Monday 15 April 2024

New issue: 2024.69

“L’abolition [de la peine de mort] a connu une irrésistible progression à travers le monde. Ce mouvement, comme en Europe, influence le droit international dont, en retour, les évolutions confortent l’abolitionnisme et lui donnent les assises nécessaires pour connaître un rayonnement encore plus grand.”

—Robert Badinter, 1928–2024

[ Issue 2024.69; Cover art © 2024 L.E. Badillo ] Issue 2024.69

Special issue on hopeful SFF

Flash fiction

Short stories


Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB

Sunday 31 March 2024

What is your favourite optimistic or cozy SFF?

We’ve been thinking a lot about optimistic, cozy or otherwise nice SFF recently, so we’d love to hear your thoughts about this category of genre fiction (whether written, visual, or in any other medium); give us your favorite examples of happy SFF, spoopy horror, even gritty utopian thinking, or tell us about why you think these kinds of fiction work or are needed (or otherwise). To start us off, a few editors, authors and other friends of TFF give us their examples.

M.L. Clark

Some stories carry great wisdom in their simplicity, and it can take a lifetime to realize the strength of their gentleness. I've returned to My Neighbor Totoro at many phases of life, each time with a deeper sense of comfort and astonishment. It's not just that the story illustrates that one need not have antagonists to develop emotional weight: that realization comes with early viewings. Later, though, one watches the film and notices everything not included in this postwar Japan snapshot of a childhood impacted by a sick mother and soothed by animist wonder. One considers what the director lived through, and the antagonism he saw shape and shatter lives, before choosing to lean into the inner life of deeply feeling human beings. One remembers, too, the Cold War world into which this film was released in 1988, and the fact that Studio Ghibli launched another film the very same day, about a boy and his little sister dying in war-torn Japan. The world is often a difficult place in which to retain a sense of wonder, and hope. But still, even in difficult times, we manage to create oases of uplift in our art. My Neighbor Totoro reminds us that we contain multitudes--and that the gentle and kind in them are very much worth protecting.

Cécile Matthey

Image © James Gurney via Dinotopia wiki

In 1860, biologist Arthur Denison and his young son Will set out on a Darwinian voyage of exploration in search of unknown lands. But during the voyage, their ship is caught in a storm and sinks. With the help of dolphins, they are transported to the lost island of Dinotopia: a land where humans and dinosaurs live together in perfect harmony.

James Gurney’s 1992 novel recounts, in the form of a richly illustrated travelogue, Professor Denison's discoveries as he explores this incredible and exciting new world. As a trained professional, he records his experiences in meticulous details: the flora and fauna, the often spectacular architecture of the cities, the daily life (celebrations, sports, art, food…), the history of the island, the peculiar alphabet… With him, we meet dinosaurs tending human children, working as translators, craftsmen or timekeepers, and we even fly on a Quetzalcoatlus’s back.

To me it’s a great feelgood piece: it is full of wonder, freshness and humour, reminding me of the stories by Jules Verne (and of my childhood love for dinosaurs!). What's more, James Gurney’s realistic and detailed illustrations are a real treat for the eyes. It is an optimistic and hopeful piece too, because it shows a peaceful, culturally advanced and well-organised world, where two radically different species manage not only to live together peacefully, but to work together while learning from each other. In short, « Dinotopia » is a must !

Toby MacNutt

When I want to be wrapped up in a cozy read I reach for Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea. Its layers of symbols, books, and myths weave around the romance and adventure (can a cozy book have a sword, a gun, some poison, a bit of light arson? sure!) like the most exquisite blanket. Its improbable spaces are softly lit, time-worn, rich with color and texture and scent. Everything is warm, dreamy, golden—and every complex thread ties up just right in the end. The lost are found, the key meets the door, the left-behind are reunited. Also—of course—there's queers!

