The Way the Future Used to Be

By Peter Wood

Write what you know. Hemmingway made a career out of novels about fishing, drinking, and cards. Faulkner seldom ventured outside mythical Yoknapatawpha County. Bradbury lifted small town America to Mars.

Most of my stories are Southern Fried Science Fiction. I like bluegrass music, barbecue, fried chicken, iced tea, and ACC basketball. My characters do too. Many of my stories take place in my hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Sometimes I venture as far as Kinston, Sanford or the world’s perfect vacation spot—the mountain town of Boone.

But, what of stories like Robots, Riverboats, and Ransom in the Regular Way? In this month’s Asimov’s, I write about the distant future aboard an interstellar star ship. What do I know about that?


I grew up immersed in the Retro Future—the sort of world preserved in Tomorrowland in Disney World. The way we conceived the twenty-first century and beyond in the 1950s. Think Golden Age Science fiction. The Pulps. Heinlein. Frederick Pohl. Fritz Leiber. Isaac Asimov. In my own small way, I want to bring it back.

This year’s Best Picture Oscar went to The Shape of Water, a film firmly rooted in the Retro Future. What a poignant and loving take on 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I’ve very grateful to have sold seven stories to Asimov’s. Every single one had its seeds in my childhood.

Radio drama makes a fleeting comeback every so often.


Drink in a Small Town” (March 2014) is basically a half hour Twilight Zone episode. If it has any inspiration—besides the Happy Tap bar in Dublin, Georgia that sadly closed down and took its recipe for the world’s best hamburger with it—it might be the episode “Will The Real Martian Please Stand Up.” Guy walks into a lonely restaurant and things are not what they seem.

Continue reading “The Way the Future Used to Be”

We Lost Control a Long Time Ago

Sue Burke, whose novelette “Life From the Sky” is in our current issue, graces us with a deeply thoughtful and intriguing post that covers a far-ranging set of issues including self-realization, technology, anonymity, the changing nature of truth, and the power of science fiction.

by Sue Burke


We all need to achieve self-realization. We’ve been told this by Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow, and several Eastern religions.

We should know ourselves deeply, they say, to understand who and what we are. When we do, we’ll awaken our potential and fulfill the latent possibilities of our character and personality. With self-realization, we’ll achieve our ultimate goal as human beings and find inner peace.

On the other hand, Martians could suddenly land and blast all of humanity into ashes. Knowing our true selves will not save us.

This way of thinking about things—that external events matter more than individual self-realization—might account for the difficulty some people have with science fiction. Its stories tell an uncomfortable truth, according to Barry N. Malzberg. He began writing in the 1970s, and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls him “a master of black humor.”

In a 1980 essay titled “The Number of the Beast” in the book Breakfast in the Ruins, Malzberg tried to define science fiction. He said it “holds that the encroachment of technological or social change will make the future different and that it will feel different to those within it. In a technologically altered culture, people will regard themselves and their lives in ways that we cannot comprehend.”

The concept of science fiction as the literature of change wasn’t new. Then he took the definition into perilous territory.

Continue reading “We Lost Control a Long Time Ago”

Q&A with Marc Laidlaw

Marc Laidlaw returns to Asimov’s with a new short story, “A Mammoth, So-Called” in the current issue on sale now. Here, he chats with us about playing with form and revisiting the classics.


Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind “A Mammoth, So-Called”?

Marc Laidlaw: Recently I went through all of my papers in order to donate them to a library. There were many, many story fragments but this one, dating from 1991 (and showing an interest in the themes that obsessed me at the time), was complete. It was written in the form of a scientific report, but the lack of technical detail made it rather unconvincing, and I remembered why I was never satisfied with it. I rescued it from the files and started tinkering with it, and realized that what it needed to offset the scientific aspect was an element of fabulation—to make a tall-tale of it. That inspired the framing device. I have never written anything before in the mode of a traditional “club story,” but the model was perfect for this piece. I was a little surprised to discover that my style had not changed much in the last 25 year, and in many ways it seems like a story I could have dreamed up and written a week ago. I do, however, think that unlike most of my stories, it is a rare piece of science fiction rather than fantasy, and that’s why I thought it might be right for Asimov’s.

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

ML: I was trying to keep up with the current trend of including as much punctuation as possible in my title. Continue reading “Q&A with Marc Laidlaw”

Into the Tsunami: Q&A with David Gerrold & Ctein

Our readers will find a tense, exciting novella coauthored by David Gerrold & Ctein in our current issue on sale now. The sheer emotional magnitude of “Bubble and Squeak” is astounding—and it is clear that meticulous research informs the story to support this  rich, thrilling experience. Luckily David and Ctein agreed to chat about this process and the larger work this is a part of—their novel-in-progress Ripple Effect. Their interviews are woven together below—enjoy!

