The critically-acclaimed author of Nanjing: The Burning City is turning from non-fiction to science fiction to explore a real-life story.
Debuting this week, Ethan Young's The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall OGN starts in a far-flung future Earth where the earliest memories are only of when an alien race known as the Marauders invaded and conquered the planet. But an ex-combat medic named Bridget Lee is putting the pieces together to rescue her people - mankind.
Mixing Frank Miller and Dave Gibbons Martha Washington with the 1980s lo-fi cult film Legend of Billie Jean, The Battles of Bridget Lee delves deep into science fiction - but as Young tells Newsarama, it has its start in real-life issues him, his family, and many others have had to face in contemporary times.
Newsarama: Ethan, what is The Battles of Bridget Lee: Invasion of Farfall about?
Ethan Young: The Battles of Bridget Lee is a sci-fi allegory of the Mulan folktale. It's the journey of the reluctant warrior. When the story opens, we're already in the midst of a near-century long war between humanity and an invading alien force called the Marauders. The book blends 70s sci-fi aesthetic, anime, video games, and kung fu/samurai flicks.
Nrama: Compared to your previous works, Bridget Lee is very heavily into the idea of world-building. Is doing something like this been an ambition of yours for a while?
Young: I've always wanted to give it a try. I enjoy large-scale epics, but ones that are anchored by instantly relatable heroes. So far, the biggest hurdle has been trying to differentiate all the designs so they weren't stagnant, but at the same time, remained cohesive enough that it convinces the reader that everything exists in the same world.
Nrama:Big worlds, but the titular Bridget Lee seems to follow in your line of intense key characters from previous books. Who is she?
Young: Bridget Lee is an ex-medic who is a now a Chief Nursing Officer at outpost Farfall. She's the watchful protector of the children, but as I said before, a bit reluctant. With her experience comes the added weight of loss. I like to compare her to the ronin in Seven Samurai. On a moral level, they choose to protect the villagers, but that decision does not come flippantly. I think readers relate to conflicted heroes because we all carry a bit of self-doubt with us.
Nrama:And what is she up against, these Marauders?
Young: Basically, they're big, nasty, and imposing. The conventional wisdom among the human population is that the Marauders are after their resources, that they no longer have a home of their own. But there's more to that, and there's hints of other nefarious plans. After working on Nanjing: The Burning City, where the grey area of morality is more closely examined, it's nice to delve into a real genre villain. The Marauders are almost like modern day zombies, to that effect. You can project whatever you want onto them, and for me, they're big and nasty.
Nrama:What is it like to live as a human in this time period, on Farfall and in general?
Young: Humans are scattered across numerous outposts. Resources are rationed, and life is all about surviving. But within that, there's a strong sense of loyalty and family. I'm a first generation Chinese American. My parents grew up during the communist takeover of China, and later, the Cultural Revolution. My mom impressed upon me the daily hardships of life in China. And when you're immersed in that constant hardship, your family is essentially all you have. The extended family unit is a key to surviving, and you share everything. In Farfall, there are a lot of orphans, so it's the surrogate family that becomes essential.
And because of the constant threat of a Marauder attack, people are on heightened alert. I was living in the financial district when 9/11 happened, and my family and I were six blocks away from the towers. We couldn't get back into our home for weeks. I still remember the day after: my brother and I took the subway back into Manhattan and we saw some folks jogging. At the time, it was such a bizarre sight. Like, how could someone jog after what just happened? But as time went on, I realized that everyone needed to cope in their own way. We all had to adapt and navigate a new understanding of the world, and it was scary at times. So, in a nutshell, that's what the characters in Farfall are all feeling.
Nrama:I'm told this series will deal with the concept of refugees, and also the common societal preference for male children over female. Can you talk about?
Young: I'm using Bridget Lee as a platform to touch upon topics such as China’s now-repealed one-child policy. I’m not tackling the one-child policy per se, but the unintended consequences of that policy, such as the reinforcement of China’s cultural preference of boys over girls which resulted in an initial explosion of orphaned girls (but over the years you saw more boys being abandoned, especially if they were sick or disabled). That’s the element Bridget Lee will explore, the displacement of children, and a society’s preference for boys over girls, and what kind of dynamic that might build in a futuristic world.
Nrama:This has a sort of Martha Washington / Legend of Billie Jean vibe. What kind of story are you trying to tell here?
Young: On a personal level, I wanted an Asian American heroine as the lead in a sci-fi story, which is something I rarely see. In Bridget Lee, current nations no longer exist, but for all intents and purposes, Bridget is Asian American. I want other Asian American kids to have heroes that look more like them, but not with the added weight of being an 'ethnic' story. The Mulan allegory is very subtle, and is more of a springboard for me to touch upon larger themes, such as self-determination, bravery, and resistance. The reason I think this kind of representation is important in sci-fi, is because this genre allows you to break all the rules and project your own unique vision of the future. But more often than not, that vision consistently lacks diversity, when we all know that the opposite is more likely to happen.
Nrama:This seems very different from Nanjing: The Burning City. What do you think instigated you to go in the direction of Bridget Lee?
Young: You hit it in the question: something different. Yet, I think Bridget Lee is also recognizable enough for people who enjoyed my previous book. Exploring new directions and new challenges is always exciting, if not a bit nerve wrecking.
Nrama: Ultimately, what are your goals for Bridget Lee?
Young: Ideally, I'd like to do at least another two volumes. I have a soft ending in mind, and the story can either continue from there or end. But I want to give readers something substantial. I want readers to see Bridget and the supporting cast grow through three volumes and become invested in them as people.