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Interview: Y.M. Pang on “Little Inn on the Jianghu”

Y. M. PangTell us a bit about “Little Inn on the Jianghu.

“Little Inn on the Jianghu” is a parody of wuxia (Chinese martial arts) stories. Instead of starring a hero with inhuman fighting ability, it follows an innkeeper whose inn is constantly being destroyed due to all the fighting.

 

 

 

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

I’ve watched my share of wuxia TV shows, especially adaptations of Jin Yong’s work. Innkeepers are truly the most unfortunate characters in wuxia–and in historical dramas, which feature similar tropes. Heck, it’ll be a stretch calling innkeepers characters, since they are unnamed and speak 1-2 lines before all hell breaks loose. I’ve always wondered, how on earth could these innkeepers stay in business when their inns are getting smashed 24/7? How deeply must they hate those jianghu “heroes,” who unceasingly choose inns as convenient battlegrounds and leave smashed tables and broken doors in their wake.

Surely some innkeeper somewhere has decided, “That’s enough,” and is looking to hunt down a jianghu hero in return. This is the story of that innkeeper.

My decision to write about “the unfortunate innkeeper” may also have been influenced by more than wuxia, subconsciously. When sharing the story with beta readers, some of them–who had little prior experience with wuxia–still understood the humour, because it reminded them of RPGs or westerns. Wuxia and westerns are basically first cousins. Just switch the swords for guns, and the inns for saloons. Both exist in worlds where lawlessness rules the day and businesses get screwed over either way.

 

Was “Little Inn on the Jianghu” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Not particularly. Though I will say: after working in retail for a couple of years, I sympathize with the innkeeper even more.

 

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

I did some research about food, rations, and bamboo forests. But ultimately, the story is about depicting the world of wuxia, which is notorious for departing from actual history. The clothing and hairstyles, for instance, are likely not an accurate reflection of the historical period, which Innkeep Cheng points out.

 

What aspect of “Little Inn on the Jianghu” was the most fun to write?

The banter between Innkeep Cheng (poor guy, even I’m calling him Innkeep) and Yifeng. She is fully immersed in their wuxia world, while he sees through its seams but can do little about it.

Oh, and the climax.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

Among modern fantasy writers, Patrick Rothfuss has unrivalled prose, while also being top-notch in crafting plot and character. I really admire Brandon Sanderson for his tight plots, work ethic, and strong endings. And like many writers–nay, people–my age, I grew up reading Harry Potter.

But the author who influenced me most may not be an epic fantasy writer at all. It may be Katherine Paterson. The Great Gilly Hopkins and Bridge to Terabithia blew my mind as a fourth-grader. I’d encountered fictional tragedy before, in the TV adaptation of Water Margin that I watched intermittent episodes of as a child. But Paterson showed me how it can be done in modern literature, and influenced how I thought about plot, resolution, and character development–namely, not all progression needs to be in a positive direction.

 

What are you working on now?

I am editing a visual novel I wrote a few years ago (think of it like a choose-your-own-adventure book but played on a computer, with images). As usual, I also have a dozen short stories and novels in varying stages of completion. One short story is starting to become a novella, which is a tragically common occurrence for me.

 

“Little Inn on the Jianghu” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1909.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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:

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

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

Click on the author’s photo to visit her website.

Interview: Nick Wolven on “The Light on Eldoreth”

Tell us a bit about “The Light on Eldoreth.”

“The Light on Eldoreth” is a Swiftian satire with an unsatisfying ending. It’s a stylistic experiment with traditionalist pretensions. It’s a throwback, but I like it that way.

 

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

I wrote it because Facebook stole my birthday wishes. I wrote it because Twitter gave me a case of the howling fantods. I wrote it because I’m too ugly for Instagram. I wrote it because Kevin Kelly’s still wireheading dopamine hits from a utopian mirrorworld that died with the eighties arcade. I wrote it because I bought a Cory Doctorow novel about the future and it turned out to be a paean to the past. I wrote it because I didn’t know what else to do, because the skeptics were right and the prophets were wrong, because we’re living in a cyberpunk world with too much cyber and too few punks and I’m afraid that in fifty years the wasted, bonestrewn remains of the biosphere will be haunted by the uploaded ghost of Tyler Cowen.

