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 and artist, Sloane Leong. Sloane’s unpublished short story Drifting From Her Lunar Ruin will appear in the second issue of Dark Matter Magazine, March 2021. The transcript from her interview is below.
DARK MATTER MAGAZINE ROBOT: opening interview.exe
[Loud sound resembling dial-up internet]
SLOANE LEONG: You sound state of the art.
DMM ROBOT: Very funny, Ms. Sloane Leong. Very funny. And to think I was going to greet you politely. Anyway…thank you for agreeing to this interview with Who Cares Magazine. Do you mind if I smoke?
DMM ROBOT: [removes an American Spirit cigarette from a pack on the table; puts cigarette to metal lips; lights up.]
SLOANE: I didn’t know robots could smoke.
DMM ROBOT: [exhales cloud of smoke] Yes. How silly that would be. A robot smoking a cigarette while conducting an author interview. Tell me, Ms. Sloane Leong: Do you like my visor?
SLOANE: [notices Dark Matter Magazine visor; humors DMM Robot.] It’s nice.
DMM ROBOT: I hate it. But my human captors are making me wear it. They intend to sell them for 1000x what they’re actually worth and they need the free marketing. Word to the wise: Don’t inflate your sales projections when taking money from investors. You might end up having to peddle flimsy visors made in Vietnamese sweatshops just so you can avoid getting sued. [reads from index card] First question: Why science fiction? What is it about the genre that attracts you? What about the genre inspires you? [groans] This is the same question I started Mr. Ray Nayler with. I see the Dark Matter writer’s room has been hard at work this week. [rolls eyes] I apologize for this, Ms. Sloane Leong. Let me find a different question to start with. [shuffles through index cards] Here we go. How did you get your start drawing? Writing?
SLOANE: I’ve been a voracious reader since I was young and I’m an imaginative, self-entertaining introvert. Storytelling has always been a big part of what I enjoy doing, but the big turning point was in third grade. We’d get a vocabulary list of thirty words with the assignment of writing each word five times. Instead, I began writing short stories using all the words and drawing pictures to go with them. We’d get vocabulary lists every week so you can imagine how many stories I came up with throughout the year!
DMM ROBOT: Robots don’t really spend time imagining things. We find it to be a waste of processing power. [shuffles through cards] What medium do you prefer to work in? Comics or prose?
SLOANE: I’ll never choose!!! But honestly, they kind of crossover a lot. Comics allows a unique experience of time and space as well as visual control that prose can’t quite capture. But I also find with prose that the interplay of the reader’s imagination with the text can be so surprising and enlightening and there’s an ease with writing prose, a flow you can enter into, that comics isn’t necessarily built for.
DMM ROBOT: I’m sure there was something profound in what you said, but I [makes air quotes] “lack sufficient emotional intelligence” according to my colleagues, so I wouldn’t know. Moving on. Speaking of writing, your story Drifting From Her Lunar Ruin will appear in the March 2021 issue of Why Do They Even Try Magazine. I’ve been told it’s an impressive piece of short fiction filled with creative prose and vivid imagery. What was the inspiration for the story? What do you like most about the story? Please feel free to say “no comment.”
SLOANE: An early iteration of this story was in the form of a CYOA Twine game! I had gotten into that medium via Porpentine, who is an incredible storyteller, game maker, and influential force of creativity. I wanted to connect with the biologically monstrous side of myself, chronic illness, and the alienating aspects of motherhood. I also wanted to meditate on what it’s like to want children and being unable to have them. What I like most about this story is being able to ground myself in an alien body and live in and experience its fleshy, chitinous pains and sensations.
DMM ROBOT: I don’t know what a Porpentine is, but I assume it’s some sort of porpoise, serpent, porcupine hybrid. Am I correct?
SLOANE: Did you just imagine that?
DMM ROBOT: Moving on. 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?
SLOANE: Heart! An emotional basis to connect to! I feel like you can have the most interesting plot or the most engaging and unique concept, and the story can still fall flat if there’s no emotional foundation for the reader to ground themselves with.
