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Interview: Steven Fischer on “A List of Forty-Nine Lies”

Tell us a bit about “A List of Forty-Nine Lies.”

This story sprouted as a single opening line which echoed around my head for a few weeks until finding its way out during a particularly slow lecture on medical statistics. The telling is perhaps a bit gimmicky as most of the “lies” are just direct negatives of true statements, but I found that the character and voice took over as soon as I started writing. In the end, I came to really enjoy the format and the thought I hope it conveyed: what elements of ourselves and our stories are important enough to be worth concealing?


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

I’ve always been attracted to lies. Not to telling them or hearing them, necessarily, but to the idea of them. Specifically, the lies we tell ourselves, and the situations when lies are more useful than the truth.

There are a lot of moments like this in life. Moments when we have to tell ourselves, “I’m not nervous,” or, “I’m confident I can do this,” even when we know those things aren’t true. I’ve spent the past four years of medical school learning to (soon) become a doctor, and there have been so many days I’ve felt woefully inadequate for the tasks in front of me. In those moments, I often found myself repeating little lies like these and clinging to a “fake it til you make it” mentality. What’s interesting is, despite the fact that we know we’re lying, the repetition of those lies can persuade us to believe them, or at least distract us long enough to accomplish what we need to. Even more surprising, we often discover that lies like these were true all along.


What are you working on now?

Long short fiction. Yes, that’s an oxymoron. No, that’s not a mistake. I’ve been writing short fiction for the better part of two years, but so far it’s been limited mostly to flash. I love flash fiction and think it’s a fantastic medium for the new writer (i.e. me) because of how much practice you can achieve in such a short time, but I’m currently focusing on longer pieces and learning to sustain a narrative for more than just a few pages. It’s been an incredible (and frustrating) learning experience so far!


Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for giving me the chance to spout nonsense on your blog, and thanks to anyone who took the time to read this post or my story! It still astounds me that anyone is interested in reading my writing, and that’s been a constant inspiration for me to keep practicing and (hopefully) improving. I can’t think of a better way to start 2018 than getting to share a piece I loved writing in one of my all-time favorite magazines!

Thanks again for the read, and I hope you spend some time thinking about a man who’s not named Levi and the lies you tell yourself every day.


“A List of Forty-Nine Lies” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Interview: Lisa Mason on “Aurelia”

Lisa MasonTell us a bit about “Aurelia.”

I call “Aurelia” my Alfred Hitchcock story. Great wealth, a troubled marriage, a mysterious, possibly psychologically challenged wife, a fabulous but spooky mansion, a murder mystery. If Hitchcock’s film “Vertigo” had supernatural elements—and I wish it did!—that would approach my vision for the story.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories that present the supernatural from a psychological point of view. “My Dear Emily” by Joanna Russ springs to mind. I’m particularly fascinated by the chapter in The Unicorn Tapestry, by Suzy McKee Charnas, which is told from the point-of-view of a psychotherapist who has been asked to counsel Dr. Edward Weyland, a faculty member and professor at her college who has acquired a reputation for being mentally unsound. At first, Weyland resists her therapy, then he begins to describe what sounds like an extreme urban lifestyle. It is revealed, finally, that these are his hunting habits in New York City and he is a vampire.

I wanted Aurelia to be a mystery, perhaps psychological, perhaps not.


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

There is an incredible Mediterranean mansion in the Sausalito hills named Villa Aurelia, which I had an opportunity to tour at length. I was so inspired by the house that I looked up the name and discovered that “aurelia” derives from the Latin “aureus,” meaning golden. The word describes a chrysalis, deriving from the Greek for golden, the final pre-adult stage in the life cycle of a butterfly, in particular certain nymphalid butterflies. The chrysalis is decorated with fine gilt features.

Aurelia, in her human incarnation, is like a chrysalis before she manifests as a full-blown, supernatural, blood-drinking—plot spoiler omitted!

Robert refers to her villa as a golden cocoon. He senses that the house itself has supernatural power.

