Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum • RSS

Interview: Holly Messinger on “Byzantine”

Tell us a bit about “Byzantine.”

I call it a gay demon romance set during the Siege of Constantinople. I wanted to play with the “deal-with-the-devil” trope, to figure out why a demon might enter into a bargain with a human in the first place, and who might come out ahead in such a deal? For self-indulgent writerly reasons I set that story against the historical backdrop of the Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

 

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

“Byzantine” is the origin story of a villain, and I’d been composting it for a while—I had the characters in mind, I just needed to find them a setting with the appropriate grandiose background. This isn’t a Bond-type villain who has grand plans for taking over the world; he’s a pure sociopath, but clever enough to keep the world from noticing how much destructive potential he has. I wanted to explore the motivations of such a villain, and I needed to set that against the stage of major world events, to illustrate how the struggles of kings, especially in the name of faith, can outshine the predatory or indifferent acts of evil that take place in the shadows.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Byzantine?”

I initially chose the Conquest of Constantinople somewhat at random, because I needed the backdrop of a long siege with plenty of carnage, but once I started doing research I became fascinated by the military history, the politics of the world stage at the time, and the character of Mehmet II, who was a bleeding genius and probably a sociopath himself (this was a guy who had his baby brother drowned in the bath while his father’s body was still warm). He ended up being a magnificent foil for the antihero of my story, because both of them are dudes whose inner lives will never be known, only inferred from their actions and the myths they create of themselves. And maybe when a guy succeeds in conquering the world, the myth he writes of why he did it is probably not that inaccurate.

 

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

Honestly, this one came together so easily I kept second-guessing myself, thinking it wasn’t going to work: that it was a cheat to use actual history for the backbone of the plot and I was just writing my own fanfic. And both those things may be true but it doesn’t mean the story can’t work on its own machinery. I wasn’t sure until the next-to-last scene whether it would come together, but a writer’s subconscious is a marvelous thing. Once I got to that “Aha!” moment—or as I prefer to call it, the “Oh, shit!” moment—I could see the whole architecture of the thing and it was solid.

 

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

I’ve been deep in the historical fantasy trench for a while now and I’ve kind of developed a pattern. I write the beginning of the story, get the setting, characters, and hook in place. Then I step back for a bit, do some research, make sure I have a feel for the setting and the worldbuilding. Often then I will write the ending, or what I think will be the ending, just to stake out the emotional arcs and/or the plot backbone. After that it’s advance, survey, research; lather, rinse, repeat until I get to the climax. “Byzantine” was so dependent on actual events, and the events themselves were so jaw-droppingly cool, it was more a matter of deciding what I was going to leave out. At the two-thirds mark in the story there was a turning point I knew needed to happen in my character arc, and I had to find an event during the siege that I could turn to my purpose. And that’s sort of my process in a nutshell—finding those parts of history I can exploit to serve my story.

 

Why do you write?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t invent stories. I remember being 7 or 8 years old, watching Wonderful World of Disney and suddenly understanding how plot worked. I wanted to write a sequel to The Apple Dumpling Gang. I went to first grade the following Monday and stapled together a little booklet in which to write my opus, and the teacher took it away from me because I wasn’t doing my seatwork. That set the pattern for my school and work life to date.

 

What are you working on now?

I just wrapped up the rewrites for my second Jacob Tracy novel, Curious Weather. Hopefully the pandemic won’t delay its release too badly. Ironically a major subplot of that novel has to do with creating a vaccine for a deadly magical contagion. Next up is a novel about Trace’s pal Boz and his adventures. Werewolves, Chinese coal miners, and worship of money-demons feature heavily in that one.

 

“Byzantine” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-2020/

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

Visit Holly Messinger’s website: www.hollymessinger.com

Interview: Richard Larson on “Warm Math”

Rich LarsonTell us a bit about “Warm Math.”

A claustrophobic escape pod thriller featuring espionage and psychosurgery.

