Friday, 18 August 2017

Interview with Rebecca Gomez Farrell, author of Wings Unseen

It is our pleasure to welcome on the pages of our blog Rebecca Gomez Farrell (author of the beautiful Good Genes in TFF#38), and chat with her about her upcoming fantasy novel Wings Unseen, published by Meerkat Press.

Rebecca Gomez Farrell conjures up short and long speculative fiction stories from her home in Oakland, CA, where she resides with her tech wizard husband and two trickster cats. Her debut epic fantasy novel, Wings Unseen, comes out August 22 from Meerkat Press. Her shorter works can be read in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, the Future Fire, and Bull Spec among other magazines. Look for “Treasure” in the Dark Luminous Wings anthology in Fall 2017. She also blogs about food, drink, and travel at theGourmez.com, and yes, she has opinions about candied bacon.

TFF: What makes your novel, and its characters, different from the other fantasy books that will be sitting next to it on bookstore shelves? 

Rebecca Gomez Farrell: While Wings Unseen was borne from my love of classic fantasy, it is firmly rooted in today’s sensibilities in terms of feminism and social and political theory. There is centralized power, but there are also clear elements of democratic principles and their opposites. I see no reason why fantasy needs to follow the Medieval social order of our own world exactly – secondary worlds are not our own. So while the setting and world-building should be an easy fit for fantasy lovers, I hope they find it a refreshing take on the genre. Also, Wings Unseen is not a tale of big battles and clashes so much as it is an intimate journey in the minds of its main characters. It also constantly questions and interrogates the notion of destiny and free will. Are we required to follow the paths laid for us? What compels us to?


TFF: Both Good Genes and Wings Unseen involve issues of family loyalty and the demands that arise there from. Is there a conflict between the micro- and macro-political that these sorts of story help to explore?

RGF: Absolutely, especially in terms of the excuses that humans can make for perpetuating systemic injustice on a personal level. In Good Genes, Carl is the voice of the town of Enos, which has essentially forced its own citizens to give up their lives for generations for the “good” of their community. He does his best to explain why to the newcomers in town, but no amount of explanation could ever convince Rockie to give up her loved ones, no matter the cost to others, which is the exact same choice that Jonah makes over a century earlier that results in the culture Carl is raised not to question. On a grand scale, Wings Unseen explores the wisdom of a great compromise made to bring peace after a war, a choice that many have considered a “good” one for a long time. But the main characters, particularly Janto, must reckon how his grandfather’s decision to save lives through truce has resulted in a society that ultimately threatens lives in many new, and horrifying, ways. And Serra has perhaps the hardest familial and societal conflicts to reconcile on a personal level, particularly in the challenge of what helping her people means after the murder of her brother.

TFF: You also write as a food and drink critic. Do you ever cross the streams between gourmet blogging and speculative fiction? A food-themed horror story, for example.

RGF: The way I usually describe it is that the sensual aspects of my food and drink writing inform my world-building. Eating and drinking are such essential pleasures in life, or at least in my life! How could I write a story that doesn’t factor them in? The taste, texture, and smell of food memories are so evocative. Who is not going to relate to a character’s bite of a buttery, grilled bread with crisped cheese around the edges?  It’s a basic building block of a society – what do they eat and why? Even the less appealing aspects of food and drink leave an impression: the stink of an onion rotting in its own juices or the taste of sour milk. I think such details are a great way to invite readers into the world you’ve created, even if the cultures seem very strange to them. But yes, maybe I should get going on that story about a blogger who writes recipes with fake ingredients that keep appearing in her pantry after she posts…

TFF: What can fans of your writing look forward to next? What is the recent work you’d most like people to track down and read?

RGF: I would love to say a sequel to Wings Unseen! But I am only a few thousand words into that…which is more than I ever thought I would be as I intended it to be a standalone book! I am on the second draft of a post-apocalyptic romance novel, Natural Disasters, which I hope gets to the finished stage next year. My newest short story, a humorous sci-fi tale called Garbage, is available now in the charity anthology Through a Scanner Farkly. Treasure, a fantasy fable, will appear in the Dark Luminous Wings anthology from Pole to Pole Publishing in the fall.

Thank you Rebecca, good luck with all your literary projects and especially with Wings Unseen that will be out on the 22nd of August.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Recommend: queer short stories

This time for our series on reader recommendations, where we shamelessly use you to add to our reading lists, we’d like to hear your suggestions of queer/LGBTQIA+ short stories that can be found online. To be clear, we want to hear about all the letters (and more) in that abbreviation, not just lesbian and gay stories, so hit us up with all the intersectional diversity you can think of. As always, to prime the pump we’ve asked a few editors, authors and other friends for their ideas. Read and enjoy, and then please tell us some of your favorites in the comments!

Rachel Linn (author page)

Full disclosure: “Something that Needs Nothing” (New Yorker 2006) isn't really speculative or fantasy fiction, though Miranda July’s way of seeing and describing the ‘real’ world often transforms it into an alternate reality.  Her writing feels like a more surreal version of The Catcher in the Rye, one in which you’re even less sure if the narrator’s perceptions are unreliable or if the world itself is.  I was intrigued the first time I read the story, but even more so after talking to a football player who was assigned it as a reading for a college class and chose to analyze it for his final paper.  He said he "related to the narrator's voice", which, coming from someone so different from myself, reinforced my impression of the story’s bizarre accessibility.  When the narrator says, "We were always getting away with something, which implied that someone was always watching us, which meant that we were not alone in this world," I think most of us know what she means.

Also, I should note that this story is explicit and—like much of July’s writing and performance art—plays with offensiveness (and therefore might not be everyone’s cup of tea).

Jo Thomas (Journeymouse)

If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine 2013). What I like about the story with respect to queerness is the lack of detail about identity until the very end and, even then, it can be interpreted several ways. The writer uses first person so, if one realises the writer is a woman, there's a tendency to assume the narrator also is—but their gender identity isn't revealed until the narrator calls themself “the paleontologist’s fiancée with her half-planned wedding.” Likewise, the paleontologist love in question isn't definitively called a man until the very end and that only serves to show that the narrator and, presumably the love, recognise that identity for sure. So, with the the narrator saying that their love is called “a fag, a towel-head, a shemale, a sissy, a spic, every epithet they could think of, regardless of whether it had anything to do with you or not,” there is still an ocean of possibilities over gender and identity. There is room for questions—the most important possibly being why does the reader see it like that?

Claudie Arseneault (author page)

When asked for recommendations, choosing what to promote and fan over is often the hardest part of the task. Today I’ve picked two very different stories both featuring aromantic protagonists which I’ve discovered since the start of the year.

The first, “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed A Party And Saved The World” by Ada Hoffman (Unlikely Story 2014) is a near-future science fiction in which social media status heavily influences your place in the world. Emma is a Relator—she might not want to date, but she has over 2000 friends, and she’s ready to use those relationships to help her World Saver best friend. I love the way this piece defies the aromantic loner trope, the fullness of its characters, and how evocative those social media titles are. It’s a fun and free YA story that really stayed with me.

