Monday, 3 August 2015

Microsequel Monday! The Little Match Girl ten years on

Shadow Boy and the Little Match Girl, ten years on
C.A. Hawksmoor

This micro-sequel takes place ten years after the events of “Shadow Boy and the Little Match Girl”, first published in 2013, and was written to celebrate the tenth anniversary of TFF. If you want to see more fiction like this in the future, please support our fundraiser where you can pre-order the celebration anthology.

I come to know eternity in that Other Place. Spend years swimming in my grief as though it were a living thing. An ocean formed from a billion grains of light. My hair tendrils between the riptides where galaxies are formed. Expand. Decay. I taste tears, and drink until I’m laced with them. Until my skin is scoured pink as sunburn by the tails of diving comets—the humpback whales of deep sky, bringing life-giving particles up out of the fathoms. Out of my lowest reaches. Nourishing myself with myself.

I grasp one of their tails, and dive with them. So deep between the molecules that I forget myself. The nucleus of atoms like the nucleus of cells like the nucleus of stars. Each surrounded by the whizz-crack lilt-and-curl of electrons. Of mitochondria. Of planets whipping between one aeon and the next.

The moon draws me to it. Tugging like caught hair. I rise like a solar ship on gravity engines, my head thrown back, hair trailing with falling stars, arms arched behind me like an angel. Like a diver falling into sky. Only while I orbit the breathless whiteness of that moon am I reminded of myself. Tracing the lines of the settlements with one impossibly extended hand—the surface smooth and radiant as the skin of a pearl—the memory of my lost love is one great shard of ice driven through my body. My ribs crack and reform around it, and his letters spill out of the rent in me. Paper fragile as old skin. Ink faded like flowers pressed too long in a book.

And that grief-ocean calls me. A seashell roar imbuing me with gravity. Sinking, then. Sinking back down towards that ocean of myself. It is only when I stop fighting the undertow that I realise what I have to do.

I skim the city like a wisp from a smokestack. Laughing and twisting in the gravity-engine-updraft of the airstrip. Wending around the neon towers puncturing the concrete skin. I almost lose myself again in it, before I remember why I’m here.

I begin in the hollow of the brambles where the Shadow Boy and I once twisted into each other like ivy growing into vetch. The taste of him still clings to the musk of earth, and I follow the labyrinth-thread of it to our body. To the shuddering shock of recoil at how different he looks now. At how different I look, now he has remade us. He is sleeping beside a man that I don’t recognise. Our hand and this stranger’s wended together. Calloused and aching. I reach out cautiously towards the spiralling darkness of his dreams. So unfamiliar now.

How long have I been gone?

The Shadow Boy wakes with a start, and in the sodium-streetlight-quiet I brush my thoughts against his thoughts.

Hello, brother. I tell him. I’m home.

His breath comes hot and liquid-fast.

On table beside the bed, the low stub of a candle gutters, and burns out.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The Future Fire @10: “TFFX”

The Future Fire magazine of social-political speculative fiction, has been publishing Feminist, Queer, Environmental and Postcolonial SF, cyberpunk and horror since 2005. To celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, we’re running a campaign to raise funds to publish an anthology containing a mixture of reprints, enhanced stories and new material, including sequels and other spin-offs, new artwork and satirical or speculative pseudo-fiction.

The anthology, dubbed “TFFX,” will be edited by Djibril al-Ayad (editor-in-chief of TFF magazine since 2005 and owner of Futurefire.net Publishing), Cécile Matthey (in-house illustrator at TFF since 2006, and assistant editor since 2014), and Valeria Vitale (copyeditor and assistant editor of TFF since 2012), and will be available in print and e-book by the end of the year.

The fundraiser runs throughout the month of August, and can be found at: http://igg.me/at/tffx

You can support this project by pre-ordering the anthology in e-book or trade paperback, or you can pick up some of our other perks: copies of the other Futurefire.net Publishing anthologies, the Lowest Heaven anthology generously donated by Jurassic London, limited edition hardcopies of zine issues, short story critiques, custom knitted undead dolls in your likeness. We'll also be adding some artwork perks in the next few days: TFF wouldn’t be where it is today without the work of our many wonderful artists! And if you can't back us financially at the moment, please help us get the word out, offer a guest post or interview opportunity, run a writing contest, or come up with other novel ideas.

