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Interview: M.K. Hobson on “Baba Makosh”

Tell us a bit about “Baba Makosh”

The story is set during the Russian Civil War, which began in 1917 and lasted until 1922. It follows a small Red Army squadron who have been sent to search for Hell. Like all good stories, it contains politics, buffoonery, magic, and cruelty.

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

I love to write historical fantasy, I’ve always been fascinated by this period of Russian history, and I haven’t read many stories set in this particular milieu, so it seemed like an interesting challenge.

Was “Baba Makosh” personal to you in any way, and if so, how?

Sometime around 1920, my father’s father—Grandpa Koroloff—was gang-pressed into the White Army. There was a lot of gang-pressing going on in those days; one basically joined whichever side swept into one’s village and put a gun to one’s head first. By 1922, Grandpa was a machinist on the Imperial Russian Navy’s Minesweeper “Petrokl,” part of the Siberian flotilla in Vladivostok. In October of that year, with the Red Army closing in on the city, the entire White Russian Fleet—23 ships, bearing about 8,000 refugees—evacuated the port. Many trials and tribulations followed. With the government of Imperial Russia now defunct, the ships of the flotilla represented several million tons of heavy armament without a legitimate political flag to sail under. Whenever they tried to land, apparatchiks from the infant Communist government were there with writs and petitions and such, demanding the return of the ships and the refugees—an idea which was not especially popular with the flotilla’s commander, Admiral Uri Karlovich Stark, nor (as one might imagine) with said refugees. There was an extended stay in the Philippines, a terrible storm in which many lives were lost … but my own personal bottom line to this sweeping saga was that my Grandpa Koroloff eventually arrived at Angel Island in San Francisco, met my grandmother, and things just kept leading to other things until I showed up.

Some cheeky readers might suggest that this is the story I should actually have told. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat short on magic and rather long on plot; it would have taken me much more than a novelette to cram all that drama in. Maybe someday.
What sort of research did you do for this story?

I had to research the Russian Civil War and brush up on my Slavic folklore. Luckily I very much enjoy both researching and brushing up on things. I also created a Pinterest board of images to go with the story. Pinterest boards are a recent addition to my writing process which I find as immensely satisfying as they are distracting.
What would you want a reader to take away from “Baba Makosh?”

Someone who wears a long leather trench coat is making a very definite fashion statement, and that statement is “I am not to be trusted.”

What are you working on now?

I have several long stories in my novel cycle to complete, as well as the sequel to The Warlock’s Curse, the book I kickstarted in 2012. I’m very much hoping I can release some or all of these this year, as I’ve been singularly unproductive lately. It is leading me to question the very nature of my existence.
Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m serious about the long leather trench coats. If you see someone wearing one—especially belted—go the other way.

“Baba Makosh” appears in the Nov./Dec/ 2013 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Moira Crone on “The Lion Wedding”

-  Tell us a bit about “The Lion Wedding.”

I am fond of modern writers who reimagine fairy tales. I wanted to try it. Angela Carter and Isak Dinesen are heroines of mine.

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

I had a vivid dream about a woman and a lion. I saw her running after him through the woods, finding dead leaves in the bed, dealing with carcasses in the kitchen. A friend told me of a zoo that bought retired circus animals. The chimpanzees scrounged for cigarette butts; the elephants had anger, guile, attitude. They were jaded. I liked that sense of how human company had given them a certain personality.

- Was “The Lion Wedding” personal for you in any way? If so, how?

I have a therapist who uses dreams to explore deep feelings, to show you the myths inside your life. At first, the ending of the story was a mish-mash, a battle. I didn’t believe the wife could change, and then, one day, it was as if I saw the real potential in the tale, the way she had to emerge. I have been writing from my dreams more and more. My novel, THE NOT YET, also started with one.

- What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

I want readers to wonder if individuals ever know their true nature.

- What are you working on now?

THE ICE GARDEN, a novel, is coming out in September 2014, from Carolina Wren Press— I’m editing at the moment. It’s about an eleven-year-old girl struggling with her mother’s madness. I have stories I’m finishing in order to send out. I am writing notes for two other novels, one set on an island after a plague, one during the Civil Rights era.

- Anything else you’d like to add?

