Ashley Neuhaus 05-FEB-2013 The lovely folks over at Angry Robot sent an email notice with a couple of books that they still had ARCs available for. I read the summary for THE MAD SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER and knew instantly I wanted to read this book. A few years ago when I was in college, I took a science fiction literature course. During that class we watched an episode of STAR TREK called “The Measure of a Man” and I recalled the episode when reading about this book. The episode deals with Data, who is an android, and whether or not he deserves rights. That’s what I was lead to believe was at the center of THE MAD SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER. Boy, was I wrong.
Cat is first introduced to Finn when she is five years old and she thinks he’s a ghost. It’s not until she’s a little older that she learns he’s not actually a ghost. He’s actually an android, the only of his kind, in a world where artificial intelligence is very prominent in every day life. Finn is to be Cat’s tutor but he becomes much more than that. The story follows Cat from childhood all the way to adulthood. Clarke doesn’t skip over the rough parts like going from homeschooling with Finn to being enrolled in public school or the passing away of a parent. Perhaps the biggest struggle Cat experiences in this novel is her feelings for Finn. As she grows up, her emotions evolve from a little girl being intrigued by this stranger to a love that is seen as dirty and forbidden. At one point she even acknowledges that “only damaged people slept with androids.”
Once I got into the book, I realized that the fight over rights for artificial intelligence was more of the background story but it served as fuel for the greater story of Cat and Finn. This is very much a love story with science fiction aspects. It deals a lot with the human condition, equality, and the burning question of what it means to be human. The details that Clarke gives throughout the novel really makes it an enjoyable read. I found myself really caring for the relationship that formed between the two main characters and even forgot that one of them wasn’t actually a human. This troubled me a little and I was actually questioning whether there was something wrong with me for it like Cat had questioned herself. When a story can affect me and make me question my mind, that’s a sign of great writing.
Darren Turpin from Angry Robot set me up with Clarke to do a short written interview.
AN: I saw you tweet one day about an episode from Star Trek, “The Measure of a Man.” Did that episode serve as inspiration for this book?
CRC: Partially! I love stories about robots and other created beings, and Mad Scientist’s Daughter is pretty much an amalgamation of a bunch of different inspirations. “Measure of a Man” was definitely one of them; so was Frankenstein and the androids from the Alien movies. I love to mess around with tropes and archetypes, and so there’s a lot of that going on in the book, especially with regards to Finn.
AN: Have you ever heard any negative reactions to the power of Cat and Finn’s relationship? Were you prepared for any serious backlash and negativity?
CRC: I don’t actually read reviews (it makes me too anxious), but I have had a couple of friends note that their relationship could potentially feel too much like incest, since Cat’s father brings Finn home to live in their home. I was aware of this when I was writing the book and tried to mitigate it as much as possible — Finn never thinks of Dr. Novak as a father or Cat as a sister, and Cat never thinks of him as a brother, for example. Aside from that, I never imagined there would be any serious backlash. I do imagine there are people who will object to the way Cat treats Finn before she comes to truly accept her feelings for him, but that behavior should be objected to.
AN: Is there a reason why you never say what year it is or what exactly caused people to die off in great numbers?
CRC: I always find it distracting when I’m reading an old science fiction book from the fifties or sixties and learn that the story is set in, say, 1991. I think there’s a tendency to forget that the future eventually becomes the present, and so that’s why I purposefully never mentioned the year. I left off details about why the population dropped largely because I wanted to avoid unnecessary info-dumping. The Disasters are part of the backdrop to the story, but they aren’t integral to it. They also happened before Cat was born, and I didn’t imagine she was the sort who would sit around thinking about historical calamities.
AN: Do you think this is where our world is heading, artificial intelligence become a huge part of our lives and the arts being disregarded as unimportant?
CRC: I definitely think there’s a tendency to disregard the arts now. I believe it stems from the attitude that everyone should be striving for an extremely lucrative career — that’s the main reason I see the STEM subjects elevated above all others, as opposed to just saying, “Hey! STEM subjects are awesome!” (Which they are.) I was an English major, and many people assumed I would go into law school after I finished my degree. I get the sense that a lot of people think art is only for wealthy trust fund types and is therefore a waste a time. It’s so weird and depressing.
Artificial intelligence is a separate issue, and I actually have no idea if it will become a huge part of lives the way it is in the book. Robots are actually a pretty big part of certain jobs now — the other day my boyfriend was telling me about a robot used for deep-sea oil drilling, and NASA has an actual humanoid robot that works on the International Space Station. So who knows what will happen?
AN: How has this book transformed from the first draft to the end product? Did you always intend for it to end the way it did?
CRC: It actually hasn’t changed that dramatically. The beginning and the end hardly changed at all — the first third of the book is pretty much identical to the first draft. The middle part of the book saw the most revisions. Once I reached the end of Part One, I had some difficulty figuring out where I wanted to go next, so that section got reworked a couple of times. But I had the final scene in my mind from the very beginning, and I was always writing towards it.
AN: Do you think you’ll ever write something outside of the speculative fiction genre?
CRC: Well, I went through a graduate creative writing program, so I have a background in literary fiction. I also love crime novels, although I’m not sure if I’d be good a writing them (I never even got detention in school). However, I’ve noticed that when I sit down to write something realistic, weirdness starts seeping in regardless. It’s probably inevitable that I’ll always write speculative fiction in one form or another.
AN: What are you working on now?
CRC: I’m working on a couple of adult projects — both are science fiction, although one’s more along the lines of space opera and the other is a sort of retro-futuristic thing. I’m also working on some YA fantasy, including writing a couple of short stories set in the world of THE ASSASSIN’S CURSE, my current YA series.
AN: Where can people find you and updates about your work?
CRC: I keep a blog at cassandraroseclarke.com which is mostly updates about my writing. I’m on Twitter as well (@mitochondrial).