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Interview: Robert Grossbach on “Entrepreneurs”

– Tell us a bit about “Entrepreneurs.”

“Entrepreneurs” is about one man’s encounters, over a lifetime, with a number of technological entrepreneurs, including some not from this planet.  As for the latter, I wanted to have life-forms with goals and sensibilities very similar to ours, but physically so utterly different that it would create interesting inter-species interactions.

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

Quite some time ago, I wrote a fairly long novel with a similar setup, that is, a juxtaposition of Earthly and alien entrepreneurs, both enmeshed in corporate dogfights.  After the writer’s cooling-off period, however, I re-read it and judged it a failure: I had a mediocre techno-industrial story and a mediocre science fiction story combined under one cover.  And so I put it in the “Do not disturb” drawer, where it lay for thirty years.  Then – and I’m really hesitant to say this because it will likely sound unbearably pretentious and precious – I happened to be in the Pompidou Museum in Paris one day and saw an exhibition of Matisse paintings arranged in pairs.  Each pair consisted of (1) an early work, and (2) a re-visited version that he’d gone back and created years later.  So it just came to me that, hey! if Matisse thought that permissible, maybe I should or could do the same.  What emerged — after some time, of course, and many changes and additions — was a novella, not a novel, but something that was at least more tightly integrated than my first attempt.

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

As an RF/microwave engineer, I’ve worked for many small and large companies, the former generally founded, owned, and operated by individual entrepreneurs.  I’d written two “mainstream” novels about the big-company experience, both with the kind of black-humor, cynical, crabby sensibility that, I guess, constitutes my personality, but I’d not tried to capture the ambiance of the small operation.  As a lifelong science-fiction addict, it just amused me to think about alien entrepreneurs outsourcing to an Earth company operations they considered “third-world” in nature.

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

My life’s experience as an engineer made much of any formal research unnecessary.  I did a bit on Calabi-Yau manifolds and some on the chemistry of sulfur, since my aliens have a sulfur-based metabolism similar to that of tube worms.  I also consulted friends on street lingo, quantities, and prices for marijuana.

– What are you working on now?

I realized that the ending of my novella is not quite the ending of the story, so, with much trepidation at the risk of overstaying my welcome, I’m working on a sequel.

“Entrepreneurs” appears in the May/June 2015 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Sarah Pinsker on “Today’s Smarthouse in Love”

– What was the inspiration for “Today’s Smarthouse in Love,” or what prompted you to write it?

I’m part of an online writers’ community that occasionally does prompts and contests. As I recall, this story came from a title prompt. I didn’t end up using the title, but it knocked this story into my head. The original title had a list of mundane household items. I think I had also just read an article about a refrigerator that could remind you when a grocery item was running low and I started thinking about what would happen if you came to rely on automated appliances too much. In my experience, the really basic appliances outlast the fancy ones, and I love old houses. From there, I moved to the communication gap between a new house and its older neighbor, and since communication gaps make for good screwball romances, I went that route.


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

Very little. I’ll admit I was less concerned with the actual science in this particular story than with getting the tone right. I watched the Tex Avery “House of Tomorrow” cartoons, which are far more sexist than I remembered. But they’re also interesting because they did predict some things that we do have in our houses today, but they were colored by a 1949 view of what the future would look like. So he imagined automated dishwashers, but depicted them as robot arms scrubbing dishes in the sink. I decided to have fun with some very 2015 predictions, which will very likely look ridiculous in a few years, but that’s okay.


– “Today’s Smarthouse in Love” seems to share themes (the intersection of technology and humanity, for example) with your previous story for us, “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide,” albeit in a more humorous fashion.  Since that story is up for a Nebula Award this year, I was hoping you could talk about this theme in your work, or any other themes you recognize, and what draws you to explore them.

Oh! I never would have connected those stories, but now that you say it, I can see it. I guess I do come back to the intersection of technology and humanity a lot. That’s where we’re living now, isn’t it? Technologies we think we can’t live without, technologies we literally can’t live without, technologies we didn’t previously need but we’ve come to rely on. I think the easiest story to write on those topics is probably the “WE’VE GONE TOO FAR!” warning cry, but if you approach it head-on like that there’s not a lot of nuance. I like to explore the edges. Technologies that are useful but can lead to unexpected problems. I used to have a lot of phone numbers memorized, and now I have very few in my head, since they’re all in my phone. It’s very convenient – but every time I get a new phone, I find that some of my contacts are missing. It’s not bad or dangerous, but it’s an example of a convenience that can cause inconvenience. And then as SF writers our job is to carry things to the extremes, be they menacing or humorous. It was fun to explore the humorous side with this one.


– What are you working on now?

