The July/August issue of F&SF turned out well enough that publisher Gordon Van Gelder has asked me to guest edit the fiction again.
Next guest issue: March/April 2015
Reading period: August 1-15, 2014
Online submissions form: http://submissions.ccfinlay.com/fsf/
That’s the nitty-gritty. Here are the details…
All stories for this issue must be submitted through the Moksha online submission system, located at http://submissions.ccfinlay.com/fsf/. Please do not email your submissions. If you want to submit hard copies of your submission, please follow the regular submission guidelines and they’ll be considered for other issues.
The submissions form will ask for your name, email address, cover letter, story title, and story. Cover letters aren’t required, and I usually don’t read them until after I read the story. But I like them! So if you do include one, mention your publishing history (if any) and any other relevant information like related expertise. For example, if you write a hard science fiction story about space travel, and you’re an scientist/astronaut who has actually been on the International Space Station, that would be good to know.
After you submit your story, you’ll get a tracking number and an automated email confirmation. The tracking number will allow you to check on the status of your submission through the website.
F&SF has no formula for fiction and there is no special theme for this issue. I am looking for stories that will appeal to science fiction and fantasy readers. You know what kind I’m talking about. The SF element may be slight, but it should be present. I prefer character-oriented stories. F&SF receives a lot of fantasy fiction, but never enough science fiction or humor.
For this submissions period, I will consider fiction up to 10,000 words in length. Stories should be attached as .doc or .rtf file. For a good article on standard manuscript preparation, see: www.sfwa.org/2008/11/manuscript-preparation/.
Payment is 7-12 cents per word on acceptance. F&SF buys first North American and foreign serial rights and an option on anthology rights. All other rights are retained by the author.
Although Gordon and I are different editors, F&SF is still the same magazine. So if either Gordon or I previously rejected a story, try sending me something new this time.
Let me know if you have any questions.
I’m looking forward to reading your stories!
- Your story in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction is about both literal and figurative “Subduction.” For readers unfamiliar with the term, what is subduction?
Subduction is a geological process, which means I can only explain it with a massive oversimplification: When two tectonic plates collide head-on, the denser one gets pushed downward. It eventually disappears into the Earth’s mantle, which is a layer where the pressures and temperatures are so great that solid rock flows like a slow liquid.
The friction and tension between the two tectonic plates causes earthquakes, and the collision can grow mountains. And when the edge of a plate encounters the mantle, it starts to melt, which leads to volcanoes. All this happens especially often where the plates under the Pacific Ocean meet the surrounding continents, which is why that area is called “the Ring of Fire.”
In an amazingly cool instance of synchronicity, on the day that this issue of F&SF first appeared in bookstores, xkcd ran a comic titled “Subduction License.”
That pretty much sums it up.
- This is a contemporary fantasy that takes place in the Pacific Northwest. Is it a spoiler if I mention that there are dragons in this story?
Yeah. Yeah it is. Thanks a lot.
- Oh. Sorry!
So how would you describe Oliver, the protagonist of “Subduction”?
When we first see Oliver, he is a damaged, fragile shell of a man. He can’t remember anything about himself, and he does a lot of watching and waiting because his conscious mind has no answers for him. He is, though, driven to act in odd ways by some other part of himself. His past and his personality are revealed to him in two or three stages throughout the story, until – just briefly – the whole situation is perfectly clear.
The inspiration for Oliver came from a couple of accounts of amnesia, one from someone I know personally, and in particular one news story that stuck in my mind from years ago: An American Fullbright scholar was traveling alone in India when he had a psychotic break caused by his anti-malarial medication, and he lost all memory of who he was and why he was there. He was taken in by people who assumed he was just another slacker drug addict, and because he was hungry for a persona he accepted that as his identity, until his memories started trickling back weeks later. Oliver is struggling with that same level of blank-slate vulnerability, and he is better than the people around him suspect.
- You’re a docent at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. How does that work connect with and inform your fiction writing, in this story and in general?
