Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we interviewed author Terry Birdgenaw, about his writing and his recently released, THE RISE AND FALL OF ANTOCRACY, the second instalment in The Antunite Chronicles Book 2), complex and nuanced dystopian tale (Read the review here.).
The author, Terry Birdgenaw, is a Metis of Oji-Cree, English, Scottish, Dutch and French-Canadian heritage, whose mother’s first cousin is a long-time lead elder of the Metis Nation of Canada. However, Terry would argue that by moving away from the Oji-Cree territory a few generations ago, his family became assimilated by European Canadian culture. Yet, Terry has long been fascinated by the story of his ancestor, Mistigoose, the indigenous Canadian woman who was the first to welcome a European into his family line.
Mistigoose was both a tragic figure and an inspiration for this novel and series. Her tragedy was that she drowned herself while distraught over the loss of her first son William, whom her British husband Robert had taken permanently to England. Against her will, the author’s fifth great grandfather wanted to ensure their son would be eligible to receive a handsome inheritance promised to his heir. Ironically, as British law prohibited Metis from owning property, William never received his rightful inheritance, so his translocation and mother’s death were both in vain.
The translation of Mistigoose, an Oji-Cree word, inspired parts of the story told in The Antunites Chronicles. In English, Mistigoose means little branch or twig. The novel’s first character, Antuna, whose own mother drowned, used a twig in a selfless effort to save her newfound friend Dinomite in Antuna’s Story. The resolution of the second book in the series, The Rise and Fall of Antocracy, also depended on the insectoids’ realization that they needed tiny insects to break down little branches to generate the new soil required to rehabilitate their spent lands.
As a neuroscientist, Terry has over 150 scientific publications, yet this is his first work of fiction. His background has allowed him to research many scientific facts to present an authentic science-based fiction story. And his growing concern for social justice and climate issues reflects his Metis indigenous roots with a shared respect for sanctity of human life and environmental stewardship.
What inspired the premise of your book?
The Rise and Fall of Antocracy is a continuation of the tale of insects transported to a far-off planet, Poo-ponic, written as a back-story to my wife’s middle-grade children’s book Black Hole Radio: Bilaluna. Although inspired by a children’s book, I aimed this tale at Young Adults and Adults.
Where do your ideas for this story come from?
Like book 1 of The Antunite Chronicles trilogy Antuna’s Story, this tale explains how insects arrive upon the circumstances described within the children’s book. It occurs millions of years after the first insects come to Poo-ponic and depicts their evolution as intelligent beings that create universities, cyborgs, and a democratic central government. It also describes how their failed democracy leads to the destruction of their planet and how a few insects that escape to Bilaluna create a utopia by learning from their failures.
How did you decide on this title?
I originally wrote Antuna’s Story and The Rise and Fall of Antocracy as a single book called Poo-ponic Plague, with the word plague referring to a perceived sickness killing off insects on Poo-ponic. However, environmental toxins, not a virus, caused the deaths. I wrote the original title before Covid-19 started and changed it to avoid referencing a pandemic, like the one that has tired all of us. I split the book in two when the story got too long. Then I changed the title for book 2 to reflect the creation and failure of the democracy dominated by the cyborg ants on Poo-ponic. Given the vast amount of time between the two historical epochs for this story, there was a natural break that justified splitting the story into two books.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
My characters’ names all reference their species to make it easier to recognize them. I named two characters after Greta Thunberg to honor her efforts to fight the climate crisis and because these characters did the same on both Poo-ponic and Bilaluna. My favorite scene is when young classmates Gretant and Thunbug first become friends. They are teamed up for a scavenger hunt, and the extroverted Thunbug uses his humor and sensitivity to charm the intensely shy Gretant into letting go of her fears and anxieties enough to allow another individual into her sheltered life. They learn quickly in this scene to accept their differences and discover that they have similar interests that forge a lifelong bond that allows each other to grow.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
The story is an allegory about how simple it is for a democracy to fail and how this eventuality can lead to dire consequences. I hope the readers will take away how fragile our world is now, with failing democracies in many countries, and a rapidly approaching environmental catastrophe.
What makes this book important right now?
The book is essential as the world’s most powerful country narrowly escaped a constitutional crisis that could have ended democratic rule and still faces that threat. Our world is also at an inflection point where if we continue to ignore or not act quickly enough to reverse climate change, we will face an environmental catastrophe. The Rise and Fall of Antocracy is an allegory that shows where such folly could lead.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
The underlying theme in this book is a struggle between aggression and altruism, or authoritarianism and insectism. Insectism is a political philosophy on Poo-ponic and Bilaluna that stresses benevolence and treating others how you wish they would treat you. This ideal reflects my views on the importance of humanism in our society and across cultures worldwide.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I felt my message was more important than current literary trends, and I wrote more about what I think readers need rather than what they want. Although the books in this trilogy resemble allegories from the past, they do reflect a style more in keeping with modern trends with a faster pace, complex character arcs, and more action scenes.
What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Although I often read thrillers, I am also drawn to allegories and dystopian novels, which have had the most substantial influence on my writing. With allegories, I enjoy books that were purported to be, or were perceived as, children’s books but had more profound messages that only young adults or adults would understand. I would say that each of the books in my trilogy was deeply influenced by three classics, including Watership Down by Richard Adams, and Animal Farm by George Orwell, both allegories, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a dystopian tale.
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