AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Anna North

This interview was conducted by Andrew Liptak.

Hi Anna, thank you for taking the time to answer a couple of questions for us! First off, what inspired this story, ‘Lullaby’?

I love ghost stories, especially stories about haunted houses, and so I wanted to tell the story of a house that’s “haunted” by robots. Everything else kind of flowed from that premise.

There’s a series of Wars mentioned here, and some extreme means to contain them and robotics afterwards. Is it the tools that are the problem, or the people who use them?

I think a lot of robot stories are about people creating technology they ultimately can’t control, and this is no different, really. I don’t see the Wars or the scary situation that develops in the story itself as the result of evil on the part of robots or people. If anything, they’re more about human arrogance—the idea that you could make technology so powerful it can think and act on its own, and still expect to be able to control it.

Tessa was adopted, but there is a sense of friction between learned and inherited behavior—which wins out in your mind?

I think the story comes down on the side of learning, mostly. The robots aren’t Tessa’s grandfather’s biological children, but they’ve learned from him, just as Tessa’s learned from her family even though they aren’t connected by blood. I have the idea that the robots can train and maybe even create other robots (at the very least, they can take over the electronics in the house), and they can teach those robots the things they know. So in a way that’s blurring the line between learning and inheritance—there’s no way for the robots to biologically reproduce, but if they’re making more robots, they’re still reproducing in a way.

There’s a great sense of surrounding environment here, from mentions of feral children chanting computer code to the aforementioned wars. Is there more from this world to come from you?

I wrote this as a stand-alone story, but I wouldn’t rule out returning to this world someday.

Why are we so afraid of robots taking over?

I think there are a lot of reasons for this fear. To me, though, the most compelling is the idea that something we created could turn against us. I think that’s a really human fear and one that’s rooted in family, really—children are always going to grow up in ways the parents can’t predict, and that’s scary. I think the idea of robots we created turning against us is sort of an exaggerated version of the very normal fear of the younger generation turning against the older, or simply of children growing up and becoming autonomous adults.

What do you have coming up that we should be on the lookout for?

I’m at work on a new novel, which will be pretty different from America Pacifica and from “Lullaby”—for instance, it’s set in the present. It is about a heroine dealing with difficult situations, though, so in that way it’s similar.