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:

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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.

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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.

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