This week we’re celebrating the launch of CROOKED V.1 with author interviews!
Mark Niemann-Ross is an author, educator, and chicken wrangler living in Portland, Oregon. He teaches “R” — a programming language, and “Raspberry Pi” — a small computer used for the Internet of Things. Both topics influence his writing, which fits solidly in the genre of “Hard Science Fiction.”
Mark co-authored his first story in 2005 with Richard A. Lovett in Analog, Science Fiction and Fact. Since then, he has published additional stories in Analog and Stupefying Stories, has self-published two collections, and collaborated on a children’s book. Most recently, Mark published Stupid Machine, a science fiction murder mystery solved by a refrigerator.
Mark’s website: niemannross.com
Tell us a bit about your story (and the story world, if applicable).
Araci Belo lives in our world, only slightly further downstream in the cosmic timeline. It’s entirely possible he’s already been born – or will be soon. Unlike you and I, he’s going to live through the Portland earthquake and see Portland rebuilt as a modernized city.
The technology he uses isn’t mind-boggling. It’s just a linear extrapolation of what we have today. You and I will recognize his world in the same way our parents recognize our world. Devices have a familiar form, but there’s always a sense of something impossible about them.
I write hard science fiction where the laws of physics still rule. In Hot Meal, I spent a lot of time researching how an oven would explode. If the FBI chooses to audit my search history, they will find incriminating questions such as “Do propane tanks explode?” … or “How much propane does it take to blow up a kitchen?” … or “air fuel mixture requirement for propane vs hydrogen”. You may see the problem I will face.
Both “Stupid Machine” and “Hot Meal” revolve around events in a kitchen. I think it’s a terrifying place: sharp knives, explosives, burning oil. Just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it’s safe. Coupled with the emerging (emerging is a euphemism for unknown) addition of artificial intelligence to these weapons of destruction… I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
I’ve been careful to write my artificial intelligence as different than the “human in a box.” Machines have different motivations and behaviors than humans. Persistence, for one. Machines continue to do a task long after humans get bored and move on to the next shiny object. Look up “persistence hunting,” then watch “It Follows.” Now are you worried?
What was the inspiration behind this story?
I seem to be exploring chaos at the edge of technology. Quality assurance engineers are employed to find these problems – and we continue to invent new ways to keep them busy. Anywhere two technologies touch, there is potential for unexpected behavior. Like genetic mutations, most are benign. Like genetic mutations, some are deadly. Who would have guessed light bulbs would provide hackers with entry points to the internet?
I’m also fascinated by the commercialization of basic human needs. Food and water have always been a source of commerce. Health and social interaction are the current darling of capitalism. Our nature is to control these assets – I perceive this drive to control as a rich ground for misbehavior.
If you could travel to any science fictional world, where would you go and what would you do?
I’m living in it! Michael Crichton would find inspiration for “Andromeda Strain” in today’s world of COVID-19. What would I do? Get vaccinated, wear a mask, cry like a baby and try to become acidotic.
What are some of your favorite sci-fi crime books or stories?
My guilty pleasure is E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “The Lensmen.” It doesn’t age well – but it’s a roller coaster. Read it before you see Star Wars.
What authors have inspired your writing?
Daniel H. Wilson. I’m inspired by his take on robots and their motivations. I remember him discussing “Terminator” and how the robots would throw their opponents across the room. He asserted robots killer robots would instead try to get as close as possible to dismember opponents. I recommend “Robopocalypse” for insight into how true killer robots would behave.
What are you working on next?
I’m haunted by two other short stories that insist on being written. One has to do with the difficulty of maintaining a relationship when partners don’t share the same circadian rhythm. The other has to do with dissociative memory. They barged into the queue ahead of Stupid Machine Two, which is probably a science fiction murder mystery CAUSED by a refrigerator.