The Future Fire Interview: Kathryn Allan

I’ve been a tiny part of the excellent publication The Future Fire for a few years now. I’m pleased to say they’re celebrating the zine’s tenth anniversary with TFFX, an exciting anthology that combines a “best of” with new material and artwork. From its inception in 2005, The Future Fire has focused on promoting feminist science fiction, queer SF, eco-SF, postcolonial SF, cyberpunk and horror with diverse and inclusive themes.

TFFX

With just seven days remaining on the TFFX Indiegogo campaign, there’s still time to pitch in and receive some great perks, like an e-book pack that includes TFFX as well as We See a Different Frontier and Outlaw Bodies, signed art or even a zombie (“You as a Knitted Zombie!”).

Here’s a conversation between me and Kathryn Allan, associate editor and indie scholar who recently helped bring to life the outstanding anthology of disability-themed intersectional SF short stories, Accessing the Future.

Tracie: Tell us about your first experience as with The Future Fire. Was it as a reader?

Kathryn: I guess my very first experience with The Future Fire was a Twitter chat with Djibril about feminist SF and cyberpunk. That positive introduction led me to checking out the zine, and I thought it was pretty cool. A few months later, Djibril asked me if I could read a story submission that he needed a second opinion on. It didn’t take long after that when I joined TFF as a Reader and Associate Editor.

T: You wrote the afterword for TFF anthology Outlaw Bodies (in which one of my own stories appears), and in the afterword you describe the human body as a site of transgression and varied embodiment, mediated by “language and law.” How does the speculative fiction of The Future Fire highlight embodiment and normalization in terms of social issues?

K: I’m stealing this from TFF’s website because I think it partly answers the question: “TFF is open to submissions of beautiful and useful short stories of Social-political and Progressive Speculative Fiction; Feminist SF; Queer SF; Eco SF; Multicultural SF; Cyberpunk.” Aside from the awesome sub-genres listed, I love that the stories that TFF seeks are described as not only beautiful but useful. When thinking of embodiment–the experience of being (in) a body–it is easy to assume that one’s own experience of it is universal. But TFF stories demonstrate that the only real universal experience is diversity, adaptability, fluidity. It’s our social circumstances, what I had referred to as “language and law,” that shape how we understand ourselves in relation to others. People can identify as being at the centre, which is often a place where the assumption of universality is the strongest; or people can identify as being on the margins, which is where many of the stories in TFF arise from. These types of stories are the ones that challenge assumptions of what is normal and for whom, and it is in this way that they are useful: they teach; they offer places of belonging; and they extend the margins into the center and so help create new understandings of embodiment and what/who is “normal.”

T: You new co-edited TFF project, Accessing the Future, is exciting! Can you describe it a bit and tell us how has the reception of it been so far?

K: Accessing the Future is a disability-themed, intersectional SF short story anthology that I co-edited with Djibril. We ran a super successful crowdfunding campaign for it last fall, and the book made its debut this July. Honestly, I couldn’t be any prouder of this collection–it has 15 stories and 9 illustrations (that tells stories of their own) that place disabled protagonists at the centre. The response we’ve had so far has been wonderful: Publishers Weekly gave us a starred review, and Goodreads readers are loving it. I think that we’re going to be seeing a lot more attention in the next few months as word continues to spread about how creative, diverse, and just enjoyable Accessing the Future is!

T: Of these projects, what’s one story that’s stayed with you?

K: I honestly can’t pick just a single story because my mind returns to different ones depending on how I am feeling. Sometimes when I think of Accessing the Future, I think of it as one complex narrative that is being told by many voices. I often find myself picking up my copy and turning through the pages, reading a paragraph here, a page there…each time I do this I make new connections between the stories and so my appreciation and understanding of the anthology as whole continues to shift.

T: What’s next on your creative radar?

K: More things than I can possibly do! My biggest project, however, is writing a book that thinks through the relationship between disability studies (i.e., the academic study of disability) and science fiction. I’m interested in making a theoretical intervention by bringing these two fields of study together, so it feels pretty daunting at the moment. But I’ve been steadily researching for the past several years and I think I’m now ready to sit down and start writing in earnest. I just need to make sure that I don’t get distracted by one of the many other creative projects (I want to write and edit all the things!) that swirl around in my mind when I should be sleeping.


Kathryn Allan is also editor of the interdisciplinary collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (2013, Palgrave MacMillan) and the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction fellow (2014). Her writing appears in both academic and creative publications, such as The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 7 (2013), Outlaw Bodies (2012), and Techno-Orientalism: Imagining Asia in Speculative Fiction, History, and Media (2015). You can find her blogging and tweeting online as Bleeding Chrome.

Thrill to the weirdness!

Vladimir Gvozdev's mechanical frog

It’s horrible, it’s amazing, it’s odd, it’s…

Jeff Vandermeer posing next to a random sign in Prague!

No, wait. That’s not it. Reverse that, start again.

Jeff and Ann Vandermeer recently put together this astounding and disturbing collection called The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiousities (in which I am a tiny bit proud to appear, in a tiny little way),  and NOW Ann has written a hy-larious and unsettling account of how the volume really came to be (wink, wink), including hijinks in Prague. Paired with images from the collection, it’s a treat.

You can peruse the nifty slideshow (and the text follows the slides, btw), kindly hosted by io9.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities is one of the most unusual, complex and interesting anthologies published this year. You’re going to want a copy of your own, so why not duck into one of my favorite booksellers, Mysterious Galaxy in sunny San Diego, especially if you’re headed into town for the upcoming World Fantasy Convention? Or order online from them to support genre booksellers.

