Building Beyond is an ongoing series of conversations about how much fun worldbuilding can be. Building a world doesn’t have to be hard or scary. Let’s give it a try, together.
You’ve matched with a giant robot on a dating app. Tell us about the restaurant you end up at?
Brian J. White is an editor, photographer, and as one friend has put it, shiftless dilettante. He founded Fireside Fiction and worked as a journalist for 13 years before the bastards ground him down. Don’t worry, he is plotting his revenge.
White: It would have to be outdoors, of course, to accomodate (get it?) my friend's giantness. I’m thinking something on the lagoon in Venice, around sunset. The warm air, the waves, the color on the waters, it's a great way to just set a good mood — and to see how they react. Is it breathtaking to them, or is it just a pretty backdrop? Does it move them, or is it just a space to move through on those giant titanium getaway sticks?
Gailey: What kind of sustenance are they serving, that you thought it'd be a good choice for a date spot?
BW: I chose this spot after reading way too many reviews on TripAdvisor. It seemed like a good choice because it is known for its fresh, authentic seafood choices — the prawns are supposed to be a revelation before St. Mark and the devil himself — as well as a special menu consisting of the memories of a dying empire, which seemed to fit my date's answer to "favorite food" on their profile: "bones and silence."
Gailey: It’s so hard to find places with accommodating menus. What about the service? How is the staff reacting to you two?
BW: I'd describe it as casual but formal. The staff is impeccably dressed, but they drop sly Italian swear words while describing the specials. They don't allow special requests or modifications of the meal, but they will spend 10 minutes quizzing you to help make the perfect selection. Rumor has it that Tom Cruise once rented the entire place out for the Venice International Film Festival and staged an elaborate live production of Don Giovanni with only himself and Willem Dafoe singing all the parts. Nothing has fazed them since. And then there's the lone circus aerialist in the golden cage at the center of the dining room. They're just a performer of course, it's not a real cage. That wouldn't be legal. Right?
Gailey: How’s the date going?
BW: It certainly seems to be a lot to take in for them. They keep scanning the area across all spectrums, visible and invisible. We're not getting very far past small talk but they do mention that they'd lived a pretty sheltered R&Dhood, and that Dr. Dad was pretty strict before "the accident." I let a long silence drag out in the hopes they'll say more, but instead they turn to the lagoon and point out a pink water taxi.
Suzanne Walker is a Chicago-based writer and editor. She is co-creator of the Hugo-nominated graphic novel Mooncakes (2019, Lion Forge/Oni Press). You can find her posting pictures of her cat and chronicling her longsword adventures on Twitter.
Walker: You know the rainforest cafe? The restaurant is extremely similar to that, except instead of being geared toward families, it’s geared toward giant robots. After having lived in a world of mostly metal and circuits and electronics, they want a place that is lush and organic and contains ecosystems they don't know of, so when I say rainforest we're going really hard. The trees are huge and bendy and are host to a bunch of other flora like moss and bright yellow flowers; you can hear the sounds of lizards and birds and bugs and, of course, the ever-busy staff. The environment is humid enough to keep the joints oiled but not so humid that they rust. There’s adjustable lighting, because some robots are bright bois, and adjustable seating so we can be at eye level. I'm also picturing the adjustable seating being controlled by sentient root tentacles, who thrive off of metal deposits so it's a symbiotic relationship with the robots.
Gailey: Let’s talk food.
SW: The food is slightly fancier and excellent, with a focus on fish. Mostly sushi. Not all robots need to or want to eat, so each table also has little mechanical things, like what you’d find at a robot 7-11. The restaurant is run by frogs.
Gailey: Like, standard-issue frogs, or are they humanoid-frogs?
SW: I'm thinking standard-issue frogs because they can, if necessary, scramble up the giant robots to better deliver the food.
Gailey: I would trust sushi made by a frog. Honestly, I feel like they’d do a good job.
SW: Me too.
My date with the giant robot would take place at a subway sandwich shop. Not the brand subway, but a sandwich shop that is located in the tunnels of NYC’s underground train system. I figure that probably is the best way to make sure my giant robot date has access to a source of electricity that they will have a really hard time blowing out. Also, I figure it’s hard for a giant robot to drive, so the location will be easy for them to get to without having to pay cab fair. I can sit on the edge of the platform (I know you’re not supposed to, but I’m a very devil-may-care sort of date) and my robot paramour can stretch out their lower appendages across the tracks comfortably. No one will stare at us because nobody who is taking the subway wants to have an unnecessary interaction with anyone, ever.
All of these possibilities are just beginnings. Brian’s date is the foundation of a story about a robot who is learning to live in the world, and who just so happens to be inhabiting a city of decadences. Suzanne’s date is the beginning of a world in which robots and humans regularly go out together, and frogs have learned to cater to the complicated ecosystem of needs that arise in such relationships. My date is the start of a cozy romance in which a giant robot discovers the joys of found family in a city that’s tough for a giant robot to break into.
What would your date with the giant robot be like? What’s a dish you might share? How would the restaurant be built to accommodate you both? Would you go on a second date?
Do whatever you want with these questions. You can write something down in the comments or on social media or in a notebook nobody will ever see. You can draw or paint or sit down a friend and talk their ear off about your ideas. You can stare at the horizon and imagine, letting the infinite landscape of your mind unfold just a little farther than it did yesterday. No matter what you do, take pride in the knowledge that you’re creating something that has never existed before. You’re building a little corner of a whole new world.
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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.