Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Mini-interviews with authors and artists of #55

As usual, we’ve been running tiny interviews with the author and illustrators of the stories and poems in TFF #55. We ask a couple of questions, they give short answers of not much more than a sentence or two, and we post them to FB along with links back to the stories over a couple weeks. In case you’re not a follower of thefuturefire over there, we’ve compiled list of links to the interviews here. (More will be added as they appear the next few days.)

If you want to see these interviews as they come along, you can “like” or follow thefuturefire’s page on FB, or follow @thefuturefire on Twitter, where we’ll try to post these links from time to time as well.

Monday, 26 October 2020

Trending: Tiny Tales

Trending: Tiny Tales

Guest post by Fiona Jones

Micro-literature is a big trend right now. Something to do with the glimpsiness of screen-scrolling and the needle-sharp joy of haiku, mixed in a shot glass and taken at a gulp.

I’m not dissing full-length novels. They’ll always be in, forever, because a good novel is like a holiday abroad: immersive, luxurious, refreshing. But, by destiny or gnatlike attention span, I’m a micro writer. Most of what I’ve written is under 500 words. I’ve got micro-fiction and micro-CNF scattered halfway round the Internet, plus now and then on paper. And I’m touting these anthologies because some of my work’s inside:

Where to send your own finely-cut gemstones? I started with Friday Flash Fiction (they publish shedloads of drabbles a week, plus occasional longer flashes). From there I went on to The Drabble, Dribble Drabble, 50-Word Stories, 101 Words, Montana Mouthful, Tiger Moth Review and actually anywhere that doesn’t stipulate a minimum wordcount. The number of publishers asking for micros seems to grow every year. Most venues don’t pay for micro-stories, but Longleaf Review did, Mothers Always Write and All Guts No Glory did too, and Folded Word used to.

It’s hard to choose a favourite among my own micro-pieces—either the stories or the essays. I think the one that’s travelled the farthest is my speculative fiction about the inventor of the wheel, who watches his invention progressing down through the centuries. This story appeared first on 50-Word Fiction, then a second website, and finally someone requested to republish it in Arabic.

Or maybe it’s not finally. Maybe it’s still got places to go, people to meet. The best thing about stories is that sometimes they just keep going.

Fiona M. Jones’s poem Oak Tree can be found in TFF #55.

Monday, 14 September 2020

Interview with Juliet Kemp

Juliet Kemp is a queer, non-binary writer (pronouns they/them). They live in London by the river, with their partners, kid, and dog. Their recent works include the fantasy novel The Deep and Shining Dark (featured on the Locus 2018 Recommended Reads list, under ‘first novel’), and this year’s sequel Shadow and Storm, also published by Elsewhen Press. They also published the YA SF novella A Glimmer Of Silver in 2018. When not writing, child-wrangling, or dog-wrangling, Juliet knits, indulges their fountain pen habit, and goes bouldering.

In 2019 we published Juliet’s short story “I Thought of You” in TFF, and eighteen months later “Dragon Years” also graced our pages. This week they came by to talk to us a bit about their work. Stick around to the end for a chance to win a copy of the two Marek novels.

The Future Fire: You recently published a new novel in the Marek saga. Was the first book, The Deep and Shining Dark, always meant to be part of a longer story? How many books will compose the Marek series ultimately? Do you already know how events will unfold after Shadow and Storm, or will you follow your characters where they take you? 

Juliet Kemp: I always knew that there could be more books — I’d started drafting a second one when I was first sending The Deep And Shining Dark out. But I wasn’t sure at that point if it would be possible to publish that one, never mind more! I have a plan in mind for two more books (so four total), and I think I might then be done, at least for now. 

I usually start off with a rough outline, and then end up going off on various tangents while I’m writing. The editing process is about making another outline that fits what I now have, and making that work. Often that means cutting out things that won’t fit, or saving them for later. I really enjoy those sudden bursts of inspiration, even if they end up not being what I wanted or what the book needed. I always get something useful out of them. However I’m going to have to plan book 4 more tightly as book 3 is going to set up some things that I need to be able to resolve in book 4. I don’t want to write myself into an impossible corner! I imagine I’ll still end up following characters off into the weeds while I’m writing and having to pull it all back together during the editing process. I do really enjoy those sudden bursts of inspiration while I’m writing. 

TFF: Can you give us any sneak previews of what readers can expect to find in the third Marek book?

Juliet Kemp: Radicals, refugees, and more of the nascent printing industry (which goes well with radicals, historically speaking). And one of my characters gets pregnant. I’m keen to write about that, and about dealing with a young baby, as parenting is not something we see all that often in trad SFF.

