Q&A With Tom Purdom

Legendary science fiction author Tom Purdom sat down with our editor for a discussion about his earliest memories of reading and the inspiration for his new story “Long-Term Emergencies,”featured [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story come to be?
TP: I started with the idea that we need more stories about people who build windmills and fewer stories about people who fight giants. I ended up with a story about somebody who defends windmills but the original notion survived in the dialogue between Mukeree and Havardi near the beginning of the story.
I’d still like to write a few stories about people who build windmills.  Science fiction has produced some good examples but it’s hard. Our civilization advances, to a huge extent, through the labors of engineers and technicians but they don’t get a lot of coverage in our hero tales.  It’s easier to write stories about daredevil dragon slayers.

AE: Do you relate to any of the characters in this story?
TP: Mukeree and her husband.  There’s a natural tendency to think people will get bored with marriages when lifespans stretch to centuries. I’ve written stories that assume long-lived people will change spouses every few decades.  Many will. But I can visualize marriages that last for centuries. My wife and I were married for forty-six years.  Bonds develop as you share experiences.  The ties become firmer and more complicated.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?
TP: Reading. The first time I read a novel, I was seven. The book was Felix Salten’s Bambi, and it was a magical experience. There I was, in a forest, listening to the animals talk. Naturally I went looking for more.
I didn’t know you could skip prefaces so I soon discovered all this marvelous stuff was produced by writers. Then, when I had been reading for awhile, I read something I’d written at a family gathering and my favorite aunt said “You should be a writer.”  What could be more wonderful?  You wrote things and people, all over the world, read them and had the kind of experiences I had when I read my favorite books and stories.

AE: What kind of fiction did you read as a child?
TP: I started off with Bambi and I continued reading talking animal books and books about animals—books like Albert Payson Terhune’s collie stories and Ernest Thompson Seton’s fictionalized biography of a typical American wolf. I added historical fiction as I approached my teens.  I read Dumas and Rafael Sabatini along with the historical novelists who wrote the best sellers of the ’40s and ’50s—Thomas Costain, Frank Yerby, Samuel Shellabarger.
I mentioned talking animal books when I was on a panel with Gardner Dozois and he noted that most science fiction readers read talking animal books when they were young.  He felt there was a natural connection between aliens and talking animals. He asked the audience if they’d read talking animal books and most of them raised their hands.
You can say something similar about historical fiction.  A science fiction story is a story set in an imaginary future. A historical is a story set in a real past, as imagined by the writer.  We even use the term “Future History” when we describe certain kinds of science fiction backgrounds.
Shakespeare contributed another stream to my childhood reading.  When I was ten, I read some excerpts from Shakespeare in a children’s encyclopedia and I loved the feel of the language. The paperback rack at a local drugstore contained a thick red Pocket Book, Five Great Tragedies of Shakespeare. I bought it for twenty-five cents and read Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Romeo and Juliet.  Over the next few years I read most of the tragedies and comedies. That may have been one reason I drifted into reading historicals.
Nowadays, a lot of Young Adult fiction deals with realities like divorce, abusive parents, and contemporary social issues.  I don’t have any quarrel with that but I disagree with people who argue young people need that kind of fiction because it gives them stories they can relate to.  I didn’t have any trouble relating to Dr. Dolittle. Or D’Artagnan. Or Freddy the Pig. Or Romeo Montague.

AE: What are you trying to do when you write a story?
TP: Primarily, I’m trying to create a story that will give readers the kind of experience I have when I read a story that really affects me.
I have two working definitions that summarize the vision that guides me when I’m writing science fiction. One is that a science fiction story is a story about people coping with some development that could take place in the future. The dramatic situation at the heart of the story—the conflict or problem—is created by the future development.
My other working definition is a quote from Frederick Pohl. When he was editing the Galaxy magazines many decades ago, he said he was looking for stories about “interesting people doing interesting things in an interesting future.”
I’m also fond of an exchange between E.M. Forster and a literary theorist.  The theorist opined that “The whole intricate question of technique in the novel comes down to point of view.” Forster, who was a working novelist, and one of the best, replied that “The whole intricate question of technique in the novel comes down to the writer’s ability to bounce the reader into believing what he says, and keep him bounced.”
In Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea the old man, Santiago, thinks about the fish he’s struggling with.  It’s a good fish, he thinks. “It will feed many people and bring a good price on the market.” To me, that’s a great way to think about all the arts, if you’re trying to be a practitioner. You feed a few people. You make a little money.

AE: Does science fiction have any social value?
TP: It fills two important social functions, in my opinion, and they are both natural byproducts of the drive to create strong, interesting stories.
I started reading science fiction in 1950 and I’ve now lived through seventy-one years of the future that followed that momentous development in my literary life.  I can tell you, with some authority, that science fiction is a good psychological preparation for the changes you will encounter over the course of your life. Science fiction writers don’t predict the future but their creations foreshadow many of the changes you will live through and give you a deep rooted understanding that the world is going to change. Science fiction is a vaccine that creates mental antibodies against future shock.
Science fiction can protect you from a common human weakness—the need to attach yourself to some cause so you can feel your life is meaningful.  Over the last few centuries, the physical sciences have given us an awesome picture of an immense universe with a history that covers billions of years and probably stretches billions of years into the future. Science fiction transforms that vision into a saga. You don’t have to fall in behind a Great Leader or join the crowd marching in a Great Cause. You’re already participating in a magnificent epic—the story of the human species. You can contribute to that story just by going about your daily life, just by pursuing your own ambitions and desires.  Many people feel the cosmic background reduces us. For me, it has the opposite effect.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
TP: I’m not on Facebook but I have a website I keep up to date: www.philart.net/tompurdom.  My literary memoir, available on the website, contains ten chapters and tells how I wrote some of my stories and novels.   James W. Harris has posted a multi-part series he calls The Tom Purdom Project (!).  You can also look me up on Broad Street Review.  Enter terms like science fiction, Ray Bradbury, and economic growth in the BSR Search box and you’ll find some essays on science fiction and related matters.

Tom Purdom started reading science fiction in 1950, when the science fiction genre was just emerging from its pulp magazine period. His first published story appeared in the August, 1957 issue of a magazine called Fantastic Universe. His stories have appeared in all the leading science fiction magazines and various anthologies. In the last thirty years, he’s written a string of short stories and novelettes that have mostly appeared in Asimov’s. Ian Strock’s Fantastic Books has published two collections of his Asimov’s stories, Lovers and Fighters, Starships and Dragons and Romance on Four Worlds, A Casanova Quartet.  Journey Press recently reprinted his first novel, I Want the Stars, fifty-five years after it was first published as an Ace paperback.

