Late last year I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing a novella for a holiday anthology, “No One on Earth” (part of Starstruck Holidays). Today, I’m happy to revisit this sexy speculative fiction story through an interview with author Jennifer Loring.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Jon, a psychic since childhood, has never felt at home in the world, even less so after his lover died on Winter Solstice a year ago. Since his abilities failed him when he needed them most, he turns to alcohol and rejects his family’s assertion that he is a Star Child—an alien/human hybrid. When Jon’s sister suggests he should look into the legend of Handsome Fellow, Jon decides that if he cannot find happiness himself, he will bring it to others.
Erukkass’ people, a species of interdimensional aliens, have been observing Earth and interacting with humans for so many centuries that some Native American tribes believe their ancestors originated from the stars. After his lover passed away in what appears to be a medical accident, he accepts a scientific mission… but not for the reasons his government expects. He has located his beloved on another timeline, in another universe—ours—and he will not leave without him.
Jon returns home from work one evening to find a gift of his own—a strange young man waiting for him. Erukkass unveils one stunning revelation after another, including the truth behind his lover’s death and the nature of time itself. Can he and Jon forge a future together, or will two timelines that have always intersected, no matter when or where, finally be forced to diverge?
The mixture of themes for the Starstruck Holidays anthology is pretty unique. Did you already have your story written, or did you write it specifically for the anthology call?
I wrote it specifically for the anthology. That’s not something I do very often, but the call intrigued me enough to give it a shot. Plus, I really wanted to write something about indigenous culture. It’s largely untapped aside from some of the more horror-oriented legends like the skin-walkers and the wendigo.
Elements of your story include hi-tech science fiction, realities of the current world, and indigenous legends. What sort of research did you do for this story?
I grew up on a reservation and used that as the basis for the setting, as well as for Jon’s background and observations. I’d been back to visit a few years ago, so I only had to draw on memory for that. I did do quite a bit of research into the Handsome Fellow legend, however, as well as Star People, quantum mechanics/many-worlds interpretation (a personal obsession of mine), space travel, cybernetics, and evolution.
Tell us a little about your thought process behind how to balance making an alien sexy and, well, alien.
One of the things that drives me nuts about sci-fi romance is that so many of the “aliens” are recognizably humanoid (when in reality true aliens are not likely to resemble humans at all). The solution that made sense to me was for Erukkass and his people to be a highly evolved version of homo sapiens existing in a parallel dimension. So technically, they’re still human, which allows for the kind of sexiness we understand, but they’ve also developed the bodies you would find in a species that spends much of its time engaged in interstellar travel. They’ve lost unnecessary parts, become very tall and thin, etc. With Erukkass essentially being a cyborg, I think he dips a bit into uncanny valley territory, and that adds to his “alienness.”
Your story ends solidly, but leaves plenty of room for a sequel. Is anything in the works?
Not at the moment, but I’m certainly open to another adventure with Jon and Erukkass if they decide they’re ready. 🙂
In that same vein, you’ve packed a lot of SF world-building into a short space. Do you think you’ll explore this world again, with different characters?
I experimented with a few concepts, all involving indigenous legends, before deciding on this one. I’m still interested in one of the earlier ideas, so it’s possible I’ll revisit at some point. I do like the idea of multiple and intersecting timelines quite a bit!
Finally, leave us with a short excerpt that shows us why we should all read “No One on Earth”!
Here’s one of Erukkass’ early scenes, one that I think gets to the heart of who he is:
“You’re our science officer. How could you do this to us? We need you back, Erukkass. We will not issue a court-martial—”
“You’re lying.” Erukkass sat within the cloaked shuttle in a field outside Jonathan Kline’s home. They weren’t lying about the court-martial; they were too far from home, with no way back, to hold a proper tribunal. Instead, they’d skip the formalities and proceed to summary execution for desertion and theft of government property. In its homogeny, their culture had become ruthlessly efficient. “I have located him, and I’m closing this channel. Please do not attempt further communication. Roger, out.” He activated the radio jammer he’d created in his lab aboard the research and exploration ship before stealing its shuttle. The closer he’d drawn to Earth, the steadier the stream of images from every potential outcome of Jonathan’s current predicament. On this Earth, on this timeline, Jonathan was likely going to die too, if someone did not intervene. But it would be by his hand—a choice with which he seemed increasingly acquiescent. There was nothing left for him here.
Erukkass’ people had entertained their children with tales brought back from the blue planet with the swirling white clouds. How they had interacted with humans over the course of centuries, and how sometimes those interactions had led to love—even to children, identifiable by their psychic abilities. When they were old enough, their fathers would one day descend from the stars to take them home.
But his kind had stopped engaging, through various technological modifications and advances, in physical pleasure long ago. No interdimensional being retained a need or even a desire for such trivial concerns, they claimed, and yet one of them had helped create Jonathan less than thirty years ago. At least one had fled their monotonous society before Erukkass had, and to have precedent on one’s side was a powerful motivator indeed.
He had studied himself on various other timelines, especially the ones on which he existed as a human. Many names and many vocations, but the same mate. Over and over.
On Earth, Jonathan Kline had lost his lover. In Erukkass’ universe, the nanobots had malfunctioned, somehow reversed their programming. They attacked the healthy cells until Arkhir’s body had no choice but to shut down. Research into what had caused the malfunction would have to wait, the chancellor insisted; far more important to scientific inquiry was the expedition their leaders were sending through the wormhole. Erukkass’ presence as one of Tandra’s leading scientists was essential and mandatory.
This too was a lie. To open and pass through a wormhole was nothing for them; they had done so for centuries. There was nothing more to learn.
The chancellor was covering up the truth. Understandable, given how poorly it would reflect on her to have appointed a murderer as an officer in her military. Yet discovering the version of Arkhir who too was missing his mate, and that he existed in the very dimension into which they would travel, had become a sort of retribution in itself.
Erukkass did not intend to let him go again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Loring has been, among other things, a DJ, an insurance claims assistant, and an editor. Her short fiction has been published widely both online and in print; she has worked with Crystal Lake Publishing, DarkFuse, and Crowded Quarantine, among many others. Longer work most notably includes the contemporary/sports romance series The Firebird Trilogy and the critically acclaimed novella Conduits. She lives in Philadelphia, PA with her husband, their turtle, and two basset hounds.