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By Jude Austin
Hi there, Person Reading This Article! My name is Jude Austin, and I don't write dystopian sci-fi.
There! Got that off my chest. While I will admit that the situations my characters find themselves in are usually less than pleasant, I never understand sci-fi writers who think the world is going to suck. I think it's going to be a pretty neat place.
However, any kind of place requires the author be very familiar with his/her characters. There are many ways to do this. For example, some people like to interview their characters. I, on the other hand, never, ever, ever do such a thing.
This is why:
ME: Hi, guys. Thanks for agreeing to do this interview with me for the people at Online Book Club. I don't want to go into long introductions here, as I'm hoping we can all get to know the two of you better through this interview, so can you just tell us your names?
TAU: Yes. My name is Tau, and I'm here to answer any questions you, the people at OBC and the readers have about us and our world.
KATA: I'm Kata. I'm here because you promised me a cheeseburger.
ME: Yes, yes, alright, you'll have one at the end of the interview. For those of you who don't know me—
KATA: Which is probably about 99.9% of the people out there.
ME: –my name is Jude Austin, and I'm the author of the sci-fi book Project Tau, which was Book of the Day on September 29. Tau and Kata are the main characters.
KATA: Translation: please, please, please, please, please buy my book on Amazon! Pretty please? With sprinkles and marshmallow bunnies?
ME: Let's just start the interview, okay?
KATA: Fine by me.
What emotion/feeling are you afraid to experience?
KATA: Going straight in at the deep end, huh?
ME: Well, things like your favorite color or date of birth are nice bits of trivia, but they don't help get to know you as a character. I mean, it's not like you're going to react differently to someone because you like purple more than green.
KATA: Fair enough, I guess. Answer: loss of control.
What bad habit are you struggling to overcome?
KATA: I used to bite my nails, but since GenTech replaced the ends of my fingers with claws, that pretty much killed the habit.
TAU: I don't think I have any bad habits.
KATA: Unless you count quizzing people to death.
TAU: Asking questions to clarify understanding was always permitted in the labs.
KATA: Sure it was. If the scientists happened to be in a good mood.
What do you fear losing the most?
KATA: That's...actually quite sweet of you, Tau. I'm not sure how to react to it.
ME: What about you, Kata? What are you most afraid of losing?
TAU: I would be hurt, but that's really not an answer I can argue with.
How many brothers and sisters do you have?
TAU: None. Projects are created one at a time.
KATA: Yeah, but the scientists used the same batch of DNA to make your predecessors, didn't they?
TAU: Does that count?
KATA: No idea, but if it does, you had nineteen older brothers.
ME: Kata, how about you?
KATA: One sister, four years younger than me.
Do you have a family member that's ever let you down? If so, how has that affected you?
TAU: Projects don't have families, so no.
KATA: It's strange considering my folks and I never had a particularly easy relationship, but no. Whenever they said they'd do something, they always came through. I can't remember either of them ever breaking a promise to me.
TAU: What about your sister?
KATA: We squabbled a bit as kids and I remember spending most of my teenage years in a state of prank warfare, but it was never anything more than typical sibling rivalry.
Are you afraid to be alone?
KATA: Not at all.
ME: Would you say you prefer to be alone?
KATA: I don't really know. It's more like, it's what I've always been used to, right from when I was a little kid. I handle my own company pretty well.
ME: What about you, Tau?
TAU: I like being alone with Kata.
KATA: Yeah. That's really not meant the way it sounded. 'Alone' for Tau means a human-free environment.
Are you proud of who you are?
KATA: Not particularly.
TAU: I don't know.
Do you like who you are?
TAU: I don't know. I never met myself.
What keeps you up at night?
KATA: Yeah, and what a lousy night that was.
TAU: You should have warned me about the effects of caffeine.
KATA: You should have warned me you were about to chug an entire percolator!
What was your worst injury ever?
KATA: Does getting my claws count?
ME: No, that was a surgical modification. I'm talking about outside the labs.
KATA: Then I would say, the time I fell out of bed.
