Following our showcase of Moonbase Theta, Out, host Elena Fernández Collins chats with creator D.J. Sylvis about their inspiration for the show, outing yourself for #OwnVoices, capitalism and colonization, and the morality of space exploration.
Like what you hear? Us too. You can support Monkeyman Productions at https://patreon.com/monkeymanproductions.
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In this episode, Ely mentioned When Rivers Were Trails, which you can find for free on itch.io: https://indianlandtenure.itch.io/when-rivers-were-trails
The Radio Drama Revival team wants to indicate our unwavering support for the colonized and imprisoned people of Palestine. We want to ask you to learn more about the reality of what has been and is happening in Palestine at decolonizepalestine.com. Please consider donating to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a fund that works directly in Palastine to address children’s medical needs and provide humanitarian assistance. You can donate at https://pcrf.net.
This episode of Radio Drama Revival was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
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INTRO (ELENA): Lonely little Roger, up on the moon, becomes by season two a lonely little team up on the moon, and the world gets a little bigger and a little brighter. Tune into our conversation about the breadth and depth of sci-fi narration, love as a lynchpin to dystopias, and the place of climate change in imagining the future, with D.J. Sylvis of Moonbase Theta, Out, right here on Radio Drama Revival.
Hello, and welcome to Radio Drama Revival, the podcast that showcases the diversity and vitality of modern audio fiction. I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. Today, join us for our interview with D.J. Sylvis, creator of the fiction podcast, Moonbase Theta, Out, which we featured last week.
D.J. Sylvis, based in Ontario, Canada, got their artistic start in stage theater with their company Monkeyman Productions. They received positive independent attention for their experimental work, like The Simian Showcase which featured four short players around “geeky” contemporary themes like LARPing and video games. And like Uncharted Zones, another four-play showcase which traces human connections between the unknown and unexpected in a journey through space and with space.
Moonbase Theta, Out, as you’ll learn, started as a project for the production company to produce artwork that was cheaper than renting out a theater for an audience. The company already excelled in mini-plays as a way to convey bigger thematic arcs and messages, which leads quite naturally to the microfiction format the podcast uses in its first season. Sylvis will describe the ways that the story branched out in future seasons, now boasting a large cast and longer episodes in the half-hour range.
Before we continue, the Radio Drama Revival team wants to indicate our unwavering support for the colonized and imprisoned people of Palestine. We want to ask you to learn more about the reality of what has been and is currently happening in Palestine at decolonizepalestine.com. Please consider donating to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a fund that works directly in Palestine to address children’s medical needs and humanitarian assistance. You can donate at pcrf.net, or using the link in our episode description.
Please be aware that this interview discusses the pandemic, isolation, climate change, and colonization.
[begin interview audio]
ELENA: So Deej, thank you so much for coming on to Radio Drama Revival. We’re really excited to get to talk to you about Moonbase Theta, Out and all of the great topics that this podcast covers.
DJ: Thanks. I’m really honored to be here.
ELENA: So you’ve been working in theater and theater production in Ontario for 25 years and moved into audio production in 2018. And I know that you did that partially because producing podcasts was cheaper than producing live theater was for you at the time. You mentioned this in an interview with the voice of Roger, Leeman Kessler, on the After Dark Lovecraft show. So tell me about that transition. What was it like shifting your theatrical knowledge from the stage to audio only?
DJ: It was [chuckle] a little bit rough. Unfortunately, we really came into this sort of ass-backwards, we started out. We had done — Monkeyman Productions had been a theatre company for almost 10 years at that point — well, about 10 years because we started in 2008. And yeah, we’d sort of hit that point where the founding — other founding members had sort of drifted off, the people we generally worked with had sort of started finding their own places and their own paths that differed. And financially, we were sort of at the point where things had gotten — it’d gotten a bit dry. And this was just, I mean, sort of a new venue to look into. Something that didn’t quite take –
The biggest thing, I mean, the biggest thing for all of theatre, but particularly in Toronto, is being able to afford spaces. That has gotten worse and worse through the years. Of course, this past year, it’s been terrible. But yeah, we had gotten to the point where we really — we wanted to keep doing theater. We couldn’t afford to keep doing theater. And so we were looking at other options. I was pretty much the last founding member who was still in the game and wanted to keep doing things. And so I was looking at this as an option.
And we spent a good six months developing a show that will probably never come to pass, which was going to be a full cast full adventure series — fantasy adventure series. Whimsy Wiffles’ World of Wonder, which was going to be my time traveling — not time traveling — my adventure lesbians with their pet pot bellied pig, Leroy. It was a fun little show. But it was also pretty massive and was going to be pretty massive to produce. So I thought well, okay, while we’re trying to make that come together — and of course, none of us had any experience — I’ll write a little one person thing, do maybe 20 short episodes of that, find somebody to mock it out. And by the time that we get that done, we’ll be ready to jump into the bigger thing. And that’s where Moonbase came from.
