For her first book, Other Minds (paperback), writer Eliane Boey has paired two of her novellas: the psychological sci-fi horror story Carrier, and the cyberpunk sci-fi mystery Signal \ Tracer. But while she says both take place in the same fictional universe as some of her short stories and a novelette, this is not, as I wondered, the birth of the Boeyverse.
Other Minds collects two of your novellas. Let’s start with the first, Carrier. What is Carrier about, and when and where does it take place?
Carrier is about a disgraced engineer who builds the world’s most advanced intelligent luxury residential orbiter to save her career, and her relationship with her daughter; until the ship begins to show a mind of its own during the test flight.
The world and the characters are Southeast Asian, in a place that could be Singapore, like in the other novella, Signal \ Tracer. But I’ve taken a step back on national definition, to look at things through a wider lens, if that makes sense. And technically, Carrier takes place in space.
Where did you get the idea for Carrier?
After finishing Signal \ Tracer, I wrote a couple of space-set shorts, one of which is “Lunar Drifter,” published by Translunar Transit Lounge. “Lunar Drifter” features an intelligent orbiting transfer station, and it was a really fun story to write. After I finished it, I started thinking about how I could do more, but darker. My day job is in bulk shipping ores and minerals, so that provided a bit of a spark. Most of all, my interest at that time was in writing about huge projects, great ambitions, and as it happens, great failures. Maybe it’s something I’m still interested in.
Carrier sounds like it’s a sci-fi horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I’d be happy if Carrier finds itself in sci-fi horror. I think it’s psychological horror.
Are there any writers who had a big influence on Carrier, but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Signal \ Tracer?
On the horror side to it, definitely Shirley Jackson, and in particular The Haunting Of Hill House, which I love. Michael Crichton’s Sphere is another book that has lingered at the back of my mind for years, until Carrier came to me. More on Sphere, I watched the film as a kid and was terrified! Read the book as an adult and it is one of the number of books I return to for points on craft.
How about non-literary influences; was Carrier influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games? Aside from the movie version of Sphere, that is.
I actually pitched this to Dark Matter as Ex Machina meets Event Horizon, but hopeful. By hopeful what I meant was, with hope of redemption for the main character. Both are excellent films that don’t need any introduction. But I think it was Hill House, which I read a few years ago and re-read at the end of 2022, which nudge all of that into becoming Carrier.
Cool. Then, for the other novella in Other Minds, Signal \ Tracer, what is that novella about, and when and where does it take palace?
Signal \ Tracer is about two former best friends, Xi and Wei, who investigate election fraud in a nostalgic virtual mirror of their city, with IRL political stability at stake. But are they on the same side, if they don’t share the same reality?
We’ve gone into a bit about location in the first question. Signal \ Tracer is entirely terrestrial, and some readers may recognize 1970s-90s Singapore in Lion City. But this novella was based on a short story, “The Forgotten,” published in Clarkesworld, and enough readers there thought it was set in Hong Kong.
Where did you get the idea for Signal \ Tracer?
It began when I was rewatching Infernal Affairs for the Nth time, although it didn’t really come together until I sat down, with no plan at all, to write “The Forgotten,” which was my first sci-fi pub…and I think after my answer on striking an idea for Carrier, and now this, you can probably guess that I have no real idea how my ideas come.
And is there a significance to it being called Signal \ Tracer as opposed to Signal / Tracer or Signal, Tracer or just Signal Tracer?
The backslash was supposed to indicate that Tracer (a metaphor for Xi’s position in this story) is nestled in Singal (Wei). Now I realize it’s just rather pretentious and leaves me a lot of explaining to do.
Unlike Carrier, Signal \ Tracer sounds like it’s more of a cyberpunk sci-fi story. Is that a fair assessment?
I didn’t have a strong idea of subgenre when I wrote it, but I believe it fits. The leaps between the virtual and the real world are probably the strongest identifiers, as well as the mystery that is rooted in the complications of technological advancement and definitions of reality.
