Exclusive Interview: “The Mimicking Of Known Successes” Author Malka Older


When we think of humans colonizing other planets in our solar system, we typically think of the Moon, Mars, or maybe one of the moons of Saturn — something solid. But in her new romantic sci-fi mystery novella The Mimicking Of Known Successes (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook), writer Malka Older decided to set her mystery somewhere a bit gassy.

Malka Older The Mimicking Of Known Successes

To start, what is The Mimicking Of Known Successes about, and when and where does it take place?

The Mimicking Of Known Successes takes place on Jupiter, some centuries in the future, and follows the investigation into a missing person, which turns out to have implications for a societal project of resettling Earth through restarting viable ecosystems. It’s also about a romance re-emerging between two people who had a relationship during university and then split up.

Where did you get the idea for the plot of The Mimicking Of Known Successes?

There were several different influences. I had a vague idea many years ago about how humans could (potentially! Very hypothetically!) live “on” a gas planet by circling it with rails and attaching platforms to them. Then I had the yen to write something Golden Age Detective-y, with a disappearance and a murder and trains and universities and fog and tea, and it seemed to fit very well. Once I started writing, I found it was also very influenced by lockdown and the surreality of the pandemic response.

You kind of already answered this, but is there a reason why you set it on Jupiter as opposed to Mars or the Moon or a planet in another solar system that you made up? Or, for that matter, here on Earth?

It was really more that I had an idea, and an image, for a settlement on a gas planet and then changed it from [random planet somewhere in the universe] to Jupiter. But since I also wanted to tell a story about adapting to living in very different circumstances, and about humans dealing with the consequences of their (environmental) profligacy, it fit very well.

The Mimicking Of Known Successes sounds like it’s a sci-fi mystery…

It’s definitely both a mystery and sci-fi. There’s a fairly strong romantic element as well.

Now, The Mimicking Of Known Successes is not your first published work. Are there any writers who had a big influence on Successes?

Tonally, it’s obviously influenced by classic detective fiction: Conan Doyle (although I felt like a lot of his influence was how not to write characters; also, serious sexism, xenophobia, classism); Sayers (warning for casual racism and grappling with sexism); Tey (ditto); Marsh (ditto). But I think the larger influence was more modern retellings of Sherlock Holmes, especially the Mary Russell books by Laurie King, which I’ve been reading since I was in college, as well as the more recent Sherry Thomas Lady Sherlock series; the Enola Holmes books which I discovered fairly recently; the Irene Adler series; and many more. I was also thinking a lot about the books that I find comforting, so my approach was influenced by K.J. Charles, T. Kingfisher, Martha Wells, and many more.

How about non-literary influences; was The Mimicking Of Known Successes influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Probably not so much. I enjoyed Elementary — at least the first few seasons — but it’s very different from what I was trying to do. Maybe somewhat by the format of serial procedurals, but I was really drawing more on Conan Doyle’s approach there, too.

Sci-fi novellas are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes part of larger sagas. Same for mysteries. So, what is The Mimicking Of Known Successes?

It is stand-alone, but it’s also the first book in a series. This is very much in the classic detective story model: many stories showing the solving of different crimes, each one fairly self-contained, but sometimes with an overarching plot about the main characters.

Cool. Do you know what Investigator Mossa’s next adventure is going to be called and when it might be out?

The next book is called The Imposition Of Unnecessary Obstacles, and it is planned for February 2024. There’s a whole new stand-alone mystery, plus building on some of the themes and relationships from the first book, and a side trip to Io.

I asked earlier if The Mimicking Of Known Successes had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask if you think Successes could work as a movie, show, or game?

It could probably work as any of those; it’s very atmospheric, and the mystery plot should transfer fairly well. A show might be the easiest fit, since detective procedurals are a staple of serial shows.

So, if someone wanted to adapt The Mimicking Of Known Successes into a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Mossa, Pleiti, and the other main characters?

Honestly, I don’t have a very strong preference, except to say that I’d rather have it cast with total unknowns for a whole bunch of intersecting reasons: I’d rather have people focusing on the character than on the overlaid persona of the actor; because I think there’s a lot of talent out there that never gets a chance; and because I don’t think they look like super-beautiful glossy superstars (though there are more and more actors who don’t fit into the typical mold getting work these days).

Malka Older The Mimicking Of Known Successes

Finally, if someone enjoys The Mimicking Of Known Successes, what sci-fi mystery novella or novel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?

Maybe Mur Lafferty’s sci-fi mystery novel Six Wakes [which you can read more about here], Martha Wells’ Fugitive Telemetry — though in that case read the rest of the Murderbot series first — or Ann Leckie’s Provenance.



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