Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Interview with Petra Kuppers

It is our pleasure to welcome to the blog Petra Kuppers, author of The Road Under the Bay and River Crossing in TFF, and of Playa Song, part of our disability-themed anthology Accessing the Future. We asked Petra to tell us more about her work as disability activist and performance artist, and about her new publication Ice Bar; a collection of short stories on disability, LGBTQ experiences and the future; pain, myths and the body; climate change, access, and non-realist embodied and enminded difference in science fiction, fantasy, horror and literary work.

Petra Kuppers, an internationally active disability scholar and artist, is a recipient of the American Society for Theatre Research’s best dance/theatre book award, and the NationalWomen’s Caucus for the Arts’ Award for Arts and Activism. She received nominations for a Pushcart (from the Dunes Review) and for the Best of the Net Anthology (from Anomaly/Drunken Boat). Petra is a Professor of Performance Studies in the University of Michigan’s English and Women’s Studies Departments, and she teaches on the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College. She’s a disability culture activist, a wheelchair dancer, and a community performance artist.

TFF: You are a professor of Performance Art and part of a performance and dance collective. Movement seems to be something very important in your life. How did it start?

Petra Kuppers: I think the fact that my love of movement has lasted into adulthood has to do with being a disabled woman of size who loves to move and be in her body! If everybody around you tells you, “this is not for you,” it’s quite easy to go all contrary and make that something the center of your life. That’s certainly the case with me. I remember being in my late teens in Germany, in hospital, waking up from one of my knee operations. The doctor told me “I am sorry, but you won’t dance again.” Maybe that doctor was doing me a weird kind of favor, offering me a challenge I could not resist. I continued to dance, explored Contact Improvisation, Butoh, Laban Creative Movement, and many somatic modalities. These days, I dance in a different form: five-minute dances, little engagements with specific environments, which then lead to dances with words. I often free-write after movement, and these little site-specific movement/writing nuggets become the seed of a story. That’s the way most Ice Bar stories were born. Site-specificity is still central to most of the stories: sitting on a wheelchair ramp in Grand Rapids, Michigan, by the Rio Grande in New Mexico, or on a barrier island in Georgia.

The Olimpias: The Asylum Project  at Judson
Church/Movement Research. Photo Ian Douglas
TFF: Do you think that performing on stage holds a particular value for people belonging to minorities and marginalised communities?

PK: Yes. On stages, we can show ourselves as well as the wider world our own beauty, pain and depth. I am mainly a street/park performer, which means that I work with fellow disabled people in public environments rather than on stages and in galleries. So few disabled people have (cultural) access to those spaces. Having fun while disabled in public feels like a very powerful way of shifting stereotypes around disability. The same is true with fiction: disabled authors tend to write about everyday life differently from someone ‘imagining’ what it would be like to be disabled. Non-disabled people often make a particular disability (and often its cure) a major plot point. Few disabled writers do that in the same way… for most of us, disability is part of our make-up, not the central feature of it. We can get on with character and plot development in a different way, if we are not caged in by non-disabled stereotypes. We can have fun… in stories as well as on stages.

TFF: Reading praise for your upcoming collection Ice Bar, I was fascinated by the adjectives used to describe your style: “gemlike”, “psychedelically nightmarish”, “gritty”, “fabulist” and many more. What is the most unexpected description of your writing that you have come across?

PK: What an excellent (as unexpected) question! One of my readers wrote in an Amazon review about me being ‘an explorer.’ That seemed a fabulous and surprising way of thinking about what I am doing in Ice Bar: I write as an ethnographer of disability culture, approaching new forms (poetry/performance/dance/fiction) all the time in my ongoing journey to chart cultural ways of understanding difference…with ’disability’ being just one of these borderzones of difference.

TFF: In all three of your Ice Bar stories originally published by TFF, water seems to become a space for transition, either into other places or into other identities and states of mind. Many of the stories in your anthology also explicitly reference to water—what makes this such an interesting and flexible narrative setting?

PK: This goes back to being a disabled woman. I live with pain and fatigue, and water is my dancerly medium. That’s where I can move, can shift my heavy body easily, can gyrate and twist in the ways I want. It’s my science fiction fantasy of low gravity! When I was a little one, my mother, who also had a pain-related disability, would go to thermal springs to help her pain, and I have inherited that habit. I will travel far for a good warm mineral soak for my aching bones. During the writing of the Ice Bar stories, a different kind of water pain was also with me: the protest actions around the oil pipelines, water protectors, in particular the indigenous women who walked the rivers and reminded all of us of our dependence and love for life-giving water. Each day I wrote Ice Bar, I checked in with their news stories and Facebook pages, and joined the protests in my own way.

TFF: The stories in Ice Bar seem to explore a larger than usual range of genres. Was that a deliberate experiment or did you just follow your multiform literary inspiration?

PK: It was deliberate. I love reading horror and dark fantasy, but it’s sometimes hard to be a feminist and queer woman and do that with real enjoyment. So I looked to feminist, queer, solarpunk, afrofuturist and other inspirations, and wrote myself into the interstices of genres, from cli-fi to science fiction and fairy tale retelling, from fabulist erotics to contemporary myth-making. All slippery genres which I approached from social justice perspectives. One of the books I had with me a lot during the writing of Ice Bar was Octavia’s Brood—that’s the kind of meta-genre and community work that inspired me.

Thank you Petra for being our guest. We wish you the best of luck and we look forward to read all the stories in Ice bar!

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Invitation: Making Monsters book launch

Please join us to celebrate the launch of this speculative and classical anthology from Publishing and the Institute of Classical Studies.

Thursday September 6th 2018, 6-7.30pm.

2nd floor lobby, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.

Dress: Monster-themed costumes are encouraged!

Monday, 2 July 2018

Recommend: literary places

In many stories, place is so important that it is almost a character: think of the number of science fiction or fantasy novels where the name of the city is in the title of the book itself (even leaving aside City of Illusions, The City and the City, City of Brass…). In this month’s installment of our recommendation post series, we’re asking readers to tell us about their favorite literary place—fictional, fantastic, or a real place given new life in literature, what place do you with existed (or are you glad doesn’t); what place feels more real than home? To prime the pump, we’ve asked a few authors, editors and other friends the same question, and their suggestions are below. If any of these inspire you—or you’re disappointed your favorite isn’t mentioned—please leave a comment telling us about a literary place you think is worth visiting.

Vanessa Fogg (blog, twitter)

Sofia Samatar’s debut novel, A Stranger in Olondria, was a revelation to me. This rich, strange, gorgeously written book introduces readers to a secondary fantasy world which is not based on medieval Europe, but which draws, instead, from Africa and the Middle East. The main character, Jevick, is a naïve young man who falls in love from afar with the Empire of Olondria and then journeys through it, getting into plenty of trouble along the way.

