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Interview: R. S. Benedict on “Morbier”

Tell us a bit about “Morbier.”

“Morbier” focuses on a social relationship that fascinates me: the strange power dynamic between server and customer. On one hand, the customer has all the economic and social power: the customer orders the server around, frequently insults or harasses the server, and can punish the server’s perceived disobedience by leaving a lousy tip or complaining to the manager. But on the other hand, the server has all the physical power: the server has control over the customer’s food, and is often younger and stronger. It is only a thin layer of artificial social norms that puts the customer above the server. This is the case for so many hierarchical relationships involving assistants and their employers: a secretary could totally ruin her boss’s career if she ever decided to, a servant could rob her employer with no trouble at all, and a nanny could easily do something horrible to her client’s children. It amazes me that these disasters don’t happen more often, considering how badly most people treat service staff.

 

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

“Morbier” was my attempt to grapple with the madness of 2017. It was a difficult year for me, filled with major personal tragedies. I began to feel as if I’d stumbled into an alternate timeline.

I drew a lot of inspiration from my experience working in the dining room at an expensive resort in my early 20s. The characters aren’t directly based on any particular person I knew, but some of their traits–the quirky staff, the creepy customers, and the irate chefs–were definitely drawn from real life. And everything I said about chocolate fountains is true. Those things are an abomination against good cuisine and public health.

I loved incorporating my memories from that awful job; I think I exorcised a lot of pent-up anger from it. It’s important to me to show characters, even in fantastic fiction, working. It drives me crazy in movies or television shows when characters seem to have an endless supply of money with no apparent source. Most of us work for a living, and our adventures are shoved into what little free time we have to spare. And when disasters happen, they often creep in quietly in the background while we’re going about our daily lives trying to pay the rent.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

Originally, I organized the narrative in a straightforward way, but when it wasn’t working I started playing with the flow of time. It’s a story about trauma, in a lot of ways, and PTSD often involves flashbacks, so using non-linear time made perfect sense.

I also struggled with the viewpoint character. Originally, I pictured the character as a chunky, bearded guy named Patrick. But as I wrote it, I realized the character’s voice was a woman’s–she sounded nothing like the brash male chefs I’ve worked with. So Patrick became Trish.

I was very happy with how the side characters turned out, and the goofy relationships between them. I loved Jacob especially; he embodied all of the roly-poly party dudes I worked with in the dining room, guys who steadfastly refused to take our tyrannical managers seriously and proudly ruined every single can of whipped cream in the giant walk-in cooler by sucking out all the nitrous oxide. I put most of the characters in this story through absolute hell, but on some subconscious level I must have known I had to spare Jacob. I just couldn’t harsh the man’s buzz.

I realize that the central premise of the story treads on well-explored territory, but I love looking at old tropes from a different angle. In almost every movie about a fantastic menace, there’s a scene where the hero unsuccessfully goes to the authorities to ask for help defeating the vampire/zombie/alien/chupacabra, and the audience is supposed to get angry at the authorities for refusing to believe him. But I imagine most of us would be pretty skeptical if a frantic man in strange clothes came up to us and started shouting about pod people. Most of us would think the guy was crazy, though some imaginative part of our minds might still ask, “What if…?” 

I deliberately avoided answering the question as to whether or not the character of Mara is really crazy. I want it to remain ambiguous. Like Trish, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight; we can only stumble blindly into an increasingly uncertain future.

 

Why do you write?

I write because I couldn’t seem to find exactly the kind of reading material I was hungry for, so I decided to start making it myself.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Kurt Vonnegut’s use of time in Slaughterhouse Five was a huge influence on this particular story. I also like to think that I draw inspiration from Shirley Jackson’s anxious heroines–there’s always something desperately wrong in every story, but none of the characters feel like it’s appropriate to come out and say it. And I love Kafka’s use of the uncanny and the bizarre, coupled with a sense of bleak, absurdist humor that runs alongside the strange and terrible things in his stories.

 

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m wrapping up a story about Rita Hayworth. I’m also trying to make myself finish the first draft of a novel I’ve been working on for years now. God only knows if it will ever be published.

 

“Morbier” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

R. S. Benedict’s website: https://rs-benedict.com/

Interview: L.X. Beckett on “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling”

Tell us a bit about “Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling.”

My first novella is a story about a journalist who ends up on the wrong side of a futuristic online shame spiral. Drow Whiting tries to expose a popular songwriter as a plagiarist. Her response makes the Internet—now called the Sensorium—turn on him… and when you stop bringing in the equivalent of Facebook likes, you can’t get paying work. Drow becomes desperate to regain his popularity, and this makes him vulnerable to the machinations of a rich octogenarian performance artist.

