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Interview: Bo Balder on “The Island and Its Boy”

Tell us a bit about “The Island and Its Boy.”

It’s a story about a boy who wants to stay on the island he loves when everybody is going to leave. He goes against his society out of love for that living island. In this world, the special relationship between people and their island is usually reserved for women, which is why the headwoman and his brothers and friends initially don’t believe him and don’t support him.


What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

It’s a trait I’ve noticed in people (and myself) that the more people tell you no, the more you want something, and the more your strength to want it grows. The adversity creates the energy to fight.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Island and Its Boy?”

For this story and the other stories in this world I researched extensively for the lifestyles of people in prehistoric Arctic environments. I also researched marsupials, because that’s what the people in this story are, with the sf change of both sexes having pouches for carrying babies in. That detail is in the underwater part of the iceberg for this story, but it is vital when you have to think up good reasons for a society where women are both scarce and dominant.


Can you tell us about any of the worldbuilding of this story and what inspired your choices?

The idea of a floating island as a living creature is not a new one, but I’ve always loved that notion. So when in the course of a novel I wrote about people on an island floating by my protagonist’s village, trading for a few days and then hurrying back to catch up with their island, I knew I would write a story set on that island one day.

Because on such an island, you’re both living in an unchanging environment, the island itself, and floating past whole continents in the course of a year. As a writer, you immediately think in a seemingly static situation, what if?

And once I started asking myself questions about the island itself, I had to find the answers. Questions like: If it is a living creature, it must have been born once. Living creatures grow and mature. So the kind of change I needed to happen presented itself organically. The island would grow too big for its original course and have to move to a new one.

I also wanted to portray a world where women are the dominant members of society, and to see what would change if that happened. I wanted to have really good biological(if sf) reasons for this, not just make it so because the author wants it.

If there are few women, you need really big ‘litters’ to keep your population large enough. That would be hard on women, except if you create the possibility for men to take part in the suckling and raising of babies. It also has a big impact on the way your society works, for example marriage can’t between just one man and one woman. You need group marriages. Or if you don’t, you create a large body of discontented young men. (That could be another story….) And homosexuality would be the norm.

It also makes sense for children having been suckled by women to get different hormones than the ones suckled by men, and from this follows the special qualities of the brother who shares a pouch with his sister.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I love Ursula LeGuin, because she focuses on people and what makes them tick. Nothing wrong with battles and spaceships, but I really enjoy a more anthropological point of view. Liz Williams also wrote a couple of novels where the biology is a driving factor in the plot. Kate Elliott because she takes good deep looks at how societies work and how you need solid underpinnings for change.

I’m also very concerned about the big environmental issues in our world, and it seemed like a good and fun idea to make the ”environment”, the island, not only a living but also a sentient creature. That way if you want to think about themes, this issue is there in the background, but in the foreground there’s an enjoyable adventure.


What are you working on now?

I’m finishing up a present-day sf thriller, but as to short stories, usually spaceships and lots of aliens.


“The Island and Its Boy” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

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