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Interview: Paolo Bacigalupi on “A Hot Day’s Night”

– Tell us a bit about “A Hot Day’s Night.”

A hot day’s night was a chance to look at near-future climate change and drought in the Southwest. Lucy Monroe, the main character is a journalist who has just come to Phoenix, a city that is collapsing due to its lack of planning, and Lucy is on the hunt for stories that illustrate the place that Phoenix is becoming.

One of the things that interesting to me about places when they break down is that they don’t simply turn into the stereotypical wastelands of roaming cycle gangs and hardy survivors–collapse is much more complex. There are losers, but there are also, oddly, winners when everything changes, and I’m interested in those people who find ways to adapt, and survive despite the fact that everything seems to be falling apart. Charlene is one of those people, and so it was interesting to have Lucy go on a sort of ride-along with Charlene, as to see the broken world of Phoenix through Charlene’s opportunistic eyes.


– “A Hot Day’s Night” gives us a glimpse into the world of your new novel, The Water Knife. Can you tell us a little of what the book is about?

Yes, “A Hot Day’s Night” is sort of a prequel to The Water Knife. Lucy is one of the main characters in the novel as well, and by the time of the novel, she’s much more experienced and hardened by life in Phoenix.  The Water Knife is really my attempt to get a grasp on the hazards of climate change coupled with the hazards of our seeming stubborn determination to do nothing to plan for it, or mitigate against it.  It’s the worst case scenario future, but again, there are winners and losers. Some people are profiting and thriving in the apocalypse, while others are hurting deeply. The story follows three characters, Lucy, plus a Texas drought refugee names Maria, and finally the “water knife” of the title,  Angel Velasquez, a sort of hired gun who acts to secure water rights and control for the city of Las Vegas, which is Phoenix’s main competitor for water on the Colorado River.  The story centers around a hunt for water rights, but overall is story of these three characters each trying to figure out what their moral and ethical obligations are in a broken world, even as they try to survive it.


– How is your writing shaped by your experience at High Country News?

High Country News had a huge impact on my early SF writing. The journalists I worked with there continue to provide inspiration and insight into our changing world, and I rely on them heavily.  Working with them meant that I always had access to the small details that have been harbingers of greater change. For a book like The Water Knife, people like Matt Jenkins and his reporting on the water politics of the Colorado River gave me insight into how fragile and vulnerable the Western U.S. was to drought. It inspired my first short story about climate change, “The Tamarisk Hunter,” and that also eventually grew in both “A Hot Day’s Night” and The Water Knife.  Numerous other stories were also deeply influenced by their reporting. Journalists like Michelle Nijhuis, Laura Paskus, Greg Hanscom, and many others continue to inspire new stories.  Really, without the reporting and experiences of working with those journalists, I would never have become the writer I am today.

“A Hot Day’s Night” appears in the September/October issue of F&SF, which you can purchase here:

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Interview: Elizabeth Bear on “The Bone War”

– Tell us a bit about “The Bone War.”

“The Bone War” is the story of an independent scholar–in this case, a Wizard–who is hired to do some consulting work for a university and discovers the joys of navigating academic politics.

It’s much more fun than that makes it sound. ;)


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

Well, two things. Two of my friends are in the midst of academic job searches, and I’ve been hearing their woes on that front. The story is for them–Arkady Martine and Liz Bourke. Also, a couple of years ago, a fan…and for my sins, her name escapes me now–gave me a piece of fan art about Bijou and an apatosaurus, and I was instantly convinced I needed to write that story! (The Titan in The Bone War is modeled on a Giraffatitan, however!)


– “The Bone War” is set in the universe of your Eternal Sky series of books.  Can you tell us about the world of those books?

It’s… big. It’s a world I’ve been working on, in one way or another, for over twenty years at this point–stitching bits on and telling stories in corners. It emerged as a response to my frustration with epic fantasy worlds that are big, but static–they seem to have no history, and they seem to have no economics and no technological growth. Those worlds that get stuck in or around 1100 or thereabouts forever, basically.

Bijou’s part of the milieu is very equivalent to the 1800s or early 1900s (depending on what part of her life we’re talking about, though apparently they had roaring twenties style motorcars a lot earlier in her world) in an area that would be similar to North Africa in our world, though there are some significant differences. But I’ve also written some short stories set in various other parts of the setting, and one full-length epic fantasy trilogy (The Eternal Sky), which would have taken place about 400 years before the Bijou stories and in the central plains of a completely different continent. Now, I’m just about a hundred pages or less from finishing the first volume of *another* trilogy (The Lotus Kingdoms) that take place about 50 years after that story ends. I have some idea of the cultures of the entire Western hemisphere of this world, and a broad grasp of about 2000 years of its history. I’d love to have the opportunity to keep exploring that!

