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The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson

The Powell's PlaylistLike many writers, I'm constantly haunting coffee shops with a laptop out and my headphones on. I listen to a lot of music while I write, and songs do eventually get tangled up with certain characters. My novel Robogenesis is a techno-thriller that largely takes place in the country, pitting high-tech machines against decidedly low-tech human beings. As a result, my playlist ends up being a strange mix of golden-age country songs and chest-throbbing dubstep/trap electronic music. Whichever you prefer (and both is a good answer, too), these are the songs that congealed in my mind as I created Robogenesis in Portland's coffee shops and with the kiss of rain on the nape of my neck as I walked the streets.

1. "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard
I went and licensed these lyrics from Sony to put inside the novel, as they perfectly explain the journey of the cowboy Hank Cotton as he descends into madness and worships a false god. Hank's mother told him to never pray to a devil, but he disobeys… and for that he will pay a steep price.

2. "God's Gonna Cut You Down" by Johnny Cash
A lot of Robogenesis takes place in rural Oklahoma, out where I grew up. It's just your classic cowboys vs. robots story, I guess. This song gets me into the mind of Hank Cotton and Arayt Shah, both bad men and manipulators who will someday face a reckoning.

3. "Lake of Fire" by Nirvana
An innocent kid, Nolan Perez witnesses an atrocity and reacts with a lethal strength he didn't know he had. Unfortunately, he's young enough to have a simple black and white worldview… and once he judges himself a monster for what he's done, well, he never looks back.

4. "Color in Your Cheeks" by The Mountain Goats
This song reminds me of Cormac Wallace and Cherrah Ridge, separated from Gray Horse Army and mingling with refugees of the New War – all of them lost in the violent wake of the New War.

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5. "The Crane Wife 3" by The Decemberists
This album and this song in particular saw more play than anything else while I wrote, and it eventually just became the sound of my own breathing. The story this song tells, of finding an injured crane wife, reminds me of the pure love story between Takeo Nomura and the freeborn robot, Mikiko.

6. "Music Is Math" by Boards of Canada
Boards of Canada make music that is creepy and chill and perfect for rainy Portland days. To get into the alien mindset of an artificial intelligence called Archos R-14, I listened to this stuff and tried to see the world as math.

7. "Doomsday" by Nero
This techno track is so kinetic and "grindy" that it just screams battlefields and tactical strikes.

8. "Bubblin' in the Cut" by Boreta
This song is 16-year-old Mathilda Perez marching over a devastated battlefield in shorts and sneakers, under the shadow of an obedient walking tank — she points her finger, the tank turret grinds to match trajectory, and she obliterates her enemies with a clenched fist.

9. "Reptile's Theme" by Skrillex
God forgive me but I have a soft spot for Skrillex, especially when he's pounding out beats to the sound of violent '90s video games. Again, this just puts me in battle mode.

10. "Into the West" by Annie Lennox
Robogenesis is the middle book in a trilogy, which by trilogy law means that it has to end on a down note. This song (from the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) is just so sad and haunting that I listened to it whenever I wanted to contemplate what it might feel like to know that the world has ended and it will never come back the same...

÷ ÷ ÷

Daniel H. Wilson was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and earned a B.S. in computer science from the University of Tulsa and a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He is the author of Robogenesis, Robopocalypse, Amped, How to Survive a Robot Uprising, Where's My Jetpack?, How to Build a Robot Army, The Mad Scientist Hall of Fame, and Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of Sibling Smackdown.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Robogenesis
    Used Hardcover $12.50
  2. Robopocalypse (Vintage Contemporaries)
    Used Trade Paper $10.50
  3. Amped Used Trade Paper $6.95
  4. How to Survive a Robot Uprising:... Used Trade Paper $5.50
  5. Where's My Jetpack?: A Guide to the... New Compact Disc $18.75
  6. How to Build a Robot Army: Tips on... Used Trade Paper $4.50
  7. Bro-Jitsu: The Martial Art of... Used Trade Paper $6.50

Daniel H. Wilson is the author of Robogenesis

One Response to "The Powell’s Playlist: Daniel H. Wilson"

    The Civic Center July 22nd, 2014 at 10:13 am

    I hope that you are buying coffee and food while you are "haunting coffee shops". Some coffee shops discourage laptop squatters.

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