This Planet Needs A Name

Today’s episode is about giving everything up and leaving it all behind.

This episode features four installments from This Planet Needs a Name, originally published in December 2019 and January 2020, followed by an interview with the creator Evan Tess Murray.

This Planet Needs a Name, was created by Evan Tess Murray. Original composition, sound design, and audio engineering are by Trace Callahan. Characters were developed in collaboration with their actors:

✨ Open World is a partnership between Philo’s Future Media and Flash Forward Presents, hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth, produced by Brittani Taylor Brown and mixed by C. The intro music is Dorica by BlueDot Sessions. Additional music by T.H. Ponders. ✨ 

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TRANSCRIPT

TK Dutes:

Welcome to Open World. I’m TK.

Rose Eveleth:

And I’m Rose, and this is a show about hopeful futures and how to bring them just a tiny bit closer.

TK Dutes:

And on today’s episode, we’re leaving everything behind.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. It’s scary but sometimes you’ve got to do it.

TK Dutes:

Yep. Let’s find out how.

TK Dutes:

And now, This Planet Needs a Name, by Evan Tess Murray.

Zahava:

Heading out?

Speaker 4:

Done for now, I think. More we’ll have to wait until you get down there tomorrow and take a look around.

Zahava:

Still sure you don’t want to be first?

Speaker 4:

Why hog all the fun? I have plenty to do up here for now.

Zahava:

All right. See you tomorrow.

Speaker 4:

See you.

Zahava:

At least she didn’t tell me to get some sleep. Loose ends to wrap up. Ship, open a channel to… cancel. I need to stretch my legs anyway.

Mandry:

Oh hey, boss.

Zahava:

Don’t call me that.

Mandry:

Sure, boss.

Zahava:

Have you seen Cyrus or James? I need to catch up with them.

Mandry:

James is in the infirmary. Need me to find Cyrus?

Zahava:

I’ll figure it out. Thanks.

James:

Yes? Who’s there?

Zahava:

It’s Zahava. Do you have a moment? I need to check in with you.

James:

You could just come in. It’s the infirmary, not my private quarters.

Zahava:

What can I say? I’m very polite.

James:

Looking forward to tomorrow, are you?

Zahava:

Forward. Down. Some other directions maybe.

James:

Did you just make a joke?

Zahava:

No.

James:

Good, because it wasn’t funny. What did you need?

Zahava:

You haven’t signed off on the plans for the clinic we’re seeding downstairs. Cyrus needs to finalize it all tonight.

James:

Ah, that. I thought it looked fine. I’ll let him know.

Zahava:

You might be stuck with it a while. Is it big enough?

James:

Unless our plans change cata-fucking-strophically, it should be fine. More concerned about the limitations on the medical formate, but I’ve made do with less in worse places.

Zahava:

I’ll get Cyrus on designing you an upgrade.

James:

Well, if that’s all you need, I’d like to get back to the rousing conversation I was having with the infirmary’s former.

Zahava:

Maybe I should send Cyrus to you directly.

James:

I’m actually pretty fond of the little bastard. The former, not Cyrus, although he’s all right.

Zahava:

All right. Don’t forget to sign off on the plans.

James:

On it. Feel free to see yourself out.

Zahava:

Ship, open a channel to Cyrus, Personal. Cyrus, where are you? I want to check in.

Cyrus:

Oh, hi, boss.

Zahava:

Don’t call me that.

Cyrus:

Never again. Don’t worry. I’m in the kitchen. Come by. You probably didn’t eat anything.

Zahava:

I’ll be right there. Anything in particular you’re working on right now?

Cyrus:

If you stop interrupting me, you’ll see when you get here.

Zahava:

Which way is the kitchen again? Green line? Green line.

Zahava:

Found you. What do you have there?

Cyrus:

I have been making cheese.

Zahava:

We already have cheese.

Cyrus:

Better cheese.

Zahava:

This is what you think is the most important thing to do the night before we go down to the surface for the first time?

Cyrus:

Have you ever had truly good cheese? This is queso palmero.

Zahava:

Palmero?

Cyrus:

As close as I can get without any goats from La Palma.

Zahava:

Don’t make goats.

Cyrus:

You know I don’t do biologicals.

Zahava:

Except cheese.

Cyrus:

Food is an exception. It is also not alive.

Zahava:

Right. Good. I did want to check in with you about tomorrow though. Can you put the cheese programming aside?

Cyrus:

Of course, boss.

Zahava:

You said you wouldn’t call me that.

Cyrus:

I’m sure everyone will stop soon.

Zahava:

It’s a good thing I love you all. Anyway, tomorrow. I just confirmation from James that the clinic is good to go. He said he’d sign off on it.

