It’s hard to write speculative, dystopian fiction without sounding alarmist, preachy or inauthentic. Am I overstating the concerns people should have about the future as it’s unfolding? Making the narrative too abstract and detached for the sake of the all-important message I want to deliver, and thus defeating the very purpose of weaving complex themes into fiction? Or – worst of all – am I exaggerating for the sake of adding dramatic tension and effects to a novel that doesn’t really have anything socially relevant to say?
Those types of question are top of mind for me, because Eh? I? is a departure from anything I’ve written before. Not a break, but a new vector; and not in theme and content only, but also in how I want to go about writing, or rather ‘collaborwriting’ this work. The underlying premise for Eh? I? is the protagonist’s sudden belief that he is not actually human, but a robot, and that all his mimicked feelings are a fraud carried out through a devious and malevolent form of Artificial Intelligence.
My commitment at the outset is a story that addresses very real issues we as a society are facing in a way that is entertaining and quirkily human. The title itself can be read several ways expressive of the story’s meaning. First of all, Eh? I? is a Canadianism pronounced almost identically to the commonly known abbreviation for Artificial Intelligence, AI. That homophonic makes permeable the boundary between existential concepts of me as a human being, and abstract notions of what it would be like to render consciousness in binary code (an impossible, yet persistent fallacy). Robi has been disastrously infected by that corrosive, inhuman misconception.
Eh? I? is also whimsical shorthand for the Cartesian and somehow dubious proposition, “I think, therefore I am” – there’s a lot more to the certainty of our being than merely thinking, Robi will discover. Eh? I? can also be reordered and asked as: I? Eh?: the one version equivalent to a statement-question asserting, “This is me”; the other preserving a more doubtful tone, as in “Is this me?” In his desperate attempts to find some sort of certainty, Robi will vacillate between those two titular nuances.
I say ‘titular’ because Robi is so concerned with the potential for his robotic self to be psychopathic that he has the logo Eh? I? tattooed onto his forehead – a sort of mark of Cain identifying him as an imminent and immanent risk of unknowable dimensions. The implicit contradiction in this act is the very basis of the story, and will lead to the building tension in Robi’s increasingly erratic choices, and his friend Monica’s desperate maneuvers to guide him back to sanity.
It will be fun, intriguing and challenging to sustain Robi and Monica’s genuinely human story as a narrative matrix for abstract social and philosophical questions. The trick will be to have Robi and Monica express philosophical nuances through their all-to-human activities, the reader sussing out larger, implied significances in a way reminiscent of cyphering metal filings on a sheet of paper, exposed to a magnetic field.
Eh? I? will be my second Direct-to-Web novel, and I’m looking forward to an open and diverse creative process as much as I am to the finally published story. If you want to join me, or follow along, visit my contact page and choose your mode.