Tuesday, 11 August 2020

TFF #54 micro-interviews

We’ve been running a series of micro-interviews with the authors, poets and artists in the latest issue of The Future Fire, in which we ask a couple of questions, they give short answers, and we post them to FB spread out over a couple weeks. I know not all of you follow us over there, so we’ve started to compile a list of links to the interviews here.

I’ll add more interviews here as they appear, but you can also follow the series by following or “liking” our FB page, or linking up with us on Twitter.

Monday, 27 July 2020

A Quiet Afternoon anthology (and food pairings!)

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

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

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

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

Food pairing: Vanilla creamhorns and a steamy chai latte.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VERY. I was VERY pleased.

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

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

Food pairing: Chocolate mead and lemon-custard scones.

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

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

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

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

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

Food pairing: Fairground waffle ice cream sandwiches.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

New issue: 2020.54

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

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

Issue 2020.54

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

Full issue and editorial.

Review this issue on Goodreads.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

TFF #53 Microinterviews

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

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

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

New issue: 2020.53 (LIIIES)

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

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

Issue LIII (2020.53)


Nonfiction
Reviews

Download e-book version: PDF | Epub | Kindle

Full issue and editorial

Rate or review this issue on Goodreads

Sunday, 19 January 2020

New Issue 2020.52

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

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

Issue 2020.52

Flash fiction
Short stories
Poetry
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Rate or review this issue on Goodreads

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Retrospective on Sepulveda Baron

Guest post by J. Rama Stephens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 27 October 2019

New issue 2019.51

“Right now the Amazon, home to millions of my relatives, is burning. If it goes on like this, twenty years from now my house will become a desert and my people will be at risk of becoming history. Governments … are not helping. They promote hate-based narratives and a development model that attacks nature and indigenous peoples. These governments are trying to put us in extinction. They are part of the problem.”

—Artemisa Xakriabá

Issue 2019.51

 [ Issue 2019.51; Cover art © 2019 Saleha Chowdhury ] Flash fiction
Short stories
Poetry

Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Interview with Dawn Vogel

We’re very happy to chat again with an old friend of TFF, author Dawn Vogel. Dawn’s mythical pirate story “Salt in Our Veins” was in 2016’s Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, and her story of childhood monsters “I Believe” was in TFF #49 earlier this year. The third volume of her Brass and Glass steampunk trilogy, The Boiling Sea, is out this week from DefCon One Publishing. She came by to talk to us about her writing and some of where it comes from.

In the turbulent skies of the Republic, it's not always easy to outrace the storm…

With their destination determined, Captain Svetlana Tereshchenko and the crew of The Silent Monsoon are in pursuit of the Last Emperor's Hoard and the fabled Gem of the Seas. Or they will be, once they rescue their pilot, make a deal with a notorious scoundrel, and outfit themselves for their plunge into the Boiling Sea. When they realize what the Gem of the Seas is capable of, they must struggle with their loyalties, morality, and unforeseen complications to choose the right path. With alliances tested and rivalries resurfacing, Svetlana must lead her crew and associates on their most dangerous mission yet!


Dawn Vogel's academic background is in history, so it's not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-edits Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time for writing. Her steampunk adventure series, Brass and Glass, is available from DefCon One Publishing. She is a member of Broad Universe, SFWA, and Codex Writers. She lives in Seattle with her husband, author Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at http://historythatneverwas.com.

TFF: Was your interest in history fueled by your literary taste, or was it the other way round?

Dawn Vogel: The best answer I can give to this is that it’s a weird combination of the two. When I was a kid, our library had a robust section of probably slightly fictionalized biographies of historical figures written for children, and I devoured those. I also read fiction, but any time there was a new biography on that shelf, it was the first book I grabbed. There was something about reading books about long-dead folks that appealed to me, even as a child, and even if younger me would have said she didn’t really like history. It was inevitable that I would eventually realize I liked history enough to major in it in college and go on to get a master’s degree. I’m lucky enough to have found a job that is history-adjacent (I work with historians, and occasionally get to help them out with historical research), and when I started writing, it felt natural to me to write a lot of historical fiction of various stripes.

Do you see Steampunk as a progressive literary genre? What do you think about its idealisation of one of the most brutal times in colonial history?

DV: There are portions of the steampunk genre that I would say are not entirely progressive, but at the same time, there are also portions that can be. A lot of the divide comes from whether authors are focused on recreating the world as it was (or at least the world as it is portrayed in history books, which are written by the victors) or reimagining the historical world through the lens of modern ideologies. For me personally, I place the emphasis in steampunk on the “punk” portion of the word, and prefer my steampunk to be counter-cultural, multi-cultural, and against some of those horrible aspects of history including the oppression of women and minorities, widespread industrialization that led to wealth disparity and subjugation of the working classes, and brutality and paternalism toward colonial peoples. I won’t deny that the history of the time period in which most steampunk takes place is a nasty, brutal mess. The best I can do is illuminate some of that subject with characters acting against that status quo, like in my Brass and Glass series, particularly in the final book, Brass and Glass 3: The Boiling Sea. So my particular flavor of steampunk is much more resistance to the norms and fighting for people without privilege, placing it on the more progressive end of the spectrum.

