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Interview: G. V. Anderson on “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt”

G.V. AndersonTell us a bit about “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt.”

It’s about a scientist called Ellen who’s studying a colony of selkies in Greenland while also looking for answers about her father’s disappearance.


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

Mermaids and/or selkies are some of my favourite mythological creatures, and I’d wanted to write a story about them for some time. I think the idea for ‘Down Where Sound Comes Blunt’ came about after watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and seeing the amazing variety of life in our waters; and there was a fun mockumentary called Mermaids: The Body Found some years ago which presented ‘evidence’ of mermaids. This led me to read about ‘the Bloop’ – a strange underwater sound recorded in the 90s. So there’s no single spark of inspiration, but lots of little sparks working together.


I don’t want to spoil the story, but it leads the reader down a path different from the one that the narrative signals: did you know from the start the turn that the story would take, or did it develop as you wrote it?

I always knew it would end that way, and the ending as it appears in the magazine is almost exactly the way I wrote it in the first draft. It’s everything else I had to change in order to give the ending the support it needed!

I’d like to think it’s the kind of story that rewards a second read.


“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” puts a twist on quiet, literary, selkie stories, and your previous F&SF story, “I Am Not I” reveals an extra layer to what appears to be a grotesque Victorian-flavored fantasy.  Would you say that subverting readers’ expectations is a theme that runs through your work?

It’s not something I’ve considered before, but I certainly hope I’m subverting expectations – there’s a lot of incredible fiction out there right now so I always try to bring something different to the table. And it’s very fun having my own expectations subverted when I’m reading a book, so perhaps subconsciously I’m bringing that to my own work in order to elicit the same response.


How does it feel to win the World Fantasy Award, and is there anything you want to say about your experience at WFC, or about how it’s impacted your work?

For me, winning a World Fantasy Award felt like a daydream made real, with everyone around me in on the joke. It was my first professional story; I felt like I was taking up space on the ballot. But I’ve had a few months to adjust to the idea of it, and I think it’s had an incredible impact on not only my work, but my work ethic. I take my writing more seriously now, and feel more assured in writing the things that speak to me, rather than what I think people want to read.

WFC was quite the experience – my first overseas convention with a much bigger membership than any con I’ve experienced in the UK – but thanks to my writing group I had people to look out for me, and my other half came along for moral support as well. Although I was very nervous the whole weekend, I had a great time and hopefully made lots of long-lasting friendships there.


What are you working on now?

I’ve always had my heart set on long-form and I finally feel ready for the challenge. So I’ll be working on the first part of a duology for the remainder of 2018, with the aim of entering the query trenches by the end of next year. Wish me luck!


“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Interview: Chi Hui, and story translator Brian Bies, on “Deep Sea Fish”

Questions for the author, Chi Hui (Bies’s translations in English of the author’s responses):

What was the inspiration for this story?


The inspiration from this story came from a report on “Comet Exploration and Lander Design,” in which it was discussed how lander thrust must be carefully controlled to prevent the vehicles from bouncing off into space. After reading that, I began to think about how incredibly easy it would be for comet-based lifeforms to leave their birthplace. We humans, meanwhile, have to bring “mini-environments” along with us. We are unstoppable in our natural environment, but at the same time our environment constrains us. Just like deep sea fish.


Was “Deep Sea Fish” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?


Regarding personal aspects: I dearly wish I could fly, but I’m not very brave and I’m terrified of flying. I enjoy thinking about low-gravity or zero-gravity environments where humans could fly using only the strength of their own muscles. It’s a very cool idea. That’s why the female lead makes her entrance on wings, and leaves the story on wings.


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


The most difficult part of writing this story was finding information about Saturn VI and cryogenic environments. Other than articles in newspapers and magazines, there are only a rare few cursory introductions to the relevant scientific research. My only option was to search through dense scientific papers, almost none of which were written in Chinese. My English is not very good, but luckily I had my own computer by then and had purchased a translation program. This allowed me to slowly work through the materials.


Inspiration for the crystal forests came from an organic chemistry lab course I took in college. It’s one of the most wonderful memories I have from my college years. :)


Questions for Bies as translator:

Tell us a bit about “Deep Sea Fish.”

This is one of my favorite Chinese sf stories and a rare example of excellent Chinese hard sf, particularly given its length. I would rate it on par with if not better than some of Liu Cixin’s best works, and I am very happy to have been able to translate it. Chi did an excellent job of building a world to support her story. I would love to read a sequel expanding on different aspects of this world (the different clans on Titan, the ruins left behind by the Titans on other plants in the solar system, etc.)


What can you tell us about the author of the story, Chi Hui?

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and I’ve only read four or five of her stories. A recurring theme in her writing seems to be the detrimental effect of human activities on the environment.


You have your own translation business in Nanjing, translating texts on history, law, and machinery.  How does that experience inform your fiction translations, and why did you decide to branch out into translating sf?

