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Interview: Robert Reed on “Passelande”

Robert ReedTell us a bit about “Passelande.”

I don’t remember the specifics of the story’s evolution.  These things are organic and the details are best dropped on the kitchen floor.  But “Passelande” was one story, then another story, and I think I fumbled around with other avenues before deciding that the only strong story was all of them, told at once, as a dance.


“Passelande” is a sequel of sorts to a previous novella of yours, “Dead Man’s Run” (F&SF Nov/Dec 2010).  What prompted you to return to Lucas Pepper and his struggles?

I returned to Lucas for two compelling reasons.  First, this is an interesting, unfinished universe with a lot of potential.  Simulated humans in all of their manifestations.  Which might play into future stories, I might add.  But more important, I like the man’s voice.  I like his capacity to see things clearly, even if he is a bit of a “drawer-head” as a friend of mine would say.  A voice that knows what it’s doing is a blessing for any writer.


The personhood of artificial intelligence seems to be a recurring theme in your work; could you discuss that as it relates to your story, and your work in general?

I have no special knowledge about AI technologies.  My sense is that they are more important to the Earth’s future than humans are.  But what matters to me, the word machine, is the opportunity to use different voices with their own special set of skills.


The Trials of Quentin MaurusWhat are you working on now?

I just published a giant alternate history novel, as a Kindle-only e-book, called THE TRIALS OF QUENTIN MAURUS.  Which is a shameless plug, and I hope people buy it.  As for today?  Till the end of the year, I’m working on stories.  Then I’m back at a sequel to my Great Ship novel, MEMORY OF SKY.


“Passelande” appears in the November/December 2016 issue of F&SF.

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If you click on Mr. Reed’s photo at the top of the interview, you’ll be taken to his website where, among other things, you can purchase The Trials of Quentin Maurus through Amazon.

Interview: Kurt Fawver on “Special Collections”

Kurt FawverTell us a bit about “Special Collections.”

“Special Collections” is, at its heart, a story about stories–the stories we tell to each other to make sense of the insanity of our world, the stories we tell to make sense of ourselves and our behavior, and the stories we tell over campfires in the darkest hours of the night.

More specifically, though, it’s a tale that focuses on a particular group of work-study students who have become obsessed with a particular room at the university library where they’re employed. It explores some of the strange events these students (as a cross-generational collective) have experienced in the many decades they’ve worked at the library and it reveals some of the history that went into the making of their haunted little corner of the universe. It also delves into the psychology of their group–showing the reader how they’ve reacted to the events and how they’ve attempted to understand the mystery with which they’re confronted.


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

I teach a lot of night classes at a local university and so I walk by the school’s library under a blanket of darkness several times per week. As I pass by, I always wonder what must be happening on the upper floors of the library after hours. It’s a fairly large, four story building with plenty of strange, locked rooms and miles of generally uninhabited stacks. There are innumerable horrors and wonders that could be lurking in there (not even counting the horrors and wonders stealing about between the covers of all the books). It fascinates me how places that are bustling during the day–like the library or the university’s academic buildings or a shopping mall or a hospital–are often the locales that take on the most peaked sense of creepiness when they’re vacant. I wanted to expand on that idea and the notion that a library, which is a natural location of accretion, might be founded atop many rich layers of weird history.

In the past two or three years, I’ve also discovered the work of Steven Millhauser, which has been a revelation. The way he manipulates first person plural narration is remarkable. Through it, he manages to create something akin to parables: universal stories that locate themselves in anywheres and everywheres, that are primarily concerned with conveying fundamental truths of broadly defined “human nature,” that speak of a “we” as close to collective humanity as anything I’ve ever read. And they do all this without ever dipping into a didactic tone, which is so often the case with stories that try to expound on “basic truth.” It was partially my goal to try to construct a story that might incorporate a similar narrative reach.

I’m also extremely partial to the work of Thomas Ligotti and his view of work as conspiracy. I think a bit of that notion seeped into the work-study experience for the students in the story, as well.

So, couple my curiosity about the nocturnal life of the university library with the narrative reach of Millhauser and add a dash of Ligotti’s sensibility, and you have “Special Collections.”