You can follow the campaign on Twitter or Facebook, or subscribe to updates at Indiegogo.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Access the Future

Guest post by Nicolette Barischoff

As a writer living with Cerebral Palsy, I’ve always been wary… no, squeamish, when it comes to writing about disability. Why? Who exactly knows. There’s the old standby paranoia of not wanting to be told what I “ought” to be writing, not wanting to be used as some able-bodied person’s Teaching Moment or inspiration blow-up doll. There’s my stubbornly held belief that a writer who can only write with honesty and empathy about their own experiences (or characters whose experiences are similar to their own) is not a particularly good or useful writer.

But I suspect that most of my aversion to disability-themed fiction stems from the fact that a good portion of it is just not very much fun.

So many bad stories that feature disability (sometimes written by the well-meaning able-bodied, but just as often perpetrated by writers with disabilities intent on fictionalizing a particular kind of experience they think might be dramatically interesting) treat disability as a source of social isolation, misunderstanding, and physical limitation. Very often, their goal as stories is to show that the disabled person’s reality comes with a particular set of hardships—usually brought upon them by an ignorant, inaccessible, or prejudicial society—that is separate from the set of hardships experienced by most human beings. As one narrative about disability, this has value. As the only narrative about disability, it is tedious, divisive, unrealistic, and unhelpful.

What so appealed to me about Accessing the Future was not only how much fun it promised to be (The Future, as we know, is chock full of giant robot battles, generation ships, designer creatures, fancy holographic limbs, and hot sex in zero gravity) but how naturally and effortlessly its premise promotes an alternative narrative about disability.

By merely depicting futures that include people with disabilities, futures in which disabilities have not “gone away” or “got better,” Accessing the Future takes disability out of its Otherized position as a special group with special problems for able-bodied people to feel things about, and puts it back where it belongs, squarely within the spectrum of Humanity.

As long as there have been humans, there have been humans of varying ability, aptitude, and strength. And guess what? They have all found uniquely human ways of surviving and thriving.

The relative concept of “disability,” just like the relative concept of “poverty,” has always existed, of course, and always will exist, even as, especially as, the human landscape of ability is radically altered.

But by suggesting to us what that disability might look like in the future (what technologies might be at its disposal, what spaces it might share) ATF reminds us that Disabled People are not an anomaly, engaged in their own separate, alien struggle, but simply another example of humans doing what humans have always done when they have found their environment to be inhospitable: Adapting.

Humans at all levels of ability have always adapted, facing down incredible physical inequity with a combination of clever tools, innovative solutions, and sheer bullheadedness. Once we understand that, humans with disabilities become simply humans, neither special objects of inspiration nor of pity, but participators in the collective human struggle: bucking the system, searching for meaning, spitting in Natural Selection’s eye, and just generally being an irrepressible pain in the ass.

In writing “Pirate Songs,” I wanted to speak to our adaptability as a species, and our ability to adjust when our own particular worldview has been shattered. Thus, I divested my protagonist Margo of her wheelchair before I put her aboard a shipful of outlaws who would have no idea what to do with her. I trusted she would grit her teeth and hold her own. And she did.

In Margo, I sought to create a protagonist that behaved like a protagonist. Another important thing this anthology has done for the de-Otherization of disability is allowed people with disabilities to be at the center of their own stories. In generating such a dynamic space for characters with disabilities to play, ATF practically demands protagonists that are a fully-realized and active driver of the story they’re in.

Disability in fiction is so often objectified, there to be reacted to, or to be acted upon. Even when a disabled character is purportedly the Main Character of a story that is about her, it is often other people in the story who do the majority of the growing and the changing and the driving that defines a protagonist. She remains emotionally (and oftentimes physically) static, while those around her become inspired, learn to be more inclusive, have their expectations challenged, change the rules of their favorite sport, etc, etc.

In part, people with disabilities are kept from occupying the role of true Protagonist because there are so many bad stories designating them as a special group with special problems. The perceived otherness of what are assumed to be their concerns makes it difficult for a less-than-imaginative writer to imagine those concerns growing or changing or being shattered as the story progresses.

But the ability to imagine someone growing, changing, learning, is nothing more or less than the ability to imagine them as a fully complete and complex human being. The ability to envision another person as the full-fledged hero of their own story, with their own hard lessons to learn, their own disappointments and victories and tragic flaws, is nothing more or less than empathy. One reason it becomes so important to give disabled children a protagonist they might see themselves in, is quite simply that Protagonist is the opposite of Other.
Nicolette Barischoff is the author of “Pirate Songs,” one of fifteen short stories in Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction, available in print and e-book this month from all online booksellers. More details, including links to bookstores, can be found at the Accessing the Future press page.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

New Issue 2015.33

“Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don’t wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment.”

