Friday, February 26, 2021

Nanoreviews: Battle Ground, The Very Best of Kate Elliott, Calculated Risks

Butcher, Jim. Battle Ground [Ace]

For a seventeenth novel in a long running series expected to conclude somewhere around book twenty three or twenty four, most of Battle Ground (right up until the very last chapters) sure felt like a series ending book. Battle Ground is, functionally, a 400 page battle. Peace Talks, published a few months earlier, marked Jim Butcher's return after six years and that novel was a set up to an apocalyptic final battle. This book is that battle.

Battle Ground rewards long time readers of the series with connections and reconnections a plenty as everyone shows up for the fight. Granted, moreso than with other novels I would question why someone who wasn't a long time reader of the series would jump in here. Heck, I've only read the first five Dresden Files novels and then books fifteen and sixteen before this, so I'm sure I missed all sorts of context and tips of the hat - but with at least *some* knowledge of the series and, more importantly, the more recent novels - Battle Ground works.

Your mileage may vary, of course, to your interest level in one very long and increasingly escalatingly dire fight with the occasional pause to breath, plot, quip, and raise the personal stakes. It's impact is truly tied to your investment in the series. If you've been riding with Harry Dresden and friends (and foes), this is a necessary novel - though again, it's a whole LOT of battle. If you've read this deep into the series, you're going to read this.
Score: 7/10

Elliott, Kate. The Very Best of Kate Elliott [Tachyon]

Kate Elliott is best known for her long form epic fantasy, novels stretching upwards towards a thousand pages (each) of worldbuilding and top notch storytelling. Without being familiar with the full breadth of her career, the idea of Kate Elliott writing short fiction is surprising. Though she has written far more novels than stories, Elliott's short fiction stretches almost as far back to her first novels.

As with any collection, which stories hit with a given reader can vary. For me, two of my favorites are "On the Dying Winds of the Old Year and the Birthing Winds of the New" and "The Gates of Jorian", both stories where I wanted to know far more about the rest of the world and where the stories went after the last page. Granted, the former is part of the Crossroads world (Spirit Gate, Black Wolves, etc) - but the larger point is that with the best of her stories Elliott's worldbuilding is suggestive of the work she normally does over hundreds of pages.
Score: 7/10

McGuire, Seanan. Calculated Risks [DAW]

Calculated Risks is just about as experimental as a tenth novel in a series can be. After an absolutely wild ending to Imaginary Numbers, Sarah Zellaby is on another world with Antimony Price, cousin Artie, and a couple of others. If that wasn't bad enough (and it is), Antimony and co. don't recognize Sarah as family, they recognize her as the predator her species is. That's a problem. 

This is a novel taken just about as far away as can be from everything familiar with the Incryptid series, except for Sarah and Antimony. Calculated Risks is told with the wit and heart as readers have come to expect and love from Seanan McGuire, but the usual cryptids and the threat from the Covenant are not part of this book. Calculated Risks is about survival on an alien land and getting back home no matter the cost.

It's a bold move on McGuire's part and as she does so many times, she pulls it off perfectly. Though - while Seanan McGuire often presents multiple entry points into her long running series and ease readers in who might not remember what came before, Calculated Risks is not that entry point. Readers need to be already invested in the story being told to be able and willing to jump in. At the bare minimum, this is truly the second half of the Sarah Zellaby story began in Imaginary Numbers. Long time fans will find much to love here.
Score: 8/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Microreview [book]: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Full of fun, YA tropes, The Gilded Ones explores a violent world where friendship is a matter of survival. 

A picture of the protagonist Deka with gold on her skin

Content Warning: Rape, Torture, Religious Trauma 

One aspect of what makes The Gilded Ones a fun read is Namina Forna's control YA tropes. The novel opens with a common beginning: the protagonist Deka must go through a ceremony to find her place in the town. Of course, Deka isn't normal, and Forna drags the reader into the horrors of what happens when a young woman's body is not considered her own. While I would hesitate to call this book grimdark, it's definitely not shying away from the realities of a violent, patriarchal system. 

Because Deka does not bleed red, but rather gold, she is outcast from her town and collected to be part of the king's army to fight deathshrieks--large, hulking monsters that can kill with the sound of their screams. Girls who bleed gold have heightened senses, strength, and are very hard to kill, which was why until recently, the king had ordered them put to death rather than utilized in his army. Now, they train with young men their age, jatu, in order to campaign against a massive deathshriek army gathering at the edge of the emperor's land.

Enter Keita, a young lord turned jatu warrior who is partnered with Deka. While the other girls are friendly with their jatu partners, Keita and Deka connect more deeply over their shared horrors: Deka, being tortured by her family and elders for bleeding gold, and Keita for the massacre of his family by deathshrieks. Once again, Forna demonstrates her control of the warrior-lover trope that so often appears in YA, but I appreciated that Keita was not just shown to be a great warrior--since all the characters are--but rather it's his ability to empathize with Deka and the other girls that forms their bond. Of course, there is more to Deka and the deathshrieks than we are first led to believe...

Much of the emotional heart of this book is Deka and her friends coming into their strength as women warriors. As Deka says: "Our whole lives, we've been taught to make ourselves smaller, weaker than men. That's what the Infinite Wisdoms teach--that being a girl means perpetual submission (149). Ultimately, this is a feminist novel. It takes particular issue with faith-based patriarchies. 

Even though Deka can save lives with her powers, she's considered a demon and learns to take pride in that. "Are we girls, or are we demons?" (150). As a rallying cry, I related to this a lot, even as reader beyond the age group. I know I would have loved this novel as a sixteen-year-old trying to escape a misogynistic religious community. That said, the imagery of golden blood and bleeding together enforces the gender binary present throughout the book (other than one brief mention of a lesbian character). While it's obvious that the US (and other countries) has yet to escape a patriarchal and misogynistic past, I'm not sure that creating a world that is so binary is entirely useful, either. That being said, this is a series, and I have a feeling that since so much of this book was about shaking off male oppression that the binary might be broken in book two. 

Ultimately, this book takes some favorite YA tropes and turns smashing the patriarchy into a rich, fantasy adventure. Even though this book is fun, there's a lot of pain and the realities of what it means when a young girl has no choice over her body. This violence is made clear on the page. While being reminded of the current horrors of patriarchy that many of us still experience isn't for every reader, I do think Forna's realism demonstrates the difficulty and necessity of smashing the patriarchy. 


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses : +1 realistic depictions of patriarchy's violence; +1 great reinterpretation of YA tropes  

Penalties: -1 a little too limited in terms of worldbuilding 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 Well worth your time and attention

 POSTED BY: Phoebe Wagner is a PhD candidate at University of Nevada, Reno. When not writing or reading, she can be found kayaking at the nearest lake. Follow her at or on Twitter @pheebs_w.

Reference: Forna, Namina. The Gilded Ones [Delacorte Press 2020]

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

6 Books with Aliya Whiteley

 Aliya Whiteley writes across many different genres and lengths. Her first published full-length novels, Three Things About Me and Light Reading, were comic crime adventures. Her 2014 SF-horror novella The Beauty was shortlisted for the James Tiptree and Shirley Jackson awards. The following historical-SF novella, The Arrival of Missives, was a finalist for the Campbell Memorial Award, and her noir novel The Loosening Skin was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award.

She has written over one hundred published short stories that have appeared in Interzone, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Black Static, Strange Horizons, The Dark, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and The Guardian, as well as in anthologies such as Unsung Stories’ 2084 and Lonely Planet’s Better than Fiction.

She also writes a regular non-fiction column for Interzone.

Today she tells us about her Six Books!

1. What book are you currently reading?

I’m nearing the end of Emmanuel Carrère’s biography of Philip K. Dick. It’s called I Am Alive and You Are Dead, and at times it’s really playful with style, throwing in questions and puzzles, breaking up sections at odd points to ruminate on inspiration and religion. The author often sinks himself into what he imagines Dick would have felt as he wrote his novels, which makes me feel both intrigued and uncomfortable. How could you possibly have come up with that? I find myself asking of both the biographer and the subject – and: Who’s in control here? Both of which strike me as very pertinent questions to be asking when it comes to the life of Philip K. Dick.
2. What upcoming book you are really excited about? 

I’m keen to read Kylie Whitehead’s Absorbed. It will be published in May by the imprint New Ruins, which is a collaboration between Dead Ink and Influx Press exploring the places where genre and literary fiction meet. Absorbed is described as a ‘darkly comic story of female insecurity, body horror and modern relationships.’ Sounds exactly like my kind of thing.
3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

I have a very vague order to my bookshelf, and that includes a few shelves set aside for my absolute favourites. Some strange books sit next to each other there, and I always enjoy that jumble of genres: the real-life crime next to the fantasy epic, the SF graphic novel next to the travelogue. What I’ll do to answer this question is run upstairs, take a look at those shelves, and come back and report on which book is calling to me right now. Here goes –
Right, I’m back. 

The winner was Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier. Here’s what I remember about it: I first read it as part of a book club, and a lot of the members were lukewarm about it, or didn’t finish it. I know I really loved it. From what I recall, it has a darkness to it, and an honesty. It’s about a shell-shocked Captain returning from the trenches of World War I to be nursed back to health by his female relatives. And that’s pretty much all I remember, along with the fact that parts of it were an influence on my own post WWI novella (The Arrival of Missives), so now I need to give it a re-read and remind myself of why it gets a place on those shelves. 

