Guest Post: Robot Dragons Can’t be Literary by Paige Orwin

Paige Orwin headshot copy

Paige Orwin was born in Utah, to her great surprise. At the age of nine she arranged to rectify the situation.  She now lives in Washington state, next to a public ferry terminal and a great deal of road construction, and has never regretted the decision.

She is the proud owner of a BA in English and Spanish from the University of Idaho, which thus far has not proven terrifically useful for job prospects but she knew the risks of a humanities degree going in. She also survived the 8.8 Chilean earthquake in 2010, which occurred two days after her arrival in the country (being stubborn, she stayed an entire year anyway).

She began writing The Interminables when her favorite video game, City of Heroes, was shut down in late 2012.

Her partner in crime wants a cat. This, thus far, has not happened.

Robot Dragons Can’t be Literary

by Paige Orwin

I was fortunate enough to go to college.

There is, in the US, a standardized test called the SAT, and a “pre-test” for it called the PSAT. In high school, I took the PSAT, and apparently I did pretty well. I did so well that I got a letter from the “National Merit Scholarship Corporation” saying that I was a “semifinalist” in a contest I wasn’t aware I had entered. Later, they decided that I was a “finalist” and a “National Merit Scholar.” The University of Idaho thought that was a big deal, and offered me a four-year, full-ride scholarship.

Okay, I said.

It had always been a given that I was going to go to college. That’s just what you did after high school, and my parents were determined to see that I did it, no matter how much it cost (and they knew it would cost a lot). Having that financial concern suddenly lifted was a godsend, I imagine.

So I packed off to Idaho. I had a vague idea of what I should do — probably something in the humanities, because I was good at writing, and probably something with Spanish, because that was important to me. I debated Anthropology, and then Sociology. Maybe some combination, with History or something. I didn’t know, it all looked good.

Then I realized that there was a Creative Writing option.

Hey! I’ll major in Creative Writing! It won’t even be like work!

I signed up for Creative Writing 101 (possibly 201, I don’t remember) and contemplated my future as an artiste. I wouldn’t be rich, probably. But, as a trade-off, I could make some kind of living off my ideas — that churning slurry vat of vivid hallucinations that seemed to occupy more of my brain’s processing space than remembering to eat food — and I could live with that, right? I could be like Isaac Asimov, who worked a 9-5 job at his typewriter and wrote like two hundred books or something ridiculous: hard work, but honest work.

(I often used Asimov as a yardstick, to the point where it came as a shock to discover, not too long ago, that he’d died two years after I was born. All of his books that I’d read belonged to my mother and had been published in the 70s and 80s, and their biographies read like he was getting on, but just fine, thanks).

Creative Writing 101/201 required that I buy a textbook on how to write creatively. Most of the examples in it seemed to revolve around either delicate social put-downs or death by drug use. I did not heed this warning.

For my first assignment, I wrote about an immigrant Chinese railway worker who had been a horror novelist and was still haunted by strange shadows and mysterious accidents, even though he had burned his books years before. This was “interesting, but a little strange.”

For the next one, I wrote about chickens on a slaughter line passing knowledge from cage to cage before each teacher met their inevitable demise. This one was popular.

Finally, I wrote about a fairy-like creature who might have been made of metal fleeing through a forest that resembled clusters of cooling stacks for unknowable machinery below, pursued by an unholy amalgam of jet aircraft, helicopter, and dragon with complex folding wing-panels and eyes like spotlights, that breathed napalm — and that was too much.

“It’s interesting — it’s an interesting story — but things like that don’t have literary merit.”



“It’s genre fiction. Genre fiction can’t be literary. It’s fluff writing.”

What about Frankenstein? THE original “mad scientist creates monster” book?

“Well, that’s a special case.”

“Literary,” of course, refers to writing of a particular quality. The kind of writing that all authors everywhere should aspire towards. The kind of writing that is beautiful even when it’s about something pointless (and where pointlessness is sometimes the point). The kind of writing, in short, in my Creative Writing textbook, because sex scandals are an elevated art form.

There is no place, in traditional academia, for writing that can both be “of quality” and “have robot dragons.” Never mind that there are many authors in the “literary canon” who wrote about fantastical things, and some are so experimental that they might as well be fantastic.

Dragons? Genre. Spaceships? Genre. Magic that isn’t “magical realism?” Genre.

What if a book with one or more of these trappings also has deeply relatable characters and pertinent commentary on the world and, yes, writing that is beautiful even when it’s about something pointless?


I didn’t major in Creative Writing. I took literature classes after that, but no writing classes that weren’t required. Literature, at least, lets you draw your own conclusions about other people’s (successful) work rather than tell you how to do your own.

The Interminables has these in it…


…and I have no regrets.

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*** The Interminables is published by Angry Robot Books and is available to purchase TODAY!!!! ****

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Buy the Book:

Amazon | Barnes & NobelGoodreads | Kobo

About the Book:

It’s 2020, and a magical cataclysm has shattered reality as we know it. Now a wizard’s cabal is running the East Coast of the US, keeping a semblance of peace.

Their most powerful agents, Edmund and Istvan — the former a nearly immortal 1940s-era mystery man, the latter, well, a ghost — have been assigned to hunt down an arms smuggling ring that could blow up Massachusetts.

Turns out the mission’s more complicated than it seemed. They discover a shadow war that’s been waged since the world ended, and, even worse, they find out that their own friendship has always been more complicated than they thought. To get out of this alive, they’ll need to get over their feelings, their memories, and the threat of a monstrous foe who’s getting ready to commit mass murder…


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