Robin Sloan is a writer and media inventor based in Oakland.

He just released his second novel, Sourdough.

Kat Manalac is a Partner at YC.


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Craig Cannon [00:00] – Hey, this is Craig Cannon and you’re listening to Y Combinator’s Podcast. Today’s episode is with Robin Sloan and Kat Manalac. Robin’s a writer and media inventor based in Oakland and Kat’s a partner here at YC. This October, Robin released his second novel, Sourdough, and a couple years ago he released his first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Before we get going, if you could take a minute to review the podcast, that would be awesome. Alright, here we go. This is a kind of a weird jumping off point, but I listened to you on I think it was a Mother Jones podcast, and you very briefly mentioned a machine learning experiment for the audiobook.

Robin Sloan [00:36] – Yeah.

Craig Cannon [00:37] – Could you talk about that a little bit longer?

Robin Sloan [00:39] – Sure, yeah of course. The background is that as I’ve been working on these books that are in a lot of ways traditionally published even though I have an interesting very sort of forward thinking publisher, MCD. They still get printed on paper, and sold mostly in bookstores, and online, and places like that. As I’ve been working on all that stuff for a few years now I’ve also like many people in this area, many people that I’m sure you guys know, I’ve been really interested to the point of sort of preoccupation with machine learning. In particular the creative applications, like less the super practical sort of uses and the ways that it might transform the economy and all that. I mean truly more like the ways that we can use some of these systems to mash, and mangle, and just interact with words, and pictures, and sounds in different ways. That’s all preface. The audiobook, first of all it’s actually interesting to know for folks that aren’t totally plugged into the publishing industry, audiobooks are huge. They’re growing like gangbusters. Every time I go to a bookstore and do a reading, I ask people like, “How many of you also listen to audiobooks?” I mean truly everybody’s hand goes up.

Craig Cannon [01:46] – Wow.

Robin Sloan [01:46] – It’s just a really really popular way to consume this media. In step with that, audiobook producers have gotten really serious, and frankly a little bit demanding. They’re like, “Okay Mr. Sloan, it’s time to produce the audiobook. What do you got for me?” You know? Like, “What can you produce or what will you produce that will make this a little distinct from just the printed book?” They don’t want to just do like a recitation of what’s on the page. For this book, Sourdough, the story happens to hinge on this sourdough starter, this little funny community of microbes that you use to bake this delicious bread. In the story, there’s a starter with some strange properties, and there’s also this singing. There’s like this music that, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it kind of helps the starter grow, and it’s all part of this mysterious package. I describe the music over and over in the book, I mean at like a great length. It’s so slow, and sad, and mysterious, and it’s like in a language that no one understands. So come time to produce the audiobook, I was like if you go through this whole thing in your earbuds and you never hear even a scrap of this music, like it’s going to be kind of disappointing. Unfortunately, we did not have the budget to like hire the people who invent Dothraki for Game of Thrones, or Klingon, or whatever. We need some other way to like synthesize this sound that would be truly alien, like it’s not any language on planet Earth.

Robin Sloan [03:20] – It’s something fictional, something invented. This is where it alludes back around to that obsession in machine learning. As I think you guys probably know, one of the things that these models can do really well is sort of take a corpus of stuff, of training material, and extract some patterns, more general patterns, and then use those to generate something new, but different. Not just kind of mimicry of what you put in. I mean at that point, it actually, it took a lot of kind of learning, and tinkering with the code, and actually struggling with the code at this point.

Craig Cannon [03:51] – Is it TensorFlow?

Robin Sloan [03:52] – This was in, actually funnily enough this program was in Lua, in Torch, the original Torch, and totally a testament to just the power of this open-source ecosystem. I mean this was a paper written by one group of researchers implemented by this like rogue, mad, machine learning genius–

Craig Cannon [04:10] – Nice.

Robin Sloan [04:10] – In the UK, this guy named Richard Assar who’s just like, I like bow down to him and his generosity truly in like making this really wonderful and very usable implementation of this tool. It’s called SampleRNN and it takes as many MP3s as you want to feed it, chops them up into bits, churns learning for days and days and days, at least on my deep learning rig. I’m sure Google would be like, “Got it.” For me, it took a few days, and then in the end, spits out this really, to my ear at least, weird and lovely kind of generalization. It tries its hardest to learn the essence of that music you fed it. Of course it kind of fails ’cause none of these models are actually good yet, at least at stuff at that level of complexity. But the way in which it fails is really interesting. That’s all to say that now in this audiobook there is just these little whispers of this fictional music in this fictional language, and to my knowledge is the first time that like the creative output of a machine learning system has been included in an audiobook.

Craig Cannon [05:15] – Whoa.

Kat Mañalac [05:15] – Oh, that’s huge.

Craig Cannon [05:16] – Yeah, congrats.

Robin Sloan [05:16] – I mean I actually think it might be a tiny distinction, but I am all about tiny distinctions. I will like, I just want to rack up all the like tiny steps forward in the state of the art.

Kat Mañalac [05:25] – Have you used the model to create anything else?

Robin Sloan [05:27] – Oh yeah, after you dissembled one of these rigs, or a couple of them in my case, you feel bad about ever letting them sit idle because I mean that’s what they’re for. They’ve got these big beefy GPUs and it’s so hard. Truly it’s so hard to get all the weird little libraries and dependencies all lined up right. Having like done that, you never want to let them sit. I have some models that are kind of always churning on different bodies of text, just to try to see what happens and what emerges. But there’s one where I’ve thrown in all sorts of different kinds of music and sound just to see what it sounds like on the other end. Sure enough, I mean sometimes what comes out is just kind of a messy garble, and sometimes it’s really interesting.

Kat Mañalac [06:10] – Can we listen to it on SoundCloud or–

Robin Sloan [06:12] – No. You can listen to it on the Sourdough audiobook, which is available on But no, none of the other stuff is public yet. It’s not quite, it’s the other stuff is still at the level of, and a lot of this stuff is kind of I think in this state. It’s like that sort of frothy, fermenty, experimental like ooh, there’s like something there. But I personally don’t quite know what that something is and so a lot of my work with this machine learning stuff is kind of trying to push through that to get to like a thing, like a thing that’s actually worth sharing on the other end. That is definitely a work in progress.

Craig Cannon [06:45] – Man, what were the input files?