The second is “Nkásht íí” by Darcie Little Badger (Strange Horizons 2014), a brilliant short story steeped in Lipan Apache ghost lore. Friends of misfortune, Josie and Annie investigate a man’s car crash after he insists a malevolent spirit drowned his baby girl. Annie’s grandma has often warned her against restless ghosts. Haunting, tense and beautiful, “Nkásht íí” focuses on the unbreakable bond between two women, simultaneously providing horrified shivers and the warm glow of solid friendship. Easily one of my favourite reads this year.

If you ever feel the need for more free aromantic fiction available online, you can always check Penny Stirling’s great list. Happy reading!

Rachel Verkade (story; poem)

I first read Tim Pratt's story "Life in Stone" (Escape Pod 2006) in his excellent collection Hart & Boot. It seemed at first a fairly typical story that borrowed much of its premise from the ancient Slavic tales of Koschei the Deathless; a sorcerer has made himself immortal by placing his soul in an inanimate object and hiding it away. The trouble is that now, after many millennia of life, the sorcerer wants to die, and can no longer remember where his soul is hidden. So he hires a skilled but aging mercenary/assassin to find his soul and end his life.

What made the story stand out for me first was the setting—a bizarre future America where magic is rampant, and the characters are as likely to drive their SUV down to the local Italian eatery for supper as they are to fight their way through a den of lake monsters. And the other was the fact that the assassin and the sorcerer are lovers.

What unfolds is a story about aging, the loss of physical and mental capacities, about memory and the nature of the soul… and about love. About how sometimes what your lover wants may seem unfathomable, and sometimes the kindest thing to do is also the most painful. About two aging men working towards a single goal, each for their own reasons, and how one begins to question those reasons even as he commits acts of horrible violence to reach his end. It's also, of course, a very sad story… but also a very poignant one, and, in its own way, very hopeful. There aren't many older queer badass assassins in fantasy literature, and Pratt's Mr. Zealand makes an amazing impression in only ten pages.

Trace Yulie (author page)

K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time” (Uncanny, 2017) is written from a trans perspective, by a trans author, and it isn’t a sweet story of acceptance or an inspiring story about transition struggle; I say this because these seem like themes some readers are more comfortable with. There is of course a space for affirming fiction, and sometimes queer stories just aren’t for non-queer folks, you know? But Szpara’s stories are not on those themes. Oh no, no, no. They are raw and vulnerable, and the narratives situate the reader firmly in the trans viewpoint in a way that I find at times deeply unsettling. And that’s good (at least for this privileged reader). If one goal of fiction is to create situations where the reader identifies and empathizes with the people depicted in the story, they should feel unsettled by the horror of finding oneself in the wrong body, or a changing body. The character’s experience is viscerally, vividly described. The character feels intimately embodied; the stories are about being trans in the body. The reader can’t look away or bounce off that perspective, as it isn’t sidelined into a token side character or pushed into the background. On the surface, “Small Changes” is a vampire story, but the transformative turn from human to vampire resists easy metaphor or resolution. It’s a heavy, dark analogue for the harsh complexities of sex, desire and a intense something-else that defies simple explication. The story was hard for me to read. But I don’t think the story was meant to be comfortable, and I’m glad I didn’t look away. I also recommend Szpara’s “Nothing is Pixels Here” (Lightspeed [QDSF], 2015), an older publication about a different kind of embodied terror, but no less complex and painful. I make no assumptions that these stories are written for a cis audience, but as a cis person I came away with a measure of empathy I didn’t know I lacked before reading them.

Please tell us about more great online queer stories in the comments!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Shubbak: Imagined Futures

A couple weeks ago I spent an evening in the Barbican watching the only part of the Shubbak Film Festival: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture that I made it to this year—a program of five short films titled “Imagined Futures.” These were not all science fiction, by any means, although at least two of them explicitly position themselves within the genre. I’m not going to try to review the films or the collective here, but give a few thoughts and reactions—if you can catch any of this series for yourself, you should surely do so.

Mare Nostrum is a Syrian/French production directed by Anas Khalaf and Rana Kazkaz, which in 13 minutes shows us a Syrian father apparently being irrationally cruel and abusive to his young daughter. The father’s own anguish at his daughter’s fear and suffering makes it clear that there is more going on, and the story ends on a heartbreaking—if all-too-familar—dénouement.

An animated short film from Lebanon directed by Chadi Aoun, Silence lasts only 15 minutes and is a beautiful/terrible dystopia where silence is obligatory (and brutally enforced by military agents), and rebels dance supernaturally to a music that seems to result from their choreography. Very nicely animated, tear-provoking film.

Selma, a joint Algerian/French production directed by Batoul Benazzou, is at 35 minutes the longest in this anthology, and rather than futuristic is about a girl worrying about her future after graduating school. Another longish piece, the 21-minute Lebanese parable Submarine, directed by Mounia Akl, is about the only woman who refuses to abandon her town when the garbage crisis gets apocalyptically out of control.

The shortest film of the evening was the 10-minute, Palestine/Denmark co-production Nation Estate, directed by and starring Larissa Sansour (who also joined us for a Q&A in the theater after the films), a squeaky clean dystopia in which the entire Palestinian people are housed in a single huge tower block. Their lives are luxurious, well-fed, with plenty of space for everyone and every resource and comfort they could want. The protagonist even has an olive tree in her living quarters, and instant, classic Palestinian food in preserved containers in her kitchen. The pseudo-utopian setting is so convincing that—Sansour tells us—a German critic went so far as to delightedly proclaim that this would be a good solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict! A spine-chilling, and more subtle science fiction offering than most of those shown here. Other than a couple of fascinating/infuriating anecdotes, the Q&A was brief and rather shallow (the questioners’ fault, not Sansour’s), but the collection of shorts made for some nice contrasts, and none of the films were duds.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Recommend: Superheroine

For this month’s recommendation post we’d like to hear from you all about your favourite superheroines. They can be costumed comic characters, spandex-clad muscular movie heroes (or villains), or superpowered characters or people of any stripe—if they’re superheroines in your book, tell us about them and why. To prime the pump, we’ve asked a handful of authors and other friends to tell us their favorites. Read and enjoy—and then please tell us yours in the comments!

Priya Sridhar (author blog, story)

The Adventures of Superhero Girl is always a fun read, a project by Faith Erin Hicks that is currently on hiatus. Superhero Girl spends her days fighting crime, giving loose change to homeless people, and babysitting kids that have temporal powers. She also lives under her brother Kevin's shadow. Kevin has a huge superhero fanbase and merchandise collection. For the most part she has to be the ordinary kid sister who happens to have superpowers. Thus she gets little to no respect. But she keeps trying, and to keep herself from resenting her brother. The art has a loose, fun style that lends to large panels. I can get lost in SHG's story, her struggles which combine mundane resentment and fantastic adventures.

Omi Wilde (story; story)

Like Spiderman and Daredevil, Storme DeLarverie patrolled the streets of New York. But Storme, nicknamed “guardian of the lesbians,” was a real life hero who played a pivotal role in North American queer history. Described as a “gay superhero... tall, androgynous and armed” in her New York Times obituary, Storme walked the streets of downtown Manhattan well into her 80’s, always protecting her “baby girls” from any “ugliness.” She was present at Stonewall in 1969 and by her own admission and many reports, threw the first punch and inspired others to rebel against police persecution. As well as her work for the LGBTQ community, as a musician and drag king she organized and performed at benefits for abused women and children and is quoted as saying that she did so because “Somebody has to care… If people didn’t care about me when I was growing up, with my mother being black, raised in the south… I wouldn’t be here.” A biracial butch lesbian whose credo was caring and fierce protective love—she's very easily my favourite superheroine.