4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either positively or negatively?

Your question has made me realise that it’s really rare for me to change my opinion on a book! I tend to stick to my first impression. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I can’t overcome that impression, no matter how unfair it might be. Some part of the initial emotion always sticks with me. But I have learned to appreciate some books, even though I really didn’t enjoy them on first reading, usually for a reason that’s entirely my own fault. For instance, I was given the complete works of Jane Austen when I was far too young to be interested in it (a pre-teenager, maybe?) and I tried reading Emma and hated it. Hated the language, hated the heroine. I didn’t approach Austen again for decades. Then I watched a film adaptation and it came to me – this is so much more than I found in it. So I re-read the novel, and I re-evaluated it and now I know why so many people love Emma, but I still see the shadow of pre-teen me on the page. I can’t get over my initial response, which is a shame.

5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

I think a lot about Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan, and the feelings of it – of being trapped, of being freed, of searching for truth and reality – are things that come up a lot for me when I write. It’s one of the few books that I finished on first reading, turned from the last page to the first, and started again.  
6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome? 

It’s The Loosening Skin, which is getting published in the US at the end of February 2021. It’s been available in the UK for a few years now, but the US version has some bonus material and a very cool cover, thanks to Titan Books. It’s set in a version of our world in which human beings have always moulted. They lose their skins every seven years, and with that they lose the deepest emotions, such as love, so no relationship ever lasts. Nothing is forever, and that’s accepted. 
The book starts at the shedding of the skin of a bodyguard called Rose Allington. With that painful loss comes the end of her relationship with her client and lover. And the first half of the book deals with how she moves on from that only to get dragged back into his orbit when a horrible crime is committed. The second half of the book goes off in a different direction entirely, because, hey, in this world nothing lasts forever. Not even a crime/SF crossover plot.

It’s awesome because I got to explore some huge ideas, and to tie the shape of the book into those ideas too. That’s something I’m really interested in. I hope it finds some new readers, and thanks for giving me an opportunity to mention it today.

Thanks Aliya!


POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Interview: Francesca Forrest, author of Lagoonfire

I was first introduced to Francesca Forrest's work back in 2014 when I read her novel Pen Pal.  The imagery in the novel, and the fragile safety the characters experienced, it stuck with me.  When Forrest's novella The Inconvenient God came out in 2018, I gobbled it up. You can only imagine my joy when I learned last year, that she was publishing a new short novel, Lagoonfire. For months, I had to try to figure out "what in heck is lagoonfire, and what could it possibly have to do with The Inconvenient God??". Lagoonfire comes out on March 3 from Annorlunda Books, and trust me, it's all connected!

Lagoonfire tells the story of dying gods, rewritten histories, a government official who prefers to stay nameless, and the childhood she wishes she could forget.  Forrest presents an epic story that is concisely told through kindness and compassion as the characters walk through a world that insists on crushing their history.  Nearly everyone in this book is so kind and helpful, it's easy to forget that it's a story about forced assimilation and the destruction of cultures.  If you're interested in how a story becomes a legend becomes mythology becomes a paragraph in a children's history book becomes forgotten, Forrest's Polity stories are for you.

Beyond her novels and novellas, Forrest's short fiction has appeared in Fireside Fiction, Strange Horizons, Not One of Us, and various print and online anthologies.  You can learn more about her work by following her on twitter at @morinotsuma or reading her blog,   She was kind enough to put up with my fan-girling and answer my endless questions about Lagoonfire.

Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: Lagoonfire is the sequel to your 2018 novella The Inconvenient God. When did you decide that The Inconvenient God needed a sequel, and do you have more plans to write in this world?

Francesca Forrest: I always knew there was more I wanted to share—in fact, when I wrote The Inconvenient God, I had to force myself to focus on the one story at hand because my mind kept on jumping to all the other things that were popping into my head about the Polity, the Ministry of Divinities, the gods themselves, and Sweeting and her story. And yes, I do intend to write more! I’m working on something now that—if I can keep all the balls in the air—continues with a lot of the threads brought up in Lagoonfire. And then I have some ideas even for a story beyond that, but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.

NOAF: What were some of your inspirations for Lagoonfire? What were you thinking about while you were writing it?

FF: In The Inconvenient God, Sweeting makes a remark to the god she’s trying to decommission about how many gods enjoy their retirement as mortals, and that got me thinking that I wanted to see some of those gods in retirement—so that was the first inspiration. And also in The Inconvenient God, I’d set up that Sweeting grew up in the Sweet Harbor district of the capital, and I felt like I wanted to explore that. But in addition, I’d been reading a lot for my day job about how the Chinese government exerts control over local officials—and I was working with Chinese academics in Hong Kong—so issues of control and repression were on my mind. And not just overseas: I was thinking about those things here, too. Also I had a six-month job teaching in a jail that gave me really visceral personal experience of being in a jail, so that played into it too.

NOAF: An overarching concept in this world is that the governing body, The Polity, has given specific agents the power to decommission deities – to un-deify them and make them mortal. These humans have more power than the gods they are sent to decommission. The more I think about this, the larger and heavier and scarier this idea becomes, that humans have the power to stop a god from being a god. Where did you come up with this idea?

FF: That’s a big question! The most basic answer is that it comes down to power—the power behind the decommissioning force has to be greater than the power behind the deity. The Ministry of Divinities can vest a decommissioner with the power of the whole Polity—though there’s only so much power a single individual can channel, which is why some jobs take more than one decommissioner. The Ministry doesn’t have the power to brute-force decommission a god that has a healthy worship base (though it could, for instance, brute-force decommission a god with only a tiny following). When it’s working as it should, the Ministry only decommissions gods and goddesses who have already fallen out of human favor and who aren’t very active. But what bureaucracies operate only as they should? Establishing Abstractions has all sorts of troubling implications, though it has benefits for some. That’s something that I’m going to get into in the next story.

All of this is to say that the deities of the Polity are small-g gods and goddesses (and nonbinary divinities), with an interdependent relationship with human beings. They get their spark of divinity from human beings. Obviously this isn’t the only way to conceive of gods, and even in faith systems where gods operate like this, larger (divine) forces that aren’t subject human control are also often posited. That’s something I haven’t touched on yet, but it’s something in my mind. The Polity is only one state in this world. There are other states and cultures, some of which have very different conceptions of divinity, and those may feature in future stories.

NOAF: And what do the people who live in this world think of this? That one day, their local god who their family has prayed to for centuries. . . might not be a god anymore?

FF: Exactly as we would! Depending on our place in society, we’re more or less likely to feel like we’ll be screwed by our government, and that’s how they feel too. People who feel well supported by the state trust it to do the right thing and don’t fear that it would get rid of their beloved deities. Those in more marginal positions have more doubts.

NOAF: I don't want you to give any spoilers about Decommissioner Thirty-Seven's childhood, or who her family is, but can you tell us about your writing process, for how you came up with her character and her background?

I knew from the last book that she had been brought up by her grandparents, but I didn’t know why. I also knew she was super buttoned down and into self-control. Why? Why were her parents out of the picture? Why is she so dedicated to her work and so withdrawn from ordinary life? The answer came to me pretty quickly, but what was wild was how it ended up weaving into the story of the retired gods—I hadn’t planned that, but as I was writing I suddenly saw it.

NOAF: What is your writing process like? You cram so much story into so few pages, how do you do it? How do you choose what world-building paragraphs and exposition stays, and what gets edited out?

FF: My writing process is so, so slow. I spend an awful lot of time daydreaming, playing with details, chasing up research questions, wool gathering. And even when I actually have fingers on the keyboard, I hesitate endlessly over word choices, etc. Some people are able to write vigorously, fast—and then (I presume) they go back and edit and tidy it all up. I’m editing word by word, it feels like … I don’t think it’s a great system, but it’s the one I’m stuck with, apparently. As for what stays and what goes, I try to keep the focus on the main story but provide enough sense of place and context that the world feels deep and wide and like you know there are a thousand other interesting stories in there that could be told. (… Like our real world.)

NOAF: Who are some of your favorite writers? How has their work inspired you, if at all?

FF: My childhood faves were some of the usual suspects—C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Tolkien, Madeleine L’Engle. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was also big for me. Present-day writers, wow, there are just so many. Like most of the SFF world, I’ve been enjoying Martha Wells’s Murderbot books. I adored Claire Cooney’s The Twice-Drowned Saint. That story has a truly wonderful portrayal of a god coming into being. I really liked Ann Leckie’s conception of gods in The Raven Tower, too. Moving from gods to ancestors, I really loved how ancestors were present for the protagonist in the novelette The Epic of Sakina, by Shari Paul (it ran in FIYAH magazine). That story had amazing worldbuilding, too.

For character development and also for meaty discussions—and for humor—I enjoy Aster Glenn Gray’s books—Briarley and Honeytrap are her best known. Sherwood Smith is another writer whose character development I admire to pieces.

These writers and others inspire me by showing me what’s possible. I’m inspired when I see a writer or a work that take risks—with language, with structure, with ideas. Like what Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone did with This Is How You Lose The Time War did. Everything ventured, everything gained!

NOAF: Thank you so much!  I can't wait for the world to get to read Lagoonfire!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.  

