Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum • RSS

Interview: Andrej Kokoulin, and story translator Alex Shvartsman, on “The Slave”

Questions for the author, Andrej Kokoulin (translated by Alex Shvartsman):

Andrej KokoulinWhat was the inspiration for “The Slave,” or what prompted you to write it?

There are several Russian-language platforms online that host science fiction writing contests open to all. I won some and lost some of those. This time around, the declared theme was “Opponents.” I didn’t want to explore some cliched theme of opposition, based in antipathy, competition, revenge, or circumstance. Instead, I came up with the move where the opposition between master and slave came to be almost by accident. It was the protagonist’s transformation that seemed important to me.

 

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

No, this tale is rather far removed from my personal experience. However, I find the possibility of manipulation, whether of one individual or of the masses, interesting.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of “The Slave” to write, and what was the most fun?

The most difficult part was the ending. In my opinion, it couldn’t be overly tragic, but also couldn’t feel out of place within the internal logic of the story. The protagonist had to be faced with a difficult choice, in the end. The most fun part was the discussion on the forum following the contest where the subject of whether the story contains a speculative element was passionately argued. Some folks didn’t find anything unusual in the method of enslaving someone by merely placing some spittle onto their forehead. Perhaps they’re used to such a thing happening all around them?

 

Why do you write?

It seems as though I have something to say. I want to share whatever-it-is collect in my head with others. Occasionally there are worthwhile things in there, among the debris.

 

Questions for Shvartsman as translator:

Alex ShvartsmanTell us a bit about “The Slave.”

This is a memorable story that exists somewhere on the intersection of psychological horror and magical realism. I thought it was rather unique and would work well for English speaking audiences as well as the original Russian audience, and was thrilled that Charlie and the rest of the F&SF team ultimately agreed.

 

Can you tell us about the FantLab contest and how this story won it?

FantLab is among the largest (if not the largest) Russian SF/F fandom websites. It contains Wiki-style information about authors, translators, and works of fiction, as well as a very active forum. One of the many things they do is host themed science fiction contests where a number of editors, critics, and prominent writers judge the final selections. I was asked to provide the theme and was one of the judges in late 2017, and when “The Slave” came across my desk it was a clear winner in my eyes. Even though the speculative element in the story is a bit subdued, it was the most compelling of the bunch — and other judges, ranking the stories independently, agreed.

 

What can you tell us about the author, Andrej Kokoulin?

Andrej is the author of the novel The Northern Lot and has had short stories published in some of the most prestigious Russian magazines, such as Esli and Mir Fantastiki. This is his first English language publication but I hope that more of his work will eventually be available to the anglophone readers.

 

What can you tell us about the state of the Russian sf scene, and if it is any different from American sf?

SF/F (or fantastika as it’s called in Russian) fandom is vibrant in Russia and former Soviet republics. Much of the popular genre fiction published there is reminiscent of the golden age American and British SF — many staple books from that era have been translated and some authors like Robert Sheckley or Clifford Simak, for example, are better-known to Russian SF fans than they are to their American counterparts at this point. However, the younger generation of authors are exploring themes and styles of writing that diverge from the classics, often resulting in fascinating and somewhat experimental pieces. Although short fiction scene is not as well-supported with a variety of pro venues (at any given time there are only a couple serious paying ‘zines in Russian) this doesn’t stop talented authors from writing at this length and sharing their stories online, often via a series of contests similar to the one Andrej has won.

 

How often do you translate Russian sf into English, and how does translation work influence your own work as an author?

Every once in a while I read a story I find fascinating, and when that happens I consider whether this story would work in translation. If so, I reach out to the author and ask if I may translate that piece. To date, nearly a dozen such translations have been published in various pro zines and anthologies. Literary translation involves a combination of writing and editorial skills, and it most certainly helps me keep those writing muscles exercised regularly, but also it’s a great way to share stories with fellow anglophone fans who wouldn’t have been able to enjoy them otherwise. I especially seek out stories that are a little different, that probably wouldn’t have or maybe even couldn’t have been written in English.

 

Eridani's CrownWhat are you working on now?