We sort of — again, I sort of didn’t know what I was doing. I knew audio fiction existed, because of other companies in the area who had done it or had moved into it. But I didn’t know the community at all. And that was sort of my big mistake coming into it. [chuckle] But yeah, so I wrote the entire season pretty quickly. I mean, they’re short episodes — they’re like five or six minute episodes. I wrote the entire thing pretty quickly. I talked to Leeman, who is someone who had worked with us since the beginning. Leeman was in our very first production back in 2008. That was how I met him. And so I pitched it to him. He had been — he was living in Ohio by that point. But of course, the great thing about this art form is you can keep working with people wherever they move to. And yeah, so we sort of decided to give it a shot and we thought, okay, it’ll be a fun little thing that will take us a month or two to produce and then we’ll never have to worry about it again.
ELENA: [laugh] What from your theatrical experience — what helped you with creating Moonbase Theta, Out and what actually impeded your creation of the first season that you had to work around or figure out the new way to do it?
DJ: Well, some of the thing that certainly carried over was the way that Leeman and I developed the scripts, in that we rehearsed and workshopped the scripts. I know that. And this is, again, something where we sort of adjusted a little bit over the years. But every episode, as I wrote it, I would send it to him, he would send me back a draft recording just so I could hear it in his voice and just sort of a rehearsal recording. And then I would revise based on that. And it was really like going into rehearsals for a play, and just reworking the script and getting a chance to play it back and forth together. So I think that’s something that carried over very, I mean, pretty smoothly. And again, because I was only working with one person. [laugh] It was easier. We had more and more problems in successive seasons, as we added people trying to get that rehearsal time together. But certainly that, I think, worked well. And that carried over well, the writing and the rehearsal process.
The production, of course, is a lot different. And I had to pretty much teach that to myself. By that point, we had originally — when we started developing the first show, I had some of the other previous company members working with me. They had, again, sort of in the intervening time found their own paths. And I pretty much produced the entire first season myself. So I did all of the editing, all of the — well, there isn’t much sound design. It’s pretty much just Roger sitting in a cubicle. But, so learning that was a big curve for myself, like teaching it all to myself from YouTube videos and stuff. But kind of fascinating too, finding out that places where maybe Leeman hadn’t taken quite the pause I originally intended. [laugh] All I had to do was just insert another second.
ELENA: So as we talked about with Moonbase Theta, Out, the first two seasons are mic- The first season is micro fiction, right? The first season, everything is under 10 minutes, including the credits. So what made — what was it about the micro format, that was the best way to tell the story of the fate of Moonbase.
DJ: I think I had started out just sort of wanting to structure it. And again, this is sort of a young audio fiction thing to think that you have to structure your show so that the audio format makes sense. So that people have a clear reason for why they’re able to listen to this. And so doing these broadcasts, I was like, okay, so if he’s sending back reports, they’re probably not going to be like, long weekly reports — they know what’s going on. So it’s just gonna be him, like giving a few pertinent details. And we can build this up bit by bit.
And I kind of — one of the things that’s really important to me in storytelling is revealing details naturally. And so I was like, Okay, so we’re not going to do — we’re not going to fill in backstory, we’re not going to make the world building really obvious. We’re gonna give them a little taste here and there. And so we’re gonna give them a little bite each week and say, Okay, this happened, this happened. Oh, by the way, there’s this huge thing in the background you’ll never hear about again. [laugh]
But yeah, so it made sense to me that these would be short messages back to base. You’re not — you’re not sending a detailed report every week, you’re sending a memo. So it just sort of matched up with that. And then of course, again, sort of as an introduction to the genre, it was easier for us to do that. And for me to get Leeman available to do that. Leeman’s a pretty busy man between doing Ask Lovecraft and being mayor of a small Ohio town and all of his other work.
ELENA: Wait, back up. Leeman is a mayor of a town??
DJ: Leeman is the mayor of Gambier, Ohio, which is where Kenyon college is, and which is where he went to university.
ELENA: How did I not know this? How about that! All right!
DJ: Well, so that actually, I think, might have been 2019. So might have been after the show started. But it was something he was already pretty involved in local politics by that point. And that was taking up a lot of his time too. He’s also primary caregiver to his two kids. So, between all of that, he has gotten harder and harder to get a hold of. But even in the first season, it was easier if I gave him a five minute chunk than an hour.
ELENA: Right, than like an hour or something, or even half an hour. Yeah. Well, good job Leeman juggling so many different things. I mean, Leeman’s acting as Roger is one of my very favorite voice acting for a single narrator, audio log kind of show. I think that Leeman does an incredible job at all of the different emotions that are necessary throughout the piece. So yeah, yeah. Good job. Leeman.
DJ: I can’t imagine doing it without him. I can’t imagine who else could have taken that role.
ELENA: Yeah, yeah. Sometimes you just have that person.
DJ: It’s funny because most shows like this start out with the writer playing that part. But I knew when I started putting it together, there was no way I could have done that.
ELENA: Well, as we like, right — this first season is entirely voiced by Roger. But the second season features the crew and his husband that he references in his logs tracking the same period of the 20 week shutdown. What was at the root of the decision for the plot and focus of season two?
DJ: Well, part of it was because we never intended to have season two. [laugh]
ELENA: Honestly, valid.
