Graduate student Annae meets magician Marec Gorski, who has removed parts of himself and formed them into a homunculus named Ariel, in Fellman’s The Two Doctors Górski (Tordotcom, Dec.).
Did you conceive of this as a riff on Frankenstein?
That’s an amazing comparison. I haven’t read Frankenstein since college and I wasn’t thinking about it, but I really believe that everything we write is the distilled concentration of everything we’ve ever read, so it’s probably in there. I started writing this in 2016, before I transitioned. I was trying to write in that genre of feminist literary SFF that’s very unflinching in how it looks at the anxiety of womanhood—but I don’t know exactly what that is because I’m a dude. I was really misdiagnosing what I thought was feminine anxiety and paranoia, but was actually uncertainty about my own gender. I rewrote the book substantially last year and it was wild to revisit the person I was in 2016. It’s like one of those things where a trans guy does a duet of his old voice and his new voice recorded at different times. Both of these registers have been me, and they’re both aspects of who I am.
How did you land on Annae as the point of entry into the doctors’ story?
I’m one of those writers who believes characters speak to them. Annae started speaking to me really loudly, but it took me the longest time to know who she should meet, what should influence her. I knew exactly what her trauma was and that abusive mentorship had held her back as a thinker and a person, but I went through whole other versions of who Marec Górski was. It finally came together when I had the idea of Ariel, who was created out of Marec’s desire to be a brain in a jar, to be a thinker only. Annae’s looking for support from the kind of people that have hurt her in the past, and the step she takes is to trust when Ariel says, “I am not the person to take care of you, because I am a fragment of the kind of person who has always hurt you.” Annae’s not at the center—or even in the title—of her own story, which is why she needs to walk out of the story completely. She needs to meet the doctors in order to reject them.
Tell me about the magic system.
Marec always emphasizes that you shouldn’t think of magic in terms of power. That’s not a modern way to conceptualize it. To go back to your Frankenstein question, which is completely correct and I don’t know why I didn’t see it, Frankenstein offers a very Promethean, romantic idea of what science is. I really wanted there to be a sense of magic as a discipline having evolved in the same way that modern STEM fields have, away from a Promethean vision and towards subtle discoveries with unknown ramifications. I wanted to portray magic with all of the ambiguities and moral complexities of a science. And all the academic drama as well.