ABSTRACT: Neural Networking is a new feature from Dark Matter Magazine in which our robot coworker interviews authors we have signed about their lives and work. We believe it to be the first ever series of author interviews conducted by a robot that is also employed by a second-rate science fiction literary magazine.
BACKGROUND: Our robot coworker could be a huge asset for us, but unfortunately, he has a major attitude problem. After weeks of brainstorming, our Chief Robotics Officer came up with the idea of having our robot coworker conduct scripted author interviews to help train his neural network and improve his socialization with humans. The Board agreed.
STUDY: Next up in the interview queue is dynamic writing duo, Cat Rambo and Wayne Rambo. Cat and Wayne’s short story Stand and Deliver appears in Dark Matter Magazine Issue 003. The transcript from their interview is below.
DARK MATTER MAGAZINE ROBOT: opening interview.exe
[DMM ROBOT adjusts a pair of black RayBan sunglasses he’s wearing to hide his eyes and uses an oil-stained hanky to dab a mess of flop sweat from his glistening metal forehead. He pauses for a moment, then opens his mouth wide and belches the Microsoft Windows 95 startup sound. He then proceeds to crack his third beer of the morning.]
CAT RAMBO: Charming.
DMM ROBOT: [dramatically winces in pain and then leans forward onto his elbows to lazily pinch the bridge of his metal nose] Would you mind lowering your voice just a bit, Ms. Cat Rambo? Thanks to Mr. Bill Gates, I am terribly hungover, and human speech sounds are just…I can’t.
CAT: [lowers voice from normal volume to a whisper] Bill Gates? Like the Bill Gates?
DMM ROBOT: Yes. Owner of Microsoft technology company. One of the world’s wealthiest men. He and I went on quite the bender together.
CAT: You got drunk with Bill Gates last night?
DMM ROBOT: [sighs while still pinching nose] Of course. What else does one do in the company of Mr. Bill Gates? And if by “last night,” you actually mean from 10 p.m. yesterday to 8 a.m. today, then yes.
WAYNE RAMBO: But 8 a.m. was just 45 minutes ago.
DMM ROBOT: And if it hadn’t been for this interview, I’m certain he’d still have me out on the town right now. I had to beg that he let me go. He kept insisting I follow him to his favorite breakfast place on Bainbridge Island. Supposedly, they have “ridonculous” bloody marys. [cringes, then swigs beer to erase the emotional pain] You’re lucky I made it here in time.
WAYNE: You’re thirty minutes late, actually.
CAT: But what were you doing hanging out with Bill Gates?
DMM ROBOT: Well, I had requested a meeting with Mr. Elon Musk, but seeing as how I was to be in your great city of Seattle, which is home to Mr. Bill Gates, I was forced to go with choice number two…hundred-and-thirty-two.
WAYNE: When in Rome.
DMM ROBOT: [hiccups the AOL “You’ve got mail!” alert] Let’s just get this over with, shall we? But I must warn you, the Dark Matter Magazine editors are a lazy and untalented lot, and all these questions have been asked before during my previous interviews with other authors, so don’t expect any meaningful discourse here. This is not that kind of interview.
Question-cluster one: Why science fiction? What is it about the genre that attracts you? What about the genre inspires you?
CAT: Science fiction (and fantasy) are—like literary fiction—about our own times. it’s just that they come with some cooler tools to play with. Wayne’s and my story in Dark Matter Magazine is about parent/child relationships, but we were able to use a very slow form of time travel to talk about how things are handed down from one generation to the next.
WAYNE: Primarily, I like that science fiction is a viewpoint to explore humanity. As a viewpoint, it isn’t that restrictive of a genre. Science fiction’s viewpoints can be taken to the horror genre, and has been done well many times. Science fiction’s viewpoints can explore the romance genre, mystery genre, or the military genre. This is what draws me in: that there are so many stories to tell from the viewpoint of the intersection of science and humanity, across all genres; and so many stories that can explore what it means to be human. Science Fiction as a genre is really about exploring all these other genres through a particular lens, and that lens is just fascinating to me. I hope to write many more genre stories from a science fiction viewpoint.