Goldie Origins

Growing up in a birder’s paradise like New Zealand fostered Sean Monaghan’s curiosity and appreciation for avian life. In this interview, Monaghan tells our editor how the story of one spectacular osprey inspired him to write Goldie, his new novella available [in our January February issue, on sale now!]

by Sean Monaghan

Some years ago I came across a wonderful natural history book by Helen Armitage, Lady of the Loch—The Incredible Story of Britain’s Oldest Osprey (Constable, 2011), about an osprey, Lady, whose tenacity, endurance and patience was quite extraordinary.

The ospreys are migratory birds, traveling each year between northern Africa and Scotland. I understand that. Images I’ve seen of the Scottish winter would make the warm climes closer to the equator quite attractive to a bird of prey.

Scotland’s very nice, I hear, but I would be the same in winter: get me closer to the equator. In New Zealand we have milder winters and I still find myself seeking out warmth.

Coming from New Zealand, I’ve grown up surrounded with birds. They are the dominant natural fauna here. Save for a small bat, we have no native mammals, and save for one shy spider that lives only in the dunes, we have nothing venomous and out to bite you (I’m thinking here of our close neighbors in Australia, where it seems that every second creature you come across would love to inject poison into your bloodstream).

As with the Scottish ospreys, many of New Zealand’s birds are fabulously migratory. Some stay on the wing for weeks as they cross the Pacific from Alaska or Russia. I’m fortunate to live a half hour’s drive from Foxton Estuary, recognized as being wetland of international significance for the birds which fly in to breed each year. Plovers, knots, godwits, spoonbills and others. Over ninety species of birds call the estuary home (though those migratory ones, only for part of the year).

It’s a treat to visit and wander the path at the estuary’s edge and watch the birds feeding on the mudflats. I’m no birder, but there are plenty of others who are. They stride along with powerful lenses and cameras and identification books, and are always thrilled to share their knowledge.

I’ve learned more from their enthusiasm than from anything I’ve read.

The story of Lady and her endurance really engaged me. For one, ospreys are stunningly beautiful birds—one of the photos of Lady she looks like a grumpy teen, with her feathers seeming to be “gelled” into spikes, her upper eyelid slightly curved down and her bill a hook that seems ready to make short work of a hapless rabbit, weasel or starling.

Lady has a real personality, and she returns year after year from Africa to raise new chicks. A record-breaking twenty years. In the period related in the book, she accepts a new suitor, Laird, a much younger, but enthusiastic male osprey. Laird is somewhat bumbling. He struggles with catching fish. He manages to bash Lady’s head with sticks as he attempts to woo her with his clumsy attempts at nest building.

The story is a wonderful, moving document of an individual bird’s resilience in the face of a changing environment.

Reading about Lady’s trials and dogged toughness, I wanted to see if I could tell a story about that kind of tenacity.

Being a science fiction writer, I knew there were opportunities to borrow something of Lady’s story and give it a whole different take.

After a couple of false starts I found the place where there was a true story. I’ve always loved creating complex environments, and discovering the vast broken plateaus of Karella, and the ecosystems there was fascinating.

Reading about Lady’s trials and dogged toughness, I wanted to see if I could tell a story about that kind of tenacity.

As I’d borrowed from the Scottish landscape, I also freely borrowed from Venezuela and Guyana’s. The table mountains—tepui—in the highlands are remarkable for their scale and ecosystems. Already made famous in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, where explorers reach the summit to discover isolated worlds where dinosaurs have survived (Michael Crichton borrowed the title for his Jurassic Park sequel).

More recently, the tepui featured in the Disney/Pixar film Up, again with lost fauna and somewhat whimsical landscapes.

The tepui are home to the world’s tallest uninterrupted waterfall, Angel Falls (a version of which appears in Up). Looking at photos of the falls, you get a real sense of the sheer scale of the cliffs and the isolation they create for the mountain plateaus above.

Of course I happily took liberties the the landscape. This is on another world, after all. Karella’s mountains are higher, closer and much more numerous. The geological processes that carved up the old plateau are, trust me, quite reasonable. I think. The division between the ecosystems above and below, is just what you would find. The dense rainforests below, and the hardy and tough meadows and diminutive trees in copses clinging to the rocky surface above.

I did enjoy writing about Karella’s landforms, the flora, and most especially the fauna. The place and the story almost let me feel right at home.

I do hope you enjoy reading “Goldie,” and thanks for letting me share some of the story’s background here.

Sean Monaghan is a New Zealand-based writer of science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers. His work has perviously appeared in Asimov’s and elsewhere. Find out more about Sean at his website [https://seanmonaghan.com/]

Q&A with Betsy Aoki

Betsy Aoki is a poet and game producer who comes from a journalism background. Her new poem “Messaging the Dead” bridges attempts to bridge the distance between the living and the dead, and you can read it [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
BA: “Messaging the Dead” came about as I was thinking about how we wait for our computers and devices to complete our sentences. Search engines will suggest how to complete your search terms; your phone autocorrect will try to guess what word(s) you want to offer up next. It’s an interruptive act, with a machine trying to be helpful.  Once upon a time, in the early days of messenger software (chat rooms, icq, etc.) we were amazed how new words took life without our typing them. Now, we have daemons inside the software whispering in our ear, suggesting intent and phrasing to us.
We talk about machines and phone lines as if they are alive. Magical. Even as so many of us are typing into the absence of others: widows, widowers, the newly-orphaned, the bereaved.  All of the places and people they used to type words to on a daily basis are now closed account, dead machines, wiped phones.
Like the artist’s Wind Telephone in Ōtsuchi, Japan where folks pick up the phone to have conversations with their departed loved ones, for my poem “Messaging the Dead” I envisioned a messenger app that would let the speaker of my poem talk to their dead.  I wanted a poem that was specific to grief and the distance the dead are from us (or paradoxically their feeling of closeness) but I simultaneously wanted blurred lines, pushing into the mysteries of what we can’t program, can’t pre-record, can’t know how to autocorrect. I wanted to capture the elusiveness that true communication presents, and that the ineffable face that the dead present to the living.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
BA: I wrote the poem first and then looked up to the first line and realized what the title had to be.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this piece?
BA: Asimov’s was an easy choice of home for the poem; it’s an amazing magazine that has dealt with technology and death themes in powerful ways.  I also thought it important the poem was semi-conversational, matter-of-fact, bordering on chatty.  Asimov’s fiction often brings the reader into intensely human situations with ordinary language. For those reasons, I was glad that the poem was selected.

