Q&A with Ted Kosmatka

Ted Kosmatka sold his first story to Asimov’s over a decade ago and went on to win a Readers’ Award a few years later. We always welcome new stories from him, so we were thrilled to publish “Sacrificial Iron” in our May/June issue [on sale now]. Be sure to give this story a listen with our podcast here!


Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

TK: The story idea came together slowly over about a year or so. For most of that time, it was in the back of my head, in bits and pieces. There was the science side that had an origin in some physics questions I’d been thinking about, and there was a character side that grew out of something else entirely. I combined the pieces, and the story formed out of that mixture. I’ve always been interested in the subject of conflict resolution, and a story can be a great way to simulate how different scenarios might play out. In a ship traveling across deep space, conflict resolution takes on a new level of importance.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

TK: I was aiming for stand-alone, but I realized halfway into the story that it was probably in the same universe as another story idea I’d come up with in the past. I didn’t plan on that, but it just kind of worked out that way, as a discovery, so maybe that’s the most natural way for it to go. Now I’m wondering if I’ll write into the connective tissue a bit more and see where it takes me.

 

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

TK: I think I can relate to most of the characters, at least a little bit. Or that was the goal anyway. Most of my stories are a way for me to think about questions I have, so it helps to relate to characters on both sides of whatever the central dilemma happens to be.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?

TK: The title of the story comes from a bit of sailing technology called “sacrificial zinc.” The idea behind sacrificial zinc is that you can attach a zinc anode to the hull of your boat, and it helps to keep the metallic parts of your vessel from corroding away in the saltwater. The electrons are preferentially lost off the zinc instead of from the boat itself. Over time, the zinc will actually completely disappear, having been sacrificed to the water. I had an idea for space travel, coupled with this idea that nothing is really free, and that everything has to be paid for in some way. Sacrifices always have to be made.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

TK: For me, Asimov’s was the start of it all. I grew up reading Asimov’s, F&SF, and Analog, so when I began trying to write my own stories, it was natural to send them off to those same places I’d liked reading as a kid. After about a decade of nothing but rejections—a whole huge drawer of rejections—I finally made my very first pro sale to Sheila about 15 years ago. I remember leaping into the air when I got the acceptance. Over the years I’ve published a bunch of other stories at Asimov’s and was even co-winner of the Asimov’s Readers’ Award once. I tend to get buried in novels or game stuff from time to time, but I’m happy whenever I get the chance to return to these pages.

AE: What is your process?

TK: There’s usually some sort of “what if?” idea that kicks off in my head and gets things started. Once I have that laid out, I let myself stew on it, thinking about the best way to explore the question. The characters often come later, and I start telling myself stories about them in my head. Sometimes this goes on for months before I have any real foothold on the writing, or a way to actually start. Sometimes I never figure out a way to start, and the story just stays a “what if?” question forever.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

TK: I think I probably do return to certain themes. It’s funny how that works, because it’s not intentional, and I’m mostly blind to the process. It’s not like I pick a theme and try to run with it. It’s more that I finish a story, and then see what I did after the fact, and it occurs to me that I’m still kind of circling around something. Trying to talk in a sensible way about your own themes is a lot like trying to write the synopsis of a novel you’ve written. It’s practically impossible to do it well because you already tried, and the shortest synopsis you could come up with is a hundred and fifteen thousand words. Themes can be like that, too. It’s hard to distill your own stuff down.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

TK: I just finished a huge, five-hundred-some-page far-future post-apocalyptic novel that took me several years to write, and I’m just now coming up for air. It was fun trying to build a society from scratch, but it was also really challenging, too, in ways I never expected. When you write science fiction set in the near future, you can take a lot of things for granted. You have something to extrapolate from, and there’s this assumed bedrock of continuity that sits under everything. But once you decide to set a story a half a millennia in the future, you can’t really take anything for granted. There is no bedrock. Everything has to be thought out, along with the reasons why things are the way they are, and you have to imagine how the different incentives might produce different sociological outcomes over time, and you have to consider how existing technology (or its lack thereof) might change things; and no matter how deeply you think about it, there are always other layers. You can spend days or weeks just thinking and not writing. With that novel now plopped down like a brick on my agent’s desk, I’m looking forward to not having to invent new bedrock for a while and instead am going to try and finish up a slew of short story ideas that have built up over the last couple of years.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?

