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Interview: Jérôme Cigut on “The Rider”

– Tell us a bit about “The Rider.”

“The Rider” is about what would happen if virtual personal assistants like Siri or Cortana not only answered our questions, but actually ruled our lives. (One might actually argue that they already do…)

It’s also (I hope) a story about friendship.


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

There were several sources of inspiration that coalesced here. For some time, I had wanted to write a story about high-tech artisans. What could be the equivalent of a Swiss watchmaker, but working on semiconductors? If you’ve seen the size and complexity of TSMC’s plants, for example, you’ll know that it’s unlikely anyone could tinker at nano-scales using the equivalent of a soldering iron… But Hideo Tahara is a compelling vision. Who wouldn’t want to go to an artisan to upgrade his or her phone, rather than throw it away after a couple of years? Interestingly, a version of this may not be very far away: here in Asia, it’s very easy to repair and replace parts of smart phones and tablets, when in Europe they would just tell you to buy a new device.

Another inspiration was Michael Moorcock’s Elric. Some people say that modern suits are modeled after medieval armors. In that case, modern swords are computers and smart phones, which now can talk to us. What if they also had souls?

And Some Like It Hot for the comedic elements, and especially for the final line.


– Was “The Rider” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

That’s a personal question… but yes. Unusually for me, I started writing the story without knowing the full plot beforehand: I only had a couple of scenes in mind… and I also wanted to have fun at the main character’s expense. That’s why things he doesn’t expect keep happening to him — most of them bad. (I’ve actually discovered it’s a good way to build suspense — I’m a very inexperienced writer, I learn as I go…)

What I didn’t expect was that real characters would emerge from that. When I wrote the Monopoly game scene in the hotel, I had no idea it would turn this way. It gave me pause, as it rang deep and true to me. I then thought “this is the real story”, and proceeded to rewrite everything else to build up to that scene.


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

The Tahara backstory is based on some research I did to understand the modern semiconductor industry. It’s actually at a very interesting point in time, as we are now very close to scales where traditional silicon-based technologies do not work anymore because of quantum tunneling. Scientists now have to devise completely new materials and geometries, without any guarantee of success. Hence the rising interest for completely different approaches, like quantum computing. Ten years from now, our computers could be incredibly smarter. Or they could be exactly the same we’re using now, only ten times cheaper. Which is it going to be?


– What are you working on now?

I’m working on a near-future thriller, based on recent developments in physics, which I’d like to finish soon because the list of projects I’d like to work on later is starting to grow dangerously tall. (Can someone be crushed under his pile of unwritten novels?) But I also have a few ideas for other short stories in the meantime — possibly in the same universe as “The Rider”.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Thank you very much for accepting “The Rider” in F&SF. It’s a great honor to be published in the same pages as so many fantastic writers who’ve fed my imagination for the past thirty years. I hope you will enjoy the story…

“The Rider” appears in the September/October 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Tom Underberg on “Sir Pagan’s Gift”

– Tell us a bit about “Sir Pagan’s Gift.”

“Sir Pagan’s Gift” is the story of a naive missionary who comes to a poor fishing village, learns the village secrets, and lands in grave trouble because of those secrets.


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

I started with the opening image of Sir Pagan and a New York Times article about how a few banks were using aluminum market regulations to their benefit. That, bolstered by a lively evening with my writer’s group, somehow cohered into “Sir Pagan’s Gift.” As always, it didn’t end up quite the way I imagined when I began.


– Was “Sir Pagan’s Gift” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I spent many summers in small coastal towns growing up. The village where Sir Pagan lands recalls some of those experiences.


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

Research is one of my favorite things. It’s better than outright procrastination and I learn something at the same time. For this story, though, my research was limited to some quick searching of entomological terminology and Atlantic fishing stock.


– What would you want a reader to take away from “Sir Pagan’s Gift?”

Be careful when signing contracts with institutions. Their agenda is their own.


– What are you working on now?

I’m putting the finishing touches on a short story based on the worst job I ever had. I’ve got a novel in the works too.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Just that it’s a great pleasure to appear in F&SF.

“Sir Pagan’s Gift” appears in the September/October 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Jay O’Connell on “Other People’s Things”

– What was the inspiration for “Other People’s Things,” or what prompted you to write it?

If you’re a genre person of a certain age you will have engaged in long–perhaps endless— conversations with close friends with dating problems.

This experience is universal, but even in an era in which everyone claims to be some kind of geek, we seem to suffer more than the average person. We’re outliers in many respects. Finding each other even now can be difficult.

If you are an alpha-geek, (a geek who dates) you end up playing this role, of therapist, of confidant, wing-man and cheerleader.

The story was pure wish fulfillment, creating this character, Peebles, who could be utterly, brutally honest, this character who could cut to the core of these issues and find solutions.

It’s another wearable computing story, oddly, written a good while ago, before wearables were a thing. Both my wearable stories are seeing print within a months of my Google Glass review in the September 2014 issue of Asimov’s. Another wearable short story will come out in the December issue of Asimov’s.

– Was “Other People’s Things” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

All my stories are personal or I wouldn’t write them; mixtures of life experience with fantasy life, interior stuff rotated through the fourth dimension of genre tropery; memoir pushed through a fun-house mirror.

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

Decades of listening to friends kvetch combined with perfectly ordinary techno-lust extrapolation.

– What are you working on now?

I’m writing novelettes and novellas for Asimov’s and F&SF (hopefully!) with an eye towards working on projects that could expand into novels or serials.

I want to try my hand at YA, like everyone else in the universe. I read out loud to my kids, a ton of YA, and I love it.

– Anything else you’d like to add?

Being published in F&SF is a dream come true; the magazine was part of my primordial landscape, along with Analog, stacks of SF paperbacks from the 50s and 60s, and of course, Playboy magazine.

We grew up with print, my generation, created by it, reflected in it; TV was a one size fits all affair, we all watched but there wasn’t enough variety to define yourself that way. There was no public internet to speak of.

My generation didn’t go to war; we went to Narnia, then Middle Earth; into Galactic Empire, Known Space, and beyond, and the SF magazines were a big part of all that.

I’m delighted to finally find myself in these pages. Though really, I’ve been here all along.

“Other People’s Things” appears in the September/October 2014 issue of F&SF.

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