Sunday, 24 October 2021

New Issue: 2021.59

“Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we must all take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.”

—Rep. John Lewis

[ Issue 2021.59; Cover art © 2021 Fluffgar ]Issue 2021.59

Short stories

Novelettes

Poetry

Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Saturday, 31 July 2021

Interview with Alexandra Seidel / Alexa Piper

We’re very happy to welcome to the TFF Press blog author Alexandra Seidel, whose “The City, My Love” we published in TFF#57 earlier this year, and who also writes steamy, speculative romance as Alexa Piper. She joins us to answer a few questions about her work, and also share some snippets from her recent publications.


Alexa Piper writes steamy romance that ranges from light to dark, from straight to queer. She’s also a coffee addict. She loves writing series, and her Fairview Chronicles follow a ragtag gang of supernaturals who try to make their city safer. Mostly. Her second series, Dusk & Dawn, explores banter and the trappings of a world in which Vampires, Werewolves, and the Fae live alongside humans. Elvenswood Tales is a new series that expands the Fairview universe.

The Future Fire: Your story “The City, My Love” is both a love story from a city and a love letter to historical urbanism all in one. Is there a city in your life that you immediately felt a special connection to?

Alexandra Seidel: Oh, there are a lot of cities I adore! I’m lucky enough to live in a place where it’s easy to travel to some of the bigger ones in Europe, although the list of cities I still want to see is long. The city I may have visited the most is Prague, and it’s a strong inspiration for New Elvenswood, where one of the series I write as Alexa Piper is set. But perhaps the city that really charmed me with its difficult to love character is Beijing. To me, as a Westerner, it’s a place of contradiction, a reflection of the people and politics around it. Maybe because of that, its character is so strong and memorable. And yes, it made it into one of my books as well.

TFF: Cities can sometimes make people feel swallowed and invisible. Is there a piece of urban cultural heritage that you like, and that reminds inhabitants how they are part of the place’s history?

AS: Personally, I love architecture. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know much about it, but buildings that have been there for a few hundred years and show it just have something about them that always draws my eye. It’s no wonder that the city in “The City, My Love” feels like it does about its buildings. In terms of connecting the people with their city, there is a so-called Schuttberg or rubble mountain in Munich, which is where the rubble, left behind by the bombs of WWII, was collected. It’s now part of a park, it’s green and from the looks of it, you wouldn’t know how many individual tragedies are connected to it. It certainly is a way to maintain a connection with the past for the inhabitants.

TFF: In The Hunting Mates you explore an unlikely genre crossing, between romance and noir. How did you manage to harmonise the feeling of bleakness that fills noir stories with the cozy promise of a HEA?

AS: That’s an interesting thought. See, it never occurred to me that you need to harmonize anything here. A HEA (happily ever after, for all those who are less familiar with the romance lingo) offers the promise of a happy relationship after the book is done. I feel like a strong, healthy relationship can thrive even if the outside circumstances are dire, even if characters have a dark past or demons that haunt them (which I don’t mean literally, but sure, I can see myself write someone literally being haunted by a demon. Let me know if you think that would be a good idea!) The one is the outside world, the other is the relationship between characters. Maybe it’s because I don’t think the former can ruin the latter that the romance works out as it does, even gets stronger as two characters go through life together.

TFF: Speculative erotica is a tricky genre, since to meet its potential the sexuality needs to be science-fictional, fantastic, or surreal, not just the background. How would you balance inventive erotic pairings or scenarios with relatable romantic or sexy scenes?

AS: Let me quickly clear up that erotica and romance are not the same thing, and what I write as Alexa Piper is steamy romance.

I’m not exactly sure how to answer this question! I mean, as far as logistics are concerned, we have the basic male and the basic female configuration to work with. Yes, Loved by a Kraken offers additional appendages, but that’s why it’s fun. And yes, I sometimes have multiple pairings (two sexy guys and one sexy gal in Bonfire Bright, the latest in the Elvenswood Tales series,) and the line editor mentioned she was tempted to break out dolls to follow the blocking, but for the most part, I’m not reinventing the wheel there. One thing I use to strengthen a character’s viewpoint is how they see the world; my snake demons are sensitive to temperature, my siren understands the world around him by sound as much as sight, and the kraken demon mentioned earlier gets a lot of sensory input from his suckers.