DJ: I mean, that was seriously it. When we came to — it was around like three quarters of the way through the season, when we were starting to get more attention, that we started talking about, Oh, well do we want to keep trying to tell this story?
And I couldn’t imagine going from the story we told to what happens next in the future without knowing these other characters better. You couldn’t go into — you couldn’t have jumped to it. It wasn’t until season three that we started moving forward. And you couldn’t have jumped to that without knowing the other characters. There’s no way it would have worked.
And so we took these characters that he had been talking about the whole time in season one, these other people who are still awake, and gave each of them voices and gave them — fleshed them out and cast people, which was quite interesting at that time because again, I wasn’t that connected to the community. And having written very specific characters and very specific gender and ethnic identities and then needing to cast to that . . . was interesting.
ELENA: Mm hmm. I think you did a great job with that. Right? I think that, you know, I know that your production, your theater production company has always been very, very focused on making sure that you cast appropriately and have genuinely inclusive casts as regards to things like queer and trans characters, fat characters, different ethnicities, and racial diversity and things like this. So that’s great. Actually, I have a related question to this. Tell me a little bit about your thoughts in particular on the depiction and casting and prevalence/lack thereof, of fat characters in audio fiction? Because I have a lot of thoughts about this as a fat person. I really want to hear about your thoughts.
DJ: Yeah, I don’t think — it’s an area that hasn’t really been broached much at all yet. And I’ll be honest — I haven’t managed to do it well yet either. It was something that I had written into Alex’s backstory, is that Alex is a heavyset guy and has sort of some health stuff associated with that, that we mentioned every now and then during the show, but is very — that was written originally as part of his character. But there was no way when I was trying to cast a Brazilian actor for the show, and definitely a non white Brazilian actor, that I was also going to say, oh, by the way, I need you to be fat. But, um, but it is — it’s something that I want to do better at. And I want to see more of, but it’s sort of — it sort of right now is the last representation on the list. So when people are saying, okay, I want to cast a queer, Asian, non binary character, all those are going to be things you look for before you say, Oh, and I want them to be fat.
ELENA: Yeah, in general, that’s very true.
DJ: And it’s not that — if those are aspects that you’re going to be talking about more in the show, then I mean, sure, that’s more important. But I would like to see shows, and I’m trying to think about as, I write things for the future, where there are characters who are fat and written to be fat. Jen Ponton, who works with us and does the voice of Tumnus is an amazing [stammering slightly] Sorry, in addition to being just an amazing actor is an amazing fat actor, an amazing fat activist. And her work has been huge for me, the way that we’re developing Tumnus, as we move — as we keep moving forward, is there’s — I don’t want to be spoilery. But there’s some stuff that we’re getting into about her relationship as an artificial consciousness with having a body and the way that people think about bodies at all, that is going to start delving into some of that.
ELENA: [quiet delight] That makes me very excited.
DJ: But yeah, yeah, I mean, I want to see more of it. I’m trying to think of ways to put it in my work more.
ELENA: Yeah, absolutely. I also want to see more of it. And listen, if anyone out there is looking for a fat voice actor just you know, hit me up.
DJ: Seriously! I mean, there are so many great shows out there now that are giving like so many other experiences, like you’ve got shows giving amazing disabled experiences. Now you’ve got shows giving amazing experiences of various minorities that we haven’t thought about yet. There needs to be a good show that deals with a fat experience out there. And I hope that when it happens that I can be involved somehow!
ELENA: Yes, absolutely.
[dramatic and very close to the mic] We’re waiting.
So as the audience for MTO goes deeper into the countdown, Roger gets more tense and more desperate to know what’s happening on Earth and to hear from Alexandre, among a lot of other problems on the station. So what is it about isolation and distance that creates so much horror, and yet so much love that we hear in Roger’s voice for Alexandre?
DJ: Yeah, I think a lot of that came out of, and a lot of the way that I sort of extrapolated that to the moon and to sort of — ways we’ve dealt with — I mean, we see isolation in science fiction a lot that way, where one person is in space and they’re dealing with being so far from Earth — was for me, it immediately matched up in my head with long distance relationships, which I have almost always wound up in, one way or another.
My wife and I originally met when she was literally on the other side of the planet. She’s from Australia, and we originally met online and didn’t — I thought, Oh, I will never get to see this person. So what the hell. But yeah, just sort of the loneliness of that, the angst of reaching out knowing that this person you care about is so far away and not knowing when that’ll change, not knowing how it’ll change, was a huge part of what Roger was going through on that. I think all of the rest of the stuff that he’s dealing with is, in his head, secondary. That is still secondary, now as we move forward, that all he really cares about is getting back there.
And I think that’s something that I see in shows that have similar experiences to that — I’m thinking about Station Blue, where Station Blue is, of course, like classic isolationist horror. But what really got to me about it is when he’s talking about this person he cares about who is so far away, and he doesn’t know, is he going to get to see again? And that was what really was, not necessarily the scariest thing about it, but the thing that touched me deepest, because I’m like, that’s what would fuck me up about.
