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Interview: Rick Bowes on “Rascal Saturday”

– Tell us a bit about “Rascal Saturday.”

My story, Rascal Saturday, is set a couple of generations down the line in a time of global warming and growing political chaos. In this future, Manhattan is nicknamed, “The Big Arena.”

At the center of the story is a gifted but unstable and corrupt Irish American Family, the Dineens. The Dineens are famous in our world, and are secretly the self-proclaimed rulers of the city of Naxos and its Fey-like population. Naxos is in an alternate world to which they have access.

Janina Dineen, a young scion of the house, is seeking to end this injustice.


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

I tend find myself writing series of stories that share a common themes and settings. “Rascal Saturday” is one of a group that started with “Tales That Fairies Tell,” in Paula Guran’s original anthology, Once Upon A Time (2013). Last Year’s Nebula Award nominated novelette “Sleep Walking Now and Then” ( was another one. The story, “Anyone With A Care For Their Image,” came out this year in Uncanny, and “Time is a Twisting Snake,” was in the newly resurrected Farrago’s Wainscot early this year.

These days, my novels are fix-ups – related stories assembled into a narrative line. That’s how my Minions of the Moon (1999), From The Files Of The Time Rangers (2005) and Dust Devil On A Quiet Street (2013) were created. Each of those books contained chapters that had once been original stories in original anthologies, in online magazines and in print magazines: especially F&SF. Some won awards and some were on short lists and in Year’s Best collections.

Maybe something like that will happen with these “Big Arena” stories. That doesn’t depend on me nearly as much as it does on where the stories take me.


– Was “Rascal Saturday” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I tend to write Urban Fantasy and it tends to be first person and varying degrees of “personal.” But I also write in a mode that’s a bit more Science Fictional. “From the Files of the Time Rangers” was about Time Travel and 20th Century U.S. politics and the upcoming Singularity as well as the Ancient Gods and their modern servants.

Two of the first three genre pieces that I wrote were paperback original novels. Both were published in the mid-1980s. Warchild and Goblin Market were both about Time Travel. The third novel, Feral Cell was dark Urban Fantasy and more personal. It was about alternate worlds and Cancer, which I had at that time.


– What are you working on now?

At the behest of Steve Berman at Lethe Press (who published my novel (Dust Devil On A Quiet Street) I’m working on a fix-up novel about being a gay kid in Boston, circa the late 1940’s – 1962. Several of the stories have been published “Stories I Tell To Friends” (The Revelator), “Seven Days of Poe” (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances), “Fordham Court,” (Interfictions).


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Selling a story to any venue makes me feel I need to do something in return. I want the story to succeed, get critical attention, award attention, and get selected for Year’s Best anthologies. Sometimes that happens more often it doesn’t. When I started selling stories in the early 1990’s, there were two prominent review sites for spec fiction stories; Locus Online and Tangent. Almost 25 years later, many things have changed but that’s still the case.

“Rascal Saturday” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can purchase it here:

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Interview: Nick Wolven on “We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss”

– Tell us a bit about “We’re So Very Sorry For Your Recent Tragic Loss.”

Adam Gopnik did this profile of Michel Houellebecq in the New Yorker a while ago. It’s all about the nature of satire. Gopnik says at one point that a satirist is someone who “likes to take what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening.” Which makes all sci-fi writers satirists of a kind, I guess–except that in most sci-fi, what keeps on happening is awesome: the spaceships get better, the robots get smarter, everything’s on a grander scale. So you could maybe say that satire is like sci-fi, but with less awesomeness.

This story is satire. It asks what things will be like if we keep doing what we’re doing, using technology the way we’re currently using it. Specifically, it asks what’ll happen if we use the incipient “internet of things” the way we’re already using our internet of screens. The results are fairly Black Mirrorish.


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

Well, I think tech is in a pretty bleak place right now. Communications tech, anyway. Especially if you contrast it with the kinds of dreams we were dreaming twenty years ago. The guiding ethos has gone from being populist to consumerist–which always means the advertisers are running the show. You create some service or gadget or content that gets people hooked, which delivers customer feedback, which allows you to create even more addictive services and gadgets and content … it’s a merry-go-round. There are still some people working on interesting ideas, but we’re seeing a lot more of what I’d call gratuitous innovation, little tweaks and upgrades, new services that are basically rebranded variations on old services, all of it designed around that old adman’s gambit: you flatter the consumer with this kind of phony attention, then sucker-punch him with status anxiety. We did this with cars for sixty, seventy years, tinkering in the margins, trying to make the business of transportation work on the same principles as the fashion industry. We did it with drugs. For that matter, we did it with marriage.


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

It’s probably obvious. I’d been reading a lot of Luddite-lit when I wrote this. So not hard research, but certainly relevant background. Nick Carr, Sherry Turkle, Lanier, Postman, plus old-school cultural critics like Lasch and Lippmann and Galbraith. I mean, all tech criticism is really cultural criticism in disguise. My grandfather used to have some saying to the effect that a cynic is just an idealist who’s aging badly. I think what you see with a lot of these so-called Luddites is this almost mystical belief in the transformative power of technology. Definitely with Lanier, somewhat with Carr–they’re like these big grouchy grumpuses on the outside, but inside they’re stuffed with wispy cottony woo-woo. They really believe that every laptop holds a clue to our humanity. So I find them paradoxically inspiring. The standard counter in the popular press is to say something like, “What’s wrong with technology? Look, I just used my phone to find a new hair salon.” It’s the complacency of that second attitude that I find depressing.


