Today I am interviewing Terri Favro, author of the new science-fiction novel, The Sisters Sputnik, the sequel to Terri’s 2017 novel Sputnik’s Children!
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DJ: Hi Terri! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Terri Favro: Hi DJ, thanks for your interest! I’m a Canadian writer based in Toronto but I grew up on the U.S.-Canadian border in a rural-industrial town called St. Catharines. (Yeah, it’s really spelled that way.) It’s not far from Niagara Falls. In addition to being what we’d now called a ‘rustbelt’ town, the Niagara region in Canada is home to a microclimate that makes it a good wine and fruit growing area, so it attracted a lot of immigration from Italy including my who were from the mountains of northwestern Italy. I grew up in a two acre vineyard. My father and grandfathers were enthusiastic winemakers, but Dad was also a bit of a techno-geek, an amateur inventor. He made his living as an electrician in a car parts plant and was eventually given the job of looking after the first industrial robot, UNIMATE. This was in the late sixties. Dad became completely enamored with UNIMATE (which he called “Robby”, short for “Roberta”, because in his mind the robot was a female). He started writing the odd purchase order for spare robotic parts that he’d bring home and use to build working robots in our home. I loved hearing stories about “Robby” from him and imagined her as a humanoid robot, rather than a gigantic robotic arm. We were the only kids on the block with a self-mowing lawnmower in 1970. So science, machinery, space flight, robots and sci-fi were big interests in our house (along with comic books, which I loved). My family was also obsessed with oral storytelling, which influenced me from an early age to start creating stories of my own. I was storytelling before I could read or write. I’m a fabricator of tales of the fantastic going back to my childhood. (That’s what my last name means in English – ‘fabricator’.) In addition to writing novels (four to date), stories, essays and one book of nonfiction (about robots of course), I’ve made my living as a freelance writer, mostly copy and content for ad agencies. I’ve worked on campaigns for technologies, like mobile phones, when they were still emerging.
DJ: What is The Sisters Sputnik about?
Terri: It’s an odyssey through the multiverse, crossed with a love story. At its heart it’s about what it means to be human in the unpredictable future we’re hurtling toward. Are robots and AI assistants capable of being as human as we are? Are humans becoming more like machines? Is storytelling the ultimate test of what makes us human?
To give a quick sketch of the storyline, three itinerant storytellers (a comic book writer, her unpaid intern and an AI) are wandering the multiverse, telling stories for anyone willing to pay. As quantum voyageurs, they’re able to jump from one time continuum to another. In The Sisters Sputnik, the multiverse isn’t infinite: new continuums are only calved when a nuclear detonation occurs in our reality, referred to as Earth Standard Time. That’s 2,058 worlds, to date, including all the test detonations since World War II. The book opens with the Sisters in the Coordinated Universal Time Zone, better known as Cozy Time, a world that has forgotten how to tell stories. Very profitable territory for storytellers-for-hire! The senior storytellerDebbie Reynolds Biondi ends up in bed with an old flame from another continuum, and spends one long night telling him the story of how the Sisters started to wander the universe, in particular their run-ins with a race of robot-people who want to send humans back into their own pasts and change the history of Earth Standard Time..
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Sisters Sputnik?
Terri: The real world of robotics was a big influence. Many of the robots in the novel are based on ones in development now. Also, I was influenced by my sense that, on a humanistic level, the world is going backward – I live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, where fully a third of the residents come from outside the country and many of which are racialized. It’s amazing to me to hear so many stories of newcomers being told to “go back where they come from.” I started to think about that and conflated these two trends I saw in the world – a growing hostility toward so-called outsiders, and a love-hate relationship with the world of robotics. Seems to me that right now we’re at a point where we fear both real people and artificial ones. In other words, we fear change. I sometimes worry that there’s a desire to return to what we think of as a “simpler time”, like the 1950s, which really weren’t simple at all. So I was influenced by emerging social and tech trends, but also the worlds of comic strips and comic books, which in some ways provided a vernacular, even a sort of grammar, for telling stories of the space age. Comic books, in my mind, have been a mirror for my generation, and also provided a pantheon of myths (gods, saints, calls them what you like) that we see played out in the Marvel Comic Universe movies.