Coincidentally, I happened to be reading an anthology of vampire stories that included the E.T.A. Hoffman classic “Aurelia.”  I’d never encountered the story before, which is not a typical vampire story. There, too, the Big Reveal of the wife’s true nature is the whole point of the story.


How do you view Robert, the protagonist of your story? Is he sympathetic or does he get his just desserts?

Oh, he’s an SOB. But he’s a charming and witty SOB with whom you’d like to go to your favorite Italian restaurant and drink a lot of merlot. At thirty, he’s totally cynical about love and marriage and already promiscuous. He’s hardworking but he carefully considers whether his conduct as an attorney is unethical, how he can avoid getting into trouble, and does it anyway.

He’s loyal to his best friend Trevor, to the law firm they work for. And he sincerely loves Aurelia and supports her “right to be different.”

However! Aurelia has bespelled Robert right from the start. She’s sensed him from afar, sought him out. He senses her presence watching him before he even meets her. She proceeds to make him her human servant.

Plenty of supernatural entities require human servants to negotiate their way in the human world, people the supernatural entity doesn’t kill or transform into their own kind. Dracula has a human servant, Renfield, who is driven mad.

So even though Aurelia seems as if she’s been taken advantage of by Robert, in fact she’s the one in control. His activities in the human world are of no interest to her. She needs him to take care of the house, of her, and provide her with progeny. Which he does.

So it feels as if he’s gotten his just desserts. But for me, Robert’s end is tragic, the inevitable, inexorable result of him discovering the truth about Aurelia.


What did you learn for this story that you did not already know, if anything?

I researched butterflies, how they undergo amazing physical transformations in their lifetimes, what they eat—not only nectar from blossoms! How they use scents to attract mates and repel enemies, and relentlessly pursue procreation. Some females mate with multiple males to ensure they conceive. Some lay multiple eggs, some species a single egg.

Aurelia chooses Robert because of his strong reproductive urge. As a human servant to a supernatural entity, he realizes he’s become a sex addict in the human world. He’s not happy about that. He senses that his addiction stems from Aurelia’s bespellment.

Aurelia doesn’t care—she needs his urge toward her in order to produce the daughter she needs to continue her supernatural line.

Also, in terms of research, I wasn’t that familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman’s body of dark Victorian fantasy beyond his story, “Aurelia.” I learned about his other classic story, “The Nutcracker.”


Anything else you’d like to add?

“Riddle” in the September-October 2017 68th Anniversary issue of F&SF and now “Aurelia” in the January-February 2018 issue have started a mini-trend for me of dark modern fantasy. I mostly write science fiction and modern fantasy. In both of those F&SF stories, I plumbed some depth of darkness in myself—to my surprise.
Then I realized I’d written another dark modern fantasy, “Felicitas,” that fits right in with this mini-trend. The story also presents a supernatural female monster and her troubles with men and sex.

“Felicitas” is written entirely from the supernatural entity’s point-of-view and was published in Desire Burn: Women Writing from the Dark Side of Passion (Carroll & Graf), edited by the late Janet Berliner, who was the president of Horror Writers of America at the time. I republished the story in Strange Ladies: 7 Stories, my collection of previously published short SFF fiction. You will find the ebook on all the retailers. As of December 2017, you will also find the book in print at Enjoy!


“Aurelia” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Clicking on Ms. Mason’s photo will take you to her website.

You can also find Ms. Mason on social media:


Interview: Mary Robinette Kowal on “A Feather in Her Cap”

Mary Robinette KowalWhat was the inspiration for “A Feather in Her Cap,” or what prompted you to write it?

I’m the host on the podcast Writing Excuses and we often do exercises on the show, to demonstrate how things work. This came out of episode 10.2: “I Have an Idea; What Do I Do Now?” You can actually hear me get the idea in the middle of the show as I was demonstrating how sometimes you combine two ideas into a single thing.


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

Well, it might have the longest development time of any short story I’ve written. I wound up using it all season as my demonstration idea, and kept joking that I would write it, but didn’t. It kept popping up though. And then I was teaching a short story class and usually demonstrate how to go from a story seed to a story. On a whim, I used “milliner assassin” as the story seed. When I told the Writing Excuses guys that I’d finally written it, it was as if they had all had a hand in creating it.


