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Interview: Y. M. Pang on “The Lady of Butterflies”

Y. M. PangTell us a bit about “The Lady of Butterflies.”

It’s a story about Rikara, the First Sword of Keja, who encounters a mysterious foreign woman in the palace gardens. It’s about that woman, Morieth, and her fragmented memories.


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

Three things came together for this story. First, I had an image of a woman transforming into butterflies. Another person rushed toward her, wanting to save her–as silly as that notion was.

A few days later, I watched a video about how caterpillars became butterflies. It’s truly incredible: the caterpillar becomes soup inside the chrysalis, and completely reforms itself as a butterfly.

As the story solidified, I realized it fit quite well with a pre-existing world I had built: The Empire of Keja, home of a powerful warrior class called the Swordbearers.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Lady of Butterflies?”

Research mostly consisted of confirming (and figuring out how to describe) the caterpillar’s transformation. Though I must say, C.C. Finlay did a much better job of tackling it scientifically in his story introduction than I could!


Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Perhaps a little, regarding the theme of being displaced from your homeland to a foreign country. Even then I hesitate to say it’s personal to me, since I’ve been in Canada from a very young age. But it’s something I’ve observed from my parents, and from friends who immigrated at a few years older than me.


The world of “The Lady of Butterflies” feels richly developed, especially for a novelet.  Can you tell us anything about your process for building the background and setting of this story, or what inspirations you drew for this world?

I’ve been developing the world for quite a while. It originated as the backdrop of a complicated fight-for-your-chance-second-chance-at-life story that I’m nowhere near completing. When I started planning “The Lady of Butterflies,” I realized it slotted quite well into the Empire of Keja, and I didn’t need to build another fantasy world from scratch for it.


What are you working on now?

I am working on a novel set in the same world as “The Lady of Butterflies,” one generation later. (This is not the fight-for-your-chance-second-chance-at-life story mentioned above, but a separate story. The world has really expanded). It features a protagonist with time travel abilities… of a sort.

I also have the usual slew of short stories in various stages of writing, editing, and submission. My most recent publication is “The Palace of the Silver Dragon” in Strange Horizons.


“The Lady of Butterflies” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Y. M. Pang’s photo will take you to her website:

Interview: Jeffrey Ford on “Thanksgiving”

Tell us a bit about “Thanksgiving.”

“Thanksgiving” is a story about this couple that has had Thanksgiving dinner at their house for a bunch of people going back more than 15 years. In recent years they’ve given up on the huge dinners, feeding 40 people, and cut back just to themselves, another couple who are their closest friends, the woman host’s mother, and Uncle Jake. A few years after they quit the big dinners, on Thanksgiving, after the meal, and after Uncle Jake heads off into the night, sitting around drinking coffee, the hosts and remaining guests realize that no one actually knows whose uncle Uncle Jake is.


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

My brother and sister-in-law had a party every year for St. Patrick’s Day on top of a mountain in Arizona. They fed half the town. I think the party lasted 25 years. I met a lot of people there. I met the woman who was the voice for Sally in the Peanuts cartoons. I met painters and writers and plumbers. Recently my in-laws decided to bag it. Who can blame them. That was part of what got me started, I’d just returned to Ohio from the last of those giant parties.

And… I went to the wedding for the kid across the road recently. He mowed our lawn for years. Many acres and he always did a great job. He got married and my wife and I were invited. We drove way out into the farmland to this big Indian lodge like pavilion where they held the wedding. The place was packed with people. There were hundreds. I saw the groom’s dad go by in the crowd. I’ve known him for a while. I said to him, “Ya got a lot of people here. Are a lot from your work at the firehouse (he’s a fireman)?” He smiled and shook his head. He said, “I don’t know who any of these people are. I might know thirty people here he said. Then the crowd drew him on and he was soon out of sight.

Those two incidents came together.


Why do you write?

Having an art to practice and ponder for an entire life is one of the luckiest things. I do love it.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

This question is too vast to answer efficiently, so I’ll tell you one thing I’ve started doing lately. I get up very early in the morning, and I turn on all the lights in the kitchen, and even though the weather is cold, I open the sliding door and just use the screen. I put on a sweatshirt and get a big mug of coffee. Then I sit down at the kitchen counter and read for an hour in Book 1 of The Story of the Stone. The first book I read in this manner was Orlando Furioso book 1. While I read, I can hear the wind blowing dead leaves across the yard and the distant dinging of the jeweled wren wind chime in the pear tree at the front of the house. I’ve decided to dedicate this time to big slow old books. Next up, is the first book of the 3-book set of The Arabian Nights, Penguin edition. Somewhere along the line, I’ll get back to books 2 and 3 of the Arabian Nights, books 2 thru 6 of Story of the Stone, etc. No rush. I’m going to take my time and let it all slowly blend into one big story I can’t remember the beginning or end of.


“Thanksgiving” appears in the November/December 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Editor’s Note for November-December 2018

Welcome to the 70th year of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Our November/December 2018 issue carries on the tradition of excellence with eleven new stories and a poem, plus all our regular columns and features.

