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Interview: Alexander Jablokov on “The Comfort of Strangers”

- Tell us a bit about “The Comfort of Strangers.”

OK, so it’s an alien sex story. Or at least it started out that way, though it developed a bit more emotional subtext as it developed. While it seems pretty light and funny, it is also an actual hard SF story that struggles directly with the real fact that the more realistic the far-future hard Sfness of a story, the less likely it is to be emotionally engaging to a reader in 2011. So, like any writer in our genre, I bootleg current-day emotional content back in, and translate the incomprehensible emotional connections of that future into terms we can relate to, even though that translation would make no sense to the actual beings in the story.  That makes the story sounds more complicated than it is.  It’s supposed to be fun to read.

- What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’d read a few recent stories about sex with aliens. I found them too focused on human emotional reactions.  I thought, “well, how different could sexual drives be and still be understandable?” Plus, I just wanted to play the game of creating aliens based on specific biological constraints.

- What kind of research, if any, did you do for “The Comfort of Strangers?”

Everything is based on actual reproduction of species here on Earth.

- What would you want a reader to take away from this story? “That was pretty funny! No, wait, there was more to it than that…and how much of my way of relating to the world is derived from my underlying biology? Do I really understand what the other participant is getting out of it?”

- What are you working on now?

I am just finishing a young adult novel with the tentative title Timeslip. It is about a teenager whose father gets shanghaied into an alternate universe, and has to travel across various realities to figure out what happened to him.

- Anything else you’d like to add?

Sex is more complicated than it seems.

“The Comfort of Strangers” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2012 issue.

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