TK: This question is an easy one for me. I’d like to see us push off from the shore of this world and get out into space. I’d love to see a Mars colony, for starters. I feel like the potential is right there in front of us, and we just have to have the will to put the work in and make it happen. How many thousands of generations have our species been around, and right now we’re maybe one generation away from being able to do this amazing thing. It’s a pretty incredible time to be alive. We’ve always ventured outward to new horizons, literal and figurative, and I’d like to see us keep going.

 

AE: What are you reading right now?

TK: I just finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and am now on the second chapter of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novel, which I’ve heard great things about. Next up on deck after that is Andy Weir’s Artemis. I loved The Martian, so I’m eager to dig into his next one.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

TK: It’s been a strange run for me. Back in the day, I was a dishwasher, fast food cook, and house painter, among other things. In college I worked for a while as a zookeeper and a tutor but eventually dropped out of school and ended up in the steel mills like my dad. I started as a sinter planet laborer, lots of shoveling and breathing black dust, but I later managed to bid into the mill’s chem lab where it was my job to get samples from different locations in the mill and test them. At some point I finished a degree, changed jobs again, and landed in a materials research lab where I worked with electron microscopes. Around that time, I finally sold my first story, with others to follow, and after several more years of writing got an invite from a video game company to come visit Seattle. I took the leap and worked as a video game writer for Valve for the next seven years or so, and then Bungie, before road-tripping my way back to the Midwest where I now write from home. Work has always been a place where I’ve learned about life, more than the classroom, so that probably shows up in what I end up writing about.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

TK: I don’t really do a lot of social media, alas, though I’m maybe on Twitter every blue moon. My website address is a good place to reach me or check out my latest: https://tedkosmatka.us/ Or you can buy my books here: https://www.amazon.com/Flicker-Men-Novel-Ted-Kosmatka-ebook/dp/B00S54VT76/ref=sr_1_2?keywords=ted+kosmatka&qid=1553543898&s=gateway&sr=8-2


Ted Kosmatka lives in the Midwest, not far from Lake Michigan. His brilliant new tale challenges comfortable historical assumptions and reveals the excruciating cost of sacrificial iron.

2018 Readers’ Award

We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Asimov’s Science Fiction’s Readers’ Award. They are:

 

Best Novella:               “Bubble and Squeak” by Ctein and David Gerrold (5-6/18)

Best Novelette:           “Lieutenant Tightass” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (7-8/18)

Best Short Story:       “In Event of Moon Disaster” by Rich Larson (3-4/18)

Best Poem:                   “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” by Suzanne Palmer

                                             (11-12/18)

Best Cover Artist:       Eldar Zakirov (1-2/18)

 

Thanks to everyone who voted for their favorites, and congratulations to the winners!

Q&A with Jenny Blackford

Jenny Blackford is new to the pages of Asimov’s, so we asked her to introduce herself—and her muse Felix!—to our readers. You can find her poem “Quantum String” in our May/June issue [on sale now].


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

Jenny Blackford: My Ragdoll cat Felix is, as we Aussies are known to say, not the brightest crayon in the box. Maybe there’s even a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock. He’s distinctly middle-aged now, but there are many aspects of being a cat that he still hasn’t mastered—climbing, for example, and not falling off things, and sitting in cardboard boxes. One winter night he aced two of those three skills, first sitting in an empty cardboard box, then lying precariously on a chair and Not Falling Off. This achievement obviously required assistance from the Great Felinity.

