L.X. Beckett: Hopetopia

L.X. Beckett is a pen name for Alyx­andra Margaret Dellamonica, who also writes as A.M. Dellamonica and Alyx Dellamonica. Born February 25, 1968 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, they studied theater at the University of Lethbridge, and now teach creative writing at UCLA and other institutions. They are currently studying for a MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. Dellamonica married author Kelly Robson in an “outlaw wedding” in 1989, and then wed legally in 2003 when the Canadian Supreme Court conferred equality on same-sex couples.

Dellamonica began selling stories in the early ’90s and attended Clarion West in 1995. Debut novel Indigo Springs (2009, as A.M. Della­monica) won a Sunburst Award and was followed by sequel Blue Magic (2012). They also wrote the Hidden Sea Tales series: Child of a Hidden Sea (2014), Aurora Award winner A Daughter of No Nation (2015), and The Nature of a Pirate (2016). An ongoing set of stories, The Gales, serves as prequels to the Hidden Sea series, most recently “Losing Heart Among the Tall” (2017). They co-edited Heiresses of Russ 2016: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction (2016) with Steve Berman.

Dellamonica’s first story as L.X. Beckett, “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” (2018) was a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist. Novel Gamechanger, set in the same world, appeared in September of this year, and further volumes are forthcoming.

Excerpts from the interview:

“When I was in fourth grade, a 12-year-old named Gordon Korman sold his first novel, and Scholastic distributed it in their Books for Kids program. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m behind. He’s 12, and I’m 10, and if I don’t get moving, I’ll never catch up.’ I started writing novels be­cause of Gordon Korman. I didn’t realize a career could start that soon. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was trying to write book-length fiction. I was not him. My wife Kelly Robson and I have our papers archived at the Cushman Memorial Library, and she still has her first stapled-together book called Born Wild. I don’t know if I still have my early stories. I remember one of them was about how two girls had started the Vancou­ver Aquarium – not historically accurate at all. I don’t remember very many of the book attempts from junior high and high school at all.

“I read mostly science fiction and fantasy when I could get it, and crime and history. My mother gave me A Wrinkle in Time when I was about ten, and then she gave me all her old Brad­bury books like The Golden Apples of the Sun, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. When I was in my teens in the ’80s we had the first big boom in horror, with Stephen King, Peter Straub, all of that – we read a lot of those together. The first time I met Peter Straub at ReaderCon, I made sure to get the classic fan picture – when I sent it to my mother, it was the first time she said, ‘Oh, wow. You’ve met some really important people.’ Thanks, Mom.

“I really loved, and I still often return to, Peter Straub’s Mystery. I have love-hate with those books, because he changes the canon throughout the Blue Rose trilogy. Mystery was one of the first times I recognized a style of writing that I really wanted to write, more than the content. The other person I read a lot in the ’80s was Harlan Ellison. Those stories had an enormous impact on me. His ‘One Life, Furnished in Early Poverty’ is a time-travel story, very much the classic kind of Quantum Leap-style, ‘I’m going to go back and save myself’ thing, where the protagonist realizes at the end he’s just made his own doom inevitable. I’m a sucker for those kinds of time-travel narratives, where that pas­sionate desire for something that’s completely lost before you even begin drives the narrator. So naturally when Connie Willis’s stuff came along, I just dropped into that – ‘Fire Watch’ was huge for me. I’ve been thinking about the sadness in some of Connie Willis’s work this week, because I was writing an article about cats in science fiction, and was thinking about Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the cats in Willis’s Oxford Time Travel universe – the extinction of cats is a signpost in both those universes for how much humanity has lost. In the Dick, there’s that harrowing scene where the real cat dies and these two techs are looking for its input plug so they can fix it, and then they have to deal with the owner, and they’re like, ‘This is awful, how did people live when they couldn’t fix their pets?’ To say nothing of their dog. Con­nie redeems that in her book To Say Nothing of the Dog, because they get that slim chance to maybe get cats back – but they almost destroy the universe to do it.

“I don’t know if Connie Willis has read my story ‘The Color of Paradox’. I should probably have a talk with her about that, because there’s a character in there named Constance Wills, and I didn’t ask her, I just put her in there. That story came together really quickly, and it’s a universe that I keep trying to write more in, but nothing else has come together. The thing that really fascinates me in that world is the idea that you can go back in time, but you can’t go forward again. It’s a universe where we can equip people and send them back in time, but the only way they can communicate about whether or not their plan worked is basically through time capsules. It turned out to be such a vicious story.

