an interview series with the contributor Authors of World Beyond: An Anthology of Papua New Guinean Speculative Fiction.
Attributed as the contributor Author whose short story inspired the title of the forthcoming volume of Papua New Guinean speculative fiction, Ruth-Ann Kwimberi shares her process of creating Seeking Eden.
Rashmii Bell: Can you remember the first speculative fiction story you read that made you think “I have to write something like this!”?
Ruth-Ann Kwimberi: The book that really inspired me to write Seeking Eden was The Giver by Lois Lowry. Seeking Eden and The Giver’s protagonists both come from dystopian societies that were built on lies and from man’s vein attempt to fix the damage they had already done. In fact, World Beyond is sort of my Pacific twist on the “outside world” that Jonas encounters when he chooses to leave his ‘home’ behind.
RB: World Beyond’s callout for submissions centered on promoting our (Papua New Guinean) stories alongside and within emerging literary traditions/movements such as Black and Pacific futurism. Are there specific authors or books, especially from PNG, from which you’ve drawn inspiration to write in this genre?
RK: Honestly, before Hibiscus Three’s callout for submissions, I had never heard of, nor read any speculative fiction from Papua New Guinea. Maybe due to ignorance on my part, or just the lack of promotion of speculative fiction within PNG. So I’m sad to say there weren’t any Papua New Guinean authors that I knew of to draw inspiration from. This is why World Beyond is such a game changer for speculative fiction in PNG, because it’s modern, it’s Papua New Guinean, and it’s being promoted well by the Hibiscus Three team and Dr. Kirsten McGavin.
RB: Speculative fiction gives you the ability to create worlds not found in our current reality. How did you set about imagining ‘Papua New Guinea’ as presented in your story, and what is the ‘speculative’ element that readers are introduced to?
RK: Imagining World Beyond wasn’t too hard to do, because I had to imagine what lush and fertile lands would look like when the land has become so toxic that life can no longer be supported. Papua New Guinea has simply become like Mars in Seeking Eden. The speculative element found in this story is the introduction of a people group with the ability to communicate telepathically with animals through the DreamWorld.
RB: Zombies, vampires and superheroes are amongst the mainstream themes of speculative fiction. What authentic Papua New Guinean (or Melanesian) element/flavour does your story offer to the reader? Are there any others that you would like to see more Papua New Guinea writers experiment with?
RK: The authentic speculative Melanesian element in my story is the ability of ‘calling’, and is based off of interviews of Shark Callers within the NGI region of Papua New Guinea. Basically, calling is the ability of a human to communicate with another animal species telepathically. When I first watched a documentary of shark calling a few years back, I thought, wouldn’t it be so cool if I had a bond with animals to the extent that they understood me and I could directly communicate with them. Probably sound insane, but my fascination with this idea started from a young age, when I read Whale Rider, a book by the Maori author, Witi Ihimaera.
RB: In your view, who is the greatest science fiction or fantasy hero (or villain), and will readers get to see elements/any of their traits through characters in your story?
RK: The greatest science fiction character in my opinion is Tris from the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. My main character embodies a lot of her traits in terms of being different from the rest of society. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically the idea of Tris being set apart due to her genetic makeup, is very similar to what my main character is. Well, almost.
RB: Having been lucky enough to have read World Beyond, I found the story telling to convey a series of questions and social issues that are unfolding in contemporary PNG society. What are your thoughts on you story addressing a specific issue(s), and how will its inclusion in World Beyond give the reader an opportunity to think of the issues outside the norm?
RK: The main lesson I wanted Seeking Eden to teach was the idea of being good stewards of the gift that we Papua New Guineans have been given, and that is this beautiful paradise we call home. We take pride in this country, calling it ‘paradise’ and ‘land of the unexpected’, but is it going to be like that a century from now? There are a lot of decisions that we have been making in terms of mining, logging, and over-fishing in the name of development that jeopardize the future of this land. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against development, but I want to highlight the potential price that we must pay to build cities and accumulate wealth. What will happen after all the treasures beneath the earth have been dug up and sold to foreigners? What will the valleys and mountains look like once all the trees have been cut down and sold for a buck? These are questions I hope readers are faced with when reading Seeking Eden.
RB: What’s next for you; do you have any speculative fiction or writing projects underway?
RK: At the moment, I don’t have any projects underway, but I have so many ideas formulating, and I’d say that’s a good start. Writing Seeking Eden was a new experience for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed, so I hope to continue writing more short stories along the science fiction route. For now, I’m taking things one step at a time through my writing journey, celebrating milestones as they come, and seeing where that leads.”
Read Seeking Eden by Ruth-Ann Kwimberi in World Beyond: An Anthology of Papua New Guinean Speculative Fiction, complied and edited by Kirsten McGavin.
Available for purchase below.