Sunday 27 October 2019

New issue 2019.51

“Right now the Amazon, home to millions of my relatives, is burning. If it goes on like this, twenty years from now my house will become a desert and my people will be at risk of becoming history. Governments … are not helping. They promote hate-based narratives and a development model that attacks nature and indigenous peoples. These governments are trying to put us in extinction. They are part of the problem.”

—Artemisa Xakriabá

Issue 2019.51

 [ Issue 2019.51; Cover art © 2019 Saleha Chowdhury ] Flash fiction
Short stories

Full issue and editorial

Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB | Mobi

Thursday 24 October 2019

Interview with Dawn Vogel

We’re very happy to chat again with an old friend of TFF, author Dawn Vogel. Dawn’s mythical pirate story “Salt in Our Veins” was in 2016’s Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, and her story of childhood monsters “I Believe” was in TFF #49 earlier this year. The third volume of her Brass and Glass steampunk trilogy, The Boiling Sea, is out this week from DefCon One Publishing. She came by to talk to us about her writing and some of where it comes from.

In the turbulent skies of the Republic, it's not always easy to outrace the storm…

With their destination determined, Captain Svetlana Tereshchenko and the crew of The Silent Monsoon are in pursuit of the Last Emperor's Hoard and the fabled Gem of the Seas. Or they will be, once they rescue their pilot, make a deal with a notorious scoundrel, and outfit themselves for their plunge into the Boiling Sea. When they realize what the Gem of the Seas is capable of, they must struggle with their loyalties, morality, and unforeseen complications to choose the right path. With alliances tested and rivalries resurfacing, Svetlana must lead her crew and associates on their most dangerous mission yet!

Dawn Vogel's academic background is in history, so it's not surprising that much of her fiction is set in earlier times. By day, she edits reports for historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business, co-edits Mad Scientist Journal, and tries to find time for writing. Her steampunk adventure series, Brass and Glass, is available from DefCon One Publishing. She is a member of Broad Universe, SFWA, and Codex Writers. She lives in Seattle with her husband, author Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. Visit her at

TFF: Was your interest in history fueled by your literary taste, or was it the other way round?

Dawn Vogel: The best answer I can give to this is that it’s a weird combination of the two. When I was a kid, our library had a robust section of probably slightly fictionalized biographies of historical figures written for children, and I devoured those. I also read fiction, but any time there was a new biography on that shelf, it was the first book I grabbed. There was something about reading books about long-dead folks that appealed to me, even as a child, and even if younger me would have said she didn’t really like history. It was inevitable that I would eventually realize I liked history enough to major in it in college and go on to get a master’s degree. I’m lucky enough to have found a job that is history-adjacent (I work with historians, and occasionally get to help them out with historical research), and when I started writing, it felt natural to me to write a lot of historical fiction of various stripes.

Do you see Steampunk as a progressive literary genre? What do you think about its idealisation of one of the most brutal times in colonial history?

DV: There are portions of the steampunk genre that I would say are not entirely progressive, but at the same time, there are also portions that can be. A lot of the divide comes from whether authors are focused on recreating the world as it was (or at least the world as it is portrayed in history books, which are written by the victors) or reimagining the historical world through the lens of modern ideologies. For me personally, I place the emphasis in steampunk on the “punk” portion of the word, and prefer my steampunk to be counter-cultural, multi-cultural, and against some of those horrible aspects of history including the oppression of women and minorities, widespread industrialization that led to wealth disparity and subjugation of the working classes, and brutality and paternalism toward colonial peoples. I won’t deny that the history of the time period in which most steampunk takes place is a nasty, brutal mess. The best I can do is illuminate some of that subject with characters acting against that status quo, like in my Brass and Glass series, particularly in the final book, Brass and Glass 3: The Boiling Sea. So my particular flavor of steampunk is much more resistance to the norms and fighting for people without privilege, placing it on the more progressive end of the spectrum.

Are the stories in your collection, Denizens of Distant Realms, carefully selected/written for the purpose, or are they just a selection of your most recent publications and new work?

DV: The stories for my collections are generally selected because they have a common theme or thread running through them. I’ve previously published collections of my historical fiction (with essays about the real history), dark urban fantasy, and unlikely superheroes. For Denizens of Distant Realms, I selected six stories that could theoretically all take place within the same fantasy world, one that has magic, mermaids, dragons, and more. Two of the stories, in particular, were written with the idea in mind that they took place in the same world, many centuries apart. The other stories fit in well enough that I could imagine them all being in the same world, even though they are not all at the same time.

