Annalee Newitz’s Playlist for Their Novel “The Terraformers”

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February 1, 2023

Annalee Newitz’s Playlist for Their Novel “The Terraformers”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Annalee Newitz’s The Terraformers is a smart and imaginative space opera set in the far future.

Booklist wrote of the book:

“Newitz’s latest is far-reaching and ambitious but also surprisingly cozy and warm. . . . Newitz has a true gift for exploring the tweaks, movements, and decisions that keep history moving forward centuries ahead, and for digging into weighty issues while maintaining light humor, a delightful queer sensibility, and pure moments of joy.”

In their own words, here is Annalee Newitz’s Book Notes music playlist for their novel The Terraformers:

The Terraformers takes place 60,000 years in the future, on a planet that a group of workers are trying to turn into a version of Earth. These workers include humans, robots, sentient flying moose, cyborg cows, naked mole rats, and even a sentient train who joins a public transit collective. Their struggle is to find freedom on a world that is entirely owned by rapacious real estate developers. They try to build new governments; they fall in love; they find friends they never expected; and they do a lot of environmental science. I listened to a lot of music as I wrote – especially songs that combined styles from different eras, or different genres. This novel was all about trying to imagine a distant future that looks, at least in some ways, like our distant past. Even though my characters are locked in a sometimes-deadly struggle for sovereignty, they never forget to dance and sing and party. Every good uprising needs joy.

Chill Mix by Caravan Palace

I listened to this mix a lot while I was writing this novel. It captured the blend of retro and futuristic aesthetics I wanted to bring to Sasky, a planet that is both extremely high tech and completely natural. I could imagine my characters listening to this, as the robots kicked back and charged their batteries, the moose talked about politics, and the Homo sapiens networked with the ecosystems to make sure everything has remained carbon neutral.

Old Town Road by Li’l Nas X

Many of the characters in The Terraformers are cowboys in the same way Li’l Nas X is in this song. They’re queer as heck, and turning old timey ideas into something completely new.

At the Purchaser’s Options, by Rhiannon Giddens

This mournful song about slavery and its legacy is absolutely gorgeous. I thought about it a lot as I was writing, because the threat of corporate enslavement looms over my characters’ lives. Many of them are outright owned by their employers, and don’t have much control over where they’ll be sent to work next.

Carmina Burana by Carl Orff

There is an intense war scene in my book that involves volcano weapons, and this was the piece I listened to as I wrote it. Even though the scene itself isn’t long, it took me days to write – it’s really hard to get all the details right in a complicated action scene, while also raising the stakes emotionally. I hope I captured some of the chaos and violence of Carl Orff’s composition.

Heat Shield by Maggi Payne

I was lucky enough to hear this song played in a venue with a huge number of speakers hung from the ceiling in a circle around the audience. Sounds moved around us, zapping from one speaker to the next, and it was magical. When my sentient trains decide to get together and sing a song, this is what I imagined they would sing.

Pony Boy, by SOPHIE

SOPHIE’s tragic death came far too soon, and I miss her brash, gonzo compositions. I listened to this song as I was writing a scene set in a burlesque club of the far future, on another planet. It’s exactly where SOPHIE would feel right at home.

Indomitable by DJ Shub

DJ Shub combines indigenous songs and melodies with contemporary EDM beats, and this is exactly what I imagine the characters in my future world dancing to. They live 60,000 years in the future, but some indigenous traditions from North America have survived in their world.

This Land Is Your Land by Woodie Guthrie

The Terraformers takes its inspiration partly from one of the verses in this song that kids aren’t taught in school:

As I went walking I saw a sign there

And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”

But on the other side it didn’t say nothing.

That side was made for you and me.

Annalee Newitz is an American journalist, editor, and author of fiction and nonfiction. They are the recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship from MIT, and have written for Popular Science, The New Yorker, and the Washington Post. They founded the science fiction website io9 and served as Editor-in-Chief from 2008–2015, and then became Editor-in-Chief at Gizmodo and Tech Culture Editor at Ars Technica. Their book Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction was nominated for the LA Times Book Prize in science. Their first novel, Autonomous, won a Lambda award.

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