Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Kate Viola's Elementals novels

We’re delighted to welcome to the TFF Press blog author Kate Viola (who illustrates for TFF—including the gorgeous cover of #43—as Katharine A. Viola) to talk about her series of fantasy novels, Elementals. The first two novels, Leah Bailey and the Fire Demon and Leah Bailey and the Earthen Beast are available now in Kindle and paperback formats. Three further volumes are forthcoming.

The Elementals is a five book series about the adventurous life of Leah Bailey. This historical fantasy takes place during the late 1600s in Puritan, North America. After moving from London, England at the age of eighteen, Leah and her family settle in the most northern British colony of New Ashford. It is here that Leah discovers more about the world and herself as she bravely conquers the four elements of Fire, Earth, Water and Air—and then eventually, the magical fifth element, Spirit. Along the way, Leah meets three young women who, like her, have been gifted with the abilities of the elements. Together they uncover the secrets of a world they had no idea existed.

Reviewers’ comments:

“A great first novel from a promising new writer.”

“Leah Bailey combusts onto the pages as a fierce new heroine.”

I chose to write my historical fantasy book series, The Elementals, based around the four elements of Fire, Earth, Water and Air, with the final book about the mysterious fifth element of Spirit. The elements are great resources to use for any magical or fantasy story because these elements never change; it is the protagonist who changes (for better or for worse) because of these elements.

The elements, in their purest forms, do not have souls, they do not learn and thus they do not change. Additionally, they cannot be controlled; they just are. We cannot escape these elements as they are everywhere. This is important to understand, especially in the series. The magic therefore is not actually in the elements, but within the souls of mankind. 

Elements are often found in fantasy and science-fiction genres, but they aren't fantasy concepts; earth, fire, water and air are real. We deal with them everyday of our lives, both the good and/or the bad sides of each one. The best fantasy ideas are ones that are based on fact and reality, which is another reason why the series is based on our historical past. There is nothing better than reading a fantasy book and thinking that could one day happen to me because it already happened to someone else.

Kate is a prolific writer and artist who has varied and unique portfolios for both her writing and art. She has a wide array of interests that span from realism to the fantastic. Her writings include short stories, flash fiction, internet content and novels.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Interview with Iona Winter

It’s a monstrous season… as well as our Making Monsters in the works, our friends at Fox Spirit recently brought out the fourth in their series of horrific Books of Monsters, Pacific Monsters, edited like the rest by Margrét Helgadóttir. To celebrate, we’re inviting a few of the authors from the latest volume to visit the TFF Press blog and talk to us about their stories, their monsters, their writing, their fears, and other things from their part of the world. First up this month, we were delighted to welcome Iona Winter, author of the short story “Ink.”

Iona Winter is of Māori (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) descent and lives in Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2016 she was awarded the Headland Frontier Prize, and performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In 2017 her fiction was anthologised with Bath Flash Fiction, Nottingham Peacebuilders, Pacific Monsters, Elbow Room, Centum Press, and Ora Nui. Her writing has also appeared in numerous publications including: Flash Frontier, Reflex Fiction, Elbow Room, Headland and Corpus. Iona is passionate about representing Aotearoa in her creative work, writing hybrid forms that highlight the intersection between written and spoken word. Overlaying past, present and future, the traditional and contemporary, she creates a melding of the worlds we inhabit. You can find Iona on her blog, as @waitahaiona on Twitter, and on Facebook.

The Future Fire: Tell us a bit about ‘Ink,’ your story for the Pacific Monsters anthology?

Iona Winter: ‘Ink’ is about Tom who, after getting a tattoo of an extinct eagle on his chest, has frightening experiences, in the way of visions and serious health issues.

The story explores his journey with the mythological and supernatural aspects of Pouākai (the extinct Haast Eagle), and the impact upon both him and his whānau (family). It’s a tale of whakapapa (genealogy), wairua (spiritual elements), utu (vengeance) and connects mind, body, spirit, prophetic dreams, mythology, and tohu (signs).

In a way I see ‘Ink’ as about nature getting back at us humans for disrespecting the ecological order. It speaks to the loss of old traditions and knowledge, and the impact upon us in modern times when we don’t listen.

Is there something unique and culturally specific about writing speculative fiction as an Aotearoan and/or as a Māori author?

IW: For me, it’s important to weave mind, body, spirit (including the supernatural), whenua (land and environment), tūpuna (ancestors), past and present​, because nothing is left out or happens in isolation from a Māori perspective. That said, not everything is spelled out and the reader is required to do some exploring too. It’s a bit like sitting in the wharenui (meeting house) and listening to our elders kōrero (talk)—sometimes you have no idea what they were talking about until some time later when everything falls into place. It’s holistic, but not necessarily linear.

I often receive a flow of words when I am out in nature, and whenever I have periods of time disconnected from Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) I notice my writing becomes stagnant. We are blessed to have such beautiful landscapes in Aotearoa, and writing often comes from my interaction with the environment. I take loads of photos, snapshots, and those inform my writing too.

Some of what I write might be classed as ‘speculative’ with understated terror, supernatural and inexplicable knowledge about events. But I don’t consciously write in a way that limits myself to one genre, because each piece takes its own shape while I am writing. I’m not sure if this is the case for other Māori authors or not, but being tuned in and conscious of all the elements seems to work (most of the time) for me.

Were you scared of something when you were a child?

IW: I was terrified of the dark, probably because my grandfather told me awesome kēhua (ghost) stories. But ​I was also scared of things that other people couldn’t see. Being of Māori and Celtic whakapapa, with seers on both sides of the whānau, it has meant that (at times) I am open to seeing, hearing and feeling stuff that other people don’t. It freaked me out as a kid, but thankfully I had my grandfather and mother to help make sense of it, and in my thirties spent many years learning from tohunga (traditional healers).

I understand you’re about to start a PhD in creative writing. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be researching for that?

