Saturday, 13 July 2013

A Conversation with Helena Puumala, author of the Kati of Terra Series - Dystopia vs. Utopia in Science Fiction

Part Four – Dystopia vs. Utopia in Science Fiction

Question: Helena Puumala, I note that the Kati of Terra books are generally pretty up-tempo and optimistic, though they don’t shy away from some serious environmental and social problems. For example, Kati 1 is set in a post global warming catastrophe world while Kati 2 is set on a planet where the local version of the 1% (i.e. the oligarchs) have exploited the bulk of the population for far too long. How do you reconcile this contrast?

Answer: I think that I have read far too many SF books that describe an unpleasant, uncomfortable dystopia, setting these narratives in a relentlessly pessimistic background, never pulling these worlds out of their doldrums. In response to that, I wanted to write books that would offer my readers some hope of a brighter future.

Question: In a sense, though, you do include a dystopian streak. You have dealt with environmental themes, social injustice, slavery, even child abduction. Yet the books are definitely not depressing. The characters take these things in stride, and generally overcome these obstacles, even to the point of helping to set things right.

Answer: That’s how I wanted to do things. Kati is never overcome by obstacles, which is to say she never lets them overwhelm her. She is fully aware of the seriousness of the situations in which she finds herself, often very dangerous situations, but she refuses to give in to a negative or despairing world view. She insists on working things out, as best she can. It’s the same with Mikal. I suppose that they are optimists as well as romantics.

Question: Well, real people sometimes do go through incredibly difficult circumstances, yet still survive and even prevail. Sometimes they even have fun doing so, at least part of the time. For example, a lot of people who lived through WW2 seem to have a lot of surprisingly positive reminiscences.

Answer: That’s how I wanted to write Kati – the sort of person who can be a positive beacon for other people, even in the most trying of circumstances. Mikal’s mixed background helps Kati out, as well. Lamania, his mother’s home planet is an exemplar of civilization, looked upon by most of the rest of the Star Federation as a place to be emulated, as a fair, though not by any means perfect, society. Borq, his father’s home world, has also overcome its less civilized tendencies, largely due to its turn towards a matriarchal social structure. So Mikal knows that things can get better. I hasten to add that the planets in my world have used many strategies to overcome their social problems ) – many still have a long way to go, though.

Question: Well, it’s a big galaxy, so it’s interesting to let all sorts of arrangements get a try-out. And it’s refreshing to think that alternative realities, including our own future, can be hopeful.

Answer: Hope is great, but I also hope that human beings will always have serious challenges to overcome.

Question: That’s a paradox.

Answer: But of course, the best things in life are.

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