AE: What is your process?
BA: If left to myself and able to indulge my own biorhythms (a writing residency, or a vacation), I do my best generative work from about 8 a.m. until noon. After a break for lunch and some kind of exercise (walk, gym, etc.) I can then pick up new reading in the genre I am working in, or editing/revising pieces not worked on during the morning period. Afternoons are also good for editing-type freelance projects or tasks on the business side of writing.
During non-vacation times, generally I don’t have the juice for generative writing until Sunday morning.  Best strategy for me has been taking a Friday off, doing all manner of errands and household tasks on that day, and then I find the generative writing brain comes back to me for a full Saturday and Sunday stint.  
The final point in my process is that I fight with myself about submitting.  It’s like the boss battle of writing to me! Submitting means facing the demons of not being good enough and even with great tools like Submittable and Moksha the demons lie in wait while choosing what to send and faithfully tracking rejections. Editor Sheila Williams at Asimov’s kindly chided me at Readercon about my fiction process because I was taking rejection as a sign to rewrite each and every fiction piece before resubmitting them elsewhere. That meant sometimes years between submitting pieces.  Forget that! she said (I am paraphrasing here).  Submit—submit—submit and once you run out of outlets, trunk.  Write something new if you run out of stuff to send.

AE: How did you break into speculative writing?
BA: I was fortunate enough to attend a few one-day workshops put on by Clarion West, and then after that submitted pieces that got me into the six-week workshop.
Ironically though the six-week residency at Clarion West helped my fiction writing take a quantum leap, it took me some months (and wise words from Julia Rios, who was poetry editor at Uncanny Magazine at that time), to take on writing speculative poetry.  A few poems I had already written were definitely speculative without me consciously thinking about it. Others found their way to me with the clear intent to go to a speculative market.
What makes a poem speculative was a question I wrestled with then and still wrestle with to this day. It’s not the craft; I use the same moves in my speculative poetry that I do in the ones that are tackling traditional literary subjects. But I do think speculative poetry, much like speculative fiction, requires a kind of literalism even as it is using imagery and metaphor. There is a contract with the reader that the speculative world being built is real, and the world is upheld/upholdable in the poem.  That the speculative poem opens up a world that is not the mundane world we live in today.
The fun and games begin of course when you write in the mode and craft of the literary poet and seduce them over to the genre ranks! Come to my dystopian robot face factories, my poetic invocations of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace like Greek gods, my alternate take on the Witcher mythos . . . all part of my first book of poems: Breakpoint.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
BA: For most of 2022 I will be promoting my first book of literary and speculative poetry called Breakpoint, published by Tebot Bach. and working on a manuscript about Japanese folklore and demonology. In addition to writing speculative short fiction, I am working with Cadwell Turnbull on the Many Worlds Project .
I currently serve as an assistant poetry editor for terrain.org, a journal about the built and natural environment.

I do think speculative poetry, much like speculative fiction, requires a kind of literalism even as it is using imagery and metaphor. There is a contract with the reader that the speculative world being built is real, and the world is upheld/upholdable in the poem.  

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
BA: Though I will cite credentials like my MFA degree in poetry and Clarion West Writers Workshop, these experiences are not the only paths to good writing and may in some ways hinder more than they help. Plenty of amazing writers (and those who are solidly making a living at it) have done well without those programs.  And, I am here to attest that having those credentials does not protect you from doubting your writing is any good.
What those two things do offer if done right is engage you the writer into a community where you can bounce ideas (literary or genre or both) against fellow writers and have conversations about where the art is taking you. There are other ways to find that community. National Write a Novel in a Month, a.k.a. Nanowrimo, is a great November event that creates local groups welcoming any and all writers.  Another superb resource is Writing the Other, which is a book and a series of classes taught by speculative writers about creating worlds and characters that reflect human diversity.
Design your own writing program if you can’t take time away from your day job for a residency or degree.  Listen to yourself and what your writing needs, and go from there.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
BA: Long before I worked in technology, and even before my graduate degree, I worked as a newspaper reporter. I had internships at the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post and went on to The Palm Beach Post where I worked my way up to General Assignment reporter. Later when I went into technology, The Seattle Times had me do a Sunday column called “Planet Northwest” as well as work on their web site.
This journalistic work taught me daily deadlines, enforced brevity, and not to bury the lede. I am not saying I mastered these skills but having to do that regimen in my first day job meant that what I write now is at least not as bad as what might have been sans that influence. Reporting also taught me about how to deconstruct misinformation—because people wanted to lie to journalists then as much as they do now—and understanding how to follow the money and hidden agendas will serve you well in any job.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
BA: You can find me on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/baoki
Instagram (which will get more active with Breakpoint publication) https://www.instagram.com/betsyaoki7669/
My general author site is http://www.betsyaoki.com .  (To contact me more reliably by email please use the form there.)

Elizabeth (Betsy) Aoki is a poet, short story writer and game producer. Her work has appeared in Strange HorizonsUncanny Magazine, and Asimov’s Magazine of Science Fiction, and is anthologized in Climbing Lightly Through Forests (Ursula K. Le Guin tribute poetry anthology). Her first poetry collection, Breakpoint, is a 2019 National Poetry Series Finalist and received the Patricia Bibby First Book Award in 2021, to be published by Tebot Bach in 2022.

Q&A With Anatoly Belilovsky

The linguistic differences between English and Russian have long fascinated Anatoly Belilovsky, whose new poem highlights them using a hearty, warming metaphor. You can slurp up “Word Soup” [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: Is this poem part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
AB: It is part of the universe of language. Although I don’t have formal linguistic training, I am functionally bilingual, and the differences between Russian and English never cease to amaze me. English sentences are like  sandwiches: their ingredients are fixed and their order matters. Russian sentences are soups: in addition to the major components, prefixes, suffixes, and endings may be added to adjust their flavor and texture, to most exacting specifications, and stirring changes the emphasis but not the overall meaning.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
AB: I’ve used soup before as a metaphor, in a story appropriately titled “Borscht,” in that case for love and loss and family; it seemed a small stretch to look at it as a metaphor for language. And having translated short fiction from Russian to English, “Word Soup” is also an apt description of what you get if you translate too literally.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this poem?
AB: I think of Asimov’s for each and every story I write. This happens to be the first time Asimov’s and I thought alike.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
AB: A more or less continuous subscription since 1978. Some of the best authors and some of the most influential (for me, anyway) stories I have ever read. A companion on dark days and light. A bucket list publication since I started writing a decade ago.