 

 

 

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

“Warm Math” is obviously a riff on “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin, but I’ve never actually read that story — I just know the basic plot. It’s also inspired by Chuck Palahniuk and Memento, plus a long conversation that took place in a semi-flooded park in Gatineau.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

I’m more influenced by specific works than by specific authors. There are many writers who produce a whole bunch of stuff I’m ambivalent about, but one thing I love obsessively. For instance, CS Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen of Attolia, or MT Anderson’s feed. The writer I can think of who produced a whole bunch of stuff I love obsessively is Kenneth Oppel.

 

What are you working on now?

I use interviews as a way of procrastinating, so what I am not working on now is a novel about a despised prodigal returning to his icy homeworld to hunt down an ancient sapient machine and break a mining strike. It’s a mish-mash of many influences: the poem Beowulf, novels like Rose and Germinal, an old online game called Galidor Quest, and shows like Rick and Morty and Bojack Horseman. 

Sometimes I think it’ll turn out great. Sometimes I do interviews.

 

“Warm Math” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-2020/

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 Mr. Larson’s photo to visit his Patreon page.

Interview: Joseph Bruchac on “An Indian Love Call”

Joseph BruchacTell us a bit about “An Indian Love Call.”

 “An Indian Love Call” is the second -– or maybe the third -– short story in a series I am writing about two contemporary Native American characters who are very unlike the stereotypes of our people that still keep turning up in film and fiction. They are neither noble savages nor murdering aboriginals. Nor are they vanishing. (Hmmm, that last word may find its way into my next story about these guys.)  I want to blow up –– real good –– preconceptions about Indians.

My narrator, Billy, is blessed (or cursed) to have my second character Arlin Sweetwater as his lifelong best friend.  Blessed, because no one is as loyal as Arlin and cursed because Arlin is, quite frankly, what you might call a sweetly innocent mad scientist. 

Both of these guys are very tuned in to the 21st-century and, in Billy’s case, just about every aspect of American popular culture you could imagine. Thus the title of this story and the one that appeared in F&SF before it: “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.” 

Humor –– contrary to the popular image of native Americans as being stoic and humorless –– is a very big part of all our Native American cultures. But the funny stories we tell are meant to not just entertain but to teach. There is (and I hope readers will agree) a good dose of humor and irony in the story, as well as a good bit of cultural information, including indigenous language and traditional tales still present among my Mohegan cousins. 

 

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

My inspiration for the story was, quite frankly, the main characters themselves. They keep coming back to me and telling me there’s more to hear. 

I have to say, too,  that I have long been inspired by Native elders and friends of mine who were among the funniest folks I’ve ever met, even though they never became “famous.”

Comedians are some of my favorite people and comedy is one of the most brilliant ways of teaching that we are human beings are blessed with. Though I never met him, Jonathan Winters – – who was Native American – – was one of the heroes of my childhood. And Charlie Hill, who was Oneida and the first American Indian comedian to make it onto the national stage is another shining light I am proud to have met.  My old friend Vine Deloria Jr. (Lakota) devoted an entire chapter of his classic book CUSTER DIED FOR YOUR SINS to American Indian comedy. Whenever I met up with Vine and he started telling jokes, I always had to listen very carefully because often the point of those jokes was not just to make me laugh but to point out to me something I needed to pay attention to in my own life. 

Some—if not all— of our best contemporary native American writers are also deeply aware of the importance of humor. My old friend the brilliant and very serious Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Silko has made great use of humor in some of her stories and poems. Trickster wisdom—as the Chippewa author Gerald Vizenor might put it. And how can I not mention another of my First Nations writer amigos Drew Hayden Taylor (Anishinabe) who titled a recent collection of his sci-fi stories TAKE ME TO YOUR CHIEF and has another book called ME FUNNY?

 

What was the most difficult aspect of writing “An Indian Love Call,” and what was the most fun?

What was the most difficult aspect about writing the story? Right now, is figuring out what was most difficult. Like a lot of the stories I write, it sort of told itself and I went along for the ride. I guess the hardest part was knowing when to stop and not to overdo it. I hope I managed that. 

