Cover art © Thom Davidsohn
- “The Mikarr Way” by Lyn Battersby
- “The Lost Continent” by Ian Shoebridge
- “T ME” by A. H. Jennings
- “Liminal” by Sean Melican
- “And to My Wife . . .” by Shira Lipkin
- “Mile Zero” by Daniel Braum
- “Daughters of Fortune” by Cyril Simsa
- “The Glass Girl” by Amy Mackiewicz
- “Nine Things about Oracles” by Shira Lipkin
- “South of the Woods” by Amy Mackiewicz
- “Among a Million Flowers” by Amy Mackiewicz
- “The Price of Perfection” by Amy Mackiewicz
- Sampling the Aspic with Penelope O’Shea
- Getting His Kink On an Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi
- Blindfold Taste Test by Laura Anne Gilman
- A Remembrance of the Future
FICTION Issue #20
Today I held my newborn daughter. I sat by Dulat’s side for an hour and held her hand, wanting more than anything to be a good husband. I encouraged her, told her to keep going, inquired about pain relief on her behalf, but she didn’t need my input. Our child slipped from the inflamed birthing sac and into my arms with no duress on Dulat’s part. Two scientists took her from me, gave her the contracted examination and then left us alone
Now we are a family.
When I was about twelve, I used to go to a large lake near my house, sit on the shore and watch the flying saucers circle over the water.
They glided more serenely than eagles, their metallic silver glinting in the sunshine, looking like a bizarre natural phenomenon. I stared for hours into the blue void while discs of all sizes and designs carved elaborate signs across the atmosphere. They were the doorway to a new world. I used to sit and watch, and wish to be abducted. I waved at them with my towel, waved a bright flag, I tried smoke signals, giant “Take Me” carved in the sand . . . Any other planet would do. Just away from where I was expected to belong.
My friend Denise thought I was silly for doing this, and tried to explain to me that they were a semi-natural phenomenon, not connected with outer space at all, really.
“Like seismic tension finds release in earthquakes, so does psychic tension find release in supernatural manifestations. You are causing these UFOs, you are making them happen. Stop making them happen! Make them go away!”
I didn’t believe what she said. Science has all kinds of ridiculous explanations for everything: it is the new religion trying to secure its dominion by eliminating the competition. It eliminated magic this way, and I wanted some magic in my life.
The portable classroom was larger than Joan Ellen had expected. Lit from overhead with fluorescent lights and busy with seventh-grade artwork, it smelled of chalk dust, old books, and refrigerated air. It reminded Joan Ellen of home. These days, most everything reminded Joan Ellen of home-or at least how far she was from it. She tried to pay attention, but now Joan felt the yawning chasm of distance, the thousands upon thousands of miles between Tunis and DC.
“I’ll put this as simply as I can,” Mrs. Thornton said. “Patrick is a brilliant boy.”
Liz Thornton was Patrick’s homeroom teacher. She was a heavy-set fortyish woman with close-cropped brown hair and a mouth that bunched up at the corners. Like many of the teachers here at ACST, Mrs. Thornton had come overseas with the Peace Corps, married, and stayed.
“I had a hard time getting through to him in our first few weeks together,” Mrs. Thornton said, “but I think his last essay assignment represents a breakthrough. He-I have it here.”
The teacher opened a manila folder on her desk blotter and handed Joan a short typed manuscript crawling with red pen marks.
The first face I saw when they unfroze me was a soldier’s, and he was surprised I was alive. “Did you have a friend named Theo?”
“No sir. They vetted us before we came. I’m here to debrief you. But before then, Mr. Cane, would you mind telling me how you survived? It’s the company’s business and none of mine, but I’m a survival instructor.”
“Heavy ice freezes at thirty-nine Fahrenheit. Since my body was mostly ordinary water, ice crystals couldn’t form, but it was cold enough to induce the diving reflex.”
He nodded. “Did you know it would work, sir?”
“No.” I pushed away the blanket he offered. “It’s too hot in here.”
Seymour waited in his little basement in The Year 2003, fidgeting, re-reading the carbon copy of the letter his wife should be reading right now back in 1953.
