By Jhon Sánchez
Last September, while I had my breakfast, I listened to “The Giant Robot and The Author’s Wife,” a short story written by Adam-Troy Castro. Even though I had always been curious about his life in Florida, his wife, Judi, and his ‘trio of chaotic paladin cats,’ the story of a giant killer robot in a middle of a city triggers many questions and doubles my curiosity. I assigned the story for a workshop I teach for GMHC.
After an animated discussion about it, I decided to contact Adam-Troy Castro for a short interview. I crossed my fingers and sent an email. He replied, saying that he would be happy to talk to me.
Adam, many thanks for taking the time.
JS: In class, we wondered about the giant robot’s meaning. Some of my students said the robot is the Pandemic; others said that it refers to police brutality; others said that you were talking of death always out there waiting for any of us. Is this story an allegory? Did you intend to address those issues when you wrote the story? How do you feel when people assign a symbol to one of your characters?
ATC: I find these interpretations fascinating, and must pour water on the enthusiasm of the student who posited the robot a stand-in for the pandemic. As clever as this theory is, it becomes impossible when you consider the length of time it takes to write a story, to sell it, and for the story to work its way through the publication pipeline and then see print, which in the case of the magazine that published this is more than a year; to wit, I wrote the tale in late 2019, before the pandemic was a glimmer in fate’s cruel eye. The story is no specific allegory for anything but the death that looms for us all, that we all must ignore in order to endure a life in the time we have, though here it plays out as the massive threats that of necessity become background noises while we live in their shadow: hurricanes in Florida (where I live), earthquakes in San Francisco. COVID would be another one for all of us, I guess.
JS: You wrote, “I did not understand then that every time the giant robot selected somebody, a sizable deposit was made to the city’s treasury and that some of it was earmarked to the victim’s immediate survivors…” Is this a critique of a system where we trade death for money?
ATC: This was world-building, a reason to edge the threat in the position of an accepted status quo, which affects many of the dangers we have to worry about, where there’s always somebody who makes money. Think among other things of oil companies simultaneously denying climate change while bragging to their stockholders about the opened northwest passage meaning great opportunities for new sea routes, fighting the adoption of new energy sources even as the seas rise and the richest stockholders buy up land in the places that will be left. Here, it’s just to provide some grotesquery: yea, it kills somebody every day, but hey, taxes are low.
JS: Your story made me think that we’re accustomed to violence. Can you comment on that?
ATC: We are not accustomed to violence. We are accustomed to violence happing to the next guy. Nobody whose kid has been murdered is a mass school shooting is against some form of gun control, but the rest of us send thoughts and prayers and then, within minutes, shift our attention to tonight’s installment of The Masked Singer. It very quickly becomes something that happened to someone else, which is another theme of this story.
JS: Let’s talk about the author’s wife’s voice that continuously interrupts the narration. Besides being a great narrative tool and a reminder of the purpose of workshops, don’t you think it’s also the voice of conscience, the voice of ethics that the writer needs to have?
ATC: What it is, at least in the first section, is a more or less accurate transcription of the objections my wife Judi (not Judy), raised when I described the premise of this story. Judi is a terrific story editor who has ushered many a passable story to the next level, with her logical questions; here, she happened to be on the side of the reader who wants an easily-digested explanation (“It’s the harbinger of an alien invasion fleet!”) and a just as pat conclusion (“A brave band of rebels get to the control room and blow it up!”) In the story, her voice – and my responses – fulfill the vital role of every few pages establishing in black and white, via direct questions and answers, what the story is not about, what unanswered questions don’t matter, and what issues the reader really needs to be thinking about. It’s annotation, the advisory not to succumb to various easy explanations. I find it particularly helpful when she asks if the story is really about the narrator’s meeting with the hot girl outside the club. The discussion explains why I could not make that a resolution, why I had to break the couple up just to say, “Okay, this is not what the story is about, either.”
JS: The end is surprising and uplifting in a world marked by tragedy. Why?
ATC: Because we all exist with the sword of Damocles over our heads. In my own life, I could have died a few times, and these are all true stories: the time the amusement park ride’s gears jammed and stopped the mechanism in motion, almost sending me and the other passengers flying into space; the time a load of bricks fell from three stories up and shattered at my feet, while I was passing by; the time the other car T-boned mine but struck my back half instead of the front where I was sitting; the times – multiple – where some car driven by an idiot blindly tried to occupy the space where I was riding my scooter; the time just last year when the rip current caught me and pulled me away from the beach, and I had to fight my way to gasping exhaustion just to feel the soft ooze of a sand bar beneath my feet again. Any one of these incidents, playing out with only slight differences, would have meant the death of me, without warning, and these days that is multiplied by how often I’m in public and walk through one person’s hanging cloud of water droplets, instead of another’s. And there must be others that I don’t even know about, the days I must have stood at a subway platform in view of a guy who was fighting the temptation to give some random stranger a shove, the times when some woolgathering driver woke up just before his vehicle drifted into my lane. Think for thirty seconds and you can think of any number of similar incidents from your own life. Everyone lives on borrowed time, the beneficiary of providential chance that has spared them again and again and again. The difference is that we can see some of these threats looming at length, and ultimately you have to devote part of your energy to just…living.
JS: Many thanks. Yes, we need to devote our energy to just…living.
Adam-Troy Castro made his first non-fiction sale to Spy magazine in 1987. His twenty-six books to date include four Spider-Man novels, three novels about his profoundly damaged far-future murder investigator Andrea Cort, and six middle-grade novels about the dimension-spanning adventures of young Gustav Gloom. Adam’s works have won the Philip K. Dick Award and the Seiun (Japan), and have been nominated for eight Nebulas, three Stokers, two Hugos, one World Fantasy Award, and, internationally, the Ignotus (Spain), the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France), and the Kurd-Laßwitz Preis (Germany). His latest release was the audio collection My Wife Hates Time Travel And Other Stories (Skyboat Media), which features thirteen hours of his fiction, including the new stories “The Hour In Between” and “Big Stupe and the Buried Big Glowing Booger.” Adam lives in Florida with his wife Judi and a trio of chaotic paladin cats.