English sentences are like  sandwiches: their ingredients are fixed and their order matters. Russian sentences are soups: in addition to the major components, prefixes, suffixes, and endings may be added to adjust their flavor and texture, to most exacting specifications . . .

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
AB: My fellow punning bilingual (actually polyglot) Vladimir Nabokov.
My fellow physician short fiction writer, Anton Chekhov.
My fellow Asimov’s author, John M. Ford.
Living authors whom I am proud to call friends, and respect too much to name drop.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
AB: Yes.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
AB: Art as a driving force in history rather than its mere reflection.
My longest published story is an alternate history in which the great poet Pushkin survived his duel. I also wrote a “musical warfare” series in which, for example, Russian pop repels Napoleon from Moscow, Wagner invades France with “Die Walkure,” and John Philip Sousa combats submarines at sea.

AE: What is your process?
AB: Yes.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
AB: Poorly.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?
AB: I had things to say, I guess?

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
AB: In my day job I am a pediatrician. Pandemic whack-a-mole takes up most of my time right now.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
AB: The major result of my medical career is that I can’t really write medical-adjacent SF: I get far too critical of small plot holes and science gaffes, to the point of paralysis.
I was also a chemistry major, and a teaching assistant in Russian, but somehow I am far more forgiving of my own handwavium in these fields.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
AB: @loldoc on Twitter.  Equal parts puns, punditry, and (self)-promotion.

Anatoly Belilovsky is a Russian-American author and translator of speculative fiction. He was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns (apparently well enough to be admitted into SFWA in spite of chronic cat deficiency) and to become a paediatrician in an area of New York where English is the fourth most commonly used language. His story collection, Halogen Nightmares and Other Love Stories, is available on Amazon Kindle.

All Too Human

What does it mean to be human? Where is technology taking the evolution of the human race? A.A. Attansio ponders these questions here and in his short story “River of Stars, Bridge of Shadows”available [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]

by A.A. Attansiao

Are we really human beings—or human apes? Clearly, most people exhibit the self-reflective and innovative awareness of human beings. Yet, as a species, our violent history of endless wars and our social hierarchies structured by the power and privilege of dominant individuals, xenophobia, and nearly ubiquitous misogyny have more in common with apes than rational sapiens.

All that is about to change—if our simian behavior doesn’t destroy us first. Advances in genomics, computer science, and nanotechnology assure a tremendous transfiguration of human identity.

It has already begun: The gene-editing tool CRISPR can now control insect vectors of viral diseases, with important benefits in medicine and agriculture. Somatosensory virtual reality has opened opportunities beyond entertainment, for enhanced education as well as emotional processing therapy. And nanoparticles are currently being deployed to commandeer cancer cells.

But where is this going? What are we becoming? The answer is far more surprising than you might guess. Yes, we are becoming less like apes—and more like the story that narrates us.

Our human story is not told by us. Homo sapiens is, in fact, a tale authored by non-human powers ancient beyond reckoning. Unfathomed and anarchic to reason, our narrators root in the deep time that is fermenting in our gut. These three-billion-year-old storytellers are the bacteria manufacturing hundreds of neurochemicals among the enteric folds of our intestines. 95% of our serotonin is made there. And these chemical signals composed by gut bacteria profoundly influence our brains and, consequently, our thoughts and feelings.

How dare we imagine these gut bacteria as storytellers? Because they produce the ecodelics that shape our subjective experience. The contour of our minds— everything from intellectual skills and creative inspiration to moods and qualia—originate with them. They decide if we are energetic entrepreneurs or dysfunctional depressives. The story of our lives begins in the rhizoid animacy of our gastrointestinal tract.

Because the dreaming of our bacterial hosts is so awake in us, the coming amplification of our cognitive powers will not be a computational augmentation. Fusing genomics and nanotech in the decades ahead will not make us cyborgs. Instead, we will transmute ever more faithfully into the language that has been expressing us from our homininbeginnings—namely, the ecopoetics of the planet’s biome. So far, we’re just a short story, compared to the episodic novels of the dinosaurs or the saga of the prokaryotes in the primordial ocean. But soon, a new episode begins for us.

The sentient robots of the future will not be mechanical. We aren’t going to assemble the digital components of artificial general intelligence. Those constructions of cybernetic parts will only ever be smart devices. True sentience will be grown.

Through artificial abiogenesis, we will generate organic architectures with varying degrees of mindfulness. Our dwellings will possess bodily self-awareness such that the needs of the occupants are met spontaneously. These biotectures will provide the most delicious foods we’ve yet to imagine. Reading our metabolic wastes, our homes can then monitor our health and supply not only precisely suited nutrients but also medicines.

Fusing genomics and nanotech in the decades ahead will not make us cyborgs. Instead, we will transmute ever more faithfully into the language that has been expressing us from our homininbeginnings—namely, the ecopoetics of the planet’s biome

New kinds of pets organized with social self-awareness will prove the most engaging and reliable of emotional companions. Their physical needs shall find satisfaction from our biotectured abodes. Maintenance free, the many varieties of these sociobots can be purposed to handle with joy every manner of daily activity from games to chores.

Those organic creations with introspective self-awareness will prove even more rewarding, though a bit trickier. They will understand feelings, know desires, and evolve beliefs. The bacterial narration of our anthropic legacy at this point enters a new kind of telling.

In my short story, “River of Stars, Bridge of Shadows,” each of the three variations of synthetic self-awareness make an appearance. Glimpsing a biotectured planet, the protagonist—a sapiens very much like us—gets to compare an anthrorhizal (human rooted) arboreal world with the agricultural community of her origin. She had just come from working the land for food and then briefly encounters a forest of somatic self-awareness that works on humans for the mutualistic fulfillment of planetary bionomics.

Later, she encounters a zoological bot—a zobot. Endowed with nimble social self-awareness, this construct of nanosized biological units shapeshifts. It de-represses life’s phylogenetic memories to answer the situational demands of the moment and can become any creature its companion requires.