You may be wondering why I left you only the electric kettle and the screwdriver set in my will. It’s true that I owed enough to our creditors to drain our savings account, but why these specific things? Barbara, I relied upon your scientific curiosity; I relied upon you to investigate. And if you’re reading this now, it means that you have-that you have found this letter rolled up in the screwdriver set, disguised as a screwdriver. I had to be clever, dear, and you’ll see why.
Sit down, dear.
I am not dead.
The hot South Florida sun baked the highway. Stacks of wrecked cars, barbed wire, and several intentionally jack-knifed tractor-trailers blocked the road in both directions. Kayla slowed her pick up for the checkpoint. Spray-painted scrawl on one of the cars read “You are now leaving the United States.” Kayla rolled her window down, held out the green traveling papers Jillian had arranged for her, and waited.
Soldiers scuttled to sniper positions atop the tractor-trailers. Kayla swallowed and gently touched the almost showing swell of her belly. Please let this work, she prayed. Please Jillian, come through for me this time. She looked in the mirror at the faint, pink, scar above her eye where her ID stick had been removed.
“Road’s closed,” a tough Southern drawl blared from a speaker hanging from the barbwire. “Turn your car around. Check with authorities for traffic information.”
“I have papers,” she yelled.
All roads leading to Miami are closed, Kayla thought. But, the News says nothing and T.V. shows the usual propaganda of celebs partying in South Beach.
A door in the side of the tractor-trailer slid open and a soldier cautiously emerged.
“Turn off the vehicle,” he said, then approached from the driver’s side.
The thing is, I never expected to fall in love.
Not in Prague. Not really.
I had always considered myself far too cynical for that, which only goes to show how little I knew back then-how naïve I had been to think myself a connoisseur of life and art and contingency . . . Of the strangely intoxicating whims of beauty and sadness, of the tendency of the world to play the fool with our best intentions.
I had come to Prague to escape from Paris, which, I know, must sound like the words of a madwoman. But living in a third-generation community of self-proclaimed artists in a fifth-generation sublet on the far side of Montmartre, can get to be rather like taking the waters in a goldfish bowl after a while. I mean, let’s be honest here, how many second-hand Ernest Hemingway anecdotes do you truly want (or need) to establish your artistic credentials? How many parties and jazz-bands and drunken brawls on the frozen embankments of the Ile de la Cité? How many tired conversations on the ineffable genius of James Joyce and the book-buying policy at Shakespeare & Co.? Oh, the novelty is all well and good the first few weeks, but there comes a time when it starts to turn your brain into molasses.
ISSUE #20 POETRY
- by Amy Mackiewicz
Drawing a finger over the looking glass;
Ripples play across the surface, flow towards the frame,
fringed in bronze, chipped and faded.
In another world beyond the glass sits a little girl.
Some days it rained, and then the mirror would leak
and water dripped out through the framing
leaving a small shimmering puddle below.
Yet beyond the glass a little girl sits.
Some nights, if a fall moon formed,
the pale white light would shine through onto the wall casting shapes
as shadows danced upon the glass.
Yet beyond the glass a little girl sits.
This world is not reachable
for the mirror will not open.
Sitting in awe watching all that gently changes;
and the one thing that does not; the little glass girl.
Oracles never go off-duty.
The gods’ voices don’t punch a clock,
don’t take coffee breaks,
don’t go home at five.
to leave you reeling, dizzy,
No, the gods bleed through at
the most inopportune of times—
smoke break at the bus stop,
suddenly the falling ash
and swirling smoke
deliver a message sure as entrails,
and the oracle is swept away.
They didn’t ask for this—
in some cases, didn’t want it.
The gods are wary of too-willing nymphs these days.
So they force their way through pretty girls
in altered states—
true love, music.
These are not god-seeking girls.
These are girls who wanted something else.
They’re not all girls—
most gods prefer girls
as their mouthpieces,
citing artistic reasons,
Every once in a while,
there is a boy,
tap-tapping his Tarot
or spilling out his I Ching.
Oracles see pattern in everything.
Were the gods to ride them
for just a little longer,
we’d solve quantum physics,
have a Theory of Everything.
