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Interview: Margaret Killjoy on “The Free Orcs of Cascadia”

Tell us a bit about “The Free Orcs of Cascadia.”

The short version is: a bunch of people who decide to call themselves orcs, move into burned forests, play metal, and have an anarchist vs nazi civil war with spears and swords. Less pithily, it’s a story about how we attempt to create meaning in a society that is falling apart around us. The story is framed as a news article by an alt music journalist sometime in the next decade or so, and about half of it is an interview.


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

Maybe ten years ago, some friends and I decided to start a goblin metal band. We were going to sing in Tolkien’s Orcish. We didn’t get too far with the band, but I of course started thinking about short stories based on the idea immediately. All I knew at the time is that, whenever I wrote the story, it would be about a goblin metal band that takes the whole thing very seriously killing a more famous goblin metal band for being posers. That ends up the pre-story to “The Free Orcs of Cascadia,” as is revealed in the first couple sentences. Fast forward almost a decade, and I finally felt like I knew what the story was actually about and that I’d become a good enough writer to tell it.


Was “The Free Orcs of Cascadia” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I’m always drawing on personal experience or anecdotes from people I’ve talked to when I write, and this story is no exception. But it’s most immediately personal to me in that it’s about what we decide we can be. How we can live outside of the ethical and political framework imposed on us from without, and how while doing so we can forge our own understandings and our own ethics. The ethics of the orc culture are certainly not my own, but the system by which they realized those ethics is intensely personal to me.


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

I didn’t have to do a ton of research for this story, because the culture within it is invented. I had to double check my understanding of Orcish, but I wrote about forests that I’ve lived in and about music scenes I occasionally inhabit. I suppose that’s an advantage of “soft sci-fi” or whatever it’s called, where the technologies being explored are social technologies.


What would you want a reader to take away from “The Free Orcs of Cascadia?”

I think Free Orcs is a generally hopeful story. Maybe most readers won’t see it that way, because I probably have a different conception of hope than most people. We’re in a world that is changing very rapidly and largely for the worse—both in terms of the rise of authoritarianism and also the increasing effects of global warming—and that isn’t going to go well for most of us, in the long run. But we can try, and we can find meaning in how we approach that change and confront that change.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

As a kid, I read waaaay too much Heinlein. There’s no way I get out of claiming him as an influence. I’m really interested in the ways that various authors attempt to write what amounts to politically pedantic fiction, which of course Heinlein is one of the masters of. But I’d claim Le Guin the hardest as an influence. I don’t think I write like her, exactly, but I found the ways she attempted to work through social and political ideas in fiction to be absolutely masterful. Other than that, I’d say I’m influenced a lot by zine culture. By punk travelers who write scraps of memoir and set them out into the world. Especially Enola Dismay.


What are you working on now?

I just finished a YA novel that my agent is shopping around, and I’m writing more short fiction again now that that’s done. Some of it to submit to magazines, some of it to send out in my monthly Patreon zine. I’ve got a graphic novel I’m working with an illustrator on as well, though we’re just starting on that.


“The Free Orcs of Cascadia” appears in the March/April 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Margaret Killjoy’s website:


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