Interview with YA Science Fiction Author Graeme Falco: The First Olympians – Character-driven Dystopia with a Glimmer of Hope
Dystopian fiction has been a popular genre among young adults for many years, capturing the imaginations of readers with its dark and often frightening vision of a future society. Through page-turning plots and relatable characters, these books delve into complex issues such as oppression, rebellion, and hope.
We had an opportunity to interview Graeme Falco, author of the book The First Olympians. The book tells us a story about a slave colony on Mars, ruled by oppressive AI, and it follows three characters and their distinctive, unique backgrounds. Falco brings a “techno-optimistic” perspective to an otherwise bleak world. Join us as we delve into the inspiration behind the book, the creative process, and what readers can expect!
FICTION HORIZON: Thank you for this opportunity to talk about your book, The First Olympians. Dystopian fiction is one of my favorite genres in all forms of art, so naturally, I have a lot of questions regarding your approach to worldbuilding and character creation. Tell us about your new book, The First Olympians. Why did you settle on that name?
GRAEME: The First Olympians is an action-packed thriller featuring spaceships, AI, and robots! It’s set in a mining colony underneath Olympus Mons, Mars, and it follows a group of first settlers who call themselves The First Olympians. The title also works for other reasons that I won’t spoil!
It’s a character-driven book, so the best way to tell you about it is to introduce you to the three point-of-view characters:
Gordon finally earns the illustrious explosives apprenticeship he’s worked so hard for when his life is destroyed. After security robots murder his mother, he takes up her cause and uncovers a dangerous conspiracy that threatens the entire outpost.
Dalrene cares about two things: her granddaughter and overthrowing the Martian AI that rules their lives. When it fights back, she’s forced to choose between keeping her family safe and freeing her people.
Alex wanted to be a space pilot, but instead, she’s stuck training to take over the family business. When Gordon opens her eyes to the truth about her family’s wealth and power, she takes up a dangerous quest that pits her against the most powerful man in the solar system. Her father.
You’ve decided to give your characters unique perspectives and totally different upbringings. Was that an attempt to draw parallels with this world? Did you aim for The New First Olympians to be a social commentary of sorts?
Science Fiction has a long history of social commentary, but it wasn’t top of mind for me while I was writing. My main goal was to create engaging characters overcoming difficult and extraordinary circumstances. That said, there is plenty of social commentary that flows naturally from writing about topics like oppressed peoples and AI.
How did you build such an elaborate world? What served as a model for your society? How do you balance creating a dark and hopeless world while also having moments of hope and resistance?
I spent a lot of time thinking about the privatization of space and how it could all go wrong. Companies like ExxonMobil and Facebook today already have more power than many countries and operate more like governments than anything else. It’s foolish to believe that in space, corporations wouldn’t try to take advantage of the power vacuum and relinquish their earthly shackles.
But that’s not pre-ordained! The corporate space industry is having some incredible success right now and is very exciting. How we regulate that industry will be crucial for whether it’s used as a force for good or evil. The same is true for AI.
At heart, I am a techno-optimist, and I believe that shines through in the book. There are many technological effects, like lower energy costs, that really are a tide that lifts all boats. This is not a sad book – it’s hopeful and inspiring!
How do you approach creating complex and relatable characters in a dystopian world? Can you discuss the process of creating believable and ominous villains?
It’s all about writing characters as people and not stereotypes. I started from “what makes Dalrene, Dalrene? What are her hopes, needs, and desires?” rather than “what does the grandmother rebel leader do next?”
I’ve never been a rebel leader or a grandmother – let alone on Mars. But the more you try to put yourself in those shoes, the easier it is to write outside of your lived experience. The same goes for villains. Readers want villains who are doing things for their own reasons and are not just evil for the sake of being evil.
Can you talk about any specific real-world events or situations that influenced your writing?
I already mentioned ExxonMobil. I also read a lot about child soldiers, cults, and of course, technology and space. Non-fiction was much more helpful than anything in my personal life.
How do you approach writing about love and relationships in a dystopian world?
They’re the same as anywhere else, really, except with more trauma and gallows humor. And the stakes are higher – for oppressed peoples, there’s usually the sense that anything good that happens, like a loving relationship, is only temporary, and they should hoard it before it’s taken away from them.
As a new author trying to get recognized, what challenges did you face while writing your book, and how did you overcome them?
It seems like everyone wrote a book during the pandemic, and there’s a flood of content right now. I just tried to take the extra time to make the story as fun and engaging as possible.
What books or authors influenced your writing style?
I really enjoyed James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse because it treats characters like multi-dimensional people, and that is the most important part of the story. A lot of 20th-century science fiction has great worldbuilding and thought-provoking social commentary but doesn’t meet the modern reader’s expectations for characters.
Young adult dystopian fiction is a saturated market that has given rise to numerous hits in the last few years. What sets your book apart from other dystopian fiction books?
A lot of dystopian books have a superhero element to them. There are no prodigal sons or prophecy-foretold saviors here. No chosen ones. This is a very human story.
And although it’s young adult, there are many adult themes, and there’s truly something for everyone. I think that science fiction readers of all types will love the fast-paced action and twists they don’t see coming!
What advice do you have for aspiring young adult dystopian fiction writers?
Read more non-fiction!
If you’re interested in more after this amazing insight into the creative processes behind the book, check out The First Olympians on Amazon!