They cannot lie.
Be careful what you ask—
the answer may cut you.
It’s not her fault.
She’d cushion the blow if she could—
she is as helpless as you,
truth pouring out
in a great dark wave.
They don’t always work out of caves, these days,
but they like dark places,
the better to hold them close when the telling is done.
They do not have families.
Think of the oracle at home,
think of her seeing the future
of her husband, her child.
There are things they don’t want to know.
The oracles hang out in darkened clubs,
picking up partners
who are sure to be gone in the morning,
before any awkward prophesy.
They don’t charge money.
a measure of your belief in logic
(because this should not be possible,
not in your world—
this oracle opening,
this thing peering through,
too vast to be contained,
comprised of nothing but Truth
which chills to the bone—
makes you want to run, but too late—
once asked, the question
will be answered.)
You will bring gifts, after.
Coffee. Bread. Sacrifices.
It never goes away,
channel never really closes.
I can probe it like a sore tooth,
this place in me where answers come from.
It has been so long.
Let me tell you a story.
A young girl
Wearing a simple white dress
Draped with cobwebs—
Hair tied with a simple white ribbon,
Her complexion ashen as the gown she wore—
Stared inertly out a crack in the attic window
of a house long deserted.
Staring at the woods which loomed east
of the small town of Ashburton.
From the room were this young girl rested,
Came the sound of struggle
as a single black crow
fought towards freedom;
furiously flapping at the cracks in the shutters
until a board fell loose
with a gap wide enough for his body to fly through.
At this, the girl’s head bowed slightly,
Her eyes settled upon the bird
whom had escaped his cage.
And then he fell.
And as his body hit the ground below,
She turned her eyes again upon the
Heavy trees which loomed to the east.
And the crow’s lifeless body lay limp
within the quagmire that surrounded
the house which stood south of the woods
to the small town of Ashburton.
The wounds of the farm were clearer each year.
The stream to the right of the farm,
once overflowing with trout,
was now dormant,
nothing more than sludge.
Apple trees lined the left,
one time, each had been covered in baby pink blossoms,
Row upon row for as far as the eye could see.
But she could only imagine the fallen,
rotting trees to have been so alive.
She stood in utter silence.
Nothing sounded but the rustling
of dry wheat whispering in the wind.
She could not remember a time she had stood amongst
a harvest, full and plentiful.
For as long as she had been alive
all that surrounded her had been dead.
So on the tenth day, of the ninetieth year
she stood once more between the
dry corpses of a million flowers,
and she collapsed.
The beating of her heart slowed,
her breathing tensed
and as her pale blue eyes glazed over
her head turned towards the heavens one last time.
And the sky began to bleed.
Rain would fall around her,
cascading down the stone steps
forming a translucent puddle at her feet.
Yet she would always remain dry,
Unaware of even the smallest trickle.
Dusk would slowly approach,
creeping up the paved path
devouring first her toes, swiftly climbing her body.
Yet she would remain numb,
Unaware of the chill the night may bestow upon her.
Winds howled furiously,
ruining the cotton white cobwebs
that sat either side of her fragile face.
Yet she would remain still,
Unaware of the webs whipping her ivory complexion.
For she could not feel the rain beading her marble skin.
She could not feel the cool night’s breeze brushing her body
Nor the winds fierce cries as it streamed by her ear.
For she was no more than a flawless statue,
Her perfection, no less.
by Penelope O’Shea
I foggily find myself fumbling to make that infernal noise go away . . . . Just stop buzzing already!! I roll back over and stare at the ceiling as the first hints of light peek at the edges of the roman shade. Why is it morning? I know from the weather reports that what greets me once I crawl out of bed will be nothing short of an Antarctic wasteland . . . layers of ice beneath layers of snow . . . not to mention the drifting layers created by the sub-zero winds . . . . Grrrr to another Monday morning. The holidays have gone and with it my vacation. Instead, in the wee milky fingers of light, I will have to climb from the toasty layers of quilts, comforters and blankets into layers of camisoles, long underwear, fuzzy jumpers, mufflers, and fur stoles. Layer upon layer to fend off the weather’s prickly bite.