Find an excerpt of this tale on the Asimov’s website.

Asimov’s Editor: It is always a treat to publish a collaborative story. Every collaborative work seems to have its own process and style: How did you two approach coauthoring this piece?

Ctein: Before I get into the questions, I should mention that David and I thought it would be more entertaining to answer them individually, without consulting each other in any way. Should it turn out that we contradict each other, well—as Walt Whitman would have put it—we contain multitudes. Should some people be perturbed by that, the alternative explanation is that David and I inhabit parallel universes so what each of us says, even if it contradicts the other, is true.

“Bubble & Squeak” is about 20% of the novel that David and I are writing together, currently titled “Ripple Effect” (more about the novel later). It’s one of several interwoven storylines the novel follows. Each of us has had ideas for storylines to go into the novel, and generally speaking we’re writing them individually and then passing them back and forth. In this particular case, David had an idea for one of those subplots set in LA. We discussed the broad (sub)plot points ahead of time, but the details were all his to create (my subplots are developed similarly).* What was special about David’s was that it was so well-focused that when he was finished we realized it would make a good standalone novella.

David wrote the whole first draft. Then he passed it on to me for a rewrite, and I mucked with it. Then we fought about what I’d mucked with (‘cause that’ll happen sometimes), and I will claim I won most of those fights. Not because I’m a better writer, but because second draft is always better than first and a fresh pair of eyes is always better than a stale one.

He gave it a final pass, I gave it a sanity check, and off it went to Sheila. She suggested a very few modest (and entirely correct) changes. They got incorporated, and there you are!

*(No, I’ll take credit for one detail. David’s first idea was that it would be about a boy saving his girlfriend. I opined that this was shaping up to be an awfully “straight” novel, especially considering that both of its authors had been “out” for decades. So maybe it could be a GIRL rescuing her girlfriend . . . or . . .)

David Gerrold: “Bubble and Squeak” is part of a much larger work. We write stuff, we pass it back and forth for multiple conferences, rewrites, polishes, and tweaks. I specifically wanted to do this part of the story. Because of my familiarity with the landscape, I could take the reader across half the LA basin.

AE: Have either of you worked with another author (perhaps each other) before? In what ways was this experience different? Continue reading “Into the Tsunami: Q&A with David Gerrold & Ctein”

Q&A with Jane Lindskold

Our current May/June issue [on sale now], contains the talented Jane Lindskold’s first Asimov’s appearance with “Unexpected Flowers.” Get to know her and what inspires her work in our newest author Q&A!

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

Jane Lindskold: My mother sent us flowers for Valentine’s Day. Repeatedly. They kept being delivered to the wrong address—the same wrong address. My sister’s flowers arrived, but without a card. I began speculating as to the impact of anonymous Valentine’s bouquets and the story blossomed from there.


AE: How did “Unexpected Flowers” germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly?

JL: “Germinate”? Seriously? The spark was quick, but working through the logic trees and their various ramifications took a while. I gave a copy to a friend of mine who is a specialist in computer algebra and he said very approvingly that it was a nicely mathematical story.

I also wanted it to be a real story, so the main character does develop over the course of events. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be a story, just an exercise in empty speculation.

  Continue reading “Q&A with Jane Lindskold”

The Novel I Wish Isaac Asimov Had Written

Image courtesy of NRAO/AUI

By Jay Cole

As I wrote my article about my experience teaching a course about Isaac Asimov (“A Semester with Isaac Asimov in the May/June issue on sale now), I found myself thinking about what he did not write. By this, I mean the Good Doctor was a prolific author of science fiction novels and stories that help to explain and popularize a variety of scientific topics and issues.

From robotics to mathematical sociology, Asimov’s science fiction has had a significant impact on public opinion and the popular imagination. This was, after all, one of my primary reasons for creating and teaching the course. Recognizing that he could not write about everything (although, thankfully, he gave it his best effort), what scientific topic or issue do I wish he had addressed in a novel or story? My answer: radio astronomy.

I say this because two radio astronomy facilities, the Arecibo Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia, face uncertain futures. Due to budget cuts, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has made some tough choices recently about how to allocate scarce dollars across a large portfolio of expensive scientific installations and programs. Thus, the NSF is dramatically reducing its investment in both Arecibo and Green Bank over the next few years. These observatories are seeking other sources of funding to continue their essential research, education, and outreach. Arecibo just announced a partnership with the University of Central Florida.

The impact of these facilities has been very significant. Arecibo ( has been instrumental in a range of discoveries from neutron stars to ice at the poles of Mercury. Green Bank (, located in my home state of West Virginia, discovered the first signal of an organic molecule in space and is at the forefront of detecting gravitational waves from pulsars. And in 1960, Frank Drake launched the modern search for extraterrestrial intelligence by using a Green Bank radio telescope.

