By Mary E. Lowd
“Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot” is a story I wrote while challenging myself to write a complete story every day, seeing how many days in a row I could keep the practice up. I treated the challenge like a game, and the highest score I got was fourteen days in a row, two straight weeks. The way this personal challenge worked was that I drew three cards—one from an “animal oracle” deck, one from a robot-themed story-telling deck, and one from a fairy tale-themed story-telling deck—and I had to write a whole story inspired by those three cards by the end of the day. For instance, the cards I drew for “Welcome to the Arboretum, Little Robot” were a moose (with the text “Authority—you know what is best for you”), a robot looking furtively over its shoulder, and a walled off garden (with a cat sitting on the wall).
My theory was that the combination of animals, robots, and fairy tale imagery would add up to inspire fantastical stories with a wide range of aliens in a far future, space opera setting. My goal was to explore Crossroads Station, a place I’d had in my head for years but had always felt too big and complex to get down on paper. By writing little pieces of fiction, looking at life on the space station from different angles, I was able to build up a multi-faceted view that helped me bring my fictional world into focus.
Crossroads Station is a place I started thinking about decades ago, when I was a high school student watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine every Thursday night and Star Wars had newly returned to the big screen. I wanted to create a world I could disappear into, populated by all kinds of aliens and robots, and I wanted to explore the ways those robots and aliens could get along harmoniously. There’s so much darkness—both in fiction and the world—I want to find stories filled with lightness, joy, positive depictions of artificial intelligence, and hope for how different alien species and cultures can come together and share one beautiful, complicated home nestled among the stars.
Challenging myself to write daily pieces of flash fiction worked out amazingly well for me—it was a fun game with lasting benefits. The detailed world-building and character-design that I worked out on the fly while scrambling to write as fast as I could ended up turning into solid groundwork for finally writing a novel involving Crossroads Station. My writing speed increased noticeably from the daily practice. And also, a good number of the flash stories I wrote have been published in Daily Science Fiction (where you can read them online for free!) or other venues, and there are still more of them, bouncing around, looking for homes. Maybe you’ll see more of them in Analog. *fingers crossed*
Mary E. Lowd writes stories and collects creatures. She’s had three novels and more than seventy short stories published so far. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Cóyotl Awards. Meanwhile, she’s collected a husband, daughter, son, bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. The stories, creatures, and Mary live together in a crashed spaceship disguised as a house, hidden in a rose garden in Oregon. Learn more at http://www.marylowd.com.