[GUEST POST] Brenda Cooper Interviews Madeline Ashby About Her Fresh Take on the Future (with Robots)

So the last time I posted here (about science fiction books that are useful to read for futurist information), a commenter asked if I’d met Madeline Ashby. I had never heard of her, but since she writes science fiction and does futurist work, I decided I should do some research. I started out buying a copy of her debut novel vN. It’s a page turner that surprises and brings a fresh look to a classic SF topic. In fact I simply sat down and read it – I usually read multiple books at once and pick up / put down regularly, but Madeline got my attention and I just read right through beginning to end.

Not only did I get to hear her read (really well) and to chat with her over tea at the World Fantasy Convention, but I also sent her some interview questions. I liked her answers a lot, and I suspect you might, too:


BRENDA COOPER: Your novel does not bode particularly well for a human future. In real life, how likely do you think it is that humanity will have an excellent future? Regardless of how likely it is, what are a few of the things most important for us to accomplish as a species, perhaps to change?

Madeline Ashby: Well, first, thank you — both for reading the book and for finding it chilling. I love it when a plan comes together.
As for humanity having an excellent future, I really don’t like that question. I get asked it a lot, and it’s always some variation of “But seriously, are we going to be okay?” And the answer is that no, we’re not — we’re all going to die at some point, and if you’re lucky you might get to die a long time from now, with some dignity and comfort. Whether you have that age and dignity and comfort has to do with your access to the future and the things that make the future excellent: consistent energy, equal healthcare, an education, gainful employment. You know, privilege. So if you’re privileged, you’re probably going to be fine until you die. If you’re not, then you’re probably going to die a lot sooner, in more pain, and from something that would have been avoidable if your surrounding community had not allowed you to fall through the cracks.
As for what we need to accomplish as a species, I think we need to reduce our dependence on coal for electrical power, grant all women everywhere real reproductive autonomy, and streamline voting and policymaking so that those not too disenchanted to vote actually get to see the results of their choices. I think if we had those things, a lot of other issues would clear up a lot more quickly.

BC: In Vn, your robots have to eat. I have written robots that need sunlight, or power, but never that need to eat regular food (albeit not human food). Do you think robots will need food that is more substantive than a power-jack?

MA: Oh, probably not. The robots in my book need it because their muscles are made in part of carbon aerogel; they need a big whack of chemicals and trace metals to keep moving. Robots using actuators, the way most robots do, wouldn’t have those needs.

BC: This story would work really well as a graphic novel or a film. Are you working on either of those formats?

MA: Thank you! To answer your question, it’s not my job to work on that. That’s my agent’s job, and for a while it’s my publisher’s. Film agencies affiliated with both have seen it. I’ve had filmmakers contact me, looking for copies. I know one production company in particular that wanted to read it. I even know one filmmaker who straight-up loves the book. But as for that turning into a development deal, I have no idea.

BC: What are you working on now?

MA: I’m working on the sequel to vN, called iD. I also just wrote a memoir-oriented piece for a magazine, and I’m working on a couple of short stories. Oh, and a manual for feminist activism in the gaming community.

BC: What is the best recent fiction and non-fiction book you’ve read and why

MA: I’m honour-bound to mention my partner David Nickle, here, and say that I really enjoyed his latest, Rasputin’s Bastards. (Which I did. It’s a big crazy Russian psychic spy thriller that utterly refuses to play dumb for anybody.) I also just finished reading Charlie Stross’ latest, Neptune’s Brood, which will be out next year, and I can say that it’s the most intellectual swashbuckler I’ve read in a long time, the sort of adventure novel that makes you feel a lot smarter for having read it. Non-fiction-wise, I’ve not been doing a lot of reading of books; I have a subscription to The Walrus and The New Yorker that take care of those needs, and I research specific things in more depth if I’m called to.


Brenda Cooper is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in the Pacific Northwest. Her next novel is The Creative Fire from Pyr Books, a story that explores revolution on a generation ship through the eyes of a young woman who helps bring her people to freedom through the power of her voice. Find out more about The Creative Fire and Brenda’s other works at www.Brenda-cooper.com.

3 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Brenda Cooper Interviews Madeline Ashby About Her Fresh Take on the Future (with Robots)”

  1. Great conversation. I’ve been looking forward to getting a crack at vN since a friend of mine reviewed an ARC of it earlier this year.

    What a fun interview. It makes me want to read the author’s book even more, suggested a couple of other books that sound really interesting, and hints that maybe, if all the stars align, we may have a really interesting SF flick in our futures. That sounds like a good future to me.

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