ME: That's it?
KATA: It was a cabin bed, okay? They're a lot further up than they look!
(Tau looks away, shifting his weight and inching a little closer to Kata)
TAU: I don't think I want to answer this question.
KATA: Okay, Tau. That's okay. Let's move on.
Who is one person you would never ever want to see again? Why?
KATA: Dennison, and is the last part supposed to be some kind of trick question?
ME: It would help for those readers who don't know the background.
KATA: Fine. Let's see; I never want to see Dennison again because he kept me prisoner along with Tau, he gaslighted, starved and completely dehumanized me, and had me and Tau tortured on a regular basis for no better reason than to amuse himself. That's not counting what we suffered in those daily training sessions, by the way, and I'm not even going to mention what he ordered done to poor Tau here.
ME: I see, well—
KATA: After all that, is it any wonder that Tau and I were so happy at the chance to get a little of our own back on him and his cronies when we escaped?
ME: No, but—
KATA: And yet, the mass media are jumping up and down and calling us monsters and accusing us of killing for sport, just because we didn't want to spend the rest of our lives being systematically tortured before GenTech sold us off as pets!
ME: Erm, let's move on, shall we?
Who would you want to raise your child if you die unexpectedly?
KATA: Since this is purely hypothetical, can I choose someone who's dead?
ME: Um, sure, I guess.
KATA: In that case, I pick my grandfather.
ME: Maternal or paternal?
KATA: Does it matter? Paternal, if you really want to know.
TAU: I pick Kata.
ME: I thought you might.
TAU: Well, he's the only person I know outside the labs.
ME: Fair enough.
TAU: Although this is completely hypothetical, as I still don't quite understand where children come from. Maybe you could explain?
KATA: Yeah, go on, Jude; explain.
ME: Uh, maybe some other time. Let's move on.
TAU: I'm starting to think that nobody actually knows.
This one's for Kata. Which parent do you take after more?
KATA: Physically? My father. Both my sister and I look like him, although she's got our mom's eyes. Personality-wise, I have no idea. I'll say my mom, if only because my father was always adamant that I didn't get my love of computers and science from his side of the family. That said, my mom's no different; both my folks are the camping out, sports-loving kind.
TAU: Can't humans enjoy computers and sports?
KATA: Not in this case.
Have you traveled to other lands? Or planets, even?
KATA: I assume you're talking pre-GenTech?
ME: Yes, all these questions are either pre-GenTech or during it.
KATA: Not really. My homeworld's Trandellia, and my family and I traveled a bit, but it was always around the same continent. I never left my planet until I went to SACAS.
ME: That's the Sanderson College of Arts and Sciences, for all you non-interplanetary types out there.
KATA: Yeah, so my parents dropped me off at the nearest shuttle stop, and I traveled by myself from Trandellia to Basarr. Then I went to that space station where GenTech had its lab, and the rest is history.
How do you view other races or cultures?
TAU: Other races? Like humans?
ME: Uh, no. Projects are human clones, so you're human too.
KATA: Only in appearance. Legally, he's covered by the same laws that apply to cattle and dogs. Well, we both are; it's just that Tau was created with Project status, and I had Project status thrust upon me.
ME: In other words, slaves?
KATA: (bitter laugh) No! Calling Projects slaves is the same as admitting that they are human. We're livestock. You can't enslave a horse, or a cow.
ME: I see. Alright then, Tau, what do you think of humans?
TAU: They hurt.
ME: Is that it?
KATA: It's enough, isn't it? Move on.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
TAU: Breaking a promise.
Which living person do you most admire?
KATA: I'd be a lot more honored by that if I didn't know full well that I got your vote by default. Living person...I don't know. I don't remember ever having a hero figure.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Kata, you're not allowed to answer this one.
ME: Sorry, but I'd like to get through this interview without being banned from OBC. Tau?
TAU: I don't know. "Please," perhaps.
KATA: (muttering) I overuse plenty of G-rated words and phrases.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
KATA: I'd like to make my claws retractable. They're a nuisance in everyday life.
