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Interview: Michael Swanwick on “Starlight Express”

Michael SwanwickTell us a bit about “Starlight Express.”

There’s not much I can say that’s not explicit in the story itself. I finished the story shortly after going to Roscon in Moscow to receive the Grand Roscon Award. The Russian magazine Esli had always been very supportive of me, so I promised they could have first crack at it. Then Science Fiction World in Chengdu asked me for an original story. I’ve had a close relationship with SFW for some years now – for a time, I wrote a column for them – and felt an obligation to oblige. So the sale to F&SF was the story’s third. I didn’t think anybody here would mind, and I mentioned the Russian and Chinese sales in the cover letter when I submitted the story, so that was all up-front.


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

It began small. An article about current-day Rome dropped the term popolo minuto in my lap. I thought about what a jumble of the ancient and the modern that city is, and then imagined this extended far into the future. It seemed an attractive setting so I started to write.


Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

There was very little research involved, but a great deal of invention. I all-but-finished the story quickly (for me) and then put it on the back burner for two years while I looked for a satisfying ending. Once written, it seems obvious. But it sure didn’t seem that way at the time.


What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished The Iron Dragon’s Mother, completing a fantasy trilogy begun almost a quarter-century ago with The Iron Dragon’s Daughter. Currently, I’m working on ten short stories at the same time. This is the way I relax between novels.


“Starlight Express” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

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Interview: Tina Connolly on “The Two Choice Foxtrot of Chapham County”

Tina ConnollyTell us a bit about “The Two Choice Foxtrot of Chapham County.”

Avoiding spoilers, I would say that I tend to write stories about young adults grappling with figuring out what kind of person they’re going to be, and this story is reflective of that.


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

Vylar Kaftan gave me a “title” as a prompt for this story. That phrase sparked the story, but I didn’t end up using it as the title, for reasons of spoilers. It was an image that now appears in the end of the story. From that, I worked backwards to figure out how I would get to that moment, and then at that point, I had to choose a new title. I am very grateful to her for that inspiration.


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

I grew up in the midwest. Since I moved away a dozen years ago, I find myself writing more stories where the setting is drawn from the landscape I grew up in.


What are you working on now?

My final book in the Seriously Wicked series, Seriously Hexed, comes out this November. The books are about a teenage girl who lives with a “seriously wicked” witch, and throughout the series, she wrestles with the ethical uses of powerful magic—as well as dealing with everyday problems like rockstar demons, frog-pixies, and Algebra. I also have a novelette coming out at early 2018 that focuses on pastries and revenge.


Anything else you’d like to add?

If you enjoy this story, my flash story “Miss Violet May from the Ten Thousand Lakes” is set in the same world. It’s in my collection On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories, which is, um…currently nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Excited about that!


“The Two Choice Foxtrot of Chapham County” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

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Click on Ms. Connolly’s photo to visit her website:

Interview: Dare Segun Falowo on “We Are Born”

Tell us a bit about “We Are Born.”

It is a tale of creation and rebirth set in a Realm Within called Ala, which means “dream” in my native Yoruba. It revolves around a sculptor and her creation, a girl of clay that is made alive when it is filled with the spirit of an abiku.


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

Being the only son of a very particular type of single mother, I find myself riveted often against my will by mythic ideas of motherhood. This story came to me when I imagined what it would be like to be a mother who brings a child to life using her hands. The scene where she walks out into the rain to make her daughter played in my head for a while before I was able to mold a story around it. The ideas surrounding her daughter’s origins, brief life, and later rebirth came later, followed by ideas of self and queerness and gender.

Writing has always been a way to sort out my subconscious  its symbols and desires and waves, and so when I write, my state of mind has to be one of utmost flow. I string together ideas mentally before I sit down and write, so when I am in the actual process of writing, the ideas meld together much differently than I intended and that’s how I like it. I’m a gardener and not a construction worker when it comes to process.

Inspiration also came from personal experiences of not being masculine enough to walk with the Boys, nor feminine enough to understand the Girls as much. This created a feeling of otherness that writing this story was an exercise in defusing.

One of the areas in life where women seem to be objectified to a horrifying detriment, is the space of carrying, birthing, and rearing children. I believe that the woman is a giver of life, not an object to be used and placed in the background. Parts of this story are about trying to depict this belief, which is one of the great mysteries of being human, as the beauty it is.


Was “We Are Born” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I am queer and live in Nigeria, which is notorious for its bile against LGBTQ individuals  there is a 14 year imprisonment for anyone identified as openly queer and a death sentence in the North for sexual liaison between adults of the same-sex. Coming-of-age in this environment brought up a lot of complications regarding my understanding of the body, pure sexuality, how gender can blur within one individual and the place of spirituality beyond religion.