I do, though recently I have shifted to translating almost exclusively texts on Chinese history and culture (particularly folk art). I was actually interested in translating sf before I began doing other translation work. I wrote my master’s thesis on a Chinese sf author, Han Song, and the translation of one of his stories was the first major project I worked on (as yet unpublished, sadly). Unfortunately, literary translation—particularly sf translation—doesn’t pay much, and it was necessary for me to branch out into more lucrative areas. I think that my experience as a professional translator leads me to err on the side of fidelity as opposed to creative interpretation when translating stories. Literary translators who are authors in their own right may be more inclined to fiddle with the details and adjust things to suit the tastes of their target audience.


What can you tell us in America about the state of the Chinese sf lit scene?

In your opinion, how is Chinese science fiction different from American sf, if it is different at all?

It might be easiest to reply to these two questions together. Chinese sf authors face a number of difficulties that are reflected in their writing.

Historically, sf in China has never been given enough time to take root and form a continuous tradition. It was condemned soon after its appearance in the early 20th century, again after the founding of the PRC, and again in the 90s. As a result, Chinese sf authors tend to be more influenced by foreign sf than by earlier Chinese works.

Socially, the genre has widely been viewed as “just for kids” since the early 20th century. Stories with adult themes or written particularly for adult readers are relatively rare, though some authors intent on changing this have written extremely adult pieces.

Economically, it’s very difficult for Chinese writers to support themselves on writing alone. The Chinese labor market is extremely competitive, with long hours and minimal vacation time required for almost all jobs, so writing as a hobby isn’t sustainable for most either. Authors don’t have as much time to put into their stories, and this is reflected in the overall quality of their work. The rise of “online novels” has pushed this to an extreme: one author I know who writes for a major fantasy novel site is required to publish 10,000 characters (~8,000 words) each day!

Politically, stories containing certain themes simply cannot be published. Some outstanding pieces on sensitive topics are circulated in forums, but they are a very small minority. Stories about the distant past, stories about strange races on faraway planets, stories about bright futures, and stories condemning firmly established social problems (i.e. pollution) are relatively safe and thus more common.


“Deep Sea Fish” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Interview: Joseph Bruchac on “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans”

Joseph BruchacTell us a bit about “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.”

THE NEXT TO THE LAST OF THE MOHEGANS is one of a series of stories I’ve been writing that both attempt to upend some of the stereotypes about Native Americans within one of my favorite genres—that of fantasy and science fiction (if the two can be combined, as my favorite magazine implies in its title). For example, another of my stories published in an anthology a year ago is titled WIGWAMS OF THE GODS.

In each of those stories my characters are contemporary Native people who are intelligent, aware of majority culture, and also possessed of the sort of sense of humor that I’ve always experienced with virtually all of the Native elders who’ve been my friends and teachers over the decades. The relationship between my narrator and his best friend—who is a sort of trickster figure/genius always getting into trouble—is sort of the main theme here. Sort of.

Before going any further, let me point out that the Mohegan Nation (sorry, Coop) did not vanish in the 19th century and that, as my Mohegan friends have told me, the last of the Mohegans has yet to be born.

Such things as teleportation, mind-reading, and encounters with the little people appear in this story but are not my inventions. They are seen by many Native Americans as part of our various cultures.


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

Well, to be honest, the title was stolen from a FAR SIDE cartoon. I gotta admit that whenever Gary Larson did anything in his cartoons involving Indians he both got it right and made a lot of us Native folks fall over laughing. I think my main inspiration for this story comes from my interest is telling stories that focus on American Indian life today, and not in some distant imagined past. I was also inspired by a picture book co-authored some years ago by Mohegan writer Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel and myself called MAKIAWISUG, THE GIFT OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE.


Was “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Was this personal to me? Heck, yes. I guess I’ve already been answering that aspect of the story. Though my characters are fictitious they are based on real people who—though they may not be involved in the sort of amazing adventures as my characters—are just as brilliant, as complicated, and sometimes as unpredictable. Plus they are just as aware and connected to their Indian heritage.


Can you tell us about any research you may have done for this story, or any of the traditions upon which it’s based?

In terms of research for this story, while I did not do any during the writing of it, I have been deeply immersed in Native American cultures—both my own Abenaki heritage and that of a number of other nations—for over half a century. I have a very extensive library of Native American books, especially those related to our histories and storytelling traditions. But even more than that, I’ve been visiting and listening—really listening—to so many Native elders and teachers over the years—such as Gladys Tantaquidgeon who was both an ethnologist and the Medicine Women and the Mohegan Nation—that I just may have absorbed a little knowledge along the way.


What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a rather long novel based on the three years I spent in the 60’s as a volunteer teacher in Ghana called SEA NEVER DRY. My main character, like me, finds himself seeing Africa differently than most Americans because of his Native American background. It’s based on fact, history, personal experience, but there’s also an element of fantasy to the story.