Most strange of all, introspective self-awareness appears as an artificial human unrecognizable as a somebody. Neither a he nor she, certainly not an it, they have been designed through germline engineering to perceive the quantum mechanical regime. They can read the wave function, the set of probability amplitudes for quantum states, the basis of all appearances. This manufactured person embodies the paraphenomenal awareness traditionally associated with seers. For their ability to follow the entrainment of probabilities and influence outcomes, they are known in my tale as an omen-coder.

Mine is a fiction that attempts to extrapolate what the storytellers in our gut intend. They began their narration in darkness. Billions of years ago as archaea, when our planet’s thermal vents saturated the atmosphere with volcanic gases and melted the ice sheets encasing the globe, they found their way to the light. The unborn dream of solar fire turned their story green. Until then, dawns and sunsets and the wheeling stars had occurred for no one.

Then, a dark twist in their story transpired. 1.5 billion years ago, the fateful encounter of prokaryotes and mitochondria initiated the secret life of the nucleus. We eventually emerged from that extraordinary coupling. Our story is theirs. Over billions of years, consciousness has journeyed out of darkness into the light and then back into the dark of our cranial lives. Gut bacteria organize the chaotic determinism of our minds. We think we author our own thoughts when, in truth, we are the psychoenergetic product of our earliest ancestors. Within the lightless depths of our entrails, they are inventing “I am” and the real and enduring promise of human being.

A.A Attansio is a writer from Honolulu, Hawaii whose works often explore the. His first novel Radix, published in 1981, was nominated for a Nebula Award.

Q&A with John Richard Trtek

John Richard Trtek was listening to Bizet when the title for his new novella came to mind, and inspiration for the rest of the story arrived soon after. “La Terrienne” is [from our November/December issue, in stores now!]

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate?

JRT: The story began with its title—and for the genesis of that, see below. The title in turn suggested a story concerning a woman from Earth. As a little twist, I decided that the person should in fact only appear at first glance to be Terran, and at that point I felt that the direction I was going in would fit nicely with a character who had been the protagonist in a pair of earlier, rejected stories. I lifted a passage or two from those past submissions, along with that previous character’s milieu and supporting cast, and found myself ready to go.

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

JRT: I was listening one day to incidental music that Georges Bizet wrote for the play L’Arlesienne (“The Girl from Arles”), and I thought of dropping the second “l” in the title to get L’Aresienne, which I playfully imagined could be French for “The Girl from Mars (Ares)”—except that it wasn’t. I then tried to come up with an analogous title and, with the help of an internet translation page, eventually settled on “La Terrienne”: “The Earthly.”

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

JRT: Although I think the story stands on its own, I do hope to elaborate on both its general setting and central characters in future submissions.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

JRT: I had submitted fiction to the magazine—unsuccessfully—every once in a great while, and then about five years ago decided to concentrate on poetry. After placing a handful of poems in Asimov’s and other publications over the course of a year or two, I switched my focus back to stories— but now with steady commitment—and finally sold one, which Asimov’s published in 2019. “La Terrienne” is my second.

AE: What are your greatest influences and inspirations?

JRT: If we are talking about literary inspirations, I suppose I would have to list a number of twentieth-century British writers, plus one Anglo-American: Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, George Orwell, Katherine Mansfield, Evelyn Waugh and Raymond Chandler. Within science fiction, my list of admired writers is headed up by Philip K. Dick, Jack Vance, Alice Sheldon, Paul Linebarger and Ursula Le Guin.

AE: What is your process?

JRT: I compile titles, scenes, characters and general notions that pop into my head, and every so often one of them will dovetail with others in the collection, and through a process of accretion the germ of a story arises. Then I begin acting out various potential moments in that story, generating one or more new elements, until I’m ready to commit to actually composing a narrative. From then on, I continue to act out scenes as I write, leading to changes or enhancements, and after however many iterations it takes—usually too many—I’m left with a finished piece.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

JRT: Final editing was recently completed of a filmed version of a one-act play I wrote for a local theater group. It’s a work dealing with the conflict between Oregon suffragist Abigail Duniway and her brother Harvey Scott, who was a powerful newspaper editor opposed to her cause. The recording will be made available to schools and historical organizations, and in time the group hopes to offer live performances as part of its seasonal schedule. Meanwhile, I’m trying to finish a story about a group of humans on a sea voyage set against the backdrop of aliens working to bring Earth back from climate catastrophe. I’m also gearing up to expand an unsold novella into a novel, one set in an alternate 19th century America whose history more or less matches ours, but for somewhat different reasons.

I compile titles, scenes, characters and general notions that pop into my head, and every so often one of them will dovetail with others in the collection, and through a process of accretion the germ of a story arises.

AE: What are you reading right now?

JRT: At any one time, I try to simultaneously read one novel, one short story collection and one non-fiction book. At present, those slots are filled by George Orwell’s Burmese Days, The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard, and The Fatal Impact by Alan Moorehead. The last book mentioned is about James Cook’s explorations and their effect on the indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

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

JRT: To borrow from Tolstoy’s opening of Anna Karenina, I think that all frustrated writers tend to fail for the same reasons, but each successful writer finds fulfillment in their own way. Thus, I don’t know that particular approaches that work for me would be of value to others, but I do believe there are at least two errors all writers should avoid. The first is to never let a working day go by without producing something completely new that is either finished or editable. The second is to never evaluate or edit your own work in the same frame of mind with which you originally wrote it. We bring hopes, aspirations and assumptions to what we create, and those impulses can cloud our vision of the final product—not just emotionally but also objectively, through unspoken perceptions we bring to the effort. Deciding what to revise or whether to revise at all requires returning to a work with complete detachment, something not easy to achieve.

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

JRT: I originally set out to be an astrophysicist, but in graduate school I decided I lacked the temperament (and perhaps the talents) to be a researcher, and so I became a high school physics teacher instead, and also served as chair of my department for a dozen years. After retiring, I did volunteer work at a classical radio station for a decade before leaving that work as well. In retrospect, it isn’t clear to me what if any special effect those endeavors have had on my writing, other than my formal training giving me a firm scientific base from which to speculate on what hidden elements or aspects could be lurking in our universe.

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

JRT: At this point, the sum total of my published or performed works consists of one play, a novella, a novelette, and about a dozen poems—in my mind, not really enough to justify a website. Meanwhile, I don’t participate in social media because, frankly, I find the bulk of it shallow and insipid, and because I despise it for the role it has played in weakening and perhaps destroying our democracy.

John Richard Trtek is a science fiction author from Portland, Oregon whose work Asimov’s Science Fiction has been published since 2016.