One of the things about Native American humor is that more often than not we make fun of ourselves and not others – – it’s not a mean spirited sarcastic kind of humor. You often find yourself in the butt of the joke. But, I think I have to be very careful in what I was saying about this. Another of my dear friends, the Kiowa author of the classic novel HOUSE MADE OF DAWN, N. Scott Momaday put it to me this way: “Joseph, as your uncle, let me caution you! American Indian humor is a very serious thing.”

And, as to what was the most fun? Spending time with these two characters again. Some thing I intend to keep on doing.

 

Why do you write?

At some point, very early in my life, writing chose me. It isn’t just something I do. And it’s not something I do for money. It is in my heart and in my spirit and I hope to be worthy of that gift I’ve been given. 

On a very serious note, decades ago one of my dear friends Dewasentah, who was the clan mother of the Eel Clan of the Onondaga nation, presented me with a small eagle feather and a miniature lacrosse stick — both in an envelope with the name Ga-neh-goh-hi-yoh on it —when I was making my yearly visit to the Onondaga Nation School to teach classes in Creative writing and storytelling to the kids. “You’ve  been coming here so long,” she said “you need an Onondaga name.  It means The Good Mind and you should have that name because your writing is a gift from The Creator.”

I try, in whatever I write, to live up to that name — which is an awfully big task. 

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

My influences are so many it would be hard to list them all.In terms of fantasy and science-fiction, I have been reading everything I can get my hands on ever since I was in fifth grade and my cousin Bobby told me he had something for me. He pointed up to the attic and when I went there I found the floor covered with hundreds and hundreds of those little 10, 15 and 25 cent scifi paperbacks that used to be published. It took me weeks to bring them all home in the basket of my bicycle. I still have some of them in my own attic. My first introduction to people such as Asimov, Bradbury, Van Vogt, Vance and a host of others. 

I should also add that a huge influence in terms of short story writing was one of my teachers at Syracuse University- the wonderful Grace Paley. 

And the idea of telling our own American Indian stories from a perspective that includes the incorporation of traditional stories and language? I have to give credit there to another one of my friends and teachers, who was actually on my PhD committee, the ground-breaking Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe whose THINGS FALL APART is one of the classics of world literature. 

 

What are you working on now?

I always have at least three or four different writing projects underway at any given time. One is a novel in verse for middle grade readers that takes place on one of our New England reservations during the current coronavirus pandemic. Another is a biography of the famous Seneca orator Red Jacket. And yet another story about Arlin and Billy is in the planning stage.

Thinking of the current situation – – and who knows how far downstream this current is going to sweep us—one thing I am doing these days, along with my two sons James and Jesse,  are daily life streams at 1 PM Eastern standard time on our Ndakinna Education Center Facebook page. 

Normally, at this time of year, we’d be storytelling, performing, teaching the Abenaki language, having school field trips, teaching classes in outdoor education and doing martial arts instruction (all 3 of us are black belts in Brazilian jujitsu and a few other martial arts disciplines) at our Ndakinna center which is located on an 80 acre nature preserve in the Adirondack foothillls.  But now? Fuggidabowdit! 

Anyhow, every Monday and Wednesday at 1 pm you can see me doing storytelling, music, and maybe reading something from one of my books at our Ndakinna Education Center Facebook page. Check it out. 

 

“An Indian Love Call” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-2020/

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

Clicking on Mr. Bruchac’s picture (photo credit Eric Jenks) will take you to his website: http://josephbruchac.com/

Interview: Ray Nayler on “Eyes of the Forest”

Tell us a bit about “Eyes of the Forest.”

“Eyes of the Forest” is a story about human explorers trying to survive in the deadly, primeval forest of alien planet. One injured explorer is racing against time to save the life of another.

 

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

I set myself a challenge when writing “Eyes of the Forest.” I wanted to do a few things that were difficult to do in the same story:

First: I wanted to write a hard science fiction piece that has the pace and drive of the early planetary exploration adventure stories: one that starts in media res with a “ticking clock” plot – a race against death.