Cyrus:

He did. I just put the seed into production.

Zahava:

Excellent. Any other loose ends?

Cyrus:

You tell me.

Zahava:

You know that it’s dangerous, right? We might run into some unforeseen horrible circumstances.

Cyrus:

Yes, of course.

Zahava:

And you’re prepared for that?

Cyrus:

Unforeseen circumstances are hard to prepare for. If you can prepare for them, they’re foreseen.

Zahava:

Yes. So you’re feeling good about this then?

Cyrus:

It should be very interesting.

Zahava:

I’ll take that as an, “I’m all set, Zahava. Thanks for checking.”

Cyrus:

Yes, Zahava. Thanks for checking.

Zahava:

See you in the morning.

Cyrus:

Wait.

Zahava:

What?

Cyrus:

You didn’t try the cheese.

Zahava:

Really? The cheese?

Cyrus:

It would mean a lot to me if you would sample this cheese. I worked very hard on this cheese.

Zahava:

Fine. Oh. That is good. Very much… cheese. I don’t really know from cheese, but it’s cheese for sure.

Cyrus:

Even if it’s not quite queso palmero.

Zahava:

I can almost taste the goat that isn’t there. I’ll take a chunk for the road.

Cyrus:

Knowing that you approve makes my life here complete, boss.

Zahava:

Cut it out. See you tomorrow.

Zahava:

So it’s red back to the bridge and I know my way home from there for sure. Ship, general announcement. Evening all. You should be winding down. As you know, tomorrow Cyrus and I are going down to the surface. Given everything we know, we don’t anticipate any problems, but as he pointed out for me, we can’t prepare for the unforeseen because we can’t foresee it. I don’t want to take this step too lightly. If you’re able to meet up tomorrow to see us off, that would mean a lot. You’ll have it in your planners already. And if you’re secretly harboring resentment that you don’t get to be the first one on our new home, either come talk to me about it right the fuck now or prepare to live disappointed for the rest of your life. See you tomorrow. Zahava out.

Zahava:

Last evening on board. I feel like I should make it special somehow, but it’s not like the ship feels like home. All that time unconscious doesn’t count. [foreign language 00:08:21]. I think that’s probably the right blessing for former made cheese you eat after sundown, floating above a new world.

Zahava:

[singing]

Zahava:

I miss you still. Tomorrow I’ll do something out of stories. My fate will walk on earth that is not of earth, and it’s so beautiful from here. So bright. You would be delighted and the scholars would be discussing it all. So many disputations. But we have no Talmudic scholars here, just me. No one to dispute with. What will it mean for all the stories you’ve told me to be alive on a new world? If the crew could only hear me now. Tough Zahava lying around, wondering about how long stories live and how we make meaning. You’d like them, I think, all of them. They’re hardworking and kind, most of the time. I know they’d like you. There are just a few of us, but we’re carrying so many, and I don’t just mean literally. People worried that it would be a lonely existence, but how can I be lonely when I hear you in my mind every day? I am though, a bit lonely. Only in the quite, dark parts. We’re all so busy otherwise, but this is the part where I sit and tell you all the stories of my day and you laugh and cry and hold me.

Zahava:

Would you believe the best programmer on earth, who isn’t on earth anymore, spent his last evening on this ship replicating some sort of fancy cheese? Oh, and as of today, they’re all calling me boss because they know I don’t want them to and they think it’s funny. Funny. Tomorrow, I’m so excited. I can’t quite believe no one else wanted to be first. Cyrus is coming down too, but it’s just because he needs to do the work. I don’t think he cares very much, but for me, the first feet on our new planet. How could I not be excited? I hope it’s as pretty up close. Everything indicates we should be able to breathe the air. This is so far from what we planned. We trained for the worst case, for living up here until we could construct a habitat remotely, for all the work of redesigning the atmosphere itself. Instead it’s something out of a fantasy novel. A whole world waiting for us. I’m still not sure it feels real. Maybe I won’t believe it until I know what the air smells like down there or what the ground under us feels like where the gravity is real.

Zahava:

I need to sleep so I can make history tomorrow with a clear head. Ship, lights out, please. Good night my loves.

Mandry:

That’s today’s schedule sorted. What do I have time for? Okay. Ship, record voice message to storage, marked Jameel. Hey, Jameel. I told you I’d try not to leave out anything important, and since I don’t know what’s going to be important, I’m trying not to leave out anything. Most of the landing crew is up now. I’m pulling them out of suspension one at a time, giving everyone a little support while they settle in. I’m getting the last one in a few minutes. Zahava and Cyrus are on the way to the surface right now. They’re planting the seeds for our landing settlement. At this point I can say that like it’s nothing special, which is ridiculous. It’s amazing, man. They’re growing us a village next to the base of a space elevator on a brand new planet. It’s exactly what we dreamed of as kids, you know? I live in the future. You’re going to love it here.