Robin Sloan [06:49] – In this case it was almost like a short circuit straight from my own inspiration to the output because of course this all started, this project was only necessary, or I only sort of thought to do it because I had written about this fictional music and this fictional language in my book. That came from my own experience listening to a kind of music that I’ve just long enjoyed and sort of thought was beautiful. It’s kind of Croatian folk singing, all acapella, sort of a chorus of voices in sort of odd harmonies. It’s called Klapa, K-L-A-P-A, and so I just had my like folder, preexisting folder, of just all the Klapa MP3s I had ever–

Kat Mañalac [07:27] – How did you come across Klapa in the first place?

Robin Sloan [07:29] – Oh, who knows? On the internet, I mean that’s–

Craig Cannon [07:31] – As one does.

Robin Sloan [07:31] – That’s like always the answer to that question.

Kat Mañalac [07:32] – Answer to everything.

Robin Sloan [07:33] – Yeah, somewhere on the internet. For years, I’d long loved it, and thought it sounded lovely, and so of course it was in my brain when I’m imagining this stuff, and putting it into my book. In a way, I mean this might be reaching a little bit too far, but I kind of feel like the machine learning system and I did the same thing, just on different tracks. Like input, right? And like the experience of listening to something, followed by some munging mashing step, and kind of abstraction step. Of course in mine, I kind of had my response and reaction to music, and the neural network had a different thing going on. But then in the end, we both spit out something, actually something new, and different, and transformed, but still obviously based on that same input.

Craig Cannon [08:18] – Did you educate yourself similarly around robotic arms? We have done all these like basically technical advisor interviews for TV shows, and movies, and stuff. I was researching Her the other day, hoping that there was someone there. Spike Jonze explicitly said, “We don’t want a technical advisor because I don’t want to be bounded by reality. I just want to go for it.”

Robin Sloan [08:40] – That’s awesome. Actually, I wonder, I don’t know if I like that or not. I think I don’t actually. I think there’s probably, I respect the people who are able to like dive deep, and nerd out with the experts, and remain unbound. Like you have to sort of, you have to be sort of greedy and take everything that they tell you, and then be like, “Cool, got to go,” you know? And off into the realm into imagination, and strangeness, and wonder. I feel like that’s sort of self-serving because I feel like that’s sort of my model. I do love to read about this stuff. I do not own a robotic arm of my own. I’ve never personally operated one, but I have seen them operated, and I think they’re pretty amazing. Not just like mechanically or sort of computationally, like aesthetically I think they’re really interesting and lovely. Yeah, and so the inclusion of lots of robotic arms, and people talking about robotic arms, and thinking about robotic arms in this book was definitely, it was driven just by my own, yeah interest and sort of curiosity.

Kat Mañalac [09:41] – Did you have your own technical advisor or was it all just self-taught?

Robin Sloan [09:45] – I mean that’s the great thing about living in the Bay Area and also just frankly the level of tech journalism that exists today. You can glean a lot, and not just surface level stuff, but like the really deep mechanics just by reading on the internet and kind of going down those rabbit holes. YouTube, right? Like any time you want to go beyond the sort of description, be like, “Okay, well what does it really look like or like how does it swivel in space?” I mean there’s a YouTube video to show you. It’s amazing.

Craig Cannon [10:13] – To give away a little bit of the book. She, Lois, gets the sourdough starter. She eventually starts making it herself. She ends up in this kind of hidden farmer’s market and part of her store is like making the sourdough with a robotic arm, right?

Robin Sloan [10:30] – Mm-hmm.

Craig Cannon [10:32] – Core to that is cracking the eggs. Is that a real technical problem that exists?

Robin Sloan [10:37] – That’s a good question. I don’t know for sure. I suspect, yeah I call it like the Egg Problem, with capital E, capital P. It’s like all these roboticists are like, “Yes, all that stands between us and domination of all the world’s economy is–“

Craig Cannon [10:51] – It’s AGI then the Egg Problem.

Robin Sloan [10:52] – The Egg Problem, yeah exactly, and so I don’t know. I kind of suspect that it is a problem. It has been my perception. I could be wrong. This is probably where it fuzzes into fiction a little bit, but it has been my perception that as a character in the book says there’s something really appealing about these arms working in kitchens. We will have done something when an arm can make you an omelet or do some of those kitchen tasks. But in fact, it’s really challenging because that kitchen space is in fact really chaotic and unbounded. It’s not one of these spaces that’s sort of, at least a normal kitchen, like a restaurant kitchen, or home kitchen. McDonald’s obviously kind of is designed around sort of modularity and it’s already pretty robotic to start with. But those other kind of kitchens, those more organic kitchens, if you actually kind of do that thing of like defamiliarizing it, and like looking, trying to look at everything in that space, and the way it all works together with fresh eyes, you’re like, “That’s fucking impossible.” It is, just the angles and the slopes, and everything’s a weird shape, and you can’t recognize it all. I actually think that’s wonderful. I think that’s lovely that it’s like oh man, what a magic show actually for a human cook to manage all those things at once, and then reach over, and just with one hand, go and crack an egg.

Craig Cannon [12:12] – You spoke to it in the book around having two hands basically, like I can’t do that either. I tried it today thinking like, “Oh yeah, this will be easy. Just crack an egg with one hand.” No, not so much.

Robin Sloan [12:22] – I will tell you that you can learn. It is, and YouTube once again, YouTube is your guide. I think in the book if I remember right, I have Lois learn by watching YouTube clips, including some that are so good. They’re just, ’cause again, truly everything, everything you need to know and every task, no matter how small, is somewhere like documented on YouTube and often it’ll be like these disembodied hands. The video is like a minute long, and they just kind of show you, and kind of demonstrate, and do a test run, and then tap it on the edge, and it comes right open. I was skeptical at first, but in fact it is not that hard.

Craig Cannon [12:57] – What was the inspiration to do this book?

Robin Sloan [13:01] – Inspiration to do this book was, it’s actually a lot like the other books I’ve done. It’s really living here in the Bay Area, which it sounds a little dorky, almost a little Pollyannish. But truly I just, for all of its complexity, and problems, and everything else, I think it’s just a really really inspiring place. It’s a place where people do interesting things and end up leading these really interesting lives. Over the last few years I personally just as a human have gotten pulled more into the world of food. First as an observer, kind of just like someone curious about it, and slowly as more of a participant, although I’m still much of a observer than a participant. I mean this is what happens with everything. It happens to journalists too. You dip a toe into something and you realize that it’s just full of story. I mean there’s so much stuff there, so many little dramas, and mysteries, and mechanics that you can pretty easily turn into plots.

Kat Mañalac [14:04] – That’s one of my questions is that your stories from Penumbra to Sourdough kind of explore the intersection between tech, and startups, and old crafts, like bread making, or book selling. What about that interaction is particularly interesting to you?

