Listen to the episode here! https://wisenotwithered.podbean.com/e/retired-cyborg-engineer-nero/
Welcome to the Wise Not Withered Podcast, Season 2! Over the next 25 weeks, I will be showcasing each of the characters in the Wise Not Withered project. I decided to do this showcase right now because it has been exactly one year since I sent my first cold emails to recruit writers and illustrators for the project. All twenty-five characters have at least a story draft and/or one or two illustrations done. A handful of the characters have a complete story AND complete set of illustrations, and today’s character is one of them!
“Trust and Betrayal” is a story written by Julie from Nigeria. It’s about a retired cyborg engineer named Nero, whose calm evening is interrupted by two droids that urgently need her to travel to the MTA, or Multinational Technology Authority complex, which she herself had designed and built decades prior alongside Master Juan, leader of the droids. Once she returns, she finds Master Juan in critical condition. He warns that her humanoid son Oliver plans to destroy all of humanity, though we later find out who the real antagonist is…
In just five pages, Julie created an entire world from scratch, launching readers into the action straight away, including details that brilliantly developed the backstory while also propelling the current story forward. As someone that’s not too familiar with science fiction, I didn’t have that many ideas about the cyborg story at the beginning. I knew that in terms of character, I wanted her to have been a cyborg for most of her life, after a near-fatal accident that happened when she was a teenager. I wanted her to be incredibly smart and resourceful, but also a bit slow-witted; kind and generous, but sometimes too much so!
Julie did an amazing job of incorporating all of those traits and writing a character that was intelligent but gullible, strong and authoritative but also soft. Julie created the rest of the characters: Master Juan (leader of the droids), Oliver (Nero’s ambitious humanoid son), Doctor Eddie (the mechanic who had worked on Nero after her accident; some unresolved romantic tension included!), and Majors Xi and Li (high-ranking officials that also work at MTA).
When I found Julie on Instagram, I was intrigued by the beautiful imagery and syntax in her poems. I was honestly surprised when she picked the cyborg character as her top choice to write about, since I hadn’t seen anything remotely related to sci-fi on her page. But I trusted, and she delivered! I was absolutely blown away by the descriptions of the MTA complex, and a variety of different technological devices.
“Now, to the normal eye, Captain Nero’s bed was simply for rest. This was not the case, however, for just like the rest of MTA, there was more to the bed than meets the eye. Underneath at the right edge was a switch which converted the bed to a gurney table the moment she flicked it. Chromium wound up around Master Juan until it formed a cocoon: secure but not too tight. This chromium served as a body scan and was connected to Nero’s computer which would help her determine the problem spots in her friend’s body before she could push for a cure. Approaching footsteps made her whip her head around.”
Make sure to check out Julie’s Instagram page!
The illustrator for Nero is Carolina from Mexico. I also found her on Instagram, and was very interested in her sketchy, somewhat gritty, very detailed illustrations. She did a wonderful job creating the look of Nero, with her gray afro, pink scarf, and robotic body parts. Carolina actually made a few illustrations for the look of her hair. While I preferred the gray afro and ultimately decided to stick with that look for the rest of the illustrations, I really liked these pink cornrows as well!
Please check out more of Carolina’s work on her Instagram page!
Julie graciously took some time to introduce herself and tell us a bit about her background and interests. So without further ado, here is Julie!
“My name is Julie Onoh from Nigeria. I’m an author and poet. I’m really passionate about the girl child and women’s rights, and this came due to my experience growing up here in my society. Women do face a lot of discrimination; although lucky for me I come from a wonderful family. I have wonderful parents who have never been partial to both sexes; among their children they shared love. There was nothing like, ‘Oh, the boy is more important than the girl’ and all that. I’m so happy to have that kind of background.
I’ve always loved books. Sometimes I like to think I was born with an unseen book in my hands. I’ve always been drawn to books, from an early age. I love stories, reading, and then creating something from those thoughts rolling around in my head. I have an overactive imagination, you see.
But I want to say I [didn’t take] writing seriously until 2017. I had to do some soul-searching, and then while reading the Bible, there was a scripture spoke to me. God would bless the work of my hands. I had to do an inward search, you know, like what works? What exactly works? And my books were just staring at me. (laughs) This is you, Julie. I have not looked back since then!
To be honest, I read a lot of genres. I enjoy reading the books of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Buchi Emeceta, Maya Angelou, Julie Garwood, Danielle Steel, Chimamanda Adichie, Lesley Pearse, Rupe Kaur, George R.R. Martin, Titilope Sonuga… You know, I could go on and on. So long as the plot is well-written, you’ve got me hooked!
Nero!! Okay, as a writer, I send submissions for different competitions that come up. And one of such cases was the Drucker Challenge, where we wrote about the impact of artificial intelligence in our world. And I was really fascinated while doing research on it, and I got to discover the advancements we’ve actually made. I think getting to watch movies like Star Trek, you know, they forge thoughts in my mind. When the Wise Not Withered project came up, I was instantly drawn to the cyborg character. Remember I told you I have an overactive imagination, yeah. (laughs) Nero is the result of what I was researching on the AI essay!
Our illustrator is Mexican, so we tried to infuse our roots, you know: the Nigerian and Mexican mix into the story, while being careful not to allow it detract from it. And while creating the story, initially Oliver was supposed to be the villain. But I realized I was feeding into this irrational fear of humanoids that we seem to have, and that made me change the narrative.”
I also asked Julie about what kinds of qualities she’d want in a voice actress and also the music for the story.
“Oh yeah, I want a voice actress whose voice is bold and assertive. As you can see, Nero is not a simple nilly; it should reflect in her voice too! Music… Definitely not blues. (laughs) I think I see Nero as this loud, fast-tempo music lover. She probably loves hard rock, R&B, Afro beats, that kind of thing… Something with a swing to it!”
And finally, I asked Julie about her experience working on the project, and any other parting words she had.
“The Wise Not Withered project is a wonderful one, and I’m grateful to God for placing such an idea in Juliana Russell. I mean, who says older women can’t be cool too? So we’re trying to change that narrative where the young ones view the elderly as weak and useless, and I’m hoping we can shift that perspective. Soon, we’ll have more representation of the elderly in media, hopefully. I’m just blessed to be part of this project!
It was nice participating in this project. I got to meet lots of people from different areas of the world. I commend the organizer of this project for putting up something this huge, and getting folks all over the world to connect with each other. We got to know each other a bit more, exchange ideas… It has been an eye-opening experience for me, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. So, I’m grateful, I learned… IT’s been wonderful! Thank you, Wise Not Withered family! *mwah* (laughs)”
Stay tuned for more showcases of the Wise Not Withered characters, releasing every Sunday until the end of April, 2020!