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Interview: C.C. Finlay on his ascension to the Editorship of F&SF

- How does it feel to be the new Editor of F&SF?

I’ve never been skydiving but I suspect that jumping out of a plane for the first time feels a lot like this. Right now everything is rushing past and it’s a little bit scary and a whole lot exhilarating. I’m trying to enjoy it and at the same time I’m trying to remember to do everything I’m supposed to do so there’s no awful crash.


- Give us the story of how you got the job.

Gordon Van Gelder (F&SF’s publisher and previous editor) may be the best person to tell that story. He was the first editor to buy my fiction and he’s published more stories by me than anyone else. Over the years we’ve talked a lot about the magazine and its history and direction. When he asked me if I had ever thought about being an editor, I said “Yes,” and when he gave me the chance to guest edit an issue last year (July/August 2014), I jumped on the opportunity. That issue worked out, so he gave me the chance to guest edit again and then that turned into the job.


- What is your editorial vision for the magazine going forward?

It seems to me that over 65 years and through 8 previous editors, F&SF has had an amazingly consistent vision. First, F&SF publishes a wider range of genre fiction than anyone else. Fantasy and science fiction are both right there in the title, but from the very beginning F&SF has also published horror, weird fiction, alternate history, and anything else that falls under the rubric of “speculative fiction.”  Second, the magazine looks for a very high quality of writing. F&SF has always been the magazine where you might end up reading literary writers like Kurt Vonnegutt or Joyce Carol Oates alongside core genre writers like Ray Bradbury or Ursula K. Le Guin, and it all fits together. Third, the magazine’s editors have always looked for new voices: F&SF was one of the first magazines in the 1950s to really welcome women writers into the genre, and it was one of the first genre magazines to publish a lot of translated fiction, and it’s continued that tradition in other ways ever since. Finally, F&SF has always been entertaining. It’s always had stories that were fun to read as well as thought-provoking.

My vision to carry on that tradition. My tastes are different than Gordon’s, and I’ll publish some different stories and writers than he did. I’ve also introduced some new tools — like electronic submissions — that will make it possible to find a wider range of stories and writers. But I think the ultimate vision for the magazine will be the same, even if, over time, the issues will feel different and reflect my taste in stories.


- More specifically, what kinds of stories are you looking for?

I love stories that surprise me in some way with their ideas, their characters, their plots, their language. I love stories that do more than one thing well — beautiful language and a compelling idea; fast-paced adventure and a complex, interesting theme; diverse, complicated characters and cool science, or any other combination. I love stories that take some kind of risk and make it work. I love the stories I didn’t know I needed until I read them.


- How do you think your tenure as editor will compare/contrast to past F&SF editors?

I used a skydiving metaphor earlier, and I think it applies here too. I won’t really know until I eventually touch ground. In the meantime, I’ve been completing my collection of F&SF issues back to 1949. I’ll be reading them when I have time and trying to learn everything I can from the editors who’ve come before me.


- What challenges and opportunities do you think F&SF faces in competition with the other print magazines and the online markets?

“Competition” feels like the wrong word to me. I don’t feel like the data shows that readers choose one magazine and read no others. The more good markets there are, the better it is for writers and readers. The circulation of the print magazines has been increasing in recent years. I think that in part that’s because the success of online markets has created more readers and developed more interest in finding good stories. In addition, the rise of ebooks and electronic editions has made it possible to reach more readers in the formats they prefer.

F&SF occupies a special position in the field — because of its history, because of its diversity of stories. Because of the quality of the physical object, for people who still want the experience of holding or collecting a paper magazine. The challenge F&SF faces is finding ways to make new readers aware of the magazine. The opportunity is that I think there are a lot of potential new readers.


- What administrative changes are coming to the magazine now that you’re taking over the Editor position?

The biggest change is the switch to electronic submissions. This breaks down barriers and makes it possible for lots of writers to submit, no matter where they are in the world or whether they can afford postage for their MSs. We’ve already bought stories from writers in China, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and South Africa. In the long term, I think it will greatly add to the diversity of voices in the magazine. That will be good for writers and readers, and it’s something I’m very excited about.


Interview: Dale Bailey on “Lightning Jack’s Last Ride”

- Tell us a bit about “Lightning Jack’s Last Ride.”

Lightning Jack is a story I’ve been wrestling with for a long, long time—I wouldn’t want to say how many years.  The problem was that I had the title, but nothing else to work with.  And when I did get started my drafts always went off the rails.  The consequence of this is that I also have half a novella—a totally different story—that grew from the same title.  I plan to finish it, but I guess I’ll have to come up with something else to call it.


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

I finally broke through and managed to hook a story to the title when I got interested in the gangsters of the 1930s—Babyface Nelson and John Dillinger and people of that ilk.  I got interested in the question of how they inspired such loyalty from their gangs, and more than that, the way they came to seize the public eye.  These were very bad men, yet they came to be viewed as folk heroes by some.  I was trying to explore that question.


- Was “Lightning Jack’s Last Ride” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Only in the sense that all my stories are personal—that I get caught up in writing them, the characters, the language, especially the language.  I have no personal history with gangsters or NASCAR!


