Is it possible to write science fiction worth reading if you know fuck all about science?
That was one of the questions that came up during my interview with author Rita Stradling.
Her newest release, Ensnared, is a near-future retelling of Beauty and the Beast that was recently selected for publication through Kindle Scout. It has robot monkeys and a spooky high-tech tower and a Beauty who saves people from avalanches.
Most of Rita’s explanations of the technology in Ensnared flew over my head. I mean, they sounded plausible, but I’m an editor, not an engineer.
But Rita isn’t a scientist. Her background is in art history, and she confessed during the interview that science was actually her worst subject throughout school.
So how’d she do it?
Listen to our conversation (or click “Read More” for the transcript) to find out.
JK: Ensnared is a near-future retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the beauty is a young woman named Alainn whose father invents a highly realistic robot to provide “human” companionship for the beast, a billionaire who lives alone in a Black-Mirror-esque high rise.
Rita says it was important for her to make the science in her fiction plausible.
RS: I read a lot of space opera, and in space opera, you can be like, “The blakka-blakka shot everyone at once,” and then everyone believes it.
But in a world that’s only ten years in the future, if you say something like that, people are like, “Uh-uh.”
JK: But Rita isn’t a scientist.
RS: At all. Science was my worst subject in high school and college, probably elementary school, too. And my parents are two scientists. I think it just skipped a generation.
JK: Fortunately, she and Alainn have something in common: Their fathers are both inventors.
RS: My father is an inventor in many ways. He is the CTO of a cutting-edge technology company in the Silicon Valley.
What he does, from what I understand, is he’ll come up with a lot of the ideas for really cutting-edge technology, like aspects of the self-driving car or robots or different, really high-tech things.
He always tells me about them, and it’s really exciting. I love to hear about them, even though I am not a science person. He sometimes will write blogs, too, about where technology’s doing. He does a lot of speeches about that.
And he was telling me about how robots were going to be taking over a lot of jobs by 2020—more the automaton type of robots, but there are AI aspects of them.
We were at Disneyland.
And my mind just went spinning about this concept.
I was saying to him, “This is a terrible idea. This is gonna displace so many people.”
He said, “That’s what people said about all technology along the way. Yes, it does displace a lot of people, but then a lot more people get jobs in industries you don’t even know exist because society hasn’t reached that point yet.”
Which is a really good point, I think.
But I definitely didn’t like the dehumanization of society that’s coming and that has been happening over the last ten years—maybe twenty, depending on who you’re talking to.
It definitely got my head spinning. I was researching a lot of things that are gonna come. I read that article. Stephen Hawking was warning that we gotta stop AI technology. We gotta stop going into this because, if we don’t, the world is gonna end in a thousand years.
Anyone interested should look up the article, because I’m definitely paraphrasing and probably getting it wrong.
But all these different current events, things were just spinning in my brain. I created this world that I saw coming in my mind.
And I tried to ask a lot of questions about where the world’s going and if it helps to be isolated by technology, if that’s helping us or hurting us. That was just the undercurrent of a romance novel.
JK: And in case you’re wondering how Rita’s father reacted to her writing a cautionary tale about his work, she says he was actually really supportive.
RS: He was very cool about it.
I was staying over in the Bay with him for maybe a week, and he sat down with me for hours and hours and hours. He told me what wouldn’t work; he told me what would work.
And he designed the technology so that, yes, the only way she could really charge is if she had a remote-charging system built into her bed, because otherwise, she’d have to plug in.
JK: If you haven’t read the book, that’s important because Alainn pretends to be the robot and, because she’s human, can’t actually plug into anything.
RS: And he helped me design how the technology would progress through the time period, like to the next robot.
It was instrumental. I wouldn’t have been able to write the book if he didn’t sit down with me for all of that, because otherwise, it would have been not believable.
JK: That’s all for now. But check back next Saturday, when Rita and I discuss the idiosyncrasies of the Kindle Scout program and what it’s like to be an Amazon author.
Again, her book is Ensnared, and it’s available now on Amazon.com. If you liked this interview, please share it with your friends or your family or some strangers, even. You can also request an author interview of your very own.
Thanks for listening.