Episode Number: 109
Episode Title: These Are Not Robot Pals (listen to this episode)
Transcript by: Susan the Great
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Renay: Hey friends! I’m Renay.
Ana: And I’m Ana.
Renay: And you’re listening to Fangirl Happy Hour.
Renay: Today on the show we’re gonna talk about some feedback and updates. Then we’re going to discuss the space opera movie by Luc Besson: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
Ana: Booooo. Spoiler!
Renay: Then we’re gonna discuss the second story from the Robots vs. Fairies anthology by Saga Press. Then we’re gonna talk about our dream anthologies, which, more on that later. And then we’re gonna do some recs.
Ana: I’m ready. I have so many feelings for this episode.
Renay: I have a lot of feelings, too. Let’s get to them.
Renay: Feedback and updates: there’s some stuff going on in our neck of the woods, Ana!
Ana: Not in mine.
Renay: Yeah—are you sure the Book Smugglers are doing nothing right now, Ana?
Ana: Right now, no. Right now we are deep into the bowels of editing. I’m editing a novella now for this year after having edited a novel. We are coming up with the announcement for the Awakening season, but mostly it has been all admin, taxes, exciting stuff like that.
Renay: I got accepted to a political camp called Camp Wellstone. It’s in Dallas, Texas this year and I’m going to go and be on the campaign track and learn how to run progressive campaigns and I’m really excited about it. I’m really, really excited that I got accepted to this program. I thought it was going to be a long shot.
Ana: But you did it! I’m so excited for you.
Renay: Yeah. I’m gonna take you and Jenny with me in my heart so I can travel, because listen: I have never travelled to another city by myself, where I didn’t know anybody there so I’m a little bit terrified but I still really want to go.
My next nws is that I’m going officially to WisCon this year. I have my plane ticket. I have my membership. I’m excited and ready to go. I’m probably gonna be on panels this year. I know there are a few space bees out there planning to go, too. If you are planning to go WisCon, I would like to know about it so we can maybe meet up.
And my last piece of news is my current read! I have two of them. My first is my fiction book, it’s An Unkindness of Ghosts by River Solomon. It’s a space opera on a generation ship that is organized like the antebellum South. It’s real good so far. And then my second, my non-fiction book that I read at night, is Ratfucked, by a dude. I don’t know his name right now. Ratfucked is really infuriating. I tried to read it last year and I couldn’t because I got so angry and ended up taking it back to the library. But when I took it back, I left a bookmark in it. When I rechecked it out this year I was reading along and I got to the place where I left my bookmark and my bookmark was still there!
Ana: What is it about, this book?
Renay: Ratfucked is about how the Republicans used data analytics and technology to run a program called Red Map, which does exactly what you think it does: by the name. Everyone’s Republican. All those districts are Republican.
Ana: To win elections? To—what?
Renay: Yeah. The way that politics in the US works, we’re a representative democracy. In many states the state legislature draws the district lines so if you go and you win a bunch of state legislature seats, and you win the governorship, you can draw whatever lines you want, to benefit you however you want. It’s definitely a form of gerrymandering: extreme partisan gerrymandering.
It was really fascinating to see what they did, because 2011 was a really important year because the census had been in since 2010 so they had all this new data to use, and they just cracked us and packed us.
You can’t end gerrymandering, it’s not possible to end it and I get really concerned when people are like, “Well how are we gonna end gerrymandering?” Well you can’t, because some parts of gerrymandering that look bad are actually part of the law because of the Voting Rights Act. Although I do the Voting Rights Act needs to be updated.
Ana: But why is it called Ratfucked?
Renay: A ratfuck is a dirty deed done cheap.
Ana: Oh right, okay. See guys? Renay has a lot of political knowledge already and sending her to the camp will only improve the situation. This ad has been approved by Ana.
Renay: Ana: what is your current read?
Ana: My current read: I am finishing A Passing Strange for the podcast, then I’m gonna start reading Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, which is set in the same world as Seraphina but is a stand alone novel and apparently amazing.
Renay: Well, I already have another amazing book to check out, which is Jane, Unlimited. Tess of the Road will have to get in line.
Ana: Yes. You really really do need to read Jane, Unlimited. Everybody needs to read Jane, Unlimited.
Renay: Well, our other updates include: news about our Vault episodes. I am taking them out of the regular episode rotation. They will now just be recorded whenever we have time and dropped onto Thursdays. So we’re a little bit behind on Vault episodes so for the next few weeks you may see more than one per month. We hope to eventually get ahead a little, which will probably happen some time this summer, and then you’ll see one Vault episode a month, probably on like the second or third Thursday.
And then next up: reviews! It’s time for me to ask you once again to go to iTunes, that abyss of algorithms, and leave us a kind review. For example, Paul left us some very nice thoughts. Paul said: “Ana and Renay always sound like they have a smile on their face when they talk about things they love. Automatically puts a smile on my face.” That was a really nice comment, Paul, and we really appreciate it, and everybody else: this could be you, leaving us a nice comment and giving us five space bees.