Mandry:

I wish I could see your face when you wake up and see everything we’ve built. I should go soon. I want to get the timing right for our agriculture guy. He’s sweet. You’d like him. He loves all the plants, like they’re his kids, even the algae vats. Speaking of which, there’s something for your history books. All those years in stasis and the algae vats are still full of green slime. No human oversight needed. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that things are going awfully well so far. You know me, I’m not superstitious, especially for a pilot. Everyone else always had a dozen rituals before takeoff and I just ran through my checklists. I used to pretend I had lucky socks just to get everyone else to leave me alone about it. I could never remember which ones were meant to be the lucky ones though. I kind of wish I had them now.

Mandry:

I’m heading over. I hope these recordings help you out. It’s still a little weird to think about how we’ll be your history. Anyway, talk to you see, friend.

Mandry:

Hey there, buddy. Ready for this?

Mandry:

Easy. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re safe. I’m here. Breathe. There’s nothing in your stomach, I promise. Just hold my hand and breathe through it. You’re coming out of suspension. That’s why you don’t remember anything. It will all come back in a minute.

Quill:

In a minute?

Mandry:

It won’t be long. You’re Quill. I’m Mandry. I’m your friend.

Quill:

Mandry?

Mandry:

Yes. It’s okay. There’s no rush. You don’t have to sit up yet. It will be easier if you don’t try to move until you’re not so dizzy.

Quill:

Did you feel like this?

Mandry:

You’re starting to remember. Yes. Only I was alone and the Grissom generator was off, so I had amnesia and was floating around and there was no one to tell me not to bothering vomiting.

Quill:

That sounds bad.

Mandry:

It wasn’t the best. That’s why I’m here. Ready to sit up? I’ll help.

Quill:

I think I can stand… maybe.

Mandry:

Oh, hold on. I’ll get you a robe.

Quill:

Thanks.

Mandry:

You can lean on me if you’re still dizzy.

Quill:

A bit, yeah.

Mandry:

Are you ready to try to walk? There’s something you should see.

Quill:

Mandry, the plants, how are they? Do you need me to check on them. My god, it’s been a decade since anyone-

Mandry:

No. No. The plants are fine. I mean, they’re alive. It’s kind of a jungle in there because they spent years without any idea about which way is down, but they seem to have adapted okay and I’m sure that-

Quill:

Yeah, no gravity.

Mandry:

I just turned the Grissom back on a bit ago when started waking everyone else up.

Quill:

Right. Right. You trained for it.

Mandry:

Right. But the rest of you really like knowing which way is down. Anyway, the plants can wait, I promise. Can you walk with me?

Quill:

Sure. I’m a little wobbly.

Mandry:

I got you.

Quill:

Okay. So what’s here?

Mandry:

Trust me.

Quill:

You brought me to look out the window?

Mandry:

Yes.

Quill:

It’s all dark. Wait. No stars, just… is that the planet?

Mandry:

It sure is.

Quill:

Is there a reason you wanted me to see it in the dark?

Mandry:

Have some patience.

Quill:

I’ve been asleep for decades. How much more patience do you want?

Mandry:

About… here we go.

Quill:

Wait. Wait. Is that… are those clouds?

Mandry:

Yep.

Quill:

Clouds. Oh, Kolian must be so excited. So it has an atmosphere.

Mandry:

Sure does. Keep watching.

Quill:

Oh, it’s so blue, green and black. Oh, what a pretty turquoise color. Is that water?

Mandry:

Actually, the black parts are water, we think.

Quill:

Wait, what’s the blue part?

Mandry:

That’s what I wanted to show you. That’s the land, some of it anyway.

Quill:

And it’s blue?

Mandry:

Well, that seems to be what color the vegetation tends toward here.

Quill:

Mandry.

Mandry:

Yes?

Quill:

Are you telling me-

Mandry:

Yes.

Quill:

… there are plants down there?

Mandry:

And animals. We’re looking at… well, that big patch is a forest.

Quill:

Oh, a forest. A forest.

Mandry:

Well, I don’t know if things are really trees, but yeah.

Quill:

It’s so beautiful.

Mandry:

Yeah. I knew you’d love it.

Quill:

That’s you brought me here now.

Mandry:

Yeah. Do you want me to show you where your cabin is from here? You need some rest.