Check out Storme’s obituary and a short film on her life and career in the Jewel Box Revue.

Su J Sokol (website; Goodreads)

My recommendation for a superheroine is from the novella Scale Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. One of the main characters of the story is Hau Ngai who is also Houy’i—the immortal archer of Chinese mythology who is married to Chang’y, the goddess of the moon. In this retelling of the ancient legend, the archer Houyi is interpreted as female.

Though technically an immortal rather than a superheroine, the setting of the story in modern-day Hong Kong, along with the almost cyberpunk feel to the aesthetic, gives the character of Houyi a distinctly super-heroic feel:
Houyi stands on the first letter of HSBC, ancient myth-feet resting on logo black on red, under which throbs a mad rush of numbers and commerce and machines: trades riding cellular waves and fiber optic, fortunes made and shattered in minutes. She does not shade her eyes.
As a feminist who grew up reading superhero comics, my heart thrilled to this description of Hau Ngai/Houyi. I could almost see her cape as it caught in the winds of flight.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF bio)

C.B. Lee's Not Your Sidekick is set in a quasi-dystopian 22nd-century America where the line between hero and villain is often blurred. Jessica Tran, a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese girl, is a superhero precisely because she struggles to figure out what her superpowers are, or if she even has any, growing up in a family of superheroes, in a town full of people with special powers! While working as an intern for the town supervillains' lab, Jessica comes into her own as she embraces her identity. The book’s title references the #notyourasiansidekick movement and this novel does an excellent job of challenging stereotypes and redressing imbalances in representation via Jessica's character. As Jessica plays to her strengths, her story shows that being empowered is not just for the realm of stereotypical superheroes.

Now tell us about some more superheroines in the comments, please!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Interview with Joyce Chng, author of Starfang

We’re delighted to welcome back to TFF an old friend Joyce Chng (we published her story “Lotus” in We See a Different Frontier, the hauntingly beautiful “The Lessons of the Moon” in Accessing the Future, a poem “Lessons of the Sun” in TFF-X, and a mini-sequel to “Lotus” here as part of our ten year celebration). Her latest novel, Starfang: Rise of the Clan is now out from Fox Spirit Books, and Joyce joins us to talk about this book and her other work.

Joyce Chng is Singaporean. She writes science fiction, YA and things in between. She can be found at @jolantru and A Wolf's Tale.
Is a clan captain going to sacrifice everything for her clan? Tasked by her parents to kill Yeung Leung, powerful rival clan leader of the Amber Eyes, Captain Francesca Min Yue sets out across the galaxy to hunt her prey, only to be thrown into a web of political intrigue spreading across the stars. Is Yeung Leung collaborating with the reptilian shishini and playing a bigger game with the galaxy as a price? Is Francesca’s clan at stake? Welcome to Starfang: Rise of the Clan, where merchants and starship captains are also wolves.

TFF: In one line, can you tell us what Starfang is about?

Joyce Chng: Starfang is about werewolves in space, clan wars, and a female captain’s loyalty to her pack and clan. It is also a space opera with alien races and starship battles.

TFF: I thought most mashups of scifi and fantasy tropes had been done, but Werewolves in Space may be a new one on me. Where did the inspiration for Starfang come from?

JC: The inspiration for Starfang came from watching cargo ships. I like taking my daughters to this jetty and small beach. It faces out into a small channel whereby large cargo ships ply through.

One day it just struck me: why don’t I just write a space opera… with ships and werewolves? I have always liked the idea of space ports and stations. Plus the fact that Singapore has always been a port city. Imagine the type of stories that arise from this.

TFF: Do you already know where the rest of the Starfang series will go, or are you still making it up as you go? Any sneak previews for us?

JC: The other two books have been written!

Sneak preview from the second book: captain goes on a hunt for her hunted enemy:
The arrival of a Clan warship was normally a joyous occasion, as a tour of duty would take months up to a year. Its return would be followed with feasting and hunting. But for Starfang, there was no joy, no feasting. The warship was in mourning, the loss of an important member of the pack still keenly felt. An emptiness echoed on the bridge. Starfang was now in hunting mode, a predator on the trail of an elusive prey. Even a refit and refuel above Noah’s Ark would mean a delay. I itched to move on, to continue the hunt, the kill.

Francesca, illustrated by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein
TFF: Your previous trilogy, the Jan Xu series, was also a werewolf-themed story (and your blog is named A Wolf’s Tale!)—what is so important or attractive about wolves, for you?

JC: I love wolves. I love that pack and loyalty to family are part of wolf social structure.

TFF: Clan, pack and family seems to be crucial to this book and many of your other stories. Can you tell us more about the relationship between the individual and community in your work?

JC: I feel that the individual is part of their community, part of an intricate web that ties them together. What the individual does bears consequence to their family and community. In my other stories, I also explore the depth of family, both blood and found. My first YA web story Oysters, Pearls & Magic explores the important of family and how it ties the protagonist, first to her blood kin and then to her found family. Ultimately, she still returns to where she was born. The same goes for her daughter in Path of Kindness where, after years of wandering, she returns to her mother in the village.

In Starfang and in the Jan Xu series, clan, pack and family are part of the story, part of the protagonist’s identity. Captain Francesca’s ties to her family and her pack are deep and thick, sometimes even stronger than galactic politics.

TFF: The first two Starfang novels were originally serialized on your blog, before being polished and edited up for print publication. How does this change the way you sell or market the novel now?

JC: In a way, it doesn’t really change how I sell or market the novel. Serialization is one of the ways authors and writers can use to reach their audiences. For people who read my work and follow me on social media, they get to read the stories as they are written and uploaded on my Wattpad and Patreon.

TFF: What are you working on next? What can your fans look forward to?

JC: A couple of short stories, and a sword fantasy series.

TFF: And what about supporters of your Patreon—what bonus materials are they getting access to these days?

JC: They get poems and new stories that have been not published before in sff venues. Likewise, they get to read installments from an ongoing space opera I am writing. The space opera is inspired by Admiral Zheng He, a Chinese Muslim explorer who visited Southeast Asia in the fifteenth century.

Thanks so much for joining us, Joyce! Best of luck with Starfang (Amzn) and the rest of the novels.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Recommend: women in noir/crime

Noir is a genre of fiction too often plagued with sexist stereotypes. If you are tired of plots where women characters are either manipulative femmes fatales or naive girls in need of protection, and you would like to read a good crime story without rolling your eyes every other page… maybe this month’s recommendations can be of some help! TFF authors, editors and reviewers have shared quite different examples: from more traditional noir to contamination with other genres; from novels to comics; from the darkest stories for adult readers to humorous YA series. Feel free to join us in compiling this list, adding in the comments all the noir stories with women and/or by women that you have read and enjoyed! Mainstream or obscure, we want them all!


