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Interview: David Gullen on “The Moss Kings”

David GullenTell us a bit about “The Moss Kings.”

Magic has returned to the land, but its wielders are not nice, and are very powerful. In an attempt to resist their demands, a feudal, rural society takes the first faltering steps towards a form of scientific method. The story is told through the eyes of a messenger, a young man tasked with delivering bad news, who seeks his own place in a dangerous and changing world.

 

 

 

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

One way to look at genre fiction is as an ongoing conversation of ideas and treatments, an examination of what currently fascinates us informed by the achievements of contemporary writers, the back catalogue, and so on. While I don’t believe the genres form a movement, they do have direction. A story one writer tells can inspire another, sometimes obliquely, sometimes with a direct thought along the lines of ‘Ah, yes, but what if you did it this way?’ Most of the time for me stories, non-fiction, and everything else, go into what I think of as a subconscious melting pot that then – somehow – feeds back into what I do. In this case a particular tale pressed a few buttons directly, resonated with some ideas that hadn’t yet become a story, and drew them into focus.

 

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

I trained as a plant biologist, the world we live in is biological from the atmosphere to the oceans. Even some of the geology, like chalk deposits, would not exist without life. I enjoy inventing a botanical take on the fantastic in my writing – if the story will support it. The world of “The Moss Kings” was very accommodating, and the names of the magical entities arrived like gifts.

 

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

One of the things I adore about genre fiction is that a story can put you into a wider world of imaginary cultures with their own beliefs, hopes and fears, a past, an unfolding future, all set in real and mythic landscapes you feel you could walk into and discover more stories of your own imagination. If I’ve inspired any of that in some readers then I am very content.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Originally, Vance and Ballard, Tanith Lee, Gene Wolfe, Hugh Lofting. King Neptune (who baptised me when I was three years old, a story in its own right). For “The Moss Kings” I’m sure I channelled a mix of Robert Holdstock, Lord Dunsany, and Sylvia Townsend Warner. I’ve read far too many history books, and books on myths and fairy stories. And… this is a list that goes on and on, like that melting-pot of ideas. I doubt I could truly finish it, for one thing it keeps growing.

I also have my critical and supporting influences – my friends, mentors and other writers who give me sound advice and upon whom I can lean for support when I am in need.

 

What are you working on now?

Three main things at the moment: I’m part-way through the final draft of a fantasy novel before I send it out on submission; somewhere in the middle of an SF novel of cavern-cities at war on a dying world; and finally, staring out the window and stroking my beard about a short story I’ve been asked to submit to an anthology.

 

“The Moss Kings” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

David Gullen’s website: http://davidgullen.com/

David Gullen’s latest book, Shopocalypse, described as “A Bonnie and Clyde for the Trump Era” out from NewCon Press: http://www.newconpress.co.uk/info/book.asp?id=135&referer=Catalogue

Interview: Andy Dudak on “The Abundance”

Andy DudakTell us a bit about “The Abundance.”

It’s the story of a radical and possibly dangerous therapy for PTSD. It’s about how an empire or state manipulates its agents, much like a parasite manipulates its host. It’s a bit of a spy story, though mostly in flashback. This mixed bag is delivered in the form journal entries, amid naturalist-style observations of an alien ecology. So it’s odd, hopefully in a good way.

 

 

 

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

I’d been translating Bao Shu’s ‘The Lighthouse Girl’ for Clarkesworld and was inspired to try the epistolary form. I’d been trying to use the concept of extended phenotype in my stories for years, unsuccessfully, so that was still floating around in my head. I wanted to write something Darwin-esque, something monkish and studious and nature-obsessed. I felt like that would be therapeutic for me, just as it was supposed to be therapeutic for the narrator in the story. Writing in journal entries somehow made the process more of a role-playing exercise. It was just for fun or self-care or writing practice. I never expected to finish it, let alone sell it to F&SF!

 

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

Yes, in a number of ways. For example, I worked in Alaska as a winter caretaker, spending 8 months alone in the bush at a fly-in fishing lodge. I was 250 miles from the nearest road, without running water, electricity dependent on my sketchy generator maintenance skills, communication dependent on a satellite dish that was useless much of the time due to the northern lights. When I returned to Anchorage I had a hipster beard long before they were hip, and a stutter. So, I felt qualified to write about the isolation the narrator endures.