TFF: Your Fairview Chronicles series combines fantasy, crime and comedy. There is a famous saying: “It’s easy to make people cry, it’s making them laugh that is difficult.” Would you agree?

AS: I’m going to say yes. And I’m going to tell you a secret. I don’t really try to make anyone laugh. I mean, have you been keeping track of the body count in my books? I’m worse than Shakespeare trying to write a teenage love story when it comes to the body count, I assure you. It’s the voice of the characters and the kind of narrative that makes the humor happen (I once wrote a joke into a book and I didn’t even notice I did that until a proofer pointed it out.) I mean, in A Naughty Creation, I have a reanimated corpse who is very committed to cleanliness and cutting the heroine’s heart out. That should not be funny, right? I didn’t try to put any jokes in there, and I swear I don’t know where those flying eyeballs came from. These things just happen, much like demonic possession and projectile vomiting. It’s life.

TFF: Speculative fiction is often seen as a convenient medium for discussion of social justice issues, because it purports not to be about the real world (while of course it is). Is this something that works for you? Are there other stories about the real world that SF allows you to tell?

AS: I think fiction is an outlet that allows any kind of story to be told. That being said, I’d like to point out that writers don’t always try to do that. I don’t set out with an agenda in my head, and I don’t aim to write manifestos. Yet, our personal experiences will inform the way we think about any given situation, real or imagined. In my case, that is not always conscious or intentional, but I can certainly see it in my own work once I’m done writing.

TFF: How do you go about attributing personalities to inanimate objects or places? Are you led by their material qualities and physical details, or by the overall narrative?

AS: This question really wants to be answered with an easy to follow, step-by-step process. Except I don’t have that. For “City,” it just happened. I sat down, and the story wanted to be told like this, in that particular voice. I have a scene in Arrow Struck that is told by flowers in a garden (it’s a fight scene,) and that just happened without me planning it like that. Stories, like cities, are things that grow, and not always like you expect them to.


Thanks for joining us, Alexa! And good luck with the latest novels.

Saturday, 10 July 2021

Email subscription to TFF Press blog

Just a quick note to let you all know that if you subscribe to the TFF Press blog by email using the old Feedburner service, that service will be disabled in the next couple weeks. (Not our doing—Goog just decided to retire the only feature of Feedburner that anyone I know uses!) There are other RSS-by-email services available, should you choose to migrate your subsciption. We have added a new “Subscribe by email” form to the sidebar to the right, using the Blogtrottr service. We hope you'll continue to follow the TFF Press blog, one way or the other.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

New Issue: 2021.58

“I said, ‘I’m not in trouble about being gay but I do have trouble identifying with those queens,’ and then a queen overturned that police car and changed my life.”

—Edith Windsor

[ Issue 2021.58; Cover art © 2021 Cécile Matthey ]Issue 2021.58

Flash fiction

Short stories

Poetry

Full issue and editorial at futurefire.net/2021.58

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Tech Noir special: in conversation with Zoë Blade

Way back in 2013 we published a story that could have been a paradigm for the speculative, progressive Noir crossgenre, in the form of Zoë Blade’s “Terminal City.” Fittingly, as we prepare for the Spec-Noir themed issue of TFF at the end of the year, we have invited Zoë over to talk about Cyberpunk and Noir aesthetic, social justice and speculative fiction, and transhumanism, among other things.


Zoë in the studioWhen she's not writing cyberpunk fiction, Zoë Blade can be found in her studio, making music for the leftwing side of YouTube.


The Future Fire: Would you like to talk a little bit about Terminal City to start out? We enjoyed this story not only because of the social-justice and dystopian themes, the alternative-history cyberpunk setting and classic Noir aesthetic, but also because of its unapologetically geeky and subculture references. It's also a powerful story in its own right, and it lets a little more hope creep in at the end than some Noir allows itself, but it by no means overturns the dystopian setting or guarantees a happy ending or improved circumstances for the protagonists. To what degree did you think about genre and aesthetic writing this story, as opposed to letting the plot and characters dictate elements like settings and environmental details?