TFF: This year, we published ‘Dragon Years,’ a delicate story about doing things only when we feel that they are right. Do you feel like your dragon is still waiting for you, or you have already taken off together?

Juliet Kemp: Part of the seed for that was realising that if the TARDIS turned up on the doorstep, or a portal to another world opened in the back garden, I’d wouldn’t want to accept the opportunity, because I have a young child. But kids grow up, and things change again, so in another decade I’ll start keeping my eyes and ears open again. You never know your luck…

I am sadly still awaiting an actual real dragon, with wings and all; but in a more metaphorical sense I think I’m doing pretty well on pursuing the things that are important to me.

TFF: If you woke up having forgotten all you knew before, what would be the first thing that you’d start learning again? 

Juliet Kemp: Typing would be high up the list — I learnt to touch type as a kid and it has stood me in very good stead ever since. But if I was relearning I might take the opportunity to switch to Dvorak or another non-Qwerty layout to see if it did anything good for my dodgy shoulders! I did try Dvorak once for a couple of months and got up to about 50wpm but I was so tense all the time it made things worse. Of course, on further reflection, if I’d forgotten skills as well as factual knowledge presumably I might have forgotten how to read, and that would have to be right at the top of the list. But I was a very early reader and I genuinely don’t know what my brain would be like without being able to read so I’ll assume I get to keep that one!

TFF: What can you be found doing when you’re not creating/writing?

Juliet Kemp: In the Before Times I used to go bouldering, but although my local climbing gym has reopened I’m not comfortable yet going back there, and central London is not a place with much outdoor bouldering (though there is a big rock over the river in Shoreditch Park!).

I read a lot, of course; and I knit. I’m currently working on a shawl, but it’s nearly time to start on the Christmas knitting (nice and early so I don’t wind up knitting in a panic on Christmas Eve!). I sew as well, but sewing is more a practical than a fun thing. I also have a kid and a dog to wrangle — my kid is home educated so that’s a fair time commitment in itself!

TFF: Thank you Juliet, we look forward to reading your latest novel, Shadow and Storm!

To celebrate the release of Shadow and Storm, Juliet is offering a paperback copy of both novels in the Marek series, The Deep and Shining Dark and Shadow and Storm, as a giveaway to one reader of this blog post. Simply leave a comment below this post with your own answer to the question, “If you woke up having forgotten all you knew before, what would be the first thing that you'd start learning again?” and if we have received at least 10 replies by Wednesday September 30, one will be chosen to receive the books. Make sure that we have a way to get in touch with you, if you want to receive your prize! Add your Twitter handle, FB page, email or any other way we can contact you in your comment, so that we can notify you if you are the lucky winner. 

Monday, 27 July 2020

A Quiet Afternoon anthology (and food pairings!)

Guest post: Laura DeHaan from our friends at Grace & Victory.

Hello! This is Laura DeHaan, slush goblin for Grace&Victory’s A Quiet Afternoon anthology of Low-Fi speculative fiction.

Low-Fi stories are comfort reads, slices of life with low stakes and reasonable expectations for what the characters in the story can accomplish, preferably (though not always) with a speculative slant. I’ve spoken elsewhere about wanting a feeling of instant nostalgia when I’m reading Low-Fi, so here I thought I’d delve a little deeper into why each of these stories caught my attention as being specifically (and wonderfully!) Low-Fi. As a bonus, I’ll be offering up my ideal comfort food pairings to enjoy with these stories.

“The Baker’s Cat” by Elizabeth Hart Bergstrom: Fittingly, our first story is all about comfort food! How could I resist the loving descriptions of the bread and desserts? And who wouldn’t want a helpful trio of charming talking animals to teach them how to knead dough? There is a wealth of kindness and gentleness in this story, and it was perfect for A Quiet Afternoon.

Food pairing: Vanilla creamhorns and a steamy chai latte.

“An Inconvenient Quest” by Rebecca Gomez Farrell: From taste to smell, we get another sensory overload in “An Inconvenient Quest.” While on paper it appears to be the standard high-fantasy tale of a dangerous quest to save a fairy queen, there’s so much whimsy in the telling—and such an improbable cure!—that it stays a very comfortable read.

Food pairing: Deep fried delights! Shrimp tempura, arancini, mashed potato croquettes!

“Rising Tides” by Mary Alexandra Agner: I’m a sucker for stories about magical robots, but I always thought their magic would be treated like another programming language, or maybe involve fireballs instead of laser beams. I certainly wasn’t expecting a robot to perform stage magic! The unexpected pairing of sentient tech with such benign magic (especially in a moody seaside setting) made it an instant win.

