The Big Idea: Cat Rambo
Writing a novel is often a journey, and in writing You Sexy Thing, author Cat Rambo discovered that their journey was taking them to some surprising but welcome places. Let’s retrace the journey, shall we?
For me one of the big ideas behind You Sexy Thing is its genre. I started it as military fantasy, but it turned into space opera along the way, which made me happy because space opera is big and beautiful and full of amazing sparkly bits. But beyond that, I strongly believe that it’s hopepunk, a newish name for a genre that has been around for a long time, narratives centered on the idea of found family, acceptance, and community, that also speak to a rejection of corporate-sponsored values and capitalism’s heavy handed stories.
Hopepunk’s not anti-reality, but it’s trying to show a reality that highlights the parts that draw us together in our fight against the darkness. It’s a genre that practices what it preaches, by modeling acts of community and kindness. Hopepunk posits that being kind is one of the most revolutionary things a human being can do in today’s world of corporate callousness, performative cruelty, and divisiveness. Kindness, hopepunk says, is essential if we want to survive as a species.
I first learned about hopepunk from this essay by Alexandra Rowland. I ended up incorporating it in a class I was teaching, All the Punks, which covered cyberpunk, steampunk, biopunk, solarpunk, splatterpunk, and more. It was interesting, but part of the large crowd of “-punk” genres and so it only got a fraction of the class time.
But even after the class was over, I kept thinking about hopepunk and the ideas underlying it. I ended up turning the section on it from that class into a workshop of its own, Writing Stories that Change the World, which looks at length at the reasons for writing hopepunk, as well as some of the tools for doing so. By now I’ve taught that class a dozen times, and every time I come away having learned something from teaching it.
I employed some of those accumulated tools while working on the book, particularly in thinking about creating a cast that had plenty of places for readers to see themselves, as well as one whose members manage to be distinctive without ever becoming stereotypes. And I took one of the things that I always tell my students, to write the sort of story they’d joyfully devour, full of the tropes and tricks they love in other author’s writing.
I firmly believe that stories can change the world, but I also think that one of the main ways they can do so is by teaching joy and kindness and hope, and an attitude that venerates and valorizes, rather than sneering at, such things. Niko and the others are former soldiers who’ve turned their talents to something constructive, and it’s a goal that they continue to pursue even in the face of explosions, space pirates, and the destruction of everything they’ve created.
The story’s not set in the near future, but in the far far future, with a universe in which humans are only a small minority, contending with a few other species that have come from Old Earth, most notably chimpanzees and dolphins. Only two of my cast are human, and having a group that ranges all over the place lets me create a wide, distinctive and hopefully engaging array. Niko and her crew show that a group full of differences can work together as a team, and that the whole of that team is much more than the sum of its parts.
I’m working on book three now, and following the journey of You Sexy Thing has been one of the most joyous things in my life. I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I did writing it.