Lives Colliding in the Future Arctic: Sam J. Miller on “Blackfish City”

Sam Miller author photo_ Courtesy of Kalyaní-Aindrí Sánchez

Blackfish City, Sam J. Miller‘s new novel, boasts one of the most intriguing science fictional settings I’ve run across in a long time: Qaanaaq, a floating city in the Arctic in which new societal orders are formed, old grudges burn brightly, and a host of mysteries await their solutions. Miller’s novel centers around a series of ostensibly unconnected characters, until their plotlines begin to converge in unexpected ways; the result is a powerful and unique glimpse of the near future. I talked with Miller about the novel’s genesis and its connection to present-day politics.

There are a host of disparate elements combining in Blackfish City, from the floating city where it’s set to the idea of humans neurally linked to animals to a decades-long grudge hearkening back to the fall of New York City. Was there one piece of the book from which all of the others emerged?

The orcamancer came first. She showed up on the doorstep of my brain and demanded my attention, and I was too afraid of her to say No! At first she was a teenager, but as the story evolved I realized that wasn’t right for the mission that she was on – she was actually older, wiser, more formidable, a grandmother on a mission of love but also copious bloodshed. In my short story “Calved,” I had previously visited Qaanaaq – a gritty rambunctious future post-climate-change floating city in the Arctic Circle – and that felt like the perfect place for the orcamancer to run wild in. Also all of my stuff takes place in a shared universe, so whenever I start to explore a world in fiction there’s often places and characters and speculative conceits that crop up repeatedly.

Reading your novel, I found myself thinking of experiments in artificial islands, from Sealand onwards. Did you have any particular real-world inspirations for Qaanaaq?

I was really imagining Qaanaaq as a giant oil rig where a million people lived, and I did a lot of research into the various types of anchoring technology that facilitate human habitation and labor in the deep ocean. And I was inspired by the ways that places like Iceland … Continue reading Lives Colliding in the Future Arctic: Sam J. Miller on “Blackfish City”