Petra Kuppers (website)

My choice of noir is Gail Simone’s graphic novel with illustrators Jon Davis-Hunt and Quinton Winter, Clean Room: Immaculate Conception (DC Comics, 2016). It’s got all the ingredients of a good noir: a besieged and heart-wounded hero (journalist Chloe Pierce), a scintillating set of beautifully realized locations (scenes are set in Germany, Norway, various points in the US), and an equally wounded and enigmatic femme fatale (Astrid Mueller, head of a cult-like organization). Members of Astrid’s organization visit the clean room, where they face their fears. They might end up killing themselves, as Chloe’s fiancee did, or, later in the story, a Hollywood action hero. Add to that mix intriguing monsters, skin gore, torture and self-mutilation, lots of nudity and sex, and more twists and turns than one can shake a stick at. The psychological tension runs high and makes this a brilliant read, with two powerful women leads, one black, one white, none of whom need rescuing, although both have an intriguing bunch of henchpeople (including a group in Chloe’s camp that reminds me of Mulder’s nerds in the X Files). Queer narratives complicate the story, releasing us from scenarios where there is only ever one ‘other.’

Valeria Vitale (TFF, blog)

The Blue Place by Nicola Griffith is a story that shows all the landmarks of the noir genre: a hardened former police officer, a corrupt aristocracy that flirts with criminal organisations, shady middlemen that love money too much, a fascinating client that are bound to bring troubles, and a city, Atlanta, that is, as in many noir, a crucial component of the plot. At the same time, Griffith’s novel eludes easy categorizations and keeps surprising the reader, choosing unexpected turns, changing pace and focus. What makes this story so interesting to me is not (only) that most of the main characters are women, but that this scenario is not treated as something exceptional: the novel unravels smoothly without anyone being disconcerted by the fact that, yes, women can be dark and dangerous too and, yes, they also make very good detectives.

The Blue Place portrays a number of relationships between women that are beautifully diverse and complex, and feed the plot without falling into stereotypes or being used as simple triggers: flirt and courtship, romantic involvement, friendship, solidarity, family bonds. They all feel real and profoundly human and make this story exceptionally engaging.

Cait Coker (TFF)

Jacqueline Carey's novels Santa Olivia (2009) and Saints Astray (2011) are unlikely to be read as noir, but I would argue that they are closer to that genre than to conventional dystopia, as noir is characterized through its ethical ambiguity and fatalism, and dystopia through omnipresent degradation. In Carey's world, there is a valid escape to be had from the shitty not-too-distant future southwest US, where a queer Hispanic teen named Loup is torn between revenge for her dead brother and escaping to a better life for herself and her girlfriend Pilar. The outer world, including Mexico and Europe, has rebounded after a devastating pandemic in a way that the isolationist US has not. Loup's and Pilar's journey evolves beyond a quest for survival to one of discovery of this outside world, from tourist beaches to fashion and pop music.

Their saga concludes with their search for social justice for their home, still under martial law, and for equal rights for genetically modified humans, both of which are impeded by the complex oligarchy of the US government and military, as in this case being born, for Loup, is a crime of itself.

Jessica Campbell (web page)

Robin Stevens’s ongoing book series Murder Most Unladylike is one of those things that’s tailor-made for those of us who like the aesthetics of classic English fiction but also like progressive politics (see also Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries). The books, intended for children and teens but very readable for adults, feature Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, budding detectives at a girls’ boarding school in 1930s England. Daisy comes from the British gentry, while Hazel is from Hong Kong; they become friends and form their own detective society. The mysteries are interesting, and they frequently evoke the likes of Agatha Christie with titles like Arsenic for Tea and settings like a manor house and the Orient Express. Hazel’s first-person narration subtly invites readers into her experience as an Asian girl in a very Caucasian society. Then there’s her experience as a smart but quiet person who has to learn to assert herself with the brash Daisy. These are good things for kids to read about, and Stevens’s prose is never didactic. I was encouraged to read these books by a friend and her middle-school-aged son – and I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint which of them encouraged them more strongly!

Please let us know in the comments your favorite women in noir and crime—you'll be adding to my reading list!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

New Issue: 2017.41

“We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay.”

—Lynda Barry

Issue 2017.41

 [ Issue 2017.41; Cover art © 2017 Eric Asaris ] Flash fiction
Short stories
Novelettes
Poetry
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Monday, 22 May 2017

Recommend: Feminist SF with POC protagonists

For this month’s recommend feature we’d like to hear from all our readers your favorite examples of a perhaps rare beast, the feminist science fiction/fantasy story with protagonist or protagonists of color. We’ll be inclusive about all these terms, most of all we want to hear from you. Give us some titles to add to our reading lists! To prime the pump, as always, we’ve asked a handful of TFF authors, editors and other friends to give us a few suggestions on this theme.

Chinelo Onwualu (website, twitter)

One of my complaints with genre fiction is that simply having a protagonist of colour doesn't necessarily make a work anti-racist, nor does having a female main character mean the work is feminist. This is especially true if the character simply perpetuates the same sexist, racist and imperialist tropes as a white male would. A good example of this is Grace Jones’ warrior woman character in the film Conan the Destroyer.

So when I discovered feminist fiction that featured men and women who looked like me, I was thrilled. I think the first was Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness whose scientist protagonist, Genly Ai, is a black man. The book so thoroughly interrogates gender that it was the template of my own world building for a long time. Octavia Butler’s character of Anyawu in Wild Seed also questioned some of the underlying power imbalances of heterosexual relationships and may have fundamentally messed up my view of superpowers. It also helped that the character was from my ethnic group.

More recently, N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms—the sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms—was one of the first books I'd ever read that depicted black feminine strength without ever having the central character, Oree Shoth, pick up a weapon. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord is another nuanced feminist work, with its two characters of colour working to navigate identity, emotion and history to come together in the most satisfying way. And Betsy James’ Roadsouls has what I feel is one of the best rendered feminist romances I've ever come across.

Writing feminist fiction is tricky, and there's not as much out there with PoC as there should be. You can find more stories about goblins and vampires than black people! So I'd love to get more recommendations. What else is out there?

Joyce Chng (A Wolf’s Tale, twitter)

Ah, feminist SF story with POC protags.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi!

This novel is underrated and deserves to be signal boosted to the max, because 1) it's good, 2) it has a kickass POC protag and 3) it’s space opera, one of my favorite things in the world. The main character is Alana Quick, a black lesbian who got stowed away on the cargo ship Tangled Axon. It is also LGBT! To me, it is excellent feminist SF, because it's so hard to see women with actual agency and feminism is intersectional.

So, there you go. My feminist SF story with POC protags. Go, run, read Ascension.



S.J. Sabri (story)

This is a novel that stays with you. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven weaves the threads of its plot between our present day and the shattered ruin of civilization after the Georgia Flu has wiped out all but a remnant of the peoples of earth. A number of plot-lines slowly converge; all linked by the only two copies of a superb but unpublished graphic novel, also titled Station Eleven. There is Miranda, the creator of that graphic novel; Kirsten, probably the main character, (though this novel is really an ensemble piece) who is an actor in the Travelling Symphony; Jeevan Chaudhary, the paramedic who will have to become a doctor; not to mention the disturbing, deadly figure of the Prophet. The enslavement of the Prophet’s followers and his reduction of women to property force the Symphony to intervene, whatever the consequences.

