Do you have, for Starsight and Skyward, aesthetic touchstones that you bring to these different books? Or does it just all sort of emerge from the storytelling as you get into your characters?
I do, and it depends. Sometimes, as I'm working on the book, I develop those. Sometimes it's ahead of time.
My cultural touchstone for Skyward was me saying, "All right. These people are in just this terrible situation. And they are constantly being fought by this unknown enemy. What kind of society would grow out of this?" And I pushed it towards a little bit of an authoritarian, martial dictatorship. Using, actually, North Korea as one of the touchstones, and some of the Axis powers as touchstones. And a little bit, in places, of communist propaganda, and things like that. Some of the visual touchstones was Italian futurism, and things like this, just to kind of give this same sort of feel that I was looking for. If you read the book, there's just little hints of it here and there. You're gonna see cubist designs in the architecture, and you're gonna see the paintings and things they describe have this sort of Italian futurist feel to it. There's a little post-Art Nouveau. You've probably seen the art style. It's, like, ships flying into the air leaving lines of red and yellow light in the sky, and very very almost Art Deco-ish feel. These were my visual touchstones for myself. Just because the society, I thought, this might be the closest thing that we have on our planet to how I feel this would really arise with the military being completely in control and lots of people being lost in battle but them needing to keep morale up, and things like this.
So this whole aesthetic of speed and force and martial unity and finding themes of, there is a particular beauty to those kinds of things. There's art that reflects it.
There's also this kind of, "Desperate times call for desperate measures." And one of the things Spensa butts up against in the books is, "Have we gone too far on this? Have we become so focused on this that we're losing track of what it means to be human? But, at the same time, is this what kept us alive? Maybe the fact that we can even think about being human exists because of how extreme our society had to become." And these are really interesting questions that are fun for writers to deal with. Part of the reason that I write sci-fi and fantasy is it allows me to pluck some of these things from our world, separate them from some of the cultural baggage, and try and approach them and talk about them in story form. So I can just explore what it might feel like and how some of these questions might be explored, potentially, by us in the future.