ELENA: Yeah, no, absolutely. Big same.
DJ: It was great to — when we finally got to season two — to be able to explore that from Alex’s side as well. Because you see — the one thing about seeing that all through Roger’s point of view in season one is you get the idea that Roger is this sort of pure blameless wonder, like, perfect husband, who is just up there waiting. And we find out that things were a bit rocky or that there were — there were things they didn’t really talk about or work out very well before he left. And it was really nice to sort of experience that from the other end, too, because that’s one of the things too, about the distance thing, is that every time you screw something up, you’re like, Oh, my God, this is the end. Because I can’t be there to sit next to this person and talk it out.
ELENA: Absolutely. No, yeah. Well, first of all, Roger’s my perfect cinnamon roll.
DJ: And he is! I mean, I’m not — it’s not that he isn’t. But we also find out that he’s kind of, for a while, a shitty husband.
ELENA: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Um, yeah, but I think that, in the first season, we get those hints that not everything was okay before he left. And before we transition into talking a little bit more about Roger’s relationship with Alexandre, which you’ve brought up — just brought up a question that I wrote for you, has the pandemic influenced your thoughts on isolation and distance and all these things, then — or changed them from what they were before, like when you initially wrote this podcast?
DJ: I think — I don’t know how much it’s bled into the show yet. But I feel like my personal experience has been that I’m really feeling just how much I didn’t feed my connections and my relationships that are close to me right now. That, because now, of course, everyone feels long distance. People that I used to have coffee with once a week feel long distance. But realizing how much energy I’ve put into things that are far from me, and things that will probably never be part of my immediate community, and how much — even just like — it comes, politically and stuff — I’ve become much more politically aware in the past couple of years. And of course, huge things happen in the world at that same time, too. But just realizing how much of it touches me nearby, and I wasn’t really putting my time or energy into that. And so, yeah, I think that’s definitely affected me creatively. It’s affected me emotionally. And I think it’s going to change some of the ways that I focus my life afterwards.
ELENA: Absolutely. So let’s talk about what I think of as the linchpin for season one, which is Roger and Alexandre’s, painful, intense, really beautiful relationship. So they, as you mentioned, they had unresolved marriage problems before Roger left Earth, exacerbated by his placement on the moon. Tell me what went into building their love as the point upon which so much of this show revolves.
DJ: I think that’s what I always try to do. I mean, that’s what I’ve always tried to do in theater I write as well, is taking these strange things, these sort of weird little genre stories and finding the most human part of the core of them. So that relationship didn’t start out as the center of it for me. But as I started writing, I was like, I can’t tell this story without having some sort of real connection for him. Obviously, he doesn’t care much about the job he has, doesn’t care much about — he wanted to be there. But he doesn’t care about — care much about the job the way is turned out to be. But this relationship is the one thing that makes sense to him. And the one thing that makes sense to Alex.
And bit by bit, as I put that very first note in the very first episode, and I was like, okay, so he’s gonna say a little I love you at the end, it’ll be sweet. It’ll be nice. And it’ll just touch on that every once in a while. And bit by bit that became more and more of the story to me. Because in the end, I mean — and this is the thing that I always hear too from most of my — most of my audience reaction is on Tumblr, which is hilarious. I think it’s great that most of my audience is these queer kids who are in their teens or 20s, on Tumblr, writing notes about the show. And what they always care about is whether or not Roger and Alex are going to get back together. And it does that to me too, but I’m just like, that’s slowly how it happened to me too.
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[interview audio continues]
ELENA: So let’s — let me ask just a little, I guess, scripting question, I guess. So Roger’s reports use they/them pronouns for all of the crew, even though, as we later learn, their pronouns are not all they/them. I love this choice, it feels like a way to grapple with some of the gender disparity in the workplace that we deal with in real life. So what made you decide to use they/them pronouns in this particular fashion for season one?
DJ: Honestly, some of it was because I was still learning. I was in the process. Over the course of the show, I have personally sort of discovered and come out as non binary myself, and sort of gone through an evolution of various stages of that, where at this point, I feel myself — I personally only use they/them pronouns now. I used to think of myself as more genderqueer. Now I feel like I’m sort of outside that altogether, I’m sort of agender.
But when I first started the show, I was still thinking of myself as cis male, but I occasionally used they pronouns because I felt like it was an important thing to foster, an important thing to encourage people to use. And so I wrote the show. And I’m like, well, this is going to be the future, let’s talk about a future where they use they/them pronouns for everything as the default. And it was okay? Like, I think that was a — that was a decent choice to make, especially where I was with things at the time. But I realized as I went into season two, and as I was going to start telling the personal stories of these people, that it wasn’t really fair to say, Okay, everyone has to default to they/them at all times, no matter what. I felt like that simplified it too much. And so I changed that to a consortium dictate, where the corporate guideline is that you have to use they/them for everyone. But then obviously, when people are talking about themselves, they use whatever is most appropriate for who they are.
