed on that. that the microbes do in the soil. And then you need all the bugs that are pollinating your plants, and then you need the things that keep your bugs under control. If you are bringing chickens, you need food for the chickens. So you bring all your ecology.

David Gerrold on Gender:

John Varley actually does [characters changing sex] perform better than anyone else in his Eight Worlds series – most of his books take place in this environment. He wanted the characters to change genders, and be sexually fluid and bisexual, and he did it casually – he didn’t explain how it was done. No one drew attention to it, it was just part of the story. And I thought, ‘Oh, I could do that. Let me try this. So I didn’t explain how the characters change gender on Hella. I had an idea in mind, but I didn’t bother to expose it, because I didn’t want to go into the biology of it. But I thought it would be like John Varley’s world – once you get the technology people are going to use it.

David Gerrold on Harlan ellison:

“I think back then I was having a bit of fun creating a character that looked a bit like Harlan – because Harlan could also be an agent of chaos – but as I developed the character of HARLIE, he didn’t. has nothing to do with Harlan. Bob bloch was the toast master at one of Nebula’s banquets, and he made a lot of jokes, and I was so happy to actually be one of his jokes. He said, ‘There’s this new book called When HARLIE was one. Harlie, of course, claims he isn’t. We had a good laugh and I thought, “Wow. Bob Bloch noticed me. He noticed my book. It’s cool. So there was a little reference to Harlan, but nothing serious.


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