 

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

I’d been trying for some time to write a story where a reporter engages in a mean-spirited expose, and finds themselves in trouble with the online community, but the story didn’t really come together for me until I came up with the pop-up chemo clinics and climate-changed extremes in the weather. Once Drow was not only flailing financially and socially but literally slogging through the worst a Toronto winter could possibly have to offer, it all seemed to snap together.

I grew up in the Prairies with pretty dramatic winters, but only just returned to the land of ice and snow a few years ago. Getting used to blizzard conditions again was an experience that shaped the story.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

Showing the gig economy at its most voracious, in a world where most young people are madly juggling multiple marginal jobs just to ensure solvency while their privacy is eroding ever more rapidly, was a bit of a dance. With intense world building comes a great temptation to infodump; I wanted to be sure the story stayed entertaining.

Something that’s fun in “Freezing Rain” is playing with a future culture of fandom mash-ups. Drow’s parents met in Batman fandom and that cultural heritage lingers on within his relationship with Crane.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling?”

Lots of the research just came of being online a lot and watching the ebb and flow of Internet shame culture, but I’ve also looked into carbon fixing strategies, climate change adaptations, and some economic theories about what the world might become as we move further into a cashless economy.

 

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

I hope all stories are personal to their authors! But, specifically, I am furious about the injustices created by poverty, and the way our richest citizens are trying to entrench us in a system where they hold all the cards—to preserve a class of ultra-rich, white, rapacious oligarchs—is something I take very personally.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

There are so many brilliant authors, lovely giants of SF with long careers, who’ve given me infinite riches with their books, stories and essays! But lately I am trying to be influenced by our newest stars, energetic and innovative writers people breaking new ground on racism, gender issues, and sexual politics. Kai Ashante Wilson, Amal el-Mohtar, Pria Sharma, K.M.Szpara, Lara Elena Donnelly, and Sarah Pinsker have all been especially inspiring lately.

 

What are you working on now?

I have a novel called Gamechanger, set in the same world as this novella, but fifty years later—and a much older Drow is in it, as is Crane! It’ll be out from Tor next year.

 

“Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

L.X. Beckett’s website: http://lxbeckett.com

Interview: Matthew Hughes on “The Prevaricator”

Tell us a bit about “The Prevaricator.”

I have long had an interest in, perhaps even a fascination with, the psychopath — particularly the con man subspecies.  So “The Prevaricator” is an extension of that interest combined with my predilection for writing fantasy stories set in my continuation of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth setting.

 

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

The prompt was unusual:  a fan of mine in Europe wrote me and asked if I would write him a 6,000-word Dying Earth fantasy that he could have illustrated and bound into a single, unique volume for his private collection.  All other rights would be mine.  I took the deal and wrote “The Prevaricator,” and it’s now in the process of being turned into that unique work.  I’ve seen some of the sketches the artist (the renowned Peter Andrew Jones)  is doing, and they’re pretty cool.

I thought the story was pretty cool, too, and that readers of F&SF would like it.  So I offered it to Charlie Finlay and he bought it.

 

Why do you write?

It’s the only thing I know how to do really well.  And people seem to like it.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes.  Last year, when I put together a collection of stories about Raffalon, a thief of the Dying Earth, I wrote a new story to be exclusive to the collection — a sweetener to encourage Raffalon-likers to buy the book.  Now that it’s been a year since I self-published 9 Tales of Raffalon, I decided it was time to offer the new story, “Sternutative Sortilege,” to F&SF.  A little while ago, Charlie bought it.  So Raffalon will come back to the magazine.

Still on Raffalon, I’ve pitched a UK publisher on the idea of a novel, or even a series of novels, touching off from where I left him at the end of “The Inn of the Seven Blessings,” in the anthology, Rogues.  If that deal comes through, I’ll get started.  If it doesn’t, my Plan B is to get enough patrons sending me their pledges on Patreon that I can afford to write novels with the aim of self-publishing them as ebooks and POD paperbacks.  Here’s a link to me Patreon page:  https://www.patreon.com/user?u=4687520

Also, I’ve decided to go to WorldCon after all.  Like many patriotic Canadians, I considered not crossing the border during this time of your president’s unjustified attack on our economy, but I heard from enough Californian fans to make me reconsider.  So I’ll be in San Jose in August, unless the border’s closed by then.

