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Category: Sci-fi Page 1 of 7

A promotional image for Augur Magazine, showing a young person with bird wings walking on water.

Augur Magazine Kickstarter, Years 3-4

A promotional image for Augur Magazine, showing a young person with bird wings walking on water.
A promotional still for Augur Magazine’s Kickstarter campaign for years 3 and 4.

If you’ve paid attention to the Hugo and Nebula awards in the past, you’ve probably noticed people talking about whether a science fiction magazine is a “pro-paying” market. If you stay in the spec-fic community long enough, you learn that this refers to whether a magazine pays what are considered “pro rates” by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

And what’s that all-important pro rate? Eight cents per word.

You want to know something else? Until December 2019 — only 2 months ago! — not a single Canadian literary magazine qualified as a SFWA pro-paying market. Sure, there are plenty of Can-Lit mags, but none of them both paid that market rate and focused on spec-fic.

Until Augur Magazine showed up.

Augur started a few years ago with a mandate to publish spec-fic, slipstream, and magical realist fiction by Canadian and indigenous authors, as well as poetry and art. It’s done that in spades over 6 issues. What’s more, it’s steadily increased its rates – starting from 2 cents a word to reaching that all-important SFWA pro-rate threshold last year.

It did this with the help and support of awesome spec-fic readers who like dreamy, hard-to-categorize fiction. And that’s where YOU come in. Because Augur just launched its newest Kickstarter campaign to fund 2 more years’ worth of magazines, and it needs your help to reach its goal of going beyond the SFWA pro rates and paying 11 cents per word.

It’s already halfway there only 3 days in, which is amazing, and proof that its founder and managing editors clearly have their fingers on the pulse of Canadian spec-fic. So why not take a look and support a group of people who are pretty cool? The closer we all get to meeting their fundraising target, the closer we get to their stretch goals, which sound pretty sweet:

  • Publishing more poetry every year
  • Paying more to graphic artist contributors
  • Creating a print edition of the first 2 years of the magazine
  • Publishing reprints

I’m going to support their Kickstarter now that I have the chance. So I just wanted to signal-boost for a worthy cause. The Augur Magazine Kickstarter ends at the end of February, so let’s make the most of it while we can.

A Look at The Quantum Magician with Derek Künsken

Derek Künsken writes science fiction, fantasy, and, sometimes accidentally, horror. After publishing shorter works in many different markets, this month marks his novel-length debut with The Quantum Magician, a sci-fi heist story set in the far future involving time travel, wormholes, space battles, political intrigue, and even a little bit of romance.

Derek was kind enough to send me a copy of his book before its release this month and let me pick his brain after reading it. Here’s a brief look at the wider world in which his novel is set. Thanks for your great answers, Derek!

Note: The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Me: The Quantum Magician takes part in the same universe as stories you’ve published previously. For those who aren’t familiar with them, what stories are they, and where can people read them? How does the book tie into this shared universe?

Derek Künsken: I’m a big fan of the way many of the stories of Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter are parts of the same world, allowing those authors to explore a much larger cut of time and space. I modelled my universe after theirs. In chronological order, here are most of the stories:

  • 2100: Events introducing the vacuum-living skates living around a pulsar in the novelette Schools of Clay, Asimov’s Magazine, February 2014, also available in Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2015 Edition, and in audio at Starship Sofa
  • 2215: Events on Venus in the novelette Persephone Descending, from Analog Magazine, Nov, 2014, available in The Year’s Best Military SF and Space Opera from Baen, or in audio at Starship Sofa
  • 2255: Events on Venus  and the formation of the Congregate in the novel The House of Styx, in press, Oct, 2020 [projected publication date]
  • 2325: Events introducing the Homo eridanus in the short story Beneath Sunlit Shallows, from Asimov’s Magazine, Jun, 2008
  • 2350: Events at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom in the novelette Water and Diamond, in Asimov’s Magazine, Nov/Dec 2018
  • 2475: Events introducing the Sub-Saharan Union in the novella Pollen from a Future Harvest, in Asimov’s Magazine, July, 2015
  • 2515: Events of the novel The Quantum Magician, from Solaris Books and soon in audio from Recorded Books and previously available in Analog issues Jan/Feb – May/Jun 2018
  • 2515: Events of the novel The Quantum Garden, from Solaris Books, Oct 2019
  • 2720: Events of the far future of the Congregate and the Anglo-Spanish Plutocracy in the novelette Flight From the Ages, from Asimov’s Magazine Apr/May 2016

One of the things I find really interesting about the setting is how the conglomerates that control policy and trade have relationships that are roughly analogous to colonial periods, and how the whole motivation behind the heist – for the Sub Saharan Union to end its client/patron relationship with the francophone Conglomerate — is pretty explicitly a decolonization story. Is that something you were hoping to tie into the work when you started writing it?