Monday, February 22, 2021

Space Sweepers looks gorgeous... and that's about it

Impeccable visual effects don't suffice to hold up a paper-thin drama

This movie lost me before I was five minutes in. Our protagonist, Kim Tae-ho, has boarded the space elevator to his job as an orbital debris retriever, and when the trip takes him out of Earth's atmosphere, we see a floating pen. It's just... there, for no reason.

"Did you see that? Get it? GET IT?" the movie seems to scream in your face. Yes, we saw 2001. Yes, we recognize the cultural significance of the floating pen. But in 2001, the floating pen was used to illustrate a key theme of the story. In Space Sweepers, it's a gesture devoid of context, a cheap tug at the strings of nostalgia. And it's a physical impossibility in a vehicle undergoing acceleration. There is zero reason for that scene to contain a floating pen other than to wink at the audience, and that little instant breaks any trust we could have in the movie's sincerity.

And that's before it starts throwing Wall-E, Firefly, Elysium, Cowboy Bebop and Gattaca into a blender.

The plot takes a while to start, but eventually we follow Tae-ho in his quest to hide a thermonuclear bomb, which he and his crewmates found by chance, until they can sell it to a terrorist group because they wouldn't make any money by giving it to the authorities. His money problems are made very clear to the audience, multiple times, to the point of melodrama, and we know he can't just report the bomb because this government's untrustworthiness is on the comical side of Kafka.

Also, the bomb is a sentient robot in the shape of an adorable little girl that his crewmates are growing fond of.

With these elements, a movie could very well work. But we have to wait until almost the end of the first hour before we get any idea of who these characters are, and then it's given to us in a heavy montage of exposition. Suddenly, we're in a different movie. From a breakneck comedy of errors we're yanked into an intimate drama that wants to be social commentary. It turns out that Tae-ho had an adopted daughter, and he feels guilty for her death, and of course the robot girl reminds him of her, and just in case we've forgotten, the government is evil. But the emotional beats are too calculated, the manipulation of the audience too obvious. Once the sad flashback has done its job, we immediately return to the slapstick, and it's impossible to take this movie seriously anymore.

On the antagonist's side, the sloppy writing is even more painful. James Sullivan ("doctor, physicist, aerospace engineer, historian," "wealthiest man in the world" and, seriously, "savior of humanity") is a walking pile of evil CEO clichés taken to the cartoonish extreme. His scenes are bloated with exposition that alludes to more interesting events in the background than the ones we're watching, and the only enjoyable part about them is the actor's sincere effort to sell the nonsense he's saying (in mandatory evil British accent). In one scene, he monologues about how people's DNA reveals their moral character (which, for the record, is completely false), and he manages to deliver the whole of it with a straight face. That's being a professional.

For a movie that tries so hard to look realistic, this sort of bad science is everywhere. At the end of that early scene with the floating pen, the space elevator turns on its "artificial gravity," which, OK, we might pretend is a thing that exists in the future, except that the vehicle was already accelerating and thus should have its own gravity. Later, a search expedition for a victim in an orbiting debris zone, which normally takes days to prepare, is shortened to a five-minute launch when a larger payment is made, which is simply not how scarcity works, or logistics, or bureaucracy, or anything. But the worst instance of the movie failing to understand basic facts is the following line:

"Krypton waves have the ability to defuse nanobots..."

No point trying to decipher what this character is saying.

"... and are only emitted during the detonation of a hydrogen bomb."

 Now he's just making sounds.

"All of that is irrelevant to our presentation."

But it needed to be said anyway, because it will matter later, so to make sure we'll remember it, the movie puts it at the most incongruous moment.

A more meticulous direction could have repaired some of the missteps in the script. What we got instead is a beautiful-looking tonal mess where the wrong choice of execution was made every time. When the movie aims for serious, it's corny; when it aims for funny, it's ridiculous; when it aims for relevant, it's insufferably preachy.

But let's be charitable. Is there a meaning to this story? It seems like it's attempting to make a metaphor about how inequality forces people to treat each other as fungible assets, how desperation can twist human beings into accepting a price for the parts of life that should be invaluable. The robot girl is, after all, an intelligent lifeform, yet our protagonists have no problem with the plan to sell her, because they're so desperately broke that she's their only chance to make ends meet. But the circumstances that push them into such a choice are transparently contrived. Despite the fully integrated character of this pluriethnic society, there's a legal structure with separate civil rights for citizens versus non-citizens that is left unexplained. We're told the villain wants to enforce genetic segregation, but he does it by looking at moral choices, which he, as a doctor, should know are not genetic, and which he forces on his victims anyway. As a piece of criticism of technocracy, this doesn't work. Viewers hungry for a nuanced working-class perspective on near-space garbage retrieval are advised to watch the infinitely better Planetes.

Even without searching for a theme, it's hard to find any element in this movie's plot that makes sense. The action in the first half is driven by a sequence of misunderstandings and near-misses that is only possible because the heroes and the nameless minions alternate randomly between omnicompetent and hopelessly incapable. And there's a supposedly surprising revelation about the robot girl that should be obvious to anyone who saw her sneeze in the trailer. It's soon followed by still another revelation about her, but it's made of more bad science.

From that point on, the plot turns into a standard movie pursuit: good guys run, bad guy wants something good guys have. Then comes the reversal: bad guy seems to win, good guys fight to recover what's theirs from bad guy. As third-act movie chases go, this one is well done, filled with excitement, if sometimes over the top (the ending has the most shameless copy of the Death Star I've seen since Austin Powers), but its causal logic is tied to a secret evil plan so absurdly out of proportion with the antagonist's motivation (and so unnecessary given his resources) that the viewer has no option but to stop thinking and, I don't know, gape at how pretty space looks.

That's where Space Sweepers excels: in the art department. The shots that show us the nearly uninhabitable Earth are a gut punch, while every scene with the robot Bubs is a delight to watch. The rich bad guy's office has an appropriately menacing design, and the areas where the common people work and live feel genuinely crowded, chaotic, alive. Outer space is vast without being confusing, and spaceships wear all their scratches. The final battle is visually flawless. This oppresive version of the future appears believable on the screen, right until the moment someone speaks a line.

This movie is a world-class spectacle, impressive on a technical level, but it lacks something to say. It just looks cool for the sake of looking cool. There's certainly an audience for that content, but even some of them may get bored. We know South Korean science fiction has good writers; match them with a production budget of this size, and the results will be fantastic. Space Sweepers doesn't rise above OK.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 6/10 still enjoyable, but the flaws are hard to ignore.

Bonuses: +2 for the quality of visual effects, +1 for building a seamlessly multilingual future, +1 for a touching portrayal of the experience of gender transition.

Penalties: −2 because the lines in Spanish are so badly mispronounced that they ruin the world's believability, −1 because the technobabble doesn't even pretend to make sense, −1 for an utterly laughable villain, speaking of whom, −2 for the harmful trope of Evil Disfigurement.

Nerd Coefficient: 4/10 not very good.

POSTED BY: Arturo Serrano, multiclass Trekkie/Whovian/Moonie, accumulating experience points for still more obsessions.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Microreview [book]: Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt

A relatively light and fun multiversal adventure featuring a protagonist who switches worlds every time he closes his eyes.

If you followed me for a while and followed my journey as a reader, and read these reviews here and elsewhere, you probably know that multiverse stories are the first and more power chord in my love of science fiction. Way back in the day, the Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny forever imprinted on me a love and an enthusiasm for multiple world stories, where one might walk into another world. Like Portal fantasies, though, they fell out of fashion for a good long time, but have slowly started coming back. Not all such books have worked for me (see my review of the late Mike Resnick’s two Dreamscape novels here at NOAF  but it is something I am always going to be interested in and going to peak my interest. 

Enter Tim Pratt’s Doors of Sleep. Zaxony Delatree has a problem, a rather big problem. Every time he falls asleep, every single time, he wakes up in a new and different world. This leads to a continued set of opportunities and challenges, since he can’t stay in a place very long, even with drugs and the like, and of course he has absolutely no control over what the next world is going to have, for good or ill. Unlike Amber or the Dreamscape novels, and like Doctor Who, this book is definitely science fiction, not fantasy and has a science fiction viewpoint, as Zax interrogates the nature of his affliction and its potential origins, throughout the book.

Fortunately, for the book and for Zax, he does not have to travel alone. It emerges that having someone in his embrace, Zax has been able to bring other people along with him on his journeys. This has not gone well in the past. The love of his life went mad when he attempted this while she was awake, the cosmic horror of the translation between worlds broke her mind. Another long time Companion (and I use that word in the Doctor Who sense of the world, since Doctor Who, as you will see is a useful touchstone) decided that he wanted to vivisect Zax to learn more about his ability..  While Zax is a diplomat and peacemaker, allowing his erstwhile companion Lector to do this to him is a bit much and he abandoned Lector, expecting to never see him again.

Now, worlds later, Zax makes a new friend, a biologist with an uncanny ability to use her own body as a laboratory, but Lector has indeed found a way to travel worlds. He wants Zax, of course, but he wants more. He has an even greater plan, one only Zax and his friends could possibly stop. This is the matter of Doors of Sleep: A light world hopping chase as Zax tries to keep ahead of Lector, both in terms of world, and to oppose his ultimate plans.

