In a special author interview for BCS Science-Fantasy Month, BCS Assistant Editor Kate Marshall talks with Anne Ivy about “Scry,” alienness and hegemony, how Oedipus’s parents caused their prophesied end, and how a character who can see the future can still have free will.
BCS: The society depicted in “Scry” is a blend of antiquity and futuristic elements. What drew you to tell this tale in such a setting?
Anne Ivy: The simple answer is that we think those kinds of settings are really cool. Also, a society steeped in a cold, exacting mix of science and magic seemed like the kind of society that would give rise to a woman like Eyre Isri Esthe.
The more complicated answer is that we don’t subscribe to the myth of progress in human history. By that, I mean the fallacy that all societies develop the same technologies in the same order. This fallacy suggests that there’s some kind of inherent hierarchy to technology and development. It’s the idea that all societies will start out using supposedly inferior hunting and gathering, and then “progress” to farming and then “progress” to using animals in agriculture and then “progress” to the cotton gin, the Ford assembly line, and then the smartphone.
History itself proves that this is false. The Mayans and the Aztecs had pyramids and an accurate calendar–right down to predicting solar eclipses at a time when the rest of the world had not even figured out the correct way to handle leap days–but never invented the wheel. So, in an imaginary world, it’s pointless to divide technologies into “antiquity” and “futuristic.” Our antiquity could be their future; our future their antiquity.
BCS: Esthe foresees hideous futures, but she isn’t paralyzed by her knowledge. She’s active in using what she knows. What drew you to such a character?
Anne Ivy: Esthe has a lot of influences–from Esther (the scene where she gives her keys to Dae is somewhat inspired by the moment when Esther puts her life in the king’s hands in order to thwart her enemy) to Bertha Rochester–but Esthe’s main inspiration came from Greek mythology.
Esthe has the power of Cassandra–she sees a future that will occur–but the determination and vengefulness of Clytemnestra and Medea. (Women bent on revenge are usually depicted as monsters. I wanted to write a vengeful woman who was sympathetic, the way vengeful men usually are.)
In Greek mythology, I was always driven mad by the way the victims of prophecy, for want of a better term, always flail around so uselessly trying to avert the future, when they ought to know that never works. I wanted to create a character who dealt with prophecy in an intelligent, productive way. If Cassandra were like Esthe, she would have said to herself, okay, Troy is going to burn and Clytemnestra is going to kill me. Knowing this will happen, what do I want and how do I get it?
Esthe’s empowerment results from recognizing what she can control and what she can’t control and making her plans accordingly.
BCS: There is a debate in the story over whether an unseen future is fixed or malleable. The only way to preserve uncertainty is to avoid scrying certain futures. Do the people of “Scry” need that uncertainty?
Anne Ivy: That Esthe gained strength (increased skill in scrying) from seeing that she could never have the future she wished for herself (happiness with Lun), would have been a rare thing even in a world filled with people who could see the future. People without her grit–most people in fact–would be paralyzed or thrown into despair upon seeing a bad future.
Worse yet would be the thought that if they had not seen it, it might not have occurred. Warnings about self-fulfilling prophesies would have abounded in Esthe’s world. Uncertainty would often be preferred.
In the story, sometimes seeing a future is what causes the future. So, of course, as you point out, one way the characters try to avoid bad self-fulfilling prophecies is to avoid scrying altogether, or to avoid scrying certain events (like their own deaths). Whether that’s effective or not is another question.
I don’t think the uncertainty and risk associated with scrying (or the rules about what you can and cannot scry) are what keeps people from scrying out their whole futures, though.
For one thing, they aren’t good enough at scrying to manage it. The more important issue, however, is that scrying doesn’t actually limit people’s power of choice (though they might think it does). So while uncertainty gives them a (perhaps vital) sense of freedom, the fact is, they’ve got freedom of choice regardless of whether their future is scryed or not.
Fate verses free will is, I believe, a false dichotomy. The two are not in conflict. Just because there is a future (as there is a past) does not mean that your free choices did not lead to it. In the most famous self-fulfilling prophecy, Oedipus’s parents freely chose to pierce his feet and abandon him on a hillside. Nobody made them do that.
