Jason Sanford is joining us today to talk about his novel, Plague Birds. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Glowing red lines split their faces. Shock-red hair and clothes warn people to flee their approach. They are plague birds, the powerful merging of humans and artificial intelligences who serve as judges and executioners after the collapse of civilization.
And the plague birds’ judgement is swift and deadly, as Crista discovered as a child when she watched one kill her mother.
In a world of gene-modded humans constantly watched over by benevolent AIs, everyone hates and fears the plague birds. But to save her father and home village, Crista becomes the very creature she fears the most. And her first task as a plague bird is hunting down an ancient group of murderers wielding magic-like powers.
As Crista and her AI symbiote travel farther from home than she ever imagined, they are plunged into a strange world where she judges wrongdoers, befriends other outcasts, and uncovers an extremely personal conspiracy that threatens the lives of millions.
Plague Birds is a genre-bending mix of science fiction and dark fantasy and the epic story of a young woman who becomes one of the future’s most hated creatures, with a killer AI bonded to her very blood.
What’s Jason’s favorite bit?
My Favorite Bit of Plague Birds is the relationship between the main character, Crista, and her father. But if I’d tried to describe My Favorite Bit a year or two ago, perhaps I’d have picked the character of Red Day, an artificial intelligence with god-like powers but an obnoxious, hyper-annoying personality. Or maybe I’d have selected the scenes at Down Hope, a high-tech monastery that contains all of the records from humanity’s long history and is populated by strange, furry monks who store data in their very genes.
But when I did final edits for Plague Birds earlier this year, the part of the novel that hit me hardest was the relationship between Crista and her father. The two of them love and know each other so deeply. They are there for one another no matter what. And when Crista is pulled into the deadly affairs of the plague birds, the powerful judges and executioners of this world, her father tries so hard to protect her. Eventually they both realize that Crista is now an adult and must walk this dangerous new path by herself.
The reason their relationship hit me so hard during final edits is because my father is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While I’ve known about this for a number of years, his diagnosis didn’t seem real to me until recently. My father was still my father. He was still Dad. Even if he forgot things he still had the same happy smile and warm laugh I’d always cherished. When we talked he seemed as he’d always been.
But then parts of him began to be stolen. At first, only little parts. He couldn’t remember things we’d once done. He wouldn’t recall what we’d discussed only minutes before. But soon he began to lose more and more of himself until he started becoming almost an unknown person to everyone around him.
My father who’d always been there for his entire family was also scared. He knew something was wrong even if he couldn’t say or understand what was happening.
Dad’s condition began rapidly deteriorating right as I was doing final edits on Plague Birds. When I reread the scenes between Crista and her father I realized how much of my relationship with my father I’d poured into these two characters. This realization hit me hard. I cried so much I had to stop editing for a while.
All writers put parts of themselves into their books and I definitely did this with Plague Birds. But when I was writing the novel I didn’t realize this I’d shared so much of my relationship with my father in the story. It was only while reading the novel during final edits — when I read Plague Birds much as a reader approaching the novel would also read it — that I realized what I’d done.
Before writing this essay I tried to go back and reread some of the scenes between Crista and her father, but those parts are still too raw for me. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to reread what I wrote about the two of them.
But I’m also pleased because I know I shared a little of my father with everyone who reads my novel.
It’s funny how the favorite bit of a story varies so much between different people. That’s one of the reasons why I love fiction, because stories are so flexible. One part of a story may resonate with one person but totally skip over another. Some readers may hate a book while others find that book changes their lives.
I wish my father could have read my novel, but his condition has progressed so far that’s no longer possible.
I love you, Dad. You would have liked reading about the relationship between Crista and her father. And I’d like to believe it would have resonated as much with you as it did with me.
Jason Sanford is a three-time finalist for the Nebula Award who has published dozens of stories in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Interzone, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Fireside Magazine along with appearances in multiple year’s best compilations along with The New Voices of Science Fiction. He is also a finalist for this year’s Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer for his Genre Grapevine column. Jason currently works in the media industry in the Midwestern United States. His previous experience includes work as an archaeologist and as a Peace Corps Volunteer.