Issue 051 Author Interview: Madeehah Reza and “85 Days in Flight”

What happens when the science in science fiction takes a backseat to the human relationships in the story? It looks a little something like our Issue 051 story “85 Days in Flight“! Author Madeehah Reza is here with us today to share how this story came together.

LSQ: I’m in awe of how many relationships you managed to pack into this fantastic epistolary adventure. How did you get the idea for this story, and was it always going to be told in letters?
Madeehah: I’ve always been intimidated to write speculative fiction, whether it was the amount of research needed for even the smallest of technical details or the fear of not being ‘accurate’ enough. It wasn’t until I read Becky Chambers’ body of work that I realized: I adore the human side of speculative fiction. The science-y side of it is just the backdrop; it can inform and entertain the reader but it isn’t the focus. It’s the humans (or sentient beings) in the story that pulls me into the world; in the case of “85 Days in Flight,” it’s the bond that Amira has with her grandfather. The other relationships blossomed from that core bond.
The choice to tell the story through letters was completely spontaneous, as a lot of writing can be. Amira is stuck on a ‘tin can’ ship with no way of communicating with her family on Earth. That’s tough to imagine, especially in our hyperconnected world. Looking back, I think it was influenced in part by journaling, something I practiced during tough parts of my life. Those journal entries seemed like writing letters, letters to parts of myself that seemed unreachable, but that I wanted to reconnect with.

LSQ: I feel so much for Amira, but I also feel for her mother, and for Priya. What a terrible decision to have to make. How did you decide who should go on this journey and who should stay behind?

I’ll be honest, it was quite random! Looking back on the story as a whole, it was always a choice for the characters themselves as to whether they would want to stay or go. Amira, being a minor, would have to go where her mother went. But Amira’s grandfather and father made their own choice to stay at home, on Earth—this could be because they didn’t believe what was happening or because they didn’t want to live in uncertainty in an artificial environment.

LSQ: Let’s look to the future for a moment, and please don’t break my heart: are they going to reach wherever it is they’re hoping for? Will it be better? Is Amira going to get to start the first ever inter-planetary mailing system?
Madeehah: This short story is actually set in the same universe as a novelette I’m working on. I’m not keen on breaking any hearts but, unfortunately, Amira doesn’t quite get to fulfill her dream of mailing her letters to her grandfather. That’s as much as I can say at the moment!