Although the text does speculate on why Zax doesn’t wind up in worlds that will immediately kill him, there is a bit of handwavium lightness about the entire proceeding in how Zax travels from world to world. It may indeed be something as unrevealed about the nature of his travel, but if he travels while he is sleeping, statistically, after a thousand worlds, one might think that a deadly accident would have befallen him before he ever woke up on some world. But this is not that kind of novel, even if there is a Master-level villain running around with grandiose plans, the stakes and tone DO feel more like Doctor Who than a gritty Moorcockian fate oif the multiverse, and by a long way. And that is good, a relatively light and fresh take on the subgenre, is, sometimes, very frankly welcome. 

Zax himself as a character is a relatively placid, straightforward diplomat of a character, who uses his skills at diplomacy, negotiation and social graces to make his way across the worlds. Some of the aforementioned lightness is addressed--why Zax can communicate with the people of various worlds is chalked up to a gift from Lector, prior to their falling out. It’s about as well described as the translation circuits of a Tardis and it really just is there for consistency’s sake. Zax himself has the experience of dealing with a lot of worlds, but unlike the Doctor, he is not hypercompetent. His companions, however, (and counting Lector as a former companion) outshine him, I think, in personality as well as skills and abilities. Minna, whom he meets early in the novel, has inventive skills with her biology that prove useful time and again throughout the novel, and predictably, once Lector finds out about her, she becomes a target for him as well. Vickie is a non-human companion, and with her intelligence and ability at analysis, proves crucial in aiding Zax as well. 

But Lector is the real star of the book in many ways. Yes, the book is in a mostly tight third person viewpoint from Zax, detailing his adventures in a journal. This gets broken in a couple of cases, when a clever bit gives us some crucial information from Minna’s point of view. But it is Lector who leaps off of the page, like any good villain. He starts off distantly as a threat that Zax survived and as far as he knew, dealt with (and Zax, diplomat he was, feels bad that he dealt with Lector so harshly). But as he becomes the dominant threat of the novel, the demon, as it were, always five steps behind Zax, he really takes on a life of his own. His ambitions and desires are twisted, psychotic, a complete reversal of what Zax stands for, but they make sense, and he is a delight for the reader to encounter. It’s a real Master- Doctor energy that comes off of the page between Lecto and Zax. His ultimate plot, too, is about on the level of feasibility as the the schemes of the Master, too. I kept wanting to hear Lector’s voice as Anthony Ainsley’s. (I suspect an audio version of this book would not work entirely well for me on a re-read). 

Being a story about jumping multiverses and worlds, the various universes, or at least the small bits we see of each one, come alive in the descriptions and sensory detail. Pratt has a skilled way with description and evocation of the various places they stop, be it for a couple of days, or it just flashing by as Zax and company leap from world to world, trying to deal with the imminent threat of Lector. Pratt’s words pack enough punch that every world, even the ones they quickly leave because they are not conducive to their quest, implies a whole universe that we can never get to. The mechanism of Zax world shifting with every sleep means that any time in a particular world is going to be necessarily limited. The worlds most tied to the plot and characters--Minna’s world, Zax’s home world (described, not seen, as the novel starts, he has been traveling for quite a while), and again, in flashback, Lector’s world, all get the most play. 

In the end, I enjoyed the novel, although it sorely needed an off ramp. Instead the novel ends with a WHAM moment, a cliffhanger if you will. It does reframe and make one reconsider a number of past events in the novel, as well as the worldbuilding and superstructure of the universe (something, as mentioned above, debated throughout the book). I am on board for more adventures of Zax, but want to make clear that readers who just want one book and no more are going to be frustrated by the ending


The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses : +1 for excellent multiversal shenangians;+1 for a relatively light and entertainingly fresh and gentle take on the subgenre

Penalties: -1 The lack of an offramp at the end of the book will frustrate readers wanting to one and done.

 Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 Well worth your time and attention

 POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Reference: Pratt, Tim. Doors of Sleep [Angry Robot 2021]

Author Roundtable: Recognise Fascism ed. Crystal Huff

Greetings, Nerds, and welcome to something a bit different! Today we're looking at the Recognise Fascism anthology, edited by Crystal Huff. Released in 2020, the anthology brings together 22 stories where "Across many worlds and many timelines, these stories depict the moments when people see the fascism in front of them for what it is, accept it as real, and make the choice to fight it."

Today I'm joined by Crystal and by many of the authors included in Recognise Fascism: Jaymee Goh, Nina Niskanen, Kiya Nicoll, Selene dePackh, Alexei Collier, Meridel Newton, Rodrigo Juri, Lauren Ring, Phoebe Barton, Justin Short, Brandon O'Brien, Leonardo Espinoza Benevides, Lucie Lukačovičová, Hal Y. Zhang and Laura Jane Swanson. Together, we discuss the stories, the inspiration behind them, and how the representation of fascism helps us to combat it in the real world. Enjoy!

NoaF: Tell us a little about yourself and why you joined this anthology.

Crystal M. Huff, standing next to a lamp post with a purple "I'm a Space Unicorn" t-shirt
Crystal Huff
Hi! I’m Crystal! I’m a nonbinary, queer, Jewish, white person in the USA. In 2018, I co-edited the micro-anthology Resist Fascism at Crossed Genres. The idea for this new book, Recognize Fascism (RF), really came out of that first anthology. I was thrilled and relieved when World Weaver Press (WWP) took on Recognize Fascism (and me) in the wake of CG closing down at the end of 2019. Sarena at WWP encouraged me to expand the anthology so that we could show readers a wider range of possibilities and nuances and worlds. I was really intimidated by also taking on the anthology as solo editor in this transition, which is why one of the themes of my introduction is fascism and impostor syndrome. *sweat emoji here* I’m really grateful to all the authors who worked with me on this collection! So, uh, that’s how I got here. ;) 

Jaymee: I’m a Malaysian-Chinese queer cis woman with too much education. Crystal invited me to submit to the anthology, and I had just returned to Malaysia after visa shenanigans made me leave the United States. My country had recently elected the Opposition Party for the first time in our entire electoral history, but I’d already seen cracks in their promises and this anthology gave me an opportunity to explore those ideas.

Nina: I’m a Finnish queer woman who works in technology by day, and sff by night. Like Jaymee, the biggest part of why I joined this anthology is definitely Crystal asking me to submit a story. But on the other hand, like many other places, Finland is also struggling with its own far-right rise, and I was glad of the opportunity to push back against it in my own small way.

Kiya: I stalk calls for submissions because they give me enough structure to actually write short stories. (Like sonnets: enough restriction to help with enough freedom to get somewhere.) When I saw this one, I was in the middle of wrestling with my emotions about being forced to come to terms with my identity by watching what the United States was doing to my trans siblings (and my disabled siblings, though that's less present in the story). I took that feeling of coercion and fear, the way it made the illusion I'd built of my life unsustainable, and wrote from that essentially as part of my coming-out process.

Selene dePackh

: I’m an autistic queer American crone watching the better parts of my country being subsumed by the worst of it. I’ve been an artist/illustrator most of my life, and only recently began writing for others as another way to communicate to the world. I came across the original Crossed Genres call for Recognize Fascism after I’d already submitted "In Her Eye’s Mind" to another SF publication. As soon as I saw the call, I pulled the story from consideration by the other publisher because the anthology seemed like such a perfect place for it. I’m grateful that my intuition was on target and the story was chosen for inclusion.

Crystal: Wow, Selene, I didn’t know that! With all this anthology went through, it must’ve seemed like such a risk for folks, but particularly people who pulled their stories from other submissions for Recognise Fascism. I feel so lucky to have seen this book through what was such a difficult process.

Selene: I think it struck a chord for a lot of us, Crystal. Recognise Fascism has such an urgent necessity, and I knew instinctively that’s where my piece belonged. The ordeal the collection survived, as guided by you, showed how vital it is.

Alexei: I'm Alexei, or Alex, and I’m a disabled and neurodivergent American cis man. Like Kiya, I stalk submission calls for inspiration. As it happened, Recognize Fascism clicked perfectly with a story I’d already written — first drafted about 10 years ago, I think as a kind of post-traumatic stress response to the G.W. Bush years and the threat of American Religious Right. The long road “Sacred Chords” took to publication was well worth it for this chance to contribute to such a worthy and relevant anthology.

Meridel: I've spent several years working on a series of connected stories about an interstellar war, inspired by the increasing jingoism and nationalism in the United States since 9/11. As a bi Jewish woman, I am very much alarmed by the swing to the hard right and the rise in populism here and around the world. When I saw the original submission call for this anthology, I actually had several possible stories that fit the theme already. 

Rodrigo Juri
Rodrigo: I'm Chilean, 49 years old. An agriculture engineer, economist and science teacher. Also, a husband, owner of 8 cats and I'm trying to be a SF writer. I live in a small town, at the beach, and life is quiet here, with colorful sunsets. I am not used to writing with explicit political intention, so this was a challenge for me. A challenge that I welcomed when I knew about this project.

Lauren: Hello, I’m Lauren! I’m a Jewish lesbian in the US, and fairly new to the SFF scene. 2020 was my first year of publications. Recognise Fascism was one of the very first calls for submissions I saw, and I was so drawn to the theme and the necessity of such an anthology in our times that I wrote a story just for the call! 

Phoebe: I'm a white queer trans woman in Canada. My earliest push to join this anthology was fear of missing out, honestly -- I first heard of the previous volume, Resist Fascism, the day before submissions closed and I wanted to avoid that this time, because writing against fascism is important! It feels to me that too many people don't take fascism seriously anymore, as if it's some historical artefact, when instead it's right here, right now in so many places.