So I actually — when I came out, when I came to that decision, I posted — I wrote an essay and posted on our website and shared around social media explaining how that had happened. I wanted people to understand the journey that I had gone through with that, because people still find the show. And one of the reasons that they’re interested in the show and excited about the show is because of the fact that we have non binary people and the fact that we use other pronouns — we use neopronouns and stuff in the later seasons. But I wanted to be upfront and be honest about the journey I went through to get there.
ELENA: Absolutely, yeah, there’s — I think that one of the things that we don’t talk about enough in fiction writing in general, but especially in audio fiction, is the fact that a lot of queer people discover that they’re queer because of what they’re writing. And that’s okay.
ELENA: Of course, we are seeing in the fiction publishing industry — we’re seeing a lot of this concept of, Oh, well, you have to be out in order to be “Own Voices”.
DJ: Yeah. Yeah. I was just thinking about that.
ELENA: Right. There’s like a — there been a couple of authors now who have talked about these publishing companies that refuse — didn’t give them deals or rejected manuscripts because they on one instance because they were like, Oh, well, you’re straight and this — you need to talk to people about the LGBTQ representation and stuff to make sure you don’t misrepresent them, except this author is bisexual. [unamused laugh]
DJ: And honestly, like my knee jerk reaction would probably have gone that way too, until I — people talked about and I thought about it, because I of course want to hear people queer people telling queer stories and god knows we all want to foster that. But realizing that that can be part of the way that someone works their way into understanding . . . is a huge thing.
ELENA: Yeah, or the fact that, someone may not be safe to come out personally, but they can — they’re — it’s safe enough for them to tell the stories.
DJ: Yeah. I’ve worked with actors who privately express to me that they’re queer or non binary, but they can’t have me put that in their bio. So . . .
ELENA: Yeah, this stuff’s complicated. Yeah, this stuff’s complicated.
DJ: And they’re queer actors. They’re still playing queer characters.
ELENA: Let’s talk about the premise here of the show. The whole premise is this shutdown of a series of moon bases and stations, and Theta is the last one. And of course, in our real world, we have space stations, we’ve witnessed the creation of the space Navy, or whatever? Plotting-
DJ: Space Force?
ELENA: Space Force. [bone-deep exhaustion] Yeah, God, let me die.
Plotting for how to settle on Mars, right. It’s the beginning of what we all knew was coming. Right? The colonization of space. I would love to know what your thoughts are on our general societal obsession with colonizing space? And what of these thoughts made it into Moonbase Theta, Out?
DJ: Y’know, I think that a lot of it — and I know that you’ve sort of mentioned to the we are going to talk about these sort of [stumbling over words slightly] capitalist capitals capitalization of stuff in the world and stuff. And that’s part of what really went into it for me is that when I grew up in where most of us grew up, it was all like NASA. And it was all like, oh, the government is putting money into this bold experiment, to allow us to take the next steps into the universe and discover — and discover and share this with the world. And now it’s a few really rich people who want to become more rich, and just see that as another way to do it.
And so, a lot of what I did in trying to think about — because I didn’t want to go for a far future, with Moonbase. I wanted to go like, it’s 70 years in the future. I wanted to just extrapolate things that I saw happening, and maybe make it a little bit cartoonish, because I mean, I don’t think — I don’t really expect us to devolve into city states in the next few decades. But it’s sort of — I sort of wanted to — want to look at the world becoming that, where — I mean, we’re already mostly controlled more by corporate interests than governmental interests at this point. And I definitely wanted to look at a moon system where that — I mean, space system where that had happened, as well, where the reason for putting them up there is more about mining and about making money than the pure knowledge, pure exploration. And, in fact, that’s as far as we’ve gone too. In my future, we haven’t bothered to go to Mars yet. Because Mars isn’t this profitable, we haven’t bothered to go further out into space yet, because that’s not as profitable. We’re still like — I talked about one of my other, sort of inside jokes of moon base is that Canada has been razed to the ground.
ELENA: [laughing] No, Canada!
DJ: But the idea being that, eventually, as Corporation took over more, there are huge chunks of the planet that have just been stripped bare, and just left to rot. And Canada is one of those.
But so I kind of thought of that as the moon too, they’re still in the process of wringing every last drop of value they can out of the moon. Until they do that, they’re not going to bother to go further out.
ELENA: This colonization slash militarization of space that we are now witnessing in our 2021 hellscape is a — it’s something that we predicted would happen and not just predicted, but knew would happen once we have the technology right? And it shows up in science fiction. You know, since science fiction was a thing, right? And one of the things about science fiction in terms of space that I always find really interesting is the details that go into it, into how it works, how it all works, either space tech or processes or whatever. And the moon base shutdown process and design that you made here is quite detailed! Chaotic, understandably so. What helped you figure this all out?
DJ: Well, I mean, like I said, I was big into the sort of moon colonization literature that was basically a huge sci fi genre of itself when I was a kid, but I sort of took that. And I was like, the thing that they always assumed back in the 60s and 70s, about when we got to the moon, was we were going to create a society up there. And I was like, I don’t think anybody cares about creating a society even on Earth right now. I think they just want to set up little stations where they can get as much money out of it as they can and then move on.
