In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Cat Rambo to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Long Enough and Just So Long.”
Star is a robot built to provide sex, and when we meet him for the first time he already opposes his function. Still, he begins providing pleasures for Podkayne and Pippi. What causes Star to slip back into his old ways?
To some extent, Star’s drive is the same as that of a human’s—we’re all biological machines experiencing analogous sexual drives. So his slipping back isn’t that surprising, given that it’s a pull he’s presumably experiencing much of the time. The role he moves into is one that isn’t particularly unfamiliar to some humans—providing sex because it’s something that the beings around him expect.
There’s often comfort in moving back into a role that we know well and that we know we’re good at, even when we find parts of that role objectionable.
Although much of “Long Enough and Just So Long” focuses on sex, we don’t ever see the characters physically engaging in it. Instead, this story seems to feature other types of intimacy. Why did you decide to write the story in this way?
I think it’s hard to write sex scenes that a) are truly engaging and b) avoid hitting things that are triggers or points of unintended emotion for readers, so I’d prefer to leave most of that to the reader’s imagination, which is always sufficient for the task. And at the same time, it’s the emotional nuances of sex that I find more interesting than the mechanics of whose sticky-out bits are going in whose sticky-in bits, so I’d rather focus on those nuances.
Beyond that, this story is intended as a tribute to and retelling of Robert A. Heinlein’s YA short story, “The Menace From Earth,” in which a teen girl, Holly Jones of Luna City, loses and then regains her boyfriend. YA fiction, particularly that of the 20th century, doesn’t focus on friendships between women, which is why this story’s focus (in my opinion) is on the friendship between Podkayne and Pippi. (Podkayne’s name references Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars, whose heroine is spunky albeit problematic at times; Pippi’s name is a reference to another YA heroine, Pippi Longstocking.)
Pippi seems to hate Star, yet she visits him and even claims to have slept with him. Why does Star sleep with Pippi and not Podkayne?
I picture the Pippi/Star seduction scene, which takes place offstage, as being very frank and direct, which I’ve found often moves a relationship straight away into the sexual. Pippi wants Star and is the sort to say so bluntly. That sort of admiration is something that is hard to argue with, particularly for an insecure sexbot.
Your last story in Lightspeed, “Amid the Words of War,” features characters bred to be soldiers, and then later forced to be cleaners. While the characters from that story miss their lives as soldiers, Star seems opposed to returning to sex work. What makes you return to this idea of being forced into a certain job or occupation?
I think it’s an increasingly applicable concern in the 21st century as we move toward an age where we’ll all have to fit into neat little slots for our corporate overlords. This is also where the title comes from—it’s drawn from an e.e. cummings poem, “as freedom is a breakfast food,” which is about the kind of culture I’ve tried to depict in this story, an updated version of Heinlein’s as well as about the nature of love.
In your mind, what is Star’s story? What is it he wanted to tell the world?
I actually picture Star’s story as being sort of petty and devoted to the trivial more than the big picture. It seems to me that he’s got a pretty basic misunderstanding of interpersonal relationships that is based on his programming, and such misunderstandings can drive people in really random and trivial directions sometimes. To me that’s part of the irony of the story, that he wants so desperately to tell a story that may well not be worth the telling.
How do you see AI being implemented in the future?
I think we’ll see them built into devices to help us, and we’ll probably move well into the realm of self-consciousness before we start actually thinking about the legalities and ethics of such things.
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