The Therapeutic Value of “Writing What You Know”

by Zack Be

Zack Be has extensive experience playing gig after gig as a touring musician, and his latest story is inspired by all of the road-weary bands, singers, and performers who must eventually ask themselves: Will we ever make it big? Read “Meryl’s Cocoon” in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]

If you travel in creative writing circles you’ll constantly hear the phrase “write what you know.” It’s said both ironically and unironically, with either derision or approval (but almost always certainty) as authors wrestle with the scope of what topics they think they can write about with any sense of verisimilitude. I shudder to think that in this very blog post, in its very first sentence, I’ve fallen prey to dragging out that dusty old creative writing class discussion yet again. Still, I can’t escape the fact that writing “Meryl’s Cocoon”—which appears in Asimov’s May/June 2022 issue—involved me intensively “writing what I know,” and by extension, helped me to gain a deeper understanding of “what I know” by forcing me to process it on the page.

The story centers on a pair of musicians barely surviving as they navigate the rigorous touring schedule of their small-time band. As a small-time gigging musician myself with a background in running DIY house shows out of my garage, I’ve played, toured, hosted, and attended countless shows just like the ones Nia and Brit play and/or reminisce about in the story. Just like Nia and Brit, I’ve seen the world around my music scene change over the years; or at least, I’ve felt the scene change, perhaps as a function of my own aging and the jadedness that comes with it. 

Change is inevitable—people come and go from the music scene, as do trends, venues, platforms, and one’s own stomach for the labor of staying involved. However, no matter how the ornamentation melts and reforms, there remains a subcutaneous energy that drives the operation forward, stalwart as ever, desperately pushing people to make something meaningful out of nothing (that’s the DIY spirit, after all). But most can’t live on that energy alone. As much as this story is about the love of the scene and the spirit that oils its gears, it’s also about growing up and, with great effort, recognizing the right time to let go. 

These days, I spend the bulk of my time toiling in the PhD mines and working as a psychotherapist. But does that mean I’m giving up on my music? Not so fast. 

“Meryl’s Cocoon” is a sort of love letter to all my musician friends around the world and especially those in the Washington D.C. area who continue to climb the mountain. I hope every musician who reads “Meryl’s Cocoon” sees a bit of their story in Nia and Brit. Back-breaking load-ins before shows, empty crowds, hype-beast bands trying to network after your set, back-breaking load-outs after shows, long rides in the van between venues that decouple you from reality and generate existential malaise—it’s all here, folks, plus SFnal robots. It just so happens that trying to capture the truth of these moments also means being upfront about the self-doubt musicians experience as they become increasingly self-aware of the potential limits of their lifestyle. As Nia finds out, sometimes it is the right time to pivot, and detailing this piece of the story became a much more intensive process of “writing what I know” than I initially intended. In order to make the story honest for the reader, I needed to be honest with myself about what music means to me, and connect with the part of myself that has lost faith in the music life as I matured. 

The raw material to be this honest was present, but from a writing craft perspective, my closeness to the characters of “Meryl’s Cocoon” also left me snowblind at times while I tried to “write what I know.” This is one of those stories that jostled around in the back of my head for years before I actually sat down to start drafting, in part because I did not know where to begin. Some of my creative writing mentors are probably groaning as they read this, cracking their knuckles over their keyboards as they prepare to tell me in the comments that this was a completely unnecessary period of gestation. And guess what? They are probably right, but there were many times before I started writing that I felt truly overwhelmed by my proximity to these experiences and the desire to do them justice. Much like the bedroom music producer who can never seem to stop tinkering and release his long-delayed cloud rap album, “Meryl’s Cocoon” inadvertently became a story I was telling myself for years before I sent it off to Asimov’s.

I did not expect my attempts to do these feelings justice on the page would expand my understanding of those feelings within myself. We often think of “write what you know” as a maxim for writers to follow for the purpose of improving the reader’s experience. If you write what you know, then the authenticity will flow. From there, authors like to argue about whether or not they can write a convincing firefighter character without having been one themselves. 

It just so happens that trying to capture the truth of these moments also means being upfront about the self-doubt musicians experience as they become increasingly self-aware of the potential limits of their lifestyle.

At a deeper level, however, it seems that “write what you know” provides an author with the opportunity to process their world and their experiences. Putting words on the page, one after another in a long unbroken linear string, forces us to take the chaotic cloud of abstract thoughts and feelings that floats above our heads all day, squeeze it down, and reformat it piece by piece into a coherent explanation of our inner worlds.

Now you might be thinking, “this process sounds eerily similar to therapy.” Well, it is! But in the realm of fiction—and especially speculative fiction—this process is uniquely different from journaling, a classic psychotherapy tool. Fiction writing can be completely untethered from reality in the way it allows us to play with the parts of ourselves we bring to it far beyond the frame of a personal journal. 

Here’s an SAT analogy: “Writing what you know” is to play therapy as journaling is to talk therapy. Both kids and adults “play,” writing fiction is a form of “play,” and any form of play can be play therapy. Playing frees us to engage with ideas in ways we never thought possible, and by extension, see new parts of ourselves. Just like a child’s pretend play as a fireman may help them to understand what a fireman is, so too does an author’s depiction of vengeful mistresses in the Royal Martian Court offer that author an opportunity to wrestle with their own understanding of vengeance (and infidelity?) in their lives. “Write what you know” is not a boundary within which authors must write, but instead it is an invitation to authors to draw what we know up into the boundless expanses of our imagination and process it via play.

I’ve spent the entirety of my adult life going to, playing, and hosting shows in my local music community, as well as producing music. The scene can be transcendent, beautiful, joyless, and unforgiving, scraping all the highs and lows of the creative experience in a single night, if not over the course of a single set, or even a song. “Writing what I know” about this experience, and the experience of music itself, has helped me to understand this corner of my life in a way that was previously inaccessible. Raising it into the realm of fantasy offered me the unique opportunity to see it from new sides and add new dimensions to my sense of self. Whether your story takes place on Titan, or in a pocket dimension full of space whales, or right here on Earth on tour with a rock band trying to survive the impending machine singularity, there is an opportunity for any author to process a part of themselves through prose. “Write what you know” may be a dusty chestnut indeed, but its endless regurgitation speaks to a deeper value many of us ignore. 

Getting to tell these stories in “Meryl’s Cocoon” was a treat, and for what it’s worth, I hope my musician friends continue to live this life and make the best music hiding under the average listener’s nose for as long as they can (see some local DC suggestions at the bottom).  

Some artists you might not know:

Color Palette –

Lightmare –

The North Country –

Spring Silver –

Darryl Rahn –

Oh He Dead –

Near Northeast –

Garrett Gleason –

Pretty Bitter –

Zack Be is an author, musician, and family and couples therapist who lives in the Washington, D.C. area. His work has previously appeared in Asimov’s, and has won the Writers of the Future story contest.

