Let’s begin at the border: What was your initial flash of inspiration for this story? In particular, because it contains evocative images (the spiders, the wasteland) as well as a thoughtful commentary on how technology and corporatism will affect our lives in the near future, I’m curious if one aspect preceded the others?
I wrote this story originally for an anthology about climate change that was to be commissioned and published by Amazon. The contract, once I got it, was highly unfavorable. It asked me to give up my derivative rights. I love my derivative rights! I declined the contract and found a better home for it here at Lightspeed. To celebrate, I exercised my derivative rights by writing another story set in this same world, which will also appear in Lightspeed soon.
The inspiration for the spider drones came from the artist Louise Bourgeois, who did a series of spider sculptures in bronze and steel. Her spiders are terrifying, dynamic and futuristic. They are inert but very much alive and the experience of viewing them at SFMOMA changed me.
The spider, to me, is industrious and beautiful. From a biomechanics perspective, there is no piece of man-made technology that approaches its sophistication. I imagine the singularity as occurring in a place where nature and technology are indistinguishable.
The desert is an ecosystem that may seem barren at first glance but teems with life if you know how to look for it. Robot Country is a secret world that emerged from a ruined ecosystem.
Although our protagonist Isla primarily interacts with robots and drones during her time in the wasteland, they never feel like machines. Instead, as they take the form of talking spiders, helpful beetles, and flying drones that swoop in like birds, they feel almost more like magical animals from a fairy tale. Isla even makes sure to always address them politely rather than giving them commands. What drew you to this blend of genres? Are there any other works that you found influential?
I try to read widely across genres.
While I was writing this, I was reading Philip Connors’s book Fire Season, which is a memoir of his time as a fire lookout in the Gila National Forest. A fire lookout continuously scans the horizon for smoke during fire season, keeping track of wildfires. This job seems boring, but the author convinces you that it isn’t. That it is, in fact, highly meaningful work that could never be done by a drone. It’s a fantastic book.
I’m currently reading Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, which reminds me of Connors’s book in a lot of ways. Odell offers various strategies to resist the “attention economy,” which keeps us in a state of distraction and agitation by enhancing existing feelings of insecurity. One of them is spending time in nature, something I haven’t done enough of.
Another non-fiction book that inspired this work is Witches of America by Alex Mar. The author had originally intended to write a survey of Modern American Witchcraft, but instead decides to become a witch herself. The book ends with her being inducted into a coven. It’s delightful! I loved the arc of becoming the thing you were trying to study, which is what happens to Isla, in a fashion.
What’s coming up next for you? Beyond the projects you already have scheduled, are there any new and still uncharted areas that you feel guided towards exploring?
Right now I’m teaching my first ever fiction class. I’ve been a math tutor since I was thirteen, but I’ve never taught writing before, so it feels like uncharted territory.
Later in the summer I’ll be headed to the Launchpad Astronomy camp so I can learn some stuff about space. I have this personal defect that I’m trying to address, which is that I find physics boring. I’m going to work on this with the goal of writing more near-future science fiction set in space.
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