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 (curiousful.wordpress.com 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?
PW:

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 (www.pagespineficshowcase.com) 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 petewood1965@gmail.com. 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: https://earthsky.org/space/red-dwarf-stars-superflares-red-dwarf-planets-habitability/ . 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 MartaRandall.com, 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.

Q&A With William Ledbetter

William Ledbetter won a 2016 Nebula Award for “The Long Fall Up,” and has now written a sequel to that beloved novella called “The Short Path to Light,” available [in our March/April issue, on sale now!]. We spoke with him about the inspiration behind this new story and why patience is a virtue for up-and-coming writers.

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
William Ledbetter: “The Short Path to Light” is a sequel to my novelette “The Long Fall Up” that won a 2016 Nebula Award. It takes place a month after the events in the first story with some of the same characters and is really a product of reader requests. I had several readers ask me about the fate of the AI character from the first story. With comments like “You have to save Huizhu?” and “What’s going to happen to Huizhu?” I realized there was more to this story and found that I really wanted to revisit these characters.

AE: Since this story is part of a larger universe, do you see future developments?
WL: This is the second part of what will hopefully be a three or four story arc about humanity and our AI partners breaking the shackles that prevent us from truly growing as a civilization.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
WL: Even though I am not a priest, I probably relate the most to the Reverend Gabby. Like Jager in the first story, Gabby starts out with preconceptions and a mostly intransigent set of beliefs, yet over time is willing to reconsider and change her worldview based on new information. Doing that is difficult and it’s a constant struggle for me, so I like to show characters overcoming cognitive dissonance and admitting when they were mistaken. Especially, when it is something that can negatively impact others.

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing?
WL: One theme that pops up a lot in my writing is humanity merging with our technology. That is the focus of my Killday novel series and I have multiple short stories that explore aspects of the idea. That line of thinking crystalized for me after reading a long, rambling article in Wired magazine titled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” where Bill Joy, founder of Sun Microsystems, discussed the plausibility of a technological singularity. It was about twenty years ago, so I don’t remember a lot of details, but it boiled down to three likely scenarios. We would be destroyed by our technology, we will retain control of it or we will merge with it.  I thought the third one was the least discussed in SF, yet was the most interesting and most hopeful.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
WL: I usually work on several things at once. If I stall on one project, it’s usually because I’m too close to it and need a break. So, I pour my effort into something else for several days or even weeks, and that almost always works for me.


This is the second part of what will hopefully be a three or four story arc about humanity and our AI partners breaking the shackles that prevent us from truly growing as a civilization.


AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
WL: I’m working on the third novel in my “Killday” series. The first two books, “Level Five” and “Level Six” are already out in audio format from Audible Originals but will be coming out in print and e-book formats from Interstellar Flight Press in August 2022 (Level Five) and maybe January 2023 (Level Six.) The third book, “Level Seven” will also be out in all formats in 2023.

AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
WL
: I think it would be Greg Bear’s universe from “Darwin’s Radio.” I like the idea of humanity evolving more empathy and intercommunication.  We do see that, each generation seems to be pushing toward something better, but in these books it happens in one or two generations and that appeals to my impatience as well.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
WL: Well, I’m a tech geek, so science fiction gadgets fascinate me. I want two of them to become real. First is matter transmitters, like those used in Star Trek and Niven’s books. I would love to be able to spend more time with friends who live hours away or in other countries (or eventually on other planets) by simply popping into their house or a bar or restaurant of choice. Second would be an upgrade that would enable me to remember everything I “want” to remember.  Of course, our phones, with instant access to the internet and built in cameras are close, but I’ve lived a long time and have forgotten way too many amazing things over the years.