 

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

I’ve been fascinated with extended phenotype and parasite lifecycles for a long time, so I’d read a lot about this stuff by the time I wrote the story. I’m not sure if that counts as research. It’s all about parasite genes expressing in host bodies, or genes expressing beyond the confines of the body to act on the environment, like genes for anthills and spider webs.

 

How does translating the work of other authors affect and inform your own writing?

I’ve tried to get Ken Liu to answer this question. He’s been translating much longer than I and finds it hard to pin down what the effects might be. I’ve been translating Chinese fiction for almost three years, and like Ken I’m still trying to figure out how translation work might be affecting my original stuff. In the case of ‘The Abundance,” Bao Shu’s ‘The Lighthouse Girl’ inspired the epistolary format (see above), but that could just as easily have happened reading a cool epistolary story for fun. Sometimes I think I’m more careful with sentence structure and word choice because of translating. On the other hand, I fear that learning Mandarin has lowered my English level. I sometimes think and dream in Mandarin. When I’m back in the States I speak it by accident. Maybe, in the final analysis (a phrase I never used until I had to translate it over and over again), I break even. Conceptually, maybe all this Chinese science fiction has broadened my perspective, though it’s hard to say how Chinese SF as a whole is different from anglophone SF. Both are huge mixed bags.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Ursula Le Guin, Ted Chiang, Greg Egan, Ken Liu, Stephen King, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Paul Mcauley, Vonda McIntyre, Peter Watts, John le Carre, and HBO, off the top of my head. Influence is tricky to figure out, though.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m revising an original story in which observation of the universe, i.e. higher consciousness, is causing accelerated expansion. It’s observation as dark energy. It’s a novelette with several layers of story, above and beyond my usual output, so it has been challenging. Meanwhile I’m continuing to translate for Clarkesworld. The current story is about a world where entropy is reversed, so lots of things are happening backwards. Also quite a challenge!

 

“The Abundance” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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 Andy Dudak’s photo to visit his website, or follow him on Twitter @Andy_Dudak

Interview: Rebecca Campbell on “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest”

Tell us a bit about “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest.”

It describes childbirth and the strange, disorienting first weeks home with a newborn. Since those experiences are already intense and kind of dream-like (or nightmarish?), it didn’t take much to nudge the story over into horror just by describing what we went through, then making it a little worse, a little weirder for the characters. That’s why I love writing SF/F/H, actually. A little strangeness makes stories like this feel more real, rather than less, maybe because the experience is already so strange.

 

Was this story personal to you in any way, and what prompted you to write it?

Oh man, yes. I actually came up with the idea the week we brought home our son, when I fell asleep and thought there was a fourth person in the house but couldn’t figure out who they were. I didn’t start writing the story until a few months later, but that slightly uncanny experience—in my own home, at a moment of physical exhaustion and startling newness—was waiting for me when I had the brain-space to write again. It was important to me that I process the experience in the way I process most important experiences: by making up a creepy story.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest?”

Primarily, I want people to feel a sense of the uncanny in the everyday one that doesn’t resolve in a comfortable way. In fact, that’s what I want readers to take from all my work.

After that, maybe a bit of compassion for new families. It’s hard for everyone involved, and you never know what someone’s experience is really like, behind their public face. We were pretty lucky through pregnancy and childbirth and with our son, but it was still an emotional earthquake.

 

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

Yes. Ultimately the story is about the vulnerability of children, their helplessness, especially as infants, and the terrifying realization you have as a parent that you more than anyone else in the world are likely to hurt your kid. After all, most of the hurt caused to children is caused by their parents. If there’s true-life horror, that’s it.

 

Why do you write? 

To make sense of things. To capture strange moments in ordinary lives. To leave a record. To be one tiny voice in a global conversation that started before I was born and will continue long after I’m dead.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

This is hard to answer, mostly because while I am one of nature’s fans, I’m not always sure that the writers I love have had a clear influence on me. Maybe because it seems like wishful thinking to say that Chekhov and Alice Munro are visible in my work? I love to read them, and please please please I hope they’ve influenced me.