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

Well, I’m not very good at research, really.  I tend to make it all up.  I did do some research on NASCAR, mainly by asking some questions of a friend that’s a big fan.  And a lot of the language that Gus uses is more or less authentic.  But I’m sure I got a lot of it wrong.


- What are you working on now?

I have a collection of stories—The End of the End of Everything—coming out in April.  Most of my time lately has been devoted to a novel, The Subterranean Season, which should be out this fall.  I also have another novel in process, and a variety of short stories in various stages of incompletion.  There’s always a bunch of those.

“Lightning Jack’s Last Ride” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Eric Schwitzgebel on “Out of the Jar”

- Tell us a bit about “Out of the Jar.”

A philosophy professor discovers that he is an AI in a simulated environment run by a sadistic teenager who insists on being called “God.”

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

I’m interested in skeptical epistemology (for example, how confident can we be that we aren’t in a sim right now?), in theories of consciousness (are there conditions under which sim characters could actually have conscious experience?), and in the extent to which we have moral obligations to any conscious AIs we might create in the future.

- How does your experience as a philosophy professor inform your fiction writing?

Contemporary academic philosophers don’t write much fiction, but many of the greatest philosophers in history have worked partly in the medium of fiction: Plato, Zhuangzi, Rousseau, and Nietzsche, for example.  Detailed examples and vivid thought experiments have always played a central role in philosophical thinking, even among more typically expository philosophers.  Fiction and thought experiment, by engaging the imagination and the emotions, add richness and specificity to philosophical thinking.  The human mind is much better suited to thinking about examples than about abstract formulae.

- What kind of research, if any, did you do for “Out of the Jar?”

This is my first full-length published story, so for me, the research was all on the fiction-writing side – trying to get a feel for the SF genre, especially trying to get a better understanding of how the writers develop plot and character.  I read tons of SF stories in “Best of” anthologies, Asimov’s, F&SF, Clarkesworld, etc.

- What might you want a reader to take away from “Out of the Jar?”

I want the reader to think about the moral relationship between the gods who create worlds and the sims (or other types of beings) that they create.  Literally, I think, you can call the creator of conscious sims a “god” from the point of view of the sim (see my blog post “Our possible imminent divinity[PGS1] .”  What obligations would you as a god have to your sims?  Also, I’d love it if the reader thought a bit about her attitude toward the repetitive blissful harp-playing of “Heaven 1c”, though I don’t explore that issue much in the story.

- What are you working on now?

I’m working on a story that pits the value of eternal looping joy against the value of a normal human life.  I’m working on a couple of stories that explore the bizarre philosophical implications of an infinite cosmology in which there are infinitely many duplicates of you living out every possibility.  I’m working on a story that considers the Singularity from the perspective of someone with doubts about whether consciousness can really be instantiated rather than merely mimicked in computers.  I’m working on a story featuring a group mind composed of a billion individual humans.  Et cetera!  Maybe not all of these will work out, but I’m having fun.

In expository philosophy, I’m working on the issues of group consciousness[PGS2], radical skepticism[PGS3] (including dream skepticism, sims, and Boltzmann brains), robot/AI rights[PGS4], the moral behavior of ethics professors[PGS5], a theory of jerks and sweethearts[PGS6], and a position I call “crazyism[PGS7] ,” which is the idea that something that seems crazy must be true, but we have no way of settling which among the crazy alternatives is actually correct.  In this connection, I want to explore crazy-seeming ideas like that we might all be parts of God’s mind or that we are AIs for which space is just a feature of our programming environment rather than a fundamental feature of things in themselves (“Kant meets cyberpunk[PGS8] ”)

- Anything else you’d like to add?

The part in the story about demons being allergic to almonds – I made that up.  Please don’t rely on it as part of your summoning technique.

“Out of the Jar” appears in the Jan./Feb. 2015 issue of F&SF.









Interview: Michael Libling on “Hollywood North”

- Tell us a bit about “Hollywood North.”

I’d like to say the story is about Hollywood, but there’s only one other person I know who sees it this way. Rather than fight it, I’ll say that “Hollywood North” is about two boys, one who finds things, another who wants things, and how their lives play out against the backdrop of Trenton, Ontario, an actual small town with a compelling and inexplicably secret history.


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

There was never a single moment of inspiration. Certain parts of the story had been with me for years. I’ve got notes that go back to the early 1980s. Despite growing up in Trenton, it was only years after I moved away that I began to find out about the history of the place. For starters, the town had suffered more than its fair share of disasters. An ammunition plant explosion. A mid-air plane collision. Train wrecks. Huge fires. And then came the bit that intrigued me most: Trenton had been a center for the Canadian silent film industry from 1917 to 1934. Oddly, while growing up in the town, neither I nor my two older sisters had ever heard a word about any of it. Not from our teachers. Not from our parents. Not from anyone. Why would these facts have been kept secret?

Another element was added in 2010 when Trenton made national news with a serial killer.