DK: Yes, but perhaps my thinking wasn’t so explicitly reflective of history. I wasn’t so much thinking of the international power and wealth imbalances of the past, but of the ones we will make in the future. Regardless of what current international law says, the first nations into space will get first pick of space resources, and the second nations into space will get second pick, etc. The solar system is big, but there are strategic positions and monopolies to be had that will magnify imbalances. The rich and technologically advanced countries will be first and become richer, and poorer nations will, if they are lucky, be allowed into the solar system by the rich nations.

The patronage relationships I showed in The Quantum Magician are one way these imbalances may play out, and resentments they might generate aren’t hard to imagine. History has some repeating themes, even future histories, unfortunately.

The Puppets in your story are a group of people who have been genetically engineered to feel subservient towards another particular group of people, and to feel religious awe in their presence. Where did that idea come from? The way that their culture plays out, and how the Puppets rationalize a relationship that, to outside observers, seems incredibly abusive and warped, is really unusual. (And frankly, also somewhat unsettling.)

DK: Haha. Sorry. I keep apologizing to readers for the Puppets! The name “the Puppets” was kicking around my head for a long time with no definition and no place in any narrative. When I started pulling together the elements of The Quantum Magician (a con, a quantum man, the deep divers, the Congregate and the Sub-Saharan Union, the stable wormholes), I had room to create more, and so the Puppets started coming into focus, partly with my reading on microbiomes, on some research on the neurology of religious experience and on religious cults.

Thinking as a former biologist, I thought of what would be needed to make a slave species, and what kind of people would commit that crime against humanity. We have cults and extreme religions in the present day, where a ruling class oppresses an underclass and I wanted to explore that dynamic. The Rise of the Puppets was an important part though, so that the Puppets would be protagonists in the story, morally compromised, but morally complex.

Let’s talk Easter eggs! I noticed a few, like the fact that one of Belisarius’s aliases is Juan Caceres, and the fact that Trenholm disease, a fictional malady in the story, shares a name with Hayden Trenholm. But what others are there?

DK: Easter eggs! I’m surprised you found Juan Caceres! I occasionally used the name Juan Caceres myself when I was living in Bogotá. He was the trickster hero of my fantasy story “Juan Caceres in the Zapatero’s Workshop” and there’s a con man called Juan Caceres in the 2200s of my universe who was edited out, but I’ll add him back somewhere because tricksters always come back!

Some Ottawa readers may know the Westbook in Westbrook Station, and the relationship to the Trenholm virus. Will Gander also assumes the name Geoff Kaltwasser as part of the con. If you have the occasion, you might want to ask Geoff Gander where the name Kaltwasser comes from.

Close readers will also notice that Vincent Stills, the Homo eridanus has the same name as Vincent, the protagonist of “Beneath Sunlit Shallows”. That’s deliberate and I can’t wait for readers to notice in later novels and stories that the mongrels have really peculiar naming customs, very much related to their history and the middle finger they give the world. More than a few of the Anglo-Spanish names are from places I’ve visited in Colombia and Honduras, and the Congregate names are often from Gaspésie in eastern Québec, although those get foregrounded a lot more in The House of Styx. There are other Easter eggs too, but they take more digging 🙂

The Homo quantus are an unusual creation – a group of people who have been genetically modified to go into a savant-like state conducive to observing quantum events and identifying unusual patterns. Where did this idea come from? I especially love the idea of the electroplaques!

DK: Thank you! I’ve wondered about what quantum perceptions and thinking might be, as long as I’ve understood the basics of quantum theory. In 2013 or 2014, I was reading Stephen Baxter’s collection Vacuum Diagrams and it contained a short story about a quantum man. I was impressed, but also inspired to do my own take on it.

In designing someone who might be able to have quantum perceptions though, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to avoid quantum collapse due to human or conscious observation. One interpretation of quantum theory (not a dominant one) contends that consciousness itself is partly responsible for the collapse of quantum phenomena into what we see and experience. So I felt that in science fictional terms, trying to knock out consciousness might be a way to explore this kind of world, to have the Homo quantus offshoot of humanity to be truly alien, moreso even that the Puppets who are behaviorally and morally alien, or the mongrels who are physically and environmentally alien.