—Guillermo del Toro

 [ Issue 2015.33; Cover art © 2015 Robin E. Kaplan ] Issue 2015.33
Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Rate and review TFF #33 on Goodreads

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Interview with Małgorzata Mika

Djibril al-Ayad (for TFF): Hello, Małgorzata. You’ll be known to TFF readers as one of our reviewers, and perhaps also as the editor of the Speculative Treasury (more on that later). What other activities do you get up to in speculative fiction?

Małgorzata Mika: Hello Djibril! When it comes to my work for The Future Fire, I have only just begun my journey. I am grateful that this opportunity has landed in my lap, allowing me to finally word texts in English. It has been my dream to contribute to the field of the fantastic in a language that is used worldwide. Yet, my previous writings included essays, articles and reviews for the Polish academic journal, Creatio Fantastica. Since 2013, I have been attending sci-fi/fantasy conventions in Poland, such as Grojkon in Bielsko-Biala, Krakon in Cracow and Dni Fantastyki (Fantasy Days) in Wroclaw. At times, apart from being an active listener, I was an active lecturer, giving a talk on some of the topics in the field of the fantastic. Sharing my knowledge is an experience I deem powerfully enriching for me, and I hope that a piece of it will stay with my audience.

DA: How did you first get into science fiction or fantasy? What are some of your favorite works today?

MM: The circumstances surrounding my first encounter with science fiction are pretty incongruent, and, looking back at them from the perspective of time, I feel a mixture of nostalgia and embarrassment. It happened when I was around five years old and I was hardly a literary type at that time. One evening I was watching a remake of Flash Gordon from 1980, and I was absolutely amazed by its fast-paced action and visual beauty. However tacky and pulpy this movie appears to me now, to me as a child, it was an immensely intense experience for me at that time. It needs to be noted here that I was more captivated by the variegated scenery and special effects than by the story itself.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Call for submissions: TALES. Fae Visions of the Mediterranean

** Deadline extended to September 30th, 2015 **
See the up-to-date Call for Stories for current details

Quivering mirages, ghost ships, glossy scales slipping away beneath the waves; we are seeking progressive and inclusive short stories about wonders, terrors, omens, sea-monsters, apparitions and other folk creatures and horrors from throughout the Mediterranean region. You might find inspiration in medieval bestiaries and the margins of maps and manuscripts; stories whispered by pirates in the long nights at sail; horrible and marvellous visions shaken travellers barely dare to recall; names of creatures known by everyone in the streets around the harbour; particularly troubled nightmares you had or someone shared with you.

This anthology, subtitled Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, could be seen as a postcolonial, Borgesian travelogue by a many-gendered, multiracial, polyglot and polymath sailor (i.e. stories may feature any nature of protagonist[s]) recounting their fantastic adventures on naval journeys between Taranto, via Algiers, Latakia and Eluària, to Split (your TALES need not take place at any of these sites).

The more fantastic, abyssal, weird, wonderful, paradoxical, unsettling and tempestuous stories the better. Horrors and beasts in the stories may be based on Mediterranean folklore, or may be invented for the purpose (and any position in between), but a connection to one of the Mediterranean countries, languages or cultures is a must, as we expect the reader to follow the route with their finger on an antique atlas. The stories should taste like salt and wonder.

The rules:
  1. We are looking for uncanny stories up to 5 000 words, fiendish illustrations/comics up to 12 pages, and briny poems up to 40 lines.
  2. We’re also interested in micro-stories up to 500 words written in all languages of the Mediterranean (i.e. other than English). Please send a cover letter in English, Italian, French, Arabic or Spanish (so we can read it!) alongside any such stories.
  3. Stories may be horror/fantasy, magical realist, surreal, absurdist, pirate stories, ghost stories, folk tales or fairy tales, but they must all be set on the Mediterranean Sea or in a country with a Mediterranean coastline. Stories are free-standing and individual, not shared-world or otherwise constrained to a joint narrative or structure.
  4. We welcome ghoulish fiction by authors from the Mediterranean region, particularly including North Africa and the Near East, as well as other under-represented groups (such as women, queer/trans/nonbinary, non-anglophones, people of color, people with disabilities, etc.).
  5. Submissions should be sent as a .doc, .docx or .rtf attachment to faevisions.med@gmail.com by Wednesday September 30, 2015.
  6. Reprints and multiple submissions are welcome, but please do not submit stories that are simultaneously under consideration elsewhere. We shall attempt to get back to you with a decision about your story as quickly as possible. We are NOT interested in fan-fiction.
  7. We shall pay €20 plus royalties for first world print (or reprint) and e-book publication rights for stories, comics and poems. Micro-stories will be paid €5 plus royalties.*
  8. The anthology will be edited by Valeria Vitale and Djibril al-Ayad, and published in print and e-book by Futurefire.net Publishing in late 2015.
  9. The full Call for Stories and guidelines are at: http://press.futurefire.net/p/fae-visions.html