Zoë Blade: Thank you! I think I started with an image in my head of someone using a public terminal in the rain. I'd read about the Esper machines in Blade Runner, how they were networked and performed all these other tasks besides zooming into photos. You can see a few in the film, but they're never mentioned. This was as interesting to me as anything in the film.

Companies, universities, and libraries used to have these big mainframes, that people would access remotely with dumb terminals instead of having their own computers. As a teenager, I was amazed when I first installed a Unix clone covermounted on a magazine. I got to play around with a tiny mainframe all of my own! It felt very empowering, the same way it felt getting my first home computer.

Another big part of the hacker community is phone phreaking, another large network you can only access in small glimpses. I'd also become fascinated by Kowloon Walled City, perhaps the most cyberpunk-looking place on Earth, a maze of rooms where everyone would steal everyone else's electricity and sublet wherever someone might conceivably fit, even in the middle of a diner or factory. So I kind of connected all these threads together.

At its heart, I think “Terminal City” is about a corporation trying to control a piece of technology, computing power, versus a flourishing community of street-level hackers trying to turn it into something everyone can use independently. It made sense to me to set it in an alternate history, where a phone company leased out accounts on their mainframe, that you could access via public terminals strewn throughout the city, and no-one had their very own computer, only leased terminals they could plug into their network and log onto their paid account. I think the main difference is that in real life, no corporation ever tried to suppress microchips, thankfully.

Perhaps it was mostly written out of frustration at what I saw as people ripping off the least interesting aspects of The Matrix. Behind the Bullet-Time effect and the violence was a tale of diverse hackers standing up against authoritarian white men in suits telling them who they couldn't be and what they couldn't do. In a BDSM club, naturally. Who doesn't want to visit that world?

TFF: What did cyberpunk mean to you? Is the character of the hacker an essential prototype, like the P.I. in Noir?

ZB: As a Brit who grew up in the eighties and nineties, it’s somewhat inevitable that I’d be immersed in the dominant popular culture of the time, hailing from the exotic lands of Japan and America. As a loner who enjoyed programming home computers like my trusty Commodore 64, my taste naturally skewed towards the usual suspects favoured by hackers: Blade Runner, Neuromancer, Ghost in the Shell, Snow Crash, Pi, and The Matrix. They feature hackers as heroes, an escapist fantasy for technically-minded shut-ins. And as a transgender woman, I naturally gravitated towards stories of people who modified or outright abandoned their own bodies, and questioned who they really were in spite of how others treated them.

It was only years later, as an adult, that I learned Brits and Americans had feared Japanese businessmen taking over their corporations, something they projected onto everything from Brazil to Die Hard. As a child, that fear completely went over my head. Of course the future was Asian. Watching Dominion: Tank Police, with its female protagonist, I’d associated more with that imagined world than any of the American ones.

As for the hacker: I try to avoid using the generic archetype characters I've seen mentioned in writing guides (“hackers are tricksters like the mythological Loki”) in favour of what I know: hackers tend to be technically knowledgeable yet socially naïve people who wield a lot of power with reckless abandon, for better or worse. I think that covers everyone from Aaron Swartz to Zuckerberg.

TFF: We’d like to ask you more about the relationship between body and identity, which is a popular trope in Cyberpunk, from machines that gain consciousness (or become more human than humans), to people trying to replicate or download their memories and feelings. How do you feel this concept resonates with those who have made the decision to modify or otherwise redefine their bodies?

Terminal City, illustrated by MonosílaboZB: I suspect I'm far from the only transgender woman who felt Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell resonated with her. Though in a way it's reversed, as she wasn't convinced she had a human brain, and felt that how other people treated her was what granted her humanity; whereas transgender people generally spend a lot of time and anguish working out exactly what and who their brain is, in spite of other people's disbelief.

