Ninth Step Station, a crime procedural taking place in a future version of Tokyo, was released in bundled ebook and audio on January 9, from Serial Box. The series was written by the blockbuster team of Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, and Curtis C. Chen.
The world of Ninth Step Station takes place after years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split among great powers. In the city of drone-enforced borders, bodymod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda.
Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what price they are willing to pay for peace.
I had a chance to chat with Malka and Curtis about the project.
Tim Midura: Ninth Step Station is a crime procedural that takes place in futuristic Tokyo. What is it about Tokyo that makes it the perfect setting for a story like this?
Malka Older: One thing I like about procedurals is how they’re usually rooted in the setting, with the city/countryside/manor house/cozy village becoming almost a character. Because I wanted to continue in that tradition, it was important to me that I picked a city that I knew at least a little. Also, most of my memories of Tokyo are colored by the shaky, cold, post-disaster feel of the time after the 2011 Japan tsunami, and that seemed like a useful emotive reference for the tenor of this story. Finally, in terms of near-future geopolitics, Tokyo and Japan more generally hold a really interesting place: economically powerful but not seen as a military threat; an ally of the US and a rival/enemy/target of China.
Curtis C. Chen: Tokyo is one of those places that has a mythology about it already, but I was struck by Malka’s “divided city” take on what its future could look like. We’ve seen in real life how cities and their citizens can be very resilient after any number of disasters, but catastrophe does affect how people deal with the next big thing. In this case, it was fun to think about how the loss or degradation of certain technologies would affect such a high-tech city.
TM: Can you touch on the relationship between US peacekeeper Emma Higashi and Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda?
MO: The tension between two different personalities working closely together in a stressful job is a great driver for procedurals. It lets us see different perspectives on what’s going on and develop the characters in interesting ways. In this particular case, we have the extra friction of cultural/linguistic misunderstandings, shifting geopolitical status, and trauma. The way they build a friendship through those obstacles is one of my favorite parts of the show.
CC: In many ways, Emma and Miyako’s relationship is a microcosm of the larger struggles in the series, between different groups and nations and cultures. We wanted to examine what it means to “fit in” when the place you’re trying to fit into is itself shifting all the time. That applies to both Emma, who’s the newcomer in this environment, but also Miyako, who needs to adjust to “the new normal” in her own ways.
TM: What makes Serial Box the perfect medium for this story?
MO: A serial is the perfect format for a procedural. We get a complete, satisfying mystery in each episode, along with season-long metaplots that deepen characters, relationships, and the geopolitical intrigue.
CC: I’ve been a fan of police dramas since the days of Hill Street Blues, and as a writer I’m fascinated by way television series can weave smaller stories together to build an even more effective long-form arc. The procedural format meant that each of us had a “case of the week” to focus each of our episodes, but we were also moving the larger story forward and building on each others’ continuity beats.
TM: How was the collaborative process working with the other writers?
MO: SO. MUCH. FUN.
This was a really great concept to brainstorm with other people, because we kept building on each other’s ideas to make things get more and more wild and funny and interesting. Also, having different people writing single-episode mysteries means that the reader gets lots of different approaches to futuristic suspense – and when I wasn’t the writer, I was a reader too
CC: Great! Though I’ve done several workshops and critique groups before, this was my first actual collaborative writing experience, and we had a fantastic team. Serial Box has developed a good structure for guiding the work, keeping us on schedule and on track with the narrative. I hope readers have as much fun experiencing the world as we all did creating it.
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