Robin Sloan [14:22] – It’s at the conjunction between them, and the honest answer might be annoyance. I am so routinely annoyed when the old and the new get framed as an adversarial relationship. Basically when people say or, or versus. This happened, and of course this happens with books, and it was so much the sort of conversation especially around like e-books, and print books, or like the internet and old school publishing. Like well, which will it be? Which will triumph or like what is the road forward? I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s just temperamental or I’ve had good mentors, and good advisors, or I’ve had the opportunity to read smart thinkers for a long time, that is always seem so nonsensical to me. It seems to me like it is always and. Instead of the new thing replacing the old thing, it all just piles up in this multi car crash, nonviolent crash, glorious crash where everything is just kind of like and the mountain is getting higher and higher and higher. I don’t know, I find that totally exciting because it means we get new things all the time, but we also get the benefit of crafts, and ideas, and obsessions that have been sort of compelling people for a really long time. At least in large part, my books are intended as a sort of rebuttal to all the people who want to make us choose between the old and the new. I’m like, “Nope, I want both.”

Craig Cannon [15:55] – Option C.

Robin Sloan [15:56] – Yeah.

Craig Cannon [15:56] – Do you have a name for the genre that you exist in? Because I was talking to Kat before about this and there seems to be increasing amounts, possibly infinite amounts, of dystopian like Black Mirror type content. But you’re kind of in this like positive satire genre. What do you call that?

Robin Sloan [16:14] – Oh man, I don’t know is the short answer. Someone did suggest a genre tag that I quite liked. They said, “I think your books are sort of like puzzle fiction,” and I just liked the sound of that. I’m not sure that it’s an actual genre or even if my books are that puzzling, but I was like, if I ever saw my books on a shelf labeled puzzle fiction, I would be very happy. I mean in my heart, they are sci-fi inflected literary fiction, and all I mean by that is I try to take care with the sentences, and just produce language and scenes that are like interesting, somewhat interesting to read, and not just like glop on the page. At the same time, there’s no denying that my core genre as a reader is science fiction and so that stuff just gets kind of metabolized and regurgitated I guess or transformed. It kind of…

Kat Mañalac [17:11] – It’s refreshing to see sort of like a non-dystopic. There are funny elements, like the slurry drinking that I definitely personally recognize. I get an overall like positive sense about the world you’re building.

Robin Sloan [17:25] – Yeah. I would say so. Part of that for me is, and this is not necessarily a sort of dystopian or not distinction, but part of that for me is rooted in the desire to have like narrators and other characters that you actually want to spend time with. That’s only because my most memorable experiences of reading from early childhood onward have been ones where I finished the book, closed the back cover, and I missed the mind that I was spending time with. There’s a lot of good books that are compelling, engrossing, and rewarding that aren’t that where you’re like, “Ugh, what a bunch of creeps.”

Craig Cannon [18:05] – Yeah.

Robin Sloan [18:06] – Like, “What a bunch of broken humans.” There’s a lot of stuff like that, books and TV alike. Probably more that than anything else. Maybe it’s actually for exactly that reason that I’m like, “Okay, cool. Other writers have got that on lock.” They’ve got the like, “Everyone is broken,” beat nailed down, and so maybe I’m going to do that thing that I like so much, which is voices that you miss when it’s…

Kat Mañalac [18:32] – Right? I love it because I was talking once to a YC founder and he was saying if you talk to the vast majority of founders in Silicon Valley, they were influenced by things like Star Trek, or Hitchhiker’s Guide, and these are all like pretty rosy visions of the future. Whereas right now we have Black Mirror and all these like really dark stuff. It’s like what is going to be built 20 years from now, and the young people reading this and watching this?

Robin Sloan [18:56] – That’s a good question. Boy, and I feel like that should almost be like a challenge. That’s a great sort of like challenge to the science fiction writers working today. I think some of them by the way are meeting that challenge. I think people like Cory Doctorow. Annalee Newitz here in San Francisco is an amazing science fiction writer. They don’t write dystopias. They don’t write those sort of naive Panglossian futures either like, “And guess what? It all worked out great.” Like obviously, that’s not actually useful either. But yeah, to find a path through the thorniness of real life, and power, and the way that people inflict pain on other people, but still remain kind of like, “Whoa,” excited about what’s coming next. It’s what I like to read and I hope it’s what people are out there still producing it.

Craig Cannon [19:47] – Well, I mean even in a couple interviews I read with you and listened to, you were influenced by children’s books when you were writing. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, you specifically mentioned.

Robin Sloan [19:57] – Well yeah, for Sourdough in particular, there is a great genre of, I mean this is even, the genre is very specific, talk about specific little slices of books. This is the sort like runaway mutant food genre. You’ve got your Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. You’ve got your Strega Nona.

Kat Mañalac [20:12] – Stinky Cheese Man.

Robin Sloan [20:13] – Yeah, absolutely. Lesser known, lesser known book called The Duchess Bakes a Cake, also great, and basically it’s like all food that grows out of control, becomes giant. There’s clearly something that like resonates deeply with the child’s mind ’cause it’s like you could totally populate a shelf with those books.

Craig Cannon [20:33] – Were you reading these beforehand or you were just like, “Mm, I think this needs to go a little further”?

Robin Sloan [20:38] – I can say that those were the direct influence for this book. That was more of a kind of hook shot where after writing this book, I was like, “Oh wait, I think this has a lineage.” The more direct influence for that kind of stuff in Sourdough, that kind of like runaway food vibe, was truly it’s all the scholarship that’s been done in the last few years, five years, maybe going on a decade, about microbes, and the microbiome, and just the daily, near daily wonder of like, “Oh, let’s see what’s in the news today. Microbes do what?” Like, “They what? Huh? They talk to each other, and they’re controlling my, and there’s how many, and we don’t even know?” I mean it’s like truly, it’s amazing. That’s got to be such a fun discipline to be in now and for the last little while. I need to put some characters in this book that are not people, but microbes or microbial communities, and try to give them some personality on the page.

Craig Cannon [21:39] – Did you think at any point you wanted to make an app as well?

Robin Sloan [21:42] – What, for this book? For Sourdough?

Craig Cannon [21:43] – You’re talking about staying around with these characters, and I used Fish a long time ago because when I actually sat next to Patrick Moberg while he was building it as I was working out of Betaworks, so–

Robin Sloan [21:54] – Oh my gosh. That’s amazing.

Craig Cannon [21:55] – Yeah, he’s got to get out of my life, man. But I had just been wondering like if you had considered building some kind of extension?

