Futureverse
Futureverse Podcast
Ep. 2. Ruthanna Emrys: Lovecraftian Novels, Climate Change, and Challenging Bias
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Ep. 2. Ruthanna Emrys: Lovecraftian Novels, Climate Change, and Challenging Bias

In the latest episode of Futureverse, hosts Molly Wood and Ramanan Raghavendran interview Ruthanna Emrys, an acclaimed author known for her thought-provoking Lovecraftian novels.

Like in all of her books, her latest novel A Half-Built Garden challenges inherent biases and explores themes of empathy, humanity, chosen family, and otherness in the context of climate change. During their conversation, Ruthanna emphasizes the importance of adapting to new problems and the idea that there is no utopian point where everything is solved.

We were so excited to talk to Emrys for our second episode. Her unique perspective about the future, the importance of parenthood and children, and how social justice intersects with climate change is incredibly enlightening and refreshing. Find more of her work here.

Time stamps and the full transcript are below. This episode is also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Thanks for listening to Futureverse! Subscribe here for more episodes.

Show Notes

[00:10] Introduction

[02:05] Responding to unlikely visitors in the age of climate change

[03:45] Why write about aliens?

[05:51] World-building influences

[07:48] Queer Jewish representation

[12:23] One thing readers should take away

[14:20] Inspiration behind the watershed networks

[17:44] How the corporations got banished

[22:20] Alien-human interaction

[25:26] Imagining economic change via social force

[27:33] The climate of A Half-Built Garden

[30:42] Climate change strategies

[33:45] Information, control, and corporations

[36:26] Pushing for social change as a source of story

[38:56] Pronouns and gender

[43:59] What’s in store for Judy and her clan?

[45:00] Who should we interview next?


Molly (00:10): Welcome back to Futureverse, a new podcast focused on climate fiction and the stories that tell us what our future could look like, both bad and good.

As you probably know from the last episode, Ramanan and I invest in technology companies with a climate focus and through many conversations with each other, we discovered that we also both love to read climate fiction and decided to share that passion with the world, whether you want us to or not, through this podcast, Futureverse.

Ramanan (00:34): And my 2 cents are that climate-focused storytelling helps us imagine new futures, both warnings and perspectives that could help humanity and earth's ecosystems prosper, and it gives us unfamiliar problems to think about, a bit of a spoiler alert, like, what happens when you throw aliens into the equation? What would we want visitors to our planet to see if or when they arrive?

Molly Wood (01:00): In our first episode, we interviewed James Bradley, who recommended several writers doing incredible things in the world of climate fiction, and one of the writers he mentioned and recommended to us is here today, Ruthanna Emrys, a talented author who released a book a few years ago that we were delighted to read, A Half-Built Garden.

Ruthanna has written several books and short stories that delve into a form of magical science, alien realism, from the Lovecraft-derived Innsmouth Legacy series to A Half-Built Garden, her most recent novel. She's also a poet and a blogger. Ruthanna has been nominated and shortlisted several times for her Innsmouth Legacy series and received numerous accolades and praise for A Half-Built Garden.

Ramanan (01:40): Ruthanna, thank you for coming on our little show and talking to us about your novel, we'll center much of this conversation around A Half-Built Garden, which both Molly and I have read, but we can talk about all kinds of other things as we go along. We thoroughly enjoyed reading it and we'll start with a soft ball question. They're all soft ball questions, just to be clear.

Molly (02:05): That's exactly-

Ramanan (02:05): There are no hardball questions here. And the question is, and you can take it in any direction you wish, how does a world dealing with climate change respond to unlikely visitors?

Ruthanna Emrys (02:19): So, thank you for having me on. I'm very happy to be here. A Half-Built Garden is my near-future science fiction novel about the people who have moved governance in the directions needed to solve climate change and how they handle a very different sort of problem that their decision-making methods aren't really set up for. Because it's me, that is aliens, but the aliens are really there. They could be any other black swan event that challenged the systems that were in place, much as climate change challenges the systems that we have today.

(03:10): In this case, one of the challenges is that the people in A Half-Built Garden have organized themselves around watersheds and around making decisions with the people who are ecologically affected by those decisions. And when aliens show up, it can be hard to figure out whose job it is and who it affects, therefore, ends up falling on the heads of people who aren't quite prepared for it and who probably aren't enough people to deal with it.

