The Big Idea: Alex White
Sacrifices in stories generally tend to be noble ones. Characters are made to suffer but always for the greater good. Author Alex White shows us that sometimes things are just plain bad, and sacrifices are no fun. So how do the main characters in August Kitko & The Mechas From Space manage to find any joy in the lives they’ve been dealt?
I think there has always been a tendency to try and characterize a story by its dominant emotion—after all, that’s the root of the movie genre system (action, comedy, drama, romance, etc.). Oftentimes, when a character is struggling with an insurmountable, perhaps lethal force, we classify these tales as tragedies. It’s the mom dying of cancer, or the soldiers about to make their final, hopeless charge. Perhaps the characters can affect some sort of major change in their final hours, but they’re still considered sad stories, bittersweet at best.
“Rebellions are built on hope,” says the Star Wars character about to be incinerated by a nuclear blast.
Is hope the same as happiness? The promise of tomorrow certainly isn’t enough to cut it; there are too many people whose tomorrows are just as crappy as today. If you’re dying, are you entitled to feel optimistic? While the answer is, “Of course!” I don’t often see that resoundingly appear inside of genre fiction. It’s always hope for others, hope for a world that will survive you.
In August Kitko & The Mechas From Space, the two main characters have been chosen as Conduits by the invading giant robots known as Vanguards. To interface with these machines, August and his love interest, Ardent Violet, have a lot of tech forced into their bodies (our society is often traumatic to the queer form, but that’s a different Big Idea). They both experience deep depersonalization from the invasive and damaging nature of the modifications. Worse still, these changes will one day kill the characters—humans weren’t meant to be Conduits, and one day, it will burn them out and poison them. It won’t be pretty.
A lot of people in our world face something that will abridge their lives, whether it’s illness, stress or poor living conditions. My spouse has a progressive, degenerative disease that will one day kill her—maybe sooner, maybe later. That’s just on a personal level. On a global level, we have over a million dead from a preventable pandemic, and millions if not billions more about to be displaced by preventable climate change. What are we supposed to do when so much of life falls outside of our control? How do we find happiness in a tragic framework?
The characters inside my story are so much smaller than the forces that guide the plot that it’s almost laughable. Not one of them can punch out a giant robot, and they’re not genius pilots. They’re scarcely chosen ones, more like the cursed, and sometimes it felt a bit existentialist to write. Genre fiction is obsessed with telling us the smallest voices make the biggest difference, but what if that’s not your lived experience?
We idolize characters like Bilbo and Samwise because they’re tiny people that create the ripples that knock down the Great Evil. They personally deliver the killing blow, and that’s enjoyable and cathartic. My Salvagers trilogy fits that mold nicely, but reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Plenty of people in Lord of the Rings died to remove single drops from that ocean of troubles, their lives as spent and useless as match heads. Sure, some of the Hobbits went on an adventure! Other people had to leave their elderly to be put to the orc sword because they likely couldn’t travel, to say nothing of any orc born unworthy for battle. Surely protagonists exist in those populations, even if they can’t infiltrate Mordor and duel a giant spider.
There’s too much evil to fight all at once, so is it still valid to be a mote of good when you can affect very little? And if so, is it still okay to be happy inside of dark circumstances? We can’t simply flush away the lives people lived because the ends are at odds with our conception of heroism. These characters deserve to make choices that are meaningful to them, empowering within the scale of their own lives.
At the end of the day, Earth is just an infected drop of water spinning through space. The people here matter, even if they’re not the elites that poison our planet and thrust us into bloody conflict. The daily choices they make that affect only their immediate spheres are still valid, interesting entertainment. That’s what I’ve sought to capture with August Kitko & The Mechas From Space—two characters falling madly in love while the worlds burn.