Quite subconsciously, I found myself turning to the traditional Yoruba belief in the abiku to help me come to terms with these ideas using the medium of this particular short story. For me, the abiku is a symbol of middles and even though their middle-ground has been said to be between this world and the next, I imagined it could be a middle between the senses of being embodied in physicality and being bodyless.

After concluding that the society around me had seen it fit to put me (and others like me) in a box that is very one-dimensional, the effects of which are an internal imbalance; I had no option but to go within myself to find some balance between the pieces of me that were rearing their heads up in stark anxiety and the parts that were seemingly dying and hiding. The elements of transience and fragility are a near-direct expression of my being at a certain past point in my life, and in completing the story I was able to come to a new understanding of my place in the world. This is the power that creating stories holds and why I create.


Can you tell us about any research you may have done for this story?

None really. Most of the information concerning Yoruba spirituality, I culled from a soup of memories that I accumulated as a child watching fantasies set in old Yoruba worlds where the impossible and the magical were the commonplace, and the spiritual had its own logic. The twist of gender comes from a thought I still circle, a thought that came to me not long after I was confronted with the idea of transgendered individuals; it had seemed very clear to me then that they were spirits bodied askew who in seeking to amend their bodies or find balance in their ways, were confronting a destiny more cosmic than most.


What would you want a reader to take away from “We Are Born?”

I would want readers to see it as a love letter. It is for anyone who is feeling a sense of imbalance or anxiety as a result of long-held, ignorant public views on private desires and emotional states. It is my wish that it extend hope in the form of a definite universal order that underlies our innermost being, an order that wishes newness for us despite what this blind world, or even we, might think about ourselves.


What are you working on now?

I have just finished a short story called “Ku’gbo” which is set in the same village as “We Are Born.” It is a tale of metamorphosis which attempts to reveal more about (the Realms of) Ayika in which Ala is situated. It is also a very personal story.


Anything else you’d like to add?

A most wondrous future is standing right before us and the only way to birth it into the moment is by a positive unison of humanity regardless of categorical differences.


“We Are Born” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

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Interview: Naomi Kritzer on “Evil Opposite”

Tell us a bit about “Evil Opposite.”

It’s a story about our choices, and how they shape us, and how we have to move forward rather than wasting a lot of time thinking about the things we could have done differently.


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

At MarsCon (a small SF convention held in Minnesota in February or March) in 2016, someone at a panel made a joke about what all our Evil Opposites would be up to. I’m pretty sure this was a reference to the “Mirror, Mirror” universe in Star Trek, where people murder their fellow officers to move up in rank, and Spock has a beard.

I don’t remember what people came up with, but I found it an amusing idea to poke at a bit. Of course, most of us wouldn’t exist wholesale in a catastrophically evil universe, but we make choices, big and small, every day. I could easily have gone to a different college, where I’d have majored in something different and made a completely different set of friends. I could have settled in a different city. I could have pursued a different major.

What if we could look into a device that would show us what those different versions of ourselves looked like?

One of the other pieces this collided with in my head: Aslan, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, telling Lucy, “No one is ever told what would have happened.” My interpretation of that bit has always been that since we can’t go back and change the past, focusing on what would have happened is just a way to torture ourselves with regrets. It would be deeply tempting to spend a lot of time looking at those other versions of ourselves, though…especially if we weren’t happy about how our life was turning out.


Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories by Naomi KritzerWas this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I’m generally pretty happy with my life, but there are definitely points in my life where I can look back and see the fork in the road, and wonder what would have happened if I’d gone the other way.

One of the major themes in the story is how miserable graduate school is. I didn’t go to graduate school! Both my parents were in academia, though, and my mother started graduate school when I was old enough to notice things like “wait, my mother just pulled an all-nighter!” so I had a close-up view of her coursework, her prelims, her dissertation research/writing, and (this was far and away the worst part) the search for a tenure-track job.


What are you working on now, and did winning the 2016 Hugo Award for Best Short Story spur any creative outpourings?

I just completed a draft of a YA novel based on “Cat Pictures Please” (the story that won the Hugo), which I wrote for Tor YA. My short story output has slowed down a bit because I’ve had this longer project under contract. I’m really pleased with how the story came out: it’s about friendship, and coming out, and how people connect with each other through art and through online communities. It’s due to my editor in November, so I have time to do some revisions, which is good. I’ve sent it out to some beta readers.


“Evil Opposite” appears in the September/October 2017 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here:

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle):


Amazon US (Kindle edition):

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):

Click on the book image above and you can purchase a copy of Ms. Kritzer’s latest short story collection, Cat Pictures Please and Other Stories.

Editor’s Note for September/October 2017

Welcome to the 68th anniversary issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction!