I’m also working on more stories chronicling the adventures of my friends in THE NEXT TO THE LAST OF THE MOHEGANS.


Anything else you’d like to add?

Well, be on the lookout for more sci-fi and fantasy from Native American authors. And let me recommend the recent collection of stories TAKE ME TO YOUR CHIEF by my Ojibway friend Drew Hayden Taylor.


“The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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Clicking on Mr. Bruchac’s picture (photo credit Eric Jenks) will take you to his website:

Interview: Ted Rabinowitz on “A Dog of Wu”

Tell us a bit about “A Dog of Wu.”

It’s a cheery little tale of genetic manipulation and environmental decay.


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

I was thinking about different breeds of dogs, and I took it the next logical step. (At least it seemed logical to me.) The inspiration for the opening scene was a news item about worker revolts in coastal China. And the Last City, of course, is my hometown.


Was “A Dog of Wu” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I grew up in a place that was (by American standards) scary and chaotic; but I was also part of a community that was quite regimented. So the divided world of the story feels familiar – the sense of imposed order clashing with something that might be anarchy.


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

A deep desire to read my next one.

And also that even in a system that messes with basic humanity, people are still people. Their core motivations remain. That doesn’t absolve people of responsibility; but it does mean that societies that ignore human nature will eventually fail.


The Wrong Sword by Ted RabinowitzWhat are you working on now?

I’m working on two novels. The first is Hero’s Army, a sequel to my 2012 historical fantasy The Wrong Sword. The second is Conjure Man, a kind of Faust story set in a New York where sorcery has displaced finance and tech startups as the hot new industry.











“A Dog of Wu” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

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You can purchase a copy of Ted Rabinowitz’s The Wrong Sword by clicking on its image, or following this link:

Interview: Susan Palwick on “Hideous Flowerpots”

flower potTell us a bit about “Hideous Flowerpots.”

I started writing this story over ten years ago, but the previous version — which didn’t include the scene in the gallery — couldn’t find a home anywhere.  Editors told me they didn’t know what it was about, but the story kept pulling at me. It finally clicked when I added that first scene last year.


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

The story was partly sparked by two events:  1) an observation of Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s that all five year olds know they’re artists, and all fifteen year olds know they aren’t, and 2) a conversation years ago with a gallery owner who, when I mentioned some art projects of my own, looked down her nose at me and said, “Many people believe they’re artists who aren’t.”  (I hadn’t even pulled any unfortunate macrame out of a B. Kliban bag when she said that.)


Was “Hideous Flowerpots” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I’ve suffered from more than my share of writer’s block, which is almost always a function of the Inner Gallery Owner, all those voices telling us we aren’t real writers/artists/seamstresses/whatever and shouldn’t even bother.  I also have an ambivalent relationship with visual art; my grandparents were successful commercial artists, and although I had some ability when I was younger — one high-school art teacher wanted me to go to art school — I shied away because I was intimidated by the family legacy. No one else in my family was writing, so going into English felt safer.  Now I regret not doing more to develop that side of myself. In the past ten years I’ve started weaving, and I enjoy the design aspects of that very much; it gives me real joy.  But I’ve met too many people who won’t let themselves create because they feel that nothing they make will be good enough, and that makes me very sad.


Was there any aspect of this story that you found difficult to write?

The group-therapy scene was hard to write, because I wasn’t sure how to make it convincing. I was afraid it would come across as too sentimental or old-fashioned (that seventies encounter-group vibe!) or be dismissed for being too feminine.  This is obviously a very gendered story.  At the same time, it’s not just Lauren’s story; Elena and the others are conducting a kind of cultural guerilla warfare, one person at a time.  They’re trying to undo the pervasive sense of inadequacy that comes from living in a consumer culture where every billboard tells you that you aren’t good enough unless you buy Product X.  I’m still not sure that worked; I’m afraid readers will think the story’s simply and only about Lauren, even though Elena explicitly says otherwise.


What would you want a reader to take away from “Hideous Flowerpots?”

I hope it will make readers ask questions. What would it be like to live in a society where everyone felt good enough, where we put more energy into making things of our own than buying stuff?  What would it be like not to have to be fascinated by celebrities because we found ourselves and each other fascinating?  But on the most basic level, I hope the story will spur some readers to do whatever they’ve had trouble giving themselves permission to do. Write your own story.  Paint something.  Decorate a hideous flowerpot.


What are you working on now?

I’m working on a Master of Social Work degree (I retired from twenty years as an English professor last May), and that’s keeping me from getting much writing done!  But I have a lot of projects in progress, including two stories I hope to finish by next autumn. I’m a very slow writer at the best of times, so we’ll see.


“Hideous Flowerpots” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here:

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