Quill:

Actually, I want to watch a little while longer, if that’s okay.

Mandry:

Of course. I think you’re standing on your own okay now. Do you want me to go?

Quill:

Can you stay a while?

Mandry:

Yeah, I can stay.

Zei:

Damn it. Okay. Okay. This isn’t going to get any easier if I wait longer. Come on. Hi, Landron. I’ve been trying to record this a while and it never comes out quite right, so this time I’m just going to do this and send it. Your mom promised to give it to you when she thought it was best, I don’t know how old you are right now, but anyway, I’m Corenna Zeigen, people usually call me Zei. We just got here and for now, I’m in orbit waiting at central for the shuttle that’ll take me down to our first settlement. I’ll be pretty busy soon. I can’t stop thinking about the last time I saw you. You were walking, but you weren’t very good at it yet. Every few steps you’d fall down on your butt and you’d always look so surprised and offended like how dare gravity think it could have any effect on you. But then you’d look up into our eyes and you’d laugh. Every time you laughed. Sometimes you even clapped and said, “Yay.” You were amazing, baby. You didn’t have a lot of words yet, but you called me Zaza.

Zei:

I know that sometime far in my future you’re going to wake up in a new world. You’re going to have to learn to walk all over again through new grass, under a new sky. Hell, it’ll be your first grass, your first sky, and the only world you’ll ever know. But Landron baby, I won’t be there. Thing is, for you to have this new and better world, I have to stay behind and make it. I just want you to know, baby, that I wish I could be there to see you walking under the bright sky with your mom. I wish I could watch you grow up. It’s okay that I can’t. It’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Don’t ever worry about that, okay? I want you to know that you are so loved. You’re the best thing your mom and I ever made together. I don’t know what you’ll do with your life, I know it will be amazing and take care of your mom for me too, okay? We made some hard choices and it’s too late to take them back now, but I want her to know it’s all right. It’ll be all right.

Zei:

So Landron, baby, there’s one way I’ll still be with you. My name is on the blueprints for your whole planet. Every time you flip on a light switch that’s me, okay? You’ll have light because I love you, every day. Always. Your Zaza loves you, baby. Go be amazing.

Mandry:

Zei, your shuttle’s prepped. Loading in a few. Are you ready?

Zei:

Hi. Yeah. I’m just about good to head out. Got to take a quick detour to storage.

Mandry:

Need a hand with anything?

Zei:

No. No. This one’s all mine, but thank you. I’ll see you at the landing bay, yeah?

Mandry:

I’m already here. See you soon.

Zei:

Well, here we go.

TK Dutes:

That touched my heart. I feel so many things right now for this story we just heard. It’s about pioneering and it included so many different people and cultures, which is not really something you see in the movies about people going to plant their flag somewhere, so I really, really appreciated This Planet Needs a Name for that. What did you take from it, Rose?

Rose Eveleth:

I love the joy in it in the… my favorite scene… there are so many great scenes. My favorite scene is when the scientist wakes up and is asking about the plants and getting so excited that there are plants on this planet. Just that joyousness, that sort of feeling of awe and wonder and discovery, even admits sort of fear of what’s going to happen. Knowing you’re taking a huge risk. All of those things, but to just have that really lovely balance between those things.

TK Dutes:

Yeah, and this idea that people could care about a future so much that they could sacrifice their present for it. That got me right there. And I just want to make sure that we say that This Planet Needs a Name, so this is vignettes of five different parts, but if you go into their feed, there will be an extra part for you to listen to. So we gave you a little snippety version, but you get bonus and full shows in the This Planet Needs a Name feed.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. This is like sampler platter A when you really want sampler platter B that has all the stuff.

TK Dutes:

Exactly. So for $19.99 you just get a little bit more over there.

Rose Eveleth:

Plus shipping and handling, okay?

TK Dutes:

Well, we got the interview, so that’s what they don’t have. Before we get into that, first a short commercial break and then we’ll come back with a conversation with Evan Tess Murray of this Planet Needs a Name.

Rose Eveleth:

Evan Tess Murray, thank you so much for coming on the show, talking about this piece. This was really fun. We just listened to it, and I’m excited to talk to you about it.

Evan Tess Murray:

Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited for this conversation.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. So let’s start with maybe the origin story of this project. How did this whole This Planet Needs a Name project began for you?