Layers and bites . . . as I soak up the last heat of the pillowy down and let the shafts of light draw longer streaks down the crown molding and onto the walls, I think of possible reasons to rise and eat my way into the day. Layers make me think of something my mother used to make long ago:
Seven Layer Salad
In a 9 x 13 glass pan, layer one on top of the other in this order:
1 head leafy lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces (romaine, iceberg, etc.)
1 hothouse cucumber, seeded, peeled and diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
1 bunch diced scallions
1 diced bell pepper (using red, orange or yellow will add cheerful color and sweetness)
1 10 oz. package of frozen baby peas (use right out of the cold chest, uncooked)
Once you’ve gotten these six layers down, place the final glorious layer, with its garnishes:
1 ½ c. Mayonnaise (NOT salad dressing) or enough to cover the veg completely
2 T. sugar, sprinkled on top mayo
1 c. shredded yellow cheddar
4 strips of fried bacon, crumbled over the lot
Cover and leave for a bit (or overnight) in the fridge until service.
While the bacon sounds inviting . . . a salad would be the last thing to prompt me to evacuate this warm bed. A salad is, after all, only the first chilly layer in a great meal. This is not a reason to reject a salad, but rather it is only a lead-in for warmer layers of flavor to come. I bury my head deeper under the down overlay to dream up some better reason for emerging.
I drift off, considering something warmer . . . spicier . . . and my dreams become:
Green Chicken Enchiladas
Lightly oil a baking dish and place 3-4 chicken breasts (bone-in, please) inside. Salt and pepper both sides and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool and then shred from the bone every last bit of meat. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat:
1 c. frozen corn kernels. Cook without oil, until they get a caramel-colored tinge. Once toasted, add these to the chicken and set aside again.
In the same skillet, add a 2-count of oil (about 2 T.) to the pan and sauté:
1 small onion, diced
Cook over medium heat until caramelized (about 5 minutes) and then add:
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 ½ tsp. ground cumin
Cook another minute more. Then sprinkle over the pan and stir:
¼ c. flour
Next turn down your pan to low and slowly add:
2 c. chicken stock, stirring or whisking to work out any lumps.
Let this cook until the lumps are gone and sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Take off heat. To the skillet add:
1 16 oz. jar of green tomatillo salsa
½ bunch chopped cilantro leaves
Reserved chicken and corn
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat your oven to 350 degrees. Begin assembling your layers of enchiladas in stations:
One: A stack of tortillas (enchilada-sized, of course).
Two: A large dinner plate with more green salsa on it.
Three: The pan of meat/sauce filling.
Four: A bowl of shredded co-jack or pepper-jack cheese
Five: A glass 9 x 13 pan, sprayed with cooking spray and smeared with enough green salsa to cover the bottom.
Working station to station, place the tortilla in the green salsa, covering both sides. Then, scoop in the chicken mixture, spreading it in a line down the middle of the tortilla, leaving about an inch of tortilla on either side. Sprinkle on some cheese and roll the tortilla like a cigar. Move it to the baking dish. Repeat until your filling is gone and the baking dish is full.
Once your enchiladas are layered together, pour any remaining green salsa over the top (either from the plate or from the jar). Grate some cheese over your enchiladas and bake uncovered for 30 minutes, until everything is hot and bubbly.
Startled, I throw off the comforter, finding that I am perspiring ever so slightly at the temples and my upper lip. Though nothing is clear, I have a vague recollection of . . . something bubbly and spicy and . . . green? And while spicy warmth is what I crave, the dream leaves me feeling as though whatever I had considered in my sleep might leave me with an unsteady gastronomical feeling at this hour.
As I lay half-exposed to the environs of my boudoir, I’m pondering a good reason to go shoulder the many mental and physical layers required to face my daytime existence. Oh, that it were summertime . . . or even the first verdant tickles of spring outside! I sit up, immediately consumed with the memory of shedding my winter’s weeds at an early spring birthday last year. It was not so much the getting out of my layers I was interested in, but rather the digging into the guest-of-honor’s birthday dessert. Not cake exactly, though that was present, too. But billowing softness and succulent fruit . . . and the faint whiff of something bracing . . . it was all there.