At a writer’s retreat this summer in Krakow, Poland. I’ll teach World-building, Secrets of the Short Story, and Writing from Dreams. There’s a Vampires, and Medieval Lore Tour. A magical place to work and to share. F&SF readers welcome. http://burlesquepressllc.com/poland

“The Lion Wedding” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Seth Chambers on “In Her Eyes”

-      Tell us a bit about “In Her Eyes.”

I think this story had been brewing inside me a long time, but when it was ready to be born, it rushed out in a manic burst of creativity.  Immediately after finishing it I wrote a novelette, “We Happy Few,” with the same white-hot fury.  I must confess, I love these creative blasts.  They seem to be the occasional reward of diligent writing whether the Muse strikes or not.

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

The most immediate incentive to write “Eyes” was Song’s voice in my head, clear and strong and insistent.

In looking back, I can sort of trace the genesis of the story here and there.  For instance, I’ve long been fascinated with the fact that we’re literally different people at different times in our lives.  The logical extension here is, “What if the speed of this process were multiplied?”

Another concept that sends my mind spinning is that humans are able to reconfigure their own brains.  When you learn a new skill, neural pathways are forged.  We are self-programming computers, able to change the hardware as well as the software.  From where does this volition arise?  Song just happens to be somebody who learns to take it to the next step and do it directly.

And yet another thing I wanted to play with is the idea that people have varying experiences depending on their looks.  Is the world a friendlier and more accommodating place for a physically beautiful person than for a plain one?  Song is in a position to have a unique viewpoint on this matter.

Also, one scene was inspired by a spirited discussion I had with a Detroit rap artist concerning sizable derrieres (we were both very much pro big butts).

-      Was “In Her Eyes” personal to you in any way, and if so, how?

Yes, it is personal.  Not to give any spoilers, but in one scene Song tells her priest that her inner saboteur is trying to break out and ruin everything.  The Inner Saboteur is something that has cropped up in my own life repeatedly.  Things start to go well and suddenly it plots to bring everything crashing down.  What is the motive of the Saboteur?  Maybe it’s a part of me that doesn’t believe I’m worthy of success and so plans my downfall to keep me where I belong.  Or maybe he sees that I’m becoming too comfortable and therefore decides to shake things up to spur me onto the next stage of my personal evolution.  I’d like to think that. But I suspect that my Inner Saboteur is actually a trickster that delights in seeing me fall flat on my face.

-      What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

Research, yeah.  <tugs collar uncomfortably> Sometimes research gets swept aside when I’m caught up in the whirlwind of getting a story down.  I’m endeavoring to improve in that department.  Fortunately, I live with someone who excels at research.

-      What might you want a reader to take away from “In Her Eyes?”

For this particular story, an emotional experience.  Song is at once supremely confident and oh-so-vulnerable.  I’d like people to empathize with her.

-      What are you working on now?

I have a slew of incomplete stories.  One is a time-travel murder mystery set in the Edwardian England of Wooster and Jeeves, and starring those two wonderful P.G. Wodehouse creations.  I have no idea where it’s going but that’s half the fun.

I’ve also begun a novel-length version of “In Her Eyes.”  Actually, I’ve written a lot but then trashed it all.  I kid myself it’s because the text wasn’t up to par, but in truth suspect it’s my Inner Saboteur, scheming against me.   Fortunately, my wife frequently reminds me that my Inner Saboteur is full of shit.

-      Anything else you’d like to add?

I’m grateful to F&SF for giving my story an audience.  Nothing is more disheartening for a writer than to have his work go unnoticed.  Conversely, nothing is more uplifting than to have readers.  Speaking of which, my story collection, What Rough Beasts, is available from Amazon.  My Inner Saboteur didn’t want me to mention that.  “It’s blatant, shameless self-promotion!” screams my Saboteur.  But you know what?  Fuck him.

I can be found on Facebook:  Seth Chambers Notorious Author.

“In Her Eyes” appears in the Jan/Feb. 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Claudio Chillemi and Paul Di Filippo on “The Via Panisperna Boys in “Operation Harmony”"

- Tell us a bit about “The Via Panisperna Boys in “Operation Harmony”.”

