Rene Sears: The human Exodus away from Earth has led to different cultural mores in different sectors, which means some interesting interactions as Jarra meets people from other worlds. What were some of your thoughts going in to making the cultures of the different sectors?
Janet Edwards: Earth Girl is set in the late 28th century, when humanity has colony worlds in 1200 star systems scattered across six sectors of space. I adore world building, so I created a whole future timeline of events between now and 2789, and the cultures of the different sectors came from that, shaped by historical events.
Basic portal travel was invented in 2206, and interstellar drop portals a century later. There was an Exodus century that emptied Earth and led to huge loss of knowledge when the Earth data net failed, and a near total collapse of civilization. For two hundred years, the original three sectors were isolated from each other, so there was a lot of cultural divergence. In the late 28th century, humanity is still trying to recover lost technology and heal cultural divisions between the sectors.
Alpha sector is seen as unfairly privileged by other sectors. Their worlds were the first to be colonized, they had the most resources from Earth to begin with, and grabbed more when Earth collapsed. Beta sector built a clan based society, and borrowed a lot of ideas from ancient Greece and Rome in an attempt to compete with 'cultured' Alpha sector. With Alpha and Beta rarely agreeing, Gamma became politically powerful through its casting vote. Delta sector was colonized in the 27th century, and there is a whole back story behind why it has a science focus. The remaining two sectors are the frontier, with newly settled colony worlds.
At the start of Earth Girl, Jarra sees all off-worlders as her enemies, and her understanding of the different sectors is limited to some very basic stereotypes, especially about Beta sector. Betan standards on things like nudity are similar to western standards now, but other sectors (and Earth) have become stricter, so Jarra regards Betans as sexually permissive. She has a lot to learn in Earth Girl and subsequent books.
Rene Sears: Jarra has a very distinctive voice. The slang she uses is especially fun. What led you to write her with such a colloquial voice, and how did you come up with the slang?
Janet Edwards: It was an obvious decision to write Jarra's story in the first person, so the reader can feel all her bitter anger and frustration at her immune system imprisoning her on Earth when others have the stars, at her parents for abandoning her, and at society for treating her as less than human.
That meant writing with Jarra's voice, a casual teenage voice, the voice of a girl who was raised with a host of other abandoned children in the residences of Hospital Earth. Those children grew up watching the off-world vids, and envying the normal children with real families. They copied the slang of off-world teenagers, desperately trying to be like them, in the hope that one day their parents would want them back. I tried to keep my future slang simple for the reader to understand, often just abbreviating words or using a slightly different phrase.
Rene Sears: The mechanics of doing an archeological dig in the 28th century were fascinating to read about. What inspired the technology of your future historians?
Janet Edwards: In the 28th century, every vast sprawling city on Earth has been abandoned to fall into ruins. Within those cities are precious clues to lost knowledge and technology, preserved by chance or stored in special stasis boxes. The future historians are on a dangerous treasure hunt, racing to retrieve what they can before time destroys it, so they wouldn't mess about working delicately. They'd use the equipment used on future construction sites, the equivalent of cranes and bulldozers, and high explosives. Working in long ruined cities, with abandoned toxic waste, walls falling on them, and the ground liable to collapse under their feet, they'd need protective suits and safety measures.
Rene Sears: What are you reading right now?
Janet Edwards: I'm currently reading some short stories nominated for the Nebula awards. The two books I read before that were Fair Coin by E C Myers (I'm a fan of books about parallel universes and how different decisions can change people), and Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan (I started with doubts about a book with angels, but this one won me over).
Many thanks to Janet for joining us!