I have a feeling this will be the same line verbatim that I gave you last time, but I won’t peek to see if that’s true. I’m working on stories, as always. I love the form, and I always have ideas waiting to be explored. I poke at my novel sometimes, then go back to stories. Though now that you call my attention to it, my novel does also explore an aspect of the intersection of technology and humanity.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

By far my favorite part of writing this story was writing the fridge’s arc and dialogue. If any actual refrigerator makers are reading this and need someone to write scripts for their fancy new computerized fridges, I’m available.

“Today’s Smarthouse in Love” appears in the May/June 2015 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Lisa Mason on “Teardrop”

– Tell us a bit about “Teardrop.”

“Teardrop” is about love versus duty. Personal responsibility to respect a native culture versus official responsibility to carry out the imperatives of an organization.

What I love about science fiction is that SF, of all the genres including mainstream, is the literature of ideas. Science fiction entertains but also speculates, comments, inquires, challenges.

“Teardrop” is told from two points-of-view, that of NanaNini, a native of Bakdoor, and John W. Dixon, an Executive Director sent by the Network to “cultivate” her planet.

But Dixon has fallen in love with NanaNini. He’s encountered “the Sparkle,” a mysterious intelligence that shapes Bakdoor’s culture. He’s had a change of heart and of mind.

When a trio of Networkers arrive, planning to relieve him of his post, Dixon has plans of his own for them.

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

I love it when people ask this. Writers always have a flippant answer. “I got my inspiration in a brown paper bag.” Or, “At the bottom of a wine bottle.”

As for “Teardrop,” I was working in my office one day and listening to an oldies’ radio station. The station played what had become classic surfer tunes, “Teardrop” and “Sleepwalk.”

The strange, whiny sounds struck me as alien. An alien mother singing to her baby. Go figure science fiction writers.

In fact, those tunes were not played by Hawaiian surfers with bronzed biceps but by Santo and Johnny Farina, two Brooklyn brothers born in the 1930s and early 1940s. Santo bought a Fender and jerry-rigged the guitar to have three necks and eight strings so that it sounded like a manic steel guitar. Johnny accompanied him on a standard electric guitar.

The Farina brothers became so popular at local proms that the tunes were recorded in 1959. I can just imagine teenagers in New Jersey on the cusp of the 1960s slow-dancing in the school auditorium.

But to me, Teardrop sounds like an ocean beach with the surf pounding on the sand.

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

Yes. In a previous lifetime (so to speak), I was employed as a young lawyer in a one-hundred-male attorney, ten-female attorney law firm. It was a huge honor and an opportunity for a woman and I took my duties very seriously.

One day, a senior partner summoned me to his office and ordered me to cover up evidence in an ugly and contentious class-action lawsuit involving powerful interests.

I sort of feared for my life if I did what he asked. I also feared for the rest of my life if I didn’t get out of that game.

I submitted my resignation. No contest. And then went into law book publishing while I worked on my fiction career.

So John Dixon’s dilemma in “Teardrop” is pretty real to me.

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

After listening to “Teardrop” and “Sleepwalk,” I wanted to write a surfer story.

But this had to be set on an alien world. When you think about the Earth, we’re set upon a planet with two “atmospheres”: air (and land) and water. We human beings can’t breathe water, but we breathe air.

I did some research into planets’ ecosystems and Jupiter leapt immediately into view.

As for the surfing angle, I discovered the wonderful Surf’inary published by Ten Speed Press. I collect slang dictionaries. The Surf’inary was a real find and delight.

– This is your first story for us since 1992; what have you been up to for the past twenty-three years?

Ooh, that’s a long time, isn’t it? The good news is I’ve been writing books, stories, and screenplays.

“Destination,” published in F&SF in 1992, is a part of my 2013 collection, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories. The collection includes stories I published in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Unique Magazine, and anthologies such as Universe 2 (Bantam), Fantastic Alice (Ace), and Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion (Carrol & Graf).

I also published “The Sixty-third Anniversary of Hysteria” in Full Spectrum (Bantam), “Daughter of the Tao” in Peter S. Beagle’s Immortal Unicorn (HarperPrism), and “Every Mystery Unexplained” in David Copperfield’s Tales of the Impossible (HarperPrism). “Hummers” got chosen for Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin’s Press). “Arachne” was published in Omni magazine. I expanded a novelet, published as “Deus Ex Machina,” into a short science fiction thriller, Shaken, about the next great Earthquake to strike the San Francisco Bay Area.

Many writers go through a phase when concentrating on writing books becomes paramount, and so did I.

It took me two-and-a-half years to write Summer of Love, first published by Bantam, which became a Philip K. Dick Award finalist and a San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book. And another two-and-a-half years to write The Gilded Age, also published by Bantam as The Golden Nineties, which became a New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book.