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

JB: Usually, Felix avoids boxes—even to the point of leaving the room if I try to encourage him to sit or play in one. He’s a scaredy-cat, and boxes evidently partake of the terrifying nature of Almost Everything in the World. One cold evening, though, as I was sitting knitting with an empty cardboard box at my feet (presumably I had unpacked something from it earlier that evening) Felix sniffed at the box and settled into it for long enough for me to take photos rejoicing in his new accomplishment. All too soon, however, he decided the box was far too dangerous, and retreated to a chair on which I’d previously dumped all sorts of cushions and wraps, leaving only a slender ledge of bare wicker. Felix arranged himself along the precarious perch, and I waited for him to fall off. Mirabile dictu, it didn’t happen!

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

JB: I’m clumsy and nervy. I can absolutely relate to a fear of enclosed spaces, and a tendency to fall off ledges.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this poem?

JB: Asimov’s was clearly the best possible home for a science-fictional cat poem!

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?

JB: I’m not a crazy cat lady. Honestly. I only have one cat, though he’s the most beautiful feline in the Universe. But I have to admit that quite a few of my poems and stories do mention cats. My other regular themes include Ancient Greek life, especially for ordinary women; ancient mythological beasts; and slightly obscure regions of ancient mythology.

AE: What is your process?

JB: Odd strings of words or phrases bubble up in my mind whether I want them to or not. If I manage to write them down, sometimes they turn into poems, or even stories. The beginning might be a sudden flash of inspiration, but I revise and revise and revise, sometimes for months.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

JB: I’m writing a novel based on the turbulent life of Bronze Age princess Medea, who did all the work that Jason the Argonaut got credit for.

AE: What are you reading right now?

JB: I’ve just finished Richard Glover’s The Land Before Avocado, in which he proves pretty conclusively that life in Australia is better now in most ways than it was in the ’60s and ’70s. I remember the time before butternut pumpkin and hummus all too well! My next reading delight will be either Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon or Phillip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage. Literary riches! I also read poetry every day, mostly online. I can spend hours just following links from social media to a whole range of great poetry—much of it spec oriented, because so many of my online friends are spec fic readers and enthusiasts.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

JB: My university degree was in Classics (Greek and Latin), and over the years I’ve read far too much about the ancient world! I often write stories and poetry set in my favorite times and places, especially areas of Bronze Age Greece. It was the time of the earlier strands that went into the mix that made up the Iliad, the Odyssey, and some of the most popular myths. Think about Theseus traveling from Athens to the mighty Bronze Age Minoan civilization on Crete, or Jason sailing to the end of the Black Sea in search of golden treasure (even if Hera forced poor Medea to provide the brains and sorcery on his perilous way home).

My twenty years as a specialist in mainframe computer networking makes me less likely to write about the future marvels of AI, and more inclined to fear, roughly equally, both Skynet and catastrophic AI crashes.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

JB: I’m on Twitter as @dutiesofacat and on Facebook as jennyblackford. My website is www.jennyblackford.com.


Jenny Blackford lives in Newcastle, Australia. Her poems and stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Cosmos Magazine, The Pedestal Magazine and more. Award-winning Australian imprint Pitt Street Poetry published an illustrated pamphlet of her cat poems, The Duties of a Cat, in 2013, and her first full-length poetry book, The Loyalty of Chickens, in 2017. The legendary Pamela Sargent called her subversively feminist historical novella set in ancient Greece, The Priestess and the Slave, “elegant.”

Daydreaming as Survival

by G.O. Clark

My poem “Distracted While Gardening” [on sale in the current Asimov’s now] is like a snapshot of my day-to-day routine and randomness of my thought processes. There are 30-year-old grape vines clinging to the carport supports of my mobile home, which I periodically prune, letting my mind wander as I do so. One sunny day while clipping away, I remembered an article posted online about a recently discovered canyon beneath the Antarctic ice, big as the Grand Canyon according to the latest satellite data.