But I did — as far as the tech and stuff, I did a lot of research. I still do huge amounts of research that never show up in the writing, which frustrates me to no end. But I did a lot of looking at how these things would be set up, about how you would communicate on the moon, about how you could put together a station on the moon. The reason that they — that their base is installed in a series of lava tubes under one of the craters is because that’s one of the easiest ways they’ve talked about to set up a base on the moon to start with. The reason that they’re under the Daedalus crater in particular on the far side is because that — one of their main operations is the radio telescope. And that’s one of the locations that they’ve talked about is probably the best location on the far side for a radio telescope. I spent a lot of time reading about these things. Trying to see what made sense and sort of putting together more accurate tech and more accurate extrapolations based on now, but still, the core of it is this very 60s, let’s go to the moon and save the world idea.
ELENA: Listen, who doesn’t want to go to the moon, right? I mean, people who are afraid of space, I guess, you’re valid.
DJ: Which is, I mean, a question too. I still — and this doesn’t really affect the show too much. But I still have friends who I argue with right now who don’t think we should be in space at all. And that’s like, there are valid arguments for that. Even though I very much think we should be there. They’re valid arguments for wanting our time and money and energy being focused elsewhere. But I think we still need the stories about it. So . . .
ELENA: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think that — I think that, in wider society in general, not in the spheres that the both of us work in. But wider society generally devalues the power of stories, right? We see this in the overvaluation of STEM versus the humanities and where the funding goes, and universities, which is not into the creative sectors. And, but these stories are what people use to teach one another about stuff and how to empower one another and keep ancestral knowledge alive, you know, all of these things. And I think one of the things that is going to always be a very important story is the concept of outside of the boundaries of Earth, and what that would mean for different people to write about that.
DJ: And there’s always a thing too, that the people who do wind up making these big scientific discoveries and making these big advances, nine times out of 10 when you talk to them, you say, why did you want to get into this field? And they’re like, Oh, it’s because I watched Star Trek, or it’s because I read these books when I was a kid. That’s a bigger part of fostering the future of humanity than I think tech people think about that later on. Even if it was something that they personally got them into it. They don’t think about it as much later on.
ELENA: Yeah, no, I’ve felt that way a lot. Um, let’s talk for a moment about “ensoyment”.
ELENA: Right, and the later decision in the season to force the entire team to only use cultured proteins from the Ensoyment brand. I want to know about your thoughts on branding and corporate ownership, cutting costs to the deficit of employees, something that’s clearly occurring to the Theta team, and ultimately, the capitalistic treatment of people as disposable, which is a really central theme to Theta.
DJ: Yeah, I don’t want to get too spoilery as far as this one thing goes, because we actually, we just found out I think, in the end of season three, a very big thing about it. But it’s definitely being, I mean, been forced on them as a further element of control over their lives. We talk about and this isn’t the same — it’s the same time too as the farm is being shut down. And all of the chances to grow and create their own food are being scaled back and they’re being forced to do this. I admittedly originally threw in Ensoyment as a joke — it’s sort of like my Soylent Green reference. It’s not different enough that I can claim there’s not some of that in there.
ELENA: Ensoy yourself.
DJ: But yeah, it was sort of a running gag. And, but it’s also like, I mean, that’s what the — I mean, the corporate entities are doing. They’re, I mean, they treat these little populations on the moon as test bases for anything that they want to — we talked early into season two about them sending up surveys about particular pieces of entertainment they want responses on and things like that. And the idea that just, they’re taking these people who they pretty much own now and using every part of them as much as they can. So . . .
ELENA: We’re looking at you, scientists who only use college students as testing subjects.
DJ: Yeah. Again, extrapolating that way that people take things that originally might have had some decent purpose in them. I mean, soy based replacement is something that — I was vegetarian for while, my ex was vegan. And so I was very focused on eating better and finding replacement products and just even in the few years that I was in that sort of, I hate to say lifestyle — in that sort of experience, I noticed that it was taking over — being taken over more and more by the bigger food brands. It was being taken over more and more by, okay, we don’t care if this is actually good for you. We’re just — vegetarians think soy is good for you. So we’re gonna put soy in everything and . . . just sort of extrapolating that to that — and, I mean, Futurama does it with the Bachelor Chow thing and I sort of did it with –
ELENA: Oh yeah.
DJ: – the generic food item that will serve all of your needs.
ELENA: Yeah, and that’s like a marker of capitalism, is all of these things, is this — of forcing small populations who can’t fight back for whatever reason to be kind of your test guinea pigs. We’ve seen that with really unethical medical trials, right. In the past, we’ve seen it also with what work — different workplaces that big companies make their employees do. Or use?
DJ: Yeah, I was gonna say . . . peeing.
ELENA: Yeah. We’re looking at you, Amazon. [bitter laugh] Fuck Amazon. All right. Now I’ve gotten that out of my system.
ELENA: One of the important things about season one’s structure is, at least for me, right. And you mentioned earlier in this interview, is how much of a puzzle it is for what’s happening on earth and what the world really looks like in 2098. This is spoilers for anyone listening — this is spoilers for the results of the puzzles. So if you don’t want spoilers, you should skip ahead.
