Visiting Whiskey With My Book today is author Brenda Cooper. Brenda is the author of the Glittering Edge duology that includes Edge of Dark (my review here) and Spear of Light (review coming soon). I love both books in this series, but now, Brenda has a new book, Wilders, which was released June 13 and is featured here today. First Brenda will answer my general, personal and possibly impertinent questions. Then stick around for the details on Wilders.
Riley: I always like to hear how an author got started writing. What inspired you to start making up stories and writing them down?
Brenda: I don’t really ever remember NOT making up stories. When I was a little girl, my parents gave me a chore. I had to use the garden hose to water a long string of trees beside our uphill driveway. One of my earliest memories is standing with the hose making up little story-songs for hours. In the long run, I turned out to be good with story and completely unable to carry a tune. I still make up story songs, but primarily for the dogs. They don’t seem to mind that I can’t sing on tune. And of course, I make up stories and put them into books. So maybe the answer to your question is that a boring chore and a garden hose inspired me.
Riley: As a technology professional, can you tell me about advancements you have seen lately that really impressed you? Have there been any that scared you?
Brenda: I asked an engineer friend of mine this question. He said “batteries.” After all, we’ll need energy storage for cars and houses and sensors. I thought it was a good enough answer to pass on. I’m also quite excited by robotics and AI, as you can probably tell after reading my last two books. We have created difficult problems from the need to manage our own climate and ecosystems to social challenges. AI will – hopefully – help a lot. We have access to piles and piles of data and new tools to analyze it with. We may need machines to help us form the right queries and questions of all of this data. For example, we now use it like statistics – to support whatever we want to believe. How many maps have you seen of “red states this” and “blue states that” in the news? A lot more than we’ve seen maps about solutions to anything. For example, perhaps we could take data and develop politically denatured frameworks like “solve for maximum effective employment where minimum wage allows a two-income family to take one vacation a year and afford health care” and get good answers that didn’t match the political platforms of either party exactly. I’m excited about anything that captures carbon. Lastly, I’m excited about the many, many ways that we can map things. Seeing something visually (such as the effect of sound on orca whales layered over the mortality of whales as ocean noise increases laid over the location of shipping lanes….). Can you tell I could talk about technology all day?
As to the next part of your question, raw technology does not scare me, but we humans wielding technology before we fully understand it is quite frightening.
• Old and still a challenge: Nuclear bombs were the big scare of my childhood. Six-year-old Brenda had to climb under her desk and hide during weekly nuclear drills. Either I’ve never outgrown being six, or we are closer to a real nuclear problem than we’ve been in decades.
• Current technology: I worry a lot that the constant over-stimulus of most humans via electronic devices and entertainment may be reducing our ability to focus and to think creatively. It’s not the devices themselves, it’s our addiction to them (and yes, my addiction too). We have huge problems to solve, and we need both the information we get on our devices and quiet time to think in order to solve them. Once more, technology as bright and frightening.
• Up and coming technology: As climate change becomes more real, I’m fairly certain we will try to engineer our way out of it. But climate is complex and I can imagine a lot of scenarios where the unintended consequences could either worsen the problem or simply kill us all. So geo-engineering scares me, especially since I think we will need it, and I think we will use it. I hope we’ll succeed.
In the end, I’m more excited about technology’s ability to help us than its ability to harm us. It can, has, and will do both, of course.
Riley: Will you tell us a little about Wilders and how you came to write this story?
Brenda: Wilders is a tale of two sisters, Coryn and Lou, who live in a huge, politically powerful city full of beautiful bridges and alternate reality overlays. No one is starving. Everyone gets a basic income, good health care, and plenty to eat. But utopia is a stretch goal, and when the sister’s parents kill themselves in despair, the girls must decide what to do. The older one is able to leave the city, and she does so, obtaining a job working on the open land between cities. Wilders is a story of how the two sisters find each other – and themselves – again. They do this against a backdrop of dangers in the spaces between cities and inside of them, and thus I get to explore a lot of really interesting places.