AE: What are you reading right now?
WL: In the last few years I’ve been reading a lot more non-fiction, perhaps out of some desire to get a better understanding of the world we live in. One such book that I’m reading right now is “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. It examines past cultures, how and why they collapsed, and if we can learn any lessons from them. I’m learning a lot so far. And I’m looking forward to reading some science fiction next with Derek Kunsken’s “Quantum War” which is the third book in his excellent Quantum Evolution series.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
WL: Most of my advice to up-and-coming writers can be summed up in one word. Patience. Everything in this industry seems to take forever. Hearing back from publications or agents about submissions or queries, ever selling a piece to a top market, having your work actually come out in print once you sell it, editing a written novel, etc. It all takes a lot of time and effort. It can be maddeningly slow and a big source of discouragement for new writers. But I say it’s usually worth the wait. Most of all I encourage writers to be patient with themselves. Don’t rush your writing. Take the time to make it something special. Edit, revise, tweak, workshop and polish every piece you write. Delete huge chunks and rewrite. Don’t be afraid to make the difficult choices. And don’t be so hard on yourselves. Most successful writers were at one point in the same place you are right now.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
WL: Website: www.williamledbetter.com
Twitter: @Ledbetter_sf
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/william.ledbetter/


William Ledbetter is a Nebula-award winning science fiction author based out of Texas. His work has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Analog, Writers of the Future, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and more.

Q&A With Steve Rasnic Tem

Steve Rasnic Tem has always been fascinated by technology and the movement of life’s stages. His new story asks readers, “Do You Remember?”Check it out in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: What is the story behind this piece, and do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?

Steve Rasnic Tem: The fact I lost my wife Melanie (also an Asimov’s contributor) 7 years ago has led many reviewers to conclude my stories during this period have been about processing my grief. This may be true in part, but I’ve always written about grief, about losing people, about getting old. These are subjects which have interested me since I was in my thirties. Now they have more personal relevance.
Although my emotional connection to a subject often drives my fiction—I write about what I care about—my stories are rarely autobiographical. Even when you try to write your own experiences into a story the creative process changes them into whatever is needed by your narrative. You may still be telling the truth, but it’s an emotional, not a factual truth.
Someone once observed that writers tend to write characters close to their own age. Young writers write about finding a mate and starting a life. Slightly older writers write about raising kids and marital discord. Middle aged writers often write about divorce and starting over, and their fears over aging and a loss of vitality. Older writers write about being old and looking back or worrying about whatever is to come. I suppose if you get old enough, you start writing about dead people.
For the most part I’ve tended to look forward, writing stories about people a decade or more older than I was at the time. I write about personal and human issues which concern me, but my characters tend to struggle more than I do. Struggle is where our humanity is on full display.
Now that I’m past 70, I observe the struggles of older people from a closer, more involved POV. I find it troubling with all our technical prowess we haven’t done enough to make it easier for older people to function effectively in the world. Sharp minds with years of knowledge and experience find their participation limited because of mobility, strength, isolation, incontinence, and sometimes perceptual and cognitive issues. We could do much better finding solutions for these impairments.
Like many of my science fiction stories, “Do You Remember?” began with a couple of near-future technological developments and my thoughts about how those innovations might affect the lives of ordinary citizens. The first is round-the-clock surveillance, a development which most of us fear, but an older person (or that person’s family) anxious about dying at home without medical care might eagerly sign up for such an option. This option might help facilitate the second development: simulacra of the dead to facilitate grieving or for other therapeutic or educational purposes. Experts in AI tend to disagree as to whether we’ll ever be able to upload an entire human consciousness, but an intelligent imitation you could interact with seems entirely possible. But it will still be an awkward relationship for the average human family, and fraught with emotional complication.

AE: What made you think of Asimov’s for this story?
SRT: When I think of Asimov’s I think of stories with great humanity, stories in which the emotional and psychological impact of technologies on real human beings takes center stage. So, this particular story was originally written with Asimov’s in mind.

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?
SRT: “Do You Remember?” is my twelfth short story in Asimov’s. My first was “Interlude in a Laboratory” in the August 1981 issue when George H. Scithers was the editor. I’ve also published numerous poems in the magazine.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
SRT: Like most writers I have a ton of influences. Generally, my literary influences lean toward the modern fabulists and writers of the supernatural: Kafka, Borges, Barthelme, Brautigan, Calvino, Ramsey Campbell, Robert Aickman, MR James. Gestalt Dream Theory has been another inspiration—I try to create elements in my stories which mirror the protagonists’ conflicts and concerns. For a supernatural story I can select items from the real world around me. For a science fiction story, I must speculate about future developments and create those items and landscapes which echo my characters’ dilemmas.
It took me awhile to find a voice for my science fiction stories which I felt was truly mine. I looked to SF writers like Ray Bradbury, Ted Sturgeon, and Harlan Ellison, but the biggest influences on my science fiction have been the writers I have known and workshopped with: Ed Bryant, Connie Willis, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, and others whose work I consider “humanist” science fiction. They have consistently produced stories about real human concerns which have moved me. The main thing I look for in any piece of fiction is its ability to make me feel something. I want to laugh. I want to be brought to tears.