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

Most people just read short stories so they can figure out where to submit their own short stories. So I guess I hope to give a reader something more enjoyable than a quarter hour of market research.

Earlier this year I did read one short story that literally made me jump to my feet. I remember standing up in my subway car, clenching my fists, thinking to myself, “Holy shit, this is literature, I’m reading literature.” What made it great was it was so unexpected. I’d never heard of the author before. I mean, my stop was coming up anyway, but I did jump up prematurely, if you know what I mean. I had an urge to pace. You always hope for that kind of wild surmise, but it comes along pretty rarely.


– What are you working on now?

Nothing I do with my time could ever be described as work. But I’m getting interested in psychometrics, AI, and the concept of randomness. They’re related in interesting ways. Psychometrics is all about how we measure our minds, and any system of measurement has biases, simplifications. So that has a lot of implications for AI, and vice versa. I should mention that I’m an AI skeptic, though. And randomness is key to probability theory, which is key to statistics, which is key to accurate measurement. So to the extent that we’re taking a numerical approach to the study of mind, this curious concept, randomness, is going to be increasingly important for understanding what it means to be human.

Actually, randomness is super interesting, even though no one can quite define it. Information theory, hierarchical complexity, even things like time and causality, they all seem to go back to this notion that no one understands very well. Predictable unpredictability, it’s like a kind of magic key for connecting the ideal world of math with the messiness of observed reality. So I’m banging together a sci-fi novel that plays with those ideas.

“We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  Buy it here:

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Interview: David Gerrold on “Monsieur”

– Tell us a bit about “Monsieur.”

I started thinking about vampirism as a disease instead of a supernatural condition. And the more I thought about vampires in that context, the more I realized that the way vampires have been portrayed in a lot of movies and books and TV shows doesn’t deal much with the daily minutiae of a vampire’s life, what’s really necessary for survival.

I wrote that first section, the part in italics — realized I was heading in the wrong direction, and took a giant step back — the meta thing — and began to look at vampire fiction the way a vampire might. The rest of the piece just flowed from there.


– “Monsieur” reads like the beginning of a novel. Is there more to Jacob’s story?

After I finished “Monsieur,” I knew I wanted to know more. There was a lot more to tell. So I kept writing. “Jacob in Boston,” “Jacob in Seattle,” “Jacob in San Francisco,” and finally “Jacob in New Orleans.” When I was done, I had 75,000 words. So, yes, that first story is the first chapter in a novel — and we printed up a special collector’s edition in time for the World Science Fiction Convention. I think there will be copies available on Amazon by the end of this month as well.


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

I have to point to a story in the July/August 2014 issue of F&SF. A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i. by Alaya Dawn Johnson. (Which went on to win the Nebula award.) It struck me as a brilliant piece in so many ways, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I wanted to know more about the world suggested beyond that story — so much so that I almost wanted to write it myself.

But what happened was something else. As I said above, I started thinking about how a vampire would have to survive in our world. I’m not through with that thinking. I might have more to say in the future.


– Do you think any aspects of your writing have changed as you’ve gotten older?

I’ve always been interested in the conflict of ideas — and the moral and emotional dilemmas those conflicts create in human beings. It’s what James Blish always said, “Who does it hurt? That’s who your story is about.”

But more and more, I think I’m writing a lot deeper than I used to. I’m doing more of what I call “transfusion stories.”

There’s that thing that writers say. “Writing is easy. Sit down at the keyboard and open a vein.” If I finish a story and I need a transfusion, I know I’ve gone someplace important. I can tell by the depth of emotion I’ve invested in the story.

I can point to “The Martian Child” and “thirteen o’clock” and “Entanglements” (May/June 2015 issue of F&SF) as transfusion stories. That’s my goal, to write more stories that come from that vein…

“Monsieur” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF, which can be purchased here:

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Interview: Marissa Lingen on “Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water”

– Tell us a bit about “Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water.”

I wrote it while I was in a lake house alone with my in-laws for a long weekend. There were nine of us, not two, and everyone was quite cheerful and having a good time, but I think the “it’s just us and the snow outside” experience probably had a subconscious effect on me!

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

I had the title first. I honestly don’t even remember how I got the title. And then I thought about the sorts of stamps you see, how they would translate to a fantasy setting, and it became a very stressed out fantasy setting very quickly, because what would be interesting about the stamps of a fantasy setting that is utterly peaceful and running smoothly? And really, the head of a queen: that’s a little alarming when you take it out of context. I think honestly it was Queen Elizabeth II’s head that really had me off and running. (Obviously it is not QE2 in the story.)