“The Bone War” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can buy it here:

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Interview: “A House of Her Own” by Bo Balder

– Tell us a bit about “A House of Her Own.”

It’s set on a human colony world which has been cut off from Earth for a long time. Humans have gotten into a symbiotic relationship with local flora/fauna, the hice. They’ve replaced the hice’s old commensal species. When tax collectors from Earth return to reclaim the old colony, they don’t know how to deal with this relationship; they can’t even see it.


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

As a teenager when I was taught English in school, I’d wonder at the lack of regularity in plurals and always thought house should be conjugated like mouse. One day, decades later, that notion popped up again in my head and the hice grew from there pretty quickly.

I’m always fascinated at humanity relating to the other, to creatures that have goals and worldviews completely unlike their own.


– Was “A House of Her Own” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I think a story is always personal. But specifically, I was an odd, fierce little girl. I dressed as a boy whenever I could to escape the strictures of being a girl in those days. I had a lot of freedom, I could roam our village without any supervision all day long, climbing trees, making fires, fighting. That gave me independence and also the idea that adults were idiots. I thought I knew everything.

My protagonist is a girl who doesn’t have to deal with notions about girlhood, but she’s as fierce and stubborn as I was.

At the same I’m writing this as an adult, my readers are adult, so that gives this story more layers, because adults see the gray instead of the black and white and look ahead for the inevitable consequences.


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

Primarily, I hope they’ll just enjoy it. And for those readers who want more, maybe remember their own childhood state of mind and how different they view things now. And there’s the clash of cultures, of colonization, and how easy it is to think from the preconceptions of your own culture.

“A House of Her Own” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can buy that issue here:

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Interview: Rick Bowes on “Rascal Saturday”

– Tell us a bit about “Rascal Saturday.”

My story, Rascal Saturday, is set a couple of generations down the line in a time of global warming and growing political chaos. In this future, Manhattan is nicknamed, “The Big Arena.”

At the center of the story is a gifted but unstable and corrupt Irish American Family, the Dineens. The Dineens are famous in our world, and are secretly the self-proclaimed rulers of the city of Naxos and its Fey-like population. Naxos is in an alternate world to which they have access.

Janina Dineen, a young scion of the house, is seeking to end this injustice.


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

I tend find myself writing series of stories that share a common themes and settings. “Rascal Saturday” is one of a group that started with “Tales That Fairies Tell,” in Paula Guran’s original anthology, Once Upon A Time (2013). Last Year’s Nebula Award nominated novelette “Sleep Walking Now and Then” ( was another one. The story, “Anyone With A Care For Their Image,” came out this year in Uncanny, and “Time is a Twisting Snake,” was in the newly resurrected Farrago’s Wainscot early this year.

These days, my novels are fix-ups – related stories assembled into a narrative line. That’s how my Minions of the Moon (1999), From The Files Of The Time Rangers (2005) and Dust Devil On A Quiet Street (2013) were created. Each of those books contained chapters that had once been original stories in original anthologies, in online magazines and in print magazines: especially F&SF. Some won awards and some were on short lists and in Year’s Best collections.

Maybe something like that will happen with these “Big Arena” stories. That doesn’t depend on me nearly as much as it does on where the stories take me.


– Was “Rascal Saturday” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I tend to write Urban Fantasy and it tends to be first person and varying degrees of “personal.” But I also write in a mode that’s a bit more Science Fictional. “From the Files of the Time Rangers” was about Time Travel and 20th Century U.S. politics and the upcoming Singularity as well as the Ancient Gods and their modern servants.

Two of the first three genre pieces that I wrote were paperback original novels. Both were published in the mid-1980s. Warchild and Goblin Market were both about Time Travel. The third novel, Feral Cell was dark Urban Fantasy and more personal. It was about alternate worlds and Cancer, which I had at that time.


– What are you working on now?

At the behest of Steve Berman at Lethe Press (who published my novel (Dust Devil On A Quiet Street) I’m working on a fix-up novel about being a gay kid in Boston, circa the late 1940’s – 1962. Several of the stories have been published “Stories I Tell To Friends” (The Revelator), “Seven Days of Poe” (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances), “Fordham Court,” (Interfictions).


– Anything else you’d like to add?

