Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Author Spotlight: Genevieve Valentine

In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Genevieve Valentine to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “The Nearest Thing.”

The world in which Mason lives, from his career to the people he knows, feels incredibly real. Where did you find the inspiration for it?

I’ve always been a sucker for a near-future identity crisis, and the story grew pretty organically from putting these characters in an uneasy alliance within a corporate setting that became an increasingly strong presence in the narrative.

Paul is such an interesting character in that he clearly loves Nadia, yet doesn’t seem to care about her in the way that Mason does. How do you imagine Paul and Nadia’s relationship started? What plans did Paul have for their future?

The first question is definitely something I’d be interested in exploring more someday in another story about these characters, though I must say that, given Paul’s actions throughout this story, while his heart might be in the right place, I’m not sure long-range planning is Paul’s strong suit.

Why would Paul risk creating the Vestige model if it meant Nadia possibly getting deactivated?

For businessmen of vision, a great final product often involves a body count, so to speak. The Vestige model is, on a corporate level, just a piece of sophisticated software. The danger to Nadia is the same as the danger to excess code or abandoned chassis designs; it might be disposed of, but it might linger in some archive. It’s a risk Paul, as a businessman of vision, was willing to take.

Mason’s personal program is able to immediately detect that something is wrong with Nadia. How is it able to do so with only the bare minimum of information? What clues give Nadia away?

In the context of the story, one hopes that Mason’s personal computer is savvy enough to parse volumes of information quickly. Otherwise the black market sold him a dud.

In your opinion, where does Nadia’s baseline come from? Who is she really?

That’s actually something I intentionally leave unanswered. When Nadia is confronted with this in the story, she has to make her big decision blindly, without knowing anything that could help her pick and choose the best path, the same way many of us have to enter a point of crucial decision.

Arguably, Mori is also a character in this story, perhaps even a villain. How did you come up with a company with such micro-managing tendencies?

Oh, my guess is that most people who have held down a day job in a corporate atmosphere will recognize something of Mori with very little trouble. There’s a sort of comfort in the corporate dystopia, because it functions as a monster all its own.

Your other story published in Lightspeed, “The Zeppelin Conductors’ Society Annual Gentlemen’s Ball,” also deals with man’s inventions perhaps going too far and spinning out of control. What keeps bringing you back to this idea?

Actually, I’d argue that in both those stories the technology does exactly what its meant to do, and it’s just that society is more than happy to let individuals be collateral damage so long as the trains run on time. I think it’s a theme well worth exploring because it’s a real-world mindset one encounters remarkably often.

In your mind, what does Nadia ultimately decide to do at the end of the story?

So much of the story has brought her to this point and hangs in the balance, but by the same token, this is the first decision she gets to make wholly on her own. I guess in the end, the answer she gives is something for the reader to decide, at least for now; the day may come when I want to revisit these characters (I certainly enjoyed them), and at that point I’ll have to decide which way she chose, but until that time comes, she’s Schrödinger’s cyborg.

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Stacey Friedberg

Stacey Friedberg

Stacey Friedberg is an editorial assistant at Penguin Books for Young Readers. She enjoys reading, writing, and cooking. You can follow her (very infrequent) tweets via @stacabird.