Title: On a Sunbeam


Citations


Walden, Tillie. “ON A SUNBEAM.” Accessed November 1, 2020. https://www.onasunbeam.com.


Summary


“On a Sunbeam” is a space opera formed around the love story of two young girls, Mia and Grace. The story begins with Mia joining a work crew that does restorations of old buildings in different parts of the galaxy. (Important worldbuilding notes: Buildings float in space, there aren’t that many people who live on actual planets. Spaceships look and move like fish. There are a number of old religions that people mention in passing, one of them is connected to a mysterious place called The Staircase. There are only female and non-binary characters presented, no men appear in the narrative.) She gets close to the crew and tells them about her time at school where she met and spent time with Grace, who arrived at the school in mysterious circumstances. They fall in love and go to the school dance together. Grace’s family comes to get her and that is when Mia leaves school to join the work crew. The rest of the story focuses on how the crew has become a family to Mia and helps her find Grace, solving a bigger mystery altogether.


Cultural origins


The author, Tillie Walden, is not a fan of science fiction and created the world of “On a Sunbeam” for people who have never seen themselves in space stories. Walden was very critical of space narratives that only focused on white, straight men causing trouble and figuring themselves out. Space is an enormous canvas on which so many diverse stories can be told, sci-fi being a genre known for social critique and speculation. Walden says that she is not a fan of any particular science fiction works so this graphic novel/webcomic was more self-inspired (after working on world-building for over a year). The anti-capitalist strands in the story me be somewhat inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin’s influence on the genre in novels like “The Dispossessed” which explore how other societal structures effect fictional groups of colonists or native aliens. Mia’s story goes through a typical coming-of-age narrative structure that is easy to get enraptured by, dealing with many of the same problems we all face when growing up.


Audience


I can see this story being adapted in a number of ways for almost all age groups, from children to adults. Age of audience would be a good measure of how long the story should take (anywhere from five minutes for middle schoolers to almost an hour for adults). Settings might range from public libraries to more pop culture-influenced spaces, such as conventions or festivals. It would fit in very well with queer science fiction programming, exploring a continuously growing subgenre.


Adaptation ideas


I would love to tell this story at an observatory or planetarium. Feeling close to space in some way will only enhance the gravity of Grace and Mia’s adventure, the difficulty of finding someone you love in the vast universe. As mentioned above, I want to have a couple versions of the story that differ in length so that I can capture its spirit and scope as a space opera. It might be helpful to have some props to represent some of the major characters such as Grace, Mia, and the restoration crew. I think it’s important to tell this story as recounting history, something that we see the characters due a number of times while at religious sites. I might rearrange the story structure to show Mia leaving school so that we know about Grace through the last encounter they have before everything changes. I want to tell this story because every time I read or think about it, I get goosebumps. It’s a story that takes young love very seriously and that can be rare when the main characters are all women/gender non-confirming people.