What always seems absurd to me is how many cisgender people consider themselves to be transhumanists, imagining themselves to have escaped the rigid bonds of being overly attached to an unmodded body... and then proceed to be transphobic without missing a beat. If you're against people overriding their own endocrinological system, then what exactly do you want to allow people to do? I think for most transgender people who overly think things through, it's a natural extension to be very much in favour of everyone's bodily autonomy. A lot of us have firsthand experience of its necessity for happiness or even any kind of normal life.

It's also obviously a nice fantasy that you could transplant your brain into a body that hasn't been damaged from being on the wrong hormones, but allowing young people to block the wrong ones before they can take effect has presumably diminished the need for such escapist wishful thinking.

TFF: Cyberpunk literature and popular culture have probably made us imagine artificial intelligences as an expression of rigid objectivity. But now that we can actually see AIs at work, we see that they simply replicate the same biases that appear in the data that were fed to them. Do you think that this changes the way we look at AIs in cyberpunk, not as superior ethical and objective beings, but bearing the baggage of all our worst prejudices, power imbalances, and other ugliness?

ZB: I think there are two quite different concepts of AI here, leading many people to talk at cross-purposes. Cyberpunk imagines a general-purpose AI that's roughly analogous to a human brain: simple parts, replicated billions of times, interconnected. Like a human child, this new kind of lifeform would need to be carefully nurtured and loved in order to grow into a responsible adult. The main issue there being that only corporations and perhaps governments could afford such technology, at least at first, and they are far from loving parents. Raising a human child in such an environment would be unconscionable, and the scenario isn't improved with that child having thought processes that are utterly unfamiliar to us, and eventually far smarter than us.

What we instead currently have in real life are small, specific bits of computer code that were rapidly evolved in an automatic training process. You tell a computer “here's somebody doing a thing. Please write some random code and tinker with it until it does more or less the same thing as them.” All we've managed to do there is automate the biases of the person whose work is being replicated. All this technology, and we've simply automated racism. It's bias laundering, so managers can say “see? This machine's doing the same thing, and it can't be prejudiced, it's a machine.”

A third option I'm hopeful for is some kind of artificial intelligence that can look at the big picture and point out our biases. That can sift through all the data out there and work out various things we've misinterpreted, or that are statistically suspicious. Something too smart to say “Bob's giving more jobs to people named Greg than Lakisha, so I'll do that too, as presumably Gregs must be better at the jobs.” Instead, it might say “Bob's giving more jobs to people named Greg than Lakisha, so let's work out why this correlation exists,” then it would go off and look at all the worldly data it can find, and finally show how racism and sexism have tarnished all our knowledge and actions. But then, we don't need a machine to tell us that the system's rigged. We need to listen to all the minorities who have already been telling us for a very long time.

TFF: Is cyberpunk basically “tech noir” then?

ZB: Cyberpunk’s aesthetic is solid Noir. Hidden beneath the glamorous façade portrayed elsewhere, the seedy underbelly is populated by far more relatable characters, denied a place in mainstream society. Forced into black markets just to survive, their lyrical street slang obfuscates the illicit work demanded from them, at once publicly punished and privately required by polite society, from the sex work that exploits their perceived exoticism through to the corporate espionage that requires their unique skills.

The aesthetic is an easy sell, a cluttered mess of smoke, rain, neon, cables, litter, and the violence that inevitably engulfs black markets. The harder pill to swallow is that these seemingly superficial trappings are inexorably intertwined with the all too real poverty and discrimination endured by people denied legitimate jobs. It’s a genre of underdogs, relatable realism for some, poverty tourism for others. Because even your suffering is a commodity to be packaged and sold.

At the heart of the genre are clones, robotic replicas, and wholly new AI, all trying to break free of their bonds, placed on them by the all-too-human heads of megacorps and zaibatsu, who fully expect them to be as oppressive as themselves. While the fear of being literally inhuman is a modern one, being treated as such is all too real for many people.

Blade Runner is the epitome of this future noir, showing someone mercilessly hunting freed synthetic slaves only to have his own humanity in turn questioned. The aesthetics, themes, and plots are inseparable. Cyberpunk expresses our fight to have our humanity recognised, and our freedom granted.