Djibril al-Ayad

I’ve long felt that a utopian setting need not be perfect in every way, lacking in conflict and adventure—any more than a dystopia is a completely unlivable hellscape with no redeeming features—it only need show by example one or a few ways in which our own world could be better with a bit less cruelty, greed, bigotry or self-destruction. Just so is Vonda N. McIntyre’s Starfarers tetralogy: famously invented as a hoax response to a boring panel about SF TV shows, then written by popular demand, this glorious space opera show features not a military starship but a literal university campus in space (faculty and staff rather than crew, a principal rather than a captain, decisions made by senate rather than a command structure); multiple queer, polyamorous, accepting relationships; multi-generational or inter-species friendships; posthumanism and eco-engineering; a space artist making fake archaeology; wonderfully alien aliens; and a science fiction writer as alien first-contact specialist. And while the world isn’t perfect (the principal is even more of a politicking bureaucrat than any vice chancellor I’ve worked under), conflict and peril abound, not all of the positive characters—even protagonists—are entirely likeable, they’re wonderful books, full of comforting adventures, and I could happily read a dozen more volumes. And really: why has no one made the TV show yet!

Please share your examples of hopeful or cozy SFF, whether utopian, optimistic or just comfort reading, in the comments below. Or feel free to ping us on Mastodon or Bluesky to join the conversation there instead.

Friday 22 March 2024

Micro-interview with Avra Margariti

Avra Margariti, author of the poem “Homunculi of Creation” in The Future Fire #68, joined us for a lightning chat about alchemy, cosmogony and mythology.

Art © 2024 Melkorka

TFF: What does “Homunculi of Creation” mean to you?

Avra Margariti: I have always been an avid reader of historical alchemy and its related customs. This is how I first encountered the concept of the homunculus. A homunculus is an artificial humanoid being that can be created through alchemy. So I asked myself—what if that act of creation was also a cosmogony, the birth of the universe on the largest scale?

TFF: What are you working on next?

AM: I’m trying to write more speculative stories that use characters from Greek mythology in new and surprising settings. I've also been trying to write more literary Weird, though I'm not sure yet what exactly that means to me. (so far: seahorse pregnancy stories, apparently).


He pulls out of His womb
A reliquary of small and inviting things:

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Wednesday 20 March 2024

Micro-interview with Fluffgar

We’re chatting again with regular TFF illustrator Fluffgar, artist of “The Rose Sisterhood” in The Future Fire #68, about this issue, castles and fairytales.

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “The Rose Sisterhood”?

Fluffgar: Castles. Everyone knows Scotland has castles. That's where I began with these illustrations. In particular pink castles. The colour is down to a very old tradition of lime washing the exterior of such buildings. The pinkish result is known to has inspired the fairytale pink castles of Disney among others.

TFF: What was your favourite fairy tale when you were a child?

Fluffgar: I have a vague recollection of a fairytale about a person who is reborn over and over as different things. I think it could have been an animation of part of “The Tale of Taliesin.” But the emphasis seemed to be more on the cycles of life. So it may have been a different tale.

My current favourite is a tale about The Cailleach. Don't let the title fool you, it’s about her. “Bride and Angus” as told by David Campbell.

There's also Scàthach. Which is an interesting one.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Monday 18 March 2024

Micro-interview with Jennifer R. Donohue

Jennifer R. Donohue, author of “The Ensanguined Shore” in The Future Fire #68, joins us for a chat about mythology, mythography, and the sea.

Art © 2024 Sebastian Timpe

TFF: What does “The Ensanguined Shore” mean to you?

Jennifer R. Donohue: I’ve been a reader of Greek mythology practically since I could read; D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths is one of the first longer books I remember reading. I checked it out from my local public library, and pored over the stories and the illustrations. I even have a copy of that same edition now, that I bought at a church rummage sale. I don't have it at hand, so I can't double-check how whether/how detailed the material from the Iliad is there, but the Harpies and Sirens are definitely mentioned, and that’s largely where “my” sirens come from, bird people with wings, but also arms, and bird legs, and powerful voices that can hurt, or soothe, or beguile. I read the Fagles translation of the Iliad in college, and the detailing of everybody's interpersonal conflicts on the beach outside of Troy, in addition to the ongoing war, really gripped me. Transporting it to a future setting, and inserting a journalist like National Geographic or Evan Wright’s Generation Kill, was an approach that flowed freely once I happened upon it, and there were some scenes that I had crystal-clear in my mind's eye as I wrote them, like I was scrolling through the longform article that Patty would later publish.