Are the stories in your collection, Denizens of Distant Realms, carefully selected/written for the purpose, or are they just a selection of your most recent publications and new work?

DV: The stories for my collections are generally selected because they have a common theme or thread running through them. I’ve previously published collections of my historical fiction (with essays about the real history), dark urban fantasy, and unlikely superheroes. For Denizens of Distant Realms, I selected six stories that could theoretically all take place within the same fantasy world, one that has magic, mermaids, dragons, and more. Two of the stories, in particular, were written with the idea in mind that they took place in the same world, many centuries apart. The other stories fit in well enough that I could imagine them all being in the same world, even though they are not all at the same time.

Would you tell us about the monsters you befriended in your childhood? How are they doing nowadays?

DV: I can’t recall their name, but my mom tells me I had an imaginary friend who lived in a round pink house, with no corners. She says I was very insistent about the no corners thing, likely because one of my punishments as a child was to stand in the corner. I would like to think that this friend is still enjoying their corner free house, though I hope they’ve repainted—I imagine the color was roughly Pepto-Bismal pink. On the less imaginary friend side of things, but still in the realm of a big dose of imagination as a child, I used to pretend that when I had to take a nap, my older cousins would use the light in my room as a staircase to come and visit me, so we could play instead of napping. My naptime cousins are probably still playing somewhere (they had a lot of toys at their house).

Illustration from “I Believe” by Katharine A. Viola
Your story “Salt in Our Veins” (Fae Visions of the Mediterranean) is an exciting adventure with pirates and sea-creatures. But it is also about identity and acceptance. Could you tell us a bit about how you made the interplay between these two elements work?

DV: A good deal of what I write is young adult fiction, which often has themes of identity and acceptance. With the young adult protagonist of “Salt in Our Veins,” it seemed to fall naturally in a direction of a young woman trying to find her place in a group of friends, while knowing that she wasn’t exactly like them. This is a common theme in my stories, quite likely because of my own experiences of feeling different from my peers. I was younger than the other kids in my class after starting school a year early, which led to a perception of me being less mature than a lot of them, still wrapped up in imagination and play as opposed to more “serious” things like fashion and boys. As for the pirates and sea creatures and adventures, that’s just fun stuff that turns it from a typical story about the odd girl out into a fantasy story.

What are you writing now?

DV: I always have a lot of projects going at any given time, so I’m working on poems and short stories that change frequently as I finish one thing and move on to the next. In terms of longer work, though, I’m currently revising a young adult urban fantasy book about a fae exile trying to survive supernatural reform school while someone is out to get her. I’ve also got a 1950s superhero detective novella that’s drafted but not revised, and next on my plate to write is a middle grade wizard novel. My writing is all over the place in terms of genre and theme and reader level, and there’s always something new cooking in my brain!


Thanks for joining us, Dawn. Good luck with both the story collection and the new novel!



You can find out more about and purchase Brass and Glass 3: The Boiling Sea at DefCon One Publishing.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Open Access Monsters

It’s been just over a year now since the Making Monsters anthology of stories, poems and essays featuring classical monsters was published. Co-edited by Emma Bridges of the Institute of Classical Studies and Djibril al-Ayad, this unusual mix of fiction and nonfiction has been quite widely read and acquired by academic libraries (e.g. HARL), and was one of the most fun publications to work on as an editor.

The academic world is very keen on open access publication, since it is important that the written outputs of (publicly-funded) research are accessible to as wide a public audience as possible. Making Monsters is technically a “Green Open Access” publication, since all authors retain copyright to their work they therefore have the right to post a digital copy of their pieces to an open access repository, if they so desire, for anyone to read for free. (In fact we actively encourage this, as does academic practice.) A few of the academic authors of nonfiction pieces have done this already and we’ll collect the links here as we learn about them. Technically fiction authors could do this too, but the more important implication of owning their own rights for them is the potential to republish their work wherever and whenever they like.

The open access and/or free pieces I know about so far are:
If you come across any other pieces self-archived or published elsewhere, please let us know and we'll be happy to add them below. We don't believe this reduces the impact or the value of our print publication: far from it, in an economy where attention is the most sought-after commodity, anything that increases the chance of our work being found by potential readers can only be a good thing.

If these papers have whetted your appetite, the rest of the book is full of stories, poems, illustrations and essays, and can be bought in paperback or e-book from the links at the Making Monsters press page.