Finally, Geoff Hart suggested that I really ought to make it better known that I am a book doctor;  i.e., I “fix” fiction manuscripts that aren’t getting published because some part of them doesn’t work.  I’ve done a few when asked — one of them even won a national best novel of the year award — but I haven’t really marketed myself.  So I’m starting to do that now.  Inquiries are welcome, though I should point out that I don’t work cheap.

 

“The Prevaricator” appears in the July/August 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1807.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

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

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

In addition to Mr. Hughes’s Patreon account noted near the end of the interview, if you click on his photo, you’ll be taken to his website.

Editor’s Note for July/August 2018

Welcome to issue #738. The July/August volume of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction enlivens your summer reading with ten brand new stories and a poem, plus all our regular columns. It’s perfect to take to the beach, to read on your train or flight, or simply to enjoy while lying in a hammock in your own back yard.

Subscribers are already receiving their issues. 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 Bob EggletonThis month’s cover shows “Big Mars.” The artwork is by the Hugo Award winning artist Bob Eggleton.

THE MOONS OF MARS

Sometimes, when you publish a fantasy and science fiction magazine, Bob Eggleton paints a picture of the moons of Mars and you snap it up for your cover and then you go looking for stories and a poem to match.

If you’re smart, one of the first people you go to is Mary Robinette Kowal. “The Lady Astronaut of Mars,” her alternate history of space exploration, won the Hugo Award in 2014, and she revisited that world in “Rockets Red,” which appeared in our January/February 2016 issue. Now she has two books coming out that are set in the same universe. “The Phobos Experience” is a standalone adventure that takes place in a past where we’ve already sent people to the red planet and its larger moon, and we think it perfectly matches the retro spirit of this month’s cover art.

If you’re really smart, you might also turn to William Ledbetter, not just because he’s a bona fide rocket scientist, but because he’s already written so many entertaining space adventures, published in these pages and elsewhere. “Broken Wings,” much like “The Long Fall Up,” his Nebula Award winning novelet from our May/June 2016 issue, features regular people put into situations that test their mettle and push them to the limits of their abilities.

We also turned to one of our most favorite and versatile poets, Mary Soon Lee, who brings us “Red Rising,” if space rebels are your thing.

“FREEZING RAIN, A CHANCE OF FALLING”

This issue’s memorable novella quickly brings us back down to Earth. L. X. Beckett makes her F&SF debut with a story that explores what happens when social capital collides with the gig economy and holds our livelihoods and even our lives in the balance. This is the first story we’ve seen across our transom that imagines a near future where these trends are pushed to their potential extremes, and we think the issues here are worth exploring.

MORE GREAT FICTION

Our other science fiction this month includes “Morbier” by R. S. Benedict, who debuted last year in F&SF with “My English Name” and “Water God’s Dog.” It takes place in the unlikely setting of a country club in Connecticut. And James Sallis brings us “Bedtime Story,” a flash piece about an alien invasion that won’t help you sleep any easier.

The issue also has plenty of fantasy served up. “The Queen of the Peri Takes Her Time” by Corey Flintoff is based in part on his experiences as a foreign correspondent who frequently traveled through Dubai. Rachel Pollack returns to our pages with “Visible Cities,” which presents the origin story of Jack Shade’s lover and fellow Traveler, Carolien Hounstra. “Hainted” by Ashley Blooms, who is making her first appearance in the magazine, is set in the coal-mining hills of Eastern Kentucky. And “The Adjunct” by Cassandra Rose Clarke will take you back to school and teach you a few things you didn’t know about universities and the universe.

OUR OTHER COLUMNS AND FEATURES

Charles de Lint recommends some Books to Look For by Steven Brust, Ken Grimwood, Patricia Briggs, Brian Andrews, and D. N. Erikson, and takes a close look at A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, the new biography by Nat Segaloff. Michelle West is Musing on Books by Tanya Huff, Aliette de Bodard, Hannu Rajaniemi, K. R. Richardson, Robert V. S. Redick, and Ursula Vernon. And for our monthly Curiosities column, rediscovering lost writers and books, Paul Di Filippo explores The Wreck of the Titan, or Futility, by Morgan Robertson, a 1912 novel that seems to predict the fate of the Titanic.

In his latest film column, David J. Skal goes to Netflix and looks in the queue at “The Ritual,” “The Frankenstein Chronicles,” and “Altered Carbon,” which he recommends, and “Mute,” which he does not. And in our science column, Jerry Oltion explains “Why Do Kites Fly.” The print version of the magazine also offers up fresh cartoons by Nick Downes, Bill Long, and Danny Shanahan.

LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

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 take a reading vacation. Enjoy!

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

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