TAU: I'm fine as I am.
Where would you most like to live?
KATA: You mean, like a city or favorite town?
ME: Yes, or something along the lines of forest, desert, etc.
KATA: Okay. Part of me wants to say beach, but I'm fair and I sunburn really fast, so that probably isn't a good idea.
TAU: I want to live at the bottom of the ocean.
ME: That's interesting, Tau. Can I ask why?
TAU: Yes. Kata says that humans rarely go that far down, so it seems the safest place to be. He also told me about swimming, which I don't fully understand but which seems the closest you can get to flying.
KATA: I guess I could live in a desert, but that has the same problems. Maybe I should go for an isolated hut on the mountains with perfect internet connection, six hundred TV channels and easy access to shops.
ME: That's a very specific type of isolation...
KATA: Or somewhere completely different, like a treehouse in the Vahnat Plains so I could watch the wildlife free of charge.
TAU: Yes, I'd like to be able to watch wildlife as well. I've never seen animals before.
KATA: No, wait, I've decided. I want to live in the penthouse suite of a five-star hotel near the beach, with all expenses paid for the rest of my life including room service and any excursions I want.
Who's your favorite writer?
KATA: If I say you, do I get a treat?
ME: No, but don't let that stop you.
KATA: In that case, Jerome Wilkes.
KATA: He writes horror novels. He's a little bit out there, but I love his stuff.
ME: I was hoping you'd pick someone our readers have actually heard of.
KATA: You should've thought of that before you picked someone from over fourteen hundred years in the future.
Are you generally organized or messy?
KATA: Organized. Maybe it's a by-product of having a scientific mind, but I really hate it when things are out of place.
TAU: Kata's a little anal.
KATA: No, I'm not, I—wait, you know that word how, exactly?
TAU: I heard one of the handlers use it to describe Dr. Chatton.
Which talent would you most like to have? Why?
KATA: Okay, that's a pretty interesting question. I assume you're talking about normal human talents, as opposed to genetic modifications?
KATA: I'd actually—I'd really like to be able to paint. Not VR sculpting or holograms, but old-fashioned oil or watercolor.
ME: Ooookay. That, I was not expecting. Why?
KATA: I don't know, I just love those amazing paintings you see on the net and in museums. I mean, virtual work is cool and all, but it's easy. You know, if you want to create a tree in your virtual world, you select it and just put it down, and you can duplicate it thousands of times to make a forest with the push of a button, and delete it with another button. It's the same with light; it's all done automatically. If you paint the traditional way, there are no shortcuts and what you end up with is the result of your own talent and dedication.
ME: I see.
KATA: What I end up with, on the other hand, looks like regurgitated jellybeans, and that's on a good day. I was probably the only kid in kindergarten and elementary school whose parents never put their art on the wall or refrigerator.
TAU: What did they do with it, then?
KATA: I dunno. Tossed it out, I guess. Never occurred to me to ask.
ME: What about your younger sister?
KATA: Mel? Nah, she was always the golden girl of the family. I mean, she's not much of an artist either, but at least with her paintings you know what you're supposed to be looking at. Tau?
TAU: I want to be able to read.
KATA: You can read. I taught you in the labs and Dennison had the two of us beaten half to death for it, remember?
TAU: But I can't read like you can. You look at a sign and understand it immediately. I have to puzzle it out one sound at a time.
KATA: You just need practice, that's all.
ME: What would you like to read?
TAU: A book.
KATA: Yeah, might need to narrow the field a bit on this one, Tau. What kind of book?
TAU: I don't know. Any kind. I've heard that reading books is pleasant.
If you found yourself walking alone in a dark alleyway with the feeling of being followed, what would you do?
KATA: I'd probably turn around and demand to know if anyone was following me.
TAU: What would you do if someone said, "Yes?"
KATA: Turn invisible and hightail it outta there.
ME: Oh, the perks of having camouflage technology integrated into your nervous system.
KATA: Oh, the perks of working for an expositional writer. (Glares at Tau) And the camouflage thing isn't all it's cracked up to be.