Robin Sloan [22:01] – I had not considered it for this book. There’s that thing you hear where people say like, “Okay, you have to come up with a story, and then you find the right vessel for that story. Like does this story want to be a book, or a videogame, or a HBO series?” Whatever, I think that is wrong. I do not think that’s actually how good things get produced. So if you ever hear someone say that, you can tell them, “Robin Sloan thinks you’re full of shit.” I think it’s, at least for me and I’ll speak actually just for myself, it’s almost exactly the opposite. You get interested first in a format either just out of pure kind of like childlike interest like, “Oh, that comic book was so good,” or like, “Wow, an amazing movie,” or like that YouTube video was so weird and creepy. Whatever it is, and then at some point you start to sort of feel that itch of like, “Well, maybe I can make one too. Maybe I can play in that sandbox.” You can trace everything I’ve ever made whether it’s a book or a weird digital experiment to that impulse, of truly starting with some form that I admired and thought was awesome, and then trying to figure out like what kind of fits in that box. That’s all to say that this book came out of sort of a book shaped impulse and yeah, I think the next app is going to come out of an app shaped impulse or–

Kat Mañalac [23:19] – Have you had any impulses since? Like what’s the next form?

Robin Sloan [23:23] – No, I definitely have, I mean too many, that the problem is you’re like, “Ah, there’s so many cool things.” I will tell you that I’m kind of still in, I feel this tension. It’s totally unresolved. I don’t have a plan, a theory, a solution, or anything like that. But the app thing right now, it’s super, well I’ll make it really practical. This is what happened. I made this app called Fish several years ago, totally on a lark, I mean because I admired the iPhone screen. In particular, the like lack of a row of browser tabs across the top or like other windows tiled in the background. Like it is the case that often, more often than on laptops and other things, people will just do one thing on an iPhone at a time, and that’s actually really lovely. Anyways, thought I’d take advantage of that, made this app. It was great, well received. I had a lot of fun making it. Years go by, the newest version of iOS, something is changed and now that, like the binary that I uploaded to Apple all those years ago will not run anymore. It was getting a little funky, like it looked sort of weird on the newer iPhones, but you could still run it. Now I am alerted by Apple via an email it’s not going to run anymore. Because I am a writer, and a tinkerer, and not a professional software developer, I could not immediately find the source code to this app. I rooted around, and I like dug out some old laptops, and I booted them up, and I just searched everything. I checked my email. I was like surely I must’ve emailed it to someone. I can’t find it anywhere.

Robin Sloan [24:51] – So I think it’s gone, and that bums me out.

Craig Cannon [24:55] – Sad.

Robin Sloan [24:56] – It is sad, so I fear as of this moment, my current thought is that Fish is lost to the world, or at least users of iOS 11 and above. But there’s actually something, I mean that’s just my sort of carelessness, which is a bummer, but there’s actually something embedded in that, which is you make these digital things. Unlike a book where once you bind it up, and put it on a shelf, even if it gets forgotten, even if it gets damaged, or whatever, it’s like still, it boots somehow. You can compile and run that printed book basically forever, and boy that is just not the case with digital stuff. Like the ground shifts under your feet and suddenly the platform you built it on goes out of business, or the OS gets upgraded, and like the API is different, and that’s unsettling. To sort of figure out how to navigate that, how to still embrace the fun of those digital experiments, but like not sign up for infinite ongoing maintenance for like an ever increasing number of projects, I just don’t know. It’s one of the things I’m really thinking about right now. I think it’s very distinct from the way that frankly people in like companies would think about making and maintaining apps. But there’s plenty of people out there who aren’t, people like me who are kind of just tinkerers, experimenters, writers, and artists. I think it’s kind of a funny moment for that kind of work right now.

Craig Cannon [26:18] – Well, if you actually look around at most people who work in the tech industry, a lot of the work does fall away. If you spend two years working at Facebook, or Twitter, or Google, a lot of your work is gone six months after you leave, so–

Robin Sloan [26:29] – Right, totally, absolutely.

Kat Mañalac [26:30] – Maybe the question is how do you give something like an everlasting life online?

Robin Sloan [26:33] – Right.

Kat Mañalac [26:33] – Right.

Robin Sloan [26:35] – It is such a big question. Stability comes it seems at least partially with time. If I was going to make a webpage say, and not a fancy one, like a real simple one, and then if I took that webpage, and I made sure to kind of have it hosted in a few different places, but it’s an experiment. Say it’s a story and it’s presented in some cool way. There’s a few kind of interactive bits in JavaScript say as the page proceeds. I host one on my website, and maybe I host it somewhere else, and I also make sure that it’s indexed by the Internet Archive. I still don’t feel as good about that as I do about a printed book on a shelf, but I feel pretty good about it. I mean I think there’s like, you’re like, “Okay.” Webpages have been around for, what? Like 30 years now? You’re like, “Finally, we can kind of count on this technology continuing to be legible and accessible.” But at the same time you’re like, “That’s not the most exciting thing.” I can’t make a cool mobile I don’t know, like AR enabled experience with a webpage, at least not in the way that I would want to. Basically I think there is this trade off, and maybe it’s really natural, between that sort of bleeding edge coolness, and interestingness, and that sort of stability in, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s just the archive or I don’t know, you want to be able to share with people.

Craig Cannon [27:54] – Well, a lot of now is just falling into the hands of archivists in museums. Rhizome’s doing a project to preserve digital art, but you basically are like buying a Dell from ’96 and like booting it.

Robin Sloan [28:07] – Yeah, and like air gapping it, and making sure that the automatic like OS updates never run.

Craig Cannon [28:11] – Totally, like do not connect to the internet, yeah.

Robin Sloan [28:13] – Yeah, totally. Totally, it will. Somebody, I mean yeah, the museums have those collections. I would love to imagine there’s someone somewhere that’s just like, “Yes, I have like the menagerie. Every computer, every OS.” Like, “What’s that? You need a MAC SC running OS 7.2? I’ve got one of those.” Power it up.

Craig Cannon [28:34] – Well, it’s a big thing in TV too. We did a podcast with Kor Adana from Mr. Robot and it’s so funny because their show is only set two years ago, but they’re still trying to keep a consistent date line. They’re actually having to get apps from like two years ago, and then to do the screenshots, and the simulations, and they’re like, “We can’t even.” You can’t find like Facebook from like two years ago.