Sci-Fi Conventions Put New Worlds in Reach

Born too early for interstellar travel, too late for Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds radio broadcast, author Jack McDevitt reflects on how a half-century of sci-fi conventions has brought the cosmos closer in “Out There,” available in our [November/December issue, on sale now!]

by Jack McDevitt

During 1877, Giovanni Schiaparelli saw what he thought were canals on Mars. As late as the 1940s, though most astronomers saw no evidence of any such thing, we still weren’t certain. But we had hope.

I’d become an avid science fiction reader by then. The Flash Gordon movie serial lit my fuse. Along with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels. In 1962, I became aware of the existence of SF conventions when I was driving a Philadelphia taxi and I took several people to the Sheraton Hotel for something they called Philcon. And if the name didn’t mean much, when we pulled up alongside the curb they got excited and screamed at me to stop the cab. The woman in the front seat began tugging on my arm and yelling “Stop! It’s him.” Somebody in back cried out that she was right. “It’s Asimov.

The guy they were pointing at disappeared into the building moments later while they were grappling for money and opening doors though I hadn’t quite stopped yet. There was no Asimov’s Magazine then, but I certainly knew who he was though I had no idea what he looked like. I’d read The Currents of Space and “Nightfall,” and I think I owned one of his science books. My passengers tumbled out of the cab and hurried inside. I pulled away, feeling sorry for myself. Philcon looked like fun.   

Three years later, finally, Mariner 4 did a flyby of the fourth planet and we got the news at last: nothing was there. No canals and no Martians. Not exactly news. It was one of the most disappointing moments of my life.

During the following years I attended whatever conventions were in reach. And I became aware that I was surrounded by people who hoped to find other civilizations in the sky. Venus was also out of the question by then, and no other world in the solar system seemed habitable. So whatever aliens we were looking for would have to be in other star systems. That became another discouraging issue. If we had a spaceship that could travel at 35,000 mph, which was pretty fast by current standards, it would need approximately 40,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star. Hard to imagine, I decided, we’ll ever be going over there.

So okay: unless the technology changes seriously, interstellar travel for people was never going to happen. Physicists were in agreement that exceeding the speed of light was impossible. And of course even if we could design a thrust system that would move a vehicle at light speed, we’d still need four years to complete the journey one way.


I first heard of flying saucers shortly after World War II ended. Reports implied that, if they really existed, they were surely visitors from another planet. My first reaction was excitement. I wanted them to be there. To land and say hello. And maybe offer to take some of us for rides. That sounded like a great idea until, in 1950, I read Damon Knight’s “To Serve Man.” Even then, I didn’t take that kind of possibility seriously. Intelligent visitors were not going to be Nazis. The truth is that we want to find out we’re not alone in this vast universe.

One of the benefits writers receive from the cons and from electronic exchanges is the opportunity to speak with their readers. That’s why we love to travel to conventions. The primary area of interest tends to be what we’re working on next. But get past that and readers inevitably ask: Who’s out there? Are we ever going to connect with them? It’s why we have SETI, of course. It’s why so much science fiction describes a first encounter.

During the following years I attended whatever conventions were in reach. And I became aware that I was surrounded by people who hoped to find other civilizations in the sky.

I grew up annoyed that I’d missed the radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” in 1938. It was broadcast on Mercury Theater as an actual news event and apparently left most Americans hiding under their beds. It wasn’t the kind of first contact we wanted, but I was sure I wouldn’t have been fooled by it.

The reality is that SF fans love aliens. Not only fictional ones, but we share a passion for an encounter. I’ve learned that the hard way. Speaking at cons has always been a pleasure. Sometimes it’s a general address, sometimes simply trading ideas during a writing workshop, sometimes just walking around talking with whoever shows up. The one question that inevitably surfaces is a variant on whether I believe that UFOs are interstellar vehicles. I don’t. I’ve no idea what the explanation for the sightings might be, but I know that readers don’t want to hear me talking about how far the stars are, and that I can’t believe any intelligent creature is going to want to sit inside an oversized space vehicle for years, get to a world that has lights on, and then fail to say hello.

All of which brings up another issue: Is the question of whether we might be alone in the universe the prime scientific issue of our age? I can’t speak for scientists, of course. Although when they point out that the universe contains billions of Earthlike planets, only one conclusion seems plausible. For the general public at large, it appears to be the topic that generates the most enthusiasm.

Eventually I tried to deal with one aspect of the issue in a story, “The Fifth Day,” published in Asimov’s, April/May, 2007.


The reality, of course, is that we are social creatures. And as we evolve, we become increasingly interested not only in those within our societal complex, but in others. “Others” currently refers to people with a different skin color, different religious views, or whatever. We’ve been learning, during the last century or so, that we share too much with others to cut them off. It’s taken awhile, and we haven’t gotten there yet, but we’re on the right track.

The future will probably bring connections with other species. Though they might be limited to radio exchanges. And there may be some surprises. “Tau Ceti Says What?” takes a look at one possibility. 

Before his successful career in sci-fi, Jack McDevitt was a taxi driver, an English teacher, a customs inspector on the U.S.-Canada border, and a member of the U.S. Navy. His novel Seeker won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 2006. He lives in Georgia.

Q&A with Leah Cypess

Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind “From the Fire”?

Leah Cypess: In 2019, I went to the Historical Novel Society Conference. It was a chance to learn about a whole different segment of the writing community, and it was an amazing experience. I was especially impressed by the sense of historical consciousness these writers had — their deep understanding of the fact that people in the past thought in very different ways than people in the present do. I loved the discussions about how to navigate those complexities when writing books about the past for a modern-day audience.

Then, during a panel on the Italian Renaissance, one panelist mentioned the story about Sandro Botticelli throwing some of his paintings into the Bonfire of the Vanities, and said, “I wish I could go back in time and throw myself between those paintings and the fire.”

And the story idea was born.

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

LC: You’ve already heard about the spark of inspiration, but the actual story came to me very slowly. For one thing, I am that weird person who is fascinated by the Italian Renaissance and not at all interested in its art, so I had to embark on a whole new area of research—both into Botticelli in particular and into artists in general. It was slow going! I’ve done more research for this story than I’ve done for some of my novels.

In the meantime, fortunately for me, Jo Walton published her book Lent. Lent is about Girolamo Savanarola, the architect of the Bonfire of the Vanities. (Well, it’s sort of about Savanarola. It’s a weird and wonderful and fascinating book.) Walton’s depiction of the Bonfire of the Vanities was very different from how it’s normally described, and she explained her reasons for that in her epilogue. It was another fascinating example of the difficulty of understanding the past from a modern perspective.

