The Asylum had the great pleasure of talking with author P. L. Tavormina, a real-life scientist (how cool is that!) whose book, Aerovoyant, joined the ranks of the first-ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest (SPSFC).
Read on to find more about Tavormina’s exploration of the climate crisis, where two environmentalists expose corporate greed with the aid of molecular magic.
P. L. Tavormina is a North American middle-aged mammal living during Earth’s Anthropocene. Dr. Tavormina has identified disease genes at the University of California and catalogued ecological changes in the wake of petroleum disasters at Caltech. Now she’s writing fiction to make climate science more broadly accessible.
Connect with P. L. Tavormina
On planet Turaset, droughts ravage farmlands, cyclones rip through coastal cities, and with every barrel of oil the combustion industry pumps from the ground, the climate worsens.
Alphonse has just refused a council seat because taking it means serving that rapacious industry. He leaves the city to seek solace in the wilderness, and there, a power to live the past awakens within him. Alphonse walks the steps of his distant ancestors on long-dead Earth, soon growing plagued with memories of its collapse, and he’s left with a troubling certainty: He must infiltrate the combustion industry to secure proof of its treachery, or Turaset will be next to fall.
Alphonse finds an ally in Myrta, a farmgirl who sees air, every molecule in every pulse of breath or blast of exhaust. With her talent, she can evade the patrols on the industry’s grounds. Together, Alphonse and Myrta can prove the industry lies about emissions. They can convince the councils to shut down fossil fuel use permanently.
But people in the industry have grown wise to Myrta’s power—and now she’s marked for death.
Hi, Patricia, and welcome to the Asylum! We’re glad to have you aboard our SPSFC special. To start us off, can you introduce yourself in 3 books?
Thank you for the invitation, Arina! And may I say this is a great way to think about introductions.
Since I’m originally from Indiana, and because I’m huge into the environment, I’ll start with A Girl of the Limberlost. If you haven’t read this 1909 book by Gene Stratton-Porter, it will transport you to Midwestern wetlands when oil extraction and logging threatened too many species.
Second, I’m the youngest of eight girls, raised for a time by a single mother. Sisterhood and feminism are intrinsic to who I am, and a book that captures the intricacies of sisterhood and mother-daughterhood is The Sisters of Summit Avenue by Lynn Cullen.
Finally, I’ve been fortunate to do what I love, which is scientific research. I’ve gotten to know some of the top minds in astronomy, genetics, the environment—and one thing I see again and again is how spiritual the work is for many of us. To that end, and because I write science fiction with social themes, I’ll add Carl Sagan’s Contact. Science measures the world around us, but the reason we pursue scientific knowledge is to understand ourselves and our placement in this marvelous universe.
With such different genre influences, what draws you to science fiction?
There’s something about the imagination of science fiction that appeals to me. Take Star Trek. Being on a spaceship, traveling to new places, meeting strange people? Wonderful! Mind-expanding.
As a writer, I love the creative license of the genre. There’s a new idea that pops into your head, like “What if dark matter is alive? What would that look like? Could it interact with us?” And that idea sends you down a wonderful hole of learning about dark matter and its properties and building a story off the premise. Sci-fi is ‘thinky.’ What’s not to love?
Can you describe Aerovoyant, bullet-style?
🧬Genetically modified superheroes
🌏 A man who identifies as a planet
👀 A woman who sees air
🗡️ An oil cartel determined to kill them both
🤫 A secret resistance
But wait, there’s more!
🐎 Country charm
💨 Climate disasters
♥️ And a love story!
We’d describe Aerovoyant as a cli-fi dystopia, where two environmentalists emboldened by ancient and molecular magic infiltrate the fossil fuel business to expose corporate greed. But how would you describe the book and its inspirations?
Your description is great! It really captures the plot and intent of the book succinctly. I’d complement that to say the story’s about our relationship with Earth. I’d say Aerovoyant brings forth the connections we have to ‘invisible’ things—air, for example; or geological history, or the far-reaching impacts of our day-to-day choices. We depend on Earth. We’re in a relationship with it.
