In the following email interview, Shawl discusses what inspired and influenced this second book, as well as why it switches genres to AfroRetroFuturism and mycopunk.
For people who didn’t read it, what was Everfair about, and what kind of a world was it set in?
Everfair takes place in a world that differs very, very slightly from our own. It’s set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The difference is that rather than founding the London School Of Economics, the British socialist movement called the Fabians buys a large tract of land on the upper reaches of the Congo River to establish a socialist utopian colony. The book covers thirty years of the history of this colony, Everfair, taking us from its conception, through WW1, and to the re-establishment of its native monarchy.
And then what is Kinning about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to Everfair?
Kinning starts…well, it’s a bit difficult to say exactly when it starts, but most of the action takes place in 1921, a few months after Everfair ends.
Kinning is a story about how the anti-colonial ideas central to Everfair’s birth are shared around the world in the wake of the devastating influenza epidemic that occurred around the end of WW1. It diverges a bit further from the history we know, because it’s following developments that have already diverged somewhat.
When in relation to writing Everfair did you come up with the idea for Kinning, and what inspired this sequel’s plot?
I came up with the basic conceit of Kinning within a year of Everfair’s publication, though it was fairly sketchy: Tink and Bee-Lung sail an aircanoe around the world to spread revolution. I found a major element well after that, though I couldn’t say exactly when. All I can say is that an untranslated Chinese science fiction novel from 1910 titled New China spoke of a “Spirit Medicine” that supported the revolution through assisting empathy development, and that became very important to the plot. The third element was the idea of what’s sometimes called the “wood-wide web.” All a forest’s trees are connected and communicating via their root systems, according to this theory.
Everfair has been called a steampunk story. Is Kinning one as well?
I started out thinking of Everfair of steampunk, but I eventually came up with the label “AfroRetroFuturism,” as a mash-up of Afrofuturism and Retrofuturism (one of steampunk’s names for itself). I don’t think Kinning is exactly steampunk because the technology it includes has moved on from steam power. Dieselpunk is the name we give to imaginative fiction set just a little later than steampunk. But even though it’s early days in my relationship to Kinning, I’m wondering if maybe the best way to describe it is as “mycopunk,” referencing its fungal attributes.
Obviously, Kinning is not your first work of fiction. Along with Everfair, you’ve also got a short story collection called Filter House…
I also wrote a Middle Grade historical fantasy, Speculation, which came out in February of 2023.
Right, sorry. What I was wondering was: Are there any writers, or stories, that had a big influence on Kinning but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Everfair?
No, I have no good answer to that question. Not anything I’ve thought a lot about. I mean, I read Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human when it first came out, long ago, so maybe that? I suppose the biggest influence on Kinning, though, was Everfair.
What about non-literary influences; was Kinning influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I’ve been told there’s a sizeable overlap between what goes on in Kinning and in the series Sens8. But I’ve never seen that show, so no. I got nothin’.
As we’ve been discussing, Kinning is the sequel to Everfair. But do these two novels form a duology, are they the first two books in a trilogy or a four book series, or maybe an ongoing series…?
Per my vision, there’s a third book to come. I’m calling it Trulies, and it deals in the many-worlds hypothesis of how the universe works. Who knows if I’ll live long enough and strong enough to finish it?
Upon hearing that there’s possibly a third book, some people will decide to wait until it comes out before reading any of them. Is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait?
So many reasons people should read these books now. For one, who knows, as I said, if the third book will ever actually come to exist? For another, you can find out how certain…attractions play out. For a third reason, there were eight years between the first two books. Are you going to deny yourself the pleasure of reading my work for that long? I wouldn’t, if I were you. Eat the ice cream. Read the books. For a fourth, you can help me make Trulies better if you read Everfair and Kinning now and give me feedback about them: what they did, what they missed out on doing, what you expect to happen next.
Earlier I asked if Kinning had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Kinning — and by extension, Everfair — could work as a movie, show, or game?
Someone known as “Non Breaking Space” has already made a tabletop RPG of Everfair, but I have long wanted Everfair to be made into a streaming series. I think the short chapters and novel’s multiple viewpoints would work extremely well in that format. A series could also include the earlier parts of Kinning. But yikes, the last five or six chapters of Kinning could be a real challenge — and I can’t say any more about that for fear of spoiling the reading experience for your audience.
And if someone made that show, who would you want them to cast as Tink, Bee-Lung, and the other main characters?
I don’t really have much of a desire to pre-cast that way. I mean, Michael K. Williams [The Wire] would have made a fantastic King Mwenda, but he’s dead. Maybe [For All Mankind‘s] Edi Gathegi for Mwenda instead?
But I guess I’d prefer to go mainly with unknowns. With Everfair in particular, there’s thirty years of aging to consider.
The only other thing I would say is that I believe Tink should be physically big, like tall and muscular.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Kinning?
Don’t try to read it on a bus or somewhere else rife with distractions.
Finally, if someone enjoys Kinning, and they’ve already read Everfair, what novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for Trulies to come out?
There’s a great Southeast Asian steampunk anthology called The SEA Is Ours: Tales Of Steampunk Southeast Asia. Lots of variety, well-edited.
The only other book of mycopunk I have read, and so can really recommend, is Unity by Elly Bangs. But I’m sure there’s so much more!