Was there any aspect of “A Feather in Her Cap” that you found difficult or especially easy to write?

I loved all the millinery details. I have a deep fondness for hats and used to travel with a hatbox. I’ve made a grand total of three hats. Two bonnets and a beret to go with my regency cosplay. So having an excuse to look at reference materials on hats was far too much fun.


What are you working on now?

In fact… it’s another story for F&SF. It’s a science-fiction short set in my “Lady Astronaut” universe and involves a mission to Phobos, the larger of Mars’s two moons.


“A Feather in Her Cap” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Clicking on Ms. Kowal’s photo will take you to her website:

Interview: Dale Bailey on “The Donner Party”

Dale BaileyTell us a bit about “The Donner Party.”

“The Donner Party” was written in part to see if I could pull off a conceit which contrasts the ultimate expression of a mannered society with the most horrible tradition I could imagine. I took a number of courses focused on the Victorian era in graduate school, so the setting seemed natural to me. It’s very much and very intentionally a story about the social order. And though the story is set in an era a century and more before our own, I wanted—without belaboring my own political beliefs—to write a story which could be seen as a kind of subtle commentary on class and class issues in our own day. I think that level of the story is there if you want to look for it, but it’s also possible to read it as a simple horror story, and I’m okay with that, too.


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

I can’t usually track down the inspiration for a story, but I can remember very clearly the moment this one came to me. I teach college English and my colleagues are always leaving random photocopies on the table beside the copier. It just so happened that someone was teaching a course on Victorian social customs, and he’d abandoned a copy of a chapter from some social history. The chapter was called “The Dinner Party” and it featured a picture of proper ladies and gentlemen of the Victorian era at table. At a glance, I misread the chapter title as “The Donner Party,” which reminded me of the American pioneers who ended up snowbound in the Sierra Nevadas and ended up, well, eating each other. This, contrasted with the picture of the decorous Victorian dinner party, set me on my way.


You’ve been writing and publishing stories for over twenty years.  Did you find any aspect of “The Donner Party” particularly difficult to write, and do you think this is a story you could have written as a younger writer?

I don’t think I could have written this when I was starting out. I grew up in West Virginia, and most of my early fiction was rooted in family lore and local history. But I took a five-year hiatus from writing starting around 2004 and when I came back, I found that I was writing a totally different kind of fiction—less personal, but, I think, richer and more complex and often set well outside of my comfort zone.

I think this is one reason I found the story very difficult to write. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go it entirely alone. My dissertation advisor, Don Cox, an expert in Victorian literature and culture, was there to help me with some of the Victorian details (and any mistakes are all mine, I can assure you). And Charlie Finlay, the editor of F&SF, was around to help me sort out some of the issues in the story itself. So, yeah, I think this one was unusually difficult for me to write.


What are you working on now?

I have a book called IN THE NIGHT WOOD coming out from Houghton Mifflin in October. Despite its contemporary setting, it too draws upon Victorian elements. And I have four or five short stories coming out in various places over the next year, as well.

Right now I’m working on a full-out Victorian fantasy novel—which has turned out to be a lot more difficult than I expected (and no, it’s not steampunk!). I don’t know when it will see the light of day. Someday in the not too distant future, I hope. We’ll see.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I’m really glad the story is in F&SF, where my first story appeared all the way back in 1993. It’s nice to be back.


“The Donner Party” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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Clicking on Mr. Bailey’s photo will take you to his website.

Interview: Ingrid Garcia on “Racing the Rings of Saturn”

Tell us a bit about “Racing the Rings of Saturn”

It’s a story about a convergence of unrelated events leading to an upheaval. Historical examples are the solar eclipse of AD 1133 that happened when King Henry I of England died, leading to chaos and civil war. The opposite happened during the Battle of Halys on May 28, 585 BC when a total solar eclipse took place during an indecisive battle between the Medes and the Lydians, leading both parties to halt the fighting and negotiate a peace treaty. Relatively recently—1970—there was the Football War between El Salvador and Honduras, where a FIFA World Cup qualifier—that stretched over three games—ignited a short war (it’s also called the 100 Hour War) between the two nations.

