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Interview: Dale Bailey on “Lightning Jack’s Last Ride”

– Tell us a bit about “Lightning Jack’s Last Ride.”

Lightning Jack is a story I’ve been wrestling with for a long, long time—I wouldn’t want to say how many years.  The problem was that I had the title, but nothing else to work with.  And when I did get started my drafts always went off the rails.  The consequence of this is that I also have half a novella—a totally different story—that grew from the same title.  I plan to finish it, but I guess I’ll have to come up with something else to call it.


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

I finally broke through and managed to hook a story to the title when I got interested in the gangsters of the 1930s—Babyface Nelson and John Dillinger and people of that ilk.  I got interested in the question of how they inspired such loyalty from their gangs, and more than that, the way they came to seize the public eye.  These were very bad men, yet they came to be viewed as folk heroes by some.  I was trying to explore that question.


– Was “Lightning Jack’s Last Ride” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Only in the sense that all my stories are personal—that I get caught up in writing them, the characters, the language, especially the language.  I have no personal history with gangsters or NASCAR!


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

Well, I’m not very good at research, really.  I tend to make it all up.  I did do some research on NASCAR, mainly by asking some questions of a friend that’s a big fan.  And a lot of the language that Gus uses is more or less authentic.  But I’m sure I got a lot of it wrong.


– What are you working on now?

I have a collection of stories—The End of the End of Everything—coming out in April.  Most of my time lately has been devoted to a novel, The Subterranean Season, which should be out this fall.  I also have another novel in process, and a variety of short stories in various stages of incompletion.  There’s always a bunch of those.

“Lightning Jack’s Last Ride” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Eric Schwitzgebel on “Out of the Jar”

– Tell us a bit about “Out of the Jar.”

A philosophy professor discovers that he is an AI in a simulated environment run by a sadistic teenager who insists on being called “God.”

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

I’m interested in skeptical epistemology (for example, how confident can we be that we aren’t in a sim right now?), in theories of consciousness (are there conditions under which sim characters could actually have conscious experience?), and in the extent to which we have moral obligations to any conscious AIs we might create in the future.

– How does your experience as a philosophy professor inform your fiction writing?

Contemporary academic philosophers don’t write much fiction, but many of the greatest philosophers in history have worked partly in the medium of fiction: Plato, Zhuangzi, Rousseau, and Nietzsche, for example.  Detailed examples and vivid thought experiments have always played a central role in philosophical thinking, even among more typically expository philosophers.  Fiction and thought experiment, by engaging the imagination and the emotions, add richness and specificity to philosophical thinking.  The human mind is much better suited to thinking about examples than about abstract formulae.

– What kind of research, if any, did you do for “Out of the Jar?”

This is my first full-length published story, so for me, the research was all on the fiction-writing side – trying to get a feel for the SF genre, especially trying to get a better understanding of how the writers develop plot and character.  I read tons of SF stories in “Best of” anthologies, Asimov’s, F&SF, Clarkesworld, etc.

– What might you want a reader to take away from “Out of the Jar?”

I want the reader to think about the moral relationship between the gods who create worlds and the sims (or other types of beings) that they create.  Literally, I think, you can call the creator of conscious sims a “god” from the point of view of the sim (see my blog post “Our possible imminent divinity[PGS1] .”  What obligations would you as a god have to your sims?  Also, I’d love it if the reader thought a bit about her attitude toward the repetitive blissful harp-playing of “Heaven 1c”, though I don’t explore that issue much in the story.

– What are you working on now?

I’m working on a story that pits the value of eternal looping joy against the value of a normal human life.  I’m working on a couple of stories that explore the bizarre philosophical implications of an infinite cosmology in which there are infinitely many duplicates of you living out every possibility.  I’m working on a story that considers the Singularity from the perspective of someone with doubts about whether consciousness can really be instantiated rather than merely mimicked in computers.  I’m working on a story featuring a group mind composed of a billion individual humans.  Et cetera!  Maybe not all of these will work out, but I’m having fun.

In expository philosophy, I’m working on the issues of group consciousness[PGS2], radical skepticism[PGS3] (including dream skepticism, sims, and Boltzmann brains), robot/AI rights[PGS4], the moral behavior of ethics professors[PGS5], a theory of jerks and sweethearts[PGS6], and a position I call “crazyism[PGS7] ,” which is the idea that something that seems crazy must be true, but we have no way of settling which among the crazy alternatives is actually correct.  In this connection, I want to explore crazy-seeming ideas like that we might all be parts of God’s mind or that we are AIs for which space is just a feature of our programming environment rather than a fundamental feature of things in themselves (“Kant meets cyberpunk[PGS8] ”)

– Anything else you’d like to add?

The part in the story about demons being allergic to almonds – I made that up.  Please don’t rely on it as part of your summoning technique.

“Out of the Jar” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of F&SF.









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