IW: My topic is Pūrākau Mana Wāhine: Traditional Women’s Knowledge as passed on orally and between generations, with Indigenous Māori and Celtic women. It will take a bicultural approach, utilising feminist theory and Indigenous methodologies, and will reassert the legitimacy of Indigenous women’s lore, and the modern resurgence of traditional knowledge.

I’ll be exploring similarities between Indigenous Māori and Celtic women’s stories (of traditional lore) in fictional narratives, and create a contemporary body of fiction as the creative part of my research.

I’m looking forward to reimagining how originating cultural traditions, and the tension between these narratives and dominant paradigms in contemporary fiction, influence narrative voice.

Tell us about one of your favourite underrated authors?

IW: I love Norma Dunning’s Annie Muktuk and Other Stories. The similarities are striking between Māori and Inuit ways of referencing ancestors, landscape, relationships, spirituality, mythology, and the social cultural political issues we face as tāngata whenua (Indigenous people). Her representations of trauma, love and grief with clever narrative twists are fantastic, as are the acts of revenge. She writes of sacred ancestral knowledge, informed by ancient spirits.

I also love that Norma Dunning is an older writer, in that she returned to creativity later in life, as many of us do after raising kids and having day-jobs to make ends meet.

I read that Norma Dunning put her stories in a drawer, so as not to have them colonised or rewritten from a western perspective—an issue which I believe many Indigenous authors face.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have shocking stats for published Māori writing—about 6% per annum of the overall writing published. I think this says a lot about how marginalised traditional Indigenous styles are, but it does create room for kōrero so we can support each other proactively, and get our writing out there in the world—thereby challenging the paradigms of what constitutes marketable writing.

I can’t help but wonder how many drawers are stuffed full of wonderful writing.

Who is your favourite mythological heroine?

IW: I’d say it’s a tie between Hine-nui-te-pō and Airmid.

Hine-nui-te-pō stands in the darkness welcoming those who have passed over, and she is the Goddess of night, death and the underworld. She holds memories of past lives and stories. Māui (one of her descendants) attempts to desecrate her tangata whenua (womb), the most sacred part of us women, to gain the secret to eternal life. After being woken by a Pīwakawaka (fantail bird) who laughs at his ridiculous idea, she snaps Māui in two with her thighs!

Airmid is the Goddess of the Healing Arts and belonged to the Tuatha De Dannann, the ancient people of Ireland. After experiencing trauma, violence and desecration she takes back her power and uses it for healing others via her medicinal herbs. She creates life from death, honouring natural cycles, and the position of women hearers being revered in Celtic society, independent from men. Basically a feminist!

Both women are of the earth, connected to it, and are powerful. I was taught that you can’t have the dark without the light (and vice-versa).

Do you have any other stories or books forthcoming? What can fans of Iona Winter look forward to?

IW: I regularly submit short fiction to publications and competitions, so there’s bound to be more of that. Last year I was lucky enough to be published in several anthologies, and have a few other stories published online. I write poetry and blog regularly, and have two collections of short fiction out in the ether—I’m waiting patiently to hear if they are picked up for publication.

Thanks for joining us, Iona. Best of luck with the collections, and with the PhD!

You can find Iona Winter online, or buy the Pacific Monsters anthology from Fox Spirit.

Friday, 2 February 2018

Speculative Fiction in Greece

Guest post by Dimitra Nikolaidou

While attending ΦantastiCon in Athens in 2017, readers of speculative literature must have felt elated to see so many Greek titles on sale for the first time. Compared to the dearth they had experienced for so long, this cornucopia of new voices seemed extremely promising and not a little surprising. What was the story here?

When it comes to speculative fiction, Greece had quite the head start. Lucian's True History is touted as the first work of science fiction; the Iliad and the Odyssey are considered among the first works of epic fantasy. Despite such illustrious beginnings though, the genre took a long while to flourish.

In 1987, the science fiction writer Makis Panorios began gathering more or less the entirety of Greek speculative short stories in six volumes (titled Το Ελληνικό Φανταστικό Διήγημα). His work reflects both the hardships as well as the persistence of those few dedicated to the craft. Until the early 2000's, not many writers had tackled the genre; the turbulent political situation which persisted until the early eighties, had ensured that fiction tended to focus on 'serious' issues, while the fantastical element was mostly limited to children' stories and folk tales. Even the seminal Lord of the Rings was not translated until 1978. As usual, it was pulp that came to the rescue: two separate paperback series, "Aurora" and "Terra Nova", published cheap anthologies that introduced translated classic short stories to the public. Along with paperbacks sold mostly at street kiosks, they introduced fans to the canon of speculative fiction.

In the late '90s-early 2000s, things began to change fast, in part due to the publication of 9 magazine, which was included in the major Eleftherotypia newspaper every Wednesday. While focusing mainly on comics, 9 also published a short story every week, either Greek or translated, thus providing speculative writers with a mainstream outlet as well as familiarizing the general public with the genre.

Soon, more writers felt encouraged to write speculative fiction, and new groups formed, which still remain influential today. ALEF, (Science Fiction Club of Athens), had formed in 1998; the editor of 9, Aggelos Mastorakis, was the president as well as one of the founding members. The Prancing Pony, a Tolkien appreciation society, was formed in 2002; the same year as the Espairos gaming society, began its activities. In 2003, the forum allowed writers and fans of speculative fiction to gather in one large community for the first time.

At this time, few publishing houses were dedicated to the genre but almost all of them remain active today: among them are Sympantikes Diadromes (Universe Pathways), Locus-7, Anubis, Fantastikos Kosmos and Aghnosti Kadath (Unknown Kadath), which also operates the only dedicated SF bookshop in Greece. OXY and Triton were among those who ushered in the golden age, but have since ceased publication. Other major publishing houses such as Kedros, Aiolos and Archetypo, took and still take care to include important speculative fiction titles in their lineup.

While the genre had benefited from the success of Lord of the Rings movies in Greece, the same as every other Western country, it was paradoxically the economic crisis that gave it its biggest boost. On one hand, after 2010 more publishers turned to local writers in order to avoid high translation costs. On the other hand, the self-publishing industry suddenly flourished, in many forms: even major publishing houses started offering print-on-demand services, in order to supplement their income. Many speculative works thus found their way to print (though not always to the bookshops). After 2010, the scene grew fast and many new names came to the forefront.

