S.B. Divya is joining us today to talk about her novel, MACHINEHOOD. Here’s the publisher’s description:
From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy.
Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.
All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.
Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.
Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?
A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?
What’s S.B. Divya’s favorite bit?
During a scene about two-thirds of the way through Machinehood, a child who is attending class from home (a standard thing in this future) calls out to her mother, “No more school today.” Her mother, a South Indian living in Chennai and working from home, thinks to herself, “Aiyo! Now what?”
I wrote this scene three years ago, long before the Covid pandemic forced us into distance learning and remote work, but even then I knew the frustration experienced by parents trying to juggle their careers and their children’s needs. I had first-hand experience of being at home with a sick child and trying to code (on a deadline). The pain of losing your carefully constructed plan to be productive in such circumstances is one that many of us are now familiar with.
My favorite bit about the scene is not the circumstance, however relatable, but the expression of dismay: Aiyo! This catch-all word originated in southern India and made it into the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016. It has a variety of implications depending on the situation in which it’s used, kind of like OMG. It is definitely appropriate to say it after you learn that your workday has been torpedoed by your kid’s school shutting down early. It can also be used to express surprise (“Aiyo! Look at the size of that bonus!”) or pain (“Aiyo, my back!”) or irritation (“Aiyo! Why can’t you load the dishwasher right?”). The exact meaning comes from the inflection and tonality, in addition to context.
The exclamation is one of those deeply cultural touchstones that’s not often seen in English literature. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it had made it into the O.E.D, along with several others. Even in India, it’s not a universal term and has strong associations with Tamil Nadu, where I was born. Indian culture and language varies a lot by region, in no small part because it’s a nation invented from separate kingdoms and empires (imagine if the European Union became one country). The aspects that the West typically thinks of as “Indian” mostly come from the northern and western regions, so it was extra fun to include “aiyo” in my novel.
Thanks to the election of Kamala Harris, whose family is from the same state as mine, a little more of southern Indian culture has come to light. She referred to her aunt as “chitthi,” a term that also made it into Machinehood, and another Tamil word entered the American lexicon. For my novel, my hope is that context will allow readers to parse unfamiliar words, and along the way, absorb some vocabulary that’s deeply personal to me. Maybe one day, you’ll drop a dish on the kitchen floor and say, “Aiyo!”
S.B. DIVYA holds degrees in Computational Neuroscience and Signal Processing, and she worked for twenty years as an electrical engineer before becoming an author. She is the Hugo and Nebula nominated author of Runtime and co-editor of the podcast Escape Pod, with Mur Lafferty. Her short stories have been published at various magazines including Analog, Uncanny, and tor.com. Her collection, Contingency Plans for the Apocalypse and Other Situations, is out now from Hachette India, and her debut novel MACHINEHOOD is forthcoming from Saga Press on March 3, 2021. Find out more about her at www.sbdivya.com or on Twitter @divyastweets