This interview was conducted by Jude Griffin.

What was the seed for “Small Things”?

The idea for “Small Things” came about after I had reread Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and started thinking about the destructive nature of new technology. Every new advance we make replaces something that already exists, and this growth is often destructive. Conrad wrote about how civilization spreads and destroys existing societies while remaking them. I wanted to write a story built on a similar theme.

There are some references to Shelley’s Frankenstein: how did that story influence yours (if at all)?

I wasn’t thinking much about Frankenstein, although anytime you invoke mad science that old monster will barge into the conversation. I guess the underlying message is that once you create something powerful you risk losing control of it. Sometimes your creation comes back on your wedding night and murders your bride.

What was the thinking behind adding the loss of a child into the tragedy of the protagonist?

As babies we retain all the potential that we will ever have. Each new decision we make in our lives only narrows our ultimate fate. In the story, the death of the child represents the extinguishing of infinite possibility. Our protagonist has sacrificed his future to the technology. The question is whether he will stop with just his own future?

What were the challenges in writing “Small Things”?

Trying to reign in the story was difficult because the world is so sprawling and the implications of the crete technology are vast. I had to think hard about how to simplify things to fit into a novella, both geographically and thematically. I think I only partially succeeded.

Any projects or news you want to tell us about?

I’m working in a variety of media right now, from video games to comics to novels. The next big project is a sequel to my novel Robopocalypse. The new novel, called Robogenesis (see what I did there?), which will be released in June!

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

I think it boils down to fear. Human beings are capable of great and terrible things, and we are judged by no one but ourselves. When another intelligence arrives, we will certainly be judged. It is frightening and fascinating to consider what our children might think of us, and whether or not they will judge us worthy to live.

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

One of my favorite robot uprisings is in a short story called “Second Variety,” written by Philip K. Dick. The topic is complex, but in a few pages he manages to convey the terrifyingly rapid evolution of machines, the despair of fighting something soulless, and the weariness of running from an enemy that never grows tired.