Q&A with Stephanie Feldman

“The Albatwitch Chorus” [on sale now] is Stephanie Feldman’s second witch-related story published in a September/October issue of our magazine, and we would gladly make this a regular tradition. She tells us in this interview, however, that she’s done with witches—at least for a while. Luckily, she’s got plenty more story ideas to play with.

Asimov’s Editors: How did “The Albatwitch Chorus” germinate?

Stephanie Feldman: This idea, like most of my ideas, came both quickly and slowly. When I learned about the albatwitch, a kind of mini-Sasquatch from Pennsylvania folklore, I knew I wanted to write about it. I like cryptids and have a weirdly specific phobia of uncanny, humanoid tricksters.

The albatwitch hung out in the back of my mind while I worked on other projects, and when I sat down to write, the story blossomed into something I hadn’t expected: the tale of a witch going through a midlife crisis.

Sonia’s small witchery business is thriving and she’s purchased her own cottage at the edge of her hometown; she has the life she always wanted. But then she hires Gina, her ex-husband’s teenage daughter, as an intern, and an albatwitch appears in her backyard—the first living albatwitch anyone has seen in decades. Sonia’s perfect life begins to unravel.

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

SF: Sonia shares my conflicted feelings about the creature. She knows they can be dangerous—they live in large social groups that have attacked humans in the past—but she’s also drawn to them, their secrets, their singing, the ornaments and offerings they leave in her yard.

Sonia feels a similar ambivalence about Gina, who she views as a typical 16-year-old—sullen and entitled, someone who wants to be treated as an adult even though she acts like a child. But Gina has something that Sonia has lost, something primal that attracts the albatwitches. And Sonia is jealous.

Sonia realizes that in establishing a certain lifestyle she’s also established a way of thinking—reasonable and practical, disconnected from nature and mystery—and she begins to doubt her choices. Maybe I relate to that the most: the fear that in winning one kind of life you’ve lost the chance for another.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

SF: Asimov’s published my story “The Witch of Osborne Park” in the Sept/Oct 2017 issue. I love that this story will appear in that same fall issue for 2019. I feel at home in Halloween-land, though I may be done with witches for a while.

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

SF: They affect me quite a bit. On a surface level, it’s hard to focus in the midst of turmoil. The ongoing crisis also makes me question my work. Art matters; that belief has never wavered. But does my art matter, even in a small way?

That question moved me to work with Nathaniel Popkin on the anthology Who Will Speak for America?, which came out last year. It collects poems, stories, essays, and visual art from over 40 contributors, all exploring American identity. We included a number of speculative pieces; science fiction authors can tell us so much about who we are and who we might become.

When it comes to my own fiction, I don’t sit down with the intention of addressing current events, but I do quickly find those issues pushing to the surface.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?

SF: One such issue that’s taken over my writing is climate anxiety. I’ve been writing a lot about nature—mysterious nature, dangerous nature, evolving and resilient nature. It’s an odd mix of optimism and apocalyptic fear.

I have also always been interested in hierarchy and power. In A Chorus of Albatwitches, there’s albatwitch society, which humans have been too afraid to investigate, preferring to pretend it doesn’t exist at all.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

SF: I don’t get writers’ block—I have too many unwritten ideas and have developed tricks for attacking particular story knots. However, I do have lots of bad writing days. I’m tired and distracted and anxious that I’m doing a bad job.

I’m familiar with all of these feelings and how they get in the way, so they often slow me down, but they don’t stop me. I just keep going and try not to be too hard on myself. A bad writing day is a million times better than a no-writing day.

AE: What are you reading right now?

SF: I just came off of a really good reading month! I read Sarah Rose Etter’s first novel, The Book of X, about a woman whose body is shaped like a knot and whose family works in a meat mine; Han Kang’s Human Acts, about the aftermath of the 1980 massacre of South Korean protestors; and Michel Faber’s Under the Skin¸ which was so bizarre and absorbing and devastating—I don’t even want to sum it up because discovering the secrets of the protagonist’s nature and mission is part of the book’s power.

I recommend all three books, but don’t be like me and read them in a row. It was emotionally exhausting.

I’m currently reading a collection of Daphne du Maurier’s stories, which are frightening and a lot of fun. It’s interesting to read these older stories, which are longer and more patient than most short fiction today, and more suspenseful for it.

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

SF: Be a good literary citizen—keep up with what’s being published, attend readings and conferences, support other writers. (Of course, read a lot, write a lot, submit a lot . . .)

When I first started publishing, I was very attuned to the industry and promotional strategies. The longer I do this, though, the more I try to stay focused on the work itself. I worry less about what other people will think and more about my own vision. It’s the one thing that’s truly in my control and the reason why I write in the first place.

