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Interview: William Ledbetter on “The Beast from Below”

William LedbetterTell us a bit about “The Beast from Below.”

It’s the story of a love-sick sheriff in 1950s rural Oklahoma where nothing exciting ever happens, who is suddenly confronted with a monster that has destroyed a house and apparently killed a family. The object of his forlorn love is a gun-toting, fast-talking lady mayor of the nearby town who sees the monster as a chance to put her little town on the map.

 

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

I have a long-time love for these giant critter movies from the 50s and early 60s and have collected the best ones on DVD. I still watch them when I have a free Sunday afternoon, much to the dismay of my poor wife who just groans and rolls her eyes when she enters the room to see soldiers and scientists fighting a building-sized insect. Of course, we now know that radiation exposure doesn’t create these kinds of monstrosities, and since those early days science fiction has grown more sophisticated and explores much deeper and more realistic issues, but that doesn’t stop me from loving these old stories.

When a friend proposed an anthology filled with speculative fiction stories set in Oklahoma during the 1950s my mind of course turned to those old movies. The anthology never got off the ground, but I had so much fun writing the story and liked the characters so much, that I had to finish it and try to find it a home.

 

What aspect of “The Beast from Below” was the most fun for you to write?

My goal in writing this story was to pay homage to these old movies, but I’m the first to admit that due to social mindsets of the period, those plots and characters are rife with problems. So I set out to turn some of these tropes and stereotypes upside down without losing the “flavor” of the giant monster movie. Instead of a woman added to the plot as nothing more than a prop for the male hero to save, Mable Harjo is a smart, professional, strong-willed and competent native American woman. Instead of a steely-eyed, brilliant scientist who saves the world by finding the beast’s one weakness, Doctor Lawrence is a self-aggrandizing blowhard and coward. And my reluctant hero, Harry, is more of an Andy Griffith type sheriff instead of the typical square-jawed military officer.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ll be announcing the sale of a novel later this spring and have just finished edits on that. I have a story coming out in the July/August F&SF, new stories later this year in Analog, Asimov’s and a Baen anthology called “Homo Stellaris.” I’m also working on another novel and various short fiction projects. For those who might have missed it, I also run a contest for Baen Books and The National Space Society called the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award Contest, where we give an award and publication for stories about humanity’s near future in space. I also edited an anthology containing sixteen of the best stories from the first ten years of that contest called Jim Baen Memorial Award: The First Decade. The details about this anthology and all the above-mentioned stories can be found on my website: williamledbetter.com

 

“The Beast from Below” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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

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Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Interview: Wole Talabi on “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi”

Wole TalabiTell us a bit about “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi.”

“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” starts with an incredibly destructive battle in a far-off corner of the universe between a super-sentient being and an unspecified enemy over a powerful artifact. There is an explosion and the artifact is flung to earth, specifically, Warri, Nigeria in the early 1990s where a precocious young girl named Ejiro discovers it. As she explores its powers, she finds that it allows her consciousness to be in multiple places at once, and, when a political protest led by her father threatens to become violent, she finds that it allows her consciousness to merge with others, forming a powerful kind of pseudo-hive-mind.

 

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

I wrote the first 1000 words of this story back in 2013. I knew I wanted to set a story in early 1990s Warri (the time and place I grew up) and the character of Ejiro came very clear in my mind from day one. Even the opening scene with the insane space chase and explosion that created the object was a clear vision when I started… but I could never quite figure out how the alien object would affect Ejiro once she encountered it. Early last year, frustrated at how increasingly divided much of world seemed to be, I remembered the story and went back to it, considering ways in which all of humanity could communicate and be more understanding of each other. A sort of separate but shared consciousness seemed like one natural evolution state of empathy. The object seemed perfect for this purpose. After that, the story came quickly.

Nick Wood’s excellent novel Azanian Bridges (about an empathy enhancer) was also an influence, I read it just after I finished the second draft of the story.

I should also mention that before I wrote this story, I used to think that stories about people finding powerful magical/mystical/alien objects were a bit cliché but then I read James Alan Gardner’s The Ray-Gun: A Love Story which is quite wonderful. And what I learned from that story was: the object and how it’s found don’t really matter for the story, what matters is what the character does with it and how it affects their lives and the lives of others.

 

Was “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Well, like I mentioned, the story is set in an industrial housing camp in early 90’s Warri, Nigeria. I grew up in a steel company housing camp in the 80’s and 90’s so a lot of Ejiro’s environment and the descriptions of Ejiro’s life come from my own memories and experience. There’s a lot of personal nostalgia in the story (e.g. reading Cyprian Ekwensi novels, rewatching The Princess Bride, sneaking sips of Gulder Beer…) and I really enjoyed writing it.