Yet despite the wonders of Olondria, it’s Jevick’s homeland of the Tea Islands which affects me most deeply. The Tea Islands, a tropical land of heavy rains and blue hills, of rivers and jungles and “shimmering deltas, the dank-smelling lagoons, a landscape flat and liquid and loved by birds.” A world rendered with such naturalistic detail that it feels utterly real. The Tea islands was my first encounter with a fantasy world set in the tropics. And that has a special resonance for me because my parents came from a tropical country, although in Southeast Asia (Thailand), not Africa. Samatar’s book made me think, “I want to do this, too. I also want to create secondary world fantasy set in a non-European world.” Her book is one of the few that has truly changed my approach to writing.

Subodhana Wijeyeratne (Hulks; Stone Lotus)

Withdrawn and ruinous it broods in umbra: the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracks. So goes Mervyn Peake's description of one of the most fascinating and compelling creations in modern fantasy: the endless and darkened reaches of the city-castle of Gormenghast. The story of his trilogy's protagonist, Titus Groan, unfolds amidst its ancient and dreary halls. Teeming with a sort of madness that seems to inhabit the walls of the place, as well as the characters themselves, it is a creation that for sheer aesthetic power should, in my opinion, be up there with Middle Earth.

Peake was raised in China for a while, and was heavily influenced by the monuments erected by an ancient kingdom in the vicinity of his childhood home. The central conceit of Gormenghast derives from the feelings these buildings evoked. Timeless, ancient, and melancholy, they were on one hand magnificent. Yet on the other they also seemed to chain the present to a lost past by their very presence, to crush the now with the knowledge of the vast reaches of the then. Deep in a fist of stone a doll's hand wriggles, warm rebellious on the frozen palm, writes Peake, of Titus Groan's birth—but it could be of anyone's.

Urša Vidic (Dalmatian elves)

The city of Armilla is composed entirely of water pipes. Young people might think of a computer game or an old screensaver, but the town itself is much more emotional than that, it has all the colours of metal and a fresh wind whistling and piping on the pipes that are filled with very tangible water. It is not clear if the city is something that remained from the past or a place that was built for the future, but now it is inhabited by water creatures, by nymphs and naiads. They always knew very well how to travel along underground veins and so they feel quite at home in these pipelines that are so full of living water and surprising inventions. Before they moved here, they might have been offended, since people misused water so terribly, so it is possible that the city was built for them as a sculpture to apologize and express a newly-found veneration for them, or they were the ones who have simply driven out all the people. We learn of this place from one of the stories that Marco Polo told Kublai Khan and of course he was lying, but you never know with Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

Damien Krsteski (blog; Faster Tomorrow)

Aurora, a moon in the Tau Ceti planetary system, humanity's second attempt at a home from Kim Stanley Robinson’s brilliant novel, ended up being more than a science-fictional escape for me; when the book came out, I’d just moved to another country, and lying on the mattress in the middle of my empty, freshly-painted apartment—my suitcase in a corner, waiting to be unpacked—I had only Freya and her Ship for company.

And Aurora didn’t turn out to be their promised land. It bristled, and it made the humans sick, and ultimately it shook them off. Freya decided to return home. Because, she realized, there is no such thing as a home away from home: there is only home, and away from home.

When Freya ended her journey back on Earth, I closed the book and left my apartment to walk this foreign city, and I couldn’t help seeing daubs and smears of Aurora everywhere around me: the strange, the new, scaring me off. In time I began pining for Freya’s imagined Earth, too, safe and inviting, but as I adapted to my new surroundings, Aurora and Earth merged and winked out, and I started appreciating—liking, even—where I was, and soon I realized there was nowhere else I’d rather be.

Hella Grichi (blog; twitter)

A place which would be really cool to visit nowadays is Gilead. There would be something so fascinating and empowering to see the boatless rivers and the bloodstains on the walls being scrubbed by handmaids from yesterday’s executions, something so haunting about the dangling corpses and the limited stock at the supermarket. Maybe it would feel so good to know that, now, going home means facing the spouse you chose who will rock you softly to sleep to your favorite movie or curl up with you and two books that you recently bought at the bookshop with the octagonal window covered in evergreens. How enchanting to know you can visit a doctor that shakes your hand, wear the dress with the fox patterns and kiss the girl you like, sitting next to her at school and doing your homework together. Gilead is a dystopian world that is unfathomable for us but if we do not stay alert and raise our fists in anger, maybe we’ll soon enough don green, red and blue robes and remember days at the beach and trips to the doctor as a remote memory of days impossible to retrieve in a world as sterile as the uterus of a commander’s wife.

Valeria Vitale (TFF bio; City of a Thousand Names)

The city of Prague described by Czech writer Leo Perutz in By Night, under the Stone Bridge probably has a lot in common with the actual capital of Czechia, but they are not the same thing. Perutz’s Prague is a place where, especially at night, the boundaries between past and present, reality and dreams become softer, and as easy to cross as one of the city’s streets or bridges. The buildings are still impregnated with the memories of things that (may have) happened centuries ago, especially during the few years when the melancholic and bizarre Emperor Rudolph had moved the capital of the Holy Roman Empire to Prague. In this Prague it wouldn’t be strange to meet angels, golems, powerful rabbis, or dodgy astrologers, still roaming the streets of their city. Perutz’s book is a collection of interconnected stories, all revolving around a city that, in my imagination, is surrounded by an aura of mystery and magic. I have never been to Prague, the real one, but somehow I feel like I have already met the statues on the Carlo Bridge, and that I could navigate the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter without getting lost. Sometimes I even think that I should never actually go to Prague, and keep enjoying only her ghostly and enchanted literary reflection.

Now we want to hear from you! Please tell us about your favorite literary place in the comments.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

New issue: 2018.45

“Révolutionnaires, nous l’étions, hommes et femmes, animés par une telle force de volonté, et une telle volonté de force.”

—Maya Jribi

 [ Issue 2018.45; Cover art © 2018 Saleha Chowdhury ] Issue 2018.45

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

Full issue and editorial

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Making Monsters table of contents

Last month we revealed the cover art for the Making Monsters anthology (and which is so lovely, we're giving you it here again—huge thanks to the amazing Robin Kaplan for creating the poignant "Lonely Gorgon"). Now we want to share and celebrate the wonderful authors, poets and critics who make up the table of contents of this volume. As you can see below, there are fifteen short stories, three poems, and six short essays (in addition to introduction and afterword) on the theme of ancient monsters; rethinking, reimagining and retelling their stories.