TFF: What is your favourite (real or literary) sea creature and why?

JD: I really like crabs, actually. Horseshoe crabs specifically, and that's reflected in my short story “Nothing Left But Mud,” which takes its title from “The Crab Who Played With the Sea” by Rudyard Kipling. I like crabs in general, though, I think that they're weird and interesting little guys, and certainly have more crab stories in me. I don't think it's because my Zodiac sign is Cancer, but maybe that's a strong contributor and I'm just in denial about it.

TFF: What are you working on next?

JD: I've got Run With the Hunted 7: [title to be determined? maybe The Casino Job] started for its October release. I’m also releasing, throughout 2024, a werewolf trilogy! Learn to Howl comes out on March 5, and the other books will come out in July and September.


Most of us have bags packed when it comes down from command that there’s a freeze on leave, again. Groans and growls ripple through the ranks as us officers are told via HUD, and we tell our soldiers.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Friday 15 March 2024

Micro-interview with Toeken

We’re pleased to have over for a chat our friend Toeken, artist of “Bone Planet” in The Future Fire #68.

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “Bone Planet”?

Toeken: I read Petra Kupper’s fascinating poem quite a few times, making sure I could get a handle on it, then left it alone for a couple of days before firing up the digital tablet. Aside from a few pencilled layers the piece is a combination of photographs and digital art. For example, the initial background template is a shot I took of a sunset outside my home and then digitally painted over.

TFF: Tell us about an artist whose work you're particularly enjoying at the moment?

Tk: There’s always a bunch but right now it’s Rahul Chakraborty, Rachael Mia Allen and Andrea Sorrentino.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful, cosy or low-stakes SFF or horror?

Tk: I just finished with Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Fantastic, creepy stuff.

TFF: What else are you working on now?

Tk: I just finished some stuff for Shoreline of Infinity magazine, a couple of private commissions while working with the writer Phil Emery on a science fiction/noir project.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Micro-interview with Melkorka

Melkorka, artist of “Humunculi of Creation” in The Future Fire #68, joins us for a brief chat about her work in this issue.

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “Humunculi of Creation”?

Melkorka: Before an illustration project like this, I plan a close reading of the text, and then create a mind map featuring words or phrases that stand out to me.

TFF: Who or what is the Sheela na gig, in origin?

M: Sheela Na Gigs are stone carvings found in on Norman churches, and some secular buildings. They depict an old woman squatting and pulling apart her vulva. The carvings are old and often do not seem to be part of the church but have been taken from an older building. There is much controversy as to their age—historians claim they are no earlier than the 11th century but many people believe they are older. Even though the image is overtly sexual the representation is always grotesque, sometimes even comical. They can be found all over Britain, Ireland, France and Spain. The symbolism of Sheela is a mystery; neo-pagans call her a portal of transformation and fertility idol, while some historians argue she was a figure created by the Church to warn congregations of the dangers of lust.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Monday 11 March 2024

Micro-interview with Sebastian Timpe

Today we’re chatting with Sebastian Timpe, artist of “The Ensanguined Shore” in The Future Fire #68.

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “The Ensanguined Shore”?

Sebastian Timpe: While reading through “The Ensanguined Shore” I was gripped by the image of Patty’s best photograph. I knew that had to be one of the illustrations for this story. I scoured the story for all descriptions of the sirens, I love the way Jennifer Donohue gives us just enough detail to imagine them but not confine the audiences imagination. For the second illustration I had never created anything with a mech suit in it and I wanted a challenge.

TFF: Do you have a superstition or quirk you insist on while working/painting?

ST: Given my most recent experience with extreme wind and rain storms knocking out the power to my house for a week, my new superstition is any time the wind blows make sure my computer is charged!

