Exclusive Interview: “Hamlet, Prince Of Robots” Author M. Darusha Wehm


To some, Shakespeare and science fiction must seem like strange bedfellows. And yet, they’ve come together on more than one occasion: from Isaac Asimov’s classic story “The Immortal Bard” (available in The Complete Stories, Vol. 1) to the movies Forbidden Planet and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The latest of which is Hamlet, Prince Of Robots (hardcover, Kindle), a retelling of Shakespeare’s titular play by writer M. Darusha Wehm. In the following email interview, Wehm discusses what prompted them to write this tale, as well as who — aside from The Bard — influenced it.

M. Darusha Wehm Hamlet Prince Of Robots

Photo Credit: Steven Ensslen


To start, what is Hamlet, Prince Of Robots about, and when and where does it take place?

It is definitely what it says on the tin. The story is that of the original Hamlet: the scion of an empire mourns the death of his father, to discover that he may have been murdered by the new ruler. Angst ensues. But in this case, the empire is a future cybernetics corporation rather than the Danish monarchy.

So did you start out wanting to write a sci-fi version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” or just a science fiction version of some Shakespeare play, or did you have an idea for a story and then realize it was basically “Hamlet” with robots, so you just ran with it?

I’ve always loved “Hamlet,” and I’d been watching a bunch of different interpretations of the play when I mentioned to my partner offhand that what I really wanted to do was write a version of “Hamlet” with androids. To his credit, my partner’s response was an incredulous, “Well, why don’t you, then?” So I did.

Why did you think a sci-fi version of “Hamlet” would work?

Some of my favorite Shakespeare interpretations have been radically different from their original settings, and I’ve long thought that the themes in “Hamlet” of self-discovery fit really well with the science fictional conceit of “machines…but with feelings!” I think the concept of Hamlet, Prince Of Robots has probably been in my head for a really long time, but it’s only now that I finally got it down in words.

Given all of this, does someone need to be familiar with “Hamlet” to enjoy, or even understand, Hamlet, Prince Of Robots? Because I haven’t read it since high school, and that was the mid-’80s. And I’m not even sure I did read it. I know I was supposed to, but that doesn’t mean anything. It was the ’80s. And I was in high school.

I also was assigned “Hamlet” in high school, but I definitely read it.

I tried to make this version as self-contained as possible, and I’ve seen reviews where the reader wasn’t familiar with the original and followed the story just fine. There are a couple of plot moments that come directly from the original where a modern reader might possibly struggle with suspending their disbelief, though.

Aside from William Shakespeare, are there any writers who you think had a big influence on Hamlet, Prince Of Robots?

I had read the novelization of the original “Hamlet” by A.J. Hartley and David Hewson, which made me realize this kind of thing was even possible. Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead was also a definite and direct influence.

What about non-literary influences; was Hamlet, Prince Of Robots influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?

You bet! There’s an incredible video game called Elsinore by Golden Glitch where you play as a time-looping Ophelia as she tries to stop everyone from dying (spoilers!). There are also a few nods to a scene in the TV adaptation of Good Omens and to a certain Disney film about the child of a murdered king.

What about the movie Forbidden Planet, which was loosely based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”?

I’ve never seen it.

It’s super good. And it has Leslie Nielsen back when he was a serious actor. Anyway, as you know, sci-fi novels are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes part of larger sagas. What is Hamlet, Prince Of Robots?

While the movie Hamlet 2 is hilarious, and I highly recommend it, this particular version of “Hamlet” is a stand-alone. I have toyed with the idea of science fiction versions of other Shakespeare plays, but nothing is underway at the moment.

Now, along with Hamlet, Prince Of Robots, you also have a novelette called “A Ghost Of A Chance” in the anthology Twilight Imperium: The Stars Beyond. People can learn more about that book from the interview I did with its editor, Charlotte Llewelyn-Wells, but for people who hate clicking things, what is that story about?

It is essentially Groundhog Day, but as a first contact story. Twilight Imperium is a wild space opera universe with cool aliens and the shadow of a war, and this story deals with the first encounter with one of the stranger aliens, The Creuss, who are characterized by the other races as ghosts. In the story, the Mentak pirate ship that first meets them gets destroyed in an epic space battle that then starts all over again. And again.

Twilight Imperium is a sci-fi strategy board game. And “A Ghost Of A Chance” is not the first story you’ve written that’s set in someone else’s fictional universe. You previously wrote both the novel The Qubit Zirconium [which you can read more about here] and the short story “Wibble And Pplimz: Investigators For Hire” based on the sci-fi board game Keyforge. How do you think writing stories in other people’s universes, with all the restrictions that implies, influences what you do in your own work?

I love writing in existing universes. It’s so much fun to play in worlds that already have established rules and lore, and get to expand on what’s already been done. It’s kind of like writing formal poetry — the restriction of the form lets me be freer with the areas I do have control over while keeping things from running amok.

I asked earlier if Hamlet, Prince Of Robots had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around and ask if you think Hamlet, Prince Of Robots could work as a movie, show, or game?

I would love to see a filmed or staged version of Hamlet, Prince Of Robots. I image that filmed would probably be ideal, since some of the android scenes would benefit from good special effects that a stage play wouldn’t be likely to pull off.

And if someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast as Hamlet, Horatio, and the other main characters?

I don’t usually cast my characters when I’m writing, but in this case several of the cast came to me clearly. Sometimes I even heard their voices. In my head, [The X-Files‘] Gillian Anderson is Gertrude, Tilda Swinton [Doctor Strange] is Claudia, [Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings‘] Simu Liu is Horatio, and Andy Allo [Pitch Perfect 3] is Ophelia. I have trouble casting Hamlet for some reason, though you wouldn’t go wrong with [Dune‘s] Timothée Chalamet.

So, is there anything else you think people need to know about Hamlet, Prince Of Robots?

Because it is based scene-for-scene on the play, without any added events, it’s a short read. And while I haven’t made any changes that you couldn’t account for in the original dialogue, it’s definitely not a classic interpretation, so even folks very familiar with the play can expect a few surprises.

M. Darusha Wehm Hamlet Prince Of Robots

Finally, if someone enjoys Hamlet, Prince Of Robots, what sci-fi reworking of someone else’s story would you suggest they read next?

Retellings are having a moment right now, so there are a lot out there. I really enjoyed the recent novella I Never Liked You Anyway by Jordan Kurella, which is the Orpheus and Eurydice myth from Eurydice’s perspective. It’s very much a contemporary reworking of the story, but with all the original characters, so it has some similarities with Hamlet, Prince of Robots in that regard. [For more on I Never Liked You Anyway, check out this interview with Jordan Kurella.]



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