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Interview: Essa Hansen on “Save, Salve, Shelter”

Essa HansenTell us a bit about “Save, Salve, Shelter.”

“Save, Salve, Shelter” is set on a future Earth that has been ravaged by environmental change, biodiversity loss, and genetic mutation. Most humans and animals have died, and the remaining population is vacating the Earth. Passage on these shuttles is bought by collecting un-corrupt DNA samples of flora and fauna, in the hopes that millions of species lost might be recreated on Mars.

Pasha is one such Collector. As she wanders, she’s rescuing the baby creatures she finds alive, unwilling to condemn innocent lives to the disastrous climate humanity created. She carries them with her, hoping to bring them along on the shuttles, but again and again she’s turned away. The United Nations has run out of compassion, and would rather resurrect test tube animals than take unsanctioned cargo aboard. There are few shuttles left, Pasha is getting desperate, and her journey—burying dead rescues and saving more—is transforming both her and the animals in unexpected ways.


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

This story encapsulates many of my feelings about the lack of gravity given to global conditions and the harrowing trajectory the Earth is on. It imagines a future where complacency keeps its roots dug in. I was living very close to the devastating California wildfires of 2017 and 2018—apocalypse became a sudden visual and physical reality. Australia is facing the same in 2020. Living in those conditions brought one’s attention into the present moment, to intimate worries, with limited information, just trying to take one step at a time into a future of uncertainty. I wanted to paint a post-apocalyptic world with that same sensitivity, an intimate view of a problem much, much larger than the protagonist.

It’s difficult to feel like one person can make a difference to a world, so I wanted to show a protagonist doing the best they could with whatever they had: sometimes that’s only the muscles on their frame. Or the words from their lips. Or the conviction in their heart. Sometimes it’s fighting tooth and claw. Pasha is up against the immensity of a government and population that has already decided what is right; either because the privileged few are deciding for the masses, or the masses are going along with a flow that seems easier than fighting. She has no clout or influence except her actions, and protecting what has meaning to her is how she journeys through the story.


Was “Save, Salve, Shelter” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I spend a lot of time in nature, and have lived in incredible wilderness locations in western North America. I’ve rehabilitated wildlife, lived on farms with diverse animals, trained horses, raised a baby falcon and hunted with hawks. In a way, “Save, Salve, Shelter” is a love letter goodbye to the slow extinction of the world around us, a weight and weariness that asks us to slow down and find beauty in the small things, enjoy the glimmers of life left, and find the strength to fight. I feel it’s important to appreciate both loss and love, and tried to blend these within the story.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

The most difficult part was balancing the deep point-of-view as the story progressed. There is some unreliability in the protagonist, a dreaminess that takes over, and I grappled with making the descriptions and emotions clear while also leaving room for the reader to fill the spaces between and enter some of that surreality.

Most fun part—I was itching to write a story with animals. Describing them was very fun, and I ended up researching a lot of animal facts that were new to me.


Why do you write?

This is a large question! I can’t imagine not creating—it’s like breathing. I write to try to crystallize abstraction into a concrete form that’s easier to grasp, either as plot or theme, a sparkling line, a wisp of concept or feeling too immense for the page. I also write to share the amazing things I learned through research and exploration. I gain new perspectives on the world, on the way people think and feel, the power of language and the immensity of stories. Writing takes me down lovely rabbit holes of science, myth, and experience, and I get to wrap that up and share it with others.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I’m not sure I have influences as much as inspiration, which comes from many sources all the time: science articles, news headlines, books I’ve read, people-watching, nature-watching, artwork, music. Usually it’s something small that sparks a deeper thought or feeling, and that spins up into the seed of a story.


What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on NOPHEK GLOSS, the first book in my space opera trilogy releasing from Orbit Books in Fall/Winter 2020. It’s set in a bubble multiverse, where a young man survives the slaughter of his enslaved population and sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge against his former masters. Like “Save, Salve, Shelter,” it has a compassionate protagonist focused on justice, struggling in a world that’s vast and ingrained in its ways. But this story features a found family of alien misfits, unusual technology, space pups, and a starship that can create worlds.


“Save, Salve, Shelter” appears in the January/February 2020 issue of F&SF.
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