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

My grandfather was a stamp collector, and my grandfather-in-law still is one. So my associations with the hinges and the tweezers and the little dishes of water soaking stamps off envelopes and all the paraphernalia of stamp collecting are all very positive–much more positive than this story would indicate!

– What are you working on now?

Oh gosh. Lots of stuff. Right at the moment, I am obsessed with fungus, so that’s going in a lot of different directions. Some of them apocalyptic, some of them therapeutic…lots of mycological science fiction, is I guess what I’m saying here.

“Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF, which can be purchased here:

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Editor’s Note for Sept/Oct 2015

One of the things that I love about The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction is that it’s a beautiful physical object. The September/October issue — available today! — is a perfect example, with its cover featuring an epic dragon illustrated by the team of Cory and Catska Ench. If you don’t have a copy yet, you can subscribe here or order a single copy here.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sept/Oct 2015, cover by Cory and Catska EnchThe Enches have done many covers for F&SF over the past decade. (The very first cover they ever did for the magazine was the illustration for my story “A Democracy of Trolls” back in Oct/Nov of 2002 — something I didn’t know until just now!) You can see more of their work, together and individually, at their website:

The cover illustrates this month’s novella, “The Lord of Ragnarök” by Albert E. Cowdrey. Regular readers of F&SF will be familiar with Cowdrey’s work and his range as a writer. But few may know that before he turned his attention to fiction he served as Chief of the Special History Branch in the U.S. Army, and published several non-fiction books on the history of medical service in the army as well as the environmental history of the U.S. south. Cowdrey won the World Fantasy Award in 2003 for his short story “Queen for a Day” and was a finalist again in 2009 for his novella “The Overseer.” We think this new novella is among his best work.

The story in this month’s free electronic digest for Kindle is “The Bone War” by Elizabeth Bear. This story marks the first fiction appearance by the multiple Hugo Award winning author in the pages of F&SF. (Bear’s first professional SF sale was the poem “ee ‘doc’ cummings” in the March 2003 issue of F&SF.) “The Bone War” takes place in the world of Bear’s Eternal Sky series. Fans who’ve read Bone and Jewel Creatures and Book of Iron will immediately recognize Bijou the Artificier. Everyone else is in for a new treat. Even if you don’t subscribe to the magazine, you can click on this link and read Bear’s story and all the columns in the issue for free.

The rest of the issue contains a mixture of new and familiar names.

Nick Wolven has published a half dozen stories in Asimov’s Science Fiction but his contemporary science fiction satire “We’re So Very Sorry For Your Recent Tragic Loss” marks his first appearance in this magazine. “Ten Stamps Viewed Under Water,” a fantasy inspired by her grandfather’s stamp collection, also marks the F&SF debut of the prolific Marissa Lingen. And we are excited to introduce you to Bo Balder, a multilingual writer from the Netherlands who is a two-time winner of the Paul Harland Prize for best original Dutch science fiction, fantasy, or horror. “A House of Her Own” is her first professional English short fiction publication. It’s a thought-provoking story about a far future where humans and aliens are connected in unexpected and revealing ways.

We’re happy to see other writers return to these pages with new stories. Paolo Bacigalupi’s “A Hot Day’s Night” originally appeared in a special issue of High Country News (where Bacigalupi once worked) devoted to the future of environmental ideas. We don’t think many genre readers will have seen it there, so we’re excited to share it and give a glimpse into the drought-plagued world of his new novel The Water Knife. “Don’t Move” by Dennis Etchison is a chilling tale from the three-time winner of both the British Fantasy and World Fantasy Awards. And David Gerrold, recent World Science Fiction Convention guest of honor and Hugo Awards ceremony co-emcee, along with Tananarive Due, returns to these pages with a horror story, “Monsieur.”

We also have two new tales from recent series. “The Adventure of the Clockwork Men” by Ron Goulart marks the return of the Victorian supernatural sleuth Harry Challenge, who previously appeared in F&SF to uncover “The Secret of the City of Gold” (Jan/Feb, 2012) and solve “The Problem of the Elusive Cracksman” (Nov/Dec 2012). And “Rascal Saturday” is the latest story in Richard Bowes’s The Big Arena cycle, centered around a future, climate-changed eastern United States. The first tale in the series, “Sleep Walking, Now and Then,” was a finalist for this year’s Nebula Award. But you don’t need to be familiar with the earlier stories in either series to appreciate these.

The magazine also has some great columns this month.

Charles de Lint tells you why you should read new books by Laura Bickle, Seanan McGuire, Eva Darrow, F.R. Mahler, and Andrew Klavan. David J. Skal offers his analysis of the film Ex Machina. In our regular “Curiosities” column, Phoenix Alexander discusses a forgotten classic of early 20th century African-American science fiction. And Chris Moriarty uses four recent anthologies — Mothership: Tales from Afro-Futurism and Beyond, Carbide Tipped Pens: Seventeen Tales of Hard Science Fiction, Twelve Tomorrows, and Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future — as a jumping off point for an essay on women currently writing hard SF.

If that doesn’t make you want to read the issue, I don’t know what else to add. F&SF has never been a better bargain. You can order print or digital copies of the issue here: Enjoy!

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