Riley: Wilders has themes that remind me of Edge of Dark. Mainly ecological preservation and restoration and robots. Why are these themes important?
Brenda: In my day job in technology (where I am Chief Information Officer for a medium-sized city) I am studying smart cities. Cities are becoming bigger and more vibrant, more politically important, and greener. So I set out to write a book that included some discussion of the future of cities. Even though I write about both technology and nature in Edge of Dark, I wanted to do that again in a different way. Wilders is set about fifty years from now, and while I know better than to think that science fiction writers can predict the future, I think I was able to create a plausible future.
The primary themes of the books are different. Edge of Dark and Spear of Light are about what it means to be human as we evolve into different bodies, and Wilders is about the things we may cause to happen based on choices we’re making now. Wilders extrapolates the consequences of things I love about humanity, and things that I loathe as well.
Riley: I know this is like asking a mom to choose her favorite child, but I only recently discovered your books and there are so many that it is unlikely I will get to all of them. Are there any of your earlier books that you would recommend to someone like me – maybe a book or two that you are especially proud of?
Brenda: For people who haven’t already read it (you have), Edge of Dark is one of my best books. I really focused on emotion in that story, and I think that I succeeded. I also really like Mayan December, which is set in one of my favorite places, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It is a blend of historical fantasy and science fiction. Fair warning – it was written about 2012, and of course we’re now five years past that. It might be fun for people who read Wilders to also read POST, which is set in the same time frame but in a very different future. Fans of hard SF will like The Silver Ship and the Sea, which is a human colony story. It’s being re-released by Word Fire in August of this year.
(Note to readers: if you want to check out any of the books Brenda has mentioned, click on the book covers to go to the corresponding Amazon page.)
Riley: When you are not CIOing or writing, what do you like to do?
Brenda: So much! I love musical theater (and have tickets to the Fifth Avenue Theater here in Seattle), I love walking my dogs, and riding bicycles. I also just like being home – we pretty much live in our dream house with a little garden and room for the dogs to run and a lot of local wildlife. I’m pretty happy at home. And reading. I love to read, and I consume a lot of words in audio format these days. A great weekend afternoon is walking the dogs, weeding, and maybe mowing the lawn while listening to a good book. I realize that sounds very pedestrian, but it balances the glamorous life of a writer. 🙂
Riley: What books have you read recently that you really enjoyed?
Brenda: I just finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. Wilders could be on the timeline to that book, only on this coast. Of note, KSR is one of my favorite writers. He’s literary and smart and kind and does his homework. I recently finished a collection of climate stories called Loosed Upon The World. I really loved many of those stories. Right now, I’m reading an entire stack of books about wolves as research for the sequel to Wilders. I read a lot of popular science. E.O. Wilson’s fabulous Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life influenced Wilders and The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben, is equally fabulous.
Riley: Can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Brenda: The sequel to Wilders is about a third done, and it’s been really fun to write so far. It’s a little bit cowboy, which is a kick, and it’s full of contrasts between high tech and nature. It’s called Keepers. I’m also working to spruce up The Silver Ship and the Sea and the two completed sequels and write the fourth and last book in that series.
Riley: What would like us to know that I haven’t asked you about?
Brenda: We are living in an important time. The decisions we make over the next few years to a decade are going to matter to our children and to our shared future. How we feel about the future shapes our choices today, and those choices shape the future. So while it’s a really hard and uncertain time for many people, we need to all have hope, listen to each other, and to stay creative, curious, and loving.
Thanks for giving me this opportunity. I really like keeping in touch with people who read my work. I have a newsletter, and I’d love it of anyone who enjoyed this interview signs up. Also, if you like a work of an author, any author, say something. Say it to them, or to social media, or to a bookstore, or to a friend. These things matter.
