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Interview: Leo Vladimirsky on “Squidtown”

– Tell us a bit about “Squidtown.”

Squidtown takes place in the same world as Collar, which you guys so kindly published a few years ago. It’s part of the ‘Freeport’ universe, a world I’ve been slowly developing, story-by-story, that’s inspired by the Hanseatic League. I’ve been trying to build an alternate future for the world (our world) by extrapolating and exaggerating certain things.

 

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

Originally Squidtown was a sort of cyberpunky-heist story that began with the first line (unchanged since the first draft.) But the more I worked on it, the more I became intrigued in the place itself, and the crime aspect fell away. The story is inspired by a few things: particularly the rapid gentrification happening all over the world and our corollary romanticizing of decay (of which I am guilty) and the way that we see the world as permanent even though it is the exact opposite. Everything in this story (and in the real world) is about change, and yet we refuse to accept that change is the norm.

 

– What kind of research, if any, did you do for “Squidtown?”

I did a bit of reading about how people can function without tongues (or with partial tongues) as I was curious what kinds of sounds they made, how they might eat or taste or drink. A lot of the other visual descriptions come from things lodged in my head: squidtown is a bad translate of the nickname for Hakodate, a city in Hokkaido, and the Squidtown in the story is a mishmosh of the Seaport in NYC, San Pedro in LA, and Hakodate as well.

 

– What are you working on now?

I am in the thick of writing a novel based on an unpublished short story (‘The Horrorists’) I wrote at Clarion West last year. I’d say it’s about half-way done to a first draft that I could show to another person without them laughing in my face. I’ve got a box full of stories from Clarion that need attending to, but I thought I’d try to get to a novel first. I also, slowly, am trying to sort out the Freeport universe, as that will probably be the next big project I tackle.

“Squidtown” appears in the January/February 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1601.htm

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

Interview: Betsy James on “Touch Me All Over”

Tell us a bit about “Touch Me All Over.”

Don’t we all, somewhere between the ages of sixteen and twenty, pick up the glass knife?

Whether we find it innocently or it’s forced on us, it severs us from the cultural certainties we grew up with. For some, like Hilil, the separation is so complete that they must live peripherally in any society, and glimpse the universe at its making and unmaking.

 

What prompted you to write it?

I grew up with the concept of geologic time, and now live and work among very old cultures. It’s been a lesson in how arbitrary the human systems are from which we troll and kill. I love the names and shine of cultural knots—maybe because they’re so ephemeral? “Touch Me All Over” offered itself from a broken obsidian blade picked up on a windy New Mexico mesa, and a bleeding thumb.

 

Is the story personal in any way?

SF has served me as a bearskin of sorts. Though have you ever tried to keep the wind out with a bearskin? And yes, I have kept my grandmother’s name.

 

What are you working on now?

Roadsouls, which may be about stumbling around in the dark banging your head on things, will be available in April from Aqueduct Press. It’s set in the same universe as “Touch Me All Over.” Elsewhere I have two contemporary teens stuck on a fairly recent—like, 3,000-year-old—lava flow, and the stars are in the wrong place. God knows what will happen now.

 

“Touch Me All Over” appears in the January/February 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1601.htm

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

Interview: Bennett North on “Smooth Stones and Empty Bones”

– Tell us a bit about “Smooth Stones and Empty Bones.”

“Smooth Stones” is the story of a teenage girl, Helena, who has fallen in love with another girl and is facing a dilemma. Her girlfriend’s younger brother has been missing in the woods for several days and it’s becoming less and less likely that he’ll be found alive. Helena’s mother is a witch and Helena knows that, should it come down to it, she can raise the little boy from the dead, but that power comes at a cost that she’s not sure she’s willing to pay.

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

This was one of those stories that came to me fully formed. I actually wanted to write a horror story, although it edged more toward fantasy as I wrote it. Combining necromancy with mundane real life appealed to me. The image of the skeleton in the chicken coop came to me first, with the idea of it being something normal and a little inconvenient rather than horrifying. When you can “fix” death, how do you use that power? You can’t use it every time someone dies, so what are your personal limits? And then how do you justify those limits to yourself?

