Issue 032 interview: Katherine Inskip and “In this Life and the Next”

You’re still enjoying Issue 032, right? Steady yourselves, dear readers, because we have another fabulous author interview for your reading pleasure. Katherine Inskip, author of “In this Life and the Next,” answered our burning questions about her story, her writing, and her reading. Do go read it first, then come back and see what Katherine has to say.

LSQ: Where did the idea for this story come from? Medical implants, efforts to prevent having to say goodbye to loved ones (for a price) . . . were there current headlines that inspired this?

Katherine: Uploading someone’s consciousness isn’t a new idea, but what does it mean to quantify someone’s personality, or self? There’s a lot that’s still unsaid about how little we understand each other, even when we’re close family, lovers, or childhood friends. Would a technically-assisted replication or import of someone’s personality change any of that? And as soon as I’d tied that thought in with the purpose of uploaded consciousness — immortality, or at least a lengthening of life — it was impossible to ignore the way we seek genetic immortality through our offspring. (And, of course, how to abuse such technology for a different type of immortality.)

The relationships between parents and children are fraught with contradiction. You each have some level of responsibility to shape that young life well, whether as a parent or as the individual in question yourself, but also to let go of your own expectations, and those that others set for you, that you no longer want to meet. Becka’s parents will move heaven and earth for their child, but despite the intimacy of hosting her mind and thoughts, do they really have a clue who their daughter actually is?

LSQ: There’s an undercurrent hinted at in the story regarding the “soul” versus the more clinical “bundle of neurons” that make a person a person. Can you comment on this?

Katherine: There’s another story I never quite wrote about interstellar travel, uploaded consciousness, and the human soul — if there is such a thing — and what a soul might need in order to maintain a connection with a mind. Is there something quintessentially us, that fades away if we turn it off for too long? That’s kind of at the root of this for me. But in this story, there’s plenty of scope for a very different view. If mind is all there is to being human, and you can store a mind within a technical MacGuffin, there are still plenty of plausible social reasons for sticking it inside another human being while the original body gets fixed. What’s the legal status of a displaced mind? What kind of rules and ethical constraints might be put in place to prevent digital duplication? Or maybe the tech just isn’t good enough to sustain a mind without the biochemistry of a compatible organic vehicle to support it. I’ve dealt with chronic depression most of my life, so I’m pretty attuned to the vagaries of my own brain chemistry and its impact on how I think and feel. Is it a soul what makes me me, or the messy symbiosis of memory, chemistry, and neural architecture? You can only find out by breaking it.

LSQ: The complexity of interpersonal and strained family relationships weaved into this story give it a painful human connection that the reader can relate to. Did this seem like a natural place to take this story, or was it difficult to figure out the human interest side of things?

Katherine: Very natural. I love big concepts, I love flashy, complex world building, but the story doesn’t happen for me without human emotions and desires. I had several miscarriages before my sons were born and lost my father to MND [motor neuron disease] a year and a half ago. That gave me a certain amount of experience of letting go when you really don’t want to, but also of finding comfort in seeing how each generation reflects the next in some way.

LSQ: What are you reading currently? Does what you read influence whatever you are writing at the time? Who are some authors that inspire you?  

Katherine: I’m currently deep in the Cast of Wonders slush pile! I’ve been part of the team for nearly three years, and it’s been a massive influence on how and what I write. Seeing what works and what doesn’t, different ways of telling a story, and the importance of believing in it — and yourself — enough to finish it off and send it out has made such a difference to me. It’s given my resilience a real boost, knowing first-hand how many excellent stories don’t quite make it through.

My recent novel-length reads have been Delilah Dawson’s Phasma (great fun, and a good way of feeding my excitement for The Last Jedi), Anna Smith Spark’s Court of Broken Knives (beautiful prose and compelling, infuriating characters), Alex Acks’ Hunger Makes the Wolf (biker witches in spaaaaace!), and I’m mid-way through re-reads of Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit and my favorite childhood nostalgia read, Watership Down. I’m reading the latter with my nine year old son, and it’s really interesting to take the tale at his pace and see what he does or doesn’t pick up on.

Authors that inspire me? Too many to count! Emma Newman and Yoon Ha Lee are top of my ‘pre-order last year’ list, but I love the short fiction of writers like Rachael K. Jones, Amanda Helms, Natalia Theodoridou, and Aimee Ogden.

LSQ: What do you think are the biggest challenges for female-identifying authors in the speculative fiction genre right now? Where would you like to see this genre go in the future?

Katherine: I think the pressures and complexities of the world today aren’t helping anyone, and there’s plenty of challenge there just in getting from one day to the next. Within the genre? Confidence, probably. But crack that, and there’s nothing we can’t do!  I think we could still do better in terms of visibility for female-identifying authors, and also for people from other less traditionally dominant demographics, but it’s the breadth of character voices and experiences that matters most to me.

LSQ: Do you have any other projects you’re working on at the moment and can you tell us a bit about them?

Katherine: Sure! I’m in the middle of revisions/second drafts of a number of short stories with the usual dozen or so incomplete works in progress fighting them for my attention. There’s the YA inner-city witch story, the one with the evil unicorn, the dysfunctional mother/daughter quantum mechanics story, and a rather nasty take on sorcerers fighting for their academic tenure . . . I’m also part-way through a novel (who isn’t?) featuring a sentient spaceship of questionable status who thinks she’s on her first tour of the galaxy, but instead ends up at the nexus of four separate but inter-related conspiracies, some dark family history, and a race against time to save a doomed planet. I’m having a whale of a time with it!

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