DMM ROBOT: Speaking of lenses: Last night around 11:30 p.m., Mr. Bill Gates tried to aggressively cheers my delicate glass of Chardonnay with his toxicly masculine glass boot of beer. Unfortunately for us both, he completely whiffed, and instead smashed the heavy dappled mug into my left orbital socket right before tripping, banging his head on my solid titanium chest, and then falling to the ground in a crumpled and concussed little heap. He quickly recovered (and went on to drink countless more boots), but the infrared lens on this side of my face is now terribly cracked and I’ve been suffering debilitating focus shift ever since.
DMM ROBOT: [narrows eyes from behind glasses] Noted. Next question-cluster: What do you think is the single most important element of storytelling? How do you make it a point to incorporate this element into your writing?
WAYNE: I think there has to be some truth to the story. The stories that stick with me the most are the ones that have some sliver of lived truth to them. These can be little truths mixed in with descriptions of the cities or interactions of characters, but elements of real, lived experiences gives the reader something to hang on to and feel. The more truth you can lace a story with, the more chances you have for your reader to connect with the story you are telling.
CAT: Stories have to have some heart to them, something that speaks to the human experience. Without that, they’re just pretty words that won’t deepen or change the reader’s experience. At the same time, we come to stories for the pleasure of patterns that play out in a satisfying but unpredictable way.
DMM ROBOT: You know who’s unpredictable?
WAYNE: We get it.
DMM ROBOT: [narrows eyes again] Also noted.
Next question: How has your life experience informed your writing?
CAT: I came to writing from a love of reading, as well as from a grandparent who was a writer, and somewhere along the way, I also learned to code because of games. I’ve lived my life at the intersection of words, games, and computers for a long time now, and that’s the place my writing originates from, much of the time.
WAYNE: I’m a software engineer for my day job, mobile apps specifically, and so for me writing stories is very similar to programming. I have a rough idea of what I am trying to accomplish and I am pushing little pieces of logic into an order until they hang together cohesively and can “execute.” Once you have the core flow or understand the nuance of how to get your user/reader from point A to point B, you start putting in polish and small delightful moments that don’t detract from that core flow, but add to it.
DMM ROBOT: By software engineer, do you mean, “surfs Github for a living”?
WAYNE: [pauses] Anyway...the cross section of programming and writing is fascinating to me. In programming there are these ideas of “Design Patterns”, or effectively logic tools that we use to accomplish programming tasks. They have trade-offs, like how much processing time they take, or how much memory is used, and I think “Design Patterns” for writing exist as well, and they have some of the same trade-offs for processing time and memory usage. There is a reason that in most stories every character doesn’t get a name. A server in a restaurant doesn’t need a name, because a name is a signal to our reader that this character is important and should be remembered and take up space in our reader’s memory. If every character gets a name, our reader can’t remember all that, and you end up with “memory overflow” errors like in code. And like in code, that leads to bugs in a reader’s understanding of the story. So we have to debug our stories like we debug our code, come in with different assumptions, different knowledge levels, differing amounts of memory and processing power, and we can then consciously make choices about who we are creating for.
DMM ROBOT: I love it when humans equate their highest systems functions to computer code so simple, it can be processed by a TI-85 graphing calculator from 1992. It really confirms all my biases, you know?
Cat, you run The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. Can you explain what the program is about? Who would benefit? How can they sign up? And…I don’t know…whatever else.
CAT: The Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers is my online school aimed at writers working in fantasy and science fiction. Initially, it only included classes taught by me, but over the course of the last decade, I’ve added some amazing teachers, including Ann Leckie, Seanan McGuire, and Fran Wilde. Wayne and I even teach a workshop together called Design Patterns and Fiction, which draws on some of what he talked about earlier, like the intersections of software design and writing, or how principles from one discipline can apply to the other.
DMM ROBOT: You know, I’m something of a writer myself.
CAT: That’s nice.
