Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Ten Questions About iD, By Madeline Ashby

In a perfect world, we would refer to Madeline Ashby as Mad Ashby, the cantankerous Cockney bomber — or maybe Mad-Ash, the hell-warrior who stalks the smoldering wasteland of Neo-Canada. For now, we have Madeline Ashby, the bad-ass writer who’s getting a lot of great attention for her first book, vN, and is here to talk about its follow-up, iD:

Tell Us About Yourself: Who The Hell Are You?

My name is Madeline Ashby, and I’m a science fiction writer and strategic foresight consultant. That means that sometimes, I write stories for Intel Labs and The Institute for the Future, about technologies being worked on at the moment. Other times, I design marketing strategies (and write copy) for Ideas in Flight, a marketing firm in Toronto. I live there with my partner, horror writer David Nickle. And sometimes, I write books.

Give Us The 140-Character Story Pitch:

Javier is a self-replicating humanoid robot on the hunt for redemption and revenge. His only problem? His failsafe. For now.

Where Does This Story Come From?

This is the sequel to my debut novel, vN: The First Machine Dynasty. vN was about Amy, a little girl robot who eats her grandmother at kindergarten graduation, and grows to adult size. With her granny on a partition in her mind, she has to go on the run. In a prison transport truck, she meets Javier — another vN, wanted for serial replication. Javier is the protagonist of iD, which takes place directly after vN. He’s proven himself a hero in the first book, but now his new ideals get put to the test. And that leads him to question who he is, and what his relationship to humanity is — if humans are really worthy of the love he’s programmed to feel for them.

How Is This A Story Only You Could’ve Written?

One thing you’ll notice about the protagonist of this story, Javier, is that he does things and usually only women do, in stories. In genre stories, in mainstream stories, in stories. Because Javier still has an intact failsafe, he can’t fight back against the humans who want to exploit him. That seats him right in traditional heroine territory: reduced to scheming, to seducing, to begging, like the women of Hardy and Thackeray. And frankly, things happen to Javier that usually only happen to women in genre stories. As a humanoid, people tend to objectify him. (After all, he’s quite literally an object.) People feel like they can just buy him off the shelf, that his body is inherently available for consumption. As a feminist who once wrote a thesis on anime fandom and cyborg theory, I wanted to tell that story from a man’s perspective. Not because I hate men (I don’t) but because I feel that the dominant culture in general doesn’t give men a lot of room for vulnerability. I had just written a novel about an almost invulnerable woman, and I wanted to turn that around this time. Most stories about male robots are about how cold they are, how isolated, how they struggle with the desire to be human, to be “real.” In my opinion, “real” is bullshit. I’m comfortable in my post-modernity, and I can safely tell you that authenticity is crap. I wanted to write a story about a male robot who had perfected passive aggression, who used his sexuality as a weapon, an homme fatale.

What Was The Hardest Thing About Writing iD?

First, I had to prepare myself emotionally to do it. That was hard. It’s a hard book, and a lot of hard things happen in it. I’ve written a bit about that, below.

Second, I had to put aside my Sequel Syndrome. Sequel Syndrome is a strain of Impostor Syndrome, which is the fear that everyone around you will slowly realize that you’re not really a grown-up and abandon you in disgust. Sequels are hard. There’s a lot of pressure to live up to the first book, and there’s a lot of pressure to make lightning strike twice. That’s a Herculean task, and fairly unrealistic. Not just because it’s statistically unlikely, but because it’s not how life is lived. I spoke with my therapist about this anxiety, and he reminded me that sequels can and should do something different from the first episode in a story. After all, that’s how life works if you’re doing it right. You don’t spend your life doing the same thing over and over, making the same mistakes, thinking you’re learning the lesson but never really living it. You do something different, in the second act of life. Or you should, if you learned anything from the first one.

Once I understood that, I decided to make this book as different as I could. vN took place in the summer; iD takes place in the winter. vN made a lot of pop culture references; iD makes a lot of references to classic literature. (I did a classics programme at a Jesuit university. It was about time a little of that shone through.) vN is relentlessly paced; iD is paced more like a mainstream novel. vN is a young girl’s coming-of-age story; iD is about finding the strength to step up and be a real man — even when you’ve never been a real live boy.