Molly (03:49): Well, I want to ask so many more questions about the book, but before I get that far, tell me, you made this comment just now and said, "Because it's me, it's aliens." So, I want to know more about that.

Why is that something that is specifically the direction you would go and what are the influences that got you there?

Ruthanna Emrys (04:05): I've always loved first contact novels. I'm really fascinated by the challenges of communication, but sometimes the challenges of communication within humanity are just frustrating, because I need to deal with them every day. And aliens are a fun way of getting at how different can someone be and still be someone you can talk to and what sort of misunderstandings are likely to arise? And what can we do to make cooperation possible across difference and confusion? They're more fun-

Molly (04:42): And they're just fun-

Ruthanna Emrys (04:42): ... than asteroid impacts or something. Aliens are a very generative possibility opening sort of a black swan, where many crises are possibility closing in some ways.

Ramanan (05:29): Most of this conversation's about climate and climate in the context of your fiction, but that's not all we talk about here, because both Molly and I are readers and we're interested in influencers. And you've cited Octavia Butler, Geraldine Brooks as influencers, and you've been described as a literary descendant of Ursula K. Le Guin.

How do these authors influence the way you approach your world-building?

And did we miss someone? Is there someone else besides maybe Lovecraft, who's really been a big force in your life?

Ruthanna Emrys (06:09): Someone else would definitely be Marge Piercy. Woman on the Edge of Time was one of the big influences on this book. She was one of the first authors I ever read who depicted a positive future that looked like a place where I would be happy to live. And there is a certain amount of both Mattapoisett and arguments with Mattapoisett in A Half-Built Garden.

Butler, I like to think that she's an influence. I sometimes feel that it's a little bit of hubris to claim that, but the way that she is constantly exploring problems of power imbalance is one of the big things about her work that jumps out at me and raises all sorts of questions that are incredibly fruitful to explore about how you can have relationships between people and species who have different amounts and different types of power. Geraldine Brooks is probably more of prose influence. I love her level of description, the way she can be poetic and yet, extremely transparent and clear in what she is describing.

Molly (07:42): Talk about fiction, whether it's climate fiction or not, is about point of view. And the points of view in this book are really different and in some cases really unexpected.

I mean, just as a starting point, many of the characters are queer and Jewish and aliens, and I wonder how much you see yourself in these characters and how important it was to influence your writing in that way?

I am told by my research notes that you are also are a queer, Jewish woman, and I would imagine that influenced your writing since you must be reflected in these characters.

Ruthanna Emrys (08:31): Yes. I've written a lot of queer characters in the past and I've written some Jewish characters. This is the first book where I've really written a lot of Jewish characters. I'm very used to being the only or one of the only Jewish people in my communities. I grew up in a community where I was the only Jewish kid in school, so I often have a bit of a Star Trek crew approach to characters and end up having groups where there's Jewish person, and there's the Christian and there's the person who worships Cthulhu, and there's the atheist. That's the way I grew up.

But this time I wanted to explore Jewish community more deeply and so, I really gave myself permission to write people who had things in common, both with each other and with me, and to explore that kind of community more deeply and to have those similarities better contrast with the bringing in the aliens who, of course, have very different groups. They even could have been a part of the queers. Like you said, I am a queer, Jewish woman living in a group household and wanting to represent the sort of people and relationships that I see around me every day and see how those people react to challenges and adventures.

And then, the other aspect of the point of view that is something that I really don't often see in science fiction especially, is I wanted to write parenthood as an integral part of the problem solving that people were doing. Very often in fiction, parenthood is really, it's an impediment to the plot. You got to find a babysitter, so you can go off and fight the evil overlord.

And my experience as a parent is that there's a lot of continuity between parenting and living in the world, especially when you're living in a world that is a danger to your kids. If you are living surrounded by dangerous politics and you are not just trying to prevent your kids from learning about that stuff, then you've got to sit down and you talk about fascism and you talk about oppression and you talk about activism, and you talk about environmentalism. And so, I wanted to set something up that is appropriate to a book that starts with changing diapers in front of an alien spaceship.