Evan Tess Murray:

I have been listening to audio drama for quite a while and absolutely love it and kept getting inspired and wanting to make my own pieces and running into bumps like that I had never written a screenplay or a script and that I have never recorded or edited audio and similar things. I just had a head full of stories, so some of the setting and story was already there. I went to Podtales where I talked to a million creators, many of whom were incredibly invitational. People kept saying, “So what’s your show?” And I was like, oh I don’t have a show, and they’d say, “Really? Are you sure?” And by the time I left, I thought I wanted to take this scrap of an idea that I had and turn it into something. Remembered that I had this dear friend I hadn’t talked to in most of the decade who does audio and just got in touch and say, “Hey Trace, do you want to make a baby that is a podcast?” And she said yes.

Evan Tess Murray:

So the ideas for the show, the kind of central thesis and theme, the hopefulness, all of that was already in my head, and then I talked to Trace, who was very thoroughly on board and then we threw together an audition about two days later, cast and in the next two weeks got everything up and running. Decided to jump and see if I could figure out how to fly on the way down.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. So what listeners just heard is actually sort of a little bit of a snippety-snip of a couple of different things that you’ve worked on, and it doesn’t have all of the prologues in it. So maybe can you talk to us a little bit about the bits that they may have not heard, but they can go listen to very easily on your website?

Evan Tess Murray:

Sure. So when we did these originally, there were four separate chunks released one at a time, once a week as sort of teasers. The second one is the one that we put them all together into a full prologue, but then for the purpose of this, we cut one piece out for time mostly. And so if you listen to the full one, there is a whole section in there where the character that they’ve not met yet, whose name is Kolian, they are a weather expert and climatologist, and it was our second released prologue and the actor in it is my colleague and partner in making this thing, Trace Callahan, who is also the audio engineer, composer, sound designer, does all her own Foley and acts one of the characters because we like having as many jobs as possible. You get to hear Trace as Kolian, talking to a bunch of satellites and some more singing.

Rose Eveleth:

In some of the social media and website for this project, you say that this is an audio drama that’s suitable for our times. I would love for you to say a little bit more about that and what that means to you.

Evan Tess Murray:

That is almost a tongue in cheek way of me referencing the fact that we are very deliberately hopepunk, that especially when I starting dreaming this up, but including now. It feels like a fairly grim world a lot of the time. The challenges we face are very much in our face and a lot of our fiction grapples with that in a lot of different ways. I want to grapple with that, not by pretending it’s not there, but by telling a story that still allows us to have moments of joy, of laughter, that allows the hard things to be meaningful. So when I say suitable for our times, I mean maybe you need to step outside of the grim things for a little while or maybe you need a world where we can acknowledge that grim is real but so is hope, so is joy, so is a sense of wonder.

Evan Tess Murray:

So that’s really what I mean. Also, I’m telling the story I need, so there’s that.

Rose Eveleth:

It’s interesting. It’s a hopeful piece, but it’s also about sacrifice and loneliness and there’s crying in it and there’s a lot of very intense emotions.

Evan Tess Murray:

Yes.

Rose Eveleth:

It does have that hopefulness to it, but it also is not, like you say, naïve about what it takes in attempting to build a better future. And I’m curious how you think about the idea of sacrifice and what it takes to kind of get us to a better place.

Evan Tess Murray:

Oh, okay. Yeah, that’s interesting. I guess I personally do find something very beautiful in people willingly giving things up in order to try to create something better. A lot of my personal life and my work is actually connected to that. My work beyond podcast land is about collective action and people who are civically engaged and all of those themes do, I guess, show up. I’m less interested in grand stories about what we as a society can sacrifice for the greater good, but I am deeply interested in stories about what individual people may choose to give up for the wellbeing of others. And I suppose when I create people, I like them to be people who think that way. I know that for each of the characters I had to think we are talking about somebody taking a one-way trip to live a very lonely life. Who does that and why? Who would choose to do this and who would be chosen to do this?

Evan Tess Murray:

I was a bit tired of stories about six people in a space ship who don’t get along with each other, because why would you do that on purpose? So that was also part of the central theme was these are folks who chose this and who were chosen for this and generally speaking, are pro social and generally speaking, like each other as humans. So that was also a piece of what I was trying to say, and I hadn’t thought of it specifically as a sacrifice until you used that word.

Rose Eveleth:

Oh, interesting. Yeah. Well, it’s fascinating to me because we’re gathering up hopeful stories, right, and that’s the whole… Open World is really invested in trying to gather up these stories that are hopeful without being naïve, without being too blasé about the future. And the theme that shows up in almost every one of them is loneliness. It doesn’t always show up I the same way, sometimes it’s loneliness because in the future we don’t have certain things anymore and we’ve having to kind of connect over things. Or it’s loneliness because it is people who’ve decided to try this thing and been on their own. But I’m curious if you have any thoughts as to why loneliness might show up in so many of these hopeful futures. Is there something inherently lonely in the act of even trying to be hopeful right now?

