Neil Clarke, editor-in-chief at Clarkesworld, is currently running a wonderful Kickstarter campaign for an anthology called Upgraded. Folks like Yoon Ha Lee, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and so on will contribute stories to the collection, and there will be an call for submissions to fill the remaining slots. In short, this anthology will be wicked awesome! Support the campaign if you can (stretch goals = awesome).
As a long time reader and editor of genre fiction, what would you say continues to inspire you to read the stuff? What keeps you coming back?
For me, it’s a combination of the ideas and the escape. Science fiction and fantasy have made me think about things like no other genre has. I find that fascinating.
Cyborgs, cybernetics, and other “cyberpunk” elements have been a huge part of science fiction for almost as long as the genre has existed. Why do you think we are still fascinated by these things today? Do you imagine that we will live in a fully transhuman world one day?
I don’t know that we’ll see a fully transhuman world for some time, but it doesn’t take much of a stretch to believe that most of us will live to see some heavy-duty advances in cybernetics. While the technology in my device is fairly common, there are some incredible advances being made in brain-machine interfaces that make mine look like a primitive toy.
One of the reasons cyborgs and cybernetics have endured is that they are a believable future that makes an amazing framework for a lot of social issues. Listen to some of the privacy concerns people have about Google Glass. Now, imagine the cybernetic equivalent built into your eyes and completely hidden. It just ramps it up to another level. What kind of privacy do you have with a device that connects to your mind? At what point do you cease to be human? Who will receive the benefits of this new technology? What if this was the only way you could regain your sight? How far are you willing to go?
You suggest on your Kickstarter page that your recent health complications inspired you to put together this anthology, in part because, as you say, you’ve become cyborg yourself. Aside from the obvious impact a health issue can have, how would you say your new cyborg nature, however small, has impacted your view of the world (however minutely)? Has it made you think about fiction in different ways?
I’m a cyborg by necessity, so it is hard to separate the health issues from my new status as a cyborg. The combined effect has given me a new perspective on life. A lot of things that used to bother me seem trivial and unimportant now. It’s a lot easier for me to let go of thing and overall, I think my quality of life has greatly improved. The only cyborg-related change is a newfound respect for magnetic fields… they can damage the box and the box is my friend.
As for fiction, it’s made me realize what an important part of my life it has been. Professionally, it’s pushed me to try to make this a job that pays a living wage. Why shouldn’t we love what we do? I see a future in this.
What are some of your favorite stories featuring cyborgs (in any media form)?
After my defibrillator surgery, I asked friends on Facebook and Twitter to recommend some cyborg stories to help me pass the time. I read a lot of cyberpunk books in college, so I was already familiar with a lot of stories people suggested. I still have a fondness for Neuromancer by William Gibson and Mirrorshades edited by Bruce Sterling.
As for TV, the Borg were always good for an interesting story and I have to give some credit to Neil Gaiman for breathing new life into the Cybermen. It’s about time they learned from the Borg and grew up. Nothing, however, will replace the first cyborg I encountered, The Six Million Dollar Man. Cheezy show, but doesn’t that make them perfect for kids and so much fun?
And now for a silly question: If you could replace one external part of your body with a cybernetic part (a toe, an arm, nose, etc.), what would you replace and why?
I’m quite happy with what I have, but if I had to, I’d have to go with my hands. Just think of all the improvements you could get as upgrades: faster typing, nut-cracker, paper airplane folding, speed dial, juggling, paper cuts prevention, chef-style vegetable cutting, not needing hot mitts…
My wife tells me she would object. No deal, I guess.