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Interview: Tobias S. Buckell on “Apocalypse Considered through a Helix of Semiprecious Foods and Recipes”

Tobias S. BuckellTell us a bit about “Apocalypse Considered through a Helix of Semiprecious Foods and Recipes.”

It’s a set of futures examined through the lens of food and its importance to both us and the societies we create. Food is something our worlds revolve around, even when we don’t pay attention to it. How it is sourced and what that means is interesting to me.


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

I was listening to author Sofia Samatar talk about story structure at an event. She mentioned that a story could be told as a recipe, as an example of how you could use an existing structure, and I penned the first section of the story out on paper right there and then: a family putting together the recipe for pancakes in a post-apocalyptic future in a piecemeal way.


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

I grew up food insecure, so I am fascinated by how much for granted many take the massive stores around them. I’m sometimes paralyzed by the choices or overwhelmed by it all. Even at a small grocer I can get stuck in the cereal aisle. And sometimes, the way I grew up, I see it portrayed in fiction as if it is the apocalypse.

I still remember reading the Army Survival Guide and hitting a section under tropical survival where it said that many of the fruits and vegetables I grew up loving were to be eaten only if facing starvation. Then I read a chance comment by an activist online (I wish I could remember who so I could cite, but it was a twitter comment that resurfaced in my brain) from an under-invested community that pointed out that many of the things people considered features of horribly dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction were things that their communities faced. As a result, they didn’t find dystopian fiction at all fun to watch.

It was a clarifying comment, as I flashed back to reading the Army Survival Manual and realized that is was so true. And that’s when the arc of the story came to me. Four more recipes, each orbiting classic post-apocalyptic stories, all of which we struggle with today, dropped into my lap. I started sketching the story out quickly after that.


Was there any aspect of “Apocalypse Considered…” that you found difficult to write?

The fact that the closing example was so easy to write, I won’t give it away, was difficult.


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

I try not to hope for anything, I’m just trying to tell a story that landed in my head, to be honest. What they take? That gets created in their mind as they go along. I just hope to entertain, or provoke a feeling, or a thought. Some kind of reaction.


Why do you write?

Because I liked to read. I wanted to be like the authors I read and dream up interesting things and tell stories.


Who do you consider to be your influences?

I used to answer this by making sure to list some interesting classic books and some newer stuff. But, to be honest, it’s a fermenting bubbly mix of old authors who shouldn’t be read anymore that I am trying to reinterpret now that I have some distance, authors who lit me up who were being published a lot when I happened to be in my golden age of reading a ton in my teens, life experience, stuff I am reading right now that I adore, my own aspirations for what I want the field to look like because the influence doesn’t even exist, and a billion pieces of stochastic world awareness filtered through my imperfect lens.

I guess I could say, “be 10 years old and read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End just after the Revolution and then war in Grenada while listening to calypso on the radio and then try being 15 and reading Octavia Butler’s Wildseed listening to the howling wind in the middle of a hurricane and you have a small taste of my literary pedigree?”


What are you working on now?

My friend Dave Klecha and I are writing a book about a team of marines stuck in a fantasy world when things go wrong. Like Full Metal Jacket meets Game of Thrones. It’s been a lot of fun.


“Apocalypse Considered through a Helix of Semiprecious Foods and Recipes” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Mr. Buckell’s photo will take you to his website.


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