Justin: Hi everyone!  I live in the U.S.  I remember seeing the Recognise Fascism submission call and just thinking it was such a cool idea for an anthology (a timely theme, too).  I had recently completed a story I thought fit the theme, so I sent it in, hoped for the best, and was pleasantly surprised when it was accepted.

Brandon O'Brien

Hello, all! I’m Brandon, he/him or they/them, and I’m a writer, poet, and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. I had initially missed the first call for submissions for this collection, but then Crystal reached out to me and asked if I would be able to contribute something. It just so happened that I had been taking notes for a novel I was almost about to trunk, one that was also confronting the theme of how people see and respond to fascism. So I decided I’d write something in that same world from another character’s perspective, and that’s how ‘We All Know The Melody’ was written.

Leo: ¡Hola! Although I usually go simply by “Leo,” I do have one of those long Hispanic-customs names (here it goes, hold on tight, you can sing it): Leonardo Francisco Ignacio Espinoza Benavides (!). I am a Chilean medical doctor and a science fiction writer & editor. As opposed to my good friend Rodrigo who lives in a lovely coastal town, I spend my days in the ever-busy capital, Santiago. Besides the motivation I got from Crystal’s invitation to submit and Julie [Capell]'s enthusiasm to translate, I was also living through what has come to be known in Chile as “The Social Outbreak”: a series of massive protests starting in October 2019 to reshape our society, concluding with a referendum that began the legal process to change our current Constitution, which was established all the way back during Chile’s right-wing dictatorship. So… plenty of motivation all around!

Lucie: Ahoj 😊 I’m a Czech woman, writer, translator and creative writing teacher. I already gained some fame and success in my country but I’m relatively new to the anglophone SF scene. Crystal asked me for a story and I was very interested in the theme – and grateful for her trust and for giving me a chance to prove myself. Part of my family died in concentration camps during WWII, so the theme strikes a chord, although the majority of my texts aren't political.

Hal: I’m a writer, programmer, and immigrant to the US (she/her pronouns). When I saw the submission call, I knew immediately that Recognize Fascism would be the dream place for my strange story of the government replacing clocks with chickens. Crystal knows the odd journey, too long for this space, that this story has gone through, perhaps befitting its odd premise, but I’m very grateful that “Chicken Time” ended up here!

Laura Jane: Hi! I’m Laura Jane (she/her pronouns). I live in the Midwest in the United States, and I have a background in science, though in this case my story is fantasy. I was excited to see the call for submissions for Recognize Fascism, though I wasn’t sure my odd story would fit. It felt (and still feels) like such a vital issue right now.

NoaF: The stories in Recognise Fascism span all corners of genre and also draw on many different ways in which fascism can manifest. Can you tell me more about the inspirations for your story, or what you discovered while writing it?

Crystal: I just want to say, as editor, I look forward to hearing the answers to this! Several of us played a game in October about pretending authors knew the origins of each others’ stories (even though most of the authors in the anthology didn’t know the others beforehand), and I legit don’t remember anyone’s honest origin story as a result.

Kiya Nicoll
Kiya: A couple years ago I wound up accidentally researching the symbology and mythologies of the original fascists while I was digging into the sociocultural origins of something else, because it turns out that stewpot of influences produced a lot of offspring. One of the things in the fascist portion of the stew is the idea of perfect physicality: a "natural" physiology, a buff abled body, which is also male, straight, and racially aligned with the fascists. I had already written one (unpublished) story about Rory, a trans man in a cyberpunk universe, and writing his origin seemed the obvious thing to do for Recognise Fascism. Cyberpunk as a genre often has that intrinsic tension between wish-fulfilment body modification and fascistic body purity baked in, and I find that compelling and relevant as someone imperfectly abled and transmasculine/nonbinary.

Meridel: My story is actually my second attempt at a particular theme: how terrorism and war can impact the direction of someone's life. My first version was a bit of a failure, I'm afraid. It followed a character as she was drafted into a military, and my beta readers generally said that it felt like the prologue to a novel about her career as a fighter pilot. Not at all what I was going for! When I decided to try again, I focused on the uncertainty, loss, and anger I felt watching my country abandon peace and embrace a militaristic stance. It felt natural to include a budding queer romance as an anchor among the chaos for my characters.

Rodrigo: The inspiration for this story was another one that I wrote ten years ago ("Las Cloacas del Paraiso" [The Sewers of Paradise], Axxon, 2011). I felt that there was more to say about fascism as something that exists and grows in our own consciousness, because, of course, it is there, in our own primitive brain.

Lauren Ring
Lauren: My story was inspired by some iconography I saw of flowers with eyes, as well as my own persistent interest in and wariness of mass surveillance. Two different kinds of seeing are core to my story, the government seeing the citizens and the citizens seeing the government for the fascist regime it is. I wanted to approach recognizing fascism from a very Jewish perspective, which to me means: we can see the same things happening again that once happened to us, but we are often seen as paranoid for drawing that comparison. Of course, I also had to pull in some lesbian romance.

Nina: I’ve always loved musicals, so when I saw Cabaret as a teenager (thank you Finnish library system!), it had a tremendous impact on me. There’s this moment in it when the lead is having a nice moment in a cafe and a nazi youth stands up and starts singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me and it’s this slow build of more and more people joining in until by the end it’s this huge fervor of nationalistic emotion. In the beginning of 2016, Finland was going through its own moment that felt very similar to that. An author wrote an opinion piece that basically equated violent far-right extremists with people who unquestioningly accept refugees as the two extreme ends of a debate. The author called everyone who did not represent those two “extremes” people of sense. Our president shared this deeply flawed opinion piece with the words (rough translation) “let’s all be people of sense”. When I went to Clarion, Cory Doctorow encouraged me to not be afraid to use my anger in my writing. So when I started thinking about this story, I started there. "The Scale of Defiance" also started life as near-future science fiction and I wrote the first draft as such. That was a very different story, but also one that felt off. I was describing the feeling I was trying to convey to a writer friend of mine, C.J. Dugas, and talked about how even the beginning stages of fascism just make you feel so small and helpless and it finally clicked in place.

Jaymee: I struggled with the concept, because my way of coping with dark times is to imagine utopia. I’d already written a short story about overthrowing oppressors and the following trauma in the struggle to establish a utopia: “Eruption,” set in a floating city-state called New Demia. (Well, it’s not floating per se; it resembles a stalagnate. The city is built on the very top, with a tunnel system in its pillar.) Since I tend to re-visit settings, I thought about New Demia archaeologists researching Old Demia and what they would find. In her book Golden Gulag, Ruth Wilson-Gilmore defined racism as "the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death." No matter how much we try to bury the past, something will turn up, and “Scholar Miaka’s Summary” came out of contemplating the various ways the state creates or permits conditions that cause premature death, through direct physical violence, through psychological terror, through stripping people of the means to stand up for their own rights and dignity, recorded in disconnected moments across a lifetime.

Selene: with me, the inspiration was a personal thing. I kept dreaming about a friend from nearly fifty years ago, someone I’d had an instinctive and treasured bond with, but hadn’t been able to keep in my life, mostly through my own bumbling misunderstandings, something autistics are often good at. I later learned my friend had fallen into a bad place, and I was never able to find them again. Finally the dream/memories intersected with the intellectual concept of the Cloud State: the insurrectionary AIs that maintain the foundational principles of society against its unwritten codes. In the protective interaction of the marginalized main character with the painfully awkward but deeply principled Justice AI, I was able to create some kind of poignant, loving closure with my lost friend.

Alexei Collier
Alexei: Like Jaymee, during dark times my writing tends to retreat from the darkness, which is probably why I wrote “Sacred Chords" a couple of years after the G.W. Bush era. As best as I can recall a decade on, the initial inspiration came while listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” from the phrase “secret chord” in the first verse. Due to ADHD (without the H), my brain tends to make unusual jumps, and went from “secret chord” to “sacred chord” — likely influenced by the biblical references of the song — and I started pondering a society where certain chords were deemed sacred, and as a result others might be forbidden. I think that collided in my psyche with the endless wars and attacks on religious liberty of the prior years, and out came a story set in a militaristic theocracy that revered (and enforced) a strict set of musical forms called the Hallowed Sonata. I realized in revisions that the narrative was overly male-centered (taking place in an all-male prison) and thus lacked nuance, and I made sure to connect the protagonist’s story to the more marginalized voices of women.

Justin: This story changed a lot over time.  The first version was a silly tale of two astronauts trying to escape their world, and I was never quite satisfied with it.  At some point, it morphed into a story of injustice, music, and rebellion. I don’t remember exactly where the original idea came from, but I think it’s a safe bet to say I was influenced by Heinlein.

Phoebe: My story spent enough time in the rock tumbler that I don't remember many specific inspirations: it was a gradually-assembled work that eventually accreted around the idea of someone coming home after a long time away to find that they both had changed enough that they were incompatible. I do know that I was inspired by a book I read in high school about "weasel words," where the true meanings are sucked out and replaced with bland euphemisms, and how the way we talk about things can so easily change what "truth" is. It says a lot about a society when you call an offshore prison for asylum seekers a "Regional Processing Centre," for instance. That sort of linguistic manipulation is a core component of fascism, and I didn't want to overlook it. 