Ana: And leaving more smiles on our faces.
Renay: Did you know that if you smile when you talk, you sound happier? Brains can be tricked.
Renay: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets came out in 2017, and we meant to watch it and talk about it, but obviously 2017. Maybe that was a good thing because 2017 was bad enough without us having to watch this movie.
Renay: Spoilers: I’m giving this film two space bees.
Ana: Two? Oh my god. Wow!
Renay: That’s really high. Just so everybody knows. That’s very high.
Ana: You are taking space bees out of your ass for this, because I ain’t giving no stars to this movie.
Renay: Ana’s giving it zero space bees, so upfront: you know.
Ana: I’m giving minus space bees.
Renay: You can’t give minus space bees.
Ana: I am. It’s like the space bees that have died.
Renay: Space bees don’t die!
Ana: This movie deserves no space bees, dead or alive.
Renay: Ana and I disagree.
Ana: That’s it. That’s the end of the discussion, let’s move on. It’s so bad, what the fuck?
Renay: It’s real bad.
Ana: I wanted to punch Valerian in the face from the first scene he appeared. From the first scene, in which he didn’t let his coworker and partner talk or say anything without actually pushing her and manhandling her. And negging. So much negging. Sexual harassment at your place of work. This should be shown at companies, HRs, on how not to behave with your coworkers.
Renay: [laughs] Okay. I did the space bees up front because I knew that we would have this disagreement as soon as I finished the film, because I saw your thread on twitter when you were discussing it with folks. I was like, “Oh no, it’s Stargate the movie all over again.”
Ana: I prefer Stargate to this movie.
Renay: Oh no!
Ana: I prefer the book Through the Ice.
Renay: Holy shit! That’s a throwback. I’m gonna have to drop a link in the show notes to that episode where we talked about Through the Ice.
Ana: Note that I’m just – I’m so happy for us to continue to talk about anything else, other than Valerian the Douchebag, which should have been the name of this movie.
Renay: Wow, that is some hate.
Ana: Some context: I was expecting to be kind of like Jupiter Ascending meets Fifth Element. I think we all agree that Jupiter Ascending is a very very very silly movie, but it was a movie with a heart. It’s a movie that is entertaining. It’s a movie that has Channing Tatum. It’s a movie that has a lot of things going for it: it is visually beautiful. It’s fun. It has space bees and space werewolves, slash angels, with wings that fly on rollerblades. How can you not enjoy that movie. And then you come to Valerian, which I just spent the whole movie wanting to punch him in the face and wanted him to die. And that, friends, is not a good relationship to have with the movie and its main characters. I hope you will all agree with me.
Renay: What if they agree with me? And give it two space bees?
Ana: What grounds are you giving two space bees? Are you giving space bees to Valerian? I hope not, because that would be the end of this podcast.
Renay: No, I’m not giving space bees to Valerian.
Ana: So I’m hoping that you’re giving space bees to visually beautiful movie.
Renay: We’ll get to it! We’ll get to it, Ana! Then I’m gonna put you on the spot. So the only movies by this director I have seen are The Fifth Element, Lucy, and this film. I loved The Fifth Element. I thought it was beautiful and had a great theme, and the characters were great and the acting was amazing.
And then I saw Lucy and I was just, “Mm, mm. Mmm. No.” So I was already dubious about this film, even though when I saw the trailers for it I loved the aesthetic. I was like, “Oh, he’s gone back to space opera. Okay. Maybe it’ll be good. Maybe he is in his natural element, and it’ll be fine.” Wrong! I was wrong.
Ana: Maybe I would give… I don’t… Mm. Um. Half a space… Mmmmm… The wings of a space – one wing of a space bee.
Renay: No! You can’t —!
Ana: A drop of honey.
Renay: One drop.
Ana: Which is like very special honey. So one drop of honey for the opening sequence that spanned over centuries, and it showed humans meeting several species of aliens that came to the space station. And that was beautiful. Even though like very centralized on the human shaking hands kind of greeting.
Renay: I need you to name three things that were goodish about this movie. Three things and just named one so you only two left. You can do it. You told me you weren’t gonna do it, but guess what? You’re gonna do it.
Ana: It was visually beautiful.
Renay: One more. You can do it. Believe in the me that believes in you!
Ana: I know. Clive Owen.
Renay: Why Clive Owen?
Ana: He used to be on my list. I had a huge thing for Clive Owen, and when I saw him I was like, “Oh, hello.”
Renay: I mean, you did it, congratulations.
Ana: It was really hard, I’m sweating here guys. I’m sweating.
Renay: Well, I have three things.
Ana: If you name Valerian, I’m telling you, like if you pull a, “Kylo Ren’s the most interesting character for me in this,” if you pull that over me again, I just—I—
Renay: [laughs] You’re real stressed.
