Q&A with Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar is back in Asimov’s pages with his touching story “Neom,” on sale now in our current issue. Don’t miss this poignant story about the passage of time. Read on below for a peek behind the curtain with Lavie’s insights and inspirations.


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

LT: I’ve been visiting the Red Sea for twenty years now (on the Egyptian side), and I was always struck by looking just across the water to the Arabian Peninsula, and that huge stretch of desert along the Red Sea coast is, of course, Saudi Arabia. Then I came across crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS)’s plan to build this sort of cyberpunk utopia called Neom there! I mean it has a promotional Youtube video and everything . . . And I’ve been recently very interested in the idea of future cities, and I knew I had to write about it. If only because I find the idea of a cyberpunk utopia so very terrifying . . .


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

LT: So it came from my interest, I think, in the new Chinese Silk Road, which goes all the way to the Red Sea (and is partly featured in my Tor.com story “Yiwu”), and from the portrayal of Neom in the promotional material put out by the Saudis. And then, I’ve been interested in robots again recently. I did a conference on AI in Cambridge in England, and I was struck by how AI researchers are still talking about Asimov’s three laws! And also, of course, by the famous act of Saudi Arabia granting citizenship to a robot recently, Sophia (you really can’t make this stuff up!). So all of this kind of came together for me.


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

LT: It’s nominally a part of the wider Central Station universe, where the majority of my straight SF stories are set. And it’s also thematically linked to “Yiwu.” I was kind of hoping to explore more future urban settings in forthcoming stories, but that hasn’t happened yet. I have a few planned . . .


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

Continue reading “Q&A with Lavie Tidhar”

Q&A with Robert Borski

Robert Borski has been contributing to our magazine for close to a decade now, and his latest—and shortest—poem “Eclipse 2017” can be found in our current issue [on sale now].



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

RB: Like almost everyone else in the country on August 21st, 2017, I was watching the solar eclipse, trying not to blind myself in the process, even as, online, a number of my colleagues in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association were uploading their impressions, mostly in the form of short poems. Almost immediately, half a dozen ideas came to me and while I shared a few of them (e.g., “Shady deal nixed/ changeling sun returned”), I held back several, intending to submit them for publication. “Eclipse (2017)” was subsequently accepted by Asimov’s a short while later.

AE: Do you particularly relate to this piece?

RB: Even though I’m nearing 70, I still have a rebellious nature, so if you tell me not to fly too close to the Sun or don’t look back, I’m either going to cheat (does it count, if I use a mirror, to see if my wife follows or if my former place of residence is on fire?) or just outright disobey—even if other auspices (like a total eclipse, perhaps) present themselves. So, yes, Icarus and I could be blood brothers.

Continue reading “Q&A with Robert Borski”

Relax, It’s Just a Story

by Peter Wood


“Salting the Mine,” my current story in Asimov’s, took a couple dozen revisions over ten years. Asimov’s Editor Sheila Williams liked the 2017 penultimate version, but said it wasn’t “alien” enough.

I can’t argue with that. The first version she saw was basically The Andy Griffith Show in space with the characters wandering around a Mayberry stand-in light-years from Earth. Alien it was not.

But, Asimov’s raised an interesting point. Essentially the magazine said the story wasn’t plausible enough. It hadn’t reached that tipping point where readers could suspend disbelief. You might rightfully ask: Does a speculative story need to be plausible? Well, yeah, it does, but not to the point that the wonder of the tale is gutted.

My story still isn’t exactly believable. The aliens and the faster-than-light drive aren’t feasible, but I think that by correcting the issues raised by Sheila Williams, the story becomes plausible enough.

There is a subgenre of science fiction called mundane science fiction, which advocates only tales that could exist in our current Universe. No aliens. No faster-than-light travel. No time travel. No stories basically outside our Solar System. Only foreseeable reasonable improvements in technology.

I’m not a big fan of mundane science fiction. Under its anal-retentive rules most of the great science fiction just isn’t possible. Take The Martian Chronicles, a literary masterpiece, but complete scientific bullshit. Who’d want to read Bradbury if his characters wandered around a lifeless Mars in space suits instead of a landscape that might as well be 1950 small town Ohio?

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Q&A with Megan Engelhardt

Megan Engelhardt’s holiday-themed poem suits our November/December issue [on sale now] well. Get to know her and her writing in our newest Q&A.

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

ME: I’ve gone to church my entire life, and my entire life I’ve disliked the song “Silent Night.” A few Christmases ago I was attending our Christmas Eve service and, as always, we sang “Silent Night” with the lights turned off. Everyone in the congregation held a candle, and it struck me that it was worth singing the song to see the individual flames merging together to light up the sanctuary. It was a good feeling.

Then I put it into space.

AE: How did this story germinate?

ME: I wrote this poem all in one go, one wild rush from beginning to end. (I find it easier to do that with poems than with short stories.) It went through several rounds of edits before I was happy with the shape of it, but the core poem took maybe half an hour to get down.

