Questions from an 11-year-old Molly Fyde fan
I recently spent a few hours with a young Molly Fyde fan, chatting about the series, the characters, and the young man’s love of boats and fishing. He also took the time to show me a small wooden model spaceship, on which he had written, “Parsona.” And there was a small bearded dragon lizard in a reptile cage named “Wadi.” If only all fans were so avid and loyal!
Anyway, as we parted, I sensed the young man had more questions that we never got to, so I asked him to email them to me. And here they are, with my long-winded answers:
Alex: Why did you have the Palans have metallic looking skin?
Great question. Interestingly, the first question I received from a middle school literature class once was: “Why are Drenards blue?” The easy answer would be that I need aliens to be different from one another, and I don’t think various planets would arrive at the same color patters for their intelligent species. But as with all things in this series, the true answer is a bit deeper.
First, the reason Drenards are blue. Think about their home planet. They live between a hot land and a cold land. Their stories are always about the moderation we seek between extremes. The color blue best represents both sides of their planet, and how they talk about their own personal “hot” and “cold” sides. We think of blue as a “cool” color. It’s the color of water, of glaciers, of frigid fingers and toes. But blue is also the color of the hottest part of a flame. And blue stars are those with the hottest surface temperatures. One color represents both extremes, and the ability to move between them.
As for the Palans, I wanted something that seemed shiny and new. A sense that these people are constantly rinsed by the rains, they do not rust, and so they care little for preventive maintenance. They are like stainless steel, which can be left by the sea with little thought toward its fate. This ability to take something for granted breeds the apathy and recklessness that I chose as a hallmark for the race. As a bonus, I was able to use a sense that something could be shiny on the outside, but dull where it counts.
Alex: How did you come up with the double stars and double sided Drenard?
I’ve always wanted to write about a binary star system, a system with two stars. It fascinates me that about half of stars out there have a twin. We do not live around a normal star in the sense that all the others are just like ours. On the contrary, most are not. What would it be like to live somewhere quite different? That’s the heart of good science fiction, answering this question.
The reason Drenard has two sides is because it is “tidally locked” to these stars. This isn’t as unusual a case as you might think. You know how people talk about the “dark side of the moon?” That’s because only one face of the moon ever looks down on us. We see the same side all the time. This isn’t because the moon doesn’t rotate (rotation is when a planet or moon spins, like an ice skater). In fact, the moon does rotate, but it does it at just the same speed that it orbits Earth (an orbit is when one planet or moon goes in a circle around the other, like a car on a race track). Think about it this way: If you shuffle in a circle around another person, you have to slowly spin as you make a lap, so you always face them. That’s what the moon does to the Earth. It’s also what Mercury does to the Sun! So it isn’t unusual for a planet to do this, but it would be unusual for an alien race to live on such a place.
Alex: What was your favorite book when you were my age?
Easy question! That would be Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, one of the greatest books ever written. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, which is a rare feat. One of these awards is given by fellow science fiction writers and critics. The other is voted on by fans. To please your peers and your readers at the same time, with the same story, isn’t easy. Card did it with this book and the sequel, Speaker for the Dead. Now that’s super rare!
Also, Card lived just down the road from me in North Carolina. I loved that as a kid. This wasn’t someone off in New York or on the other coast. It was someone like me! I could totally grow up to be like him. When I started the Molly series, I had in mind a few stories I wanted to pay homage to. I give a nod to the Dune books in the beginning of Blood of Billions. I make reference to the Star Wars saga several times. But I started the series with a reversal of how Ender’s Game concludes. It goes with the circular theme of the series and was a neat way to start off where my favorite book of all time ends. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean!
Alex: What are the two “?” planets on the Milky Way map at the beginning of the books?
Wouldn’t you like to know!
Well, of course you would, that’s why you asked. I could tell you, but it might ruin future books. Book six of the series, Molly Fyde and the Walters Rising, takes place entirely on one of those planets. There’s a hint about what sort of adventure they have at the end of the fourth book, when Cole takes a spacewalk to perform a certain, very odd, chore. The other is a super surprise. It won’t feature in a story until book eight, which will hardly be about Molly at all.
How many more questions does that trigger?
Alex: Why are the Berns named that?
The Bern are known by the Drenards before the Humans ever find out about them. It is from their perspective that I named them the “Bern.” If you think about how Drenards speak of emotions, their “cool” sides are the calm and collected parts of themselves; the “hot” is the belligerent, angry, and cruel side.