My (inevitably subjective) roll-call of speculative fiction writers in Greece, begins with those who have been active long before the current boom. Makis Panorios, actor, anthologist and translator as well as science fiction writer, is still publishing novels and anthologies at the age of 82. So is Diamantis Florakis, one of the first bloggers worldwide, and author of mostly dystopian science fiction. George Balanos and Thomas Mastakouris both have served the genre for many years as translators and anthologists, while producing their own works in horror and fantasy respectively. Thanasis Vempos also translated many seminal works while producing his own science fiction novels and short stories. Dr Abraham Kawa (Democracy-2015, Το Ασήμι που Ουρλιάζει-2009) has contributed both to speculative fiction with his short stories and novels, as well as to academic research, along with Dr Domna Pastourmatzi, also a frequent contributor to the academic discourse on science fiction.

Among the newer generation, it is notable that many of the authors making waves in the genre began in the online workshops, as well as in the ALEF workshops. Among those writers is Michalis Manolios, who won Albedo One's Aeon Award in 2010 with his short story 'Aethra', and whose work (Αγέννητοι Αδελφοί-2014, Και το Τέρα-2009ς, Σάρκινο Φρούτο-1999) falls between science fiction and horror. Other 'alumni' of include Vasso Xristou (Λαξευτές 2007-2015), Antony Pashos (Πέρα από τη Γη των Θεών-2009) and Eirini Manta (Το Δαιμόνιο της Γραφής-2012), who have penned fantasy and dark fantasy works. In the realm of horror, (easily the most popular genre among Greek writers), Perikles Bozinakis (Απόκρημνος Χρόνος-2008, Η Άβυσσος πίσω από την Πόρτα-2015), George Lagonas (Μεσονυκτικό-2015), P. Μ. Zervos (Η Εξορία του Προσώπου-2017), Maria Rapti (Τα Χειρόγραφα των Σκοτεινών-2015) and Konstantinos Kellis (H Σκιά στο Σπίτι-2016) are also very well-regarded. Authors Petros Tsalpatouros (Έλος-2009), Teti Theodorou (Από τη Σκόνη-2013), Vaya Pseftaki (Ενυδρία-2011), C. Α. Cascabel (Δράκων-2015), Kostas Xaritos, Stamatis Ladikos, and stand up comedian Elias Fountoulis have produced one quite well-received novel each, while Konstantinos Missios (Η Νύχτα της Λευκής Παπαρούνας-2007) has tackled both fantasy and horror in his two novels. Angeliki Radou, Giorgos Xatzikiriakos and Leta Vasileiou have written children's books that appeal to adults as well.

It is interesting to note that while most of these works take place in Greece, the stories would not look out of place in any Western city. However, there are also writers inspired directly by uniquely Greek themes, history and fables. Efthymia Despotaki, who writes fantasy with a strong Greek flavour (Πνεύματα -Spirits-2016 is her strongest work), and Eleftherios Keramidas, whose best-selling fantasy trilogy (beginning with Κοράκι σε Άλικο Φόντο - Raven on Scarlet Backdrop-2017) is based on the Byzantine era, are such examples. Another writer who also deals with uniquely Greek themes is Xristostomos Tsaprailis, who published Παγανιστικές Δοξασίες (Paganist Doctrines-2017) a collection of folk horror stories with a twist. It is interesting that neither these writers nor any well-known genre works are inspired by the quite celebrated Greek mythology; instead, it is the least known aspects of Greek antiquity and the so called Dark Ages that tend to inform both fantasy and horror.

Two rarer examples are magical realist Zyranna Zateli (At Twilight They Return-2013) and the harder-to-classify Ioanna Mpourazopoulou (What Lot's Wife Saw-2007). Zateli's lyrical work has been translated into French, German, English, Italian etc, while Mpourazopoulou was translated into English and French, resulting in both cases in awards and critical accolades. Their magical realism proved easier to tackle for the literary media, and the two authors are celebrated, unlike the majority of genre writers in Greece. The divide unfortunately ensures that when genre fiction is discussed in Greece, Zateli and Mpourazopoulou are often not a part of the discussion.

There are, of course, many names one could add to the list; as mentioned above, there is currently a cornucopia of new titles available. Unfortunately, this happens in part because of the proliferation of a certain type of self-publishing: in the last years, many small publishing houses were founded in order to offer print on demand services along with a legitimate publishing logo. While this practice did kindle interest in the genre, by giving an actual outlet to authors, it also created for many the very false impression that to be published, one needs to pay for the privilege; furthermore, there are no established criteria for these self-published works.

This is one the reasons that many Greek writers have turned to writing in English instead, where the competition is greater but the field is considered fairer. Natalia Theodoridou, Christine Lucas, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Eleanna Castroioanni, George Kotronis, Vaya Pseftaki and (caution: shameless self-insert) myself, have been published almost exclusively in English language magazines such as Apex, Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Metaphorosis, Colored Lens, Beneath Ceaseless Skies etc., as well as in various anthologies and collections.

Despite these obstacles, it is quite obvious that the speculative fiction scene in Greece is growing and spreading. Two major websites have attracted the attention of fans:, edited by writer and translator Elaine Rigas, focuses on horror and publishes articles and fiction, while, edited by illustrator Marilena Mexi, focuses on fantasy. Both websites host a generation of writers and critics focused exclusively on the genre. ALEF's magazine Fantastika Chronika (Φανταστικά Χρονικά - Chronicles of the Imagination) continues successfully in print since 2003, while a new magazine, Ble Komitis (Μπλε Κομήτης - Blue Comet), has just been published to some acclaim. ALEF and the gaming company Gamecraft also publish anthologies, always including some of the most interesting voices in the field. Dedicated imprints such as Arpi have also sprung up, showcasing exclusively the work of Greek genre writers. Other relatively newly founded publishing houses include Selini, Ars Nocturna, Medusa and Jemma Press.