Will there be sequels to The Quantum Magician, or future books set in the same universe?

DK: Yes! They haven’t been publicized yet, but I’ve already delivered The Quantum Garden to Solaris Books, which stars most of the characters from the first book. And we’re negotiating on the sale of The House of Styx, the first novel in a duology that is set about 250 years before the events in The Quantum Magician, and is set in the clouds of Venus and details the very humble beginnings of the interstellar post-Québécois empire that we see as the Congregate in The Quantum Magician and The Quantum Garden. I have some thoughts on one or two novels after The Quantum Garden, but haven’t started outlining yet.

And that’s that!

The Quantum Magician is published by Solaris books and is available for sale online and at major book retailers like Amazon and Chapters.

The cover for Baker Thief by Claudie Arsenault

Unconventional Romance: a Chat with Claudie Arsenault about Baker Thief

The cover for Baker Thief by Claudie ArsenaultClaudie Arsenault is an asexual and aromantic-spectrum writer hailing from the very-French Quebec City. A founding member of The Kraken Collective, she’s well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters, and her unending love of squids. Claudie’s latest release is Baker Thief, the start of a new series that examines and reframes various tropes of romantic fiction using aromantic characters.

I took some time to chat with her about Baker Thief, her focus on aro/ace characters in romantic fiction, worldbuilding, and more. Let’s take a look!

Note: The interview below has been lightly edited for length, flow, and clarity.

So, for those who are unfamiliar with Baker Thief or with your work in general, can you describe what it’s about?

I am a fantasy writer who sometimes dabbles in science-fiction and is particularly fond of platonic relationships —family, friendships, and queerplatonic partnerships. Baker Thief is an example of this. It’s fantasy that directly interrogates romantic tropes (enemies-to-lovers in this case) by reframing them around non-romantic relationships. I tend to write stories with hard moments but hopeful vibes and endings, and a lot of more fun, quirky things (croissants, hot air balloons, etc.).

I don’t read much romance myself, so it’s interesting to hear you talk about deconstructing the friends-to-lovers trope in a non-romantic context. Was that one of your main goals when you started writing?

Not quite. I started writing an actual romance! Aromantic characters tend to sneak back into my work on their own now, and I had only a fraction of my draft written when I decided I wanted to do something that could read like a romance, but wasn’t one. Romance does amazing things, but most of them could totally translate to so many other relationships, and I really needed to explore other ways to that HEA (Happily Ever After).

So Claude/Claire snuck in of their own accord? How very appropriate! What was that like?

I guess… kind of natural? This happens a lot with my first drafts. I plot some very basic plot points and character traits, but so much of it emerges naturally over the course of writing. I’m very much of a “first draft is telling yourself the story” kind of person, so I expect things like that.

At the time I hadn’t written a lot of aromantic characters yet, either, but I was questioning the label for myself, and writing an out and proud aro MC was such a great way to explore and affirm myself.

What was the inspiration behind making Claude/Claire genderfluid? Is this idea in conversation with certain other works or characters you’re familiar with?

It stems from several elements at once: a general desire to write several enby characters, a lack of bi-gender characters in stories I was picking up, and a random encounter of a gifset of Cybersix, a show I’d watched quite a lot as a kid, in which a masked woman passes as a male literature teacher during the day, and it kinda gets gay with his male chemist teacher friend? It’s an awesome show, but Cybersix doesn’t directly define its MC as genderfluid, so I thought… why not? It’s an interesting reversal of superhero tropes and trans-as-liars narratives that both of Claire’s identities are real.

In Baker Thief, many characters to state what pronouns they use when they introduce themselves to each other. I think the fact that it’s such a common social convention in your story says a lot about your setting. Can you talk about that aspect from a worldbuilding perspective?

When I build new worlds, one of my first question is often how accepted several queer identities are, and in what state the related normative systems (heteronormativity, cisnormativity, allonormativity, etc.) were. I wanted Baker Thief’s world to be one where various queer identities are well known and accepted, because I really wanted stories where those wouldn’t be the source of their problems. Yet I was also aiming to remodel romance tropes on platonic relationships, and that was easier without disassembling these normative structures, since many only exist within their boundaries. So that’s how I have a world in which people regularly introduce themselves with their pronouns, yet most narrators clearly gender those they encounter unless the presentation is erroneous. Similarly, monogamous romantic partners are still people’s first expectations. I’ve mostly erased the pushback against deviations, not the norm itself, but it’s been very interesting to note how big a difference that already makes for people.