Though, to me, Signal \ Tracer is foremost a mystery.
So, are there any writers who were a big influence on Signal \ Tracer, but not on anything else you’ve written, and especially not Carrier?
As I said, Signal \ Tracer is foremost a mystery. I am a big fan of Patricia Highsmith. My favorite Highsmith novel is The Two Faces Of January. Highsmith’s work has shaped the way I lay out the mystery in Signal \ Tracer.
More specifically, Gogol’s Dead Souls is another big influence of Signal \ Tracer. In that classic novel, an upstart landowner “acquires” the names of dead tenants (“souls”) for his estate, to inflate his social status. Gross oversimplification, of course. Finally, David Chalmers’s Reality+ and Samit Basu’s The City Inside were two books I read after finishing the short story version of Signal \ Tracer, and was dreaming it into a novella. Both very incisive looks at the ethical challenges of virtual life.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games?
The Infernal Affairs trilogy. I love it. In particular the first and third movies, which Western audiences may be more familiar with as Scorsese’s adaptation, The Departed. I leaned harder into the complicated relationship, making Xi and Wei actual friends, former best friends in fact, with more of a history. Hopefully that makes it an interesting story in its own right.
The decision to pair Carrier and Signal \ Tracer in a single volume, as opposed to individually, was made by Rob Carroll, the publisher of Dark Matter INK, who are publishing Other Minds. But did Rob also decide that Other Minds would be two novellas as opposed to a novella and some short stories or some other configuration?
So the full story is, it was Carrier that got this off the ground. I pitched Carrier, and Rob liked it enough to want to publish it. I was separately trying to sell Signal \ Tracer as well, so that came into discussions. Signal \ Tracer and Carrier unfold in the same near-future Southeast Asian world, a generation apart, beginning with Signal \ Tracer. Beyond that, they’re thematically connected in that they’re both about great ambition, and conquering loss by building our own reality. Personally, I’d like to start with Signal \ Tracer and finish with Carrier because Carrier goes deeper into loss and redemption, but once the book’s out there, it’s for the readers. Read as you will!
Rob suggested the possibility of adding a short story or two to the book, which could build the world. At the time, I had two likely short stories, “Lunar Drifter” and “Constant Dawn,” and a novelette called Saturation from the same world. But I was less keen on doing that because I didn’t know if that would do it any favors positioned as a short story collection, from an unknown debut writer.
Wait, are we witnessing the birth of the Boeyverse?
On the world, oh I couldn’t read the word Boeyverse without cringing! I call it the Tracer timeline in my notes but I haven’t thought about it much. I guess I should? I’ve already written two longer works in the world, since these two novellas sold. I’m quite excited about them, actually. One’s space opera-like and it happens further in the timeline, the other is a noir mystery like Signal \ Tracer, and fills in the gap between Signal \ Tracer and Carrier. They’re all stand-alones, although you’ll get to see connecting themes, shared memories, walk-on roles from my short story characters, and the immersive tech of Lion City aging and something else emerging. Fun stuff. Hope you get to read it some day hah.
Hollywood loves turning sci-fi stories into movies. Do you think either or both of the novellas in Other Minds could work as a movie?
If I have to pick just one, I’d go for Carrier. I would love to see it given the claustrophobic (but thoughtful?), Sphere meets Ex Machina treatment.
I like to think Signal \ Tracer could be made into a film too, maybe with a Ready Player One budget.
So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Other Minds, Carrier and / or Signal \ Tracer?
I’d love to hear if readers find their own message in it.
Finally, if someone enjoys Carrier, what sci-fi novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next, and if they like Signal \ Tracer, what cyberpunk sci-fi novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
You’ll love Emergent Properties by Aimee Ogden, Ai Jiang’s novelette I Am AI. And The Dragonfly Gambit by AD Sui, which will be out next year. Ai’s is cyberpunk, and Aimee and AD’s are more on space-set thriller and mystery scale. All incredible novellas.