TFF: Would you rather be on a ship that is about to leave or that is bringing you home?

ST: Headed home; home is where the cat is.

TFF: Tell us about an artist whose work you’re particularly enjoying at the moment?

ST: Andrew Salgado is a painter I’ve admired since high school. I just adore his expressive portraits and use of color.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful, cosy or low-stakes SFF or horror?

ST: While Star Trek is my go to for the coziest of vibes, fan fiction always has something to warm my heart.

TFF: What else are you working on now?

ST: In December I finally got my hands on the Time Warp Puzzle: Rock the Cats Paw which I created in collaboration with Da Vinci’s Room games. It was the first puzzle I have ever put together and it was a blast. Now I am on a mission to create art for puzzles—it’s such an exiting genre because you can create really detailed works meant for a large format.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Friday 1 March 2024

Mirco-interview with Emma Burnett

We were delighted to invite Emma Burnett, author of “Escape Choice” in TFF #68, to join us for a chat about SF, the sea, and future work.

Art © 2024 Cécile Matthey

TFF: What does “Escape Choice” mean to you?

Emma Burnett: The title, it just felt like a good fit for the things that come up in the story. People escaping from Earth. People escaping from a colony ship. People escaping from each other. They’re all choices that have to be made.

The story, I wanted Max’s decisions to be recognised as valid for him. Even if they don't always make sense to other people, his lived reality is legitimate, and I wanted him to have that space. Maybe because I haven’t, always.

TFF: Do you remember the first time you saw the sea?

EB: No. But I remember the first time I nearly died in the sea. It was nothing, we were at the beach. But a wave caught me behind the knees, and suddenly I was under water and upside down, and I remember thinking very calmly, “Oh. This is how I die.” I must have been, like, 14. I didn’t die, obviously. Except maybe in another timeline where I did. It didn’t make me scared of the sea, but it did give me what might be considered empathy for those lost in it. She’s a powerful beast.

TFF: What are you working on next?

EB: I’m always working on things all the time. I’ve always got a few short stories on the go. I’m about a third of the way through writing a novel, but then I have to type it up because I’m hand writing it like an epic loon. I'm also working on improving my handstands and learning to play the ukulele.


Max glanced at his mother’s face. She had that line between her eyebrows, which sometimes meant that she was thinking, and sometimes meant she was annoyed. He looked briefly at his teacher, sitting across from them. Her face was too blank for him to interpret.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Micro-interview with Sarah Salcedo

Welcome, Sarah Salcedo, artist of “A Witch, a Wakening” in The Future Fire #68, to our micro-interviews series!

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “A Witch, a Wakening”?

Sarah Salcedo: I read the story and thought about the kind of cabins I tend to see while hiking: the type of forgotten home that seems always on the verge of being reclaimed by the woods. I dream about those from time to time, and it seemed a fitting image for the piece.

TFF: Have you ever tried to paint or write one of your own dreams?

SS: I haven’t ever tried to draw a dream, but I have written many of them down. Especially the surreal ones. They're fun to chase, to try and stay creatively in that liminal space between a critical waking mind and the abstract freedom that dreams afford.

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

SS: Probably not, but I’d definitely like to write a story about someone who would and the consequences that would follow, but for better and worse.

TFF: Tell us about an artist whose work you're particularly enjoying at the moment?

SS: A visual artist I love, not only in the moment but for always, is Anselm Kiefer. His work has been amongst my favorite since I was really young and I'm excited to see the newest documentary featuring his work by Wim Wenders. I've also been revisiting Jean Giraud aka Mœbius’s The World of Edena lately, another artist I find constantly inspiring.

Aside from those two, a new artist I’m absolutely in love with is Dianna Settles. Her work is vibrant not only with color but collectivism. Her work makes me feel deeply about community, and finding joy in these uncertain times. I cannot state how big a fan I am of hers.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful, cosy or low-stakes SFF or horror?

SS: I haven't read anything cosy or low-stakes in a while, but a friend just lent me Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree and pitched to me as exactly that.

TFF: What else are you working on now?

