Setting: The Key to Speculative Fiction

The prolific Bruce Boston, whose poem “Vampire Fortuneteller” is on sale in our current issue now, visits the blog with an adapted lecture explaining the power of the science fictional setting.


by Bruce Boston

Why do many readers pass over realistic contemporary fiction and choose to read speculative fiction instead? They can certainly find compelling plots and characters in mainstream fiction. There are more books from which to choose, from classics to potboilers, and no lack of adventure, romance, suspense, and conflict. And most literary critics would contend that in the best mainstream fiction one encounters superior writing and greater emotional and ideational depth than in the best speculative fiction.

Yet speculative fiction can offer one distinctive and significant element that is lacking in mainstream fiction: the creation of an imaginary setting. The reason many readers choose speculative fiction over mainstream is because they want to leave the cares and concerns of everyday reality behind and be transported to a completely different world.

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Inside “3-adica”

by Greg Egan

In my novella “3-adica,” [in the current issue on sale now] Sagreda and Mathis are digital beings, trapped in a network of exploitative virtual reality games and forced to act out the roles that none of the customers want. They’ve learned how to travel from game to game, but they’re desperate to seize control of their fate by reaching the legendary game of 3-adica, a world reputed to have rules so bizarre that they could test the network’s software to destruction.

The story begins in a pastiche of Victorian London, ruled by a vampire elite, that the heroes must pass through on their way to 3-adica. But since the laws that govern vampires are already well-known, this blog post will describe the less familiar rules that govern the 3-adic numbers.

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The New Mythology

by Sheila Finch

 

When I retired after more than thirty years teaching, I decided it was time to pursue volunteer work. My Episcopal church in Long Beach runs a program on Saturday mornings for the homeless, offering a shower, a change of clothing, and hot food. So I signed up for one morning a month. It was a little intimidating at first, over a hundred people of all ages milling about in a small courtyard waiting their turn, some with mental or substance abuse problems. But as time went by, I got to know many of the regulars and learned something about their backgrounds and their unique stories, something akin to finding buried treasure for writers.

A number of the Saturday morning visitors are veterans, and one day in the middle of November, a gentleman told me how angered he’d been to read that vandals had desecrated graves in the VA cemetery in Westwood.  “I took the bus up to LA,” he said, “and I helped clean up the mess! It was the least I could do for my buddies.” I was very moved by this story, but it took several months before I could see a way to use it. First I wrote a story about a homeless woman—a composite of many such women who came to our shower program—and a visitor from the future. That one (“Field Studies”) appeared in Asimov’s in the May/June issue of 2017. I worked on other projects after that, but the veteran’s story wouldn’t go away. Then one day I had an insight about how to use the material, and “Survivors” was the result.

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Q&A with Michael Cassutt

Michael Cassutt’s latest novelette, “Unter,” is featured in our current issue [on sale now]. He also answered a few of our questions about the story’s creation and the other projects he’s been working on.

 


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

MC: The genesis was Uber, of course, reversing the name and wondering what sort of sharing might result. Since people in hypnotic or drugged states are frequently said to be “under,” the idea of brain- or experience-sharing was logical.

 

AE: What is your history with Asimov’s?

MC: I published my first story, “A Star is Born,” in 1983 and have contributed half a dozen other pieces since then. It is the SF magazine I have read longest and most consistently. Continue reading “Q&A with Michael Cassutt”

What We Talk About When We Talk About Science

by Octavia Cade

 

“The Backward Lens of Compromise” [in the current issue on sale now] is the third novelette I’ve sold to Asimov’s over the past couple of years, and they all hold to the same theme: scientists and science history. This one’s no different, and in some ways it’s even more political than the last, in which Soviet biochemist Lina Stern stood up to fascism.

This one’s about science education.

I’ve a PhD in science communication. How we talk about science matters. How we share it—who we share it with—matters more. Science shouldn’t be an elitist subject. It should be open to everyone, because a society that is literate in science is a society that understands objectivity and method, rationality, the idea of proof and logic. Science is a means of teaching critical thought that percolates through into other areas of our culture and society. We want a community that thinks, that is able to weigh evidence, that doesn’t swallow blindly every claim made before it.


How we talk about science matters. How we share it—who we share it with—matters more.


 

We don’t want whooping cough making a comeback because people are afraid that vaccines cause autism, for instance.

Public education is expensive. Whether it’s in your country or in mine, I’m willing to bet that education accounts for a great chunk of the national budget.

