Sunday, November 19, 2017

Annalee Newitz @ Women & Children First

pic by CNSC member
Paul Callan (Flickr)
Back in September, Annalee Newitz did a reading at Women & Children First from her newly-launched novel, Autonomous. Brief notes below!

Newitz was joined by partner, fellow io9-cofounder, and All the Birds in the Sky author Charlie Jane Anders for the discussion. After reading  some introductory sections from Autonomous, which follows a scientist-turned-pharmacy-pirate and the robot/human pair of agents sent to stop her, Newitz took questions from the audience:

Taking a few questions about the process of writing the novel, and writing fiction instead of nonfiction:
  • Autonomous started while both Newitz & Anders were still working on io9. She started working on it kind of as if it were nonfic, interviewed scientists in relevant fields. The novel is set in a definite near -future (2144), and relies on a fairly well-defined central device, the fictional concentration drug "Zacuity", so Newitz turned to a few different specialists to try to both flesh out the ideas and also avoid "smack your own face" fact errors. She also talked about her own disenchantment with the academic research world informing the novel.

On robots & AI:
  • What's the moment where AI crosses to sentience? The idea of the ability to suffer as a critical point.
  • "So many evil AI stories, I wanted to wrtie about the vulnerability of AI."
  • Anders: The need to talk about non-metaphorical robots.
  • Newitz: Enslaved robots rising up to enslave humans à la Battlestar Galactica is a bit silly.
  • Slavery & indenture are clear themes in the novel. Slavery doesn't exist in isolation, impacts every part of a world.
  • Anders: If one of us is not free, none of us are free.1
On the question of whether or not this is a dystopia:
  • "In most parts of history there's shitty stuff & hopeful stuff." The importance of resistance & compromise. How hope is always about friendship and connection; we have a chance to overthrow the darkness.
Some digressions on Canadian influence on the book: big plug for University of Saskatchewan, both as a research institute and for its history of social agrarianism. Also: robot suburb of Vancouver makes perfect sense. Also also: Las Vegas is terrible and the logical spot for the evil slave syndicate to headquarter.

Science fiction questions!
  • Anders: The conception for io9 was that "SF *is* mainstream now", so it made sense to cover both art & science/tech that touched on the same things. Also talked about wanting to embrace the "broad audience" approach to SF, pointing out writers like Delany, Russ, and Le Guin.
  • Newitz: There's a really porous separation between "science fiction" and "literature" or "mainstream". Points out things like the invisible car in Atlanta.
Asked about recommendations/influences of the AI/robotic type, Newitz lists a few:
  • Ann Leckie's recent novels
  • Iain M. Banks Culture series
  • Macleod's Night Sessions.
  • McAffrey's The Ship Who Sang.
  • Becky Chambers' Wayfarer books.
  • Person of Interest
  • Westworld
  • Her
  • William Gibson's work
  • Tanith Lee's The Silver Metal Lover
  • Matthew Abaitu's The Red Men
Really great talk, and Autonomous is a lot of fun! You can see what else Newitz is up to on her website, and you may also want to keep up with Anders' projects, including the delightful Writers with Drinks series. And, keep up with Women & Children First for tons of stellar events.

No comments:

Post a Comment