SS: I am currently in the midst of two documentaries, a screenplay, and preparing to send my novel out to friends and colleagues for one final revision pass before it goes on submission. I miss short fiction, though (the work that initially brought me to the digital pages of The Future Fire) and hope that this year I get to focus more on that. The last year has just been devoted to lengthy works, and there isn’t an end to that, but I'm eager to carve out some time for the more dreamlike prose you get to play with when you're working in shorter forms.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Monday 26 February 2024

Micro-interview with Petra Kuppers

We’re delighted to have Petra Kuppers, author of the poem “Bone Planet” in The Future Fire #68, join us for a short chat.

Art © 2024 Toeken

TFF: What does “Bone Planet” mean to you?

Petra Kuppers: “Bone Planet” is a poem about pain, and about my ongoing long-term speculative engagement with my deteriorating joints as a world of experience. As a somatic practitioner and dance artist, I often travel into my own body’s fields, and then through its sensations and imagery out into the wider cosmic world. So this sonnet is part of a crown (i.e. seven linked sonnets) that all travel around a planet of my inflamed interior.

TFF: If you moved to another planet, what animal from Earth would you bring with you?

PK: As I do travel so often, all the time, to other planets, I take with me what lives in me: mitochondria and other organelles, bacteria, all the tiny creatures that surround the particular energy of my own conscious life.

TFF: Would you like to live forever?

PK: In terms of material and energetics, I might anyway: stardust, transformed, vibrations, shimmerings… in terms of unified consciousness, probably not.

TFF: What are you working on next?

PK: I have just released a poetry collection that brings together true crime, decaying bodies, horror tropes and ecopoetry, full of nematodes, springtails and worms and the aliveness of soil (Diver Beneath the Street, Wayne State University Press, 2024). Now I am working on the material this poem is part of, a kind of Starship Poetics, a science fiction pain/joy universe.


In the grey-green shelter of living bone, you grow ragged,
edges blood-less, crusted. Leucocytes eat this brown lump

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Micro-interview with Susan Taitel

Welcome, Susan Taitel, author of “The Rose Sisterhood” in The Future Fire #68, to join the micro-interviews season!

Art © 2024 Fluffgar
TFF: What does “The Rose Sisterhood” mean to you?

Susan Taitel: “The Rose Sisterhood” has the strongest ending of any story I’d written to that point. If I were not the author, I would think that the seed of the story was the ending and the rest had been written to bring the reader to that final moment and final line. In truth I started writing with only with the premise of the Beast’s invisible servants being ghosts of girls who had previously failed to break his curse.

TFF: If you were a mermaid, would you try to save shipwrecked sailors or to drag them down to your coraly kingdom?

ST: I strive to be helpful but I’m not a strong swimmer so I’d probably try to save the sailors but drag them down unintentionally.

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful, cosy or low-stakes SFF or horror?

ST: “Cat Pictures Please” by Naomi Kritzer is a great one. An AI that becomes self aware and able to break its programming but instead of going the Terminator route it uses its ability to hack websites to nudge people into making better choices for themselves. And all it wants in return is more cat pictures, very relatable.


My Sisters and I await the next girl. She will be beautiful. We always are. We hope she’ll be the one to break the curse, that she will have the wherewithal to see our master as he truly is. To succeed where we all failed.

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Thursday 15 February 2024

Micro-interview with Laura Blackwell

We invited Laura Blackwell, author of “A Witch, a Wakening” in The Future Fire #68, to join our micro-interview series.

Art © 2024 Sarah Salcedo

TFF: What does “A Witch, a Wakening” mean to you?

Laura Blackwell: I wanted to play with the idea that we can learn from our dreams even if we don't know what they are. I feel that the protagonist is very brave and hopeful to want to keep on being her best self even when that isn't welcomed.

TFF: Have you ever used your own dreams as inspiration for your writing or art?

LB: Dreams do sometimes give me ideas, usually just images or notions that get me thinking. I'm honestly not sure if "A Witch, a Wakening" is one of them or not.