I can, however, definitely see Angela Carter, and a little whisper of Haruki Murakami. Also, Ursula le Guin, Kelly Link. Daphne du Maurier and Robert Aickman. And all the nineteenth-century poetry I read as a kid. I read a lot of Tennyson, and I don’t think I can escape from his kind of picturesque, even when I’m writing about haunted houses rather than waterfalls.

 

What are you working on now? 

A novel! Still! Always. Forever. It’s actually closer to done than it was, so I’m pretty stoked. But I’ve also been thinking it’s close to done for a while. Every once in a while, I take time away because I come up with an idea for a short story, though I probably should be more focused. Of course, “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” is one such distraction, and I’m glad I allowed myself the novel-holiday to write about Jen.

 

“The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

Rebecca Campbell’s website: https://whereishere.ca/

Interview: Lavie Tidhar on “New Atlantis”

Lavie TidharTell us a bit about “New Atlantis.”

“New Atlantis” is a novella set in what I call the Land, a sort of post-apocalyptic utopia where the few survivors of the climate change collapse now live in harmony with their environment – but can still be kind of obsessed with the old world and its excesses! I’ve been writing stories about Mai and the Land for a while now – one of them is “The Buried Giant” in Robots vs Fairies, which is also in a bunch of the Year’s Bests anthologies, and there’s a new one, “Svalbard,” coming out as a sort of interactive/puzzle thing online soon!

“New Atlantis” came out of a very specific request I had, and so one of the nice things is that it deals with a bunch of scientific concepts that are interesting to me – from solar power and hydroponics to immersive digital realities. It was a lot of fun to write, anyhow…

 

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

The original inspiration came when I was a guest on a writing retreat in Korea. I was exposed to the work of Pak Kyongni, who founded the retreat – she is a highly important Korean writer in the realist mode, but I was hugely inspired by her work and her ideas and I wanted to echo that in some sense. Hence the Land (from her work, Toji), but with a science fictional lens.

I’ve done a handful of stories about the younger Mai (the heroine of the story) and then I got a request to do something novella-sized and jumped on the opportunity to revisit the Land and Mai when she’s older. The original project kind of fell through eventually, but I was very lucky that F&SF took the novella. And I love the cover!

 

Was “New Atlantis” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

What happened was that when Central Station came out, and which I did not expect at all, it was kind of embraced by people in Silicon Valley. Supposedly it was this “good” future because we didn’t kill ourselves and went on to the moon and Mars – and I just went, Hold on a minute! You know, this was a novel, it wasn’t… So I thought, I really have to write something about how that future’s probably not going to happen. But I also didn’t want to write a freaking dystopia! So I went for – ok, so climate change happened and most people maybe died, but those who survived finally got it. It’s about people finally realising they’re not that important, maybe. So that’s kind of personal. I admire the Extinction Rebellion people and so on, but I’m not much of a protester – but I figure I can try and do things in fiction. Only my contention is that maybe people really aren’t that important and, like in Clifford Simak’s City, maybe the species that will finally rise will be the ants… I rather like ants!

 

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

So much! A lot of the science mentioned in the story is real or at the very least theoretical, but from time to time I had to go into full science fiction mode or I’d get bored. It was fun writing about sustainability, which I don’t think gets much thrift in science fiction. “Boring” stuff like solar power and agriculture and conservation… I researched everything from current models of sustainable agriculture to cutting-edge memory storage and accessibility tech. Because of the way this project started originally, I had to make sure the tech/science were based in real-world applications. So even for the more out-there stuff, like the VR vaults stuff, I had to literally develop a whole methodology and terminology based on current research. It was fun!

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this story, and what was the most fun?

It was fairly easy to write I think. And I enjoy the research, and I like the characters. Some stories/novels are a nightmare to write, and some just come out, and you can never really tell which it’s going to be. This one was easy.

 

Why do you write?

I get to work in my pyjamas and never talk to people… That’s a big part of the attraction! Also, you know, to hopefully change the world, obviously.