Would you tell us about the monsters you befriended in your childhood? How are they doing nowadays?

DV: I can’t recall their name, but my mom tells me I had an imaginary friend who lived in a round pink house, with no corners. She says I was very insistent about the no corners thing, likely because one of my punishments as a child was to stand in the corner. I would like to think that this friend is still enjoying their corner free house, though I hope they’ve repainted—I imagine the color was roughly Pepto-Bismal pink. On the less imaginary friend side of things, but still in the realm of a big dose of imagination as a child, I used to pretend that when I had to take a nap, my older cousins would use the light in my room as a staircase to come and visit me, so we could play instead of napping. My naptime cousins are probably still playing somewhere (they had a lot of toys at their house).

Illustration from “I Believe” by Katharine A. Viola
Your story “Salt in Our Veins” (Fae Visions of the Mediterranean) is an exciting adventure with pirates and sea-creatures. But it is also about identity and acceptance. Could you tell us a bit about how you made the interplay between these two elements work?

DV: A good deal of what I write is young adult fiction, which often has themes of identity and acceptance. With the young adult protagonist of “Salt in Our Veins,” it seemed to fall naturally in a direction of a young woman trying to find her place in a group of friends, while knowing that she wasn’t exactly like them. This is a common theme in my stories, quite likely because of my own experiences of feeling different from my peers. I was younger than the other kids in my class after starting school a year early, which led to a perception of me being less mature than a lot of them, still wrapped up in imagination and play as opposed to more “serious” things like fashion and boys. As for the pirates and sea creatures and adventures, that’s just fun stuff that turns it from a typical story about the odd girl out into a fantasy story.

What are you writing now?

DV: I always have a lot of projects going at any given time, so I’m working on poems and short stories that change frequently as I finish one thing and move on to the next. In terms of longer work, though, I’m currently revising a young adult urban fantasy book about a fae exile trying to survive supernatural reform school while someone is out to get her. I’ve also got a 1950s superhero detective novella that’s drafted but not revised, and next on my plate to write is a middle grade wizard novel. My writing is all over the place in terms of genre and theme and reader level, and there’s always something new cooking in my brain!

Thanks for joining us, Dawn. Good luck with both the story collection and the new novel!

You can find out more about and purchase Brass and Glass 3: The Boiling Sea at DefCon One Publishing.

Sunday 13 October 2019

Open Access Monsters

It’s been just over a year now since the Making Monsters anthology of stories, poems and essays featuring classical monsters was published. Co-edited by Emma Bridges of the Institute of Classical Studies and Djibril al-Ayad, this unusual mix of fiction and nonfiction has been quite widely read and acquired by academic libraries (e.g. HARL), and was one of the most fun publications to work on as an editor.

The academic world is very keen on open access publication, since it is important that the written outputs of (publicly-funded) research are accessible to as wide a public audience as possible. Making Monsters is technically a “Green Open Access” publication, since all authors retain copyright to their work they therefore have the right to post a digital copy of their pieces to an open access repository, if they so desire, for anyone to read for free. (In fact we actively encourage this, as does academic practice.) A few of the academic authors of nonfiction pieces have done this already and we’ll collect the links here as we learn about them. Technically fiction authors could do this too, but the more important implication of owning their own rights for them is the potential to republish their work wherever and whenever they like.

The open access and/or free pieces I know about so far are:
If you come across any other pieces self-archived or published elsewhere, please let us know and we'll be happy to add them below. We don't believe this reduces the impact or the value of our print publication: far from it, in an economy where attention is the most sought-after commodity, anything that increases the chance of our work being found by potential readers can only be a good thing.

If these papers have whetted your appetite, the rest of the book is full of stories, poems, illustrations and essays, and can be bought in paperback or e-book from the links at the Making Monsters press page.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Meekling Press fundraiser

We welcome this visit from Rachel Linn, whose wonderful story “Glow in the Dark” we published a few years ago, and who has since illustrated several pieces for us. Rachel is here to talk about the Meekling Press fundraiser, and we'll let her tell you what that’s all about.

I first heard about Meekling Press from an editor at The Coachella Review who had accepted one of my illustrated nonfiction pieces. She said that she liked my illustrations as they were, but thought I should consider making handmade books to create more play between content and form. Meekling Press is dedicated to producing books in creative formats (I particularly love On the Stairs and Muscles Involved, both of which you can see at I sent them a proposal for a project, a surreal series of linked stories (an earlier draft was a choose-your-own-adventure story) with moving illustrations, which was accepted and will be coming out around this time next year. The video and image in this post are some of the prototypes for this book (not the finished illustrations, which we’ll be working on over the spring and summer). I would love to see additional fantastical stories housed in strange book formats—and I particularly enjoy creating books that encourage reader interaction.

