INTERVIEW: Daniel H. Wilson, author of “The Executor”

Daniel H. Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse and seven other books, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising and A Boy and His Bot. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as Masters degrees in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. In 2008, Daniel hosted The Works which aired on the History Channel. The movie adaptation of his novel Robopocalypse will be directed by Steven Spielberg, and is scheduled for release on April 25th, 2014. Daniel’s latest novel, Amped, was released by Doubleday in June, 2012.

 

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

The Executor is about a man who is willing to sacrifice everything for his family. He behaves like a hero in the story, but he doesn’t consider himself to be one. This kind of sacrifice comes automatically with having a family. I think it’s kind of beautiful that heroism is in the heart of every parent, and therefore the vast majority of humankind is hero material.

What’s was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

The story came about because I was reading a lot of Raymond Chandler — real hard-boiled detective novels — and waiting on my wife to give birth to our daughter. When I put two and two together, The Executor is what I got.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

The most challenging aspect of this story was working out the pacing of the mini-mystery that is at the heart of Drake’s adventure. Drake is a tight-lipped character and always one step ahead of the reader. It was tough to maintain such tight control over what information was revealed (and how misleading it was), so that on a second read through it would be obvious which clues Drake was picking up on. It was interesting and challenging to build that sort of structure. I’d never done that before.

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

Let’s just say that if my baby daughter needed joint-stabilizers, I’d be stepping through that door with a carbon knife clenched between my teeth and a slug of fully-loaded metal wrapped in my sweaty palm.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

For the tone of the story and the neo-noir flavor of the dialogue I drew on all the detective stories that were floating in my brain. For the technology, like legged chairs, self-driving automobiles, gyro-stabilized baby carriers, automated capsule daycares and the like — I drew on my own background in robotics.

What is the appeal of mad scientist fiction? Why do writers–or you yourself–write about it? What do you think readers like about it?

The beauty of the archetypal mad scientist is the conflict between raw brilliance and utter lack of insight. Every mad scientist is a genius in some way, but a fundamental flaw always ruins everything. Flawed perfection. It’s why a mad scientist is like a hugely powerful locomotive that’s gone off the tracks and is plowing through neighborhoods just leaving piles of dead bodies in its wake.

There’s a lot of drama in the clash between madness and genius, but there is also a lesson. For example, the mad scientist in my story didn’t understand until too late that family is the most important thing in life. In his own twisted way he tried to figure it out and made a virtual copy of himself. Unfortunately, this resulted in the Executor, who destroyed the scientist’s family for centuries.

What are some of your favorite examples of mad scientists in fiction (or perhaps in fact!), and what makes them your favorites?

In my opinion, Nikola Tesla is hands down the world’s greatest real mad scientist. He operated in a realm of the mind that divorced him from the day-to-day reality of humankind. He was almost like an alien visiting our planet. For Tesla, making that refractory transition between the world of genius and the world of man was particularly brutal.