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Electronic submissions to temporarily close in June

Electronic submissions for F&SF will be temporarily closed from 11:59pm PST on Friday, May 27, through midnight PST, on Monday, July 4 — basically from Memorial Day weekend through the July 4 holiday — so that editor C.C. Finlay can catch up on reading submissions and other editorial work. Electronic submissions will re-open on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. The website for electronic submissions is: http://submissions.ccfinlay.com/fsf/

Postal submissions will still be accepted during this period, but replies may take longer than normal. Guidelines for submitting by mail may be found at: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/glines.htm. Electronic submissions are still strongly preferred.

Thank you for your understanding and we look forward to reading your stories.

Interview: Joseph Tomaras on “Caribou: Documentary Fragments”

Tell us a bit about “Caribou: Documentary Fragments.”

I’m not sure what I could tell about it that would be any more enlightening than what is already on the page. I wrote it; now’s the time for me to learn what readers bring to it and take from it. That’s the dialogic function of literature.

 

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

Being an obsessive reader, the prompts for my writing often come from things I have read, or their fortuitous juxtapositions. In this case, the fortuitous juxtaposition was between two texts to which I explicitly allude in the story: Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and a New Yorker article about optogenetics that took the form of a profile of Karl Deisseroth. As I read the latter, I began to imagine how work that I am aware of through the scientists I work with could, in combination with optogenetics, be used to engineer new methods of memory suppression. The most speculative aspect of the science is the discussion of the possible molecular basis of memory. I am indebted to Prof. Jason Castro, of the Neuroscience program at Bates College, for help in making sure that the science seems remotely plausible, though of course any errors or absurdities are mine and mine alone.

 

You’re a research administrator for a college in Maine: are there any interesting scientific advances or research you can tell us about?

As I alluded to, the engineering of my story is based in part on postulating a successful future outcome to a collaboration that is just underway, between Prof. Castro and someone in Bates’ physics department, Prof. Travis Gould. Prof. Gould is an expert in methods of microscopy that go beyond the diffraction limit. The basic methods were pioneered by the folks who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014, but there’s more work to be done, to push spatial resolution higher, to take time-resolved images, and to be able to work through deeper tissues and other cloudy media.

As it happens, their research has taken a somewhat different technical direction than I had been imagining when I wrote the story. And there’s always the possibility that developing a sub-diffraction limit image of what goes on inside neurons could turn out to be more difficult than I imagine, or that these guys and others could have a hard time getting funding for it. The relative scarcity of research funds–and there will always be a relative scarcity, under any possible political or economic system, because the frontiers of human knowledge are infinitely folded and fractal, and there is always more that could be done–is what makes my job possible and necessary. So my story may have already been “falsified” as a future-historical account. The wonderful thing about fiction, whether science fiction or otherwise, is that its truths are plural and operate in more dimensions than the mere correspondence between proposition and fact.

Because I work at a small college, rather than at a large, research-intensive university, my perspective on the frontiers of research is an odd combination of the comprehensive and the partial. In theory, someone with my type of job title at a place like MIT or Johns Hopkins would be able to take a synoptic view of the advance of human knowledge in all disciplinary areas. In practice, what they are doing is managing large teams of underlings to try and cope with a torrential workflow. Some of those underlings may have a chance to get a glimpse of the frontiers in the specific departments or research groups to which they are assigned, if they ever get a chance to look up from their desks. I have the luxury of being able to work very closely with a small number of investigators, whose interests span nearly all possible ways of looking at the universe. Not only mathematicians and natural scientists, but also social scientists and scholars of the humanities. I stumbled into what may be the perfect job for someone as intellectually restless as I am. But because, in order to advance the frontiers in most disciplines one must have some very strictly specialized expertise, it is as if I am in an observation tower with a panoramic, 360-degree picture window, most of which has been blacked out, except for some narrow slits. I get to peer through the slits–far in the distance, in many directions, but never getting the full picture.

So I can tell you about how NASA and physicists from around the country are working to develop a set of experiments that can be performed on Bose-Einstein condensates–hypercooled atoms that exhibit quantum mechanical behaviors that can be observed at a macroscopic scale–aboard the International Space Station, asking fundamental physical questions about their properties that can only be observed in microgravity. I can tell you about how fossilized clam shells can provide insights into climate fluctuations in the Arctic going back thousands of years, and what that may tell us about the effects of the anthropogenic climate changes underway right now. I can tell you about the role of RNA in how the bacterium that causes Lyme disease modifies its gene expression, or the molecular mechanisms of environmental toxicity in embryonic development, or how tree xylem responds to drought, or some of the intricately mediated, non-linear ways that oxytocin levels seem to impact human behavior. But I can’t tell you very much about those things, because what I know about them is second-hand and filtered through my own imperfect understanding. And in between those things are vast swathes of scientific knowledge where I can only say, hic sunt dracones. Not because there are dragons but because I have imagined them, or they have appeared, a la Stanislaw Lem, at random in the quantum vacuum of my ignorance.