About Wilders (Project Earth, Book One)
Coryn Williams has grown up in the megacity of Seacouver, where her every need is provided for—except satisfaction with her life. After her parents’ suicides, her sister Lou fled the city to work on a rewilding crew, restoring lands once driven to the brink of ecological disaster by humans to a more natural state. Finally of age, Coryn leaves the city with her companion robot to look for her sister.
But the outside world is not what she expects—it is rougher and more dangerous, and while some people help her, some resent the city and some covet her most precious resource: her companion robot. As Coryn struggles toward her sister, she uncovers a group of people with a sinister agenda that may endanger Seacouver.
When Coryn does find her sister, Lou has secrets she won’t share. Can Coryn and Lou learn to trust each other in order to discover the truth hidden behind the surface and to save both Seacouver and the rewilded lands?
“A captivating eco-thriller…. Wilders blends environmentalism, futurism, and science fiction for an engaging story with important messages about humanity’s relationship with the world around it.”
“Cooper has created a future riddled with ecological disaster that is frighteningly believable.”
—RT Book Reviews
Excerpt from Chapter Two of Wilders
Excerpted from Wilders by Brenda Cooper (Pyr, 2017). Reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Coryn stood at the single small window in the room she and Lou shared in the orphanage, leaning on the silvery sill and looking down at a ragged community garden three stories below her. Two or three of the raised beds were bright with flowers, but the rest looked ragged and thin. One held only brown bushes too far gone for recovery but not yet weeded out. It bugged her; weeding was one of the city’s assigned chores she had chosen when she was ten, and she had loved to weed for years, making up silly songs as she cleaned and straightened beds. The orphanage’s chore list was all internal, like bathroom cleaning and neatening the pantry, but weeds still demanded to be pulled.
The room smelled of antiseptic and something flowery, and the cold glass and metal reminded her of a doctor’s office instead of a home.
She was alone. Lou and Paula had gone together to find them something to drink besides water.
An orphanage. Who would have thought they could end up someplace so cold? It all seemed surreal.
If her parents were still alive, if this was one of their homes, the room would be full of color. Her mother liked browns and off-whites, with teal accents and soft lighting.
Coryn still couldn’t remember the last thing she’d said to her parents.
Old, good memories surfaced over and over. Her mom reading to her on her fifth birthday. Her dad feeding them juice and fresh bread from the corner bakery for breakfast.
The hole where her parents had been ran deep, and even though she’d managed to sleep last night, it was digging at her consciousness again right now, making her think silly little things, like how her father would have taken some of the garden, even just a row, and cleaned it up. He would have done that even if they weren’t staying. But what did it matter now? He would never garden again.
She glanced at her wristlet. No messages. Nothing. No one came to see them. People Coryn had thought of as friends had messaged them a few times, awkward little messages that soon stopped.
She cringed as she heard the high whine of a small drone through the half-closed doorway. It belonged to one of the other orphans. Ghit. He was such a deep Autie the city had assigned him a keeper drone, and apparently it had tried to find the noisiest one possible. One of the other girls, one of the mean ones, named Justina, told her and Lou that he’d been beaten so often as a child that his parents had given him up and moved away.
Ghit poked his head into the doorway. A deep red scar marred his left cheek and his gaze always looked wary. “Killed parents.”
He meant, “Did you find out who killed your parents?” but he never spoke in full sentences. Lou was always after the answer to that particular question, but Coryn was always the one Ghit asked. He asked her a few times every week. She sighed. “I don’t know. When I find out, I’ll kill them.”
He looked fascinated, as if he’d never heard her say that before. “Could you?”
“Of course not.”
Thankfully, Ghit withdrew and pulled the door closed behind him.
She had no idea what she’d do when she found out. She just wanted to be busy and get past the grief that nagged at her. Lou had turned it to anger, and the anger to nervous action, but try as she might, Coryn couldn’t really get angry about it. Just sad.
