TT Linse Is Creating a Future She Would Want to Live In
The Language of Corpses, the first in the Mechalium Space 1 trilogy, is TT Linse’s celebration of science fiction. As a Wyoming rancher’s daughter, the genre provided her with an escape and a connection to family members with whom she regularly disagreed but with whom she shared a love of science fiction. “We grew up in the 1880s.” She is joking, of course, but ruefully. Her parents were ranchers, “very much ‘Old West.’ ”
The youngest of seven, Linse describes ranch life as “patriarchal.” “If you’re a girl and you’re born on a ranch, it’s a hard situation,” she reflects. “Boys and men are favored, and so, being a smart little girl, I looked around and I thought, How can I have legitimacy, how can I get people to listen to what I say? The way I did it, I tried to become a man….I hunted, drank beer, watched football, and drove trucks. It was this weird…[existence]—you aren’t a guy, but you’re definitely not a woman. I have recovered since then.”
Iconic Western authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour were predictably popular in her household, but her father and brothers also loved reading SF. That isn’t as odd as it sounds, Linse points out. “Early sci-fi has a distinctive cadence and an elevated, almost biblical way of storytelling, like a Western. And they have a hero in control…who saves the day.”
Her own passion for the genre was stoked by her brother, who had a subscription to the Science Fiction Book Club. Inspired by Wayne Douglas Barlowe’s book Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials, she and two of her brothers created their own creatures. “Creating worlds and…characters absolutely fascinated me,” she says. Her first story, written at the age of 10, a time-travel story called “The Silver Locket,” had a bit of SF to it.
Linse worked on the family ranch and waitressed through high school. As soon as she graduated, she attended the University of Wyoming, where it took 13 years to complete her undergrad degree in English. “I was definitely an emotional wreck,” she says. “If you have a shitty childhood, you don’t know that you’re an emotional wreck.” Counseling, women’s studies courses, some distance from her family, and a stable marriage, she says, helped her to heal. “A lot of hard work and soul-searching [happened] too, and the writing always helped,” she adds.
Linse was initially drawn to literary fiction. As Tamara Linse, she wrote a short story collection, How To Be a Man, a novel, Deep Down Things, and a historical novel, Earth’s Imagined Corners. She also reset British classics such as Pride and Prejudice in contemporary Wyoming in the YA Wyoming Chronicles series.
Then came the 2016 election. “I had a little bit of a breakdown,” she admits about those four years, during which she did not write a word. “I saw what was coming. It’s the natural culmination, the logical conclusion, of a lot of forces in American life and politics. It gutted me. People are not [who] I thought they were, and now I know what it felt like to be in Germany in the 1920s.”
But last year, while working from home, she rekindled her long-dormant desire to write a science-fiction novel. The result was The Language of Corpses, which Kirkus Reviews hails as “a powerful launch to a fresh SF series that promises a wealth of ingenious concepts….Some of the speculations here (especially concerning the nature of intelligence, biologically native or artificial) could have taught Isaac Asimov a thing or two.”
In this inaugural volume, Linse deftly engages in some provocative worldbuilding. It is 2728. Faison Gates make it possible for beings (human or mechs) to instantly teleport throughout the 300 settled planets and environments by jumping from one body to another, be it male, female, or intersex. “In all my work,” Linse states, “I’ve been fascinated with gender.”
The novel focuses primarily on three characters: Jazari, a “xenolinguistic”; Eala, a scientist’ and ZD777, a biologically generated body on a forgotten habitat that is failing in its orbit around Neptune. The suspense builds as Jazari and Eala race to rescue ZD777:
Anger shot through Eala. Jazari needed to grow up a bit and think of essents besides herself and whoever she was focused on at the moment. She subbed, If I can put my life on hold and gate seventy-five light years into this antique of a mech and risk my life to help you, you can wait twenty minutes to help save one more essent. Jazari’s single-minded focus on the goal of saving ZD777 was admirable, but she seemed ready to sacrifice everything else, including her humanity, to do it.
Linse has crafted a provocative future that, while hardly utopian, is a departure from the dystopian. “If I was going to imagine a future,” she says, “I wanted to imagine one [I’d] want to live in.”
Of her writing process, Linse calls herself a meticulous researcher and writer. “I’m not someone who goes by the seat of my pants,” she says. “I have that Western laconic style; I tend to underwrite and come back and add more. I have notebooks containing my drawings of what a star system or new creature will look like.”
Of the characters who populate The Language of Corpses, Linse says she most identifies with Eala. “I’ve always been a good girl,” she admits with a laugh. “When I was in high school, I had a social studies teacher. He took us to an honor farm, which was a halfway house. We were given the psychological profile. Mine came back with, ‘You want everyone to get along.’ To this day, it is absolutely true.”
Linse, who still lives in Wyoming (“I never made it past Laramie,” she jokes) is an editor for the University of Wyoming Foundation, a nonprofit. She is halfway through the second volume in the Mechalium Space 1 series, The Evolution of Corpses, to be followed by The Chaos of Corpses.
The Language of Corpses made Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2021 list, “which is absolutely amazing,” Linse says. “Self-publishing is challenging, but it is a control freak’s dream. You are in control of all the elements, from the writing to doing your own cover. But it’s your responsibility to get it out there.”
Donald Liebenson is a Chicago-based writer.