I get the sense that your book was affirming to a lot of other people, judging by the acknowledgements section at the end.

I have received a lot of DMs, e-mails, and other messages of people who’d never felt that represented by an aromantic character before. So yeah, I think it resonated in others too, and that’s one of my favourite reader reactions. 🙂

What would you say were some of the challenges of writing a book that examines a lot of romance fiction tropes through the lens of an aromantic character?

The biggest challenge comes from choosing a queerplatonic relationship. People immediately think of it as “romance lite” and reviewers have called Baker Thief a romance. Making it clear that these characters were both deeply connected and yet *not* in a romantic relationship was … difficult, and I think somewhat impossible.

The other interesting challenge is that you cannot rely on romantic shortcuts. Your readers will follow them to their romantic conclusion.

There is a lot of unsaid things in relationships that need to become explicit when you write this kind of closeness with aromantic characters.

Speaking as someone who is allocishet, yeah, I found I had to consciously reprogram my brain in some parts. Because physical attraction, romantic attraction, and taking comfort in another person’s presence are all different things. Did you find that mixing in SF/F elements, like the witches and the exocores, was another way to indicate that your book’s goals were different?

There’s the taking comfort and all that, but also all the domestic aspects? Romantic relationships in romance novels often have very specific shape — living together, having sex, etc. With Claude/Claire and Adèle, I was pushed into reviewing all the assumptions we make about what the relationship will look like, and that was really interesting. And, in general, no, I don’t think the mixing does any of that. The romance I do read tends to be science-fiction and fantasy too.

So in my mind romance and fantasy overlap a lot. It’s just the focus that slides depending on the “main” genre.

Yeah. Do you have any recommendations for such overlapping works that you like?

Moon-Bright Tides by RoAnna Sylver is a fantasy novelette with an F/F witch/mermaid romance that I adore. Cheerleaders from Planet X by Lyssa Chiavari is a new-adult alien invasion story that centers the relationship between two girls. Help Wanted by J. Emery is a magical college romance novella with a gender-questioning protagonist.

Oh, and In Memoriam by ‘Nathan Burgoine was an amazing M/M story with second chances, time travel, and really dark but perfect humour. There’s just… a lot of them out there!

Also, full disclosure I guess, but two of these (the two first) are part of the Kraken Collective, my little alliance of indie authors. 🙂

One of the things I want to explore more in discussing Baker Thief is the idea of witches. They’re an underclass hated and feared for their abilities, yet also ruthlessly exploited because of them. Was that an element you included in your story from the beginning?

Yeah, right from the start. I rather love Soylent-Green-like tropes, and I think we collectively do not pay enough attention to whose labour and exploitation is needed for our society to function. We just prefer not to know, not to see, not to care.

When I think of contemporary SF/F examining those ideas, the one I think of right away is N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, especially the final volume.

Oh yeah, definitely! It’s much more central to Jemisin’s work than it is in mine, which makes a lot of sense. As a black woman she’s much better placed to speak of this cycle of exploitation than I could ever be, and did so masterfully. The Broken Earth series is just so powerful in that regard.

Is the exploitation of witches something that happens mostly in the home setting of Baker Thief, or does it happen elsewhere in the world the story is set in?

It’s happening in Val-de-mer and the country as a whole, but hasn’t spread everywhere. A lot of it stems from the fear-mongering that followed Val-de-mer’s magic-powered reactor and the destruction it caused, so it’s more powerful in this city than elsewhere.

What parts of Val-de-mer’s worldbuilding are you fondest of? Are there any secrets or Easter eggs that you know about that new readers don’t?

I love the way the city is split into quartiers and am really looking forward to the day I can make their yearly snow race tournament a part of a story. These are directly inspired from Siena in Italy, which I was lucky enough to visit.

Some of the streets and quartiers are directly inspired from Quebec City locations, too, and the way the different populations distributed themselves when the British conquered the territories.

Yes, one of the things I liked was that it wasn’t your typical pseudo-British fantasy setting.

Yeah, I tend to try and avoid going too close to that? Because then people expect a lot more … “accuracy”. (I put quotes around that word because somehow racial diversity is supposed to be inaccurate.) So you’ll catch flack for having potatoes, never mind that you’re in a completely different universe.

It was also just plain fun to have so much of my hometown in there.

I got a real sense of home-longing in your descriptions.

