Wednesday 7 December 2016

Interview with A.C. Buchanan

With just a few days to go on the fundraiser for the gender diverse pronouns issue of Capricious SF magazine, we had another chat with our friend A.C. Buchanan, the editor in chief, to find out more about the magazine, the theme, pronouns and diversity, the skies and beyond!

A.C. Buchanan lives just north of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand. They're the author of Liquid City and Bree’s Dinosaur and their short fiction has most recently been published in Unsung Stories, the Accessing the Future anthology from and the Paper Road Press anthology At the Edge. Because there’s no such thing as too many projects, they also co-chair LexiCon 2017 and edit the speculative fiction magazine Capricious. You can find them on twitter at @andicbuchanan or at

We asked A.C. a few questions.

TFF: Capricious magazine has now been going for five issues. Have there been any surprises (good or otherwise) in how things have turned out so far, how difficult editing has been, the reception you’ve received?

ACB: There have been lots of surprises, but most of them have been minor—we received more submissions, especially at the start, than I expected, for example, and themes began to emerge in some issues even when not intended, and some aspects—like subscription numbers—were so hard to predict that I only had rough ideas in my head at the start. While not everything has gone entirely to plan, I’m really happy with how things have come together. I’ve had the opportunity to publish some amazing work, and made some great connections.

Tell us a bit about the diverse pronouns themed issue? This won’t be the first gender diversity to appear in the magazine, will it?

ACB: Over the past few years, I’ve had a number of conversations with people about how gender diversity is portrayed in fiction. I’ve also heard comments from readers that gender diverse pronouns aren’t easily understood, and from writers that they’re hesitant to use them in fiction, sometimes because they don’t know how, but more commonly because they’re concerned editors won’t be receptive. I firmly believe that gender diverse language is essential to portray our own world accurately, and even more important when we imagine other worlds and possible futures. So I’m hoping to put together a double issue (around 8 stories, depending on length) of science fiction and fantasy stories which all use gender diverse pronouns.

As you rightly point out, such stories are not new to Capricious. Our first two issues included “The Need for Overwhelming Sensation” by Bogi Tak√°cs and “Moments of Light” by Toby MacNutt, both of which use multiple sets of gender diverse pronouns. I haven’t been keeping detailed stats on authors’ identities, but I do know that four (out of twenty) used gender diverse pronouns in their author bios. This special issue is very much not a one off; it’s highlighting just one aspect of the diversity of perspectives that is so important to Capricious, and which I’m working to increase.

Is there a particular audience (of authors or readers) you’re hoping to reach with this issue?

ACB: I hope stories like these become less and less niche; non-binary characters shouldn’t be only for a specific audience any more than female or male characters, and gender diverse pronouns should be as uncontroversial as adverbs (thought it’s possible that adverbs are more controversial than I realise…). But I particularly hope the issue’s audience includes other gender diverse people who love science fiction and fantasy, writers who might be encouraged to use such language in the future, and people who are unfamiliar with gender diverse language but, by the time they’ve finished reading, know a little more.

I have occasionally seen non-binary pronouns (in particular invented pronouns) used in stories as a marker for alienness—look how different from humans they are! They have more than two sexes! Do you think there is a problem with this sort of representation, if it doesn’t bring any real-world enby experience with it?

ACB: I’d love to see stories that depict the different ways alien societies might conceptualise gender and how it is or isn’t linked to their biological make-up or reproductive mechanisms. But sometimes those types of stories imply that all human genders are binary and cis and that all human societies understand gender in the same way, or conflate non-binary genders and intersex bodies, often exoticising those bodies as well, and I’d advise readers to steer clear of that. Stories don’t need to focus on human gender diversity—but they shouldn’t invisibilise it either.

Can you recommend any good, already published stories or poems that use diverse gender and non-binary pronouns in novel ways?

ACB: I’d particularly like to recommend Nino Cipri’s “A Silly Love Story” and “Geometries of Belonging” by Rose Lemberg, both of them stories I love for many reasons. Cipri describes a genderfluid character, using different pronouns at different times, while Lemberg imagines a world where (as in our own) multiple languages are spoken, languages which are gendered in different ways and have different ranges of pronouns.

What other plans do you have for Capricious magazine in the future?

ACB: The priority, of course, is to keep publishing, and make each issue the best it can be, with more great fiction, non-fiction, and cover art. But although I’ve no specific plans just yet, I’m hoping this won’t be the only special issue in our future - and I’m looking at getting some guest editors on board as well.

What about your own fiction? What are you working on just now—what do we have to look forward to?

ACB: I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo for the first time in several years! It’s fun to be back in that social, fast-writing space. I’m working on the third in a trilogy of novellas/short novels that began with Liquid City. I always have short fiction on the go - I have a flash piece called Syren Song that will be published in Kaleidotrope next year - and I’ve been experimenting a bit with interactive fiction recently as well.

If you could shut down the power so we all just have to stare at the night, would you?

ACB: This feels very timely; after a week of earthquakes and storms I’ve been revisiting emergency plans and going through the “what ifs”. And the honest, not very poetic answer is... I just really like the internet. I like infrastructure, and I like the ways technology assists my not-always co-operative brain.

That said, I love to see the stars; I’m lucky to live in an area with relatively little light pollution and I’m privileged to have visited more than one Dark Sky Reserve. So when it can be done safely and in a way that is attentive to people’s various needs, I’m in favour of… not turning off the lights, but maybe just dimming them a little.

What would be the most terrifying thing about being in outer space? And what would be the best?

ACB: Oooh, good question! Aside from the obvious dangers, there’s the potential totality of loss of communication. The knowledge that if something does go wrong, others may never know what happened to you, and that’s something that scares me if I think about it too much. The best thing is perhaps indicated by the fact that when I write about space travel, I always have a sense there’s something missing, something quite different from anything I’ve experienced. I feel like there would be something entirely new about it which I will never be able to predict.

The etymology for “capricious” that you cite from the Collins doesn’t sound entirely convincing, but it’s adorably bizarre! If you had to choose, would you prefer a true story, or a good one?

ACB: I think the best stories are both true and invented at the same time. Ones that are far enough away from reality that they help us see it more clearly.

Thanks for joining us, A.C.!

You can support or pre-order the gender diverse pronouns issue of Capricious magazine from Indiegogo, or visit Capricious online.

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