Underground Reading: High Hunt by David Eddings
Trolling the Hugos: Rules of Engagement

Friday Five: 5 Settings for Stories

Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose stories have or will appear in W.W. Norton's Flash Fiction International Anthology, SmokeLong Quarterly, Unstuck and other places. Berit's work also includes a short story collection, Beneath the Liquid Skin (firthFORTH Books, 2012) and a novel, Une Ville Vide (PublieMonde, 2013). Berit's work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, the British Science Fiction Award, and included in the Wigleaf Top 50 longlist.

Berit's short story, "Dancing on the Red Planet", has been collected as part of the terrific new Apex Book of World SF 3. (Out now!)

Continuing the past few weeks' them of inspiration, Berit has shared a list of five stunning locations, and how they have inspired fiction.

Emptycity_l5: Brasília

Brasília - the capital of Brazil, dominated by the architecture of the brilliant, but also criticized, Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012). The architecture and plan of the city is fascinating and impressive in itself, the central areas, for example, form the outline of an airplane to symbolize the flight into a bright future. Today, Niemeyer's modernist architecture looks both retro and futuristic at the same time, with a dash of grandiosity and decay that gives it an even more haunting and beautiful look.

The architecture of Niemeyer's Brasília inspired the cover of my novel, The Empty City. A friend in Brasília was kind enough to photograph the Congresso Nacional do Brasil, one of the city's most distinct buildings, and send it to the book's graphic designer, who created a cover that fit the novel perfectly.

For someone who has never been to Brazil, not even to South-American continent, the landscape and climate of Brasília is something I can only imagine. Brazilian friends have shared that the city is surrounded by lakes with beaches where people go swimming and socializing, and that the city is so extensive that you can get isolated unless you have a car. I hope to someday write a story that is set in Brasília, and to have the chance to see the city in person.

4: Antarctica

Antarctica, an entire continent covered by kilometers of ice, with enormous lakes hiding beneath it, and home to some of the most hardy and beautiful animal species on the planet. A place where the moon looks more and more squashed as it moves towards the horizon and the night lasts the whole winter.

Several research stations are in full activity at various places Antarctica, with one of the largest situated at the South Pole itself. The life and science going on there is fascinating in itself, tiny communities in an environment that is so different from the rest of the planet as to be almost alien, and therefore one of the places where technology and procedures meant for Mars are tested. 

My fascination with the environment and human societies on the frozen continent was the basis for the story "The White", which is set in a research station above one of the Antarctic subglacial lakes. The Antarctic Bouvet Island also appears in After, the novel I recently finished.

Lisbon_by_stuart_macdonald3: Lisbon

In the early teens I spent two long summers in Lisbon, and although I've visited many other cities after that, few places have made as deep an impression. The foreignness of the insular, yet small hotel we lived in, and the foreignness of us, the visiting northerners, as well as the color of the dusk in the bay, the tones of the fado, the shape of the cypresses in the graveyard, the monuments of the city, the words of the Portuguese language, was a formative experience.

I haven't written a story set in Lisbon or Portugal yet, but I think bits and pieces of my stay there may be found in various stories.

2: Venice

Venice, ancient trade port, city state, tourist trap, and drowning museum. Environmentally and sociologically perhaps as far from Antarctica as it's possible to get; mild and humid, brimming with people, full of commerce and low on science, but with so much history, old as well as relatively modern. La Serenissima makes a mark even on northerners; the quality of the sunlight in the lagoon, the gleam of the gold in the mosaic tiles in ceiling of the central basilica, the rustle of eighteenth century-style dresses in the attic of the carnival dress maker, sneaking into the Grand Hotel des Bains where the movie version of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice was filmed. I hope to someday return to Venice, and spending a year there to see how the city and the light in the lagoon changes with the seasons is one of my biggest wishes.

Venice directly influenced the stories "The Stendhal Syndrome" and "The Tale That Wrote Itself" in my collection of short stories, Beneath the Liquid Skin. But if you listen closely you can hear the lapping of Venice's canals and the tinkling of its chandeliers in other stories as well. The Grand Hotel des Bains makes a brief appearance in Landscapes, Fragments, the novel for which I'm currently seeking a publisher.


1: Svalbard

Norway's Arctic archipelago at 78 degrees north, home to coal miners, scientists, students, tourist guides, satellite ground station engineers, reindeer, polar bears, and many others. A small community with a full infrastructure, in a landscape and climate that takes your breath away. Even in mid-summer the dryness and icy edge of the air screams "arctic", and there may be nowhere else (except for Antarctica) where you can see farther than on Svalbard, because the air is so clean (compared with other places).

The stony hills and flats on Svalbard that turn bare in the summer hint of what the surface of Mars may look like, a freeze-dried landscape nearly completely devoid of vegetation. It's no wonder that equipment and experiments bound for Mars are tested on Svalbard first.

I haven't set any of my stories on Svalbard yet, but the intense desire to return to the Arctic that some people experience after visiting - described as "polar sickness" by one scientist - strongly influenced "The White" and other stories. The Advent Valley on Svalbard, which must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, is mentioned in After.

Brasilia: The cover of The Empty City, taken by Michele Pandini and Wandeclayt M., designed by Tom Brierley. Lisbon: Taken by Stuart MacDonald, used with permission. Svalbard: Adventdalen, from Wikimedia Commons