Where do you get your ideas?
This is another one that started out as kind of a dumb joke: I have a friend named Jenny, and she works for a vending company. At some point there was banter about being able to press a button and everyone gets their own little Jenny, fully-formed, fresh from the machine. Jenny is the reason why the products in the story didn’t wind up with my second-choice names like “Coco” and “Lola.” The balance with Jerry Coke worked out pretty nicely, too.
The story built itself up slowly around a few different concepts: the commodification of people (mainly of women); sexualized advertising aimed at young buyers; cheap, disposable technology in consumer products that would have, only a few years before, appeared miraculous and precious. Some story I read once had throwaway cardboard cellphones as a cereal box prize. What kind of prize would one find in a can of low-level AI?
For another, unrelated, project, I’d done some research into unusual vending machines around the world. You can buy some strange stuff from a machine–cars, iPads, used panties. I can guarantee with confidence that we will shortly be buying robots from robots.
The second part to the story is a shift in tone, and one editor found it too jarring for him to buy it. I almost didn’t write it. (I actually almost ended the entire story after the first 1,000 words.) But while I was struggling to be satisfied with the current ending, I read a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories which included “The Whisperer in the Dark.” And that fit in so nicely with the place I’d left off in “Jenny Cola” that I went ahead anyway with the brain-in-a-jar trope. Pleased that it allowed me to pun on “animating sprite.”
There was a third section to the story that could have carried on the Atlanta Bottling Company’s greed to further extremes, but it was moving too far afield from where we’d started, so sometimes you gotta know when to quit.
Real science fiction is the stuff that ends up in the trash, kicked into the gutters, the shit that breaks the patience of even the most evangelical early adopters.