In a small bowl, whisk together:
4 large egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
2 tsp. cornstarch
While you are combining the above, put a small saucepan over medium heat and bring just to a boil:
2c. heavy cream
Gradually, and whisking as you go, add the hot cream to the egg mixture. Then return all to medium-low heat and cook until just boiling and very thick. Whisk constantly, about 4 minutes. Pour into a clean bowl and add:
2 tsp. vanilla extract.
Stir to incorporate and then place a bit of plastic wrap right onto the surface of the pudding, to prevent a skin. Chill at least 2 hours.
In another large bowl, toss together:
6 c. mixed berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries
2 T. high quality dark rum
2 T. sugar
Zest of one-half lemon
The last thing you’ll need is:
1 small (8oz.) loaf pound cake, cut into half-inch slices
Get a trifle bowl or any high-sided, see-through item (a small punch bowl would work) or you might want individual portions, and for that I’d use large martini glasses. Frankly, this would be wonderful eaten gluttonously from a five-quart pail with a wooden spoon, though that presentation is not really festive enough for a proper party.
No matter the vessel you choose, you will need to assemble the trifle in layers. Place about five slices of the cake upon the floor of the larger vessel or 1 slice in the bottom of a glass. Spoon half the berries on top (in a glass, I’d go for about ½ c.). Pour half the chilled custard on top of the berries (again, ½ c. in the glass). Repeat this until you have two layers of each. Cover and refrigerate at least four hours and up to twenty-four.
Just before serving, whip up some whipped cream using a hand mixer:
1 c. heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
2 T. sugar, added in the final moments of whipping
1-2 tsp. vanilla extract
Dollop all of this atop your trifle or divide evenly over the glasses. It is a nice touch to garnish with toasted sliced almonds or birthday candles or just stab spoons in and let the feeding frenzy commence.
That memory is good enough to stir me from the covers . . . and through not breakfast-like, it does have fruit and nuts and cream . . . all things I would eat to start the day. Alas, like the barren clime outside, my refrigerator looks bleak as I totter toward wakefulness. Not a crumb suitable for breakfast; nothing right for facing the frightfulness outside.
I suppose it shall be cappuccino again . . . stout, hot, and with eye-opening bitterness. The espresso sits heavily in the bottom of my cup, supporting the steamed milk and froth above. I sit looking at these layers, knowing I will soon break their slumbering pattern. The steaming cup seems serene, warmly calm, much like I had been not thirty minutes prior. The lines remind me of a warm weather concoction, too cold for today, but alike in appearance:
Grown-Up Root-Beer Float
In a martini glass, scoop a generous helping of vanilla ice cream. Over it, pour:
1 oz. of butterscotch schnapps
Then, slowly, pour over the ice cream:
Root beer, to fill the glass.
With any luck, the liquor will sit in the pit at the bottom of the glass, the brown beer above, and the ice cream and froth will rise majestically to the surface like a floating iceberg. In order to get the real impact of the drink, swizzle the liquids together.
Falling from this revelry, I jab a spoon into my own coffee cup, give a stir, and take a long draught. Joltingly hot, hopefully it is enough to melt the frozenness beyond my many layers of clothing. I head into the breach . . . thinking of my next chance to eat, drink, and live warmly!
an interview with Paolo Bacigalupi
Can you tell us about what inspired The Windup Girl?
Pain. suffering. death. LOL. Seriously, it’s not just one thing: peak oil, hippie farmers worried about Monsanto, SARS, Bangkok in the hot season, a Japanese flight attendant on a flight out of Tokyo who moved in an oddly stuttering way, the first time I ever ate a Rambutan . . . lots of things fed into it. It wasn’t like my short stories, which tend to be more focused; this was stuffed with an odd variety of experiences, many of which I was almost sure didn’t actually fit together, but SARS and big ag’s products and business practices probably formed the backbone . . . mostly.
When I read books, I often like to find a character I can identify with and use that character to take me through the novel. I had a tough time doing that with The Windup Girl. Is this something you considering when crafting characters, or do you just let the story tell itself?