What appeals to me about speculative fiction is that I love asking, “What if?” and then seeing how weird and beautiful the world around us could get. The American Museum of Natural History fits right in with that because it’s a massive collection of things that demonstrate how weird and beautiful and thought-provoking the world already is. The tours I give go on far too long because the theme usually boils down to “Things That I Think Are Cool to Think About,” and my visitors and I get excited to discuss them.
Subduction and the other geology concepts I reference in this story are all material I had to master in order to give tours in the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. The creatures are inspired by ocean life exhibits. And to be honest, I was totally stuck on the ending of this story, until the 120-year-old transformational dance masks in the Hall of Northwest Coast Indians came to mind, and I found a way to incorporate that idea into the plot.
- “Subduction is included in the free edition of F&SF for Kindle (http://www.amazon.com/Fantasy-Science-Fiction-Exclusive-Digest/dp/B004ZFZCKY/) and Kindle UK (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fantasy-Science-Fiction-Extended-Edition/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/), so people have the chance to read it even without buying the issue. (Editor’s note: you should totally still buy the issue.) Where can people go if they want to find some other stories by you?
My story “The Muse of Empires Lost” is reprinted in Rich Horton’s Space Opera, which just came out – I’m a little stunned to be included in such an impressive table of contents.
Most of my stories have appeared in print anthologies, but “Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory,” which got some good critical attention, is online at Fantasy Magazine. There’s also a podcast of it on Podcastle. (Ann Leckie does one of the voices!)
I had a lot of fun with “Small Burdens,” which is on Strange Horizons.
A podcast of “Subduction” is currently in production by StarShipSofa.com.
And you can see a bit more about me at paulmberger.com.
- “Subduction” by Paul M. Berger appears in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It’s available in both print and electronic formats.
- The title of your story is “Belly” — whose belly is it?
Well, that’s the question, now, isn’t it? Obviously it’s the witch’s belly that imprisons the main character for her formative years. But the belly is also where you draw your strength. Your conviction. Your compassion, and your gut sense of right and wrong. So it might be someone else’s belly, too. I’ll leave that up to readers to decide.
- One of the things that I love about this story is that it feels like a fairy tale, but at the same time it feels brand new — like a fairy tale I’ve never read before. It’s a very grim story… and also very Grimm. What inspired the story?
Funny you should mention Grimm! One of the many good parenting decisions my mother made was to raise us on the original Grimm’s Brothers Fairy Tales, not the cleaned-up, Disneyfied versions. I will always be grateful for that. I still vividly remember the horrifying illustrations that came with the vicious, bloodthirsty, vengeful stories: they were made to look like old wood cutouts, but in vivid detail. Eyes rolling. Mouths agape in horror. They confirmed for me what I knew as a child to be true: monsters exist. People are wonderfully horrible. The stories never seemed old to me. They all seemed like they could have happened 100 years ago or yesterday.
That said, this was specifically inspired by a flashback I experienced when watching “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.”
- I want to ask about the flashback, but I think maybe it’s better to let people read the story, watch the movie, and wonder about it for themselves.
- Thematically, this is a story about abuse and overcoming abuse. Did that make it difficult to write?
Yes. It tore me apart. I had to keep putting it down and coming back to it. I think all told it took me more than a year, even without working on any other fiction. It is also extremely disgusting and I had to plan writing it carefully so it wasn’t close to any meals. But since nearly every fairy tale from Europe I grew up on is also about child abuse, it felt right.
- I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, so without giving anything away, let me just say that it’s the ending that makes me love the story. Did you always know it would end that way, or did you have other endings in mind too?
Besides the fact that I write rather instinctively and don’t really map out how a story will go ahead of time, the story had to end that way. There was no other way I could countenance writing such a terrible thing, without that ending.
- What are some of the things you do besides write fiction?
I earn my keep as a freelance copywriter, and I write essays and commentaries, most recently for Minnesota Public Radio. I ride my bike, I parent, I folk dance, I blog. I try to be a good friend.
- Where can readers go to find more of your writing?
Visit haddayr.com. I’ve got nearly everything I’ve written linked from there. Most of it’s free to view online.
- “Belly” by Haddayr Copley-Woods appears in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It’s available in both print and electronic formats.
- The title of your story is “The Traveling Salesman Solution.” What’s the traveling salesman problem?