Table of Contents:

• Introduction – Emma Bridges
• Danae – Megan Arkenberg
• The Last Siren Sings – George Lockett
• Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement – L. Chan
• Calling Homer's Sirens (essay) – Hannah Silverblank
• Aeaea on the Seas – Hester J. Rook
• To the Gargoyle Army (poem) – H.A. Eilander
• Water – Danie Ware
• Monsters of the World (essay) – Margrét Helgatdóttir
• A Song of Sorrow – Neil James Hudson
• Helen of War (poem) – Margaret McLeod
• The Vigil of Talos – Hûw Steer
• The Monster in Your Pocket (essay) – Valeria Vitale
• A Heart of Stone – Tom Johnstone
• The Banshee – Alexandra Grunberg
• The Giulia Effect – Barbara Davies
• Caught in Medusa's Gaze (essay) – Liz Gloyn
• The Eyes Beyond the Hearth – Catherine Baker
• Eclipse – Misha Penton
• The Origin of the Different (essay) – Maria Anastasiadou
• Justice Is a Noose – Valentine Wheeler
• Siren Song (poem) – Barbara E. Hunt
• The Tengu's Tongue – Rachel Bender
• Ecological Angst and Encounters with Scary Flesh (essay) – Annegret Märten
• When Soldiers Come – Hunter Liguore
• Afterword – Mathilde Skoie

I can't wait to share the contents with you, but you'll have to wait until September when it goes on sale. (Review copies and sneak previews a little sooner.)

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Interview with Michael Lujan Bevacqua

In the last in our series of five interviews with Pacific authors, we are joined by Michael Lujan Bevacqua. Michael talks to us about his story, about decolonising his home island of Guam, and about the importance of language and heritage.

Michael Lujan Bevacqua is an assistant professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam, where he teaches courses on the indigenous people of the Marianas Islands, the Chamorros and their language and culture. He is a passionate advocate for the revitalization of the Chamorro language and the decolonization of his island of Guam, which remains a colony of the United States. His academic work has been published in the journals American Quarterly, Micronesian Educator and Marvels and Tales. He is a member of Guam’s Commission on Decolonization and is frequently invited by the United Nations Committee of 24 to testify as an expert on the state of affairs in Guam at its annual regional seminars. With his siblings, they started a creative company, The Guam Bus in 2015, which publishes Chamorro language and Guam focused children’s books and comics.

TFF: How would you describe the taotaomo’na, who appear in your Pacific Monsters story, “I Sindålu” or “the soldier”? What should we do if we ever meet one?

MLB: They can take any form, but you usually know if one is around you because there will be an overwhelming presence around you. This can sometimes feel like a strong, but invisible pressure, or for most people it is an abnormally potent smell. They can assume very natural forms and look like trees, but they can also appear in human form. One of the most frightening things about them if they appear in human is that they tend to not have heads, but instead an empty neck.

If you meet a taotaomo’na, make sure you are respectful, but they usually make themselves known in response to people being disrespectful in sacred or natural areas. This is important because sometimes the spirits don’t quite know their own supernatural state. Some of them may think they are still alive and if they touch you they may inadvertently curse you.

In “I Sindålu”, the protagonist is a Chamorro man who joined the US military. Can you tell us more about the complicated relationship between the island of Guam and the US army?

Guam is an island of just 212 sq. miles. 1/3 of those 212 sq. miles is US military Navy and Air Force Bases. Guam has been a vital asset for the US in maintain its interests in Asia since it was taken from the Spanish in 1898. Troops and bombs have been fed through Guam to US conflicts in Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East today. Military commanders and strategists have referred to Guam as “The Tip of the Spear” because of what it represents in terms of projection force into Asia and defending American interests in the Pacific.

The Chamorro relationship to the US and its military is complicated because of how this heavily militarized state has come about. Chamorros, as a people feel a great deal of gratitude to the US for its role in expelling the Japanese who brutally occupied the island for 32 months during World War II. Each year the island celebrates the American return as “Liberation Day” and that experiences allowed Chamorros to develop feelings of patriotism to what in other terms would be their colonizer. But the US took advantage of Chamorro gratitude to seize 2/3 of the island illegally. Chamorros who waved American flags to celebrate the return of American troops were within months being forced off their farms to see them bulldozed to make runways and Quonset huts. Many Chamorros were willing to give up their lands while the US was still at war with Japan, but most of these land-takings took place after hostilities had ended. This experience is compounded by other programs and policies of Americanization in the island that have attacked the Chamorro language and traditional Chamorro culture. So while Chamorros serve in the US military in large per capita numbers for such a small ethnic group, and enjoy the opportunities it provides, they also remain angered over the historic and continuing treatment of their people.

Is there a distinctive quality to SF/F stories written by Chamorro authors?

Unfortunately there aren’t a lot of science fiction Chamorro stories, but there are an increasing number of Chamorro fiction writers. One of the interesting thing about these emerging writers, is how they write almost exclusively about the past, as in historical fiction. Few of them engage with Guam or the Pacific as it is today, and none, with the exception of my work, talk about the future. This in many ways represents the modern trap in which indigenous people often find themselves. Your vitality belongs to the ancient past and as you move through time, you are always losing your culture, your essence and on the verge of dying out. For me, this anxiety that indigenous people feel from being ensnared in the modern gaze makes fertile ground for fiction however. Even though I’m a historian as an academic, I don’t delve much into historical fiction, but instead love to challenge notions of the inevitable indigenous extinction.

What do you think about the relationship between a group’s cultural heritage and its representation in popular culture products like comics?

For me this is an essential link in terms of cultural revitalization and indigenous empowerment. One person who influenced me quite a bit was the late Chamorro author Jose Mata Torres. He had a classical music program for decades on Guam, which was notorious for his speaking about Bach, Beethoven and Brahms in the Chamorro language. Much of the media in Guam is in English, and so his program stood out as unique. Before he passed away I talked to him about his motivations. He said that as a young man, he had attended college in upstate New York, which was as different from Guam as he could imagine. He felt isolated and alone, but one thing that spoke to him was classical music. He would listen to it and it would make him feel as home, it spoke to him in a special way. He said that it was in his heart and his heart was Chamorro and so the best way he could express himself was to use the language of his heart and the music of his heart together. The prevalence of Western popular culture in Guam makes it so that the ways in which we have to speak to youth in particular has shifted, and so I feel that adapting things is essential in keeping things vital and active in terms of identity and culture.

You are also involved in the publication of children books and comics in the Chamorro language. Does this endeavor in particular have an educational goal?

In 1941, 100% of the Chamorro people could speak Chamorro. Today the number hovers around 20% and this is primarily elders. The language was lost in my own family, as I didn’t grow up speaking the language and neither did my mother. I did end up learning the language as an adult through my grandparents and it changed my perspective and life entirely. Since then, I only speak to my own children in Chamorro and became a teacher of the language at the University of Guam. My goal is to create media to support children like my own in their learning, to increases the chances of the language thriving for future generations.