Molly (11:33): Right.

Ramanan (11:35): Molly and I are both parents and so, we can relate to all of it. And I do want to tell you, we both want to live in that house, so we want to know more about it.

Molly (11:47): I know. I want to know more about that.

Ramanan (11:50): And that's actually a good segue-

Molly (11:51): We'll wait.

Ramanan (11:52): Yes. That's a good segue to the novel itself. And so, we've got a bunch of things we want to talk to you about here. We'll start with the high level, which is, both Molly and I loved reading the book and you've described it as a story about a society built to deal with climate change, that suddenly has to deal with something else, which is aliens showing up and effectively demanding that humans abandon Earth.

(12:21): And that's a very simplistic portrayal of the storyline.

The question for you is, what are the main things you'd want us to take away or the average informed reader to take away from the novel?

What would you say, "Hey, they got those three things, this is success"?

Ruthanna Emrys (12:38): That we can get to a better future, but there's no such thing as a stopping point in the future. You have to keep changing and adapting. And new problems keep showing up, so there's no utopian point where you've solved everything and there's no more plots. When you get called to deal with first contact, take your kids along. It might be important.

Ramanan (13:13): Yes, we agree.

Molly (13:15): I mean, I just can't get enough of that aspect of it because it's not only, as you said, completely invisible in so much fiction, whether it's movies or books, but it's also so viscerally the stakes. Like, when you need to get people on board with your conversation, even across political lines, a lot of times the thing that will work on people who can't necessarily be sold on whether climate change is real, which is a whole other conversation, but they can be sold on, "I want my kids to have a better life." Or, "I want my grandkids to be safe."

And so, it feels like you didn't adjust ... It's like there's parenting, but there's also this question of who we are as a species and what is the point? And it seems like the answer is, it's our kids.

Ruthanna Emrys (13:59): Yeah. And I tried to portray that parenting is not the only way that we give to the future, but it's not separate from all the other ways we give to the future either.

Ramanan (14:10): I have teenage boys and I'd like to state here that I'd be delighted to hand them over to aliens, but we can discuss that separately.

(14:20):

What inspired you to create the watershed networks, which I can't speak for Molly, but I thought that was just a really interesting take and one that I hadn't really seen elsewhere in my readings certainly. How did you decide on that, what led to that?

Ruthanna Emrys (14:39): Well, I started with asking myself what sort of governance structure, if it's not the nation states that we have now, would be good for dealing with climate change? And people have written a lot with planetary scale governance, but that's not only hard to write, but challenging to see how we could get from point A to point B.

But I grew up on Cape Cod, which is a place that a lot of politics, for good and ill, centers around the local watershed and arguments about how we should be interacting with the ocean ecology and with the groundwater and with flow from the mainland. And now I live in the Chesapeake Bay area, which also has a very strong watershed-based activist set of organizations. And I'm right near the tide line of the Anacostia, we can go and take boating trips and look at all of the mitigations that people have been putting in place without waiting for permission at the national level.

And so, it seemed to me a place that had a very concrete way of setting, not boundaries of care, but communities of care, people who have needs in common. And I was also seeing places where you have cross-state arguments about who gets how much of the Colorado River, for what purposes. And having those artificial boundaries cutting across rivers where everyone lives upstream and downstream from each other and drinks the same water and uses the same water for manufacturing. It just seemed like way to organize things that was both appropriate to the problem and scaled for writing in a meaningful way.

Molly (17:00): It's interesting because it seems like a major theme of this book is this decentralization. Lots of different watersheds. They all communicate with each other, they have communal decision-making through basically very advanced Reddit, up-voting and down-voting and weighting, and society's been broken up into these three sects. You have the watersheds, the dandelion networks, you have corporations which have basically been exiled to these artificial islands, and then presumably, these old government systems.

I don't want to spoil the prequel, but I do want ...

Can you walk us through what would have happened to cause the corporations to be banished in that way?

I think that's such an interesting plot point. And for the watershed networks to have as much power as they have in this new future.

Ruthanna Emrys (17:56): So, part of what's going on in this future, I live in the DC area, I live within the Beltway. I love the hard work that gets done by people in the executive agencies. And I also see the degree to which nation, state-level government can undermine itself even while it's trying to hold onto power. And so, in the backstory to this book, the watersheds are what came forward to deal with problems that government was not giving itself the power to deal with.