Another proof that the scene in Greece is vibrant and growing, is the proliferation of conventions. I have a special place in my heart for ΦantastiCon, which takes place in Athens and focuses mostly but not exclusively on fantasy. Other major cons are Athenscon, Comicdom and Comicon. The latter takes place in Thessaloniki, where the Thermi Society for Friends of Fantasy has also been organizing events for years. The city is also the seat of our own Tales of the Wyrd, which organizes open creative writing seminars and workshops dedicated exclusively to speculative fiction. Recently, the Prancing Pony Tolkien Society set up a new chapter in the same city, which also hosts several events.

The fantastic then is definitely on the rise in Greece; the first vampire series is currently being produced for mainstream TV, while gaming groups, thematic coffee shops and themed bands accompany this rise in popularity. While the highest praise for a writer used to be that their book 'had nothing to be envious of when compared to foreign literature,' this mindset is slowly going away. As a member of the scene, I am finally looking forward to the next con, the next workshop, the next book. Come visit us sometime; we have many stories to tell you.

Dimitra Nikolaidou is currently completing her PhD on role-playing games and speculative fiction at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She is the head of publications at Archetypo Publications, and she is also teaching speculative creative writing at Tales of the Wyrd. Her articles have been published at and Atlas Obscura, while her stories are included in various anthologies and magazines (Metaphorosis, See the Elephant, After the Happily Ever After, Αντίθετο Ημισφαίριο).

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Terry Pratchett's «Trois sœurcières»

Today we’re joined by an old friend of TFF, Serge Keller, who is directing a stage version of Terry Pratchett’s Weird Sisters (translated into French) for performance in Fribourg, Switzerland this spring. Here is a bit of information about the production, and then below that Serge answers a few questions—as you can see, it’s a topic he’s very excited about!

(Wyrd Sisters) Trois sœurcières
Illustration by Cécile Matthey
Terry Pratchett in French? Mais oui!

Probably for the very first time in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, the Théâtre de la Cité presents an amateur production of:

Trois sœurcières (Wyrd Sisters)
by Terry Pratchett®
Adapted by Stephen Briggs
French translation of the novel by Patrick Couton, for Librairie L'Atalante
At the Théâtre de la Cité, Grandes-Rames 36, Fribourg (Switzerland)
19th of April – 12th of May 2018
More information:

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Send Joyce Chng to ICFA!

To boost Singapore author Joyce Chng/J. Damask’s goal to get to the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando this year, Publishing and Fox Spirit Books are offering some incentives to support the fundraiser. The first five people to back the campaign—for any amount—may claim:
  1. Your choice of e-book of any one of the three anthologies in which Joyce has work (We See a Different Frontier, Accessing the Future, TFF-X); and
  2. Your choice of e-book of Starfang: Rise of the Clan or Weird Noir from Fox Spirit.

*BONUS* If your support is for $25 SGD or more (approx $18 USD), you will receive all three e-books from and both e-books from Fox Spirit Books

*BONUS 2* If five people support the fundraiser between now and the end of January 10th, or if the campaign is 100% funded in that time, one backer will be selected at random to receive a paperback copy of Starfang plus one of the FFN anthologies of their choice.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

New issue: 2017.43

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality.”

—Ursula K. Le Guin

Issue 2017.43

 [ Issue 2017.43; Cover art © 2017 Katharine A. Viola ] Flash fiction
Short Stories
Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi  
Full issue and editorial

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Colouring Monsters

To celebrate our love for monsters, and in particular for the most rebellious mythical creatures from the Classical past, we have collected some beautiful depictions of monsters, all from the public domain, and made them available for you to colour in the Colouring Monsters booklet. This means that you are free to download and modify all the images but, above all, that you should have fun with them! If you don't have any means to print a copy of our colouring book, or if you think that this will make a nice Christmas gift for a monster enthusiast in your life, you can order a printed copy on, at cost price.
Choose the gloomiest or the brightest colours, add details and speech balloons to the scene, use whatever technique or material inspires you the most: pencils, crayons, glitter, newspaper collage, coffee stains, eye shadow… whatever! Finally, share the fun with us, using the #ICSmonsters hashtag! We can't wait to discover what new make-overs you give to our monster friends!

Take the monsters with you during the winter break. They are very well behaved, and they might even help you with the most awkward moments at family gatherings.

This colouring book is a companion to our forthcoming project, in collaboration with the Institute of Classical Studies, Making Monsters. If playing with the colouring book inspires you with a monstrous story… send it to us! We are still open to submissions.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Recommend: Classic horror stories by women authors

This month we asked authors, artists, editors, and other friends of TFF to recommend their favourite classic horror stories by women authors. (By “classic” we really mean pre-1920s or by an author who died pre-1940s. These have the advantage of being in the Public Domain, so anyone can read, share and even adapt these stories!) Here are a few suggestions to get us started, but we’d really like to learn about more such stories and authors in the comments…

Jessica Campbell (faculty page)

Vernon Lee’s “Amour Dure” (from Hauntings, 1889) is a gothic ghost story about a young scholar who travels to Italy and becomes obsessed with the alluring mysteries of the past. Classic! While researching the archives of a castle, he becomes fascinated with a sixteenth-century femme fatale figure who led multiple men to their deaths, and pretty soon he is convinced that he is actually communicating with her, through letters and in person. She signs her letters with a very emo motto: “Amour Dure—Dure Amour,” or “Love Lasts—Cruel Love.” Let’s just say things don’t end well.

Vernon Lee (1856-1935) was way ahead of her time. She lived all over Europe, dressed like a man, and was a pacifist, a feminist, and a lesbian. Her stories will seem long to readers today, but the lush prose and gothic drama are worth it. See also her excellent titles, like “Prince Alberic and the Snake Lady”!

Maureen Kincaid Speller (Paper Knife)

E. Nesbit wrote amazing supernatural stories, among them “The Violet Car” (in Fear, 1910 [audiobook]). A young woman goes to a remote farmhouse as nurse to an older woman. Her husband believes she is deranged because she does not hear, see or smell the things he does. She believes he is deranged because she doesn’t see the things he does. The nurse agrees with her. To begin with.