 
– This is your first published story.  How long have you been writing, and what did it take for you to get to this point?

I’ve been writing for most of my life, although only seriously in the last ten years. Honestly the hardest part of writing, for me, has been figuring out when to stop editing and just accept that the story is finished. “Smooth Stones” is one of the first stories I’ve had the courage to send out, and I’m really delighted that C.C. Finlay saw something in it.

 

“Smooth Stones and Empty Bones” appears in the January/February 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1601.htm

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

Interview: Alex Irvine on “Number Nine Moon”

– Tell us a bit about “Number Nine Moon.”

Every once in a while I get an urge to write an old-fashioned problem-solving SF story. Also I love Mars and fiction about Mars. So “Number Nine Moon” puts those two things together. It follows a couple of good-natured looters who decide they’re going to take advantage of the failure of Earth’s Mars colony by digging around in the abandoned settlements before they catch the space elevator up to the last transport. Then something goes wrong and they’re stuck on the other side of the planet while the bus is leaving. How do they get off? That’s where the problem-solving comes in.

 

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

Gordon sent me the cover image (of the issue that this story appeared in) and two things struck me about it right away. One, I loved the retro look of the rocket. Two, I saw the number 9 up in the sky well before I figured out that it was actually Phobos. So right there the title popped into my head, and the next thing I thought was that I didn’t want to write an alternate-past-future kind of story, so how was I going to work that rocket into a story set on Mars in a near future that made sense for our current situation? The story came together from there, especially once I figured out that Steuby was in it.

I’d been tinkering with another story involving Steuby, and when I saw the cover I realized that actually he should be in this one. I’m still writing the other one, which is about his time on the Moon working at a tourist trap.

 

– What kind of research, if any, did you do for “Number Nine Moon?”

I like to get as many of the details right as possible when I’m writing a science fiction story, unless it involves something like teleportation or FTL. Even then I tend to pick a likely sounding theory and work with it. So for this story I caught up on Mars developments, did some general reading about the Martian environment, and also researched different kinds of rocket fuels. That turned out to be pretty interesting, and I developed a love for the word hypergolic.

 

– Most stories of Mars revolve around its colonization, not its abandonment.  Why did you decide to write about a less hopeful idea of Mars?

History is full of abandoned colonies, right? Vinland, Roanoke, Santa Elena…those are just the ones in the New World. They’re all fascinating stories because they start out with optimism and striving, and then reality sets in. That’s a pretty common process in many areas of human endeavor, I think, and bears some exploring in fiction. At the end of “Number Nine Moon,” the characters haven’t given up on Mars permanently. They know they’ll come back someday. They’re just going to have to keep trying, like the rest of us in real life.

Plus the idea of the abandoned colony is a powerful figure for the broader idea of reach exceeding grasp. We have dreams and ambitions, and we try to make them come true…but sometimes they don’t work out and we have to take a look at how we might handle those failures and use them to succeed (or at least fail better) next time.

I have all kinds of hope for establishing colonies on other planets, but I also wonder if maybe the real problem with colonies isn’t going to be the Martian environment, but upheavals back here at home that make it impossible to support the colonies. So “Number Nine Moon” touches on that idea.

 

– What are you working on now?

All kinds of things. I’m about to finish my first original novel in a long time, which is sort of about HG Wells but also involves World War I, the Partition of India, and some other stuff that I don’t want to jinx myself by talking about too much.

I recently finished a book tied into the new Ubisoft game Tom Clancy’s The Division, called New York Collapse. It’s a little different than your average tie-in, because it takes the form of a survival guide that is also full of marginalia and doodles written by the woman who has it during the actual collapse of civilization that forms the game’s backstory. Then there are puzzles both in the main text and the survivor’s notes. That was a really fun project to work on.

Other stuff: I’m still writing the Marvel games Avengers Alliance, War of Heroes, and Marvel Puzzle Quest. Also a series of Deus Ex comics and a couple of other things I can’t talk about yet. You know. Staying busy. Plus we just added a new baby to the family, so there’s a lot going on.

