Exclusive Interview: “Unexploded Remnants” Author Elaine Gallagher


In Elaine Gallagher’s new novella Unexploded Remnants (paperback, Kindle), a woman who seems to have taken career advice from Indiana Jones and Lara Croft is hunting for treasure in a Star Wars-like galaxy.

But when asked in the following email interview if this is a science fiction space opera story or a cyberpunk sci-fi story, Gallagher went old school by calling it “…a planetary romance.”

Elaine Gallagher Unexploded Remnants

To begin, what is Unexploded Remnants about, and when and where is it set?

Unexploded Remnants is set in a cosmopolitan galaxy which has many races and is linked mostly by wormhole gates. Alice is the last human, and she makes her living by poking into antiquities and uncovering data that would be of value to other people. While she is wandering in a market, she finds a data core which contains an old recorded personality, and she is immediately attacked by other people who want it. The core is the control system for an ancient weapon, and Alice undertakes to take the old ghost to where it was created so it can be separated from the system. Along the way she has to run the gauntlet of parties who want to control the weapon, and she finds that disturbing old ghosts has its own dangers.

Where did you get the idea for Unexploded Remnants?

The story is an amalgam of many ideas from over twenty years of putting notions in notebooks. The initial scene is inspired by a line from Doctor Who, while the idea of the ghost in the data core is inspired by books like Gene Wolfe’s Shadow Of The Torturer and Paul McAuley’s Confluence series, in which technology has existed for so long that people have forgotten that it isn’t magic. The plotline is an homage to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, because I wanted to write a fun romp.

The data core Alice finds used to control an ancient weapon system. Is there a reason why the system is ancient as opposed to new or at least newer?

I love stories which involve ancient relics and deep time, such as the ones I mentioned above as well as Alasdair Reynolds’s House Of Suns and some of Iain M Banks’s Culture novels and Michael Moorcock’s and Jack Vance’s science fantasy stories, and shows like Stargate and of course Doctor Who. Aspects of the Lovecraftian mythos and other weird tales from the nineteenth and early twentieth century — apart from the racism — have always fired my imagination, and one of the notions I was playing with was of the thing that would have been better left undisturbed.

Also, I assume there’s a reason it controlled a weapon system as opposed to, say, an ancient coffee maker, but did you ever consider making it control something that was not a weapon but could be deadly in the wrong hands? Y’know, like a laser system designed for defense, but if you crank up the energy output…

I’m not just inspired by reading old sci-fi and fantasy, that would lead to the kind of copy decay that’s already afflicting the “AI” answer generators on the internet. The weapon and its controller are a metaphor for what ex-service people go through when they are demobilised without proper care to return them to society. I’ve known several such people, and I have no respect for politicians’ attitude towards them, that they are disposable. There’s a reason that Alice insists all the way through that Gunn — the AI — is a person.

Unexploded Remnants is obviously a science fiction story, but I’m not sure if it’s also a space opera story or a cyberpunk story, or maybe a cyberpunk sci-fi space opera story. Or something else entirely.

I call it a planetary romance. That’s an older genre term, it used to be a lot more widely used, for the kind of weird tales that I mentioned, the adventure stories set on Mars and Venus written by C.L. Moore or Ray Bradbury. I was not writing in a hard sci-fi mode, in fact with the inspiration from Raiders… I was writing pulp sci-fi, so calling back to those pulp adventures seems right.

Unexploded Remnants is your first novella, though you’ve had stories in such anthologies as Floatation Device, and wrote a poetry chapbook called Transient Light. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Remnants but not on anything else you’ve written?

This is one of the few sci-fi stories I’ve written, so my first chance to call on all of the sci-fi influences I’ve mentioned above. Another one I might mention is Charles Stross’s early work, such as Iron Sunrise and especially Glasshouse. Another aspect of the story is that it’s a picaresque through several landscapes, which is a call-back to the hellride sequences from Roger Zelazny’s Amber novels. And there’s a strong Through The Looking Glass element, starting with my choice of Alice for the main character’s name and elaborating on that.

What about non-literary influences; was Unexploded Remnants influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

Doctor Who and Stargate are definite influences, as well as Raiders Of The Lost Ark, as I’ve mentioned. Alice takes some aspects of Lara Croft in that she’s a tomb raider and combative nosy person, but that’s more a common descent from Indiana Jones. Also there are several descriptions of scenes which Alice passes through, which I took from browsing through collections of sci-fi art on Pinterest and other sites. Also, Star Wars for the cosmopolitan differently-shaped aliens and variety of backdrops.

And what about poetry? As I mentioned, you write poems, which suggests you read them as well. How do you thinking writing and reading poetry may have influenced how you wrote Unexploded Remnants?

Writing poetry has definitely helped in polishing my writing style — I try to make my word choices as telling as I can, so using one word or phrase where the older pulp artists would have used several. Looking at H.P. Lovecraft, here. It does mean though that my stories tend to be shorter than others’.

Now, sci-fi novellas like Unexploded Remnants are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Unexploded Remnants?

I wrote Unexploded Remnants without thinking of any series plans, so in that sense it’s a stand-alone and it’s definitely self-contained.

That said, there’s every reason why the misadventures of a travelling nosy person would provide a framework for more stories.

If I go the series route, then it will be similar to Murderbot, in that I make it up as I go along. And elaborating on a character and world is its own kind of fun.

Earlier I asked if Unexploded Remnants had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Unexploded Remnants could also work as a movie, show, or game?

Structurally, Unexploded Remnants has the form of a movie, since I deliberately based it on one, and there are a lot of visuals which would make for great eye candy in the cinema. I think the world and plot lines would have to be elaborated a lot more to make for a good game or series, but it would be lovely to work on something like that along with a great concept artist. I’m a huge fan of Ian McQue and Simon Stålenhag. As a game structure, jumping through gates to different environments and interacting with differently-shaped characters could have legs, I’ll need to think about it.

So, if someone wanted to adapt Unexploded Remnants into a movie or a TV show, who would you want them to cast as Alice and the other main characters?

I think it would be fun to cast [Star Wars‘] Daisy Ridley as Alice. There’s a comment in the story where Alice wishes she had looked like Audrey Hepburn, and I think Ridley could pull off an Action Audrey.

Everyone else would have to be voice acting or under serious prosthetics, so maybe David Tennant as Jaxx because he nailed the teacher droid in Ahsoka, and [Thor: Ragnarok‘s] Cate Blanchett for Tegral or for the Delosi commander because I love her dry delivery.

And if someone wanted to adapt Unexploded Remnants into a game, what kind of game should it be?

Rockstar could make it into a noir investigative role-playing game with some great visuals, but as I say the world would have to be built out a lot more than it is at present. Maybe after a few more stories.

Elaine Gallagher Unexploded Remnants

Finally, if someone enjoys Unexploded Remnants, what sci-fi novella of someone else’s would you suggest they check out next?

I have two suggestions: A Psalm For The Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, which is a lot more contemplative, but which has a similar two characters getting to know one another over a journey, and it’s a very lovely book; and All Systems Red by Martha Wells, which is more action-oriented and also goes into similar issues of identity and being controlled as Unexploded Remnants, and Murderbot is an amazing character.



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