The September/October issue 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, Sept/Oct 2017, cover by Maurizio ManzieriThis month’s stunning cover is by Italian artist Maurizio Manzieri, illustrating “Starlight Express” by Michael Swanwick. Manzieri also illustrated our May/June issue. To see more of his work, visit his website at


The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction — titled simply The Magazine of Fantasy for that first issue although it contained a couple science fiction stories by Theodore Sturgeon and others — debuted in October 1949. Sixty-eight years and 733 issues later, here we are!

Our cover story for this issue, “Starlight Express” by Michael Swanwick, is, in some ways, a good example of how much the industry has changed over the past sixty-eight years. Swanwick is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Awards — none of which existed when the magazine was founded.

But, more importantly, this story shows how interconnected and international the world has become in the intervening decades. (Something you’ll see reflected elsewhere in this issue too.) Swanwick originally wrote this story to be translated for the most recent reboot of Esli magazine in Russia (Если, which is Russian for “If”). Then he sold it to Science Fiction World — which has the largest circulation of any science fiction magazine in the world — in China, where a translation appeared earlier this year.

But this is the story’s first publication in English, and we’re very happy to share it with you.


Our genre’s most prestigious award is the Grand Master, given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. It’s been ten years since SFWA Grand Master Samuel R. Delany published a new science fiction story, and his last appearance in these pages was exactly forty years ago, for our 28th anniversary issue in 1977.

Throughout his career, Delany’s work has pushed the boundaries of sf to make it address more adult situations and issues, particularly at the intersections of language and memory, sexuality and society. He returns to these themes in this new story, which takes place in a near future where the current Mexican-American border no longer exists.

We think fans of the genre are going to enjoy it.


Because this is an anniversary issue, we’ve packed it full of great fiction for you, including a lot of names that will be recognized by our regular readers.

Our lead story for this issue is “Evil Opposite,” a parallel worlds story by Naomi Kritzer, who won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2016. Robert Reed offers us another view of our future with “Leash on a Man” — we happen to think this is one of the best and most memorable stories he’s written in a long time. Lisa Mason returns to our pages with “Riddle,” a tale of the supernatural set in North Beach, her old stomping ground in San Francisco. British writer Jeremy Minton makes a reappearance with “The Care of House Plants,” a story with some dark and unexpected twists. And humorist Oliver Buckram introduces us to “Hollywood Squid,” taking us to an Oscar ceremony we’re not likely to soon forget.


In his column for the very first issue of this magazine, back in 1949, publisher Lawrence E. Spivak praised editors Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas for seeking out fresh voices and including “…the first published story by a distinctive new fantasy writer.” (He was referring to “In the Days of Our Fathers” by Winona McClintic, who went on to become a frequent contributor to the magazine.) Right from the very beginning, finding and developing new writers has been part of the Fantasy & Science Fiction tradition.

In this anniversary issue, we’re proud to introduce the world to the work of two such new voices. Dare Segun Falowo, a young writer from Lagos, Nigeria, brings us “We Are Born,” a fantasy set in the village of Ala and inspired by Yoruba traditions. We also present you with “Children of Xanadu” by Juan Paulo Rafols, a promising new writer from the Philippines, who was inspired to write this near future science fiction story by news articles about the harsh treatment experienced by children sent to internet addiction boot camps.

In addition, we bring you stories by several writers who may already be familiar to you, but who are new to the magazine.

Gwendolyn Clare delivers “Tasting Notes on the Varietals of the Southern Coast,” a brief fantasy with great intensity and depth of flavor, marked by hints of irony. Canadian writer Rebecca Campbell takes us for a ride “On Highway 18” in a ghost story about small towns and teenagers, independence and vulnerability. Amy Griswold gives us a glimpse at the future and provides some pointed social commentary with “Still Tomorrow’s Going to Be Another Working Day.” Rahul Kanakia uses an alien perspective to hold up a mirror to our own culture with “Bodythoughts.” And Tina Connolly invites us to dance “The Two-Choice Foxtrot of Chapham County” — a delightful fantasy about ordinary people choosing to change.


From very early on, Fantasy & Science Fiction has been distinguished by its columns and columnists. This issue is no different.

Charles de Lint recommends some Books to Look For by Seanan McGuire, A. G. Carpenter, John Crowley, Christopher Eliopoulos, R. J. Blain, and Melissa F. Olson. James Sallis reviews new Books by Paul La Farge and Deepak Unnikrishnan. In her film column, Kathi Maio meditates “On Finding Her Inner Kaiju” — a review of Anne Hathaway’s “delightfully offbeat” film “Colossal.” The Science Column by Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty pulls a “Vanishing Act” as it considers the technology for invisibility cloaks. And for our Curiosities column, Robert Eldridge reconsiders The Great Demonstration, originally published in 1920, and written by the talented and unjustly forgotten writer, Katharine Metcalf Roof.

The print version of this issue also offers up fresh cartoons by Danny Shanahan, Nick Downes, Arthur Masear, and S. Harris.


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

So grab a copy in your favorite format and enjoy.

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

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