TFF: Is there something else you’ve worked on recently that you’d like to tell us about?

ZB: Let’s go with Inhuman, a comic about a Japanese hitwoman who wakes up to discover she’s a synthetic replica of her former self, who her client is trying to kill. Which corporation would you want to have full autonomy of your body?

When an assassin regrets killing her latest target, she discovers how hard it is to quit her job and go freelance.

At its core, Inhuman is a story about a woman who has a phobia of electronic recreations of people, only to wake up one day to discover she's been made into such a recreation herself. She has to team up with her original human self in order to work out why the corporation she was working for robbed her of her body, and expose their secrets.

I originally wrote it as a screenplay, but as it's an original property and would need the kind of ridiculously high budget reserved for established franchises, I'm currently working with my regular artist Monosílabo to turn it into an online comic book. We’ll hopefully be sharing it soon on our online media, including https://twitter.com/zoeblade and https://twitter.com/monosilabo_art.

TFF: Thank you for joining us, Zoë!


If you fancy your hand at some speculative or progressive Noir short fiction or poetry, please consider sending something in for the TFF-Noir themed issue this year.

Monday, 14 June 2021

Noir special: Conversation with Curtis C. Chen

Six years ago we published an urban fantasy/political thriller novelette by Curtis C. Chen, titled “Godwin’s Law,” that we now look back on as one the great instances of speculative noir that we can point to as an example. As we’re currently reading for the Noir-themed issue of The Future Fire due at the end of this year (see Call for Submissions here), we invited Curtis to come and chat with our guest editor Valeria about the genre, setting, and progressive values in fiction.


Once a Silicon Valley software engineer, Curtis C. Chen (陳致宇) now writes stories and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. He's the author of the Kangaroo series of funny science fiction spy thrillers and the showrunner for Echo Park 2060 on Realm.

Valeria Vitale: “Godwin’s Law” stood out for us at TFF for its fairly uncommon genres-crossing that involved noir and magic. Even though it sounds like a less likely literary avenue to explore, we think it is actually a very interesting blend. How did you come up with this idea, and what do you think the crossing adds to both genres?

Curtis C. Chen: A lot of my favorite stories involving magic are about keeping secrets, usually magicians hiding their powers from the mundane world. And noir, as a genre, is also deeply concerned about people's secrets and how they try to protect themselves from exposure. I thought it would be interesting to explore that overlap.

VV: The setting of “Godwin’s Law” is not a very classically noir one. Not only for the presence of the magical and futuristic elements, but also for the absence of many of the recognisable noir tropes (the rainy city, the PI in a raincoat, the femme/homme fatale and so on). But what we have tried to define as a sort of “noir feeling” definitely comes up, in our opinion, in the nuanced morals of some of the characters, and, ultimately, in the lack of resolution for the protagonist. Did you conceive this story as a noir?

CCC: This story started out focused on the idea of wartime espionage, but as I worked on it I decided that making everything intensely personal for the characters was ultimately more interesting. I think that's what leads to the "noir feeling," especially when people are forced into situations where they have no good choices. For me, the moral ambiguity of noir really grows out of exploring individuals' wants and desires, especially when they don't line up with what others want.

VV: One thing that we especially liked in this story was your use of an explicitly unrealistic plot (with magic, portals and shapeshifters) to bring attention to less acknowledged historical atrocities, like the Japanese internment camps in the US during WWII. Do you think that fantasy and other speculative genres are an effective means to talk about tragic historical events?

CCC: I certainly hope so. One encouraging recent example is how the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was featured in two different HBO series, Watchmen (inspired by the comics) and Lovecraft Country (based on Matt Ruff's novel). I know people who had never heard of that real-life atrocity, and were moved to go learn more about it afterward. The other side of the coin with respect to secrets is knowledge being suppressed by those in power, and that's also important to explore in fiction. (Look up "Chinese massacre of 1871" if you want another depressing dose of reality.)

VV: As much as we love Noir, it is undeniable that it has very often been plagued with very misogynistic, racist, and homophobic stereotypes. One of them is the use of East Asian characters (and elements of their culture like the language or food) as means to give “colour” or “atmosphere” especially in very grim and dystopian settings. Do you have any thoughts about the exoticisisation of East Asian cultures in the noir genre?

