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Interview: Marie Vibbert on “Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees”

Tell us a bit about “Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees.”

I wrote the first draft of this story so fast.  The idea seized me and the point of view, for me, was easy.  I write a lot of robot-pov stories.  It frees me to be analytical.  So we have this cold, thoughtful machine in a war zone, and what more barren soil could you find for poetry to bloom?  But it does, like a wildflower busting through a crack in concrete.


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

I have to make an embarrassing confession.  The story was prompted by an anthology call for “female battle poets.”  I’ve been working for some time on writing decent metered poetry and immediately decided to do something trochaic (to avoid the cliche of the iambic) and re-read Hiawatha to get the rhythm into my head. I came up with an excuse for the battle robot to be female (the fake breasts are ammunition storage) and wham! I had a draft in no time.

Then I sent it to F&SF for a “quick rejection” because the anthology wasn’t open yet.  I’m delighted with how badly my plans went.


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

My parents were anti-war hippies, a heritage I’m proud to continue.  My dad told me lightheartedly of his time as a machine-gunner in the Marines, not knowing I was taking down every visceral detail to populate a future war story.  His friends had stories, too, and my great uncle had been a medic in World War II and conveyed perfectly the dark absurdity.


Can you tell us anything about trochaic poetry and your interest in it?

A college English professor introduced “Oats and Beans and Barley Grow” in his first class as an example of “one of the oldest poems in our language.”  It sent me on a long study of the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and the rhyme has always been shallow in my subconscious, waiting to be used.  I can still see Professor Bishop pacing the church-like sanctuary of Clarke Hall, rolling the vowels extravagantly in his Australian accent.

I’ve always been drawn to things that are off-ordinary, and so the well-trod path of iambic pentameter held no interest for me, but this!  BUM bah BUM bah… like a drumbeat.

I’m a contrarian.  When elementary school fellows declared free verse “not real poetry” I dedicated myself to it.  When my college fellows declared formal poetry “dead” I dropped free verse like a stone.  Now I like to think I’m mature enough to dabble in both, but there is something about meter that challenges me.  I never quite hear it right.   Maybe I talk funny.  I don’t know.  But it keeps nagging my brain demanding to be perfected.


Why do you write?

Such a short question and such a hard one!  Fear of obscurity?  A compulsion to always be talking?  I think most writers are slightly damaged people.  We never grew out of the “Dad! Dad! Look at me!  Look what I can do!” phase.

Which reminds me that my father’s art influenced me heavily.  My dad was a construction worker and a fine artist.  He couldn’t make money on art, but he drew and painted almost every day.  “Work is how you live, art is why,” my dad would say.  So it’s no surprise his daughters each have their own art they pursue.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I read a lot of CJ Cherryh and Asimov as a kid.  As an adult I’ve been ridiculously lucky to have some very close personal influences in my writing workshop.  Mary Turzillo is my writing-mom.  She taught me everything but how to type.


What are you working on now?

I’m revising this novel I wrote ten years ago and never sold.  It’s in first person omniscient because I thought that would be hard, and it was!  Also I’m shopping around a novel about a space motorcycle girl gang, and writing short stories and okay of course I have a couple other half-finished novels.  The poor dears.  I like to always have a novel, a short story, and a poem going at all times. I work best with all burners going.


“Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees” appears in the January/February 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Click on Ms. Vibbert’s photo to explore her website and learn more about her and her work.

Interview: Carrie Vaughn on “To the Beautiful Shining Twilight”

Tell us a bit about “To the Beautiful Shining Twilight.”

This is about Abby, a musician who runs a coffee shop, and what happens when an adventure she had thirty years before shows up out of the blue. She has a choice to make, whether to try to recapture what she had when she was twenty, or live with what she’s built now, in the mundane world.


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

A couple of ideas converged for this one, but the whole thing kicked off when I went to a funky coffee shop in Denver that felt like it came straight out of the late 1980’s — used paperbacks and LP’s for sale, a rack of comic books, along with all the mismatched tables and chairs and coffee bar menu written on a chalkboard. The whole thing felt nostalgic, and I started wondering what might have happened to characters from some of those bohemian urban fantasy stories of the late 80’s and early 90’s, you know the ones with the elves and folk musicians and magic in the real world. I decided I wanted a “thirty years later” story.


Was “To the Beautiful Shining Twilight” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It ended up being a lot more personal than I was expecting when I started it. I’m in the middle of my 40’s and my idealistic teens and twenties are starting to feel very far away, but at the same time it’s clear now that we all make our own magic in our own ways and we can’t really expect someone else to come along and make it happen for us. The story ended up being about reconciling some of the fantasies we have when we’re young versus the realities of hitting middle age.


