In Star Wars: Episode V—The Empire Strikes Back, when the heroes find themselves in the belly of a giant space worm, they make their escape as quickly as possible. But Nicky Drayden‘s new novel Escaping Exodus takes the opposite tack, depicting a civilization that has happily adapted to life inside an interstellar behemoth.
“Humanity has set up inside this giant beast, because they tried to get to another planet but they just couldn’t find a viable option,” Drayden says in Episode 390 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “But inside this beast there are all the resources they need, because there’s this thriving ecosystem that lives inside the beast already.”
Drayden’s future society is divided into a “contour class” of wealthy elites and a lower class of “beastworkers” who struggle to maintain the organs of their monstrous host. The mechanics of inhabiting a living creature are described in careful, visceral detail.
“I love how the characters work inside of the heart, and the feeling of it pumping around you as you try to do your work,” Drayden says. “It’s gross and physical, but it’s also very normal to them. They’re not bothered by it. It’s just kind of the way things are.”
The story centers around Seske, the free-spirited heir to a rigid matriarchal regime. “She’s probably not the best suited to be the matriarch,” Drayden says, “but she still ends up in this position of power where she has to make it work, because there’s so much at stake. They’re living within this ecosystem, and if anything collapses, their people could be gone.”
Science fiction often romanticizes matriarchal systems, but Drayden depicts a society that’s as ruthless and oppressive as any patriarchy. She believes that’s the most likely outcome when any faction rules unchallenged.
“When one set of people has all the power, they’re going to use that power to keep the power,” she says. “I think that power does corrupt, eventually.”
Listen to the complete interview with Nicky Drayden in Episode 390 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Nicky Drayden on her novel The Prey of Gods:
“I had a lot of sensitivity readers—I think I probably had six altogether. I have a lot of different cultures within the book, that are in South Africa, so I tried to get one [reader] from each of the cultures represented by the different characters, and there’s a trans character, so I got a trans person to read for that character. There was a lot of back and forth, trying not to mess up, and to portray things as accurately as I could get them. You know, there’s no ‘right,’ but there’s definitely a wrong, and so I tried not to make it wrong. Basically the goal was for someone from South Africa to read the book and not throw it across the room. I want them to enjoy it too. So I tried to do my best with that.”
Nicky Drayden on worldbuilding in Escaping Exodus:
“[The population] was getting out of hand, and eventually there was a promise made that everyone could have a child, but in order to make that promise work, they had to keep re-defining what was a family, and so eventually a ‘family’ came to mean nine parents and one child. Within that family structure there are three sets of ‘throuples’—groups of three people—who are responsible for different parts of raising the child. So the ‘heart parents’ are responsible for matters of the heart, and the ‘will parents’ are responsible for helping them to make moral decisions, and then the ‘head parents’ are responsible for education. So every set of parents has a role in raising this child, which is a very precious thing because you’re only allowed to have one.”
Nicky Drayden on Christopher Brown:
“He’s a really good friend. It’s kind of a funny story, when I sold my book—and I had known him for years beforehand—but I had just sold my book, and I had gone out to lunch, and I was walking back from lunch. I saw this guy in my office parking lot, and I’m like, ‘That guy looks a lot like Christopher Brown, but I’m probably just seeing things.’ So I walked past him, and he’s like, ‘Nicky! Nicky!’ So I turn around, and I’m like, ‘Oh hey, it’s Chris.’ And so I tell him I just sold a book, and then he’s like, ‘Yeah, I just sold a book too.’ And I’m like, ‘Really?’ I told him who my editor was, and he’s like, ‘That’s my editor too!’ So it was really a surreal experience that happened to both of us, because we’d both been writing for a long time at that point.”
Nicky Drayden on writing Magic: The Gathering short stories:
“[There was] a lot of onboarding, because I hadn’t played [the game]. So to figure out everything that was going on, I basically had this huge encyclopedia of Magic dumped on me, and I was trying to go through it. Imagine you’re an alien from another planet, and they’re like, ‘Do you want to know about our planet? Here, just read this encyclopedia, and then you’ll know everything.’ It’s just an impossible task. … I would be totally overwhelmed if I tried to incorporate it all into my brain, so I wrote a draft, then went back and did the research. My manuscript would have lots of blank spots that said ‘add details here,’ then I’d have to go back and find those details, which was very time consuming. It probably took longer than writing the actual draft of the story.”