Eight Inspirations for “The Witch of Osborne Park”

by Stephanie Feldman

  1. In Pennsylvania, barns and homes are often decorated with “hex signs,” or decorative symbols with Pennsylvania Dutch symbolism. Stars are especially popular. You can buy them at Home Depot. “Hex” can also refer to witchcraft. The two types of hex-craft are not related, but what if they were? What if witchcraft charms were available at big box stores?
  2. In mammals, fetal cells migrate into the mother’s body. The maternal immune system eliminates many of these cells, but some integrate into the host tissue, where they may remain for decades, or even permanently. This makes mothers “micro chimeras,” organisms with distinct sets of genetic material. Little is known about the impact on mothers, or the evolutionary value of such a phenomenon.
  3. Horror relies on the uncanny or “unheimlich”—the unhomely—when the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The haunted house may be a metaphor for society or the family, which contains a traumatic and irrepressible secret. Or the haunted house may be a metaphor for the mind itself: the ghosts come from the basement, or the attic, the murky places inside you where things grow undisturbed.
  4. One morning I found a trail of white, kidney-bean shaped prints on my driveway. They were the size of a child’s shoe and had appeared overnight. I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone small and invisible was circling me—footprints on the asphalt, footprints invisible in the ivy.
  5. In The Crucible, Goody Osborne is one of the first to be accused of witchcraft. She served as Mrs. Putnam’s midwife, and delivered three stillborn babies. Mrs. Putnam is certain that Goody Osborne—not nature, not God, not herself—is to blame.
  6. If you arrive in our suburban town by train, you will pass a planned townhouse community under construction. If you continue further, you will also find eighteenth-century farmhouses, a preserved wetland, several chain pharmacies, and an estate that was once a station on the Underground Railroad. The signs for the developments and stores are large and bright. The date plaques and historical markers are smaller, paler. The past is there—it’s right there—and yet somehow your eye slips over it.
  7. On a lark, I decided to smudge my new house. I lit a bundle of stage on the gas stovetop, and my four-year-old put her hands on my wrists as we waved it around the house. “Tell the bad things to go,” I said. It was a game. The sage extinguished on the top floor landing, again and again, though I couldn’t detect a draft.
  8. Our neighborhood has a Halloween children’s parade. The kids assemble in their superhero and princess costumes and walk two blocks together. At the end we have pizza. It’s not very scary at all. I am always disappointed.

My Face 1 STEPHANIE FELDMAN.jpgStephanie Feldman is the author of the novel The Angel of Losses (Ecco), a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, and is the co-editor of the multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s, Electric Literature, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Maine Review, The Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

 

Q&A with Doug Souza

Doug Souza is back in the current Asimov’s issue—on sale now—with his tale of derring-do. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about the story and his writing in general.


 

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

Doug Souza: The first nugget came from wanting to set a story on one of the moons or dwarf planets within our solar system. Since the human body isn’t designed for micro-gravity, that’s always a problem. A friend of mine and I brainstormed some ideas on how to adapt the human body, and nanos came up. I started several versions of the story, and then found that the nanos were the most interesting protagonists since they had the toughest struggle. Then the thought struck me of how much tougher their job would be if their host didn’t care much for his own life.

I hadn’t read a story from the nanos’ POV, so I was stoked to write one. I’m sure I’ll get some emails listing titles of stories with this same idea, but honestly, it was original to me at the time. There are some great stories out there where the AI—whether in a fighter jet or interwebs—ends up making the moral choice in contrast to their human counterpart. As an optimist, this gives me hope that maybe the AI being developed will aid and guide humankind rather than travel back in time to terminate us.


I feel I chiseled my way into writing, rather than breaking in. Not to downplay where I’m at now, I’m super-stoked to have my stories published at the various venues and on podcasts, but it wasn’t an overnight thing.


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

DS: The main character is highly intelligent like my brother. Growing up two years younger than a genius is quite a unique experience. There was a shadow, but it wasn’t darkened with “You can’t do this . . .” or “You’ll never be able to . . .” Instead, my brother was always showing me how to do things with the expectation that I’d be able to grasp concepts with his guidance. Thank goodness my parents were good at homing in on each of their kids’ talents and focusing on that. I didn’t have that BS of, “He can, so why can’t you?”

Continue reading “Q&A with Doug Souza”

Setting: The Key to Speculative Fiction

The prolific Bruce Boston, whose poem “Vampire Fortuneteller” is on sale in our current issue now, visits the blog with an adapted lecture explaining the power of the science fictional setting.


by Bruce Boston

Why do many readers pass over realistic contemporary fiction and choose to read speculative fiction instead? They can certainly find compelling plots and characters in mainstream fiction. There are more books from which to choose, from classics to potboilers, and no lack of adventure, romance, suspense, and conflict. And most literary critics would contend that in the best mainstream fiction one encounters superior writing and greater emotional and ideational depth than in the best speculative fiction.