Robin Sloan [28:56] – Right, right, right. That’s admirable first of all. That is some like 21st century Kubrick attention to nerdy detail. I really appreciate that. It’s a weird time. I would not bet against… Everything that we’re pouring into kind of the vast digital box, you know like everything? The Facebook updates, the Instagram photos, all of it, basically being gone in 2060, 2050. I hope that’s not the case, and I mean it seems hard to believe because it’s like everybody’s everything is in these systems, but based on just what we know and the way the patterns we’ve seen already, I like, if we were like okay, place your bets. I would be like, and that will all be deleted.

Kat Mañalac [29:44] – Yeah. Speaking of deleting, Craig was telling me something that I hadn’t heard before, that you have written a script that deletes your tweets?

Robin Sloan [29:53] – Oh yeah, definitely.

Kat Mañalac [29:53] – And can you, how did that come about and why?

Robin Sloan [29:56] – This is very clear cut to me at least. I still love Twitter, even though Twitter is so fraught and so complicated. I started using it like a lot of people kind of around 2009-2010. I actually worked at Twitter for a couple years too, and it was very at that time, like everyone who worked at Twitter was like on Twitter deeply, and it was really pure fun, and I think it was because it was so much more casual. It was the era of like, grabbin’ a sandwich with at Craig and at Kat.

Kat Mañalac [30:28] – Yeah.

Robin Sloan [30:29] – It was just so like, oh, we were children then. Uh, so things have changed a lot, but for me at least, I think there are some ways to kind of anchor it in that other feeling. I like to think of Twitter as not sort of an ongoing transcript of a congressional hearing to which we can always return, and always be like well actually Kat, four years ago, you said this, and that was bullshit. Yeah. But rather as like a huge weird interlinked conversation in a cafe somewhere. You know, people making bold claims, and referring to things, and saying nice things, complimenting each other, but then all of it just kind of like fading into the night air and it’s gone. Like you wouldn’t record your cafe conversation for posterity. I mean if you would, maybe some people do, but that’s weird. That’s clearly like strangely kind of like antisocial.

Craig Cannon [31:20] – I record everything and transcribe it and index my whole life. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Robin Sloan [31:25] – There you go. That’s a whole different conversation. But it is. It is. That’s actually quite strange, and yet it’s the default for Twitter of like recording everything and sort of keeping it forever. So it’s all to say, my very tiny kind of lever against that system and my way of kind of keeping it, something like a cafe conversation with the words just fading away is to delete my tweets on the regular, and oh, I can report that it feels great.

Kat Mañalac [31:51] – That does sound quite refreshing.

Craig Cannon [31:54] – Yeah. Were there any like greatest hits where you were like ah, sad to see it go?

Robin Sloan [31:57] – You know, yes, and it is a good, it’s a healthy thing. You can contend for a moment with your own vanity, and you’re like, oh, but there’s just so many faves. But then, it’s gone, and you’re like, I didn’t need those faves. Truly, it’s healthy. It’s a burn. It’s like a scalding kind of cleanse.

Kat Mañalac [32:14] – This brings me to one of my questions. I think I first came across you when I was reading Snarkmarket.

Robin Sloan [32:19] – Oh.

Kat Mañalac [32:20] – And so I loved it ’cause you would you know, post an essay, and then it would kick off a sort of discussion or debate below it. Sometimes they were kind of contentious and you came out reading the essay feeling one way, and then after reading the comments, you were like, oh no, but I see these other sides of it as well, and that died in like what? In 2015?

Robin Sloan [32:41] – I mean it was like a lot of blogs. It was just a sort of slow tail off. I’m sure you have never done this. It would actually make me sad to do it, but I’m sure you could graph the post-frequency, and it would be a real, actually a slow ramp into this sort of bulging sort of heyday, and then a slow tail off. Furthermore, I’ll bet if you took that and compared it to like average hours employed per week by all Snarkmarket authors, it would be a perfect sort of, it would fit together like puzzle pieces.

Kat Mañalac [33:14] – That makes sense. I was going to ask if Twitter killed it.

Robin Sloan [33:16] – I mean, well it did. It did in part. That’s just a whole thing. A whole melancholy story to kind of unspool. The story of blogs. Yeah. The rise and fall of blogs, ’cause I think people who kind of came up during that time, not only as bloggers, but kind of as writers more broadly. It was this amazing way to kind of crosstrain and just force yourself to like write something in public everyday, even if you didn’t like have it all perfectly locked down, or even know exactly what you thought. You’re like, well, I’ll find out what I think by like starting to write this little blog post in my Movable Type installation. It was truly lovely. But yeah, there’s no question. It was killed by Twitter and Facebook, and just really the sense that people moved on. I mean the reason you wrote a post is ’cause you knew people would read it, and in some cases, you knew very specifically who would read it. I remember in some ways, the greatest pleasure of writing for that blog was I understood our position exactly in the food chain of blogs. We were not at the bottom, and in fact, some of the blogs we were reading, we were like closer to the bottom,

Robin Sloan [34:24] – just in like terms of the number of readers. They were like super weird, nichy like strange little blogs, and you would, when you found one that you liked, you’d add it to your Google Reader, long-lamented, but I mean, the loss of Google Reader was another, I mean truly it was one of the nails in the coffin of blogging. As your Google Reader, that became part of your like secret stock pile. I remember talking to people about feeds, and they would be cagey. They would be like oh whatever, it’s just a scientist feed I found somewhere. It doesn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. I’ll blog the good stuff. Anyway, you’d find interesting things. You’d write about it. Snarkmarket was not top tier. I mean there was many sort of tiers above us, but there are a couple much bigger blogs in particular in just, you know, through the experience of linking something and writing a little about it, and then maybe eight hours pass, or a day passes, and then you see it at that next blog up. I began to understand very clearly, I was like I knew our role in that system, in that sort of economy of ideas, and it was really cool. It just felt awesome to like have a place, but as those readers go away, as like basically, there started to be these holes in that mesh, and then I think the parts kind of shear off, and then disintegrate entirely, and now I mean, you open up, it’s WordPress now. We did upgrade sometime between 2008 and 2017. And you open up the little composition window, and you’re like, no one is going to read this, or if they do, it’ll only be because I essentially recreate it,

Robin Sloan [35:52] – or give it a new home on Facebook or Twitter.

Craig Cannon [35:55] – Oh. Do you have strong opinions on 280 characters?