My imagination quickly built upon the simple facts provided and came up with some possibilities of what might be hiding within the canyon’s depths. Alien artifacts (proof of their visitations), followed by advanced technology from our forgotten ancestors were my first considerations. Then the sound of an old biplane passing overhead brought me back to the here and now. My speculations about the future interrupted by a symbol of the past, (biplane crop duster), the pruning shears idle in my hand. Past, present, future nicely overlapping.

Within a couple of weeks, and many revisions, I had a finished poem. Having been published in Asimov’s over the years, I have a pretty good handle on what fits editorially, and off the poem went with electronic ease.

The grape vines, by the way, produced zip that year, and only a few grapes since.

These days I can’t seem to shut out the craziness all around me. The morning news brings the twitter-drone of our president, recurring sectarian violence old as religion itself, and the ruthlessness of various despots both here and abroad. People, who otherwise seem intelligent, ignoring the facts even as they nurse the bullet holes in their own feet. Politicians gone mad, scanty details at eleven.

I was weaned on science fiction movies, TV series like Star Trek, and paperback wonders. The future always held possibilities, if humans could just get their acts together. Like many, I enjoy a well written apocalyptic tale now and again, but recognize fiction for what it is, and don’t consider it self-fulfilling prophesy.

Survival mode is often one of last resort. Though romantic to some, rummaging among the ashes of the past seems a pitiful option compared to the possibility of a positive, progressive future.

My poem was written a couple of years ago, and reflects the state of the world and my life at that time. Little has changed since then, in my opinion, other than some of the players on both sides.

Now in my seventies, I still consider myself a progressive (liberal) and have high hopes for the future generation. They have the correct tools, more advanced than my generation had, and—I believe—the impetus to use them.

I look forward to watching the first humans walk on Mars, on my old flat screen TV before I die, Bradbury’s grinning ghost hovering over my shoulder.

The fact that I have hope for the future doesn’t always reflect in my poetry and short stories. My horror poetry collections, though at times humorous, are dark and blood smeared. My science fiction themed poems often tiptoe through post apocalyptic landscapes, and commune with evil aliens and wound-too-tight robots. Human frailty, technology run amuck, the malleability of time and space, just to name a few, are standard themes in most science fiction and horror fiction, and what I feel comfortable writing about.

The Antarctic canyon of my poem is a natural wonder, worth expanding upon by using the power of my imagination. Physicists turn their abstractions into mathematical equations. Poets turn their daydreams into metaphors and meter. A sense of wonder is the glue that holds my poems and stories together. Without it, the words just pile up like Scrabble pieces abandoned on a forgotten card table.

Perhaps a hundred years from now some future grad student will dissect “Distracted While Gardening,” along with my other poetry. Stranger things have happened. Who among the hundreds of writers and poets from the past might he/she decide had the greatest influence on my work? I have no idea. Personally, I like Dylan Thomas, Donald Hall, William Carlos Williams, and Billy Collins when it comes to mainstream poetry; Bruce Boston, Robert Frazier, and Marge Simon in speculative poetry. These are the poets I often read and reread. There are many others that I enjoy as well, individual poems catching my eye online or between the paper covers of a book. There’s a lot to absorb, the field ever expanding.

One poet, Bruce Boston, has been objectively critiquing my poetry (via emails), for years. He nudged me into the speculative poetry field years ago, and the fact of his casual mentoring would be central to my future grad student’s thesis as he/she faces their dissertation review.

I’ve been writing poetry for forty-plus years now. Speculative poetry for about thirty. My sense of wonder has weathered many changes in life, good and bad. Daydreaming has been a form of survival for me. Of course it didn’t help my grades back in my K–12 days. Still can’t spell so good, or accurately count my toes. I vaguely remember doing better in college, however, trying to make the grade.