Decolonising a country is a long process. If you think of cultural products on offer in Guam when you were a teenager and now, do you see any encouraging changes?

We are already seeing the impact of efforts that are locally referred to as a “Chamorro renaissance.” After centuries of cultural attacks by various colonizers that left Chamorros without much of a sense of pride in their heritage, this is starting to shift. The creation of art, music, literature and other types of media that reflects more the Chamorro perspective or aspects of the continuum of Chamorro existence has led for a greater sense of desire amongst youth to learn their heritage and to embrace their language. This heightened sense of Chamorro consciousness about their history and their place in the world has also helped to foment movements for change in Guam’s political status. At present Guam is a territory or a colony of the US, and the majority of people today wish for a change in that status to something more beneficial for the island and its people.

What is the first thing that you teach to your students about Chamorro heritage?

That their choices shape the culture in which they will live their lives, and therefore pass down to their children. In a community of millions of people, the choices of 100 don’t necessarily affect the fate of all. But if you are a community of around 200,000 worldwide, where only 20% speak your native language, whether or not you decide to teach it to your children or learn it yourself makes a huge difference. The same goes for a variety of cultural forms. The culture isn’t being maintained by some amorphous government bureaucracy. It is being maintained or lost by the choices each of our families make.

If you were a taotaomo’na, who would you haunt?

Probably the US military. They have a reputation lately for wanting to target historic and culturally significant sites for their construction projects. I would want to make that process a bit spookier if I could.

Do you remember the name of the protagonist of the very first story you wrote?

When we were young, my brother and I tried to create our own fictional universe akin to Marvel or DC. We made a lot of random and obviously very derivative characters, but one of my favorites was a warrior named “Nomad Shredder.” He was an archer whose mouth had been sown shut long ago and no one knew what he had done to deserve the punishment.

What is your favourite optimistic science fiction work?

Before I became a father I would have answered differently, but when my daughter was born, I was reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and even though it is depressing and dystopian, it will always remind me of the importance of sharing a bond with my children.

What would be the most important thing for you to hold onto if civilization started to break down in your city?

The ability to drink clean water.

What do you think future archaeologists will think of our century?

I feel embarrassment just thinking about it.

What are you working on next? What can people who enjoyed your story in Pacific Monsters look for to read more?

They can check out our website We have another comic in our Makåhna series coming out later this year.

You can read Michael’s graphic story “I Sindålu” in Pacific Monsters.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Making Monsters cover reveal

The Making Monsters anthology now has a full complement of stories, poems and essays, and will very shortly be producing the first ARCs (with a scheduled release date of Sept 1, 2018). All of the authors are listed at the press page, and we plan to post the full table of contents very soon, once all contracts are signed. In the meantime, although this is something of an open secret, let’s have the official cover reveal here…

As you’ll immediately recognize if you’re as much of a fan of her work as we are, this is an expanded version of Robin Kaplan (aka “The Gorgonist”)’s Lonely Gorgon, which you can buy as a poster print from her Etsy store. We’ve worked with Robin before, and she produced the covers of our Outlaw Bodies and Accessing the Future anthologies, as well as half a dozen issues of The Future Fire over the years. This is the most appropriate cover image for all sorts of reasons—I’ll let you read the anthology and figure out why for yourselves!

Monday, 16 April 2018

Interview with Tihema Baker

One more visit from an author with a story in the Pacific Monsters anthology published by our friends at Fox Spirit Books and edited by Margrét Helgadóttir. We always love hearing from authors, and Tihema Baker was kind enough to answer a few questions about his writing, culture and literature in Aotearoa New Zealand, translation and childhood fears. Read on, and then go check out his fabulous published work.

Tihema Baker is a young Māori writer, belonging to the iwi (nations) of Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, Te Āti Awa ki Whakarongotai, and Ngāti Toa Rangatira. He grew up and lives on the Kāpiti Coast of Aotearoa New Zealand. He currently works full-time at Parliament in Wellington as Private Secretary to the Minister for Crown/Māori Relations. He is the author of Watched, a YA novel about teenagers with superpowers, which was a finalist for Best Youth Novel at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2015, and earned a finalist position in the Best New Talent category at the same awards. He also has a short story published in Huia Short Stories 10 called “Kei Wareware Tātou”; which won Best Short Story in te reo Māori (the Māori language) at the Pikihuia Māori Writers Awards 2013. He is on Facebook as Tihema Baker - Author, and blogs at Tihema's Dilemmas.

TFF: Could you tell us more about the Patupaiarehe people who appear in your Pacific Monsters story? What would usually happen when the human characters like those in your story “Children of the Mist” meet them?

Tihema Baker: Accounts vary between iwi and regions, but I guess the fairly common threads between them all are that Patupaiarehe are an ancient people who inhabit the mountains and forests of Aotearoa New Zealand and are believed to have done so since before Māori arrived somewhere around 1000-1200AD. Sightings of them are almost always at night or under the cover of mist, and they are characterised as fair-skinned and -haired, which is where we get the term “Urukehu” from; in older times fair-skinned and -haired Māori were believed by some to be the offspring of human-Patupaiarehe relationships and they were referred to as Urukehu, literally meaning “red-haired.” Similarities between accounts probably stop there; I’ve heard stories of Patupaiarehe being giants, or walking on legs like rabbits’. In some stories Patupaiarehe were kind to humans, showed them how to hunt and fish, and even fell in love with them—and vice versa. In darker stories Patupaiarehe weren’t kind to humans at all, bewitching them with cruel magic. Wherever the truth lies, I think any encounter with them should be treated with respect.

Is there a tradition of Māori science fiction, fantasy or horror (books, films, or other media)? Does Māori literature influence New Zealand culture more widely very much?

I’m not aware of a real tradition of Māori speculative fiction. In my personal opinion, there exists in Aotearoa New Zealand a hierarchy within Māori literature, and Māori speculative fiction is at the bottom. Our big name Māori writers—and I do not say this to undermine them in any way—are not typically speculative fiction writers. I’ve personally found it difficult as a Māori writer to find support for my speculative fiction writing and I believe this to be because the genre is not taken seriously by the Māori literary community at large. As an example, my sci-fi novel Watched was a Best Youth Novel finalist at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards for science fiction, fantasy, and horror, yet the publisher—our leading publisher of Māori literature—declined to take on the sequel. It’s not a criticism but just the reality I’ve experienced as a Māori writer of speculative fiction.

Do you think that any kind of story could be told to children or young adults or are there limits?

I thought for a while about this. My first reaction was yes, there are limits. But then I thought about my childhood/adolescence and remembered that I was reading things I probably wasn’t supposed to years in advance. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way; I mean it in the way that, as children typically are, I was hungry to “know” things. At times, that hunger for knowledge led me to things that my parents probably would have preferred I come across at a later stage in life. I guess my point is that I think we sometimes underestimate the ability of young people to understand what we do as adults or grasp certain concepts. That doesn’t mean I think we should tell all sorts of gruesome stories to children, but just respect their ability to understand, to show empathy. I think it’s about how you tell a story, not necessarily the story itself.

