Issue 035 Author Interview: Natalia Yanchak and “Better You Than Me”

Issue 035 author alert! Meet Natalia Yanchak and of course go read her short story “Better You Than Me.”

LSQ: How would you classify your protagonist? Is she an android or other type of synthetic humanoid? What made you want to explore the “emotional” side of AI (if you call her that)? Also, I’m making an assumption the gender is “she” but please correct me if that wasn’t your intent. 
Author Natalia Yanchak Photo by Richmond Lam

Natalia: The protagonist here is definitely a human-shaped robot. They switched from he to she in various drafts, and in the end I left it ambiguous, or to be reader-defined, though the name is feminine. I wanted Gal to express, and process, memory and feeling through the context of her mechanical body. There’s a certain dysphoria in her experience, but I think that often comes to humans with figuring out what it means to be in love, reconciling the physical and emotional. The hard tech aspect is intentionally even more ambiguous — there’s something a little steampunk about grinding gears being at the core of this complex, emotionally-burdened entity.

LSQ: This story explores not only robotic characters with emotions but also how those emotions come into conflict with prime directives. What was it like to “think” like your main character given the construct you put her in?
Natalia: The initial spark for this story stemmed from some very personal memories from my younger days. As the story evolved, my catharsis turned the lens outward. I wanted to challenge the reader with how they defined their own prime directives in a relationship. A third-party never specifies that for us; we have to assert it for ourselves, learning from our previous failed attempts. What makes a good relationship? Or a real friend? What makes us robotic about staying with someone? There’s so much in a relationship, and in life, that we want to control, but can’t. That’s partly what drives my character’s instinct, whereby some of her life is dictated by programming, but not all of it.
LSQ: Can you describe the world you’ve created? A world where not only AI is used for dirty business but where there are other human-like creatures like gynoids and bivalve-mixes. There seems to be a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
Natalia: I feel like the most reasonable vision of “the future” will be, on one hand, totally pragmatic and quite similar to how we live today, and on the other hand, require extreme inter-species cross-breeding for survival. How else will humans adapt to, say, extreme flooding due to climate change? By becoming half-fish, duh.
LSQ: What was the most challenging aspect of this story to write and why?
Natalia: Because some of these scenes are memoir-inspired, I was very shy about sharing drafts with any other readers and in fact didn’t have any readers on this piece. I just straight up started a somewhat manic cycle of submitting it, then re-writing it. Fortunately, all that re-drafting naturally drew out the non-fiction aspects completely. In the end, save for some elements of place like the geography of Montreal, it’s a work of fiction.
LSQ: Are you currently working on any other writing projects? If so, can you tell us a bit about them?
Natalia: I’m presently writing a second novel, a post-climate change spy-fi thriller that may contain dragons and a main character based on the current Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. I have a handful of stories on the go, and am having a lot of fun writing a slightly bizarre story about surviving being eaten by a dinosaur, but that also satirizes music festival culture.