Food pairing: Sourdough with melty peanut butter and cold ginger beer.

“After Bots” by Rachael Maltbie: The second of our magical robots stories, though here it’s more like hauntings and sculptures. I was happy to see a story with an older protagonist, especially a LADY (gasp!) being a MECHANIC (double gasp!) but also (is it allowed??) having FEELINGS (the most gasps!). Plus it’s a blue-collar setting with ghosts! There’s so much here that should be more mainstream.

Food pairing: Grilled cheese with pickles on the side, along with a chocolate milkshake thick enough to stand a spoon in.

“It’s All in the Sauce by Elizabeth Hirst: I love the idea of solving one problem with a different problem. It’s a very relatable real-life scenario. And as “The Baker’s Cat” has proven, food descriptions are always welcome in Low-Fi.

Food pairing: Once a year my brother will have a backyard barbecue, and his ribs paired with a rye and Coke (heavy on the rye, light on the Coke… or whiskey instead, whatever’s on the shelf) leave me as satiated as reading “It’s All In The Sauce.”

“Sarah, Spare Some Change by Ziggy Schutz: I was immediately drawn to the dreamlike narrative. What’s happened to the world where students slip their bodies during school? How do you gamble on clouds? I don’t know, and I do not care. I love being thrown into a world and not having the rules explained. I love not having fifty pages of backstory and ten of glossary. Let me enjoy what’s right here.

Food pairing: A creamy seafood chowder, where you can’t identify all the bits until you put them in your mouth.

“Ink Stains by Tamoha Sengupta: Remember when every protagonist of spec fic was a male writer? I think it was so he could have a lot of free time to just fart around and not worry about whether his adventures could fit into a 9-5 job. So how pleased was I to see this trope subverted and follow instead the writer’s son—and then have the ink itself become the hero of the story?

VERY. I was VERY pleased.

Food pairing: Being from Toronto, I already knew about Indian rotis—butter chicken, saag paneer, all great. Then I went to Ottawa and learned about Sri Lankan kottu roti from a VERY enthusiastic patron at a one-man hole-in-the-wall take-out place. “You’ve had roti before? Oh no, not like THESE!” she said. I have never met anyone so delighted to share her favourite restaurant’s menu before. Anyway, kottu roti. Great stuff.

“Salt Tears and Sweet Honey by Aimee Ogden: So often when mythological sea creatures forsake the waves to live on land, we see only the start of it: stolen selkie skins, or a desire for legs. In this story of a life well lived, we see what might keep a mermaid from wanting to return to her former home. Like the ocean, there’s a lot beneath the surface in this story, and it raises a lot of questions about the culture the protagonist left behind.

Food pairing: Chocolate mead and lemon-custard scones.

“12 Attempts at Telling about the Flower Shop man (New York New York) by Stephanie Barbé Hammer: Sometimes you want to create a new genre and you set yourself rules (not even a lot of rules!) and then a story comes along and you say, “Well, whatever, I’m buying it.” It’s remarkably satisfying. We’d been a bit hesitant to buy this one because we wanted this anthology to be all about that speculative fiction and “12 Attempts” simply wasn’t. It was, however, charming AF, and what’s the point of making a new genre-breaking genre if you can’t do exactly as you please?

Food pairing: Fresh Rice Krispies squares, still gooey and hot from the pot.

“The Dragon Peddler by Maria Cook: Just because we wanted to publish speculative fiction didn’t mean we wanted to be inundated with dragons. ONE dragon, that was IT. And like “Ink Stains”, where the male writer doesn’t take up the protagonist mantle, in “The Dragon Peddler,” the dragon doesn’t take centre stage, either. It’s the motivating factor and a reward, but its loss or gain isn’t the defining characteristic for the protagonist. It’s a bonus.

Food pairing: Mac’n’cheese with cut-up hot dogs.

“Tomorrow’s Friend by Dantzel Cherry: It’s a simple little tale, and it’s cute, and it’s nice. It’s reassuring without being patronizing and even when the protagonist is shown that what she wants is attainable, she still has to put the work in to get it. That’s low stakes and reasonable expectations, right there.

Food pairing: Fairground waffle ice cream sandwiches.

“Hollow by Melissa DeHaan: Full disclosure, Melissa’s my sister and I asked her to write a story for A Quiet Afternoon. Though she’s never tried writing short stories professionally, she’s been writing fanfic for ages as well as running a few webcomics (her current one being Harbourmaster and I am absolutely plugging it because it is entirely Low-Fi), so I knew she’d come up with something. That something is our third magical robots story. Our protagonists don’t like each other. They never end up really liking each other. But they can work as a team to get a job done and after that they need never see each other again. And for those of us raised as girls, where we’re taught we must befriend everyone and heaven help you if you aren’t instant besties and caretakers and therapists for all you meet, it’s real refreshing reading a story that says NOPE to that idea.

Food pairing: Boba—matcha milk tea, 20% sugar, regular ice, with tapioca. A little bitter, earthy, filling, and unashamed. LOOK THOU WHAT BOBA MAY BE.

“Of Buckwheat and Garlic Braids by Adriana C. Grigore: This is exactly what we wanted Low-Fi to be. A protagonist from an underrepresented group (trans men), whose transness is shown succinctly and sympathetically, who Uses His Words to solve a problem. And! The potentially dangerous monster ALSO uses her words! LET’S EVERYONE USE OUR WORDS!

Food pairing: The cheesy garlic bread absolutely drenched with butter from the Italian joint near my old highschool. Utterly satisfying.

You can find out more about or buy the A Quiet Afternoon anthology from Grace&Victory publications or Payhip.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

New issue: 2020.54

“It hurts me that, if global warming still continues, if global warming continues on a large scale, it’s going to affect our future only; we the children and the coming future generation is going to suffer. So I wanted to do something about that, and that’s why I sued my government.”

—Ridhima Pandey
 [ Issue 2020.54; Cover art © 2020 Fluffgar ]

Issue 2020.54

Flash fiction
Short stories
Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Full issue and editorial.

Review this issue on Goodreads.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

TFF #53 Microinterviews

As usual we followed the release of TFF #53, the LIIIES issue, with mini-interviews with each of the authors and artists over on Fb. For those of you who don’t book the face, I’ve collected all the links so far in this post, and will add anything else that comes up as it appears. Please feel free to ask any other questions you’d like the authors to answer in the comments, and we’ll do our best to get them to look at them…

For more micro-interviews, reviews, and other games please feel free to “like” or follow the TFF Fb page or Twitter accounts, where we'll post things like this as often as we can.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

New issue: 2020.53 (LIIIES)

ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα γηρύσασθαι.

— Hesiod, Theogony 27–8
 [ Issue 2020.53; Cover art © 2020 Gwen C. Katz ]

Issue LIII (2020.53)


Download e-book version: PDF | Epub | Kindle

Full issue and editorial

Rate or review this issue on Goodreads

Sunday, 19 January 2020

New Issue 2020.52

“No, our fight to save the planet didn't start today with the #ClimateStrike and it doesn't end today either. Many of us have been putting in the work for years to save our planet. Don't just amplify our voices today but every day, and support our solutions to save us.”

—Mari Copeny (“Little Miss Flint”)
 [ Issue 2020.52; Cover art © 2020 Grace P. Fong ]

Issue 2020.52

Flash fiction
Short stories
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Rate or review this issue on Goodreads

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Retrospective on Sepulveda Baron

Guest post by J. Rama Stephens

Acclaimed futurist Sepulveda Baron, 62, has died suddenly, while transiting a full-body-scanner at Kuala Lumpur airport en-route to speak in Tokyo. The world has lost an intellect described by Locus Magazine as “a piercing searchlight into the darkest corners of dystopian fiction.”

Baron was the third child of Robert and Artemisia Baron. Her mother was a Republican survivor of the retirada following the Spanish Civil War, recruited from the Argelès refugee camp in France as an SOE courier, then as a clerk for MI6 from 1945. There, she worked with (and married) Sepulveda’s father, MI5 section head Robert Baron.

Sepulveda Baron’s early life was (by her account) happy. In a 2005 interview in the Guardian (the only time she talked to the press) she described a family home at Bletchley giving onto woodlands and the Grand Union Canal: “long summer walks on the towpath with my father gave me an early fascination with Victorian-era engineering and morality. That fascination never left me, but I did become more interested in digital tech—the kind that really gets under your skin.” Through her early years her mother often hosted a motley gathering of expat Republicans. Baron would sit in, sipping rioja. Her mother’s civil war stories and heart-on-sleeve politics would shape Baron’s approach to cyberpunk as “literary expression of late capitalism.” She refused to set foot in what she called “Franco’s neoliberal Spain,” but was plugged in to a network of expatriate connections, online and off.

Baron left home (and the South) to study Literature at Manchester, graduating to a Masters with first class honours. After a long correspondence she traveled in 1985 to Budapest to meet Laszlo Antal, a fiery literary critic at Eotvos Lorand faculty of arts. They married immediately and honeymooned at Lake Sevan in Armenia. The same year, the Hungarian regime declared Antal a “reactionary writer.” They fled together on a night train to Vienna (with the last of her US dollars Baron bribed the guard to let she and Antal ride in the conductor’s car, so they avoided the AVH secret police at the border), and they flew to the US, where Antal had the offer of a teaching job at Brown.

Ivy League America suited Baron. She took a PhD in European literature at Brown, and worked as a research assistant to Antal. Her early papers hint at later dominant themes—a relentless focus on the avant-garde, and fearless literary and genre juxtapositions. From 1984 Baron corresponded with (later) cyberpunk luminaries, including Cadigan, Vinge, and Gibson. I first met Baron at Brown, and she began to develop a following long before she had tenure—students and faculty would gather at her modest house for cheap Californian wine, readings, and (sometimes raucous) discussions. Baron was loud, forceful, and usually right.

In 1989 Antal’s affair with a grad student ended their marriage abruptly. Baron’s employment record shows she had applied for maternity leave the following year, so she’d likely arranged an abortion before walking out and flying home to England. The same year that Baron divorced Antal, she was employed as assistant professor (acting chair, SF Studies) at Liverpool. The next few years were almost impossibly productive—Baron published over 20 papers in 48 months, and most racked up citations at academic rock-star speed.

A fateful meeting with Zoltan Istvan at a futurist convention in Santa Clara in 1994 diverted Baron’s (stellar, but mainstream) academic career into something far stranger and more life-threatening. Istvan and the transhumanist community made a powerful impression on Baron. She embarked upon a year of “deep anthropology” at the Extropia Ranch, home to a well-funded transhumanist community in the New Mexico desert. The ranch was a self-contained world where smart drugs flowed freely, top surgeons performed implants, and (if their website was to be believed) novel couplings between machines, women and men were explored. One year became two, then five.

Baron became romantically involved with the Extropia family. In 1997 she married into the family as a whole in an unofficial transhumanist ceremony. She stayed on at the ranch writing and helping to raise the children who had the run of the compound. Baron claimed to have a large number of transhumanist modifications and body-implants over these years, but (unusually) none visible in everyday clothes; despite many rumours, she refused to talk about her body mods, citing a political commitment to ethical privacy and body autonomy. She often spoke publicly about one modification, however. Baron had early on augmented her vision, and continued to explore this area as the technology developed, splicing drone and webcam feeds into custom AI lenses, and often projecting the resulting combined feed in talks and lectures. This led to a collaboration with the machine-vision team at Cal Tech for her controversial 2004 foray into political sciences, darksight. This gem of tech-dystopian criticism cemented her reputation, with a prescient (pre social-media boom) take on privacy: “remote surveillance technologies are the ayahuasca of dieselpunk. From radar to CCTV, from packet sniffing to online ad-placement algos. Their history shows that the ageless dream of seeing further, expanding our vision into new wavelengths, inevitably collapses into a militarised panopticon, scrutinised by Telescreens and banishing transgressors to (real or virtual) island prisons.”

When Baron returned to Liverpool in 2004, her classes continued to explore the boundary between the individual and the network, and the implications for privacy and autonomy. Her 2007 class, cryptically entitled “the body electric—impossible bearings” has become apocryphal legend. Professor Steve Wright, a grad student that year, describes it as “psychedelic, atavistic and brutal. So confronting that many walked out, and many didn’t finish the year.” He also affirms that semester’s ideas shaped his life and work: “Baron could quote at length from books, films, and papers, and would do so freestyle, segueing from one writer to another, joining the threads into a tapestry of our darkest futures, a gleaming thread running back down through Mary Shelley, grounded in the golem of Prague, and Promethean clay.”

A second burst of productivity followed. This time the papers came slower, but two longer works were published in quick succession. In this period Baron finally engages with feminist literary theory. She is perhaps best known for her pithy quote ”cyberpunk and pregnancy are similar—they’re both about how a foreign thing inside your body changes who you are and gives you a new relationship with the future, which you couldn’t imagine before,” from the introduction to settler colonialism in cyberspace—the massacre of the digital natives (2008).

Baron continued teaching into the early ’10s, but her health declined, perhaps due to the number of implants (she flew twice to California to have some surgically removed), and perhaps due to long-term microdosing of LSD, which many Extropia alumni blogged about.

Baron taught until 2014, and 2015 saw her last monograph, the short (but often cited) Atavism in SF: character arcs recapitulate genre descent into dystopia.

Baron is survived by her older brother. She has bequeathed her manuscripts, correspondence, and considerable collection of late 20th century home computing hardware to the Swedish Internet museum, with an endowment to host a permanent online “Basilisk defence archive.”