Do you translate your own stories from Māori to English? How different do they feel to you afterwards?

I don’t actually write primarily in te reo Māori. The reason for this is, while I have a decent understanding of the language, I’m still far from what I would consider to be fluent. When I write I need to be able to express myself as fully as I can, and unfortunately my proficiency with te reo Māori is just not yet at a stage that allows me to do that. What I will say, though, is that I often have to translate things from Māori to English for colleagues in my day-to-day work. I find te reo Māori to be a very poetic, metaphoric language, and one of the beautiful things about it—like any other language, I assume—is that ideas are often expressed in ways they just can’t be in English. This can make translating from Māori to English challenging when there just aren’t the words to describe a fundamentally “Māori” idea, or when the depth of that idea or word is lost in English. I think in those instances the Māori word should just be left as is—there are plenty of phrases in other languages that English has adopted because they need no translation, so maybe we should do that for Māori phrases more often too!

Could you give an example of such an untranslatable word?

A good example is the word “mana”—common translations would be “authority”, “prestige”, “respect”, or even “power”. Those single words don’t convey the depth of the concept, though; in my view (and I stress I am not an expert, and my understanding may be very different from those far more knowledgeable than I am), one can have great mana but not necessarily respect, or have great mana but no authority. It's relative, and one person's mana may always trump another's depending on the circumstances and/or the relationship between the two. Mana is inherited but it can also be bestowed—and removed, sometimes irrevocably. It's a spiritual concept just as much as it is societal, and there are different expressions of it; mana wahine describes the mana specifically held by women, while mana whenua refers to those who have mana over land or a certain geographical area. Land itself can be perceived to have mana, as can water. I’ve just written a paragraph and I’m still probably miles away from giving it an accurate description! But when you understand the meaning that the word "mana" encapsulates, you also understand why it can't be translated.

If you could choose a superpower for yourself, which one would you pick?

I get asked this all the time and I’m afraid I have a very clichéd answer! I would love the ability to fly. I don’t care how: gravity- or wind-manipulation, shape-shifting, I’ll take anything that gets me airborne.

Illustration by Eugene Smith,
for “Children of the Mist” (Pacific Monsters)
What is the oldest memory you have?

My oldest memory is of my mum. I must have been about three years old; I walked into my bedroom, where I think Mum was sitting on my bed, folding clothes, and went up to her for a cuddle.

I don’t think I’ve shared this before but I actually have another very early, bizarrely vivid memory from around the same age. It was the moment I realised my own mortality. I just remember sobbing to my mum with the realisation that one day, inevitably, I was going to die and I didn’t want to. She did her best to console me by saying that I had a long, happy life ahead of me before then. She also said that everybody dies, and one day she will too. That didn’t make me feel better. I don’t know why that memory is so clear; maybe that was a life-defining moment, or maybe I was just a weird kid. Probably both.

What is your favorite progressive SFF movie or TV show?

Black Mirror has to be one of my favourite shows, hands-down. It often makes me feel uncomfortable, makes me think about our society and our future, and makes me confront things about myself I probably don’t want to. But that’s the great thing about it. It makes me think. Any piece of art that makes someone question their understanding of the world (and in some episodes, reality!) is great, in my opinion.

Can I also branch out a little bit; I’m a gamer, too, and I believe video games are quickly becoming a powerful art form in their own right. In terms of progressive SFF games, it’s hard to go past the Mass Effect series (or anything from Bioware, really). It’s one thing to have a well-written story supported by excellent characters and engaging gameplay mechanics, but another when that story is dictated by the player, who can customise their character however they wish, pursue romances with characters of any gender, both human and alien, and whose actions have consequences that carry across games. It’s a series that forces players to make choices, and live with the effects of those decisions on themselves and others. There hasn’t really been another video game experience that has stayed with me in the same way that my character and my decisions in that game have.

What are you working on next-what can fans of your writing look forward to?

My immediate priority is getting my second novel, the sequel to Watched, published. I have a completed manuscript so now it’s just a matter of finding a publisher. I’ve also just started work on the third and I’m really enjoying it! Aside from that I have some other ideas I’d like to dedicate more time and research to; a historical novel exploring the relationships between my three iwi in the 1800s, and I’d also love to write something fantastical set in space.

You can find Tihema’s story “Children of the Mist” in Pacific Monsters, and his novel Watched from Huia Books.

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Recommend Groundbreaking Women Writers

The history of literature is full of groundbreaking women—authors who go where no one has trod before, whose pens carve grooves in which later generations can only aspire to follow. Women have always written. Sometimes they have done so under pseudonyms. Sometimes they have not been published or preserved (and very often they also have); they have surely been underrated, but they have always written. And many women writers have kicked ass so hard that they have left the world of literature irreparably changed behind them. We’d like to hear your recommendations of women writers who have literally set the standards for authors who follow them—whether they were the first to write in a certain field, or inventors of a new genre, or just someone you can’t imagine the world of literature without, leave a comment below telling us about her and why she was so great.

To kick off, we’ve asked a few authors, editors, reviewers, and other friends for their suggestions. Read and enjoy.

Omi Wilde (story; story)

I was a poetry-enraptured kid when I first learned about Enheduanna, first author known by name to history, but I’m still in childish awe at the way her words echo across 4300 years to reach me. As a princess and a priestess in what we now know as Iraq, she was powerful religiously and politically. Her poetry wove together two religions, creating a new pantheon from among the gods of the Sumerian and Akkadian peoples. As the daughter of an Akkadian ruler and a Sumerian priestess she embodied the unification of the two cultures that she strove towards and her work ensured the stability of her father’s empire. In this, we might consider her to have been the first propagandist as well, but long after the rise and fall of empires it is her poetry and her impact on the form that has endured. “They approach the light of day, about me, / the light is obscured / The shadows approach the light of day, / it is covered with a (sand) storm.”

Further reading: Inanna, Lady of Largest Heart: Poetry of the Sumerian High Priestess Enheduanna (UTP 2001) by Betty De Shong Meador.