Robin Sloan [35:59] – I do now. I have to just always remember this. My first experience with user rage, being an enraged user, that is to say. Was in college, I don’t know. That was my first experience with high-speed internet, and I loved The New York Times website, which was, I mean, it was probably designed to be like 500 pixels wide at that time. It was just this tiny little thing. Very proto, you know, web experience. But I loved it, and in the early days, one of the things they did is they actually to keep their Timesness, they rendered all the headlines as images in like the Times font. ‘Cause there weren’t like web fonts, and they couldn’t do it justice, they thought, and so they rendered those as images, and I thought that was amazing. I was like, of course they’re images. It’s so beautiful. It looks like a newspaper. At one point, very reasonably, they decided that this is a little weird, and kind of rigid and inflexible and probably you know, is wasting people’s bandwidth, so they switched to just normal text links, and it was like Times New Roman. It wasn’t a pretty font. ‘Cause again, no web fonts yet. So they switched it, and I wrote an email. I was probably a junior in college. I was like…

Craig Cannon [37:05] – Oh, the worst.

Robin Sloan [37:06] – Yeah. To whom it may concern, you clearly don’t understand your own brand. You’ve made a terrible mistake with these ugly text links. So dumb. Literally 48 hours later, I was like, oh man, this page loads a lot faster now. This is great! It was just a good grounding early experience with like, come on. Things change, and you’re going to be okay. I have retained that consciousness to this day, and I was not super upset about 280 characters, even though I of course, like many of you, I appreciated the sort of Haiku constraints of 140, but I, oh man, I love it. I just keep typing. It’s great. And someone made the point. I thought this was actually very, super, super sharp. There’s a lot of different ways to think about it and talk about it. Someone made the point that with 280 characters, it actually gives you enough space. It’s not that much space, but it gives you enough space to do something you almost never could with 140 characters on their own, which is to present one idea, kind of like set up the thing, and then turn it around, react to it. You could basically say, well, a lot of people say X, but I think Y, or you could say like, I used to think X, and now I think Y. Like there’s enough space for like two ideas to be in dialogue with each other, whereas before, and after this it was kind of like an academic who kind of pointed this out, and I was like, oh yeah, that’s right. Before all tweets were like blah, here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. I mean, even if it was a nice thing or a funny thing, they were just like blah.

Robin Sloan [38:39] – But now, a tweet, there is enough space for it to kind of a like, hmm? Or like, what about? And that might be healthy, I think.

Craig Cannon [38:47] – I don’t know if any of your people will be taken out of context, but it makes sense. I do appreciate the little circle like progress thing, rather than the countdown. I thought that was really slick.

Robin Sloan [38:58] – Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it is. It’s one of those things. We’re like, oh right. I’ve been playing a weird game this whole time. I didn’t even realize. Yes. As soon as the numbers go away, you’re like, right.

Craig Cannon [39:09] – It didn’t matter. Yeah. What are you excited about right now? Are you thinking like, alright? Maybe you’ve already sold a book and I don’t even know it? Yeah, what are you into?

Robin Sloan [39:22] – Boy, I’m into a lot things. I will say that the machine learning stuff continues to preoccupy me. I think in part because I think there’s, there continues to be an arbitrage opportunity for artists or kind of art-adjacent people. So much of the energy is focused on super practical, and like economically-valuable applications, which is fine and I truly, like I cannot wait for self-driving cars to come fully online and for robot arms to be doing you know, all sorts of tasks and all that, but the creative applications are really, really interesting. I think for people who have even like just a fingernail’s grip on the technology and can kind of hack their way through the code, and also have again maybe the temperament to think it’s interesting and not like, uh, the rise of the machines. It’s totally wide open, like just blue sky, interesting stuff. I would definitely like to try to write a novel, and I’m in the process of trying to write a novel that has kind of part of its text, the product of some of these machine learning systems, but it’s you know, it’s tricky because you want it to be good. You don’t want it to just be sort of a parlour trick, like, did you read the machine learning novel? No, but I’m aware of it, and it’s very interesting. Like you don’t want that. You actually want to produce something that’s good.

Craig Cannon [40:44] – Yeah.

Robin Sloan [40:44] – Worth people’s time and interesting and worthwhile to read. But you want to do it, or at least in part using these tools that kind of no one has ever used before, so it’s a cool challenge.

Craig Cannon [40:56] – Have you tried Magenta yet?

Robin Sloan [40:58] – Well, Magenta’s not really like a thing, thing. It’s like the sweet of different tools.

Craig Cannon [41:03] – Right.

Robin Sloan [41:04] – They are really focused on sound, like mostly music stuff. It’s really cool. I actually think they’re one of sort of the few people/groups that are doing it right. People on the podcast should know I’m making air quotes doing it right. And that’s only to say they’re super competent technically, and interesting kind of pushing that state of the art in that sort of very codey, sort of academicy sense, but they’re also very clearly just interested in like aesthetics. Like they measure, you can tell that they’re measuring their own, judging their own output. Not unlike, wow, we’ve achieved a new state of the art of 2.7 bits on the loss. You’re like, “Cool. Is that better?” They’re like looking at sort of the qualitative, well, like, does it sound interesting? Is it lovely? Could it be lovely? And they’re also, this is actually the best part. They’re building tools, right? It’s not just raw code. They’re like building these things for people to use, and very clearly like, learning how to use them themselves, kind of in public in real time. I just admire the hell out of that whenever I see it.

Craig Cannon [42:09] – It ends up offending a lot of artists, because so many of these image recreation things in particular are like, style, content, transfer. See?

Robin Sloan [42:17] – Right.

Craig Cannon [42:18] – Style doesn’t matter. We can just throw it on anything.

Robin Sloan [42:19] – Right, right. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, it is, and there’s something about that stuff that is, it’s exciting in its own way, but it is at the same time a little tasteless and a little bit like, oh really, that’s what you think it is? You think it’s just like Van Gogh is swirly trees? Okay, come to the museum with me. There’s some things we need to talk about. Making something that you can use is kind of the key. There is a lot of this code, including some of the style transfer stuff, where you kind of like the only way to use it is to kind of say, run, like, do your thing. Tell me when you’re done, which is, that’s a good starting point. I do think of the challenge, or kind of the next step that gets really interesting is learning to make tools or even instruments that a person can get better at, which is not easy to do. I mean, people try to invent instruments, like musical instruments, and often you’re like, there’s just not enough depth there. You’re like, uh, yeah, I can play Hot Cross Buns and like that’s all. You know, like this is no viola, or like this is no you know some cool Moog synthesizer or whatever, and I think that’s coming for the machine learning stuff, or it should be.

Craig Cannon [43:31] – What do you think is missing right now?

