Writer and biologist Andrea Kriz discusses some of her favorite anime series, along with her passion for the French Resistance in this enlightening interview. Check out her new story “The Leviathan and the Fury” in [May/June issue, on sale now!]
Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate?
Andrea Kriz: The spark was something I think many people who study the history of the French Resistance wonder—what if the tragedy of Jean Moulin hadn’t happened? What would the future of France have looked like then? I couldn’t find any stories that tackled such an alternate history (but would love to read them—if you know of any and you’re reading this, let me know via Twitter or my website!) so I attempted to write one myself. But it never quite worked. Every time I changed something, something else fell into place to create the exact same outcome. I realized that this was a classic set-up for a time loop story. Who would, if they had the power, most want to repeat that time period and change what happened? What parts of the future would and wouldn’t change?
Another spark was the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica (warning, spoilers for the series). Madoka made me realize how truly horrifying repeating the same events over and over again, with the aim of saving one “unsavable” person, would actually be. Once hope of an “easy fix” fades, an almost-scientific approach would be needed, altering variable by variable to gradually get closer to the goal. Just like a player speedrunning a video game, the time-looper must decide who or what’s an acceptable sacrifice while not losing sight of who they’re trying to save, and the reason they’re trying to save that person in the first place… and I think that touches on the history of the history of the French Resistance, what that narrative means to different people, and how certain figures have become symbols, which might be immutable no matter what.
AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
AK: Not necessarily a larger universe, but this story is linked to two others I wrote: “Resistance in a Drop of DNA”
and The Last Caricature of Jean Moulin (https://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/time-travel/andrea-kriz/the-last-caricature-of-jean-moulin). I wrote the other two first, and I see “The Leviathan and the Fury” as the thematic ending to the trio.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
AK: The narrator sees himself as monstrous at this point, after repeating his years in the French Resistance countless times. He’s made every possible sacrifice and witnessed (if not indirectly orchestrated) every horrific outcome just to see what happens, how that impacts the future. But nobody he interacts with can see the person he’s become as a result of that trauma. They only see him on the surface-level, the person he was in the original timeline. The ‘monster’ beneath that surface—that’s the leviathan. The fury is the spark of what if. And the fact the narrator attributes his time-looping power to not just the fury but also the leviathan, what he sees as his true self and feelings, is the crux of the story and the realization he has at the end.
The title as a whole is a reference to The Sorrow and the Pity, which is a documentary directed by Marcel Ophuls about the German Occupation of France. A man in that documentary is asked about his strongest feelings during the Occupation and he answers “sorrow and pity.”
AE: You mentioned anime—can you talk more about which shows inspired you and what you’re watching now?
AK: Like a lot of kids, growing up I watched Gundam and Sailor Moon on Toonami, and Pokémon, which got me hooked on the science fiction and fantasy genres. Later I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, which basically shattered every pre-existing conception I had of what science fiction could be or the kind of story that can be told in a science fiction setting. I actually didn’t like it at first because of the ending (if you know, you know), but I still think about it years later (and am so glad we also got a satisfying ending with 3.0+1.0). What Evangelion nailed for me was telling a deeply human story with and about aliens and giant fighting robots and the children forced to pilot them. No matter how ridiculous the set-up, I want to do the same in my stories.
More recently, I really enjoyed Eighty-Six, an anime that takes place in a Republic, which forces members of the non-ruling race to fight in a never-ending war. One of the protagonists is a remote “handler” for these conscripted soldiers, an idealistic woman who insists she isn’t racist and cares about those under her command. The other protagonist is the leader of the squad under her command, who drove the previous handler insane. It’s an intense deconstruction of armchair activism, the savior trope, how democracies become deeply flawed and what changing that from within actually looks like.
What I’ve found most important is letting yourself write what you want to write, even if it seems weird or like no one would understand why you’d want to write about that (after all, who would’ve guessed a biologist would be writing about the French Resistance . . .).
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
AK: Often it’s going back to the spark of the story and thinking about if the work-in-progress is losing steam because it’s straying from that, if bringing it back to that will help move things along. Or taking a break and writing something fun and unrelated. Finally, remembering that any progress—even moving a punctuation mark, or just thinking about the work-in-progress—is progress and that’s moving forward.
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
AK: I found that the scientific journal Nature actually published flash fiction on its last page in its Nature Futures section (which continues online now). Back then, I hadn’t even known it was possible to write a science fiction story in such a short space! I started writing flash myself, had my first piece accepted by Nature Futures . . . and here I am now.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
AK: I actually think way too much about living in the Pokémon world, probably because I spent so much time playing Pokémon games growing up. If anyone is interested, my Pokémon team would include Dragonite (flying and battling) and Poliwag (so freaking cute!).
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
AK: Don’t feel like you have to write about a certain topics because that’s where your expertise or background is. Not to say it’s not wonderful to write science fiction that draws on your expertise or background—but I’ve found that because these things are so personal they can actually be more difficult to draw inspiration from. And this was frustrating for me, especially when I first started writing. Be patient with yourself. What I’ve found most important is letting yourself write what you want to write, even if it seems weird or like no one would understand why you’d want to write about that (after all, who would’ve guessed a biologist would be writing about the French Resistance . . .). And if you want to write stories based on your expertise and background, those will come too. Write them on your own terms. Don’t let anyone tell you that readers will only be interested in your story if you write about x in y way because you’re z.
AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
AK: I’m a biologist. I recently got my PhD and am now working as a research fellow, studying the epigenetics of human neurodevelopment. I’ve found both doing science and writing science fiction require creativity—albeit channeling it in different ways. When I come up with an imaginative idea in my science career, I then work on experiments to either support or disprove that hypothesis. If the hypothesis is not supported, its gets discarded and replaced with a hypothesis consistent with the data. But in fiction, even if the idea is not plausible I can sometimes write a story based on it, I can create a world and society where that idea is plausible.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
AK: You can find me on Twitter @theworldshesaw and online at https://andreakriz.wordpress.com/