Ana: This movie made me so stressed, like Russell was here and I kept screaming at the television—I kept like interrupting every ten minutes, “I can’t watch it, I can’t, I can’t continue watching this,” [laughs] and I would made a cup of coffee, I would make a cup of tea. At one point I made a cup of chamomile tea because I was so stressed.
Renay: I mean Bridget did warn us that this movie was not good. [laughs]
Ana: I know.
Renay: There are three things in this movie that I really really liked.
I liked all the special effects. I thought some the special effects were amazing and I wanna see other films who do space movies look at the aesthetic of this film and like take some inspiration for it. For example, the marketplace at the beginning at the beginning of the film was fantastic. That whole execution and visual of that scene when they’re in the marketplace is beautiful. I thought it was really, really well done on a technical level.
My second thing is that I really liked that opening, the same one that you mentioned. I thought it was a nice way to set up this hopeful tone, because we often get films where humans are prone to spreading their colonialism into space. I didn’t get that vibe from this at all. It was more like welcoming cultures to form a melting pot instead of just impressing ourselves onto them. I just wish that that first three minutes, cause it made me feel so warm-hearted, had extended to the rest of the film, because it was a real hard come-down from that opening.
And the third thing I like was the female characters.
Ana: I liked the female characters, too.
Renay: I liked Laureline even though the narrative didn’t seem to like her that much.
Ana: No. They make her be in love with Valerian. Like why would you do that with your female character?
Renay: Why would you reward sexual harassment with affection?
Ana: She was harassed that entire movie by that fucking entitled asshole who wasn’t even beautiful. Wasn’t even eye-candy. Can we also agree on that?
Renay: I did not find this white dude attractive at all. And then there was Alex, which was their computer AI on their ship, and I wish that there had been more for Alex to do, but they didn’t really spend a ton of time of their own ship, so what you gonna do? And then I really loved Bubble.
Ana: Except for her arc.
Renay: Yes. We’ll get to it, because it’s spoilers. I just loved that character specifically and I thought it was a fucking waste, like why would you put a character like that in your movie and then do the things that you do to that character? What is the fucking point?
Ana: Because the narrative is in love with Valerian. They seem to think that he’s the hero for some reason.
Renay: No. The real hero of this movie is Laureline. And the movie was just very confused about its focus. It’s like, “This is the hero —” Oh no, movie, that’s not the hero, you’re wrong. I’m sorry, you are incorrect.
Ana: Apparently it’s based on a comic that’s called Valerian and Laureline. That’s the name of the comic. Not Valerian and the City of a Thousand Fucking Planets.
Renay: So she got erased from the title, too. Super! I don’t understand why this dude was the fucking hero of the story. He’s not likeable, at all, and what do we know about this guy? He’s an asshole who sexually harasses his coworkers. And is way too overconfident.
Ana: But some of this facade it’s because he really is in love with her, but because he’s a guy he doesn’t to show his feelings. The only way of doing that is harassing her! That’s the beautiful message in the movie.
Renay: This is not a good film. The Fifth Element made so long ago is better than this. If you’re looking for a space movie you can watch this, I guess, but I would really say like—
Ana: No! You can’t watch this.
Renay: I mean, you can.
Ana: No, you can’t. Don’t do this to yourself.
Renay: Ana says you’ll make yourself mad.
Ana: We are constantly advising people to take care of themselves and their health. Why would we say that they can watch this movie?
Renay: Because they can! They have personal autonomy, but I suggest just going and rewatching The Fifth Element because it is vastly superior, and then if you want to make it a double-feature night, watch The Fifth Element and Jupiter Ascending back to back, with some snacks.
Ana: Yes please. And then sit back, relax and think, “Thank God Renay and Ana are here for me.”
Renay: So we’re gonna talk about some spoilers now, so we’re gonna put em behind our spoiler tag. If you don’t wanna be spoiled, cause you plan to go and watch this film, just know that Ana is very disappointed in you. But if you don’t care about being spoiled you can come with us.
Ana: Fuck Valerian.
Renay: I hate him. Anyway, why did they put Bubble in this film? Why would you have Rihanna in your movie and do that? Why would you have her in your movie as this awesome shape-shifting character and then murder her?
Ana: No, not only that! That for me is not even the main problem for that. For me the biggest problem is the visuals, too, because of course Bubbles is an alien who looks like giant blue bubble. But she assumes the figure of a black woman, who is enslaved, and then she is freed by a white dude, and then she dies to protect the white dude. The visuals and the problematic elements around this are just so mind-blowingly terrible and vomit-inducing. I could barely believe my eyes that this was actually happening on my screen in the year of our Lord of 2018.
Renay: Yeah. I mean, that was included in my statement, which was “Why would have Rihanna in your movie and do this?!” I thought it was just understood, because it was fucking Rihanna, and they chose this—THIS—this—Is what they chose. And you know what, it’s fine because Rihanna is a dancer and she’s not a bad actress, I think, if she has a good director, so whatever, but everything else around—why?! Why? Why? Why?
