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During a research expedition to Bermuda for an introduction to oceanography course, Darcie Little Badger hopped into the water and swam in the deep ocean floating hundreds of meters above the Atlantic, unaware of anything beneath the surface.

“I hadn’t realized how cool and mysterious the ocean was so I wanted to study and learn more about it,” Little Badger said of that experience during her Texas A&M University graduate studies.

Born Darcie Erin Ryan – Little Badger given in the tradition of the Lipan Apache Tribe upon graduating high school – she is an earth scientist, writer and 2016 oceanography graduate. After graduating cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in geosciences from Princeton University, she wanted to further pursue oceanography and applied to Texas A&M’s graduate program.

This love for earth science is evident in Little Badger’s creative writing. Since graduating from Texas A&M, she’s authored two books. Little Badger writes about the depths of human grief and violence, but also imagines a world where spirits, ghosts and animals exist alongside humans.

In her latest book, “A Snake Falls To Earth,” Little Badger envisions what Texas could look like in the near future. The story follows a catastrophic event on Earth that brings together Nina, a Lipan girl, and Oli, a cottonmouth snake person from the land of spirits and monsters. The characters’ worlds collide in ways they haven’t in centuries, and there are some who will kill to keep them apart.

“Having that (science) background enabled me to write a world that, although it’s not a scientific paper, it’s a world that exists in the near future,” Little Badger said. “Of course, when you’re thinking in terms of climate change, what you can do is give it your best shot because there are a range of potential futures depending on what we do between now and then.”

Published in November 2021, “A Snake Falls To Earth” earned Little Badger the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 2022 Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction.

Her curiosity of the natural world, Texas Lipan Apache heritage and LGBTQ+ identity also influence’s Little Badger’s fiction.

“I’m going to write about characters who grew up in my culture and characters who are under the LGBTQ+ umbrella,” Little Badger said. “I wasn’t sure there was an audience for this, but I wrote them anyway because they’re the stories of my heart. I hoped that somebody would read them.”

Before her work was published, Little Badger says she was unsure how audiences would receive her work. She’d never read any fantasy science fiction books about Lipan characters, and barely any stories containing Native characters.

“In Texas specifically, our homeland was taken from us. It is an ongoing struggle not just to reclaim that land but also to survive as an Indigenous people on our homeland as climate change will progress in the future making things like drought and extremely hot days more difficult,” Little Badger said.

At Texas A&M, Little Badger took a variety of classes to “absorb as much as possible.” In earth science, she learned, “everything is interconnected in different ways.” Her dissertation focused on Karenia brevis, a species of plankton that causes toxic red tide in the Gulf of Mexico.

“With plankton, what I came to learn is that even though they’re super small and many of them you can’t see without a microscope, they’re just so important,” Little Badger said. “They’re at the base of the food chain. They photosynthesize and they affect the way that carbon cycles in our planet. The more I learned about them, the more I wanted to study them.”

Biology Professor Alan Pepper helped Little Badger with her dissertation, which provides insights into the biology and genetics of a mysterious organism about which there is still much left to be discovered. Pepper, who worked with Little Badger to sequence part of the plankton’s genome, said her research shed light on the genes present in the organism, and how to turn them on and off.

‘It was a pioneering project on a very strange organism,” Pepper said. “It allowed more research to be possible into the physiology, molecular biology and the ecology of the Red Tide algae.”

Little Badger is the author of “Elatsoe,” her first novel, and several short science fiction stories. She is currently working on a third young adult fantasy book, short stories appearing in anthologies, and has a series of appearances scheduled for the rest of the year.

This story was originally published by Texas A&M Today.