Selling a story to any venue makes me feel I need to do something in return. I want the story to succeed, get critical attention, award attention, and get selected for Year’s Best anthologies. Sometimes that happens more often it doesn’t. When I started selling stories in the early 1990’s, there were two prominent review sites for spec fiction stories; Locus Online and Tangent. Almost 25 years later, many things have changed but that’s still the case.

“Rascal Saturday” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  You can purchase it here:

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Interview: Nick Wolven on “We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss”

– Tell us a bit about “We’re So Very Sorry For Your Recent Tragic Loss.”

Adam Gopnik did this profile of Michel Houellebecq in the New Yorker a while ago. It’s all about the nature of satire. Gopnik says at one point that a satirist is someone who “likes to take what’s happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening.” Which makes all sci-fi writers satirists of a kind, I guess–except that in most sci-fi, what keeps on happening is awesome: the spaceships get better, the robots get smarter, everything’s on a grander scale. So you could maybe say that satire is like sci-fi, but with less awesomeness.

This story is satire. It asks what things will be like if we keep doing what we’re doing, using technology the way we’re currently using it. Specifically, it asks what’ll happen if we use the incipient “internet of things” the way we’re already using our internet of screens. The results are fairly Black Mirrorish.


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

Well, I think tech is in a pretty bleak place right now. Communications tech, anyway. Especially if you contrast it with the kinds of dreams we were dreaming twenty years ago. The guiding ethos has gone from being populist to consumerist–which always means the advertisers are running the show. You create some service or gadget or content that gets people hooked, which delivers customer feedback, which allows you to create even more addictive services and gadgets and content … it’s a merry-go-round. There are still some people working on interesting ideas, but we’re seeing a lot more of what I’d call gratuitous innovation, little tweaks and upgrades, new services that are basically rebranded variations on old services, all of it designed around that old adman’s gambit: you flatter the consumer with this kind of phony attention, then sucker-punch him with status anxiety. We did this with cars for sixty, seventy years, tinkering in the margins, trying to make the business of transportation work on the same principles as the fashion industry. We did it with drugs. For that matter, we did it with marriage.


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

It’s probably obvious. I’d been reading a lot of Luddite-lit when I wrote this. So not hard research, but certainly relevant background. Nick Carr, Sherry Turkle, Lanier, Postman, plus old-school cultural critics like Lasch and Lippmann and Galbraith. I mean, all tech criticism is really cultural criticism in disguise. My grandfather used to have some saying to the effect that a cynic is just an idealist who’s aging badly. I think what you see with a lot of these so-called Luddites is this almost mystical belief in the transformative power of technology. Definitely with Lanier, somewhat with Carr–they’re like these big grouchy grumpuses on the outside, but inside they’re stuffed with wispy cottony woo-woo. They really believe that every laptop holds a clue to our humanity. So I find them paradoxically inspiring. The standard counter in the popular press is to say something like, “What’s wrong with technology? Look, I just used my phone to find a new hair salon.” It’s the complacency of that second attitude that I find depressing.


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

Most people just read short stories so they can figure out where to submit their own short stories. So I guess I hope to give a reader something more enjoyable than a quarter hour of market research.

Earlier this year I did read one short story that literally made me jump to my feet. I remember standing up in my subway car, clenching my fists, thinking to myself, “Holy shit, this is literature, I’m reading literature.” What made it great was it was so unexpected. I’d never heard of the author before. I mean, my stop was coming up anyway, but I did jump up prematurely, if you know what I mean. I had an urge to pace. You always hope for that kind of wild surmise, but it comes along pretty rarely.


– What are you working on now?

Nothing I do with my time could ever be described as work. But I’m getting interested in psychometrics, AI, and the concept of randomness. They’re related in interesting ways. Psychometrics is all about how we measure our minds, and any system of measurement has biases, simplifications. So that has a lot of implications for AI, and vice versa. I should mention that I’m an AI skeptic, though. And randomness is key to probability theory, which is key to statistics, which is key to accurate measurement. So to the extent that we’re taking a numerical approach to the study of mind, this curious concept, randomness, is going to be increasingly important for understanding what it means to be human.

Actually, randomness is super interesting, even though no one can quite define it. Information theory, hierarchical complexity, even things like time and causality, they all seem to go back to this notion that no one understands very well. Predictable unpredictability, it’s like a kind of magic key for connecting the ideal world of math with the messiness of observed reality. So I’m banging together a sci-fi novel that plays with those ideas.

“We’re So Very Sorry for Your Recent Tragic Loss” appears in the September/October 2015 issue of F&SF.  Buy it here:

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