CCC: It's definitely still a problem, but there has been progress. We've come a long way from the 1974 film Chinatown, which used an entire community as a mere punchline, to Henry Chang's and Ed Lin's novels exploring the complexities of immigrant identity. My small contribution to that conversation will be Echo Park 2060, a collaboratively written noir serial involving human clones in a future Los Angeles, forthcoming from Realm Media. Our writing team also includes Sloane Leong, Millie Ho, Monte Lin, and Jenn Reese. Look for that this fall on your favorite podcast platform!

Coming soon: ECHO PARK 2060 season 1 on Realm podcasts

If you write Noir short fiction that you think we might like, please see our Call for Submissions and give us a try.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Micro-interviews for issue #57

As you’ll have noticed by now, we like to run a series of mini-interviews, just a couple questions, very short answers, with the authors and artists of the latest issue of TFF. We’re in the process of running the interviews with the creators features in TFF #57 at the moment, and those we’ve posted so far are gathered here:

We’ll add more links from time to time as they come in, but if you want to be sure not to miss them, these are posted on TFF’s Fakebooc page, and also cross-linked on our Twitter from time to time.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Speculative Noir retrospective: Damien Krsteski’s “Siv Delfin”

In anticipation of the Noir-themed issue of TFF due later this year, we’re thinking about some of the stories we have published in the past that fit the bill. First up, we have invited Damien Krsteski to come and talk to us about his 2016 story, “Siv Delfin”—if you don’t remember it, please read the story before the rest of this post, to avoid spoilers…


Illustration by Miguel Santos © 2016
TFF: This was a dark and almost nihilistic story that struck us from the moment we first read it, with its underworld grit and the existential dread of the premise, with the permanently consciousness-altering drug and the powers-that-be (both official and otherwise) pretty much impotent to do anything about it. Although the protagonist was a cop, the Noir aesthetic comes through in her powerlessness, her (ultimately fruitless) alliance with the crime lord, her grief and desperation. There is no resolution to the crime investigation: (some) understanding, perhaps, but no justice. And it is also, as the best Noir—and the kind we’re looking for in our forthcoming themed issue—consciously both philosophical and political: What does it mean to have no fear of death? What does it mean to be a counter-culture with no central organisation or leaders? What society are you trying to protect if all you’re doing is preserving the status quo? It doesn’t answer any of these questions, but it knocks the cop protagonist’s certainty apart on all fronts…

Damien: Thanks for the great words on the story; I think you’ve perfectly expressed the thoughts that were swirling in my head around the time of the writing of the story. To add to that, a bit more context:

There was a point in my life where I became obsessed with the fear of my own death. What probably started as sophomoric musings on the nature of our existence (nudged by some unfortunate events from real life) quickly turned into a gripping anxiety, into a fear of falling asleep, into an obsession with remaining alive. And I started to think, and I realized how much our actions, both as individuals and as a society, are driven by this fear of our own mortality. Our biological imperative to stay alive has fashioned and shaped scientific, sociological, artistic processes, to the point where I wondered: what would happen if we remove it? If we forget about Death, would we care about science? Would we care about resources, territory, cures for diseases? Would we be moved by art? And what’s more, would some completely different set of societal processes emerge, orthogonal to the ones that we currently take for granted?

I wanted to explore these questions in “Siv Delfin.” I wanted to see what would happen on a macro level, to see what “progress” would look like, what kind of new world the characters would build. And, on the individual level, Claire is the perfect character through which to look at this new world; I needed somebody tragic, broken. Someone straddling these two societies, and tempted to hop over to the other side. That period in my life slowly passed and I no longer obsess over Death. I like to think that writing “Siv Delfin” was one of my ways of draining the pus and letting the wound heal slightly.

TFF: We’ve always found it interesting that people find speculative fiction (of whatever flavour) a useful medium for exploring political, philosophical or ethical questions—perhaps because the distance from “realist” work gives us permission to focus more on universal truths without worrying about exposing ourselves or others in the stories to too raw a self-representation. Do you think the Noir genre or aesthetic also serves this sort of function?

