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Interview: John Possidente on “Red Sword of the Celiac”

John PossidenteTell us a bit about “Red Sword of the Celiac.”

It’s the story of a book reviewer who gets an unattractive assignment that turns out to be not what it seems. Their discovery arc seems to include a slightly cynical but essentially loving whirlwind tour through two decades of overused SF tropes. It might be allegorical. Or symbolism. It might not. Also, there’s a cat.


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

This one started with the title (which was nice, because coming up with titles can be a real pain). I was chatting in too much detail with someone about the symptoms of their celiac disease–because everything is interesting if you’re a writer, right?–and the phrase popped into my head. “The red sword” sounded like a fantastical euphemism for the gut pain celiac can cause. It also sounded like the title of an old pulp novel. I’d just finished reading Breakfast in the Ruins, a book of essays by Barry Malzberg, and suddenly I had the idea to write a review of that nonexistent pulp novel (which of course was the third in a trilogy). Borges and Lem rolled over in their graves, and here we are.


Was “Red Sword of the Celiac” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Only in that I had enormous fun looking back on all the stories and novels and films from those times and choosing which tropes to include. Lots of fond memories.


Why do you write?

I want to say, “because it’s fun,” but that seems flippant, because sometimes it’s hard work. Mostly I think it’s that the ideas, the characters, the stories assemble in your head, and you get excited about them; it would feel like a waste and a shame to leave them there, uncommunicated. Showing a story to somebody and seeing that they enjoyed it, that’s a great feeling. The collaboration between the text and the reader–finding out that someone got something else out of it, a meaning entirely different from what you intended–that’s delightful.


What are you working on now?

Too many things. I tend to jump around between projects, depending on which one I’m excited about–which is a terrible, horrible, inefficient way to work and I don’t recommend it to anybody, except that Ray Bradbury said that’s how to do it, to write where your passion is. I guess he did okay, so maybe it will work out for me.


“Red Sword of the Celiac” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

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