TAU: Kata, if this is about the time I accidentally sat on you—
KATA: You didn't sit on me, you threw yourself on top of me!
TAU: Well, you were the one who collapsed on my cot! Why didn't you use your own?
ME: Guys, please! Moving on.
Define yourself in one word.
What’s your favorite food?
TAU: I like grapes. And soup.
ME: Hopefully not in the same bowl.
KATA: You can never quite tell with him. My favorite has to be cheeseburgers. There's this really great restaurant about thirty minutes away from where I grew up.
What foods make you gag?
KATA: That nutrijelly they fed us in the labs.
TAU: Really? I didn't think it tasted bad.
KATA: That's the point; it didn't taste of anything. It wouldn't have been so bad, except we were usually fed in the staff canteen, so while we were choking down tasteless gray slime, everyone around us was stuffing themselves on regular food. The smell used to drive me nuts.
TAU: I remember you tried to steal some one time.
KATA: Did I? I don't remember.
TAU: Yes, it was a french fry. You speared it on your claw.
KATA: Oh, that's right. Dennison really wasn't happy about that. Human food is too good for Projects like us.
What music do you listen to?
TAU: What's music?
KATA: You...(pause) That's right, you probably don't know, do you?
TAU: Is it nice?
KATA: Yeah. I'll see about playing you some once we're safe, okay?
ME: What kind do you like?
KATA: Anything that isn't jazz or heavy metal. Those just sound like noise to me.
TAU: Aren't all sounds noises?
KATA: Yeah, sure, Tau, but there's noise and then there's noise.
Do you drink alcohol?
TAU: Kata won't let me.
KATA: No, Kata won't. The last thing either of us needs is for you to get drunk and take it into your head to start juggling space shuttles or something. We're supposed to be in hiding.
TAU: Then why are we doing this interview?
KATA: I've been wondering the same thing since we started.
Last question from me:
Do you want a job that helps people or a job that makes money?
KATA: I want a job that I enjoy. The other two things you mentioned don't come into it. I mean, I wouldn't want a job that involved hurting people, and if I had to choose between two dream jobs and one involved helping people and one didn't, I'd probably take the first one, but it's never been a huge factor.
KATA: Yeah, well, even before GenTech abducted me, people hadn't exactly covered themselves with glory as far as I was concerned. Plus, I'm Trandellian. We're not so keen on philanthrophy.
And with that, my questions are over. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this.
TAU: It was a pleasure.
KATA: Whatever. Now make with the cheeseburgers!
We now open the floor to questions from readers and OBC forum members!
KATA: We do?
ME: Yes, Kata. We do. I emailed selected readers for some questions to ask, and I got some great responses. To kick it off, here are some questions asked by a reader named Sue!
KATA: (groans) Tell me that wasn't supposed to be a Johnny Cash reference.
ME: You want that cheeseburger or not, Kata?
KATA: (sighs) Okay, fine. Bring on the extra questions.
Kata, how do you feel now you're free?
KATA: Like I'm in a dream.
ME: You mean everything's wonderful?
KATA: No, I mean literally like a dream. For the past two years I was illegally imprisoned and tortured, and now I'm out...yeah. I wish I could tell you that it feels wonderful or I'm skipping around singing showtunes all the time, which is probably what you expect to hear, but the truth is I guess I'm just dazed and things are pretty surreal right now. Ask me again in six months and maybe I'll have a better answer for you.
What are your immediate plans?
KATA: Find a way home. Once we're back on my home planet, we'll be safe.
ME: Does that mean you're going to go home to your family?
KATA: Yeah, I guess we'll have to at some point, although I can't honestly say I'm looking forward to it. If I had the money, we could crash in a motel somewhere and look for a cheap apartment, but I don't. So yeah. Head back home to Cahrin, Trandellia, and try and find an apartment from there.
TAU: Are we going to look for an apartment in Cahrin itself?
KATA: We might as well. If we go to one of the other three continents, we'll only have curious neighbors asking why we moved.
TAU: How would they even know?