And let’s give due credit to the social scientists and humanists as well: I can tell you why eyewitness testimony, on which our criminal justice system relies so heavily, is so unreliable and subject to social pressure; I can tell you about a map of Maine being developed that will give meanings and variant pronunciations for place names derived from the languages of the Wabenaki peoples, thus helping those peoples preserve their languages and further document their historic ties to the land; I can tell you about a book that is in the works giving a feminist re-evaluation of philosophical theories of mind, which I am really looking forward to being able to read.

These things haven’t factored into my stories, yet. I am sure some of them will eventually.

 

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

Its action spans the length and breadth of the state in which I live, with a detour to my former home of New York City. It is certainly expressive of my frustration at how the practices of war, illegal detention, and torture have become normalized in the United States, with all candidates of both major political parties pledging fealty to the drone and the razor-wire fence. Also, at the time I wrote it, many residents of the state were in the grip of a panic about the Ebola virus, triggered by the fact that a nurse who had been to eastern Africa was from Maine, and the way that our governor opportunistically seized on the situation to benefit his re-election campaign. There is much to love about Maine, but the propensity of many people here to fear outsiders and their literal or metaphorical contagion is despicable. Since I cannot help but be something of an outsider anywhere I find myself, my sympathies are always with the outsider first and foremost.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “Caribou: Documentary Fragments?”

If I were to dictate that, then it would interfere with the dialogic function of the story as literature. Perhaps take away from it the desire to comment on my blog (http://skinseller.blogspot.com/), if only to tell me how much I suck. What I would prefer, of course, would be the desire to read it a second or a third time.

 

“Caribou: Documentary Fragments” appears in the May/June 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1605.htm

You can subscribe to F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

F&SF, May 1964

Over the past year, we’ve been doing a #TBT (Throw Back Thursday) feature on the F&SF Twitter account and Facebook page. For the new year, we thought it might be good to add them here where they can be easily found under the “F&SF History” tag.

* * *

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May 1964, cover by Emsh‪‪‪#TBT to the May 1964 F&SF and this Emsh cover for the lead story, J.G. Ballard’s “The Iluminated Man.”

The intro to Ballard’s novelet quotes him as saying “The only truly alien planet is Earth.” This story certainly evokes an alien Earth. In the Everglades a mysterious force crystalizes everything it touches. Ballard went on to develop this premise further in his novel The Crystal World.

The issue’s other novelet is the sf story “Sea Wrack” by Edward Jesby, his first published story and half of his career’s output. “Sea Wrack” was included in the World’s Best Science Fiction 1965 and reprinted by Damon Knight in A Science Fiction Argosy. F&SF included it as a Classic Reprint in the April/May 2009 issue, and the writing holds up incredibly well even decades later.

The issue also includes the usual variety of short stories. “You Have To Stay Inside” is an odd piece of horror flash by Calvin Demmon. “No Place Like Where” by Robert M. Green, Jr., offered social satire sf, and was another first published story. “A Red Heart and Blue Roses” by Mildred Clingerman was a dark fantasy original to and reprinted from her 1961 collection A Cupful Of Space. “Mar-ti-an” by Robert Lory offered some sf humor. “Touchstone” by Terry Carr is a bit of contemporary Greenwich Village fantasy. “The New Encyclopaedist,” subtitled “Entries for the Great Book of History, First Edition, 2100 A.D.,” by Stephen Becker, is sf humor flash. The issue closes with “Cantible,” fantasy by 23-year-old Jon DeCles, and the issue’s third instance of a first published story.

Jane RobertsOne other story and author from earlier in the issue deserves special note: “Three Times Around” by Jane Roberts. “Three Times Around” is a well-written and creepy horror story set in a laundromat, but that’s not (only) what makes it remarkable. In the late 1950s, early 1960s, Jane Roberts was considered an important figure in sf, mainly because of her stories published in F&SF; she was, for example, the only woman invited to Damon Knight’s first Milford science fiction conference/writers workshop in 1956. “Three Times Around” was Roberts’ last story for F&SF. In late 1963, she began to receive psychic messages from a figure called “Seth.” Roberts went on to publish 10 volumes of Seth Material, and now has a permanent archive of her work at Yale University. The hybrid philosophy of Seth was a huge popular phenomenon in the 1970s, and is considered a major influence on Deepak Chopra and others.

