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Interview: Jeremiah Tolbert on “We Mete Justice with Beak and Talon”

Tell us a bit about “We Mete Justice with Beak and Talon.”

I’ve long been interested in cooperation between humans and non-human animals as well as mind-device interfaces.  Reading about the training of eagles to help protect places and people against drone activity made me wonder what form that might take in the future, and it seemed like an area that could be interesting to explore in fiction. Additionally, I wanted to see if I could write a story that worked using second-person plural as the dominant point of view in a story.


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

It was news stories coming out of Europe about various agencies and militaries training eagles to attack drones.  There’s a lot of fun imagery and video out there of eagles vs. drones.


Jeremiah TolbertCan you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

I looked at a few maps of downtown Kansas City to refresh the place in my mind and I read a bunch of Wikipedia articles on different species of eagles that I thought might be best suited for police work in an urban environment.  The various species of the secondary eagles changed a handful of times over the course of working on the story, partly because an initial species choice is already, today, quite rare, and will likely be extinct by the near-future time in which this story occurs.

Harpy eagles, as it turns out, I already knew a bit about, and I even saw one in the wild on a trip to the Brazilian Amazon many years ago.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing “We Mete Justice with Beak and Talon,” and what was the most fun?

The most fun was getting to imagine what an emergent mind would be like, the software-mitigated union between a person and an eagle.  Probably the most difficult aspect was working with the various points of view shifts as we drift between human, eagle, and emergent intelligences in a way that seemed organic but something that didn’t jar the reader too much.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I’ve been inspired to write science fiction in this vein by authors like Cory Doctorow and Charlie Stross.  As far as how I try to write action, I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two from authors like Neal Stephenson and oddly enough,  Jack Kerouac, specifically “Satori in Paris” which is infused with a narrative energy I am constantly consciously and subconsciously trying to emulate.


What are you working on now?

I’m finding it difficult to get much writing done as the father of a pre-schooler and a full-time, self-employed web designer, but when I do get to write, I’m working on the next story in my Dungeonspace setting, which has had two previous installments appear in Lightspeed Magazine – “The Cavern of the Screaming Eye” and “The Dragon of Dread Peak.”


“We Mete Justice with Beak and Talon” appears in the September/October 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Mr. Tolbert’s photo will take you to his website.


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