Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer, a Nebula Award finalist, and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, among others. She is the recipient of Odyssey Workshop’s 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship and the author of Linghun and I AM AI. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (http://aijiang.ca).
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AYS: Can you tell us about your experience as an immigrant and how it has influenced your writing?
AJ: I think my background has definitely resulted in an uncertainty when it comes to identity, the intersectionality of cultures, and also the fear of unbelonging, which I think become prominent themes in my writing, where my characters are often struggling with similar issues as I am.
AYS: Your books Linghun and I Am AI seem to explore different themes, could you talk about your inspiration behind these stories?
AJ: For LINGHUN, I wanted to further explore the concept of ghosts through the ways in which they might manifest not as malevolent spirits seeking revenge or haunting spaces, but are pulled back into the world of the living because of their loved ones’ grief and inability to let go. In terms of I AM AI, especially given the rise of AI and the ethical concerns attached to its advancement, I wanted to explore how it might impact the job market through a cyberpunk world and in relation to both the pitfalls and merits of humanity.
AYS: As a Nebula Award finalist, how has that recognition impacted your writing career?
AJ: I would say it has brought more attention to me and my work, but there is also a sort of added on pressure to produce work of an even higher quality. Yet at the same time, I do think I’ve improved craft-wise as a writer since I had written the Nebula finalist story (mid-2021), so I can only hope I can keep up the momentum in my career moving forward.
AYS: Can you describe your writing process and how you approach creating complex characters and worlds?
AJ: I like to draw on aspects of myself along with those around me and the people I have met or imagine I might meet, or even the assumed character and personality of strangers, when I’m creating characters. But most of all, I tend to imagine how the world and its politics, as well as the society and its cultures, might impact someone living within it—particularly in terms of their position on sociopolitical hierarchies. For me, the world almost always come before the character, unless I’m writing a psychological horror piece that is more realist-leaning where it is more introspective and far less world building. For example, with LINGHUN, the world came first because it is one very different from our own (or at least the specific area that it is set in).
AYS: How do you see the intersection of technology and humanity in your work, particularly in I Am AI?
AJ: I like to see technology as a tool but not a replacement for humans—to help us with increasing productivity, by taking over more organizational and tedious tasks that don’t require as much creation or imaginatively. In relation to writing, I can see AI being a helpful tool in organizing our thoughts and notes for WIPs that we might have scattered everywhere and in different documents, so we can focus on the elaboration and creation of worlds and characters rather than wasting brain capacity on trying to locate specific notes we had left ourselves or trying to organize random tidbits we have in disarray within several documents. But I wouldn’t say using it necessarily to help us create an outline as I imagine that it might become rather formulaic, and we might lose the unexpected ways a narrative might unfold as it is being thought of and written down by human minds and hands. A good story is not necessarily a tidy story, or so I personally believe. But I personally am far too chaotic and impulsive a writer to tinker with AI I think, as it is very much another skill to learn and effectively incorporate into a writing routine, and I’m really quite stubborn about how I go about my writing, which is with a vague sense of direction, a whole boat-load of overly ambitious ideas, and fervently written sentences.