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Interview with James Breakwell

We talk with James Breakwell about raspberry flavoured artificial intelligences, and how important it is to not drink and jump.

James Breakwell is best known for his exploding unicorns, and he’s also the author of The Chosen Twelve.
First of all, thank you for taking the time! Your book will be published soon, so let’s talk about The Chosen Twelve. The blurb for your book mentioned quite a few references. I’m familiar with the books and authors listed there, but I’m curious: Where do you think does Philip K Dick fit into your narrative?

Phillip K. Dick was known for stories that questioned the nature of reality. That comes into play in my book with the Table, a virtual reality simulator that’s supposed to train the children to build a new human civilization. In reality, all it teaches them to do is create uniquely awful apocalypses. The simulation runs at an accelerated time frame to cover hundreds or even thousands of years (on those rare instances when the kids don’t instantly bring about total catastrophe), but while in the simulator, the kids experience it in what seems like real time. The process is so hard on the mind that human beings are only supposed to do a few hundred hours of it in their entire lives, but these children have been through tens of thousands of hours of it. Also, they can somehow go through the accelerated time scale of virtual reality while talking with other kids outside the simulation without interruption. Such a feat should be impossible, yet they do it daily. There is something very wrong with these children.

Well, as a father of two, I can practically vouch for the fact that there is generally always something strange about children. Sometimes, I think they’re out to get me. Apropos, that “everything is out to kill me” feeling in the outer halls – I was reminded of the movie Pandorum. Have you ever seen it, and what movies did inspire your vision of the mining base on the moon?

I haven’t seen Pandorum, but everything in the halls definitely could be deadly. If anything, the base reminds me of the Ridley Scott Alien movie series. The halls are empty and falling apart, but at any moment, you could die. It’s a super fun place to hang out.

It’s basically a trip to Disneyland! Without the fun costumes and singing, probably, but with more artificial intelligence! And your artificial intelligences are really snarky, competitive and aggressive. Did you always plan them this way, or was it just the way they evolved? (I love them, by the way)

The weird behavior of the AIs was a core feature right from the start. If the AIs got along, the moon base wouldn’t be falling apart, and the robot intelligences would have been able to come up with some plan to get out of their predicament. But they can’t because they’re all fighting their own petty battles. I think that’s more realistic for how AIs would function in real life. Intelligent humans seldom get along. Just go to any college faculty meeting. I don’t know why AIs would be any different.

I think you’re right, taking into account that all those artificial intelligences where, at some time, created by humans, maybe in their likeness, like God created Adam in his likeness. Speaking of which : I found your takes on religion interesting. Mostly what Zeta said, but as a caffeine addict I strongly believe in the God of the coffee machine (in my case, first floor). What are your takes on religion?

I think there is an insatiable human drive to believe in something greater than ourselves. For many people, that’s a traditional religion. For people who reject religion, it ends up being politics or environmentalism or some other cause. To function, we need core beliefs that we hold above all else and defend with everything we have. There’s a reason human beings have been fighting religious wars for all of recorded history. It doesn’t matter the religion. Humans are humans, and we don’t like our sense of purpose to be questioned. Zeta was my way of getting at that in the book.

It fits well, I think. Although I believe religious wars are mostly arguments about whose imaginative friend is the coolest that gotten way out of hand. Maybe I should stop thinking, but I already did it, about your novel. For me, the take away of your story was that we as humans are on one side too dependent on our technology, leaving us vulnerable to failures of that technology, while on the other side that primal animal fighting instincts are still bubbling, one survival competition away, ready to show our nasty side. Is there anything you would like to tell your readers in case they missed it?

All beliefs are malleable. The one thing we believe in above all else is our own survival, and we tend to modify our morals to fit that end. It takes a rare individual to push past the instinct for self-preservation and put others before themselves.

We’re probably still the most lethal animal on the planet. Talking about lethality and poisons – what is your favourite drink or cocktail, if you have any? Something vaguely cherry flavoured?

I’m not a big fan of drinks with flavor. They go down too easy, and then bad things happen, often involving a trampoline. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

Of course not! (Takes a suspicious look at the trampoline outside his own window.)

When flavoring is involved, I’m more of a blue raspberry guy. That’s why I couldn’t make the rations vaguely blue raspberry flavored. That sounds delicious to me. I needed something that was less appealing. My go-to drink right now is vodka on the rocks. I let the ice melt a little first. Good vodka is supposed to taste like water, anyway. Bad vodka with actual water tastes exactly the same. I’m a cheap date.

I think the cost mostly depends on the amount of vodka needed until you break out the trampoline, but what do I know. Anyway, thank you for taking the time, it really was a pleasure!

Vodka Martini

Vodka is a very pure spirit. If you want to add some flavour without entering the dangerously cherry flavoured, trampoline infested grounds, this simple recipe might do:

  • 4 cl vodka
  • 2 cl martini extra dry

Shake it, put it in a nice glass, maybe add a lemon zest if you’re feeling fancy. Or a cherry – I won’t judge you.

By Stefan

father of two, not enough time to read everything I want to read

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