Issue 045 Author Interview: Hannah Whiteoak and “Mars Ascending”

Welcome, dear readers, to our Issue 045 author interviews! We’re starting off with a timely tale of climate change and space travel. Let’s find out what author Hannah Whiteoak had to say about her story “Mars Ascending.”
LSQ: Cli-fi stories are important now more than ever, but this story does feature a lot of heavy climate disaster imagery. How can we find hope in stories that reflect outcomes that might not be too far off from the real world?
Hannah: I think the hope in this story comes from the fact that there are people like the father who stay behind and fix what they can, even if it’s only small things like repairing a boat. He gets weary of his role, but what other choice does he have other than despair? I ended on the image of the battered model of earth to express that it’s really our only option. Moving to Mars is an exciting prospect, but will never be reality for most people alive today. We have to keep slugging on trying to save our planet. It’s easy to get downhearted by how hopeless a prospect that can seem sometimes. I suppose I’m trying to say that it’s OK to feel depressed about the enormity of the task facing us. That’s natural. It’s something we have to help each other through.
LSQ: The father’s simultaneous joy and sadness at his daughter’s acceptance to the Mars Academy is heart-wrenching, but so realistic. Do you have any advice for writers struggling to accurately capture the complexities of human emotion?
Hannah: This is something I find really difficult. It helps to share a work-in-progress with a writing group and ask them how the emotions are coming across. Often I write something and am surprised that readers interpret it very differently to how I expected. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of tweaking to get right.
LSQ: What was the most difficult thing about writing this story and why?
Hannah: Including world-building without info-dumping. This story has a lot of information about the state of the world and how the characters have been living in it for the last couple of decades. It was hard to weave that into the narrative without putting it all in a big, boring lump that stopped the story in its tracks.
LSQ: Have you written cli-fi before? How do you think the genre will evolve in the next few years?
Hannah: This is my first published piece of cli-fi! I am working on a novel (working title Behind the Sky) which is set after climate change has become a real problem, and our technological quick-fix attempts to solve it have made things much, much worse. As in “Mars Ascending”, parents are looking for all the loopholes they can to keep their kids safe and give them the best lives possible. I’m using a ten-year-old’s perspective to get a fresh look on the situation, which I think is helping to avoid the narrative being too depressing — she’s irrepressibly curious!
I think we’ll see more stories showing people living with climate change, perhaps not even as the focal point of the story, but simply because the effects have become so present in parts of the world that they’ll naturally seep into stories. Other than that, it’s difficult to predict the evolution of a genre. I hope for some surprises!