Stephanie Feldman’s novel, The Angel of Losses (Ecco/HarperCollins), is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. She is co-editor of the recent multi-genre anthology Who Will Speak for America? (Temple University Press) and her stories and essays have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Electric Literature, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Maine Review, The Rumpus, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. She teaches fiction writing in the Arcadia University MFA program and lives outside Philadelphia with her family. She is online at www.stephaniefeldman.com and http://www.twitter.com/sbfeldman.

Dogs Versus Robots: Dogs win, and not just because they’re cute.

by Tegan Moore

In “The Work of Wolves” [on sale now in our current issue] I posit a near future in which animals are genetically and physically modified to increase their intelligence and communication abilities in order to make them more useful to humans. A world like this is predicated on the belief that animals, with their innate intelligence, might be better at some jobs than anything artificially programmed. In many circumstances, dogs are better choices than robots. Here’s why I think this might be true enough that we might choose to tinker with the brains of animals instead of creating our own intelligence from scratch, and why it inevitably leads to dystopia.

Reason one: Dogs are smarter than we thought.

Dogs aren’t smart in the way we commonly think they are. They don’t, for example, feel guilty when they do something wrong—it’s safer to say that they feel threatened by your emotional response and are throwing out appeasement gestures to make themselves look non-threatening. And while some might swear their dogs read their minds, what they’re really doing is reading body language and predicting what their human might be about to do.

But that right there is fascinating. Dogs are exceptionally good at reading human body and facial expressions—better than any other species of animal. Even though bared teeth mean aggression or anxiety to canines, when you smile toothily at your dog he can interpret that gesture.

Why? Because our species shares a relationship with dogs that’s closer than any other. We didn’t domesticate dogs; dogs domesticated themselves, living at the edge of human society and gradually adapting more and more to live alongside us. Dogs and humans co-evolved, and they have an exceptional ability to interpret our emotional and physical cues.

Current research claims dogs have about the innate intelligence of a two-year-old human. Not too impressive. However, some individual dogs are much more intelligent: Chaser, a Border Collie who died just this July, learned over one thousand nouns and could understand when they were combined in novel ways. He’s not unique.



[Above: The author’s dogs displaying their trained odor detection skills while competing in K9 Nosework.]

So in addition to having evolved the ability to interpret emotions and predict our behavior, understanding human language is not beyond a dog’s grasp. How much genetic and physical change is required to bring a dog’s intelligence to the same level as an adult human? I don’t know—I’m just a science fiction writer.

Reason two: Robots aren’t as smart as we’d hoped—at least not yet.

AI is currently hilariously confused by reality. It’s fascinating to watch: Researchers feed an algorithm a problem to solve and let it go bat-shit naming cats and paint colors or writing movie scripts. The results are occasionally recognizable, but rarely natural. AI does okay picking out a book you might want to buy, but if asked to give the book a title it does a fairly abysmal job.

A self-driving car has already killed one person after its collision-prevention software decided a pedestrian was a “false positive.” Researchers have also shown that these cars can be stymied by graffiti on signs. These aren’t impossible problems, and of course a technology in its infancy will fail often before it becomes reliable, but it’s an illustration of the point: It’s hard to program every possible outcome, and software is not great at making logical jumps.

Research has already been done on creating robot “guide dogs” for the visually impaired. It is expensive and time-consuming to train a guide dog—at least two years of training, costing up to $60,000—and these dogs only work eight to ten years before they must retire. It seems like a robot would make an ideal replacement. All it needs to do is see, right? But what if, say, there’s a ground hornet nest next to the sidewalk. Your robot guide doesn’t care about bee stings.

This might be just a programming issue. Put that on the list: Robot guide dogs need to be programmed to avoid wasp nests. But there are a lot of these programming issues, and they’ll keep coming up for a long time, because there is not a finite number of weird things that are possible in this world.

Intelligence evolved in the experiential world. AI did not. The world doesn’t make a lot of sense to AI. Current theories claim the singularity—the point at which technological advancement leaves the realm of human control—is between thirty to fifty years in the future. It seems reasonable to guess that we might try to shortcut that timeframe by merging biological systems with artificial ones.

Reason Three: Robots are good specialists; dogs are generalist-specialists.

MIT researchers have been trying to create artificial olfaction—a robot nose. They have yet to build one that does a better job than any old dog from the pound. Dogs can be trained to indicate the presence of cancerous cells within just a few months. They do this with greater accuracy than any other system, and some can spontaneously recognize other kinds of cancer, even if it’s not the one they’ve been trained to detect. They’re the best detection system we have, not just because of their excellent noses, but also because of their observational skills.

Here is where dogs are unquestionably better than robots: In addition to being physically strong, mentally adaptable, easy to train, possessing a stellar sense of smell and excellent hearing, they are also generalists. They aren’t just a nose, something to sort data, or a sensor to detect obstacles. They evolved in this world, and it makes inherent sense to them. They co-evolved with us, and we make . . . well, at least some sense to them.