The rest of the issue includes an editorial by Avram Davidson bemoaning the lack of any good spaceship stories in the slush, a very good alien invasion sonnet by Christopher Corson, science essays by Theodore Thomas and Isaac Asimov, book reviews by Davidson, and one of F&SF‘s rare-ish letter columns, full of charming reactions to recent stories from regular readers.

Interview: Ted Kosmatka on “The Stone War”

Tell us a bit about “The Stone War.”

A lot of stories feel like machines when you’re writing them.  All the pieces planned out and carefully balanced.  Every now and then a story will feel like water, and that’s what this one felt like as I was writing it–like the whole thing was just moving down hill with each new part flowing naturally from what had come before, without any real plan written out ahead of time.  I had a basic idea of the territory I wanted to cover, some general concepts that I wanted to explore, and I just kind of let it seek level.

 

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

There were actually a bunch of different things that all jumbled together in my head at the time I started writing. I’ve always been interested in the concept of holotypes– the idea that there exists a single specimen of every living thing that’s supposed to represent the perfect example of that species.  I was also thinking about linguistics, and the idea of dead languages in particular, which gain a particular scientific utility precisely because they are no longer being spoken, and are thus immutable to change, in much the same way stone can be thought of as immutable to change; and in addition to all that, I was thinking about war, and the thousands of warheads buried in silos across the northern hemisphere, and I was thinking about the end of the world.

 

Is “The Stone War” your meditation on power and government?  Do you think that a President in a democracy could ask a citizen to strike the Stone Man?

I consider the story to be a kind of loose allegory (I won’t say of what exactly), but I’d definitely include the power of the government to be among the list of things I was trying to dig into and explore.  As for whether the President in a democracy could ask a citizen to strike the Stone Man… that’s a great question.  He could ask, of course, but what would happen afterward?  I think it would depend on the nature of the power being wielded by the President.  Or maybe it would depend on how the citizen felt about that power.  Is all governmental power coercive?  Would the Stone man take an objective or subjective view of it, I wonder?  That’d be a fun idea to explore.

 

Given the way that “The Stone War” is written, it seems possible that the Daciae’s stone man might not actually exist; that it’s a lie the Daciae spread to avert a war they could not otherwise win.  Do you think this is a valid interpretation of your story, and if so, was it deliberate on your part?

I think that’s a fascinating interpretation of the story, and one could certainly argue that it’s possible.  A deterrent doesn’t have to be real for it to work, after all. The other side just has to think it’s real.  Maybe the best case scenario is that neither side ever finds out for sure.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m a full-time writer in the video game industry, so that’s been taking up most of my brain cycles lately, working on various game-related things.  I’m also a dad of five and spend way too much of my life trapped in Seattle traffic.  My most recent novel THE FLICKER MEN came out last year, and it can be found here if folks are interested:    http://www.amazon.com/Flicker-Men-Novel-Ted-Kosmatka-ebook/dp/B00S54VT76/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1462247521&sr=8-1

 

“The Stone War” appears in the May/June 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1605.htm

You can subscribe to F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

Recent Acquisitions

We’ve been inconsistent about posting our acquisition, but we’re going to start doing it again. The contracts have been sent out and accepted for these, so here’s a group of stories that will be coming soon to the pages of F&SF:

  • “A Fine Balance” by Charlotte Ashley
  • “The Voice in the Cornfield, The Word Made Flesh” by Desirina Boskovich
  • “Alexandria” by Monica Byrne
  • “The Place of Bones” by Gardner Dozois
  • “Racing the Rings of Saturn” by Ingrid Garcia
  • “Ten Half-Pennies” by Matthew Hughes
  • “Wetherfell’s Reef Runics” by Marc Laidlaw
  • “There Used To Be Olive Trees” by Rich Larson
  • “Homecoming” by Rachel Pollack
  • “Between Going and Staying” by Lilliam Rivera
  • “The First Day of Someone Else’s Life” by John Schoffstall

The Pollack story is a novella. The Garcia, Hughes, and Larson stories are novelets.

Rachel Pollack’s “Homecoming” is a new entry in her Jack Shade series.

Matthew Hughes’s story will introduce Baldemar, a wizard’s henchman (and part of a new series in his Archonate universe), to F&SF readers.

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