You were able to imbue a great sense of history and lore into this story: could you discuss your process and any ways that it was different or more difficult from writing, say, a Cthulhu story or a vampire story, where a lot of background and assumptions are already baked in?

For “Special Collections” the writing process was actually far easier than for a Cthulhu story or vampire story or any other kind of tale with an established mythos. In those stories, you’re constrained by the existing tropes and taxonomic boundaries of the particular “type” of character you’re writing about. You can either write to those tropes and boundaries and create pastiche (or parody) or you can write against them and expand the definition of the monstrous figure in tangential or subversive ways. In either scenario, though, you’re forced to deal with and acknowledge the figure’s history–either by incorporation or through subversion. You can never fully escape the discursive nets that literary icons like Cthulhu or vampires drag in their wakes. After all, how does one write a vampire tale without including a figure that drains SOMETHING from SOMEONE? Or craft a Cthulhu story that doesn’t imply a tenuous (or outright inconsequential) place for humanity in the greater cosmic scheme? The baked in-ness of the established figures simply don’t allow for the full flight of creative freedom.

And that’s exactly why, for me, it’s much easier to write a story like “Special Collections.” I don’t have to reckon with any particular background or assumptions and so I can explore themes and ideas beyond the scope of vampirism or Cthulhu-osity. I can let the story travel down any strange back roads that it chooses, without having to worry about whether my readers will follow due to their expectations or preconceptions about what this “kind” of story “should” be like. When I wrote “Special Collections,” I only considered whether an incident made sense within the peculiar logic of the library I’d created, not whether it fit a larger mythos. Ultimately, I think that’s both freeing for me and more interesting for readers, who won’t know quite what to expect from the eponymous special collections room.


What are you working on now?

I’m fairly scattershot when it comes to my projects. Right now I’m hammering away on a weird apocalyptic novella that might eventually grow to novel length, finishing up a story in a similar vein to “Special Collections” that deals with unexplained masses falling from the sky, and trying to piece together a folk horror tale that plays on ideas of ruined utopias. I can never seem to concentrate on just one piece of writing at a time, possibly to my detriment. I’ll blame that on watching too much television as a kid, I guess.


novella by Kurt FawverAnything else you’d like to add?

It’s an honor and a privilege to have a story included in F&SF. I hope that readers enjoy the weird horror I’ve wrought!







“Special Collections” appears in the November/December 2016 issue of F&SF.

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Interview: Minsoo Kang on “Lord Elgin at the Acropolis”

Minsoo Kang and his translation of The Story of Hong GildongTell us a bit about “Lord Elgin at the Acropolis.”

The story takes place near Seoul, South Korea, possibly in the near future, and is told through a conversation between two life-long friends who are a police detective and a writer.  The former was involved in a case that turned out to be so baffling that he feels compelled to seek the help of his friend’s imagination to figure it out.  Since the writer has been dabbling in science fiction recently, he utilized tropes from the genre to offer possible, albeit fantastic, solutions to the detective’s conundrum.


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

In a course on ancient history, I was lecturing to my students about the significance of the Rosetta Stone, when I suddenly remembered visiting the British Museum for the first time when I was teenager.  At the time, I had been awed by the sheer amount of great artifacts that the institution had on display, but I had also been appalled at how much was stolen from all over the world.  That got me thinking about the controversy over the actions of Lord Elgin in the Ottoman-dominated Greece in the early nineteenth century, and the role of art and artifacts in modern imperialism.  All that eventually coalesced into this story which, in a historical reversal, centers around a Western work of art that has ended up in a museum in East Asia.


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

I am a Korean writer and historian who teaches at a university in a Midwestern state in the US, who specializes in European history and translates classic Korean novels (the Penguin Classic The Story of Hong Gildong, and the upcoming Record of the Virtue of Queen Inhyeon, Lady Min) into English.  So I cannot help but think a lot about intercultural issues between the Western World and East Asia both in my scholarship and my imaginative writings.  In the first draft, the story took place in an unnamed American city, but at some point I felt a deep unexplained compulsion to move it to Korea.  Once I did so, I felt that infused it with an extra layer of significance.


What would you want a reader to take away from “Lord Elgin at the Acropolis”?