Evan Tess Murray:

Oh, yeah. I feel like moving forward. I’m not trying to tell a specifically lonely story, but it absolutely did start there, and I think you might be getting at something that I like to think that the evolution of hopepunk as a genre might do something about, which is that it does feel… right now hopefulness in general feels defiant, incredibly so. In my office we talk about that, defiant optimism, hope as a choice not as a default setting, which is also what I am attempting to write. But it feels a bit like you’re walking out of step. When you look at the world as it is and you say I am not going to act as though my choices don’t matter. I’m going to go ahead and act like all of it does matter. A better future is possible and we’re going to get there. I’m going to grit my teeth and grin about this while we try very hard to get there. It’s a raised fist of optimism.

Evan Tess Murray:

But I can see, there might be a pretty steady theme going on there of people who start out going, but I’m the only one choosing this thing. Or what if there’s only a few of us who really care? I don’t think it’s true. I think a lot of people really care, personally.

Rose Eveleth:

I want to believe, and this has also come up a couple times where people didn’t want to write the same white guy colonizes new planet version of moving into these other planets, and there’s multiple pieces in the story that kind of subverts some of those tropes in ways that I think are really delightful. But I am curious how you as a writer think about how do you tell a story where people are going into space looking for a new planet and sort of avoid some of those colonization tropes and ideas, and in the context of building a better future and maybe not replicating the mistakes that humans have made in the past in this same sort of type of adventuring?

Evan Tess Murray:

Well, thank you for pointing out the corner I am writing myself into as we speak, and hoping that I can write my way through. For this piece, which was intended to set up much more story, we really only touch on it. So it’s a way of… there are a lot of little things in there, as you say. My ways of trying to say this is not your standard colonization narrative. We will be more thoughtful about that. But the truth is, moving forward, the way that we’re dealing with that is by talking about it quite directly. So attempting to subvert the trope of look, we are colonizing a new planet and that’s the best thing anyone has ever done, literally by confronting it quite directly. And I think that by staying very close to the experience and being as honest as possible and as sincere as possible about the fact that that’s a hard story to tell, I think we’ll get there.

Evan Tess Murray:

All science fiction is a commentary on now. That’s what it does. Our commentary on now has to be something that acknowledges what colonialism does, what colonization is or I can’t tell a colonization story that’s honest. So that’s what I am trying to do. Time will tell if I do it well, I suppose.

Rose Eveleth:

One of my favorite moments in the piece is when the character is woken up and discovers that there are living things on this planet and they’re blue and the plants are… this sort of magical science moment. I’m curious if there are any sort of specific bits of science or something that you had read that inspired not just necessarily that moment, but the pieces of this, whether it’s the engineered cheese or whatever it is that’s in the story? If there was anything from, I don’t want to say reality to set it against this, but from science or the news or anything that kind of inspired bits and pieces of this?

Evan Tess Murray:

The cheese. So I have developed a future where we, I don’t know if anyone has noticed, don’t have AI. We have a space ship that can follow the same kind of voice commands your cell phone can and we have a future where we can program matter. So I essentially decided which way is science going and went in the direction of material science because I wanted to tell a post scarcity story because our world is full of scarcity. And if we can have more or less perfectly harnessable energy and the ability to make stuff out of the building blocks of matter, then we can have the post scarcity they like to through at us in Star Trek essentially.

Evan Tess Murray:

I’m complicating it beyond that, but that’s where that piece started. It’s cheese because I love cheese and because I love Girl in Space, that is a nod. And because it gives us the fun moment of don’t make goats and because the actor, the guy who plays Cyrus, is from La Palma where they make queso palmero and I brought in his favorite cheese. That scene is the silliest little moment and hopefully doing a lot of different things at once, but mostly being silly and charming the entire world and almost everyone’s favorite character is initially Cyrus because of the cheese, which I love.

Evan Tess Murray:

The blue plants are what happens when I hang out with a lot of, or used to anyway, with a lot of xenobiologists. Literally, I knew a few of them. There aren’t that many. And I was at a university where they were studying and talking about what life might look like in other places is one of those fun things, and the color of plants is based on the color of chlorophyll, but there’s more than one way to do the chemical processes involved and in particular, if the color of the star was a little bit different, then the color of the plants would be based on what kind of light they need to absorb and reflect, and it’s pretty easy to imagine a bluer star. And if it’s very bright, more of the plants will have to reflect more of the blue light in order to not burn basically. Anyway, yes, there’s some biology behind it.

