Like other writers with an expertise in something outside of writing, author and archeologist Kathleen O’Neal Gear imbues her science fiction stories with science facts. In the following email interview, she explains how this influenced her new hard sci-fi cli-fi novel, The Ice Ghost (paperback, hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), the second installment of The Rewilding Reports trilogy.
Photo Credit: W. Michael Gear
The Rewilding Reports trilogy is set in North America about 1,000 years in the future, and follows the lives of re-created ancient hominins: Denisovans, Neandertals, and the last seven Homo Erectus on Earth. The archaic humans are struggling to survive a brutal post-apocalyptic Ice Age. They’re surrounded by many other re-created Pleistocene animals, like giant American lions, dire wolves, sabertooth cats, mammoths, and mastodons, and the ocean is covered with a green slime that they call the zyme. Glaciers rise three miles high over the continent. They have stories about how this icy world came to be, but they are nothing more than legends, until they meet a strange old man named Arakie who claims to be the last surviving modern human. He’s apparently the only one who knows why the archaic species were resurrected and what happened to the earth to cause the crushing new Ice Age — well, Arakie and Quancee, the last quantum computer in the world.
And then for people who have read The Ice Lion, and thus need not heed my SPOILER ALERT warning, what is The Ice Ghost about, and how does it connect, narratively and chronologically, to The Ice Lion?
The Ice Ghost takes place about 19 months after The Ice Lion. Quiller, from the Sealion People, is kidnapped by Trogon, a visionary Neandertal, who forces her to lead him to the mythic Old Woman of the Mountain, who supposedly has knowledge of the ancient Jemen, the gods who created them. But first she must take him to her fellow Sealion, Lynx, who’s been studying with Arakie, learning about the history of humans resurrecting ancient species. Trogon forces Quiller onward, high into the icy mountains in search of the Old Woman’s mysterious cave. After Arakie dies, Lynx vows to find and free Quiller before Trogon can kill her. In the deep caverns beneath the glaciers, bizarre relics and strange truths await them all.
When in the process of writing The Ice Lion did you come up with the plot for The Ice Ghost, and what inspired it?
Oh, novelists are always working on the next book while they’re writing the first. Stories rarely fall into a perfect sequence. There are plot threads that spin in your mind, but have no place in the current story. When I was writing The Ice Lion, Trogon was right there whispering to me, trying to take over the story. I didn’t let him, obviously, but I knew he’d be central to the sequel. Powerful characters are like that. They start telling you their stories long before you sit down to write about them.
The Ice Lion was a hard sci-fi story and a work of climate fiction, or cli-fi. Is The Ice Ghost one as well?
The Ice Ghost is based upon theories of quantum consciousness, archaeogenetics, paleoanthropology, and climate science, so it’s both hard sci-fi and cli-fi. It’s been hugely fun blending those sciences for this series.
So, are there any writers or stories that had a big influence on The Ice Ghost but not on The Ice Lion? Or, for that matter, anything else you’ve written?
I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that every writer I’ve ever read has had an influence on my stories. My imagination was first honed, though, by Louis and Mary Leakey and their hominin finds at Olduvai Gorge and Laetoli. I’ve wanted to write about archaic humans since I was around five. Okay, maybe six. The Rewilding Reports trilogy is the culmination of a lifelong quest.
How about non-literary influences; was The Ice Ghost influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
No, no influences there, at least not that I’m aware of.
Along with being a writer, you’re also an archeologist, something that seems like it would have a big impact on The Ice Ghost. What I’m curious to hear, though, is if there’s anything you came up with for this story that you only thought of because you’re an archeologist? Y’know, something a layperson might not think of.
Definitely. Recent archaeological discoveries heavily influenced the story. In the past decade, archaeogeneticists have identified several new species of archaic humans. We know now that at least seven species lived between around 200,000 and 300,000 thousand years ago. One of the questions that interests me is how did they interact? We know they interbred, because we find their DNA, but how did each group view the others? Humans are a divisive species. We insist upon separating people into “us” and “them.” People who are not “us” are often the victims of brutality by the dominant group. On the other hand, those same people can be viewed as superior and sacred. See what I mean? We also do this with aliens from another planet. Are they gods here to save us, or sub-human beasts out to destroy us?
Us and Them. Why did so many of the archaic species that inhabited the Pleistocene Ice Age go extinct? That’s one of the key ideas I explore in The Rewilding Reports.
Your husband, W. Michael Gear, is also a writer, and not only do you write novels together but in the interview he and I did about his novel Adrift, he said “Doesn’t matter whose name is on the spine, nothing leaves this house without both of us having been through it.” So, what was your husband’s big contribution to The Ice Ghost?
Mike and I constantly throw around ideas, discuss plots, characterization, and actually rewrite the other’s words. Even if only one of our names is on the book, to one degree or another, the novel is a collaboration.
In the case of The Ice Ghost, part of Mike’s background in physical anthropology is the study of human evolution. Throughout the writing process, he brought me the latest anthropological journal articles that discussed recently discovered species. Each article provided delightful new fodder for the story. The question, of course, is how do we decide something is “human?” What are the ramifications of saying that we are human, but you are not?
The Ice Lion and The Ice Ghost are the first two books in a trilogy. Is the third still going to be called The Ice Orphan?
Yes, The Ice Orphan is the title for Book 3 of The Rewilding Reports, and it’s currently scheduled for November of 2022. By the way, this is my favorite book in the series.
Along with The Ice Ghost, you also released Thin Moon And Cold Mist in February, while you and your husband put out Dark Inheritance on March 9th, and will release Lightning Shell on July 12. While writing The Ice Ghost, did you ever come up with an idea but then realize it would work just as well, or maybe even better, for some other book you’re writing?
Constantly. I often write chapters, and then realize they have no place in this story, but with a change of setting and plot is perfect for the next book. A good example is The Ice Orphan. I wrote several of the Quancee chapters while I was creating The Ice Ghost, but giving her a simple plot line would have been an injustice. She needed a book that explored her consciousness in depth. As I said, powerful characters start telling you their story long before you sit down to write them.
So, is there anything else you think people should know about The Ice Ghost and The Rewilding Reports trilogy?
Readers will get to know Quancee a little better in The Ice Ghost, but her story is The Ice Orphan. Quantum consciousness is such a fascinating subject.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Ice Ghost, what hard sci-fi cli-fi novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read while waiting for The Ice Orphan to come out?
Well, I’m biased. I think they should read the next book in Mike’s Donovan series: Reckoning. The new alien species on the planet are just plain fabulous. Not only that, I love the growing relationship between Kylie and the quetzal named Flute.