So, you can imagine if this goes on, of the points where there are conservative congresses vote against the EPA having any power to enforce clean water standards. And in this case, you have groups that come forward and say, "Well, if you can't enforce it, we can." And the Dandelion Revolution, as it gets called, is not any sort of traditional revolution. It's people stepping forward to take up that space and to keep the people who are doing climate harm from taking up that space.

So, you have a lot of people talking about fighting on the fence lines and forcefully preventing corporations from polluting or putting out larger carbon footprints. And there was certainly some of that, but a lot of it is also just a change in the way society organizes itself and in the way people are willing to get in the way of problems and take up that space with solutions, such that there isn't room for the problems anymore.

And at some point, they get enough power that they can tell the corporations, "No, you can't do that here. We're not going to buy that. I don't care whether the government's coming in to keep you from building this pipeline. We are in the way. You can't do that." And the exile is in many cases, a self-exile. The artificial islands are based around what you always hear about corporate CEOs and billionaires having these plans to get away from the apocalypse and hide out in bunkers where no one can get to them. And from their perspective, this was an apocalypse of capitalism if not other things. And so, when things got hard enough for them, they just went off and built their platforms in the ocean and waited for opportunities to arise again.

Ramanan (21:02): The main thing I took away from that is we need a prequel, because that sounds like a really interesting period to write about and think about, and one that's even closer in time to us, obviously.

I'm going to take us in a slightly different and quirkier direction, which is in the book, the main humans we interact with, that we identify with are very pro-Ringer, even if they want to stay on Earth, like Judy and the watersheds. No humans react poorly to the Ringers. Humans seem to radically accept the aliens, even reveling in the love that ends up forming between species, which is a very unusual thing to find in fiction.

It seems like humans generally accept the aliens and they come over for dinner and they eat jam. And so, the question was, where did that come from? Usually when you think about alien-human interaction, best case there is some complicated detente that sets in pretty quickly. Here, before long, we are in fact talking, let's just be clear about this, we are talking about alien sex. Where did that come from?

I mean, what inspired that imagination?

Ruthanna Emrys (20:26): There probably are people off-screen who are being xenophobic, but I was writing this in 2018, 2019, 2020. I was dealing with a lot of that stuff. And xenophobia is both upsetting and boring, and I just didn't want to write about it. I was more interested in writing about the challenges that you get even when you're trying to build relationships.

And I'm sure that many humans are not quite, as you said, radically accepting as some of the main characters, but I was a Trekkie, I had a crush on Spock. I like writing about these things and it's interesting to write about them when it's not just a person in a prosthetic forehead and people have more that they have to negotiate.

Molly (23:27): I will say, I was getting very strong Star Trek vibes. Really, I mean, that's the feeling you get of this potential for gentleness, acceptance, conversation, restorative justice. The kind of conflict resolution that comes across in this book is also remarkable. And I wonder if you have imagined an interaction that could almost only happen in a world where climate change has rendered nation states irrelevant and they just can't show up in helicopters and militarize the whole thing?

Ruthanna Emrys (24:02): I mean, certainly the fact that no one is showing up in he helicopters is helpful. Honestly, it's a place where aliens represent an opportunity for all of the groups involved and they're most dangerous to the status quo and the status quo at this point happens to not have a lot of the way of military helicopters.

The government doesn't want to bring around military helicopters. They want to prove that they're still relevant and become more relevant by having some control over first contact on the terms that they're allowed to. The corporations don't want to send in military helicopters, they want to sell movies.

Molly (24:54): Yeah. Let's talk about corporations for a minute. So, the societies on earth are making progress against the damage that's been caused by the climate crisis, but also we're sort of in a prequel territory, but the dandelion network does seem to have really changed the economy on Earth. There is de-growth, which is a big topic in the environmental world.

Talk about imagining what that might look like and how it would come about, not specifically by force, but by social force.

Ruthanna Emrys (25:34): Yeah. It's very much a less capitalist future. It's one that is built on a lot of current mutual aid and mediation and resource-sharing movements and that has scaled those things up. It's not one that has gotten entirely away from the need to buy resources from corporations, and that's one of the areas where there's a lot of internal debate and yelling that goes on.

