The genial host of Wredheaded Writer blog, Dixon Rice, interviews author Mary Fan about Artificial Absolutes, her newly released SciFi novel.
Dixon Rice: Mary, I love that you originally developed the Jane Colt character as a protagonist in another genre. When that didn’t work out the way you wanted, what made you decide to send her into outer space?
Mary Fan: I’ve been a huge fan of science fiction for ages, especially space operas, and I always knew I wanted to try my hand at the genre. One thing I noticed about most space operas is that they tend to center on either a well-trained, experienced fighter or a Chosen One. Meanwhile, we never really get to hear about the not-so-special people who occupy the rest of the galaxy. They are treated as extras—props, almost. Still, every person has a story. I was thinking about all this, and meanwhile, I had this relatively ordinary character without a story. I thought, why not combine the ideas?
DR: The kidnapping of Jane’s friend seems to be the key that starts the story’s engine. Caring for a friend - that’s a surprisingly personal trigger for a SciFi tale. What made you pick that event, rather than a more typical “saving mankind” premise?
MF: When I set out to write Artificial Absolutes, I knew I wanted to write a different kind of space opera. Like you said, saving the universe is a pretty typical premise. I’ve always wondered about the lives of those who weren’t out to stop the apocalypse, those who inhabit the expansive and fascinating worlds of the future.
I also wanted the story to be more personal than a lot of what’s out there. In the grand scheme of things, the stakes in Artificial Absolutes are pretty low; it’s one girl’s life out of trillions that’s being affected. On the other hand, in her personal world, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Those are the people she cares about who are in danger. That the rest of the world will go on turning while hers falls to pieces is a source of great aggravation for Jane.
DR: After Adam is kidnapped, Jane’s older brother Devin is framed for murder. Hmmm, another relationship trigger. How important are relationships in your life?
MF: Relationships are, of course, important to me. Our experiences lose significance without people to share them with. Relationships drive the things we do and the way we think. Even the most independent people are influenced by the people around them, often subconsciously. The things people say have the ability to invade our thoughts without our notice. These kinds of influences are at the core of Artificial Absolutes. What the characters do influences those they interact with, often in ways they don’t realize.
DR: Transplanting Jane Colt from another genre into SciFi – one might say you wrote a SciFi story by accident. Do you intend to repeat that mistake?
MF: Oh, definitely. Science fiction is one of my favorite genres, both to read and to write. It transports a reader to a different world and allows a writer to explore the infinite what-ifs. I wouldn’t say I wrote a SciFi story by accident, but the story I ended up with is rather different from what’s expected from the genre.
DR: The concept of artificial intelligence has been around since the robot stories of the 1950s, maybe earlier. What’s new and fresh that you bring to AI?
MF: I can’t say too much without spoiling Artificial Absolutes, but I can tell you this: much of what I write concerning artificial intelligence has little do with technology. I use the idea of artificial intelligence to explore broader themes, such as consciousness and the nature of artificiality, as well as influence and perception of self. The more we learn about neuroscience, the more philosophers and scientist debate the nature of consciousness. If so much of who we are is printed in our genes, controlled by chemicals in our brains, and influenced by external forces, then how real are any of us? How many of our thoughts can we really call our own? Artificial intelligence is used as a metaphor as well as a plot point.
DR: What’s with all the musicians and songs? Do you whistle while you work?
MF: I love music. So much, in fact, that I studied it in college. Music wasn’t part of the original plan for Artificial Absolutes, although the struggle Jane faces about whether to pursue her passion or to take the smart career path was in the earliest versions. I found music to be a more natural subject for me to write about than her original dream job (painter). Once I made that change, music just wove itself into the fabric of the novel. It’s a part of Jane, and so it became a part of her story.
And while I don’t whistle while I work, I do find myself staring off into space and humming when I’m stuck on a particular passage.
Mary Fan’s SciFi novel Artificial Absolutes is now available as paperback and eBook at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.