In your story, “Flash Bang Remember,” Girl23 rebels against the adults by trying to destroy the chip that records all of her memories. Do you feel that it’s an inherent flaw for adults to depend on a child to act exactly as they expect?
Caroline: The adults in this story have shared memories, which might predispose them to thinking that they could predict Girl23’s behavior. And Girl23’s environment might make her somewhat more predictable than kids usually are—the colony ship is a controlled environment, and everyone on the ship interacted with Girl23 according to a strict protocol. As a result, many of her actions were things that the adults could (and did) expect. Even so, she definitely manages to surprise them in the end.
Tina: I don’t know if it’s a flaw per se, but expecting that anyone will do exactly as you say is going to lead to trouble. And, more interesting stories. I find my kid characters are even more stubborn than adult characters about doing what they want to do and not what I want them to do.
False memories are a staple of science fiction, from Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” to the more recent Christopher Nolan film, “Inception.” What was the inspiration for your take on this subgenre?
Caroline: The idea for this story didn’t start with memories at all—it started from some idle speculations about what it might be like to be a child on a colony ship. I wondered whether it might be easier to skip childhood entirely and emerge as a fully-grown crew member. Recording one person’s childhood and giving those memories to everyone struck me as a way to accomplish that, and that became the core idea for a story that explores what it might be like if all the adults had this shared reference.
Tina: Caroline’s idea may not have started with memories, but it was one of the things that interested me when I went to write the story off of her outline. There were so many places to play around with the shared memories concept, and how the thing that united the rest of the crew would alienate Girl23. And then, The Child’s discomfort at dealing with this unique kind of popularity. I was also fascinated by the almost throwaway mention at the end of waking up a woman, but with The Child’s memories, and having to transition through that gender dysphoria. The story turned out to be about Girl23’s decisions before she’s tanked, so it would have taken a novel to get to explore the topic of Girl23 waking up with The Boy’s memories fully. (Hmm . . . a novel . . .)
With privacy lines blurring more each year, and much of many people’s lives on display—uploaded daily pictures and innermost thoughts, what we’re listening to, what we recommend, who our friends and contacts are, etc.—do you see a day when shared memories are commonplace?
Caroline: I’m not sure sharing memories will ever be possible, much less commonplace. A memory might seem to be a single coherent unit, but in reality our brains are constructing an experience from many distinct components. Take something simple, like what you ate for breakfast. I had oatmeal, with blueberries. When I recall this event, I can call up the texture of the oatmeal, the temperature, the flavors, the smell, and so on. Each of these components might be stored in a different region of my brain, and it all comes together into a recollection of what I had for breakfast. Scientists are only beginning to understand how our brain brings these components together.
I think there are two methods that could be used for the transfer of memories—writing the memories directly into someone else’s brain, or feeding all of the components of the memory into someone else’s sensory systems.
Not enough is known about how memories are stored to even begin on the first method. If I want to give someone a memory of blueberries, which neuronal connections should I alter, and how should I change them? Does it matter what experiences the person has already had? I would expect it does, since someone who has had blueberries before would likely encode my memory of blueberries differently than someone who has never tasted fruit.
So the simpler thing, it seems, would be to read someone’s memory and then play all of the sensory information back to them. I would argue, however, that this loses something that is intrinsic to the memory. Giving someone only the sensory information is akin to going to see a movie with a friend—you both see the same thing, but each of you will perceive it differently. Nonetheless, I think this is the closest we’re likely to come to sharing memories, so when I was outlining the story I envisioned the process as a bombardment of sensations.
Tina: Oh man, describing it as an extension of Facebook sounds awful. Can you imagine logging onto your home page and being bombarded with memories of three trips to the store, five terrible bosses, two complaints about rain, and some girl randomly going on and on about facepainting? Or what about Twitter? Twenty-three memories of half-digested bagels.
Actually this sounds like a story I would write.
I think it would be quite a while before this sort of thing was possible—Caroline would know much better than I—but commonplace? I suppose my mind immediately leaps to the next form of entertainment. Nina Kiriki Hoffman had a story in Clarkesworld called “Futures in the Memories Market” that strikes me as the way this kind of technology would be used.
Is there any circumstance you would want to share a memory with someone else?
Caroline: I have often wondered what it would be like to experience the world through someone else’s eyes; I envision an experience that is sort of the equivalent of taking a piggy back ride on another person’s brain. On the other hand, I really value privacy (and even on Facebook I try to err on the side of not sharing too much), so the idea of someone else experiencing my memories is a little unnerving.
Tina: The way Caroline describes it makes me think of those “view those who viewed your profile” tickyboxes on Facebook and so on. You can see others’ memories . . . but only if they can see yours. Yeah, not so much. But if we’re talking about armchair traveling, I would totally try that, at least once. I mean, it would be pretty awesome from a writer’s standpoint to be able to instantly see what it’s really like to go deep sea diving or hang gliding . . . or even undercover as a cop. Think of all the details you could get right!
Many writers dream of co-writing a story or book with another author, but in practice this can be difficult. Could you describe the process that you two used to write this story together? What hurdles, if any, were there to overcome?
Caroline: Tina and I both suspected that writing a collaboration in sections wouldn’t work well—at best, it would yield something with a choppy and uneven voice, and I vaguely recall that Tina prefers not to write stories in chronological order anyway. So we decided to try a collaboration where one person came up with an idea and wrote a detailed outline, and the second person wrote the story. In this case, I did the outline, and Tina wrote the story. It worked beautifully, and she sent the story back to me for revisions.
Then we both had babies, and the story sat untouched for a couple years. When I finally came back to the story, I was really pleased with what Tina had done with the outline. I think she did a fantastic job capturing the characters and the teenage voice, so it hardly needed any revisions at all.
Honestly, there were very few hurdles in the process, aside from the long delay due to life being too busy for a while. (Which, at least to my knowledge, neither of us minded.) On the other hand, our original plan was to write two stories. I have a lovely story outline from Tina that I do hope to write someday, but one of the things I learned from this experience is that I have a terrible time trying to write based on an outline!
Tina: I wouldn’t say prefers not to write in chronological order. But yes, I’ve been working on a different collaboration story with an exceedingly patient friend for about five years. It’s my turn to produce the next 4 pages. Baby-excuse notwithstanding, the fact is my brain just doesn’t think very well in “next 4 pages” chunks. (That said, I’ve had to get better at both outlining and writing linearly to complete novels.)
So yes, for me this worked perfectly. The outline for this story had lots of good bits that coincided with the things I like to write. Not too surprisingly, as we sometimes joke about mindmeld anyway. And it was fun brainstorming the outline for the story Caroline has yet to write.
Finally, do you have any new projects you’d like to announce?
Caroline: My work has recently appeared in a couple of anthologies—“Blood Willows” appears in Women Writing the Weird (edited by Deb Hoag), and “Time to Say Goodnight” in Million Writers Award: The Best Online Science Fiction and Fantasy (edited by Jason Sanford). I also have stories forthcoming at Daily Science Fiction, Weird Tales, and Toasted Cake.
Tina: My debut fantasy novel Ironskin comes out from Tor in October 2012, and I just turned in the sequel to my wonderful editor. I’m also doing an idiosyncratic 2012 flash podcast project called Toasted Cake, and the very first story I ran was a dark and twisted lovely little thing called “Pageant Girls”, by Caroline. I’ll be running another story by her later in the year as well. Other summer 2012 stories include “One Ear Back” over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies (for which Scott H. Andrews was kind enough to let me read the podcast version), and short pieces at Daily SF and the anthology Bibliotheca Fantastica, edited by Claude Lalumière & Don Pizarro.