Saturday, March 12, 2011

In which I interview Jeff van Booven on Flyday

My writer friend Jeff van Booven has been my sounding board for many years when I was writing Flyday, so it was only natural that I interview him afterward about his opinions on how I did. I managed to tear him away from 19th century literature for a few minutes, and somehow we got to talking about missed chances for feminism and the roles of robots in science fiction.

LB: So Jeff, what did you think of my book?

JVB: Well Laura, I thought it was a book. All the classic trappings were there. Pages. Words on those pages. Why, there was even plot and characters.

You're mentioned in the dedication. What would you say your role was when I was writing Flyday? 

Unmorale support. I provided lots of distraction. Essentially, it was my goal to make sure that you had a metric by which to judge your productivity and then chastise you for not doing better. I had a whip and nothing better to do. Think of it as author slavery.

That's an incredibly pessimistic view. [Note: We had previously discussed Flyday's risk for being censored.] Do you think the characters are good role models, or do you think that the book should be banned? 

Banned, why hell yes it should be banned. It's the classic think of the children line! Good role models you ask? Why, they're absolutely terrible. Being gay, sure, fine, kids need to learn tolerance and to treat one another with respect. But, to think that you can just pop off into the future because you're bored and without telling anyone! What kind of message is that supposed to send to the youth of today? That it's okay to just tally off before supper and mess with other peoples' timelines. A bit rude I say and our children shouldn't be exposed to such irresponsible garbage!

I never really thought about it that way. So you think Ariel is the most irresponsible character in the book? 

Certainly. I mean, she doesn't even bother to travel back in time to the 19th century to provide some professional editorial experience in the form of cutting out the extensive overuse of description and breaking of the fourth wall by the narrative voice. She doesn't even really need any sort of real editing experience to do so. The least she could do is team up with Margaret Fuller and get some real feminism going. So yes, she, the keeper of the time machine, has doomed society to excessive years of backwards thinking that could have been avoided. Most irresponsible character in the book, yes, and off all literary history; even more irresponsible than Jane Eyre.

She could still go back in time and promote feminism though, couldn't she? But if she did something crazy radical like tell someone about antibiotics in the year 1400, would that change too much and cause new and unexpected problems? 

Well, yeah, it'd certainly increase the chance of resistance to anti-biotics, but this is a literary blog--medical knowledge isn't something I care too much about. Sure, it'd be nice to have a cure for cancer, but I'd rather not have to slog through a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It's all about perspective. You want somebody to complain about her not advancing medicine, interview a nurse about your novel.

Fair enough. Taken by itself, could Flyday be considered a feminist book? There are a lot of strong female characters. 

Well, yes, I suppose it would be; however, I think it will more likely be remembered for its sympathetic portrayals of robot-kind. Far from often do our silicon brethren get a fair shake in literature. Even the most pro-robot authors like Isaac Asimov had a tendency to produce slightly anti-robot texts. That's the real strength of Flyday, it goes beyond the cultural constructions and societal prejudices of robots to produce a wholly sympathetic character that gives robots the agency they deserve.

Readers do seem to really like that robot. Well, I think we've covered almost everything. Just one final question: if you had any advice for Thomas Huxley, what would it be? 

Same as I do for anybody else in a trying situation: don't fuck this up.

Jeff van Booven is a grad student at Missouri State University and runs a blog called the One Hour Parking Show. Laura E. Bradford the author of Flyday, and she is reconsidering her choice to put Jeff in the book's dedication.

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