Usually, sci-fi stories don’t make me want to visit the place in question. Reading Dune didn’t make me want to visit Arrakis; watching Star Wars didn’t make Tatooine look like a fun vacation spot; while Alien and Aliens made LV-426 look like a shithole. But in doing the following email interview with writer Brian Yapko about his alien invasion / apocalyptic fantasy / psychological thriller / gay romance novel El Nuevo Mundo (paperback, Kindle), I ended up wondering how much hotels cost in Santa Fe, New Mexico and, once there, where to buy alien repellant.
To start, what is El Nuevo Mundo about, and in when and where is it set?
Well, the story takes place in Santa Fe, New Mexico in the year 2066. We follow the challenges that Nick and Daniel, a gay couple, face as they learn of an imminent invasion of Earth by an evil race of aliens called Zolteots. They also learn through their dying friend, Astra, an elderly artist with a mysterious power, that one of them may hold the key to saving Earth. But any use of this key comes with a horrifying blood price.
Where did you get the idea for El Nuevo Mundo?
Like my main characters, I’m a gay man who lives in Santa Fe with my husband and dog. Santa Fe is a fascinating place, and I wondered why it has never been used as a science fiction setting before — especially when Roswell, which is only a few hours away, is not nearly as culturally or architecturally unique but nevertheless seems to get all the UFO fun. That led me to the thought: What if Santa Fe became ground zero for an alien conquest of the Earth…?
That answers the question I was going to ask about why you set it in Santa Fe. But why did you set it in 2066 as opposed to 2026, 2166, or 12066?
Well, I didn’t want to set it too close to the present because that would date the story too quickly. On the other hand, science fiction set in the distant future tends to focus more on world-building than character development. I didn’t want this story to focus on fancy gadgets, time travel, or clone armies. I primarily wanted the focus to be on the characters of these two men who face survival challenges no couple should ever have to face. Secondarily, I wanted the Santa Fe that I love to be recognizable. Keeping the story in the not-too-distant future still allows for that level of recognition.
Santa Fe also has interesting resonances concerning the subject of immigration and the clashing and harmonizing of different cultures. Northern New Mexico was, of course, colonized by the Spanish but, for 250 years, it was the backwater of the Spanish world. Because it was so remote, it became a place where the persecuted were able to hide from the Inquisition. This remoteness is, in fact, an integral plot point in my story.
The name El Nuevo Mundo also carries many resonances. The most obvious is that The New World is simply how Europe viewed America in colonial times. My book is in English, but I wanted a Spanish title as a nod to the Latino culture of the protagonists (a rarity in science fiction) and as an ironic nod to other colonizations which have taken place here — especially when the U.S. won this territory from Mexico. New Mexico has a happier ending than most: a unique culture which blends Anglo, Latino, and Native American influences in almost equal parts. But what happens next when the alien Zolteots decide to make Earth their “Nuevo Mundo?” And what happens when apocalyptic events may cause a new world to be generated in defensive response? There is no better place than Santa Fe to contemplate such issues.
Obviously, El Nuevo Mundo is a sci-fi story. But are there other genres at work in this story as well?
Since El Nuevo Mundo‘s plot is centered on an alien invasion from outer space, it belongs on the science fiction shelf of the bookstore. But, in the end, I would describe it more as an apocalyptic fantasy with elements of psychological thriller and gay romance.
Now, unless I’m mistaken, El Nuevo Mundo is your first novel, though you’ve also written numerous short stories and poems. Are there any writers who had a particularly big influence on El Nuevo Mundo but not on anything else you’ve written?
With its focus on art, history, psychology, and relationships, El Nuevo Mundo is itself unlike anything else I’ve written. In the end, this is the story of two men coming to grips with horrific events. When all is said and done, I would have to say Rod Serling with some Anne Rice and Ray Bradbury thrown in, and maybe a peppering of Willa Cather and her novel Death Comes For The Archbishop.
How about non-literary influences; was El Nuevo Mundo influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
No movies, no games. The closest influences would probably be The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery with a bit of inspiration from the History Channel series Life After People.
And how about your canine child, Bianca? What influence did your dog have on El Nuevo Mundo?
Hah! You ever hear of unconditional love? That would be her. Bianca is a part Australian cattledog and part mystery. We adopted her from the animal shelter at Espanola. She has one brown eye, one blue eye, and is named after a drag queen. A dog named Ariel with similar attributes will make a brief appearance, and is partly inspired by Bianca. For serious readers, the name of Nick and Daniel’s dog is something of an Easter egg.
On a more serious note, I mentioned that you write poetry. Which suggests that you also read it. Do you think El Nuevo Mundo was influenced by any poetry you’ve read?
Yes, I do indeed read poetry. I even quote some Frost, Poe, and Shakespeare in the story. I would cite Edgar Allen Poe and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as important poetic influences. Some of their work blends gothic and romantic themes which also explore deeper ethical and philosophical questions. I would also mention Robert Browning, who had a gift for getting into his poetic subject’s heads in his many dramatic monologues. And then there’s Sylvia Plath, who’s rather sad but so deliciously neurotic.
Now, the bio on the back of El Nuevo Mundo says you’re working on a space opera trilogy. Obviously, El Nuevo Mundo is not part of that. But is it the first book of its own series or a stand-alone novel?
El Nuevo Mundo was written when I took a break from the distant future Mars setting of my space opera trilogy. I wanted to write something more character driven and immediate. El Nuevo Mundo is a stand-alone novel. However, it concludes in a way which makes it clear that important adventures lie ahead for some of the characters. As emotionally invested as I am in those who survive, I would welcome the opportunity to continue their story.
Earlier I asked if El Nuevo Mundo had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to turn things around, do you think El Nuevo Mundo could work as a movie, show, or game?
I would love to see El Nuevo Mundo expanded into a movie. As I said, it’s very visual in its setting and in many of the plot points. I don’t think it would be difficult to adapt my first person narrative into a screenplay. El Nuevo Mundo is more suspense-oriented than action oriented, so it would be perfect for an independent film which may lack a George Lucas-sized budget. A gay sci-fi film with serious themes would be an awesome first.
And if someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast as Nick, Daniel, and the other main characters?
The two main characters should be played by Latino actors if possible. I could totally see Tyler Posey, Carlos Pena, Jr., or Diego Luna as Nick. I could see Carlos Penavega, Miguel Gomez, or even Gael Garcia Bernal as Daniel. Daniel, in particular, needs to portrayed as stunningly handsome but deeply thoughtful.
As for the character of Astra, the mysterious artist, this requires an elderly woman with tons of feisty personality. There’s an older actress named Julia Vera who I think would be perfect.
So, is there anything else that people interested in El Nuevo Mundo should know before deciding whether or not to buy it?
An apocalyptic story of good and evil which involves planet-devouring space invaders versus two sexy gay Latino dudes and which touches on the meaning of family, art, history, and the very nature of love? I’d sure want to read it!
Me too! Finally, if someone enjoys El Nuevo Mundo, what similar kind of sci-fi novel of someone else’s would you recommend they check out next?
There are hundreds of science fiction stories involving space invaders. Fewer involving gay protagonists. If you’re interested in the war aspects, nothing will beat Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. For a melancholy, thoughtful look at colonization I recommend Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, in which humans are the brash, destructive invaders of a Mars that is populated by the more ancient race. For a look at carefully-wrought gender fluid characters, I strongly recommend Ursula LaGuin’s Left Hand Of Darkness. But if you want my bottom-line recommendation for a dynamite combination of plot, character, and stuff to chew on, Frank Herbert’s original Dune series is the mother lode.