TFF: What are you working on next?

LB: I'm usually working on something short (right now, a retelling of Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter"), something long (right now, a suburban fantasy novel), and some querying (right now, an exoplanetary Gothic novel).


“I cannot read it,” says the boy in a regretful tone. “It is not in my language.”

“It’s not in mine, either,” I say, and because this is a dream, it does not seem strange that I add, “but I can read it. It says ‘Witch’s House.’”

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Monday 15 January 2024

New Issue 2024.68

“I have always loved playing around with words. I didn’t know it was called poetry. I was just an innocent kid messing around with words.”

—Benjamin Zephaniah, 1958–2023

Issue 2024.68

[ Issue 2024.68; Cover art © 2024 Cécile Matthey ] Short stories



Download e-book version: PDF | EPUB

Sunday 14 January 2024

Interview with Sarah Day

We are delighted to host on our blog a conversation with Sarah Day, author of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and many other flavors of speculative fiction. Her work is heavily influenced by festival culture, body modification, non-traditional relationships, and scary ghosts. Sarah has been published in PseudoPod, Underland Arcana, The Future Fire (see “The Heart of the Party”), and many other fine places. She lives in the SF Bay Area with her cat. Connect with her at Her novella, Greyhowler, is released today by Underland Press.

Rhia is a Courier, a transient messenger who freely travels the land without calling any town or port home.

The job suits her, for in a land ruled by the Temple, it is difficult to find your own way, especially when you have a Talent. Rhia's is water, and when she arrives in distant Cerretour to deliver a message, she finds a village wracked with suffering.

The well is dry. It hasn't rained. The only person who can save these villagers is missing. At night, a strange creature prowls the prairie. The villagers have a name for it: greyhowler.

The Future Fire: Greyhowler is both a story about freedom (from being tied to a place, from oppression) and being trapped (by secrets, by the past); can you tell us a bit more about how the story navigates these two seemingly contradictory states? Do you find a happy medium?

Sarah Day: I think a big topic in Greyhowler is illusion, or self-deception. Some of the major characters are trapped by the lies they tell themselves. Being trapped by their secrets, or their circumstances, is a side effect of self-delusion. I think this is how a lot of people are, honestly—we make choices that we believe are only from a sense of agency or self-determination, but we’re often reacting to influences and experiences in our history that we can’t escape, and maybe aren’t even aware of. 

Connecting our present-day actions to the experiences buried in our past can be a rich vein for personal development–and, in fiction, for plot and character work. For example, Rhia would love to only be a Courier and not have to address her upbringing in the Temple at all… but she can’t help the people in Cerretour without the skills she learned in her past. That’s where her inner conflict comes from, and it’s really fun to write. Some of my favorite parts of Greyhowler are where the characters lean hard one way, either rejecting their self-delusions or embracing them.

TFF: Do you already know what is going to happen in the next book in the series?

SD: I’ve written a couple of other books in this universe already; one about Rhia and her past, and one about two characters who don’t feature in Greyhowler at all. This universe is a land I visit when I want to write fantasy. I hope more of these books get to see daylight with an ISBN attached to them someday, but even if they don’t, I love the characters and have learned a lot from the experience.

TFF: Do you think that writing (and reading) speculative fiction—in particular fantasy that has sometimes been seen as pure escapism—can actually be an act of resistance?

SD: Absolutely! I think reading for “escapism” gets a bad rap, and that when we say we’re reading for escapism, we’re actually recharging our emotional batteries in a way that can contribute to our resilience. Charging the batteries is important for long-term fights.

I spent a lot of 2022 taking care of someone close to me who was going through cancer treatment. For a couple of months during chemo, all he wanted to do was watch YouTube videos of old boxing matches. Neither of us have ever been boxers or done any kind of martial art, so it’s not like we were watching for our education… but he found it galvanizing and encouraging. There was strong symbolic resonance for him to watch smaller guys take on larger guys and win—it was a clear metaphor for his fight against cancer. Was that pure escapism? I don’t think so.