Second: I wanted to create a world with a completely alien but completely believable ecosystem.

Third (and maybe the hardest): I wanted to use the story to explore, and introduce to readers, a field of science I have been fascinated with and reading deeply in for years: biosemiotics. In short (and here’s I’m paraphrasing Soren Brier, the author of the book Cybersemiotics), biosemiotics seeks to understand how animals use specific types of signals and signs for survival as well as how human sign-use (semiosis) is both linked to and different from that of animals. The objective is to find the commonalities in sign-use across species, and in fact even down to cellular levels of exchange, to understand the phenomenon of communication in its totality.

“Eyes of the Forest” is an adventure story about communication and meaning. It is a story about how what matters is not the anthropocentric view. What matters is not what humans think, but rather what the eyes of the forest see. If the humans on this alien planet are going to survive, they need to get out of their own heads and see as the forest sees. And this forest – as is clear when you read the story – and I am trying hard to avoid any spoilers here – sees the world in a way that is completely different from ours.

The humans on the planet need to break out of their own way of seeing and see differently. The story is very much inspired by the book How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human by Eduardo Kohn, who explores this concept of perception deeply, and I am indebted to his book for the theoretical underpinnings of the story.

 

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

To create the ecosystem, I refreshed a lot of my knowledge of marine biology. The inhabitants of the forest are modeled, for the most part, on marine organisms. The marine world on Earth is the most fantastically alien environment imaginable: when I was serving in Vietnam as the Environment, Science, Technology, and Health Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City, I did a good amount of scuba diving. I initiated a “Save the Dugong” campaign to raise awareness of the importance of marine environment preservation, and was involved with a biodiversity conservation program on the Con Dao Archipelago there in association with a great organization called Biodiversity PEEK (Photography Educating and Empowering Kids.) We did a night dive along some reefs there that I will always remember as one of the most intensely alien experiences of my life. You don’t have to go far to find a world beyond human comprehension.

The biosemiotics underpinning of the story largely come from, as I mentioned above, How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human by Eduardo Kohn. Another book which has been an enormous influence on me is Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs, by Jesper Hoffmeyer. There are dozens of other books too, but I don’t want to turn this into a bibliography. Let’s just say I take research seriously. For me, research is a joy: it’s an excuse to really dig into a topic and explore it. It takes a lot of research to be able to communicate an idea clearly, but I love doing it. I’ve always loved it: even as a kid, I lived in the library stacks when I wasn’t out sailing my little boat around our local lake or riding my skateboard or snowboard.

 

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

I think the most difficult part of the story really was the most fun: balancing my three goals and trying to create a story that respected all of them – the speed and fun of the story, the technical detail of the story’s invented ecosystem, and the story’s biosemiotics underpinnings. Of course worldbuilding is always really fun: I had a really good time coming up with all the strange creatures living in this ecosystem’s niches, and the ways they interact with one another and the human explorers. And the Given Names: it was fun to play with those. Again, no spoilers, though.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?

In fiction and writing in general: Patricia Highsmith, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, Dorothy B. Hughes, Theodore Sturgeon, W.G. Sebald, Eric Ambler. These really shift over time: those are who come to mind right now.

In science and philosophy: Kaja Silverman, Mary Wollstonecraft, Joseph Hoffmeyer, Donna Haraway, Gregory Bateson, Wendy Wheeler, Charles Sanders Peirce, Thomas Nagel, and Julia Kristeva immediately come to mind.

Kaja Silverman’s The Subject of Semiotics tore my mind apart and fundamentally changed my life. My professor at UCSC, Earl Jackson, Jr. is the person to whom I am most intellectually indebted, and I would not be writing science fiction without him. That’s a fact.

 

What are you working on now?

I have a daughter, Lydia, who just turned 1. I’m up at 5 in the morning to write every day so I can get the time in before she wakes up at 6 and we start our day together. I’m working on being the best dad to her I can be, and the best husband I can be, while maintaining something of my own identity and creativity. I think that’s plenty!