This is one of the earliest ghost stories to feature a car; it is an indicator of modernity, as is Nesbit’s discussion of whether ‘ghosts’ are in the mind or corporeal, signalling that the ghost story is moving into new territory, even as it looks back to older traditions. Nesbit offers several possible explanations of the haunting but no certainty. The ghost car may be a manifestation of the husband’s guilt for sending the lost driver over a cliff, punishing him for killing the couple’s daughter in an earlier accident, but we’re left with a modern young woman who now doubts the thing she saw with her own eyes. It is masterly storytelling.

Aliya Whiteley (website)

There’s a moment in “Was it an Illusion?” by Amelia B. Edwards (1881 [online]) when we change from past to present tense, and that feeling of quiet observation is replaced by being right inside the story. It only lasts for a paragraph and a half, but it always works its magic on me; suddenly I’m part of the action, and I hold my breath as something ghastly is revealed. I love the way that the story builds to that crescendo, and then falls back from it.

It’s a tale of a school inspector who sees odd things: a walking figure who disappears, and then a shadow that shouldn’t exist. The strangeness of it all creeps up, and even the narrator is not sure how to make sense of the experience. Rambling, occasionally wandering off into other associations, it lulls me with its classic, slower rhythm—and then it changes tense, and I’m gripped all over again.

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

Recently I have been spending a lot of (delightful) time reading ghost stories written by women, especially from the “golden age” of Gothic literature. Although the list of authors is very long, their tales are still often dominated by male POVs. A refreshing exception is Charlotte Riddell. Her “Nut Bush Farm” (in Weird Stories, 1882) is not only a captivating supernatural story, but also features a variety of female characters (although not in the leading role), often challenging both gender stereotypes and literary clichés. In Riddell’s stories you may meet single women that found perfect happiness in the management of their farm; or criminals able to shoot a gun and put up a proper fist fight (as in “The Open Door”). But even when they are not extraordinary, Riddell’s women become remarkable just by being visible, actively opposing the consuetude in the genre of erasing women from the scene or making them bidimensional cutouts.

Besides being pleased by how Riddell populates her stories with well-written female characters, I also enjoy her combination of supernatural horror and traditional mystery. Her ghosts are often flagging some unsolved crime, and so the protagonists have to become cold-case detectives and investigate what happened. With a little help from the ghost themselves, of course!

Maria Grech Ganado (profile; interview)

Christina Rossetti’s maternal uncle, John William Polidori, published the first English vampire short story in 1819, so the paranormal was probably in her blood. Revived by feminist criticism, “Goblin Market” (in Goblin Market and other poems, 1862), open to diverse interpretations, is today considered her masterpiece. Fantastic, ambiguous, symbolic, erotic, religious, with themes of temptation, fallen womanhood, addiction, sisterly love and redemptive sacrifice, Goblin Market’s vocabulary, even more than its allegoric form, suggests both Christian and sexual readings. Various kinds of fruit with sexual undertones, more enticing than one apple, are offered by different types of savage goblins more repulsive than a serpent. Rossetti probably found the market concept itself redolent even of Victorian marriage, let alone the horrible plight of prostitutes she herself did charity work with.

Andrea Gibertoni (Miskatonic Bookshop)

The story I’d like to recommend is “The Villa Lucienne” by Ella D’Arcy, first published in 1896 in The Yellow Book Quarterly, one of the most prestigious British literary magazines of the nineteenth century. The Villa Lucienne is a deeply unsettling tale featuring an all female group of characters that includes women of different ages, from a little girl to an old lady. While visiting the South of France, the women start looking for a house to rent during their stay, and are struck by the malevolent aura of an old villa. Not only does the place look bleak and decayed, but it also seems to have been abandoned in a suspicious hurry. It is a short story, where the characters feel haunted by eerie and malignant vibes. The final, dreadful twist will be revealed to the readers through the young daughter of the tenant.

These all sound great, and I look forward to reading them. What other horror stories by women from this period can you recommend we look at? Please leave suggestions in the comments.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Interview with Benjanun Sriduangkaew

We are joined by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Campbell- and BSFA-nominated author of many postcolonial cyberpunk and South-East Asian fantasy short stories (among which “Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods,” “Vector,” “We Are All Wasteland on the Inside” and “Mermaid Teeth, Witch-Honed” in TFF publications), who is celebrating the release of her new novella, Winterglass from Apex Publications.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew writes love letters to strange cities, beautiful bugs, and the future. Her work has appeared on, in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, and year's best collections. She has been shortlisted for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and her debut novella Scale-Bright has been nominated for the British SF Association Award.

She agreed to answer a few of our questions (after the Winterglass blurb below):

The city-state Sirapirat once knew only warmth and monsoon. When the Winter Queen conquered it, she remade the land in her image, turning Sirapirat into a country of snow and unending frost. But an empire is not her only goal. In secret, she seeks the fragments of a mirror whose power will grant her deepest desire.

At her right hand is General Lussadh, who bears a mirror shard in her heart, as loyal to winter as she is plagued by her past as a traitor to her country. Tasked with locating other glass-bearers, she finds one in Nuawa, an insurgent who’s forged herself into a weapon that will strike down the queen.

To earn her place in the queen’s army, Nuawa must enter a deadly tournament where the losers’ souls are given in service to winter. To free Sirapirat, she is prepared to make sacrifices: those she loves, herself, and the complicated bond slowly forming between her and Lussadh.

If the splinter of glass in Nuawa's heart doesn't destroy her first.

“A fairy tale, beautiful like an ice crystal, and razor sharp.”

“Winterglass is rich with diamondine prose, a scintillant retelling of the Ice Queen that challenges Occidental aesthetics, colonial mentality, and personal identity.”

The Future Fire: Winterglass isn’t the first subverted fairy tale retelling that you have written. What is it about this genre that appeals to you?