AE: How did you break into writing?
SRT: In high school I started submitting stories to Ted White at Amazing Stories. He never bought any of those stories (nor should he have), but he was always encouraging. I continued to submit to literary and SF mags in college without success. I got into the Master’s in Creative Writing program at Colorado State University and there I got a handle on the craft and started placing poems and short prose. My SF education continued as part of the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop started by Ed Bryant. My first professional sale was to Ramsey Campbell in 1979 for his anthology New Terrors. Sales to such editors as Charlie Grant, Roy Torgeson, Stuart Schiff, and Lin Carter followed. (I finally got into Amazing Stories in 1987.)


The main thing I look for in any piece of fiction is its ability to make me feel something. I want to laugh. I want to be brought to tears.



AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
SRT: At this stage in my life projects tend to be fluid. I’ve given myself permission to complete only those projects which I really care about (although new opportunities always tend to insert themselves). I just published my 15th story collection Thanatrauma (Valancourt Books), and I’ve placed Rough Justice, my collected crime fiction, at a publisher yet to be named.  At some point I’d like to collect some of my Appalachian stories and another science fiction collection. I’m also working on a couple of novels, including one about AI and interstellar travel.

AE: What SFnal prediction would you like to see come true?
SRT: There are so many! Many SF novels seem to assume we survived climate change—I’d certainly like to know how we accomplished that. Then there are the science fiction novels which suggest some sort of basic universal income is available. A guaranteed basic income and health care would free up our time to focus on better things and move humanity forward. But what would we do with our time? That’s always been the challenge. Finding meaningful work for most people is a goal worth working for.

AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
SRT: If you’re so inclined, find a workshop to join. They’re not for everybody, but they’re invaluable if they work for you. Learn how to self-edit. It might require taking a few weeks out of your life to read a good book on grammar and usage. You can always hire an editor for the basics, but if you can’t edit yourself, you’ll always be at a disadvantage. But something available to us all is reading. If you want to write short stories read a thousand short stories, but pay attention. How did the author begin and end the story? What was the strategy? How did they structure the middle? How did they lead your attention through the narrative? You can learn a great deal from this kind of analysis.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
SRT: I’ve taught—7th, 8th, 9th, and first-year college students. I’ve run a parts department for Allis-Chalmers light industrial equipment. But by far my longest career was as a technical writer/editor in the software industry: accounting programs, games, Oracle databases, auto parts inventory, interior design back-office software, and wood construction engineering. I mainly wrote manuals and online Help systems. This experience was invaluable to my fiction career, teaching me how to organize and write quickly for long periods of time, but especially focusing my attention on the basics of composition, grammar, and clear communication.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
SRT: My website is www.stevetem.com. My Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/steve.tem/. My Twitter handle is @Rasnictem. My Pinterest is stevetem. And my Amazon page is https://www.amazon.com/Steve-Rasnic-Tem/e/B001JRYPX6?.


Steve Rasnic Tem, a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards, has published 470+ short stories. Recent collections include The Night Doctor & Other Tales (Centipede) and Thanatrauma: Stories (Valancourt). His novel Ubo is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper and Stalin.  You can visit his home on the web at www.stevetem.com.

Q&A With Joel Armstrong

Author Joel Armstrong has always been more of a fantasy person than a science fiction person, he says. While his brain still reaches for dragons before robots, he discusses here why a graveyard walk helped inspire his new short story, “The Roots of Our Memories,” his first for Asimov’s, which appears [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]

Asimov’s Editor: How did this story come to be?
Joel Armstrong: I had recently moved and I was taking a walk around a graveyard down the street. For some reason I’ve always enjoyed walking around graveyards. I passed an open grave, freshly dug and ready for a casket, which I had never seen before. It got me thinking about who would be buried there, what their story was. My city historically has a large Dutch settler population, so I also noticed the generations of families that were buried together, many of whom had the same names of people I know today. Specific places have specific histories, and it made me curious what all stories belonged to the people buried there.

