Drawing The Uncanny Valley Club: Scenes in Colour Chapter One

During downtime between drafts of The Uncanny Valley Club, I took to making drawings of scenes from the book, usually one or two drawings per chapter. Drawing was an easy way to keep engaged with the stories and themes in the book—which helped maintain continuity of the storylines when I came back to them.

They were simple drawings, I had no plans to show them, so no planning went into them other than seeking out a scene that stood out, and drawing it, then digitally enhancing it. Looking back on them now, I quite like some of them and so thought I’d share one occasionally along with its scene.

This first drawing is from chapter one.

A loud, hollow thump comes to Henry’s attention from across the circuit. A pedestrian lies on the road—with arms spread out and legs stiffened in fright, Jesus-style—stalling the honking traffic. A woman bends a knee to the road by the pedestrian’s side, to help, and shouts threats at the receding self-drive while holding her phone high to record its cold-hearted retreat.

A crowd gathers, drawn to an opportunity to air grievances, and they, too, reach out with their phones, as though in a synchronised Nazi salute, to film the self-drive as it tootles down the road, off and away, without a care. The entire shenanigans a result of the self-drive having selected the path of least damage: up the curb, onto the footpath, and neatly into a lone and oblivious pedestrian—thump.

The Uncanny Valley Club— a fictional look at how the way we treat robots might influence the way we treat each other.

It’s been eight years in the works, and The Uncanny Valley Club is finally done and dusted and set free in the world. I say robots above, but it’s essentially about sexbots. And, I’m going to say (bravely) I’m quite proud of this book. The characters have come to life and are now quite real to me—and I’m quite fond of them. The last few drafts really brought them to life, and the good scrub and polish given to it by Lindsay Corten (Corten Editorial) has taken away any fears I might have had about the book.

But mostly, I feel like I’ve written the book that has given me a chance to say what I’ve wanted to say. Why Robots? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about relationships with robots (or sexbots) and it stirred up my long-time interest in, and anxieties about (which started in my uni days) cyborgs and Bladerunner type stories. Before long I found myself deep in a research tunnel that led me to explore the way interactions with sexbots might change how we humans would relate to each other. The result is this new book, The Uncanny Valley Club.

Within the wider look at sexbots I’ve cheekily indulged in a thread that allows for some of my research to come to light, that being the interesting fact that traditionally people who identify as male are more likely (statistically) to be interested in the creation of robots in the image of humans, than in cyborg robotics or enhancement type robotics (cyborg engineering) which is more likely to be the domain of women. This has allowed for a really fun tension between female and male roboticists in the story, and for some explosive events.

On the face of, it’s a speculative fiction novel set in mid-21st Century—yes, not too far from now, but the focus is on relationships with robots, think The Stone Gods (Jeanette Winterson), or Machines Like Me (Ian McEwan). The story follows Henry King as he dabbles with the idea of using a sex doll to treat a medical condition. The deeper themes take a look at our relationship with a world of self-drive cars and artificial intelligence. It asks the question, can the way we treat robots influence the way we treat each other? And by extension, can the way we treat each other online, change how we treat each other in reality.

The book has been in the making for eight years. Not eight solid writing years, but on and off, with long periods of inaction due to ill health, on my part, putting it on ice for years at a time. (At times I couldn’t read a sentence let alone write one, and at one point decided I’d not write again.) But here we are with the book finished.

Blurb: Henry King manages Quinn Corp, a robotics company, but he’d rather spend his time with his vintage car, and his house full of vintage memorabilia. He often chases down the self-drive cars to nudge them off the road causing them to spin off into a kerbside crash. When Henry purchases a sex robot to treat a medical condition—at the encouragement of his friend Vince, who owns his own sex doll, and his therapist, who is a sex doll salesman—it changes who he is, how he feels about himself, and how he treats the women in his life. Henry struggles in his life trying to connect the two worlds of robots and humans, fiction and reality, lust and hate, until it all comes falling apart for him in The Uncanny Valley Club. Set in the mid-21st century, The Uncanny Valley Club asks the question, can the way we treat robots influence the way we treat each other? And by extension, can the way we treat each other online, change how we treat each other in reality. Treading the psychological path between human and robot relationships, The Uncanny Valley Club is a fast-paced speculative fiction novel by Julie Proudfoot, author of The Neighbour and winner of the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. 