Keep in mind that the unrelated event did not cause the upheaval, but was basically the catalyst that ignited built-up tensions to erupt (or in case of the Medes and Lydians, possibly catalysed a pent-up desire for peace). Similarly, in “Racing the Rings of Saturn”, tensions have been building up as two resistance movements have been fighting oppressive regimes for years. Then, in order to increase the chances of a full-on uprising, they join forces against the weaker of the two regimes and decide to utilize a massively popular event as the catalyst.


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

For one, I was wondering how huge sports events almost always proceed, even if they’re held in countries run by dictators or countries that have no respect for human rights and use that event for their own propaganda. Obvious examples are the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany and the World Championships Football in Argentina in 1978 (during the Videla junta). Should an athlete attend such an event, or boycott it? Should Jesse Owens not have attended the 1936 Olympics? Should he have done an avant la lettre Black Power salute (which in reality happened at the 1968 Olympics)?

I wanted to take that dilemma a step further in an SF setting, for which I needed to invent a sport that would translate well on different planetary settings. First thing that came to mind was a Formula One race in space, basically with rockets instead of cars, the biggest race obviously being a fictional ‘Racing the Rings of Saturn’, where Saturn space is run by a junta.

Then present my racing heroine with an even bigger dilemma: boycott it—the single interplanetary Formula One race she hasn’t won, which is also the biggest of them all—or race it and win and ignore the political situation? Or maybe there’s a third way?

In that sense it’s classic SF: present your protagonist with the hardest choice of her life, on the biggest platform imaginable, with far-reaching consequences. I hope the story pulls that off.


Was “Racing the Rings of Saturn” personal to you in any way, If so, how?

There are no autobiographical elements in it, as I’m not a racer. I do empathize with Tsaraki in the sense that when you choose your vocation—Tsaraki’s racing, mine’s writing—you try to be as ambitious as possible, or fail utterly rather than being merely middling (cue to shouts of “Mediocre! Mediocre!” from Mad Max Fury Road).


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

A huge amount of calculations to check if my crazy idea—literally racing the rings of Saturn—was possible at all. Including, but not limited to the possible speed of the racers after a rocket boost and a gravitational slingshot from Mimas; the forces involved for changing course as the drivers dive through the A-ring and if superconducting coils can deliver those in Saturn’s magnetic field (barely—that’s why the car’s flip-flop wings are huge and the cars and the drivers are extremely light); the need for Faraday cage shielding in those immense electromagnetic fields; checking the maximum G-forces humans can endure, how often and how long; and probably some things I’m overlooking right now.

To the best of my knowledge—I do have an engineering degree—it all works out, it’s theoretically possible. Then—well after Charlie had accepted the story—I found out I made a simple mistake (using the radius of the A-ring rather than its diameter) through which the total racing time doubled from about four hours to about eight hours. Thankfully, we were able to fix that in the final edits. Long live final edits delivered well in time!

A nagging problem with that remains. Today’s Formula One’s racing time is two hours maximum where racers experience G-forces up to 8 G. So initially, I extrapolated that four hours racing time with G-forces up to 30 G should be possible in the future with drivers completely encapsulated in shock-absorbing foam in their cars and those drivers being genetically modified in combination with highly advanced medicine.

Extending the punishment experienced by the racers to eight hours is a bit of a leap of faith, but I preferred that over a simple miscalculation that any tech-savvy reader could easily find.


What are you working on now?