AE: Do you particularly relate to any of the characters in this story?
JA: I relate most strongly to Aiden, the narrator. I studied literature in graduate school, so I can also get grumpy about how little we seem to pay attention to the past, and how we may be dooming ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past. I can also become obsessive about my work at the expense of the other relationships in my life. I am fortunate like Aiden to have a spouse who is good at reminding me that there’s more to me than my work.

AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
JA: I have such trouble titling anything. Typically I’ll read through the finished piece, jotting down key words or ideas, and then I’ll play around with different combinations and word orders. Then I’ll ask my first readers which titles they like best from my brainstorm. Somehow they never pick the title I like best, but they’re usually right when I stop and think about it.

AE: Who or what are your greatest influences and inspirations?
JA: There’s a great page in Danielle Krysa’s children’s book How to Spot an Artist that says, “Artists can often be found turning ordinary stuff—like feathers, rocks, noodles, string, buttons, egg cartons, leaves, and even old socks—into art.” Writing isn’t so different. I feel like I pull bits and pieces of my stories from everywhere: a news article, a thought-provoking documentary, that conversation I had with my sibling ten years ago, that strange dream or interaction at a coffee shop. Inspirations can be found anywhere when I’m paying attention, and I think it’s important to be on the lookout for new-to-me influences.


I studied literature in graduate school, so I can also get grumpy about how little we seem to pay attention to the past, and how we may be dooming ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past.


AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why?
JA: Much of my writing has to do with trauma and responses to trauma. In my twenties, that meant a lot of war fiction with very blunt, physical traumas like family loss, displacement, and long-term injury. More and more I seem to be interested in less loud forms of trauma and grief. Everyone has lost something, and I think how we respond to loss—both in our own lives and in those around us—says a lot about how we’ll move forward.

AE: What is your process?
JA: I’m a planner and an outliner. In development, I like to write down everything I know about the characters, plot, theme, and setting. Then I try to arrange the different character moments and plot points into a recognizable story arc. Inevitably I make changes or come up with new ideas during drafting. I try to get first-reader feedback on multiple drafts, writing up their comments in my own words with specific action steps. Once the characters and plot are all behaving, I do a last pass for anything else I can delete and basic proofreading.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
JA: I have several other stories out with magazines right now, one about a new mom trying to learn how to parent her shapeshifting baby, and another about an FBI investigator who works on a historical magical objects unit in Chicago. I’m also drafting a short piece about a woman who’s had a full memory transplant. I’m eyeing up a novel-length project to work on in 2022, a near-future story that revolves around the legal case for trees to own their own land on Earth.

AE: What are you reading right now?
JA: I’m currently listening to Martha Well’s Network Effect. I’m thoroughly enjoying her narrative voice, and the questions she’s asking about what it means to be human (or not human). I also recently read Yan Ge’s Strange Beasts of China, which was simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. Her pacing and mystery-style plotting are enviable, as well as her deep senses of empathy and absurdity. Off genre, I finished Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter, a page-turning thriller that was especially engrossing for me since it’s set in Michigan, in a city I grew up visiting almost every summer.

AE: What other careers have you had, and how have they affected your writing?
JA: I’ve been lucky to work in a lot of writing-adjacent spaces, mainly as a composition instructor and editor. Editing nonfiction definitely gives me a less romantic approach to building fiction: What’s the “argument” or primary change in the protagonist I want to show? What “evidence” or plot points does the reader need to see to believe me? Teaching rhetoric and genre awareness in college classrooms has also swayed me toward the analytical side of fiction writing. I’ve worked home renovation and retail as well, and customer service is its own kind of gold mine for characterization. You see a very specific side of human behavior, for instance, when you’re working the winter holiday season in a mall.

AE: What is something we should know about you that we haven’t thought to ask?
JA: I’m naturally more of a fantasy person than a sci-fi person. I’ve written some sci-fi alternate history before, and the novel I’m drafting now is near-future, but my brain usually reaches for dragons before it reaches for robots. Stretching myself to ask different what-if questions and think about different kinds of impossibilities has been rewarding, though.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing? (IE: Social media handles, website URL…)
JA: You can find me online at joeljarmstrong.com. On social media, I’m most active on Instagram @joelarmstrongwrites.


