“Drones Don’t Kill People” starts with a stark, specific voice that immediately captures the reader’s attention. Many writers struggle to find a voice that completely embodies their point-of-view character. How hard was it for you to find such a perfect voice?
I have a lot of sympathy for machines and non-human creatures, and I spend way too much time speculating about what they might be thinking. So the drones felt very familiar to me.
In many ways, Turkey is at the crux of a number of political issues in the Middle East. Your story embraces both the political strife and intellectual hope of a country often overlooked by genre writers. What inspired you to set the story in Turkey and Eastern Europe?
Istanbul and Budapest are two cities that I love, with rich histories of political resistance—but also imperial power, too. Both have been at the centers of empires that lasted centuries. And Turpan, in western China, has occupied a place of strategic importance for over 1,500 years. Enormously important historical events took place in these areas, so it makes sense that important future events would happen there too. I like thinking about how history continues to affect us, even in a world of sentient drones—and I especially love speculating about how drones will misinterpret human history for their own political needs.
The drone’s transition to self-awareness is subtle and well-handled. The methods also speak to fears such as the current drone strikes, data theft, and the uses of tactical and personal data. One of the values of fiction is in how it allows both readers and writers to explore the nature of such fears. How conscious were you of such fears when writing “Drones Don’t Kill People”?
I was very conscious of these fears—I am terrified of war, as any sane person would be. But I grew up at a time when the anti-war movements of the 1960s were still fairly fresh in people’s memories. I heard about them a lot from the adults around me, and from my professors at Berkeley. So when I think of war, I imagine all the ways that people and other intelligent beings would try to resist it. Maybe that means I’m blinded to the darker possibilities, but it’s not like I’m saying everybody is going to dance off into fields of happy cyberlight. People will die and it will be horrific, but there will always be good guys who try to stop the killing.
You have an extensive background in journalism. How do you find your interests in nonfiction writing have enhanced your works of fiction? Do you find the same to be true in reverse?
Absolutely. This story was completely inspired by journalistic pieces I’ve researched. I think it doesn’t really work in the other direction for me. I find that the nonfictional idea always precedes the fiction.
What’s next for Annalee Newitz? What can the fans expect?
I’m working on a nonfiction book about how cities evolved. I also have a novel I’m revising, which is about a military robot, a pharmaceutical pirate, a government ninja, and a slave. And of course I will continue to write my heart out at io9.com.
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