Cait Coker (TFF Reviews)

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1623-1673) was a British aristocrat, philosopher, scientist, playwright, proto-feminist, and one of the earliest science fiction authors. She was the first woman to attend a meeting of the Royal Society of London, and she published The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing World in 1666. Usually shortened to just The Blazing World, the book tells the story of a young Lady who discovers a utopian society of talking animals in a parallel world, possibly making it the first example of portal fiction. Becoming Empress there, the girl decides to invade the imperfect real world and remake it in a utopian image; the novel is therefore a fictional counterpart to Cavendish’s political treatise Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, also published in 1666. Though she published a dozen works during her lifetime, she was often dismissed and satirized as “Mad Madge,” especially in misogynist plays satirizing popular women writers. Cavendish’s reputation was largely erased and languished until Virginia Woolf wrote an essay about her in The Common Reader, which started to recover her reputation as an early professional writer. In the decades since, Cavendish has had a scholarly revival in the field of women’s writing, if not in popular science fiction.

Alessandra Cristallini (blog)

In 1816, a nineteen year old girl created science fiction. She is Mary Shelley, and she is my literature heroine. Frankenstein may be regarded as horror in popular culture but if you read it you will discover a novel that has very little of the “evil scientist mad with ambition and hunted by torches and pitchforks in some creepy castle, preferably in the Carpathians” trope. No. At its heart, Frankenstein is a cautionary tale, and not a hopeless one: this is where Mary Shelley’s greatness emerges. Just like modern sci-fi authors she was inspired by the most debated scientific discoveries of the time, with all the mistakes, hopes and dreams that came with them. She saw how science and technology were making lives better, but in a costly way for the people and the environment. She didn’t write an anti-technology story but rather a tale about how progress should be kept in check carefully before we destroy ourselves—and humanity with it. She saw the importance of modern science and realized how life-changing it was going to be. And that's how science fiction was born.

Maria Grech Ganado (profile; interview)

As was common in Victorian England, Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights (1847) under the male pen-name of Ellis Bell. Initially the uninhibited “savagery” at the Heights, as opposed to the orderly calm of the Grange (a merging of Gothic style with that of Jane Austen), shocked its critics. Today, the novel is regarded globally as one of the best ever written. First assessed as chaotic, the novel's two parts are seen now to constitute a cogent, dialectically balanced structure, influenced, perhaps, by translations of German rather than French literature after the Napoleonic wars.

Philosophical, social and even political studies of the novel’s theme argue that it goes far beyond the intensity of the Heathcliff/Catherine relationship, despite this being the nub of the plot. Catherine/Cathy’s pivotal name returns to “Earnshaw” after going twice through “Linton,” whereas “Heathcliff” dies out completely. It is the only name which “earns” the union of the Heights and the Grange. Patterns of natural attributes, both elemental and animal, also become symbolic (e.g. storm/wolf vs calm/sucking leveret), major relationships reflect elective affinities, prose is rendered poetical and one is bound to discover something new every time Wuthering Heights is reread.

Clare McKeown (@ClareMQN)

Although it’s a feminist classic, I only recently read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” for the first time. Gilman published the short story in 1892 after her experience of being subjected to an extreme “rest cure” for a severe mental health crisis, most likely post-partum depression or psychosis. Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a first-person tale of Gothic horror, and in it, she broke ground by daring to challenge the dominant narrative that “hysterical” women needed to be controlled by men who knew what was best for them.

Gilman, like many of the early feminists, was decidedly not intersectional. As Lindy West points out, one of Gilman’s later works in particular, the feminist utopian novel, Herland, is “rife with gender essentialism, white supremacy and anti-abortion rhetoric.” However, West holds, as I do, that we can learn by engaging with the work of early feminist thinkers, even when we must acknowledge where they fall short.

Gilman broke ground by asserting that women are capable of knowing our own minds and our own selves, and responsible health practitioners need to listen to and respect women. Unfortunately, women today still struggle to have our physical, emotional, and psychological pain taken seriously by medical professionals. Reading “The Yellow Wallpaper” in 2018 reminded me of how far we have come, and how far we still need to go.

Lisa Timpf (Goodreads; TFF reviews)

During her 70-year writing career, Andre Norton penned well over 100 novels as well as several short stories, and edited and compiled a number of anthologies. And yet, many of her readers may have been unaware they were reading a book written by a woman. The ambiguity was intentional, and a function of society’s expectations at the time Norton launched her career. In 1934, Norton published The Prince Commands, a work of historical fiction. Fearing that the then mostly-male audience for juvenile fiction might be hesitant to pick up a book written by “Alice Mary Norton,” she changed her legal name to Andre Alice Norton. Most of her works were published under the name Andre Norton, although she also used the pseudonyms Andrew North and Allen Weston.

After focussing mainly on historical fiction early in her career, Norton branched out into science fiction, exploring themes such as time travel, humankind's first voyages to other planets, telepathic communication between humans and animals, and quests for artifacts related to “Forerunner” species. She also wrote a number of fantasy novels, including the Witch World series.

Norton is credited with helping to pave the way for female science fiction and fantasy writers who followed her, by showing that a woman could write such works, and do it successfully. Her vivid and imaginative settings, the universality of her themes, and her ability to tell and pace a good story made her popular with generations readers, some of whom became writers in their own right. Norton’s legacy lives on in the form of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, which recognizes outstanding works of science fiction or fantasy geared toward the young adult market.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF)

I will be eternally grateful to Ursula K. Le Guin’s pioneering writing for changing the way I think. From the ethnically diverse society in her Earthsea novels, the environmental decline in The New Atlantis to the genderless world of The Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin tackled the deep inequality, shortsightedness and greed of our world by creating and exploring others. Her work fearlessly faced issues of gender, sexuality, race and the environment among other topics, advocating justice and independent thought. She questioned widely-accepted notions about sexuality and gender from a critical perspective and never backed down from speaking her truth or standing up for what she believed in. Her prolific work subverted literary genres and conventions while blazing a trail for other women writers. Earlier this year we lost a true visionary when sadly, she passed away, but her groundbreaking legacy lives on, continuing to lead the way.

Now leave a comment and tell us of your favorite groundbreaking women authors—who changed the world of literature so much that you can’t imaging reading, or writing, if she hadn’t existed?

Saturday, 24 March 2018

New Issue: 2018.44

“Did you not call this a glorious expedition? And wherefore was it glorious? Not because the way was smooth and placid as a southern sea, but because it was full of dangers and terror, because at every new incident your fortitude was to be called forth and your courage exhibited, because danger and death surrounded it, and these you were to brave and overcome. For this was it a glorious, for this was it an honourable undertaking.”

—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1818)

 [ Issue 2018.44; Cover art © 2018 Jason Baltazar ] Issue 2018.44

Short stories

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Full issue and editorial

    Wednesday, 7 March 2018

    Interview with Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada

    The CFS for Making Monsters may have closed, but our ongoing quest for monsters continues… This week we’re joined by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada, author of the story “All My Relations” in the Pacific Monsters anthology from our friends at Fox Spirit Books. Our third visitor from the Pacific region, Bryan was kind enough to chat to us about his story, his writing, Hawaiian monsters, and the sea.

    Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada is a tiny part of his beautiful beloved Hawaiian community that fights every day for breath, for ea, for connection, for sovereignty. He is sometimes called tree, bear, Morris, hoa, and more. He is also sometimes an academic, editor, translator, blogger (, poet, writer of dorky sff stories set in Hawaiʻi, photographer, and/or videographer. What he mostly does is surf with his mother and a crew of fierce activist poet wāhine who tease (and teach) him mercilessly.

    The Future Fire: Is the kupua in “All My Relations” an evil monster (in the conscious way that only humans can be truly evil) or is it just a naturally predatory creature like the shark?

    Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada: I don’t think that I would say that the kupua is evil. I think that he is just working from a different set of cultural values than we are. For example, his ideas about justice fall more in line with an understanding of living in balance with things around him, being a part of the cycle of life and death, that aligns a little more with traditional Hawaiian understandings of the world. It’s when he really isn’t allowed to participate in the world according to that understanding of justice anymore that he truly becomes monstrous. Though his situation is taken to an extreme, I think that it sheds light on what happens, particularly for indigenous folks, when their worldviews come into conflict with society at large. We are then seen as monstrous and without a place in contemporary times or society.

    Is there a science fiction and fantasy tradition in Hawai‘i, and is it distinct from SFF elsewhere?

    BKK: This is a tricky question in certain ways, and I guess kind of depends on what kind of genres and cultural understandings you are working with. I think that a lot of our traditional moʻolelo (story/tale/history/account) have elements that jibe very well with fantasy, which is actually what drew me to fantasy in the first place. I read a lot of “myths” from different places when I was younger because there were very few books with Hawaiian stories in them when I was little. But even though some of what appears in our moʻolelo align with elements that appear in fantasy stories, we have never seen them in that way. These are not myths and legends, they are stories that populate the landscape and inform our daily lives.

    Living on an island, how visceral is your relationship with the sea?

    BKK: For many, but not all, of us who live in Hawaiʻi, we have a very deep relationship with the sea. It’s how we feed our families (though I myself am a terrible fisherman) and how we spend our free time. Those things in and of themselves are not such visceral connections, but what being so intimate with the ocean teaches you is respect.

    Some of the most experienced waterpeople, divers and surfers alike, have been taken by the sea, sometimes on clear days and in calm conditions. So many of us have lost people to the water, sometimes because they were inexperienced, but mostly because the ocean is that powerful. We are so often humbled by the sea, and entering it means entering the food chain, something that we are not used to anymore.

    I think that is also one of the reasons we are so dismissive of tourists sometimes. We see them on the North Shore in winter, near the shorebreak, turning their backs to the ocean so they can take group photos with the giant waves in the background. We hear about them on the news because they were killed when they went too close to the blowhole where the ocean comes shooting out a hundred feet into the air. One of the things we learn first as young children is to respect the ocean, and so for us the power of the ocean and the danger that comes with it is a basic fact of life, and if you don’t understand that, maybe it’s best if you don’t interact with the ocean.

    Among other things, you write steampunk stories set in Hawai‘i. Can you give us a little teaser?

    BKK: I recently had a story entitled “Ke Kāhea: The Calling” published in an anthology entitled Black Marks on the White Page, edited by Tina Makereti (whose story is also in Pacific Monsters) and Witi Ihimaera, from Penguin New Zealand. The story takes place in the Hawaiian kingdom of the nineteenth century and these giant creatures called tutua have been coming and destroying heiau (temples) and burial sites.

    In Hawaiian, we have a saying “i ka ʻōlelo nō ke ola, i ka ʻōlelo nō ka make” [‘in language there is life, in language there is death,’] so to combat the tutua, a woman whose mother can heal with her voice, a practice we call lāʻau kāhea, combines that training with a device that changes the frequency of her voice to call forth a goddess from a traditional story printed in the Hawaiian-language newspapers.

    One of the reasons that steampunk appeals to me is the broadly Victorian settings, because the Hawaiian kingdom, though very much a Hawaiian kingdom, had a lot of Victorian influence. Queen Kapiʻolani and Liliʻuokalani even attended Victoria’s jubilee, and Queen Emma was a penpal of Victoria’s. One of the things that having steampunk set in the Hawaiian kingdom lets me do too is bring my historical research to bear and let people know things about the kingdom that they never knew.

    I mean, I think most people didn’t even know that Hawaiʻi was a kingdom, much less one that was modern and progressive and had near universal literacy and a widespread public education system. ʻIolani Palace had flushing toilets before the White House did. Hawaiʻi outlawed slavery before the United States did and declared that any slave who made it to Hawaiian territory was automatically free. It wasn’t a perfect place, by any means, but it was much different than people understand. We still get described as Stone Age in the newspapers even now.

    What is your favourite place to write or create art?

    BKK: I admit that this is not my most productive place to write or create art (that’s mainly sitting in front of my computer writing or doing post on photos I’ve taken), but I love to create with my friends. It’s where I get the most inspiration and strength from them. Most of my friends are activists or writers or poets or artists or all of those things, and so when we get a chance we will gather together and prompt each other to write or produce art that we can present to the community and raise awareness about certain issues.

    For example, some friends had attended a conference in Papua New Guinea, where some folks from West Papua talked about the genocide they were facing —500,000 killed since the 1950s—under Indonesian military occupation (and please look this up if you haven’t heard about any of this before). And the folks at the conference asked my friends, who are poets and musicians, to help spread the word about what is happening with them. So we had a gathering at my house, where folks familiar with the situation came and talked to us about it and then we ate together and wrote and planned.

    I can’t remember the exact time frame, but maybe about a month later, we put on a performance at Kamakūokalani, the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. We had poetry and music and speakers, even traditional Hawaiian chants of lamentation for the West Papuans who had been killed. And even though it was a heavy performance to be a part of, it felt important.

    If you joined a motley crew of pirates, what would be your sea-name?

    BKK: Haha, the women I surf with are a pretty motley crew themselves. They’re all activist poet/writer/organizer folks. And my mom. But they call me Bear, partially because I’m a big guy (and maybe cuddly?) but also because they think I’m kind of growly to other people out in the lineup. So my name also evolved into Justice Bear and Murderbear. I’m thinking Murderbear would lend itself more to high seas piracy than something more cuddly, although I don’t know if a bear is the most fitting sea metaphor.

    What are you working on next? What can people who enjoyed “All My Relations” look forward to reading?

    BKK: I really wish that the next thing people read from me would be my dissertation! But alas, I am not sure if that is going to happen. February is Hawaiian Language Month, so I just published a sci-fi story in Hawaiian, but I’m working on a story now having to do with deep-sea mining and people genetically modified with shark DNA and trying to connect it with our beliefs around ʻaumākua, or ancestral guardians.

