Karris Rae’s story “My Synthetic Soul” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 7 January 2022.
The unwitting “changeling robot” was constant from the start, but it definitely morphed through the writing process. Originally, I envisioned a romantic companion robot watching television with her male owner, when she sees an ad featuring a celebrity identical to her. Through the story, she’d learn that she was created by a rabid fan in the celebrity’s image. She’d struggle to differentiate between parts of her sexuality belonging to her and those programmed by someone else. What aspects of a woman’s sexuality are innate, and which parts are conditioned by society and male partners?
When I started writing, though, I was bored with the hetero relationship dynamics from the start. A lot of fiction wrestles with themes of troubled romance, and I didn’t want to just throw something onto the pile. I wanted to explore a different kind of connection. Thus, the sisters were born.
I saw a great opportunity for contrast in a tech-savvy older sister and a free-spirited younger one. The older would have to be rigid, unable to let go of the past even while she forges the future in her work. Probably emotionally maladjusted. Otherwise, she’d be able to move on after her sister’s death. The younger would have to represent something the older couldn’t make or rationalize for herself — softness, whimsy, laughter (the same things we spent our straight-laced adulthoods envying of our childhood selves).
These roles assign unexpected traits to our human and robot characters. The human becomes the unemotional, analytical one and the robot (gynoid, now) becomes the creative, free one. It’s the opposite of the usual dynamic, so I leaned into it. As I’d hoped, this angle gives the word “human” an interesting fluidity in the story.
Then, if we’re already getting a little weird, why not play with the obvious “what does it mean to be human” direction too? Why not ask something Star Trek didn’t already nail almost forty ago? Like… “what does it mean to have a soul? And does it have anything to do with being human?”
Starting with a single idea and asking these questions is my writing process, and I can get far before writing the first word. The writing is just a field test, making sure everything works in practice as well as in concept. Inevitably, some things don’t! But if I recognize when it’s not working and stay flexible, the story comes together.
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