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Interview: Marc Laidlaw on “A Swim and a Crawl”

Marc LaidlawWhat was the inspiration for “A Swim and a Crawl,” or what prompted you to write it?

For the last few years I have spent increasing amounts of time on the north shore of Kauai, and finally moved here. One of my good friends is well-known for swimming the miles and miles of the Na Pali coast, and I had wanted to join her for at least a few miles of the swim, but I had a lot of trepidation about it. I had no idea what to expect, and it took me quite a while to build up the courage to make the attempt. This story was written well before I made that first attempt, when I was able to just indulge the fantasy of being afraid and of trying to imagine what the journey might be like.

One thing that is good to write when you are working through fears is…a horror story. I love swimming, and I love the sea, but I believe just about anyone can give themselves chills if they imagine being aswim in the ocean…and to tap into even more fear, to be afloat in the ocean at night. (To swim at night in a prehistoric sea, full of hungry leviathans, is where my thoughts naturally tend…but I didn’t attempt that story this time. It is one of my oldest fear-fantasies though.)

 

What inspired the imagery you used in the story’s conclusion, and could you elaborate on ending at all?

I’d rather not elaborate on the ending. I will just say that this is a story for anyone who has committed completely to something, and then changed their mind when it was too late. The final image came to me as I was writing, so the story itself, and the main character’s particular predicament, inspired it. But it’s not too different from certain images in, for instance, the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

In a much lighter vein, the Frankenstein book I mentioned the last time I did one of these has now been self-published for Kindle. (Perhaps I’ll get it together to put out a print version eventually, but for now it’s Kindle only.) You can find it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Shelleys-Frankenstein-Extra-Monsters-ebook/dp/B078122C7M

And fans of the Gorlen Vizenfirthe stories, eight out of nine of which have appeared in F&SF, may be interested to know that I am at work on a novel that picks up some time after what I thought was the final story, “Stillborne.” It’s going well, but I do not have an ETA or a prospective publisher or anything else to dangle.

 

“A Swim and a Crawl” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.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/B004ZFZ4O8/

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

Interview: Charlotte Ashley on “The Satyr of Brandenburg”

Charlotte AshleyTell us a bit about “The Satyr of Brandenburg.”

This story features the protagonists of another short I published a couple of years ago, “La Heron,” doing the things La Heron does, which is wander around trying to make a living by the sword without getting involved in the upheavals that are going on in the world. In this story, she has gone to compete in a series of exhibition matches in Sardinia that feature odd and curious people of the otherworlds being treated like a circus sideshow.

 

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

I knew I wanted to return to the characters I introduced in “La Heron” and to flesh out the world a bit. Europe in 1599 is about to undergo massive social, political, and cultural upheavals, but the rich and powerful haven’t really figured that out yet. They are still playing with some of the most unprecedented wealth the world has ever seen.

I was inspired by the real-life duel between Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint Georges (who was an “American,” born to an African slave) and the Chevalier d’Éon (who was a trans woman.) Both duelists were among the greatest sword fighters of their time, both were incredibly accomplished human beings, but it was treated as a bit of a freak show by the hosts. Well, I have opinions about people who dehumanize others for their own entertainment.

 

Could you go into some detail on whatever research you may have done on the real-life duelists who inspired this story?

I knew much more about the Chevalier de Saint-Georges going into this story than I did d’Éon. Saint-Georges was a mentor to Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (father of the author Alexandre Dumas) and did a lot of dashing about being a war hero and a gentleman, not to mention his career as a musician and composer. Racism as we understand it wasn’t the same during his career as it is now, but times were about to change. Black “Americans” in France had their rights stripped in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, mostly at the behest of sugar plantation owners in the Caribbean. But during the prime of Saint-Georges’ career, he was just a Frenchman doing Frenchman things. Very awesome things.

I wanted to capture that aspect of the Early Modern period: Europe had changed so fast, geopolitically, technologically, and philosophically, that great powers hadn’t necessarily got a good grip on it yet. Everything was new, so anything was possible. Why shouldn’t someone be a black composer-duelist-politician-soldier? Or (in d’Éon’s case) a lady soldier-spy-diplomat? Or (in Donshead Doombellow’s case) an honourable pirate-captain-ogre? Society was open to it: as long as it didn’t disrupt the status quo.

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing “The Satyr of Brandenburg,” and what was the most fun?

It’s tough to write a sequel or companion piece to a short story. You have to balance the expectations of readers who know what happened before with readers who don’t know anything about the characters. And in a short piece, you don’t have time to rehash very much. Hopefully, by the time I revisit them, I can go even further afield with the big-picture story.

On the other hand, writing these characters is incredibly fun for me! I wound up writing so much more than what appeared in the final manuscript. I could have written banter and battles all day long.

 

Do you foresee any more adventures for La Héron and Sister Louise Alexandrine in the near future?

Absolutely. I am trying to ignore the novel writing itself in my lizard brain because I’d like to do at least one more shorter story first, but it’s hard! I have all that banter and battle to spill, and a big picture I’m just dying to reveal!