Another way of looking at it is that prophecy (like time travel) implies that time is non-linear. So cause and effect works backwards as well as forwards. So, it’s not only: if the prophecy hadn’t predicted murder and incest, then Oedipus’s parents wouldn’t have abandoned him to die. It’s also: if Oedipus’s parents hadn’t abandoned him to die, then the prophecy wouldn’t have predicted murder and incest. If they had been the kind of people who would NEVER do such a thing to their baby boy, then the Oracle’s prophecy would have had to be different. Their actions caused the prophecy.
It’s worth noting that Dae always believes he can control his future. He has complete, utter faith in his own agency. He alone is not at all afraid of scryers’ visions. He thinks of scryer abilities as a mere asset, one tool of many he can use in carrying out his plans. He is confident of his ability to make choices that will turn any vision to his advantage.
BCS: Dae’s alien nature remains mysterious to the tale, but is essential to Esthe’s decisions and development as a character. How does his alienness have such a profound and disruptive effect on both Esthe and her society?
Anne Ivy: That is a great question. We know a lot about Karnon Dae that we did not go into in the story. We wanted Dae’s exact nature mysterious–he could be an artificially intelligent android programmed never to lie, or a space alien, or a demon–because the important thing about him is not his exact nature (which Esthe would view differently than we do, anyway, because she comes from a different background of culture and myth) but instead that he is an agent of change.
Almost like a plague or a tsunami, he is incredibly powerful, inhuman, destructive, and amoral. Unlike a nature-based agent of change, though, he can feel and think and bargain and plan.
Esthe comes from a society with a powerful hegemony. As strong-willed and intelligent as she is, it would have never occurred to her to fight against her society’s power structure if Karnon Dae had not shown up. It would never have occurred to most of the people in her society, at least not at the point in time of the story. The government of this system is worldwide. People in this story didn’t have a point of comparison, other than their own distant past, to contrast with their own lives.
As an alien (in the general sense), Karnon Dae didn’t belong to the system. Karnon Dae didn’t have the same paradigm, or the same hegemony, and he could make people see the hegemony they’d been blind to before. He brought change that could not have come from the inside–or only could have come slowly and gradually over generations.
Karnon Dae forces change in Esthe as in the society around her. Even though she tells Karnon that her family’s status means nothing to her (and she means it when she says it), it is easier said than done. She has an incredibly difficult time seeing her world’s power structure come apart, even though she is helping to tear it apart. Her society repressed her, convincing her that her worth lay in making Lun happy, but it also privileged her. A great deal of her self-image came from her status as an aristo. Like a lot of people in her society, I imagine, all her ambitions centered around improving her situation within her system, not overturning or even questioning the system itself.
BCS: “Anne Ivy” is, in fact, a collaborative duo. What was it like working with one another? What perspectives did you each bring to the story?
Anne Ivy: We are twin sisters. We had different majors, went to different graduate schools in different fields, lived a large portion of our adult lives in different states, and currently we practice in different professions (“Anne” is a lawyer, while “Ivy” is a doctor).
Separately, we have each published nonfiction in our respective fields under our own names. But from the time we could talk, we always invented stories together. The odd class assignment aside, we have never invented fiction alone. Half the time, we can’t even remember who first conceived a given character or plot twist. (For the record, though, “Ivy” thought up Karnon Dae, and “Anne” developed Esthe.)
We each have different expertise, though, which can be helpful. For example, Ivy knows what tuberculosis is and how it kills its victims in concrete, practical terms instead of fictional romanticizing. (La Boheme and Moulin Rouge notwithstanding, few TB victims are capable of singing by the time the end comes.)
Legal knowledge is useful because understanding how a government works in practice, what it does and how it does it, can be incredibly helpful in conceiving of balances of power in ways that aren’t limited by superficial clichés or ridiculous dichotomies. Plus, as an undergraduate English major, “Anne” had a wider exposure to literature than either one of us would have gotten reading strictly for pleasure.
BCS: What other work do you find inspiring, either fictional or otherwise?
Anne Ivy: Too many to name them all. Neal Stephenson is a genius. China Mieville does brilliant things with speculative fiction, finding imaginative ways to parse out aspects of society and human nature. C. S. Friedman and Barbara Hambly are both longstanding inspirations. Charlie Huston is also incredibly inspiring, in the sense that he can take the reader on an absolutely merciless breakneck ride. In terms of nonfiction, The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker is an incredible book for insight into human nature. We also both love anthropology.
BCS: What’s next for you? What are you working on at the moment?
Anne Ivy: We’re working on a novel that features Karnon Dae. We also have several other short stories in progress.