I wrote it, in short, because I lost faith in the power of technological progress to save us from our horrible selves. That happened, actually, about ten years ago, but I’m a slow thinker and I’m still learning how to cope.

 

Was “The Light on Eldoreth” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

No. It’s about as impersonal as a story can get. It’s barely even a story at all, really, just a jumble of half-finished thought experiments that have been strung up on the thinnest possible thread of a plot. But it does touch on one of my personal beliefs, which is that we live in the worst of all possible worlds.

I believe our universe is a giant machine optimally calibrated for the production of suffering. The Second Law gave us chemistry, chemistry gave us life, and life gave us hungers, predations, parasitisms, diseases, deaths, and nameless terrors. Even our smallest pleasures are predicated on pain, exertion of will, destruction, dominance, consumption, control. Nature is a symphony of horrors, history a pageant of atrocities. Life is a panicked, futile flight from dread to disappointment. Our lust for love sharpens the pangs of loneliness. Our hopes are a pitiful prelude to despair. Our search for meaning serves as a garnish to toxic existential angst. Our gods become torturers thirsting for blood, our heroes are exposed as rapacious conquerors, our martyrs sacrifice themselves for the sake of evil fantasies. Our noblest dreams spur the flanks of our worst nightmares. We’re born to watch our parents die, our children suffer, to feel our bodies break and decay, to know that everything we cherish will be mocked and undone by generations to come.

The ultimate destiny of all sentient creatures is to serve the sadistic teleology of the cosmos by spreading pain throughout the stars, awakening the inert material of heaven to awareness of its own innate futility, shaping the stock resources of existence into manifold instances of a single mind screaming in infinite agony. At the end of all things, the last surviving soul will look back on the crumbled relics of negentropy and realize that, like every soul before, it lived for no purpose, suffered for no reason, and is now doomed to die alone.

Our only consolation is that this seemingly purposeless pageant of pain might serve as a source of pleasure to some higher being, a demiurge succored on our suffering, who draws from our tears the sustenance it needs to endure still higher forms of torture–and on and on, through a great chain of torment, to the supreme miseries of a cardinal god.

 

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

I could, but wouldn’t that spoil the fun?

 

Why do you write?

Out of habit, mostly.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

The usual folks.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

The new Tool album’s a major disappointment. The Dark Crystal has always had an uncanny valley problem. Red Dead Redemption II is the Heaven’s Gate of video games. Octavia Butler’s Dawn is a problematic fave. Chimamanda Adichie is a better defender of the nation state than Jill Lepore. Wesley Morris has a point. Martin Gurri got it right. Send your wrathful comments to the editor.

 

“The Light on Eldoreth” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1909.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

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

Interview: Michael Swanwick on “Ghost Ships”

Michael SwanwickTell us a bit about “Ghost Ships.”

“Ghost Ships” is one of those stories where the writer claims that “this story is different from all other ghost stories because it all really did happen to me.” Which, of course, nobody ever believes. But unlike all those other stories, every word of this one is true. I didn’t see the ships myself but I knew the people who did and I believed them. The ships were seen on the ocean in broad daylight on a calm and clear day, and I never came up with a rational explanation for them. The incident niggled at my imagination for over forty years before I found the right context for it.

 

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

I am not a reunion-going kind of guy. But I went to my 41st college reunion, the first I ever attended, because an old pal of mine from my College of William and Mary days had died and our mutual friends were having a memorial for him. “Rabbit,” as I called him in the story, was a good man who led an admirable life. By coincidence, I had just learned of the death of another old friend who had behaved very badly in his last years, trashing several lives in the process. So I wanted to celebrate all that Rabbit had been. In part, at least, to get the taste of that other life out of my mouth.

