A musician teams up with an extraterrestrial robot to save humanity in White’s August Kitko and the Mechas from Space (Orbit, July).
What inspired you to make a jazz pianist the protagonist of this apocalyptic space opera?
It seemed cool to imagine that we might find common ground with machines in an appreciation for music. I started to think about the kind of music a computer might enjoy: highly technical, yet improvisational, built on suspense and surprise. Jazz hits all of those notes perfectly with its complexities and twists.
How did you balance the musical and scientific elements?
Technology and music are both expressions of human intelligence, and interweaving them was easier than you might think. I sought to capture the stylishness of the great sci-fi music videos like Daft Punk’s Discovery series or Björk’s “All Is Full of Love.” I knew suspension of disbelief would be fuzzier if I struck the right lyrical tone, and that carried through into the pacing and the prose.
The tech here is so advanced as to imitate magic. Why this approach?
I’ve been leading cutting edge UX teams for a long time, and I think users just want to be wizards. I tried to imagine the minimum possible social intrusion while questioning traditional interface methods. Could a device remain totally silent and dark for an interaction? How much could we do if every interface was physically reconfigurable? Input agnostic and fully modular? Naturalistically interactive? I tried to write my tech by mapping our desire paths while being a little silly about it.
Tell me about your take on the trope of artificial intelligence turning on humanity.
In this book, the conflict is powerfully one-sided. Humanity has zero chance against this threat because it can steal their memories, impersonate them to their loved ones, hack their systems, and hunt them down anywhere they’d think to hide. The galaxy is plunged into a dark age of paranoia as all people are cataloged and archived. Humans are merely the gestational mechanism for something greater, their knowledge is food for the successor intelligence.
It’s the robots rather than the humans who turn the tide of this dystopia. What led to this development?
I chose a literal deus ex machina because this book isn’t about humans’ ability to out-space-punch our adversaries—it’s about existing within a world that’s a billion times larger than us and falling apart by the second. Yes, we all have a role to play in the great cosmic tapestry, but frankly, it’s not likely to be much. Even a notable person is nothing against time. How can we find our own stories within the tumult of historic days? We control so little and feel responsibility for too much.