Adam-Troy Castro’s story “Arvies,” first published in the August 2010 issue of Lightspeed magazine, imagines a society that believes only fetuses have souls. One consequence of this is that it’s normal for people to use advanced technology to never leave the womb.
“There are two kinds of people in that story—fetuses and the ‘arvies,’ which they ride around in and have fun and replace regularly,” Castro says in Episode 519 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “[The story] bounces back and forth between the point of view of one of these fetuses and those where you go to the basically mindless woman—by design—whose fate is to carry her around.”
“Arvies” was a huge hit for Castro, winning the 2011 Million Writers Award for best short story and appearing in books such as Nebula Awards Showcase: 2012 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy: 2011. “That was a big story in my career,” Castro says. “I wrote it using an unusual style, and it got a lot of attention. It got a lot of international attention, which was gratifying. I’m very, very fond of it. I still think it’s one of the five best stories I ever did.”
But not everyone loved “Arvies.” Many readers were turned off by the macabre premise or chose to read the story as a commentary on abortion, an idea Castro rejects. “A lot of people thought that that particular story was cold; a lot of people thought it was too dark,” he says. “Fine. You don’t like this one; you’ll like the next one, maybe.”
Castro is notorious for pushing the envelope when it comes to horror fiction. It’s a talent he’s honed over 30 years of writing stories like “Of a Sweet Slow Dance in the Wake of Temporary Dogs,” about a tourist paradise that suffers a genocidal invasion every 10 days, or “The Shallow End of the Pool,” about a toxic married couple who have raised their children to fight each other to the death.
“You need to feel whatever emotional response the story is supposed to provide for the reader,” Castro says. “If it’s a funny story, you need to be giggling like a madman when you’re writing it. If it’s a suspenseful story, you have to be on the edge of your seat, not knowing how things are going to turn out. If it needs to be horrific, you have to wonder, ‘Oh my god, is it OK that this stuff is coming out of me?’”
Listen to the complete interview with Adam-Troy Castro in Episode 519 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Adam-Troy Castro on his story “The Author’s Wife vs. The Giant Robot”:[My wife Judi] read almost all of my stories before I sent them in. This particular story, about a giant robot living in the middle of basically Manhattan and randomly killing one person every day, was an exercise in writing about mortality. Judi found lots of logical problems with this, and my conversations with her were so terrific that I pretty much reported them verbatim when I wrote the story, and they helped guide the story … It’s very ironic to me that with Judi’s death, this story is sort of like a commentary on that, because she got taken randomly by the giant robot. This happens to all of us; we all have a story like that. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s what life is, and that’s what the story is about.
Adam-Troy Castro on fandom:
I went to a couple of scattered [science-fiction] conventions as early as age 10 or 12. When I was about that age, there was a convention called Lunacon, which was usually held at the Commodore Hotel, I believe, in New York City. All that interested me about that convention—literally all—was that at 2 o’clock on Saturday, Isaac Asimov gave a speech. So I would buy a membership and go to that convention just to listen to that speech. I attended no other panels. I would show up and sit down at that speech, watch that speech, say hello to Asimov—who I could tell maybe felt that I was a pain-in-the-ass kid—and then I might have showed up in the dealer’s room a little bit. But then I left.
Adam-Troy Castro on Harlan Ellison:
I recognize that people have their reasons for disliking him or disapproving of him or—forgive me the phrase, I don’t agree with the phrase—trying to “cancel” him, but my answer to that is that you don’t scoop out 30 years’ worth of friendship or 50 years’ worth of literary admiration. You can’t do that. It’s very easy for younger people to do that when he meant nothing to them … I guarantee to everyone listening to this—and this is not me making an excuse for Harlan, this is me telling them one thing about life, which is that if your iconic figures live long enough, there will come a day when you will have to apologize for them, and if you live long enough, you will become out of touch and you will lose the respect of people younger than you. This happens. It is part of being alive.
Adam-Troy Castro on his story “The Old Horror Writer”:
When the Frankenstein monster first appeared on screen as played by Boris Karloff, the first sight of his face was enough to make people faint in the theater. It doesn’t have that effect on anybody right now. We see a lot more horrific monsters in CGI every day. In fact, within 15 years the Frankenstein monster was chasing Lou Costello around. Monsters are defanged by horror fiction. It’s very, very difficult to write a scary vampire story now. Hell, there’s a zombie movie called Fido in which [the zombie] is a kid’s pet. It’s been a musical. I think that’s one of the things that drove [“The Old Horror Writer”]. That’s what the story was about, and that eventually is the old horror writer’s success in that story.