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Interview: Amman Sabet on “Tender Loving Plastics”

Amman sabetTell us a bit about the story.

“Tender Loving Plastics” is about Issa, a child growing up in automated foster care with her foster siblings who cycle through the system.


What was the inspiration for “Tender Loving Plastics,” or what prompted you to write it?

I scribbled an early version of “Tender Loving Plastics” at the Geisel Library at UCSD. If you take the elevator to the fourth or fifth floor, wander past the books towards the windows and peer out across the campus, you might catch a glimpse of “Fallen Star”, a sculpture by Do Huh Suh.

From this angle, “Fallen Star” appears as a little blue suburban home balanced precariously on the edge of the neighboring building’s roof. To me, its smallness and vulnerability contrasts sharply with the brutalist campus architecture. This view was, at a subconscious level, the inspiration for “Tender Loving Plastics.” You have the university, which is itself a parent entity. And you have this little house, charming but unbelonging, as if someone hurled it up there. How would growing up in that house affect a kid?


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

There have been some adoptions in my immediate family. I’m a designer by trade, so I initially approached this as any designer would try to address a real-world issue. I assembled the setting, but then I ended up filling it with a collage of my impressions growing up.


What was the most difficult aspect of writing “Tender Loving Plastics” and what was the most fun?

The most difficult part was the research. It’s a story with orphans, so I tried to be sure I wasn’t doing harm in my descriptions. Learning about how foster care impacts the development of the amygdala and behavioral issues in children was heart-breaking. Mary Ainsworth’s Strange Situation study and Harry Harlowe’s Studies on Dependency in Monkeys also lent some perspective.

The fun part was drawing the story before writing it. I’m a big fan of drawing before writing anything.


What would you want a reader to take away from this story?

Maybe just a moment to pause on all the little formative things they’ve been through.


What are you working on now?

I have another story, “Umbrus” out now in issue 10 of F(r)iction, which is about an anomalous space object. Then I have a few shorts which are being reviewed or polished for review, and I’m woefully neglecting a novel project that I’m supposed to have ready for a summer workshop.

Having just recently moved to Echo Park in Los Angeles, I’m also on the hunt for a good crit group in the area that meets regularly. Give me a shout @AmmanSabet if your group is looking for a new member!


“Tender Loving Plastics” appears in the may/June 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Interview: Stephanie Feldman on “The Barrens”

Stephanie FeldmanTell us a bit about “The Barrens.”

“The Barrens” is about five teenagers who venture into New Jersey’s vast Pine Barrens in search of a pirate radio station and its elusive DJ. They should be more worried about what might find them first.

The piece is a twist on horror movie tropes, but it’s also about storytelling and desire, as well as the environment and folklore of the mid-Atlantic, where I grew up and still live.



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

This story started with one very specific inspiration: My Favorite’s song “Let’s Stay Alive” from the album Love at Absolute Zero, which I played quite a bit back when I was a college radio DJ. Here’s a line from the song: “On the pirate radio station, in my car with no destination, as bright and lost as the stars above, we will reinvent love! Let’s stay alive, let’s stay alive, let’s stay alive…” In my story, the pirate radio station becomes the destination and “let’s stay alive” becomes a literal imperative. The song has this shimmery, pure, desperate spirit that captures adolescence, and I wanted to write a story with that same energy.

My other goal was to take my first straight dive into horror. I grew up on horror movies and my work has always nodded to the genre—it was time to come home.

Was “The Barrens” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It draws on my own memories of being a teenager. All the characters desperately want something: to be loved, to experience something bigger than themselves, or to simply feel alive. Like them, I also turned to music when the rest of my life felt unsatisfying.

The story reflects my adult experience, too. I moved to the suburbs a few years ago and felt a bit stuck and bored. I’ve been using my writing to rediscover greater Philadelphia—to turn it a little weird and mysterious. I’ve never been a Jersey girl, but I’ve always been Jersey-adjacent, and I loved digging in to the local legends and folklore for “The Barrens.”


What was the most difficult aspect of writing “The Barrens,” and what was the most fun?

Usually my process is thorny and angst-ridden, but I had so much fun writing this story. Maybe it comes back to my inspiration—the reckless energy of the music—or maybe it was imagining those kids speeding through the dark woods, both hunter and hunted. It was all adventure. (The characters would likely disagree.)