Stringing Pearls

Ursula Whitcher’s new story “The Last Tutor” is inspired by memories of her great aunt Beattie, who led a colorful yet mysterious life. Find “The Last Tutor” in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]

by Ursula Whitcher

The author’s maternal grandfather’s family in Shanghai, ca. 1910s, with her great aunt seated to the left (courtesy of the author)

I want to make one thing clear up front: the family in “The Last Tutor” is not my family. The protagonist, Isekendriya, has two abusive parents: their father is willfully ignorant, their mother overtly cruel. I’m not above using fiction to work out how I feel about real problems, but that’s not what I’m doing here: I made the whole nasty tangle up.

But sometimes you don’t write to reproduce yourself. Sometimes you write to imagine a context where someone like you could exist. That’s a maxim I picked up from Heather Rose Jones, who uses it to describe her alternate-history Alpennia series, which is focused on lesbian relationships and women’s community in a nineteenth century that never was. I’ve used some of the same strategies to create the far-future planet of Nakharat and the people who live there.

When I was inventing Nakharat, I was thinking about family, specifically my mother’s father’s family. Let me tell you about my great-aunt Beattie. Beattie was born in Shanghai in 1907. She was the youngest in a family of many sisters and one brother (my great-grandfather). I have exactly one photo of her: she’s the tiny girl sitting on a pillar and wearing a bow that’s almost as big as her head.

I met Beattie only once, when she was in her eighties and I was about eight. I was almost as tall as she was. Beattie had flown to California and taken the Greyhound all the way to Oklahoma, wearing her favorite necklace, a piece of gold from the Chinese mint strung on a silken cord. In Oklahoma, she collected my grandfather and forced him to take her to McDonald’s.

I didn’t want to go to McDonald’s myself⁠—I was a weird kid who preferred dim sum and frog’s legs⁠—but making my grandfather go there was an astonishing feat. Gus inhabited the role of an English gentleman with the stubbornness of a former commando and the meticulousness of someone whose Englishness had often been questioned. But Beattie, though his youngest aunt, was still his aunt. She didn’t have to play along. I expect she enjoyed my grandfather’s protests nearly as much as the French fries.

But sometimes you don’t write to reproduce yourself. Sometimes you write to imagine a context where someone like you could exist.

Gus and Beattie drove from Oklahoma to Baltimore, where my family lived. We all went to the Chinese grocery store, where Beattie insisted on buying a canned rice pudding, which she described as economical and delicious. My sister and I hid it in the lowest cupboard.

Beattie never inflicted the pudding on us: she was too busy teaching us how to string pearls. With a necklace of real pearls, you need a knot between each bead, so that if the string breaks, the pearls will not scatter and be lost. We used ordinary beads for practice, but Beattie told me approvingly that I would never lack a trade: I was now prepared for pearl-smuggling.

That was the family story: Beattie was a smuggler. Anecdotes collected around her, the way another woman might have collected scarves. I can’t tell you what she dealt in when, or what laws she skirted, with a fact-checker’s precision. I do know her ventures included importing wine. Before the Chinese Civil War, she sold liquor to the Shanghai Club, though she was doubly barred from club membership, because she was a woman and because she was mixed race. Later, trading on her expertise in French fashion, Beattie founded a dress shop in Hong Kong. And of course she had many opinions about the quality of pearls.

Like my great-aunt Beattie, my character Isekendriya’s forebears were gleeful capitalists. Their grandfather, for example, “had walked off the steppe, chosen a name meaning ‘ruler of rulers,’ and refactored Fountain Company security for half the continent.” 

Ise shares something else with their grandfather, and with Beattie: a sense of momentum. As a smart kid in ’80s and ’90s suburbia, I learned a lot of strategies for deflecting attention. I was quiet, cautious, eccentric only in unthreatening ways. I’d slide through social situations as smoothly as possible, so I could go back to reading a book. Ise does exactly none of these things. Sometimes they won’t get along; sometimes they can’t. They respond to conflict in one way: running toward it as fast as possible.

When writing Ise, I had to take the brakes off. I lent them layers of bossiness, stubbornness, and inexorability that I’d forgotten I possessed. I got much better at noticing when I was angry or terrified⁠—those aren’t feelings that Ise slides around. 

That’s the weird thing about inventing imaginary places. Sometimes, if you build a place where you might exist, your sense of your own self expands. I’m not planning a career smuggling jewels. But somehow, I don’t feel as cautious as I used to.

Ursula Whitcher is a mathematician and associate editor at Mathematical Reviews who also writes speculative fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in Asimov’s, Cossmass Infinities, and Goblin Fruit.

Q&A With Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is a writer of science fiction and fantasy whose work is deeply concerned with the implications of power. In his latest story, Ekpeki brings readers to a future Lagos, his home city, where he casts a critical eye on problems he witnesses today. We are pleased to feature “Destiny Delayed,”in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki: “Destiny Delayed” was inspired by a practice in Southern Nigeria where female children are given away, permanently, by their parents to settle loans or long standing debts they can no longer settle.
In Northern Nigeria child brides marriage is a thing as well. So these cases of spending the lives of young female children as currency was something that inspired my story.

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
ODE: Aside from child bride marriages and loan settlement practices with girl children, Nigeria’s toxic and exploitative corporate practices also inspired this story. One day the two ideas collided and I decided to merge all the above issues to critique and examine them in my fiction.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
ODE: Hardly any of my stories are stand alone. I feel that the beauty and major work in a story is realized in short stories. Creating the world, premise, main characters. And it always seems like a waste discarding all that after just making a short story with them. Hence my shorts usually have an extension or expansion. More going on with the same characters, the world. Much like my Ife-Iyoku short story that became the novella Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon and is becoming a trilogy. This story is no different. I envision it as a multiple book series, seven books at the moment, with the series title, The Seven Destinies or Nyerhovwo. Each book taking place in a different African country, with the series an exploration of African lore and geography as the main character here journeys in search of her destinies across the breadth of the African continent.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
ODE: I can relate with almost everybody in it. The banker who has to get mixed up in the sordid world of corporate theft and exploitation to survive. The father who has to make horrid sacrifices because he thinks he sees and has no better options. I can relate with all the characters really. Which I believe is the job of the writer. To tell their story, I have to see through their eyes, walk in their shoes and even wear their skin. Metaphorically speaking of course. I have no literal experience of doing what they did. But I understand the desperation, and some of the emotions that lead there. And that’s something that comes extra easy being that I live in the very city the story is set in. The reality, not far from the fictional.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
ODE: It comes from the popular saying “Destiny can be delayed but not denied.” It’s something that’s often thrown around here. And I thought about the saying a lot. It’s used to excuse a lot of horrid things happening here, a form of consolation. Cold comfort if you ask me. Because sometimes “delaying” a “destiny” is damaging enough and one may never recover from that damage. So I thought to explore the literal interpretation of the saying, as SFF often does. What if destinies were tangible or at least could be interacted with, could be harnessed, delayed? What would be the implications of that? The story and people behind it, in an urban, modern setting, the commercial hub of the most populous African nation. This is why I intend further books in the world, to explore fully the loss of that destiny on the main character and how they deal with that loss and the journey it takes them on, dealing and processing its true meaning for them.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
ODE: Asimov’s has always been my dream venue for science fiction, if not the dream venue for it generally. And this story is very much science fiction. My brand of science fiction; mundane, genre bending, and flavoured with African elements and Nigerian elements, from where it’s set. So naturally I thought Asimov’s would be a great fit for it.

