The Deaf Hacker Pilot From Venus Talks To io9S

Julia Howe plays Aeriana, the deaf hacker and pilot on Venus Rises, the new Mars/Venus class war series that's appearing on IllusionTV and on the Web. When she's not looking awesome in a hoodie and cyber-hand-rig, she's also the show's production manager. She talked to io9 about learning to say "flux capacitor" in sign language.

So you're the production manager and an actor. How did that happen?

They were having trouble finding actresses that could pull it off. I'm not an actress, I run an on-line game (the "Rubies of Eventide" mmorpg.) I was saying, "How hard can it be to find a female who can act?" They said, "It's the deaf pilot hacker." They couldn't find a female actress in the area who could credibly act like a hacker. But also whoever was cast for this had to learn sign language. I have a coach. It's one of those bizarre things. He sends me [videos of sign language] on YouTube, and I have to do it back.

So you have to copy the Youtube videos?

Yes. And a lot of sci-fi terms, when you get into flux capacitor or something like that, he has to make up words for it. He's over in Maryland too, so it's very much a new media project.

So Venus Rises is only appearing on the new on-demand cable channel IllusionTV? Or is it online as well?

We're also releasing it on the Web. We were very particular about that. The cable channel is showing it, they're not funding it. It's still indy.

The sets and costumes look very gritty. Did Firefly influence the look of this show?

[Writer/director J.G. Birdsall] already had [the grittiness] before Firefly became the thing to do. As soon as we started getting noticed, people started comparing us to Firefly and Battlestar Galactica. It was sort of a co-evolution.

Why is there so much class antagonism between Venus and Mars?

Acccording to the storyline, when Earth was going through all the cataclysms, the mega corporations ... were more well funded than the governments. They got their people off first. They went and strip mined the moon to build up Mars. Mars is where the corporate headquarters are. [Ordinary workers live on Venus, and they] think they'll get to retire to Mars and live happily ever after. It's 50 years later, and they're starting to realize not many of them are being moved off Venus. They're working harder and the quotas are going up, and it's getting impossible for them to retire comfortably. People are dying or getting crippled before they get to that point.

Think of colonial America and Britain, where America had all the raw materials. On Venus, they have all the raw materials and they ship it over to Mars for refining into the final products.

So the main characters are on a refueling station orbiting Earth?

They're on the International Space Station, the actual space station, converted into a "gas station." It's like Midway Island, it's in the middle of Mars and Venus. So in order to make the trip either way, you have to stop and refuel there.

Sam, the main character, is a kid fresh out of the academy. He's looking for advancement but he's trapped on this refueling station. He's with his best friend and his mentor Nathan, so it's not bad.

So how do Sam and Nathan get caught up in the class war between the two planets?

You really follow the story through Sam's eyes. What happens is, Sam is on this space station, and ... they find an unidentified craft, that passes by going to Earth. Earth is supposed to be off limits, completely quarantined. No craft is supposed to go there. It's not even supposed to support life. They notice the space craft is going into Earth's atmosphere. And Sam is ordered to go investigate.

But there's a war between Mars and Venus?

Yes. It's an escalating civil conflict.

Is this meant to be a metaphor for class conflict?

I can't speak for Jason, but that was one of the main points he wanted to get across. He wanted to create kind of a homecoming to the 1950s scifi. He always wondered why after Star Trek and Star Wars, we never returned to Mars and Venus. But once you're within the solar system, you're talking near future. And once you're talking near future, it's going to be more introspective. So he decided to make it a civil war.

Could there be bigger role for Aeriana later on?

Maybe if i get more of a fan following. You will see more of my character later in the season. Also, the second interspace episode is about how my character acquired the Icarus, her ship.

What's an interspace episode?

There are the four main episodes in the series, and there are currently two shorter interspace episodes in post-production. One is the backstory on Sam, and one is the backstory on my character. They kind of go in between the episodes.

Are those four episodes, plus two prequels, all there is of the series?

There are plans for a second season, with network funding. There are other interspaces that are in script form, but they're not in production right now.

Does the whole story wrap up in those four episodes?

That would be more of a question for the writer.