Ana: But this whole film is about that, right? That’s the whole thing with the movie: with Valerian saving less developed races. This is like a really gross White Savior worship throughout this movie and I just like I don’t understand how we have this, in the same year where we get Black Panther. I mean, not in the same year, but you know what I mean. The same – decade or—
Renay: Because Luc Besson is not very woke.
Ana: I guess we can go with that very generous reading.
Renay: Listen, did you watch Lucy?
Ana: No, I did not watch Lucy.
Renay: If you watch Lucy and then watch this film Luc Besson is a racist asshole. He’s a racist. Like, the end. There’s no way you could look at those two movies and look at some of their arcs of his female characters and the way he treats non-white bodies, and go, “Mm, no, he’s fine.” No, he’s racist.
I wrote in our show notes that you have this theme in The Fifth Element, and now this, where blue ladies die to teach a really dumb dude a lesson about romantic love. So the difference between The Fifth Element and here is in The Fifth Element it works! And here it doesn’t, because it’s tangled up with immigration, colonialism, race, and all these really problematic elements that make it gross! That character was powerless and I’m really angry. I’m just really fucking mad about it. That’s a character that you introduce and you keep around because they’re great, and you give them their own storyline and autonomy, but guess what? Luc Besson did not do that.
Ana: No! Even as she’s dying her last thought is to tell Valerian to take care of the lady. What is this?!
Renay: And then the overall plot is that thirty years before, an entitled white dude had committed genocide on a species that had not yet developed a space exploration program. They were super advanced in other ways, but according to humans who were travelling through space and fighting a war above this planet they didn’t matter. He ended up killing them all and then tried to hide his mistake by deleting them from the database and putting everything under classified lockdown. even in the future white dudes are awful. Even when he’s caught, he tries to murder everybody, even his allies! “allies.” Ana, I’m so mad at this character. And I knew as soon as he walked onto the fucking screen, I’m like, “Ohhh no, he’s a bad guy.”
Renay: I’m like, “It’s THIS asshole,” and the poor guy underneath him, who was like slowly uncovering the fact that he was torturing people and lying to protect his dark secret? The literally only thing that this narrative maybe did correctly was actually have the other leaders of the humans be like, “This is fucking gross and you’re gross and you’re under arrest.”
Renay: You’re gonna murder an entire gender non-conforming race of aliens who were awesome?!
Ana: Yeah. They will.
Renay: I was so mad about it, Ana. So mad. Predictably, because this is a Luc Besson film, there is an endangered pooping lizard that poops pearls. You feed it a pearl and then you hold it up, and it’ll swell up and start pooping pearls. They call it a convertor. But it’s a cute little animal, and listen. I was real sad. If I had to be sad about anything in this film—
Ana: Listen. I had no emotions for this movie apart from really negative ones.
Renay: I had a lot of sad emotions.
Ana: I had anger. What a waste of time.
Renay: It was so promising. And then, the first two minutes ended.
Ana: And then that was it. It was downhill from there.
Renay: This would have been a great movie if they had just taken Valerian out of it.
Renay: It could have been Laureline and the City of a Thousand Planets and it would have been immediately improved.
Ana: Of course! She was so cool! Apart from her terrible taste in men.
Renay: I was sad. I was sad, Ana, I wanted this movie to be great, because when I first saw the trailer I was so excited.
Ana: Me too. I was so excited because I kept thinking about Jupiter Ascending and I was like, “Oh, it’s gonna be another jewel for us to find.” But no. Luc Besson had a pearl and pooped shit.
Renay: This year we started a project where we read one story from the Saga Press anthology Robots vs Fairies.
This week, we’re reading Quality Time by Ken Liu. Because we’re reading short fiction, these segments will probably end up being spoilery no matter what we do, so we highly recommend that you pick up the anthology. It’s out now and you can follow along with us. We’d be happy to have you.
Okay, Ana, so Quality Time by Ken Liu. I really like Ken Liu’s short fiction, I think it’s really good. I was very confused by this story, because I’m used to getting emotionally sucker-punched by his work. I’m used to there being a really strong emotional resonance in his work for me and this did not have that.
Ana: I know. It felt like a very cynical—it’s a Team Robot short story and I’m wondering how many of those we will get in which the robots… I’m not sure what I want to say, because I was gonna say that the robots are evil, but that’s not true, because the robots were programmed by a person—a team of people—with good intentions. But not well researched knowledge before doing those particular types of robots. At one point our main character was researching through Wikipedia, and Mummy blogs, and listicles about the best animals in terms of parenting. So I was very confused in a way—I’m not sure what I was supposed to feel for the main character.
Renay: I felt like it was a critique of letting liberal arts majors be project managers for tech projects.
Ana: I didn’t read it like that?
Renay: I got a real bad vibe. Let’s just put it that way.
Ana: I got a bad vibe. Bot because she was a liberal arts major, but because she was not a very good person in the end. And not because necessarily of her major, just because of who she was. But in the end I felt like she was rewarded for her mistakes? Which was confusing again. So I’m not sure—I’m not—I’m still not sure what’s the point of this story.