What if destinies were tangible or at least could be interacted with, could be harnessed, delayed. What would be the implications of that?

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
ODE: My fiction tends to be hyper realistic. At least my science fiction. And even when not, to interrogate issues in the real world and have themes that do. My BSFA, Nebula finalist, climate fiction novelette O2 Arena did that. “Destiny Delayed” like it is set in present to near future Lagos so it, like that story, is as close to current events and happenings in our society as possible. This is to give an accurate enough representation that even people who have not been there can have a strong enough measure of the truths being told and events being portrayed.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
ODE: The most dominant for me is power. Power in its entirety. Its effects— misuse, lack, effect of its lack, the processes taken to obtain it, the results of those efforts, the results and cost, the effect of its being obtained and the uses to which it’s put by the formerly powerless when they do eventually obtain it. It’s a subject that I find myself returning to, perhaps because of the state of powerlessness I find myself as a Black, African, disabled writer on a continent that’s been enslaved, colonized, and exploited for centuries and continues to be. There’s also toxic capitalism, gender and racial issues, illness and disability, marginalizations generally, and more

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
ODE: Food and drink. Especially chocolate. Those can usually force my creativity out no matter what or when. And change in environment, scenery. Also, peace of mind, resulting from financial and other security helps too.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
ODE: A number of projects. You’ll find out soon enough. *Wink wink*

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
ODE: Craft is good. But it usually and unfortunately takes up all the space in a writer’s process. Beyond the writing craft, writers, especially marginalized writers, should give some thought to the other aspects of writing. Like publishing. How and where they want their works to come out and appear. The kind of editors, agents and publishers they want and how to obtain those in a world that will try its utmost to deny them anything good. As it will take deliberate effort to break through the wall of marginalizations that lies between them and their dreams. And having that at the back of your mind as you create isn’t bad. It can help to streamline things to the direction you want to go. Pay attention to the industry you are in.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
ODE: I’ve been submitting to Asimov’s since 2017 when I started submitting to SFF mags. I’ve sent in nearly every piece I’ve written since then. I always felt my chances of getting in were slim, since I had no science background and it was considered the premier science fiction venue. I felt that would show in and affect my work and chances of getting in. But it remained a dream, what I considered my biggest challenge because of my non-science background. So I persevered. And the rest is history as you can see. Perhaps destiny really can never be denied, even if it can be delayed, as they say. *grin*

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL . . .)
ODE: Website:

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki is an author who currently resides in Lagos, Nigeria. His work has preciously appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons,, and elsewhere. In addition to winning the African Speculative Fiction Society’s Nommo Award for his short story “The Witching Hour,” Ekpeki is the first African novelist whose work became a Nebula Award Finalist with his novella Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon

Q&A With Vikram Ramakrishnan

Vikram Ramakrishnan emigrated from India to the U.S. in the 1980s, and the experience of the Indian diaspora influences his new story “The Abacus and the Infinite Vessel,” his first for Asimov’s. Read it in our [May/June issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Vikram Ramakrishnan: In the late 20th century, thousands of Indian families, including mine, immigrated to the United States. I wanted to understand better the tensions these families faced when navigating their roots with a new place. Specifically, I was interested in how extended family reacted to members leaving. From there, I had a vague picture of a mother and daughter fleeing their home because the mother wanted a better life for her daughter. As I worked on the story, I thought about the tensions they’d have to deal with: deep loss, the stressors of a new land, and the pressures they felt from extended family. I wanted to highlight all these against the harshness of the Martian landscape.

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?
VR: I was going for a drive with my wife along the Long Island Sound. It’s a gorgeous drive. You have water on one side and cliffs on the other. We passed a cliff overlooking the water. She told me a story about how immigrant families from India would do religious rituals on that cliff. One of the rituals involves releasing a clay statue of Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god, into the water. It symbolizes the idea of “samsara,” the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. That immediately became the seed of the story. I was fascinated about how people bring their cultural practices to a new place. I sketched out a few family scenes and put it aside. In the original draft, the story took place on Earth. One day during a revision, it suddenly occurred to me that the story should take place on Mars in the future. There is something incredibly beautiful about the harsh Martian landscape. I thought it would make an interesting setting. From there, the rest of the story seemed to click. 

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
VR: The story is a stand-alone. I hadn’t considered it part of a larger universe, though the more I think about it, I suppose it is part of a larger thematic universe in my stories. Particularly, that of family in times of tectonic technological shifts.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
VR: Being an only child and with parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s, I relate to the narrator the most. When I reflect back on that period, I think about the amount of change we dealt with. Moving of course, but also adapting to a new country, a new culture, a new language. I think that’s one reason I framed the story the way I did, with an older narrator looking back on her childhood. I wanted to evoke a sense of memory-reflection, but also a faint nostalgia for a past that’s long gone and very different from the present.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
VR: I read a chasmic array of authors and styles. I firmly believe there is something to learn from all of them. Some of my favorites are Nicole Krauss and her idea of how we create our own stories; Arundhati Roy’s ability to tug your heart around the page; Haruki Murakami’s playful strangeness; Greg Egan’s science fiction, where he’s able to pick the most important congruent parts of an idea to show us what a potential future can look like; Robert Jordan and his worldbuilding in “The Wheel of Time”; and Jhumpa Lahiri’s gorgeous prose and delicate language. I get very excited when I come across a new author I’ve never read.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
VR: Earlier I had mentioned that I seem to write a lot about family. I’m taking a glance at a Google sheet that I have. In it, I list out stories I’ve published or am in the process of drafting. I have a column for themes. It strikes me that a family element is central to almost all of them. “The Abacus and the Infinite Vessel” of course, is about a mother and daughter, but also about tensions within the extended family. Right now, I’m working on another about two brothers and even one about a found family. There are plenty of stories about families of course. What I’m most interested in is how family dynamics change when it comes to great technological change. I think that’s one note I wanted to hit in “The Abacus and the Infinite Vessel.” Think about modern technologies, say video chat for example. We took advantage of it during the 2020 pandemic to stay close with family even though we couldn’t see them. If we think about medical progress, disease treatment has allowed us more years with loved ones we otherwise wouldn’t have had. What will space exploration do? I’m interested in how downstream effects of technology will affect our relationships.