One other big influence is C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which I see as an origin story for multiverse voyagers. There are lots of Narnian references in The Sisters Sputnik, from lamposts in the wilderness to a mysterious wardrobe holding clothing discarded by generations of time travelers from the past and the distant future. If you’re a Narnia fan, you’ll find lots of Easter eggs in The Sisters Sputnik.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Terri: The main character is Debbie Reynolds Biondi, whose story started in Sputnik’s Children. She’s been an underground comic book creator since the 1980s, featuring a character called “Sputnik Chick, Girl With No Past”. But in fact her comics are memoir: Debbie herself came from a continuum called Atomic Mean Time which had a nuclear war (World War III) in 1979. Debbie escaped from that continuum and has been living in our reality, Earth Standard Time, ever since, trying to survive and thrive with no real identity. For example, she can’t displace any more mass than she did when she arrived in Earth Standard Time; if she gains weight, bits and pieces of her body fall off to compensate. She can’t have a bank account or ID; travel requires very cleverly faked documents. Not surprisingly she is a little world-weary but even in her senior years (she’s in her sixties when the story starts) she’s still quantum voyaging and churning out comics and generally doing whatever she wants to do for pleasure.. But she’s also dying of time sickness, which afflicts some quantum voyagers as they age.. To help her, she hires an intern (and varsity hockey goalie) named Ariel Bajinder Hassan, who Debbie calls Unicorn Girl for her sleeve of unicorn tattoos.. Unicorn Girl is working on a VR game based on Debbie’s comics. Rounding out the group is Cassandra, a predictive AI with an extensive knowledge of pop cult sci-fi.
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role in the story? Why?
Terri: There’s a character in the book named Bum Bum, who has appeared in every novel I’ve written. He actually is based on a real person from St. Catharines, but was part of my parents’ generation. The real Bum Bum was a hustler – his father ran a gambling joint out of his house. I always thought the guy’s nickname was kind of horrible, but it was real, so over time I’ve had Bum Bum develop from a small-time gambler and criminal, into the smartest guy in the room. He’s Debbie’s business manager, a shape-shifter and an expert at forging digital footprints. Oh, and an alt-reality version of Frank Sinatra also shows up in the book in a section set in the deep past (1950s). I based my Sinatra partly on research I did on the real guy, and partly on my own ideas of what would happen if my quantum voyagers ever met him.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Sisters Sputnik like?
Terri: Because the characters are quantum-voyaging around the multiverse, there are a number of different worlds in the novel, all variations on our reality of Earth Standard Time.The one I found most interesting is Cozy World, which has fallen into a type of cultural stasis. Populations have decreased, cities have turned into fields, and the arts have floundered – it’s a bit like the societies that after the plague decimated most of the world in the 14th century. I had already finished writing the novel before the pandemic, but in edits I started to turn Cozy World into one that had closed in on itself more and more, due to repeated plagues. That’s why the “Cozies” have lost the ability to tell stories (no books, no music, no theatre). I try to make such a world seem very possible, but also show how it’s transformed by the presence of outsiders – reinvigorated, reinspired, by artists, storytellers and travelers like the Sisters Sputnik. I think we crave stories and collaboration and new horizons, and we can actually lose the ability to create if we become too isolated.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Sisters Sputnik?
Terri: My favorite part was writing about the 1950s. I dug in the decade a lot, trying to understand how women dressed (girdles, ugh), products they used, music they listened to, and slang – I now refer to anything I like as “totally zorch”.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Terri: They’ll be wondering where my quantum-leaping storytellers for hire go next! They might also wonder how the main character, Debbie Reynolds Biondi, is going to manage two lovers from another world in one alternate timeline. What I hope they talk about, though, is what will happen to the biomechanoid child, Prima, who is now stuck back in Niagara Falls, New York, in the mid-1950s. I’m planning to write a novel about how she grows up as a more evolved species in a time and place that was highly suspicious of outsiders.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing The Sisters Sputnik? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Terri: I think it’s the question of what makes us human in an era where we have the power to create artificial, thinking versions of ourselves. In the book, the AI Cassandra becomes more and more “humanlike” as the novel progresses, while some of the humans are terrifyingly inhuman.Also, I wanted to explore the what-if-ness of other worlds: how different our lives, and our entire culture, would be if histories had unfolded differently. We tend to think of our time as a dumpster fire, but it’s possible that some worlds might be even worse, a reality Debbie has witnessed first hand.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Sisters Sputnik that you can share with us?
Terri: I love this question, because I’ve been posting pull-quotes from the book on social media – and they do seem to get attention! A few of my favorites:
“We don’t want to be human anymore. The faster we can join the synths, the happier we’ll be.”
“Do you know what it’s like to live in a world without stories?”
“Honestly, I don’t know why the young don’t rise up and eat us.”
DJ: Now that The Sisters Sputnik is released, what is next for you?