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

ME: I’ve been trying to stop self-rejecting my pieces. Often I’ll write something that I feel good about, but not send it to my dream markets because I decide it’s not good enough. Asimov’s is absolutely one of my dream markets, and I am so thrilled I didn’t self-reject this one!

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

ME: My sister, Amanda C. Davis, is my best critic, biggest cheerleader, and my first influence and inspiration. I love C.S. Lewis and his work. If I could write something half as good, funny, meaningful, or influential as Terry Pratchett, I’ll count myself lucky.

AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?

ME: Sims 3, long showers, and ranting about the problem to my husband, who listens very patiently until I talk myself into a solution. Continue reading “Q&A with Megan Engelhardt”

All Fiction Is Speculative

by David Ebenbach

“Speculative Fiction” is one of those slippery terms that, for better or for worse, writers are always trying to pin down. The results have included elaborate Venn diagrams, massive databases, and unfortunate sentences such as “Like other cultural fields, speculative fiction is a domain of activity that exists not merely through texts but through their production and reception in multiple contexts.” Some people, meanwhile, have suggested that the “Speculative Fiction” label is mainly just a cover that can “allow the more pretentious to believe that their favorite work is a proper ‘literary’ work with no connection to, and thus obvious superiority over, that geeky science fiction or fantasy.”

Why are we so eager to pin this term down? Because otherwise, according to Lynn Reynolds of Liminal Pages we’ll be left with something “so loose that it can be stretched to include all fiction.”

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On “Joyride”

by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

I did not expect to write “Joyride” [on sale in the November/December issue now]. I was working on a very long novel in my Diving universe. I couldn’t find a way into the novel. By that, I mean, I would start it, and I would write with a lot of enthusiasm, and then, slowly, the enthusiasm would drain. I would get to the point where I couldn’t write any further.

Each time, I would pick different characters and a different starting point in the story. It didn’t matter. As I wrote, the story would falter.

Then Nadim Crowe walked into the novel. In the book, he’s an adult. And in each draft, he would hint at this horrible thing that had happened to him in his youth. This thing had an impact on his entire life.

Continue reading “On “Joyride””

Art & Words

by William Ledbetter


Like most writers, the ideas for my stories come from various sources. Many times, they are kernels that grow slowly in my mind. Sometimes I’ll see something out a window or on a walk that triggers an immediate story idea. On many occasions a piece of music sets up a cascade of thoughts that grow into a story. Since my muse is so scattered and inconsistent, it can often be difficult to answer the question “where did you get the idea for this story.” That’s not the case for “What I Am” [on sale in our current issue now and available as a podcast]. I can point to a very specific prompt and the process that gave birth to this particular tale.

Early in 2017 I applied to be in a collaborative art show which is run by my friend and fellow writer Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam and was thrilled to be accepted. Her Art & Words show has been running since 2012 and it pairs up eleven artists and eleven writers from around the world. Writers send in a story or poem, and then if chosen to participate we are given the image of a piece of art as a prompt to write a second story. The artists send in a piece of visual art and if chosen are given a story or poem as inspiration for a second piece of art. The result is twenty-two pieces of art and twenty-two stories or poems.

My prompt was a sculpture called Architeuthis, created by Texas artist Stacy Tompkins. This piece was both inspiring and quite challenging. Every time I looked at it I saw different things. Sometimes it resembled a macramé squid, which is where the sculpture gets its name, and other times it reminded me of a severed arm from a woven beast or possibly an alien exotic worm. Of course it was just for inspiration. My story didn’t have to be actually about this object, but I thought it was cool and wanted to include it in some way. I also knew from the very first glance that it needed to be alive and aquatic.

Being mostly a science fiction writer I didn’t want to bring this beast to life using magic, so that left only electronics. It would have to be a robot. That said, coming up with an even slightly plausible reason for a robot to be built in that form—at least by humans—left me scratching my head, until I embraced the idea of a future where everything was endowed with some level of intelligent automation. Then the idea kind of took off. The boy’s sweater wanted to make him feel better—as any intelligent sweater would—so it offered to help him find the ring.

I also enjoyed creating a story arc where the protagonist didn’t change. The boy in the story was a vague stand-in for so many of us who are feeling lost, bitter, and sad in today’s chaotic world. The robot was a steadfast companion, who despite being hacked, rearranged and forced into a role it didn’t want, stayed true to its original purpose and was there for the boy when needed. Couldn’t we all use a friend like that?


William Ledbetter is a Nebula Award winning author with more than sixty speculative fiction stories and non-fiction articles published in markets such as Asimov’s, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Escape Pod, Baen.com, Daily SF, the SFWA blog, and Ad Astra. His new novel “Level Five” is available from Audible Originals.

He’s been a space and technology geek since childhood and spent most of his non-writing career in the aerospace and defense industry. He administers the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award contest for Baen Books and the National Space Society, is a member of SFWA, the National Space Society of North Texas, a Launch Pad Astronomy workshop graduate, and is the Science Track coordinator for the Fencon convention. He lives near Dallas with his wife, a needy dog and two spoiled cats.