AE: What is your process?
VR: Mornings for me are really important. I get up fairly early and plop into the chair in front of my computer. There’s something about early morning drafting. Before coffee, before the hullabaloo of the daytime. There’s something special about this time. I find my mind more calm, but also making strange and wonderful connections with seemingly unrelated ideas. It’s a very different mindspace from the rest of the day. So, once I’m done drafting in the morning, I take my Siberan Husky, Kratos, for a walk. At the moment I’m in Philadelphia, and it’s springtime. The mornings are crisp, and it’s quite nice with the way the morning sun hits the buildings. After the walk, I’ll come back, feed Kratos, and make coffee. At this point, I’m out of my dreamlike state and able to concentrate on the other parts of writing like editing and planning.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
VR: One thing I’ve noticed is when science fiction hits mainstream audiences, themes tend to either get watered down or exacerbated. I’m speaking in broad generalities here. Of course there are exceptions. At the moment, there is quite a bit of attention on dystopias. Movies, books, TV shows. They are all stoking the fears of dystopian outcomes. Fear, of course, is a big driver of human action, and given the state of the world, feeling fear is understandable. I think big producers take advantage of this by seeing how much money dystopian themes bring in, and this drives their decision making to produce more of it. But, I’d like to see more anti-dystopian science fiction out there. It’s one thing I love about Asimov’s. There is so much hopeful fiction in its pages. I’d like to see more of it. So what’s upstream of anti-dystopias? Science and technology that evokes our curiosity, makes us healthier, helps heal our collective society’s many scars. I hope to see those come true.

I read a chasmic array of authors and styles. I firmly believe there is something to learn from all of them.

AE: What are you reading right now?
VR: I love learning how stories are told differently, particularly those that break away from the three-act structure we often see. New Directions Publishing deals in books-in-translation. Their editors curate books from all over the world: Germany, Argentina, Spain, Hungary. They have a monthly book club where they send subscribers one of their publications. It’s a treat to get something completely new in the mail every month. One of their recent selections was Hole by Hiroko Oyamada. It’s a dazzling fantastical tale set in a familiar home setting, a mix of urban and countryside Japan. It has elements of Alice in Wonderland. I love stories like this that play with reality, evoking a dreamlike state for their readers.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
VR: When I’m not writing fiction, I write software. Part of writing software is breaking down applications into their core parts. The more I do both, the more I realize good writing is good engineering. In software, you have the ability to look at a piece of code to see how it was engineered. There are certain design patterns that reveal its quality. I can’t pinpoint the exact date, but at some point, it struck me that writing is like this too. You can take a look at a piece of fiction and see the quality of its engineering. I think this is a good analogy for writing fiction.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
VR: I keep a newsletter at and can be found on twitter at @okvikram.

Vikram Ramakrishnan is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and enthusiastic member of Odyssey Writing Workshop’s class of 2020, where he received the Walter & Kattie Metcalf Scholarship. He is the winner of the 17th Annual Gival Short Story Award. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in Meridian, Eclectica, and Dark Matter Magazine. “The Abacus and the Infinite Vessel” is his first story for Asimov’s.

Q&A With Andrea Kriz

Writer and biologist Andrea Kriz discusses some of her favorite anime series, along with her passion for the French Resistance in this enlightening interview. Check out her new story “The Leviathan and the Fury” in [May/June issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story germinate?
Andrea Kriz: The spark was something I think many people who study the history of the French Resistance wonder—what if the tragedy of Jean Moulin hadn’t happened? What would the future of France have looked like then? I couldn’t find any stories that tackled such an alternate history (but would love to read them—if you know of any and you’re reading this, let me know via Twitter or my website!) so I attempted to write one myself. But it never quite worked. Every time I changed something, something else fell into place to create the exact same outcome. I realized that this was a classic set-up for a time loop story. Who would, if they had the power, most want to repeat that time period and change what happened? What parts of the future would and wouldn’t change?
Another spark was the anime Puella Magi Madoka Magica (warning, spoilers for the series). Madoka made me realize how truly horrifying repeating the same events over and over again, with the aim of saving one “unsavable” person, would actually be. Once hope of an “easy fix” fades, an almost-scientific approach would be needed, altering variable by variable to gradually get closer to the goal. Just like a player speedrunning a video game, the time-looper must decide who or what’s an acceptable sacrifice while not losing sight of who they’re trying to save, and the reason they’re trying to save that person in the first place… and I think that touches on the history of the history of the French Resistance, what that narrative means to different people, and how certain figures have become symbols, which might be immutable no matter what.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
AK: Not necessarily a larger universe, but this story is linked to two others I wrote: “Resistance in a Drop of DNA”
and The Last Caricature of Jean Moulin ( I wrote the other two first, and I see “The Leviathan and the Fury” as the thematic ending to the trio.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
AK: The narrator sees himself as monstrous at this point, after repeating his years in the French Resistance countless times. He’s made every possible sacrifice and witnessed (if not indirectly orchestrated) every horrific outcome just to see what happens, how that impacts the future. But nobody he interacts with can see the person he’s become as a result of that trauma. They only see him on the surface-level, the person he was in the original timeline. The ‘monster’ beneath that surface—that’s the leviathan. The fury is the spark of what if. And the fact the narrator attributes his time-looping power to not just the fury but also the leviathan, what he sees as his true self and feelings, is the crux of the story and the realization he has at the end.
The title as a whole is a reference to The Sorrow and the Pity, which is a documentary directed by Marcel Ophuls about the German Occupation of France. A man in that documentary is asked about his strongest feelings during the Occupation and he answers “sorrow and pity.”

AE: You mentioned anime—can you talk more about which shows inspired you and what you’re watching now?
AK: Like a lot of kids, growing up I watched Gundam and Sailor Moon on Toonami, and Pokémon, which got me hooked on the science fiction and fantasy genres. Later I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion, which basically shattered every pre-existing conception I had of what science fiction could be or the kind of story that can be told in a science fiction setting. I actually didn’t like it at first because of the ending (if you know, you know), but I still think about it years later (and am so glad we also got a satisfying ending with 3.0+1.0). What Evangelion nailed for me was telling a deeply human story with and about aliens and giant fighting robots and the children forced to pilot them. No matter how ridiculous the set-up, I want to do the same in my stories.
More recently, I really enjoyed Eighty-Six, an anime that takes place in a Republic, which forces members of the non-ruling race to fight in a never-ending war. One of the protagonists is a remote “handler” for these conscripted soldiers, an idealistic woman who insists she isn’t racist and cares about those under her command. The other protagonist is the leader of the squad under her command, who drove the previous handler insane. It’s an intense deconstruction of armchair activism, the savior trope, how democracies become deeply flawed and what changing that from within actually looks like.

What I’ve found most important is letting yourself write what you want to write, even if it seems weird or like no one would understand why you’d want to write about that (after all, who would’ve guessed a biologist would be writing about the French Resistance . . .).

