Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum • RSS

Interview: Mary Robinette Kowal on “The Phobos Experience”

Tell us a bit about “The Phobos Experience.”

This is set in my Lady Astronaut universe after the events of Fated Sky, and is sort of my rollicking space adventure with pirates in a world where we settled Mars during the punchcard era.

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

It began when Charlie showed me a painting by Bob Eggleton — whose work I love — and said that he was looking for a story to go with it. I did this when once I was art director at Shimmer for the “art issue.” We commissioned writers to create stories to go with art that we loved. So when Charlie showed me the painting and passed along Bob’s thoughts on the painting. “When I painted it, I had in mind things like ROCKETSHIP X-M (which was made in 1949) and DESTINATION MOON. The theory being it was some secret mission early on to Mars. All covered up of course. I kind of miss those days of what people felt a mission like that would be like.”

I was so on board. That sense of the early days of space travel was exactly what had inspired me when I wrote Calculating Sky. We did so many amazing things when computers were in their infancy, and I wanted to catch that sense of adventure.  And then, of course, the fact that he had clearly set it on one of Mars’s moons…

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette KowalCan you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “The Phobos Experience?”

Let’s talk about Mars’s moons, shall we? I’m pretty sure that surface that the ship is on in Bob’s painting is Deimos, because that a) looks like Phobos in the sky and b) Deimos is farther from Mars. So my apologies for completely ignoring that. My problem was that while both moons are tiny, I had serious concerns about gravity on Deimos. The escape velocity is about 13 miles per hour, which could offer some interesting fiction possibilities since a running jump could, potentially, put you into orbit. I thought about it for about ten minutes until I learned about the Phobos April Fool’s Joke. 

See there was this Russian astrophysicist Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky, who around 1958 said that Phobos was artificial with a “thin sheet metal” surface. Now, his data was way, way off, but in 1959, Walter Scott Houston, published an April Fool’s joke article by the fictional Dr. Arthur Hayall of the equally fictional University of the Sierras and said that Phobos was an artificial satellite. 

THEN I found out that Phobos actually does have caves so… all of that seemed like a really natural fit for “secret mission.” So, I ignored poor Deimos and went with the larger twin.

Why do you write?

Because I love to read and sometimes the story that I want to read isn’t there.

Who do you consider to be your influences?

There are the early career influences like Guy Gavriel Kay, Nancy Kress. These days, I’m inspired by authors like N.K. Jemisin, Rachel Swirsky, Zen Cho. The common thread is that when I read their work, I wish that I had written it or that I was capable of writing it.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on short fiction, including a moon story. At novel length, I’m working on a Hitchcockian suspense-thriller with dragons.

“The Phobos Experience” 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

Clicking on the image of Ms. Kowal’s latest book will take you to her website.

Interview: William Ledbetter on “Broken Wings”

William LedbetterTell us a bit about “Broken Wings.”

Marcie is a spacecraft traffic controller on Mars’s smallest moon, Deimos. Even though she likes the quiet and safe life she has built for herself, she has fantasies about one day accompanying her friend Bernard on what she sees as exciting mining missions. After Bernard returns to Deimos with a strange object he found in the asteroid belt, Marcie soon has more excitement than expected as she races the clock to save him from space pirates.

 

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

The simple answer is Bob Eggleton’s cover art. This story actually bounced around in my head for years, but I could never really make it work. I had a solid fix on the ice miner character and him finding a mysterious object in the asteroid belt, but that alone couldn’t compel me to leap into the story with both feet. But when I saw that cover things started to click into place. Bob’s space paintings always inspire adventure and excitement, so when I reexamined this story idea again with that in mind, I realized that Marcie, the quiet, disabled traffic controller was by far the more interesting character and she would make a terrific space adventure heroine.

 

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

Only in the sense that these are the kinds of characters l love to cheer for. Regular people, with everyday problems, who rise to meet some unimaginable challenge.

 

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

I didn’t do a huge amount of research for this one, but I did read up a bit on Deimos. It is such a tiny moon that the gravity is almost non-existent. It was hard for me to overcome my “gravity bias” and try to think of being on, or in, a moon as still being in micro-gravity. I did try to show that lack of gravity in various ways throughout the story, using things like magnetic boots, ships needing to be tethered, the personal tractors etc., but I still might have missed some things.

 

Why do you write?

I think most creative people look at the world differently and quite a few of us want to share our skewed perspective with everyone else. Some make movies or sculpture, but for me it has always been written stories. Trying to form coherent narratives about the things I imagine is a type of discovery for me. I think I learn new things about the world and myself with each story and novel I write. So thank you for letting me share that in your magazine sometimes.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Frank Herbert was a big one. I read his “Dune” books while in high school and it forever reshaped my opinions of what science fiction could and should be. Over the years I’ve also read a lot of Larry Niven, Octavia Butler, Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut and Margret Atwood, so I’m sure their influences have shaped my writing as well.

SPECIAL STUFF
My science fiction novel “Level Five” is coming out on July 17th in audio format, from Audible Originals. The introductory note for this story in the July/August issue mentions it with the title of “Reset,” but due to the riptides and undertows of the publishing industry, we had to change that title at the last minute. More information about my novel and other forthcoming stories can be found at www.williamledbetter.com.

 

“Broken Wings” 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

Clicking on Mr. Ledbetter’s photo will take you to his website: williamledbetter.com

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.

Next Page »

Copyright © 2006–2018 The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction • All Rights Reserved Worldwide
Powered by WordPress • Theme based on Whitespace theme by Brian Gardner
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to sitemaster@fandsf.com.

Designed by Rodger Turner and Hosted by:
SF Site spot art