Letters from the Light is a debut dystopian sci-fi novel by Australian author Shel Calopa. Join her and celebrate diversity, explore the corrupting influence of power, and ask whether it’s truly possible to break free of your upbringing.
Aggy Wilcocks surfaced, gasping and coughing. The surging flood had taken her by surprise, separating her from her family, pushing her right through town and slamming her against the tin veranda of the transit station.
Winded, she sucked desperately for air before diving down into the murky water in a frantic search for Uncle or the children. She came back up, still breathless and alone. Aggy dove again, pushing at the shifting debris. Lots of branches, a tractor battery, two dolls and some hydroponic drip-feeding tubes. Nothing important or useful.
Bobbing atop the water-line and blinking back tears, she squinted towards the horizon. The familiar landmarks were missing. No more grain silo or McWilliam’s two-storey Pub. Even the town hall, where she had hoped to attend her first harvest dance with Stevie Bennet, had gone. Swirling, turgid water had swallowed everything and everyone; so quickly.
Aggy grabbed a wooden table that floated within reach and clung to it as she looked west for the source of the flood. It was impossible to see anything clearly in the white-topped turmoil.
Then, looking up she noticed the cavern’s rocky roof approaching as she rose higher in the water. Unless she could find a way out soon, the vast underground cavern that had been her home would fill to become her watery tomb.
Behind her, the roof arched down into the water and merged into the back wall of the drowned transit station. All her life it had been there. A distant, largely ignored wall that defined the edge of their territory and kept them safe. Now it was a dam that was drowning them all.
She forced down a sob and reached out to touch it. The wall was slippery, cold to the touch and impossibly smooth. She clawed at it with her hands but couldn’t get any purchase. Feeling above her head, she found a conduit that ascended from the recently submerged building beneath her feet, and clung to it.
Steady at last, she made herself recall Uncle’s last instructions, hoping it would calm her down and help her to find a way out.
What had he said? Think, Aggy, think! The stories of the world above us are true. Just need to survive this. Find … something? Find what? It had happened so rapidly she couldn’t remember. JayMoe would know.
Aggy was about to dive down to search for him when she heard a low growl. She looked into the distance. Her heart screamed. Another wave loomed. There was only enough time to strengthen her grip and take two deep breaths.
The green wall of frothy water hit and, once again, she was submerged…
Extract from Letters from the Light published by Inspired Quill UK Dec 2019.
A Bite of… Shel Calopa
- Why did you choose science-fiction as the genre in which to tell this story?
As a teenager, I picked up Abbott’s Flatland from my school library which lead me to the work of Philip K Dick and Asimov. By Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy I was hooked.
But the feminist writings of Sheri S Tepper taught me that this genre could be so much more than entertainment. Science fiction allows us to question what is, by projecting what might be.
Letters from the Light is able to ask big questions about social equity by placing the characters in a futuristic setting. Space is a safe place to shine a light on bigotry and greed.
- Which of the characters do you feel is the most like you and what makes them so?
This is a tough question as Letters from the Light has a huge cast!
If I must choose one, then it would be Kohl Pallas, a young man born to extreme wealth and privilege. When he discovers the crimes his family have committed to maintain their position, he becomes a hot mess of indecision. Somehow he must face the corruption in his family and find the strength to do what is right, but is it ever possible to break free of your upbringing?
- Are you a cat person or a dog person and why?
I am definitely a cat person, although my husky dog would disagree!
Shel Calopa is a new author from the UNESCO City of Literature – Melbourne Australia. Whilst mostly set in the sci-fantasy genre, her stories only use science as the backdrop against which characters struggle with the contemporary issues of class, gender and power. Actually, it’s all a bit dystopian!
Shel is a passionate believer that all our small lives are connected, valuable and critical to the collective journey. She is published by Inspired-Quill in the UK and Aussie Speculative Fiction in Australia and you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.