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
AK: Often it’s going back to the spark of the story and thinking about if the work-in-progress is losing steam because it’s straying from that, if bringing it back to that will help move things along. Or taking a break and writing something fun and unrelated. Finally, remembering that any progress—even moving a punctuation mark, or just thinking about the work-in-progress—is progress and that’s moving forward.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?
AK: I found that the scientific journal Nature actually published flash fiction on its last page in its Nature Futures section (which continues online now). Back then, I hadn’t even known it was possible to write a science fiction story in such a short space! I started writing flash myself, had my first piece accepted by Nature Futures . . . and here I am now.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
AK: I actually think way too much about living in the Pokémon world, probably because I spent so much time playing Pokémon games growing up. If anyone is interested, my Pokémon team would include Dragonite (flying and battling) and Poliwag (so freaking cute!).

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
AK: Don’t feel like you have to write about a certain topics because that’s where your expertise or background is. Not to say it’s not wonderful to write science fiction that draws on your expertise or background—but I’ve found that because these things are so personal they can actually be more difficult to draw inspiration from. And this was frustrating for me, especially when I first started writing. Be patient with yourself. What I’ve found most important is letting yourself write what you want to write, even if it seems weird or like no one would understand why you’d want to write about that (after all, who would’ve guessed a biologist would be writing about the French Resistance . . .). And if you want to write stories based on your expertise and background, those will come too. Write them on your own terms. Don’t let anyone tell you that readers will only be interested in your story if you write about x in y way because you’re z.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
AK: I’m a biologist. I recently got my PhD and am now working as a research fellow, studying the epigenetics of human neurodevelopment. I’ve found both doing science and writing science fiction require creativity—albeit channeling it in different ways. When I come up with an imaginative idea in my science career, I then work on experiments to either support or disprove that hypothesis. If the hypothesis is not supported, its gets discarded and replaced with a hypothesis consistent with the data. But in fiction, even if the idea is not plausible I can sometimes write a story based on it, I can create a world and society where that idea is plausible.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
AK: You can find me on Twitter @theworldshesaw and online at

Andrea Kriz is a writer and biologist from the greater Boston area. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed Magazine, and Fireside Magazine.

Dreaming “Aurora”

The world of sleep is both fantastical and fleeting, but can be the source of some of our greatest creative ideas. In this blog post, Michael Cassutt discusses the dream that inspired his story “Aurora.” Read it in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]

by Michael Cassutt

I’ve been writing fiction for a long time, easily fifty years, and have had story concepts find me in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s through a song lyric, at other times it’s a passing phrase. Frequently it’s an image in a magazine or on-line.

I’ve also gotten ideas from other fiction, seeing some SF notion and deciding, in my infinite wisdom, that it was wrong or incomplete, and that I could do better. (I’m actually writing one of those now.)

Almost all of these inspirations are gifts. I’ve never been in the position where I’ve had to brute force an idea for an SF story because I need to write one and get paid.

(That torture is more common in the world of series television, but the less said about that the better.)

Making the transition from concept to complete story can be a gift, too.

One year my parents gave me a picture book titled Stillwater: Minnesota’s Birthplace, which had an image and a few paragraphs on a man named John Jeremy, who was famed as a corpse fisher. (Apparently Stillwater, a logging town on the St. Croix River, suffered a lot of drownings.)

While getting ready to leave home for work that morning (I was then employed by CBS TV) a complete story about John Jeremy appeared in my mind along with the opening line.

That night, part-time writer that I was, working 2-3 evenings a week, I sat down at my IBM Selectric III and in ninety minutes wrote the entire 3,800-word text of “Stillwater, 1896″), far more than I usually wrote in any single session.

It sold on its second submission—the first rejection came from The New Yorker, the only time I was brave or ambitious enough to attempt that market – to a horror anthology series called Shadows, edited by Charles L. Grant. And over the years it was picked up for six different anthologies. I still make a few dollars on it every other year.

But this swift, productive origin never occurred again. Like most writers, possibly all, I find notions or images in dreams, too, but usually some barely-remembered fragment. It isn’t a common source of stories, unless you happen to be A. E. van Vogt, the no-longer famous author of Slan and World of Null-A from the 1940s.

Van Vogt developed a method of shaping dreams in order to generate fantastic concepts. On selected nights, having mercifully located himself in the second bedroom in his residence so his wife would not be disturbed—

“I set the alarm to ring in one and one-half hours. When it awakened me, I reset the alarm for another one and one-half hours, thought about the problems in the story I was working on—and fell asleep. I did that altogether four times during the night. And in the morning, there was the unusual solution, the strange plot twist.”

As anyone who’s ever read a van Vogt story can tell you, frequently some really strange plot twists.

This is the kind of insane stratagem you invent when you are supporting yourself as a pulp SF writer in the 1940s.

Which is, now that I think about it, a lot like supporting yourself as a writer for TV series in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, where you often have to come up with an episode concept today, not tomorrow.

However, “Aurora,” my new story in the March/April 2022 Asimov’s came to me in a fabulously detailed and complete dream.

Like most writers, possibly all, I find notions or images in dreams, too, but usually some barely-remembered fragment.

I was somewhere in a northern climate, an empty steppe, at a research facility. I knew that I was involved in astronomy because I was looking at images from space, specifically at an object in the solar system that was shaped like a table-top, not a sphere or a shard of rock.

Also that it was icy.

And on a collision course with Earth.

I remember being alarmed, an unpleasant dream state—which makes me wonder if this was actually a nightmare.

But then, with one of those dream-like leaps that defy logic, my team and I were beaming a laser at the Object, and its surface was boiling, changing its trajectory.

(Certain other details followed, but I withhold them because they are part of the reading experience.)

When I awoke I not only remembered all this detail, something I rarely do.

I also knew it was a story, and I even had a title: “Reciprocal.”

Much like my experience with “Stillwater 1896,” it was a simple matter to simply sit down and write it, which, less than a week later, I did.

Identifying the setting was easy . . . in my mind, the landscape was always northern Russia at a remote scientific installation. I’ve been fascinated with Russian/Soviet science and technology, especially space-related, since I was in my teens. Not only have I read a lot on the subject, twenty-some years ago I had the good fortune to travel to Russia and visit several high-tech facilities.

I’ve also interviewed or had conversations with perhaps two or three dozen workers in those facilities, too, so possessed some idea of that life might be like—the residences, the isolation, the lack of shopping or entertainment (as we would expect it in the U.S.), the crumbling infrastructure and, well, the rampant alcoholism. (I had heard credible reports of former cosmonauts, those who trained for decades and never got into space, stumbling the streets drunkenly at all hours. One was struck by a car and killed. Another died after consuming wood alcohol.)

Which gave me a possible character in Vera Kuznetsova, a retired physicist and facility director. In order to connect her to the story’s core problem, I bestowed her with institutional memory that her successors in the 21st Century would lack . . . especially those who had evolved in a world where people were routinely “enhanced,” that is, possessing neuro connections to a global data network.

Looking at “Aurora” and its dream origins with a year’s perspective makes me wonder why I had such a detailed vision. I suspect it was drug-related. During most of 2019 and all of 2020 I was dealing with a medical condition that defied easy diagnosis or even description, though my doctors and I have agreed on “allergy-asthma.”