Have you ever met someone and their name just fit? They looked like a Jennifer or an Adam? I think words and names evoke certain feelings and attitudes toward characters and places. So with the Bern, I wanted people to think of a hot, aggressive people. I also wanted them to think of a spreading fire, scorching the universe. It was why I also named the primary bad guy (a Bern himself), Byrne. I don’t just view this as playing with names, I see it as a chance to aptly name every object so they convey multiple meanings and feelings.
Alex: Are the Wadis intelligent?
Very! This becomes more clear in the third and fourth books. I won’t spoil anything for you, but I think you’ll really like the prologue of book four. :)
Alex: Why does Walter like Molly so much?
Why do you like Molly so much? Why do I like Molly so much? I mean, she’s just instantly likable, right?
I think for Walter, Molly was a breath of fresh air. She arrived with the floods, and seemed as cool and crisp to him as the streets after a good washing. He was recently demoted, working for a cruel uncle, dreaming of little else but making it to Earth just to get away from nasty Palan, and here is this girl, beautiful and in trouble with the law. Even better, she needs Walter. He is feeding her, caring for her, has access to things she desires. What boy could possibly resist? Especially since she can fly a ship which will take him away from his loathsome home?
Alex: How and when did the immortal Glemots begin?
When? A very, very, very long time ago. Millions and millions of years. Why are they immortal? It’s just how life came to be on Glemot. On Earth, death makes room for more life. It allows change over time, so things can adapt to their environment. But that’s not necessarily how all life must be. The Glemot make room by carefully monitoring their number. It’s a very calculated and barbaric practice, one that gave Molly and Cole chills. If they didn’t do this, and they ever decided to leave Glemot, they could overrun the entire galaxy. This is the central conundrum they face, and one of the tensions that underscore the horror of what takes place there.
Alex: What is troubling you in the picture at the back of “…the Land of Light”?
Absolutely nothing! I just laughed at the look I had in that picture, which seems to be a look of intense concern, so I made a joke about it. I really enjoyed having fun with the last pages of the books. I really hope nobody lost sleep over this one!
Alex: How did Mortimer get the copy of Parsona’s mind and put it in the ship?
If you’ve only read the first two books, you won’t have gotten to these answers yet, but they are in the series. There are a few hints in The Land of Light, when Molly is speaking with her mother. The copy was stolen, and Mortimor had help housing Parsona in a modified ship’s computer. Not to spoil too much, but you’ll learn in the third book that Molly’s father is now friends with Arthur Dakura, the man who created the entire process!
Alex: Where did the planet’s name Lok come from? (was it because it was short and easy to spell?)
It wasn’t because it was short or easy to spell, but that did come in handy! My fingers had a hard time typing Dakura and Drenard over and over. Lok’s name came as I was writing the verses of the prophecy, something I needed to have in place very early on, as the entire story needed to hinge around it. I like the idea of a character (or characters) being a “key” that solved a galactic riddle. When I pondered where this key would come from, I thought of a lock, and so I came up with the name for Molly’s birth planet. I also liked that it sounded like John Locke, the philosopher who was a huge proponent for liberty. This matched Molly’s actions, but also the smaller plot that takes place in Blood of Billions.
Alex: Why is it white in hyperspace and not pitch black?
Interesting question. Hyperspace is full of photons, the little packets of energy that make up light. The idea with hyperspace is that light and water multiply there; they spread and spread and spread. I wanted a place that was completely blinding, the opposite of the deep, inky dark cosmos Molly and Cole were used to operating in. It was another chance to highlight opposites and extremes. Here is a place that seems blinding hot, but is largely covered in snow. It’s a place that blinds any who are exposed to it, but it’s the home of the Seer (sounds like “see-er,” or one who sees), a person who can peer into the future and see everything! This is what I love about the Molly series. Everything has several meanings, layers and layers deep. There is so much to think about and discover, and a ton to reward people who read the book a second or third time.
That goes back to your question about my favorite book. I read Ender’s Game every few years or so. I see something new every time, partly because I am a new person each time I read it. But also, there is enough there to latch onto an idea that was previously unseen. I hope these answers have hinted at some of that in my own work. It was very important to me that I write something easy to read, but hard to fully grasp without a bit of effort. It’s a blend that the medium of books, more than any other form of entertainment, is uniquely suited for.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the series. Thanks so much for your questions!