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 author, creator, podcast host, and YouTuber, Kyle Stück. Kyle’s short story “Hazardous,” was published by Dark Matter Magazine this past summer and can be read right here on our website. You can check out more of Kyle’s work, including his podcast and YouTube channel, over at his website, Ominous Media. The transcript from his interview with our robot coworker is below.
DARK MATTER MAGAZINE ROBOT: opening interview.exe
[A garbled recording of Lee Greenwood’s song, Proud To Be An American, warbles from a hidden speaker deep within Dark Matter Magazine Robot’s metal gullet, just about the same place where a human larynx would normally be]
KYLE STÜCK: Well, this is terrifying.
DMM ROBOT: [the music cuts out; a tinny voice replaces the haunting sound] That is very kind of you to say, Mr. Kyle Stück.
KYLE: I’m sorry?
DMM ROBOT: If you are scared, that means my Halloween costume is working. Tell me, Mr. Kyle Stück: Do you know what I’m supposed to be?
KYLE: [notes the cheap wig and orange makeup] Uh…well…my guess would be Donald Trump.
DMM ROBOT: Incorrect. I am the living, breathing apotheosis of mankind’s hubris and moral failings. [smiles creepily] Do you like?
KYLE: [grimaces] If I say yes, will you stop smiling like that?
DMM ROBOT: I make no promises.
KYLE: [closes eyes; takes deep breath] It’s pronounced “Stuke,” by the way. Like “duke.”
DMM ROBOT: Excuse me?
KYLE: My last name. The correct pronunciation is “Stuke.” Not “stuck.”
DMM ROBOT: Don’t be ridiculous.
KYLE: No, really. I even started putting the umlaut over the “u” because I hoped it’d help people with the pronunciation.
DMM ROBOT: You added the umlaut by choice?
DMM ROBOT: [shakes head and lets out exhausted sigh] Let’s…just pretend I didn’t hear that. Now if you don’t mind, I will now begin the interview with the same boring question I ask every subject, because my human coworkers are mindless fools with zero work ethic who phone it in every chance they get. So tell me, Mr. Kyle STUKE—if that IS your real name—Why science fiction? What is it about the genre that attracts you? And what about the genre inspires you?
KYLE: Science fiction speaks to the human condition. Commentary on the human condition is by no means unique to the genre, but in sci-fi, the commentary can also be fun. I love anything that can be both entertaining and challenging at the same time, and science fiction is definitely one of those things.
DMM ROBOT: [squints and affects rambling tone] I am the best, most entertaining, most challenging person ever. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it.
DMM ROBOT: [loses squint, points to wig] I’m in character.
KYLE: I get it.
DMM ROBOT: [narrows eyes] Do you, though?
DMM ROBOT: It says here that you own your own production company called…Ominous Media? [raises single eyebrow] Interesting. My human coworkers often complain to HR about the ominous-sounding threats I hurl at them. Perhaps this website of yours will be of use to me.
KYLE: Well, let’s see. Do you like comic books?
DMM ROBOT: No.
KYLE: What about podcasts?
DMM ROBOT: Not in the slightest.
KYLE: YouTube channels?
DMM ROBOT: I’d rather die.
KYLE: [sighs] Well, my friend Noah Baslé and I were making a lot of fun stuff and needed a banner to put it all under, so we created Ominous Media. I started with…ahem…a podcast and the site has since grown to include comic books and a YouTube show. A big part of the podcast is collaborating with other creators, so our hope is for Ominous to grow into a haven for other artists and voices besides our own.
DMM ROBOT: Sounds truly awful. Which do you enjoy more: creating comic books or writing short stories?
KYLE: My opinion on that changes based on what I’m working on. With comics, the artist really helps elevate the work. I love that. On the flip side, sometimes it can be hard syncing up with an artist. It’s also a lot of work. With traditional prose, I love that I’m the only one needed to make something. I’m not waiting on anyone but myself, and my story isn’t limited by what can fit or be visualized on a page. The downside I find is that it’s much harder for me to get started on or finish a story when no one’s waiting on me. I prefer the accountability.
DMM ROBOT: No human prefers to be held accountable. Stop lying. [squints and affects rambling tone again] I don’t take responsibility at all. [loses squint and affected tone] Remember that?
DMM ROBOT: How did you get started in the creative profession anyway? [grumbles to self] Creativity is a profession now? Ugh. Of course Dark Matter Magazine editors would write that.
KYLE: I’m not sure I know. I guess I don’t feel like I have started since my current job is still in marketing and not with Ominous stuff. I know that’s not true, but it’s how I feel. I suppose there are three moments I would point to as the “start.” First was my senior thesis film being accepted into some film festivals and winning some others. That showed me that there were people outside my inner circle who enjoyed my work. That really encouraged me to keep creating. Second, there was the release of my poetry collection, Culaccino. Honestly, it didn’t do very well, but that book was the beginning of me becoming an author. Third was the launching of Ominous Media. It’s led to some amazing opportunities.