The Traveling Salesman Problem is sort of a math puzzle, generally stated something like: “Given a list of cities he must visit, and knowing the distance between any of these points, what’s the shortest round-trip that hits each city only once?” It seems easy: You just figure out each possible route, measure it, and compare it to the others to find the shortest one. But the thing is, the set of all possible routes grows geometrically: If you have four cities in your sales territory, then there are six possible routes. If you have five cities, then there are 24 possible routes. Ten cities? 362,880 routes. And on up.
Brainteasers like the TSP are part of a class of problems mathematicians call “NP-complete.” Here’s the catch: Any NP-Complete problem can be transformed into any other NP-Complete problem, so if you find a solution to one of them, you’ve found the solution to all of them. The full set of NP-Complete problems includes other brainteaserish things (like sudoku puzzles and Minesweeper), as well as a host of nitty-gritty biological, economic, and comp sci situations.
- So finding a solution to that problem would be great, right?
Ha! Sorta! On the one hand, it would effectively burst the bonds of what we could make computers figure out, slingshotting our understanding of molecular biology, our capacity to design super-efficient circuits, our ability to analyze really complicated social graphs and food webs, and so on.
On the other hand, we actually rely on the functional unsolvability of NP-Complete problems in order to keep our communications secure and maintain the slim modicum of privacy we still enjoy. In the post-industrial world, it would be incredibly chaotic to abruptly have the Traveling Salesman cease to be a Problem.
- One of the things I love about this story is that the protagonist is an Army vet in a wheelchair. It changes the way he interacts with the world, but it doesn’t stop him from saving it. A lot of the details about him are very specific and feel real. Was the character based on someone you know?
I feel like this question is probably about the narrator’s personality, in which case the answer is “not really”–he’s sort of an amalgam of several folks. His perspective on the military and foreign policy is heavily informed by a couple guys I know who served in Afghanistan and Iraq–both of whom, thankfully, completed their service without significant bodily injuries.
But I was at a Whole Foods one time, drinking a coffee, when I noticed this big blue high-clearance dually pickup parked in the handicap space. I was wondering about the jackass who’d go and swipe the handicap space when a legless African-American lady came rolling up to the truck. She hit the keyless, opened the door, grabbed the inside of the door frame, and swung herself in. Then she leaned out, folded her wheelchair in a single motion, and pulled it in after her, where I guess she tucked it into the passenger side. She drove off, and I was left thinking about how we lump everyone in a wheelchair into this single “handicapped” classification, and how that can probably really start to grate on someone who is, in fact, very able-bodied in most senses, she just didn’t have any legs.
- Your story “No Sound of Thunder” was published in the June issue of Asimov’s. You’ve said that the two stories are sort of alternate-reality versions of each other. What are the two realities?
One of these stories fully and unapologetically embraces being a “grown-up” and accepting the necessity of doing violence to prevent greater violence. The other is romantically certain that we can always find a way to dodge around violence and destruction provided we stay nimble and are willing to make ourselves ridiculous, if that’s what it takes.
This answer probably seems a touch cryptic, but I want to be as non-spoilerish as possible!
- “The Traveling Salesman Solution” is dedicated to Ted Chiang, Michael Hoffman, and Matt Weitzel. What’s the connection between those three?
Well, Ted Chiang is a fantastic fiction writer. I especially love his stories “Exhalation” and “72 Letters.” But he also wrote this great essay that appeared in issue #23 of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet: “The Problem of the Traveling Salesman.” He concludes the article by challenging someone to write a good TSP story–which is something I’d already spent more than a decade complaining was basically impossible. But right on the heels of reading Ted’s essay I read this article in the New Yorker about a Michigan dentist who was infamous for his very anomalous marathon results, and suddenly a “good math story” seemed happy to just about write itself.
As for the other two, Michael Hoffman is a friend who served in Iraq as an infantry captain and linguist; a lot of the narrator’s feelings about war and the boogie dark come from my conversations with Mike and reading his writing. Matt Weitzel is a young guy, a programmer, who was kind enough to have cookies and coffee with me when I’d first started working on this story. He patiently explained why my initial framing of the Traveling Salesman Solution wasn’t really a solution, but rather “escaping the problem,” a phrase I loved enough to steal. The narrator inherited his incredulity from Matt.
