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Interview: Rachel Pollack on “Homecoming”

Rachel PollackWhat was the inspiration for “Homecoming,” or what prompted you to write it?

​The previous story, “Johnny Rev,” was very steeped in magical ideas and history, and I thought it was time for more of an action story.  One of my inspirations​ was the Alan Moore comic, Miracleman, part of which involves a boy who has a monster trapped inside him, and can no longer hold him back.  I have a friend who is a shamanic practitioner (he prefers that term to shaman, which implies a very traditional role), and from him I knew of the idea of soul retrieval.  So that became the McGuffin for the story.  What if the missing “soul” someone wanted to retrieve was in fact a monster?  As with all these stories, the underlying structure is that of noir private eyes, in which the client is always playing the detective.  This story may be the most extreme example, made more intense by the client, Carol Acker, not actually knowing that she’s manipulating Jack, for the monster is using her as well.  Another strand that went into this was a desire to do more with the gangster magicians, La Societe de le Matin, the Society of the Morning, introduced in “The Queen Of Eyes” (F&SF Sept/Oct ’13).


Your Jack Shade stories are always filled with many references to all kinds of magic and spiritual traditions, and I was wondering if you could clue us in to some of the allusions that you make in “Homecoming.”

​Most of the magic in the Jack Shade stories is made up, though inspired by tribal shamanism and various magical traditions.  The characters in the stories call themselves Travelers​, but tribal shamans is one of the inspirations.  The jacket Jack wears, with all sorts of magical implements in the many pockets, including fake money to bribe spirits, was inspired by a Mongolian shaman’s costume I saw years ago in the Danish National Museum.  One of the things I like to do is mix ancient and modern.  So, when I decided that to make it an action story Jack would have to fight his way through several dimensions, it struck me it would be funny if the first was a gay S/M leather bar, from the old days before safe sex became a necessity.  One of my writing students knew that world, so I asked him to read the scene.  Der Wisser Rebbe, the White Master, was inspired by Chasidic traditions, where the men followed a rebbe, and often prayed in small intimate synagogues in an apartment.  Then I thought it would be fun to have this rebbe be a bearded woman.  I also got to work in the idea of a golem who became a great rabbinic scholar.  The Society of the Morning is inspired by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the massively influential group of ritual magicians from the late 19th century.  Of course, the Golden Dawn were not gangsters.  Finally, I have long been fascinated by the Djinn, and this was my chance to write about one, with the idea that in the modern world the Djinn would be controlled by a multi-national conglomerate, that I called Suleiman International, after the Arabic name for King Solomon, who first subdued the Djinn and bent them to his will.  Jack calls his hired djinn “Archie,” a small homage to Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries, where Wolfe’s assistant, Archie Goodwin, does all the legwork.  Jack and Archie’s dialogue also references the gorgeous fantasy movie, The Thief of Baghdad, with Sabu as the young thief and Rex Reason as the “genie.”  I’ve watched that film more times than I can remember.


What are you working on now?

​I’m very involved in a Tarot project with artist Robert M. Place, The Raziel Tarot, based on 3,000 years of Jewish stories, mysticism, and magical lore.  It can be seen on the website,​

This is probably the time to tell you that a publisher named Resurrection House has decided to publish the Jack Shade stories as a collection.  They’ve also commissioned a new story from me to add to the four already published.  I’ve decided that the title of that story, THE FISSURE KING, will also be the title of the book.  I will also be adding an intro (or afterword) about the origin of Jack.  I’m guessing they’ll bring it out in about a year.


“Homecoming” appears in the January/February 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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If you click on Ms. Pollack’s picture at the top of this interview, you’ll be taken to her website.

Editor’s Note for Jan/Feb 2017

It’s a new year and a new issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, with brand new stories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Marc Laidlaw, Rachel Pollack, Robert Reed, Wole Talabi, and many more. We also have an important announcement about our science column.

The January/February edition of the magazine can be found in most Barnes & Noble stores, as well as many local independent booksellers. You can order a single copy from our website or buy an electronic edition from Amazon, AmazonUK, and — now, available worldwide and in every format — through Weightless Books.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2017, cover by Charles VessThis month’s cover is by Charles Vess, illustrating “Vinegar and Cinnamon” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. To see more of his work, visit his website at


Nina Kiriki Hoffman first appeared in the pages of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1993 with “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentle Ghosts” and in the years since, we’ve been fortunate to share many of her stories with you. She returns this month with a new tale of family and magic, a story of “Vinegar and Cinnamon.”


Rachel Pollack brings us “Homecoming,” a new novella with Jack Shade — private investigator, occultist, and shaman. Jack Shade appeared previously in our pages with “Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls” (Jul/Aug 2012), “The Queen of Eyes” (Sept/Oct 2013), and “Johnny Rev” (July/Aug 2015). We also have a new novelet by Marc Laidlaw, who takes us to Castaway Books in Hawaii and open the pages on “Wetherfell’s Reef Runics” on a mystery that may be better left undisturbed.

The new year also begins with a wealth of science fiction. Nigerian-born writer and engineer Wole Talabi makes his F&SF debut with “The Regression Test,” a near future story about intelligences, both artificial and real. Gregor Hartmann takes us to outer space and “A Gathering on Gravity’s Shore,” another entry in the adventures of the writer Franden on the planet Zephyr. Rick Norwood brings us back to earth with a story about scientists discovering a new source of energy — an invention that can only go “One Way.” And Monica Byrne takes us on a long journey across time to “Alexandria.”

We also have two stories that skirt the edges of several genres. Debbie Urbanski makes her F&SF debut with a story “On the Problem of Replacement Children: Prevention, Coping, and Other Practical Strategies.” And reader favorite Robert Reed brings an unsettling story about “Dunnage for the Soul.”


Charles de Lint offers books to look for by Richard Kadrey, J. K. Rowling, Mark Henwick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and the interesting Uncollected Anthology project. James Sallis considers a new biography of Shirley Jackson. In our television column, Tim Pratt reviews the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” And for our Curiosities column, David Langford rediscovers Elmer Rice’s A Voyage to Purilia. There’s a new poem by Mary Soon Lee. Plus, flip through the pages and you’ll discover a pair of cartoons by Arthur Masear and Bill Long.


Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty have been writing their Science column for F&SF since 1997. Since 2002, the column has been running twice a year. Beginning with this issue, the F&SF Science column will run in every issue again, just like Isaac Asimov’s original science column. This is going to be a change in frequency but not total content: instead of running two 4,500 word columns every year, we’ll be running six 1,500 word columns instead.

We’re making the change for several reasons. Part of this is due to reader response — the feedback that we’ve received the past few years indicates that our readers really enjoy the science columns. Part of it is to allow Pat and Paul more flexibility: they’ll still be able to tackle some subjects in depth, by spreading out the topics over several issues, but they’ll also be able to do shorter columns on other topics when that’s appropriate too. And it’s a reaffirmation of F&SF‘s roots with Asimov’s original columns and a reflection of our commitment to fact-based reasoning and the importance of science in our culture.

The first few science columns from Pat and Paul in 2017 will cover some of the more unusual recent developments in robotics. In this issue, “Brainless Robots Stroll the Beach”.


We hope you’ll share your thoughts about the issue with us. We can be found on:

In the meantime… enjoy!

C.C. Finlay, Editor
Fantasy & Science Fiction | @fandsf

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