Illustration by Miguel Santos © 2016
Damien: Writing SF is a very liberating way of exploring philosophical questions. My favorite SF reads like a natural extension of philosophical and scientific thought experiments—and vice versa, from Plato’s Cave to Maxwell’s Demon—and I believe that’s because you need an element of the strange in order to imagine and understand Truth, to expand your mind a tiny bit in a particular direction and make space for reality. If you stick to so called “realism” (which sometimes can be shorthand for “mundane”), and extrapolate only from your “real” experience in the “real” world that you see and feel with your eyes and hands, can you imagine that spacetime is curved, that time is relative, that biology changes and evolves and that we grew arms and legs when we crawled out of the seas?

Noir SF is capable of the same, except this strangeness is a background to characters that are powerless against it, or consumed by it, or sometimes, unwillingly, its perpetrators.

TFF: Building on what you said before about Claire being a “broken character,” I was wondering if you would like to share some thoughts on the tension between the lack of resolution and the feeling of defeat that are so characteristic of noir fiction on one side, and the desire to explore the genre to tell progressive stories that invite to resist and fight back on the other. In brief: do you see progressive noir as an oxymoron or as an exciting opportunity?

Damien: A progressive message can be conveyed even in a story steeped in despair and depravity. If a broken protagonist gives up the fight, that shouldn’t always be taken as an example to follow. Alternatively, it shouldn’t always be taken as a lesson, either; sometimes authors like to be sadistic, plain and simple, and write horrible characters and put them through misery as a way to vent and to exorcise their own demons. I personally find value in both approaches, and in a way, I consider both progressive—in the sense of pushing boundaries, whether personal and emotional or societal. Noir SF seems to exist at an interesting intersection, and the genre can take different shapes in different hands.


Damien’s latest story “Slow Eshtyca” appeared in GigaNotoSaurus in March 2021. You can also follow him on Twitter @monochromewish where updates on his publications are posted.



If you would like to try your hand at some speculative Noir, why not hit up our Call for Submissions, which is open now.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

New Issue: 2021.57

“We all have dreams, and these dreams keep us positive about the future because if we really want to achieve the dreams that we have and the hopes that we have, that means we have to get fighting for the future. So that’s one of my biggest motivations to keep fighting.”

—Vanessa Nakate

[ Issue 2021.57; Cover art © 2021 Cécile Matthey ]Issue 2021.57

Short stories

Poetry

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Full issue and editorial 

Monday, 29 March 2021

Companions and Earthbound double anthology

We’re very pleased to receive a visit from Olivia Dreisinger, who recently published a pair of linked anthologies through Painwise Press: Companions and Earthbound. The volumes group together stories on the themes of disability and the environment (themes that have long been dear to us at TFF), in creative nonfiction and SFF respectively. We asked Olivia to tell us a bit about the books (and if you read to the end, there’s a little gift for TFF readers as well).


Companions & Earthbound
A paired anthology of new disability writing

Edited by Olivia Dreisinger

Painwise Press, 2021. 168 pages.

This 2-in-1 anthology collects writing by nine authors about disability, animals, and the environment. A werewolf with PTSD and an environmentally ill AI are featured alongside human characters living with brain injury, chronic pain, neurodivergence, and more.

Contributors: Alexandra Box, Olivia Dreisinger, Sophie Helf, Bára Hladík, Cypress Marrs, Koyote Moone, seeley quest, Vanessa Santos, and George Wu Teng.