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

I think different readers are going to take different things from this. Some may not take anything at all, if they’re not familiar with the tropes involved, and that’s okay. My hope is some people will relate pretty directly to Abby and the other characters, and that it might give them a different perspective on this kind of story.


Why do you write?

Because I’ve been doing it so long I can’t imagine not writing. Because it’s the best way I know to synthesize something useful and productive out of the wild tangle that populates my brain most of the time.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

The list keeps growing and changing, but Ray Bradbury and Robin McKinley are the two writers who made me want to be a writer. I wanted to learn how they did what they did, working such powerful magic with just words on the page.


The Wild Dead by Carrie VaughnWhat are you working on now?

I’ve got a couple of fantasy novels I’m revising, and the usual assortment of short stories in the pipeline. I’m always working on something new and it’s hard to predict what’s going to make it out in the wild first. But there will be something.


“To the Beautiful Shining Twilight” appears in the January/February 2019 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):

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):

Carrie Vaughn’s website:

Editor’s Note for January-February 2019

A new issue for a new year. The January/February volume of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction begins 2019 with 11 new stories, plus all our regular columns and features.

Most of our electronic and paper subscribers have already received 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, January/February, cover by Jill BaumanThis month’s cover illustrates “The City of Lost Desire” by Phyllis Eisenstein. The artwork is by the award-nominated artist Jill Bauman.


Alaric had been found on a hillside, a helpless newborn babe clothed only in blood. He was obviously a witch child, for a gory hand, raggedly severed just above the wrist, clutched his ankles in a deathlike grasp.

That’s a passage from “Born to Exile,” the story that introduced Alaric to F&SF readers back in August 1971.

Young Alaric, with his talent for teleportation, eventually became a reluctant thief and willing troubadour, who fell in love with a princess entangled in court intrigues that only his wit and supernatural abilities could help him survive. His original adventures in F&SF, published back in the 1970s, were those of a young man, with a young man’s passions and impulses. Much has happened to him over the years, and across many hundreds of pages since. Now he returns, much older and wiser, only to find himself caught up with another princess and a peril he cannot easily escape.


Once you leave “The City of Lost Desire,” you’ll find plenty of additional adventure. Carrie Vaugh takes us to “The Beautiful Shining Twilight,” a story about what happens after you return through the portal to another world. Andy Duncan regales us with “Joe Diabo’s Farewell,” a story about the Native Americans who built skyscrapers in New York in the early twentieth century, and the Native Americans who worked in the early film industry at the same time, and one moment when the two overlapped. Sean McMullen introduces us to “The Washer from the Ford,” about a man who can see what happens after an unexpected death. And Pip Coen shows us “The Fall from Griffin’s Peak,” a story about a hard life and aspirations for something better.

We also have a variety of science fiction stories to balance out the issue. Robert Reed will take us on a trip to “The Province of Saints,” where empathy has the power to connect people and also destroy them. Adam-Troy Castro remembers a “Survey” he took once in college, and looks for the sinister purpose it was hiding and that it may still hide. Leah Cypess’s new story is “Blue as Blood” and shows how we see the world affects how we fit into it. Marie Vibbert’s “Tactical Infantry Bot 37 Dreams of Trochees” in a story about the future of robots and war, survival and poetry. And Erin Cashier takes to a place “Fifteen Minutes from Now,” where doing wrong to serve right raises ethical questions that it leaves the reader to answer.

Tucked somewhere inside the issue, you’ll also find a wonderful piece of flash from Jenn Reese about “The Right Number of Cats,” a story of grief and healing. And in another installment of his Plumage from Pegasus column, Paul Di Filippo takes us for “A Walk on the Mild Side.”


As always, Charles de Lint recommends some Books to Look For, this time by A. Lee Martinez, Seanan McGuire, and Lark Benobi, plus the graphic novel Calexit Vol. 1 by Matteo Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan, and the new history of Astounding by Alec Nevala-Lee. Michelle West is Musing on Books by Stuart Turton, Rena Rossner, Andrew Katz, and Sherry Thomas. And for our monthly Curiosities column, rediscovering lost writers and books, Paul Di Filippo reviews Pink Furniture by A. E. Coppard(1930), a fantasy romp by an author who used to be a household name.

In our latest film column, E. G. Neil looks at superhero movies and how one in particular is “Venom, Us,” while Jerry Oltion’s science column explores what will happen “When Betelgeuse Blows.” The print version of the magazine also offers up a new cartoon by Arthur Masear.


We hope you’ll share your thoughts about the issue with us. We can be found on:


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

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