AI does best with limited data sets. Give an algorithm a data set and ask it to predict future iterations and you get some good responses. Give it multiple data sets and multiple parameters and the job gets harder. Ask it to write a recipe, and it will lose its shit.

A dog is already an expert at juggling multiple data sets, and in addition to being able to process multiple kinds of information at once, it can synthesize information in ways robot brains, so far, cannot.

Why reinvent the wheel?

But this is all beside the point because this whole idea is pretty much evil.

There are many, many reasons this is a terrible idea, even beyond those addressed in “The Work of Wolves.” The ethical problems with creating an ultra-intelligent animal are the precise reason this topic is an interesting subject for science fiction, and one I hope to grapple with more in the future.

Tegan Moore is a professional dog trainer and speculative fiction writer living in Seattle with the world’s best worst dogs. Find her business at www.temeritydogs.com, read more of her work on www.alarmhat.com and follow her dogs on Instagram at @temerity.dogs.

The Cost of Convenience

by Maggie Shen King

In my short story, Ardy’s Choice, a young family sets out in its self-driving car for a Saturday outing. It encounters a situation in which it unknowingly cedes full control to its vehicle’s navigational system and, in the process, allows its artificial intelligence to make decisions the family would never have agreed to. This scenario that I’ve imagined is only a few years away.


The list of what we’ve offered up over the years both intentionally and unintentionally, however, is staggering when taken together.


We now enjoy unprecedented levels of convenience and connection. Without leaving our homes, we can attend face-to-face work meetings, pay bills at the touch of a button, navigate bureaucracy, order up food, transportation, and entertainment. We can shop for potential life mates, small everyday goods as well as large ticket items like appliances and cars. We can chat with friends singly or in groups and play games together. With the advent of social media, it has never been easier to connect with friends, with celebrities, with strangers with similar interests, sexual orientations, and ailments who are eager to help. Continue reading “The Cost of Convenience”

Q&A with Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove is rounding out his fourth decade publishing with Asimov’s with a personally inspired short story, “Speaker to Emos” in our current issue [on sale now]. Here, he offers advice for anyone seeking a similarly lengthy writing career and tells us a little about his inspirations.

Photo credit: Joan Allen

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

HT: It’s set in a world where people on the Asperger’s spectrum are the vast majority of the population, while those who are normal by actual standards are a tiny minority who have trouble fitting in to their environment. The main character is a counselor who tries to teach them how.


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

HT: I’m on the Asperger’s spectrum—close to the neurotypical end, but I am. So is my friend Jeff Deutsch, who’s been a counselor teaching Asperger’s folk how to get along in the neurotypical world. We kept batting the idea back and forth—“You write it!” “No, you write it!”—for several years before I finally did.


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

HT: It stands alone.


AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

HT: I’ve been publishing with Asimov’s since 1981.


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

HT: L. Sprague de Camp and Poul Anderson.


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

HT: More than I wish they did, lately. My pinned tweet on Twitter (@HNTurtledove) is “I didn’t mean to be topical,” repeated a good many times.


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

HT: I’m an escaped Byzantine historian (Sprague de Camp’s fault—I read Lest Darkness Fall at an impressionable age), so I tend to write a lot of alternate history.


AE: What is your process?

HT: I do the first draft in longhand, then clean it up on the Mac.


AE: How did you break into writing?

HT: I wrote. I sent things out. I kept sending them out. Eventually, as I learned how, they started sticking.


AE: What are you reading right now?

HT: I just reread James Blish’s Black Easter and The Day After Judgment.


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

HT: Write. Keep writing. Send out what you write. Writing for yourself is masturbation. Writing for others is . . . well, better.


AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?

HT: Three cats in the house—a Russian Blue-ish named Boris, a fluffy red tabby named Hotspur, and a Siamese called Ford. They’re all rescues. Ford has his name because he was rescued from the Ford Ranger where he was abandoned by his mother, which happened to belong to a cat fosterer. His brother, who lives with someone else and looks like an Aby, is named Ranger.


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

HT: As I said above, on Twitter I’m @HNTurtledove. A website about me is https://www.sfsite.com/~silverag/turtledove.html.


Harry Turtledove’s contemporary supernatural thriller, Alpha and Omegais available now from Del Rey. His latest short story takes an alternate look at received wisdom on cognitive behavior. The author wishes to thank Jeffrey Deutsch—a long-time Asperger’s counselor—for his help with the tale.

Q&A with Leslie J. Anderson

Leslie J. Anderson’s writing process is a self-described mess, involving lots of editing and lots of ideas bouncing around at once, but we here at Asimov’s always love the end result—the most recent being her poem, “Tell Me What the Stars Sing,” in our July/August issue [on sale now].