Most of our electronic and paper subscribers have already received their issues, but if you’re looking for a copy you can find us in most Barnes & Noble stores, as well as many local independent booksellers. You can also order a single copy from our website or buy an electronic edition from Amazon, AmazonUK, and — now, available worldwide and in every electronic format — through Weightless Books.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2018, cover by Alan M. ClarkThis month’s cover illustrates “The Iconoclasma” by Hanuš Seiner. The artwork is by the award-winning artist Alan M. Clark.


Our cover story this month is something special. The Czech Republic has a strong tradition of science fiction, including the writer Karel Čapek (1890-1938), who invented the word robot for his 1920 play “R.U.R.”, and Josef Nesvadba (1926-2005), who had several stories published in F&SF during the 1960s.

Hanuš Seiner and his translator Julie Novakova are two of the latest writers to continue this tradition. Seiner is a professor of applied physics at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. His fiction frequently mixes hard sf and space opera. American readers may be more familiar with the work of Novakova, an award-winning Czech novelist and translator, whose English language stories have been published in Asimov’s, Analog, and other magazines.

“The Iconoclasma” originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of the excellent Czech science fiction and fantasy magazine XB-1. We are excited to share it now with you.


“The Iconoclasma” isn’t the only piece of science fiction we have for this month. Sean McMullen offers “Extreme,” a near future adventure about a thrill seeker who gets more than he bargained for. Geoff Ryman returns to the magazine with “This Constant Narrowing,” a dark and harrowing story about intolerance set in another possible near future. Nina Kiriki Hoffman gives you a chance to read “Other People’s Dreams,” a story set in the far future where dreams are an art form. J. R. Dawson wants to take you to outer space, “When We Flew Together Through the Ice.” And Bo Balder continues to explore the evolution and interdependency of humans in their environments with her new story, “The Island and Its Boy.”

We also have some fantastic fantasy for you. Our lead story for the issue is “Thanksgiving” by Jeffrey Ford. How well do you really know the people you share your holidays with? Y. M. Pang makes her F&SF debut with “The Lady of Butterflies,” an adventure about memory and transformation. Abra Staffin-Wiebe wants to inform you about the “Overwintering Habits of the North American Mermaid.” Robert Reed offers up another tale in his Raven series, this one exploring “Every Color of Invisible.” And Nick DiChario has written an Italian fairy tale for you titled “The Baron and His Floating Daughter.”

Poet Ruth Berman also returns to our pages with “Escaping the Ogre.”


Charles de Lint recommends some Books to Look For by Martha Wells, Charlaine Harris, Bryan Fields, and Jane Yolen, plus an anthology edited by Irene Gallo and a new Tolkien biography by Catherine McIlwaine. In his Books column, James Sallis offers indepth reviews of Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, by Alec Nevala-Lee and Figures Unseen: Selected Stories by Steve Rasnic Tem. And for our monthly Curiosities column, rediscovering lost writers and books, David Langford explores The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction by Dorothy Scarborough (1917).

In his latest film column, David J. Skal reviews “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” based on the short story by Neil Gaiman that appeared in F&SF. In our science column, Jerry Oltion offers up a selection of “Space Drives: Real and Imaginary.” We have the winners of Competition #96, “Crime Blotter.” And the print version of the magazine also offers up cartoons by Nick Downes and Danny Shanahan.


We hope you’ll share your thoughts about the issue with us. We can be found on:


C.C. Finlay, Editor
Fantasy & Science Fiction | @fandsf

Interview: Cassandra Khaw and Jonathan L. Howard on “Shooting Iron”

Tell us a bit about “Shooting Iron.”

JLH: It’s a modern day Weird West story that has oodles of violence, some creative swearing, an awesome protagonist, a solid backstory, and some lighthearted giggles amidst the eviscerations. We may also have inadvertently included some salient and serious subtexts along the way, for which we are terribly sorry, I expect.

CK: Shooting Iron is weird and unrealistic and has little interest in the motivations of the exotic antagonists, focusing instead on the internalities of the protagonist and even then, she’s drawn in broad strokes (except where one is smart enough to peek through the cracks and go), how dare we indeed.







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

JLH: The Netflix IRON FIST series. There was some dismay that they’d decided to stick with Danny Rand being a white chap. Somebody online said, “Can you imagine if it was an Asian character going to America to learn and be best at some sort of mystical occidental martial art?” Saying things like that within earshot of writers is a fatal mistake.

CK: *points up*


“Shooting Iron” displays a very detailed sense of human anatomy; can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Shooting Iron,” on this subject or any other?

JLH: I actually bought a copy of Gray’s Anatomy to get my “bits” bits right. I suspect Cass went out and killed some people for research, but for heaven’s sake don’t tell her I said that.

CK: EXCUSE ME? WHAT DID YOU — for once, someone else actually went into deeper detail about the gore than I did. I actually did a pass on this going, ‘Are you sure we need THAT much gore?’


What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

JLH: From my perspective, it was all fun. I honestly don’t recall any difficult bits. It flowed very easily. All those Wild West memes melting into folklore and a little body horror, it all melded very organically.