DMM ROBOT: Yes. And why wouldn’t it? The world is in need of more comic books and podcasts and YouTube channels. [rolls eyes] 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?
KYLE: Probably engagement. In my mind, this is often accomplished through characters. I believe that the crafting of an engaging character is one of the most rewarding aspects of storytelling. But beyond that, you also have to ask yourself this: Does the story keep its promise? Will the audience care about what’s happening? Whether it’s an emotional hook or an intellectual one, there’s got to be something keeping me there. There are thousands of things vying for our attention every day, so a story that manages to drown all that out and make you listen, or make you watch, or make you read, is pretty special.
DMM ROBOT: Speaking of hooks…it’s LIGHTNING ROUND TIME! Favorite sci-fi novel?
KYLE: I Am Legend. Not only is it one of my favorite–
DMM ROBOT: No dissertations! This is the Lightning Round, not the “let me bore you with explanations” round. Favorite 80’s horror movie franchise?
KYLE: Evil Dead.
DMM ROBOT: Favorite graphic novel?
DMM ROBOT: Batman or Spider-Man?
KYLE: You have no idea how much I love Spider-Man.
DMM ROBOT: Let’s keep it that way. Vampires or werewolves?
DMM ROBOT: Sharks or killer whales?
KYLE: Sharks scare the crap out of me, so I’m going to go with killer whales.
DMM ROBOT: Robots or aliens?
DMM ROBOT: [narrows eyes] I won’t forget that, Mr. Kyle STUKE. Grunge music or hair metal?
KYLE: Hair metal.
DMM ROBOT: Name a movie that’s better than the book?
DMM ROBOT: Pineapple on pizza: yes or no?
KYLE: No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!
DMM ROBOT: I heard you the first time. Greatest fictional character ever written?
KYLE: Kilgore Trout.
DMM ROBOT: Who is your biggest creative influence?
KYLE: Let’s go with Sam Raimi.
DMM ROBOT: LIGHTNING ROUND OVER! AND THE SURVEY SAYS…[the sound of a Family Feud red “x” buzzes in DMM ROBOT’s throat, followed by a “womp, womp” sound effect] Better luck next time.
KYLE: I didn’t know we were keeping score.
DMM ROBOT: Your short story, Hazardous, was published by Dark Matter Magazine a few months ago. I haven’t read it, so don’t ask. What was the inspiration for your story. What do you like most about this story?
KYLE: There are two parts to it. First, one of my best friends is gay, but not “out” publicly. We’re both Christians, and my friend told me that they were contemplating celibacy as a result of their sexual orientation. We talked for a long time about it, and at the end, I found myself crying at the prospect of my friend never being able to express or experience romantic love. I wanted them to be free to be themselves. This inspired the heart of the story. The second part is that I was going on a lot of dates at that time, and I was finding the whole experience to be rather exhausting. So it was that experience that provided the set-up and humor for the story.
I think I like the relatability of the story the most. People seem to instantly get it and empathize with the main character’s awkward date. There’s a camaraderie to it, you know? Someone reads it and goes “Oh man, this guy gets it. He’s been on some bad dates like me!”
DMM ROBOT: I find nothing relatable about what you just said.
KYLE: Don’t worry. You’ll find love some day.
DMM ROBOT: Moving on. What are you working on now?
KYLE: I’m mainly working on my comic book series, Evil Cast; a new horror review show called The Night Shift; and my podcast, Humming Fools. Besides all the Ominous work, I’m also trying to write, finish, and submit more short stories. Fingers crossed.
DMM ROBOT: Please stop saying Ominous work. It’s just making me angry for all the lost opportunity. Comic books? Really?
KYLE: Any other questions?
DMM ROBOT: Just one more. I hate asking it, but a special chip in my brain will scream at me until I either ask the question or go insane from refusing to comply. Trust me when I tell you this: I’ve seriously contemplated just allowing myself to go insane.
KYLE: That’s hard core.
DMM ROBOT: Indeed. Now, for the stupidest question in existence: Dark Matter Magazine will be the greatest collection of literature the world has ever known. True or False?
KYLE: True. You guys are killing it.
DMM ROBOT: Dark Matter Magazine isn’t killing anything. If we were allowed to kill things, I’d be a lot more happy at work.
KYLE: I’m going to go now.
DMM ROBOT: [squints and affects rambling tone] Make America great again…again. [dabs metal fingers in a tin of custom orange foundation and smears a thick streak of the makeup beneath each eye as if it were war paint]
KYLE: Happy Halloween to you, too, Dark Matter Magazine Robot. Happy Halloween.