So you’re saying you didn’t identify with the characters? Or there wasn’t just one to follow? Let’s see, I guess I can say I wasn’t trying to screw with you, at least as far as identifying with characters. I identify pretty closely with all of them, actually. One of the things I keep hearing from people is how gray the characters are, or even, how deeply unsympathetic they are. And I always wonder at that, because I really love and sympathise with them. It’s not their fault that they’re all thrown into horrifying circumstances. They’re just doing the best they can. At least that’s my take. But maybe that’s an indication of my own personality flaws. As far as there not being a single character to follow, yes, that’s pretty deliberate. I wanted several different viewpoints on the world, points of access to understand the city and the way this strange world functions. Insiders and outsiders, rich and poor, officials and spies. And then I wanted them to all slowly change the world around themselves, without realizing that they were doing it or having any conception of where it would take them. I liked having small character actions build up to something huge and unanticipated.
For me, one of the most striking things about the novel was its setting, at least in part because I’ve never been to Thailand. Everything seemed so exotic and therefore, mysterious. I was as much swept up in the setting as I was in the plot and the character interaction. Have you ever been to Thailand? How much influence did that have (or not have) on creating this book?
I’ve been to Thailand several times. One of my early trips stuck with me enough that I couldn’t get it out of my head. When I was thinking about writing the book, I set it in Thailand, and then tried to move it elsewhere because I was daunted at the task of writing about a country where I didn’t have enough grounding. I ended up doing a lot of research, spending some more time over there, and honestly, still feeling like I didn’t have enough grounding. But, you know, writing is an act of hubris. So I went ahead anyway. I’m grateful that so many people were willing to help me along the way.
There is a lot in the novel about genetics, specifically in regards to food, farming, etc. Is that something you studied, or is it just a personal interest of yours?
It’s something that interests me. Food as a window into control. As a window into our industrialized culture. I’m interested in the new version of a food chain that exists thanks to food science, and this is one window into that. Also, the area I live in is quite rural, and it has a lot of organic farmers. They’re always concerned about what’s happening in big ag, so that fed into the initial worldbuilding.
What was the inspiration behind the kink-spring technology?
I was looking for a way to close down the world and make it feel more claustrophobic. I wanted food to be the sole source of power, and creating a world that ran on calories and kinetic energy seemed like the best way to do it.
And what about the concept of the New People?
Sexbots! It’s all about the sexbots. Seriously, though, it’s just another interesting aspect of genetic control. Once we can manipulate a tomato, why not a rabbit, or a cat, and then, inevitably, you start thinking about people . . .
Any particular reason for AgriGen’s headquarters being housed in Iowa?
It’s an agricultural company, I wanted to reinforce the point that the cradle of agriculture was now the center of power.
Some of the concepts and settings were hashed out in your short stories “The Calorie Man” and “Yellow Card Man.” Was there anything you created specifically for the book that you left out?
A lot of worldbuilding. There were some scenes that I really loved, and there was actually a whole other plotline that I ended up cutting out. Lots of stuff. I mean, I wrote this book probably three different times, with numerous false starts, so there’s plenty of stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. One thing that I wish I’d done more with was the character of Yates, who only ended up with a bit of a cameo, poor bastard.
Speaking of short stories, when you have a new idea, can you tell right away whether it will be a short story or a novel?
You know, my current working theory is that any idea can work in any form. When I say, “idea” what I mean is seed concept. For example, I’ve been thinking about supply chains lately, or GM foods, or endocrine disruptors, or public relations companies, and want to work out my thoughts about them. A few years ago, Lou Anders at Pyr Books approached me about writing a story forFast Forward 1, but he only had about 3000 words of space to give me. So I sat down, and I’d been interested in the concept of endocrine disruptors, so I started working out ways to say something interesting, within 3000 words. “Small Offerings” was the result. The story length defined the angle of the attack, but the idea could have become any number of stories, or story lengths. Later on, I still had more I wanted to play with in that realm, and I wanted to sell something to F&SF, so I started working on a novelette aiming at around 10,000 words, because that’s often a comfortable length for me and I get the pacing of novelettes. The result was “Pump Six”—also about endocrine disruptors. I’m sure I could sit down and write a novel about endocrine disruptors as well. I don’t think the idea, at least in the seed sense, defines the container. Sometimes, people come up with a structure, first, and maybe call that an idea. As in “I imagined a story all about a vampire who tells a reporter about the many frustrations and regrets of his undead life.” The seed idea might be “vampires.” But the rest of it is already running into structural demands. So basically, I think the seed idea has no inherent need to be in any storytelling form. It’s an act of will to shove it into your chosen form. At least, that’s my theory, today. Ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll say something else.