 

“Eyes of the Forest” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-2020/

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

Ray Nayler’s website: https://www.raynayler.net/

Interview: Tom Cool and Bruce Sterling on “Hornet and Butterfly”

Tell us a bit about “Hornet and Butterfly.”

BS: It’s a futuristic warning about a Chinese catastrophe, which we wrote just before the latest Chinese catastrophe.
TC:  It’s a traditional hypersexual love story about assassins who identify as insects.

 

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

TC: Bruce and I have been friends since the late 90s, when we both lived in Austin. After publishing a few SF novels back then, I concentrated on my computer science career, but I’m in the mood to get back in the game.
BS:  I was quite the fan of Tom’s highly unusual military SF, and I always wanted to write something like that, and now I have.

 

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for “Hornet and Butterfly?”

BS: We used a “mood board,” which is a technique used by designers.  We collected and pinned-up graphics for world-building imagery, such as AI, security surveillance, Xinjiang re-education centers, refugee camps, militarized islands.
TC: Face recognition, neural experimentation with monkeys.  Ocean-borne cities and post-disaster hardware. I’ve seen hundred-thousand-ton aircraft carriers take grey water right over the bow, so that’s how the Raft inverted.

 

Can you tell us anything about the writing process for this story?

BS. The images on the mood board coalesced into scenes and settings. We volleyed a few plot outlines back and forth, inventing characters. Then Tom wrote a first draft and we just had at it tooth and claw.
TC: I’ve collaborated before, but this was like swimming with the great whites. Bruce weighed in so heavily that every draft felt like a transmutation.
BS: It was interesting to see more and more unearthly material arise, stuff that neither he nor I could ever write alone.

 

Why do you write?

BS:  I write a lot of material that publishers never see.  Prose helps me assemble ideas that would otherwise just be me silently staring out the window.  I’m a writer beset with ideas.  I have thousands.
TC: When I was a boy, I thought novelists were cooler than astronauts. In these times, I thank God I have my craft to focus on and to maintain headway. It’s a hard thing for a cyberpunk to survive into the future of his imagination. My first novel was INFECTRESS, so help me.

 

Who do you consider to be your influences?
BS: Well, I read all the standard cool guys you would expect a cyberpunk to read, Ballard, Burroughs, Pynchon, Bester, Delany. I used to hang out at the thrones of Harlan Ellison and Brian Aldiss.
TC: Heinlein. Wells. Orwell. “Doc” Smith. Herbert. Ellison. Farmer. Vonnegut. Sterling. Gibson. Stephenson. Ex-genera, Patrick O’Brien and Cormac McCarthy. Two great examples of transcendence of genre.

 

What are you working on now?

BS: These days, I like writing Italian-influenzed “fantascienza,” meaning science fiction that I would write if I was Italian.  I’m not Italian, but that’s why it interests me — it’s like I’m collaborating with an entire European peninsula.
TC: This morning, I submitted to DIA for security review a final draft of TESTIMONY, a book of essays on the nature of time, an occult God, who killed JFK, sex as data, and 66 other things. TRANSGENIC, a satire involving dynamically transhuman MDs, is on the market. I’m about to start on Sun Queen, the third STAR ENVOYS novel written on spec, where our heroes are invoked inside a billion-year-old Dyson sphere, and ROBOT LAW, a noir thriller set post-Singularity.

 

“Hornet and Butterfly” appears in the May/June 2020 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a paper copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc2020-29.htm

You can buy an electronic copy of the issue here: https://weightlessbooks.com/format/the-magazine-of-fantasy-and-science-fiction-may-june-2020/

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

« Previous PageNext Page »

Copyright © 2006–2020 The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction • All Rights Reserved Worldwide
Powered by WordPress • Theme based on Whitespace theme by Brian Gardner
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to sitemaster@fandsf.com.

Designed by Rodger Turner and Hosted by:
SF Site spot art