What I was doing was ingesting a lot of medications. And they often affected my sleep and surely my dreams.

I’m in better shape now and, like every writer I know, always eager to repeat a proven method for generating stories, especially when swift and painless.

No, no, going back on those drugs is a bad idea, right?

But there is the van Vogt method—

Michael Cassutt is a science fiction writer who has previously worked in television production and screenwriting. His work, including over 30 short stories, has previously appeared in Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and elsewhere.

Your Truthful Sister

Christopher Mark Rose believes that humans should look more toward their nearest neighboring planet for inspiration and future exploration. His new story “Venus Exegesis” uncovered the mysteries of that yellow planet, and it appears in our March/April issue [on sale now]!

by Christopher Mark Rose

I’m reluctant to speak for stories that should speak for themselves at this point in my development as a writer. “Venus Exegesis” is more than a simple story though. It’s asking you to believe something, or at least consider the possibility of something outlandish. It’s a big ask.

I think I’d be glad for the idea at the core of this story—that Venus harbors evidence of past life, perhaps intelligent life, on its surface—to be proven wrong, though I am doubtful that that could be done conclusively, or any time soon.

Such “disproven” stories hold a ghostly potency, pointing to futures that are no longer accessible from the timeline we are now on. I think of Greg Bear’s early story, “A Martian Ricorso,” which imagined a quite animated and apparently intelligent life form on the surface of Mars, building canals. That story was published just months before the Viking probes landed on the red planet.

Let me say first that I am not a scientist in any formal sense. It was and is difficult for me to give myself permission to write in an authoritative voice about astronomy, ecology, and especially climate change. I have no special knowledge or privileged viewpoint on these things.

Also, I’ve not been a very convincing proponent for fighting climate change. I realize the hypocrisy in this stance. I still drive a gasoline car. I don’t own any solar panels. I have walked in the March for Science in DC, but not with much hope of any specific outcome from my presence there.

But I can say truthfully that it has vexed me, as a kid and as an adult, what a huge amount of effort has been paid to exploring Mars, by NASA and the astronomy community generally, when it seems clear to me that Venus has far more to teach us.

It may have simply been a matter of doing the easier thing first. Venus is not the easiest place to get to, or to get around on—or even exist on, for very long. I think of the Venera probes, the longest-lived of which functioned for two hours on the planet’s surface. Someday, perhaps, humans will discover the blobs of metal and semiconductor that those probes eventually became.

But I think it’s more than that. As I get older, I am less and less a fan of looking in the mirror—of seeing what has happened to me, what changes age and poor habits have made to my face, to the rest of me. The reflection might show me some weariness, droopiness, the effects of various indulgences; some minute amount of guilt is hidden there too.

Sometimes, it’s better not to look.

And I get the feeling that Venus is like that. A massive blind spot—the closest planet to our own, a mirror of sorts—a kind of spiritual and literal sister gone wrong, a warning and a reproach.

But I can say truthfully that it has vexed me, as a kid and as an adult, what a huge amount of effort has been paid to exploring Mars, by NASA and the astronomy community generally, when it seems clear to me that Venus has far more to teach us.

If you’re lucky in life, you have one sibling that you can go to to get the truth, regardless of the state of your life or theirs. Earth is lucky that way.

The connection between Venus’s runaway greenhouse effect and our own, human-made climate change seems appallingly plain to me, and a terrible warning. I wanted to raise a voice to draw attention to the lessons Venus that might be whispering to us.

But I think the trick of it, of inserting into a story any message that involves even a tacit appeal to the reader, is to create around it a story that’s engaging enough that the message is hidden in the background. I hope I’ve done something like that here.

We fiction writers are, on the surface, so powerless. We are putting words on pieces of paper—the most unobtrusive, quiet, ignorable act one could imagine. But our writing can speak with its own voice, and if it’s compelling enough, and truthful enough, we can have faith that it will find an audience.

I look around and see that, in aggregate, we’re creating a generation of work, at least, in which climate change is the central feature. I’m glad to be a part of that work. It makes me hopeful that my children, and the children of our time, will know what the deal is with climate change, will know that their happiness, and the lives of future generations, will depend on the choices we, and they, make.

Christopher Mark Rose ( and Twitter @CChrisrose) lives in Baltimore with his spouse, two children, and one crazy dog. He is a founder of, and impresario for, Charm City Spec, a reading series in speculative fiction. The author’s own fiction has appeared in Escape Pod and Interzone; and he’s sold nonfiction and poetry to Uncanny and Little Blue Marble. 

Q&A With Peter Wood

Author Peter Wood loves to plumb the depths of the human condition, and hates the sexism of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Discover more about Peter in this interview. His new story “Quake” appears [in our March/April issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
Pete Wood: My wife and I vacation with family and friends several times a year in Boone, North Carolina. In warmer weather we tube down the New River. My mind wanders on these trips.  I tend to write about places I’ve been. I started researching the geology and history of the river as I read about a very interesting historical site in Ohio. Things just fell into place. And I’m a big fan of WKRP in Cincinnati.

AE: Is this story part of a larger universe, or is it stand-alone?
PW: It’s a standalone story. My stories don’t overlap except that on occasion there might be an Easter Egg from a previous story or two, but nobody would catch those except me.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
PW: There are almost too many to mention. First, it would have to be lighthearted Golden Age Science Fiction. Two of my writing heroes are Robert Sheckley and Jack Finney. Most of their stories are positive and somewhat comic. “Skulking Permit,” by Sheckley, is the perfect science fiction story. Funny. A great villain. Humans acting very human. “Salting the Mine” (Asimov’s, January/February 2019) is my homage. My only beef about the Golden Age stuff is that they tend to be pretty sexist with only peripheral female characters. I try to have strong female characters in my stories.
My other inspirations are literary non-speculative writers who can suck you in with a story about almost nothing. Anne Tyler is my favorite writer. She crafts page turners about very ordinary people doing very ordinary things. Breathing Lessons is full of great characters, plot, and suspense even if it’s about a married couple having an argument on a car ride. Then there’s Margaret Atwood, whose intense character studies in books like Cat’s Eye (with a plot that sounds not that compelling) are master classes. Or Ernest Hemingway who wrote the greatest book of all time—The Sun Also Rises which is about a bunch of drunks fishing and playing cards in post-World War I Europe but is the greatest book about the War ever written. 

AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
PW: Current events don’t really affect my writing except for occasional political satire. And those are really attacks on the political process where I highlight the absurdity of politicians going out of their way to find uncommon ground. Stories to me are an escape. I like to highlight the human condition and show that people can work together, and problem solve and are inherently flawed and likable. My characters don’t argue or bang their heads against the wall for entire stories, because I see enough of that in real life. If I can’t solve my own problems, at least I can give my characters happy endings.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
PW: I don’t know if you’d call them themes, but all of my stories have two things in common. Humans are always going to be human no  matter where, no matter when. We won’t all become atheistic drones, popping food pills and wearing silver unitards. We’re going to have the same problems and the same lovable foibles. Read the Iliad or the Bible. We’ve been struggling with the same shortcomings for thousands of years and colonizing other planets isn’t going to change any of that.
The other thing is that we’re going to find a way to get along. Whatever happens, we’re not going to devolve into Mad Max. Let’s face it. If it was our nature to break into warring tribes who raped and pillaged whenever the chips were down, we never would have developed civilization in the first place.