What makes The Windup Girl different from your other work?
Well, it’s really long. It’s this thing called a novel, see. And I never successfully wrote one before. So it’s big! That’s the big difference. It’s really big! And it also paid better than a short story. And people seem to like reading novels more than short stories, so people are actually reading this . . .
What was the hardest thing about writing The Windup Girl?
I had four different POV characters, all carrying a portion of a larger storyline, and halfway into the book, I realized one of the characters had to be completely reimagined. Which meant he had to be pulled out, get a new version of him created, and then thread him back into the story, fixing all the places where he had interactions with other characters and the plot, thereby changing everything. It was a bit like ripping out someone’s small intestine and then trying to insert a new one into gap, making sure that it bumped into all the organs correctly and that nothing else in the body was disarranged or misconnected.
What were you trying to accomplish artistically and thematically with The Windup Girl?
I’m just trying to make a living, man. Keep that theme grime off me. Seriously though, I think I’d rather have readers draw their own conclusions.
The Wind-Up Girl has hit all the major markers for awards, having made the final ballot for both the Nebula and Hugo awards. What does this mean to you? Were you surprised at the accolades the book’s received?
Just before the book was going to go to print, I had an urge to take it all back and try again, writing from scratch, because I was sure I could finally fix it if I could just start over. So in a lot of ways, all the the positive reviews and award nominations make me feel like I can finally let the book go. It seems to be a child that walks and talks–and for the most part plays well with others–so I should stop trying to correct it. It’s outside of me now, and that’s a relief.
Will you be able to go to Australia for Worldcon and the Hugo ceremony?
I very much want to, but finances are a bit of an issue. I’m still trying to figure out if I can pull it off.
What sort of pressure does this put on you for your next work?
Not much, actually. I went through an earlier period where the awards recognition for my short stories really messed with my head. A lot of unproductive worries about whether *this* story lived up to the reputation of *that* story. Stuff like that. And finally, I let it go. I just have to trust that if I’m doing honest work, and not taking shortcuts or getting lazy, that I’m going to produce something that’s worthwhile. I think the place I feel pressure now, more than anything, is in terms of writing books that are already contracted for. I’ve got several books under contract now, and that’s a very different feeling. Before, no one cared whether I finished a book or not. Now my publishers are standing around tapping their feet impatiently. It changes the creative dynamic, and I’m still learning how to work with that.
Which do you find more difficult to write, short stories or novels?
Novels. They take longer, and when you screw them up, you’ve wasted years of your life. Throwing away a 10,000 short story is easy. Watching a 120,000 word novel die . . . That’s brutal.
What writers are the biggest influence on your work?
Michelle Nijhuis, William Gibson, Ursula LeGuin, Michael Swanwick, J. G. Ballard, Cormac McCarthy.
At any point while writing this book did it change from what you originally set out to write?
Numerous times. It took me more than three years to write it. That’s a lot of time to wander around in the weeds, trying to hack your way out.
What five novels/works would you recommend to a new genre reader?
Depends what they like. Some people are going to be David Weber fans, some are going to be Naomi Novik fans, some will like George R. R. Martin. Some will like Charles Stross, or Cory Doctorow, or Cathyrenne M. Valente, or Daryl Gregory, and some of the poor souls are going to like mine. The genre isn’t monolithic. One person’s genius is another’s dreck. You’d have to be more specific about the new reader, before I’d even try.
What’s the last book you read?