All these things, as well as various happenings in our modern world, brewed in my mind and formed various disconnected pages in my growing Scrivener file. At one point, I despaired of ever forming a coherent story out of all these ideas—and I did end up deleting some of those pages, hopefully to be used in future stories someday.

In the end, I’m really pleased with the story I pulled out of all these thoughts. Thank you for publishing it!

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

LC: I love using time travel as a way to (1) explore a variety of themes that really work well with this concept, and (2) sneakily write about history in short fiction, since there is no short fiction market for straight-up historical fiction. So I do have this concept of a future where time-travel has been invented and is used for various research purposes… a world I first explored in my story “A Pack of Tricks” (Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2020), and then further wrote about in “Unredacted Reports from 1546” (Future Science Fiction Digest, June 2021). This is the third installment in the “series” and I hope there will be more.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?

LC: Since I’ve been talking so much about historical fiction, I’ll continue in that vein (sorry for those of you who came here thinking they would read about science fiction and fantasy! I’ll get to that, I promise.) After going to the Historical Novelist Society Conference, I was so impressed by many of the panelists that I immediately went and took out their books. I’m someone who was never particularly attracted to historical fiction until I decided to write it — I kind of figured, if I was going to read fiction just for fun, I’d do that, and if I wanted to learn history, I’d read nonfiction. But I am happy to admit the errors of my ways, and now when I read great historical fiction, I pay close attention to what makes it work. One of the authors I heard at the conference, who I now think is one of the best authors working in this genre, is Kate Quinn. I highly recommend her most recent novel, The Rose Code, about three female code-breakers at Bletchley Park during World War II. Another recent standout is Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig, about a group of Smith Alumnae who went on an aid mission to rural France during World War I.

When it comes to time travel, Connie Willis is my biggest inspiration. I’ve read nearly everything she’s written, but Blackout/All Clear, in particular, are two of my favorite books of all time.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

LC: Despite my going on about historical fiction and time travel for two pages… my current main project has little to do with either. I’m writing a middle grade fantasy series, “Sisters Ever After,” which retells fairy tales from the point of view of the forgotten younger sisters. The first book, THORNWOOD, about Sleeping Beauty’s little sister, is out now; the second, GLASS SLIPPERS, about Cinderella’s third stepsister, will be published in April 2022.

AE: What are you reading right now?

LC: At the moment I’m focused on reading middle grade and young adult novels published in 2021, for the purpose of Nebula nominations. I’m currently in middle of Even & Odd by Sarah Beth Durst, about sisters who have to share their magical power (each one can do magic on alternating days), and it’s delightful! After that, I’m going to take a break from middle grade to read A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark, a book I am very excited about. And then, or possibly simultaneously, Rae Carson’s recent apocalyptic young adult novel, Any Sign of Life.

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

LC: My website, http://www.leahcypess.com, has all the information, and also a very infrequent, new-releases-only newsletter you can sign up for. I’m also on Facebook (Leah Cypess), Instagram (leahcypess), and Twitter (@LeahCypess).

Q&A with Jack Skillingstead

Jack Skillingstead’s “Dream Interpretation” [in our November/December issue, on sale now!] went on a long journey of revisions to become the story that it is today. Similarly, Jack himself has come a long way—from a Star Trek-obsessed kid to a prolific author making his twenty-third appearance in Asimov’s pages. Read on to learn more about both of these fantastic evolutions!

Asimov’s Editor: How did the title for this piece come to you?

JS: Originally the story was about an astronaut who returns from a disastrous mission to Mars and is tormented, or at least harassed, by weird dreams, which are actually coming from the remnants of a race of Martians still living beneath the surface of the planet. I called those early drafts “Martian Dreams.” But the further I departed from the Mars idea, the less useful that title became. The story folder on my desktop eventually became simply DREAM STORY. In the end I settled on “Dream Interpretation” because of the psychiatrist/client relationship at the heart of the story.

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

JS: As frequently happens, the story began as one thing but ended up as another thing altogether. I believed I wanted to write a story about Martians trying to communicate with astronauts. I thought these Martians would be real, physical beings living beneath the surface of Mars, shielded from detection until humans arrive. The Martians would somehow infiltrate the minds of sleeping astronauts, perhaps with a benign objective, perhaps not. In that first version of the story, mayhem quickly ensued. It turned into a sole-survivor story. The last member of the crew having discovered that the only way to avoid the Martian incursion into her mind was by staying awake until she was far enough away from the red planet to outdistance the mind-infiltration beams or whatever. “Martian Dreams” was a pulpy idea inspired by B science fiction movies like Angry Red Planet, which starts off with the return of a space ship from Mars and the only surviving crewmember telling her tale.

Anyway, that didn’t work. “Martian Dreams” was kind of fun to think about but I discovered I wasn’t that interested in fully realizing it. Nevertheless, I spent quite a bit of time hacking away at the original idea but was never able to believe in it to the necessary extent. Writing stories is hard. At some level you have to really love what is almost always, in the beginning, a fragile and broken thing. It’s like, Here’s this beautiful bird, it’s got gorgeous plumage, a nice crest, whatever. But the wings are so badly broken that it’s going to take a lot of patient work to figure out how to fix it and set it free into the air.

Gradually, I let go of the whole underground-Martians-shooting-mind-rays thing. This was a relief and a problem. More than half the story took place on Mars. A new direction meant dropping a lot of hard-won words. But if a story isn’t working, you’ve got accept it and move on. That’s part of the job. And you have to come back fresh and try again. That’s what writers mean when they say writing is hard. (I realize all writers don’t say it’s hard; this is just my personal perspective).

So “Martian Dreams” became “Dream Story,” which was just a place-holder title. When I resumed work on the story I looked for whatever remained from those earlier drafts that still felt alive and interesting. What I landed on was the psychiatrist/astronaut relationship. As I mentioned in my answer to the question above about the title, “Dream Interpretation” arose naturally out of that particular dynamic. Freud and dreams, all of that. But I think you could take the title itself as a metaphor describing the way stories get written. You have these often disconnected images and floating pieces of dialogue, like the remains of really vivid dreams that you can only partially recall upon waking. The writer has to investigate those images and make something real and coherent out of them. And, of course, entertaining.