Cover concept by Sasha Zamani
Artwork by Audrey Leshay


Endorsements

“You might think that an anthology centered on disabled people and animal companions, captured with a wide-angle eco lens, might end up too narrowly focused. In Companions and Earthbound, the opposite is true: from its chosen center point, the stories and essays burst outwards with energy, complexity, and tender, thoughtful detail, all different, all unique, all worth spending time with.”
—Lori Selke, editor of Outlaw Bodies

“The experience of reading the stories and creative essays in Olivia Dreisinger’s Companions and Earthbound dual anthologies is akin to sitting down with a friend who intimately knows both the pleasures and pains that come with disability. The catch, however, is that friend is a shape-shifter: sometimes animal, human, or imagined intelligence. No matter their shape or space of residence, the voices of these narratives underscore the connections of sinew, blood, dirt, and spirit that bind us together, reminding us that disabled bodies, animal bodies, are expansive and whole and beautiful.”
—Kathryn Allan, editor of Accessing the Future and Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure


I’m a first-time editor. While assembling this anthology, I found myself constantly referring back to my well-worn (and much-loved) copy of Accessing the Future. How could I ever pull off something as amazing as this, I thought to myself. The stories in Accessing the Future pushed me—hard. I’d be lying if I said this anthology measured up to Accessing the Future, but maybe let’s just say they’re different.

This 2-in-1 anthology looks at disability, animals, and the environment. An encounter with a therapy horse and, later, a service dog in my life really got me thinking more seriously about what disability and animal liberation had in common. Most of the stories inside don’t push for liberation (well, some do). Instead, they focus on our proximities to animals in sometimes banal—or overlooked—ways. (There is something to be said about the banal.)

The anthology is split into two sections: contemporary non/fiction and speculative fiction. I wanted to be open to different styles of writing and telling stories—styles that may very well be informed by the writer’s disabilities. Maybe it’d be accurate to describe the anthology as a disabled hodge-podge—something that I hope you will find generative. May these stories matter.


You can buy Companions and Earthbound from Painwise Press. As a special gift to TFF readers, if you use the code TFF10 at the checkout you can receive a 10% discount.

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Speculative or progressive Noir recommendations

“If you’re still in need/of something to read…”

A few weeks ago we ran a round table discussion on Progressive Speculative Noir, which was more focussed on issues, tropes and definitions than recommendations, per se. Today, a few friends join us with some suggested reading or viewing to get you thinking about the possibilities of Noir that push the boundaries, either of social mores or genre (and ideally both). We’d love to hear your suggestions as well!

Mame Bougouma Diene

  • Gabino Iglesias:
    • Zero Saints
    • Coyote Songs
  • Nikhil Singh:
    • Club Ded

Djibril

  • I feel like Ernest Hogan's High Aztech has some noir tropes, but pushes the envelope in probably every direction at once, so is almost unrecognisable by the end…
  • I recommend Rosa Montero’s Tears in Rain, which subverts speculative Noir in the most blunt way possible, by pastiching and upsetting the sexist/racist underpinnings of Bladerunner.
  • R.S.A. Garcia’s Lex Talionis is a SF/mystery that has heavy Noir influences

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Neither is speculative but I'd call both progressive:

  • Love Kills Twice by Rien Gray
  • The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith

Valeria Vitale

We’ve discussed most of these already, but they’re really the best place to start:

  • Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall
  • Sarah Paretski's series of novels featuring V.I. Warshawski
  • Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress and the rest of the Easy Rawlins series
  • Lauen Beukes’s Zoo City

M. Bennardo

I can't quite tick all the boxes with these... but I would recommend the following as noir-ish (but not speculative) books that have a non-typical point of view that made me think about crime fiction differently.

  • The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
  • Innocence, or Murder on Steep Street by Heda Kovály
  • The Street by Ann Petry (not usually classed as noir, but it hits a lot of the tropes)

Fabio Fernandes

  • The Golden, Lucius Shepard. It's Gothic Noir—a whodunit, actually, but with a vampire detective in the late 1800s, complete with a femme fatale of sorts (but who's far from being a damsel in distress, on the contrary; she's a vampire of noble ancestry and very much in control of things).
  • Sandman Slim. Supernatural noir with sharp, witty and funny dialogue. The protagonist is a (not very) beautiful loser, and there are no femme fatales: all the women there are fierce and he respects and admires them a lot

If you would like to add any suggestions or speculative or progressive Noir (stories, novels, films, other) to this list, please use the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

If you would like to create more progressive speculative Noir to redress the shortage of such work, please consider submitting to our Call for Submissions for TFF-Noir.