Joseph Halden’s story “Time and Grace” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 26 June 2020.
I’m always interested in our relationship with technology, and the specific ways it influences our connections to each other. The specific idea for this story, however, was planted when I was travelling for work, in a new rental vehicle every time. It was a lonely period of my life. I was in grad school and commuting to different experiments, in places where I hardly knew anyone. The scenery and places that I visited in and around California’s bay area were spectacular. Although I tried to enjoy the ride, it was hard to have no one to share it with.
Throughout my trips I mused about people’s relationships with their vehicles, as well as how vehicles are becoming increasingly intelligent. They become comforting homes, a familiar refuge when everything around us changes. Listening to familiar songs, even sitting in a familiar seat, can be very calming when there are few constants. I started to imagine a road trip with an artificial intelligence to keep a person company, and if that might be one area of people’s lives where artificial intelligence might be more welcome than others, because of the strong person-vehicle relationship that exists within the North American cultural mythos. These ideas all came before home assistants, or even voice commands on smartphones.
Road trips have a certain mystique about them, but as notions of self-driving cars began permeating the technological landscape, I realized my original vision of a more traditional North American road trip might not be something that would even exist once we had artificial intelligences in cars. I needed to come up with a scheme where someone on a trip would be forced to consider their surroundings, rather than tune out and wait to reach their destination.
I wanted to explore some of the loss that can be engendered by new technology, and I thus created Grace Soh, one of a select few who still used the rapid highways, and who most pointedly felt such a loss. In our technophilic society, it can be very easy to adopt new creations without being mindful of what we might be transformed as a result. Grace embodies that tendency to race ahead without paying attention.
The rest is… well, in the story’s veins. I have to thank Mary Robinette Kowal for her great initial feedback on the story during the Odyssey Writing Workshop, as well as many others who helped shape the story into what it is.
Oh, one more fun fact: I use Alvus as a persona in many stories where I have an AI, and I’m thrilled he fit so well into this one.
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