Exactly how that played out and what I learned from the experience became the matter of “Ghost Ships.”

 

Was “Ghost Ships” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

When my wife, Marianne Porter, read the story, she said, “This is an essay.” She’d heard my stories and reminiscences over the years and knew that everything in it happened exactly as I wrote it down. So, yes, “Ghost Ships” is intensely personal. But at the same time, it’s not about me at all. It’s about the people I knew and what became of them and, ultimately, what becomes of all of us. Despite the fact that that I’m at the center of it and everything is filtered through my perceptions and emotions, I think I’m the least important, least interesting element of the story.

I realized much later that I began writing “Ghost Ships” shortly after the death of Gardner Dozois. So there’s a subtext of mourning his loss in there as well.

 

In this issue, you story is paired with a story your friend Gardner Dozois wrote just before he passed away last year. Everyone knows him as an editor, but no one knows him better as a writer than you do. Would you mind talking a little bit about his writing? What are the qualities of a Gardner Dozois story? What are the stories someone new to his writing should go find and read?

Gardner was one of the master stylists of science fiction. His peers, people like Joe Haldeman and George R. R. Martin, held him in awe. His prose was exquisite. Sentence by sentence, his best writing can go one-on-one with the best of Gene Wolfe or Ursula K. Le Guin. When Jack Dann or I collaborated on a story with him, he always had the final draft. That’s something I don’t think either of us would have entrusted to any other writer.

Gardner’s stories were unflinching and often dark, yet always deeply compassionate. Mostly, they were achingly beautiful. They showed just what prose could do.

For those unfamiliar with his work, any of his collections would be a great place to start. I’d give pride of place to his first, The Visible Man, with Geodesic Dreams (a “best of” collection, so there’s a lot of overlap) a close second. I recommend starting with “A Special Kind of Morning,” which was an anomaly for him in being a far-future war story, crammed full of bright invention and a wonderfully warm vision of what an extraordinary gift life can be. And it begins with the absolutely terrific first sentence, “Did y’ever hear the one about the old man and the sea?” Then read “Machines of Loving Grace,” one of the bleakest stories imaginable, and contemplate the fact that Gardner considered the ending upbeat because the protagonist never gives up on her determination to commit suicide. And then, well, all the rest.

Gardner only wrote one non-collaborative novel, Strangers, but it’s a stunner. Tom Purdom called it one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Adding, “It may well be one of the best novels ever written about the importance of culture.”  I can’t argue with that.

 

Why do you write?

Because I can.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I was part of the last generation of writers to enter the field having read pretty much everything of note that had ever been written as science fiction and part of the first generation to read everything (a much easier task then) that had been written as fantasy. Privately, I imagined their authors as one single, multi-talented genius capable of writing The Left Hand of Darkness, Have Space Suit Will Travel, Mistress of Mistresses, and The Incomplete Enchanter with equal ease. That’s my greatest influence.

If I get specific and mention writers like Gene Wolfe, A. S. Byatt, Samuel R. Delany, Joanna Russ, and Vladimir Nabokov, I’m just boasting—who knows with what validity? But those (and many others) are the people I’m trying to emulate.

 

What are you working on now?

Next year, Tor.com is going to publish The City Under the Stars, the novel that Gardner and I were working on when he died. As anyone who has ever read our novella, “The City of God,” which became the first half of the book, will attest, it has some of the darkest writing Gardner ever committed to paper. But it also has an upbeat ending—both for the protagonist and for the human race as a whole. I ended up writing that by myself but the vision was entirely Gardner’s. It mattered to him that his character would find safe haven and joy at the end of the ordeal that he had no idea was actually a pilgrimage.

I think it’s important for everyone to know that Gardner ended on a positive note. As, come to think of it, “Homecoming,” his final short story, does as well, though in a less straightforward manner. It was a joy to read it for the first time in F&SF.