Rose Eveleth:

One of the other things that is challenging, I think many times in telling these kinds of stories is sort of related to what you just mentioned, which is time. Back to this idea of sacrifice, you’re going on this trip that means that you’re going to have to sort of leave behind everything you know and speak back in time to your child. We have messages being sent from parent to child sort of like remember this and there’s this long stretch of time in kind of moving through time and time sort of stretches and slows in many ways when you’re trying to do these big, not fantastical, but ambitious perhaps projects. And I’m curious how you think about that in relation to this idea of hopefulness, right. A lot of the time I think people want the quick fix. I want the hope to come now and I want the solution to come now and I want us to fix it in the next election cycle or whatever it is. And this is sort of a much longer, stretched project, right. This is about something that’s going to take generations to kind of actually see through.

Evan Tess Murray:

Right.

Rose Eveleth:

I’m curious how you think this idea of time and how long things take connects to hopefulness and perhaps even not just in this piece, but in your work as an organizer as well.

Evan Tess Murray:

I do tend to think in long-term ways, which I work in democracy reform and civic engagement, so I encourage people to vote and work on the systems that make that more possible with the sort of extremely optimistic underpinnings of the idea that if more people are able to fully participate in democracy and it works better if we fix the problems with it, then we as a society will make better choices. But even though I work essentially in politics or politics-adjacent, I don’t work in election cycles. What I do is longer term than that and I personally prefer to think about building lasting change and not about short-term goals or wins, which is helpful because short-term goals or wins are well, they’re short term and often you don’t win, which makes it really hard to keep momentum going or continue working toward the future.

Evan Tess Murray:

So when it comes to those time horizons, ultimately I think where I come down is that for me, the centerpiece of optimism is assuming you have one. I am assuming we have a good, long while to try to work some shit out. That’s it. If we don’t, that’s bad. And so assuming we need to fix it tomorrow, there are a lot of things I would like to fix tomorrow, and I am absolutely on board with trying to do that, but my idea in general is usually like I want to fix it for good. When I conceived of the show, we’re looking at a very long time scale. We’re looking at people leaving everything forever. They don’t ever get to go back and they will never see the fruits of their labor, and how that can feel like a hopeful story was really the question. But for me it is the really inherent optimism of assuming sure, maybe it’ll take 10,000 years, but it will work and we have 10,000 years to make it work. That’s really where that sits for me.

Rose Eveleth:

It sort of ties nicely to my next question, which is about faith, which is a little bit of what you’re talking about. You have faith that we have a little more time maybe than some of the most die hard or catastrophic people perhaps think.

Evan Tess Murray:

I sure hope we do.

Rose Eveleth:

Right. There’s also this interesting other kind of faith that is present in the story, which is we get a Jewish prayer, and I’m curious how you thought about integrating that into the story and sort of where that comes from? Is that something you wrote in? Is that something the actor… I mean, the actor obviously is quite adept at singing it, which I thought was really nice and beautiful. How did that become a piece of the story?

Evan Tess Murray:

That’s a Hebrew lullaby that Caroline has sung to her own child. She brought that in. Saying the blessing over the cheese, that was my idea. I’ve known a whole lot of Jewish people who will say more or less exactly that thing, and acknowledging I don’t know for sure how I’m supposed to do this thing, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to do my best at it. So that’s how Zahava became Jewish. That’s how Zahava came into existence. I’m very grateful that that’s something Caroline brought in with her because I have enjoyed writing that aspect of her into the story and allowing it a little room to breathe.

Rose Eveleth:

So you developed these characters with the voice actors who play them, right? And you, of course, play one of the characters yourself, Zei, so what was that like?

Evan Tess Murray:

So Zei, the character that I play, and originally I thought this might basically just be a, me talking thing. So I didn’t know where we were going and when I wrote that initial prologue, my answer to why does someone take a one-way trip like this is to get a better life for her kid. Yes, I would do that. But part of Zei’s story also came out of the fact that last summer I moved 3000 miles away from own five-year-old in a very planned way, with everyone involved knowing what was happening and doing our best to prepare and it was still… it’s horrible. I recently went and visited. I miss her. We talk a lot. I love her and she knows I do, but walking away from her is very definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And that feeling, that intense love of the child, that intense desire to make her world better and the knowledge that me moving away from her was part of that was just what I snapped up and I was like well, if I have to process my grief, maybe I can use it in my fiction. So as I thought maybe Zei is somebody who would give up having her son in her life in order to give him a life he can’t get on earth. What does look like and what does that feel like and who is she?

Evan Tess Murray:

So as I developed that, I essentially improvised that monologue and then I thought maybe that’s good and wrote it down more or less. But a lot of it came-

Rose Eveleth:

Wow.