 

The conclusion that your story reaches, that humanity will bring an end to conflict and build a better world if we meld together into a unified, shared consciousness, seems to criticize much of popular sf, which tends to have a more individualistic message.  Could you talk about these differences, how you came to the conclusion in your story, and how you see your story in conversation with the broader sf field?

Well, I already mentioned that when writing the story I was thinking about how poorly humanity communicates, how much we misunderstand each other and easily we fragment. To my mind, one of the major problems with humanity as a group is lack of trust. Many of us fundamentally want the same things but we don’t know for certain what any other human in the world is thinking or feeling and why (unless they are similar enough to us for us to approximate this or in love with them enough for it to not matter) and so it is easy to mistrust others and come into conflict with them in a bid to protect ourselves. In engineering terms, our overall group efficiency is pretty low. I wanted to begin to explore the concept of a partially shared mind as a way of improving understanding between people. While I’m not the first to do this, as you noted, often, in much of (western) SF canon the concept of a group consciousness is typically treated negatively probably due to its association with insects (and perhaps communism?) and often implies loss of individuality, identity, and personhood. Species exhibiting these traits are often represented as zombie-like (e.g. Star Trek’s Borg). These are all fair criticisms but to primarily consider the concept of a group consciousness as negative and dismiss its benefits is over-simplistic. There can be balance. Not a hard line between myself and themself but a soft one. A sort of dual state. An ability to share consciousness while maintaining a sense of self should be something we aspire to because a shared mind/consciousness can be extremely valuable in improving knowledge, resolving conflict and quickly establishing trust and understanding between individuals. This story is one science-fantasy experiment in this line of thinking. I further explore this concept in another soon-to-be published story When We Dream We Are Our God as well and will probably continue to do so. Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster and Netflix’s Sense8 come to mind as stories that also take a more complicated view of group consciousness. I don’t dismiss the potential downsides of a shared consciousness (some readers may pick up on a mildly sinister tone I occasionally use in parts of the story) but just because historically, much of human development has been attributed to individual efforts or to small groups imposing their way on others, that does not mean it is the best way or that it should continue. We would probably have developed more, better and faster if we’d been more effective as a group. So I think a kind of shared consciousness or something like it is an important component for an improved, future humanity and should be a more prominent part of the greater SF conversation.

 

What are you working on now?

Well, I just finished the manuscript for my first fiction collection to be published by Luna Press in early 2019. I have a few stories that will be published later this year and so now I’m trying to finalize an SF action-thriller novel I’ve been working on for a while. I keep a list of what I’ve written, along with links to read on my blog so folks can keep updated. https://wtalabi.wordpress.com/published-fiction/

 

“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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 (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Interview: G. V. Anderson on “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt”

G.V. AndersonTell us a bit about “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt.”

It’s about a scientist called Ellen who’s studying a colony of selkies in Greenland while also looking for answers about her father’s disappearance.

 

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

Mermaids and/or selkies are some of my favourite mythological creatures, and I’d wanted to write a story about them for some time. I think the idea for ‘Down Where Sound Comes Blunt’ came about after watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and seeing the amazing variety of life in our waters; and there was a fun mockumentary called Mermaids: The Body Found some years ago which presented ‘evidence’ of mermaids. This led me to read about ‘the Bloop’ – a strange underwater sound recorded in the 90s. So there’s no single spark of inspiration, but lots of little sparks working together.

 

I don’t want to spoil the story, but it leads the reader down a path different from the one that the narrative signals: did you know from the start the turn that the story would take, or did it develop as you wrote it?

I always knew it would end that way, and the ending as it appears in the magazine is almost exactly the way I wrote it in the first draft. It’s everything else I had to change in order to give the ending the support it needed!

I’d like to think it’s the kind of story that rewards a second read.

 

“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” puts a twist on quiet, literary, selkie stories, and your previous F&SF story, “I Am Not I” reveals an extra layer to what appears to be a grotesque Victorian-flavored fantasy.  Would you say that subverting readers’ expectations is a theme that runs through your work?

It’s not something I’ve considered before, but I certainly hope I’m subverting expectations – there’s a lot of incredible fiction out there right now so I always try to bring something different to the table. And it’s very fun having my own expectations subverted when I’m reading a book, so perhaps subconsciously I’m bringing that to my own work in order to elicit the same response.

 

How does it feel to win the World Fantasy Award, and is there anything you want to say about your experience at WFC, or about how it’s impacted your work?

For me, winning a World Fantasy Award felt like a daydream made real, with everyone around me in on the joke. It was my first professional story; I felt like I was taking up space on the ballot. But I’ve had a few months to adjust to the idea of it, and I think it’s had an incredible impact on not only my work, but my work ethic. I take my writing more seriously now, and feel more assured in writing the things that speak to me, rather than what I think people want to read.

