Karen Bao, author of the Dove trilogy, a science fiction series about life on the moon, spoke to Middle School students in Chapel and in the Joseph Dana Allen Library on Friday, February 26.
In the library, Bao told 7th graders about her main character, Phaet Theta, and the facts of lunar life so convincingly it was easy to see why her books Dove Arising and the newly released Dove Exiled are so popular and why students are eagerly awaiting the as-yet-unpublished third installment.
Bao, who grew up in New Jersey, wrote Dove Arising while she was still in high school. She currently studies environmental biology at Columbia Unversity and will graduate in May. Her undergraduate thesis focused on shell fishing in Fiji, where her research included scuba diving.
Bao said she also studies literature, philosophy, and organic chemistry. She added, “I take tae kwon do, which informed the action sequences in the book.”
The Asian-American author said her Chinese culture and celebration of holidays based on the lunar calendar influence the names of her characters and her subject matter.
Bao shared photos of herself as a child and in Fiji. She also showed versions of Dove Arising’s covers and asked the students’ opinions about which they liked best.
What has inspired her writing? Bao said she loves Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Bronte’s ability to make male and female characters “egalitarian.” But her favorite book, she said, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which she described as “awesome, as close as you can get to a perfect book.” Other favorites are Lois Lowry’s The Giver and J.K. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series.
Bao also shared and sang along with her college chemistry class’s video, “Uptown Chem,” to the tune of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” which they produced “for extra credit.”
She went through at least 10 drafts of Dove Arising before the final version, Bao confided. But she is now enjoying the author’s role of traveling and meeting readers. “But I can’t be everywhere because I have mid-terms.”
“To be a writer,” Bao said students need to “read and write,” as well as, “go outside, meet new people, fill your mind with new things to write about.”
Bao opened the session up to questions from 7th grade. Many had read Dove Arising and asked specific questions about life in her futuristic lunar society.
“Most people on the moon are vegetarian,” Bao said with a tone of authority. She added that Phaet eats “very large blueberries and genetically modified cantaloupes you can peel like an orange.”
Bao offered some hints about the next books she plans to write, a fantasy series about “a circular continent with a fount in the middle” and rings of populations that get poorer the further they are from the fount.
“How do you get to live near the fount?” a student asked.
“You are born there or pay enormous tolls to live there,” Bao explained, already immersed in this new land. “But I haven’t even written it yet!” she laughed.
Back to the Dove series, a student asked, “How do you make money on the moon?”
“The labor that is valued most is research and scientists,” Bao replied.
Bao explained, “There are six lunar bases and six clusters of domes on the moon. Base 1 is the capital. Base 4 is where Phaet lives. Base 6 is where astrophysicists work, where they have their radio telescope and particle accelerator.” There is widespread surveillance of the one million people on the moon in Bao’s futuristic lunar colony. “People have hand screens on the back of their hands,” which allow the government to listen in, and “security pods the size of fingernails buzz around for surveillance.”
When a student asked another question about life on the moon, Bao laughed and said, “That’s in book three of the series. Read book three!”