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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.

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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.


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