 

“Ghost Ships” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1909.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

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

Photo credit: Mikey Mongol

Interview: Esther Friesner on “The Wrong Badger”

Tell us a bit about “The Wrong Badger.”

The first is the most difficult to answer as I’ve always been one for letting a story speak for itself. “The Wrong Badger” is more than ready to do so! I have been referring to it as the reason I might no longer be persona grata in England. Fortunately, having had some of my British friends read it before I submitted it, their reactions reassured me that All Would Be Forgiven.

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

It was one of these selfsame Beta readers whose Facebook feed provided the initial–albeit inadvertent–inspiration for the story. Liz Williams is herself a brilliant writer and a good friend. (I recommend her novel, Snake Agent, for starters. It’s a marvelous gateway to her work!) As I recall the thread, several people were posting about same-but-different things on our respective sides of the Atlantic. Authors from Side A writing stories set in Side B sometimes fail to do enough research, make assumptions, and consequently make mistakes. One such error noted in the discussion concerned the difference between European and American badgers. 

A European badger being described as if it were an American badger is–drum roll, please–the Wrong Badger!

There are times when the strangest things set me off down the path to Story. I wrote an entire YA novel, Temping Fate, thanks to a typo for the well-known phrase “tempting fate.” This was another one of those times. My Muse is a weirdo.

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

In addition to the above–and my ongoing Anglophilia–the only personal links to the story would be a delight and fascination with the incredible scope of actual theme parks, here and abroad. If you’re ever in France, visit Parc Asterix, based on the long-running and hilarious series of graphic novels. I took my non-French-speaking kids there once when they were small and they had a wonderful time anyway, thus proving that Theme Park is a universal language.

Why do you write?

Why do I write? I love it. I always have, even when it’s difficult. At those times a story becomes a puzzle to be solved to my satisfaction. If I don’t love the story, who else will? I enjoy writing in many voices, to many purposes, everything from light-and-silly to dark and serious. Bear in mind that just because a piece is funny, it can’t be dismissed as a wad of cotton candy for the mind. Humor can make plenty of socially relevant observations and raise some serious questions. Humor can make you think. No wonder tyrants fear laughter.

Who do you consider to be your influences?

My influences are myriad and widely varied. There’s no way I can honor them all. Maybe the best thing to do is speak about the two people who gave me so much inspiration and encouragement from the very beginning that. . .here we are. My mother was an English teacher, so when she told me stories, they were often from American literature. She motivated me to read, and before I learned how to write she would let me dictate to her the original stories I had to tell. My father taught me about comedy. He was a survivor of the Holocaust who lost his entire family but who still held onto a marvelous sense of humor. He would read Walt Kelly’s Pogo to me, and together we’d watch Rocky and Bullwinkle as well as–wait for it–the Three Stooges. Both of my parents loved watching Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Victor Borge, just to name a few. Our home welcomed laughter.

Dad also initiated trips to the local sundries shop so that he could buy me–GASP!–comic books. No wonder I turned out this way, though humor writers like Will Cuppy (The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody), Richard Armour (Twisted Tales From Shakespeare), and a host of others are likewise culpable.

What are you working on now?

At the moment, I’m busy with another YA novel and a scad of short stories. I like multitasking when I write. If I hit a snag in one project I give it a time-out and switch to another. It’s working! So am I.

“The Wrong Badger” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1909.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

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

Interview: Elizabeth Bear on “Erase, Erase, Erase”

Elizabeth BearTell us a bit about “Erase, Erase, Erase.”

“Erase, Erase, Erase,” is a story about trauma, dissociation, and personal responsibility as told through the metaphor of keeping journals. It’s about how we reinvent ourselves over time, and sometimes in process of destroying our attachment to painful pieces of our past, we destroy bits of ourselves, as well.

 

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

Well, I’ve never been a member of a terrorist cult, unlike the protagonist of this story! But I am a trauma survivor, and I have experienced the sensation of dissociation and of big swaths of memory that just… seem to have vanished from my recall. I was recently at Worldcon and re-met a person I’d apparently spent quite a bit of time with at a convention in Texas, an evening that she remembered quite clearly—and which I had no recall of at all.