Evan Tess Murray:

Yeah. A lot of it came from my… the emotion in it, I occasionally get acting notes on it that are like that’s so good, I’m like uh, because a lot of that is me and my feelings for Ruby. When Ruby’s mom, who is a lovely person and dear friend, popped up in our online server, she just introduced herself as Landron’s mom because… yes. Because it’s very autobiographical essentially. I’m not specifically building Ruby a better world, I’m just out here living my life and she’s living hers, but that was the inspiration of that, the question of why do you give up everything can be for your kid. That’s a very real thing, but that means giving up everything, including the kid.

Rose Eveleth:

We ask everyone the same last two questions.

Evan Tess Murray:

Okay.

Rose Eveleth:

And the first one is what is your favorite piece of hopeful media? It can be anything. It can be a book, a song, probably not movie or television show for you, but it could be anything that sort of inspires you and makes you hopeful that people can check out.

Evan Tess Murray:

There’s a million of them, but the one I’m going to mention is Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, which I’m sure every hopepunkish person out there knows and loves, a Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. I’m actually in the middle or rereading it for like the fifth time right now because it makes me feel feelings that are good. But everything she writes, in fact, kind of hits that spot for me and is definitely… it was really funny because I started this podcast before I ever ran into her fiction, but it’s definitely something that is behind an underpinning. We’re thinking the same way about stories and she gives me a future where things matter and hope is always a good choice.

Rose Eveleth:

I have both those books on my shelf. And the last question we ask everyone is maybe the hardest question, at least so far seems to be the hardest question which is what are you most hopeful about right now?

Evan Tess Murray:

So it’s actually… the hardest thing about it for me is being specific because I’m actually feeling a lot more hopeful than is probably reasonable right now, and part of that is again, what I do for a living. So for something between 40 and 60 hours a week I work directly with people who are trying to make the world better. That’s what I do. So everyone I talk to day in and day out is mostly volunteering their time to try to fix the problems that they see, and it’s honestly really hard not to be optimistic about humanity when you spend that much time with people who, although flawed and imperfect beings, are all driven to try to fix the problems of the world. So it’s really hard for me not to be hopeful. I’m feeling pretty hopeful, not that we will solve all of our problems, but that small groups of people, wherever you are, no matter where you are, there is a group of people who are trying to make that specific place better and the experience of living there better and take care of the people who need it, a that gives me hope, a ton of hope.

Evan Tess Murray:

Once I start thinking about the big systems out there and solving the world’s problems, that’s too big and too hard and I can’t fix it. But here where I am, I can. I can work with trans kids, which I do. I can hang out at my office and talk about defiance in optimism with all of my volunteers and my colleagues so we don’t stop trying to do what we’re doing, which I do. I can contribute to a local LGBT community space and hang out there and meet the people there and try to build something better where I am. So I have a ridiculous amount of hope that I am not the only human who thinks this way, and there are a lot of us out there trying to make at least the corner we’re in better for the people that are in it with us.

Rose Eveleth:

So lovely. Let me get you a Ted Talk stat. Thank you so much for coming on the show, for offering up this piece to us, for making… snipping it into a size that we can use for everything and to your whole team as well for holding the torch on this future. I’ve been keeping up with the show and I’m very excited for listeners to Open World who have not yet heard it to dive in because it is such a fun and delightful little group of people that we get to hang out with in the audio ether. So thank you so much for coming on the show.

Evan Tess Murray:

Thank you so much. I was really excited about this.

TK Dutes:

This Planet Needs a Name was created by Evan Tess Murray, who also wrote and directed this episode. Original composition, sound design and audio engineering are by Trace Callahan. Characters were developed in collaboration with their actors, Caroline Mincks as Zahava, Even Tess Murray as Zei, Trevor Bean as Mandry, Alexander Doddy as James, Alexander Endymion Hernandez Diaz as Cyrus and Sawyer Green as Quill.

TK Dutes:

Open World is a partnership between Filos Future Media and Flash Forward Presents.

Rose Eveleth:

Hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth.

TK Dutes:

Produced by Brittani Brown.

Rose Eveleth:

Intro music by Blue Dot Sessions. Additional sound design by TH Ponders.

TK Dutes:

With engineering by C.

TK Dutes:

You can contact us via social media. We are on the Twitters at Open World Pod.

Rose Eveleth:

You can email us at hello@openworldradio.com. You can visit Open World Radio.com for more about any of what you heard on this show. More links to the amazing creators who we featured here, how to find their work. Also, there are transcripts of each episode up on the website if you want to read those or revisit them. And we really love taking this journey with you, so thanks for coming along for the ride.

 

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