'The Obsoletes' With Simeon Mills
Darryl and Kanga are brothers with a deep, dark secret that could get them killed. You see, the boys are robots, hiding in plain sight among their robophobic human neighbors in 1990’s small-town Michigan. Darryl—the “mom” of the pair—is content for he and his brother to fly under the radar as forgettable weirdos, avoiding any undue attention. But when Kanga shows a preternatural talent for basketball and makes the junior varsity team, both of the boys are thrust into the spotlight and the danger of being discovered increases exponentially.
The following highlights are from a conversation with Simeon Mills about his novel, "The Obsoletes." To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.
On the teenage experience.
I’ve taught middle school for eight years so I’ve seen a lot of different kids. It’s kind of a touchy matter, to not dismiss what teenagers are going through. It’s the most important stuff in the world to them at the moment, so when I have students that are like, “We’re celebrating our one month anniversary,” I’ll have to roll my eyes in my head without letting them know. There’s so much more living for them to do, but this is really important to them. It shouldn’t be belittled or dismissed. . . I’ve learned any time they’re at school and they find something really remarkable or are moved, or can’t do the assignment they’re working on because something is getting at them, that’s real. They’re not pretending to try to get out of something. It’s just a way of honoring what they’re going through, which is intense.
On the difference between domination and evolution in a human/ robot world.
I think evolution is usually seen as a positive thing, where when we evolve, we look into the future and see this positive version of ourselves: we have endless amounts of time to get what we want done and our relationships are not strained by being stressed out or tired. Therefore evolution would be this really hopeful state where robots and humans would live together in a kind of harmony. Maybe the robots are better than humans at everything, but there’s still a recognition that they should get along.
Domination is the opposite of that, where once you start trying to dominate something it becomes more like a game, where whatever gain you would get is less than just the rush of winning . . . It’s hard to think of domination as having an ending point that is satisfying to anyone other than the person, or group of people, doing the dominating. I see them as two really opposite versions of the future.
On current xenophobia, as it relates to the possibility of robophobic allegory in the book.
I think about it all the time.
It’s true there isn’t a one-to-one allegory with this book, but I would hope the readers would recognize something that they see, or maybe recognize something that they feel, whether it’s having to hide a part of who you are, to feel like there’s someone or a group or society in general is out to get you because of some aspect of who you are. When I hang out with kids, when I’m teaching, I feel hopeful about the future. I see them as being more accepting, just in a natural way that they interact with each other, which is in contrast to the state of politics and the adult world right now where I think a lot of people are striving for acceptance. It felt like a little while ago we were headed in that direction a little more naturally, and it didn’t seem to be a radical idea that gaining rights would be the natural progression of things. I’m trying to imagine my students and my children in a future where we’re more on a direct path to acceptance.
About the Book:
Darryl and Kanga are brothers with a deep, dark secret that could get them killed. You see, the boys are robots, hiding in plain sight among their robophobic human neighbors in 1990’s small-town Michigan. Darryl—the “mom” of the pair—is content for he and his brother to fly under the radar as forgettable weirdos, avoiding any undue attention. But when Kanga shows a preternatural talent for basketball and makes the junior varsity team, both of the boys are thrust into the spotlight and the danger of being discovered increases exponentially. Don’t miss this darkly funny, charming story of brotherhood, xenophobia, and the age-old question of free will versus…programming.
About the Author:
Simeon Mills is a graphic artist, writer, and teacher. His novel The Obsoletes, published by Skybound Books, comes out on May 14, 2019 and follows two teenage brothers as they navigate high school while hiding their true identity: they are actually robots. Mills majored in architecture at Columbia University and received his MFA in fiction from the University of Montana. Simeon now teaches middle school English in Spokane, Washington, where he lives with his wife and two children. Visit SimeonMills.com for more information on Mills, or skybound.com/the-obsoletes for more on The Obsoletes.