“Death Spiral” by Kate MacLeod appears in our March/April 2023 issue [analogsf.com/store/]. Before you read it, you can learn about how MacLeod conceptualized the story, her second for Analog, along with her interest in pheromones and Star Wars video games, in this interview.
Analog Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
Kate MacLeod: As is usual with me, I had my setting and some thoughts about what the action would be leading to—the “Death Spiral” which is the title. But I didn’t have more than a few ponderings while daydreaming until I had the character of Sanyah Allani in my head. Once she appeared, the whole story came out of me very quickly.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
KM: The working title was “Stigmergy”, but as the story developed it became clear this sort of indirect coordination wasn’t exactly what the aliens were doing. It was clear to me they were more intelligent than that term implies, and the events of the story are an anomaly in an otherwise intelligent species. But I did keep the term when I had the humans dub the species “stigmergs.” And, in the end, “Death Spiral” was just more dramatic than “Ant Mill.”
AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?
KM: It isn’t yet, but I do like the character of Sanyah Allani and I’m curious what the future holds for her.
AE: What is your history with Analog?
KM: This is my second publication in Analog. My first, “Being Neighborly” appeared in the May/June 2018 issue. Both involve humans and aliens trying to live side by side despite significant cultural misunderstandings.
AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
KM: A lot of my science fiction short stories of late have had a strong mystery and/or detective element to them, and I know that comes from my love of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s Retrieval Artist series, especially the ones that focus on Detective Noelle DeRicci. She’s such a great character! I’m also a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold, and I love it when Miles Vorkosigan is in investigation mode, like in Cryoburn. But for my novels, which are all teen/YA, there is no greater influence on me than Robert Heinlein and his juveniles.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
KM: Honestly, it never comes up. I actually have the opposite problem, too many things I want to write and not enough time to tell all the stories in my head. I also write witch cozy mysteries under another pen name, a genre so very different from SF that I find alternating the two really helps avoid the greater danger for a writer like me: burn out. Switching back and forth gives me extra time to ponder something potentially stumping in the back of my mind while I’m actively writing something else.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
KM: I’ve just wrapped up a six-book series of young adult novels called The Ritchie and Fitz Sci-Fi Murder Mysteries, and while I can see more adventures for those characters in the future, I’m currently in the beginning stages of another YA series so new it doesn’t have a name yet, but it involves the daughter of an archaeologist on a distant planet, and I’m quite excited about it.
AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?
KM: The one that led to this one, funnily enough! Although as usual, I did the “research” before I even knew that I was working on something. I was curious for no particular reason whether it was true or a myth that apex predators like sharks or bears are attracted to menstruating women. (They’re not.) But somehow I got from there to reading about pheromones and social insect communication, and here we are.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
KM: Probably Star Wars, for the architecture. I’ve been known to play Star Wars: Battlefront just to run around and explore the environments. If only the troopers would stop shooting at me while I’m trying to parkour through the city on Naboo.
AE: What are you reading right now?
KM: I’m a little bit behind, but I’ve just started reading Naomi Novik’s Scholomance trilogy. I love how dark this fantasy about a magic school is. I’m also reading Edison’s Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, which has its own 1940s SF charm.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
KM: The best place for updates is by subscribing to my newsletter at KateMacLeodWrites.com. I am also on Instagram and Facebook as KateMacLeodWriter.