Re-inventing the fairytale and fairytale mashups have become more popular in recent months. Writers are thinking beyond the tropes that shape these stories, experimenting with new settings and themes while retaining the kernel of the original tale. Aimee Ogden is here to tell us more about this growing genre…
Mashing up a classic fairytale with science fiction is not common! How did you come up with the idea for Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters?
I think starting in fifth grade when I wrote a Les Miserables fix-it fic where Jean Valjean made it home with the loaf of bread and fed his family, I’ve been looking for new ways to twist the stories I love and appending “in space” to a story outline seems to have gotten to be something of a habit for me! I’ve done cowboys in space, (literal) mermaids in space, Narnia in space, Much Ado About Nothing in space – it’s a very liberating playground to break down what I like about a story, to build a new setting to explore those things and to serve to illuminate them – and to set aside the parts of the stories I’d be happier to omit, like leaving behind the misogyny in Much Ado, or having an older version of Ariel, who’s not a child anymore and who’s had a chance to live the life she’s chosen for herself.
How much did you feel you could change while still keeping the tale recognisable as The Little Mermaid? How important was it to keep the story as a reinterpretation vs something entirely new?
This story starts long after the events of the original storyline, which gave me a lot of leeway in playing with these characters while leaving their parallels to the originating text, I hope, legible to the reader. Being able to establish the aftermath of Atuale (the Ariel character) leaving her life in the sea behind gave me a lot of space to make it clear who she was meant to be, while also leaving me a blank slate to plan her further adventures – and I absolutely went into this wanting to imagine what those future adventures would be. I also wanted to move away from the sea witch as a purely villainous character – Yanja, the witch character, certainly has his own private motives for the things he does, but he’s after things more complicated than power or petty revenge.
Tales of having to leave your home behind for a new life have always had the potential to be powerful, emotional stories. Why did you want to explore this aspect of the original tale in particular and did you want to look at anything that doesn’t usually make its way into these kinds of stories?
The longing for a different world, and all it offers, is so central to the original storyline of The Little Mermaid – I wanted to take that character even farther than just the next world over, the one above the waves. I couldn’t say what usually does or doesn’t make its way into stories about leaving home, but one thing I enjoyed giving Atuale was the weightlessness of space, how strange but familiar that sensation might be for someone who’d grown up underwater. I tried to echo that too in her later experiences meeting other forms of humanity, how different they seemed from all she knew, but how alike they were at the same time.
What are some of your favourite fairytale retellings? What did they do that struck a chord with you?
I recently read and loved S.L. Huang’s “Burning Roses”, which takes Red Riding Hood and the legend of Hou Yi the archer and mashes them together in wonderful ways, giving us two older female queer protagonists who hold each other accountable for where their stories have led and where they may yet go. In a very different vein, “Darkwood” by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a terrifically fun book with a very Pratchett-esque tone that takes on some of the classic fairy tale characters and the tropes that they embody in a loving but tongue-in-cheek way. And I really loved Aliette de Bodard’s “In the Vanisher’s Palace”, which is a queer take on Beauty and the Beast, where the beast is a shapeshifting dragon, and which treats the story with the complexity it deserves.
Why should we read Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters? Pitch us the novella!
Well, I was hoping I could just get away with “mermaids IN SPACE!”, but since I’ve already deployed that in a previous answer: “Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters” is packed with all the loveliest prose, the most complicated relationships, and the most exciting space adventure that I could cram into it. I hope anyone who loves science fiction and retold fairy tales will love it as much as I do!
Aimee Ogden is a former science teacher and software tester; she now writes stories about sad astronauts, angry princesses, and dead gods. A graduate of Viable Paradise 22, she lives in Madison, Wisconsin where the beer is always fresh and the curds are always fried.
Her debut novella “Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters” is coming from Tor.com in 2021; “Local Star”, an unrelated novella, will come from Interstellar Flight Press later in the year.
She’s also the co-editor of Translunar Travelers Lounge, a new speculative fiction devoted to fun, optimistic stories.
When she’s not anchored to her computer, she can be found running or working out at the local YMCA, where she recently became a trainer (which surprised her as much as anyone else).