S.B. Divya discusses the inspiration for her first story for Analog—“Soft We Wake,” on sale in the current issue now—and the unlikely reason we haven’t seen any AI stories from her (yet!).
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
SD: This story came from a title prompt (same one it ended up with) and a mental image of people in white gowns moving through empty buildings. The concept of people in hibernation or cryogenic freeze who wake up to a confusing future isn’t new, but often the protagonists of those stories are young and/or adventurous. I wanted to explore how a different kind of person might cope with those circumstances.
AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
SD: This one took a while to evolve, starting out as a flash piece about an older person feeling displaced by technology, and ending up with additional themes about companionship. I first wrote a version in 2015, and then came back to it two years later to round it out.
AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
SD: Not directly, but I have relatives and friends who get scared by the pace of technology and their inability to keep up with it. I wrote the story to explore their feelings because I’m naturally more of a technophile.
AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
SD: I seem to come back to relationships, our interaction with technology, posthuman evolution, and what it means to be human. I think the latter, especially, informs my thinking because I’m in the tech world, and we’re having a lot of conversation about that topic. As for relationships, I’m always trying to understand the different types we have and the nuances within those. How do we connect and relate to each other? In some ways, that ties back to the “what makes us human?” question, but from a personal standpoint, I think relationships fascinate me for a few reasons: I’m an only child; I grew up as an immigrant without a lot of family nearby; and I moved around a lot. The relationships I form tend to be few but strong and long-lasting, so I’m curious about how others interact or bond in ways that I don’t.
AE: How did you break into writing?
SD: In early 2013, I took a class on writing science fiction and fantasy via Gotham University’s online program. Later that year, I started submitting short stories for publication, and my flash fiction story “Strange Attractors” was picked up by Daily Science Fiction in 2014.
AE: What inspired you to start writing?
SD: I wrote my first bit of science fiction in eighth grade for an assignment, and my friend liked it so much, she asked me to write more. So I did! But my sophomore year at Caltech was the last piece of (finished) fiction I wrote for nearly twenty years. I spent the time in between writing anecdotally on LiveJournal, and then decided in 2012 that I didn’t want to wait until retirement to start writing science fiction again. I wrote my first full short story in 2013, for an online writing class, and made a commitment (to myself) to take writing seriously as a profession and not just a hobby.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
SD: I’m revising a novel about A.I. and biotech, and I’m brainstorming some ideas for a novella and another novel. I have a couple of short stories in the early draft stage as well.
AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
SD: My “pen name” is just my legal American name written in the style of Tamil culture (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_nameTamil_Nadu). If you meet me, call me Divya.
AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?
SD: I started my undergraduate degree as a physics and astronomy major, then switched to computational neuroscience. My graduate degree is in signal processing and digital communications, which is more engineering than science, but helps greatly for inventing science fictional technology. The biggest way it impacts my fiction is in helping me do research. I like getting in-depth with academic papers to come up with plausible support for my near-future stories. I also enjoy consulting with scientists in the relevant fields, and I can draw on my college network to find people to consult. I try not to overload my readers with too much detail, though, and to balance the information such that an expert can find something interesting, and a novice doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?
SD: I have been an engineer for my entire professional life. In general, it hasn’t impacted my writing much, but because I’ve spent a lot of time working with machine learning and pattern recognition systems, I tend to be more critical of A.I. stories than others, and I have yet to publish one of my own.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
SD: They can find me via my website, www.eff–words.com, or on Twitter as @divyastweets.