AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Jeff Abbott

This interview was conducted by Stephanie Loree.

“Human Intelligence” has all the twists and turns of a classic spy story. What attracted you to this genre-bending take on a Robot Uprising?

I love science fiction, but I haven’t written very much of it, and I thought a war between man and robots would still have the espionage that we expect in a real-world war. I thought it would be fun to play with the idea of a spy behind enemy lines.

James Ellis—if that is is real name—is a fascinating character who changes as the story progresses, learning more about himself then he probably should. Without giving too much away, his change and eventual choice are essential to the story, but which came first during your writing process? The choice or the character?

The character, then the choice he faces followed very quickly. They’re very intertwined. But that’s the appeal of apocalyptic fiction—seeing characters make life or death choices that we don’t normally face. It’s extreme decision making.

You pose several questions in “Human Intelligence” such as, what makes us human, what separates us from machines that could become so similar to us. Did you have these questions in mind when you conceptualized your story, or did they reveal themselves to you as it progressed?

I really only had a first sentence when I started the story and then the questions began to ask themselves. Which is funny, because when I write novels I’m very much a planner. When I write short stories I tend to lay down a sentence and then see where it takes me. But certainly—technology is in our lives in a way that it never has been before. It’s both liberating and troubling.

The landscape presented in “Human Intelligence” is bleak, with humans eking out existence in labor camps or small, survivalist groups. But you also present hope in the form of James Ellis. Do you think hope is an essential ingredient to post-apocalyptic fiction in general and your story in specific?

Well, I am an optimist, so I do like stories that have a shred of hope. But I think there is just no hope in a TV series like THE WALKING DEAD, and it’s enormously popular. I’ve started to wonder if that makes most of us pessimists.

The world you created is ripe with possibility. Is this the last we’ll see of Ellis or The Hive?

I enjoy reading speculative fiction, and maybe some day I’ll write more of it. It’s very liberating and it’s very fun, and I had a blast writing this story.

What is the appeal of “robot uprising” fiction? Why do writers—or you yourself—write about it? What do you think readers like about it?

I really think the Terminator movies had a lot to do with the continuing popularity of this kind of fiction. We’re half expecting our smartphones to turn against us. But I think it’s just a continuing pattern of story—from Frankenstein to nuclear-war fiction like Alas, Babylon—where technology outpaces our wisdom. We always need a good cautionary tale.

What are some of your favorite examples of robot uprisings (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

I met Daniel Wilson when we were both at a screenwriting class and the hotel restaurant asked us to share a table, and I think we were the only two published authors there, and we ended up meeting and talking and when he told me he was writing about a robot apocalypse I knew he was much cooler than I was. I enjoyed Robopocalypse, thought it was great fun. And I think Terminator 2 is probably one of the greatest, and best-written, action films ever. I need to find if there is a robot apocalypse collection on Netflix.