First and foremost, I want the reader to enjoy the story for its narrative qualities, as the kind of multiple tellings of a single theme that Borges and Calvino were so good at.  But beyond that, I hope it provides people with a new way of looking at art in a historical way, as a contentious place of intercultural conflict as well as exchange.  For those who want to follow up on some of the story’s ideas, they could learn about the historical circumstances under which the so-called Elgin marbles ended up in England.  Also, I think some readers would be amused to see how I made use of Émile Zola’s 1886 novel The Masterpiece (L’Œuvre) and Somerset Maugham’s 1919 The Moon and Sixpence.


Sublime Dreams of Living MachinesWhat are you working on now?

I have recently completed what I call an anti-fantasy novel that takes place in a reimagined Joseon dynasty Korea and Ming dynasty China, entitled Against the Tyranny of Fathers.  It seems beyond the imagination of most Western science fiction and fantasy writers to think of an East Asian civilization that is anything but autocratic and strictly tradition-bound.  Having experienced both the economic miracle of South Korea as well as the democratic revolution of 1987-1988, I wanted to tell an epic story of great progressive change that occurs in an Asian setting that defies the Orientalist stereotype of the ‘Far East’ as having an inherently conservative, conformist, and despotic culture.


“Lord Elgin at the Acropolis” appears in the November/December 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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If you click on the pictures in the interview, you’ll be taken to pages where you can buy a copy of Sublime Dreams of Living Machines: The Automaton in the European Imagination and Minsoo Kang’s translation of the classic Korean tale, The Story of Hong Gildong.

Interview: Matthew Hughes on “The Vindicator”

Matthew HughesTell us a bit about “The Vindicator.”

It’s a continuing episode in the unhappy saga of Raffalon, the unlucky thief.  Although he’s trained and skilled and adheres to the rules of his Guild, something almost always goes amiss and he has to scramble to stay alive.  He’s not the first unlucky character I’ve worked with; in my crime-writing days, I had an ambitious burglar named Mikey who came up with great schemes that always fell apart in the end.  Not everybody who tries is a winner.  Sorry about that.


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

I’m exploring Raffalon’s world: a Dying Earth milieu with somewhat medieval social structures like guilds and dukes.  It’s what Old Earth has become after science collapsed and magic became the fundamental operating principle of the universe, which is the grand overarching theme of all of my Archonate novels, novellas, and short stories.  And I wanted to carry Raff’s story forward towards the state I put him in — starving in a forest — in the very first story I wrote about him, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings,” that appeared in the cross-genre anthology Rogues.   That story, which has a happy ending, sends Raffalon on his final adventure as a thief.  All the others that have run in F&SF are prequels to “The Inn.”


Over the years, you’ve introduced many memorable characters to F&SF readers, and bade them farewell also.  How do you know when a character’s story arc is finished?

In practical terms, when I’ve written enough to make a decent short-story collection.  In literary terms, when I’m in danger of repeating myself.


Out of all of the characters in your Archonate Universe, who is your favorite?

Luff Imbry, my corpulent but brilliant master criminal of Old Earth (before magic takes over).  He’s based on the characters Sydney Greenstreet played in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca:  a ruthless but cultivated fat man, amoral but not evil, a genius tipped at an early age into a life of crime.  Most of his adventures appeared in the UK publication Postscripts and aren’t known in North America.  I’ve collected them as The Meaning of Luff and Other Stories, available as an ebook or OD paperback.  He doesn’t lose, by the way.


The Meaning of Luff and Other StoriesWhat are you working on now?

I’m in waiting mode.  I’m looking for an agent to represent me on two books, a historical novel I waited forty years to write, and a modern suspense novel I’ve already sold as a limited edition to PS Publishing but kept the trade, ebook and paperback rights.  If I can get the suspense novel sold, I’ll write a sequel.  In the meantime, I’ll probably write a short story or three.

I’m also getting back the rights to my Luff Imbry novel, The Other.  I’d like to complete the story begun in that book, maybe over the next year.


“The Vindicator” appears in the November/December 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Much of Matthew Hughes’s backlist, including collections of stories that have appeared in F&SF, is available for purchase directly from the author’s website:


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