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Interview: Pip Coen on “Inquisitive”

Tell us a bit about “Inquisitive.”

“Inquisitive” is a story about Saffi, a child who’s born into a society she doesn’t understand, without access to the knowledge that she desperately wants. That knowledge is guarded by a political and economic powerhouse called The Inquisition. We follow Saffi’s unrepentant pursuit of a position within The Inquisition, but when she finally gets there, she realizes it wasn’t without help.

 Pip Coen

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

I first started writing “Inquisitive” about five years ago, and then rewrote it after attending The Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in 2015. I can rarely remember the initial prompts for my stories, and they often evolve beyond recognition by the final paragraph anyway. In the end, this story is an amalgamation of things I enjoy writing about, like the interface between science and society, memory manipulation, individuals that don’t fit into an established niche, and of course, not having enough time to read everything I want to!


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

The society of Aypiria explores a few questions that I’m passionate about. Elements like the misuse of technology and public access to scientific research are two issues frequently on my mind. But I’m also passionate about understanding how information is processed in the brain. Most people think nothing of our ability to recognize social cues like questions, jokes, and sarcasm, but this is really an incredible computational feat. For neuroatypical individuals who can’t naturally process these cues, the world can be a difficult place.


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

One thing I love about writing speculative fiction is that imagination can substitute for a lot of research. I tend to write stories where the only realism I need to worry about is the emotional realism of my characters—and I probably don’t worry about it enough! Since I’m a neuroscientist by trade, most of the technical elements in this story are things that I’m familiar with, but rest assured, they are wildly exaggerated. Selectively erasing memories will never be possible … probably ;)


You utilize epigraphs throughout your story to flesh out the history of the Aypirian Monarchy and the Inquisition.  How important is world-building to you as a writer, and how much world-building did you do for this story that didn’t make it onto the page?

Worldbuilding often forms an integral part of my stories, but I try not to get too bogged down in the world before I start writing about it. I usually vacillate between writing scenes, discovering issues with the world, and then taking some time to flesh out my half-baked world mechanics until I feel I can move forward with the plot. So aside from some deleted scenes, there isn’t much of Aypirian society that didn’t make it onto the page. I should add that many of the stories I love have surreal and inconsistent worlds, but I’ve never managed to free myself from the tethers of consistency when writing.


What are you working on now?

I’m passionate about short stories as a medium, and I see myself continuing to work on them for some time. I enjoy the freedom to explore different conceits and characters in a shorter length—even if a lot of those explorations don’t result in a story. That said, I’m finishing up a piece that’s on the far end of novelette length which I’m particularly excited about. I hope to find a home for it soon.


“Inquisitive” appears in the May/June 2018 issue of F&SF.

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