Summer Block + “The New Yorker Fiction Section Presents: Killer Robots from Space” = MB8

Posted By jatyler - 27th May 2011

Summer Block + “The New Yorker Fiction Section Presents: Killer Robots from Space” = MB8:

As early as the title of this piece you are playing with juxtaposition – The New Yorker next to ‘Killer Robots from Space’ – how important are these contrasts to the overall working of this story?

I had the idea for the story while talking with my friend, the writer Grant Munroe.  We were both lamenting what we saw as The New Yorker fiction department’s over-reliance on certain character types, plotlines, and scenarios, and Grant suggested that it would be great to have a totally different type of story appear in the magazine’s pages, one that was gripping and narrative-driven and imaginative and maybe a little over-the-top. I liked the idea of contrasting a totally outrageous, science-fiction cataclysm of the type Grant suggested with the typical story as it appears in the magazine’s pages now – the high stakes of killer robots from space destroying the city of New York is a great comic background to the typical New Yorker magazine protagonist’s petty personal problems and impenetrable self-regard.

Another aspect that really intrigues me here is how you build tension by the repetition of news-related interjections while our narrator Harold remains nonplussed. How did you come to create this kind of structure?

Well, what I wanted to get at is the sense that Harold is so utterly self-absorbed that even the most absurd, extreme, cataclysmic outside events can’t really shake his core narcissism and neurosis. And of course, from a comedy perspective, the more absurd and out of control the news events become, hopefully the funnier it is, this contrast between a man kvetching about his son’s MBA and an entire city being destroyed by huge menacing space robots.

What does Xenia’s final and cold rejection of Harold say about your take on our emotional state-of-being in response to crises, real or pretend?

I think Xenia’s rejection is largely based on her specific prior relationship with Harold – which is to say, I don’t think she would necessarily reject anyone who had come to her door, or that all ex-lovers would turn on each other in these circumstances. It is a cliché that crises bring out the real nature of a person, but I think there is some truth in that, and so a crisis like this one reveals Harold’s true nature to Xenia and lays bare the total failure of their relationship. Which is a longer way of saying that Harold is just an incredible asshole.

Perhaps it is a ridiculous question, but: is this story making a comment on humankind as a whole? Or is it all about the joke of The New Yorker in contrast with killer space robots?

Well, now I’d like to say the former, because what writer doesn’t want to comment on humankind as a whole? But no, really my intent was just to send up a very particular kind of fiction for which The New Yorker is known. In fact, it’s rather the opposite of humankind as a whole: it’s humankind as a solipsistic, middle-aged academic working in the humanities. So thanks for making me feel bad.

According to your bio you have 1.5 babies, but surely by now that must be 2.0 – is it?

It is! In fact, I had Baby #2 just last week. So far he seems alright.

Read “The New Yorker Fiction Section Presents: Killer Robots from Space” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.