In your story, “My She,” the subject matter deals intensively with the evolution of humans’ relationship with dogs. What made you want to write a story dealing with this?
Well, it wasn’t dogs that I was focusing on first and foremost, but rather our definition of “human.” That is a topic that SF is perfectly situated to address, and it’s a favorite theme of mine. Is our nanny a dog or is she a human? And if she is a dog with her language, emotions, and ability to reason, how is she different from us? We don’t have a definition of human yet and as we get better with genetic engineering, we’re going to need one! But I fixed on dogs as my example since I own and train dogs. I had a puppy at the time and was watching my senior bitch teach the puppy good manners. And it occurred to me that engineered dogs would make the perfect nannies. And where is the boundary line between human and non-human if that bitch nanny is raising our children? On the flip side, if the human child is being raised and shaped merely to perform a role that is essentially a component in a communications system, which is the human and which is the non-human?
Can you tell us what a writing day for you is like?
These days I’m not only writing but I’m working with new writers, helping them edit, polish, and publish their work at The New Writers Interface. But whether it’s my own words I’m working with or someone else’s, I start the day with my dogs and a load of wood for the woodstove to warm up my woodstove-heated-only house. Then it’s words for the rest of the day, broken up by work in my vegetable garden, sheep work with my dogs (they’re sheep dogs), or reading and research. I’m also a pilot and I find that the sky is the perfect recharge for my creative well.
There seems to be a running thread of being punished or chastised for being special, i.e. in the case of Siri, she can hear more than the average Speaker, but her talents weren’t put to use. Can you tell us more about this?
We so often punish the one who is different in our societies. Perhaps it’s a leftover of our “mass production” mentality from the WWII years, or a more primitive “tribal” mentality, but we are not happy with someone who does not fit the specified mold, who marches to a drummer that the rest of us can’t hear. We are not tolerant of “different,” and I think it’s one of the biggest weaknesses we face as a race—that inability to value the unique.
Another theme appears to be thinking blasphemous thoughts—questioning the status quo—and how the common knowledge of the society seems to shape the inhabitants’ thinking away from these sorts of thoughts. Even what words people can say, and how they communicate is proscribed. Are there stories that dealt with these themes that inspired you? How important are these themes to your work?
These themes of proscribed speech and “right think” are very common in SF, from the novel 1984 on. I think that’s one of the most valuable roles SF plays in the body of world literature—as the watchdog that points to those trends that will ultimately confine and circumscribe thought and creativity. And they’ve always been important in my own work. Most of my stories deal with people who strive against the overt and subtle boundaries that we create to define and, consequently, constrain society. It’s all about “seeing the obvious” and sometimes it is easier to see that obvious through the mirror of near future science fiction than to see it by looking around you.
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