I’m also willing to bet it’s not enough.

Science education, particularly in schools, is a barometer of this. Science is a high-priced subject to teach. It’s not just the books—it’s the school labs, the chemicals they need, the equipment. If cuts need to be made, science is an easy target. And frequently it’s the kids from poorer communities, with less well-equipped schools that have fewer resources, that suffer the most from this.

Poor kids need science education too. They deserve the same level of attention and resources in their classrooms as their more affluent neighbours—and if they don’t get it, society as a whole suffers.

“The Backward Lens of Compromise” is a story about science education. There’s a magic observatory in there too, a shape-shifting telescope, potted histories of astronomers who had their own ways of seeing science, of passing it on. And it’s got kids who learn from them what science can do for them. Please take a look.

 


 

Octavia Cade has sold stories to Clarkesworld, Shimmer, and Apex Magazine, amongst others. She’s got a particular interest in mashing up science history with speculative fiction, and this is her third Asimov’s novelette on the subject. Octavia’s also got a PhD in science communication, which is why “The Backward Lens of Compromise” is so determined on the value of proper science education in schools. The author once traveled around Europe with a backpack so stuffed with telescope there was hardly room for clothes. She attended Clarion West 2016.

Q&A with Leah Cypess

Author Leah Cypess mined her experiences with parenting and social media to give us her latest work of fiction in our current issue on sale now. Here, she explains the story’s beginnings and how it fits in with her writing on a certain theme.

 


 

Asimov’s Editor: “Attachment Unavailable” is such a fun story to read—was it equally fun to write?

LC: Oh, yes. This was one of the most fun stories I’ve ever written—I kept giggling as I was working on it.

 

AE: How did this story germinate? Was there a spark of inspiration, or did it come to you slowly (perhaps after time on parenting groups)?

LC: Good guess! I think the answer is all of the above. In the beginning, this wasn’t a story. I read a Facebook exchange among some friends of mine, commenting on a parenting article, and it irritated me enough to make me write a little parody. I posted it; it went over well with my friends, and then I moved on and forgot about it.

Years later, I created a PDF of my Facebook history, for the purpose of creating a scrapbook of my kids’ funny comments. While going through the PDF, I came across that parody and thought, “I should do something more with this . . .” and then wrote the rough draft of the story in less than an hour.

I spent a lot of time fine-tuning it, of course, but the most time-consuming part of writing this story was figuring out how to format it; the process required me to keep checking Facebook, which was definitely not the most efficient way to get a story ready for submission.

 

AE: Are there any themes that you find yourself returning to throughout your writing? If yes, what and why? Continue reading “Q&A with Leah Cypess”

Q&A with Ian R. MacLeod

Ian R. MacLeod, whose new novelette you can find in our current issue [on sale now], gives us some insight into his influences and inspirations—for “Ephemera” and his writing career in general.


 

Asimov’s Editor: As our readers will see, Jane Austen’s work plays a role in this story. Can you talk about how that came about?

Ian R. MacLeod: I have to admit that I’m not a great fan of Jane Austen. Yes, I can admire what she does in a technical sense, at the very least, in that she set a template for a certain kind of fiction (not to mention movie) whose popularity continues to this day. I can even appreciate that it’s no small feat to be frothily light and mildly funny. If she were described of as an interesting minor author, I’d probably be in agreement. But does she really say anything that was particularly interesting or new about humanity, even at the time her work was written, and within the narrow social confines within which she chose to set her works? I would argue not. Then there’s all the heritage nonsense and reverence which now gathers around her novels . . .

So, and having said that, I guess I’m left with the question of why I chose an early scene from Pride and Prejudice as the way to introduce KAT, the robot protagonist of my story, who’s basically a very lonely librarian. I think it was because I could see that, living with the rather grim realities she has to deal with all alone on her asteroid, I could fully understand why she might want to seek out some light relief. For me when it comes to humorists, it would probably be P.G. Wodehouse, but KAT’s not me. Then, of course, I wanted to choose a well-known classic which most readers will be generally aware of, even if they hadn’t read it, which considerably narrows the field. I suppose I could have had Kat imagining herself fighting against Napoleon in War and Peace, but somehow Pride and Prejudice seemed like a suitably daft yet reasonable book for an intelligent robot to have a particular fondness for, especially as it deals with the romantic love she clearly longs to experience.

Continue reading “Q&A with Ian R. MacLeod”