With much effort, and strained patience, I did succeed in turning my distractions into publishable work, often wading through a deep pile of rejection slips to the occasional acceptances. The latter added up over time, contributor copies a welcome sight in my otherwise junkmail-filled mailbox.

What appears as my daily self-absorption to some, is actually the writer in me off visiting some planet or picnicking in a graveyard, doing research, daydreaming with intent to entertain.

Serious writers never give up. They ignore their clocks, and only consult their calendars when approaching a deadline.

I’m still wondering what might be hiding under the Antarctic ice, and can’t wait for the first live-stream reports to appear online.

 


G.O. Clark’s writing has been published in Asimov’s, Analog, Space & Time, Daily SF, Jupiter (GB) and many other publications. He’s the author of 13 poetry collections, the most recent, “The Comfort Of Screams,” 2018. His second fiction collection, “Twist & Turns,” came out in 2016. He won the Asimov’s Readers Award for poetry in 2001 and was a Stoker Award finalist in 2011. He’s retired and lives in Davis, CA. He can be found at https://www.facebook.com/gary.o.clark and http://goclarkpoet.weebly.com.

Q&A with Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn hasn’t explored novella-length stories until recently, and we were lucky enough to publish one of her first experiments with them, “Gremlin,” in our May/June issue [on sale now]. Below, she discusses how the story developed, what projects she’s working on, and more.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind “Gremlin”?

CV: I’ve been writing about women aviators, particularly in World War II, for quite a while. I love their stories and that history and bringing it to light, since not a lot of people know about it. Somewhere along the line, I’m not exactly sure when, I got the idea of a helpful gremlin partnering with a WWII fighter pilot. The idea turned into a story when I made it a generational saga—a whole family of women pilots, passing along the legacy from mother to daughter, on into the future.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?

CV: It stands alone. The possibilities for exploring this world and the gremlins in more detail seem obvious, but I don’t have plans for more stories right at the moment. Too many other projects are battling for my attention right now.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

CV: I made my first short story sale to Asimov’s in about 2006 and “Gremlin” will be my sixth story and first novella in the magazine. Before that, I’d been submitting stories since about 1989. Of course I wanted my stories to appear in one of the premier science fiction magazines out there! It took a while to break in, but I’m here now!

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

CV: When I get writers’ block it’s usually because something in the story I’m working on isn’t right. I’ve made a wrong turn, or I haven’t thought things out well enough. I’ll usually take a break and work on something else for a while, to let my subconscious noodle with the problem. Or I’ll back up, try to find the spot in the manuscript where the story went off track, and then outline and brainstorm until I figure out what the right track is.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

CV: I’ve always written. I was lucky to have teachers who assigned a lot of creative writing lessons and I always loved them, and was good at them when I wasn’t very good at a lot of other things. I kept on with it throughout school until there wasn’t really anything else I wanted to do.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

VG: My most recent novels are a set of post-apocalyptic murder mysteries, Bannerless and The Wild Dead. Currently, I’m bouncing around between a lot of other projects. As you can see with “Gremlin,” I’ve been dabbling a lot with novellas, which is a length I haven’t done very much with until recently but I’m now having a good time exploring what I can do with them.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?

CV: I think I usually answer this with Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe, but specifically the nice parts, because it’s got everything I love about space opera and the people generally seem nice. On the fantasy side, I’d like to live in Robin McKinley’s Damar, because of the horses.

AE: What are you reading right now?

CV: I’m on a Robin Hood kick, and I’m basically binge-reading a bunch of Robin Hood novels from the last 25 years or so. It’s interesting to see what parts of the mythology make it into all the stories, and what parts authors take liberties with.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?

CV: The usual: write a lot, read a lot. But more than that, work on improving. When you read, analyze what you read—why do you like something, why do you not like something? Apply that to your own work. Always be learning.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?