Joel Armstrong is a speculative fiction writer based in the Midwest. His short stories have also appeared in Daily Science Fiction and Teleport Magazine. By day, he’s an editor at an indie publisher. He shares a home with his wife and two naughty cats in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Plot Arc, Character Arc, Storyteller’s Arc

What makes a story compelling? It’s all about plot. Author Stephanie Feldman breaks down her thoughts on how to make a great plot into an even better story. Read Feldman’s new story “The Boyfriend Trap” [in our January/February issue, on sale now!]

by Stephanie Feldman

I spend a lot of time teaching the technical points of plot mechanics: how a first turning point kicks a story into gear, how a midpoint elevates and transforms the dramatic stakes, and how a climactic sequence should feel both surprising and inevitable. My students and I take a mathematical approach, measuring pace in percentage of words, each transition hinged on a precise moment of success or setback.

But the most perfectly plotted story in the world can still be just that—perfectly calculated and meticulous. Admirable, but not moving; satisfying, but not memorable, like a tasty meal that leaves you hungry an hour later.

A great plot isn’t a great story. For that, you need something primal driving—or tormenting—the character. Your character may have a flaw (they’re selfish, they lack confidence) or a personal struggle (they’re desperate to please their mom, their marriage is unhappy) or a fear (they’re afraid to be alone, they’re afraid to confront the past). This is the launching pad for their emotional journey. Such a journey doesn’t require the character to become a better person—there’s nothing satisfying about a forced moral lesson—but they do need to achieve a new level of honesty or insight.

In the spirit of that honesty, I’ll confess: I spend a lot of time explaining the above ideas, but I spend even more time struggling to get the formula right in my own stories—and then trying to make the stories sing.

This is no surprise, of course: Great art is hard to achieve. It’s why we get writers block, or goof off online, or clean our already clean houses, or dread the white screen or blank page. (Ok, to be very honest, my house is almost never already clean, but you know what I mean.)

This jump from plot arc, to emotional arc, to writing process reveals the third layer of the story: the writer’s own arc, the primal things that drive us and the needs we must confront.

No one wants to face their flaws—to admit they’re not perfect, that they’ve made mistakes, that they must do the hard work of forging and repairing relationships and examining their own feelings. But we must face these truths in order to be our own free selves. If our characters’ adventures force them to do this, then maybe our characters force us to do this, too.


Great art is hard to achieve. It’s why we get writers block, or goof off online, or clean our already clean houses, or dread the white screen or blank page.


That doesn’t mean a work of fiction is a diary entry, in plain sight or in code. Our fears can be gripping but still nebulous; specific but fueling a fictional scenario.

I hate to generalize “literary” and “genre” writers—I think our work has more in common than not—but I’ve found that my students writing SF, fantasy, and horror often start with a snappy concept, a ready-made plot springboard. For my story in this month’s Asimov’s, “The Boyfriend Trap,” that springboard was the image of a person in a wilderness landscape, and the lone light of civilization extinguishing. The world blinks out of existence, and when the lights come back on, she’s so relieved not to be alone that she doesn’t take a hard look at the world she’s returned to.

Before I could write the story, I had to determine why it mattered. What fear is even bigger than being lost in the wilderness or a destabilizing pitch black? The horror my character faces isn’t just a reality that she may not be able to trust; it’s a reality that serves as a mirror, or perhaps a spotlight, for all of the monstrous truths she’s kept in her own interior darkness.

As more and more of my work skews toward horror, I find that this is the key scalpel for revealing human experience: what scares us and why. Our stories need daunting and pressing problems, both realistic and speculative, but they also need our fears about society, humanity, and ourselves.

That’s what will make our stories, our carefully constructed plots and endings, meaningful and moving—that will become the spirit animating the bones, and will linger, like ghosts and great tales do.


Stephanie Feldman is the Pennsylvania-based author of The Angel of Losses, a Crawford Fantasy Award winner, and the forthcoming Saturnalia (2022). Her work has previously appeared in a range of science fiction magazines, including Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Q&A With Tom Purdom

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

Goldie Origins

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

by Sean Monaghan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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