Brandon: Well, the catalyst for the story before this story was about rhetoric: about how we get people to believe things, or believe in things, and how language in its purest form is a tool to facilitate that level of manipulation. The homeless community in that world are essentially gifted with the knowledge of that fact, the knowledge that it is literally a form of magic to tell someone something and make them want to act on it, but that doesn’t stop other people from having that same power or being willing to use it - they just know how to call it by name. In that first novel, it was about violence - about how one constructs a coup, and how one attempts to rebel against it - and I only mention that because at the time of writing this, that concern has become a lot more… present for a lot of people. But none of that was in this story. This story was about what kind of violence comes first, the more core kind of issue with certain kinds of rhetoric - how it can inspire people to hurt their neighbours and cast out marginalised communities based on the lie of inferiority or national value, and how difficult it is to fight back against that kind of rhetoric, but how important it is to do so. 

Leonardo Espinoza Benavides

It was Friday afternoon, October 18th, when I got home from work. I remember entering my apartment, turning on the TV and —almost surreally— watched a whole building on fire in the middle of the city, while several Metro stations has begun burning as well. The Social Outbreak had begun, after a series of events that got the people of Chile out into the streets to demand a fairer society, for everyone and not just a few. That Friday lives in my memory. The next day, the President declared a State of Emergency and the Chilean Army was deployed to control the situation, alongside the institution of a military-controlled curfew. These were the kind of things our grandparents used to tell us, from those dark, old days, back in the 70s. Until that Friday in October, those old tales were no more than old memories, almost ethereal. Then, the ghosts woke up. New stories were to be written. New identities were to be shaped.

Lucie: My story is called “The Three Magi”, which was the code name of three resistance fighters in Prague during WWII. But I took direct inspiration for my story from elsewhere, actually from Poland. It’s our neighbouring country with a Slavic population and religious right-wing parties are on the rise there, making it seem as if the country was going to sink straight into the dark ages again. Therefore, my story shows the clero-fascist face of the problem, and you can expect some “real” magic-using magi.

Hal: While writing a fantasy story, I found out that roosters crow just about any time they like, not just the morning (this fact might be obvious to many people, but I’m a city person through and through). This seized my imagination as I then thought about a political satire in which clocks have been replaced with roosters in a ridiculously destabilizing and destructive act. The fantasy story is still a work-in-progress and might remain that way forever, but now I have “Chicken Time.”

Laura Jane: There’s a town in Virginia with a sign much like the one in my story, suggesting the existence of “old grouches.”  I started wondering how a town might select people for such a role, and the idea of electing them amused me.  It got more interesting when I considered the possibility that not everyone would want to run, and then I asked myself just why a town would need grouches, and who would benefit from that.

NoaF: I want to pick up on something a few of you touch on, in one way or another, in your responses: the idea that the pull to fascism is in some way an inevitable repeating factor in our histories, or otherwise “inherent” in human psychology. Is that something that others agree with? How do you address that within your stories?

Nina Niskanen

Nina: I don’t want to agree with it, because it feels like giving in to the fascists. Humanity's memory seems to be short where some things are considered and I feel like there are always assholes who will do anything for power and control. When I was a teenager way back in the 90's, one of the other horsegirls at the stable told us about a party that she attended where neo-nazis crashed and beat someone she knew because he wasn't Finnish. That was the first time I found out that the nazi ideology was alive and well in people whose parents hadn't been alive during the war. In my experience, fascists are always sort of there, under the surface, trying to grab for legitimacy. Fascist movements that are successful enough to rise to mainstream attention are very good at appealing to people’s fears.

They’re also very good at lying. Fundamentally, all fascist movements are based on lies, which always end up looking very comforting for the in-group they target. Often, it’s the same lie, just clad in slightly different clothing. But it always starts out with a lie that also tests boundaries. That boundary testing is what's happening in my story. The fascists are looking for legitimacy in a system that has a lot of alternatives. For me, this is where it's crucial to push back at their attempt at legitimacy through any means necessary: hold their feet to the fire for all the missteps and all the boundaries pushed. Because sometimes, those so-called "people of sense" need to be reminded that even though the fascist wears a suit, he's still a fascist. My characters do that through being visibly different, working to normalize the people the fascists want to demonize.

There's a video essay by Lindsay Ellis about Mel Brooks and why his comedy endures, and I think that goes to this same thing. Fascism, by its nature, projects itself as this Big Scary Unbeatable Thing, but ultimately it's always just a small number of people who will go to any lengths. And I think that part of fighting against them will always have to be disrupting their narrative; making the joy and love in marginalized communities visible and undeniable. Turning the marginalized people into protagonists and heroes, parts of a community that is the very antithesis of the Big Scary Unbeatable Thing.

Kiya:  Nnnh, I don’t think I agree with the question as phrased either.  But I do think that the component factors for fascism are out there, it’s a question of whether or not the combinatorics pull them together in the right (wrong) way.  There are always going to be people who have purity-oriented values; there are always going to be people who want to look to authorities; there’s always going to be variability in how open people are to people who are strange to them.  These aren’t intrinsically bad or intrinsically problems, but if they’re channeled by xenophobia, isolationism, and similar factors they can go septic, especially once, as Nina points out, there’s some person or organization seeding the kind of lies that grow into fascism.  The fascist vision of a perpetually threatened utopia for its in-crowd depends on being able to build a bubble of a distinct group and say “this is Us”.

Brandon: I think my issue with the question as phrased, as Nina and Kiya already touched on, is that there are things that aren’t fascism, or aren’t fascism yet, that I do think people are more prone to, that are fertile ground for certain kinds of harmful ideas. Wanting to feel safe, worries about being able to provide for loved ones, anxieties about being desirable or strong, anxieties that one’s place in the world is being diminished or that something catastrophic will change our way of life for the worse: those things come up in some people’s lives all the time, and by themselves are not necessarily hostile thoughts. But the lies that leaders of a certain type are prone to tell -- that people are trying to rob citizens of their opportunity to make a living, that people are predisposed to criminal activity, that ‘we’ are owed a certain kind of status or power or recognition and that ‘they’ are trying to rob ‘us’ of it -- are attempts to plant within those worries the seed that there is someone to blame, and if ‘we’ just destroy ‘them’, all ‘our’ problems will be answered.

Perhaps there is always someone willing to tell that lie, but there is a non-zero percentage of people there who either just bought into the lie, or stuck around because it was the new normal and they’re afraid of what happens when it falls apart. And the challenging part is often that, even though all of them are responsible, there is room to still ask if we can reach out to those other people, and unravel the lie for them before it becomes knotted, and how we do that. And whose responsibility it is to do that, as well? One of the big questions very early in my story is when the protagonist, a queer person of colour, is asked to their face, “do you really want to risk your own life trying to reason with people who want to hurt you?”, and there isn’t a pretty answer to that. 

Meridel Newton
Meridel: I think fascism develops as a response to fear. There are of course other possible responses, both on an individual level and on a societal level, but fascism often seems like the easy choice to the frightened and insecure mind. Fascism is what happens when a group that expects to be in control sees their power slipping away, fears losing their position of dominance, and chooses to double down on their control rather than examine and address their fear. The increased control can manifest in a number of familiar mechanisms: militarism, oppression of minorities, toxic masculinity and the worship of those who embody it. Nina touched on some of what I would consider to be other, healthier responses: joy, love, and community. Reinforcing security and stability on a micro level provides defenses against the turn to fascism on a macro level.

Rodrigo: OK. We are members of the animal kingdom, vertebrates, mammals and primates. The result of four billion years of natural selection. And, as Darwin explained, nature is a war of survival and reproduction. In order to be successful, in survival and reproduction, animals need to kill, and need to impose themselves over others, usually, by force. I am not saying anything that you don't know, of course. Alpha behavior, the desire to follow the leader, the belonging and the group identity, everything is a legacy of our evolution. The seeds of fascism are there. Intelligence, civilization, society, is our commitment in order to leave behind that legacy. It was a good thing in the wilderness, but not anymore. In my view, to reject fascism is almost the same as to reject our instincts of supremacy, of being alpha. You might realise by now that I am a biology teacher, I guess. 

Nina: I’m not sure I completely agree with that, Rodrigo.  Society and co-operation are built into our very evolution. All our closest ancestors are social creatures, with a pronounced instinct for fairness that goes even further back than the great apes. If you remove any of the great apes from their groups or force them into new ones, they will either get depressed or they will form new societal bonds. None of us great apes may be able to produce vitamin C (I'm sure Rodrigo knows this, but everyone else, look it up, all the other species can and I will die mad about it) in our bodies but societies and co-operation are definitely built in. But, unfortunately, so are some of the other things as well. 

Rodrigo: Of course. Our evolutionary heritage has also those elements that you mention. I just focused on the traits that could be related to a fascist behavior, but clearly, the things are far more complicated. In example, as mammals we have a strong altruistic tendency.

Phoebe Barton

Phoebe: I don't think there's anything inevitable about fascism. It's a self-destructive and utterly poisonous manifestation of the all-too-common human drive toward authoritarianism, but it's not like it's the lowest energy state that everything will eventually roll toward. Sure, everything humans make is artificial, but fascism is particularly artificial. In its requirement for constant enemies, constant competition, it breaks quickly. That's one reason I set my story in a space habitat, which also requires constant maintenance to survive -- because when a thing is bottled and concentrated, its vile elements are even easier to see.

