Exclusive Interview: “Emergent Properties” Author Aimee Ogden


When we think of the things that artificial intelligence might do one day, we usually think of self-driving cars, robot maids, and, uh, world domination. But in Aimee Ogden’s noir-adjacent sci-fi mystery novella Emergent Properties (paperback, Kindle), the main character is an A.I. who works as a journalist. In the following email interview, Ogden discusses what inspired and influenced this plausibly futuristic story.

Aimee Ogden Emergent Properties

To start, what is Emergent Properties about, and when and where does it take place?

Emergent Properties takes place an unspecified century or so in the future, in a world where, through a complicated and fairly recently-developed process, it’s possible to create a general artificial intelligence. It’s just not always possible to get that general artificial intelligence to do what you wanted it for.

The no-spoilers plot is that Scorn, one of those artificial intelligences who works as an investigative journalist, discovers a huge hole in zir memories, dating back almost a full week. Ze has to track down the story that got zem offlined, while also figuring out how to prove to zir’s two mothers / inventors that ze can stand on zir own two (or zero, or six) feet.

Where did you get the idea for Emergent Properties?

Originally, I thought it would be fun to write a murder mystery that was investigated by the murder victim themselves, which meant either a haunting somewhere in the horror or fantasy genres, or that the victim was not entirely human. The next logical jump for me was: What if the victim just downloaded into a new body and went on from there?

And should we read anything into the fact that the AI’s name is Scorn and not Flower or Puppies or even Ridicule?

This didn’t make it into a final draft, but Scorn named zemself after a no-nonsense cat in a children’s book. If the name fits, wear it!

As you previously said, Scorn is an A.I. that loses some of zir’s memories. How hard was it to come up with a plausible reason for a state-of-the-art A.I. to not have automatic memory back-up protocol? I mean, I’m neither state-of-the-art nor an A.I., and I back stuff up all the time.

That was actually one of the easier loose ends for me to tie into this story. This doesn’t give away anything that you don’t find out in the first pages, but Scorn’s missing ten days take place on the Moon. When ze “wakes up” in a server on Earth, zir Moon-based backups mysteriously fail to download. Surely not for any nefarious reason.

Emergent Properties sounds like a sci-fi mystery. Maybe even a noir one. How do you describe it, genre-wise, and why that way?

A sci-fi mystery sounds about right. I think there is some noir-adjacency there; certainly Scorn is a fairly cynical protagonist, and the world ze inhabits can be unpleasant, dismal, and full of pointless loss and destruction. But in zir travels, ze also comes across plenty of beings — technicians, weather stations, even toilet-cleaning drones — who offer kindness or help, and who make that world feel a little less bleak.

Now, Emergent Properties is your third novella after Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters and Local Star. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Born but not on anything else you’ve written?

I think it would be hard to deny that there are some Murderbot fingerprints on this one. But I have to say, I found building a believable near-ish future more difficult than what I’ve done creating far-flung or fantastical universes in my other long work. There’s a lot of background radiation permeating this story from several different authors who have done exciting and interesting work exploring parts of this just-out-of-reach stretch of the future: S.B. Divya, Ray Nayler, José Iriarte, Premee Mohamed, Simone Heller, Malka Older…

What about non-literary influences? Was Emergent Properties influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

When I was a kid, I loved The Thin Man and its sequels; I think that some influence of wanting to grow up to be Nora Charles definitely made its way into the character of Alouette (an artificial intelligence who runs a bar, and also, to some extent, is the bar).

Along with writing, you’re also one of the editors of Translunar Travelers Lounge, which the press materials for Emergent Properties called. “…a magazine of fun and optimistic speculative fiction.” How do you think editing T.T.L. influenced Emergent Properties, if at all? Because reading stuff that’s “fun and optimistic” all day would make me want to write something dark and moody. Or listen to Fudge Tunnel.

What we find optimistic can get surprisingly dark; a story about cannibalizing your abuser, for example. If Emergent Properties is a rebound against anything, it’s probably against the other long work I’ve previously written; I seem to have a curious allergy to sticking to the same genre. Though Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters and Local Star are different in tone and style, they both feature romance, whereas Emergent Properties is mainly focused on the relationship between parents and child. Those other two works also took place far enough in the future where I could build a society mostly from scratch, whereas Emergent Properties required a lot more bridge-building from here to there.

Mystery stories, be they sci-fi or noir or whatever, are sometimes just the first of many for the person trying to solve the mystery. So, is Emergent Properties a stand-alone story or the first in a series for Scorn?

I would certainly love to write more of Scorn’s adventures. Scorn’s lack of attachment to any single body lets me imagine all kinds of places that ze could find zir way into — and all the kinds of mysteries ze might come across there. And I feel that there are also still plenty of interesting threads to pull at in the complicated dynamic between zem and zir family. I also like the idea of Scorn, who has always gone zir own way, sort of moving through the course of Earth’s history diagonally: present for big changes that ze’s aware of more as stories to cover than as movements to participate in. Hopefully, the book does well enough finding an audience that I get the chance.

Earlier I asked if Emergent Properties was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip the script — as you kids probably don’t say anymore — do you think Emergent Properties could work as a movie, TV show, or game?

I think with some judicious editing — Scorn’s time swimming around in servers might be hard to convert to visually engaging screen time, I suspect — Emergent Properties would make for a fun film. Novellas feel much more movie-sized to me than full-length novels do, and this one’s got adventure, it’s got mystery, it’s got funky robots who can change bodies at will (assuming they have enough cash in their bank accounts to cover the cost of a new one). It’s even got a classic “just a little guy” character, who is actually a very large — indeed, a building-sized — guy.

But since Emergent Properties isn’t attached to a larger IP, it might be dangerous to hold my breath on a shot at selling those screen rights. (Though maybe: Investigative Report Artificial Intelligence Barbie? Call me, Mattel.)

If someone other than Mattel decided to make an Emergent Properties movie, though, who would you want them to cast as Scorn and the other main characters?

In my mind, animation would be the way to go — adults deserve cool animation, too — so that some of the data-to-meatspace transitions can be stylized in visually interesting ways. In my mind, the right voice for Scorn is Erika Ishii, a nonbinary actor and D&D live play performer and occasional chaos goblin. Though really, it would be interesting if Scorn had a different voice depending on what body ze was using.

The role of Maman is very much played by a former boss of mine in my head, but, just as with Maman, she’s certainly too busy with her actual work schedule to take on a film role.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Emergent Properties?

I think as long as they know it’s a fun, fast-paced romp about a dogged general machine intelligence with a messy family and a one-way ticket to the Moon to prove zemself — they know enough.

Aimee Ogden Emergent Properties

Finally, if someone enjoys Emergent Properties, which of your other novellas would you suggest they read next?

It depends on what they like about Emergent Properties. If they liked the sense of humor and the action, Local Star is the next closest thing. If they want to read about a different world where the powerful few have limited the futures available to others, and if they don’t mind it being fantasy, my novella “A Half-Remembered World” in the July / August 2023 issue of The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction, features a city built on the back of a dying crab god.



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