Sci-fi authors are interesting because you always wonder what goes on in their heads while writing such stories. When I was tasked to interview Red Rising author Pierce Brown, I thought asking about space travel would be the easy way out since the book revolves around it. But the conversation stretched out to what humans are capable of doing in the world. With a little mythology mixed in.
If you’ve ever wondered about aliens and life on Mars, Pierce might give you more perspective based on his ideas. Plus, we get a glimpse of how misogyny and dealing with power hungry people play into Red Rising‘s story.
What was your inspiration while writing the Red Rising series?
The biggest inspiration was Antigone. It’s about this girl that defies the power of her city because her brother was a rebel, who gets killed. She wants to bury him with funeral rights but the tyrant of the city wouldn’t let her. So she buried him anyway and gets executed for it.
That was the inspiration behind Red Rising because it’s about someone who’s disenfranchised and without power, and doing something right by defying power. I mean, Antigone‘s story lasted for about 2,500 years [and it was set in] a period that wasn’t very enlightened in women’s rights. You can also see parallels of Red Rising in the real world since I was ripping off of elements like the Irish immigrants who came to America in the 19th century, so that sort of blended into the story.
How do you keep track of the sci-fi terms and your characters in the series?
I should probably keep notes, but I don’t. It’s actually very troublesome, particularly since I’m dealing with a lot of families. They’re all feuding and sometimes I forget who kills who. I’d be writing something where two people are cooperating, and my editor would go, “Dude, this guy killed this person’s brother.” [Laughs] I usually just keep it [in my head] or sticky notes. As for the writing itself, I just write. I don’t have an outline, which I should have. My editor has told me many times to keep an outline, but it curbs my creativity. My story starts looking like itself by the second or third draft. The first draft is usually sloppy and I figure it out as I go along. [Laughs]
In relation to what you said about Antigone, what can you say about the current state of women’s rights?
Amazing progress had been made…until recently. But there’s always more progress. If you read Red Rising, you’d notice that I don’t view women and men differently in terms of what they can do in the story. Everyone in the society, except for the Reds, look at women as equals to men. The Reds don’t because they were socially designed to look at man as the leaders of their family and society. It was socially engineered to create this misogynistic mindset. What I love about it is that Darrow’s voice comes from that perspective. He thinks of himself and men as the leaders of society, when over the course of the series, he begins to learn about his relationship with women. Everything begins to change as he grows up.
Darrow’s relationship with women is some of my favorite stuff because they’re his largest source of strength and they, above anything else, are what makes him a better human being. And they don’t exist just to make him better.
Why did you set the story on Mars instead of creating a fictional world or planet?
Mostly because I was obsessed with Mars as a kid. And I felt as though I’m already doing enough weird things in the story so I wanted to ground it into something a bit new. But also, the story of Darrow is [connected to how] Mars or Ares is the god of war and rage in mythology. I wanted to use that motif in Darrow and see how he had to grow up as a human being, away from that rage To live for something more, find something better than simply war, rage, and seeking revenge.
Also, I felt like if I set it in our world it would be more fun and grounded because I get to play with the history more. Rather than if I put on [a fictional planet] then we have no commonality. I can’t quote Sophocles and all the Greeks that I love.
So if it was set in Venus or Jupiter, would the mythology behind them also affect how the people would live?
It would but there’s a lot less cool mythology behind Venus. [Laughs] There’ll be a lot of pretty people. Because you know, Venus is the goddess of lust and sexuality. Maybe that would be the porn spin-off of the series. [Laughs]
Do you also believe that humans can survive in Mars in the future?
Yeah, up to a degree. What’s interesting to me is how human beings would evolve if you change a certain parameter. I wanted to show humans leaving the cradle of Earth, and going to the stars and feeling like God because of it. They’re not just living on them, they’re also changing them now that they have the technology to do that. That hubris of humanity is interesting from the standpoint of storytelling. Human beings, aside from beavers and ants, are the only beings that can change the situation and the world around them to fit their needs. It’d be the natural progression to show human beings on planets. Plus, it’s really cool to think that human beings can own and change planets.
[That can also be their downfall] and that’s the fun thing about it because it’s poetic justice. It’s that pride that makes them so vulnerable. We do that a lot, too: We think we’re gods until a tsunami comes and destroys a city.
Would you want to meet aliens in other planets?
I hope so…actually, I don’t. I hope we meet them on their planet instead of them meeting us. Colonized species never fare well—Native Americans and the Aborigines did not fare well. It’s very difficult to be people who are discovered. So I hope we have better technology than them. [Laughs]
We’ll probably get alien small pox and we’ll die. Their world would probably be terrifying too. If we have sharks, they’ll have creatures that have sharks for breakfast. The aliens might not even look like aliens, they’re totally going to look like jellyfish. But if I had to die, I want the aliens to vaporize me—quick and easy, please!
The book has themes on power play and caste systems. For you, how should leaders and citizens address the issue of inequality in the world?
I wish I had the answers. If I did, I’d be a politician—probably wouldn’t, though. [Laughs] That’s the hardest to answer for our age. How do you level the playing field? I think the only thing you can do is to eliminate the control that oligarchies and rich people have on government. Democracies exist to give everyone a voice. But people’s voices are taken from them when you have companies or small groups of people that are deciding the course of the country.
[Again,] Red Rising is about trying to give a voice to the disenfranchised. But how do you do that without sacrificing capitalism? My thing is I love capitalism because it gives me all these delicious foods, globalism, great TV shows, and also security, peace, and happiness. But I think that there is a large problem when you allow corporate entities to manipulate the levers of government. That can destroy and rob people of a voice, and that makes it difficult for them to get out of poverty. I think that what we can do to level the playing field is to eliminate favoritism where capitalism would benefit.
If Darrow lived in the real world, how would he deal with problematic leaders?
In terms of Donald Trump, he’s a problematic leader but he is far from being evil because he hasn’t broken the system of government. He’s just a clueless bigot and kind of a dumbass. But he’s still living within the confines of the law, if that makes sense. He’s still not breaking the law. I think it’s sometimes easy to think of Trump as the real bad guy of our era because he is clearly against what many people believe. But he’s not the worst.
It’s important to keep it in perspective and to understand how bad it could be. So imagine if he was actually breaking the law too. If he was, then obviously just get rid of him—our system is strong enough to eliminate him completely. I think Darrow would have a bigger problem with Rodrigo Duterte than Trump. [Laughs] But I think he would also focus more on [problems that the minority faces] instead of an individual.