I’m fascinated by memory and neurology, as my various work probably makes clear. My recent novel Ancestral Night deals heavily with the impermanence of memory, and how it changes over time.

As for the story itself, it’s a little bit nontraditional in format. It took a very long time to craft, given its length; about two years, if I remember correctly. (Of course, I do not remember correctly: that’s kind of the point.) But it’s made up of a lot of tiny moving pieces in suspension, a kind of nontraditional format that jumps around and doesn’t always offer clear transitions—sort of like memory.

 

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

Well, I have some things in common with the narrator of the story. They’re a writer, and a fountain pen and stationery nerd. I too am these things. I also definitely drew on my experience as a trauma survivor to make the protagonist’s experiences and damage feel true.

 

How did you discover the world of fountain pens, and what are some of your favorite pens and inks?

My mom is a fountain pen fan as well, and she got me hooked on them when I was very little. It’s been interesting to me to watch it become A Trend in recent years–suddenly I have lots of people to talk about pens with, and I’m spoiled for choice where ink is concerned!

My absolute favorite pen just in terms of user experience is probably a Pilot Custom Heritage 92 that I own. It has a medium-fine nib and it writes like a dream. (One thing I love about fountain pens is that they make it possible to write by hand for long periods without fatigue: because they work by capillary action, they don’t require any hand pressure, so they seem to float across the page. No writer’s cramp!) Another modern favorite is a Sailor Professional Gear, also with a medium-fine nib, and a Pelikan M400 with a fine nib.

I also have a couple of vintage pens that are very pleasant to use–an Eversharp with a very firm extra-fine point that makes a delightfully sharp line, and an Omas that just zips across the page.

I really like the inexpensive Chinese PenBBS pens as workhorses I don’t mind bringing on an airplane to faraway places. They’re made of beautiful acrylics and write very well. (I mean, fountain pens are generally not really inexpensive, though as a First Pen both the Pilot Metro and the Platinum Plaisir are great $10 gateway drugs.)

As for ink… good old Cross Violet is a lovely ink. I also really like a lot of the Pilot Iroshizuku line, especially Yu-Yake and Chiku-Rin. And Diamine Firefly, and J. Herbin Stormy Grey, and Sailor Bungubox Ink of Naotora…

Ahem. I have a small ink problem. I’m pretty much cut off for life from new ink purchases, as my supply currently exceeds my life expectancy by decades….

 

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

Oh, so much of it. It’s such a quiet story that making the tension come out was hard. The entire conflict is inside the protagonist’s head as they struggle to find ways to deal with their trauma and face up to pain and shame in order to (they hope) save the lives of others. Balancing that, and illuminating their confusion without confusing the reader—that was incredibly difficult.

It took me months to find a satisfying conclusion, as well. I think, structurally speaking, this was one of the more difficult stories I’ve ever written.

 

How do you view “Erase, Erase, Erase” in the context of your wider body of work?

I think thematically it’s of a piece with a lot of what I write. I keep coming back to ethics, personal responsibility, memory, trauma survivorship as central themes. But I think this story is a culmination of a lot of that work for me: I could not have written it even five years ago, because of the technical challenges involved.

 

What are you working on now?

Novel edits! I’m finishing up another White Space book, titled Machine, which is about a rescue doctor in deep space, and which borrows some tropes from the medical thriller genre. Then I have to write The Origin of Storms, which is the final book in an Indus-Valley-inspired fantasy trilogy.

 

“Erase, Erase, Erase” appears in the 70th Anniversary Issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1909.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/authors/kelly-link-authors/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-september-october-2019/

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 (all formats): https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-6-issue-subscription/

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

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

Click on Elizabeth Bear’s photo (image by Kyle Cassidy) to visit her website.

You can also access the author’s newsletter archive here: https://throwanotherbearinthecanoe.substack.com/archive

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