My characters don’t argue or bang their heads against the wall for entire stories, because I see enough of that in real life. If I can’t solve my own problems, at least I can give my characters happy endings.

AE: What is your process?
PW: Characters first. I come up with a germ of an idea, set it aside and then create the characters. I figure out what makes them tick, thrown them into the story and see, based on their personalities, where the story takes me. I don’t care how mind-blowing your big idea is, if your characters are driven by the idea and not the other way around, I’m not going to like the story. I’d rather read a story where the characters get out of the haunted house than one where they keep returning, because that’s where the author wants them to be.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
PW: I move onto something else. I don’t force it. I have plenty of things to do- work, mowing grass, or other stories—where I don’t have to try to strong arm a story to work. The story will come to me when I am not thinking about it. Many of my best ideas pop up when I’m running. Asimov’s rejected “Never the Twain Shall Meet” (Asimov’s May/June 2019)but said they’d look at a revision. I left that story alone for almost a year, before the plot resolution occurred to me. Have patience.

AE: How did you break into writing?
PW: I’ve been writing since I was a little kid. I had a steady gig as a columnist at Wake Forest University’s Old Gold and Black, my college newspaper, and did movie reviews for several years at the Courier Herald in Dublin, Georgia. I kept writing fiction but didn’t submit a story until about twenty years ago. After some form rejections, I decided to improve my writing. Only when I figured out what I was doing wrong did I very gradually start to sell stories in 2009.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

Podcasts! I have three fiction podcasts in the works, all in various stages of completion. I am fortunate to know some very talented actors in Raleigh who make my writing shine. Seth and Rebecca Blum starred in my movie Quantum Donut, as well as the audio version of “Robots, Riverboats, and Ransom in the Regular Way” (Asimov’s, May/June 2018). Dawn of Time, about a plucky teenager with a time machine is a collaborative project where I serve as story editor. It’s written and recorded and will be online sometime in 2022 on Stupefying Stories. Rex Jupiter, Intergalactic Plumber, another collaborative project, is almost complete and will be recorded soon. The third podcast is being shopped around for a home and is completely my brainchild.
I am also collaborating with six other authors, including Asimov’s alum Jonathan Sherwood, on The Odin Chronicles, a loosely connected collection of short stories about life on the distant mining planet of Odin. Stories are being released weekly on Page and Spine Fiction Showcase ( We plan to publish an eBook in the fall.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
PW: I like the universe of the original Star Trek. These are people I’d actually like to hang out with. They’re easy going, have good senses of humor, and live in a predominantly positive world. A very sexist world, alas. I’d like that to be changed.

AE: What are you reading right now?
PW: The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler about a  widow in 1960s Baltimore and her relationship with her college drop out twentyish female handyman. Revolution Song by Russell Shorton, a sweeping nonfiction epic, which jumps around between six real people during the American Revolution. George Washington, the bureaucrat who ran the war for Britain, an Iroquois chief, the daughter of a British soldier, a freed slave, and a New York lawyer. Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus a dystopian look at a drought-stricken California in the near future.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
PW: I have a steady gig as an editor and blog writer for Stupefying Stories. I’m not too internet savvy and do not have a website. Folks can always just drop me a line at But, on the bright side, I did finally upgrade that rotary phone.

Peter Wood is a writer and attorney from Raleigh, NC, where he lives with his wife. His work has appeared in Stupefying Stories, Daily Science Fiction, and Every Day Fiction. “Quake” is his eleventh story for Asimov’s.

Q&A With Rick Wilber

Rick Wilber tells us the story of how the blimpies came to be. These are the aliens who lend their name to Wilber’s new novella set in his sprawling S’hudon universe. Check out “Blimpies” [in our March/April issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: You’ve been writing about the S’hudonni Mercantile Empire for a long time. What led you to have an interest in aliens who are interested in profit, not outright conquest?
Rick Wilber: Yes, I’ve been using the S’hudonni Empire stories to chew away on the topic of colonial capitalism for a long time.  My first story that featured the S’hudonni was “War Bride,” back in 1990 for one of Ellen Datlow’s excellent original anthologies, Alien Sex, and there have been a number of stories since then, most of them in this magazine. The names and details of the aliens who arrived on Earth were different in that first story, but the concept started there. Those aliens came for profit, then fled when more powerful competition arrived in that first story and an innocent Earth was annihilated, so not a very happy ending.
And isn’t that the story all too often when it comes to colonial empires and their profit-making? Those empires, whether they’re British or French or Dutch or German or S’hudonni, are there to make money for London, or Paris, or Amsterdam or Berlin or S’hudon, the homeworld of my aliens.
Since those early stories in magazines and the two novels that followed, I’ve slowly built on the relationships between aliens and humans. It’s notable though, that “Blimpies” is my first story to be set on the homeworld! That made it especially enjoyable to write. Lots of great worldbuilding.

AE: Tell us about that homeworld. S’hudon is it?
RW: Yes, S’hudon. I have it as a tidally locked planet orbiting a red dwarf star, with just one habitable landmass, an archipelago in the zone between the hot side and the cold side. The storms that develop when the hot and cold zones clash are an important part of the plot of “Blimpies.” I have to say it was great fun researching how a planet like that might have a habitable zone and then thinking through the flora and fauna that might live and grow there. Plus, in this story I explain a little about the civilization that once lived on this planet and fled a looming super flare that would have stripped the planet of all life. In my research I read that red dwarfs were thought to be unstable and prone to such super flares. Very recently, I’ve read some a new study that says those super flares erupt on the side of the red dwarf opposite the planet. You reader can read about this here: . Happily, this plays right into more stories about S’hudon where the Old Ones (a classic sf/f name for that type of ancient, advanced society) return to S’hudon and want their home back. That’ll be fun to write about.

AE:  The S’hudonni stories published in this magazine and elsewhere have usually had deadly sibling rivalries, both alien and human. This one, on the other hand, seems to have two human siblings who really love and care for one another. Tell us about that. Have you changed your tune on siblings?
RW: It’s sibling rivalries that drive the plot in many of my stories. But in this one, Kaitlyn Holman, the younger sister of my protagonist through all these stories, Peter Holman, is very intelligent and athletic and talented; but she went through a horrible abuse trauma in her childhood that sent her spinning off into a troubled and addictive life. The only family member to stand by her through her troubles was her brother, Peter, so they’ve been close for years. With Peter’s help, and with the support of Sarah, the love of her life, Kait had just found her way to health and happiness and then, because she’s Peter’s brother and he’s a pawn in the power struggle between my two warring S’hudonni princes, Twoclicks and Whistle, she was kidnapped and brought to S’hudon as a bargaining chip by Whistle, the more evil of the two princes. Peter is determined to find and save her, but complications ensue. Kait is the hero of it all as she and Peter grow even closer. It’s been fun to dive into writing about two siblings who really know, love and understand each other. I don’t do that often enough, perhaps.