Yet speculative fiction can offer one distinctive and significant element that is lacking in mainstream fiction: the creation of an imaginary setting. The reason many readers choose speculative fiction over mainstream is because they want to leave the cares and concerns of everyday reality behind and be transported to a completely different world.

Continue reading “Setting: The Key to Speculative Fiction”

Inside “3-adica”

by Greg Egan

In my novella “3-adica,” [in the current issue on sale now] Sagreda and Mathis are digital beings, trapped in a network of exploitative virtual reality games and forced to act out the roles that none of the customers want. They’ve learned how to travel from game to game, but they’re desperate to seize control of their fate by reaching the legendary game of 3-adica, a world reputed to have rules so bizarre that they could test the network’s software to destruction.

The story begins in a pastiche of Victorian London, ruled by a vampire elite, that the heroes must pass through on their way to 3-adica. But since the laws that govern vampires are already well-known, this blog post will describe the less familiar rules that govern the 3-adic numbers.

Continue reading “Inside “3-adica””

The New Mythology

by Sheila Finch

 

When I retired after more than thirty years teaching, I decided it was time to pursue volunteer work. My Episcopal church in Long Beach runs a program on Saturday mornings for the homeless, offering a shower, a change of clothing, and hot food. So I signed up for one morning a month. It was a little intimidating at first, over a hundred people of all ages milling about in a small courtyard waiting their turn, some with mental or substance abuse problems. But as time went by, I got to know many of the regulars and learned something about their backgrounds and their unique stories, something akin to finding buried treasure for writers.

A number of the Saturday morning visitors are veterans, and one day in the middle of November, a gentleman told me how angered he’d been to read that vandals had desecrated graves in the VA cemetery in Westwood.  “I took the bus up to LA,” he said, “and I helped clean up the mess! It was the least I could do for my buddies.” I was very moved by this story, but it took several months before I could see a way to use it. First I wrote a story about a homeless woman—a composite of many such women who came to our shower program—and a visitor from the future. That one (“Field Studies”) appeared in Asimov’s in the May/June issue of 2017. I worked on other projects after that, but the veteran’s story wouldn’t go away. Then one day I had an insight about how to use the material, and “Survivors” was the result.

Continue reading “The New Mythology”

Q&A with Michael Cassutt

Michael Cassutt’s latest novelette, “Unter,” is featured in our current issue [on sale now]. He also answered a few of our questions about the story’s creation and the other projects he’s been working on.

 


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

MC: The genesis was Uber, of course, reversing the name and wondering what sort of sharing might result. Since people in hypnotic or drugged states are frequently said to be “under,” the idea of brain- or experience-sharing was logical.

 

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

MC: I published my first story, “A Star is Born,” in 1983 and have contributed half a dozen other pieces since then. It is the SF magazine I have read longest and most consistently. Continue reading “Q&A with Michael Cassutt”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Science

by Octavia Cade

 

“The Backward Lens of Compromise” [in the current issue on sale now] is the third novelette I’ve sold to Asimov’s over the past couple of years, and they all hold to the same theme: scientists and science history. This one’s no different, and in some ways it’s even more political than the last, in which Soviet biochemist Lina Stern stood up to fascism.

This one’s about science education.

I’ve a PhD in science communication. How we talk about science matters. How we share it—who we share it with—matters more. Science shouldn’t be an elitist subject. It should be open to everyone, because a society that is literate in science is a society that understands objectivity and method, rationality, the idea of proof and logic. Science is a means of teaching critical thought that percolates through into other areas of our culture and society. We want a community that thinks, that is able to weigh evidence, that doesn’t swallow blindly every claim made before it.


How we talk about science matters. How we share it—who we share it with—matters more.


 

We don’t want whooping cough making a comeback because people are afraid that vaccines cause autism, for instance.

Public education is expensive. Whether it’s in your country or in mine, I’m willing to bet that education accounts for a great chunk of the national budget.

I’m also willing to bet it’s not enough.

Science education, particularly in schools, is a barometer of this. Science is a high-priced subject to teach. It’s not just the books—it’s the school labs, the chemicals they need, the equipment. If cuts need to be made, science is an easy target. And frequently it’s the kids from poorer communities, with less well-equipped schools that have fewer resources, that suffer the most from this.

Poor kids need science education too. They deserve the same level of attention and resources in their classrooms as their more affluent neighbours—and if they don’t get it, society as a whole suffers.

“The Backward Lens of Compromise” is a story about science education. There’s a magic observatory in there too, a shape-shifting telescope, potted histories of astronomers who had their own ways of seeing science, of passing it on. And it’s got kids who learn from them what science can do for them. Please take a look.

 


 

Octavia Cade has sold stories to Clarkesworld, Shimmer, and Apex Magazine, amongst others. She’s got a particular interest in mashing up science history with speculative fiction, and this is her third Asimov’s novelette on the subject. Octavia’s also got a PhD in science communication, which is why “The Backward Lens of Compromise” is so determined on the value of proper science education in schools. The author once traveled around Europe with a backpack so stuffed with telescope there was hardly room for clothes. She attended Clarion West 2016.