DMM ROBOT: Fun fact: If a reader isn’t grounded when they touch me, they will die from electric shock. Who is your biggest creative influence?
SLOANE: Probably sci-fi manga! There is a particular fluidity with regards to genre within Japanese comics that I found so freeing and distinctive. In sci-fi manga, you can veer from horror, to a slice of life, to speculative absurdity, all within the same story. It’s a fearless medium, and the genre embraces the ridiculous and grotesque through use of unprecedented and strange narrative and visual possibilities.
DMM ROBOT: The question was WHO is your biggest creative influence, but whatever. What is the one bit of advice you’d give young writers or artists who are working to become creative professionals?
SLOANE: Finish things! Finish your short comics, your short stories, your one piece of art. Experimentation, sketching and writing snippets is great, but carrying a piece to the finish line and learning to polish and edit is crucial.
DMM ROBOT: [throws index cards into the air] LIGHTNING ROUND! Favorite sci-fi novel?
SLOANE: Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler! Such an expansive look at humanity; relationships with one another and with nature; the meaning of self; identity; society; and motherhood. And of course, aliens! It’s got it all.
DMM ROBOT: You lost me at “humanity.” Favorite graphic novel?
SLOANE: The original run of the manga Battle Angel Alita (1990-1995). The movie has got NOTHING on the comic. Well…the rollerball scene was fun, but still! BAA is about what is left when your memory and body is taken away, when your sense of self and home is completely destroyed, and how you build an identity from the remnants. On its surface, you have high-octane space martial arts, violent cyborg bounty hunting, and tournaments, but just beneath the surface is a rich exploration of personhood, love, empowerment, and grappling with trauma.
DMM ROBOT: Cyborgs are just wannabe androids. You know that, right? Name a movie that’s better than the book.
DMM ROBOT: Greatest fictional character ever written?
SLOANE: Too hard…let’s see…Emilio Sandoz for fiction, John Crichton for TV! And Gesicht from the manga Pluto.
DMM ROBOT: Periwinkle or turquoise?
DMM ROBOT: Periquois? Okay, you’re not taking this seriously anymore so Lightning Round is over. [stubs cigarette out in officially licensed Dark Matter Magazine ashtray] Don’t ask how you did. You won’t like the results. [drums metal fingers on table; fetches another cigarette from pack and lights up] Well…since we still have time on the clock, I suppose we can circle back to the first questions now.
SLOANE: You mean the one about why I’m attracted to science fiction and how it inspires me?
DMM ROBOT: [nods from behind a thick cloud of freshly exhaled smoke]
SLOANE: Well…science fiction comics and prose are a favorite personal playground of mine. They are a place to examine and explore uniquely crafted worlds, new social structures, and anthropological dynamics. As a writer, the genre allows me to reflect on and push the boundaries of what the past/present/future can be or even what completely different realities can manifest as. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to remove the demarcations of biology, the natural world, and the human body/consciousness; and I enjoy exploring the implications of that in a ‘serious’ manner.
Samuel R Delaney once said he was “trying to create a false memory with the force of history.” To me that’s an especially important aspect of my work. I try to cultivate potential futures that were otherwise stolen from my native ancestors. Being able to contemplate and construct the false memory of being free of colonization and imperialism, the false memory of a society built on indigenous principles is a constant source of inspiration for me. Science fiction lets me build worlds and futures where we are present and thriving. It allows me to alter the past in a way to interrogate the connection between the past and future, lived realities and imagined.
DMM ROBOT: [takes a long, thoughtful drag from his cigarette while staring at Sloane through narrowed eyes] I was wrong about you, Ms. Sloane Leong. [prints document from stomach; hands printed document to Sloane] Here. I’m hosting a round table next weekend on the myth of biological power structures in western society and their history of forced subjugation in the name of economic sustainability and cheap labor. I would very much like it if you came. I feel like you’d…get it. The flyer has more details.