CLAUDIO: The Panisperna Boys were a group of brilliant physicists who lived in Rome, in the Via Panisperna. A sort of The Big Bang Theory TV show but in other times. Among these scientists were Enrico Fermi and his student Ettore Majorana. Fermi considered Majorana a genius. He said many times that Hector (Ettore) had taught him many things, and the student had surpassed the master. At some point in his life, Majorana disappears into thin air, while traveling on a ship that takes him from Palermo to Naples (Majorana taught at the University of Naples). His disappearance has been the subject of much speculation. The story told by me and Paul Di Filippo is a uchronia, which tries to give an answer to this mysterious disappearance. The tone of the story is deliberately brilliant, sometimes playful. The same title OPERATION HARMONY, want to give this indication. A sort of soft SF, more than hard SF, which, however, has moments of deep reflection on the role of science in times of war and the role of science in general in the relations between nations and peoples .

PAUL: I had previously done a very small piece on Majorana as a humor column in F&SF without plumbing his depths, so he was always in the background of my thinking as an enticing figure about whom I could write more. The notion of transplanting a group of Italian geniuses to the soil of the USA and subjecting them to a bit of culture shock was also appealing. Fish out of water tropes and all that. And then of course there is the matter of WWII, perhaps the most potent and much-used subject of all uchronias. All of us yearn to magically shorten that horrible conflict somehow in hindsight (except for those of us writers who yearn to lengthen or worsen it for storytelling power!). And so Claudio and I posited a life-saving invention with, admittedly, certain side-effects.

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

CLAUDIO: Ettore Majorana was born in Catania, Sicily. I was born in Catania. The Majorana family has a great importance in my city, where there is a building named Majorana and streets named after the Majoranas. When Paul came to Catania and we became friends, we realized that we could work together because there was a great feeling between us. Thus, the Majorana Mystery on the one hand, his friendship with Paul from the other side, the story was born. Paul had already written something on Majorana. I had lived thirty years of my life close to the descendants of Majorana. A real game of coincidences. Maybe Paul was right when he told me “we are brothers separated at birth!”

PAUL: I love collaborating, and have done so with such figures as Don Webb, Marc Laidlaw, Michael Bishop, Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker. But of course two writers working together have to be simpatico. And when Claudio and I met we hit it off right away, a true bond. You should see us at the dinner table together, and then you would have no doubts about our common heritage and appetites! Also, Claudio was to be my first collaborator whose native language was something other than English, and I anticipated learning some neat idioms and perspectives inherent in the Italian language from him.

- What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

CLAUDIO: As I said, I have lived 30 years of my life next to the descendants of Majorana. I have read and studied many books during my tenure at the university (I have a degree in Italian Literature and Modern History). Of all the books, the most important is Leonardo Sciascia: The Majorana Case. So I did some research on the scientific part of the story. Although the scientific plausibility was not the first concern in writing the story, since it was founded almost like a fairy tale full of symbolism. Then, I wanted to include in the story some “Italian things.” Quotes of Italian poets and writers. Typical landscapes of Sicily, such as Mount Etna and the Mediterranean Sea. And Arancini, the typical Sicilian fast food.

PAUL: My trip to mainland Italy and to Sicily in 2012 brought home the tangible vitality of the landscapes and allowed me to share Claudio’s vision and verbal depictions. It put me in the spirit. I relied heavily on his superior knowledge of Majorana and his milieu, just boning up from internet sources for the bare outlines of history. That’s a good thing about collaborating: you can rely on the superior knowledge of your partner for some things, and vice versa. I added details of the alternate technology, especially weird music, and also some of the historical twists in the course of the war.

- What are you working on now?

CLAUDIO: I’m working on several projects. First on my third SF novel, which will be released in Italy later this year. I am translating into English all of my short stories. I’m writing some stories for a number of anthologies of SF for school use. I direct a prozine dedicated to science fiction and called Foundation SF Magazine. And finally, I’m working on the Italian version of the story Via Panisperna Boys, along with the editorial staff of the publishing house Elara which publishes the Italian edition of F&SF.

