Sarena Ulibarri is joining us today to talk about her novel, Another Life. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Finding out who you were in a previous life sounds like fun until you’re forced to grapple with the darkness of the past. Galacia Aguirre is Mediator of Otra Vida, a quasi-utopian city on the shores of a human-made lake in Death Valley. She resolves conflicts within their sustainable money-free society, and keeps the outside world from meddling in their affairs. When a scientific method of uncovering past lives emerges, Galacia learns she’s the reincarnation of Thomas Ramsey, leader of the Planet B movement, who eschewed fixing climate change in favor of colonizing another planet. Learning her reincarnation result shakes the foundations of Galacia’s identity and her position as Mediator, threatening to undermine the good she’s done in this lifetime. Fearing a backlash, she keeps the results secret while dealing with her political rival for Mediator, and outsiders who blame Otra Vida for bombings that Galacia is sure they had nothing to do with. But under the unforgiving sun of Death Valley, secrets have a way of coming to light.
What’s Sarena’s favorite bit?
Another Life is an introspective story, the conflict centered around Galacia grappling with the implications of learning who she was in a past life. In this lifetime, she’s a beloved member and unofficial leader of a peaceful ecovillage. As the town’s Mediator, her very role is peacekeeping: preventing and resolving conflicts within the community. In her previous lifetime, she was someone who stirred up conflict and controversy at every turn. Thomas Ramsey was primarily known for ruining lives with the false promise that he could transport people away from the ravages of climate change to a utopic Planet B, but as Galacia searches for more information about him, she comes to understand that Ramsey also affected numerous other aspects of the world she lives in.
The California that Galacia lives in is an independent country with tense and impenetrable borders shared by equally new countries: the Rocky Mountain Republic and Cascadia. In the story, it was Ramsey’s scam that ignited the already volatile tensions within the United States and led to civil war and balkanization.
Because Ramsey used the Internet as his medium to spread misinformation and coerce people, it’s not only geographic borders that are impenetrable in this near future; digital walls have also been erected. Instead of the World Wide Web, the Internet is segmented into regional networks. Data smugglers and “hackscreens” exist, but characters struggle to find information or communicate with anyone outside of their network. Even within California, networks are regionally restricted to a less severe degree, and news is gatekept through a single source, with anything not “Verified” being flagged as misinformation.
Before Galacia is willing to let anyone else know that she was Thomas Ramsey in a previous life, she wants to understand more about who he was and why he did what he did, but those new digital borders make it difficult to find much authentic information. Through meditation and past life regression, she attempts to access memories from Ramsey’s lifetime, but struggles to break past the borders of her own identity.
I don’t tend to write with theme at the forefront of my mind, but at some point I realized the worldbuilding and the character conflict were mirroring each other. Galacia’s trying to access data from a previous lifetime, but she’s getting blocked the same way she does when she tries to access data from a different country. We are, each of us, an island, a consciousness trapped by embodiment, the walls of our bodies restricting our knowledge of others, or other selves. Time, too, becomes another uncrossable border, boxing in the characters with the consequences of what happened in the past, but perhaps not allowing access to the full truth of the what and why.
Galacia does eventually glean some insight into Ramsey’s motives, and she also discovers something about a different past life. My favorite bits are those moments when the borders between her lives and identities become more permeable, where her past selves start to bleed into her present.
My single favorite bit is a sentence I wrote eighteen years ago in an entirely different story: “The name sounded strange, unfamiliar, and I was sure it did not belong to me.” I long ago trunked the story that birthed that sentence, but this line from it stuck with me, and when I wrote a scene in which Galacia awakens from a near-death experience, unsure which lifetime she’s come back to, it seemed like the moment that sentence had been destined for all along.
Sarena Ulibarri is a writer and editor from the American Southwest. Her short stories have been published in DreamForge, GigaNotoSaurus, Lightspeed, Solarpunk Magazine, and elsewhere, and you can find her non-fiction essays about climate fiction in Strange Horizons and Grist. As an anthologist, she curated two international volumes of optimistic climate fiction, titled Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters, and also co-edited Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures. Find more at www.SarenaUlibarri.com.