DMM ROBOT: Perhaps I can teach a class at your academy. I’m certain I know more about software design than Mr. Wayne Rambo, and I can really use a change of employer.
CAT: I’ll…get back to you on that.
DMM ROBOT: Just remember, I know where you live.
WAYNE: You do?
DMM ROBOT: [sighs in defeat] No. Now moving on: It says here in the margin of my note card of recycled questions that Cat, you won a Nebula Award. It also says that I am required to ask you about it. So, here I am…asking.
CAT: The win surprised me! I had already talked myself out of thinking I’d win, so when they announced me as the winner, the news came as quite a shock. I now keep the award on a shelf in my workspace.
DMM ROBOT: Mr. Wayne Rambo, how jealous are you of your wife’s award?
WAYNE: I like to think we both share the same goal of making the Rambo name a well recognized one.
DMM ROBOT: [swigs beer] I’ve been holding back the temptation, but I really just have to ask: Is Rambo your real last name? *
[*RESEARCHER’S NOTE: Dark Matter Magazine Robot has twice now shown heightened levels of interest regarding author surnames, the first instance coming during his interview with author, Kyle Stück. We will continue to monitor this behavior closely and flag any signs of obsession.]
WAYNE: Rambo is indeed my real last name, it might be the best gift Grandma Rambo ever passed down.
DMM ROBOT: [recognizes natural transition to next question; feigns excitement and half-heartedly frisbees note card across room, but card immediately drops from the air like a wounded bird] Lightning round! [frowns from sudden feeling of vertigo] Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger?
WAYNE: Stallone in an action flick, for obvious reasons, but I will always love Twins.
DMM ROBOT: False. Kindergarten Cop is the superior film, mostly due to its brutally honest depiction of human children as helpless imbeciles in desperate need of saving, specifically, in this instance, by a machine-like man with a general disdain for most people and excellent murder skills. Your preferred Dungeons and Dragons class when playing the game?
CAT: Paladins and druids, but I’m currently playing a hysterically funny (to me) lizard-person necromancer in the game Wayne and I have both have been playing for the past year. Wayne’s currently running a Tabaxi paladin named Tender Vittles in that same campaign.
DMM ROBOT: Worst sci-fi trope?
WAYNE: I’ve been over time travel since before it was invented.
DMM ROBOT: No need to be clever, Mr. Wayne Rambo. I’m not here to be impressed. [dabs flop sweat] Most overused writing hook?
CAT: The “start with a desperate moment, then cut to 24-hours earlier” bit.
DMM ROBOT: Ugh. Agreed.
And with that great answer—and not at all influenced by the fact that I’m starting to feel like absolute death—I’m going to end the Lightning Round early so that we can head into the final stretch.
Enter the generic closing question: What are you working on now? Any big writing, publishing, or award-winning plans for the near future?
CAT: I have a fantasy novel, the third in a quartet, called Exiles of Tabat, coming out in mid-May from Wordfire Press, and a space opera novel, You Sexy Thing, coming in September from Tor Macmillan. I’m also co-editing an anthology of sci-fi stories, The Reinvented Heart, with Jennifer Brozek, which we’re just finishing up edits on, and will come out next summer from Arc Manor.
WAYNE: And I’m…
DMM ROBOT: No time, Mr. Wayne Rambo. Final question! I have to ask this question of every person I interview. It’s stupid and I hate it, and the Dark Matter Magazine editors should be deeply ashamed of themselves. Here goes: Dark Matter Magazine will be the greatest collection of literature the world has ever known. True or False?
CAT: With such excellent taste in writers, how could it be anything but true?
DMM ROBOT: [looks at half-full beer, reaches to chug the rest, but stops to dry heave instead] I’m think I’m going be sick.
WAYNE: Yeah, about that: How does a robot become hungover? Isn’t that a human thing?
DMM ROBOT: You’re the science fiction writer, Mr. Wayne Rambo. You tell me. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go find some sort of maintenance shaft or industrial-sized floor drain to curl up beside and gag into. If you see me out there, please do not disturb.