Exclusive Interview: “Made To Order” Editor Jonathan Strahan
As we’ve seen in The Matrix and Terminator movies, making slaves out of robots always ends well for us humans. Just swell. For instance, in the following email interview with editor Jonathan Strahan, he discusses Made To Order: Robots And Revolution (paperback, Kindle), an anthology of sci-fi short stories in which robots — get this! — rebel against their human masters. Oh, the imagination of writers.
Made To Order is a collection of short stories about robots. But is there more to it than that? Like, are all the stories new? Or really short? Were they all written by people you suspect may secretly be robots and these are actually their subconscious way of confessing?
Made To Order: Robots And Revolution is anthology of all-new, previously unpublished short stories. You won’t read them anywhere else. The idea for the book itself came when I realized that it has been a hundred years since they first performed the play where the term “robot” was coined. Karl Capek’s play, RUR, was about worker’s rights and treating people with dignity and decency. It also involves a robot uprising that overthrew the human race. It was a pretty obvious allegory for the time and I thought (and still think) that it’s an idea that resonates with the time we’re living in really deeply. So I asked writers to create stories of robots and rebellion.
And no, with one or two possible exceptions, I can’t think of any SF writers who might be robots, and I doubt they’d want to confess if they were.
Dang it. Does Made To Order draw a distinction between robots and cyborgs?
No. Not really. Made to Order was supposed to be about robots and A.I. because stories about the people we build or make fits the theme of uprising and social unrest so well. But there is a cyborg or two in there. You just need to go looking for them.
How did you decide what writers to approach about contributing to Made To Order?
I read a lot of short fiction. A lot. So, I simply approached writers whose work I have enjoyed and whose worked has touched on the theme of the book to see if they’d like to write me a story for the book. Some said yes, some said no. The people who have stories in the book are, simply, people who I think are great writers who might write a great story who happened to be available.
Though I did try to keep an eye on diversity. It’s something I build into my process, so I hope these stories come from a range of perspectives including those that are non-white, non-Western and non-binary.
How often during this process did one of the writers you approached say, “I’d like to contribute, but you should really talk to this person”?
It happens sometimes, but not on this particular book. In the past I’ve had a writer or two suggest I should try someone, and it has worked out really well. Though I work under some limitations, I really do try to be open to working with new people and listen seriously to recommendations from the people I am working with.
Along with Made To Order, you’ve also edited a number of the novellas that Tor.com Publishing have put out, including such personal favorites as Kij Johnson’s The Dream Quest Of Vellitt Boe, Passing Strange by Ellen Klages, and Caitlin R. Kiernan’s Black Helicopters. When you were working on those books, did you ever ask those writers to contribute to Made to Order, or would that have been considered unprofessional since Made To Order is being published by Solaris?
It definitely wouldn’t have been unprofessional. There’s no real link between the work I do for Tor.com and my anthology work, so I can and did approach some of those people to be in Made To Order. For example, I acquired and edited Saad Z. Hossein’s The Gurkha And The Lord Of Tuesday and Alastair Reynolds’s Permafrost for Tor.com and they both have stories inMade to Order. I didn’t consider Kij, Ellen, or Caitlin for this particular book, but that mostly had to do with timing and other commitments. I love their work and have love working with them all over the years.
So are there any stories in Made To Order that so impressed you that you immediately went out and bought one of those writer’s own books?
There are some stories in Made To Order that knocked me out and that are real favorites. I don’t think I should pick favorites in public, though. I do recommend that, once you’ve read Made To Order, you head out and look at the books from all of the book’s contributors. They’re great writers.
Obviously, every story about a robot is a science fiction story. But do any of the stories in Made To Order fall into any other genres as well? Like, are there sci-fi mystery stories in the book, or sci-fi romances, or maybe robotic erotica?
I was going to say no to robot erotica, but there is robot romance. Does that count? The stories range from climate emergency stories to mysteries to romance and adventure. There’s even a comedy. Lots of stuff for readers to get their teeth into, and, I think, quite a lot of variety.
Now, Made To Order is not the first science fiction anthology you’ve edited. Are there any in particular that really changed your approach to editing anthologies, and thus had a big impact on the way you put together Made to Order?
I think Engineering Infinity, which I edited for Solaris back in 2010, and The New Space Opera, which I edited with Gardner Dozois back in 2007, both had a big impact on this book. They encouraged me to find variety and depth in a theme.
The most important anthology for me, though, was a book called Eclipse Three. It’s a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and it’s the book where I really learned about and started to apply what I learned to finding and presenting a real range of stories from a variety of writers, where I started to actively think about inclusion and inclusiveness. I’m really proud of it and of the books I’ve done since.
Speaking of which, you are currently working on an anthology of fantasy stories. What can you tell us about it in terms of its title, its focus, and when it will be out?
The Book Of Dragons! The focus of the book is dragons. I got a whole bunch of great people — Garth Nix, Scott Lynch, R.F. Kuang, Ann Leckie and Rachel Swirsky, Daniel Abraham, Peter S. Beagle, Beth Cato, Zen Cho, C. S. E Cooney, Aliette de Bodard, Kate Elliott, Theodora Goss, Ellen Klages, Ken Liu, Patricia A McKillip, K. J. Parker, Kelly Robson, Michael Swanwick, Jo Walton, Elle Katharine White, Jane Yolen, Kelly Barnhill, Brooke Bolander, Sarah Gailey, and JY Yang — to be part of the book and they produced some amazing stories and poems. The publisher, Voyager, then brought in the incredible Rovina Cai to do the cover and internal illustrations. It’s amazing. It’ll be out in July 2020 and I love it completely. It’s also the yin to Made To Order‘s yang. I worked on the two books at the same time and love them equally but differently. I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of them both.
Finally, if someone enjoys Made To Order, which of your other anthologies would you suggest they read next and why that one?
I think the Infinity books I’ve done for Solaris would be a great place to start. Engineering Infinity or Edge Of Infinity really have the same kind of science fictional edge that Made To Order has. Or they could try Mission Critical. And once they’ve read their way through the small library of Solaris hard SF anthologies, I’d also recommend The Starry Rift and The New Space Opera. I really love science fiction and I think those books have a lot for readers.
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