Ariel S. Winter is the author of the new novel Barren Cove. He also has written the novel The Twenty-Year Death and the children's book One of a Kind, as well as the blog We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie. He lives in Baltimore.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the world you create in Barren Cove?
A: In developing the world of Barren Cove, I treated the seminal works of robot fiction like one continuous history with the idea that Barren Cove was the next moment in time.
So R.U.R. by Karel Capek, the work that coined the word robot, is the beginning of that history, when robots are first being manufactured.
Then by I, Robot by Isaac Asimov, robots are prevalent, but controlled by the ironclad laws that prevent them from harming humans.
However, by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, robots are sometimes indistinguishable from people, and are definitely dangerous.
And now, in Barren Cove, robots are the dominant "lifeform," and humans are on the edge of extinction. I give a nod to all of those writers through the names of the robots in the book.
Q: How would you characterize the relationship between humans and robots in the novel?
A: The relationship between humans and robots is somewhat dependent on the age of the robot. Old robots, who remember a time when their only purpose was to serve humans, still treat humans as masters, but fewer and fewer robots of that generation are operational.
The younger robots are either resentful of humans as inferior creators, or indifferent to them. And such a small population of humans remain that many robots no longer have to interact with humans in any capacity.
Q: Why did you choose to have the sections told from Sapien's point of view be in first person while the other sections were in third person?
A: I've always loved works that have multiple narrators nested within one another's narratives. Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Heart of Darkness. There's always a frame narrative that gives us access to the stories within, and some conceit as to how that narrator has access himself.
Sapien is the newcomer, so we discover Barren Cove as he does through his limited worldview. But once he hacks the house computer, the computer becomes the narrator, and since the computer isn't participating in events, but simply recording them, she relates the family's history in third person.
Now, I could have done it as though all of the other characters were uploading journals to the house computer, and so we would have access to each of their first-person accounts. But I wanted that Victorian cliché of the help speaking out of turn. The house computer is gossiping.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes as you went along?
A: I usually write without any clear sense of where things are going. I discover the story as I go through it. But then, in rewrites, things always change. However, Barren Cove came out basically how I originally wrote it. I just expanded it in parts.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I've been working on a high fantasy for the last two years. It's been the hardest thing I've ever attempted, because of the degree of world-building.
Barren Cove required world-building, but it still sits on our daily world. My new book, while drawing on historic precedents and mythologies, is made [out of] whole cloth, which is much trickier. I wish I could say when the book will be done, but I'm afraid it still needs a lot of work.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say anything yet, but let's just say that (fingers crossed), a book might not be the only medium through which you'll be able to experience Barren Cove.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Ariel S. Winter will be participating in the Bethesda Literary Festival, which runs from April 15-17, 2016, in Bethesda, Maryland.