I still remember the day my father showed me The Terminator for the first time. We were sat at breakfast one morning when he turned to my mother and said, ‘I think she’s ready.’ Once I had finished eating my breakfast of Eggo waffles and ice cream, my father ushered me to the living room for the ultimate bonding experience.
That day, my love of horror and science fiction mash-ups was born. I get ridiculously excited when I come across new stories in this vein, which was why I *had* to have Caitlin Starling on the blog. Thankfully, she agreed to answer my questions!
Science fiction and horror are a match made in heaven. Why do they work so well together? What were some of the genre crossovers that inspired you to write The Luminous Dead?
Dead Space and Alien come to mind- both feature lone heroes struggling to survive against a threat when the tech they rely on to survive also becomes their greatest weakness. That tension between our need for and vulnerability because of technology is ripe for exploration (just look at Black Mirror). But for me, games like Firewatch and Zombies, Run are what really inspired The Luminous Dead, because they focus in on specifically the technology that we use to communicate, and how important (and therefore dangerous!) that communication is when it’s the protagonist’s only connection to something beyond their own immediate struggle.
Why do you so thoroughly enjoy terrifying your readers and keeping their heart rates at dangerous levels?!
Fear is a very intimate emotion! It gets under your skin and makes you squirm, and when done well, it hangs around afterwards. I’m very familiar with fear myself (hello, anxiety disorder), so it was easy to turn to, but I stick with it because it’s such a viscerally powerful way to tell a story. The stakes are terrifyingly obvious, even while the nature of the threat may remain ambiguous. I really enjoy playing in that space, and seeing what I can tease out of both the characters and my readers by way of that intimacy.
You have two main female characters at the heart of your novel – both are complex, treacherous, and morally grey. Why did you want to include two female characters with such controversial (aka fabulous!) traits?
I just really enjoy writing women! Always have. And if I’m going to write anybody, I’m going to put them through their paces and push them to near breaking, and it’s far more interesting to do that with a complex, grey character than with one whose lines are clearly drawn. If Gyre wasn’t single-minded to the point of self-sabotage, and wasn’t so ready to give as good as she gets, her interactions with Em would be too simple, too good versus evil. It’s in making mistakes that Gyre and Em really get to shine, and drive the plot along.
What negative tropes of women in science fiction and/or horror do you wish would be retired for good?
Sexual violence as obvious threat. Honestly, even beyond how triggering it can be for so many people, it’s lazy. If you want to tell a story about the violation of physical autonomy, there are so many other avenues (see: signing a contract that gives somebody you’ve never met control over what drugs go in your body when). I’d also argue against fridging for the development of other characters when that development then gets dropped or shoehorned into an unrelated plot. Obviously, Gyre and Em have some motivation-inducing losses in their past, but I hope I gave those losses the weight they deserved, and really explored their impact on Gyre and Em beyond just, “Oh, now I’m sad/angry/another single emotion.”
Pitch us The Luminous Dead! Why should everyone buy themselves a copy?
Come for the survival story and creeping dread, stay for the twisty, angry, grief-filled struggles of two women trying to put their ghosts to rest. Also, it’s gay!
Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavours. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, is out now from HarperVoyager. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theatre and games, and has been paid to design body parts. She’s always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.