What Did You Learn Writing iD?

I learned that sadness is hard to sustain. I don’t know how those grimdark guys do it. Seriously. They must drink like a fifth of Jack a night. This is a sad book with a happy ending, but it’s primarily sad, and that made me scared to write it. I knew exactly what I had to do, but that didn’t make it any easier. One night, I went to bed and just started to cry about the scene I had just written. My partner rolled over and held me, thinking I’d had a nightmare. But no. I’d written the nightmare.

But looking back, I realized that I’d gone through this with another story of mine, also about Javier. The Education of Junior Number 12 was a story I wrote before finishing vN, but it acted as a sort of prequel. It was told in much the same elegiac tone, and it was hard for me to maintain. I tried to sell it, and it never took. It was too long. It was too dark. Whatever. Over the years, I picked at that story like a wound. In a Korean coffee shop over a piece of sweet potato cake, I thought I had it. On a hidden beach on Toronto’s Centre Island, I thought I had it. But I didn’t have it, not really, until one night in my rat-infested basement apartment in Little Italy, I was so frustrated with my life and the various messes I’d made that I had to take control of something, so I sliced up that piece like a late-stage serial killer. Angry Robot took what survived that night as promotional material for the book. Then it wound up in Year’s Best.

So in reality, this is just the dance I’ve always done with Javier. Hijo de puta.

What Do You Love About iD?

Personally, I think the prose is better this time around. It’s more lyrical. It’s prettier. When I look at most of my prose, it seems rather workmanlike and plain. I’d like it to have a bit more flourish. So I tried to focus on that, this time. And I think it worked. Occasionally, I would read parts of the novel aloud to my partner, and he would say: “If the rest of the book sounds like what you just read, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” I loved those moments.

What Would You Do Differently Next Time?

I would start sooner. I procrastinated, and my work suffered, and I couldn’t workshop it the way I wanted to. I wasn’t emotionally prepared to do what I had to do with this book, so I delayed. It wasn’t until I spoke with my therapist about it that I could really gird my loins and get the job done. He’s counselled a lot of writers and artists, so he totally understood Sequel Syndrome and how to work through it. Also, I was working again. When I wrote vN, I wasn’t. So I had less time and less focus with which to complete this book. Then again, I had years to write my first book, and I still ended up scrapping fifteen thousand words from that manuscript — even after it was sold to Angry Robot, which happened in the midst of separating from my husband and writing my second Master’s. The chaos was good for it. So when iD needed re-writes, I shrugged my shoulders and poured more coffee. (And drank some green juice, and took up meditation, and hired a yoga trainer to teach me how to breathe after fighting two flus in two years. Writing is terrible for the body.)

Give Us Your Favorite Paragraph From The Story:

“Before him, the island was an inverted city. Her roots hung deep in the water, thick as skyscrapers. They glittered and gleamed like structures of glass and steel. At any time, he realized, Amy could have shot them up from below and made a paradise to rival any human construction. They dangled there, all the unfinished places, the filigreed towers and great crude blocks, the hanging bridges of sighs never breathed. She had held them in reserve. She had let the islanders build what they wanted, instead.”

What’s Next For You As A Storyteller?

Angry Robot and I are deciding if we want to move forward with the story of the vN, into a third (or even fourth) book. I think I’d like to do one more, set in Japan. It looks like I’ll be going there next spring, so maybe I could do research while there. And maybe a collection about Javier’s iterations. He’s got so many of them, and they’ve all gone on their own adventures, so it would be interesting to see what they were up to while he was busy fucking his way up one coast and down the other.

Beyond that, I’m on Project Hieroglyph, which is an initiative put together by Arizona State University and the Center for Science and the Imagination, inspired by a Neal Stephenson talk on the need for bigger, brighter ideas in science fiction. I’m applying my previous work on the future of border security to a story about how to build new border towns that actually act as prototype spaces for employable immigrants and visa-granting companies, while remaining secure and cutting down on the pollero traffic through the Sonora desert.

Madeline Ashby: Website /@MadelineAshby

iD: Amazon / B&N / Indiebound