TFF: Your short story “The Heart of the Party” both celebrates the anarchic joy of the free use of transformative technologies, and warns of its potential to aid in our repression by those in power. How do you see this tension?

SD: Speculative fiction uses imagined technology or magic to explore different manifestations of power. Exploring or subverting hierarchical power structures is something I write about a lot. Systems of power constantly seek to shore themselves up, to reinforce themselves. The Temple in Greyhowler and the state police apparatus in “The Heart of the Party” both require compliance and punish deviation with disproportionate severity, because the ability to punish with impunity is part of how they reinforce their legitimacy.

You might notice that the protagonists in both works are people who have a lot of privilege assigned to them by the dominant power structures and are trying to divest from those structures, with varying degrees of success. The theme of privileged people wrestling with the things they have but have done nothing to deserve, or trying to reconcile their privilege with others’ circumstances, shows up a lot in my writing.

TFF: Have you ever killed a character that you loved?

SD: Would I be a terrible person if I said I loved all my characters, even the bad guys? Every time one dies, I’ve killed someone I love. I don’t think I can write a believable character unless I can find them relatable somehow. I have to be a chameleon this way; each character I write has to have the strength of their own convictions. They might make terrible decisions, or do things I personally find morally indefensible, but have relatable motivations. Everyone’s morality is internally consistent. We’re each the hero of our own story.

At the end of Greyhowler, two characters discuss a third who has done terrible things, and whether actions like that can ever be understood or forgiven… I guess I think everything can be understood, even if it can’t be forgiven. To write a character well, I have to understand them, and by understanding them, I come to love them.

TFF: Thank you for being our guest, Sarah, we look forward to falling in love with the characters of the Greyhowler! Best of luck, and happy writing.

Greyhowler is out today, and can be bought here.

Thursday 11 January 2024

Micro-interview with Cécile Matthey

We’re joined again by TFF team member and old friend Cécile Matthey, artist of “Microseasons of the Dead” in The Future Fire #67.

Art © 2024 Cécile Matthey

TFF: How did you go about illustrating “Microseasons of the Dead”?

Cécile Matthey: I’ve been wishing to combine illustration and collage for a long time, and this is my first attempt! The concept of micro-seasons comes from Japan, so naturally I explored Japanese art for inspiration. I came across a beautiful19th-century drawing, showing a large wave. I decomposed it and used it as a frame around the hands full of stones, to evoke the river of the dead but also the cycle they have to go through, again and again.

TFF: Where is the place, physical or metaphorical, where you feel “at home”?

CM: I've always felt at home in libraries. I grew up surrounded by books, and I’ve always loved reading. What's more, they’re places where there's peace and quiet, which helps recharge my batteries. At school, going to the library was also a refuge. It was the only place where the other kids would leave me alone!

TFF: What is your favourite example of hopeful or fun speculative fiction (in any medium)?

CM: Terry Pratchett's Discworld and James Gurney's illustrations are my favourites. Otherwise, I've just started reading Toshikazu Kawaguchi's book Before the Coffee Gets Cold. It features a very special café, where customers can travel back in time, enjoying a cup of coffee. But there are rules to this journey: it won't change the present, and it lasts as long as the coffee is still hot. It sounds interesting! ;-)

TFF: Tell us about an artist whose work you're particularly enjoying at the moment?

CM: Visiting Neuchâtel's Museum of Natural History recently, I discovered the works by Philip Maire, a local artist who paints prehistoric animals on canvases he has collected at flea markets. It’s clever and fun.  Example below (my photo), and see more of his work at:

Reminder: You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at

Tuesday 2 January 2024

Worlds; and writing; and worlds without writing

Guest post by Juliet Kemp

For me, at least in English, ‘language’ and ‘written language’ are very nearly the same thing—when I think of words I see them written down (perhaps partly due to the fact that I read absurdly young). But even among literate people that experience is far from universal; and even in our highly literacy-dependent culture not everyone is literate; and then there are plenty of cultures (past and present) whose traditions are primarily or entirely oral, with the written word an afterthought or non-existent.