So I have a lot of personal investment in this discussion, as I’m from Puerto Rico, which is a colonized island that’s been bankrupted and destroyed by hedge funds and corporations. For a very long time. Yeah. Yep.
Borders are fake!
DJ: They always have been.
ELENA: We invented them, y’all! I think that this concept of nationalities and border — it’s intrinsically tied to borders, makes people real — like people forget that. Like, we invented borders for reasons of money and white supremacy. That’s a thing that we did. Do I own an Abolish Borders t shirt? I . . . maybe. It’s fine.
ELENA: No, yeah, I loved your decision to situate this on Earth, situated in Brazil. Especially because, you know, Brazil is one of the places right now that’s at the epicenter of climate change issues.
DJ: Yeah. Which is another thing that sort of — that we sort of slide in the background in Moonbase. That a lot of these places — and so, again, I spent a lot of time choosing where the major enclaves were going to be based on rising water levels. There are a lot of places that major cities are right now that there aren’t going to be in 70 years.
ELENA: Yeah. That’s fine.
DJ: Season Three, and this isn’t like a spoiler or anything. But in season three, some of our like, freezone folks on Earth wind up at the Patrick Air Force Base in Florida. And the reason they wind up there and not any of the places you think of more as sort of space base locations in Florida, is because all those places are going to be underwater. Yeah, there is no chance that you’re-
ELENA: Those places are going to be inundated. Yeah. Yeah. My parents live on a mountain. So you know, there’s that I guess. [laugh] I think about that sometimes.
DJ: Yeah, it’s I think that’s — I think that’s part of what went into the thinking for the — I mean, for the whole idea of the enclaves, the city states thing, too, is that they had to be able to be constantly on the move, because so much of the actual geography was changing. And I decided the easiest way to do that was to be like, okay, we’re not going to concentrate on countries anymore. We’re going to take a city, we’re gonna use the city until it’s done, we’re going to own 500 other cities in various places on the globe and just move on.
ELENA: Yeah, it’s this — it’s this parasitic depletion. Yeah, like complete depletion of resources, and like environmental and all sorts of other things as well. Until it’s just a dead zone.
DJ: Which again, is why I razed Canada to the ground!
ELENA: Alas, Canada, we knew you well.
DJ: Which started out a little bit, that’s a little bit of a joke. Because again, I grew up in the States, and then moved to Canada as an adult and became a citizen. I’m, again, not patriotic, but very tied to this country now. And so it originally started sort of as a joke on that, but then it became, as I moved into, particularly season three now, where one of the major characters is Abdoulaye, that I’m talking about as well, sort of like a microcosm of how we stole every bit of land and razed it to the ground for the native population. And what we’re sort of, again, sort of like — this isn’t really a big spoiler, but we find out that that population is the only people who are coming back now to sort of recover the land that is in Canada that was destroyed, which is what they’ve had to do in a million locations over North America.
ELENA: Yup! Over and over again.
DJ: Here’s this crappy little corner of land we’ll give you back.
ELENA: Have you played the game . . . “When-” wait one sec, let me look up the name to make sure I get it right “when rivers . . .” [typing to look it up] When Rivers Were Trails.
DJ: I haven’t. I’ve heard of it, but I haven’t played it.
ELENA: Yeah, so for people who haven’t heard of it, this is a — it’s a 2d point-and-click adventure game. That is a Oregon Trail redo by Native Americans. So it’s been — it was developed in collaboration with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation. Everyone who contributed is indigenous. There’s over 30 indigenous contributors and people working on it. It’s really beautiful.
And one of the things that it discusses is all of these things about the allotment acts facing the Indian agents, hunting, fishing, caretaking for the lands, all of these things and how they impact us. And I think it’s one of the things that really helped me understand what the Land Back movement means. Right. And so I highly recommend that everybody play this game, it is available for free, you can donate, but you can just get it for free. I can put — we can put a link in the description if anyone is interested.
But yeah, this discussion of the fact that, in season three, these are the people that are coming back to sort of recoup, regrow, caretake the land that has been destroyed by the people who stole it from them — it just made me think of this game. And it’s a very prevailing subject that I think doesn’t get talked about enough, especially in terms of fiction.
So when we talk about — so let’s talk about this thing with science fiction, its portrayal, right? So I’ve spoken with other science fiction creators elsewhere. I’ve spoken — I did an interview with the DMs of the actual play podcast Fun City, who expressed that there is a certain level of responsibility to consider climate change in futuristic Earth related settings. So what are your thoughts on the portrayal of climate change in science fiction? Generally, but more specifically, also right now?
DJ: I think . . . it’s something that and I, again, I’ll point a finger at myself that I think that it’s something that I’ve used as a plot point a few places, but haven’t thought about as deeply as I could. That the overall effects of it — again, I do a lot of research in general, I can’t say that I did as much research on the overall effects of climate change in the future as I could have. I assumed that obviously, I mean, the easy thing to assume is that we’re gonna be losing big chunks of coastline, but not thinking about it in general. I think about my friend Lee Shackleford’s show, Relativity, in particular, which did a really nice job of this. It sets in at the Arecibo station-
ELENA: R. I. P.