WFC was quite the experience – my first overseas convention with a much bigger membership than any con I’ve experienced in the UK – but thanks to my writing group I had people to look out for me, and my other half came along for moral support as well. Although I was very nervous the whole weekend, I had a great time and hopefully made lots of long-lasting friendships there.

 

What are you working on now?

I’ve always had my heart set on long-form and I finally feel ready for the challenge. So I’ll be working on the first part of a duology for the remainder of 2018, with the aim of entering the query trenches by the end of next year. Wish me luck!

 

“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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 (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Interview: Chi Hui, and story translator Brian Bies, on “Deep Sea Fish”

Questions for the author, Chi Hui (Bies’s translations in English of the author’s responses):

What was the inspiration for this story?

故事的灵感来自一个关于“彗星探索和登陆器设计”的科学报道,上面写道,如果登陆器的力度把握不好,那么很有可能会把自己弹进太空里去。于是当时就想,如果彗星上有生命,那么它们离开自己生长的地方,实在是非常容易的事情。而人类就不得不带着自己的“小环境”到处跑。所以,人类在地球的环境下所向披靡,但同时也被这个环境束缚住了。就像是深海里的鱼一样。

The inspiration from this story came from a report on “Comet Exploration and Lander Design,” in which it was discussed how lander thrust must be carefully controlled to prevent the vehicles from bouncing off into space. After reading that, I began to think about how incredibly easy it would be for comet-based lifeforms to leave their birthplace. We humans, meanwhile, have to bring “mini-environments” along with us. We are unstoppable in our natural environment, but at the same time our environment constrains us. Just like deep sea fish.

 

Was “Deep Sea Fish” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

关于个人因素:我很渴望飞行,但胆子很小,又很害怕飞行。我很喜欢思考低重力或者零重力下的环境,那种环境下,人类可以仅凭自己的肌肉来模拟飞行,是很酷的事情。所以我让女主角穿着翼装登场,又穿着翼装离去。

Regarding personal aspects: I dearly wish I could fly, but I’m not very brave and I’m terrified of flying. I enjoy thinking about low-gravity or zero-gravity environments where humans could fly using only the strength of their own muscles. It’s a very cool idea. That’s why the female lead makes her entrance on wings, and leaves the story on wings.

 

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

写这篇小说的时候,最困难的部分是寻找关于土卫六的资料。还有关于低温环境的资料。除了报纸和杂志上的新闻,相关科学研究很少有浅显的介绍内容可读。我不得不去翻看各种很难读懂的论文。而它们几乎都不是中文的。我的英文水平又不算很好。幸运的是,那时候我有了自己的电脑,并购买了一个翻译软件。它让我能够慢慢地阅读这些资料。

The most difficult part of writing this story was finding information about Saturn VI and cryogenic environments. Other than articles in newspapers and magazines, there are only a rare few cursory introductions to the relevant scientific research. My only option was to search through dense scientific papers, almost none of which were written in Chinese. My English is not very good, but luckily I had my own computer by then and had purchased a translation program. This allowed me to slowly work through the materials.

晶簇的设计灵感来自于我大学时的有机化学实验课。那是我大学生涯里最美好的记忆之一。:)

Inspiration for the crystal forests came from an organic chemistry lab course I took in college. It’s one of the most wonderful memories I have from my college years. :)

 

Questions for Bies as translator:

Tell us a bit about “Deep Sea Fish.”

This is one of my favorite Chinese sf stories and a rare example of excellent Chinese hard sf, particularly given its length. I would rate it on par with if not better than some of Liu Cixin’s best works, and I am very happy to have been able to translate it. Chi did an excellent job of building a world to support her story. I would love to read a sequel expanding on different aspects of this world (the different clans on Titan, the ruins left behind by the Titans on other plants in the solar system, etc.)

 

What can you tell us about the author of the story, Chi Hui?

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her in person, and I’ve only read four or five of her stories. A recurring theme in her writing seems to be the detrimental effect of human activities on the environment.

 

You have your own translation business in Nanjing, translating texts on history, law, and machinery.  How does that experience inform your fiction translations, and why did you decide to branch out into translating sf?

I do, though recently I have shifted to translating almost exclusively texts on Chinese history and culture (particularly folk art). I was actually interested in translating sf before I began doing other translation work. I wrote my master’s thesis on a Chinese sf author, Han Song, and the translation of one of his stories was the first major project I worked on (as yet unpublished, sadly). Unfortunately, literary translation—particularly sf translation—doesn’t pay much, and it was necessary for me to branch out into more lucrative areas. I think that my experience as a professional translator leads me to err on the side of fidelity as opposed to creative interpretation when translating stories. Literary translators who are authors in their own right may be more inclined to fiddle with the details and adjust things to suit the tastes of their target audience.

 

What can you tell us in America about the state of the Chinese sf lit scene?

In your opinion, how is Chinese science fiction different from American sf, if it is different at all?