My primary focus at the moment is the launch of my debut novel, Eridani’s Crown. This epic fantasy standalone novel launches on October 22, 2019 and is already available for preorder (hint, hint!) I’m also working on more translations whenever I can; in addition to F&SF, I’ve had translations published in Samovar, Amazing Stories, and Future SF this summer.

 

“The Slave” appears in the July/August 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1907.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Andrej Kokoulin’s FantLab page: https://fantlab.ru/autor11578 

Alex Shvartsman’s website: www.alexshvartsman.com

Interview: Alex Irvine on “The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller”

Tell us a bit about “The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller.”

Giant robots of unknown origin have devastated cities all over the world, killing people by the millions and hunting them through the rubble. From that cheery premise, we follow a group of survivors as they scavenge in the ruins and tell each other stories about the mythical Wolfgang Robotkiller, who supposedly roams the US destroying robots. He gives the survivors hope…but is he real?

 

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

I was working from the cover art, which I’ve done a few times before for F&SF (“Shambhala” and “Number Nine Moon”). It’s always fun to have a visual prompt like that, and in this case, I mean, who can’t get creative with an image of rampaging giant robots?

The story really coalesced around Wolfgang Robotkiller’s name, which has its own history. My friend (and excellent illustrator) Thom Davidsohn coined it as an in-utero nickname for my third child, and when it popped into my head while I was looking at the cover art one day, the whole story fell right into place.

 

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

Other than Wolfgang’s name, what’s personal about the story to me is the questions it raises about why we need to believe things that aren’t true. Choosing belief in a myth or legend is comforting. It gives us hope. Sometimes it takes a dark turn into fanaticism. I consider myself a pretty rational person, but I also know I believe some things that may not be true because they make me feel better. Is it always better to know the truth? The near-universal love of tall tales would suggest otherwise.

 

What aspect of “The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller” was the most fun to write?

Inventing stories of Wolfgang’s exploits for the characters to tell each other. Those were a fun and hopeful contrast to the brutal reality the characters in the story are forced to live. We all need to indulge flights of fancy once in a while, and that’s what the main character in the story decides to protect at the end.

 

What are you working on now?

Still writing various games, including Marvel Battle Lines and The Walking Dead: Road to Survival. I’ve got novellas coming out next year in F&SF and from Tor.com. Working on a new novel, several stories, a few developing TV and film projects, getting my two oldest kids off to college…I’m staying busy.

 

“The Legend of Wolfgang Robotkiller” appears in the July/August 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1907.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Visit Alex Irvine’s website: https://alex-irvine.com/

Interview: Deborah Coates on “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance”

Deborah CoatesTell us a bit about “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance.”

“Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” is about large and dangerous dragons suddenly appearing on the plains of South Dakota and what happens to a group of young women left to fend for themselves when their town and much of the rest of the state is evacuated.

 

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

Many years ago, I moved to Iowa for a job.  I didn’t want to move to Iowa.  I thought it was a boring flat place with nothing to recommend it.  Which, unsurprisingly, turns out not to be true.  And, as I learned to love Iowa, I also learned a new appreciation for other ‘boring’ states—Nebraska and South Dakota and Kansas.  Lots of stories take place in cities and that’s great.  People like cities.  I most often write stories about rural spaces, the people who live there, and the things that might happen there.

Dragons on the prairie was a ‘what if’ idea I had years ago—what if dragons suddenly appeared, what if most of the people cleared out, what if the rest of the country didn’t really care (it’s ‘just’ flyover country) what would happen to the people who didn’t or couldn’t leave? The second thing—the specific characters in this particular story—was partly inspired by a memoir, After The Eclipse, I read about a woman whose mother was murdered when the author was a young girl.  In addition to her mother’s murder, which was unsolved for many years, the memoir was about the generations of women who, for many many reasons—poverty, mental illness, generations of bad choices when there are no good choices–really never had a chance to grow old, to get out, to grasp a better life.

The girls in “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” aren’t stupid.  They aren’t lazy.  In their own ways, they’re survivors, but they’ve never gotten the breaks, weren’t born in the right circumstances, have maybe made some crappy choices along the way, and now they’ve been left to fend for themselves in a dragon-infested world.

