Atom The Beginning is a curious series; unlike the precedent it would appear to follow of socially-conscious updates of traditionally simplistic hero series like Gatchaman Crowds (which like it or not explored the obsolescence of superheroes and indeed government in an internet of things-based society) or Yatterman Night (which was an able if occasionally awkward exploration of the nature of villainy in a simple black-and-white morality superhero narrative) it has yet to properly dig into any of the moral issues it would appear to focus on. The precedent is there for something rich. Astro Boy was a universe that within its child-friendly framework played on ideas of the morality of android technology and machine sentience. But Atom the Beginning is set in that era in a time before the events that led to the creation of, arguably, one of the first super robots.
There’s a lot of backstory to this that perhaps the title doesn’t communicate in its efforts to be satirical. This isn’t purely a satirical story, fixed in its aims at deflating some specific wrongheaded viewpoint, although as I wrote it I realised it could definitely be read as one. In fact I quite like that reading of it, because as someone who cares quite a bit about literary criticism I hate the idea that one can have a useful piece of “objective” writing about art. Even if one takes the author to be very much not dead, communicating authorial intent is – like communicating any information – going to be shaped by the writer’s subconscious biases.
That was a reading I realised I was subconsciously writing into this story, but when I set out to write it my thought process began with two things. Firstly writing an artificial intelligence’s voice that was not merely emotionless, but trying to communicate the thought process of something with a completely different set of values. A great inspiration here was Ann Leckie, who does this very well in her novels and is highly recommended. The second thing was trying to communicate the emotional response I have to the weird, introspective musical genre called vaporwave. Something of a pop-cultural joke at times, vaporwave is like the opposite of the retro electronica revival that I dearly love, not dwelling on cyberpunk and grinding industrial synths and found sounds but making something truly odd and ethereal with synthesisers. Listening to This by Hong Kong Express gives a sense of what vaporwave is. I wanted to see if I could get that sometimes familiar, sometimes uncanny sound across in a piece of written description, and so decided the best subject for such a tone would be something inhuman, inscrutable and distant.