CK: Time constraints, honestly. The rest was lovely, but Jesus, I end up working on far too many things sometimes.


Do either of you write with other authors often, and could you talk about your collaborative process for “Shooting Iron?”

JLH: I’ve collaborated on the writing for game projects in the past, but that’s not unusual for the games industry. This is the first time I’ve collaborated on an original piece of prose, though. It went very smoothly, I think. We hashed out the plot, then I did a first pass as I had less on my plate at the time. When it was done, I passed it over and we bounced it back and forth for a few iterations until we were both happy. I remember sort of semi-pastiching Cass’ style in places to make our work fit together better. Very wisely, she tore much of the faux-Khawness out on her passes and replaced it with the real deal. It worked as a practice, though, as it went a long way to erasing the seams between our styles.

CK: This isn’t my first collaboration. I did a piece with Matt Dovey before this, which is unfortunately back in the submissions circuit because the damned magazine folded. But this is my first prose-based collaboration of this scale, and it was interesting. Going through Jonathan’s first pass was almost disorienting; it’s like reading your own edits, except not, and you’re not editing to fit someone else’s voice, you’re working to make it match your own.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

JLH: Oh, that is a long list. I’ll endeavour to keep it brief by skipping lots of names. Conan Doyle, Vernon Lee, Wharton, James (M.R., not Henry), Sayers, Lovecraft, Vance, McBain, Moorcock, Hulke, Sladek, Lem, and any number of more current writers including, she’ll doubtless side-eye me for saying, Cassandra. It’s true, though; I reread a pile of her work before doing my pass on “Shooting Iron” specifically to influence my own style and make it more compatible with hers. That sort of deconstructive read emphasised to me the craft that underpins her writing and encouraged me to be less conservative in some of my descriptive work.

CK: Totally doing the side-eye. It’s funny, but Jonathan’s works are what I read up on when I want to do a pastiche of British voices. I reread Johannes Cabal whenever I do any work for Failbetter Games, and it just works perfectly. I end up very English and I end up very confused, as does everyone else I meet because suddenly, I sound like a very stark, very irritable German necromancer with a distinctly English voice. (Wot.)

My other influences include, among others, Lavie Tidhar, Cherie Priest, Brooke Bolander, Joe Hill, and Rin Chupeco.


What are you working on now?

JLH: A couple of game projects, one of which is NDAed at the moment, but the other is an adventure game called “Land of Hope & Gorey,” about how an attempt to make up for a shortfall in casual labour post-Brexit by raising the dead as workers accidentally triggers a very British zombie apocalypse. I’m also writing a non-SFF historical comedy novel about a borderline competent Victorian criminal mastermind.

CK: Finishing my Rupert Wong novel right now, which keeps getting waylaid by the fact I’ve been wrung of all life by recent work-related events. I just wrapped up things at InXile Entertainment, and am off to a certain very large company in Montreal. I’m also fretting at the corners of Project Wight and working on something divinely tentacular for Sunless Skies.


“Shooting Iron” appears in the September/October 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

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Learn more about Cassandra Khaw ( and Jonathan L. Howard ( at their websites.

Interview: Gregor Hartmann on “Emissaries from the Skirts of Heaven”

Gregor HartmannTell us a bit about “Emissaries from the Skirts of Heaven.”

It’s the story of a woman’s religious journey. Grace starts with the simple faith of a child, based on stories and images in a picture book. As she matures she becomes aware of theological complexities and church politics and other gritty realities. Yet she manages to retain some of her childlike sense of awe.


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

On the craft level, I had been writing one-scene stories, compressed in time, space, number of characters. As a challenge to myself I decided to write about a single character, showing brief scenes of her long complicated life. A sequence of snapshots that nevertheless resulted in a satisfying character arc. I’m not sure I’ll do it again, but I’m pleased that it worked this time.

On the world-building level, there are many aspects of life in the Mainline civilization that I’ve devised but haven’t revealed yet. This gave me a chance to show a religion of the future.


Was “Emissaries from the Skirts of Heaven” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I tend to get involved with my characters. It’s silly, since they don’t really exist, but I worry about them.


Did you research the history of any real world religions to write this story?

I like making things up.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing “Emissaries from the Skirts of Heaven,” and what was the most fun?

Skipping briskly through her life was a challenge, because what happened in the gaps between scenes had to be revealed indirectly. Overall the whole thing was fun. I enjoyed mentioning aspects of this future history that I’ll expound on later. The ChoRen, the Prophet, paxoforming… These are not one-off references.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I admire writers who can tell stories that stand alone but, taken collectively, add up to a more complex whole. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra. I also read a lot of poetry. Currently besotted with Jane Hirschfield.


What are you working on now?

Zephyr is a big planet with a complex society. In order to explore it from different perspectives I’m developing new characters. Now I’m focusing on a homicide inspector, a woman who has a background in philosophy. Charlie just bought one of the stories starring her. Look for it next spring.


“Emissaries from the Skirts of Heaven” appears in the September/October 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

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