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

LA: I was reading Scott Kelly’s Endurance and was struck by how matter-of-fact he is about the stranger parts of space, such as random bits of radiation causing hallucinations as he was trying to sleep. I started experimenting with his calm, direct voice, imagining how he would interact with more fantastic elements of space travel, monsters, and aliens and the like. I enjoyed inhabiting a speaker who saw the obvious danger as simply part of the beauty and wonder inherent in space travel.

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

LA: I think this poem is actually the intersection of a lot of my poems and short stories. When I was an undergrad, I had the terrifying experience of studying under the poet Diane Wakoski. One of the things she impressed on me is that writers often have what she called a “personal mythology.” Themes and images show up again and again in most writers’ works because we just can’t let them go. They haunt and inspire us. Space travel is definitely one of mine, as are sirens, for similar reasons. I am a little in awe of those who would face a massive amount of danger and trials to gain just a little more knowledge—a little more understanding. The draw, for them, is difficult if not impossible to resist.

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

LA: My earliest inspirations were T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, but more recently I find my work inspired and driven by Jeff Vandermere, Joy Harjo, Hanif Abdurraqub, and N. K. Jemisin, especially her Broken Earth trilogy. Outside of books it will probably surprise none that I’m a giant nerd. I grew up with Evangelion, FLCL, and Pokémon. That probably did interesting things to my developing mind.

AE: What is your process?

LA: My process is a gosh darn mess followed by extensive editing. I have dozens of files that are just lines and thoughts and snippets and some of those seeds eventually grow into poems or stories or novels. When I write prose, I never write linearly. I’ll have dozens of paragraphs that will, eventually, fit together in a finished product. I also tend to overwrite, and end up deleting a lot (or more likely moving it to a different file to save for something else). Several other writers, upon seeing my process, have shaken their heads in dismay, but it works for me!

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

LA: I don’t suffer from writers’ block often. If anything, I have trouble picking which idea I’m going to spend time with. I sometimes get stuck on an individual piece and I find that my willingness to delete, even delete a lot, keeps me from getting stuck. Sometimes you have to be willing to write garbage just to get that garbage out of your head and make room for better words. More often than not, after a few lines of garbage, I’m in the rhythm again and coming up with something better. It’s incredibly difficult, but I’ve found the best cure for writers’ block is just to start writing. Be confident that you can make it perfect later. Perfection isn’t the initial goal.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

LA: I’m currently shopping a poetry manuscript to publishers and a novel to agents. I’m nearly done with another novel about horses and monsters and horse monsters. I’m also currently pregnant, but that project mostly involves eating, napping, and occasionally throwing up.

AE: What are you reading right now?

LA: I’ve been on a nonfiction kick lately! I loved Welcome to the Goddamn Icecube by Blair Braverman, who recently finished the Iditarod. I also really enjoyed Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou. I have a thing for stories about grifters. On the fiction side, I’m making my way through Circe by Madeline Miller. The language and imagery is enchanting, and I always love a new look at old myths.

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

LA: I’ve had a lot of careers and currently keep a day job as a marketing manager for a financial consulting firm. I sell spreadsheets. I’ve also trained and rehabilitated horses, sold video games to angry parents (one of them threw an Xbox at my head), and taught English and literature at a university. Mostly my day jobs have kept me fed and my laptop charged, but they also mean I interact with a lot of odd people who wander into my poems and stories. Specific skills, like training horses, often show up in my writing simply because they’ve colored how I view the world, and provided an interesting perspective I want to share with an audience.

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

LA: There are a lot of very exciting answers, but honestly just put me in Star Trek. It has its problems, but it seems pretty utopian for most humans. Catch me on the holodeck with a mimosa and a good book.

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

LA: You can find me on Twitter @inkhat, or on my website LeslieJAnderson.com. You can also find my first poetry book Inheritance of Stone on Amazon!

Leslie J. Anderson’s writing has appeared in Asimov’s, Uncanny Magazine, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Apex, to name a few. Her collection of poetry, An Inheritance of Stone, was nominated for an Elgin Award. Poems from the collection have won 2nd place in the Asimov’s Readers’ Awards, and were nominated for Pushcart and Rhysling awards. She lives in a small, white house beside a cemetery with three good dogs and a Roomba.

Q&A with Ted Kosmatka

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

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

AE: What is your process?

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

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

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

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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


AE: What are you reading right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Readers’ Award

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

Q&A with Jenny Blackford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AE: What is your process?

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

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

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

AE: What are you reading right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daydreaming as Survival

by G.O. Clark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Q&A with Carrie Vaughn

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

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

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

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

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

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

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

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

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

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

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

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

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

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

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

AE: What are you reading right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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