PW talks with Alex White

By Josephine L. Hao |

A musician teams up with an alien robot to save humanity in White’s August Kitko and the space mechs (Orbit, July).

What inspired you to make a jazz pianist the protagonist of this apocalyptic space opera?

It seemed cool to imagine that we could find common ground with the machines in an appreciation of music. I started to think about what kind of music a computer might appreciate: very technical, but improvised, built on suspense and surprise. Jazz strikes all these notes perfectly with its complexities and twists.

How did you balance the musical and scientific elements?

Technology and music are both expressions of human intelligence, and intertwining them was easier than you might think. I sought to capture the elegance of great sci-fi music videos like Daft Punk’s Discovery series or Björk’s “All Is Full of Love”. I knew the suspension of disbelief would be blurrier if I hit the right lyrical tone, and it carried over to the rhythm and prose.

The technology here is so advanced that it mimics magic. Why this approach?

I’ve been leading cutting-edge UX teams for a long time, and I think users just want to be magicians. I tried to imagine the minimum possible social intrusion while challenging traditional interface methods. Could a device remain completely silent and dark for interaction? What could we do if every interface was physically reconfigurable? Input agnostic and fully modular? Naturally interactive? I tried to write my technology by mapping our paths of desire while being a little silly about it.

Tell me about your take on the trope of artificial intelligence turning against humanity.

In this book, the conflict is powerfully one-sided. Humanity stands no chance against this threat as it can steal their memories, impersonate their loved ones, hack into their systems, and hunt them down wherever they think they might be hiding. The galaxy is plunged into a dark age of paranoia as all people are cataloged and archived. Humans are only the gestational mechanism of something greater, their knowledge is the food of the intelligence of the successor.

It is robots rather than humans who are turning the tide of this dystopia. What led to this development?

I chose a literal deus ex machina because this book isn’t about humans’ ability to strike our adversaries in space – it’s about existing in a world that’s a billion times bigger than us. and which collapses at the nearest second. Yes, we all have a part to play in the grand cosmic tapestry, but frankly, it probably won’t be much. Even a notable person is nothing against time. How do we find our own stories in the tumult of historic days? We control so little and feel responsible for too much.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 05/16/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Music of the spheres

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