Interview with Michael K. Rose, author of “Chrysopteron”

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Michael K. Rose is the author of the wonderfully thought-provoking sci-fi novel Chrysopteron (see my review) as well as several other novels and short stories. I enjoyed  Chrysopteron so much that I asked Mr. Rose if he’d be willing to answer a few questions about his novel

1. In your Amazon.com bio you call yourself “primarily an author of science-fiction…” What about sci-fi appeals to you as a writer?

I’ve always loved reading science fiction. A big part of it was that I found imaginations of the future more interesting than the present time in which we live. I suppose the appeal of the future is something people have contented with throughout history. Their own time never seemed as exciting as what could be. I also like to imagine a better future than our present. Just as humanity is generally better off than it was five hundred years ago, will things be better or worse five hundred years from now? Chrysopteron looks at the latter possibility, but I honestly hope it is the former.

2. Having spent most of the book trying in my head to properly pronounce “Chrysopteron” (and likely failing) I must ask: what was the inspiration for using it as the name of the Generation ship?

“Chrysopteron” refers to the Greek goddess Iris and means “golden winged.” Iris is a messenger; she is an intermediary between the gods and humankind. I felt that if the events on the ship were to take place, there had to be a “sign” for the people to rally behind. The name of the ship, along with another event that happens early on in the book, was one of those signs. What we name a ship or a mountain or a river or a child affects our perception of that thing or person. If the ship were named something less esoteric, it’s unlikely things would have happened the way they did.

Chrysopteron 625x10003. There are some weighty issues addressed in Chrysopteron, particularly about faith and religion. To me, there were some clear parallels to the development of religion in world history. Was this a central theme you were going for, or an unintended happenstance? 

First and foremost, I wanted to tell a story about human nature, and it is difficult to tell that kind of story without addressing the issue of faith. The parallels were intentional, but I did not have any particular religion in mind as a model. I have a degree in anthropology, and religion has long been a favorite subject of mine, so I’ve studied it quite a bit. I wanted the religion that develops aboard the Chrysopteron to be a microcosm of belief in general. I therefore tried to include traits that are common to most religions: a charismatic leader around which the belief system forms, fanaticism among a certain percentage of the believers, a leadership structure that exists primarily to preserve the status quo. It’s likely that readers will interpret it as a commentary on the religion with which they’re most familiar, but they should know I wasn’t “picking on” any particular faith.

4. The Generation ships have some interesting and very specific cargo for use at the destination worlds. How much thought or research did you put into what would or should be included by a group of humans traveling to another star system for purposes of colonization?

I did quite a bit of research about generation ships. I did throw in a few details, but I mostly left the nuts and bolts of the ship to the imagination because the people, not the technology, were the focus of the story. I’m also not a “hard” science fiction writer, and I don’t believe I have a strong enough grounding in science and engineering to get all the details right.

5. What do you see as the motivation for the “first generation” of travelers on Chrysopteron, knowing they were merely the first of many steps on the ladder to a place they would never know or see? Would you be interested in becoming a traveler on a Generation ship?

Throughout history, parents have made sacrifices for their children, sometimes knowing they would never see any direct reward themselves, so I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine people signing up for such a journey. And how many have given their lives in conflict believing that what they were doing would make the world a better place? There is also the fact that, for many, life on Earth had become fairly miserable in this particular future. I would not leave Earth now, but if I lived in the future of Chrysopteron, I would be very tempted to sign up.

6. To me, the ending of Chrysopteron is ambiguous, very much open to the reader’s interpretation of what will happen next. In fact, since finishing the novel I have changed my mind about what I think the future holds. As the author, do you find that gratifying or did you have a clearer outcome in mind?

It is absolutely gratifying! I want readers to make that determination based on their particular interpretations of the information presented in the book as well as their personal philosophies. I won’t say I have a clear outcome in mind, because the future of the Chrysopteron‘s descendants changes slightly each time I think about it, too. I’ve thought about writing a sequel, but if I do, it will most likely not occur directly after the events at the end of Chrysopteron, but much further in the future.

7. Final thoughts?

Thank you for the great questions! Of the novels and short stories I’ve written, Chrysopteron is my personal favorite, so I’m always happy to discuss it with someone who’s read and enjoyed it.

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