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Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine, originally titled The Magazine of Fantasy, was founded in 1949 by Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas…or was it? Describe, in 50 words or less, the secret origins of F&SF. Alternate histories, imagined conversations, and science-fictional (or magical) twists on the truth are more than welcome. Another welcomed element: funny.


Shirley Jackson and Theodore Sturgeon leave a little basket on the doorstep of Anthony Boucher with a tear-stained note: “Please take care of our baby. Raise it as if it were your own.”

You have six chances to rewrite history before midnight EST, May 28th. Send your entries to

Please remember to include your telephone number and snail-mail address.

PRIZES: First prize will receive a subscription to F&SF good for the next sixty years along with a copy of The Diamond Jubilee. Second prize will receive advance reading copies of three forthcoming novels.  Any runners-up will receive one-year subscriptions to F&SF. Results of Competition 78 will appear in the Oct/Nov. 2009 issue.

Judges are the editors of F&SF, and their decision is final.  All entries become the property of F&SF.

Interview: Wayne Wightman on “A Foreign Country”

Tell us a bit about the story. What’s it about?

“A Foreign Country” is about a third-party presidential candidate who inexplicably wins with huge majorities. Then he sits behind his desk and apparently does nothing but eat. He says he likes the food here. Crime stops, criminals (among others) disappear, peace and quiet descends, and a lot of people lose chunks of their memories. But they’re happy in an impaired kind of way. Of course, there’s a little romance, attempted assassination, madness… the usual. The story is told from the point of view of a very ordinary, unimaginative pool reporter who trails the candidate around, goes to the White House with him, and spends most of his time being bewildered.

What’s the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

Two identifiable sources: First, the question, “What if a flaky third-party no-chance candidate won?” And, second, a mean-spirited party game called “Extermination,” where the goal is to reduce the population of the earth by half (or a third or whatever—it’s all approximation) by selecting groups (with no exceptions within that group) that will cease to exist, like people who have killed other people (soldiers and policemen have to be included here), people who’ve killed anything for fun, etc. But how I got from those two things to the final story is a mystery to me. It’s no mystery to me that the ancient Greeks believed the muses whispered their poetry into their ears.

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Interview: Carolyn Ives Gilman on "Arkfall"

Tell us a bit about the story. What’s it about?

“Arkfall” is a story about three inadvertent explorers who find themselves on a journey across the undersea depths of an ice-bound planet. Osaji is a dutiful young woman who secretly rebels against the social demands of her communal society; Jack is a raging individualist haunted by his past; Mota, Osaji’s grandmother, is a gentle old lady slipping into dementia after a lifetime of self-sacrifice. The three of them end up on parallel, but not identical, journeys of discovery.

What’s the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

Stories never have just one inspiration for me; they need several. In this case, the story evolved from a daisy chain of speculations, starting with the setting. I was reading about Europa, a planet-sized moon covered by a global sea that is capped with ice, and I naturally thought, “What if there are deep sea rift zones there, as on Earth? Couldn’t life evolve there as it did here, based on the heat and minerals from deep-sea vents rather than photosynthesis from sunlight?” This was before we knew about Enceladus, which almost certainly does have volcanic activity under the ice, since it spews out eruptions of water vapor laced with organic compounds.

That first speculation led to: “What would it be like to live in such an environment?” As I thought about it, it seemed like life under an ice-capped sea would be claustrophobic and cautious, so I invented the sort of society that would be needed to cope with such an environment. But it also seemed to me like a failure of imagination to assume that residents of such a world would stick with our mechanistic technologies. So I posited a type of technology that doesn’t start with physics, but with biology. Rather than building habitats and ships inspired by the brittle clockwork mechanism, this society would invent things modeled on the pliable living cell. That is where the idea for the arks came from. They are essentially giant cells in which human beings live like resident mitochondria, drifting on the cyclical currents of the sea.

All of this added up to an interesting setting, but not to a story. The story came from more personal experiences—watching my family members cope with the old age and death of my grandmother a number of years ago. In traditional science fiction adventures, characters are magically isolated from the normal responsibilities of family and community. I wanted to write a story where people still have obligations like caring for elderly relatives—but manage to make discoveries and have adventures all the same. Although, as I think the story makes clear, I don’t think it would be easy.

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Interview: Jim Aikin, on "Run! Run!"

Tell us a bit about the story. What’s it about?

I suppose I could say “Run! Run!” is about unicorns, but that would be simplistic. I could say it’s also about family dynamics and religious oppression, but that would make it sound terrifically pedantic.

Ultimately, it’s about the opportunities you missed in life. Things happen, and you can never go back and choose differently.

The other thing, and I don’t know if this will make sense until you’ve read the story, is that in the final paragraph Mary doesn’t even know what she has missed. The culture in which she lives has so impoverished her that she only has a dim, flickering sense that maybe things could have been different. That dim, flickering sense — those are the unicorns.

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Interview: Marc Laidlaw on "Childrun"

Marc Laidlaw–author of “Childrun,” which appears in our August 2008 issue–said in an interview that the story is about Gorlen Vizenfirthe, your typical wandering bard, who finds himself in a bit of a Pied Piper pickle.  “Perhaps a peck of Pied Pickled Piper?  Gorlen is forever on the trail of a rogue gargoyle, and this time the trail leads him into a gloomy mountain town haunted by the laughter of children who are nowhere to be seen,” Laidlaw said. “Gorlen hopes that by playing a bit of music, he can call the children out to play.  But this is a village that has perhaps seen one or two Pied Pipers too many in its time.”

Laidlaw came up with Gorlen Vizenfirthe in his teens, when he was under the spell of Jack Vance. “Originally, I wrote a full Gorlen novel, a clumsy picaresque ‘Cugel the Clever’ pastiche entitled Mistress of Shadows,” he said. “This went through several iterations until, in my mid 20s, it struck me as too adolescent and derivative to deserve even a shadow life; instead of trying to fix it, I destroyed it.”

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