 

Was there any aspect of “Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” that you found difficult to write?

Often the hardest part of any story for me is starting.   I described more or less the entire plot of this story from beginning to end to a friend of mine in a car on the way to the airport several months before I really successfully began the story.  And it probably took a couple more months before I made much progress.  But then, once I had the structure and once I had the characters, other parts of the story fell into place.

 

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

I’d like to say that I don’t care and in some sense that’s true.  It will always be my story but readers don’t always bring the same things to the story that I do.  But I hope that they take away a feel for the time and the place and a realness to the characters.

 

Why do you write?

I write because I have ideas in my head and I want to see what I can make of them.  Like many writers, I have things I want to say and story is often a good way to say it.  I want to describe things that people don’t see or don’t see as beautiful or as important or as part of what makes up the world.  I also like both the ‘what if’ aspect of writing and the nearly final drafts where it’s like fitting puzzle pieces—discarding things that ought to work but don’t, finessing conversations and words, finally getting that one final piece to make sense to people who can’t see what’s in my head.  I struggle with all the middle drafts and often abandon stories half-written that I realize later were perfectly fine, but if I can wrestle them into some sort of order, I actually enjoy the polishing.

I’m a knitter and in knitting you start with nothing but a couple of sticks and some string and end up with something that lasts, that’s what I think writing is—starting with a couple of ideas and a keyboard and if you stick with it and tackle the mistakes you end up with a thing that will last, that other people can look at and maybe see what you hoped they would see.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Everything, honestly.  The library we went to when I was growing up was quite small and my entire family were voracious readers.  Children were only allowed to check out a certain number of books at a time so we would hand my mother all the ‘extra’ books we also wanted.  We read what was there because that was what there was.  I read a ton of fantasy, a ton of science fiction, a ton of talking animal books.  I read horse books and dog books and Nancy Drew mysteries.  As an adult, my tastes aren’t quite as eclectic—I read mysteries and women’s fiction and fantasy and science fiction and NY Times bestsellers.  I don’t particularly enjoy dark or grim stories and yet I’m a big fan of Jussi Adler-Olsen’s Department of Q books and a number of other Scandinavian mystery authors, which are kind of dark.  I like character and setting.  I like complex characters who try to do the right thing.  I like a strong sense of place.  And those are some of the things I hope to include in my writing.

Outside books, I’ve been influenced strongly by growing up on a farm at the end of a dead-end road as well as moving to the Midwest and discovering the beauty of the prairie states.

 

“Girls Who Never Stood a Chance” appears in the July/August 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1907.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

 

Interview: Eliza Rose on “Planet Doykeit”

Eliza RoseTell us a bit about “Planet Doykeit.”

It’s the story of a nearish-future Jewish community that settles a small planet orbiting a red dwarf star. The settlers are socialist and Yiddish speaking – an imagined remnant of the Jewish Labor Bund, a real political party active in interwar Eastern Europe. They name the planet Doykeit (Yiddish for “hereness”), citing the Bundist political commitment to stay in Eastern Europe rather than emigrate to Palestine. This story explores the contradiction of staying put in diaspora, or roaming great distances in order to find home. It follows two friends who live on Doykeit seventy years after first landing. The once-secular community has revived (and re-invented) religious law to better impose reproduction regulations they deem necessary for population control on this still-young world. When they come of age, the girls are handed different fates. They grow apart. The story considers how friendship can survive ideological rifts.

 

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

The story is the product of the very special fever pitch of the Clarion Workshop, which I attended last summer. I was anxious about a big grant application I had to write after Clarion to support my research on the Bund and meanwhile, felt fresh out of ideas for my Week 6 story. I was stuck in a traffic jam en route to a reading by our instructors, Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. My friend Ama Kirchner mentioned the idea of a Yeshiva in space. I latched onto this and realized I could prepare for the grant and get a story out of it to boot. I spent the next hour half-listening to Kelly and Gavin’s magical readings and half-working out the story in my head. I was already on planet Doykeit.