Changing the world in my pyjamas. That sounds pretty good.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Too many to list! I’m a big fan of Cordwainer Smith and Roger Zelazny, Clifford Simak… sort of old-school, mid-60s sci fi. But I’m a bit of a magpie. I steal from Spanish crime writers or Hebrew literary fiction or just, you know, poetry as much as I can. T.S. Eliot’s a huge influence – as it happens I pass his old flat (where he wrote and where he eventually died) quite often! (It’s also a pokestop now…).

 

What are you working on now?

I just finished a pretty giant novel! So that will hopefully be out in 2020, along with another new novel – I never quite know! And I just got back from a convention in Japan, which was amazing. So as I type this I’m hoping to just finish a short story or two and work out where I go next…

 

“New Atlantis” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

Lavie Tidhar’s website: https://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/

Interview: Debbie Urbanski on “How to Kiss a Hojacki”

Tell us a bit about “How to Kiss a Hojacki.”

I think the story’s intro in F&SF sums up the piece perfectly: it is a story about transformations. If I needed to elaborate, I would say it’s a story that examines how transformations affect our relationships and our ideas about love, especially when only one person in a relationship is being transformed.

 

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

Like most people, I’ve been following all the #MeToo stories these past years, and what I’ve found missing in the ongoing discussion is the questioning of coercive sex and certain power dynamics in committed relationships. What is owed to a partner or a spouse? Does marriage or commitments make certain behaviors more acceptable? I wanted to probe these questions and maybe open up the discussion a little.

 

Was “How to Kiss a Hojacki” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I used to have a very idealistic notion of love, believing that love would expand and change along with the people involved in it. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned that of course there are limitations to most people’s love. Some changes in our partners are seen as acceptable, some aren’t. Sometimes we fall in love with a certain version of a partner and that might not be an accurate version. So when that person we love changes into who they really are, there can be accusations, feelings of betrayal, and a suggestion of a denial of self. When we love someone, do we love the actual real person, the authentic center of them, or do we love who we think they are? After some difficult years in a complicated relationship, I felt it was time to examine all this stuff in a story.

 

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

In earlier drafts I wrote what I felt was an accurate portrayal of the husband Michael, but the first readers I shared this story with advised that his thoughts were too extreme. Part of me was like, “But some people actually think like that! Someone really said those things!” But sometimes real isn’t true I suppose, so I spent some time dialing back and restraining the voice.

 

What would you want a reader to take away from “How to Kiss a Hojacki?”

Really, I’m fine with whatever the reader finds in this story to keep with them. I acknowledge it may be a difficult story to read so kudos to the reader for choosing to engage with it. But here’s my dream takeaway. Let’s consider the possibility of treating other people’s revelations about themselves, and other people’s discoveries about who they really are, with kindness and celebration and love and acceptance whenever possible. And let’s consider expanding our definition of what a committed relationship/marriage looks like. Actually let’s consider getting rid of a rigid definition altogether and let whoever is in that relationship define it fluidly themselves.

 

Why do you write?

I started writing in part because I couldn’t find my particular perspective or my particular life in books. But I have always loved the process of writing too, the discovery and creation and the revision. Also I’ve found the act of writing a story helps me understand or work through events going on in my life. Writing gives me a safe place to play out my own thought experiments and see what happens.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I’ll look to the authors and books I love and keep rereading. Shirley Jackson, Alice Munro, Hilary Mantel, Ursula LeGuin, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Grapes of Wrath, and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song for starters. The Wall by Marlen Haushofer showed me speculative fiction, even apocalyptical fiction, can be quiet and slow and still gripping. That was a happy and important revelation. Also I’m grateful to my dad for giving me a thorough introduction to old horror and sci-fi films when I was a kid. A 16mm print of Night of the Living Dead was one of the first movies I remember watching. After that it was The Blob, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Mummy, some movie about flying brains, Them!, and so forth. He taught me to watch (and read) widely, to ignore genre distinctions, and to find something to engage with in all sorts of stories.

 

What are you working on now?

I recently finished my first novel so I plan to enjoy writing some short stories for the near future. Currently I’m working on a political alternate reality story and I’m also playing around with mashing together horror and creative non-fiction.

 

“How to Kiss a Hojacki” appears in the May/June 2019 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1905.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

Debbie Urbanski’s website: debbieurbanski.com

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