I love that. In fact, one of the things that makes me even more excited to read Aerovoyant is your foundations in biology, genetics, and environmental science. How does that professional background inform your sci-fi works?
There’s so much research that goes into building a fictional world, because the rules need to make sense. In general terms, my background helps me dive into research without batting an eye.
So that’s one thing. But also, as a specific example, the geological history of Earth is something I never really wondered about as I was growing up. I learned about it by chance, as part of my work as a research scientist, but that history becomes the basis for the character of Alphonse. The genetics angle within my stories is closer to my PhD work, because genetics has always fascinated me. I love DNA, how it codes us, how it works at a molecular level—so playing with it in fiction has been a no-brainer.
While enrichening your story with your scientific background, where did you draw the line between real science and suspension of disbelief?
I remember a critique partner saying I should remove all the science from my story. ☺ She thought more people would read it if I got rid of the science. She wanted a love story, and life and death stakes, and intrigue and derring-do, that sort of thing.
Here’s the thing—the science is why I wrote the story. Her suggestion was well-intended, but I couldn’t follow it and remain true to my intent. Had I followed her advice, I would have ended up abandoning the project. I just wouldn’t have cared about it.
Understanding Earth as a system and as our home is necessary to solve our climate mess. So, a little chemistry, a little geology, biogeochemical cycles—these needed to go into my story.
I think there’s this idea that success equates to lots of readers and lots of sales. But why is that the definition? It doesn’t have to be. If a single reader comes away from my story with a clearer understanding of the world they live upon and their relationship to this world, that’s a success.
So, the line, for me, is to include the necessary facts, connect them in a logical way, and add enough character and stakes and to make the story enjoyable for its own sake.
Sometimes it’s wise to listen to peers but we’re glad you looked past this one and decided to tell your story! Without giving too much away, what scene/aspect of Aerovoyant is most important to you?
Well, there’s a scene where the protagonist, who lives on another world but is able to experience Earth history, realizes that every person on Earth truly cares about the future. I love the moment when this character sees it.
We lose sight of how much common ground we Earthlings share. Regardless of our differences, all of us care about the future. Sometimes I think this is paramount to keep in mind, and it needed to be in this novel.
Tell us about a piece of worldbuilding featured in Aerovoyant you’re most proud of.
I’m most proud of the fact that there are no guns on my world. Making that believable has been an ongoing challenge, but it was important to me to constrain my world away from guns.
You’re part of Sarah McAnulty’s “Skype a Scientist” project, which I think will be really interesting for both readers and authors to hear about. How did you first get into the project and how has it influenced you?
Twitter, oh yeah.
Sarah’s fantastic and her program’s growing and growing. You can find information at @skypescientist or at the ‘Skype a Scientist’ website. A new thing she’s doing (which looks fantastic) is YouTube panel events called ‘Science for Change.’ These videos discuss current issues like the opioid crisis and are available as ‘units’ for classrooms.
But I skype right into the classrooms, in real time, as do hundreds of other scientists who volunteer with the program. I love meeting students. We talk about Earth, dirt, ecology—whatever the K-12 students want to talk about. Gut bacteria. Dinosaurs. Carnivorous plants. Symbiosis. I usually volunteer for three shifts each semester, and when I sign up, I list my areas of expertise on the form. Classrooms ‘find me’ by entering the search terms they’d like to talk about. I’ve got a classroom meeting in two weeks. We’ll be talking climate.
Before we say our goodbyes, where can our readers find you online and what are your writing plans for the future?
My website is www.pltavormina.com, and I’m mostly on twitter @pltavormina, though that handle also finds me on Instagram and TikTok. I’ve got a sequel called Telomeric, and a short prequel called Seven Strengths that came out in the beginning of 2022.
I’m excited to dive into drafting the final book of my trilogy and to keep exploring this world. More stories are forming in my thoughts even as we speak. ☺
Grab a copy of Aerovoyant by P. L. Tavormina