–a split-second pink flash…Moira Burke on detail

Losing It, Moira Burke. Text, 1998.

Losing it is written in the rare, second-person style. This, and the sparse punctuation and stream-of-consciousness manner force you to read quickly, forcing you to tumble over your words. It’s engaging, and addictive, and Moira Burke’s beautiful way of getting inside the detail has the words exploding on the page

“…you’re going to training on a blue train. You’re standing in the open doorway letting the wind come in bringing with it the soft drizzle in bursts. The train’s going over the bridge between Macaulay and Flemington and you look down, down to the wet black street the wet red houses and suddenly there’s a black wet tree. Blossoms all over it shining pink and wet swooping out of nowhere down below, the trains going fast its only a flash a wet flash from nowhere, the trains riding fast, bumpy, you’re in the open doors looking down going over the bridge a split-second pink flash and you go oh! And lean out to keep seeing it, it’s made a print in you like a photo all bright and black outlies in rainshine but it’s gone, gone.” (121)

Particularly engaging for me are the references to 80s Melbourne. Josie’s family holidays in Queenscliff, she hangs out in Melbourne train stations, and she frequents bars with names I remember seeing, or going to—I feel like I’ve even bumped into Josie–that’s how good she is at drawing you in. For me it sits up there with other coming of age stories written in teenage-speak style that we all know, Puberty blues, Catcher in the rye, The Incredible Here and Now.

Losing It was published in 1998, and re-released in 2017 as a part of Text’s campaign to support Australian authors.

For a comprehensive review see my page Agnes Water-books reviewed

Word Play

You know that I love a great messing around with words, right? The opening passages from The God of Small Things are just dripping with it. Lots of alliteration, lots of rhyming syllables, lots of  repetition of strong sounds and individual letters: K/C, J, F, B. And the sentences oscillate and create a rhythm that is musical!

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpains and die, fatly baffled in the sun.

But by early June the south-west monsoon breaks and there are three months of wind and water with short spells of sharp, glittering sunshine that thrilled children snatch to play with. The countryside turns an immodest green. Boundaries blur as tapioca fences take root and bloom. Brick walls turn mossgreen. Pepper vines snake up electric poles. Wild creepers burst through laterite banks and spill across the flooded roads. oats ply in the bazaars. And small fishappear in the puddles that fill the PWD potholes on the highways. (From Page 1 of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Booker prize winner)

The more you know…The Author-Narrator-Character Merge

 

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I’m in my happy place when I’m with a good book on writerly devices, and I love to experiment with what I have learnt and attempt to incorporate that into whatever I’m working on, just for the fun of it, but there is a downside to this, I can’t unknow things that I have learnt. I can’t write and ignore great advice, can I?

I recently read The Author-Narrator-Character Merge: Why Many First-Time Novelists Wind Up With Flat, Uninteresting Protagonists, an essay by Frederick Reiken. I definitely don’t feel like I have an uninteresting protagonist in The Neighbour, after all, people either love him or hate him, no in between, but it’s an element of writing that I don’t think I have thought about.

Reiken states that a writer will often fail to distinguish between, and keep separate, the author, the narrator, and the protagonist.

Understanding this separation is easier with first person narrative, there is the author, there is the narrator who is a character separate from the author, and there are characters in the story. In regard to third person narratives it becomes more complex. Reiken refers to psychic distance between a narrator and character- an idea put forward first by John Gardener. The division between author, narrator, and character is much more complex and there you get more into an author’s own style and the varying degrees of psychic distance, the idea of which requires more space and thought than I can dedicate here, but I urge you to seek out this article and give it a close read. Perhaps I might tease it out in another post soon.

I’m pleased to say (if you’ve read The Neighbour you’ll understand why I’m pleased :)) that I went to great lengths, many many drafts, to create a character that had nothing of me, the author, in him and the style is more what is called Free Indirect Discourse. Free Indirect Discourse has the narrator reporting the thoughts and dialogue of the character. The narrator reports all that the character does, sees and feels almost as if the narrator is the character, except she is still that third person. I feel this style gives the reader more access to the thoughts and feelings of the character and is a more engaging read.

If you are a fan of writing this way you are in good company, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen were all fans of Free Indirect Discourse. But this idea of the Author-Narrator-Character Merge is an element of writing that will forever be on my mind when I’m writing, I can’t unknow it!

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