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

JS: Sure, of course. I’ve frequently visited the mental landscape of emotionally isolated characters, or characters who perceive or even manipulate a fundamentally different reality set. My early published work is especially full of this stuff. In more recent years, though, I’ve tried to broaden my scope and appeal to a broader range of readers. It can be really difficult to find your groove as a writer, and all too easy for that groove to become a rut. After a while, you can lose sight of the bigger world of possibilities. My last published novel, The Chaos Function, is a good example of narrative expansion. I think I managed to address my familiar thematic concerns while telling a big story with an emotionally satisfying character arc. If you don’t grow as a writer you risk spending your years chasing the ghosts of your original inspiration.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

JS: My first pro sale was to Gardner Dozois in 2002. When he left Asimov’s I continued to sell work to Sheila Williams. With “Dream Interpretation” I think I’m up to twenty-three sales to the magazine (and forty-five over-all). Asimov’s feels like home. That first sale opened the door to the life I eventually passed into. Beyond my personal connection, it’s a great magazine that has continued to evolve over the many decades of its existence.

Writing stories is hard. At some level you have to really love what is almost always, in the beginning, a fragile and broken thing. It’s like, Here’s this beautiful bird, it’s got gorgeous plumage, a nice crest, whatever. But the wings are so badly broken that it’s going to take a lot of patient work to figure out how to fix it and set it free into the air.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

JS: This is the story I like to tell people, and it’s more or less true. When I was a kid watching the original Star Trek I became absolutely obsessed with it. I mean, I wanted to be in that world. I know I’m not some weird exception. I’ve encountered many writers who say the same thing. Back then I wasn’t delusional or anything. I knew it was make believe. I read Stephen E. Whitfield’s book The Making of Star Trek and loved the whole idea of TV/movie production. But even then, at age eleven or so, I knew the real engine behind Star Trek was the writing. I didn’t want to be a TV director—I wanted to write the stories. I began looking at the credits on episodes, and that’s where I first saw names like Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, and others. I soon discovered that these were “real” writers—writers who did short stories and novels, so that’s what I wanted to do, too. Now when I say this is “more or less” true, I mean that the idea of being a writer had already occurred to me but it was unfocused. I had no idea how to get there. The Star Trek thing simply led me to the world of science fiction books and magazines.

AE: How did you break into writing?

JS: Oh, the usual way. I wrote for years and years, short stories and novels, and eventually the door opened. Before that first pro sale to Asimov’s, I’d had a couple of small press hits, but Asimov’s was different. It took me a long time. I don’t know if it was longer generally than other writers. What made the difference, besides becoming better on the page, was that I finally got organized about submitting stories. A turning point came in 2000 when I entered Stephen King’s On Writing contest and won. Before then, I’d all but given up on ever seeing my work in print. Then here was this famous writer actually making a comment about my little story on his own website. I remember feeling a resurgence of hope. Of optimism. I don’t even know why I entered that contest. It’s not like I’d ever entered a writing contest before, or that I had any real expectation of winning. Anyway, after that I put together a submission grid. Ten markets for the best ten stories I currently had hanging around. Almost immediately I started selling and have never looked back, except to answer questions like, How did you break into writing?

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

JS: Sure! My advice is: Don’t panic. Work steadily but don’t worry too much if your early efforts aren’t successful. Play the long game. Writing fiction really isn’t much like other professions, and I’m not talking about the money. Don’t take rejection personally. That’s a tough one, for sure. I’m convinced I would have published sooner if I’d been more capable of absorbing rejection without suffering shockwaves of insecurity and self-doubt. So I do understand the core difficulty, but still urge new writers to push their work out there and not give up.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

JS: Writer’s block is a psychological phenomenon, not a clinical diagnosis. Usually it’s tied up with fear of rejection, fear of inadequacy, fear of failure and exposure as a fraud. All of this stuff is in your mind. When I get “blocked,” as am now with a novel I’m writing, it’s because I don’t know enough to go forward. I could force it, and may do that as a last resort. But if I give my unconscious enough time, it will almost certainly come up with the information I need to proceed. The trick is to not succumb to unhealthy mental states in the meantime. Easier said than done, but there you go.

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?

JS: This is a tricky one. If you don’t take into account current events, especially major social and political shifts, you can’t write convincingly of the contemporary world, or the near/far future. For instance, who can anymore afford to ignore climate change, the threats of pandemic, or social media’s influence on society? But you must remember that you’re writing about people first. Spinning off on contemporary issues to the exclusion of character and story values means you run the risk of your work becoming dismally dated. Just look at some of the stuff published in another turbulent period of history, the 1960s. Of course, a lot of great work came out of that decade as well. I’m just saying, be aware of the danger.

AE: What are you reading right now?

JS: I’ve usually got a few books going. Right now I’m reading a biography of Truman Capote, Stephen King’s new novel, and Jane Eyre. Mostly, I’m loving the Bronte over the other two.

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

JS: My website is: jackskillingstead.com

Twitter: @jskillingstead

Facebook: just search my name. I guarantee you, I’m the only Jack Skillingstead.

Jack Skillingstead has been publishing short stories and novels since 2003. His first story in Asimov’s was a finalist for the Sturgeon Award. He has also been short-listed for the Philip K. Dick Award. His latest novel is The Chaos Function, published in 2019 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Jack lives in Seattle with his wife, writer Nancy Kress, and their Covid puppy, Pippin.

Q&A with S. Qiouyi Lu

Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind this piece?
S. Qiouyi Lu: I’d always wanted to write my own take on Little Red Riding Hood, one where Red and the Big Bad Wolf have a more intimate relationship. Little Red Riding Hood has always read to me as a cautionary tale about masculinity; I wanted to invert the story and make masculinity not something to be feared, but to be explored on its own terms.

AE: How did this story germinate?
SQL: “Your Luminous Heart, Bound in Red” was originally written for an anthology called Speculative Masculinities that never ended up being published. I wanted to explore masculinity not as some kind of default state, but as an entity in itself, something that’s as constructed as femininity. What does non-toxic masculinity look like? How might someone transform their relationship with their own masculinity to something that’s more fulfilling, that’s more true to themself?

I write a lot about queerness, mental illness, diaspora, language, and my Chinese heritage. I find that most of my characters are some facet of myself, so my identities and experiences project out onto them. Mostly, I write what I’d like to read but haven’t seen yet.

AE: How did the title come to you?
SQL: When I don’t have a title in mind already for a piece, I tend to comb through my poetry collection and see what resonates. This title was a mashup of a couple lines that I found.

Continue reading “Q&A with S. Qiouyi Lu”