Editors joke a lot about the slush pile in lighthearted, derogatory ways. The truth is that we look at slush piles with wide-eyed hope. We want to find the diamonds among the sand. Yesterday, we published one of my favorites of 2015. “Aishiteru Means I Love You” is a slush pile survivor. Not only that, but it is author Troy Tang’s first short fiction sale!

“Aishiteru…” aggressively and effectively attacks a number of problematic human traits. Misogyny. Violence toward women. Lack of empathy. Keyboard bravado. And the story does it in a mere 2,500 words.

If you’ve yet to read Troy’s story, you can find it here.

Troy was nice enough to answer a few questions I had regarding his story and views. Enjoy!

Apex Magazine: I understand that you wrote “Aishiteru Means I Love You” based on a visceral reaction to an internet experience. Can you relate that experience for our readers?

Troy Tang: Without going into too much detail, Aishiteru was a direct response to the existence of ero-guro, or erotic-grotesque pornography. In essence, guro presents a palette of terrible drawn deeds—slaughter, evisceration, murder, castration, genital mutilation—as sexually titillating, even enjoyable on the part of the victim. Think hanging intestines, bright eyes, wide-open grins of arousal. More often than not, at least to my knowledge, guro is presented in direct conjunction with the ero-kawaii aesthetic, a ubiquitous feature of modern anime/manga that emphasizes female cuteness, vulnerability and softness as a means of roundabout sex appeal. Think slender lines, quiet voice, gigantic dewy bright eyes. The cute-grotesque disjoint unnerved me, to say the least, but it also set me thinking: to what extent can such things be claimed as harmless? And whom, in the end, does it harm?

Apex Magazine: You confront the internet phenomenons of cyber bullying, misogyny, abuse without consequences. Is the remorse your character feels for his horrible actions a cause for hope that the keyboard bravado is accompanied by people who *might* harbor empathy?

Troy Tang: My father always said that true freedom is not the ability to do whatever you want at any time; rather, it’s the ability to stop doing something, even when you don’t want to. In that sense, which I believe to be very real, both the protagonist and his e-torturers are in chains. Ai is different; as a simulacrum, she hovers on the boundary. She can, as the protagonist noted, forget—although the extent to which that justifies her treatment is, I hope, perfectly clear. Whatever empathy the protagonist has is inextricably tangled with self-pity. It is too withered to be of use to anyone, least of all himself.

And yet empathy is key to the entire story. Anyone who reads it with nothing but revulsion, with a thunderous eye of disapproval, is missing the entire point. Everyone, in the end, has something that they wish to hide. There is no-one pure. At the same time, someone who reads the story without revulsion, with some unbothered air of acceptance, is also missing the point. Denying the inherent immorality of the protagonist’s actions helps no-one. Guilt gnaws from within; wrongdoing is not erased by being swept under the rug. Moral judgments must be tempered by love, not smothered in sentiment. There are countless people like the protagonist in basements and bedrooms, writhing in webs of their own devising.

It takes the most courage, I believe, to embrace those who do things we detest. The question, therefore, is not: does anyone empathise? The question is: who will reach out?

Apex Magazine: Is the Aishiteru program based on any emerging technology? That could be problematic if so…

Troy Tang: There exists, as a matter of fact, a whole rainbow of nascent Ais in neon 2D form. Yamaha’s Vocaloid franchise is centered around a line of singing voice synthesizers, each paired with a fictional, animefied personification meant to be the ‘person’ behind the voice. They have, naturally, taken off on YouTube and NicoNico like singing, dancing, vaudevillian hotcakes. I was particularly impressed with their holographic concerts, in which the Vocaloids are projected on glass screens as breathtakingly fluid CGI models—creating the illusion that they actually exist. It’s uncanny. They even have their own live backing bands.

Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan. I think Vocaloid music can be wonderful. But I am concerned, in my usual niggling way, about one aspect: namely, the adulation, and in many cases fetishisation, of perfect ageless fantasy singers who do not and could never possibly exist. In a way, you could call it the cultural culmination of the Japanese idol-singer phenomenon, where young girls are marketed as chaste, adorable objects of desire, then promptly thrown out around the ripe old age of eighteen—only a Vocaloid never ages, and is everything you want it to be. What with the impending arrival of gynoid sexbots, consumer holograms, and tactile VR feedback, I believe something like Ai is very near. I believe we should be quite worried.

Apex Magazine: You mentioned that this is your first sale. Do you write frequently, because I think our readers would love to see more of your work.

Troy Tang: I tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: I think about writing very frequently, but I always end up doing something else. In all seriousness, I have a few more stories in the works, but they seem to have clogged somewhere down the brain-pipes. I’m also struggling with a novel(?). It is a novel(?) because it is most definitely not a novel. At least, not yet.

Still, I’ll try my best.

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