I recently had the chance to talk to indie author C. D. Travenor about his novel First of Their Kind. This book tells the story of the first Synthetic Intelligence (SI) and their journey as they learn to navigate the world. I want to jump right in with a question that I was curious about from the beginning. I know you have a legal background so I wasn’t surprised to see a lot of legal references in the book regarding an SI’s personhood. You didn’t go into the details in the book, but what would be the legal argument for this. I’m specially thinking of Theren’s inheritance in Wallace’s will and becoming the CEO of SII.
Oh, starting off with a fantastically specific question. I don’t go into detail because usually, court cases make for dreadfully boring fiction! But maybe I’ll do some flash fiction and/or short fiction of this some day. I imagine it like this–After Theren is named in Wallace’s Will, they enter into court battles to validate their claim under the Will. A court (presumably in Switzerland) would need to validate their personhood, but all it takes is one jurisdiction for that to happen. If the country where Theren lives recognizes them, then it doesn’t matter what other countries think regarding their personhood–until they encounter their legal systems.
Thus, in creating a corporation (SII), if its incorporated in the nation first recognizing their personhood, no problems!
I understand why you wouldn’t want to include all of those details in the book, but I personally find it fascinating, so thanks for sharing them here. You touch on a lot of hot button items in this story, with gender identity being the most prevalent. I was wondering what role do you think these issues have to play in sci-fi and do you feel an obligation to include them in the story?
Science fiction, at its core, is about people reacting and interacting to technology or speculative circumstances and the resulting implications. Sometimes this occurs on an individual scale; other times, it occurs on a societal level.
The science fiction genre has evolved over the past two centuries. Many literary historians would probably argue Shelley’s “Frankenstein” was the first significant science fiction novel of the modern era, with Jules Verne, HP Lovecraft, and HG Wells bridging the gap to the “Golden Age” of science fiction in the 50s – 70s, when writers like Asimov, Herbert, and Le Guin made their marks.
Their stories deal with people reacting or interacting with technology in some form, whether it’s Shelley’s “What if we could bring a person back to life?” or Herbert’s “What if humanity lived in a far distant future where we’ve rejected computers entirely?” or Verne’s “What if we made a giant submarine that sailed around underwater?” It’s about the human experience. Or, as in First of Their Kind, about the experience of a person who is technology experiencing humanity.
And what’s more human than someone’s gender identity? When I first conceived of First of Their Kind and its main character, Theren, I struggled with writing the story true to their nature. But if I was to take their personhood seriously, I needed to consider the question of gender through a realistic lens. While for humans, our society has linked gender and sex (though there’s great psychological evidence they shouldn’t be), for an SI, that link makes no sense. Theren’s gender decisions, then, made logical sense–as do the choices of SIs to follow.
AndI hope, when readers watch Theren analyze their own identity, they’ll recognize the complicated emotions and thoughts real people around them might go through when dealing with conflicting thoughts about gender identity. If science fiction deals with reaction and interaction to technology, pushing gender identity simply extends what science fiction has been trying to do for centuries. And I’m certainly not the first author to do this–Le Guin explored gender identities in The Left Hand of Darkness over fifty years ago.
I couldn’t agree more and it’s one of the reason that I love the science fiction genre so much. I don’t think it gets enough credit for making people think about real world problems and issues while still being entertaining. Theren’s struggles are such a great example of that. Like his goal to integrate SI’s into the workforce. So I have to know, would you want to work alongside an SI?
Yes! If anything, it would be an incredible opportunity to work alongside people with completely different perspectives on the world. The question you pose is an important one, in the sense that it hits home on a real issue in our world today. Many workplaces are very homogenous, when it comes to the diversity of perspectives, experiences, races, classes, etc. We still live in incredibly segregated societies.
But people benefit immensely from working and living alongside people with different experiences from their own. I think we should always encourage diversity whenever possible, not only because it breaks down institutional barriers and lifts people up, but because it’s beneficial to everyone involved. It helps make a better society.
As a working mom and writer, one of the things that I found myself wishing for was the multiple perspectives that Jill and Theren are able to use. If you had multiple perspectives like Jill and Theren, what would you use them for?
What a question! If the idea of simultaneous perspective didn’t hurt my mind, I’d 100% use them to write all of the book ideas stuck in my head. Imagine being able to write five books at once!
What can readers expect from you in the future? What project are you most excited about right now?
Well, everyone who has read First of Their Kind needs to read its sequel, Their Greatest Game. But also–First of Their Kind has a secret little prequel titled Before Inferno (It’s free!) which might flip everything on its head regarding the direction of the series as a whole.
As for the project I’m most excited for? I recently finished the third draft of what I like to call my “secret climate fantasy project.” The Chronicles of Theren are my slowly building, multi-year series, but my secret climate fantasy project will make a huge splash (I hope) when I finish it. I don’t plan on releasing the series until all five of its books are complete.
But if readers are looking for an immediate taste of my writing in the fantasy genre, I have a novella series titled The Compendium. Its first book, Legacy of Light, released in December, and its sequel releases in April!
I’ve been following your progress on twitter and I for one also can’t wait to read your “secret climate fantasy project.” I always like to end on this question, if readers could only take one thing away from your story what would you want it to be?
I hope they open their mind to considering different ways to view and experience the world. In people’s reactions to First of Their Kind, the most significant divide comes from people’s ability–or inability–to connect with Theren as a person. The fact people find it difficult to connect with them actually helps illustrate part of the story’s themes–characters in the story react to Theren’s existence in a multiplicity of ways. Some readers have found Theren wonderful and intriguing; others have found their annoying or unlikeable–still others have found their voice illustrative of trauma and tragedy, constantly reacting to the death of their father.
I encourage readers to closely consider why they do or do not like Theren–or Jill. If they struggle to connect with them, ask whether that experience actually emphasizes the story’s themes. I don’t fault anyone who doesn’t like Theren–or the book–because I fully don’t expect everyone to embrace them. That’s all right. If people are thinking about Theren and their nature–and why they do or do not like them–then I achieved what I hoped in writing First of Their Kind.
Connect with C. D. Travenor