 

Was “Planet Doykeit” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

One issue I at least wave to in this story is the question of which spaces are or are not “empty” and therefore available for settlement (read: colonization). This is an oblique way of commenting on Zionism, and as a politically engaged American Jew, I feel implicated in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But in a very different way, this is also about science fiction’s limited scope of imagination for what alien life will look like. Our fixation on humanoids leaves us totally unprepared to reckon with the kind of life we’re more likely to encounter in space: microbes! I take very seriously the prospect of adapting alien ecosystems to accommodate human visitors. I believe all forms of life require sensitivity from us interlopers, not just walking, talking humanoids.

 

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

For me, research coincides with and feeds ideation. Once I have the thinnest premise for a story, I dig into a phase of gluttonous research. I go down wormholes and dwell on details. I need to get lost in order to get oriented again. The material I generate through research drives the story. Here, the big problem was how to domesticate a planet orbiting a red dwarf. I knew I wanted my characters to settle an improbable, nearly inhabitable world. Choosing the star Lacaille 8760 was in itself a constraint-driven process that stimulated the story. Research helps me visualize fictional worlds, which in turn, makes them real for me, which ultimately allows me to tell a real story. Finding workarounds for the harsh conditions of a red dwarf system gave me personal stakes in the world. I wanted these guys to survive!

 

What was the most difficult aspect of “Planet Doykeit” to write, and what was the most fun?

The trickiest thing was keeping my image systems under control. I was working with so many metaphors and source materials: botany, hair, sports, Yiddish, Jewish folktales, biblical tropes, terraforming… sometimes these threads felt coherent, and at other times, I worried I was cooking up an illegible stew. At one point, I warned Kelly Link that I’d be submitting “oatmeal” for my Week 6 story. Mush. When she tried to reassure me, I countered that it would be hairy oatmeal (hair is a big theme in the story!). The real fun was experimenting with Yiddish and speculating about how the language would change over centuries. My friend Noa Tsaushu, a scholar and teacher of Yiddish, proved invaluable as a consultant (thanks, Noa!)

 

What are you working on now?

I just joined the faculty at UNC Chapel Hill, so I’m focused on teaching and research (on the Bund, among other things!). I’m producing a radio drama with my brother called “Permanent Fog,” and I have a story in the works about a partially terraformed and left-behind world. I also don’t feel done with the small planet Doykeit, and slowly, I’m growing this project as well.

 

“Planet Doykeit” appears in the July/August issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1907.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Click on Ms. Rose’s photo to visit her website.

Interview: Theodore McCombs on “Lacuna Heights”

Tell us a bit about “Lacuna Heights.”

In many ways, “Lacuna Heights” is an old-school science fiction fable. It’s about a specific technology that sets up a neurological private browsing mode—think Google Chrome’s “incognito” mode—and the potential moral and social consequences of that technology. But the story is really about anyone who goes around in conflict with themselves, cut off from what’s in their heart. I was interested in how privacy modes can create this duality online—that split between the “you” that’s your official search history, and the “you” you’d rather keep secret, maybe even from yourself. That’s not just about Internet pornography: we all have parts of us we’d prefer not to think about. Past mistakes we regret, or strong emotions that scare us. We walk around with our walls up and our senses dulled, simply because the world is so overwhelming. I think a lot of us need to compartmentalize the shame or anxiety we feel over our dependency on fossil fuels, exploitative labor, and inequality, just to keep our heads above water. So in a sense, we’re already living a split life, like my character Andrew in “Lacuna Heights.” He just has a gadget to help him.

And there’s no city in the U.S. that epitomizes that psychic split like San Francisco. The growing divide between the tech and venture capital elite, on the one hand, and the city’s working class, its gig economy, and the homeless, on the other, stands out so starkly precisely because SF is such a liberal, big-hearted city. Once I had San Francisco and double lives in the mix, my unwholesome love for Hitchcock’s Vertigo just ran away with the story. It’s really fun to write San Francisco noir.

 

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

In an interview in Boston Review, Samuel R. Delany observed that technological “illiteracies are as fascinating as literacies.” That’s a pretty radical idea in science fiction, where so many classic heroes are technologically hyper-competent scientists, inventors, or engineers. But tech illiteracy is maybe the more common experience, and it definitely captures that contemporary anxiety over our consumer services growing less friendly, less intelligible, and less accountable. That got me thinking about the irresponsibility that even a genuine tech illiteracy could enable, where your clumsiness is as much a useful shield as an inconvenience. Like, maybe you can’t figure out how to tip your Uber driver on the app. Oh well! Guess you can keep that $3.

