Meet the A.I. Gods: Revealing Ada Hoffmann’s The Outside

Yasira Shien didn’t mean for her science to tear holes in reality…

We’re excited to reveal the cover for The Outside, a new mind-bending science fiction novel publishing in June 2019 with Angry Robot. Check out the full cover by artist Lee Gibbons below, plus get author Ada Hoffmann’s thoughts on Lovecraft, mysticism, and her new novel!

Yasira Shien didn’t mean for her science to tear holes in reality. Or for her new reactor to kill a hundred people. But that’s what happened. The AI gods who rule the galaxy want answers. They could execute Yasira for her heretical crimes. Instead, they offer mercy—if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor. With her homeworld’s fate in the balance, Yasira must choose who to trust, the ruthless gods she was taught to obey without question, or the rebel scientist whose unorthodox mathematics could turn her world inside out.

The Outside is a beautiful, stark reclamation of unknowable horror. Hoffman layers thoughtful worldbuilding and rich prose to build a stunning story of power, ambition and personal agency. I couldn’t put The Outside down for fear of what might happen while I was looking away.” –Sarah Gailey, Hugo Award-winning author of River of Teeth

“The Outside is a fresh and mind-bending mix of cosmic horror and space opera, a compelling story that spans from the deeply personal to the vast mysteries of time and space. Unsettling and gorgeous, this is like nothing I have read before and the book I have been longing for without knowing it.” –Karin Tidbeck, award-winning author of Amatka and Jagannath

“The Outside is spooky, high-stakes, mind-bending Science Fiction.” –Kelly Robson, Nebula Award-winning author

 


On the cover of The Outside, a tiny human in an orange spacesuit stands atop an immense, shifting spaceborne structure.

The tiny human is Yasira, the book’s protagonist; the structure is the Alhazred, a spaceship owned by the heretic Dr. Evianna Talirr.

The Alhazred is named after Abdul Alhazred, a fictional Arab poet featured in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos as the author of the Necronomicon. Dr. Talirr worships unknowable entities which are similar in many ways to Lovecraft’s Outer Gods.

The name of the ship is no Easter egg, as The Outside is a sideways take on the role of cosmic horror in science fiction.

H.P. Lovecraft had a fantastic imagination and became an immense influence on the science fiction, fantasy, and horror that was written after him. He was also a virulent racist. Much of the horror in Lovecraft’s stories arises from the idea that people like him—ostensibly humans, but really, able-bodied white Englishmen—were not the center of the universe. That they could be overrun at any time by strange, foreign, horrifying people and beings who did not especially care about them.

Lovecraft’s racism has been rightly challenged, and authors—including Ruthanna Emrys, Victor LaValle, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, to name a few—have done amazing work subverting the racial aspects of his fiction in recent years.

There is also the aspect of mysticism.

Lovecraft wrote his cosmic horror stories in response to the reduced role of religion in 20th century Western society. Stories about demons and devils were no longer effective if most people didn’t believe in these creatures.

But science was also speeding ahead in the early 20th century. Without religion, cosmological science showed that there was a vast universe, infinitely bigger than what humans could imagine, and that humans and their world were tiny.

It is this sense of tininess, and inability to comprehend the larger matters of the universe, that fuels the best of Lovecraft’s work.

But the idea that humans are not at the center of the universe—that we are tiny, and that the things that matter in a cosmic sense are far vaster than ourselves—is also at the heart of many of humans’ oldest mystical traditions.

If one does not expect to be at the center of the universe, to be able to “rationally” assimilate everything that happens there, then this truth is not necessarily horrible.

Yasira lives in a SFnal future in which AI have taken over religion. Everything she was raised to believe is clear, mechanistic, explainable—even the afterlife, which the AI use to punish and reward their followers.

Dr. Talirr breaks away from this AI religion because it cannot account for her own inexplicable experiences. Outside, as she calls it, is more genuinely transcendent, more all-encompassing, more true than the way she was raised. But it is also alien, irrational, maddening and deadly.

Is following your truth more important than ensuring your own safety? The safety of others?

Yasira is faced with a choice between the AI’s and Talirr’s worldviews—or, perhaps, with the opportunity to create a third choice for herself.

ADA HOFFMAN is a Canadian graduate student trying to teach computers to write poetry. Her acclaimed speculative short stories and poems have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, Uncanny, and two year’s best anthologies. Ada was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at 13, and is passionate about autistic self-advocacy. She is a former semi-professional soprano, a tabletop gamer and an active LARPer, she lives in southern Ontario with a very polite black cat.

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