I was hoping to get all the interviews done for Tesseracts 17 before the ned of the year but I’m also trying to finish the first draft of my novel and do some jury reading. So, my apologies for all the lags. I’m also going out of order a bit from the table of contents because some people are on holidays. Today, I talk with Catherine Austen who lives in Gatineau, Quebec.
CA: “Team Leader 2040” riffs off of the popularity of zombie movies, TV and fiction that is pervasive right now. Yet you made your story a much more realistic and possible future. Do you foresee the zombie craze getting to this level?
I don’t foresee it, but if someone were to offer such a park, I think it would have customers. As virtual reality gaming becomes more sophisticated, some players might want a different experience, something retro and grounded, and entrepreneurs might provide a zombie hunting amusement park if it could make money and were legal. Its success–in terms of it being awesome fun–would hinge on the idea that it is harmless and victimless. But people have no problem buying and selling that idea about all sorts of destructive and dehumanizing things.
CA: This tale has a streak of the darkest aspects of our society. Do you believe we could get to such a world as you show, or do you think we are already there?
I think we could get there. I’m not able to judge how close we are because I have led a privileged life in an insular world characterized by its utter lack of desperation. Everyone I encounter day to day is basically kind and generous, so it feels like we’re ages away from such a world as the one in my story. But someone from a slum or a macho backwater or a collapsed country where people are bought and sold right now and entire ethnicities or genders are considered worthless might think we’re pretty close.
CA: In some ways, “Team Leader 2040” is apocryphal. And while every writer is always showing a scenario, do you consider it a warning at all?
I suppose it’s a warning about how normalized the idea of people as commodities can become if market values are our highest values. But I didn’t write it as a warning. I just wanted to explore the character, the Team Leader, who is in this vulnerable position of having to do a job that’s morally reprehensible. And though it’s a speculative story, I think that basic conflict is timeless.
CA: Would you say human rights are better these days than a century ago, or just that the values have shifted?
I have such mixed feelings about this question. “Human rights” didn’t extend to all that many humans in times past and I think things are better these days, if only in that the circle of concern covers more people–including me, as a woman. There’s no other time or place I would rather be than Canada right now (or maybe back in the ‘80s).
It feels as if some people are more precious than ever while others are more disposable than ever, and maybe that’s just the growing gap between rich and poor. There was a sense in the 20th century that, in between the wars and genocides, we were moving toward more democracy and freedom and shared wealth, which are all good for human rights. But it’s less common to encounter that optimism now. Around the globe there is so much destitution and dislocation combined with the possibility of huge profits for selling your neighbor–and that’s a bad mix for human rights. So, while I don’t think there was an Eden of respect that we’ve fallen from, the future does not look rosy.
CA: What other fiction pieces are you working on right now?
I am working on more short stories about the buying and selling of humans and their parts, all set in the same future world as “Team Leader” (which is also the setting of a sequel to my award-winning teen novel, All Good Children). But I usually write for young people. I have a middle-grade comedy coming out this spring with Lorimer (28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6) and a picture book scheduled for 2015 release with Fitzhenry and Whiteside (When Squirrels Stole My Sister). Right now I am revising a teen novel (Can I Keep Him?) that will hopefully be done and out over the next couple of years.
Catherine Austen writes fiction for all ages. Her most recent novel, All Good Children (Orca), won the Canadian Library Association’s 2012 Young Adult Book Award and the 2012 Sunburst Award (YA category). Catherine was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, raised in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Gatineau, Quebec. She is proud to be a Canadian and she hopes our future will not be as grim as the one she imagines.