“To stay in that world for the length of a novel, there would have to be a different point-of-view character, because Jules in the story is horrible. He’s only okay because we know he’s not going to live more than a year. They send him back to do something really wretched, and, one soldier being equal to another, why wouldn’t you send the guy that you don’t really want back? Give him to the past like a gift. I did write a TV pilot with a lot of those same elements, but it’s not exactly the same universe – you don’t necessarily die if you go back to the past.

“The different stories that I write all feel like different playgrounds. I like the flexibility of fantasy, because magic lets me play without rules. The minute you start talking, especially as an instructor, about creating a magic system, everyone’s like, ‘It’s got to have rules!’ Every­one claims to be rebellious, but telling me ‘no’ is often a way to make me do something I’m advised not to. So a big thing in Indigo Springs is, ‘Well, if you don’t have rules on your magic system, then your characters are going to achieve godlike power, and then what’s the point?’ Much of what happens in Indigo Springs is that they do achieve godlike power, but they’re humans and they can’t handle those powers, and then everything goes very badly. I like the way you can take a smattering of not-very-well-under­stood science and mix it into magic to create something that feels like it would hold together if we had enough science to understand it. I got closer to that in Child of a Hidden Sea, with the spell writing and the microclimates. Those could actually be classed as science fantasy – the genre nobody writes in!

“In a lot of science fiction, especially if it goes on at series length, the whole construct starts to fall apart. The author bumps up against the parameters they set in the initial piece, and then they want to do something outside those bound­aries, and they can’t resist the temptation. That happens a lot with time-travel fiction, because there’s always that deep layer of impossibility underpinning the whole idea, and the more you interrogate your construct, the faster it starts to collapse, like a flan. I tell people, ‘All time-travel constructs fall apart if you look at them too closely or you’re writing them for too long.’

“The new book, Gamechanger, is long. I wanted to write a book where it’s obvious that humanity can see its way through the 21st-century bottleneck. John Green in Crash Course Big His­tory said, ‘The task of humanity in this century is to survive it.’ This reflects the consensus among some scientists that if we can find a way to make it through the next hundred years and the climate catastrophes that we know are coming, then we might get to stay on the planet for a while. It’s so easy to go directly to the apocalypse, and as writers we like doing that. There’s lots of conflict there, and stories spring up easily. In Gamechanger, I wanted to say there was a period in our collective very near future, that was really bad. A lot of the things that we are struggling with and negotiating now either implode or get hashed out in one way or another, and then there’s the period where we rebuild.

“Socially, we are still waiting on some water­shed event to convince enough people who mat­ter that something has to be done. I’ve said this to a few people and they’ve said, ‘Some of the catastrophes that have happened lately have been immense.’ I then come to that awkward moment where I have to say, ‘Yes, but apparently they didn’t happen to people who rule the world. They didn’t happen to Manhattan. They didn’t happen to – pick your world leader city. They didn’t hap­pen to rich white people, basically, in sufficient numbers.’ So, that’s awkward! In my book, those events have happened in the recent past, and the only important character in Gamechanger who saw those changes is Misfortune. She’s the one character from the time in which the catastrophes were really bad, which is the period I call the Clawback.

“First there’s the Setback, which is what we’re in now, and then there’s the Clawback, which is where we reluctantly start changing our collec­tive behavior. Gamechanger begins during the Bounceback. The idea is that there’s a central generation in each of these eras, and that there’s a little generational friction between the age co­horts, just as right now we’re living in a period with Boomers, Gen X, millennial, and those other guys, the chilluns – I don’t think we’ve quite got consensus on what we’re calling them, the post-millenials. By the Bounceback, it’s obvious that some of the climate remediation moves we’ve been making are working – we’ve done some terraforming, and a little bit of bioforming, which is why we’ve got the internet in our implants. We can see victory – in the sense of humanity getting to stay on Earth – on the horizon, but the work’s not done yet. You always reach a stage in such projects where the work is no longer very compelling, because you don’t feel endangered anymore. My main character, Rubi, is one of a whole generation of people who, without really realizing it, are endangering the reclamation of the biosphere. The next push of work to remediate the planet has fallen on them. There’s that impulse to stop taking the antibiotics because they feel better. Rubi is one of the folks who has her eye on the ball still, and she’s feeling increasingly out of step with her cohort, with her peers, because of that. She’s quietly freaking out as the book begins, and doubling down on various projects that are supposed to help humanity survive.”

Interview design by Francesca Myman. Photo by Liza Groen Trombi.

Read the full interview in the November 2019 issue of Locus.

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