Alexei: I agree with those who’ve said fascism is an extreme and toxic response to specific types of widespread fears in a society, rather than anything inevitable. Fascism is a potential risk we face by living in a state-level society, an emergent property of certain human behaviors to be sure, but not something “inherent” to humans. We tend to think of human history as the just last 5-to-10 thousand years, but humans were around for hundreds of thousands of years before anything even resembling a nation state emerged, and it’s possible that one day humanity will move beyond nation states and thus beyond the potential threat of fascism, perhaps to face new societal ills and risks we can only try to imagine. I think Ursula Le Guin’s words about capitalism apply to fascism as well: “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Leo: I believe we are still a young civilization. Many more mistakes are yet to come. The Neolithic Revolution happened only 12,000 years ago — just a blink away in terms of cosmic time. We humans have done and continue doing unforgivable things. The Good struggles to shift the balance towards hope, life, love. I’m an optimistic pessimist: I believe we are far away from leaving violence behind, but as long as Art finds a way… we shall be granted transcendental meaning to our existence. As a famous Latin American song says: “(¡Vamos caminando!) Yo canto porque se escucha” / “(We are walking!) I sing because it is heard”.

Justin: I’m torn on this question.  I don’t want to believe that fascism is inevitable, but until humanity as a whole learns to recognize its own worst impulses and reject these impulses as unhealthy, I feel that it’s an ever-present threat.  It’s not an overnight fix by any means.  I believe education and empathy are the keys to preventing the rise of fascism.  With these two things, we can reject leaders who promote dangerous ideologies and demonize others.  Without education and empathy, it’s too easy for unscrupulous leaders to play off our fears and prejudices and use them to justify unspeakable crimes.

Lucie: I agree with Meridel (and the others) – good soil for fascism to grow on is fear. Fear of “otherness”, the feeling that the world is changing in a way the person in question doesn’t understand and doesn’t like; such a person then feels threatened even by other people’s absolutely private issues (like gender, sexual orientation or woman’s right to make decisions about her own body). This fear arises always when societies develop and circumstances change. But I don’t want to believe that fascism is the inevitable outcome. I hope that with proper education, empathy and reason there is a chance that we won’t have to fight it again and again and again. Anything else would be a very depressing prospect.

Hal: Really enjoying everyone’s thoughtful responses. I’d just add that in my story, near the end, there are people who just want things to “go back to normal,” whatever that means, and those who stay their ground and fight. People are complex and varied, and no matter how terrible things might be, there are always people who stay and fight.

Laura Jane: I have to echo what others have said, that I don’t want to believe that fascism is inevitable.  I want to believe that humans can be better than that.  And I agree that fear creates a fertile environment for fascism to develop.  Another factor I think about is scarcity, or the perception of scarcity--when people feel that there aren’t enough resources to go around, they’re more likely to try to control the resources they value.  Oddly, I think the perception of scarcity might be more dangerous than true scarcity, especially when the people in power can find a group they can easily blame for it.

Jaymee Goh
Jaymee: This question makes me think of Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, which proposed that the fatal flaw of humanity is that it is intrinsically given to hierarchy, and that impulse to either follow or lead can end up in very bad places, given the range of human impulses there are. I don’t believe that fascism is inevitable, just as I don’t believe abusive behaviour is inevitable, nor even cruelty. But I do believe that the capability for such is within us, and so, too, our capability to accept these vagaries as a part of our lives. I know I am capable of great cruelty and violence, and I know that were I to have simply accepted my tendency towards cruelty and violence as an unquestioned given, I may very well be swept up in any movements that would allow me to express those parts of myself. But I also know that I am capable of kindness and tenderness, and I believe everyone is also capable of such. “Scholar Miaka” has grown up in a society which carefully attends to the question: how can we recognise these tendencies to cruelty and violence? Because recognising them is the first step to curbing them. 

Crystal: Wow, Jaymee, I need to reread Lilith’s Brood. Thank you. That series is my favorite of Butler’s work, but it’s been too long.

I want to talk a little about my personal attempts to resist fascism, too. I don’t know enough about human nature as a whole, or social impulses toward evil. I do know about myself and the communities I’m personally a part of.

Something that I’ve found to be of great value is having touchstone points in my calendar year during which I do some kind of self-assessment. The biggest is Yom Kippur, one of the most important days in the Jewish year. Every fall, I spend hours reciting the prayer Ashamnu, which involves everyone at the service, as a community, taking responsibility for basically every bad action we can think of. It’s ritualized and formulaic, and sometimes it’s really hard. We have been rageful, we have been insensitive, we have acted out of contempt — these are things we say out loud, over and over, every year. I beat my chest while doing so, as is common in this service. 

It always, always causes me to reflect on which parts of the prayer are harder to say. It’s collective acknowledgement that we create a world in which we humans do these things, and sometimes we individuals have done them. Have I betrayed someone’s trust? Have I acted out of fear instead of love? Have I been quiet when I should have spoken out? The time surrounding Yom Kippur is a period of deep introspection, and often people (including myself) take the opportunity to offer overdue apologies and make amends when we find ourselves to be wanting.

Jews as a whole haven’t avoided the urge to fascism or authoritarianism — an obvious example is treatment of Palestinians in Israel, but there are many others. Jews as individuals have often avoided becoming fascists, however, and I think the Ashamnu is a part of why. I think a component of not becoming a fascist is assessing (and reassessing) oneself as an individual and as part of a group. 

NoaF: Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful, introspective set of answers on that question (also I didn’t know that other animals can produce Vitamin C and now I, too, will die mad about it). Your ideas bring me back to the core of the anthology, which is that recognition of fascism, or the seeds of fascism, in the world around us and what we do. What do you hope a reader will take out of your story, or the anthology as a whole, in response to that question?

Nina: For my part, I think the biggest strength of this anthology is that there are so many different views of what fascism might look like in a particular setting or environment. For me, the strength of science fiction and fantasy have always been that it allows you to explore what it means to be a human in a setting that is just unfamiliar enough to get through your defences and, hopefully, make it easier to see the same structures at work in your own life. That’s my hope for my story and for the anthology as a whole. On the surface, fascism wears different clothes every time it raises its head. Trumpism is different from nazism, which is different from the South African Greyshirts, which is different from Lapuan liike. Denying connections to past fascist movements seems to be one of the strategies that fascist movements use to curry mainstream acceptance. Even when the name of your movement is literally the same as the name of the previous movement, which is a thing that’s happening in Finland right now. I’m hoping that this anthology and my story will help more people recognize fascism wherever they come across it, remember where it leads and work to stop it. 

Meridel: In my story, we see the moment when Casey understands what’s happening, and chooses to fight back by doubling down on everything the governmental agent seems to find objectionable about them. While their later acts of resistance are bigger and more visible, it is that quiet moment in the recruitment office, that crystallization of the current moment, that is the real turning point for Casey. I think that’s what I would like for people to take away from my story, and from the anthology in general: choosing to be who you are, messy and inconvenient and hard to define as any individual is, can be one of the strongest forms of resistance. Visibility is undeniability, and pride in your individuality is one of the strongest bulwarks against the forces that would break you down. Fascism seeks to remake the world in its singular image, but nonconformity is resistance; diversity is resistance; art is resistance.

Kiya: Thank you, Meridel, you gave me the thought I needed to get my brain in order.  I’ll admit right out I wrote “The Company Store” very much from a place of fear, and of not knowing what happens next, or what to do about anything.  But the thing that gives Rory a future is his decision to choose honesty over conformity, to be, as you said, messy and inconvenient.  And it has risks, and he’s scared, but as soon as he decides to take those risks, he’s not alone anymore.  He found other messy, inconvenient people and he knows they’ll be there for him.  Fascism is isolating of anyone who doesn’t fit its in-crowd mold and tries to keep people afraid of deviation; authenticity brings genuine community.

Alexei: As Nina pointed out, one of the most powerful things about speculative fiction is its ability to come at a subject sideways, to “talk about something without really talking about it,” allowing authors to explore real-world issues from a slight remove, which is often easier for readers to accept and digest. I think this anthology is an ideal vehicle for that. For my own story, I’m not sure I can summarize what I want readers to take away from it. I keep trying, but nothing sounds right. I’m not even sure I’m the best person to ask. “Death of the author” and all that.

Phoebe: If anyone takes away anything from my “A Brilliant Light, An Unreachable Dawn,” I hope it's reinforcement that fascism is founded on obfuscation and lies. The idea of Callisto's "pan-Jovian co-prosperous amity" philosophy came directly from the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere -- that is, highfalutin language to conceal the brutal truth of the Japanese Empire during the Second World War. "Regional Processing Centre" is exactly what Australia calls its offshore detention camps today. People need to learn to pull those curtain words aside and comprehend the real meaning behind them, and that's what I tried to show here.

Lucie Lukačovičová
Lucie: I hope that my story will convey the knowledge that oppressive ideologies can be recognized even by those seemingly (or truly) privileged and endorsed by them. The problem is naturally harder to spot if you are in the group which seems chosen to get all the advantages. This single fact doesn’t automatically make you an evil person. You’ll just have a longer way to perceive that something went wrong. As for the anthology as a whole – I love the different angels of view and the diverse approaches. I hope that for every reader there will be a voice they can relate to.