The Symphony’s motto, ‘Survival is insufficient’, comes from Star Trek: Voyager. This touring troupe of musicians and Shakespearian actors is all that connects a few tiny surviving communities with each other and with the lost past. This is art as a heroic act, the candle in the dark. Mandel lets us feel the precarious, vivid enchantment of those theatrical performances:
‘Kirsten as Titania, a crown of flowers on her close-cropped hair, the jagged scar on cheekbone half-erased by candlelight. The audience is silent. Sayid, circling her in a tuxedo that Kirsten found in a dead man’s closet… ’
This novel takes the strength and capacity of women for granted just as it takes a multicultural future for granted, a future where Kirsten and others like her fight to preserve what is essential to civilization when the cities have all been snuffed out.

Vanessa Fogg (blog, twitter)

Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty is a soaring and ambitious work, “epic” in every sense—portraying the rise and fall of empires, a dizzyingly large cast, plot turns and betrayals, astonishing battle scenes. The plot draws on history and legends surrounding the founding of China’s Han Dynasty, but Liu adds his own twists and ornamentations and sets the action in the imaginary archipelago world of Dara.

The story of a new empire’s rise is also the story of the rise of women. This isn’t clear at first; like the cunning strategists of his novels, Liu plays a long game. Some criticized The Grace of Kings for the fact that its strong, intelligent women characters are often sidelined in favor of the stories of male generals, kings, and fighters.

But toward the end of The Grace of Kings, Gin Mazoti, a brilliant woman general, makes her appearance to lead an emperor’s army. In the second novel, women begin to take center stage. The patriarchal world of Dara is under threat from forces both external and within, and needs people of all talent—male and female, rich and poor. Women scientists, engineers, strategists, soldiers, and queens work with each other as well as with men to save their world. One of the greatest treats of this novel is seeing that teamwork: women working together, supporting one another, and loving one another. The Dandelion Dynasty is about revolutions fought both on the battlefield and in the mind and heart. I’m very much looking forward to the next installment.

Over to you, dear readers! What are the best feminist SFF stories/novels with POC protag(s) that we should be reading?

Monday, 15 May 2017

Accessing the Future reviewed in BMJ

Our 2015 anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction, Accessing the Future guest edited by Kathryn Allan, has received a fabulous, in-depth, lengthy and positive review in an imprint of the British Medical Journal. (The journal Medical Humanities has been running since 2000, and the fourth issue of 2016 was themed “Science Fiction and Medical Humanities.”)

This review, by Hannah Tweed (University of Glasgow), is behind BMJ’s paywall, but the first couple of paragraphs are available at the link:

http://mh.bmj.com/content/42/4/e36

(Full citation: Medical Humanities 42.4 (December 2016): Science Fiction and Medical Humanities. Pp. e36-e37.)

Dr Tweed summarizes the goals of the anthology in some detail, including the fact that the volume is not just about accessibility, but endeavors to be accessible as far as possible. She then discusses most of the stories individually, drawing out themes including intersectionality and disability, access, autonomy, invisible disability and communication. This is a scholarly review from a critical studies and English literature tutor who I think really gets what we were going for, so it’s great to see it in such an august venue! (If you get the chance to read the whole thing—try logging onto wifi in your local university library if they subscribe—do, it’s worth it.)

Friday, 28 April 2017

Recommend: Kick-ass women from history

For this week's "Recommend" post we’re asking you to tell us your favorite kick-ass women from history. Understand that brief however you like (there’s a range of interpretations below), and tell us about these figures—why they’re “kick-ass,” why they mean something to you, a story from their lives… inspire us. To get us going, we asked a few authors, editors and other friends of TFF for their suggestions:

Maria Grech Ganado (profile; interview)

A German abbess of a Benedictine monastery, medieval mystic, philosopher, writer, poet, hagiographer, scientific natural historian. And, before the term was invented, a feminist. Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) established for herself a female identity never recorded before in her exclusively patriarchal historical context—the Church.

Preaching was forbidden women, but Pope Eugene III requested she travel widely to preach the visionary theology she wrote 3 volumes of, was consulted by both religious and social personages, invented a new language, composed the first musical morality play, Ordo Virtutum. Her liturgical chants still enchant many, including me, and her natural medicine influenced that of the New Movement.

Woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman’—Hildegard’s writing exalts woman and God’s creation of beauty, recommends beer to give her nuns rosy cheeks. She refers openly to the joys of sex, scorning concepts of woman’s ‘uncleanness’. She challenged authority, obviously male, and got her way. I suspect her insistence that she was an unlearned member of the weaker sex was tactical rather than humble, crucial at the time to ensure her power. A woman after my own heart.

Regina de Búrca (twitter; TFF)

Sometimes when life, neoliberalism and/or bigotry brings me down, I like to remind myself of my kick-ass female ancestors to help me feel stronger. As with all family trees, some ancestors are more colourful than others, and I have to say I'm pretty proud to have the blood of Granuaile, the Pirate Queen of Connacht, Ireland, running through my veins. Born around 1530, legend has it that as a child she cut off all her hair to disguise herself as a boy so she could join her father on a trading mission. He had refused to take her as at that time it was considered bad luck to have women on board ships. This is the source of her name Gráinne Mhaol (or bald Gráinne), anglicised as Granuaile.

Salic Law forbade women to become leaders, however this did not deter Granuaile from becoming chieftain of the O’Malley clan, leading an army of 200 men and being captain of a fleet of ships. Famous for leading an army against the English, by 1593, she had a catalogue of treasonous activities levelled against her by the English Court. This didn’t stop her from travelling to Greenwich Palace to negotiate successfully with Queen Elizabeth I for the release of her two sons and half-brother.

For me, Granuaile personifies tearing down limitations imposed by gender and societal expectations, and her memory inspires me never to take no for an answer.

Djibril al-Ayad (TFF)

My candidate for kick-ass woman from history is, Malahayati (sometimes also known in Indonesian as Keumalahayati), the late sixteenth-century Sumatran admiral and stateswoman under the Sultan of Aceh. After graduating from Islamic and then military schools, and a successful career as a naval commander leading to her appointment as first admiral of the growing Aceh navy, the historical record recounts several major naval victories under her command, including over the Dutch colonial and piratical expeditions in 1599 and 1601, but it is telling that as well as a formidable commander, she was trusted with international diplomacy and financial negotiation as well, including a trade agreement with Elizabeth I of England (who joined the Dutch in choosing to treaty rather than attempt war against the well-defended Aceh Sultanate). Legend also has it that Malahayati, herself the widow of a naval commander, in the 1580s had recruited a force of between 1,000 and 2,000 war widows to serve in her navy, driven by vengeance against the Portuguese conquerors of Malacca, on the reasoning that these widows would be a highly motivated military force. So maybe I cheated, there are actually 2,000 kick-ass women from history in my story!