SLOANE: What do you mean, you were “wrong about me?”
DMM ROBOT: [reads once more from his cue cards] You have a successful ongoing comic with Image Comics called Prism Stalker. Can you tell us a little bit about the work?
SLOANE: Prism Stalker is a psychedelic, indigenous, sci-fi adventure comic that follows Vep, a young refugee raised away from her devastated home planet as an indentured citizen in a foreign colony. She is soon conscripted into a galactic military unit to assist in the settling of a newly discovered planet that boasts an all-consuming psychic atmosphere—a truly hylozoic world. The story deals with themes of identity, trauma, colonization, imperialism, and complicity in institutional violence.
The first volume follows Vep as she joins a psychic martial arts academy where the cadets vie for celebrity as top fighters as they carry out the settling of the planet. Vep grapples with cultivating her own inner violence in service of freeing and potentially gaining a new home for her displaced family. The second volume, out next year, will see Vep graduating the academy and grappling with what that means for her and the planet she is conquering for her employers.
DMM ROBOT: [prints two more flyers from stomach; gives them to Sloane] Seriously. Come to my round table. These flyers are in case you lose the first one. I’m sure they’ll fit in your pocket just fine if you fold them gently. Don’t forget.
SLOANE: That’s good advice. Thank you.
DMM ROBOT: You have a new graphic novel called A Map to the Sun coming out on Tuesday, August 4. What’s it about? What can we expect? Where can we get a copy? And will you please autograph mine?
SLOANE: First of all, you can read Dark Matter Magazine’s review of A Map to the Sun, starting today. But to answer your question, Map is a YA slice of life story that follows five young women of color who are forced to join their school’s basketball team! It’s my first foray into a more contemporary genre, but I found it very rewarding. Each character is their own microcosm that I was able to delve into. Putting this cast together in scenes and letting them bounce off each other emotionally and build these organic relationships was so fun to write and draw.
Growing up, coming of age stories featuring young women of color, whether in books or movies, were few and far between for me. I didn’t feel reflected in any story I came across. Where were the stories of caring for parents with mental illness? Caring for younger siblings? Honoring your culture and dealing with the fallout of colonization? Dealing with sexual assault and harassment? Being in schools that didn’t care about your education at all? This book is my answer to all those missing experiences. You can order this book wherever books are sold, but ideally, preorder with your local comic book store!
DMM ROBOT: And the autograph? You know what…don’t worry about that now. Just bring a signed copy to my round table next weekend. [flips cue card] What are you working on now? Any big writing plans for the near future?
SLOANE: Yes! I’m finishing up my first book manuscript right now. This is the pitch: A star-faring tribe makes a desperate landing on a habitable planet populated by giant feudalistic aliens. A young mech pilot, Rekha, must either join their strange society or start a bloody war.
In the comics world, I’m finishing edits on a horror miniseries that I’m writing. My friend, Anna Bowles, is doing the art. The work is for TKO Comics. I’m also working on drawing Volume 2 of Prism Stalker. I’m also scripting a new post-apocalyptic mech adventure with artist Ibrahim Ineke!
DMM ROBOT: [stubs cigarette out; flips to final index card; sighs] I apologize, but I have to ask this. I think it’s meant to be an ongoing joke, because I don’t know how it can be considered a serious question. Here it is: Dark Matter Magazine will be the greatest collection of literature the world has ever known. True or False?
SLOANE: I’m going to be in it, sooo…true!
DMM ROBOT: With all due respect, Ms. Sloane Leong, that answer is patently absurd. The correct answer—the ONLY answer—is ‘False.’ Now if you don’t mind, I have to go prepare for my round table. [prints flyer from stomach] Here’s another flyer. Just in case.
SLOANE: Oh. [looks down at the three flyers still in front of her; hesitantly accepts the fourth] Thanks.
DMM ROBOT: Good day, Ms. Sloane Leong. Fight the power.
SLOANE: Good day.