KATA: My accent. It doesn't show when I speak English, but when I speak Trandellian, I have a pretty strong Cahrini accent.
KATA: Think of someone speaking English with a Southern Alabama accent, and you'll come pretty close to how us Cahrini sound to other Trandellians.
What are your longer-term plans?
KATA: I don't know. It's been a while since I was in a position to make any long-term plans. It'd be nice if I could go back to college, but ever since GenTech, I've not been too comfortable around people in white coats, so I think my dream of becoming a nanosurgeon or geneticist is definitely over. I'll probably do something involving computing. Maybe game design. I suck at art, so any kind of CGI career isn't an option, but if I could earn money as a freelance programmer or something, I'd be happy with that.
Will you seek any redress on GenTech to stop what happened to you happening to someone else?
TAU: Are we to assume that somewhere out there is another human who's stupid enough to sneak into a restricted laboratory for the sake of impressing a group of random people he's known for less than thirty minutes?
KATA: Thanks for that, Tau.
TAU: You're welcome.
KATA: But Tau has a good point, even if he does make it with all the subtlety of a depth charge in a goldfish pond. You know, if anyone else tried what I did, ninety nine point nine percent of administrators would just detain him, give him a severe talking-to and send him right back home after contacting whoever was responsible for him. That's assuming he could even get into the labs in the first place. I just hit the longest of long shots, both in getting in and in the labs being run by nutcases like Mason and Dennison.
Do you think GenTech should be closed down?
KATA: (whistles) Man, I don't know. The emotional part of me says yeah, but let's get real for a minute: we're talking about a multi-trillion dollar corporation here. They've got labs and research facilities on every single colonized world and moon – they even own a few of those moons outright – and they're the biggest business empire to have ever existed. There was this founding computer corporation a thousand years or so back called Microsoft. I don't know if anyone except computer junkies like me or classicists would know that name now, so I wouldn't be surprised if you've never heard of it, but it was huge in its day.
ME: I think our readers are probably more familiar with it than you might think.
KATA: Well, anyway, compared to GenTech, Microsoft's just a little corner shop in a sleepy village somewhere. Plus, GenTech is also the source of cloned organs and just about anything else a person needs for transplants. If you take that away, what about the hundreds of thousands of people waiting for life-saving surgery? You know, if we—okay, to take an example, there are kids dying of leukemia and desperate for some cloned bone marrow from GenTech, so if the company shuts up shop, what do you tell those little kids? What do you tell their parents? "Sorry, but some people in GenTech did some bad stuff to me and my friend. I know your innocent child didn't have anything to do with that and doesn't even know about it, but that doesn't matter; we've already decided to take out the best chance of survival he/she has because of what a few people did to us?" That's before we get into the tens of millions of jobs that would be lost.
TAU: They can find new jobs.
KATA: It's not quite that easy, Tau. So my thoughts on GenTech closing down are a bit like my thoughts on dropping a nuclear bomb into an active volcano. Part of me really wants to do it, just to see how big the explosion would be, but the consequences for tens – if not hundreds – of millions of people would be horrific, so I hope it never happens.
Tau, how do you think you will cope in a new environment?
TAU: (shrugs) I don't know. I learned to cope in the labs just fine. The outside world can't be all that different.
KATA: Yeah, I think once we're safely back, we can focus on taking everything as it comes.
Do you believe that you could ever become 'human'?
TAU: Why would I want to be? Humans use pain when they're angry. (Pause) Or trying to teach you something. (Pause) Or bored.
KATA: Not all humans are like that, Tau.
TAU: The ones I met are. If becoming human means I have to start hurting other people, then I don't want to become human.
KATA: Of course, if we're talking from a legal perspective, then I doubt it. Projects aren't even slaves; they're livestock. Asking if Tau can ever become human is exactly the same as asking if a cow or a dog could ever become human. People can't get their heads around that concept and, frankly, I think most of them would be pretty alarmed at the suggestion.
And that's all we've got time for now. If anyone reading this has any questions for the characters, or me, feel free to ask away in the comments!