Omi Wilde (story; story)

Hide Hyodo photograph, [ca. 1935].
City of Richmond Archives and
Richmond Retired Teachers Association,
photograph # 2014 6 5.
One of my favourite kickass women from history, Hide Hyodo Shimizu, was born in Vancouver—the same town I was!—in 1908, just one year after white-Canadians targeted Japanese-Canadians in violent race riots, and throughout her lifetime she battled oppression and prejudice. At eighteen she became the first Japanese-Canadian to hold a teacher’s certificate. In her twenties she was part of a Japanese-Canadian delegation that petitioned the Canadian government for voting rights, which they were denied. Three years later, the start of World War II increased government-sanctioned oppression to even more shameful levels, including forcing Japanese-Canadians to register with the police and the Canadian government’s theft of Japanese-Canadian citizens’ homes and belongings. After the majority of Japanese-Canadians were forcibly removed from their homes along the BC coast, Hide continued to work as a public school teacher but dedicated her weekends and evenings to providing an education to the children imprisoned in the internment camp in Hastings Park, Vancouver—all while unpaid, preparing for her own imprisonment, and working around a restrictive curfew. Later, when she and the majority of Japanese-Canadians had been further removed to internment camps in Interior BC, she traveled from camp to camp planning primary school curriculum and training highschool students to teach the younger children. After the war, still prohibited from returning home to coastal BC, Hide settled in Ontario and continued to be a dynamic activist and educator. In the 1980’s and 90’s she was honoured in many ways, including being awarded the Order of Canada, but I think she’d be most pleased by the multiple scholarships named for her. To explore and learn more about Hide and Nikkei history, the website nikkeistories.com is an awesome resource.

Your turn! Please give us your recommendations of kick-ass women from history in the comments.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Lori Selke's Earworm of the Month

Our friend and erstwhile guest editor Lori Selke has a new column/newsletter, the “Earworm of the Month Club,” based on a similar column Lori used to write for SF Weekly, but now written with complete editorial freedom and more space to rant. You can subscribe to the Earworm of the Month Club by going to Tinyletter and entering your email. It'll be sent to you once a month (at most), and your address won't be used for any other purpose.


If you’d like to support Lori or thank her for these posts, you can tip her the price of a cup of coffee (or anything else) at ko-fi.com/lselke.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Recommend: Optimistic SF

This time, we're asking for recommendations of optimistic science fiction. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below. First, a few ideas from editors, authors, reviewers and other friends:

Tracie Welser (author page)

A common enough complaint about science fiction is that much of recent writing in the genre is dystopian or deeply pessimistic. Gone are the golden age stories about exploration and hope, to which I say "good riddance," as much of the sense of wonder and speculation of those years drew heavily on imperialist themes and angles of approach to "others." It seems inevitable that trends such as social suppression of dissent, growing divide between economic classes, environmental degradation and rapidly changes in technology produce distinctly dark responses from science fiction writers. Lauren Buekes' Moxieland comes to mind. In the early aughts, this complaint seemed louder than usual (just search for "positive science fiction" to take a peek at posts from Time and others decrying the grimness of SFF books and film). There were even suggestions that negative stories stifle scientific innovation, rather than inspire.

I, for one, think dystopian narratives while not inherently hopeful are backdrops for hope, where solidarity and struggle are elevated. The popularity of dystopia themes in young adult fiction (ie, Hunger Games) is not so surprising, as the sub-genre is inclined to take risks and whack fascism firmly on the nose, a sensibility enjoyed by young readers and adults alike. Similarly, seemingly hopeless stories, of shattered civilization and economic despair (Oryx and Crake, The Wind-up Girl) offers some kernels of resistance and revolution. Attempts at overtly positive science fiction in the recent past are harder to come by.

Two that come to mind are METAtropolis edited by John Scalzi. A series of shared world stories by different authors, the collection posits some realistic (read: gritty) futurism but with hopeful notes about urban community. The second is the anthology Hieroglyph, which includes the notable, playful story by Charlie Jane Anders titled "The Day it All Ended." The history of the Hieroglyph Project itself is fairly interesting, a deliberate effort to create and publish more positive visions of science fictional future.

Maureen Kincaid Speller (Paper Knife)

The world is not an optimistic place right now; it’s been a long time since science fiction felt optimistic, to the point where the issues explored over the last twenty or thirty years in fiction have become commonplace in daily life. In common with many, I fear for the future and often find it hard to read sf these days because the brain can only stand so much dystopia. It was a genuine pleasure, then, to read Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station recently and to feel that perhaps not all has been lost. Tidhar’s fiction doesn’t offer much in the way of solutions but there is the promise nonetheless that life will continue, and not necessarily a bad life either. The people (and I use this term in the broadest sense) who gather around the Central Station to sell food, tend bar, collect books, solve problems, look out for one another, fall in love, practise their religions, aren’t so far removed from the people I know. It is both encouraging and comforting to know that at least one writer believes in the persistence of ordinary daily life, no matter what.

Don Riggs (faculty page; alumnus page)

When I was in the 8th grade, I first learned about the Big Bang theory—the actual theory, not the television sitcom. The ultimate implication of the universe starting off with a bang and an unceasing expansion is entropy, which is the tapering off of the energy of the universe until the Heat Death of the Universe happens. I was thoroughly depressed by this, and so, when our next theory was presented, the Oscillating Universe, where the universe expands as far as it goes until it then is sucked back into another primordial point of all matter, which will again explode in another Big Bang, I decided that was the theory I wished to embrace. “Utriusque Cosmi,” a short story by Robert Charles Wilson (in Neil Clarke’s Galactic Empires, 2017), combines the story of a sixteen-year- old girl living in a trailer with her meth-addict mother and her abusive boyfriend, with that of that girl’s future self, “raptured up” to the Fleet of the intelligences of creatures saved from dying worlds, itself pursued by the Invisible Enemy, which ultimately turns out to be a group of Elder Beings that in turn “rapture up” the Fleet and thus survive the next collapse of the universe.

Stephanie Saulter (author page)

It’s a shame that science fiction isn’t a more generally optimistic genre. Too often we extrapolate possible futures so dire and hopeless the message seems to be that humanity is aboard a rocketship to all-but-inescapable doom, or at best unalleviated misery. I can’t think of too many writers who buck this grim trend, but among the few is the late and greatly lamented Iain M. Banks, whose Culture novels are the ultimate vision of a far-future, galaxy-spanning, inclusive and egalitarian polity in which humans are only one of many species and virtually omniscient AIs, instead of being the harbingers of our destruction, are committed and wryly indulgent protectors of organic life. The Culture’s liberal ethos combined with flexibility and at times ruthless pragmatism allows it to withstand assaults from without and respond to concerns from within. I’d suggest The Player of Games for a first visit.

Another exception is the grande dame of speculative fiction, Ursula Le Guin. Her SF looks at harmful gender and social constructs, the iniquities of politics and commerce, and conflicts between ideology and idealism with an eye less to endless iterations of the problem than envisioning possible solutions. The Dispossessed is an extraordinary book.

What are some other positive examples of science fiction? Please share recommendations in the comments.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

New Issue: 2017.40

“One human life is deeper than the ocean. Strange fishes and sea-monsters and mighty plants live in the rock-bed of our spirits.”

