Science Book a Day Interviews Cassandra Rose Clarke


Special thanks to Cassandra Rose Clarke for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – The Mad Scientist’s Daughter

Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and teaches composition at a local college. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a B.A. in English, and two years later she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. In 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle, where she was a recipient of the Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund. – From Cassandra’s Homepage

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#1 – What was the impetus for The Mad Scientist’s Daughter?

I’ve always loved stories about robots, as well as unusual love stories. When I began writing The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, my foremost goal, really, was to write a love story—and then use that love story to explore the implications of a world populated by robots.

#2 – Your book is set in a world after some sort of disaster where robots were used to rebuild the world, who are eventually freed. What inspired your storyline?

One thing I wanted to do with this story was create a world that mirrored America in the 1950s—it was a time of great economic prosperity, and there was the idea that people had banded together to overcome the horrors of World War II and now we were settling into a routine life of normalcy. Of course, the reality of it was that there was an intensely dark undercurrent to life in the ‘50s, with a focus on conformity and only a certain type of existence—white, middle class, straight, etc—being acceptable. I wanted to recreate that dichotomy in the world of Mad Scientist’s Daughter. I chose a world-wide natural disaster rather a war because of the inevitability of it, the way it seems a natural extrapolation of current events.

#3 – Central to the story is a romance between the protagonist Cat and her robot tutor, Finn. What this an exploration of the central character? Or an insight into robot-human relationships?

It was both! As I mentioned earlier, I originally set out to write a love story, and everything else about the book arose from that core relationship between Cat and Finn. In particular, I was interested in looking at the ways we hurt those we care about, not out of cruelty or malice, but out of selfishness or obliviousness. That’s a tendency we have when interacting with other humans, and I imagine it would only be magnified if we were interacting with robots. And since I wrote the entire book from Cat’s POV, and since she is the one hurting Finn, I had to really consider and explore her motives in order to get the effect I wanted.

I also had in the back of my mind something a friend said to me years ago, when we were having one of those expansive chats on AIM (this was back when everyone used AIM!) and we had somehow gotten on to talking about artificial intelligence. She said that if a computer ever became self-aware, it would be impossible to deny that it had a soul. It was such a stridently common-sense statement that I knew if this situation were ever a reality, people would argue about it until the end of time. So that was another thing I wanted to explore in the book.

#4 – What has the response to your book been?

It’s been great, overall! I’ve received so many wonderful comments from people who loved the story and understood what I was trying to do with it. I even made a new friend because of this book, which is a special thing indeed. And of course, it’s been nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award, which is just so tremendous and unexpected. I’ve even seen a couple of people list it as one of their Hugo nominations (people I’ve never met, even!) which is just amazing to me.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

I have a YA adventure fantasy called The Wizard’s Promise out in May, although it’s obviously in a much different vein than The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. I’m also working on a couple of new novels that are closer in tone and content, but unfortunately I can’t say too much about them yet. Hopefully I will soon, though!

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