I knew I was onto something, but I still wasn’t sure what. It was while working on another story in 2013 that these questions came into my head: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to another person? Is it relatively minor, an anecdote you might eventually share with someone close to you? Or is it something so terrible your only option is to keep it inside of you forever?

I knew immediately how and where the questions applied, and “Hollywood North” flew from there.


- Was “Hollywood North” personal to you in any way, and if so, how?

Every story is personal. But the fact I grew up in Hollywood North definitely ups the ante. Many of my stories are set in small towns and Trenton tends to factor in to some extent, though this is the first time I’ve used the actual setting and history. Like Jack’s parents, my mother and father ran a small restaurant. Similar to the Marquee in the story, the Theatre Bar was a popular hangout for locals. As a kid, I spent hours in the place, with regulars bending my ear, telling me stories about this or that. Also, like Jack, after I moved away, I returned in my teens for a summer job at the marina. One day, Rod Serling showed up on his boat. I sold him a block of ice and told him how I wanted to be a writer. He tipped me generously.


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

The research was ongoing over many years and in a variety of forms. My own memories, of course, if you can call that research. Conversations with my sisters. Newspaper archives. A couple of books about Trenton, most notably Peggy Dymond Leavey’s “The Movie Years”, a history of the town’s film industry. The book came out in 1989 and now seems to be a collector’s item. I also made several visits to Trenton, exploring my old haunts, as well as the sites and landmarks that turn up in the story. It’s always a weird feeling going back there. My nostalgia inevitably leads to a knot in the gut.


- What might you want someone to take away from “Hollywood North?”

The reader is free to take away whatever she or he may like. While I have an ultimate message in mind, I’m not going to tell the reader how to feel or think after finishing it. My priority is to tell a good story that entertains and, if I’m lucky, moves the reader in some way. Remember, as I said at the outset, I’m one of two people who think I’ve written a story about Hollywood, so I’m hardly the best person, author or not, to consult here.


- What are you working on now?

I never talk to anyone about anything I’m working on for fear of boring myself to death before I get down to the actual writing. In general terms, I completed a novel not long ago and have more short stories in various states of completion than ever before. I hope you’ll get the chance to see some of it in print, preferably sooner than later.


- Anything else you’d like to add?

Speaking of boring, I rarely get the chance to blather endlessly about my fiction to anyone. I thank F&SF for giving me this forum.

“Hollywood North” appears in the Nov./Dec. 2014 issue of F&SF.

Interview: Paul Di Filippo on “I’ll Follow the Sun”

- Tell us a bit about “I’ll Follow the Sun.”

Out of all the sub-genres of SF, time-travel is one mode I’ve hardly touched, despite having written over 200 stories.  So I thought I might try my hand at this theme, to push myself into new territory.  As it is, I ended up hardly scratching the surface of time travel’s complexities, so it leaves me lots of room for return engagement.  I also wanted to treat time travel as a psychical matter, along the lines of Jack Finney’s famous TIME AND AGAIN.  No machinery to complicate matters.


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

Editor Gordon was a big impetus, kindly soliciting me to provide an entry for the special taboo-breaking issue.  You can’t turn down a challenge like that!  But I also for some time had been wanting to examine how our culture has changed over the span of my sixty years of living.  As an SF writer, I remain committed to the future, and to deeply grokking current trends and phenomena.  But as a “civilian,” I also have to evaluate the culture in terms of its pleasantness for my personal tastes and attitudes, and also try to gauge it on some kind of objective level regarding improvements, deteriorations, etc.  By contrasting the worlds of 1964 and 2014, I had the perfect narrative laboratory for showing just where our civilization seemed to have done right and gone wrong.  I think my story barely scratched the surface, and I’d like to do a whole novel on these lines.  But it would be an alternate history rather than pure time travel.  The “jonbar point” of change would be the year 1910.  Of course, the research involved would be tremendous, to do it right, since I would basically be recasting the entire 20th century and beyond.


- Was “I’ll Follow the Sun” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

I tried in the story to convey some of my personal and private dismay toward the more glaring crudities and barbarities rampant today.  In many ways–and I really think this perception does not derive solely from my own growing fossilization, which strikes all humans as we age and which I daily strive to conquer–the world of 2014 is a much more savage, rude, and less gracious place than the world of 1964.  I can only hope the world of 2064 is not even worse!


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

Just boning up a bit on some convincing mathematical/physic terminology to cloak the time travel concept with.  Other than that, having lived through 1964 personally, I only had to confirm a few historical markers.  Oh, yes, I also had to nail down a few facts concerning the actual life of the great Chan Davis, whose fictional avatar we were kindly permitted to employ!


- What might you want someone to take away from reading “I’ll Follow the Sun?”

Fortune favors the brave.  Be compassionate.


- What are you working on now?

A story for the tribute volume dedicated to Samuel Delany.  My piece is called “Devils at Play.”


- Anything else you’d like to add?

If you put an issue of F&SF from 1964 next to one from 2014, I think you’d have to say the old girl has aged pretty darn well,   staying rather youthful in fact, and showing all signs of lasting till 2064!

“I’ll Follow the Sun” appears in the Nov./Dec. 2014 issue of F&SF.

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