Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Author Spotlight: Nancy Kress

In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Nancy Kress to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Eliot Wrote.”

Kress, NancyMemory, and metaphors for memory, are a running theme throughout this story. What would you say your favorite metaphor for memory is?

I’m inclined to think of computer files as a metaphor for memory, because our minds “file” concepts by category and because files can be cross-indexed, as can memory. However, I didn’t use that in the story because it’s too much of a cliché. Also, Eliot is given to more imaginative metaphors than I am—even though I created him. Fiction is odd in that way.

How did you come up with the idea for Selective Memory Obliteration Neural Re-Routing?

It’s an old idea in SF. Philip K. Dick used it, the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” used it, as have many other works. The point in fiction is sometimes to give a fresh spin to an old idea. It would be impossible to come up with a brand-new, fresh-out-if-the-box idea for every single story.

Eliot is obsessed with reality and refuses to believe in his father’s vision. Why does he hold such a strong attachment to what he deems to be real?

Because we all do. And the super-rationalists, of which Eliot is one at the beginning of the story, refuse to entertain any idea that smacks of mysticism. I know many such people. I’m related to a whole bunch of them.

What did Carl Tremling actually see? How did you decide on Dr. Tremling’s vision and subsequent outburst?

He “saw” what he said he saw: Zeus in a toaster pastry. Rather, that’s what he perceived, since sight is a combination of what photons strike our retinas and how we interpret the resulting signals to the brain. As to deciding on Carl’s vision: Like so much of what I write, it just came to me and seemed right.

Eliot shares a unique relationship with his father as well as his aunt. In both cases he feels that his decisions should hold more weight than theirs, even though he is a child. Where did you find the inspiration for these relationships? Did you often feel helpless as a child?

All children feel relatively helpless, because they are. Adults make the important decisions. I was glad to grow up, and even though I had a happy and stable childhood, I prefer adulthood. I get to make my own decisions now. I don’t really understand people who say they would love to return to the “innocence” of childhood.

Although Eliot doesn’t deem his father’s operation successful, it’s apparent that the procedure may not be to blame, as he loses his love of pigs beforehand. What actually happened to Carl Tremling to make him lose his personality?

His world was shaken to its foundations. Everything he thought was true turned out not to be. That’s enough to shake any sensitive and intelligent person a little. It shook him a lot because, as I say in my story, truly gifted mathematicians often have an unstable hold on social reality anyway. It’s a psychological phenomenon often written about. Example: John Nash.

Why strawberry toaster pastries?

I like to eat them.

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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.