I’m busy writing, submitting, and promoting other stories set in the same solar system, let’s call it the ‘Inner Hotspot/Outer Cool’ solar system. Planet by planet:

—Inner Hotspot—

  • Mercury:

o   A story where Tsaraki and her rival Dougie Smouck face off as they race “The Mercurial Day/Night Scorcher”. To be written;

  • Venus:

o   A story called “Under Venusian Skies” about life and transformation, but not as we know it, that just appeared in Ride the Star Wind;

  • Earth:

o   A story called “Space Bike Zombies FTW” that appeared in EOS Quarterly (together with my very first interview);

o   A follow-up story called “Have Space Bike, Will Travel” that appeared in Futuristica Volume 2;

o   A follow-up novelette (title needs work) where the heroine of the previous two stories sets up a foundation to tackle the huge problems facing Earth such as pollution, environmental degradation, climate change and overpopulation. This one’s doing the rounds;

o   Moon:

  • A novella called “Jamal and the Jinnee in the Klein Bottle” about the future of interplanetary warfare, extrapolating extreme automation. Doing the rounds;
  • Mars:

o   A novelette called “In the Lap of the Gods” that’s both Tsaraki’s origin story where she rises through the ranks and races Olympus Mons, but that also covers terraforming Mars and its ‘lost generation’. Doing the rounds;

—Inner Hotspot—

  • Asteroid Belt: a story where Hermana experiences one of the skirmishes between the two faction as be tries to make a living as a prospector. To be written;

—Outer Cool—

  • Jupiter Space:

o   Europa:

  • A novelette called “In the Cracks of Europa” that’s both Hermana’s origin story and a mystery that shows part of the inner working at SyntMoon—the company that holds the secret to the extreme longevity serum—and how one of its new products will change the face of society. Doing the rounds;

o   Callisto & Jupiter Space at large:

  • A novella called “Cold Days in Hell” where the fates of Hermana and Feydar—who will become the sole ruler of the Outer Cool—intertwine, and where Hermana becomes the leader of the Resistance;

o   Ganymede:

  • A story/novelette (length & title TBD) where Hermana liberates a group of ‘sexual deviants’ ready to be sent to the secret concentration camp on Thebe, and where be meets Solarita. First draft being written;

o   Io:

  • A story (length & title TBD) where Tsaraki and Dougie Smouck race against each other in the “Io Erupting Pothole Spectacle” amidst a Jupiter Space that’s politically at least as volatile. To be written;
  • Saturn Space:

o   Saturn’s Rings and several of its moons:

  • A novelette called “Racing the Rings of Saturn” where Tsaraki has to make a life- and history-altering decision, and where Hermana’s Jupiter resistance joins the Saturn rebellions in an effort to liberate Saturn space. Just appeared in F&SF;

o   Just outside Saturn’s Rings:

  • a short story called“Pirates for Life” where bimorph artist and interplanetary choreographer Andro Gyne is kidnapped by pirates. Gyne converts to their cause, realising that SyntMoon’s immortality elixir is holding humanity back, composes ber masterpiece and uses the proceeds to (crowd)fund an interstellar project. Slated to appear on February 12, 2017 in Wild Musette;
  • Uranus:

o   A story where Tsaraki and her rival Dougie Smouck race the “U-Turn around Uranus”. To be written;

—Outer Cool—

(Note: Neptune’s neutral in the ongoing Inner Hotspot/Outer Cool war in a similar way that Switzerland was neutral during World War 2)

  • Neptune:

o   A novelette called “In Purple Purgatory” where Tsaraki scours Neptune Space in search of the mastermind of the ‘pop-up Buddha’ phenomenon. The sequel to “Racing the Rings of Saturn”, it ties up that story and “Jamal and the Jinnee in the Klein Bottle. Finished but kept on hold;

That’s all for now. Eventually, I’ll have to wrap everything up in the inevitable novel, whose title and main plotline I already have in my head, but which I probably won’t start until late 2018, early 2019.

Finally, a few pieces that are outside the whole Inner Hotspot/Outer Cool solar system:

  • A poem called “Signs of Life” that appeared in Ligature Works(my very first published piece);
  • A fantasy story called “The Taste of Things to Come” that’s doing the rounds;
  • A near-future story called “The Ethical Cloud” that’s doing the rounds;
  • An interplanetary story called “Five Wise Whiskies” that’s doing the rounds;

All that, and setting up a writing website very soon (in the meantime, I’m on twitter as @ingrid.garcia253 ). Too much to do, too little time.


“Racing the Rings of Saturn” appears in the November/December 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):

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