Jaymee: Like Alexei, I hesitate to state what I want readers to take away from it, because it feels a bit like a shutdown, but also because my story is written at so far a remove from the actual moment: it’s a series of memories, from hundreds of years ago, and those memories have also degraded. As it has been recorded down in text, away from the first filter of memory, it suffers even more distance. I know when I wrote it, I was thinking about memory, about how being in the moment can dole out trauma, about how chance and coincidence unearths a moment of witnessing, about how memories are transmitted, and why we would want to transmit something so painful and traumatic through the ages, even as we dream of creating a better world. 

Brandon: The thing I hope readers get the most from my story is that speaking up isn’t some bigger or more powerful person’s business--it’s all of our business collectively to reject the small moments that build up into full-blown catastrophe. Every small injustice, whether it is by the system or by those who benefit from it, is a stone upon which fascism can be built, and when we dash away those stones before they take shape, we are saving each other and ourselves from violence. Often it’s as little as standing there and saying aloud that you will not stand for it. And when your peers tell you that the risk is too great or the reward too small to speak up yourself, remind them that those proportions change when we speak out in numbers.

Leo: I get the same hesitation Jaymee and Alexei mentioned. It’s not easy to materialize what I want the reader to specifically take out. What comes to mind is the hope of sharing a feeling, a moment, an abstract idea somehow trying to find a shape of its own. There are human experiences forever to remain a little bit abstract, a little bit incomprehensible. And that’s when literature —and other forms of art— come to play their role.

Hal Y. Zhang
Hal: “Chicken Time” is clearly a ridiculous premise…or is it? Fundamental parts of human society, such as units of measurement, have been wielded throughout history as tools of populace control. I hope readers find that kernel of an idea worth chewing over out from all the scenarios of absurdity and dark humor in the story (we all need some laughter in trying times).

Crystal: As the editor of this book, I put a lot of thought and work and angst into trying to make sure that each story showed an unique facet of fascism, told in a different way. It was also my first solo editing project, so I probably overworked you authors in my zeal to try to show this breadth without letting any one author take the show or shoulder the heaviest burden. I know I’m not supposed to read the reviews, but what I take from the reviews I’ve seen is that everyone has a different favorite story, and each story is someone’s favorite. I think that’s because there’s something for everyone, but also there’s something in each story that can make you feel uncomfortable. It just depends on where you’re coming from, what you haven’t yet thought to recognize as fascism or proto-fascism, that may cause different readers to sit and think about it. That “sit and think” time is what I hope the readers get from this collection.

Laura Jane: My story started as a bit of a joke, but it didn’t stay that way, and in a way that’s what I hope people think about.  So often, things seem light and funny until suddenly they’re not.  Suddenly they’re dangerous, and only in retrospect do people see what was happening.  And I hope my story and this anthology remind people to watch for that.

Justin: I hope readers will leave with a sense of optimism.  I hope the collection is a reminder that no matter how difficult things are, there are always people who want better for the world and who will do the right thing, no matter what the cost.

Rodrigo: Sometimes fascism is easily recognizable. Sometimes not. You see the flags, the uniforms, the fanatics, the dogmatic speeches, and you say, yeah, those guys are fascists. And probably you are right. But fascism also could be growing in the dark corners of your own home. And in yourself, myself, in my own decisions and behavior. In my view, my main character becomes a kind of fascist even he doesn't know, even if he could have some reasons for that. Favorable conditions for fascism are everywhere, not just in the governmental offices or extremist movements.

NoaF: Does anyone have any final thoughts they’d like to share?

Nina: *ahem* I apologize in advance, but I’ve been listening to a lot of hair metal lately; “Don’t stop believing!” (Edited to add: For the record, I wrote this before the orange menace used it in his send-off.)

Lucie: That's great, Nina! Well, by coincidence I've also been listening to music just this moment; namely to Miracle of Sound: “They painted masterworks and set them all alight – the scars of persecution always harden into spite...“

Jaymee: Aw, with all that music, I can’t help but think of the little ditty that goes, “If you’re a Nazi and you’re fired, that’s your fault! <CLAP CLAP>” Anyway, I do hope the anthology empowers people to seize that gut feeling in them that says “this asshole is a Nazi” rather than reason it away with a “nah, I’m just overreacting,” and thus follow up with the actions that best suit the circumstances at the moment, though I would never discourage anyone from punching a fuckin’ fascist in the face if they can help it. 

Kiya: Okay, I can’t resist this trend, which is 100% predictable of me, really, given that I am a seething mass of earworms rubberbanded together with flesh (just like Rory). “We are more than we’re made to be / We got more than meets the eye / When we stand strong together, you and me / We can save the world.”  It's from “Blaseball the Musical: The Deaths of Sebastian Telephone,” one of my current loops.

Meridel: Maybe we need to bring back some more 80s bands, because the first song I came up with was “Land of Confusion” by Genesis: “This is the world we live in / And these are the hands we’re given / Use them and let’s start trying / To make it a place worth living in.” It may be painfully earnest, but I’d argue that painfully earnest is what we need to fight the ironically hateful. 

Brandon: Can I just say that I delight in this music talk? This is something I also think is important in these times: finding joy, finding a place to dance to something or rock out to an inspiring jam. And to use that art, that song, that dance, as the tentpole of our resistance. If you’re reading this, this is also a moment to plant that kind of joy. Keep spreading those earworms, folks, let’s give this revolution a rhythm! 

Crystal: There is a LOT of music woven into this anthology, so I’m not surprised we’ve become a jam session at the end of this chat.  I do have a sobering final thought, though, that I am not sure how to fit into the rest of this conversation. Potentially, I am the party-killer, here.

2020 was the first time I saw a piece of Nazi paraphernalia in someone’s house, on display. I never in my life would’ve expected it, and the resulting conversations I had with a couple of friends were some of the least comfortable conversations I’ve had all year. I was prepared to see white supremacist iconography at protests and counter-protests during the Trump administration. I could name half a dozen places I wouldn’t be surprised to see swastikas. A friend’s house, though? That shocked me.

It made me realize, however, that there is a really good Jewish saying for this moment, from Pirkei Avot (“The Ethics of Our Parents”): “You are not required to finish the work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” That’s the energy I’m taking into 2021. I may not see the last tile laid or patch painted, but I continue to lend my hammer and some nails to this project, as long as I can.

Phoebe: I have a sticker on my computer tower that says “FASCISM SHALL BE DESTROYED.” What we have to remember is that destruction is not one-and-done. There will always be cowards and powermongers attracted to fascism’s brutality. To echo what Crystal said, it’ll always be on us to do the work to keep it destroyed, to keep grinding its bricks into dust.

Leo: They covered the graffiti of “Octobers/October”… The one that said: “Santiago será la tumba del fascismo / Santiago will be the tomb of fascism”. I'm not sure what to feel: is it a good or a bad sign? Guess I’ll just choose an 80s song to allow for an ambiguous ending. I’ll go with, hmm, “Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano” (the live version where the mics had some issues but the public sang most of the song out loud; a karaoke with the band itself, ha!). Through art: recognize and resist.

Selene: I’m still processing what’s happened here in the US in the last couple of weeks, The best response I’ve come up with is this:

The T*mp era began with a pickup truck with a couple of guys inside driving through my diverse adopted city neighborhood yelling abuse, throwing a paper cup of coffee at a pair of trans friends at a bus stop. They screamed "Things are gonna be different around here now."

It's ending with the violation of the city where I was born and grew up. DC is always in flux- the neighborhoods change, the bridges and highways expand and unfurl in ways that make it unrecognizable outside its core whenever I go back- but it was that heart, that center, that was befouled by the same toxicity that drenched my friends in cold, stale coffee four years ago.

That foulness has always been here, but it's been fed and nurtured and allowed to metastasize so well these last few years that it will take the rest of my life and beyond to excise it. Ignorance and unreason thrive when they are the foundation of a validated self-interest.

My mind is still stunned and awkward as an emerging insect, but the need for internal silence is lifting enough to begin the work again. There will always be a need.

Laura Jane Swanson
Laura Jane: I’m also still feeling overwhelmed by the recent events here in the United States, and I’m not sure what to say about it all. But it’s more clear than ever that these stories matter.

Alexei: Given my story, I would be remiss not to return to the topic of music. Some years back, a Jewish friend of mine stumbled upon the existence of “Neo-Nazi punk rock,” and noted the ignorant hypocrisy and irony of white supremacists expressing their racist rhetoric through rock, an art form invented by people they hate, with clear roots stretching back to Africa. (I would also point out the further irony that punk rock has traditionally been as anti-authoritarian as music can get.)

But that’s what fascists do: they misappropriate symbols and cultural practices, and try to exert control over art, suppressing or destroying it, or twisting it to their own ends. And they add injury to insult, starting with defamation and scapegoating of marginalized people, and then moving to do them physical and cultural harm. These are the sort of behaviors we need to recognize, and push back against, and I believe this anthology can help in that struggle. What better way to fight the abuse and suppression of art than with art?

Rodrigo: I don’t use to write fiction with an explicit political purpose. When I write something about politics, I use clear words, so nobody could miss what I really mean. And I have strong political opinions. But when I write fiction, and science fiction in particular, I feel like when I was a child and my dad told me stories to go to sleep. Just beautiful stories for sleeping: old Greek myths were his favorites. So, this was a kind of challenge for me. And a writer must welcome challenges. For sure I have a lot to learn but thank you, reader, for the challenge and the opportunity.

NoaF: Thank you all for the earworms, for your thoughts, and for this amazing anthology!