AE: All right, so we have to know about the blimpies! Tell us about how you thought of them and how you use them in the story.
RW: I think that out of all the alien life I’ve conjured up for stories or novels, the blimpies are my favorites. They’re even more fun than the S’hudonni themselves, who have always been fun to write about given their personality quirks, from funny to deadly. For the blimpies, while doing some worldbuilding for my Alien Day (Tor, 2021) I decided to people the home planet of S’hudon with a lot of remnant technology and life, most of it (on land anyway) not native to the single archipelago which is the only land mass on the planet, where half the planet is covered in ice and the other half boiling hot.
In that novel and in “Blimpies,” the novella, I describe how the S’hudonni have built a whole faux village for Peter Holman, which he calls Holmanville. It’s a place built to look just like the village he left back on Earth, complete with an Irish pub and a coffee shop and house with a picket fence and a wide porch with a rocker on it. They’ve built it to make him feel at home, but Peter feels trapped there and wants to see the real S’hudon, so he starts going for long walks outside the village and there he sees his first blimpie gliding by overhead. He describes them in the novel as “the size of a bus back home which floated serenely along fifty meters up over the bogs that surrounded Holmanville.” After that first appearance in the early draft of the novel the blimpies popped up here and there, no more important than any of the other plants and animals I’d created for the Alien Day.
But here’s the thing. When I decided that Kait’s story was so important and so much fun to write that I wanted to do more with it, the blimpies flew right in and became critical to the storytelling. In the “Blimpies” novella, the relationship between Kait, her brother Peter, and the blimpies really came alive for me and, as your readers have discovered or will discover, they’re crucial to the story. That all seemed to work so well in that novella that I went back and leaned more heavily into the blimpies in the next draft and the draft after that of the novel.

AE: Are you considering using the blimpies again in another story? We really enjoyed them.
RW: You’ve persuaded me! Actually I have one more novella-length story in mind that is set on S’hudon, when war looms as the original inhabitants of the planet return. The blimpies will have, you might say, an explosive importance in that story.

AE: What else is the works?
RW: Glad you asked! There’s another Moe Berg novella, “The Goose,” that will appear in this magazine in the near future. It’s an alternate-history spy novella set in Hollywood during the late 1930s and early 1940s, when home-grown American fascists wanted to keep the United States out of the war in Europe and make peace with Hitler. With war looming, these fascists planned to sabotage the Southern California aircraft and shipbuilding industries should war be declared. Also, during that time period the German government worked hard to censor Hollywood films that told the truth about Hitler’s Germany and the Nazis treatment of the Jews. All of this comes to a boil as famous Jewish baseball player and spy Moe Berg and his mysterious handler, the woman named Eddie Bennett in this story, work with others to stop the Nazis and save the day. The novella is a prequel to “Billie the Kid.”
I’m also working on the second edition of the college textbook, Media Matters, for Kendall Hunt publishing and I’m in the final revisions of the long-awaited (at least by me) Moe Berg/Eddie Bennett/Billie the Kid novel, called Alternating Currents, where movie star and inventor Hedy Lamarr saves Los Angeles from total destruction. Go Hedy!

Rick Wilber is an Asimov’s regular. “Blimpies,” in the current issue , is another in his series of stories and novels about the S’hudonni Mercantile Empire, several of which have appeared in Asimov’s. This story is in deep conversation with his most recent novel, Alien Day (Tor, June 1, 2021). Rick’s novelette, “Billie the Kid,” which appeared in the September/October issue of this magazine, was a Readers’ Award finalist for Best Novelette in 2021, and the story, “The Hind” (Asimov’s, September/October 2020) co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson, won the Readers’ Award for Best Novelette in 2020. Rick is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at Western Colorado University, where he teaches and is thesis coordinator in the Genre Fiction program.

Growing the Story Seed

Author Marta Randall shares some of the inspiration and craft behind her latest story “Sailing to Merinam,” available [in our March/April issue, on sale now!]

By Marta Randall

As with almost all of my stories, a single element came first: here it was a voice, a young, opinionated, irascible voice. I have learned to pay attention to these small, seemingly unconnected bits; many times they are story seeds. Of course, sometimes they are not and can either lie there, expiring on the keyboard, or lead me down a path that ends abruptly, leaving me feeling rather foolish. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, they turn into stories and take me along with them. This may sound like some form of auctorial folderol but the stories that please me most, the stories that keep me going, are the ones that take off and keep me guessing as they unfold themselves. Which is probably why I write so little these days. Inspiration is an increasingly rare and expensive commodity.

And I hasten to say that not all writers work this way. I know plenty of us who plan each story out in detail, writers who outline extensively; Kate Wilhelm, a splendid writer and splendid teacher, said she couldn’t even start until she knew a story down to the layout of the furniture in rooms that never even appeared in a story. I would never question her writing procedures, but me? I’d go nuts. A story tells itself to me as much as I tell it to you. I end up at the tips of a lot of perilous limbs that way and have to write my way back, but the best fruit grows out there. Trust me on this one.

“Sailing to Merinam” [in our current issue] is an offshoot of a larger world I’ve been playing with for a few decades now: What would a society, loosely based on Western culture, be like if it had developed without the strictures of an overarching religious establishment to dictate its development? Cherek, the country that is the main focus of Mapping Winter and The River South, has developed socially and politically without any major religions although it does support minor cults who worship the Mother, the Father, and Death. It is, taken all in all, a rational and tolerant culture, its guilds interested in expressing their rivalry through progress. A few decades before the time of this story, merchant ships encountered the country of Merinam and set up trade. Merinam’s religion is deeply engrained and colors all aspects of its culture. The shock on both sides is profound, but the last thing I wanted to write was a polemic. Besides, that young irritable voice wouldn’t let me. If I have failed here, it is in that my own lack of tolerance for the intolerant has leaked into my narrator. So be it.

     I made my first sale in the early 1970s to Michael Moorcock’s New Wave anthology series New Worlds and have been writing and teaching and editing SF and Fantasy, off and on, ever since. You can find my full bibliography and a sporadically updated blog at, or can follow me on FaceBook under my own name (I have no shame).
I was born in Mexico City and raised in Berkeley, California, and spent most of my adult life practicing as a paralegal specializing in Federal Trademark Law (you may yawn). I have, for my sins, served one term as vice-president and two terms as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. About ten years ago I left the tangle of active earthquake faults in Northern California for life on the side of an active volcano on the Big Island of Hawai’i, which occasionally makes me homesick by shaking.