One criticism that can never be leveled at an Antha Ann Adkins story is that it is under-researched. Adkins takes particular joy in diving into research rabbit-holes, and readers of her Analog story in the current issue [on sale now] will get a fascinating lesson on de-extinction.
Analog Editors: What is the story behind “The Annual Argument at the De-Extinction Board Meeting”?
Antha Ann Adkins: This story started when my daughter and I visited the Houston Zoo with some old friends and their young children. After seeing the giraffes and elephants, my friends’ enthusiastic young daughter wanted to “see more creatures”—extinct creatures, leading to the idea of a zoo for extinct animals. I knew there was a story in there somewhere, and I came home determined to find it. I used the rule of ten to generate ten possible story ideas, one of which was a debate about including Neanderthals in the zoo. Then I indulged in one of my favorite parts of writing: going into a research deep-dive. My research on extinct animals for my zoo led me to de-extinction, and then de-extinction methods, and then de-extinction ethics, and I knew I had my story.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
A3: The title of this story has always been long! It evolved along with the story. When I thought it was a story about a zoo, the title was “A Meeting of the Specimen Collectors for the Zoological Gardens of Extinct Creatures.” Pretty quickly, I decided the story would be about an argument, so it became “The Annual Argument at the Meeting of the Specimen Collectors for the Zoological Gardens of Extinct Creatures.” Then I discovered de-extinction, which had to be in the title, so the story got its final and shorter title, “The Annual Argument at the De-Extinction Board Meeting.”
AE: What made you think of Analog for this story?
A3: This is a hard science fiction story about a fascinating field of research that I had not heard of before. Since this story was hard science fiction, I thought Analog would be the perfect home for it, and I thought Analog readers who hadn’t heard of de-extinction before would enjoy learning about it as much as I did.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
A3: I find myself writing about communication a lot. My first published story was about translating messages from aliens. My first Analog story (“Dall’s Last Message,” Analog, January/February 2017) was about a creature who wanted to leave a memorable final message. This story is about an argument.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
A3: I am currently writing a story about aliens in the asteroid belt, which has led to some really fun research into asteroids. I’ve learned that some asteroids are members of asteroid families, created when a collision caused an asteroid to break apart. I’ve learned what evidence points to the presence of water on asteroids. And I’ve learned there’s a lot more research to be done on asteroids—both by scientists and by me!
AE: What is the most surprising research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?
A3: I love it when my research surprises me. Discovering de-extinction was certainly a surprise, and it led to a lot of digging, that ultimately led to this story. Another memorable surprise from research for another story: guard llamas. Apparently, if you introduce a single young llama into a flock of sheep, the llama will think the sheep are small llamas and protect them, and the sheep will think the llama is a giant sheep and follow it as the alpha sheep. While the associated story never worked to my satisfaction, I still want to write a story with guard llamas.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
A3: I’d chose to live in a universe where humans were exploring the galaxy in peace . . . like, yes, Star Trek.
AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
A3: I would truly love to see humans living and working throughout our Solar System and beyond. And we don’t need to break the laws of physics to do it! We just need a lot of money, time, and good engineering. (Full disclosure: I am lucky in that I get to work on making this dream a reality in my day job as a NASA contractor.)
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
A3: Look beyond the obvious first idea. One of my favorite brainstorming tools is the rule of ten. For anything I need to decide—story setting, antagonist, final plot twist—I list out ten possibilities. The first several ideas are usually the obvious ones that everyone will think of. Around the sixth or seventh idea are the surprising ones that really spark my interest and take my story in a unique direction. The last couple of ideas are the crazy ones that I write down just to get to ten. The unique direction is worth the time spent on the rule of ten. And sometimes I’ll find all new story ideas in my list, and that’s a good thing, too.
AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
A3: In my day job, I am an electrical engineer. Engineers use science and math to build practical things, and the bottom line for engineers is: Does it work? So it’s important to me to try to make the engineering in my stories plausible. When I imagine a spaceship or a space colony, I try to make sure it “works”—there’s enough air (of the right kind) and water and food for my characters to survive. And in figuring that out, I make a lot of spreadsheets. I even wrote an orbital dynamics simulator so I could understand the physics of lobbing comets at a planet. Did I mention that I really enjoy research rabbit-holes?
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
A3: The best place to follow me is on my Space & Aliens blog, acubedsf.com.