PAUL: I just finished a story for Ian Whates’s anthology on the Fermi Paradox. My piece is titled “The Trail of Creation, the Trial of the Creator.” Now I’m heavily into review mode. Just did a piece on the debut novel Shovel Ready, and next get to enjoy Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel Slayground. I have a novel titled Up Around the Bend which needs to be resumed after a hiatus. In short, always more projects than time and stamina!

-Anything else you’d like to add?

CLAUDIO: I could add 1000 other things. The thrill and the honor of working with Paul Di Filippo. The honor of being one of the only Italians to have been published by your prestigious magazine. The cultural enrichment that I have had in working in English. But, also, I have talked about Majorana, telling of my land, Sicily, so full of mystery and magic. All things that are priceless.

PAUL: Let me just say that without the heroic and creative work by Gordon van Gelder, none of this would have been possible. In maintaining the almost-seventy-year-old tradition of one of the field’s cornerstone publications, and even extending its reach to such places as Italy, he has provided a welcoming home for writers of every type, and created so much pleasure for hundreds of thousands of lucky readers, as well as extending the artistry of the fantastical genre. Long may he reign!

The Via Panisperna Boys in “Operation Harmony” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Michael Blumlein on “Success”

- What was the inspiration for “Success”, or what prompted you to write it?

I’ve had a lifelong interest in the field of genetics. The real exciting work these days is happening on three main fronts: genetic engineering, which has been the subject of countless pieces of fiction (including my own); nanobiotechnology, which is just getting rolling but promises to have a huge impact on our lives; and epigenetics, a field that is crucial to understanding how we interact with our environment and evolve. For nearly 200 hundred years the idea that there could be such a thing as epigenetics was derided and scorned. Now, every day we get a new study showing the importance of our environment, not only in how our own genes are expressed, but in how our offspring’s genes – and their offspring’s genes – can be affected. Obviously, this has profound implications for our future, and I wanted to talk about that.

I also wanted to extend what we know about genetics and epigenetics into the future and what we don’t yet know. What might come to pass. What could. This, of course, is the prime directive of science fiction. My speculation about “perigenetics”, a word I coin to describe the ultimate unifying principle of Life on Earth, is my attempt to do this.

It’s a real attempt, but it’s also somewhat tongue-in-cheek. It flows from the character (and comes from the very mouth) of the story’s male protagonist, Dr. Jim, a highly original, if eccentric, thinker of exceptional intelligence. He’s a brilliant scientist, but his brilliance is matched by a tendency to float above reality, rather than be grounded in it.

His soul-mate and wife Carol is the opposite, which makes the two of them a perfect complementary pair. I wanted to write about this, too: what’s the recipe for a successful relationship? Why do people fall in love, and how do they stay in love? How can love continue to thrive through the ups and downs we all experience?

One of the ways I believe this happens is when we’re honest with ourselves, when we don’t shy away from who we are. And who we are is a composite: what we think of as ourself is, in fact, many selves. We have public selves and private selves, selves we present to the world and selves we present to our loved ones, which may differ. We also contain selves we’re less comfortable with, selves we may be embarrassed by, selves we may prefer to hide.

Some of these selves are quite primitive, so keeping them buried is understandable. But under certain circumstances they can rear their heads. Stress can trigger their appearance. Hunger can do it. Competitiveness. Passion. Heightened desire of any kind.

This is interesting to me, and it, too, is part of the story.

Not all of the triggers for these hidden selves to emerge are internal. Many come from outside. Other people, for example, have a profound effect on us. So does the food we eat and the air we breathe. Basically any situation we find ourselves in alters us. Broadly speaking, these situations fall into the category of external forces and pressures. In a word, our environment.

This brings us back to epigenetics, which is the system that governs how we interface and interact with our environment. It functions on a sub-cellular level, but in a metaphorical sense it functions on all levels. Emotionally, behaviorally, cognitively, spiritually, we’re in constant flux and constant communication with friends, acquaintances, loved ones, strangers, animals, minerals, plants, molecules, particles of air, and who knows what else. It’s a big world, and each of us is at the center of it. Simultaneously, we’re orbiting everything else. This, I’d say, is the guiding principle and rule number one from the as-yet-to-be-written Perigenetics Handbook.

“Success” appears in the Nov./Dec. 2013 issue of F&SF.

 

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