Renay: I felt real bummed. Because it’s a robot story, but it ends up being about how humans fuck up when they don’t consider all the different aspects of an issue? That’s not a robot story to me, that robots are just sort of—
Ana: —incidental. That’s what I’m wondering about the other robot stories in the anthology and how they will come into play in the next stories.
Renay: There was also this line of the narrative that I picked up where Amy, the narrator’s coworker, slash friend—the only one at work she really knows about and interacts with—is trying to warn her that she’s overlooking things. It also felt like a critique of experience. When you go headlong into a new idea and you don’t stop to do longer studies and look at how your idea might impact multiple vectors and you just blow it off and you don’t do any follow-up you can kinda screw things up. The fact that she ignores the experienced person and accuses her of being cynical. It kinda felt those articles you read, “Oh, Millennials are X and Y and z!” where they just make a bunch of assumptions about what millennials will be and they don’t actually ask millennials, and that’s kinda the vibe I got from this story.
Ana: Yeah, Amy for me was the most interesting character, and maybe the sage, wise, older person who people should be really listening to, and the main character just seems to be following ill-conceived ideas. Even though it had a light tone and it was a very engaged and interesting and well-written story, it just felt really bleak to me.
Renay: I agree.
Ana: Sometimes I can enjoy bleak stories but I just felt this one just went nowhere.
Renay: And the robots are just things, here. Inconvenient things. That cause problems.
Ana: Was it a critique of technology? Or was it a critique of technology used badly?
Renay: I don’t know, but like it was missing some heart. I feel real bad because normally I really love Ken Liu’s work.
Ana: Yeah, me too!
Renay: Here this just felt hopeless and bleak.
Ana: We never even discussed what this story was about, so maybe listeners who haven’t read it, who have no idea! It’s a Silicon Valley company that hires this lady as part of their new campaign to have new employees to come up with ideas to develop technology—WeRobot is the name of the company. She comes up with an idea of creating a tiny robot that functions as a rat, and can go to places in your house to clean, to kill pests—It’s a servant rat, but that creates a problem, but not before it becoming a huge success and she has to find a different idea next, and the next idea is to create a robot that will replace parents. [laughs] What could possibly go wrong?
Renay: And they don’t let her, and she does it on the downlow, and it—
Ana: I mean, how does that even work within a company like that? surely that just doesn’t work inside a Silicon Valley—I can’t imagine that she can just pretend to have had the approval of the owners and then being able to run with getting equipment, studies, without it getting to their attention. I can’t imagine that is even realistic. I know we’re talking about a WeRobot company, but certain things need to be believable. That’s like, that’s a huge stretch.
Renay: That’s like a one step too far for me on the believability part. then at the end, after she basically breaks the rules, lies about having approval, and lying to all her coworkers who did a bunch of work, she doesn’t even get fired. She just gets moved to another team.
Ana: Because her experience, this negative experience will help her be more critical of similar projects.
Renay: I guess when I say I want to read robot stories: I want to read about the robots. I don’t wanna read about the humans making them and fucking up their lives. I was bummed.
Ana: Yeah, I was bummed too. So, so far I guess Team Fairies is winning.
Renay: Yeah, because we both have a point to give to Team Robot and this time I’m not giving a point to Team Robot because I didn’t like this story.
Renay: When I was thinking about this story after finishing it: in the first story, which was a Team Fairy story, the fairies have autonomy and they’re active agents, but in this story the robots aren’t even sentient. They’re just tools that humans use. I guess that’s true to a point, because right now we’re not in an age where robots are sentient, but to me, that would sorta be the point of having a Robots vs Fairies anthology, it’s not very fair to the robots side if the fairies get to be sentient in all their stories and in the robot stories they’re just things.
Renay: I did a thought experiment, where I was like, “If I was just handed a couple of thousand dollars to do my own short fiction anthology, what would I make the theme of my anthology and who would I get to write for it?” I gave this little thought experiment to Ana, and I had us do a little project where we both sat down and made a table of contents for our dream anthology. I do dream about this sometimes, Ana. A whole lot. You know, cause I tell you all the time in Slack.
Renay: I just want someone rich to give me eight thousand dollars so I can do this. Come on, rich person, are you out there? You go first and tell me how you did this, because I didn’t really give us strict directions. I just threw the idea out there to see what we would both come up with.
Ana: I went a little bit beyond just listing a few authors, because I know exactly what I want them to write, because my anthology is called Further Adventures, and it’s going to feature ten stories—novelettes or novellas, because I like a little like them longer—and I would commission, and I would dream that there would be no money issues or no rights issues with what I would like to commission from these particular writers.