Concept video for Household Tales

Here’s their fundraiser pitch:
Meekling has been making and publishing weird and nifty books and objects since 2012. We started with a tiny little 3x5 letterpress, and with the help of our awesome community, we’ve made more than 20 publications, from hand-sewn chapbooks to floppy disk ebooks, to an accordion book that stretches all the way across the room, and a manifesto in the shape of a trash can. We’ve also turned our fictional lecture series, Meekling TALKS, into an annual tradition. We love making publications that play with the relationship between form and content and we’re hoping to continue doing that while bringing it to a bigger audience. We’re starting to travel outside of Chicago and make lots of new friends, and we’re also starting to get all Legitimate, doing things like getting ISBN numbers and Forming a Business and getting better Distribution for our Books—stuff that will help us help our authors spread their words farther and wider.

We’ve got seven books lined up for the next couple years, and we need your help to take this gosh darn press to the next level and get these dang bloody books printed and out into the world. With lots & lots of wild and woolly “Prizes,” we’re putting the FUN back in FUNdraiser…

Here’s how Meekling describe my forthcoming book (which you can also pick up through the fundraiser):

Household Tales, by Rachel Linn: Feral children, a polar bear, scissors and paper, a snowstorm, a disorienting free fall. This one’s going to be a pop-up book.

It wasn’t the bear that had scarred her, but it would do. She even preferred this animal because it was a mythic, previously unknown species—perhaps the only one of its kind. Her hands balled into fists and she punched quietly at the snowy walls of her hiding place, biding her time. She did not want to die, she wanted to kill.

You can see more examples of my work or get in touch through my website at

Find out more about Meekling Press at, or support their fundraiser at Indiegogo.

Friday 4 October 2019

Interview with General Editor, Djibril al-Ayad

The Future Fire are celebrating with a bumper volume for this, our fiftieth issue—three times the word-length of our usual issues—full of novelettes and long poems. I am interviewing our General Editor, Djibril al-Ayad in recognition of this release.

Bruce Stenning: Djibril, how has the content of The Future Fire changed over the course of the last fifty issues, and what would you like to see more of in submissions in the future?

TFF #16 cover © 2009 Rachel H. White
Djibril al-Ayad: The main thing that changed in the key growth period between the first few issues and, let’s say, issue #10 or #15 when I think we could start to call ourselves a serious fiction venue, was the volume of submissions that come with greater exposure and reputation (or perhaps principally community). This volume allowed us to be highly selective in what we published, not only on quality (which we were already), but on theme, genre, social-political content, inclusiveness and representation. This in turn enabled us to build a reputation for—as we now specify it—social-political and progressive speculative fiction, feminist-, queer-, eco- and multicultural SF, which leads to our seeing more of that in the slush-pile and being able to publish more of it. I would love to see more fiction in some of the rarer intersections of these social-justice areas, and especially #ownvoices writing. Even better, we should be collaborating with editors from these and other marginalizations, so that we don’t become the self-appointed gatekeepers for these minority voices.

On a different note, I would also love to see more stories that use form, medium and genre in creative and mischievous ways: book reviews that turn out to be fabricated, fiction masquerading as non-fiction, ekphrasis, surreal or irreal stories, and other postmodern playfulness. We’ll say more about this later, in fact.

BS: I have always been a fan of stories—in any medium—that play with reality or are deceptive with our perception or pre-conception. Do you have any favourite examples of such stories?

DA: The most obvious way to play with expectations like this is by use of the unreliable narrator, either in the manner of Rashomon, where the narrative style (first person narration, flashback, etc.) leads the reader to expect truth, but turns out to be from a very relativist perspective or downright dishonest; or I suppose as in Memento, where the narrator is not only unreliable, but turns out to be actively rewriting reality by lying (to himself). Borges’s œuvre is full of fake book reviews, profiles of non-existent historical villains or mythographic accounts of newly invented folkloric monsters (apparently early in his career he would pass some of these off as non-fiction).

Can you think of any more recent examples, Bruce?