DJ: Seriously. But — and as a part of being in that climate particularly, that there are constantly wind storms and huge rainstorms, just devastating the area and again, really thought in the long term about what it would be like on an earth that’s honestly, in his stories, being devastated in the future by the effects of climate change. And so I haven’t seen a lot of really in-depth exploration of it like that. I’ve seen a lot of people do it kind of the way I did, where they’re like, okay, throw that in his background, but at the same time, I thought about it. And I like to assume that there’s at least some — still some hope for people too, and I like to think that whatever does happen — we can’t turn back climate change at this point. But I like to think that we’re at least going to find some ways to live within it better than we are right now.
ELENA: Yeah. And hopefully find some way to like, make it not get worse.
DJ: Yeah. I like to think that what little effect we still have over capitalism is in making decisions to focus our spending and focus our attention on big issues, and try — and getting corporations to pay attention because they know they can sell that to us. And so I like to think that, at some point, if we can manage to dial climate change back a bit, that’s how we’re going to do it, is by finding a way to make it profitable for them.
ELENA: Aah, capitalism.
DJ: It is and it sucks!
ELENA: I can’t explain to you why you need to care about other people!
DJ: Yes, it sucks and I really want to see it all burned down. But until we can get to the point where I feel like people would all burn it down, which unfortunately, we’re not at yet. Then I feel like we have to still try to pick points to argue on.
ELENA: Yep, pretty much. I just have a couple more questions, some lighter, funner ones, so our line producer, Anne, wants to know what your favorite dog breed is?
DJ: Oh, that’s a good question. Because we only have cats, I’ve always only had cats, except I had a beagle when I was a little kid. I’ve always only had cats. And my wife and I talked about that — someday when our cats aren’t quite as big a pain in the ass as they are. When we have a bigger house, that we could actually have a dog and we talked about having a pug or something like that. So that’s definitely up there. But I don’t know, as far as a favorite, if I could choose like, all doggos are good doggos to me.
ELENA: It’s true. They’re all good dogs, Brent. [laugh]
DJ: I can’t restrict my love to one type of dog. I’m sorry. [laugh]
ELENA: That’s valid. And finally, what is it about monkeys? I have always had this question. And I now finally have the chance to ask you.
DJ: That is fair! And I mean-
ELENA: Please explain.
DJ: I’ll get to the name of the company in a second because the company is actually referenced but monkeys in general have always just sort of been a thing for me and I don’t know why. I had a little stuffed monkey that I had when I was a little kid that was one of my favorite toys. He was a beanbag and I would grab by his tail and whack him around and make him a little flail to attack my sisters with and stuff. But monkeys are always funny. They’re always a big element of comedy. Monkeys were, of course, a big element of early space travel.
But the reason why it’s the name of the company is a very Douglas Adams reference because Zaphod Beeblebrox calls Arthur “monkeyman” all the time, in the Hitchhiker books. That’s his favorite insult for Earthlings. So when we decided to name a company. We call it Monkeyman Productions.
ELENA: All right. Well, with that, thank you so much for coming on to RDR! I really enjoyed this conversation with you. It was really great.
DJ: Thanks again. I really enjoyed it, too.
[end interview audio]
ELENA: If you liked what you heard, you can support Moonbase Theta, Out and all of Monkeyman Productions’ other podcasts at patreon.com/monkeymanproductions. Come back next week for our showcase feature of the romance podcast Me & AU.
Radio Drama Revival runs on futuristic light rails that border on teleportation and free public transport. If you’d like to help keep us afloat and featuring new, diverse, unique fiction podcasts and their creators, you can support us on Patreon, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival.
And now we bring you our Moment of Anne. Probably.
[moment of Anne Wil]
WIL: [in a very spooky, ethereal, whispery voice] There is no moment of Anne this week. Only a moment of spaaace.
ELENA: That means it’s time for the credits.
This episode was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
If you are looking for ways to support or donate to Native communities, Nicholas Galanin and First Light Alaska are running a fundraiser to benefit the LandBack movement. All funds raised go to Acquisition and Land Management Funds of the Native American Land Conservancy, to repatriate land back to Indigenous communities. This is not about removing people from the land; this is about recognition and respect for Indiegnous sovereignty and knowledge about ecosystems, climate, and caretaking of the land. You can donate to this initiative at https://www.gofundme.com/f/landback.
Our theme music is Reunion of the Spaceducks by the band KieLoKaz. You can find their music on Free Music Archive.
Our audio producer is Wil Williams.
Our marketing manager and line producer is Anne Baird.
Our researcher is Heather Cohen.
Our submissions editor is Rashika Rao.
Our associate marketing manager is Jillian Schraeger.
Our transcriptionist is Katie Youmans.
Our audio consultant is Eli Hamada McIlveen
Our associate producer is Sean Howard.
Our executive producers are Fred Greenhalgh and David Rheinstrom.
Our mascot is Tickertape, the goat.
I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. This has been Radio Drama Revival: all storytellers welcome.