* Note that unless this anthology sells unusually well, this is likely to remain a relatively token pay rate, so you need to decide whether you want to sell first print rights for such a low rate; you will only be able to sell a story again as a reprint after it has appeared in this anthology.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

New issue 2015.32

“It was not in my nature to be an assertive person. I was used to looking to others for guidance, for influence, sometimes for the most basic cues of life. And yet writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’”

—Jhumpa Lahiri
 [ Issue 2015.32; Cover art © 2015 Cécile Matthey ]
Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Rate and review TFF #32 at Goodreads

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Interview: Margrét Helgadóttir

Valeria Vitale (for The Future Fire): Let's start with your debut book, The Stars Seem So Far Away, a collection of interlinked tales published by Fox Spirit. What is this book about and what do the five main characters have in common?

Margrét Helgadóttir: My intention was to give the readers glimpses, like pieces of a larger puzzle, or short film clips. The Stars Seem So Far Away is not a collection of stories, but it’s not a novel either. It’s a hybrid, a fusion of linked tales that together tell a larger story, set in a distant apocalyptic future, where plagues, famine and wars rage across the dying Earth. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north.

I strongly believe in telling broader, more universal stories through the eyes of people who struggle with their own nightmares and personal stories, so this story is told through the tales of five people: One girl who sails the Northern Sea, robbing other ships to survive; one girl who guards something on a distant island; one guerrilla soldier; and finally, two refugee siblings who become separated when the plague hits Svalbard. They all try to survive on their own in a cold world where everything seems hopeless. It is a pessimistic world, filled with death and despair, but I wanted to tell a story where there’s also hope, love, laughter and friendship. I hope I have succeeded in this and that people will like the stories and the characters.

VV: You have also co-edited with Jo Thomas the first volume of a series about monsters: you recently published European Monsters, and are also planning the follow-up, African Monsters. Is there something that particularly struck you in how the imagery of monsters changes across different countries and cultures?

MH: We see some similar kinds of monsters across countries and cultures; sea or lake monsters, animal monsters, were animals and shapeshifters, demons and evil spirits. But there are differences when you look closer at the individual monsters. Some monsters like the vampire and the werewolf are considered universal. However this is mostly because it’s the western myths that dominate popular culture. A vampire in West Africa is something quite different than the vampire stalking the streets in Europe. They both are blood-thirsty, but where one seeks darkness, the other has an affinity
towards light.

Typically, monsters are used to embody nature and the wilderness or natural powers, to explain the existence of things that were made, such as rock formations; or to blame for when things go wrong. So, the individual monsters might not be universal, but the idea of what a monster is and their origin is. It’s a very exciting book series to work with and I am excited to see the stories we now receive to the Africa volume.

VV: A call for submissions for another Fox Spirit anthology titled Winter Tales has just opened. Do you think there is something that makes winter in the northern countries particularly fascinating and/or terrifying?

MH: I have lived in a few African countries, and despite what people think, you do have winter seasons in Africa as well. The temperature drops, the ocean becomes cold and in some parts, like Addis Ababa or South Africa, it can even snow.

That said, I adore the winters in the northern world, but that’s probably because I have lived here huge chunks of my life, so I have learned to look beyond the snow and the freezing cold. When it feels like the ice pierces through everything, including yourself, and you want to escape it, but you can’t, the northern winters might seem harsh and extreme. Personally I struggle mostly with the winter darkness. We have sun and daylight only for a short while during the winter season. All you want to do is sleep, and we joke about going into hibernation like animals do.