It might be easiest to reply to these two questions together. Chinese sf authors face a number of difficulties that are reflected in their writing.

Historically, sf in China has never been given enough time to take root and form a continuous tradition. It was condemned soon after its appearance in the early 20th century, again after the founding of the PRC, and again in the 90s. As a result, Chinese sf authors tend to be more influenced by foreign sf than by earlier Chinese works.

Socially, the genre has widely been viewed as “just for kids” since the early 20th century. Stories with adult themes or written particularly for adult readers are relatively rare, though some authors intent on changing this have written extremely adult pieces.

Economically, it’s very difficult for Chinese writers to support themselves on writing alone. The Chinese labor market is extremely competitive, with long hours and minimal vacation time required for almost all jobs, so writing as a hobby isn’t sustainable for most either. Authors don’t have as much time to put into their stories, and this is reflected in the overall quality of their work. The rise of “online novels” has pushed this to an extreme: one author I know who writes for a major fantasy novel site is required to publish 10,000 characters (~8,000 words) each day!

Politically, stories containing certain themes simply cannot be published. Some outstanding pieces on sensitive topics are circulated in forums, but they are a very small minority. Stories about the distant past, stories about strange races on faraway planets, stories about bright futures, and stories condemning firmly established social problems (i.e. pollution) are relatively safe and thus more common.

 

“Deep Sea Fish” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

Interview: Joseph Bruchac on “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans”

Joseph BruchacTell us a bit about “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.”

THE NEXT TO THE LAST OF THE MOHEGANS is one of a series of stories I’ve been writing that both attempt to upend some of the stereotypes about Native Americans within one of my favorite genres—that of fantasy and science fiction (if the two can be combined, as my favorite magazine implies in its title). For example, another of my stories published in an anthology a year ago is titled WIGWAMS OF THE GODS.

In each of those stories my characters are contemporary Native people who are intelligent, aware of majority culture, and also possessed of the sort of sense of humor that I’ve always experienced with virtually all of the Native elders who’ve been my friends and teachers over the decades. The relationship between my narrator and his best friend—who is a sort of trickster figure/genius always getting into trouble—is sort of the main theme here. Sort of.

Before going any further, let me point out that the Mohegan Nation (sorry, Coop) did not vanish in the 19th century and that, as my Mohegan friends have told me, the last of the Mohegans has yet to be born.

Such things as teleportation, mind-reading, and encounters with the little people appear in this story but are not my inventions. They are seen by many Native Americans as part of our various cultures.

 

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

Well, to be honest, the title was stolen from a FAR SIDE cartoon. I gotta admit that whenever Gary Larson did anything in his cartoons involving Indians he both got it right and made a lot of us Native folks fall over laughing. I think my main inspiration for this story comes from my interest is telling stories that focus on American Indian life today, and not in some distant imagined past. I was also inspired by a picture book co-authored some years ago by Mohegan writer Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel and myself called MAKIAWISUG, THE GIFT OF THE LITTLE PEOPLE.

 

Was “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Was this personal to me? Heck, yes. I guess I’ve already been answering that aspect of the story. Though my characters are fictitious they are based on real people who—though they may not be involved in the sort of amazing adventures as my characters—are just as brilliant, as complicated, and sometimes as unpredictable. Plus they are just as aware and connected to their Indian heritage.

 

Can you tell us about any research you may have done for this story, or any of the traditions upon which it’s based?

In terms of research for this story, while I did not do any during the writing of it, I have been deeply immersed in Native American cultures—both my own Abenaki heritage and that of a number of other nations—for over half a century. I have a very extensive library of Native American books, especially those related to our histories and storytelling traditions. But even more than that, I’ve been visiting and listening—really listening—to so many Native elders and teachers over the years—such as Gladys Tantaquidgeon who was both an ethnologist and the Medicine Women and the Mohegan Nation—that I just may have absorbed a little knowledge along the way.

 

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a rather long novel based on the three years I spent in the 60’s as a volunteer teacher in Ghana called SEA NEVER DRY. My main character, like me, finds himself seeing Africa differently than most Americans because of his Native American background. It’s based on fact, history, personal experience, but there’s also an element of fantasy to the story.

I’m also working on more stories chronicling the adventures of my friends in THE NEXT TO THE LAST OF THE MOHEGANS.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Well, be on the lookout for more sci-fi and fantasy from Native American authors. And let me recommend the recent collection of stories TAKE ME TO YOUR CHIEF by my Ojibway friend Drew Hayden Taylor.

 

“The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” appears in the March/April 2018 issue of F&SF.

You can buy a copy of the issue here: https://www.sfsite.com/fsf/toc1803.htm

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 (non-Kindle): https://weightlessbooks.com/category/publisher/spilogale-inc/

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

Amazon UK (Kindle edition): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004ZFZ4O8/

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

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