But there's a lot of movement in science fiction now towards thinking about futures of governance. You have the Terra Ignota series with the Hives. You have Malka Older's Infomocracy series. And I wanted to join that conversation, but I also wanted to think specifically in Le Guinian terms about, what is as different from late-stage capitalism as late-stage capitalism is different from the divine right of kings? And so, I was trying to push on the economics as well as on the governance side.

Ramanan (27:00): I mean, all these things are intertwined. Right? I was going to preface this question by saying, I'm going to dig into climate a little further, but that's pretty much intertwined with issues of governance, among other things.

So, this is in a much more pronounced way than Clade, the first book we read by James Bradley, as we mentioned, this is a story about a world in which the climate has changed. There's essentially no flights. Societies have a carbon budget. Some things have been tried and rejected.

It sounds like in your view, we blow right on by 1.5 degrees, as an example. Is that the case? Is that what's happened here?

This is a transformed-

Ruthanna Emrys (27:46): I actually built this future on the more optimistic end of models of how the future could go. Even if we stop at 1.5, we have a lot of change baked in, a lot of sea level rise, a lot of changes to weather, a lot of changes to what foods we're going to be able to get and how.

So, I wanted to write society that was just starting to get to the down slope. They've dealt with a lot of what's baked in and if they do everything right, things are going to start to get better, but they're still hard at this point. There are months of the year where it's very hard to go outside. There's not really hurricane seasons so much as there's a season where there are fewer and smaller hurricanes.

I wasn't doing out calculations myself, but I was looking at the IPCC report and at sea level rise simulators and figuring out, "Okay, what is the best thing that I can imagine if we start doing things right and fixing things relatively soon?" Then I had to adjust the sea level up over the course of the time that I was writing it.

Molly (29:24): Wow, okay. So, that's the-

Ruthanna Emrys (29:26): And it's been really interesting just from a psychological perspective, that I was really aiming for as optimistic as I could get, and frequently when I read reviews, they're like, "This is showing a climate catastrophe. This is showing a pessimistic future about how bad it's going to get." Like, oh, I wish this was the pessimistic side.

Molly (29:51): Yeah, that's a lot of denial by reviewers, I think. Yikes.

Ruthanna Emrys (29:55): But it's also, I think people don't actually have that intuitive sense of what are the good outcomes and what are the bad outcomes and how much difference is there between them. And I'm not sure that I have a good sense of that either.

I have a lot of arguments within my household of exactly how much sea level rise do we need to be planning for over the next 20, 30 years? And we are all fairly familiar with the literature, we're none of us climate specialists ourselves, and we don't necessarily all have the same view of how to interpret what we understand of the data.

Molly (30:42):

So, tell us about some of the strategies that you portray in the book.

Ramanan and I, of course, are climate investors and that involves a little bit of, in our case, mostly trying to encourage behavior change, less silver bullet technologies. There's a lot of tech, but it seems like also a lot of pretty basic ecological strategies that people are using in the future you imagine, to reverse some of this damage.

Ruthanna Emrys (31:04): So, I'm a social scientist by training. When I think about how to solve societal-scale problems, I think about how to support and structure good societal level and individual level decision-making.

One of the central technologies in the book is the dandelion networks, and those are based fairly closely on modern crowdsourcing and citizen science setups. They also include some work with algorithms, based generally on the idea that given that we end up frequently with algorithms and AI that are unintentionally biased based on their data sets, that we ought to be able to design algorithms that are biased in ways we want to be biased and that bake in the long-term priorities that we want to have as a society, but that as individuals in the moment we may have trouble sticking to.

So, if you want your society to be focusing on environmental justice and keeping rivers clean and lowering the carbon budget, but you know that in the moment people may be prone to wanting to get ahold of a bigger chocolate budget, then you, along with all these opportunities for all the individuals to put in their arguments and their votes in the dandelion networks, you add in an algorithm that is intended to both argue for and weight decisions towards those long-term goals.

It doesn't take away choice, but it adds weight to the long-term choices that you've made, which you can change at any time and change the algorithms, and helps to offset some of the short-term tendencies that are not actually universal to humanity but which a lot of modern societies have tended to be biased towards.