But I think there is beauty and magic. The pure white snow covers everything, chasing away the dark. The northern light dances green in the sky. And everything is so, so quiet. Candles are lit to chase away the darkness and people huddle up together in front of fires to share warmth, food, music and stories. It’s an important part of the culture and history of the northern and arctic countries and the different people who live here. Many of our stories and folklore have been created and shared in settings just like this. Just as I’m sure stories have been told in front of the fires in the cold seasons in other parts of the world for hundreds of years. And this, to me, is part of the magic of the winter seasons.

E. Dulac's illustration for H. C. Andersen's Snow Queen.
London: Hodder & Stoughton 1911
VV: In your experience as an editor, what makes a story stand out? What kind of stories would you like authors to submit to the winter anthology?

MH: In my view, the stories that stand out usually have a strong writing voice and a natural narrative flow. They don’t have to be long. I’ve read flash stories that impressed me more than novellas. Language is to me part of the reader experience, and I will enjoy a story even more if the language is polished and the story is proofread. Other than this, it’s difficult to say what makes me read a story twice. It can be a feeling in the story, a convincing character development, or an original setting.

The Winter Tales anthology will be a speculative fiction anthology, so I want fiction stories with full plot and strong characters within these genres. Stories about creatures, monsters, animals and shapeshifters are welcome. I seek and encourage diversity in literature, so I hope to receive many stories written by and/or about characters from all over the world, all genders and orientations. But I ask that the stories must be written in English, take place on Earth and have the winter as frame.

Poetry is also welcome. For more details, read our submission call.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Accessing the Future TOC

At last, we can share with you the authors and titles of stories that will appear in the Accessing the Future anthology, exploring disability through speculative fiction, edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad (with guest commentary from JoSelle Vanderhooft and Derek Newman-Stille). Also, go over to the Accessing the Future press page and check out the  g o r g e o u s  cover art by Robin E. Kaplan, aka the Gorgonist!
  • Nicolette Barischoff “Pirate Songs”
  • Sarah Pinsker “Pay Attention”
  • Margaret Killjoy “Invisible People”
  • Joyce Chng “The Lessons of the Moon”
  • Samantha Rich “Screens”
  • Sara Patterson “A Sense All its Own”
  • Kate O'Connor “Better to Have Loved”
  • Toby MacNutt “Morphic Resonance”
  • Louise Hughes “Losing Touch”
  • Jack Hollis Marr “into the waters i rode down”
  • Petra Kuppers “Playa Song”
  • A.C. Buchanan “Puppetry”
  • A.F. Sanchez “Lyric”
  • Rachael K. Jones “Courting the Silent Sun”
  • David Jón Fuller “In Open Air”
In addition to these stories, we will include eight pieces of freestanding artwork, illustrations that tell stories of their own on the theme of the anthology. Our wonderful artists are:
  • Fabian Alvarado
  • L.E. Badillo
  • Jane Baker
  • Comebab
  • Pandalion Death
  • Rachel Keslensky
  • Vincent Konrad
  • Tostoini

Friday, 26 December 2014

#EuropeanMonsters #WritingPrompt competition

Hello, everyone!

This could be your prize!
You may have noticed that Djibril of The Future Fire has been running some fantastically #EuropeanMonsters specific #WritingPrompts on Twitter that are now starting to overflow on to Facebook and the British Fantasy Society's forums. He's even been kind enough to keep an eye on the resulting work and keep a Storify of them.

Well, we - the editorial team and Fox Spirit Books - were persuaded to get in on the action. So, here's what we're going to do. We are offering one shiny paperback copy of European Monsters to the most appreciated response to Djibril's European Monsters writing prompts. To see what you could win, have a look at the book page on the Fox Spirit website.

And here's what you need to do:
  1. Write a response to one of the daily #WritingPrompts starting with the "Am here to give my testimony of how I became a ..." Djibril supplies.
  2. Submit it on Twitter (use the tags so he can find them), Facebook (in reply to the posts on The Future Fire account) or the BFS forum (use the forum thread linked above).
  3. Get peope to vote for you on the survey, which will be opened once the writing prompts have closed (this post will be updated with a link when the form becomes available) is now open.
The writing prompts will continue until Sunday (28th), so all responses need to be submitted by midnight / end of Sunday (GMT).

Voting for the favourite entry closes by midnight / end of Wednesday 31st - better known as New Year's Eve - so don't forget to get your votes in.

Once we've had a chance to crawl out from under our hangovers (assuming alcohol is involved at New Year's), we'll compile the results and announce the winner on Twitter, Facebook and the BFS forum thread by the end of Thursday (1st).

Good luck and write well!

Jo Thomas