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Interview: Jérôme Cigut on “The Rider”

– Tell us a bit about “The Rider.”

“The Rider” is about what would happen if virtual personal assistants like Siri or Cortana not only answered our questions, but actually ruled our lives. (One might actually argue that they already do…)

It’s also (I hope) a story about friendship.

 

– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

There were several sources of inspiration that coalesced here. For some time, I had wanted to write a story about high-tech artisans. What could be the equivalent of a Swiss watchmaker, but working on semiconductors? If you’ve seen the size and complexity of TSMC’s plants, for example, you’ll know that it’s unlikely anyone could tinker at nano-scales using the equivalent of a soldering iron… But Hideo Tahara is a compelling vision. Who wouldn’t want to go to an artisan to upgrade his or her phone, rather than throw it away after a couple of years? Interestingly, a version of this may not be very far away: here in Asia, it’s very easy to repair and replace parts of smart phones and tablets, when in Europe they would just tell you to buy a new device.

Another inspiration was Michael Moorcock’s Elric. Some people say that modern suits are modeled after medieval armors. In that case, modern swords are computers and smart phones, which now can talk to us. What if they also had souls?

And Some Like It Hot for the comedic elements, and especially for the final line.

 

– Was “The Rider” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

That’s a personal question… but yes. Unusually for me, I started writing the story without knowing the full plot beforehand: I only had a couple of scenes in mind… and I also wanted to have fun at the main character’s expense. That’s why things he doesn’t expect keep happening to him — most of them bad. (I’ve actually discovered it’s a good way to build suspense — I’m a very inexperienced writer, I learn as I go…)

What I didn’t expect was that real characters would emerge from that. When I wrote the Monopoly game scene in the hotel, I had no idea it would turn this way. It gave me pause, as it rang deep and true to me. I then thought “this is the real story”, and proceeded to rewrite everything else to build up to that scene.

 

– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

The Tahara backstory is based on some research I did to understand the modern semiconductor industry. It’s actually at a very interesting point in time, as we are now very close to scales where traditional silicon-based technologies do not work anymore because of quantum tunneling. Scientists now have to devise completely new materials and geometries, without any guarantee of success. Hence the rising interest for completely different approaches, like quantum computing. Ten years from now, our computers could be incredibly smarter. Or they could be exactly the same we’re using now, only ten times cheaper. Which is it going to be?

 

– What are you working on now?

I’m working on a near-future thriller, based on recent developments in physics, which I’d like to finish soon because the list of projects I’d like to work on later is starting to grow dangerously tall. (Can someone be crushed under his pile of unwritten novels?) But I also have a few ideas for other short stories in the meantime — possibly in the same universe as “The Rider”.

 

– Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for accepting “The Rider” in F&SF. It’s a great honor to be published in the same pages as so many fantastic writers who’ve fed my imagination for the past thirty years. I hope you will enjoy the story…

“The Rider” appears in the September/October 2014 issue of F&SF.

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