research * the future * culture

Story: “The Education of Junior Number 12”

I apologize for the lack of posts, lately. I’m wrapping up edits on vN, a process that’s been complicated by a 1.5-week-long battle with the flu, bronchitis, and an allergic reaction to meds. (Thankfully, I was well cared-for throughout all of it.) But to make up for it, I have a new story available (for free!) for you: The Education of Junior Number 12. Here’s a taste:

It started with a meal. It usually did. From silent prison guards in Nicaragua to singing cruise directors in Panama, from American girls dancing in Mexico and now this grown American woman in her own car in her own country, they started it with eating. Humans enjoyed feeding vN. They liked the special wrappers with the cartoon robots on the front. (They folded them into origami unicorns, because they thought that was clever.) They liked asking about whether he could taste. (He could, but his tongue read texture better than flavour.) They liked calculating how much he’d need to iterate again. (A lot.) This time, the food came as a thank-you. But the importance of food in the relationship was almost universal among humans. It was important that Junior learn this, and the other subtleties of organic interaction. Javier’s last companion had called their relationship “one big HCI problem.” Javier had no idea what that meant, but he suspected that embedding Junior in a human household for a while would help him avoid it.

Javier is a character who appears in vN. He’s one of my favourite characters, and this is one of his more sombre stories. Seriously, this thing is pretty dark and depressing. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there’s a reason that Angry Robot choice this story to open its Christmas promotion — it’s so bereft of holiday cheer, all the other stories will be aglow with spirit by comparison.

It was also a long time in coming. I first wrote this story in the autumn and winter of 2009-10, and it topped out at nine thousand words. I wrote it for another market, where it languished un-commented for almost a year. When I finally asked about it in the autumn of 2010, it was summarily rejected. But my workshop really enjoyed it, so I knew I could have a good story on my hands if I just polished it enough. In this case, that meant giving it a new title, trimming about 1,200 words from it, and re-framing the plot to match the new title. Nothing substantial changed, but the story came into sharper focus without the extraneous elements. My publishers certainly seem to like it. So does Charlie Jane Anders.

Merry Christmas. I hope you like it, too.

5 ResponsesLeave one →

  1. James

     /  December 14, 2011

    I loved this. Can’t wait until I can get my hands on the nV book – where and when can I preorder?

    • Madeline

       /  December 14, 2011

      Thank you! I’m not sure where you can pre-order, but I’ll definitely tweet it when I know. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll be sure to be in the know.

  2. Hello there! I found your short story through another website today and I really enjoyed it. I was wondering if this is an excerpt form your book coming out or just a story about one of its characters. I’m going to be honest, I’m confused as to what happens to junior at the end there. Which is why I wondered if this story will be continued in the book. Looking forward to buying the book. Wish it was coming out sooner!!

    • Madeline

       /  December 15, 2011

      Thank you! This particular Junior’s story doesn’t quite continue in the book (well, a little — telling you more would be giving you spoilers), but Brigid gave Jr. No. 12 (I call him Diego) to a man in a supermarket parking lot. The man was probably a pedophile.

      Javier is a major character in the book, though, and he talks at length about his own history and his decisions regarding his iterations. So you really learn a lot about him and he has plenty of opportunities to shine.

  3. Awesome, thank you for clarifying and so quickly! I really enjoyed the character and I thought that was what was going on, but I wasn’t 100% sure. In which case, man, Brigid really sucks! lol Thanks for the entertainment. 🙂

  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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