Thursday, 11 July 2019

Interview with Ada Hoffmann

Today, rather than a review, I have an interview with Ada Hoffmann to share with you all. Ada Hoffmann is the author of The Outside, which I recently read and reviewed and enjoyed immensely.

Q. One of my favourite things about The Outside was the backstory of the gods, angels and trappings of religion. How far do you think we are from creating AI sufficiently intelligent to become gods?

A. Thank you! I think that we are actually quite far from this. In real life there's an issue of how much responsibility we give to AIs, how we rely on algorithms in making certain kinds of decision. But with current technology it's really not an issue of the AI becoming intelligent and taking over. It's much more about humans in power trying to hide their acceptance of bias, institutional violence, and unchecked capitalism behind a veneer of machine-like objectivity.

The AI in The Outside really isn't "hard" science fiction, in the sense of extrapolating future scenarios I think are likely — instead it's there because of the emotional hold that AI and aliens have on us as readers, the role they play in our cultural imaginations as superior beings. There's an article up on the Uncanny blog where I talk about this in a bit more detail.

Q. You focus on Nemesis out of the AI gods in The Outside, with Aletheia being present in the thoughts of several characters. Out of the other gods, which are only mentioned in passing, do you have a favourite, and can you tell us a bit about them?

A. I definitely have a list of all the other Gods and their portfolios somewhere. I think my favorite is Philophrosyne, the God of love. She's not specific to any particular form of love but oversees all of them; she encourages people to be kind to their loved ones, families and friends as well as strangers, guests and their community at large. She doesn't have much to do in this book but in many ways She's the polar opposite of Nemesis, even more so than Arete, who's in some ways positioned as Nemesis' more-shiny-and-better-intentioned counterpart. I also have a soft spot for Gelos, the God of joy, pleasure, and entertainment. He has a childlike, playful personality which contrasts with most of the other Gods. I think that Gelos's angels are rarely seen, but every year or two they suddenly appear on some planet with a pop-up art installation or carnival-like thing and it's a doozy.

Q. I personally enjoy seeing scientist characters in books and Yasira came across as quite believable in that respect. Can you tell us a bit about where you drew inspiration for creating her character?

A. Well, I'm an autistic person in STEM in real life (computer science) so some of it's drawn from that. But mainly Yasira was drawn up to the constraints of the other parts of the book that already existed. I had Akavi and Ev in my head long before I had Yasira. I knew I needed her to be Ev's student, so that logically meant another physicist, and I needed her to have a big personal and emotional stake in finding out what's going on with Ev, so I gave her the big project of power generation on the Pride of Jai, which inevitably goes wrong. The actual science in the book is quite handwaved, in my opinion. The parts of Yasira that are drawn more from life are her emotions - pride in her work, but also impostor syndrome, anxiety, and burnout.

Q. What can we expect to see from you next? Will you be writing more books/stories in the same universe or are you working on something new?

A. I am definitely hoping to write more in this universe. The Outside has a strong resolution and stands on its own, but it clearly sets things up with regards to where the characters might go next. We're still in negotiations with the publisher about a second book, so stay tuned! In the meantime, I have also been tinkering on and off with a WIP novel about dragon palaeontology.

Q. Followup: Have you written or are you planning to write any short fiction set in The Outside world?

A. Yes! There's a story called "Minor Heresies" which is already out; it appeared in an anthology called "Ride the Star Wind," and was reprinted in "Transcendent 3: The Year's Best Transgender Speculative Fiction." It's set about 200 years earlier than The Outside, and features a shapeshifting Vaurian who stumbles upon something he ought not to. I'm hoping to eventually publish more short stories fleshing out this world. There's one about Enga, for instance — a minor angel character from the book — which needs revisions, and which I've been sitting on and not revising for an embarrassingly long time, but I need to get back to it. I really enjoy her.

This next question contains a small spoiler, so I will put it under a spoiler shield for those who haven't read the book. Don't hover/highlight/read on if you want to come to the book completely unspoiled! 

Q. The Outside seems like it was influenced by Lovecraftian themes (minus a literal Cthulhu). What inspired you to take that direction with The Outside?

A. To be honest, the Lovecraftian themes came from somewhere very old — they appeared in the same D&D campaign where I originally encountered Akavi, the book's main antagonist. Pitting him and Evianna Talirr against each other - Law vs. Chaos, villain vs. villain — was the original impulse that led to the creation of the novel's setting and everything else in it. When I paired them with the science fiction system of AI Gods, it made for a religious allegory that I really liked: mechanistic Gods who reward and punish according to clear rules, vs. completely wild, unknowable mysticism, both incredibly dangerous to the mortals who get in their way.

Thank you Ada for stopping by and answering my questions!

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