    There are also a lot of endangered native species here in Hawaiʻi and a lot of our environment is threatened by invasive plant and animal species, so I’m also working on a series of stories that has a section of the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources that deals with invasive species that are threatening our magical environment as well, and I think Hawaiʻi works well for that kind of storyline because we have so many different cultures here that have come through here and mixed their cultural beliefs and values in with ours.

    Thank you for joining us, Bryan!

    Thursday, 1 March 2018

    Recommend Fakes

    In our regular season of recommendations, we’ve asked a handful of writers, editors, artists and other friends to tell us briefly about their favorite fake, hoax or fraud—long a topic dear to the hearts of any postmodern speculative fiction reader! Take a look at some of the recommendations below, and then please leave a comment telling us about your favorite fake…?

    Rachel Linn (author page)

    At some point during my childhood, I saw the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin footage of Bigfoot on television. My little brother and I were obsessed with Harry and the Hendersons (a John Lithgow comedy about a family that befriends a Sasquatch—a film that only an eight-year-old could love, as I discovered when I tried to watch it again a few years ago and couldn’t make it through the whole thing) and I was also fascinated by Diane Fossey (and her book, Gorillas in the Mist, about studying mountain gorillas in Rwanda), so I was very excited when I found out that people may have seen these human-like beings somewhere near our our neck of the woods. Initially, since I was only in second or third grade, I didn’t know that most people thought this video was a hoax. And, though it is still the consensus that this video is likely fabricated, the strange thing about this "hoax" is that no one seems be able to definitively prove that it was one. This really intrigues me--you'd think that fifty years after the footage was shot (and almost thirty years after I originally saw it), we'd have some fancy CSI-type technology to reconstruct what "really" happened using in-depth analysis of zoomed in hair fibers or the shadowy parts of the frames. But no one has found a hidden zipper (to my knowledge, at least). Regardless of the truth about this video, I like knowing that there are some things that technology can't demystify, even if some of them are secretly just elegantly-executed hoaxes.

    E. Saxey (fiction site)

    I'm fond of frauds and errors in taxidermy. Birds of paradise had their feet removed to dry them, and on arrival in Europe were assumed to never perch, and live perpetually in the air. There's a sloth mounted on its hind legs, claws aloft, turned into a terrifying attacking predator. But fake mermaids are in a class of their own. These critters are mostly constructed from a big fish and a small monkey, and have a long history in Japan, but appeared in the US in the nineteenth century (beginning with the Fiji Mermaid in Barnum's collection). There's one with a toothy grin in the London Horniman museum, mocked up with wood and papier mache.

    You can see the fantasy logic behind a lot of taxidermy myths: it's a tantalising idea that birds of paradise are too precious to land on the ground, and whoever shot that sloth probably wanted to seem braver. But fake mermaids—wizened, fluffy, dusty things—are utterly different from legends of tempting sirens. I appreciate them as a sideways step into a less obvious, more sinister mythology.

    Rhys Hughes (The Spoons That Are My Ears)

    My uncle was a fraud. Not a criminal but a more gentle form of fraudster, the deadpan exaggerator. When I was young he told me that there were six continents in the world, Africa, America, Asia, Australasia, Europe and Britain. There was absolutely no doubt that Britain was separate from Europe. In Europe people did peculiar things; they spread chocolate on bread for breakfast and melted cheese in communal pots in the evening. Europe was a place of mystery, a patchwork of suspense, and crossing its borders wasn’t easy. My great dream back then was to build a raft and paddle it to France, which seemed an incredibly exotic destination, and my enthusiasm was increased rather than diminished when my uncle told me that dinosaurs existed there. They had become extinct everywhere else but flourished in France. I couldn’t wait to drag my raft ashore and encounter my first stegosaurus.

    My uncle also informed me that we were living in Australia, not Britain, but that everyone else would try to trick me into thinking this was Britain and that they were all in the joke. My favourite of his absurdities concerned the International Date Line. Because Australia was so many hours in the future, people who lived there (like ourselves) could phone relatives in Europe with the results of football matches, horse races and boxing competitions that hadn’t yet happened in the past, enabling those relatives to make a big profit at the betting shop. But my uncle wasn’t unusual. That’s how life was when I was young. If you didn’t tell amusing lies then you were regarded as rather odd, dubious even, a spoilsport and also perhaps a saboteur or foreigner. I would look at adults in the street and wonder if any of them were French and on familiar terms with dinosaurs.

    Bruce Stenning (TFF slushreader)

    The story of Marvin Hewitt (recently told in Futility Closet, Episode 180 “An Academic Imposter”) is the story of just how easy it was to get by as a white man in mid-century USA, and just how much leeway you could expect, even as an unashamed imposter. I won’t recap the whole story, as the podcast is worth listening to in its entirety and does so adequately and succinctly, supported by multiple sources.

    Hewitt employed secretarial staff to intercept mail and continue the deception. Surely these women had a good idea what was going on but would have had neither social or legal protections to dare expose the duplicity.

    FC generally present their fascinating, lurid tales from history in an apparently objective—read amoral— tone, without comment or analysis. In this case, just the briefest acknowledgement at the end of the main story suggests that it was not a good idea to let such duplicity continue as long as it did. We miss any analysis of gender or race, or the leniency shown to such a fraud, beyond simply stating multiple, astonishing occurrences of it. (Can you imagine a woman, much less a woman of colour, at any point in history, being given such leeway? Can we imagine her taking such a position of academic responsibility even without any fraud or imputation?)

    Technology might have made sustained identity theft more difficult, but the systemic and sociological privileges would largely be unchanged in this day and age. Stepping outside the academic context, I might mention that a certain individual in a prominent position of power must surely be the quintessential example of leniency in the face of unrepentant fraud. But there are many others.

    Valeria Vitale (TFF bio; City of a Thousand Names)

    My favourite fake-related story is told in the movie F for Fake by Orson Welles. The protagonist is Clifford Irving, acharming conman who, in the 1970s, tried to fake the autobiography of the eccentric tycoon Howard Hughes… while the subject was still alive! Irving relied on the fact that Hughes, at the time, was living as a recluse, but the plan didn’t work out, and Irving was arrested. However, the resourceful man managed to sell another project to the publishing house: The Hoax, a true(?) account of how he organised the con. In the movie, Wells suggests that Irving could produce convincing (fake) autograph documents by Hughes, thanks to the help of his friend Elmyr de Hory (or that was one of his many fake names), a professional forger who claimed to have sold paintings in the style of famous artists to all major museums. He doesn’t name names, but his repertoire, as shown in the movie, is astonishingly convincing. Moreover, the movie has been crafted by Wells using almost entirely footage that had been shot for other projects, sometimes completely repurposing images and dialogues. A sort of fake movie on fakes, if you like.

    Now tell us something about a fake or hoax that you think is worth the story…