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Interview: Alter Reiss on “If the Stars Reverse Their Courses, If the Rivers Run Back from the Sea”

Tell us a bit about “If the Stars Reverse their Courses, If the Rivers Run Back from the Sea.”

After his side wins a long and bloody war, Andier Evas follows an old rival back to before the war began, to try to undo what had happened in the years between. It’s about escaping from and changing the past, and the difference between who someone was and who they are.  Also, there’s a swordfight, which I think turned out reasonably well.

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

This is one of the stories that came together from a collection of images—the man in the boat, leaving a bombed-out city, the dinner and the duel, the lights of fishing ships seen from a long way off—but it took a while for those images to connect to a story line. Early
attempts had the guy in the boat being a necromancer and a deposed king, both of which were entirely wrong.

One of those images was a couplet–“If the stars reverse their courses, if the rivers run back from the sea / could I be true to you, my love, and would you be true to me?” and thinking about that led me to the story. Being able to go back and fix mistakes, to do everything right the first time would be a hell of a satisfying thing to do, at least for a while. But if someone who kept playing through, kept starting from the same point, it would inevitably shape him, even though the worlds he inhabited would all seem the same after a while. And that was the main thread, the challenge failed by the villain and passed by the hero.

Would you say that “If the Stars Reverse Their Courses…” is typical of the fiction that you write?

I’m not sure if I’m really the right person to answer that—that sort of thing is more easily seen from outside than from inside. I can say that there are a few things that show up in this story that I tend to come back to: I like postwar settings, as I find that some of the most interesting stories start after the big stories end. I also like settings with both magic and 20th century levels of technology.

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

Most of the research for this story, if you can call it that, was done before I had the idea of writing the story. I fenced a bit in college, and casually after that, and some of the details of the setting come from reading various bits and pieces of 20th century history, largely around the periods of the world wars.

What are you working on now?

Unfortunately, I’ve been suffering from mononucleosis for the last couple of months, which has rendered me incapable of getting basically any writing done at all. I’ve been feeling a bit better lately (hence my ability to answer these questions!), and I’m hoping to dive back into some of the projects I’ve put on hold, including an urban fantasy novel set in the underworld of New York in the 1920s, and centering on the murder of Arnold Rothstein.

“If the Stars Reverse Their Courses…” appears in the Nov./Dec. 2012 issue of F&SF.

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