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Interview: Gregor Hartmann on “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful”

Tell us a bit about “Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful.”

Caught between dueling mentors, a young man loses his scientific virginity.


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

In one of my Zephyr stories in F&SF — “The Man from X” — a character owned a self-levitating steamer trunk that left a trail of colored bubbles as it moved through the air. I made up the word chromagenic to describe this property. It was just a throwaway background detail, a bit of handwavium. Later, I found myself thinking: could there really be such a thing as a chromagenic metal? How would it work? What real-world composition of matter (a term from patent law) would produce that effect? “Trustworthy” is the result.


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

Tons. I tried to make it scientifically plausible. I pretended I was at MatSciCo — doing both Vik’s and Jimmy’s jobs — and solved the problems they encountered.

For research into characters I read poetry. I currently have a crush on Charles Wright. There’s magic on every page.


This is the 25th anniversary of the last cover story you had in F&SF. Could you talk about the ups and downs of your writing career, and what drew you back to science fiction after time away?

I read lots of SF as a kid, and came out of college determined be a writer. My first pro sale was to Galaxy. When I earned my SFWA card I was thrilled.

In my Twenties and Thirties I wrote steadily. I never sold a novel, alas, but I did okay with short stories. I wrote both SF and non-genre stories published in literary magazines. This went reasonably well — a cover story in F&SF, nominations for mainstream awards — but it was more of a hobby than a real job. I supported myself by temping in offices. As I recall, Galaxy paid a nickel a word. The literary magazines were even worse. Sometimes they just gave me two copies of the magazine in which my story appeared.

At age 38 I got married. We bought a house. Had kids. Which meant I had other people to think of beside myself. I took a hard look at the time spent writing vs. the payoff.  Viewed as a business, it made no sense. So I stopped cold. Instead, I focused my language energy on translation. No literary glory, but the work was steady and paid well. I missed the opportunities for creativity, but duty to my family came first. (Now that I think about it, perhaps this was an attitude I absorbed from living in Japan.)

What drew me back? I never left. I’ve always enjoyed reading science fiction. I just stopped writing. Now that my financial situation is stable and the kids are grown and I have more time, I can justify putting a lot of time and energy into what amounts to systematic daydreaming.


What are you working on now?

I am slowly creating a set of interlocking short stories.

My intent is that each one will work as a standalone adventure, and as you read them the background world-building will gradually reveal a complicated society.

I’ve always been interested in how civilizations rise, interact, succeed one another. In my future history, the Mainline/Spur society in which Zephyr is embedded is the third great spacefaring civilization humanity creates. I have a lot to say about how we get there. Stay tuned.


“Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful” appears in the July/August 2016 issue. 

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