With The Book Of Flora (paperback, Kindle), writer Meg Elison is bringing her dystopian sci-fi reproductive futurist trilogy The Road To Nowhere to a close. But in the following email interview, she explains that while you can buy all three books at the same time, you may not want to read them that way.
To start, what is The Book Of Flora about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the other two books in The Road To Nowhere trilogy: The Book Of The Unnamed Midwife and The Book Of Etta?
The Book Of Flora is about Flora; a silk-thrower and Horsewoman from Jeff City. She is traveling with her closest companions — notably Eddy and Alice, from The Book Of Etta, and her adopted child, Connie. Their journey is shaped by the first two books: a plague wiped out most of the human population and made childbirth very dangerous and difficult. Far more men than women survived, and the additional difficulties of reproduction have made women rare and has warped humanity’s expectations and beliefs about gender. Almost everyone in these books is a renegade of gender, in one way or another, and has fought to keep themselves free.
The Book Of Flora picks up immediately following the events of the Book Of Etta. But Flora has become deeply interested in the Unnamed Midwife’s journals, and so the first book reaches cleanly into the third in many ways.
Where did you get the idea for The Book Of Flora, when in the process of writing it or the other books did you come up with it, and how, if at all, did the plot change between when you conceived it and now?
I got the idea for Flora when I was writing The Book Of Etta. I came to love Flora deeply in the process of writing the second book, and I really wanted to follow her story. The plot did change; I originally saw the series ending on a very grim note, but my feelings about Flora and the need to see more hope in the world pushed me to give her — and the trilogy — a better ending. I was almost five years in the writing of these books, so the outcome was miles away from what I first envisioned. I was very pleased with it at the end, though. Flora is the gayest, most gonzo thing I have ever dared to write.
The Book Of Flora and the other books were clearly inspired by what’s going on in the world, socially and culturally. But did you set out to write a socially conscious story or did you just try to write a sci-fi story and found it just lent itself to being socially relevant?
It was a combination of both, really. I’ve always been a feminist. My mom gave me a copy of Our Bodies, Our Selves when I was about eleven, and it was my radicalizing text. So I started to notice that stories of post-apocalyptic survival — some of my very favorite books — rarely featured characters who were believable women. They never got periods and they never needed birth control, and they only got pregnant when it was convenient to the plot. I wanted badly to address that gap, but I was excited to write my own sci-fi universe, too. I also grew up on Star Trek, and these influences swirled together in me. It’s impossible to write science fiction that isn’t political. Even the most mundane suggestions of the future tell us who a writer thinks should wield power, should make it to space, should survive.
Given that, what do you hope people will get from reading these books?
I always hope that people will enjoy the story. I get a lot of letters from people who read the first book in a single sitting, so I’m really glad to hear that people find it compelling. I hope that they’ll think about the future in a different way. The future might be good and it might be bad, but there will be queer people there either way. I always felt like we were missing from visions of the aftermath, and the focus always placed squarely on continuation of the species through compulsory heterosexuality. I want people to see a dystopia where there are still gay clubs, because there always will be.
The Book Of Flora and the other books in The Road To Nowhere trilogy have been called dystopian sci-fi. But are there any other genres or subgenres or combinations of them at work in this third book as well?
Absolutely. A professor at IU who added my book to her curriculum called it “reproductive futurism,” which I love as a concept and would include the works of Margaret Atwood, P.D. James, Maggie Shen King, and others. It’s also queer fiction, feminist fiction, and hopepunk, if neosubgenres are your thing.
Turning to your influences, are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on The Book Of Flora but not on The Book Of The Unnamed Midwife and The Book Of Etta?
I read a lot of trans fiction and nonfiction in preparation for writing Flora, and was inspired by the works of Jennifer Finney Boylan, Julia Serano, The Lady Chablis, and Tony Newman.
How about non-literary influences; did any movies, TV shows, or video games have a big impact on either what you wrote in The Book Of Flora or how you wrote it?
It’s a weird parallel to draw, but the game Portal had a huge influence on how I write a character navigating danger while receiving information she knows probably isn’t true. That’s always stuck with me, but was of particular importance with Flora.
I was also influenced by some apocalyptic films: Mad Max: Fury Road was impossible to keep out of my mind when I thought about women in captivity. I also thought a lot about The Book Of Eli, which I didn’t love, but had a lasting impression on me because of the main character’s interest in preserving texts and his eventual arrival at the library on Alcatraz.
Some people have been waiting for The Book Of Flora to come out because they want to read all three books back-to-back. Do you think this is a good idea, or is there a reason why people shouldn’t binge read all three books?
This trilogy has a lot of hard, grim material in it. A lot of it is hard to read for survivors of sexual assault, birth trauma, or other kinds of abuse. I will say that The Book Of The Unnamed Midwife is the most dire, and the tone generally cheers up, but there are mentions of rape and genital mutilation in the final book, as well. There are lots of readers who were mostly unbothered, as well as a few others who told me they had to put the book down for a little while or forever. I’d recommend someone know their limits before binge-reading all three. But if that sounds like your wheelhouse, please take the wheel.
Earlier I asked if The Book Of Flora had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interested in adapting it and the rest of The Road To Nowhere trilogy into a movie, show, or game?
There has been some interest in adaptation, but it’s something I can’t talk about very much.
Do you have a preference?
I would like to see them as a series of feature films, ideally. I like books adapted for TV, but the temptation to write filler to stretch to fit an order for episodes is real and sometimes sinks a good thing. I’d love to see a couple of talented screenwriters bring each of these three stories to the big screen, tell them well, and then let it be.
If The Book Of Flora and The Road To Nowhere trilogy were to be made into some movies, who do you think they should cast in the main roles?
I thought about this a great deal while I was writing, because it helped me envision the characters and get to know them. My perfect actor to play Eddy is Samira Wiley [The Handmaid’s Tale], without a doubt. I pictured Alice as Natalie Dormer [Game Of Thrones], and Jen Richards [Her Story] as Flora. However, having heard Shakina Nayfack [Difficult People] perform the audio book [for The Book Of Flora], I would be just as overjoyed to see her play Flora in a film.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Book Of Flora and The Road To Nowhere trilogy, what similarly dystopian sci-fi novel or series would you suggest they check out next?
I’d heartily suggest The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, “The New Mother” by Eugene Fischer — which is a short story, but still — and Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente. Those are all similar for different reasons, but also all great.