Molly (33:30): I found it really interesting that the hack, effectively, and I don't want to give too much away, that impacts the dandelion network is essentially one of disinformation related to that kind of algorithmic surfacing and hiding.

And given the timeframe that you said you were writing in, I'm curious about the origin of that and how you were thinking about that weighting and how information makes or does not make change.

Ruthanna Emrys (34:00): It's honestly something that I've started to think about more afterwards. I wasn't thinking of it as disinformation at the time and then gradually that started to be bigger concern societally, as I was writing, and I folded that in as I was needing.

I definitely thought about the way I wrote the corporations. I wanted them to be fun to write and I've also occasionally heard people use the phrase Silicon Valley fair folk, to describe the odd attitudes that you get with people who are very caught up in the world of tech companies. So, I leaned into that and had them be very glamorous. They have an '80s aesthetic that they've appropriated from the not so corporately inclined glam rock scene. And they spend a lot of time having very fancy parties while they're waiting for the world to be one that they can control again.

And one of the things I did with that was to have people almost have mythologized the power of advertising to be able to control people's minds. And then, play with that in a thing where the corporations genuinely do have a fair amount of expertise in how to manipulate people's desires, but the paranoia about that is even stronger. The assumption that they have this fae glamour about them that can get you to want deodorant, or to have them tell you what to do.

Ramanan (35:44): I will say, when I read those sections, it did feel like these were characters stepping out of fairy. There was a quality of the old magic about them, and not in a good way. Right?

Ruthanna Emrys (35:59): Yes.

Ramanan (36:02): Okay. We're going to begin heading on home stretch, and so, one question relating to this and we have a couple of fun questions to round us up. And the question relating to what you just said and much of what we've talked about is, there's this inherent tension, challenging bigotry, for example, seems to be a very huge part of your life.

There has to be this inherent tension as an author between, "Hey, let me just write a good story, but let me also find ways to talk about pushing social change." And so, any insights into how your brain works as you think about that tension, would, I think be useful for this audience.

Ruthanna Emrys (36:46): I honestly don't think of it as tension. I think that the push for social change is a source of story. People trying to push against social change make very good adversaries. Pushing for social change is a big, hard effort that we both want and need stories about.

When I went to the first women's march, there were people there with Princess Leia signs and there were people there with Hunger Games signs. And stories not only are something that we take with us into the world to help us explain how we're working for change, but they reflect the ways that working for change is such a big force in our lives. It's one of the big challenges that, as you said, I face in real life and it's something that I enjoy writing about and making a little bit bigger than life and a little bit plot shaped and exciting.

Molly (38:51): One thing before we scoot-

Ramanan (38:52): Oh, go ahead.

Molly (38:54): ... to the true home stretch, is that on that note, very specifically, pronouns are a huge deal in this book.

Because the book seems very much to be about community, agency, choice, individuality, and I wonder, was that the goal of the pronouns throughout is to say, "This is so individual, this is the representation of individual agency," for almost every character you encounter?

Ruthanna Emrys (39:22): It ended up working that way a lot. Some of it is, I've got a lot of trans people in my life and that's one of the major ways that I see people trying to explain and represent themselves and their agency. Some of it was, I mentioned Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time, which is a book where everyone uses a single set of pronouns. I love that. Pers and per are actually my own preferred pronouns, but they don't work when you're the only one using them.

And I wanted to play around with the way that even as there are a lot of very recognizable things in this book, we've gone in a different direction with gender, where gender is having this diversity of options and ways that you can describe yourself. And the dandelion societies are very much descended from modern queer culture. The corporations are taking it in a different direction.

One of the things I want to play off for them is that they had appropriated neo-pronouns and they use pronouns in a very different way. There's a point where one of the corporate characters says that their true gender, if it exists, is none of anyone else's business. All anyone needs to know is what they're wearing and how they should be treated in the moment. I actually admit to having a bit of a soft spot for that myself. I'm more of a presentation person than an internal gender person, and I would probably enjoy approximately one corporate party and then get very frustrated with how seriously they take the social games.