Terri: I’m writing an alternate-history Steampunk novel with the working title The False Queen’s Archive. It’s not a sequel or prequel to The Sisters Sputnik, but it’s ‘Sputnik-adjacent’ – the quantum voyagers from The Sisters Sputnik make an appearance in this novel too, which is based on the history of an empire called the United Kingdom of America and the wars between the United Kingdom and the United States that eventually created it. An alternate history, in other words. It’s an epistolary novel, told in bits and pieces of transcribed interviews, audio recordings and letters. Once again there will be robots (it’s steampunk after all!) and also a lot of attention to early silent motion pictures. Once finished, I’m going to write a third Sputnik novel, tentatively called Prima One, about Prima the biomechanoid child from The Sisters Sputnik who grows up trapped in America of the fifties and sixties.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Authors Page: https://www.amazon.com/Terri-Favro/e/B00E5V55FU?ref_=pe_1724030_132998060
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Sisters Sputnik that we haven’t talked about yet?
Terri: I love golden age comic strips and comic books. There’s a lot of attention paid in this book to graphic storytelling, including as a propaganda tool. In researching old comic strips (many of which have disappeared) I was struck by how much the “funny pages” have changed over the century. I’ve blogged about this at terrifavro.ca. If you’re a comic strip/book fan, you’ll find that the novel takes a deep-dive into the world of “funnies”.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Terri: I was surprised (and delighted) when the movie “Everything Everywhere All at Once” was released this year– it’s very much in the multiverse-voyaging spirit of The Sisters Sputnik. Maybe we’re in a time when the possibility of other realities is particulary appealing because we have no idea where we’re headed. To Cozy World? Over a cliff? Dystopia or utopia? In the multiverse, all worlds are possible (or at least 2,058 of them are possible).
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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***The Sisters Sputnik is published by ECW Press and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
An odyssey wrapped in a love story, set in a near-future of artificial people The Sisters Sputnik are a time-traveling trio of storytellers-for-hire who are much in demand throughout the multiverse of 2,052 alternate worlds. Each world was created by the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Earth Standard Time, home of the Sisters’ leader, aging comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi, her 20-something apprentice Unicorn Girl, and their pop culture-loving AI, Cassandra. Tales of Earth Standard Time-That-Was, from World Wars to the space race to Hollywood celebrities, have turned the Sisters into storytelling rock stars. In a distant reality where books and music have disappeared, Debbie finds herself in bed with an old Earth Standard Time lover who begs her to tell him a story. Over one long, eventful night, she spins the epic of the Sisters’ adventures in alternate realities, starting with the theft of a book of evil comic strips in a post-pandemic Toronto full of ghost kitchens and robot-worshipping lost children known as junksters, to a disco-era purgatory where synthetic people are sending humans into the past through a reverse-engineered Statue of Liberty, to a version of the 1950s where the Sisters meet a rising star named Frank Sinatra and his girlfriend, the once-and-future Queen of England.
About the Author:
Terri Favro is a Toronto-based novelist, essayist, storyteller. and comic book writer. Many of her stories draw on her background in the Niagara region as the child of an Italian-Canadian family that loved science fiction, homemade wine, gadgetry, comic books, hot rods, daredevils, space travel and dark humour. She’s also a long-time freelance marketing and advertising copywriter with 19 awards to her name.
Favro has been a winner and a shortlisted finalist in numerous literary competitions, including the CBC Creative Non-Fiction Prize and the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her critically-acclaimed speculative fiction novel “Sputnik’s Children” was longlisted for CBC Books Canada Reads 2020. She participated twice in the notorious Broken Pencil Indie Writers Death Match, both as an online combatant and a live-blogging moderator. In 2014, she won the Accenti Magazine Award for short fiction, awarded at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis Literary Festival.
Favro’s work has appeared in numerous literary magazines such as the Humber Literary Review, Geist, Prism, Untethered, Broken Pencil and Room. From 2007 to 2012, Favro was a regular contributor to MORE Magazine (Canadian edition), specializing in articles about quirky technology.
As a CBC Literary Prize alumna, Favro was commissioned by CBC Books in 2016 to write and perform a story about her father’s obsession with robots, “Death and Loving Fabrications”, for the CBC Books digital series, ALL TOLD: True Stories From The True North.
Favro’s new novel, “The Sisters Sputnik” – the sequel to “Sputnik’s Children” – is forthcoming from ECW in May 2022. She is also collaborating with visual artist Ron Edding on “Cold City”, a graphic novel based on a true-life unsolved murder in Depression-era Toronto.
Terri Favro is a member of The Writers’ Union of Canada. She is represented by Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency.