Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Interview with Hûw Steer

We welcome to the TFF Press blog author Hûw Steer, who wrote the charming “The Vigil of Talos” in the Making Monsters anthology, and now also copy-edits and sets our e-books for TFF magazine. Hûw has a novel out this month, a fantasy adventure heist caper with a dashing archaeologist/tomb-robber protagonist, and he dropped by to answer a few questions.

The Boiling Seas are the mariner’s bane—and the adventurer’s delight. The waters may be hot enough to warp wood and boil a hapless swimmer, but their scalding expanse is full of wonders. Strange islands lurk in the steamy mists, and stranger ruins hold ancient secrets, remnants of forgotten empires waiting for the bold… or lying in wait for the unwary.

On the Corpus Isles, gateway to the Boiling Seas, Tal Wenlock, the Blackbird, seeks a fortune of his own. The treasure he pursues could change the world—but he just wants to change a single life, and it’s not his own. To reach it, he’ll descend into the bowels of the earth and take ship on burning waters, brave dark streets and steal forbidden knowledge. He’ll lie, cheat, steal and fight—but he won’t get far alone. The ghosts of Tal’s past dog his every step—and one in particular keeps his knives sharp.

The Blackbird will need help to reach his goal… and he’ll need all his luck to get back home alive.

Where did the idea for this story come from? Did you start from the setting or the characters?

Definitely the setting. I had the original idea during a production of The Comedy of Errors. As tends to be the case with university drama, it was a bit weird—we had a chorus onstage at all times playing background characters and it was set in 1950s Yorkshire—and so for most of the play I was sat stage left at my greengrocer’s stall eating grapes and occasionally reacting to the plot. We had to be idle in character; we read, played cards… and I brought a sketchbook. During one of the monologues, I started drawing a map of some islands. Maybe it was the play that did the rest, subconsciously. The Comedy of Errors opens with a shipwreck, it’s filled with inversions and subversions of expectations—I think that bled over into my thoughts while I was drawing that map, building that world, and so I ended up with this inverted ocean and all the perils that came with it. It’s a strong enough setting that I’ve been seriously considering trying a D&D campaign in it for years…

Oh, and bonus points if you can tell me where the name ‘Port Malice’ came from!

Are there creatures living under the hot waters of the Boiling Seas? What do they look like?

(Disclaimer: little of this will bear any resemblance to actual science)

So the Boiling Seas are hot because of massive volcanic activity on the ocean floor—there are rivers of molten rock and iron constantly heating the water. This also means they have a much higher mineral content than normal, minerals like copper, iron, carbon... see where I’m going? The fish in the Boiling Seas are sleek and shiny and mean; they have literal iron-hard scales to help reflect the heat and stay alive! It’s the same story with ships—anything without a metal hull won’t last long, because the caulking between planks just melts. There are no squids or octopi; they’d cook in seconds; but there are steel-scaled sea-serpents—huge things, big enough to take on warships by themselves. And there are proper flying fish too—they’ve evolved to breathe the steam from the water for extended periods so they can glide for much longer! It’s a brave fisherman who tries to make a living on the Boiling Sea.

…and now I’m wracking my brains trying to figure out how to do an underwater sequence in the sequel without killing my protagonists…

How fine do you think is the line between deciphering the traces of an ancient civilisation and imagining a fictional one?

Often very fine. I’m no archaeologist but I’ve studied enough Greek and Roman history to know that when you’re going through ancient sources there are always fascinating facts and snippets that, on closer inspection, turn out to be completely fabricated. Some of the most celebrated ancient historians—Herodotus, Ctesias, etc.—lied all the time about places they’d been and things they’d seen. I recall one passage of Herodotus where he states that the people of ancient Libya were “all wizards,” and more besides. Even when things are heavily documented it’s still easy to interpret them in a romanticised or otherwise distorted way—I know I’ve been guilty of this! If you’re not careful then you can build up a totally fictional image of an ancient society from reading the wrong sources… or even the right ones.

Which ancient artefact or object has the most amazing story, in your opinion?

There’s a Micronesian island called Yap that once used limestone discs as currency. Some of them were only a few inches across, but some weighed over 4 tonnes! They were quarried on another island and brought back by boat, and it took so much effort to move the big ‘coins’ that everyone agreed to just remember who owned which stone, regardless of where it actually was. Why was this important? Because one 4-tonne coin, en route back to Yap, got hit by a storm and sank to the bottom of the sea. Obviously there was no way to get it back, but that didn’t matter—as 4 tonnes of stone wasn’t going to get up and walk away the islanders just carried on trading with it. So there’s a piece of currency that’s been at the bottom of the ocean for centuries, and it’s still legal tender!

Whenever I get all existential about how ephemeral modern money is, it helps to remember that there’s one economy that’ll never crash completely.

What was your favourite fairy tale when you were a child?

Probably Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I had (still have, in fact) a CD version of the Arthurian mythos by Benedict Flynn, narrated by Sean Bean of all people, and some passages are indelibly etched in my memory. Gawain’s journey of self-discovery about his own courage was important to me because it showed his flaws, in a way that the other heroic stories I read (and there were a lot of them) never did as well. He was a Knight of the Round Table, but the whole way through the story he was scared, falling to temptation, quaking in his armoured boots—but he kept his word, and did the best he could, and won respect for it. Sean Bean’s last words in that section, as Arthur, always stuck with me: “None of us are perfect. We can only try.”

Thanks for joining us, Hûw.

Hûw Steer is an author, historian and sketch comedian from London. He’s previously been published in Making Monsters (Futurefire.net Publishing, 2018), and the UCL Publisher’s Prize anthologies for 2018 and 2016. This is his first published novel.

You can purchase The Boiling Seas: The Blackbird and the Ghost for Kindle from Amazon US or Amazon UK (and all other local Amazon stores).

Saturday, 25 May 2019

New issue 2019.49

“It won't be any of those things,” J.D. [Sauvage] said. “I don't know what it will be, but it will be something different.”

—Vonda N. McIntyre, Starfarers

Issue 2019.49: Poetry Special

 [ Issue 2019.49; Cover art © 2019 Eric Asaris ]
Flash fiction
Poetry
Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Call for submissions: longer fiction and poetry

Longer than usual…

Tall Tales!
For the next few weeks, TFF is looking for pieces that are slightly longer than our Guidelines normally specify, for our jubilee issue. While we’re explicitly flexible with regard to wordcount, in the past we have very seldom published stories over 10,000 words or poems over about 60 lines—partly because reading longer works on screen can be a strain. For an upcoming project (more on which later) however, we’re looking to push this boundary upwards.

Do you have a:
  • Speculative novelette (story of 7,500–17,500 words)
  • Long scifi/fantasy poem (say 100–200 lines)
that we might be interested in?

We’re more flexible than usual with this project, so those boundaries are both permeable, and we’re open to all sorts of liberties with genre, medium and form. Not sure if something qualifies? Try us!

This extended call remains open until May 31, 2019, and for this period, any novelette we purchase for this special issue will be paid the higher rate of $30 (and long poems $15) to celebrate the jubilee.

Increased length and pay rate aside, all our usual guidelines (see fiction; poetry) still apply for this month, and our usual tastes in feminist, queer, postcolonial and environmental themes and underrepresented voices will pertain. But as I said, try us—we’d rather have the chance to decide if something works for us than have you self-reject.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Speculative Fiction in Slovenia

Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Literature in Slovenia
Guest post by Nena Škerlj; translated by Urša Vidic

Speculative fiction in Slovenia started with fantastic short stories, utopias and anti-utopias: Andrej Volkar (The School Student in the Moon, 1871), Josip Stritar (The Ninth Wonderland, 1878), Anton Mahnič (Shangri-La of Coromandel India, 1884, 1889), Janez Trdina (Revelation, depicting the world in the year 2175, 1888), Ivan Tavčar (4000, a view on the narrow-minded town of Ljubljana in the year 4000, 1891), Janez Mencinger (under the pseudonym Nejaz Nemcigren, he wrote about Europe in the 24th century as a totalitarian anti-utopia, —a Tale for Old People, 1893), Simon Šubic (criticizing capitalism at a journey into a classless society on Mars, Devastating Idol of the World, 1893), Josip Jaklič (Merkur from the collection of short stories Pantheon is a satirical utopia with a Slovenian conquering space expedition, 1893), Ivan Toporiš (Archaeological lecture in the year 5000—there are no more nations on Earth, everyone speaks the same language, volapük, 1892). Utopias and anti-utopias appear quite late in Slovenian literature, but when some of these became infused with elements of science fiction, they were exceptionally progressive and modern on a wider scale, something that cannot be said for the current scene in Slovenia.

In the first half of the 20th century, Damir Feigl was the most important Slovenian science fiction writer, describing utopias of natural and technical science, voyages extraordinaires, unusual inventions, antigravity, futurism in genetics, brain transplantation (novels Dog Hair!, On Mysterious Ground, Wondrous Eye, Columbus, Magician without a licence, Around the World/8, Supervitalin). He wrote also short sci-fi stories (Bacilus eloquentiae, Elektrokephale …) and fantasy (e.g. Pharaoh in a Tailcoat). A pessimistic view on the development of science and also future catastrophes were described by Etbin Kristan (Pertinčarjevo pomlajenje—a tale of a dream), Vladimir Levstik (under pseudonyms also (The Deed)) and Anton Novačan (Superhuman). Space travels were the subject of Radivoj Rehar (under pseudonyms as well; young adult fiction Journey with the Evening Star, a story happening in 2033, Oceanopolis—a novel about the mystery of human past, the utopian Revenge of Professor Kabaj, and Ramas in Jora—a novel about the last people on Earth, taking place in the distant future). Pavel Brežnik used the pseudonym P. Ripson to publish Secrets of Mars, while Metod Jenko and Viktor Hassl co-authored the narrative Invention. In 1936, Alma M. Karlin published a novel about the sunken continent Isolanthis, describing a sort of Atlantis, called Poseidonia and containing many fantastical, fantasy, as well as theosophical elements.

In the 2nd half of the 20th century, it became very popular to write about space travel and contacts with alien civilizations and the most prominent examples of such writing are Dušan Kralj (First Encounter), Jože Dolničar (Pilot’s Blood, Decades and Seconds, The Sea is the Sky beneath Me) and Mitja Tavčar (Cabin Zero space opera). Vid Pečjak and Miha Remec write science fiction anti-utopias, but occasionally they both choose an optimistic ending in which individuals are successful in escaping the alienated hi-tech world. Vid Pečjak (also as Div Kajčep) described journey to other worlds, the life in them, various psychological states of mind and he warned about the fragility of nature (In the Claws of Gita, the Witch, Adam and Eve on the Planet of Old People, In the Embrace of Green Hell, Cataclysm or the Revenge of Selena, collections of short psychological science fiction stories like Where did Ema Lauš Disappear to?, Doctor of the Living and the Dead, Last Resistance and Search for the Beautiful Helena). His ecological-psychological science fiction is often pessimistic and the same could be said about the works of Miha Remec (also as Irena Remrom), the most prominent among them being the dystopian trilogy Iksion-Iksia-Iks (Iksion, or Escape from the Stage, Iksia, or Android's Farewell and Iks, or The Great Solitude of Noah’s Ark). He wrote many multi-layered and interpretatively rich sci-fi stories (Glow Bird, Astral Lighthouses, a selection) and science fiction novels (Journals of Earth's Envoy, Manna, Sniper Woman, or Pilgrimage to Tibetia, Hunter, Recognition or Black Time of the White Widow, Impure Daughter). He described also journeys in time (Mithra’s Lock of Hair or Time String into Petoviona) and frequently called attention to the endangerment of human beings as individuals and of nature as a whole. In 2017, Miha Remec published another science fiction novel, Hunter of Perceptions. He writes also sci-fi poetry, drama and fairytales, a unique fantasy tragicomedy Plague of Plastion and a political fantasy novel Green Alliance, as well as humorous fantasy-realistic historical and political stories Trapan Chronographies where things happen simultaneously on Earth and on Trapania. Franjo (Franc) Puncer published a sci-fi collection entitled Lost Man, pessimistic accounts of the time before or after a catastrophe. In his short story Transformation, people are being changed into robots and the novel Membrane, he writes about how people from Earth are abducted immediately after their death in order to be reanimated and used as a means to renew the population of aliens. Other authors writing at the peak of Slovenian and global sci-fi—in terms of motifs as well as their style—are Gregor Strniša, Boris Grabnar and Branko Gradišnik (his Explorer arbitrarily kills intelligent and harmless round beings; also remarkable is his visit to the 22nd century, On the Hunt, on the Run).

In the 80s, sci-fi was written by Samo Kuščer, Denis Rakuša, Bojan Meserko, Egist Zagoričnik, Jaša Zlobec and many more. In their stories (Miha Remec), alien beings could save the Earth or do not want to have anything to do with Earthlings or it is forbidden for them to contact us (Gradišnik, Pečjak), or they are taken advantage of (Pečjak) or they all live together with humans on other planets (Janja Srečkar, Fast Frequency trilogy)… Mankind is able to prevent a disaster on Earth (Sandi Sitar, Buried in Granite) or it destroys the planet (Samo Resnik, Stars and dumpsites, Vid Pečjak: Odysseus Returns), but a complete end of the human race is quite rare in Slovenian sci-fi literature (Franjo Puncer: Adamo).

Elements of cyberpunk or its predecessor genres can be recognized in Pečjak’s story Open Skulls, where an alien civilization steals human brains and uses them to produce supercomputers and only the brains of schizophrenics can save mankind from such an invasion. Also Iksion, or Escape from the Stage by Remec has such elements—a computer, programmed for eternity, making sure that human society functions well. The same can be said of his Recognition where people’s memories are being erased or searched. A work that stands out is the philosophical and futuristic novel Cracks by Marko Uršič, a fantasy of space and time intertwining in make-believe, memories, dreams and waking moments. Edo Rodošek is the third great figure of the Slovenian sci-fi scene. In addition to poetry he wrote many stories (most recently the collection from 2017, Step into the Unknown—Eighteen Stories That Have Not Happened Yet) and novels (Inseparable Duo takes place in the future when asteroids threaten the Earth and its main character searches for other planets suitable for life, while the main character of The Swamp is a conflicted cyborg, and in Almost the Same, robots, androids, cyborgs and other technological entities wish to dream, to feel, to have perceptions and emotions. His novel Haunted Castle features ghosts for which it eventually turns out that they are beings from other planets). In the weirdness of its themes and by being something like a mysterious gothic novel, it is somehow similar to the Manor House by Robert Titan Felix from 2017.

Around the turn of the millennium, some outstanding Slovenian sci-fi authors are Berta Bojetu (her brutal anti-utopia Filio is Not at Home and its sequel, Bird House, both describing how it is not the fault of technology but of people themselves if their society is violent and evil), Marjetka Jeršek (Emerald City, a utopian love novel, a mixture of dreams, hallucinations and eventual parallel worlds with robots and interplanetary vehicles, Ljubljana can be recognized here), Miha Mazzini (futuristic anti-utopia Satan’s Crown), Tone Perčič (Harmageddon on the future of Slovenia in an absurd war), Andrej Blatnik (Change Me, describing a grotesque future and extreme consumerism, again, Ljubljana is recognizable), Vesna Lemaić (Disposal Facility), Iztok Osojnik (the protagonist of the fantasy novel Pigs Flying into the Sky is Primož Truba, an allusion to Trubar, author of the first book printed in Slovenian), Boris Čerin (futuristic Curse of the Two-Headed Clown and They Came for Me), Mladen Tratnjak (sci-fi novel Observatory 775), Nina Arlič (Gorgonaut, a sort of a sci-fi love story with the protagonist Paprika Kej of a librarian persuasion), Janko Lorenci (sci-fi love story Travelling towards Leonarda), Rok Sieberer Kuri (futuristic trilogy taking place also in other galaxies and universes: Stories of Jessi, The Story of Frenk Nissan, Sherry’s Storry), Franc Puncer (Rope of Time containing travels to a far future and extreme future, to the frontier—a web, through which time flows into our universe and that catches the rest; from the prehistoric town of Celje (Celea Praehistorica) to New Celje (Celea Futura), and the city of the year 4000 (Celea Futurissma)). The author under the pseudonym Mara R. Sirako wrote a space saga (space opera) Dangober, Combat by the Warning Indicator 1, 2, 3, describing an encounter and clash of two very different civilizations where many beings have names and characteristics that are associated with deities from various mythologies.

Andrej Ivanuša wrote novels and short stories of speculative fiction, but also the fantasy novel Svetodrev which is the first book in the series of Legends from the Forest of Tokara (fantasy world with intelligent reptiles who have three sexes), as well as the science fiction with elements of a crime novel, Rheia, and an epic fantasy poem Vilindar. Bojan Ekselenski is the author of a fantasy epic full of intrigues, magic and battles, Knights and Wizards, published in 2017. His latest novel from 2018 is Lubliana High School of Magic with its world of wizards that is parallel to the real world. Barbara Čibej wrote a fantasy adventure novel with ninjas, the Secret of the Warrior. Under the pseudonym of Maia Pleiades, an adventure fantasy was published, The Final Battle of the Gods. Sebastjan Koleša portrayed pirates, elves, goblins, demons, terrifying beasts, beings from outer space and other extraordinary creatures in The Seventh World.

Slovenian chivalric, horror, gothic and dark novels usually take place in medieval times and are combined with the mixture of adventure, myths, pseudo-history, fairy-tales, legends and the fantasy world. They describe knights, witches, heroes and heroines, nobility, castles and monasteries. An interweaving of history and fiction can be found already in the 14th century with the Celje Chronicles and it continued in the 19th and 20th centuries with Peter Bohinjec, Jožef Urbanija, Ivan Lah and many more. In 1858, Fran Levstik wrote a parody of the chivalric novel, Martin Krpan. There was also some horror literature and fantastic novels about demons (Valentin Zarnik, Fran Erjavec, Valentin Mandelc, Josip Podmilšak, Silvester Košutnik, France Bevk (The Dead are Returning). Some people say that the first in the series of vampire sagas (like those by Isabella M. Grey, Eva Šegatin…) was a passage in the monumental work by the natural historian Johann Weikhard Freiherr von Valvasor, The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, in 1689, where he mentioned Giure or Jure Grando (1579–1656) from Istria (Kringa) who therefore might be the first real person to be described in a book as a vampire—a shtrigon.

Alen Nemec wrote the book Swordsman (2017) that will be the first part of a fantasy trilogy, The Resurrection of the Swordsman containing stories about warriors, castles, kingdoms, intrigues, myths, dark forces and the battles against them. Aleš Oblak is the author of a horror fantasy House of Good Gentlemen, composed of seven intertwined, unusual, terrifying and cruel short stories. For Anor Kath by Samo Petančič it could be said that it is splatterpunk to a certain degree, since it has some moments of horror and terror fiction. Similar elements of fantasy and science fiction in a dark and gloomy atmosphere of cruelty and violence can be recognized also in the work of Lenart Zajc (e.g. Hevimetal). Another important author of fantasy stories is Amedeja M. Ličen (Goodbye, Glorious World! where she uses motifs from science, pseudoscience and myths to describe an ideal society with lots of humour and irony, since that society is of course not ideal). Danila Žorž has to be mentioned as well, she wrote an archaeological sci-fi crime novel Izklop, a fantasy trilogy True World: Enchanting Angel, Cursed Angel and Fallen Angel that is still in the making).

A hybridity of genres is characteristic of more modern science fiction, fantasy and horror, like in the works of Marjan Tomšič, where there is a mixture of magical and fantastic realism, science fiction and psych fiction, imaginary and philosophical elements, magical Istrian themes, superpowers, evil dark forces, thinking plants, animals and inanimate nature, new forms of communication in outer space, the threat of disasters and the contacts with aliens. His Spells of the Full Moon (3 volumes) are a psycho-fictional vortex of post-apocalyptic horror fantasy, dreams, hallucinations and unusual entities of existence, while, Óštrigéca and The Grain of Frmenton are contemporary fairytale novels, just like Someone was Playing the Piano by Boris Jukić and Tanaja by Sanja Pregl. Vlado Žabot in his Nights of the Wolf described a weird, dark and dispiriting vampiric atmosphere, an irrational world of dreams, half-dreams, delusions, sensory disturbances and hallucinations. Tomšič, Žabot and Feri Lainšček (in his horror novel The Woman Carried in by the Fog) could sometimes be considered to write landscape fantasy horror novels. The Secret of the Valley of Petrified Dragons trilogy by Nataša Vrbančič Kopač (Generator of Books, Dragon Temple, Battle for Erno) contains elements of comedy, ethics and physics and begins with a scientist whose invention gets out of control and this is then followed by a long and fantastic journey. Axis mundi, Axis of the World (written by Aksinja Kermauner) is a combination of fantasy, contemporary physics, chaos theory, journey into the past and much more. Boris Višnovec wrote a collection of sci-fi stories Hunters of Dreams.

Tim Horvat described a search of Atlantis in his Seekers of Lost Cities—Treasure of Triglav, where there is a hall inside the highest mountain of Slovenia and in it the Porta Thrigllaev—the only portal into Atlantis. In Frankensteins of the New Era, Gaja Hren wrote an antiutopia with many clones (Albert Einstein, Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nikola Tesla, Leonardo da Vinci…). Dušan Dim described a futuristic world where people have an advanced technology implanted under their skin, Excuse me, your life does not exist.

The tradition of utopias has its place also in young adult fiction and in children's—but not childish—literature, represented by Ivo Šorli (In the Land of Chirimoorzzi—an underground tale for the young), Branimir Žganjer (Exactly Three Days Late), Miha Remec (Dandelion Fluff in Space), Ivan Sivec (Holydays on Mars) and Vid Pečjak (various novels and short stories featuring robots). Writers of young adult fantasy are Magdalena Cundrič: Alioth or the Tail of the Grat Bear (dreams, holograms, robots, hybrids), Barbara Čibej (Arcas and The Warrior’s Secret), Maks Lenart Černelč’s W5051 Family, Žiga X. Gombač: Buddies and Time Warriors (about ancient bracelets, interdimensional portals, being between times).

Some of the more interesting comic book authors are Branko Zinauer (sci-fi comic Planet of Three Suns), Andrej Hermann (sci-fi psychological thriller Airport without Guards), Bojan Šlegl (sci-fi comics Circ-I Calling Earth, Earth Fleat Attacking together with the writer Marko Mihelčič), Božo Debeljak (Shipwreck in Space), Gašper Krajnc (“monster horror” comic Rite in cooperation with the writer Matic Večko), Tomaž Lavrič (hardcore sci-fi comic Blind Sun, fantasy trilogy Lomm about an unusual being from the nest of flying mutants) and the funny sci-fi comics Erlšpik on the Planet Beta and Radovan from the Planet Beta (Matjaž Schmidt). Under the name of Ninel, Iztok Sitar’s comic reinterpreted the antiutopia 4000 by Tavčar, where Ljubljana of the future has flying saucers, but it is still rather a town of the past. should also be mentioned Jakob Klemenčič, his comics feature some morbid characters, weirdoes, six-legged pigs, chickens with three eyes and calves with two heads (Tale of the Painting Man), Marko Kociper (aliens in the comic Badger and the Rest of the World) and Matej Kocjan—Koco, whose Honey talks—Painted Beehive Panels in Comics have a great deal of fantasy and sci-fi and are continuously being published since 2006.

The most important Slovenian publisher of speculative fiction is the Blodnjak publishing studio with authors like Igor Zobavnik, Aaron Kronski/Tomo Rebolj, Bojan Meserko and others. Short sci-fi, fantasy and horror stories are occasionally published in anthologies (Terra—almanac of science fiction, Stardust, Stardust—Another Galaxy, Singularity, Blodnjak (Maze) of science fiction, Blodnjak 2, 4 and 6, Fantazija) and in magazines like Življenje in tehnika, Neskončnost, Supernova—Magazine for speculative fiction and Jašubeg en Jered (that sometimes has a special issue in English, Jashubeg en Jered). ŽIT magazine (Življenje in tehnika or Ljudska tehnika originally) started to publish the first sci-fi stories in 1952. At first, these were mostly translations, but after 1989 more stories written by Slovenian authors emerged, amounting to about 10 percent of all the stories in the magazine; from 2015, their share is now about 90 percent. The publishing house that owns the magazine—Tehniška založba Slovenije, has been making sci-fi collections from 1961 to 1996, they were called Spektrum (In Rainbow Wings, I’m Afraid, How the World was saved…) and they contained many first published works by Slovenian writers such as Marjan Tomšič and his Wind of Eternity.

In 2017, the young adult fantasy novel Taronian Secret by Maja M. Taron came out, as well as the young adult fantasy Argo Megacircus by Feri Lainšček. Milan Petek Levokov wrote So Close, So Far Awayshort sci-fi prose—these are classic science fiction stories with elements of humour, pessimism, philosophy and a lot more. In the same year, he published four other books and had another one reprinted. In 2018, Erik Sancin wrote the science-fiction novel Elevator in which he painted a new image of an impoverished Earth and Moon after the Third Cataclysm. The planet is inhabited by so-called Othersiders, who are New Territory people, and by mutated and degenerated beings (cannibals or so-called Overalls). This dynamic novel sometimes switches from being like a first-person shooter game to being like a stealth game and back and I could easily imagine it in the form of a video game or a film. I really hope that it will be at least translated into English.

Motifs of fantasy and horror have for a long time been present in Slovenian literature, especially in science fiction. Scientific, technical and social utopias and anti-utopias appeared relatively late, but when they did, they soon became very popular. Thought experiments with theoretically possible worlds are still quite common. On the other hand, science fiction, was establishes rather soon (second half of the 19thcentury) and contained some very modern ideas. Then it continued to be created in quiet for a while until it reached its new peak in the eighties.

Tomaž Janežič in his Resurrection of Neptune used elements of cyberpunk to describe the genius computer programme called Neptune. It was followed by the 2nd generation Neptune with which its extra-systemic visionary hacker creator was brought back to life with some telekinetic and other improvements. The story takes place in Ljubljana (there is BTB—a Bermuda triangle of Bežigrad) and is based on the premise that water is eternal, so since a human body is made up of 70% water (this is why the name of the programme is Neptune), this share of a human being is eternal and only 30% belong to the sphere of time, which could be changed so that time would not be the strongest part of us anymore. Muanis Sinanović’s Anastrophe (2017) is a mixture of cyberpunk and New Weird (Ljubljana is featured among other places; it loses its status of a town in the future and becomes a village).

Martin Vavpotič, a representative of steampunk or retrofuturism wrote the historical fantasy novel Over Great West Sea and in the English language, he published Clockworks Warrior: a steampunk novella containing flying machines and other fantastical ideas. Individual elements of both these genres are present also in some stories by Pečjak, Remec and others. Wonderful Clone by Barbara Pešut under the pseudonym of Eva Pacher is a piece of mutant erotic/pornographic science fiction. Marko Vitas wrote 2084, a sci-fi dystopia (another one taking place in Ljubljana) which is the unofficial continuation of the cult classic 1984 by George Orwell. Fantasy, fiction, futurism, philosophy and cosmology are combined in the philosophical and literary tetralogy—Four Seasons by Marko Uršič, where things happen in the past and in the future, in multi-layered versions of the present and in timelessness, while exploring strict, hard-core philosophy, its history and its present. The works by Matjaž Štrancar like Blue Drug and Other Stories contain sci-fi and alternative histories.

Grasshopper Hunter by Jurij Pfeifer is philosophical, humorous and grotesque sci-fi novel. Frane Tomšič’s Third Century in the Era of Cybernetics is a futuristic and philosophical post-apocalyptic anti-utopia set in the far future. In 2017 and 2018, Sebastijan Pešec published his philosophical fantasy novel Perdikas. Wondrous discoveries, voyages extraordinaires, dark tales of the strange can often be found as parts or as defining characteristics of literary works and increasing number of hybrid literature that is full of sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements. 2018 saw also the publication of the English translation of The Barrens by Miha Remec and his sci-fi anti-utopia Poetovian Trilogy (Clone Sin, Spider Webs of Time, Poetovian Desinification the latter two were written together with Aleksandra Jelušič). Among interesting releases this year are also the sci-fi crime novel Wotan’s Daughters by Tomaž Kukovica, Another Colour of Rain by Nejka Štiglic from her Different Colours series, the dystopia by Alojz Rebula where the Vatican is relocated to China, By the Tributary of the Yangtze. The slipstream that is rich with fiction is probably more interesting for the (post)information age than the old-school sci-fi, so for quite some time now there are sudden elements of fantasy, postmodern fiction, magic realism, futuristic, supernatural and surrealistic worlds in a realistic narrative flow (Mammoths by Jernej Županič, Dušan Merc, Lev Detela, Mojca Kumerdej, Milan Kleč, Eva Markun).

Unlike in traditional Slovenian novels, genres were mixed more intensely towards the end of the 20th century and novels from that time and later have many unusual or bizarre characteristics resembling fairytales, anti-utopias, alternative histories, the fantastic or horror. This hybridity of genres still continues at the present moment, so it is very fortunate that contemporary Slovenian novels have a stronger and stronger trend to include various fantastic, futuristic and fantasy elements.

Nena Škerlj is a philosopher and art historian and works as a librarian in some super libraries, does many different things, engages in various and diverse activities, but above all likes to stick her nose into books as can well be seen in this photo that is actually an installation, a One Minute Sculpture by Erwin Wurm.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

New Issue 2019.48

« Il y a un côté effrayant quand on regarde un ciel totalement ­dégagé la nuit. Alors que là, l’image qu’on regarde nous ramène vers nous, c’est une image très rassurante, un peu comme si on regardait le ventre de notre mère. En fait, Blueturn, c’est un selfie de la Terre. »

—Jean-Pierre Goux

 [ Issue 2019.48; Cover art © 2019 Pear Nuallak ] Issue 2019.48

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

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Interview with Hayley Stone (and giveaway)

We welcome to the TFF Press blog novelist and poet Hayley Stone (whose poems “Daphne’s Grove” and “Results of Your Quiz: Which Survivor of the Trojan War Are You?” appeared in TFF last year, and we will publish one more later in 2019), whose Weird West novel Make Me No Grave was released a few weeks ago. She answers a few of our questions about her writing. Make sure to stick around to the end for a chance to win one of three signed copies of the novel!

Hayley Stone is a writer, editor, and poet from California. She is best known for her adult sci-fi novel, Machinations, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Sci-fi & Fantasy Books for 2016, and her cult hit, Make Me No Grave, a weird western. Her short fiction has appeared in Fireside Fiction, Apex Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and various anthologies, while her speculative poetry is widely available online. Hayley loves to hear from readers and writers. Find her at hnstoneauthor.com and on Twitter @hayley_stone.

Make Me No Grave


Marshal Apostle Richardson faces off against bloodthirsty outlaws, flesh witches, ruthless vigilantes, and more in this gritty, magical re-imagining of the Old West.

Almena Guillory, better known as the Grizzly Queen of the West, has done plenty to warrant the noose, but US Marshal Apostle Richardson enforces the law, he doesn’t decide it. When a posse tries to lynch Almena ahead of her trial, Apostle refuses their form of expedited justice—and receives a bullet for his trouble. Almena spares him through the use of dangerous flesh magic but escapes soon after saving him.

Weeks later, Apostle fears the outlaw queen has returned to her old ways when she’s spotted terrorizing Kansas with a new gang in tow. When cornered, however, Almena makes a convincing case for her innocence and proposes a plan to take the real bandits down. Working with a known killer opens Apostle up to all sorts of trouble, not the least being his own growing attraction toward the roguish woman. Turning Almena away from vengeance may be out of the question, but if he doesn’t try, she’ll wind up right where the law wants her: at the end of a rope.

And if Apostle isn’t careful, he’ll end up joining her.

If you like Red Dead Redemption and Lila Bowen’s Wake of Vultures, you'll love this gun-blazing weird western.

Interview


TFF: It strikes me that the trope of Almena in Make Me No Grave brings together seventeenth century witch-hunts with modern lynchings, especially of minorities. Is this intersectionality deliberate in the novel, and if so what other axes does it work on?

Hayley Stone: Absolutely.

Throughout the novel, as more of Almena’s background comes to light, we see in her personal friendships and associations that she feels most comfortable among those likewise considered to be “outsiders” in society. In much of Western fiction, there is the theme of civilization (i.e. society) versus the individual (i.e. the lone gunfighter, the outlaw, etc.). Almena’s experience of not only being a woman in a nontraditional role, but one with magic specifically addresses feminist issues such as the persecution of the nonfeminine and the frequent unease surrounding female power. For as much as she is feted as the Grizzly Queen of the West and celebrated for her violence, she is also feared and mistrusted for the same.

Of course, there may be more axes than that, depending on which theory is applied to the reading, but I leave that up to my audience! It’s always fun when a reader makes a connection I myself didn’t necessarily intend.

What was your first love, poetry or prose? And how often do you move from one form to the other?

HS: Definitely prose. I only began writing poetry in earnest a couple years ago, near the end of college. However, now the two are intricately connected, at least in my own mind, frequently informing one another. I often draw on poetic technique for my prose, especially for description or to set the mood of a scene. Verbs rule in poetry, and they provide spectacular energy to prose as well. In the past, I’ve also deconstructed story ideas and turned them into poems when they refused to work as short fiction.

Some of your poems seems to draw inspiration from female characters in old mythologies, Classical as well as Nordic. What fascinates you about these ancient women?

HS: For me, it is two things. First, I feel a strong sense of solidarity with these women. When you strip away the magic and mythos, their lives are not much different from our own; they experience passion and hope, while also suffering from many of the same fears and insecurities. They are lovers, fighters, and everything in between.

Second, in many instances, theirs is the story I most relate to and actually want to read! Historically, the male perspective has been the dominant one, so for me it is interesting to look at the same event from a less obvious point-of-view.

The covers of your novels seem to emphasize the figure of the lone hero. Are strong characters (and especially female ones) doomed to be alone?

HS: There is a special irony there since I’m actually not a big proponent of the lone hero narrative! I even think there is something a little toxic about the idea of solving all your problems on your own, rather than reaching out for help.

One of the themes I explore in both of my series is how easy it is to become isolated by a sense of personal responsibility or past failure. Rhona Long (Machinations) and Almena Guillory (Make Me No Grave) are very different personalities, but both women end up strengthened by their relationships to others, not weakened by them. If anything, the covers represent their initial feelings of loneliness, not their ultimate reality.

With whom, alive or dead, would you most like to collaborate, and on what?

HS: Let’s just say that if J.R.R. Tolkien wanted to invent some languages for an epic fantasy of mine, I would not say no! Otherwise, I would love to co-write a story with Margaret Atwood or Kameron Hurley, as they are two of my favorite writers alive today.

Contest



Enter to win a signed copy of Make Me No Grave!

To enter the contest, comment below by midnight, February 6, 2019, with your own Weird West story or poem in 280 characters or less. Stories and poems must incorporate tropes of the Western genre, while also including a speculative element (i.e. fantasy, sci-fi, or horror). They need not take place in America, or even on Earth.

Up to three entries will be chosen by Hayley, and the winners will receive a signed paperback and bookmark. You may also post your stories to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or your blog—just remember to post the link below (and make sure we have a way of getting in touch with you)!

Monday, 17 December 2018

Micro-interviews with TFF #47 authors

After each issue of TFF comes out, we run a series of very short interviews (about two questions, one line answers) with each of the authors and artists on social media. We’re in the middle of the series at the moment, and in case you don't follow us on Fakebooc, I’ll collect the links here (in no particular order). We try to give a teaser of the stories, poems or illustrations, and give the creators a chance to promote what else they’re working on while we’re there.
We’ll add the rest as they show up.

Please feel free to like or share the posts, spread the word about the interviews or the stories, comment over on FB or on the issue post if you come across anything you particularly like.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Interview with Ephiny Gale

Our friend Ephiny Gale (whose lovely story “The Light Princess” appeared in TFF in 2013, and “Five Tales of the Rose Palace” in 2018) has released a collection of her fantastic and unconventional short stories this week, under the title Next Curious Thing from Foxgrove Press. To celebrate this release, we have invited Ephiny to tell us a little more about her work.

An otherworldly banquet of contemporary fantasy, dark fairy tales and soft science fiction, Next Curious Thing collects some of Ephiny Gale’s best short fiction from 2013 to 2018, including ‘In the Beginning, All Our Hands Are Cold’ (Syntax & Salt Editor’s Award winner) and ‘Wrecked’ (Tangent Online Recommended Reading List). Known for her ability to mix the extraordinary with the relatable, darkness with splendour, and heartache with hope, Gale showcases a wide cast of fascinating female and queer characters in the most curious of situations. In addition to its previously published stories, Next Curious Thing features six brand new tales original to this collection.

TFF: You first appeared in The Future Fire in 2013 with “The Light Princess,” which is maybe not so much a fairy tale retelling as a new fairy tale-like story. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of and inspiration for this piece?

Ephiny Gale: Occasionally I’ll read the title of someone else’s story, get an idea of what that story “must” be about, and then be disappointed to learn that my assumption was wrong. “The Light Princess” owes its existence to an 1864 Scottish fairy tale of the same name (found via Wikipedia’s “List of fairy tales”) which is about a princess who weighs very little, while I wanted it to be about a princess who was very bright. Thus, my story “The Light Princess” is not a retelling of the 1864 fairy tale; rather, it’s what I immediately hoped the story would be based on its title alone.

What is the clearest golden thread running through the stories in Next Curious Thing? Was that deliberate in your writing and editing, or did it only emerge as you began to collect the stories for the volume?

‘Fairy tales versus superheroes’ is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last few years, especially with the recent explosion of superhero movies. Both are fantasy sub-genres, but superhero movies tend to be about extraordinary people saving the world (or at least part of it), while fairy tales tend to be about ordinary people trying to save themselves (or their families) from within that world. The power difference is huge: superheroes are about enacting their power on the world, while fairy tales are about reacting to the (often oppressive) power that the world has on you.

Even though not all of my stories in Next Curious Thing are fairy tales, I think this is the golden thread that runs most clearly through the collection: that these are ordinary people, often in extraordinary—and magical—circumstances, who are trying to survive in spite of the world around them, and shape and improve it in the small ways that we can on an everyday basis.

