On the surface, Caren Gussoff’s novella So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion (paperback, Kindle) sounds like it’s a romantic sci-fi space opera story. But in the following email interview about it, she not only discusses what inspired and influenced it, but why it’s also secretly, “a comedy of manners horror story.”
To start, what is So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion about, and when and where does it take place?
When exo-geologist James Blackthorne volunteers to survey a newly-discovered planet, he’s also put in charge of monitoring Aveliin, an indigenous Zil receiving an experimental drug designed to align the species’ sleep cycles with human ones. The two pass their time together, as James teaches Aveliin classic games from Western Civilization and shows “some of the best Earth comedies of the 20th century,” namely Caddyshack and, his favorite, So I Married An Axe Murderer.
James and Aveliin fall hard for one another. But, of course, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Especially when it “was different in blood.”
Where did you get the idea for this story? What inspired it?
I read a sociology article years ago about how a culture’s games — specifically the means of organized play taught to children — are instruments that teach and reinforce a society’s values, mores, and social rules. When writing The Birthday Problem, I did a lot of research on game theory, as well, and these concepts merged into a horrifying / delightful idea about WTF an alien species would make of Western civilization’s games and our sports. Then, Caddyshack came on TV, and trying to imagine showing an alien Caddyshack proved an irresistible idea. I wrote a short story around the image, and then, the book grew from there.
And is there a significance to James being an exo-geologist as opposed to an exo-biologist or exo-neurologist or some other kind of exo- scientist? Or someone who’s not a scientist?
I played with careers for James. He needed to be on that specific mission, so I gave him the expertise that would make sense. I also needed him to be “expendable” enough that it would be no biggie to leave him on planet. I wanted him to have little emotional intelligence, but be intelligent; to be a geek with deep knowledge of and passion for the things he is interested in, and enough swagger to think that meant he had expertise in other areas. And finally, it made sense for him to be a geologist, so he’d recognize, immediately, the wealth of the planet.
So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion sounds like a romantic sci-fi space opera story. Is that how you’d describe it?
I think it’s a small-scale space opera that’s actually, secretly, a comedy of manners horror story. What James thinks is happening is…not what is actually happening, or, I should say, not in the way he thinks it is.
Now, prior to So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion you wrote the novels Homecoming and The Birthday Problem, the short novel / novella Three Songs For Roxy, another novella called The Women for the collection Dracula: Rise Of The Beast, and the short stories in the collection The Wave. Are there any writers or specific stories that had a particularly big influence on So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion but not on anything else you’ve written?
I read a bunch of Elizabethan manners comedies as I was writing. I also read quite a bit of Shirley Jackson and some Agatha Christie: I wanted to learn more about how to bury clues without readers feeling tricked. It was important to me that readers not see the ending coming, but then see how it couldn’t have gone any other way.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Were any of those things an influence on So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion?
Oh, yes. I watch a lot of all the Star Treks, and got really into the adaptation of The Expanse. I’m sure all this is in there, along with all the media I’ve seen where humans in space are still humans…only in space.
Then, of course, there’s all the media in the book: Caddyshack, So I Married An Axe Murderer, Solitaire, Monopoly, Yahtzee…all the subconscious detritus that shaped my young, typical Gen X latchkey kid brain.
And how about your “ridiculously spoiled cat-children” — your words, not mine. What influence did they have on So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion?
This is my first book since I’ve had cats that has no cats! The second book in this universe — I’m not thinking series, more a stand-alone trilogy — remedies that. There’s a very opinionated cat named Kevin in the second book.
But, my cats — especially my baby old man cat, Paul (Paul Orestes Atreides Sumption) — did listen, patiently, while I talked out plot points. I mean, he listened, as long as there were treats.
Paul Orestes Atreides Sumption, Molly
You just said So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion is the first in a stand-alone trilogy. Do you mean the trilogy itself will be a stand-alone story or that it will be comprised of three connected but stand-alone novellas?
Each novella will be self-contained. I kind of fell in love with the horrible, oppressive world I made here, and I wanted to stay in it. It also felt like telling the aftermath could be fun.
And do you know what the other two books will be called and when they’ll be released?
No clue. I’m writing book 2 right now.
Upon hearing that So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion is the first book of a trilogy, some people will decide to wait until all of the books are out before reading any of them, and some will not only wait but will also decide to read them back-to-back when the time comes. But is there any reason why you think people shouldn’t wait to read Confusion?
Well, there’s no true cliffhangers, and the characters and world are shared, and what happens in the other books creates the plot of any one of them. But I’m not writing them in a way that you need to read them in any order, or go in knowing anything about the characters or world. Each book is its own thing, but there is a bigger story a reader will see when they read all 3.
Each book has its own style, too. This, as I said, is like a sci-fi horror manners comedy. The 2nd book is more of a sci-fi bildungsroman (think David Copperfield is a half-alien teenager), and the 3rd, still in my head, is a fantasy game told from the POV of a former deep space security worker who is a single woman, trying to make a life back on earth 250 years after “her” time.
I’m thinking…like this: 1 book is fresh bread. 2nd book is awesome cheese. 3rd book is perfectly cooked turkey. You can eat any and all separately, and it’s tasty. Put them together, and you get a sandwich.
Great, now I’m hungry. Anyway, you spoke earlier about the movies and whatnot that influenced So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion. But I’m wondering if you think Confusion could work as a movie, show, or game?
Oh! A show (though I’ve already been dinking with the idea of book 3, Pam’s story, as a choose your own adventure style text, so that would be game), but Confusion would work best visually, I think. A limited series, 3 or 4 episodes.
And if someone was going to make that show, who would you want them to cast as James, Aveliin, and the rest of the cast?
Jensen Ackles [Supernatural] or [Star Trek‘s] John Cho as James — they can play handsome, rugged, and sweetly egotistical / doofy / clueless. Sydney Park [The Walking Dead] or [Teen Wolf] Arden Cho as Pam. And Aveliin would be all prosthetics, but someone with dance experience for body awareness would be great. [Firefly‘s] Summer Glau? Though it’s such a shame to cover her elegance.
So, is there anything else you think people interested in So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion should know about it?
I wrote the Zilll language from scratch! (Zil is the planet, Zill is the race, Zilll is the language). I am not a linguist, so it was a rabbit hole of research, but I’m really proud of it. It’s based on a gestural, derivational morphology. I’m going to make the glossary available as a free download on my website.
I also had to work on the astrophysics of a planet with 2 suns and an extreme tilt that would produce exaggerated seasons and high energy particle storms. I’m super grateful I got to attend the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop in 2013, or this would have felt impossible.
Finally, if someone enjoys So Quick Bright Things Come To Confusion, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
Three Songs For Roxy would be my suggestion. It’s based in the present day, on Earth, but follows an alien foundling adopted and raised by a Romany-American family. It has a similar light touch (not all my work has a light touch) and sense of the absurd-made-mundane.