Reality Skimming

Ethics in SF #6: Alma Alexander

Our third feature in the Ethics in Speculative Fiction series. Interested in contributing to the Ethics in SF series? Query us at [email protected].

Ethics in SF: A series of interviews, articles and debates on the Reality Skimming blog, hosted by Lynda Williams, author of the Okal Rel Saga.

Alma Alexander is an internationally published novelist whose work (Secrets of Jin Shei, the Worldweavers YA trilogy Gift of the Unmage/Spellspam/Cybermage, Embers of Heaven, Midnight at Spanish Gardens) is published in 14 languages worldwide. She is also a short story writer and an anthologist whose first collection (as editor), River, is due out in the Fall of 2011. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats.

Q. You are interested the fate of losers. Please explain.

The simplistic "happily ever after" endings ceased to be enough for me while I was still a child. I wanted to know whose happy ending it was, what happened to the people who lost, and what happened afterwards. Even as a child I somehow understood that a wedding was not the end of a story but the beginning of one - the beginning of a marriage. And that the latter might prove to be far more interesting and dangerous than just chasing after Prince Charming in woods filled with Disney creatures who burst into song at every opportunity.

Histories are written and propagated by the winners of every encounter – and it is their truth, often told at the expense of the truth of those who are conquered, which is often dangerous and threatening to the prevailing worldview and is thus (at best) suppressed into oblivion and the oubliette of history and (at worst) actively and sometimes bloodily put down if it dares to rear its objectionable head.

I come from a place that crawls with history, and much of what the rest of the planet would actually consider to be history in the sense of water-under-the-bridge-and-best-forgotten kind is still actually very much a part of daily lives in my ancestral lands. Ancient grudges and hatreds are carefully perpetuated, for generations, and their lights are still burning decades, sometimes centuries, after an original wrong had been done. I come from a place where history is still being written, every day. And people win, and people lose, and I can see how it all develops, how it works, and whose versions of "truth" are stronger and more enduring. You can’t come from a background like that and not be aware that there are two sides to every story.

Q. How does this position inform your work?

The real world, and that goes for any world that wishes to be real no matter how fictional or invented it is, has to take complexity into account. If you pricked any one of my own invented worlds with a pin you would never get a swiftly deflating balloon because I built weight and solidity into it. I built in difficulties, and failure, and drama, and fear, and frustration - just as much as I built in the joys and the triumphs.

2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens by Alma Alexander
2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens by Alma Alexander

And yes, ethics. I built in those, too. With a full awareness that I may be building a character or a society whose morality is not remotely like our own, and then knowing that I must at least try to make a reader of our own kind, with full human built-in judgmentalism and morality and societal pressures and expectations, actually like or at least just root for my protagonist with whose values they may not agree at all.

I do not necessarily write about both sides of any given coin at any one given time. But everything I write is done from the premise that there always is a second side to a coin, even if I don’t necessarily have the time or the scope to explore it in any particular story setting. And I am trusting the reader to realise that there is such an untold story in the background, and between the lines, of the story that I am telling – and to be aware of it.

Your Turn: Comment with your own reaction to the questions.

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