Four more books in my backlist aren’t yet ebooks, my early cyberpunks Arachne and Cyberweb and my science fiction adventures Pangaea I and Pangaea II. I have plans!

For a slightly different readership, I wrote an historical romantic suspense miniseries, Celestial Girl (A Lily Modjeska Mystery), and an urban fantasy, The Garden of Abracadabra, Book 1 of the Abracadabra Series.

After one of my Omni stories, “Tomorrow’s Child,” optioned for four years and then sold outright to Universal Studios, I set off to learn how to write screenplays and wrote half a dozen. “U F uh-O, A Sci Fi Comedy,” is now a novella but started out as a screenplay for a producer looking for the next “Men in Black” meets “Galaxy Quest.” I spent a fulltime year researching and writing “Tesla: A Worthy of His Time,” an ambitious biopic about the eventful life of Nikola Tesla, the inventor of AC electricity (among many other things). That got read by the producer of “The Abyss” and is still under consideration.

But the truth is, for a prose author, there is nothing like being in print!

In the meantime, I’m committed to keeping fit, cooking healthy meals, and living with my husband, Tom Robinson, an acclaimed artist and studio jeweler in the San Francisco Bay Area.

– What are you working on now?

I’m working on Book 2 of the Abracadabra Series, a new suite of stories, and a high-concept science fiction.

When we left “Teardrop,” several major plotlines were brewing. I’m hoping to write more Bakdoor stories, as well.

– Anything else you’d like to add?

I love David Gerrold’s story, “Entanglements,” in the May-June 2015 F&SF issue. So laugh-out-loud funny and poignant at the same time.

By coincidence, I recently read a book that explores the quantum physics concept of “entanglement.” I know a little bit about quantum physics, but I’d never heard of entanglement before.

So I totally appreciated David’s story. But even if a reader isn’t conversant in quantum physics, he or she will surely understand and enjoy David’s wonderful story.

I truly hope everyone will enjoy another great issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction!

“Teardrop” appears in the May/June 2015 issue of F&SF.

Two F&SF Stories On 2015 Sturgeon List

Theodore SturgeonOn May 11, the finalists for the 2015 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short SF of 2014 were announced by The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. This year’s list includes two stories from F&SF, “In Her Eyes” by Seth Chambers (Jan/Feb 2014) and “The Lightness of the Movement” by Pat MacEwan (Mar/Apr 2014).

Both “In Her Eyes” by Seth Chambers and “The Lightness of the Movement” by Pat MacEwan were also named 2014 James Tiptree Jr. Awards Honors stories.

The annual award honors short fiction in the spirit of Theodore Sturgeon, who was closely identified with the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Sturgeon is famous for his novel More Than Human, his book reviews, and the episodes he wrote for the original Star Trek series. But he is best known for the more than 200 stories he wrote.

Sturgeon’s frequently reprinted story “The Hurkle is a Happy Beast” was published in Fall 1949 in the first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and then selected for inclusion in The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1950. With its second issue, the new periodical changed its name to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Sturgeon published more than a dozen stories in F&SF between the first issue and 1983, including 1960 Hugo finalist “The Man Who Lost the Sea,” 1963 Hugo finalist for novella “When You Care, When You Love,” and 1969 Nebula finalist “The Man Who Learned Loving.”

The Sturgeon Memorial Award is selected by a jury that consists of Elizabeth Bear, Andy Duncan, James Gunn, Kij Johnson, and Nöel Sturgeon, Trustee of the Theodore Sturgeon Literary Estate. A complete list of this year’s finalists may be found at The awards will be presented during the Campbell Conference on Friday, June 12, as part of the Campbell Conference held annually at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

“The Fisher Queen” is a Shirley Jackson Award finalist

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2014On May 7, the finalists for the 2014 Shirley Jackson Awards were announced and they include “The Fisher Queen” by Alyssa Wong from the May/June issue of F&SF.

“The Fisher Queen” is also a finalist for this year’s Nebula Award for short story, which will be announced in Chicago in June.

The Shirley Jackson Awards are given in recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. They’re voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics.

Shirley Jackson was a contributor to F&SF in the 1950s with her stories “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts” (January 1955), “The Missing Girl” (December 1957), and “The Omen” (March 1958). Jackson, who lived from 1916 to 1965, wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and is famous for her story “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of genre and literary fiction.

The 2014 Shirley Jackson Awards will be presented on Sunday, July 12, 2016, at Readercon 26, Conference on Imaginative Literature, in Burlington, Massachusetts. The complete ballot with all the nominees can be found at:

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