TFF #35 cover © 2015 Laura-Anca
BS: I think most examples that I can think of at the moment come from film. I need to watch Lucia y el sexo again; I seem to remember that messing with my head greatly, though it is fairly dark. Films that play with reality that I do recommend include: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Stranger than Fiction, and Donnie Darko (though I’ve been warned off the director’s cut). Most of Charlie Kaufman’s work I enjoy, and is often a recipe for much head-scratching. Outside film, I can’t help thinking of the way characters in Robert Rankin’s comedy novels interject and play with reality. The literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall is always fun, but—damn my memory—I’m finding it difficult to remember good examples beyond Rankin, and Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. So I shall now misdirect and bring us jarringly back to the real world (or is it?)

BS: The world seems to be caught in an increasingly alarming slipknot, with climate change, global inequality, nuclear threat, misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information, the emboldening of the far right, and precarious global market. Do you see Speculative Fiction playing a role in bringing awareness of these issues to people, or would you say that only people who are aware of these issues are likely to seek out or encounter Speculative Fiction?

DA: I don’t know that I’d say the group of people who read SF overlaps particularly with the group who are aware of what a mess things are and believe that we can do anything about it—or should. I’m not sure speculative fiction as a substitute for news or campaigning is particularly efficient either—but I do believe that it is important to recognise the political impact of SF, as all literature and indeed all art. We may not be able to convince anyone of anything, but there’s a lot to be said for helping those who do care to know they’re not alone; those who fear there’s nothing to be done to see even the possibility of resistance; to hold back the darkness for just a few moments with some hopeful imagination. Ursula Le Guin once pointed out the value in preaching to the choir (that it keeps the choir from giving up singing), and I think that’s a really nice metaphor. So I might argue that at this point in time there’s not a lot of point in inventing new dystopias, because you’ll have a tough time surpassing the worst of reality, but fiction with a glimmer of hope, just that fellowship of rebels, that community of survivors, that possibility of love—we all need a bit of that. (Although of course, sometimes the best place to show that little glimmer of hope, narratively, is in a dystopian setting, too…)

TFF #26 cover © 2013 Eric Asaris
BS: So would you like to see gently optimistic stories more closely grounded in the real-world, or is it important that speculative stories provide some distance from the world we are familiar with?

DA: Oh, I totally think there’s room for both, and everything in between. I’m usually not a fan of hardcore dystopia, but a particularly beautifully written one could surely win me over. And I enjoy the deeply optimistic utopian or solarpunk or decolonised stories very much as well—Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic series of stories are a great example of how a world that is magical, beautiful, queer, progressive and utopian in so many ways, can still contain gripping conflict, drama, evil, and suffering. There are also stories set in alien worlds with nothing we would recognise, although they are of course still to some extent stories about ourselves, our concerns, our cultural and political needs.

BS: And for stories that do draw heavily on the real-world, how important do you feel it is that the author is an expert in—or at least versed in—the fields that real-world stories are grounded in?

DA: For fiction, including speculative fiction, it’s important not to legislate away imagination and creativity. So if you want to write a story in a distant galaxy with slightly different laws of physics, but you’re not a theoretical physicist who could write such laws to be credible or at least consistently unbelievable—go the fuck ahead anyway! That said, if you write a “hard social science fiction” story in which your lack of qualification in the social sciences causes you to misunderstand or misrepresent human culture and society to the detriment of the story, then expect to be criticised for it. (Should you consult an expert or do some serious reading in sociology before you publish it? That’s entirely up to you, but the point is just because you’re emphatically allowed to write anything you like, doesn’t mean you should.) The same holds even more true for writing about cultures, languages, religions, heritage traditions that are not you own. Yes we should all write the diversity that we find in the world, but if you fuck up someone else’s culture, not only should you expect to be criticised for it, but you should be aware that if you are white, abled, cishet or Anglo-American etc., you are probably taking up space in the genre thanks to layers of privilege, that someone who could write the setting better could otherwise use. If you’re doing that (and I’m not going to tell you you can’t) then at the very least it behoves you to do the best, most informed, most respectful job of it you can.

BS: If you had to pick the place on Earth where you thought utopia would be most likely to spring from in the next century, where would it be?

TFF #45 cover © 2018 Saleha
DA: I can’t see it anywhere, honestly. There have been a few societies popped up over the years that could have been, if not utopian, at least interesting political advances, if only they were left alone to give it a try. But of course they won’t be left alone. I’m thinking of radically egalitarian and secular breakaway states, socio-economic experiments, altermondialist approaches and the like, that we’ve seen crushed by coups d’état, trade sanctions, or literal tanks and bombs. But isn’t that what happened to the original “Utopia”?