Here is my table of contents for the Further Adventures anthology. First of all, I would get a Sunshine story from Robin McKinley. I would get a Princess Shuri of Wakanda story from Nnedi Okorafor. Then I would get a story about the Astra superheroines by Tansy Rayner Roberts’ world that takes place in the Girl Reporter novella. Then I would get a new Adaptation story from Malinda Lo. I would get a new Oxford Time Travellers story from Connie Willis. I would beg Ann Leckie to write a Seivarden: The Early Years short story. I would get Jane and Ivy from Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore to go on adventures together. I would want Zen Cho to write about the witches from Sorcerer and the Crown, and then I would get Kate Elliott to get me one extra little story from Spider’s point of view in the Court of Fives trilogy, and then I would definitely ask N. K. Jemisin to write Hoa and Essun in their stone adventure years. So this would be my dream anthology.
Renay: That is amazing!
Ana: I fully appreciate that probably all of these stories exist in one shape or form in fanfiction.
Ana: Very likely! But if I could get these authors to write all of this—I’m mostly excited about the Sunshine one.
Renay: Wow, what—I would read this anthology.
Ana: Would you pay for it?
Renay: Yes I would! I would pay cash money for that anthology.
Renay: I would buy the hardcover.
Ana: Excellent. I’m pleased. So I’m curious about you and what you did with yours.
Renay: I sort of went in a different direction, where I thought about the authors who had written interesting things that I liked over the years. Predictably, I bet you can tell what theme that I would choose for my anthology.
Ana: Can I?
Renay: Can you? Because I’m pretty predictable, Ana, you said before.
Ana: I don’t know! There are so many possibilities.
Renay: One of the things that I really want more of, is really optimistic and hopeful stories featuring robots and artificial intelligence.
Ana: Right, okay. Cool.
Renay: Hopeful is a really hard term because when you say you want hopeful stories, people will often give you stories where a lot of bad things happen but it ends hopefully, but no. I want a story that’s good all the way through? Like hopeful all the way through the story where the conflict comes from – not from death or dismemberment or horrible dystopias or evil politicians or whatever else is bad. But instead, from the characters trying to make the world an even better place. Especially in the future, where the robots are not evil, and the AIs are not evil and gonna toss you out the airlock. I also wanted to have some like funny stories, and I wanted it to be like a really fun, exciting anthology that could make you feel things but also kinda make you laugh. Because I think it’s really hard to do comedy well. A lot of people will often times go and write about dark things rather than the lighter comedic stuff, because let’s just be real: writing about horrible things happening is kind od easier than writing comedy sometimes. Comedy’s really hard, because you never know how it’s gonna land.
Ana: It is so hard.
Renay: I chose a list of authors who I think write really thoughtful things about culture and society and I would have them either write about robots or artificial intelligence. Robots can be both, like robots and artificial intelligence, obviously. But I think of artificial intelligence like as a non-bodied entity, like a spaceship or a building, and then like robots with their intelligence in their body itself.
Renay: That’s how I’m kind of defining my terms here. I know that they’re often interchangeable. But in this case, when I went to plan this, I was just like, “Okay, somebody’s gonna write about one unique robot in a body and then this other person’s gonna write about artificial intelligence.”
So the first person I thought of who does military space opera is Karen Lowachee, and I thought she would be perfect to do a story about AI, where the AI is a spaceship or something like that.
And then we switch back to robot and I thought about Nisi Shawl, who wrote Everfair, which was a sort of steampunk, and I would love to see like a steampunk robot aesthetic from her.
And then I would switch back to AI and I thought, “Oh, okay, Martha Well would probably do a GREAT AI story set in the far future via a space station or a spaceship or a building on a planet.”
And then in an anthology I read a few years ago, Vandana Singh did a really great longer piece of fiction about a person going on an exploration voyage. And it was a beautiful story and I loved it. I loved the way that it described the planet they left behind, and I thought, “Wow, okay, the way that she uses language!” I thought, well what if we apply the way that she describes like language and nature to robots on a planet and how those robots created their own society. This story in this anthology that I read, I can’t remember the title right now, but it’s really beautiful, the anthology it’s in is called The Other Half of the Sky: highly recommended.
And then back to AI, I thought “Okay. Charlie Jane Anders wrote this really great fantasy vs science fiction, nature vs tech adventure in All the Birds in the Sky, and in that there is actually an artificial intelligence in that book.” And I thought, wow, so what if Charlie Jane wrote an entire story where – about an AI like that who had to hide and what might the AI learn and go through and how might it get revealed eventually.”
And then switching over to robots again and Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall – there is a great robot, so what if I hired Sophia MacDougall to write a whole story about a cool teacher robot?
Ana: Oh my god.
Renay: The adventures of a teacher robot. A day in the life. Think about it.
Ana: Oh my god.
Renay: It would be amazing. Switching back to AI: Ryan North. We’ve read Ryan’s work in Squirrel Girl. Imagine what he would do with AI if we said, “Okay, here’s a space station, here’s an AI, write something funny.” Cause imagine, Ana! It would be amazing.
Ana: It’d be so cool.
Renay: And then back to robots! I really like Madeline Ashby’s work, I liked vN. I would just be like, “Hey, robots,” and let her loose, because I think that all her ideas about robots are brilliant.
