Today at FIYAH, we’re talking with Nisi Shawl a bit about her work in the upcoming anthology, MOTHER OF INVENTION. This is a heavyweight anthology people need to look out. Among the final list of contributors to Mother of Invention are award-winning science fiction and fantasy writers from around the world, including New York Times bestselling and multi Hugo award-winning author SEANAN MCGUIRE; Hugo award-winning JOHN CHU; and Shirley Jackson award-winning Australian horror writer KAARON WARREN.
FIYAH: What drew you to being part of this anthology?
NISI: The premise of gender-conscious stories about artificial intelligence seemed so smart to me that I was immediately attracted to it as a unifying theme. And I’d had previous good experiences with the editors and publisher (both as a contributor and as a reader), which made me eager to work with them on this.
FIYAH: Was this story made especially for this anthology or was it one you had been chewing on for a while?
NISI: I have been working on a short story series I call Making Amends for several years, and AI is integral to much of it. Briefly describing the creation of the main AI character in another story got me ready to write about that creation in more detail—but I don’t think you could call that “chewing on” the idea. It was not that deliberate. Not that focused.
FIYAH: Your story has an A.I. giving “birth”. How did you reckon with how to describe that in terms that would make sense for a machine and still be digestible to readers?
NISI: In “The Mighty Phin” (originally published in the anthology Cyberworld and republished by Tor.com), the AI named Dr. Ops tells a “client” the method of his creation, so that was established before I began writing “Living Proof.” This method is one that makes sense on an abstract level, so you can conceive of any sort of birth in those terms—human or otherwise.
At the same time, I had the “mother” AI, Westhem, do what she called “metaphorizing” of some of her more arcane and nonphysical functions, which I am hoping will help readers accept them—maybe even enjoy them?
FIYAH: Is the future you posited in this story somewhere you think we’re headed? If so, why?
NISI: What a tricky question! Of course you can tell by the fact that I wrote this story that I think we may be headed to the future where it plays out. I rather hope not, though.
When I was a teen, my mother told me that she’d been around long enough to distrust trends toward more liberal attitudes, laws, and practices. She likened society to a clock’s pendulum, and said it would swing away from those 1960s and 70s liberalisms with time. Now I’m much older than she was when she broke down the cyclical nature of so-called progress to me. And though I began writing the stories in this series during a liberal tick, damn if we aren’t now in a moment of tock.
What I’m trying to do in the Making Amends series overall, though, is show that though the pendulum swings backward, the hands on the clock’s face move forward. In other words, that changes for the better happen independent of society’s trends and tendencies.
FIYAH: Have you had a chance to read the other stories in the anthology? Any favorites in the ones you have read?
NISI: I haven’t read any of the stories yet. But I adore K. Tempest Bradford’s essay!
FIYAH: So what’s next for Nisi? Any other anthologies you’re going to be in? Any projects you want readers to look out for?
NISI: So much going on at the moment! I’m into the last few days of revising Speculation, a children’s historical fantasy which my editor Cheryl Klein at Lee and Low describes as “Edward Eager retells Tony Morrison’s Beloved.” I’m finalizing bios and contracts for an anthology I’m editing for Solaris Books called New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color, and it’s enormously exciting! I can hardly wait for people to read it—new stories by Steven Barnes, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Anil Menon, E. Lily Yu, Tobias Buckell—you’ll see!
And I’m writing a sequel to Everfair. My working title is Kinning, and it’s focused on Tink, Bee-Lung, Princess Mwadi, and Prince Ilunga. Aircanoes and anarchy; mycorrhizal networks; radios and royalty. They all work together! I’ll turn that in next October.
I have a story coming out in Uncanny Magazine’s special Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction. It’s called “The Things I Miss the Most.” Another called “She Tore” is due out soon in an anthology titled Hath No Fury. And there’s a third called “Conversion Therapy,” a sequel to “Street Worm” and “Queen of Dirt,” about a “visioner” named Brit Williams who also appears in a novel I’m serializing to my Patreon supporters. That new story is scheduled for a Nisi Shawl primer published by Dark Moon Books (http://www.darkmoonbooks.com/Primer_3.html), probably in October.