 

What are you working on now?

I have two things on the go. One is a novella set in La Heron’s world, albeit 100 years later and somewhere quite different. It’s a sort of steampunk murder mystery with ogres and bankers.

The other is my ongoing serial, collaborative fantasy novel, The Archipelago (https://www.patreon.com/archipelago.) I’m writing one of three intertwined storylines in this world, with “episodes” released once a month to subscribers. We should have a novel version of the whole storyline out this summer!

 

“The Satyr of Brandenburg” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.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/B004ZFZ4O8/

Clicking on Charlotte’s photo will take you to her website: http://once-and-future.com/

Interview: Nick Wolven on “Galatea in Utopia”

Tell us a bit about “Galatea in Utopia.”

Well, Galatea is pretty much what it claims to be. The title isn’t ironic. The world of the story is a utopia, which is to say, it can probably be accurately described as somebody’s personal hell. Any given utopia is someone else’s dystopia, after all.

Really, the distinction between utopia and dystopia is a silly one, since it largely comes down to a question of tint and shading. A better way to look at the matter, perhaps, is to say that both utopias and dystopias spring from the same insight, which is that once a community has solved its solvable problems, only unsolvable ones remain. Stability, security, basic sewage treatment—clear up those little hassles, you’re left with the real questions, the doozies. What’s a good life? And, supposing you’re bold enough to venture an answer—how can people can be convinced to live it?

Of course, one of those doozies, perhaps the dooziest of all doozies, is the problem of love, which I’ll define here as the problem of offering oneself to be transformed by another. It’s my conjecture that in a world where people are safe, free, and equipped with near godly technology, those transformations become all the more frightening. We will become as gods—and we’ll quarrel like Olympians.

 

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

Hmmmm, any story about identity is by nature very personal. And part of the point of writing a work of fiction is to make the personal impersonal, to put on a mask. So I should probably keep my mouth shut.

But I’ll say this much.

Right now, people are arguing a lot about gender identity. Those debates are shaped, I think, by an important fact, which is that the cost of coming out as anything other than cisgender is very high. So the people who do so are by nature people willing to pay a high price—mostly, people so strongly committed to a particular gender identity that they’re willing to put up with a lot of hassle. Anyone without such strong commitments can sort of hide out in the cis world, coasting along on the prevailing norms. If you suspect you’d rather be a woman, but you’re basically content to be a man, why make a big thing of it? Why not just lie low?

I’ll bet there are a lot of people who don’t fit neatly into the current, dominant, highly politicized categories. People who aren’t strongly committed to being masculine or feminine, or cisgender or transgender, but who aren’t exactly anti-binary either. People who might have a slight preference one way or the other, or preferences that slip and slide over time, or who feel playful or uncertain or experimental—and who have the luxury of passing as cis, even though they’re not deeply invested in that identity. The ambi-gendered and the meso-gendered and the flexi-gendered and the inchoately gendered, and on and on. If the cost of being non-cis comes down, more of those people will start to act on their preferences, and the cis/trans distinction that drives so much current discussion might melt into something more complex and various—leading to new categories, new divisions, new struggles.

Hence the idea at the heart of the story—well, let’s play the sci-fi game and call it a “prediction”—that we might eventually see the gradual, halting, and painful emergence of a new sexual distinction, one based on something other than what we usually call gender.

Picture two groups, locked in conflict. In our first corner, “fixers,” who are passionately committed to one gender but feel pressured to change for the sake of others. And in our second, “fluxers,” who feel pressured to pick a clear gender even though they’d rather play around.

So who’s pressuring whom? Who’s being treated unfairly? Can such different people, with such radically different experiences, ever learn to get along?

Those questions are the inspiration behind the story.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “Galatea in Utopia?”

My ideal reader is always the same …

A thirteen year-old boy, thirty or forty years hence, who finds a moldering collection of forgotten science fiction stories in an ancient vacation house somewhere in the forests of northern Vermont. Frustrated by the building’s laggy and antiquated VR gaming hookup, he repairs to certain nooks in a shadowy upstairs hallway, where thumb-smeared bookcases are laden with the paperbacks of an era now described, by the chattering faces on the daily babblefeeds, as the Great Age of Literacy. Grateful, for once, for his e-school training in deciphering written script, the young boy (or is he something other than a boy?) spends an afternoon reading the forgotten literature of that bygone age, after which he yawns, throws the book aside, runs out to see what his robo-pets are up to, and promptly forgets everything about the tale he just absorbed. But a ghost of the written work lingers in his soul—a relict image—a resilient dream—like a transmission from some alternate universe encoded in his long-term memory. Over the years, it works its silent, insidious effect, this pseudoconscious parasite of the soul, this adventitious artifact of mind. And one day, decades hence, on a planet not our own, or on a vessel surfing the rifts between those strange concentrations of stuff we call stars, he remembers, this boy who is no longer a boy, a fleeting scene from another man’s recorded dream. Under its influence, steered by visions whose provenance he can no longer trace, he makes a choice that sways the fate of galaxies …

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing “Galatea in Utopia,” and what was the most fun?