—Ben Okri

Issue 2017.40

 [ Issue 2017.40; Cover art © 2017 Carmen Moran ] Flash fiction
Short stories
Poetry
Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: EPUB | Mobi

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Present and Future Struggle for Teen Girls’ Self-Esteem

On the planet Soranen, the Sor people are a genetic mixture of the Ellarisor and Human species, both now presumed extinct. Teen twins Lerris and Graika, defying Soranen’s laws, dare to fly a mini-jet to the edge of the atmosphere. There they uncover a dangerous mystery that inspires them to seek the origins of their Human blood.
Guest post by Anne E. Johnson

The edict “write what you know” might not seem applicable to science fiction, particularly that which takes place in the far future and in another, unknown world. But I would argue this is one of the very purposes of science fiction. A purely imaginary setting somehow intensifies the realities we face in the mundane quotidian. I tried to demonstrate this in my YA novel, Space Surfers. One of its main characters represents my late sister, Allegra, and is meant to show what she might have become if she had lived.

The twin teen characters Gaika and Lerris have the blood of two species: Human and Ellarisor, neither of which are believed to exist anymore. One of the primary arcs of Space Surfers tracks how the two protagonists learn to relate to their heritage as they sort it out. Being part Human, they both go through some recognizable problems of adolescence. With Lerris, it’s the fear that his father will be disappointed in him, and the realization that he is, in fact, rather disappointed in his father. For Graika, the problem is more general, and oh, so common among girls: she doesn’t believe that she’s worth anything or that her natural gifts are something to be proud of.

That was Allegra, in a nutshell. She was smart, funny, musically talented, and unwilling to make those traits her focus once she felt the crush of teen peer pressure. She dated boys (and then men) who didn’t respect her, married one of them, and died of cancer at the age of 29. And the last months of her life, in her final brief bout of decent health, she told me a secret: she had a dream of getting divorced and opening her own greenhouse. But that dream never came close to being a reality.

So, when I wrote Graika’s character many years later, I gave her the chance Allegra never had. Space Surfers is in part about figuring out who you are, owning it, and being proud of it. There’s a specific parallel I was careful to draw between Graika and Allegra: each had adults in her life who supported her. It’s a different problem than that faced by girls with no backing at home. Just as my parents were both professional people who took it as given that their kids had brains and potential, so it is for Graika and Lerris. Their dad designs aircraft and their mom is a chemist. The father wants his son to be a pilot, but he also expects his daughter to become some sort of professional. Their mother’s fault is putting too much pressure on Graika to excel in the sciences. The result, similar to what happened to Allegra, is that Graika rebels by burying her intellect and trying to seem “normal.”

Anne E. Johnson
I won’t give too many spoilers, but I will say that Graika eventually finds her way. She doesn’t get all the answers, of course, because none of us has those, but at least by the end of the novel she’s uncovered a sense of self-worth and a way to move forward. She figures out what her best contributions to the world might be, regardless of what the well-meaning authorities in her life advise or expect. What goes along with that change is a willingness to let herself be loved, both by her family and romantically by someone whom she would never have considered before.

Although Space Surfers takes place hundreds of years in the future in a solar system I invented, I hope it resonates with young humans of our time and our planet, especially girls and women. Graika’s lack of love for herself and her dreams may well be a universal issue—no matter where you are in the universe. I just hope Allegra’s spirit is floating close enough to read over my shoulder.


You can purchase Space Surfers directly from the publisher or on Amazon.

Learn more about Anne E. Johnson by visiting her website or following her on Facebook.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Miguel Santos Ermal: Prologue (part II)

Here is part II of Miguel Santos’s graphic introduction to his webcomic, Ermal. (You can find the first part at last week's post.)



I am a freelance artist for pen and paper games, magazines and indie comics. I live in a periferal province of the pre apocalyptic European Union and I'm most interested in History/Politics, speculative fiction, outdoor activities and simple conversations while drinking a good stout or porter beer.

Last week we saw what happened when the cold war got hot. Now the story begins with the arrival of a rider in a small town recovering from the end of civilization.


(click for larger image)

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Recommend: mythological heroines

We're going to be running a new series of posts over the next few months, in which we ask readers to recommended their best examples of a particular literary genre, type of person, or other cool topic. To kick off the idea, we would like you to tell us your favorite mythological heroines—and why, what makes them amazing, heroic, feminist, progressive, compelling, whatever. Please leave a comment with your examples, justifications or pure gushings of love. To get you started, we’ve asked a few editors, authors and other friends of TFF to give their recommendations.

Margrét Helgadóttir (web page; FB)

Among the most famous and widespread of Inuit myths is the legend of the goddess known as Sedna, Nuliayuk or Taluliyuk, the Mother of the Sea. More than one version of the Sedna creation myth exists but each describes how her father, for different reasons, takes her to sea in his kayak, chops off her fingers, and then hands, when she attempted to return to the boat. She sinks to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and her body parts become the animals of the sea and she becomes the Mother of the Deep, the woman who controls all sea beasts and is half-woman and half-fish.

I find the legend about Sedna very fascinating. Despite her cruel death she gains a major role in the Inuit everyday life. The Arctic Ocean is a major food source and Sedna was worshiped by hunters who depended on her goodwill. She was considered a vengeful goddess, and hunters must placate and pray to her to release the sea animals from the ocean depths for their hunt. Other legends however tell about the good woman who lives under the sea who will keep children away from the dangerous places when they play on the shore. Mythology also says that when an Inuit breaks a taboo in society, Sedna’s hair gets filthy and entangles the animals, preventing the hunters from catching any food. The shaman must clean her hair and talk with her to find out which taboos were broken and communicate these lessons back to society.

Rachel Linn (author page)

The first time I remember hearing about Yuki-onna was in Kwaidan, a film by director Masaki Kobayashi that consists of a series of supernatural stories. Yuki-onna’s nature is difficult to pin down, but she is along the lines of a spirit or ghost and she often appears during snowfall. There are varied stories of Yuki-onna, though most of them begin with a mortal man falling in love with her and end with her disappearing like melting snow.

Yuki-onna is usually portrayed as a perilous influence, but I find the idea of her comfortingly heroic because of my own experiences with snow. I am particularly frightened of hypothermia because I became cold enough to hallucinate the first time I went for a hike in the dead of winter. I often feel that I am only a capable mountaineer with the help of modern insulation technology—water/windproof jackets, chemical warmers, etc.—and have a hard time valuing what I have done because of this. While on cold weather mountaineering or backpacking trips, as I fight with the cold, the image of Yuki-onna stepping out of a snowy forest in below-freezing temperatures (naked or dressed in a delicate kimono), is eerily reassuring. (The book Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost is a great account of ghosts and spirits in Japanese culture, if you want to learn more.)