As a writer, I highly recommend not putting 11 neo-pronouns in your book, or if you do, keep all of your notes in one table, in one easily findable place that doesn't get lost when you change computers. But it was a lot of fun to do and the corporate folks who are constantly shifting pronouns and you have to keep track of what sort of power they're trying to exercise in the moment based on their pronouns, were a particularly interesting way to do that.

And then, with the aliens, they have very different both biological and cultural approaches to gender, and I wanted to think through what being gender non-conforming or trans looks like in a society where say, female eggs hatch many years earlier than male eggs and sisters raise their brothers, or where gender is something that changes depending on the outcomes of dominant struggles with the people that you're going to breed with. And how all of these different cultures come together and affect each other and how people take tools from these syncretic relationships to deal with places where their own society hasn't worked for them, that they don't have good words for.

Ramanan (38:55): Thank you for that. That was very insightful, is one way to describe it.

Molly (39:02): And a copy editing challenge. You are right. I kept thinking that, honestly. That's when I [inaudible] it I was like, "How are you doing that?"

Ruthanna Emrys (39:08): I told my editor when I handed it in, "I need a copy editor who is a neo-pronoun rockstar." I got one. They caught a number of places where I had accidentally mis-pronouned corporate folks mostly. Got that fixed. I hope we've got all of the people screwing up pronoun changeovers out of the final version.

Ramanan (43:40): Yeah, I think you mentioned that in your acknowledgements. So, fun question number one, I already alluded to, but I'm going to ask it again more explicitly, which is, are you going to write any more stories in this universe, prequels, sequels, other contemporaneous, but different parts of the world?

What is the future for Judy and her clan?

Ruthanna Emrys (44:02): I don't have anything going on right now. If Tor.com asks me to, I can imagine writing a story with Judy's parents or with the ongoing etiquette challenges of interspecies family building, or with the interesting things that the government is trying to do at the end. If no one asks me for that and offers to pay for it, which so far hasn't happened, then there might be a story or two, but right now, I'm working on other stand-alones.

Molly (44:53): Fascinating. Okay. Well, I, for one, would pay cash money for a prequel, especially Judy's family. So interesting. Okay. We don't want to give it all away. We came to you as a result of the wonderful James Bradley recommending you, and so we're just going to continue to pay that forward.

As we look at writers who are really examining climate and the climate crisis in a really interesting way, who do you think we should talk to?

Ruthanna Emrys (45:07): I mentioned Malka Older. I think she's doing some really cool things with that and also has some background in disaster response that is extremely relevant. Adrienne Maree Brown is also someone who I drew a lot on her writing for the moderation and the conflict resolution stuff in the dandelion networks.

Molly (45:36): Fantastic. Ruthanna, thank you so much for the time today, for being our second interviewee. I think it's fair to say we actually hope we head toward a future like the one that you've created in A Half-Built Garden. I, for one, am all in on group living and canning. I just want to make more jam and greet the aliens.

Ramanan (46:00): I'd like to eat more jam.

Molly (46:01): And more importantly, yes, more jam and a future where we start going in the right direction. You've really created something for us to aspire to. It's great.

Ruthanna Emrys (46:08): Thank you. It's a pleasure talking with you.

Ramanan (46:12): That's the end of our second episode of Futureverse. We hope you enjoyed our conversation with Ruthanna Emrys about her latest book A Half-Built Garden, which is available everywhere that you can find books. Buying from a local bookstore or bookshop.org, which supports local bookstores.

(46:36): Ruthanna, thank you. You've given us a humanity to actually be proud of, which is wonderful. And certainly, when we meet other life forms which may happen in my lifetime, we will know some lessons. You can be found on your website, which is ruthannaemrys.com, R-U-T-H-A-N-N-A-E-M-R-Y-S.com, or on Twitter @R_Emrys. E-M-R-Y-S.

Molly (47:05): And as always, thanks, everybody, for listening. We'll be back soon with more episodes of Futureverse and exploring the intersection of climate and speculative fiction. Ruthanna, thanks again.

Ruthanna Emrys (47:14): Thank you.

Molly: (47:15): Thank you for listening. Please email us at futureverse@substack.com with any suggestions or ideas and visit futureverse.earth for the full transcript of this podcast and other information.

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