Lusadh, illustrated by Mumi
Benjanun Sriduangkaew: The obvious one for me is to queer it all up: most fairytales and mythological stories are depressingly heteronormative, even ones that purport to center a woman rescuing a boy are stuck in this quagmire (since when are boys worth risking your life for? Exactly). My hope is that by retelling and reconfiguring these stories there's something we can reclaim for ourselves and for our places in the world. Stories are a powerful thing, the human subconscious looks for narrative patterns. I like to think that by engaging with stories with origins in our cultural bedrock we can reconfigure our minds a little, shift our default assumptions of what love stories are supposed to be like, of who gets to have power and who gets to speak.

TFF: Do you have any plans to collect your fairy tale stories into a single project of some kind?

BS: At first I thought I hadn't written that many, but as it turns out—aside from full-length novellas like Scale-Bright and Winterglass (which are too thematically different)—I have actually written a fair number of stories that fit the bill. 'Paya-Nak' is a lesbian take on a Thai folktake, 'Mermaid Teeth, Witch-Honed' [in TFF-X, ed.] is a Lovecraftian lesbian retelling of The Little Mermaid, 'The Beast at the End of Time' is a post-singularity lesbian Beauty and the Beast, and so on. At the moment there is probably not quite enough volume, but it's very much a possibility to put them together into a mini-collection (plus a new story or two), and I expect there would be interest. It will have to wait a while, as I'll have a collaboration out next year, Methods Devour Themselves (Zero Books), that's partly a mini-collection.

TFF: Why did you choose a tale from the European tradition to talk, among other things, about colonialism and cultural assimilation?

BS: Andersen lived in a culturally homogeneous region, and his entire body of work is culturally/racially homogeneous. His fairytales, like many western fairytales and European narratives, are part and parcel with cultural imperialism. It seems as apt as any to regard his fairytales as a symbol of that hegemony. ‘The Snow Queen’ in particular struck me as a useful allegory—not because the original put in any such work or even pauses to think about it (Andersen was no doubt about as familiar with post-colonialism as he was with having a fulfilled romantic life, which is to say not at all), but because the idea of imposing an unfamiliar climate is essentially what colonization is. It changes ways of life, makes the colonizer's technology seem suddenly 'necessary', and demands total submission into the new order. Having said that, the colonizer in Winterglass—the Winter Queen—is neither white nor European.

TFF: Is there a particular pleasure in remodelling stories that have been told and retold for centuries and yet being able to use them to say something completely new?

BS: Yes! Structurally Winterglass has very little in common with the Andersen story, and eschews the bildungsroman entirely (Gerda and Kay are children; Nuawa and Lussadh are respectively in their thirties and forties). What I was interested in doing wasn't a literal retelling so much as referential, so I treated ‘The Snow Queen’ as material to mine rather than a framework to replicate.

While I don't think I'm saying something entirely new I do find that most retellings—being by white authors—more interested in the gender politics of fairytales (usually the agency and role and activity of female characters; somewhat more rarely, in queering up the stories) or in grimdarking it all up (by emphasizing or adding, sometimes to excess, the violence and sexual assault). The questions of empire and culture come up somewhat less. Either way I like to think that I'm bringing something to the table that, say, Disney very much hasn't.

TFF: As a reader/viewer, do you enjoy retellings of classic stories? Is there one that taught you something you found useful in your own writing of Winterglass?

BS: Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen was very interesting for its time, even if on reread now it doesn't hold up, partly because it depicts an improbable white-guilt fantasy: here's a planet inhabited entirely by white pagans, here's a bunch of brown people who colonized and exploited them. Unfortunate implications, as they say. I don't think it necessarily taught me a concrete lesson, but it does show that you can really put a fairytale in unexpected settings, clones and supercomputers and all.

TFF: Why do you think mirrors make such good symbols of our deepest desires?

BS: Reflection is potent, and reflection that can distort—such as in concave or convex glass—unnerves. There's a reason doppelgangers are creepy, because it can be either a very harsh teller of truth or a version of you that's not quite right, and sometimes it can be both. Mirrors can represent so much dream logic, the subconscious, suggesting that what it brings out can be something about ourselves we don't even know (or want to know). And physically glass is an attractive material, it does interesting, intriguing things with light. There's a lot of room for metaphor there.

Thank you so much for talking to us about Winterglass, Benjanun. I look forward to reading it!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Making Monsters Call for Submissions opens

We have just opened the call for submissions for Making Monsters — a mixed volume of public engagement essays on classical monsters, and speculative fiction short stories and poems that retell or reimagine monsters, their marginality and transgressiveness. This volume is being jointly produced with the Institute of Classical Studies (University of London), and is co-edited by Emma Bridges, an academic there.

We’re really looking forward to this collaborative endeavor and hybrid publication (and even more to being able to announce the   g o r g e o u s   cover art very soon!).

Monday, 27 November 2017

Science Fiction in Tunisia I

Panorama of Tunisian SF
Dr Kawthar Ayed (University of Tunis)

(Abridged and translated by Djibril al-Ayad)

In the Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction (1986), an anthology that claims to present samples of work from all over the planet, editors Brian Aldiss and Sam Lundwall stated that they found not a single work of science fiction written in Arabic.

More than 40 SF titles were published in Arab countries between 1950 and 1990. From 1950–60 we find no explicit mention of the term science fiction, they speak rather of a new literary genre. From 1960–78 the notion of “scientific novel” (al-riwayya al-ilmiyya, الرواية العلمية‎) appears, and after 1978 the term SF (khayal ‘ilmi, خيال علمي) was finally adopted by authors and editors.

I believe that with the arrival of science fiction, Arabic fantastic literature moved from the irrational which drops us into the universe of The Thousand and One Nights, where extraordinary events are explained as miracles or magic, to the rational which explores the marvels (and the mischiefs) of science and technology.

