In Sam J. Miller’s first novel for adults, Blackfish City (Ecco, Apr.), the floating city of Qaanaaq is home to animal-nanobonded humans, political schemers, and people who visit one another’s memories.
How did you come to imagine Qaanaaq?
Most of the people who are immigrating to the U.S.—that, you know, angry white people are complaining about—are coming here because the countries that they come from have been really devastated by U.S. industry and politics. I wanted to imagine the people who complain about immigrants being forced to become the immigrants themselves by climate change and rising sea levels. And as I was imagining the futuristic scenario, I got really into it. It was exciting to research things like how oil rigs are constructed and think about the opportunities that geothermal vents create for completely renewable energy. So in a way, it was an optimistic best-case scenario: let’s think of how to construct a city that is not quite so saddled with the problems of our cities.
What inspired you to create the conflict between Qaanaaq’s property owners and their tenants?
In my work as a community organizer, working on issues of housing and homelessness, I see real estate as the prime mover of how cities function. In New York City, real estate is really calling the shots. That fascinates me, and I think it’s an unseen aspect of how cities function and who city policy and planning happen for—rich people and real estate developers. And so I wanted to dramatize that. I feel that, probably, in the end, I pulled back a lot on the extent to which this is a book about how fucked-up real estate is.
Qaanaaq feels sort of like a utopia and a dystopia at the same time. Is that combination of bleakness and hope personal for you?
Human nature will always be equal parts super amazing and inspiring and super depressing and infuriating. As an organizer, as an activist, as a writer, I want to believe that we can fix our problems. But I’m also enough of a realist to believe that human nature is fundamentally all of those things that we hate. It’s greedy, it’s frightened, it’s selfish, it’s regressive. It fears the other. It respects power and sneers at the weak. All these things that are awful will never go away. But neither will the desire to fight to fix them, to stop them, and to keep at bay our worst instincts.
If you were going to be nanobonded to an animal, which would your top choice be and why?
I don’t know, actually. I would love it to be a badass animal, like an orca or a polar bear or a wolf, but I fear that my nature is much more sheeplike and herbivorous. But I’ve gotten a tattoo for each of the two books that I’ve published, so I now have an awesome orca on my upper right arm. A badass orca that is nanobonded to my skin.