William Squirrell, editor of Big Echo: Critical SF, interviewed by Michael Díaz Feito
Big Echo: Critical SF is a new online zine of thoughtful and considered ‘scientific’ science fiction. The first issue went live August 3, 2016 at bigecho.org. It features stories by Vajra Chandrasekera, Gord Sellar, Z. Finch (whose ‘Sonnets from the “New Heart’s Ease”’ appeared in TFF #35), Peter Milne Greiner, and Michael Díaz Feito (whose ‘Holy Many-Minds Home’ was in TFF #36).
Michael asked William Squirrell a few questions about the new zine.
Michael Díaz Feito: Why did you want to start Big Echo?
William Squirrell: The short answer is: why not? A friend and I just thought it would be fun to do something collaborative and creative, so we did. We certainly aren’t trying to carve out a niche in a crowded market or anything like that; on the contrary, I am much more interested in the performativity of SF than the SF short story as a commodity. I like to pretend the sensibility at Big Echo is punk rock: provide a stage on which people can try things out, try things on, experiment, push boundaries. When you are working with ideas and language, particularly when you are trying to do so at the very edge of your ability, it’s nice to have an enthusiastic audience, to have an echo chamber so to speak, and I suppose that’s what we aspire to, to provide a sympathetic space in which writers can take risks.
MDF: What does “critical” SF mean to you, and why is it an important distinction?
WS: That word signals pretty specific affinities. I am very curious about SF that is thoughtful, concentrated, that pushes beyond fannish “wouldn’t-it-be-cool” enthusiasms. While it is precisely those enthusiasms that are responsible for the vibrancy and energy which make SF such an attractive form, the euphoric rush to imagine the future frequently populates that place with an awful lot of unspoken and unthought assumptions about the way the world is and the way it ought to be. This observation is itself on the threshold of cliché, but it continues to hold true. It is most obviously the case in terms of how gender and race have been represented in the genre, but I’m thinking about other conventions as well; the ideas people have about politics, class, and wealth; about humanity; nature and culture; technology; history and progress; about thinking; and writing itself—how characters, narratives, language, etc., all fit together.
Critical SF would be SF in which such assumptions are questioned, deconstructed, reconstructed, satirized, reversed, or otherwise messed about with, not in an effort to educate or preach, but simply as a matter of course, as part of the fun. I’m not against glorious innocence and stonking good stories, but Star Wars and Stranger Things are hardly the horizon beyond which thought should refuse to pass and at which all pleasure must cease. We’re after SF which always wants to look over the next hill.
MDF: Are there any specific models for the kind of work Big Echo wants to publish?
WS: I don’t want to lay out one of those “who-begat-who” intellectual genealogies, or formulate a manifesto (at least not yet), but William Burroughs and Gertrude Stein are great examples of not the style we’re after, but the attitude: aesthetic and conceptual adventurousness. When I’m reading, I’m less worried about how slick or professional or plugged-in the writing is than that it confronts me, that it is committed to the mystery of it all. It sounds so sentimental and starry-eyed, but what the heck — Big Echo is the Steve Earle of online SF zines. We’re looking for fearless hearts.
MDF: How did the first issue come together?
WS: Hustle. I spent a lot of time digging through various venues’ archives looking for stories that struck a chord, then I’d cold call the writer and make a pitch. I don’t know how many people thought it was a scam or I was some creepy fanboy stalker (I’m not, really, and if anyone I spammed is reading this, the invitation to participate still stands). Gord Sellar and Vajra Chandrasekera were probably the biggest names I approached, and they were both so generous and enthusiastic about the project that it gave me a lot of confidence, but on the whole I tried pretty hard to identify fresh, clear voices. To be honest I still can’t believe how easily and well it came together. I wasn’t deliberately looking for people who suffer from the poet’s obsessiveness about the perfect word, but I struck gold with you lot. Every story is so carefully crafted, so distinct, singular even. I was laughing with delight as I read them. I wanted to stop strangers in coffee shops and make them read it all with me: “Look! Holy shit, look at this! Look what someone wrote!” I still feel like that.
MDF: What are your plans for future issues? Will Big Echo consider poetry or comics, have themed issues, print anthologies, etc.?
I have a couple of ideas for themed issues, but I have to talk to my partner about those before I start publicizing them. And we want to get another couple of issues under our belt first.
As for print anthologies, the idea appeals if for no other reason than “things,” things are nice to have and hold, especially things one has participated in the production of, and in theory I suppose it might be a means of generating a little revenue for all those starving writers. We’ll see how it all goes.
MDF: Any advice for writers submitting to Big Echo?
WS: Write. Submit. Repeat.
Thank you for joining us, William.
Big Echo: Critical SF remains open for submissions to issue #2, which is due out in early November 2016, see http://www.bigecho.org/submissions.