Between the 5th–10th centuries, the Arab cultural space saw the birth of a category of text that mixed the marvellous and the strange (al-‘adjib wal-gharib, العجيب والغريب) in multiple extraordinary imaginary universes. Al-Mass‘udi’s Prairies of Gold and Mines of Jewels (9th century), includes a story about Alexander the Great featuring a submarine (centuries before Jules Verne!) and terrifying hybrid sea creatures. In his 2006 dissertation, ‘Abd Allah Tādj considers The Thousand and One Nights as a foundational text of Arabic fantasy literature, full of magic and sorcery, and including in particular the story containing an ivory and wood horse built as a flying machine, with buttons on its shoulders to control altitude and acceleration.

Modern Arabic science fiction was born in Egypt, effectively starting with Mussa Salama’s 1924 novel, Introduction to an Egyptian Utopia, which may predict the Internet and eugenics. A key phenomenon of Arabic futuristic fiction was the military utopia, visible in particular in a 1986 anthology of SF edited by Nabil Faruq, an anti-expansionist genre in which stories take a defensive character, telling of perpetual struggle for freedom (of Egypt, of Earth, or even extraterrestrial peoples)—in stark contrast to, and perhaps even deliberate conflict with, the conquering hero of 1950s American science fiction.

But on to Tunisian science fiction itself. I will try to summarise the few literary productions of Tunisian SF in three categories: precursors, founders, and dabblers.

I have found traces of two precursors to the genre. Sadek Rezgui’s 1933 novel The Lost Continent, is an unfinished but important futurist utopian novel, set on a non-existent continent and featuring advanced technologies including wireless telecommunication, transport, complete police surveillance, and laser surgery. Tayeb Triki in 1977 published a collection of short stories titled Sindbad in Space, whose cover situated it in science-fictional space by featuring a cosmonaut in a cockpit preparing for take-off. These seven adventures of “Sindbad the Terran” actively recall, but remodel, Sindbad’s adventures in The Thousand and One Nights, and thus situate the fiction in an Arabo-Persian rather than Western context. The stories are full of scientific jargon, justified by the presence of academics and scientists, and so I consider this a precursor of the science fiction genre in Tunisia.

The principal founder of the genre is Hedi Thebet, who published Ghar El Jin (1999) and Djebel Alliyine (2001), two futuristic novels, followed by If Hannibal Returned in 2005, and The Temple of Tanit in 2012. The covers of three of these novels included explicit reference to science fiction (رواية قي الخيال العلمي), for the first time to my knowledge in Tunisia. Through Hannibal in particular, Thebet makes Tunisia’s glorious past into a promise of a better future, resurrecting a utopia by reconciling with our history. His texts are a vehicle for an acerbic criticism of the reality of twenty-first century Tunisia, and propose an alternative. He attempts to send a subdued, impoverished and assimilated people the message that change is possible.

I have also detected traces of texts that belong to the genre of science fiction but that did not have the label attached to them, and will present a few examples here.

Dhafer Naji’s 2006 collection of short stories, The Things, is especially interesting to consider and analyse; it bears the significant subtitle, “four imaginative stories that could come true in a century.” The first story, “The Forbidden Language” is an Orwellian dystopia in which the Arabic people are ruled by the Free State of “Zone 01” (previously known as Texas), forbidden to speak their own language, and dictated to daily with regard to the colour of clothing to wear, food to eat, and so forth—rules which they follow with mindless docility. A parable of American cultural imperialism that evokes the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the erasure of linguistic, cultural and even intellectual diversity that follows from forced “civilization” and democratization.

In a similar context, Mustapha Kilani’s 2004 Mirrors of Dead Hours, recounts a sombre dream—the narrator warns the reader in the prologue that the novel tells of a premonitory dream that he is compelled to write. He tells the story of a world seven hundred years in the future, in which the people of the global south are imprisoned within electric fences by the totalitarian northern state, their land polluted by nuclear waste and clean air rationed daily. Recounted as a nightmare, this novel captures the fears and obsessions of a people crushed by despotic regimes and haunted by ravaged, crisis-filled future.

Finally, Abdelaziz Belkhodja’s 2005 novel, 2103, The Return of the Elephant, opens with a description of the Republic of Carthage in the year 2103. Advanced technology allows the city a utopian status, and maintains stability and peace. This African utopia recalls the promise of a future that brings humans wisdom and knowledge rather than violence and hegemony. The novel alternates two messages: one that criticises the situation in countries of the third world, and another that questions the logic of the domination, thanks to their progress, of developed countries.
In conclusion, the themes addressed by Arabic science fiction echo modern reflections on humanity and the world, and often display a deep unease. Fiction reflects reality, but as it might be transformed by time. These future societies “are built on the allegory of the fears and hopes of the period of their production” (as Gianni Haver puts it in De beaux lendemains, 2002). They depict therein hypothetical societies placed in a future time-frame, by deforming or exaggerating features from reality.

In the Arab world, the twenty-first century has seen the birth of a disenchanted form of expression that accompanies the arrival in power of tyrannical systems in tandem with American military hegemony and Western cultural influence. This expression takes the form of futuristic nightmares, such as Taleb ‘Umran’s The Dark Times (Syria, 2003) and Mustapha Kilani’s Mirrors of Dead Hours (Tunisia, 2004). The restrictions on liberty, exploitation of wealth, inequality of opportunity, levels and conditions of life between people in the West and those of the third world push these authors to ask questions and to disturb the reader.

Science fiction literature is transforming into a spacecraft that transports us to worlds distant in both time and space, a time machine that casts a curious and ravenous eye on the future. Built by an imagination full of innovative ideas, this machine transcends reality to delve in the deepest depths of history and of space to question homo sapiens, to reveal our dreams and unveil our fears. It is a world literature that deserves revaluation and study—far from the ignorance and disdain with which it is often addressed.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Interview with Subodhana Wijeyeratne

We are delighted to welcome on our blog Subodhana Wijeyeratne (author of the haunting story The Hulks in TFF #41), and to ask him about his Tales from the Stone Lotus (Writingale Publishing), a collection of short stories and novellas set on both our world, and others. The book follows the loves and lives of a variety of creatures, from the downtrodden underclass of humans forced to slave on a distant moon, to the fleeting insect-like inhabitants of a planet on an extreme orbit.

