Mercurio D. Rivera is the author of dozens of science fiction tales, many of which are collected in his book Across the Event Horizon. His stories cover an array of topics, but it wasn’t until recently that he discovered—thanks to a comment from someone at a convention—one of his main preoccupations is weird and disturbing aliens.
“I sat down and looked at my work and realized, ‘Holy cow, he’s right, probably 90 percent of the stories involve aliens of some sort or another,’” Rivera says in Episode 305 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “So I think I do have a particular interest in that.”
One of his creations is an alien race called the Wergen, which is one of the most interesting alien species to appear in science fiction in recent years. Through a quirk of fate, Wergens are biologically constituted to find human beings unbelievably attractive.
“They call it love,” Rivera says. “Once they make first contact with humanity, they want to be around humans, they want to help humans, they want to just look at humans. The catch is that humans find the Wergens viscerally repulsive.”
Such a mismatch of agendas and expectations leads to plenty of conflict, which Rivera mines in stories that explore the many varieties of love, from maternal love to love for one’s pets. He thinks that even the most conceptually daring science fiction story needs a foundation of relatable emotional truth. “I love the idea of the Wergens as a symbol for unrequited love,” he says. “I think that’s a feeling that’s universal to all of us.”
Rivera has collected many of the Wergen stories into a book titled The Love War, which he’s currently shopping around to publishers, and he plans to keep writing new Wergen stories for years to come.
“The relationship between humanity and the Wergens is like a big romantic relationship,” he says. “You get to see the courtship, they get together, they get married, they have some tiffs, they divorce, and then maybe they reconcile and maybe they don’t. I haven’t figured out my ending yet.”
Listen to the complete interview with Mercurio D. Rivera in Episode 305 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Mercurio D. Rivera on the New York writers’ group Altered Fluid:
“Jim Freund had asked us to do a live critiquing session on his radio show Hour of the Wolf, and a few of us volunteered. We did a drawing to see which of us would be the fortunate one—or unfortunate one, depending on your point of view—to be critiqued, and I won, so I wrote a story called ‘The Fifth Daniel,’ and we went on the show, and I read the story on the show, out loud, over the air. … And then we did our usual bit which is we went around the room, everybody took three or four minutes to give their critiques, and then afterward we had an open discussion. And all of this took place live on the radio. And then we took questions from callers, which was bizarre. We had some really strange callers. Somebody called up and said, ‘I liked the story but it didn’t have trolls in it.’”
Mercurio D. Rivera on his story “The Scent of Their Arrival”:
“When I wrote the story, I submitted it to Interzone, and the assistant editor at the time, Jetse de Vries, came back to me with some comments. He was worried that I was referring to the creatures as ‘vampires.’ He thought at the time that there were too many vampire stories that were being written, and he suggested I just not refer to them as vampires, and keep it strange, although anybody reading the story would realize these are vampires. … I’ve often tried writing fantasy stories and I wind up turning them into science fiction stories, and in this case I think I started writing a horror story and turned it into a science fiction story. But I like that, I like giving it a scientific approach and having the protagonist looking at it from a scientific perspective.”
Mercurio D. Rivera on his story “Naked Weekend”:
“I wanted to write about the fact that we live in such a highly medicated world these days. So many people are on antidepressants and other drugs that control their emotions, and I just wanted to take that idea to an extreme, and create a society where literally every emotion is regulated, and you’re only allowed to feel a certain amount of anger, or a certain amount of any particular emotion. … And this couple goes ‘naked’ for a weekend, to feel their real emotions, and I try to keep it a little bit ambiguous, actually. I thought the easy ending to the story would have been to say, ‘Hey, this is all wrong, emotions are good.’ But I wanted to make it a little bit more ambiguous, and point out the fact that a lot of times the worst things that happen in the world are due to negative emotions.”
Mercurio D. Rivera on his story “Missionairies”:
“I wanted to explore the concept of faith in that story, but I didn’t want to do a religion-bashing story. That was my worry, and the first few drafts of this I thought were kind of leaning that way, and luckily my writers’ group pointed that out to me, so I decided to try a whole different tack. I decided to take my protagonist—who you’re relating to the most—and move her on a path toward faith and toward religion. And I thought that that way it wouldn’t look like I was religion-bashing, because I really wasn’t—I wanted to just explore how little difference there is when you talk about physics and you talk about religion, there are a lot of similarities when you talk about concepts like the Big Bang and things like that. And I wanted to explore that in the story without necessarily being pro or con as to religion itself.”