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: the worst part of the writing process is publishing the darn stuff. The fun part is thinking, “Hey, I’ve got an idea for a story!” Everything after that initial rush always plays out like a slow loss of faith.

 

“Galatea in Utopia” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1801.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/B004ZFZ4O8/

Interview: J. D. Moyer on “The Equationist”

J D MoyerWhat was the inspiration for “The Equationist,” or what prompted you to write it?

Initially I was inspired by my mother-in-law, who is one of these people who sees connections and patterns all over the place. She’s not particularly mathematical, and many of the connections she makes seem like a stretch to minds like my own. But she’s a very lucky person—in that she has frequent good luck and positive coincidences—and I think her pattern-seeing has something to do with it. So I wanted to create a character with an unusual mind, who sees the world differently than everybody else, and explore both the advantages and costs of that perspective.

Later, after I’d written the story, I realized I’d been inspired by a minor character in Brainwave by Poul Anderson (which I read when I was about ten, as part of A Treasury of Great Science FictionVol. 2). In the first chapter of Brainwave, an unnamed boy experiments with graphing algebraic equations, and by the time his mother calls him down for breakfast, is “well on his way to inventing differential calculus.” Much to my disappointment, the boy never makes another appearance in the novel. Not only was that story my first introduction to the relationship between equations and shapes/patterns, but I think my subconscious mind decided the unnamed boy’s story should have more to it.

 

Was “The Equationist” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Sure—a lot of the family dynamics are pulled straight from my own life. My mother got a few good laughs when she read an early draft. And many of Niall’s emotions, especially as a child and his coming of age, are identical to my own during those times in my life.

 

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

I’m not a mathematician—I never made it past trigonometry—so the bulk of research was getting the equations right. And it’s likely I made some mistakes—hopefully the story won’t make too many mathematicians cringe in horror.

I do like the idea of people and nations gravitating toward certain equations, even if it’s not mathematically rigorous. We’re all controlled by patterns and influences outside of our own control, often much more so than we realize. Unless we exert huge amounts of energy to change our habits and mental state, we’re subjected to the gravitational pulls of our parents, friends, and dominant cultural expectations.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a near-future science fiction novel about mass involuntary gene editing.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

I have a story called “Money in the Tortoise” coming out soon in The Intergalactic Medicine Show, as well as another story “Targeted Behavior” in Compelling Science Fiction. My novelette “The Icelandic Cure” (winner of the 2016 Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction contest) comes out in April (Omnidawn). My debut science fiction novel The Sky Woman is coming out on Flame Tree later this year. I hope readers look out for these stories and let me know what they think.

 

“The Equationist” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1801.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/B004ZFZ4O8/

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

Interview: Robert Reed on “An Equation of State”

Robert ReedTell us a bit about “An Equation of State.”

I had a market that needed a story about warfare.  I don’t remember the particulars about the assignment, but I felt pretty confident about my plan when I was in Kansas City, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Edward Hopper’s “Light Battery at Gettysburg” caught my eye.  A roadside scene, horses and young men pulling artillery towards the coming battle.  But the moment itself is sun-washed, quite peaceful.  I started thinking about youngsters enjoying a pleasant day while preparing for slaughter, and somewhere I started to believe that one of those horses was smarter than anyone else.

“An Equation of State” was refused by its intended market.  So it goes.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “An Equation of State?”

Take away?  Pick what you like best, and let the rest go.  That’s what I do with stories I read, and even more with the stories that I write.  In “Equations,” my favorite scene involves the Vietnamese soldier.  A fantasy of the super warrior, sure.  But I used to work in a factory that was half-Vietnamese, and I knew people who had fought for the South.  And while they considered American soldiers to be scared little boys who were dangerously quick with triggers, they had been deeply impressed by how our B-52s leveled hills.  And by impressed, I mean terrified.  I mean scarred.  I mean that years later, they would hold a Pepsi can in one hand and shake their heads, describing the deep craters that became deep ponds and nothing like a body left behind by the thunderous explosions.  Americans had reached down from the stratosphere and killed more people than anyone could ever count, and war is a miserable mess where the lucky are able to eat rats.

 

What are you working on now?

Last week, I finished up a Greatship novel.  THE DRAGONS OF MARROW needs a home, and being 61, I have a sense that maybe I shouldn’t linger too long trying to place it in the traditional addresses.  Publishing takes too long, and editors get fired, and I have maybe five more books to write.  So wouldn’t it be nice just to throw my work to the world and make a few bucks and collect social security and leave my biggest, best story behind for the AI superminds to enjoy?

On a similar note, I’m also learning how to publish on Kindle.  I have a library of nearly 300 stories and out-of-print novels, and sad to say, I’ve reached that point in the career when my catalog is more valuable than my future.

 

“An Equation of State” appears in the January/February 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1801.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/B004ZFZ4O8/

Clicking on Mr. Reed’s picture will take you to his website.

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