Mercurio D. Rivera discusses the paradoxical underpinnings of his new story, “The Four Spider-Societies of Proxima Centauri 33-g,” which amuses readers as much as it is a comedic departure for the author. Read it in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Mercurio D. Rivera: “The Four Spider-Societies of Proxima Centauri 33-g” is a definite change of pace for me. I usually write what might be characterized as more traditional science fiction about exploration, discovery, and first contact. “Spider-Societies” is a satire of those types of stories. For example, the scientific consensus is that extraterrestrial life, if it exists, is likely rare, and intelligent life rarer still. The Fermi Paradox asks: If intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations exist, why haven’t we seen any evidence of their existence? “Spider-Societies” imagines a universe jam-packed with intelligent civilizations. The answer to the Fermi Paradox is the comical/sad notion that every world is plagued by infighting among its constituent societies that keep them from exploring the universe. I introduce my protagonist into this setting. He’s the incompetent son of a powerful businessman responsible for negotiating business ventures with these alien societies. The story is told from his clueless point of view, which creates most of the humor in the piece.
AE: What made you think of Analog for this story?
MDR: I didn’t. Because of its humorous bent, it never occurred to me Analog might be interested in the story. Then one evening, just a few months before the pandemic hit, I went to a reception in downtown Brooklyn attended by editors, writers, and fans celebrating Analog’s 90th anniversary. I was chatting with Emily Hockaday, Managing Editor of Analog, and mentioned I’d finished a satirical science fiction story, but couldn’t think of markets that published humor. Emily suggested I try Analog, which surprised me because I didn’t think they published humor. I went ahead and submitted the story to Trevor Quachri, who wound up taking it. He mentioned that, coincidentally, he’d recently received a letter from a fan who said he’d missed reading the occasional funny story in the magazine. I’m embarrassed to say I was unfamiliar with the magazine’s long history of publishing humorous pieces until I read Stan Schmidt’s special feature on the subject, which appears in the same issue as “Spider-Societies.”
I do think that it’s critical to get the science right when you have a knowledgeable readership (as science fiction readers tend to be)—even if you then hand-wave it away.
AE: Did you find it easier or more difficult to write humor?
MDR: It was much more difficult because it’s outside my comfort zone. I ran the story through beta readers in my writers group, Altered Fluid. Some found it hilarious, others didn’t even realize I was trying to be funny. In the end, I got some great suggestions for additional funny scenarios to add to the story. Humor is so subjective there’s no way to tell how it will land with editors (or readers for that matter). For example, I showed the story to one editor who said he preferred his humor more serious. In the same vein, I recently watched Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up—about an approaching world-ending comet and humanity’s refusal to acknowledge the threat—and while I thought it was terrific science fiction satire, the movie was polarizing. Fans and critics either hated it or loved it and were passionate about their opinions. My own friends were split down the middle. The movie has a 56% rating among critics on Rotten Tomatoes—yet was recently nominated for an Oscar for best picture. I suspect these conflicting reactions are tied to the fact that it’s satire.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
MDR: I’m very proud of my mosaic novel, Wergen: The Alien Love War (NewCon Press), which is currently available on Amazon. It consists of 11 interconnected stories (including a sizable novella) about humanity’s relationship with the Wergens, enigmatic and advanced aliens biochemically attracted to human beings. They offer us their superior technology in exchange for our companionship. Each story tells a tale of unrequited love set against the cosmic backdrop of human-Wergen relations. I also recently finished cowriting a novella with Nebula-nominated author Matt Kressel, called “Threat Assessment” about a menacing AI undergoing psychoanalysis. It’s a great story and I hope it finds a good home. (Incidentally, Matt and I cowrote “The Walk to Distant Suns,” which appeared in Analog). Other stories I have percolating include a fantasy about contract negotiations with a djinn, a hard sci-fi novelette about a couple traveling to the black hole at the center of the galaxy, and a hardboiled detective story involving interdimensional murder.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
MDR: Beyond going to the Bronx High School of Science, I don’t have any higher education in science. But I do enjoy watching science programs, and I’ll research science questions as they arise in my various stories. I do think that it’s critical to get the science right when you have a knowledgeable readership (as science fiction readers tend to be)—even if you then hand-wave it away.
AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
MDR: I’m a practicing attorney, so I’m used to operating with hard court deadlines. For this reason, I find that I work best writing fiction when I am under some deadline pressure. I’m an obsessive outliner when putting together legal briefs. Again, I tend to bring that practice to my fiction writing. You can always catch me outlining a new story.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
MDR: Readers can follow me on Facebook (David Mercurio Rivera), Twitter (@mercuriorivera) and at mercuriorivera.com Mercurio D. Rivera’s short fiction has won readers’ awards for Asimov’s and Interzone magazines and has appeared in markets such as Lightspeed, i09, Nature, Black Static, and various anthologies, podcasts, and “best of” collections. His new novel “Wergen: The Alien Love War” (NewCon Press) tells stories of unrequited love set against the backdrop of humanity’s complicated relationship with the enigmatic aliens, the Wergens. And his Asimov’s story “Beyond the Tattered Veil of Stars,” was recently podcast by Dust Studios, and features Gillian Jacobs (Community) and Justin Kirk (Weeds), and is available anywhere you listen to podcasts.