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352 – Empathy: Where Sex Meets Science Fiction

352 - Empathy: Where Sex Meets Science Fiction

Empathy as a feature of science fiction in a new book by an Adelaide author

In this episode, we explore the creation of worlds within science fiction with Fay Lee, author of Empathy, and Matthew R Davis, literary horror author, in a conversation recorded at the launch of Fay’s book.

The story of Empathy circles around the life of a luxury pleasure-nymph, an augmented human capable of echoing and amplifying a client’s every indulgent sensation, and aside from being an intriguing thriller, it also raises many issues about power and privilege.

NOTE: This episode does cover adult themes. Listen with care.

The SA Drink Of The Week is a Norton Summit Vineyards Pinot Noir.

And in the Musical Pilgrimage, we have a song by guest, Matthew R Davis, from his band, Blood Red Renaissance.

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Running Sheet: Empathy: Where Sex Meets Science Fiction

00:00:00 Intro

Introduction to the show.

00:02:16 SA Drink Of The Week

This week’s SA Drink Of The Week is a 2010 Norton Summit Vineyard Pinot Noir.

00:04:04 Fay Lee and Matthew R Davis

To some people, the key motivating factor for having sex, outside of procreation, is intimacy. For others, it is power. While others have sex for the sensual thrill or as a drug free pathway to relaxation. In the new science fiction novel, Empathy, Adelaide-based author, Fay Lee, hones in on the controlled application of sexual gratification through the eyes of a sex worker in a bleakly dystopian world. It makes me wonder how Isaac Asimov would have codified this aspect of life in the way that he made the Three Laws of Robotics? Perhaps that might make good discussion fodder for your book group after you’ve read empathy. But first, let’s explore the themes of this book with its author, Fay Lee, and fellow author, Matthew R Davis.

Buy Empathy online

Buy Matthew R Davis books

We are recording this at Fay’s book launch and we’ve all just watched a video in which the people at Hawkeye Publishing gave some background to Fay’s journey to publication, while also raising an intriguing observation about the chief protaganist. More on that later.

Let’s begin at the beginning, Fay, and flesh out a little of your background to give some context to this chat. You were born in Port Moresby, which is part of Papua New Guinea, Australia’s closest neighbour, but which might as well be on the other side of the world. Have you mined any memories of PNG for the world in Empathy, or of any characters?

You also brazenly and proudly dub yourself as an engineer, saying that engineers make the best science fiction writers. Why is that so?

Our other guest for this chat is Matthew R. Davis. Matthew is an Adelaide-based author and musician with more than sixty short story publications to his name thus far. He was shortlisted for a 2020 Shirley Jackson Award, has been nominated for many other accolades, and won two 2019 Australian Shadows Awards. His books include If Only Tonight We Could SleepMidnight in the Chapel of Love, and the forthcoming novella The Dark Matter of Natasha.

Matthew, I think it’s fair to say that your dark fiction is commonly described as horror. Are you comfortable with that and what does “horror” mean to you?

Fay, your publishers said it took 18 months to get the blurb right for this novel. I’d like to read that now and then ask you to embellish it as needed:

The ultra-rich have abandoned Earth. Cruising far above its congested surface in lavish Sky Towns, they partake in the ultimate luxury-pleasure-nymphs, augmented humans capable of echoing and amplifying a client’s every indulgent sensation.

So who would kidnap a nymph, torture her, and leave her for dead?

When one of Sky Town’s most prized nymphs wakes to find herself missing a sizeable sum of both money and memories, she has no idea who took her, why they did it… or what threat she poses to their monstrous plot. Slipping back into her world of splendour and seduction, she must navigate its hidden webs – both old and new – to find the spiders lurking within, and retake her stolen humanity.

Combining the vision of Asimov with the voice of Atwood, the author creates a world where empathy is a service, a privilege, and a vice.

For one pleasure-nymph, it may also be her only weapon.

Fay, you set the goal of writing a novel in 2012 and, if my notes are correct, within three weeks you had the draft of the current novel we’re celebrating today AND you had RSI? Why? Were you handwriting this or using a really clunky typewriter?

How does this marry with your approach to writing, Matthew?

Given that you wrote this so quickly, I imagine you were tapping into something rich in your subconscience. How did you settle on sex work as the basis for a novel?

I would like to explore whether or not Empathy sits within the realm of feminist literature, especially because invoking sex work brings related topics like power dymanics to the fore. But to set the scene, I’d like to play a snippet from your publisher, Hawkeye Books, because there is an amazing discovery they draw attention to, that arose for them after a number of readings

Was it a deliberate ploy, not giving a name to our pleasure nymph? If so, why? If not, how could that have happened?

One of the main reasons you are here tonight, Matthew, is that you reviewed Fay’s book and, I believe one of your observations led to some changes. Are we allowed to hear what the change was because I am a theatre reviewer and I am fascinated by the dynamic of an artist listening to a trusted reviewer and then making a change to improve their art?

The cover of this book is one of contrast. A deep red, textured background is backdrop for an ornately made up and seductive, disembodied eye. How did you arrive at this? And, Matthew, what’s been your experience with cover art selections?

Does this world of ebooks put different demands on covers and cover art?

You are both dubbed as speculative fiction authors, an umbrella term for work that draws upon elements that don’t exist in reality or nature or history or even the present universe. What’s the attraction? And given that creativity often rises to the challenge of restrictions, do you find ways to still subject your work to rules?

You’ve both been published by traditional publishers. Would you ever consider self-publishing?

Do you have advice for aspiring writers?

Questions from the audience

00:49:25 Musical Pilgrimage

In the musical pilgrimage, we have Both Wings Broken by Blood Red Renaissance.

Here’s this week’s preview video

There is no preview video this week.

SFX: Throughout the podcast we use free SFX from for the harp, the visa stamp, the silent movie music, the stylus, the radio signal SFX, the wine pouring and cork pulling SFX, and the swooshes around Siri.

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