Income inequality, climate change, structural racism: so many contemporary problems thrive in ignorance. There are malicious actors, too, but a lot of us are genuinely unsure of how these things work, exactly—it isn’t clear to us how and when we instantiate the problem—and we benefit from that societal illiteracy. It’s easier to not learn more.

That said, I wrote “Lacuna Heights” at the Clarion Workshop, on a deadline, so all of this was unconscious at best. What prompted me to write was panic and note cards.

 

Was “Lacuna Heights” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Yes, absolutely: because being a closeted gay man is one major form of living a split life. As a teenager, I cut myself off so deeply from what was in my heart, I was essentially self-closeted. Living in conflict with one’s sexuality is such a violent self-erasure, it was natural to translate that into a broader, technological self-erasure.

And because of how I wrote “Lacuna Heights”—in a panic, pulling anything out of my brain that wasn’t nailed down—it’s maybe my most personal story stylistically. I can get pretty heady about ethics, religion, and metaphysics, but I’m also liable to fall in love with a really dumb idea if it makes me laugh. I doubt I would have thought of Twilight of the Gods in diving bells if I’d been in any sound state of mind. I loved it so much, though; as dumb ideas go, it was so gruesomely me; so it survived every revision.

 

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

I always knew what the tradeoff of Privacy Mode would be, but the science behind it was rocky in the first draft. I had some idea of how memory works neurologically, but not enough. Lucky for me, my mother has a Ph.D. in neurophysiology, and she explained the index mechanisms that governs memory recall. She had the idea that Privacy Mode would affix a recall “key” to the memory and “lose” it in ordinary mode. But this was a conversation over breakfast, so I had to fill out the details on my own as best I could.

My Clarion instructor, Cory Doctorow, helped enormously with the economics behind Privacy Mode. He pointed out how a lot of popular software, like Slack, began as internal corporate tools, not as consumer products. That means they’re designed primarily to solve the corporation’s problem, and only secondarily benefit the end user. So I reconceived Privacy Mode not as this slick product feature—because let’s face it, as a consumer product it’s terrible—and more as this kludge that emerges in response to aggressive corporate data-mining. Its very inelegance enables people like Andrew and the banker defendant to find surprising uses for it, because it wasn’t engineered with those uses in mind.

 

Why do you write?

Joan Didion said she writes “to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” (There are lots of variations by different authors—Flannery O’Connor said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”) Writing is a way to connect back to what’s been buried, or at least made less accessible, under the world’s overwhelming grind. It’s the opposite of what Andrew does. The writer practices radical honesty; runs toward strong emotion, not away from it; is not satisfied with the superficial reality at hand, but presses her perception into cracks, snarls, and shadows. That’s the goal at least, right? Even if the piece itself fizzles, that practice is worth the effort.

 

What are you working on now?

I can’t seem to stop writing stories of protagonists in morally untenable positions. Maybe because I was once a corporate lawyer myself. (I kid! I kid!) I’m now perpetually re-writing a story featuring a border patrol agent in the ecologically devastated salt marsh that stretches between Tijuana and San Diego, where I live. Frankly, it may end up being beyond my abilities, because the sheer extreme of human suffering at our southern border, inflicted by our government in our names, is so difficult to take in and hold, much less do justice by in a short story. But again, the effort itself is worthwhile. It’s important not to look away.

 

“Lacuna Heights” appears in the July/August 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1907.htm

You can subscribe to the print edition of F&SF here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/subscribe.htm

You can subscribe to the electronic edition of F&SF at the following links:

Weightless Books (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

Amazon US (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Amazon UK (Kindle edition):http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O

Next Page »

Copyright © 2006–2019 The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction • All Rights Reserved Worldwide
Powered by WordPress • Theme based on Whitespace theme by Brian Gardner
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to sitemaster@fandsf.com.

Designed by Rodger Turner and Hosted by:
SF Site spot art