Alastair Chisholm's new sci-fi book Adam-2 has just been published by Nosy Crow Books. As well as an author, Adam is a puzzle creator and has written quite a lot of books of Sudoku and other puzzles for kids and grown-ups. He lives in Edinburgh with his wife (who is lovely), two teenagers (who are lovely but very loud), and a cat named Maudie, who is yowling at him even though there is clearly food in her bowl, look, it's right there, look. His hobbies include writing and playing games on his phone when he should be writing. You can follow him on Twitter @alastair_ch
Adam-2 (Nosy Crow Books)
Adam-2 is Alastair Chisholm's second science-fiction book for MG readers, and it is every bit as exciting as his first, Orion Lost.
Adam-2, an AI robot, is thrust into a world where humans and robots are at war - and he must decide whose side he is on. Alastair Chisholm tells us more!
Read an extract from Adam-2
Q&A with Alastair Chisholm
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm a writer of picture books and science fiction adventures. I'm quite geeky - I'm a computer programmer by day and a writer in the evenings, and my first published books were actually collections of logic puzzles 😀. I live in Edinburgh with my wife, two teenage daughters, and a cat named Maudie who refuses to believe I just fed her.
2. What is your new book, Adam-2, about?
Adam-2 is about a robot who has been living in a basement for over two hundred years, until he gets discovered by two children. He emerges to discover that the world is very different, devastated in a war between robots and humans - and that he has the power to end the war, to destroy one side and save the other. But first, he has to decide which side he's on…
Quite often there's one single scene that comes into my head that becomes the story. In this case it was very simple - I imagined a boy living the basement, for a very long time. Why was he there? How could he be there for so long? What had happened while he was there? Everything else fell out of that one scene.
3. Your debut MG novel, Orion Lost, was also a sci-fi novel, set in space. What do you enjoy about writing sci-fi?
I love the way that sci-fi allows you to set up possible futures and ask human questions. My favourite sci-fi has always been the kind that plays with futuristic ideas but concentrates on the people, like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, that kind of thing.
I grew up with some of the older writers like Nicholas Fisk, Asimov, Heinlein, John Wyndham, but there are lots of new ones now - Christopher Edge, Kirsty Applebaum's TrooFriend, Tom Huddleston etc. are all worth a look. As for movies, the best film ever made is Guardians of the Galaxy. No debate.
4. How did your main character, Adam-2, develop? Was it hard to find the voice of a thinking robot?
Actually, not at all - I knew almost immediately what he would be like. He's been living in the basement, practicing being "a good boy", so he's very well-meaning. He's quite a hopeful, optimistic person, and a bit naïve. I'm also quite optimistic, and probably a bit naïve, so it was a good fit!
5. Which other characters stand out for you in the novel?
I always get really wrapped up in my characters and find them taking on their own lives. Runa and Linden, the two children who discover Adam, are wonderful and Linden in particular drives the 'human' part of the story. But one character who took me by surprise was Fetch, the little serving robot. I introduced it purely because I needed to have someone fetch some food, and suddenly it came out with a line that made me laugh - and before I knew it, Fetch was a major character! I loved that it just wandered into the book ready to go.
6. Why did you decide to write the novel through different characters' perspective?
A huge part of the book is about empathy, and the ability to put ourselves into another person's place and see and feel what they would. Adam sees the world in one way, and Linden in another, very different, so I wanted to show how that could be.
7. Adam-2 explores identity and belonging, and respect for others through seeing others' point of view. Are you concerned about the direction the world is currently moving in these areas?
Absolutely. You only have to look at social media to see how quite small disagreements can blow up into huge controversies, with both sides shouting at each other. I'm wary of absolute certainty, or splitting the world into Good and Bad. In the book, one line I think is important is: "We don't have to agree. We just have to talk."
8. How much research did you need to do into AI before writing Adam-2?
Since the book was set in Edinburgh, most of my research was into getting the geography right! I loved placing the scenes and events in parts of my own city, but I knew I had to get them correct or it would be dead embarrassing 😂.
As far as the science, I think we're definitely heading towards artificial intelligence, or something so similar that we can't tell the difference. And of course there's a lot of discussion about the dangers of AI, evil Terminator robots wiping us out etc.! But it seems to me that, to begin with at least, a new AI would be weak and under our control - and when humans have power over others, our track record is pretty bad. Colonisation, slavery, ecological destruction - our first instinct always seems to be to exploit. So I think, to begin with, AI would probably be more scared of us…
9. Was it hard to imagine this future world? Which gadgets would you bring back to the current age, if you could?
I really enjoyed imagining it. Because it was Edinburgh-based, I found it easy to draw on the geography and landmarks, and to play around with them - like Edinburgh Castle, which is the robot stronghold, or Craigmillar Castle, where the humans live.
For the gadgets… I think I'd love to be able to bring back Adam himself, and chat to him about how he sees us. He's got a great outlook on the world, I think, and he's very positive - we need some of that.
10. Is there a particular scene that you really enjoyed writing?
There's a scene where Adam and some of the robots raid an old research laboratory, which turns out to be stuffed full of deadly traps. It was great fun working out the traps, and how they escape!
11. Do you plan to revisit Adam-2's world - and Orion Lost?
Hah! I would love to return to the world of Orion Lost - Beth and her crew were so much fun to write, and I have lots of questions about the mysterious Videshi aliens… And I'd love to return to Adam's world as well, and find out what happened next - or perhaps even what happened before. But I also have lots of other ideas I want to play with, too. One day…
12. Do you enjoy writing or is it a struggle to complete your novels?
I have an almost-full-time job as a computer programmer, so I write on Tuesdays and whenever I can fit it in. I enjoy writing and normally, once I have a plan, I can work my way through. I would say though that if anyone has been struggling over the past year, you are not alone! Writing in lockdown has been a challenge for many people, including me. But things are hopefully starting to turn, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into the next project!
13. What do you enjoy doing in your downtime?
I love comics, and I've been reading a lot of back issues of 2000AD and others recently. And keeping up to date with other middle-grade fiction, because there's lots out there, and a lot of it is awesome. Also probably watching too much TV and playing too many games on my phone 😄.