CV: I did the usual round of office jobs, and if a higher-than-average number of my main characters are accountants it’s probably due to the eight years I spent as an administrative assistant at a small CPA firm. That stuff just stays with you. But my favorite day job, and the one I sometimes miss, is a bookseller at an independent bookstore, which I did for three years right out of college. There’s just something wonderful about spending every day surrounded by books and getting the right books into people’s hands. Plus, I learned a ton about the publishing and bookselling business, which helped immensely when I started writing and publishing my own novels.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

CV: I have a blog: https://carriev.wordpress.com/; My website is http://www.carrievaughn.com, and I’m on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/carrie.vaughn


Carrie Vaughn’s latest novels include the post-apocalyptic murder mystery, Bannerless, winner of the Philip K. Dick Award, and its sequel, The Wild Dead. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty, and several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels. Carrie has also written about eighty short stories, two of which have been finalists for the Hugo Award. She is a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R.R. Martin. Visit her at http://www.carrievaughn.com.

The Future Is for Regular Folks

by Peter Wood

“Never the Twain Shall Meet,” my story in this month’s Asimov’s [on sale now], is about many things speculative. It also delves into North Carolina pork barbecue and college sports. Why did I waste time on such minutia?

Because North Carolina was built on a firm foundation of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and the feud between eastern- and western-style barbecue sauces. And, no mere technological breakthroughs—sentient robots or cloning or matter transportation—is going to change that.

People are still people and technological change doesn’t mean everything changes.

There’s an exchange in Star Trek Four: The Voyage Home that sums up what separates good science fiction from bad science fiction.

Dr. Gillian Taylor: Don’t tell me, you’re from outer space.

Captain Kirk: No, I’m from Iowa. I only work in outer space . . .

Kirk is a regular guy. He cracks jokes. He plays poker or at least knows the game. He likes a good chess match with Mr. Spock. He enjoys literature and history. Most of us would love to have a cup of coffee with James Tiberius Kirk.

Science fiction needs to be grounded. We need fantastic settings and ideas, but good science fiction is about people and the reader has to be able to relate to the characters.

Continue reading “The Future Is for Regular Folks”

Q&A with Rammel Chan

Rammel Chan considers his short story in our March/April issue [on sale now] his first “big break” in his writing career. He’s already experienced that with his primary gig, acting, which he discusses below, in addition to his writing process, inspirations, and much more.

Don’t miss our podcast of “Tourists“—available for free and narrated by Rammel Chan!


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

RC: In 2017, around the holidays, I was flown to Paris for a small TV job. I had to make the trip three times over the course of a month. I would fly out of Chicago on a Thursday, arrive on a Friday, stay for two days, work Monday and then fly out again Tuesday. I felt very lucky; who wouldn’t want a free trip to Paris to appear on TV? But for some reason, perhaps pushed by the anxiety of having to work quickly with strangers, suffering from near constant jet-lag, and only speaking about seven words of French, I found myself becoming a little crazy. I became deathly paranoid that the Parisians could tell I was a tourist.

I knew I was being stupid. Just about everyone in Paris is a tourist. But for some reason I didn’t want them to know. I tried to blend in as best as I could, to become invisible. I spoke none of my bad French to anyone. I didn’t even speak English. I said nothing. Which I think only made me stick out more. I imagined the French waiters and shopkeepers pointing at me with their perfect French faces and whispering to each other, “He’s an unfriendly tourist, isn’t he?”

Not until the very last night, Christmas Eve’s eve, did I finally make a choice to connect with some people: my American and French coworkers. We sat in the hotel lobby, ordered pizza (like good Americans), drank lots and lots of wine, and talked of all the wonderful things we saw in this terribly wonderful city. And we talked about home. The hotel staff, knowing we all worked in TV, took us into the back and gave us shots of a mean-looking coffee tequila in the kitchen. I laughed a great deal and made some nice friends. It was a very special night.

Continue reading “Q&A with Rammel Chan”