- There is a lot of math in this story.
I was a crappy math student, but I never had a math teacher I didn’t like. Mathematicians are a sorely underserved community.
- Where can readers go to find out more about your writing?
http://www.davideriknelson.com is the best place to start. If they’d like to check out my first time portal story–”The New Guys Always Work Overtime,” which just won the Asimov’s Science Fiction Readers’ Award for Short Story–they can get it for free here: http://davideriknelson.com/NewGuys/
- “The Traveling Salesman Solution” appears in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It’s available in both print and electronic formats.
- “Palm Strike’s Last Case” is about a vigilante superhero fighting crime in a grim city… until he gets selected for a space colonization mission. By shifting context partway through the story, the character learns important things about himself and solves a problem he could never have solved on Earth. At the same time, the juxtaposition of the two narrative types allows them to comment on each other. What inspired you to do a mash-up of these very different genres?
The thing I love most about superheroes is how adaptable they are, and how many different kinds of stories you can tell about them. And the notion of taking a dark urban vigilante and plunking him down on another planet, where he has to deal with a very different set of challenges, really appealed to me.
Sometimes I come up with a story idea, or the first scene of a story, and then spend weeks or months noodling and trying to figure out where the story should go. But this was one that came out pretty much fully formed — I had the beginning, middle, and end in my head all at once, when I was actually trying to finish some other story. I had to write down the whole outline, in detail, before I could get it out of my head and get back to the story I was supposed to be writing.
Looking back at that original outline now, it’s missing some stuff, and the final resolution is a little vague — but the thing that comes through is the notion of telling a superhero story in which the hero does actually make things better through heroism, but where the challenges are way different.
- What was the biggest challenge in combining a superhero story with a space colony story?
Tone was a big challenge — I reallly wanted to have a gritty noirish tone, a bit like Mickey Spillane, Richard Kadrey or Greg Rucka, without ever falling into pastiche. And also, a huge part of the appeal of the Palm Strike character is that he’s obsessed, with the death of his son and with getting justice. When he gets to Newfoundland and discovers that his cryo-capsule failed and there are drug dealers here, he starts falling into a narrative where his arch-enemy set a trap for him and maybe is behind the drug dealers. I wasn’t sure how far to push that — because the more Palm Strike obsesses about drug dealers and hypothetical supervillain plots, the less attention he’s paying to the massive starvation around him. At a certain point, a hero who doesn’t care that everybody is starving to death isn’t much of a hero. I also had to acknowledge the horror of the starving, possibly doomed colony, without breaking the superhero vibe too much.
- How is this idea of mixing genres reflected in your other work?
I love the notion of genre mash-ups, partly because I think genres get stronger when they get an injection of “new blood” from other types of stories. And partly because genres tend to get bogged down with tropes, which often consist of unquestioned assumptions, and these assumptions get challenged when new ideas are brought in.
I have a story going up at Tor.com in September, called “As Good As New,” that combines post-apocalyptic fiction and fantasy in a way that I hope will seem new and different. And my novel, coming in late 2015 or 2016, is about the relationship between a mad scientist and a witch, allowing for some really fun genre intersections.
The key with genre mash-ups, again, is avoiding pastiche. Or, really, any sense of throwing tropes into a blender — instead of thinking of it as “Tiffany Aching meets Luke Skywalker,” I try to think of it as two discreet sets of rules and frames on reality, which overlap in some places and stick out in others. If you just think of a genre mash-up as different cliches stuck together, or a conjoined spoof, then you can’t really get at what makes those genres work, or what they’re really saying about the world.
- Where can people find more of your writing?
There are some links on my website, charliejane.com.
- Wow, that flowchart should win awards for one of the best author website ideas of all time.
Thanks! I need to update that listing soon. Also, I have a bunch of stories at Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Flurb, Apex, the Apocalypse Triptych, Tin House and McSweeney’s, plus in print in Asimov’s, ZYZZYVA, and various Year’s Best anthologies.
- “Palm Strike’s Last Case” appears in the July/August issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It’s available in both print and electronic formats.