BS: There does seem to be a strong “inner space” precondition on social reform, in that socially destabilising impulses appear to come largely from self-interest and short-term thinking. There are counter-examples of peoples behaving in sustainable and equity-oriented manners. So do you see this as a “tipping point” scenario where we just need to add enough weight to the scales in order to see a positive feedback effect?

DA: I feel like it would probably take much more than that, but I do agree that every small act of selflessness and social progress is absolutely essential on the road to making the world a sustainable, liveable, and just place.

BS: To change the topic—role-playing games, while collaboratively creative, often fall into the trap of tropes and stereotypes, it being useful to have some common lexicon of ideas to draw consensus or mechanics from. Are there notable exceptions? What should RPGs be taking from SF to alleviate this?

DA: I don’t think this problem is particular to role-playing games, so much as it is to games with rule systems and settings written by people who don’t really have the imagination to go past settings established by Tolkien (or Lovecraft, or Roddenberry, or Gibson). The most egregious culprit in the RPG world may be Dungeons and Dragons, of course, which is a notoriously eugenicist world-system, with racial and gendered traits baked into the rules. At the same time, by virtue of being the largest and one of the oldest systems, with so much scope for inventing new worlds, D&D may be one of the easiest systems in which to subvert these fucked up rules and run a setting in which radical and progressive beliefs about (lack of) genetic and chromosomal determination apply instead. (It’s also particularly fun to play Cthulhu-based games that you know Lovecraft would have hated because of his xenophobia and related bigotries.) And as for learning from Speculative Fiction or any genre of more traditional literature, I’m afraid SF is just as guilty of pumping out reams of retrogressive and conservative crap as the gaming world is. There are many people breaking those rules and subverting those norms, but they have to go out of their way and do so on purpose. I know I haven’t really answered your question about narrative creativity, but I’m much more interested in the politics of a setting than the details of how you choose to tell a story. (Another time, we might talk about the crossover between the two—where interactive fiction becomes a storytelling medium, and is basically impossible to distinguish clearly from gaming.)

BS: Who would you most like to meet, living or dead, for a drink tonight?

DA: I think I would have loved to go for a pint with Vonda N. MacIntyre, who I have chatted with a few times on Twitter, but never had the privilege of meeting in person. I would enjoy chatting with her about social-political and progressive science fiction, on which she had possibly the best perspective I have come across. Maybe after a couple pints I would also have talked to her some more about my favourite character in her Starfarer novels, the sci-fi novelist J.D. Sauvage, and how her particular brand of really alien aliens would transplant to our own literary setting (that is to say in a world in which we’ve not met any aliens and are nowhere near interstellar capability), and what an anthology edited by J.D. might look like today…

BS: If you were told that there was an impending disaster and to preserve yourself you were to be “injected” into a Vonda N. MacIntyre story of your choice, as your current persona, which would you choose, and why?

DA: While the setting of Dreamsnake is an amazing post apocalyptic world with a mix of horror and wonderfully progressive culture, I honestly don’t think I’d survive five minutes there, so the (no less dystopian in some ways) world of Starfarers would have to be my choice—because at the moment I wouldn’t hesitate very long before boarding a self-sustaining intergalactic vessel and going out there to meet some aliens who, while not perfect, might help to put some of our problems into perspective.

BS: What would be the next themed issue or anthology topic that you would want to pick for TFF?

TFF #50 cover © 2019 Pear Nuallak
DA: You’ve got the idea of J.D. Sauvage’s mind-blowing really alien sci-fi anthology in my head now! I’m really now sure how we’d phrase the call for submissions (because surely everyone hopes their sci-fi is really mind-blowing), but I think it would include the idea that not only science, language and philosophy would be very different from humanity’s, but also culture, religion, sex and sexuality (if they exist), morals and mores, and the whole gamut of social-political expectations. That would be pretty cool. But this isn’t a real next anthology plan, just a dream…

In the real world, our next themed issue is going to be on the topic of fiction masquerading as non-fiction (or vice versa), both of which we’ve experimented with in the past. Book reviews of titles that turn out to have been invented by the reviewer as a different way to tell the story… profiles of historical science fiction luminaries who never lived (but should have!)… travel reports for fabricated cities or lands. We’ve always wanted to hear you making up stories, but this time we want you to lie to us!

BS: Yes, I’m also excited by the possibilities that this theme might inspire! Thank you very much for your thoughts.

As mentioned, our Jubilee issue can be found online here.