Robin Sloan [43:33] – Well I mean, this is a little self-aggrandizing, but I’ll describe one of the products that I did, which I think is a tiny, tiny step in that direction. There’s these neural networks that operate on text, and they can essentially learn the statistical models of texts, such that given the beginning of a sentence, they can just keep writing it for you, right? And they end up of course, of course being sort of wacky and nonsensical, but they really do learn something. Like if you train this neural network on all of Harry Potter, and you start a sentence like, the boy walked into the? It’ll say, castle where he picked up his wand, and like you know, cast the following spell. In the style of J.K. Rowling. Again, really, actually in an impeccable sort of imitation of the style of J.K. Rowling or whoever. You’ve been able to kind of do that on a command line, for awhile, and people have written blog posts about it. Oh look. I wrote some Moby Dick, or here’s some weird fake Shakespeare, which are really cool. I took that stuff, kind of changed the way it works a little bit. I thought hard about the corpus I wanted to use, like what style I wanted it to be learning, but then I also built a little plugin for the Atom text editor, which is really easy to extend. You just kind of design to have things modded onto it. Instead of it being some kind of command line thing, you’re typing in a window just as you would. It’d be like composing a manuscript and you hit tab the way you would to auto complete something.

Craig Cannon [44:58] – That’s great.

Robin Sloan [44:59] – And a little wheel spins for just a second, and then it goes pop! And it shows you the completion, but it’s not just, you don’t just have to take what the computer gives you, just as you can with auto complete on the command line, you can arrow up and arrow down to other alternatives. But I think this is really important. The core interesting thing is the weird sort of wonderful output of this machine, right? But at the same time, you acknowledge that having a human kind of curate it and shape it, and form it, and just be in the loop and be learning how to use it is just as important. So and it turns out you mean, artistic value aside, it’s really fun.

Craig Cannon [45:36] – Oh totally. It’s actually like a really fun thing to play with.

Robin Sloan [45:39] – Yeah, it’s like…

Craig Cannon [45:40] – Well you see it on Twitter with auto complete keyboard all the time.

Robin Sloan [45:42] – Yeah, exactly.

Craig Cannon [45:43] – It’s just like tap the next thing.

Robin Sloan [45:44] – Yeah, totally. Totally.

Craig Cannon [45:45] – To take a Harry Potter tangent for a second, early on in the book you talk about our generation wanting to be sorted. Is that like a strong opinion or a throwaway line?

Robin Sloan [45:54] – No, it is. That’s a funny thing for you to mention. Yeah, so the whole line is, the character says, you know, I’m a child of Hogwart’s. Like everyone else in my generation, I’m a child of Hogwart’s, and more than anything, I think we just want to be sorted.

Kat Mañalac [46:11] – When I read that, I was like that is very true of me. At least in my early 20’s, I was like, just someone tell me what to do.

Robin Sloan [46:18] – Oh yeah, exactly. Tell me what club I belong to. Give me my shawl, my cardigan in the right colors, and let’s just get this over with. Yeah, so I do believe it. I think there’s something to it. However, more than anything else, that line has been a window for me into like what reading is in the 21st century. In part, because near the beginning of the book, And part, because it’s very #relatable. It’s not about the book. You can pull it out very easily, and it kind of stands on its own. And because apparently, it resonates with a lot of people. People have taken so many pictures of that line and that page, on Twitter, on Instagram. I could compile you a gallery of like hundreds of snapshots from around the country in the world of people, and then with a caption of like quote of the day, or oh man, Robin Sloan really gets me, or like, I got to admit, this would hit really close to home or whatever. They’re like kind of putting their little spin on it. But just to see the way like a book becomes a social object like that, and it’s this thing for them to, of course, just like everything else on social media. They’re like announcing that they’re reading a book, which is like really cool. They’re sharing something that resonated with them. They’re promoting the book a little bit, which is cool. I definitely know. I’m like, yes! Be sure to say what book that is from.

Robin Sloan [47:33] – Sourdough by Robin Sloan from MCD and published on October whatever. So it’s cool. It’s actually been like, almost like they put like radioactive dye.

Craig Cannon [47:43] – Totally.

Kat Mañalac [47:44] – Yeah.

Robin Sloan [47:45] – In your blood to like trace or whatever? That’s been like my dye tracer through.

Craig Cannon [47:48] – Is there one later in the book?

Robin Sloan [47:49] – There are a couple things that people, like on Kindle highlights you can see what people liked. But honestly, there’s no other line that had that like, that became like truly a social object that leapt off the page and then just boop! Kind of went off on its own.

Craig Cannon [48:05] – Yeah.

Kat Mañalac [48:06] – And it’s so fascinating, because it really doesn’t tie back into the rest of the book for the most part.

Robin Sloan [48:11] – Yeah, yeah.

Kat Mañalac [48:12] – It stands on its own.

Robin Sloan [48:13] – Yeah, it’s really, it’s kind of the starting point of how this character feels before she even gets to San Francisco, or embroiled in this world of food or learns any of this weird stuff. But yeah, apparently, there’s a lot of people in the world who feel the same way that this character does as the story opens.

Craig Cannon [48:28] – Have you seen long-form fiction change as social media influences it? Kat and I were talking about this in the context of museums. Right? You know you have these Instagram museums basically. Are there Instagram books with all these zingers intentionally?

Robin Sloan [48:42] – Oh boy. Yeah! That’s a good question. So I don’t know for sure. That’s a big question actually, and a really interesting one. I don’t really think so. Not yet, and I think that’s for a couple of reasons. I think I’ll just guess. One is that the truth is that the readership for books, I mean it’s obviously diverse, and like there’s a lot of young people who read books. There’s also a lot of older people who read books. I think there’s a certain kind of point at which ends, of course not like these people aren’t on Facebook. They are. Everyone’s on Facebook, but I think they’re also kind of not. They’re like people who just relate to the world and get information and kind of select their media in a different way. I don’t know if it’s a more old-fashioned way exactly, but it’s just different. They like go to the library and get a stack of books, which is by the way, one of the reasons I love like publishing books and reaching this audience this way. It’s really special to be able to talk to them in a way that like no one on Twitter ever will, because it’s just kind of you know, sort of separated worlds with not a lot of bridges between them. That’s part of it, and then I do think that people read books for different reasons than they use social media still. That could change. That could change over time, but yeah, I think books, the good books really do, they’re that sort of sense of engrossment. Is that even a word?

Craig Cannon [50:04] – Yeah.

Kat Mañalac [50:04] – Yeah.

Robin Sloan [50:05] – Engrossing, they’re engrossing.

Craig Cannon [50:07] – I’ll count it. Yeah, so EPIC 2014? What’s your explanation?