What Do Owls Have to Do With It?

Today is an exciting day! Big news on the publication front. More things on the way, too. But I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

First, About Owls, in brief:

They can look adorable.

They’re iconic.

They’re also fairly bad-assed predators, a fact overshadowed by the cuteness/helpfulness of typical renderings.

Like this one, for starters.

But my favorite owl has got to be this little guy, rendered so magnificently by Imaginary People:

I am not really obsessed with owls or anything. I don’t even have an owl tattoo (yet). But when I heard the word last year that Jeff Vandermeer was calling for micro-fiction for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities concerning strange artifacts, it had to be an owl.

Well, it’s an owl skull. With some moldy feathers clingy to it. Possessing mysterious properties. You’ll just have to read it.

And you can, because the newly minted book, sequel to The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award finalist) appears today!

My contribution is tiny, actually, but there are loads of amazing contributors, such as Holly Black, Ted Chiang, John Coulthart, Minister Faust, N.K. Jemisin, China Mieville, Mike Mignola, Alan Moore, Garth Nix, Ekaterina Sedia, and Rachel Swirsky, to name a few.

Order it here or here. Read more about it here.

My copy is on its way to me now, so I can sleep with it under my pillow and dream about owls.

 

 


A Story Sale Tale Part 2

The seed of this story did not begin with a superhero. At Clarion West last summer, I leaped headfirst into the opportunity to explore my long-time fascination with history of the women of Ravensbruck, a Nazi labor camp. The amazing women who survived until the camp’s liberation have been largely responsible for compiling and keeping alive the stories and artifacts of the camp, which include those traveling as an exhibit I visited at the University of Central Florida when I was an undergraduate.

The strength and courage of the women of Ravenbruck was fortified, according to their stories, by small gifts they made for one another, books smuggled in, and a choir formed to keep their spirits up. The sharing of these humanizing tokens and activities may have been an important factor that kept some of the women alive in the face of brutal treatment and poor nutrition.

Inserting a character of my own (not to mention a speculative element) into their story seemed risky. I want to honor the memory of the survivors of a concentration camp because these women are heroes in their own right; they rescued themselves, and others, at great personal cost. If in my story a time traveler visited the camp to save a particular person, how could that be accomplished, and at what risk to the legitimacy of the narrative?

I decided the story was about an otherwise ordinary woman from the future and a book that would offer hope. That’s all. The visitor would suffer just as the other women suffered and strive to accomplish her goal of encouraging someone else’s survival.

The story is about taking risks, about being a hero even when no one else is watching, and it’s a story that waited in the back of my brain for many years. I’m glad I took the risk and let it out into the world.

“Am I a Hero?” A Story Sale Tale Part 1

“Am I a hero?”

This is what the protagonist of my latest story, “How Molière Saved Lydia Bruer: A History in Two Fragments,” will be wondering in the next edition of Crossed Genres. Each issue of Crossed Genres revolves around a different concept, and the theme of the coming issue is “Superheroes.” The editors asked for tales of heroes that are a bit different, that make readers think about what heroism means.

When the Crossed Genres theme was announced, I asked myself if my story qualifies. A narrative of heroism is certainly present, but it’s not the sort of caped crusader story readers will expect.

Considering the theme, I thought of the first time I was invited to play Marvel Superheroes by TSR with a gaming group. My reaction was something like, “Heroes, like mutants in tights? Sounds silly.” I’d gamed with other groups, but mostly in classic fantasy settings, and I had a hard time picturing a superhero game with depth. We’d probably be involved in lots of high-powered combat, zooming around in capes, rescuing citizens from burning buildings, battling supervillains, that kind of thing.

To my complete surprise, the game proved to have not only emotional depth, but inspiring moments of sacrifice, thoughtful ethical dilemmas and character growth. Whole game sessions passed without any combat whatsoever (other gaming folks out there may ascertain that I’m a “role” player, not a “roll” player, as they say).

Since those days, I’ve become a fan of superhero comics and films, notably those that grapple with the personal cost of hero life, such as Promethea, the Luna Brothers’ excellent Ultra, and The Watchmen. Character counts, and that’s the sort of fiction I most want to write, regardless of genre.

Table of Contents for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities released!

The website io9 has just revealed the full TOC for The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, in which an entry by yours truly appears.

This entertaining collection from HarperCollins is a follow-up of sorts to the delightfully freakish (or is it freakishly delightful?) The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, published by Night Shade Books.

The official description:

“A stunning find beneath the famed Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead’s house years after his death: a basement space lost under a collapsed floor, in which were found the remains of a remarkable cabinet of curiosities. Containing artifacts, curios, and keepsakes collected over Dr. Lambshead’s many, many decades, the cabinet of curiosities took over a year to unearth, document, and catalog. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambshead and his exploits, we are now proud to present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet, reconstructed not only through original visual representations by the likes of Mike Mignola, Greg Broadmore, and Jan Svankmajer, but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure.”

The book will also feature title pages from John Coulthart.

You can even pre-order it from Amazon, if you are so inclined. Trust me, it’s gonna be cool.

An Acceptance!

I’m am thrilled and amazed to report that a submission of mine has been accepted for publication.

In a fun publication, too. Recently, excellent super-duo Ann and Jeff Vandermeer announced a call for micro-submissions to be included in their latest, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiousities, which will feature such cool people as the marvelous and friendly-in-person Ted Chiang, China Mieville, Holly Black, Garth Nix and Minister Faust, to name a few.

You can read my submission on the blog comments here.

Congrats to all, and a big thank you to the Vandermeers for their consideration.