What are you working on now?

I’ve spent the past year putting together the anthology Who Will Speak for America?, forthcoming from Temple University Press in July, with my co-editor Nathaniel Popkin. As a writer, I find these times both urgent and challenging. It’s as important as ever to write honestly and fearlessly about who we are and what we care about. At the same time, the political chaos can be stifling. So I’m thrilled to share the voices of over 40 fiction writers, essayists, poets, and artists from across the genre spectrum, including Charlie Jane Anders, Sam J. Miller, Malka Older, and Fran Wilde, all writing on the subject of identity and the current political crisis. (Royalties go to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which fights on behalf of the most vulnerable among us.)

I have a story, “The Elites,” in Gordon Van Gelder’s recent anthology Welcome to Dystopia.

I’m also working on a novel and a few stories. Most of these projects are engaged with horror, and some of them explore Pennsylvania folklore and legend. I’m filling the suburbs with monsters.


“The Barrens” appears in the May/June 2018 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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Clicking on Ms. Feldman’s photo will take you to her website.  You can also find her online here:

Interview: Matthew Hughes on “Argent and Sable”

Tell us a bit about the story.

“Argent and Sable” continues the development of Baldemar, a poor boy who first became an assistant to a debt collector then segued into a career as a wizard’s henchman.  A mission his master sent him on brought him into contact with an interplanar entity — the Helm of Sagacity — who “altered” the young man so that he could be sent on a perilous quest that the entity had sent plenty of others on over the millennia, all of whom ended up badly.  But Baldemar succeeded, and now he is trying to discern just how different he now is, starting with exploring the quality of luck that the Helm gifted him with.


Matthew HughesWhat was the inspiration for “Argent and Sable,” or what prompted you to write it?

In the largest sense, I’m exploring the Dying Earth that the brilliant Jack Vance ceded to sfdom, and doing it through the development of roguish characters:  thieves, thaumaturges, and henchmen.  A lot of Baldemar’s experiences so far illustrate how magic works (and how it sometimes doesn’t).  In the next episode, “The Plot Against Fantucco’s Armor,” wizardly rivalries overlap into high-level political intrigue, which will lead Baldemar to a new kind of work.  Then, in the episode after “Fantucco,” which I’m just finishing, we move into a Dying Earth police procedural.

If I’m doing this right, the reader ought to be getting a wider picture of how a world of wizards and walled cities might work.


Continuing their introduction at the end of “Jewel of the Heart,” you have delved into two new fluxions from which wizards draw their powers: argent and sable.  Do you have any plans to explore these new fluxions in further Archonate stories?

Oh, yes.  Indeed, in Gardner Dozois’s anthology, The Book of Magic, coming out in October, I have a story called “The Friends of Masquelayne the Incomparable,” in which argent and sable fluxions are crucial to the plot.  Spoiler alert:  the title is an oxymoron, Masquelayne doesn’t have, and doesn’t deserve, any friends at all.


What are you working on now?

Once I’ve finished up the new Baldemar novelette, I’ll be in a wait-and-see mode.  I’ve got a new suspense novel coming out in hardcover, One More Kill, which George R.R. Martin was kind enough to blurb for me.  He said, “Fans of Lawrence Block’s Keller stories are going to love ONE MORE KILL.   I certainly did.   Matt Hughes kept me up all night, turning pages.”  I’m looking to do a deal for the North American rights which might lead to my writing a sequel.  But I’m also looking for a publisher for Ghost Dreams, about a burglar and a ghost, for which I might also do a sequel.

A couple of things I’d like readers to know:  I’ll be at WorldCon in August, ready to sign any work of mine, and I’m still hoping to attract more pledges by patrons to my Patreon account, so that I can afford to keep on writing.   Link:


“Argent and Sable” appears in the May/June 2018 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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In addition to Mr. Hughes’s Patreon account noted at the end of the interview, if you click on his photo, you’ll be taken to his website.

Editor’s Note for May/June 2018

Welcome to issue #737. The May/June volume of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction takes off with eleven brand new stories, all our regular columns, and the winners of the latest F&SF Competition. You won’t want to miss it.

If you’re a subscriber… well, you’re probably already reading the issue by now! But if you’re looking for a copy, you can find us in most Barnes & Noble stores, as well as many local independent booksellers. You can also order a single copy from our website or buy an electronic edition from Amazon, AmazonUK, and — now, available worldwide and in every electronic format — through Weightless Books.

Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2018, cover by Alan M. ClarkThis month’s cover illustrates “The Barrens” by Stephanie Feldman. The artwork is by the World Fantasy Award winning illustrator Alan M. Clark, his first piece for F&SF. To see more of his work, visit his website at


Stephanie Feldman won the Crawford Award for her debut novel, The Angel of Losses, published by Ecco in 2014. She has recently started writing short fiction as well, and “The Barrens” marks her first appearance in this magazine. She tells us that her story is what happens when you mix four years of being a DJ for your college radio station with a decade of reading Weird NJ magazine and a lifetime of watching horror movies. We think you’re going to enjoy this twisty tale.


Over the past year and a half, Baldemar has quickly become our favorite wizard’s henchman… even though his master Thelerion is no one’s favorite wizard (except perhaps his own). Matthew Hughes introduced us to the streetwise young Baldemar in “Ten Half-Pennies” in our March/April 2017 issue, and gave him bigger problems to solve when he came face-to-face with “The Prognosticant” in our May/June 2017 volume. In “Jewel of the Heart,” which appeared earlier this year, Baldemar’s encounter with the Helm of Sagacity saw him rewarded with the gift of luck. Now in his latest adventure, “Argent and Sable,” Baldemar’s about to find out that maybe not all that luck is good.


Our science fiction this month includes “Crash-Site,” an outer space adventure set in the War Hero universe by Brian Trent, who’s beginning to become a regular in the magazine. Lisa Mason has appeared recently in these page with tales of dark fantasy, but this month she brings us “The Bicycle Whisperer,” a near future story about bicycles, freedom, and forgiveness. And Nina Kiriki Hoffman asks us to explore “The Properties of Shadow,” a far future story about art, an artist’s assistant, and the secret shadow selves that all of us hide.

Nor have we neglected the fantasy portion of our title. Gardner Dozois brings us “Unstoppable,” a fairy tale about a king’s use – and misuse – of magic. Can those who abuse their power ever be stopped? Dare Segun Falowo, an extraordinary young Nigerian writer who debuted with “We Are Born” in our September/October issue last year, returns this month to the village of Àlá (which means dream in his traditional Yoruba) with “Ku’gbo,” a story about change and growth. And Albert E. Cowdrey asks us to “Behold the Child,” a reminder that perhaps, as Hemingway observed, all truly wicked things start from innocence.

In addition to the familiar faces, we also welcome three young authors making their first appearance in the magazine. Amman Sabet introduces us to “Tender Loving Plastics,” a near future science fiction story about the foster care system. In “Inquisitive,” Pip Coen relates the experience of Saffi, a young neuroatypical girl who struggles to find her way in a very rigid society. And Melanie West gives us “What You Pass For,” a historical fantasy inspired by the life of Janet Collins, an African American dancer in the 1930s who was offered a position with a prestigious ballet company on one condition, that she paint her skin white before appearing on stage.


For the third time in three issues, Paul Di Filippo is ready to tickle your fancy with more “Plumage from Pegaus.” This time he considers that those who “Live by the Word, Die by the Word.”

Charles de Lint recommends some Books to Look For by Kij Johnson, Craig Schaefer, and Carolyn Turgeon, along with two new books celebrating the twenty-year anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. With “Tourists and Native Speakers,” James Sallis provides a thoughtful and critical perspective on recent science fiction, literary, and mainstream fiction. And for our monthly Curiosities column, rediscovering lost writers and books, Phoenix Alexander introduces us to the work of George Schuyler and The Beast of Broadhurst Avenue, a rare early example of African American science fiction.

In her latest film column, Kathi Maio considers some of the big problems and small triumphs of “Downsizing,” the latest in a long tradition of films about shrinking people. And in their final science column for the magazine after more than twenty years, Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty are “Asking Questions.” And the print version of the magazine also offers up fresh cartoons by Kendra Allenby, Arthur Masear, and Nick Downes.

We also announce the winners of F&SF Competition #95, “Titles the Rearrange,” and welcome everyone to participate in Competition #96, “Crime Blotter,” for a chance to win some pretty cool prizes, including subscriptions to the magazine.


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 treat yourself to this month’s fabulous stories and features.

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

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