Warbler’s Note: I’m thrilled to bring you the words of Matt Sobin, author of a beautiful novelette called THE LAST MACHINE IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM. If this interview intrigues you enough to want the book—and it should—let me know in the comments below and you will be entered to win one of two copies of the book!
I repeat: leave a comment below the post for a chance to win a copy of this book!
Q: Much of THE LAST MACHINE, stylistically, is highly poetic. As I understand it, your background is in poetry. Is this your first long-form piece? How did your work as a poet influence the way you approached this story?
A: I love this question. Since the story is told from Jonathan’s perspective, perhaps I’ve created the first robot poet? That’s kind of cool to think about. I thought that an android with knowledge of all of Earth’s languages, who had analyzed every written work, should be eloquent. Not stilted and mechanical. Why shouldn’t he tell his story poetically with striking visual images?
This is my first published work but not my first long-form piece. I have a completed novel that I am preparing to publish. I am considering entering it into the upcoming Launchpad competition on Inkshares. It’s very different from The Last Machine in the Solar System. It’s literary fiction instead of SciFi. For both the unpublished novel, and this novella, I think my poetry plays a role in terms of how I think about imagery. I really want people to see what is being described. With The Last Machine, I tried to describe big beautiful images on Earth, on terraformed Mars, and then in outer space, so that the reader would see it alongside Jonathan. The feeling an image conveys is also important to me. When Jonathan and Nikolai stand next to the Atlantic Ocean and see the buildings half-drowned in the distance, it should be a striking image, and emotional too. I hope readers see the image in their minds while feeling it in their hearts.
Q: Working with Jack Katz on designs for Jonathan must have been remarkable. Did working with him influence or change the story in any substantial way?
A: Working with Jack is my greatest privilege. I always tell people who ask that I never tell Jack how to illustrate my work – whether it was this story or one of my poems. I am obviously biased, but from an artistic perspective, the man can do no wrong. So to your initial premise of us working on designs together, I would say that we would talk about how it would be great to have an image of Nikolai constructing Jonathan in his Ukrainian laboratory, or Jonathan flying by Jupiter or Saturn. But our discussions were always in the most general terms, and then I would let myself be surprised with what he came up with. And it was always great.
Conversations with Jack influence me but don’t change the story, per se – let me explain. He is one of the purest creatives out there since he’s unimpeded by the noise on the internet or even on TV. He has his books, his art, classical music and a collection of movies. When Jack starts speaking about Nikolai, the creator, like he’s a real person, I listen closely. He wants to know, did he have siblings? What were his parents like? What sports did he play in school? Would he care about politics? So Jack was very invested in not only The Last Machine but in the larger narrative of Nikolai’s life, which I plan to write. And I thought about a lot of these questions. I wasn’t always sure of the answer but I usually had a leaning in one direction. Jack would say something along the lines of, “Nikolai is inside you, he is you, you just have to unearth that fossil within.” So in theory, the story has already been written.
Q: THE LAST MACHINE is a lament to humanity, delivered as a eulogy for a lost friend that scales outward through the telling. Did you find any contemporary events pushing you to tell this story? Can you remember what was going on in the world in general when the idea struck you?
A: Well, let’s see. I started writing The Last Machine in the Solar System on October 1, 2015. I know exactly because I always write longhand and date the pages! The Presidential campaign was underway, but I don’t really remember that influencing me. Initially, I didn’t even know I was writing The Last Machine. I was just writing to write. I had watched a really fascinating show on the Science channel about the life cycle of the solar system. I was mesmerized, particularly about the death of the sun. And then of course the question, what would it mean for humans? Would we even be around at the point? Then it was easy to make the jump: Maybe humans would be gone, but a robot might still be around. I didn’t go in with any plans to make a big statement or comment on politics – though in the end, there are a few subtle commentaries. I thought it would be cool to visually tell the story of the life and death of the solar system, and it evolved from there. That humanity’s future seems so precarious and uncertain right now made the ultimate direction and end of the story straightforward, and perhaps inevitable.
Q: Are there other stories that you want to tell in the universe of THE LAST MACHINE?
A: Absolutely! One short story is already complete. It’s called The Creator and the Machine. It’s more of a true short story, about half the length of the novella. And it’s told very differently than The Last Machine. A lot more dialogue and action, which I’m sure readers will appreciate. It takes place during the period on Earth right after Nikolai and Jonathan conclude their travels, but before they depart for Mars. The story was an opportunity to explore the relationship between Jonathan and his creator. We delve more into Nikolai and his personality. But the story is really about Jonathan trying to understand the concept of physical pain, and ultimately emotional pain. So I think it’s quite interesting.
I’m hoping to publish The Creator and the Machine as an eBook in the next few months. The longer term goal is to write a full length biography of Nikolai with Jonathan as its author. I’ve only just gotten started.
Q: What are you reading now, and what’s the one book you’d recommend to anyone?
A: As a writer, I find myself interested in how other writers write. So I am constantly picking up new books, and reading a few pages, tasting their words and sentence structure like I’m at a restaurant with a sampling plate. I read a lot of book openings. Sometimes I pick up books and open to a page at random to check out what’s going on there. So I sample from a lot more books than books I actually read cover to cover. The other day I read the opening to Gravity’s Rainbow; that was fascinating. A very different style.
One book I’m reading (and plan to read most of) is a collection of essays by Albert Einstein called Out of My Later Years. I find both Tesla and Einstein very intriguing. There’s a lot of the two of them in Nikolai.
A book I’d recommend to anyone? Do I have to go SciFi? If it’s SciFi and folks haven’t read it, then of course, Foundation by Asimov is #1 in my hierarchy. If I am going outside SciFi, I would say that it’s time to bring the short story form back to prominence. Especially with the demands on our time, short story collections are a lot of fun. I love reading stories by Fitzgerald and Kipling because of their ability to impact readers emotionally in just a few pages.
Special thanks to Angela Melamud at Inkshares for arranging this interview and providing the books for the giveaway. Don’t forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win the book!
As always, if you want to pick up the book and support the blog, you can do so on Amazon.
EDIT: The contest portion is closed. Winners have been contacted. Thanks for participating!