Jessica Campbell (web page)

I first got excited about Psyche while I was working on my undergraduate thesis on fairy tales and discovered how similar “Cupid and Psyche” was to my favorite tale, “Beauty and the Beast.” Psyche’s story is complicated by the fact that for a long time she interacts with Cupid only in the dark and therefore does not know what he looks like; her jealous sisters feed her suspicion that he hides his appearance because he is some hideous beast. But it turns out that her mysterious lover is actually better than a human—he is a god, and an extremely attractive one at that. Now, as a queer person, I love the statement on nonnormative relationships that we can read into this development: a lover of an unexpected kind may turn out to be exactly the one you want. Oh, and did I mention that Psyche goes on a quest to recover her lover from the machinations of his controlling mother, Venus, at the end? For an intriguing fusion of this story with “Beauty and the Beast,” check out Tanith Lee’s story “Beauty” from the delightfully titled 1983 collection Red as Blood: Tales from the Sisters Grimmer.

Valeria Vitale (TFF)

I encountered Isis, Egyptian goddess of magic and the Underworld, when I was working on the 3D reconstruction of a temple dedicated to her. The story that won my heart is a peculiar one. During a (divine) family dinner, Set, a jealous rival of Isis and her brother-spouse Osiris, challenges all the guests to fit into a beautiful wooden box. If you think that it doesn’t sound like a good idea to step into something that your arch-enemy has built and that looks very much like a coffin, you are not being too suspicious. Once Osiris is inside the box, Set nails it quickly and dumps it in the river.

When Isis finds out what has happened, she immediately goes looking for the body of her partner, to properly bury him. She travels Egypt from corner to corner. I imagine her on a small boat, always followed by one or two silent crocodiles. And finally she finds the box floating! But Set, furious that his plan has been spoiled, chops the body into 14 parts and scatters them all around Egypt. Again, Isis starts her search. Patiently and stubbornly, she collects all the pieces of Osiris’ body to bring him back to life with magic. She finds all but one: his phallus. There are a couple versions of what happened next. One says that another god gave her a golden phallus for Osiris. In my favorite, though, she makes one herself, from mud, and then “blows life into it” (yep!). I love Isis’ determination, her proactive optimism, her faith in her own strength and resources, her unshaken loyalty. I like that it’s her rescuing the male character. Her story may also hint at the fact that a couple doesn’t need a biological phallus to have good sex :-)

Dolly Garland (web page; twitter)

A quintessential Hindu woman, idolized for her inner fire—born of the literal fire—Draupadi is often cited as the catalyst for the great war of Mahabharata. Though she plays such a pivotal role in the epic from which the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita is derived, Draupadi is rarely mentioned as a heroine or a central character, let alone a superhero. If she is, it is as the cause of the war, or as an example of a “typical” mischief-making female.

Though far from flawless, she was truly the woman behind the men. I believe the reason she was a designated catalyst of the Mahabharata (the Great War) in the long game played by Lord Krishna to rejuvenate the human race was because while her husbands—the mighty Pandavas—were brave and true of heart, they hid behind duty and tradition. Draupadi forced them to acknowledge that if they stand for truth and justice going to war was the right thing to do. She was the catalyst because she possessed the strength to do what hundreds of men could not—to raise her voice against injustice rather than hide behind duty and tradition.

In the Indian society which still, in 2017, often values traditions above everything else, Draupadi, a character that is so embedded in mythology and thousands of years old, is a true superhero.



Now tell us about your favorite mythological heroines in the comments!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Miguel Santos Ermal: Prologue (part I)

This week we welcome Miguel Santos [DeviantArt] [TFF profile], who has been illustrating for TFF since 2009, to tell us a bit about his webcomic, Ermal. Like most artists, Miguel speaks best in images, so his introduction to the comic, almost a prologue, is in graphic form, below. This is the first of two parts…



I am a freelance artist for pen and paper games, magazines and indie comics. I live in a periferal province of the pre apocalyptic European Union and I'm most interested in History/Politics, speculative fiction, outdoor activities and simple conversations while drinking a good stout or porter beer.

I started Ermal in the summer of 2015, planning to launch a 6 page chapter every month. I didn't fail, yet. The webcomic will run at least until 2018. It has an end. Maybe I'll revisit it later with side stories and prequels. The first 6 pages are an intro to what is happening in the region where Ermal is set. Basically the cold war got hot.

(click for larger image)

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Interview with Isabel Yap

Today, The Future Fire Assistant Editor Tracie Welser talks to Isabel Yap about her story in Fox Spirit Books' Asian Monsters.

Isabel Yap writes fiction and poetry, works in the tech industry, and drinks tea. Born and raised in Manila, she has also lived in California, Tokyo, and London. In 2013 she attended the Clarion Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared on Tor.com, Book Smugglers Publishing, Uncanny Magazine, Shimmer Magazine, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume 2, among other venues. She is @visyap on Twitter and her website is isabelyap.com.

I was enthralled and horrified (in the best way) by your story "Grass Cradle, Glass Lullaby." Can you tell our readers more about the tiyanak, the story's monster, and how this story developed?
Filipino mythology is so rich that I had trouble deciding which creature I wanted to explore. I'd always wanted to write a story about a tiyanak and it's not one I'd seen that often, so I decided to give it a shot. Like many Filipino creatures, the tiyanak has many different depictions – in some versions it's a demon baby with sharp teeth; in others it's a baby that reveals its true nature as an old, goblin-like man. I asked friends about any possible encounters and also went poking around online.


Once I decided on using tiyanak, the story's other elements slowly came together. I wasn't planning on the fragmented narrative, but I tried a few times to tell the story directly and it didn't work. I realized the tone and the emotion of the protagonist would have to carry the story. I drew mainly on two themes: one is loneliness and isolation; the other is love without limits. I wrote the entire first draft by hand on a train because I was swiftly approaching the deadline.


On your website is the lovely line “I want the heartache, the broken glass, the stories that nibble at my guts”. This creepy tale of a would-be mother's desperate love is still gnawing at the insides of my mind! Did you scare yourself, writing this story?
I'm really easily scared – I don't watch horror movies usually because the images stay with me for way too long. But for some reason, I write quite a lot of horror, and my own stories actually don't scare me – probably because I feel somewhat in control with how things turn out. But if I'm writing really late at night, sometimes I get jumpy!


Also, that line actually came from an essay that was published on Interfictions – you can read it here! :D


The Asian Monsters anthology features several stories about creatures who appear to humans in innocent-seeming disguise. I've always struggled with stories about monstrous children (Pet Sematary, Children of the Corn and so on). Would you characterize this theme as a horror or the uncanny, and what about this appeals to you?
I think it's a mix of both horror and the uncanny. Children can be really frightening in and of themselves – there's something about that combination of innocence and being demanding and self-centered, almost to the point of ruthlessness, that makes horror stories about children have more 'creepiness' to them. It's like you don't want to believe it's possible that they can act that way – it goes against everything we know (or think we know). Personally, I always like themes that lend themselves well to ambiguity. I think it's more interesting that way. :)


What are you working on these days?
First up will be working on revisions for some stories I temporarily shelved due to 2016 craziness. One is a novella about a sorceress, a runaway princess, and a bird with a healing song set in a mythological precolonial Philippines. Another is a novelette about ex-child soldiers, trained in the use of weapons called Triggers, who are now bounty hunters...in space! Lastly I've been fascinated by the assignment of roles to boy and girl groups in kpop...I have nothing but that theme yet, but hopefully a story will come to me sometime. I have a lot of ideas, so I'm just working on getting some semblance of a writing practice back. I'm determined to make 2017 a good year for writing!