None of which I was thinking about when I first began to write my novella Song, Stone, Scale, Bone. I started off with a mental image of a knight guiding a noble through a catacomb, in search of a magic bone… and then I thought: why? Not why they were going there (that was the magic bone, although admittedly at that point I wasn’t quite sure what that was for either), but why was Sir Cade a guide as well as a guard, and why was she using a song to orient herself?

Perhaps, I thought, there’s no map. Perhaps, even, there can’t be a map. Perhaps directions, in this world, are kept in purely oral form, as songs and rhymes, and Cade’s order of knights holds the responsibility of keeping those directions.

Perhaps, I thought, they don’t have writing at all.

It’s harder than you might think—as someone from a very literacy-heavy culture—to remember all the things that aren’t there if you don’t have writing. Signposts, for example. What about coins? Drawings but no words? Numbers? Ideograms don’t quite count as writing, so coins could have something on those lines. (I fudged this slightly by not describing the money Cade uses.)

Given Cade’s job, I spent a while thinking about maps—which are basically drawings—but the use and accuracy of maps even in Western culture has varied substantially over the centuries. You’d struggle to use the Imago Mundi (below) to travel by, for example; although the Tabula Peutingeriana did a decent job of being a stylised route map (less good once you’re off-road).

Some questions which didn’t come up in the story but which I’ve thought about since: the first known uses of writing were bureaucratic (recording agricultural products and contracts); with other functions of government like taxation swiftly following. Cade’s nearby city houses an Emperor; how is the Empire managed without writing? Do tally-sticks count as writing? As above, what about ideograms, or mnemonics, which aren’t quite writing (but might develop into writing in the future)? Perhaps the Empire employs rememberers to keep track of these bureaucratic issues and what people owe, just as Lady Arel has to recite the treaty she is trying to use to prevent war. Presumably storytellers are important in this culture, just as they were in (for example) Ancient Greece and in pre-10th centure Britain (the Iliad and Odyssey, and Beowulf, are all thought to have been later writings-down of stories told as part of an oral tradition).

The final thing that occupied me for a while when I was writing was that there’s no way, in a book with a close-third-person POV, of saying that this is a part of the worldbuilding. Because, obviously, my narrator, Sir Cade, doesn’t know that she doesn’t have the concept of the written word, because, well, she doesn’t have the concept of the written word. So here I am, telling people about it outside the book; but if you read it, I’m interested to hear about how it came across to you. (And I hope you enjoy the story!)

Song, Stone, Scale, Bone

Sir Cade expected an easy afternoon’s guiding job. She didn’t expect it to end up sneaking her client over a border to avert a war, whilst being trailed by a bored dragon. And becoming haunted by the ghost of her best friend and sword-brother, that was definitely a surprise.

But if it’s all her responsibility, well, that means it’s all down to her to fix it. Whatever the cost.

Song, Stone, Scale, Bone is a deceptively rich and fulfilling work that blends together explorations of grief, friendship, obligation, and mutual support. With its combination of classic fantasy motifs, some lightly crafted magic, and a nuanced sense of where the personal and familial can meet the machinations of leadership and politics, I found Song an intriguing, well-constructed, and satisfying read.”—Andi C. Buchanan, author of Sanctuary

Buy links: Amazon UK (ebook/print), Amazon US (ebook/print), or order from your local bookshop.

Juliet Kemp (they/them) is a queer, non-binary, writer. They live in London by the river, with their partners, kid, and dog. The first book of their fantasy series, The Deep And Shining Dark was on the Locus 2018 Recommended Reads list; the fourth and final book, The City Revealed came out in 2023. Their short fiction has appeared in venues including Uncanny, Analog, Cast of Wonders, as well of course as the three stories (“I Thought of You”, “Dragon Years”, “Just as You Are”) here in The Future Fire, and they were short-listed for the WSFA Small Press Award 2020. When not writing or child-wrangling, Juliet knits, indulges their fountain pen habit, and tries to fit an ever-increasing number of plants into a microscopic back garden. They can be found at, and