“I feel like 2016 has made Interface seem much more realistic, which is kind of scary considering I write dystopian fiction.”
Interface is a dystopian science fiction novel by Lucy Mihajlich where robot maids are a thing and the presidential election is a reality TV show. Interface poses the question of what would happen if a meme changed centuries of religious history — and the world along with it. The novel follows Pen Nowen, daughter of the founder of Interface, as she tries to find out if her father’s unexpected death really was suicide, or if there was foul play involved.
As Pen struggles to come to terms with what happened to her father, and how it affected her mother and sister, she also has to deal with the fact that she didn’t feel particularly close to her father.
“Pen feels as though the rest of the world knows her father about as well as she does. Maybe even a little better if they’re dedicated tabloid readers,” said Mihajlich. “Pen’s father is one of the most famous men in the world, she’s had social media accounts since before she was born, and there’s a webcam in every phone, pair of glasses, mp3 player, and coffeepot. She thinks privacy is something that happens to other people. She’s used to performing for the cameras, for the public, even for herself.”
This public performance makes it harder to identify in any way that isn’t heteronormative, which is why Pen’s sexuality became an even bigger struggle than the one the book itself went through to get to publication.
To Mihajlich, the battle to publication highlighted why asexual and aromantic representation is so important. Though she didn’t set out writing it with thoughts of marketability, it soon was made clear to her that this would indeed be a problem to contend with; Interface was turned down from a literary agency for not having a romantic plot, but Mihajlich was unwilling to sacrifice Pen’s identification as aromatic and asexual.
“It’s hard enough for queer kids to come to terms with their sexual identity when they’ve actually heard of it, but most adults don’t even know what asexuality is. When I was in high school, I read a lot of queer fiction, but I never came across any with asexual characters. If I had, maybe I would’ve known I was asexual before I was in my twenties.
“I feel that for representation to count, it has to be canonical, so Pen does explicitly identify as asexual in the third book.”
Identity struggles aren’t the only parallel to real life. Inspiration for a computer company trying to market itself as a religious organization came from the internet’s current obsession with memes. The story ended up having rather terrifying similarities to recent real-life events.
“The idea that a joke could change the world always struck me as one that required the greatest suspension of disbelief. Then Donald Trump was elected. Over half of the US didn’t vote for him, but we still talked about him. We made him a meme. We joked about his taco bowls and his chances against Deez Nuts. We gave him a voice, even if that wasn’t our intention, and by giving a voice to one bigot, we gave a voice to many. A joke changed the world.”
Mihajlich is currently focused on the second and third volumes, Operation Clippit and Unicoder respectively. Both books are written, but don’t have a release date set yet.
“After that, I have no idea. I’ve spent the last four years trying to predict the future, but in real life, I can barely even predict my lunch.”