Surely anger would be easier.
She returned to staring down at the entry street, willing her sister and her protector to come home soon.
Paula came back in half an hour, carrying ginger-flavored drinks from a corner store and sweet plums from one of the nearby roof orchards. Lou didn’t follow until long after dark. As soon as she came in, she grabbed Coryn by the hand and walked her outside. The orphanage’s back porch jutted onto a small lawn beside a thin street that hardly ever saw any car traffic. As they stepped through the door, a long ribbon of bicycles spun by, flashing spandex and spinning blue and sparkling gold wheel lights. In their wake, it grew quiet, windless, and hot.
Lou led Coryn past the chairs and sat on the railing, looking up at the pale, fuzzy stars in the night sky. “Do you still want to know how Mom and Dad died?” she asked in a low whisper. “Really want to know?”
Coryn suddenly felt as cold as if she’d just inhaled a whole scoop of frozen cream. She stuttered. “If we know, maybe Ghit will stop asking.”
Lou didn’t even crack a smile. She seemed infused with sadness, her face still and shocked. She brushed a strand of hair away from Coryn’s eyes and, finally, looked directly at her. “Do you?”
“Yes.” Her voice sounded small so she said it again, a little louder. “Yes!”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“So tell me anyway. I can take it. I can tell you hate it. I can see it in your eyes and I can smell it on your breath. Whiskey?”
“I only had a little.” Lou looked down at her feet. “I needed courage to say this to you.”
Coryn chewed on her lower lip. “All right.”
“Remember how much Mom hated the city?”
Coryn sighed. “Yes.” Lou hated it too, but Coryn didn’t bother to say so. They both knew. “Mostly she didn’t hate the city itself, but she hated living with so many people.”
Lou raised an eyebrow. “I think that too, but I didn’t know you picked it up.”
“I’m not stupid.”
Lou laughed a little, and exhaled; her breath smelled like stale beer. Coryn wrinkled her nose.
“The coroner ruled on it last night.”
And clearly Lou knew what they had said and had swallowed the secret until now. Coryn played along. “So how did you find out what they said?”
“I have a new friend—he’s wicked good with city morgue data.”
“There’s a lot of reasons to know about dead people. Like why they died, and if they died of a disease or if old age got them . . .”
“You’re procrastinating,” Coryn said. “I told you I can take it.” She stood up, pacing back and forth on the uneven surface, angry at Lou for holding out on her.
Lou drew herself up to her full height—still a head taller than Coryn—and stopped looking at the stars long enough to meet Coryn’s eyes. The low light turned her blue eyes colorless as glass. Her lips thinned to lines; she looked more like a grownup than she usually did. “They said . . .” Lou hesitated. Her face screwed up and the next words came out more slurred than any of the others had. “They wrote in the report that . . . Mom and Dad killed themselves. Or more precisely, they killed each other. A mutual suicide pact kind of thing.”
“On my graduation day?” Coryn blurted.
Lou had the grace not to comment. She clasped her hands and rested her chin on her raised index fingers.
Coryn sank down into one of the chairs. The weight that had followed her around since that awful day drew her down so far she felt as if she might sink through the chair and through the painted concrete floor of the porch and into the earth and worms below, and on through to the very center of the earth.
Above her, as if speaking from far away, Lou said, “I didn’t know she hated the city more than she loved us.”
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About the Author
Brenda Cooper (Kirkland, WA) is the author of Edge of Dark and Spear of Light, Books One and Two of The Glittering Edge series; The Creative Fire and The Diamond Deep, Books One and Two of Ruby’s Song; and the The Silver Ship series. Her most recent short-story collection is Cracking the Sky. She is also the author of Mayan December and has collaborated with Larry Niven (Building Harlequin’s Moon). Cooper is a working futurist and a technology professional with a passionate interest in the environment.
You can find Brenda, her social media links and her newsletter signup on her website: http://www.brenda-cooper.com/.