Interpreting reality as sci-fi

Spring 2017 Edition

Michael Merschel’s debut novel is based on his love of science fiction and his experiences in junior high

Michael Merschel

Michael Merschel

Science fiction author Gene Wolfe once said, “Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle science fiction.” This quote inspired “Revenge of the Star Survivors,” written by Michael Merschel, a 1989 J-School graduate.

“I thought, ‘Well, that could be kind of fun to explore somebody who sees the world that way,’” Merschel said.

That somebody is Clark Sherman, the main character, who is an eighth-grader at a new school after his father takes a new job. He is bullied, and he describes his experiences at school by filtering them as a space mission.

“I needed to make things extra miserable for Clark so that there would be enough drama in the story,” Merschel said. “He likes to suffer in silence, and he’s easily intimidated.”

The mission is based on Clark’s favorite television show, “Star Survivors.” Like Clark, Merschel is a fan of science fiction. He especially loves “Star Trek.”

“I watched it as often as it was on. I would see all the movies on the weekend they came out. I cried when Mr. Spock died,” he said.

Merschel and his family moved from a suburb of New Orleans to Denver when he was in junior high. The novel, whose target audience is junior high students, is partially based on his experiences as a new student at his Denver-area school.

Revenge of the Star Survivors
By Michael Merschel

“For me, it [junior high] felt like the worst experience that anybody could ever go through,” Merschel said. “Only when you’re 13 can you feel that you have the worst possible life.”

At first, Merschel thought that writing fiction based on his memories of junior high would be a bad idea.

“What a cliché. What a horrible, ridiculous thing to write about,” he said.

But about eight years ago, he decided to write a draft. His oldest daughter was about to start junior high. Merschel was nervously standing in the hallway of his daughter’s school on orientation night when a group of girls walked down the hallway.

“As they’re walking my way, reflexively, I jumped back and I pressed my back against the wall because for a minute, I just wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want to be in their way,” Merschel said. “It took me a second to take a breath and say, ‘Mike, you got out of junior high school 30 years ago. They can’t hurt you any more.’”

Merschel said that he put off writing fiction for his whole life. He gave himself a deadline to finish a draft when he would be 45 years old. He was 42 at the time.

“It’s either that, or I’m going to stop saying that I’m a writer,” Merschel said. “I met my deadline with a couple of hours to spare.”

Merschel said the fictional world of his novel now occupies the same part of his brain that holds his real memories of junior high school.

“It’s changed the way that I look at fiction because it all feels very, very real to me,” he said. “I know almost as much about that world as I do about the real world that I lived in. I can tell the difference, but it makes me realize that there’s a very thin line between actual memory and stuff that’s completely made up.”

–– Erik Nelson is a junior from Hopkins, Minnesota, studying news and information.