And then switching back to AI again: a few years ago I read a book called Forgotten Suns by Judith Tarr. It was great. There were some sentient ships in that book. Sentient ships and AI are kinda different things, but the way that she wrote about those ships in her book would lend her really well to her writing a really really cool AI story.
Back to robots: if you’ve ever read anything by Sarah Rees Brennan—if you’ve ever read anything by her—you know she is amazing at deadpan snark. So I was thinking of Rogue One and the robot from that film. I would be like, okay, you have a person and you have a robot, and they’re partners: go.
Ana: Oh my god.
Renay: I’d pay money for it. And then we go back to AI, and this is sorta like cheating because Aliette de Bodard has been writing in her Xuya universe for ages and all those stories are amazing. I love this universe. So I would really just want her to write me another Xuya story, I don’t even care what it’s about, just in that universe. I would want it. Yes please.
And then back to robots: I’d want a John Scalzi short story. Of course I would. I’d be like “Hey John Scalzi, write me a robot story. Go ahead. I don’t care what it’s about. Be yourself. Have fun.”
And then AI, the last one: I would ask Erin Bow to write me a story about an entire planet controlled by interconnected AI governments. She wrote a book called The Scorpion Rules, which was really, really good.
Ana: It was amazing.
Renay: Yeah, and I really liked that whole concept so I’d be like okay, take it, and take out the murderous aspects, and say that society is running like whatever, but now, each country has like a centralized AI and all the AIs are friends with each other. How would that world look and what would happen, and how would those AIs interact with each other. That is how I would put my anthology together.
Ana: Please can you write it down and send it over to me.
Renay: Ana, listen, if you’re gonna write any anthology it’s gonna be the one that you —
Ana: No, mine is gonna cost too much money, because it’s all based on characters that the rights probably like—I have a story here with a story from Marvel. That’s never gonna happen. Robin McKinley will not—I know all of these authors that you mentioned.
Renay: You would need like nine thousand dollars. I’m pretty sure that John Scalzi doesn’t roll over for anything less than eighteen dollars a word or something.
Ana: Let’s see. What if I do it for charity? What if I kickstarted it and do it for charity?
Renay: I would love this anthology. I know that dark things and dystopias and unhappy things, like yes they often do much better, but there is definitely think there’s a market out there, because I know that me and Ana want more stories—
Ana: Yeah, absolutely.
Renay: We want more stories that are hopeful and optimistic and Becky Chambers is a good example, and like Cat Pictures Please. I just think that there is definitely a market for happier, optimistic stories. I’m just always curious about all these anthologies coming out and there’s only ever been like one anthology that’s been marketed as like optimistic? And that was Shine, it came out a few years ago. Although I’ve read some of the stories from it and I’m just like, “Mmm, I’m not sure how – if I would consider it the same thing, I mean optimistic, but okay!” Obviously I would be like, “Sorry, you can’t kill anybody, you can’t kill humans and you can’t kill cats and dogs. Nobody dies. Rocks don’t fall and no one dies.” Which doesn’t seem to be a very popular thing these days. I mean there probably is, I just need to go out there and find it. But there seems to be a big market out there.
Ana: I love your idea. I absolutely love your anthology. I would also pay cash money for it.
Renay: I need an angel investor to come out and give us the money to let us do it. I want other space bees to do this as well, and send their ideas to us. Pick a theme and find the authors that you would love to write a story and let us know about it. I would be fascinated to see what everybody else picked, too.
Renay: It’s time for recommendations. Ana, what have you loved recently?
Ana: Movies, because I don’t have time for books anymore. I don’t remember if when I came back from New York did I recommend Coco? The new Pixar movie?
Ana: But since then, I have watched it again. I’ve watched it twice.
Ana: The new Pixar movie Coco, which is set in Mexico, written and performed by Mexican artists. It’s maybe my favorite Pixar movie. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s completely unlike anything the trailer wants you to think the movie is which is great because everything was a complete surprise. The songs are super awesome. I’m even listening to the soundtrack of this movie.
It has just made me cry so much. The two times I’ve seen it I cried like a baby. But good tears. So it’s really great. And the second one is Black Panther, please go watch it if you haven’t already. It’s just the best Marvel movie. It’s definitely the best Marvel movie when it comes to women, by a million miles.
Renay: I’m in shock. I can’t believe you listened to a soundtrack from a movie.
Ana: Well. It’s only three songs, so I’m not listening to the soundtrack. I’m listening to three songs. [laughs]
Renay: It doesn’t matter, I’m still going, “Wow, really? That must be really good music,” because you don’t do that. That’s a me thing.
Ana: Yeah, I really liked that movie.
Renay: I need to watch it. I meant to see it in theaters, but then it left theaters really fast.
Ana: Well, it was still in New York a few weeks ago.