Robin Sloan [50:13] – Boy, that’s a, well it’s kind of the original media experiment for me. I mean, there have been so many along the way. Like apps and web projects, and weird books, and other things like that. EPIC 2014, oh boy. It was an artifact of its time. It was 2003, 2004 I guess was when it finally got published. I was working at a place called the Pointer Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was kind of a journalism school and think tank. A really, really cool institution. My colleague there was another young journalist, or sort of journalist in-training named Matt Thompson, who has gone on to become the Executive Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, so wow! Little did I realize? No that’s not true. I did actually suspect that that was probably going to be his path. Even back then. So we’re down in the computer lab, with one, I mean it wasn’t quite a Mac SC with whatever system seven, but they were some funky translucent iMacs down in the computer lab, and we were frustrated because we at that time, this is the rise of the blogs. It’s truly like the early blog boom, and we were part of it. We thought it was so exciting. We thought all this stuff was so exciting, and it did not seem to us like the people we were talking to in the newspaper industry, primarily then like saw what we saw. We tried to explain it. We tried to give presentations with charts and things like that, but still, we were getting things like glazed over looks. We were like come on. First of all, these people need to understand this, and second, it’s exciting! Like there’s like,

Robin Sloan [51:36] – it’s not good news. It’s very interesting news. This is where it’s almost a little cliche. We’re like, how can we communicate this vividly to people? By telling a story in Flash. Well, that’s why it’s an artifact of its time. We were like, okay, we’re going to make this video. It’s going to be this sort of faux future documentary that tells the future history of media from 2004-2014.

Kat Mañalac [51:59] – Whoa!

Robin Sloan [52:00] – With all this weird stuff that’s happened. You know consolidation? New York Times goes out of business, and there’s just like all this customized news, and it all feels very antique now in fact. But it was radical. A radical vision in 2004. But the great constraint of course, is in 2004, you could not post video on the internet. There was no place to do it, and if by chance you did find some service base, the resulting bandwidth bill would like crush you. There were these stories, almost like urban legends of like, oh yeah, Craig posted a video one time. Some people watched it. He had to sell his house.

Craig Cannon [52:34] – Yes!

Robin Sloan [52:34] – The bandwidth efficient way of sharing, moving pictures was Flash, so we authored this whole funky thing in Flash. It was just like strange stuttering animation, and it was actually, the web we have lost. The lamented early web. Even the Flash video was a bit much, because it became very popular. It was like a weird early viral web hit. Especially kind of among news people, and we were kind of feeling the burn in the server go down sometimes, so some friendly people with web servers around the world would send these emails like, hello, my name is Ivo. I’m in the Netherlands. I would happy to mirror your Flash movie. We were like yeah, here’s the link. Please mirror it, so on the main page it was. It was beautiful. It was like this United Nations of hosting, and there was this list of like, here’s some other mirrors you know? Click, and you’d go to this sort of other copy of the page on some server in the Netherlands.

Craig Cannon [53:33] – Oh man.

Robin Sloan [53:34] – It was amazing.

Craig Cannon [53:34] – That’s so cool. Have you thought about doing another one?

Robin Sloan [53:37] – You know, every so often someone asks. Most recently, it was 2014, which was kind of the crux of the movie that we made more than a decade ago, and we got some you know, feelers from people, including like media companies. We’re like, it’ll be a big thing. It’ll be like our cool, we’ll produce it and it will be rad and you know, we’ll pay you for it and all this stuff. Both of us had the same instinct, which was like, it was so, that project was so guileless. It was so, I mean it was pure.

Craig Cannon [54:06] – Yeah.

Robin Sloan [54:07] – We were just like these two 20 something people who were like, people don’t seem, people don’t seem to see this as clearly as we do? Perhaps, if we tell a story, and we had no other expectations for it beyond that. You just can’t. If you do something like that and it works, and it’s successful, that is 100% your signal to close that box. Put it on the shelf. Say what luck and move onto something else.

Craig Cannon [54:31] – Fair enough.

Kat Mañalac [54:33] – Yeah, but so Penumbra came out. How many? Five?

Robin Sloan [54:36] – Yeah, 2012. Yep.

Kat Mañalac [54:37] – I was at Wired and then in New York. Around the 2012 time frame, there was so much positivity about tech, right? Especially in the press, and so it’s changed a lot. How did that like change in tone in the coverage of tech like impacts the way that you taught, that you write about it now?

Robin Sloan [54:59] – That’s a great question. I will let you in on something. That shift was happening, of course, it’s ongoing in choice, in flex. That particular shift, that’s sort of darkening, most of the tint was happening, even as I was kind of wrapping up the manuscript for Penumbra. I remember very vividly the last few passes in the summer of 2012, before it came out that fall, going through and changing a few lines that I mean, the book is very, it is very kind of like magical, Silicon Valley Wonderland. There were a few lines in that original manuscript that were even a bit much then in 2012, and I was like, people are going to think I am lame, and naive if I include this sort of line, and so I even at that time, and even at that point and that process, I was like, hmm, I need to kind of calibrate this a little differently, which is, that’s the risk. It’s the fun part, but also, kind of the risk and the burden of trying to write fiction that’s set now in our world today. I mean, there’s definitely like, you understand why people write historical novels, because there’s like a refuge and like it’s not going to, there’s other challenges, but at least it kind of won’t shift underneath my feet. I definitely had to change the tone for the new one, for Sourdough. Part of it was just kind of natural, the way I think about it of course, has changed over time, like everyone else, where just, where it’s just about kind of power and the way these things, the role in our lives have changed. So I think any thinking human

Robin Sloan [56:21] – has a different relationship to it now, and then of course, I always just wanted to just like not do another version of the same postcard from Silicon Valley, but like send a different one. The character in this new one, she starts the book in a much darker place, like she’s workin’ at this robot factory that wants to change the world, and transform the conditions of human labor, but their labor, that they are undertaking to do all that is pretty intense. She’s frustrated and strung out, and not eating well, and definitely not drinking enough water. And that’s yeah. In some ways, I wanted to make it feel like a dispatch from Silicon Valley today, without taking the I think easy route of just like burn-it-all-down, that you see elsewhere, ’cause I don’t think that’s, well, first of all, other people have got that covered. Other people are on the fully burn-it-all-down beat, and that’s good. I mean, we need them out there. So maybe I could do a little something different.

Craig Cannon [57:18] – That’s great. Alright, thanks for coming in Robin.

Robin Sloan [57:20] – Thanks for the invitation. It’s a real treat.

Craig Cannon [57:22] – Alright, thanks for listening. As always, the video and transcript are at, and if you have a second, please subscribe and review the show. Alright, see you next week.