This thread wasn’t a deliberate choice throughout my writing and editing, but it doesn’t surprise me that this element of fairy tales has spread out into my science-fiction and contemporary fantasy work. I find it much more relatable than stories about superheroes and chosen ones and world-shakers—I can certainly enjoy those types of stories, too, but I’m not sure that they’re the stories I personally want to tell.

Illustration by Margot Jenner © 2018
You have also worked in theater. How does writing for the stage differ from writing prose, for you? Do the specific constraints of theater as a medium make it particularly challenging to tell non-realist stories?

There are definitely restrictions on the kind of non-realist elements you can show on stage, particularly if you’re making theatre with a relatively low budget. I don’t write anything into my stage scripts without first understanding how that might be able to be produced (for instance, with lighting or fire paper or a scrim). Alternatively, for a couple of my shows I’ve chosen to have anything magical or sci-fi occur off stage, and focussed instead on the aftermath or implications of those things.

There’s a lot more freedom with what you can “show” your audience in prose, and also a lot more freedom with structure and the speed at which you can tell a story. Stage scenes are generally confined to the one location (although I’ve enjoyed playing with elements like montages and quick-cuts in my plays before) and build upon each other more directly than prose narration, which might include several jumps between location and time and character in a single paragraph. Depending on the style of writing, too, what might take me an hour to tell on stage could take me just 2,000 words to convey through prose. Prose has a lot more flexibility, but sometimes it’s wonderful to write for the immediacy and atmosphere and constraints of the theatre, too.

Which story or work would you most like to adapt for the stage?

Right now I’d be most excited to adapt the final story in Next Curious Thing, called “The Secret Death of Lane Islington.” It involves a famous teenage singer bringing her non-famous doppelganger back from a parallel universe, so the trickiest parts would be casting actresses who looked enough alike, and working out how to show a portal opening in the middle of the stage. Definitely doable, though.

What is your favourite modern retelling of a traditional tale?

I’m not sure if the Wizard of Oz is considered “traditional” enough, but assuming it is, I have to pick Gregory Maguire’s novel Wicked. Wicked has been one of my favourite books for a long time; I love its world-building, its complexity, and its unexpected quietness. Harking back to what I said earlier about fairy tales versus superheroes, it turns the Wicked Witch of the West from a supervillain into the heroine of her own fairy tale, which is exactly my cup of tea. As you might have guessed from “Five Tales of the Rose Palace” (published earlier this year in The Future Fire) there are a few stories in Next Curious Thing where traditional villainesses receive similar literary treatment.

Ephiny Gale was born in Melbourne, Australia, and is still there, alongside her lovely wife and a small legion of bookcases. She is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes, which have appeared in publications including GigaNotoSaurus, Daily Science Fiction, and Aurealis. Her stories have featured on the Tangent Online Recommended Reading List, as a finalist in Nestlé’s Write Around Australia, and have been awarded Syntax & Salt’s Editor’s Award.

You can purchase Ephiny’s new story collection Next Curious Thing from any of the booksellers listed here, or better still request your local independent bookstore or library to order it.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

New issue: 2018.47

“I’ve been locked up (for disturbing the peace in Detroit) and I know you got to disturb the peace when you can’t get no peace. Jail is hell to be in. I’m going to see her free if there is any justice in our courts, not because I believe in communism, but because she’s a Black woman and she wants freedom for Black people.”

—Aretha Franklin (on posting bail for Angela Davis in 1970)

 [ Issue 2018.47; Cover art © 2018 Saleha Chowdhury ]

Issue 2018.47

Short stories
Poetry
Download e-book versions: PDF | Epub | Mobi

Full issue and editorial

    Thursday, 11 October 2018

    Giveaway: post images of ancient magic

    Our friends at the Institute of Classical Studies (who helped fund and publish the Making Monsters anthology), and our co-editor Emma Bridges, are running another public engagement event at the end of this month—on Hallowe'en, no less!—on the theme of Ancient Magic. (See poster to right for registration information: it's free, but booking is required.)

    You may remember that the monster-themed anthology came out of a similar public event last year ("Why do we need monsters?"), so we have fond memories and high hopes for this evening!

    To celebrate the Ancient Magic event, which will include presentations as well as hands-on activities, and will be family-friendly, we are offering a free paperback copy of the Making Monsters anthology as a prize in the social media image contest. Simply post an image (it can be an archaeological object, ancient or modern artwork, painting, character, or your own work) that makes you think of ancient magic, with the hashtag #ICSmagic by midnight on Wednesday Oct 17th, and tell us why you like it, and we'll choose a winner right after that. There are some examples there already, if you're looking for ideas of the sort of thing that might work.

    (I note that they're encouraging ancient magic-themed fancy dress at the Hallowe'en event, so maybe they're looking for inspiration for costumes in the images people send!)

    Monday, 1 October 2018

    Making Monsters Micro-interviews round-up

    The month-long Making Monsters promo carnival ended last week, having seen a dozen or so interviews and guest posts, various games and giveaways on social media, a launch party in London with monster costumes and a monumentally impressive cake sculpted into a facsimile of the book cover!

    We also ran a micro-interview (2-3 questions, short answers) with one of the authors or contributors almost every day. Because I know FB isn't always the easiest platform to navigate back several weeks, I've gathered links to all of the micro-interviews below.
    Please share or comment on anything you particularly enjoy, feel free to post follow-up questions (there or here), or respond to any of the stories or essays if you've already read the anthology. (And if you haven't buy it here!)