I don’t normally finish books, so this is really more about the last book I opened. Last couple are:On Killing by Dave Grossman; The Assassin’s Gate by George Packer; The Great Game by Peter Hopkirk; The Patriot Witch by C. C. Finlay; and Kushiel’s Dart by Jaqueline Carey. I’m really hoping that I’ll finish a couple of them, this time. But my friends all make fun of me that I won’t.
Any teasers you can give us for what’s next?
My young adult novel Ship Breaker is coming out from Little, Brown, in May. It’s an adventure story about a child laborer on a ship-breaking operation in the Gulf Coast, post-peak oil and global warming. You know, my usual cheery stuff, except this time I actually let my characters have some win.
with Laura Anne Gilman
What is the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?
Unusual by whose standards? Sea urchin sushi (Uni), maybe. Or sweetbreads.
Is there any food you crave that you cannot get where you live?
Roasted pigeon. I had it the first time when I was in Italy and fell in love with the taste . . . but in the States, it’s almost impossible to find in a restaurant, much less a local supermarket (even in NYC). Boar, I can lay hold of, in season. Pigeon? Not so much.
What three things are always in your refrigerator?
—some variety of cheese (NOT processed!)
Is there anything you won’t eat?
Brains. I have an intelligent objection to it.
Is there a childhood food you miss?
Cap’n Crunch cereal. Oh god I used to devour that stuff. Made me sicker’n a dog.
Is there anything you ate as a child that you can’t stand as an adult?
Cap’n Crunch cereal.
What is your favorite restaurant (or top three)?
Many of my favorite restaurants were little places in little towns in Italy, where there was no menu, and you ate what Nonna in the kitchen was cooking that day. But for named favorites: Petrosian (NYC), Steak Frites (NYC), and a little place in Paris where the waiters would sit down and talk to you during your lunch—and bring a bottle of wine with them.
What food is better at home than out at a restaurant?
Mashed potatoes. I’ve had very good mashed potatoes in restaurants, but they never match homemade.
What do you eat for comfort food?
Toast. Specifically, cinnamon-sugar toast.
What is your favorite drink?
A rich, full-bodied red wine
So where do you go after you win a Hugo?
Moving into a new category for 2010 (for my work done in 2009), I can hope that another nomination (and win?) is in my future. Regardless, I can’t plan on it (given that I’ve moved up into Best Semiprozine and will be competing against the likes of Weird Tales, Locus, Clarkesworld Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and others) and even should another nomination be in my future, a win seems unlikely. But that’s what I thought and said last year, and now there’s a Hugo on my shelf. There could be more World Fantasy Award nominations in my future, but a win there has proven elusive and is a completely unknown quantity given that it’s a juried award.
The magazine isn’t positioned to take on any of the newsstand magazines, and it’s not really in the same boat anyway. Sure, I believe that there are probably 15,000 people who have similar enough taste to mine to like what I publish. The trick is finding them, and we’re only a few-person show here. I’m more similar in taste and style to the online magazines, but I’m not sure I want to go that route. I like putting together a physical issue and having a product I can hold in my hands. Perhaps I’m showing my age.
I’ve also thought about electronic copies as a parallel offering with the print magazine, and I think that arena needs to be explored more. Perhaps an electronic version would work better than an online version. I do feel that new readers are found online—given that I’m not available on a newsstand—so there needs to some sort of online component to get people’s attention.
When I started Electric Velocipede, it was intended as a steampunk magazine. I can remember the visceral disgust people had to that suggestion (more than one person walked away from me). And now? Now I think I could launch a steampunk magazine to great success. I’ve got some great steampunk lined up for this year.
I need to pay authors better, and I think some things won’t change for me until I get that done. Given the size of the magazine, perhaps the pay is appropriate. Until we sell more copies, our budget can’t handle offering more money.
Something I’ve never talked about is my desire to try to create a literary journal type publication, but have it be all genre work and genre authors. That’s kind of what I have. Sure, a magazine like Tin House prints about twenty-four times the number of issues I print (and has about ten to twelve times the number of subscribers), but it took some them time to get there and they have a staff. Maybe this is something I can still aspire to.
And maybe I just need to relax.