Behind Sarcology

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cover of SarcologyA robotics scientist has been enduring a very personal blackmail as punishment for past indiscretions… but the stakes have gone up, and she’s had enough.  Enter Allen and Jessica Teal, of the Teal Investigative Agency, who plan to catch her elusive blackmailer.  But the case quickly goes from bad to deadly… and they must solicit the help of a robot prototype that turns out to be far more than anyone expected.  So begins a sexy and romantic detective adventure, with a robotic twist, set in a very believable 2040s Atlanta.

In seeking a title for my story, I’d come across the word Sarcology—and its very real definition, the study of the soft tissues of the body—and decided that it fit the story to a T.  That was well after I’d started the story, because as I started researching and developing the kind of story I wanted to tell, I wasn’t sure myself where I wanted the emphasis of the story to be until I actually started writing it.

My original notes and ideas had been about a robot that would prove itself to be almost indistinguishable from a human being.  But a robot emulating a human… well, it’s been done, and it’s actually quite boring on its face.  Not enough for a good story.  I needed more.

What I wanted was more of the concept of humanoid robots than just the surface.  I wanted to explore the idea of whether a person’s identity, the elements that made up their essential personality—their soul, if you will—could be transferred to a robot, and whether such a transfer would make real relationships possible.  I also wanted to explore the other side of the coin, the humans that would interact with such a robot: Even if it was obviously not human, would a person be able to fully transfer their emotions to a robot?  And I was thinking a lot further along than emotions; I wanted to explore whether or not real love and romance was possible.

A lot of the concept depends on exactly how much of the memories and thought processes of a human being can be supported in a mechanical construct.  Although human emotions are part instinctual and part learned from cause-and-effect observations, and stored in a biological system that is as flexible as it is unpredictable, I see no innate reason why a sufficiently powerful simulation of a human brain cannot contain and exhibit emotions and emotional reactions to stimuli, even if they are pre-programmed.  And if the robot can sufficiently emulate human actions, I see no reason why a human being could not come to accept those robotic emotions as genuine.  After all, humans have learned to attribute emotions to all kinds of animals, plants, and even some inanimate objects, since time immemorial.  Why not attribute emotions to a robot that is good at emulating a human?

Since this is a story emphasizing emotions and romance, I am understandably light on the technology involved; it simply isn’t the focus of the story.  Similarly, I made certain references to the state of the world (global warming, sea level rise, security and surveillance, etc) only to the extent that they play major or minor parts of the underlying story, the detective yarn.  I gave a stronger emphasis to the future of robotics, in our vehicles, our homes, our everyday life, in order to present the broadest swatch of possibilities for our automated future… which I believe we shall achieve within the next twenty years or so.

As to the other technological and ecological suggestions, I guess we’ll see.

In the interest of honesty and transparency, I must admit here that the original inspiration for this story was the idea that a robot could emulate the latest literary meme of turning dangerous and unexpected former monsters into romantic interests and sympathetic characters.  I was ready for a romance story overlaid on an adventure, but instead of looking to old mythology and horror roots for my love interest, I wanted to use a more modern character.  The robot: Product of the modern age, effective mirror of humans, and potential future replacement for humanity.  (And a damn sight more likely to turn out to be real than vampires and werewolves, by the way.)

I have always seen the potential of a robot that was capable of thinking and acting like a human… thanks not merely because of creative programming, but because it had the mind of a human embedded in its head.  To me, that made it human, or more specifically, a human trapped in a mechanical body.

And that is something to explore.

Sarcology is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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