Last week Twelfth Planet Press kicked off their Kickstarter campaign for Mother of Invention, their new anthology project edited by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Rivqa Rafael. The book sound absolutely fabulous and they’ve already announced some stellar authors for their line up. I was curious about the inspiration behind the premise for the anthology: “diverse, challenging stories about gender as it relates to the creation of artificial intelligence and robotics.” So I asked Tansy whether she and Rivqa would be willing to answer some questions and she said yes, so here we are. I hope their answers intrigue you enough to go and back the project — I definitely did — and to spread the word. Enjoy!
Let’s start with the basics. Who are Tansy Rayner Roberts and Rivqa Rafael?
TANSY: I’m an SFF writer, a feminist podcaster and a pop culture critic. I also run an online business selling literary and historical gifts, I am a literal soccer mum, and I once completed a doctorate in Classics (but I don’t think I can remember a single word of Latin any more). I have over fifteen years editin experience. I crowdfunded and co-edited Cranky Ladies of History with Tehani of Fablecroft a couple of years ago, and have crowdfunded my own fiction projects too.
RIVQA: I write science fiction (and some fantasy), and edit science writing, specialising in medical academia. Mother of Invention will add fiction to my editorial oeuvre. I’d say I’m a “both sides of the brain” person but that concept is fake; nevertheless, my brain is filled with stories and science and I love both.
How would you introduce people to your new project Mother of Invention?
Our tagline for the Kickstarter is “A speculative fiction anthology of diverse, challenging stories about gender and artificial intelligence.” That pretty much says what we are planning to make.
Why feminist AI fiction?
Humans are more immersed in tech than ever before – we’re living in the future now, and a lot of the big science fiction tropes reflect our reality or technological levels that are just around the corner. We’re also telling stories about AI and living computers and robotics and looking at how humans interact with technology through fiction. But a lot of the media that deals with AI in particular still conforms to some fairly old-fashioned tropes.
Why do we still have such gender inequality in a world full of scientific marvels? Why are women still treated so badly in STEM, for all the attempts to level the playing field? And when movies roll out looking at the ethical and philosophical issues surrounding robots-that-look-like people, why is the only role for actresses a disembodied voice, or a CGI-modified gynoid body?
There are lots of interesting stories to be told about women and their interactions with AI and robotics. We want to publish them!
AI and robotics seem to implicate that these will all be SF stories; could readers also expect surprises in the form of a fantasy-esque story, like we’ve seen in Jo Anderton’s The Veiled Worlds series?
We’ve deliberately left this open to our authors to play with – while we expect the majority will be SF, there is definitely room here for fantasy, steampunk or genre-blending. The original AI story is the Pygmalion and Galatea myth after all! There’s space for a little magic in amongst the feminist robots.
How big will the book be? You’ve announced thirteen pieces, which is often an already respectable-sized anthology. Will this be a big, giant book?
It will be a moderate-sized tome. We don’t have the finished pieces in from all our authors yet, so we don’t quite know how much space will be left for our open subs authors. But we’ve been basing all our specs and budget on the Defying Doomsday book, which was substantial, but not so thick that someone had to invent a new kind of publishing glue.
You’ve already announced some amazing tentpole authors, but you’ve also announced a submissions window. What kind of guidelines have you given your announced authors and what are you looking for?
We dared our authors to challenge us, and made sure to let them know that while the original concept for the book was to focus on women as the builders, designers and creators of artificial intelligence, we’re also up for stories that defy and challenge the gender binary.
We want stories that hit us in the gut and make us feel things. Neither of us have much time for fiction that fails to engage the emotions, no matter how many science fictional concepts it’s juggling. We want our authors to think about the title Mother of Invention and all the different ways that can be taken. We’re definitely hoping for as many different kinds of stories and characters as possible.
With the open subs – well, short and smart is going to be important! Because we’ve committed up front to so many specific authors to give our Kickstarter backers a feel for the book they’re going to get, the number of stories we can accept from our open call will be limited. And we really don’t know yet what we’re looking for because we don’t know what important gaps will need to be filled. We hope to have some more specific guidelines revealed by the time we fund, and subs will be opening for at least two months after the Kickstarter closes.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
We’re going to be at Continuum this weekend! This Melbourne con is one of our absolute favourites, and Twelfth Planet Press are hosting an event so it’s going to be great to catch up with everyone. We also have plans for GenreCon in Brisbane too, though of course that’s long in the future, the mythical After Kickstarter of which we have heard tell. Rivqa will be at the Speculative Fiction Festival in Sydney in July, and her very first WorldCon in August in Helsinki.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
TANSY: All my hobbies turn into work. It’s a curse of mine. Right now I’m passionate about Wonder Woman, hair scarves and bubble tea.
RIVQA: Happily, I’m too lazy to have that curse. I play too many video games (I just finished Mass Effect Andromeda), and I keep fit by learning Brazilian jiujitsu. It’s like physical chess, and I love it.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
TANSY: The big one that we’re all buzzing about at Twelfth Planet Press central is Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, edited by our friend Alex Pierce with Mimi Mondal. This follow up to the seminal Letters to Tiptree is a collection of personal essays, letters and other writing in honour of the legendary SF author and I can’t wait to see it. There’s a teaser launch at Continuum, but the book won’t be available until closer to Worldcon.
The books I’m most looking forward to reading right now are The Dragon With the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, and Valentine by Jodi McAllister.
RIVQA: I’m always years behind in my reading, so I can’t really point to forthcoming releases, I’m afraid! Most recently, I enjoyed Squid’s Grief by D.K. Mok, and Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer. That’s as new as it gets for me.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
TANSY: My bookshelves would make you cry. I used to have a vaguely thematic system but now it’s just a war zone, stacks everywhere, empty shelves you can’t get to because furniture is in the way. I keep telling myself I need to muck in and get it all overhauled and reorganized and functional, but there’s always something to do and then it’s bedtime…
RIVQA: I’m pretty boring about it! Fiction is alphabetical, by author’s last name. Non-fiction is vaguely sorted into categories. TBR isn’t organised, although it does now have its own shelf because next to my bed was getting to be an OH&S concern. My Kindle is getting a bit out of control, but at least houseguests can’t see that.
Bio: Tansy Rayner Roberts is a writer, Hugo Award-winning podcaster and pop culture critic based in Tasmania. Her award-winning speculative fiction includes the Creature Court trilogy and the Love and Romanpunk short story collection. Tansy has edited various magazines and books, most recently the Cranky Ladies of History anthology, which was crowdfunded in 2014. She also regularly assesses manuscripts for the Tasmanian Writers’ Centre. You can find Tansy online at her website and on Twitter.
Rivqa Rafael is a writer and editor based in Sydney. Her speculative fiction has been published in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), Defying Doomsday, and elsewhere. In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. As an editor, she specialises in medical and science writing, both short and long form; she has also edited memoir, fiction and popular magazines. You can find Rivqa online at her website and on Twitter.