Renay: I guess it didn’t do as well here, which is sad
Ana: It’s just so beautiful and really respectful of Mexican culture too as far as I can see. It’s not appropriative, it’s just so well done. The stories—it has like the fantasy elements of it, oh my god. It’s everything. And it’s all about family in the end. Ugh. Anyway. What is your rec?
Renay: My recommendation is a book. It’s called Sea of Rust and it’s by C. Robert Cargill. This is a guy who worked on Doctor Strange, which made me a little bit dubious about this book when I realized that he worked on Doctor Strange because I find Doctor Strange kind of not great. The Sea of Rust is really, really good. It has an unreliable narrator, Ana, who is a robot!
Renay: Yes, there is an unreliable narrator, who is a robot!
Ana: I have one billion more times interested in this book right now, than I was one second ago.
Renay: The book is about what happens to the world after the robots vs human war, where all the humans have died, and the war is over. Now the robots, the individual bodies that have their own sentience, are at war with the AIs who helped them defeat the humans, because the AIs want all the robots to conform to their one hive mind and the robots don’t want to do this. The world is a burned out husk because the robots poisoned it to help kill all the humans and it’s really hard to survive, and now the robots are running into the problem that there are not replacement parts for them.
The story starts with Brittle, who is our main character, and she—because the robots adopted the gender that their owners gave them, it seems like? Which I think the book goes into a little bit? It took a minute, and I was a little bit really, “Oh, you’re just gonna give them pronouns and you’re not explain it,” but I think the book does explain it in an okay way. So Brittle, who is the main character, is scrounging through the sea of rust, which is like the midwest US, and she basically goes around tricking other robots into giving them her parts by having them shut down so she can fix them and then she just robs them she takes all their parts.
Ana: What? I must read this book. How did you find it? I must have it.
Renay: I just saw it on a list. So it’s about war, and it’s about who you trust, it’s about saving the world and it’s all about robots and AIs, there are no humans in this book except in flashbacks and memories. I really think it’s really well done even though this guy’s obviously a screenwriter, because the book is very cinematic. I also think the narrative was really really good, cause sometimes you get screenwriters who forget that it’s a book and not a screenplay, and so the narrative doesn’t really work that great. But here it really does and I just really really enjoyed this book.
Ana: Cool. Okay. I’ll definitely look it up.
Renay: And like I said: unreliable narrator!
Ana: You know how to get me. You know me too well.
Renay: Okay, tell everybody what we’re gonna be talking about on our next regular episode.
Ana: In our next regular episode, we’ll be talking about It Takes Two to Tumble, a new-ish romance novel by Cat Sebastian, a third story from the Robot vs Fairies anthology: Murmured Under the Moon, by Tim Pratt, and then we will be reading the second volume of Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda.
Ana: We made it! We reached the end, and nobody died. Apart from our souls from watching Valerian.
Renay: Please just do us a favor and skip it, and go rewatch Jupiter Ascending and The Fifth Element. It’ll save you so much heartache.
Ana: Remember that if you’d like to support our show, you can follow us on Patreon.
Renay: You can also support us by giving us a like on Facebook, or retweeting any of our episode announcements on social media. Like Twitter. And Tumblr!
Ana: Ira made our show-art and our music is by Chuki Beats and BoxCat Games. Susan is our resident transcription fairy, and you can read her work at fangirlhappyhour.com.
Renay: Don’t forget that you can find our discussion group on Facebook. Search for Space Bee Army and request access, and one of us will come along and approve you. Very soon, I have some secret plans involving our Facebook discussion group, so if you wanna be in on those secret plans, you should go join it.
Ana: They are so secret I don’t even know them.
Renay: Highly classified.
Ana: We would also love it if you went and gave us a review on iTunes, like five space bees maybe? It helps other fans like us find our show.
Renay: Drink some water, find some local progressive candidates to support in the US if you’re a US space bee, and wear sunscreen even when it’s winter and cloudy, because the sun is a trickster.
Ana: But not as much of a trickster as Luc Besson, who basically stole our souls while tricking us into thinking this would have been a good movie. Don’t fall for that trap.
Renay: Thanks— [laughs] Thanks for listening, space bees.
Ana: See you next episode.
Ana: Would you have time to read for tomorrow if we were recording tomorrow?
Ana: Of course it would take you twenty minutes what is taking me four hours.
Renay: [laughs] Sorry!
Ana: [laughs] God fucking dammit.
Ana: I just shared it on my Facebook page.
Renay: Thank you Ana! You’re so nice.
Ana: No problem. I did my job.
Renay: Your job is to send me to political camps?
Ana: Yes, so that you can save the world.
Ana: You’re so far away from me~ ch-ch do-dun-dnnnn
Renay: I can’t hear you.
Ana: [banging] [laughs] I pressed the mute button for some reason.
Renay: I lost it Ana, I lost it, I couldn’t—[sigh] I can’t—
Renay: Romots? Romots? Romots.
Renay: It’s your turn to go first.
Ana: Yeah, what the fuck is that? [laughs]
Ana: [whispering] I believe in you.