Born in the UK to Sri Lankan parents, and raised there and in Russia, Subo Wijeyeratne has been writing speculative fiction for nearly twenty years. His favourite writers and biggest influences are Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemingway, James Tiptree Jr, and Isaac Asimov. He currently lives and works in Tokyo, Japan.

TFF: The title of your collection, Tales from the Stone Lotus, sounds fascinating, maybe even slightly mysterious. Where does it come from?

Subodhana Wijeyeratne: It comes from a couple of things. In the collection is a story called 'The Stone Lotus', about this peculiar object that appears in a city on the north, and the one of the men who researches it. My incredibly talented artist friend Sara Gothard (who's provided all the illustrations in the book) did a painting based on the story, which serves as the cover image. In it, there's a bunch of people gathered around it, as if listening for something. If you read the story, you'll see that one of the characters talks about only seeing things if you look for them. It occurred to me that maybe that's what the Stone Lotus does - go looking for stories, from all over the universe, for the people waiting for it back home. Hence the title!

TFF: Who would be the perfect candidate to direct a movie adaptation of Tales from the Stone Lotus, and why?

SW: Seeing as its a collection of shorts, I think I'd like to see what a few different directors make of it. I think The Best of All Seasons would look great in Terrence Malick's hands (a boy can dream). The Opal Gates would be a nice Christopher Nolan piece, and I'd love to see what Darren Aaronofsky does with As Kazanuhr Falls.

TFF: Ideally, next to what other books would you place Tales from the Stone Lotus in a bookshop (or library)?

SW: I'd love to see it between Ted Chiang's Tales of Your Life and Others and Jorge Luis Borges' Ficciones. They're two people I strive to emulate - particularly Borges - and I reckon the book can only be lifted by the association!

TFF: Can you tell us about a little-known author you think everyone should read?

SW: She's not necessarily little-known in a certain circle, but I think everyone should read the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. She was an 11th century Japanese courtier, and Pillow Book is basically her diary. Her writing is so fresh, and her personality so vivacious, it just blazes off the page, even after a thousand years. It's heartbreaking and hilarious in turns and I really, really recommend it.

TFF: If you were an aerospace engineer, what would you name your first spaceship?

SW: Tough one! Probably Hedonismbot because he is my spirit guide and Futurama is my Bible.

TFF: Do you think there is a theme or some sort of fil rouge that connects the stories in Stone Lotus?

SW: I think underlying all the stories is the idea of impermanence. I was raised Buddhist (though I've drifted a bit), and nothing strikes me as being truer than the idea that all things change. I'm constantly amazed by how this is true on every level of existence, but in such drastically different ways. I've often wondered how they're related. Is there something about the way energy moves in the universe that means that humans are constantly changing what their definition of 'good' or 'love' is?

TFF: And what is your current definition of "good"?

SW: I think I've had the same definition for a long time - which is to, as much as possible, avoid causing other things or people to suffer. Obviously sometimes this is unavoidable, but I often find that being unkind and not caring about how much pain you inflict on other people is a much easier road to take than being respectful and considerate -- which goes a long way towards explaining a lot about the world, I think.

TFF: If you could ask any author, living or dead, to help you brainstorm a story, who would you ask?

SW: I adore Greg Egan's imagination - his work blows me away every time I read it. I'd love to brainstorm a story with him, or with Ted Chiang.

TFF: You have spent many years living in different cultural contexts, often belonging to a minority. Do you see this experience as a continuous challenge or as something that has enriched you?

SW: It's a bit of both. Moving around constantly means its hard to hang on to friends; it's really amazing how many people just slip away and disappear when you're not looking. But I think the enrichment has been overwhelmingly the stronger experience. Other people's subjectivities - even if they can be infuriating - are fascinating to me, especially when they are far away from mine. The distinctive histories of places are also really compelling. Every time I go somewhere I learn something about that place that explains something else half a world away to me, which is the best feeling.

TFF: What is the most incredible thing you have learnt studying the history of the Japanese space program?

SW: That the Japanese developed a death ray during the Second World War! It was actually a highly powered microwave designed to blow up engine blocks. They tested it on a dog and a rabbit, but it didn't do much harm to non-organic material.

TFF: You have travelled extensively since you were a child. What is your absolutely favourite place?

SW: Japan is hands down my favourite country in the world. I love living here, am fascinated by the culture, and my body is 56.4% sushi by mass.

TFF: Has exposure to many different languages changed your literary style? In what ways?

SW: I'm so high-strung about my own writing that I've not really stopped to think about it. My pleasure reading is mostly, if not entirely, in English. But I did study medieval history at university, and have an abiding love of Middle English. As such I try to avoid overly modern turns of phrase - there's something transient and inexpressive about the way so many people speak today, it drives me mad. I'm particularly against the rise of 'of' instead of 'have' (e.g., people saying 'I should of done X'). But I also get that when it comes to stuff like this I'm mostly like Canute in the sea.

Illustration of "The Hulks" by Miguel Santos
TFF: What is your next project?

SW: I'm working on my third novel, Triangulum, which is a sci-fi piece influenced by ancient Indian texts. Yes, it is precisely as pretentious as it sounds, but I've always wanted to combine the cryptic metaphysics of texts like the Rig Veda with a sort of dark sci-fi aesthetic: huge statues on empty world, layers of history piled upon the characters like invisible chains. We'll see how it goes!

TFF: This sounds fascinating! Who would be the main characters in the story?

SW: The main characters include a criminal who gets sentenced to death, but ends up being castrated by his cellmates (for a variety of reasons). His main love interest is a 'snake-girl', whose bodily fluids are venomous, and who hence cannot be touched. Beyond that there are two characters who are male and female manifestations of the same person, and who often speak and walk in tandem. Rounding up the group of five is the central protagonist, Izme Gulthara, an otherworldly presence with an agenda that could either be transcendentally good, or utterly evil.

Thank you Subo for chatting with us, and best of luck with your projects!