Alex Irvine is on Twitter at @alexirvine and easy to find on Facebook, so he says.

“Number Nine Moon” appears in the January/February 2016 issue.  You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1601.htm

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

Interview: Nick Wolven on “Caspar D. Luckinbill, What Are You Going To Do?”

– Tell us a bit about “Caspar D. Luckinbill, What Are You Going To Do?”

Let me start by saying a little about myself. I’ve lived a long time in the orbit of Columbia University, and one persistent feature of the area, along with student joggers and visiting high school groups, is a regular crop of sidewalk canvassers–young men and women with clipboards and a cheery demeanor, asking passersby if they’d like to lend help to democrats or women or the Earth. I’ve always wondered about the effectiveness of that kind of scattershot fundraising, and about the dynamics of awareness-raising in general. What happens when appeals to our deepest concerns–the plight of the unfortunate, the despoliation of the environment–become just another set of distractions in a so-called attention economy?

It’s an issue that goes back to the fifties at least, when cultural commentators worried about the combination of an emerging “affluent society” with the machinations and manipulations of television-empowered admen. The media critic Neil Postman used to complain about TV news programs, for instance, in which disasters and deaths and puppies and toothpaste commercials would follow one another in rapid succession. In the internet age, this postmodern blending of the monstrous and the mundane has become less linear (now this, now this, now this) than omnipresent (all this, all the time).

Anyway, that explains a bit of the thinking behind the piece.

 

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

This story has been floating around for many, many years. I’m hard-pressed to remember what originally inspired me to write it.

Way back, I had a friend who was something of a recovering Catholic. She used to talk about different kinds of good deeds, different reasons for helping people. It’s been a while, but I seem to remember her positing a set of distinctions between charity, compassion, and guilt.

The thinking goes like this. Say you want to help the poor. Well, what motivates you? Why bother?

Perhaps you do it because you feel guilty about your own comparative good fortune. If that’s the case, you’re really helping the poor to help yourself–to relieve the pain of feeling guilty. The problem is that once you stop feeling guilty, you stop helping. So distracting or consoling yourself becomes a tempting alternative to actually doing something useful.

Or let’s say you help the poor out of genuine pity, because you empathize with their hard luck. You’re not just doing it to get out of feeling guilty, but acting through real compassion. The problem here is that this ends up putting pressure on the poor to inspire compassion, to arouse our empathy and prove that they’re worthy of sympathy–like the sort of beggar who is compelled to reassure everyone that he doesn’t drink or do drugs. What if he does? This can end up holding the less fortunate to a higher moral standard.

And so we come to the concept of charity, which leaves human dessert out of the question (we’re all miserable sinners anyway, in the Christian formulation) and says we should just give what we can to others, period. Do it not for yourself, or even for those less fortunate, but for God, or for society, or just because. The problem with charity is that it depends on obedience to some higher power or institution–a church, a society, a government that gives tax breaks.

I seem to remember that my recovering-Catholic friend thought that her Christian-influenced culture was too wrapped up in questions of pity and guilt, and overly neglectful of charity–unlike Islam, say, which is a little more explicit about the centrality of almsgiving.

Anyway, I think back to those conversations often. Questions of guilt have become very troubling to me. To what extent should Americans feel personally guilty, say, about our government’s actions? Or about structural privilege? Is guilt the proper response to those things, or is it just another way to be histrionic and self-involved?

 

– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?

Nothing substantial.

 

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

Well, having dished out all this stuff about politics and theology, I’m not sure what to say about the actual story. When I brought a much earlier draft to my Clarion workshop, Jeff VanderMeer busted my chops for writing a piece that was too political, while Karen Fowler thought it was a great idea with callow execution. What can I say? When I reread the piece, I usually chuckle a few times. Maybe it all goes back Richie Tozier’s outlook on life. If nothing else, you can read this story for the chucks.

 

– What are you working on now?

Oh, I’m still grinding away at a novel I’ve been working on. Slow going.

 

“Caspar D. Luckinbill, What Are You Going To Do?” appears in the January/February 2016 issue of F&SF.

You can buy that issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1601.htm

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

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