With such a legacy, it is not surprising that radio astronomy has been a topic for science fiction literature and film. James Gunn’s 1972 novel, The Listeners, tells a very compelling story, set at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, about the social and political struggles that might result from detecting an intelligent signal from beyond Earth. Gunn paved the way for Carl Sagan’s best-selling novel, Contact, in 1985 and the 1997 film based on the book. The film, in particular, has promoted awareness of the Jansky Very Large Array, a collection of radio telescopes in New Mexico. (In a nice example of crossover between science and science fiction, Jodie Foster, the star of Contact, narrates a video that plays at the VLA’s Welcome Center.)

The novels by Gunn and Sagan are two great examples of how science fiction literature can help to shape public interest in and understanding of science, in this case the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. I just wish Asimov had written a book about radio astronomy as well!

There is every chance that Asimov’s treatment would differ sharply from Gunn and Sagan. Perhaps he would have focused less on searching for extraterrestrial life and more on radio telescopes as a research tool for understanding the nature of time and the shape of space. (It is important to note that Asimov did write about radio astronomy in his nonfiction. His summary of the history of radio astronomy and his explanation of how radio telescopes work occupy two chapters in his book, Eyes on the Universe: A History of the Telescope.)

However Asimov would have approached it, we can be confident it would have been thought-provoking. As authors such as Asimov, Gunn, Sagan, and many others have demonstrated over the years, there is a special power in science fiction to capture the imagination, generate enthusiasm, and influence opinion. And of course, it is not too late for the next generation of science fiction authors to weave radio astronomy into their stories and novels, and explore the scientific and social issues that swirl around the field.

A radio astronomy-themed science fiction anthology, anyone?

Jay Cole is senior advisor to the president and an adjunct faculty member at West Virginia University. His scholarly interests include science policy, the history of science, and the relationship between science fiction and public opinion. During the fall 2016 semester, Jay channeled his life-long love of science fiction, and Isaac Asimov in particular, into creating and teaching an honors course on Asimov. Jay’s guest editorial describes his experience and makes a case for teaching about Asimov’s work as an antidote to a “post-truth” era of “alternative facts.”

Peter Payack and the Stonehenge Watch

Believe it or not, Peter Payack has been appearing in our magazine for five decades now. Below, he details his writing history, including his long relationship with Asimov’s, and the story behind the invention of the Stonehenge Watch. Read on and catch Peter’s latest poem, “The Evolutionary Race,” in the current issue.

My whole life I’ve been interested in science, philosophy, history, science fiction, and the classical Greek and Roman world. I also have run 92,000 miles, 24 marathons (including 12 Bostons) and I coach wrestling at the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School. I am a strong advocate of the Latin adage that a strong mind needs a strong body, usually attributed to the classical poet Juvenal, which is quite fitting.

I always say, “I read, write, and run” every day. I am all over the place in reading, and lately I’ve been multitasking by listening to the “Great Courses Plus” lessons while I run. So in a typical day, I write for a few hours in the morning. I might listen to a thirty-minute lecture on the “Great African Rift Valley” while running, look up something about archeoastronomy when I get home, then listen to a lecture on “Aquinas and the Problem of Aristotle” on my evening run after wrestling practice, where we exercise in ninety-degree heat and have the latest rap music blasting.

I used to carry a notebook with me at all times, where I would scribble any ideas down. Now I type every thing in my iPhone. In fact, for my last book, “The Book of Conceptual Anarchy, Vol. 1,” I wrote all my ideas in my iPhone before I typed them out on my computer.

Continue reading “Peter Payack and the Stonehenge Watch”

Q&A with James Gunn

Prolific author James Gunn has been a regular in our Tables of Contents this past year—he discusses this serial project in our latest editor/author Q&A! Two tales from this universe are in the March/April issue on sale now.


Asimov’s Editors: Jim, our readers have seen a lot of you in our pages over this past year (for which we are grateful!), can you give an overview of this project? What was it like revisiting these characters?

James Gunn: When I finished the Transcendental trilogy, I discovered that I wasn’t finished with the universe (or, to be more precise, the arm of the galaxy) that I had created and the characters who inhabited it. That is how novels turn into trilogies. Authors can’t let go. Even a trilogy is restricted by the requirements of the overall narrative in what its characters can do and say. In Transcendental, eight of my characters tell their stories about how they came to join this pilgrimage to find the Transcendental Machine, but first-person narrative is limited to what that character has experienced and remembers, filtered through the uncertain and unreliable memories and needs of the narrator. I thought of telling their stories more completely, through the perception of an unbiased third-person narrator, and sharing these stories with a larger audience. I discussed the project with Sheila, and she encouraged me to tackle the project over dinner in the Drum Room of the President Hotel at MidAmeriCon. And so it was done, with the addition of a narrative from the viewpoint of Riley’s pedia and an essay about space opera and the Transcendental trilogy’s place in it.


AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in these stories?

JG: An author gets attached to his characters: It’s like living with someone, or a group of someones, sharing their lives, their thoughts, their desires and fears, and most of all, in Transcendental the events that brought them together. Because these characters were cooped up in a spaceship for months, they got to know each other better than most people have the chance to do, and they became real to me. I liked them all, but I was particularly fond of Asha and Tordor, and so, as the trilogy developed, I couldn’t let Tordor be destroyed in the deadly city of the Transcendental Machine.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for these stories? What is your history with Asimov’s? Continue reading “Q&A with James Gunn”

Q&A with Robert Reed

Rumored to be the most prolific Asimov’s author, Robert Reed is back in our pages (and here on our blog!) with a delightfully despicable character in “Love Songs for the Very Awful,” in our current issue on sale now!

Asimov’s Editors: What is the story behind “Love Songs for the Very Awful”?

Robert Reed: “Love Songs for the Very Awful” began as a title, which I found intriguing, and later, the presence of a predatory man and the various women who can accept him for what he is. At least temporarily.


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

RR: Most of my stories produce a rain of sparks. Inspiration is rarely in short supply with me, and quite a lot gets thrown away before the piece feels done. One advantage about doing this for so many years . . . I usually recognize when things aren’t working, and I escape before too much time has been wasted.


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

RR: I don’t remember writing the title. I was playing with future works and must have written down those words, and then it got put away for several months before I came back to it.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

RR: My history with Asimov’s? Extensive and long lasting, and I am rumored to be the magazine’s most prolific author. I won a Hugo with a novella first published here: “A Billion Eves.”

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

RR: Several of my earlier Asimov’s stories involve characters who should be considered sociopathic or even psychopathic. “She Sees My Monsters Now” is one of those beauties. What makes this story different, in part, is that my protagonist is self-absorbed but not particularly dangerous. I mean, I wouldn’t shy away from him on the street, and most of humanity wouldn’t have any trouble chatting with him.


AE: What inspired you to start writing?

RR: Writing sounded like fun, and I thought I would be good at it. But it took a decade of hard labor and rejection slips to give me any hope about either motivation. I liked writing, even when the stories flopped. And I was getting closer to making sales, which kept me in the hunt for making this into my profession.


AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

RR: I am finishing up the next novel set in my Marrow universe. My intention is to hire a copyeditor and then put it up for sale as a Kindle book. Why that route? Because I have more books to write, and I’m 61, and publishing has changed radically, and I don’t relish the opportunity to sit across from an editor who tells me that this is great or that is wonderful, but I should have more relatable characters in my stories. (The future Marrow novels will be as bizarre as anything that I have ever written. If I live to finish them.)


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

RR: My Marrow universe seems pretty fun. But really, on my most creative day, I couldn’t have imagined one tenth of the last several years living inside this SFnal universe of ours.


AE: What are you reading right now?

RR: I just finished Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, which has led me to the conclusion that all of us who were alive in the early sixties also died in the early sixties. There was no reasonable way to escape nuclear annihilation. And everything since has been an illusion produced by kind or evil aliens. I’m not sure which yet.


Robert Reed is the author of nearly 300 stories and novels. He won a Hugo for the novella, “A Billion Eves,” published in the October/November 2006 issue of Asimov’s. His novella, “Truth,” has been made into a small, intense film called Prisoner X. Among Reed’s recent efforts is a giant alternate history novel in four pieces. The Trials of Quentin Maurus can be found only on Kindle Books and Amazon.


Q&A with Alexandra Renwick

Alexandra Renwick makes her Asimov’s debut with her short story “Because Reasons” [in our current issue]. Here, she discusses her inspirations and writing style, admitting that she’s often struggling with the same “Truths” as her characters.

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

AR: Until asked this question, I don’t think I realized the range of concerns this story’s unconventional narrative structure let me cram in here. Usually characters move in some way—physical, metaphorical, metaphysical, whateverical—from one place to another. There’s an arc, right? But in “Because Reasons” that arc already exists. It unfolds in a series of “Truths” set forth by the narrator, freeing me up to play with a slew of different notions without wondering how they fit into the action. Several close friends of mine died in rapid succession a couple years ago, and I guess I’d been thinking about the things you might never get to say to people who irrevocably disappear from your life. Sometimes very important people.

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

AR: I’ve been craving more adventurous fashion choices in the general populace. Also, I love lists. Lists get my brain all juicy, and this story is basically an epistolary list. With fashion directives. And space colonization.

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

AR: I’m an immersion writer—I relate to everything in my stories! Tin cans! Stray cats! Broken furniture! Detached prosthetic limbs! Wadded-up love letters!

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you? Continue reading “Q&A with Alexandra Renwick”