Monday, November 17, 2008

"The Robot Sorcerer" - by Eric James Stone


One day a few years ago, as I was driving home, I was thinking about the concept of titles that juxtaposed two things that do not seem to belong together. I decided to take something science-fictionish and match it with something fantasyish and came up with "The Robot Wizard." (Later I decided "Sorcerer" sounded better.)

So I had a title and nothing else. I let that title bang around in my brain for a year or two, and then -- while driving home again -- I thought, What if an exploratory robot with AI goes through a wormhole portal and ends up in a magical world? I recorded a voice memo on my PDA so I wouldn't forget that idea.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to go to the Odyssey Workshop (, an intensive six-week program focused on writing science fiction and fantasy. Since I would have several stories critiqued at the workshop, I decided to get a head start on writing a new story and that "The Robot Sorcerer" would be a good one to write. So, in the week before the workshop, I came up with the very basics of a plot and wrote 750 words to begin the story.

While at Odyssey, I met with Jeanne Cavelos, director of the program and writing teacher extraordinaire, to talk about trends in my writing she had noticed in my first few stories she had read. She suggested that I needed to focus more on developing characters who were integral to the plot, and that one way to do that was to figure out a character's greatest desire and greatest fear, and then have those two things in opposition at the climax of the story.

Until that discussion with Jean, I had never thought about the integration of plot and character in a systematic way. Generally, I came up with a plot and then came up with characters to plug into the plot. While I had written stories where the character and the plot fit together perfectly (such as "Tabloid Reporter to the Stars"), that was more accidental than purposeful.

In discussing what I planned to do with "The Robot Sorcerer," Jean told me I needed to figure out what the robot most desired and most feared. I realized that I would have to throw out the 750 words I had already written and start over. (If you want to see the original beginning, go here:

I decided what the robot feared most was losing its sentience. Because the robot's personhood was now a key component of the story, I decided I needed to tell the story in first person, rather than the omniscient narrator I had originally chosen. I also realized the story needed to start before the robot went through the wormhole and became sentient, in order to show the contrast. And that meant writing the first section in zeroth person -- from the point of view of an inanimate object that was not (yet) a person. (Yes, there actually is a zeroth person in some languages.)

I decided that the robot's greatest desire would be to save Bump. So I came up with a plot that would provide a climax in which the robot would have to choose between saving Bump and keeping its sentience. And then I wrote that story.

I want to give special thanks to Jeanne Cavelos, without whose advice the story would never have developed along the lines it did. I also want to thank Elizabeth Hand, an Odyssey guest lecturer who critiqued the first complete draft, and all my Odyssey classmates who gave me such great feedback on the story. And a final thank-you to my writing groups for their critiques.


Eric's story, "The Robot Sorcerer," is in issue 10 of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, available now.

Eric's bio:

One of Eric James Stone's earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his life-long fascination with astronomy and space travel. His father's collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke.

Despite taking creative writing classes in the 1980s, Eric did not begin seriously writing fiction until 2002. In 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. Since then, he has sold stories to the Writers of the Future Contest, Analog, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Eric lives in Utah. His website can be found at

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