The Antunite Chronicles

Terry Birdgenaw Author Interview

Antunites Unite follows different ants who are trying to prevent their colonies from being enslaved by cyborg insects. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

The first two novels in my trilogy, The Antunite Chronicles, were the backstory of my wife’s children’s book Black Hole Radio-Bilaluna. They explained how Earth insects were transported to a planet in a far-off galaxy, transformed into cyborg insects, decimated their world, and nearly destroyed their moon. The third novel of the trilogy is much more open-ended since it occurs long after the period described in the children’s book. Yet the characters are still cyborg insects that have returned to their rejuvenated planet. So, although the plotline was less constrained, I again drew the world-building and character archetypes from my wife’s story. The premise for the plot, however, was heavily inspired by the dystopian novels Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. As in book 2 of my trilogy, an authoritarian dictator seizes control of the planet, but this draconian leader takes it to an entirely different level. Rather than the environmental crisis of book 2, the leader thrusts the citizens of book 3 into a dystopian world where all aspects of their lives are controlled. Unlike Brave New World and 1984, which have very depressing endings, in Antunites Unite, spies from the planet’s moon implement actions that result in a positive conclusion for the planet’s residents. 

What themes were important for you to explore in this book?

The trilogy’s primary focus is on the struggle between altruism and aggression, two characteristics that are critical to insect social interactions but equally important to human civilization. These two motivations underlie the conflict between authoritarianism and social control versus freedom and insectism that is prominent in Antunites Unite.

Insectism is a political philosophy on Poo-ponic and Bilaluna that stresses benevolence and treating others how you wish they would treat you. This ideal reflects my views on the importance of humanism in our society and across cultures worldwide. The opposing view to insectism stressed in Antalonia is the sentiment that ants are better than other insects. This xenophobic attitude also causes red ANTs to feel they are superior to black and brown ANTs. Thus, the book represents an allegory for the racism and speciesism that permeates our world.

I selected red ANTs as the oppressors in this story because red ants on Earth are usually more aggressive and are most often the species of ants that exhibit hostile behaviors that justify their label as slave-maker ants. They earned the name because of their efforts to subjugate other species of ants (often black ants) into sustaining their colony.

All three books of my trilogy highlight the similarities between ants and humans. Through my research, I discovered that despite their vast differences in size and appearance, ants share a third of their genes with humans. Like humans, ants work together and understand the division of labor. Like humans, ants can be aggressive toward other species, as well as with other ants they consider ‘others’ because they have different genes, smell different, or come from distant nests.

The main points of this story are timely, with the horrors and atrocities taking place in Ukraine and elsewhere, failing democracies, and the growing acceptance of authoritarianism worldwide. Ants in Antalonia, like humans on Earth, need to learn how to squelch basic aggressive instincts and xenophobia that drive a lust for power and to conquer one’s perceived enemies. Instead, they must strive for altruistic enlightenment that inspires compassion for those like us and those who are different, allowing for inclusiveness as we work towards common goals that elevate all in our world, insect or human.

What drew you to writing young adult and teen science fiction novels?

My wife, Ann Birdgenaw, started the second book in her children’s chapter book series, Black Hole Radio, where her young heroes travel through wormholes to distant planets. Initially, she was undecided about what type of aliens her protagonists would meet, and I helped her decide and gave her some ideas about the alien world. As she progressed in her book, I continued to give her input. However, at some point, she felt the plotlines were getting too complex for the target age of her readers. She suggested I write a backstory about the planet in a book targeted at older kids, and I took her up on it and started my fiction writing adventure.

As the original storyline was quite juvenile, yet the themes and messages were more mature, I targeted young adults. As an allegory of human nature taking place on another planet with displaced insects, I have difficulty choosing the genre for the resulting novels. One could call the story a beast fable, yet as an allegory, it also has elements of satire. The idea that insects could evolve to become highly intelligent is unbelievable, so that one could see it as a fantasy. Still, the story contains many scientific facts about insects. It also takes place within a far-off galaxy, so I felt it best fit within the science fiction genre or perhaps within the speculative fiction category. I say speculative fiction because of the narrative’s robust post-apocalyptic and dystopian themes, which bring the novels into the realm of what if.

Will there be a book 4 in the Antunite Chronicles? If so, when will it be available?

Not for now. However, my trilogy originally started as a novella that expanded into three novels. The novella was a historical account written as a satire of former President Donald Trump and his administration. It had little dialogue, primarily written as fictitious historical quotes. I was fortunate to have an early draft read by a fellow scientist, Sci-Fi author, and book coach, Nina Munteanu. Nina inspired me to expand my story to include more dialogue and action scenes, and my novella grew first into a novel and eventually into a trilogy, The Antunite Chronicles

The novella was initially entitled Poo-ponic Plague, with plague referring to the toxic environment caused by ignoring a rapidly developing climate crisis on Poo-ponic. Yet, as the novella grew into a novel and the novel into a trilogy, it became apparent the efforts of the trilogy’s first character, Antuna, would have a lasting impact on the insect civilization of Poo-ponic throughout its history. Thus, the first book, which centers on Antuna and her friends and their struggles, understandably became Antuna’s Story. Antuna’s descendants, and later followers of her philosophy, became known as Antunites, explaining the trilogy’s title.

I wrote the original title before Covid-19 started and changed it to avoid referencing a pandemic like the one that has tired all of us. I split the book in two when the story got too long. Then I changed the title for book 2 (The Rise and Fall of Antocracy) to reflect the creation and failure of the democracy dominated by the cyborg ants on Poo-ponic. Given the vast amount of time between the two historical periods for this story, there was a natural break that justified splitting the story into two books.

I wrote the first draft of Antunites Unite (book 3) in November 2021 as part of National November Writer’s Month. NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write a 50,000-word book during the 30 days of November. I only considered entering NaNoWriMo during the last week of October 2021 and had no plan or outline for the story. Yet I met the challenge with a 53,000-word first draft of book 3 completed during the month. Still, I knew this was a rough draft that would expand. Following comments from my developmental editor and a series of beta readers between December 2021 and Spring 2022, and after considerable editing, my second draft topped out at around 85,000 words. Still not completely satisfied, I sent this draft to another beta reader and a line editor. After subsequent revisions, copy editing, and proofreading by my reading-partner wife, I completed the final draft at 95,000 words or about 400 formatted pages after ten months.

As for book 4? Who knows, November is looming!

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Facebook | Website

Imagine cyborg insectoids a thousand times larger than Earth insects engaged in an interplanetary struggle for power.

Generations after cyborg insects return to their revitalized planet, a draconian red ANT ruler takes over the colony exterminating other insectoids and enslaving brown and black ANTs by genetic and social engineering.

The queen BEE on the planet’s moon must rely on two tiny ants, Rose and Jasper, raised amongst their enemy, to infiltrate the Antalone cyborg elitesThey must dismantle a dystopian regime that uses histrionics, bionics, and socionics to subjugate its populace.

An allegorical Brave New World that is out of this world, where the fate of the Antunites depends on chameleon ANT spies who plot a revolution to unshackle their kin.

Can Rose and Jasper accomplish what no ANTs have before them?

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Posted on October 15, 2022, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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