I’m glad! I love my city. Val-de-mer is a sort of magical, improved version of it. I would live there, for sure!

There’s a lot of joy built into certain descriptions/actions in the story, especially when it comes to food or other indicators of home/comfort. Is baking/cooking something you like to do personally? If not, are there other pastimes that have made their imprint on your work?

I love baking. It’s worth noting that I started after writing my first Baker Thief draft, but I sure haven’t been able to stop since. It’s an incredibly simple process, yet the slightest change in it has huge impact on your final bread, so it’s also incredibly hard to master. I have a lot of great memories of comfort around bread from my grandfather’s, but also in general with food and family. It shows in Adèle most of all, and everything that surrounds the Duclos family and their tourtière.

Do you think there will be any other stories set in the same universe?

Absolutely. I have the big lines of Baker Thief 2 planned already, and couldn’t resist writing 900 words of it. The next story will focus on Emmanuelle and Livia, friendship, science and magic. I love this universe and can’t see myself setting it aside anytime soon, but I do have a few other WIPs I want to finish before I seriously dive back into it. So, one day, yes, but it’s hard to know exactly when. In the meantime, though, there’s my Patreon where patrons get to vote on which short fiction they want to read, and Baker Thief is in the options on a regular basis.

And that’s that! I hope you enjoyed this taste of Arsenault’s work. You can check out her official website to learn more.

The cover to "Those Who Make Us", an anthology co-edited by Kelsi Morris

Kelsi Morris on Myths, Monsters, and Fighting Marginalization

Kelsi Morris is a queer and neurodivergent editor who has channeled her passion for books into the Canadian publishing industry, specializing in speculative fiction and comics. She focuses on work that prioritizes and promotes the voices of marginalized communities. Her first co-edited anthology, Those Who Make Us: Canadian Creature, Myth, and Monster Stories, published by Exile Editions, was nominated for the 2016 Shirley Jackson Award.

Outside of books, she finds happiness in black coffee, red wine, and dragons.

Kelsi Morris and I chatted earlier about her work on this anthology, how it relates to CanLit, and how she’s working towards making the Canadian SF/F scene more inclusive. Let’s take a look!

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The cover to "Those Who Make Us", an anthology co-edited by Kelsi MorrisMe: So, first question: What was the inspiration behind Those Who Make Us for you and your co-editor [Kaitlin Tremblay]?

Kelsi Morris: One of the earliest foundations of our friendship was our shared loved monsters! We both noticed that we tended to feel more connection to the monsters/kaiju/alien creatures than the human characters in most cases, and it was only through many (MANY) conversations (and bottles of wine) that we realized that this was not actually all that weird.

These characters are the literal embodiment of otherness, and the treatment they receive from the human world will often resonate far more strongly with folks with marginalized identities than the heroics of the protagonists.

Kaitlin and I were both coming at this from the perspective of queer people who struggle with various mental health issues, and we wanted to see more stories that had the same empathy for the outsiders that we did.

I totally see that. I noticed in particular that the opening story in the collection was really emblematic of that focus. The one where the main character, Melanie, chooses to undergo bodymods to turn into a chimera.

Would you say that sense of empathy was one of the most important things you were looking for in the stories you chose?

Absolutely! That story in particular was exciting, because it really touched on the way marginalized folks are treated by society, while keeping the story very much focused on Melanie’s own journey of self-discovery. It wasn’t about her trying to fit in, or save other people from their bigoted ways. This was something she was doing solely for herself.

We wanted this anthology to be a space for marginalized voices to celebrate and/or explore their identities, as well as criticize/highlight the abundance of ways in which they are mistreated or misrepresented by society.

One thing I also noticed is that the anthology is in dialogue with a lot of tropes/notable figures in CanLit and Canadian history. Like, when I think of Helen Marshall’s story, it feels like a story Margaret Atwood could have referred to in Survival. And Dominik Parisien’s story heavily refers to Peterborough and to Catharine Parr Traill.

I’ve spent my entire career working as an editor in Canadian genre fiction, and it is something I am deeply passionate about. A lot of times publishers and/or authors will shy away from publicizing being Canadian in order to appeal to a wider market, and I feel like that is doing everyone a disservice. I am equally passionate about how entirely fucked it is that so many people seem to buy into our national identity of being “a country at peace”, where we no longer accept racism, ableism, queerphobia, or are party to systemic and institutional violence.

Speculative fiction has always been at the forefront of social criticism, and so it was especially important to me that this project both celebrate excellence in Canadian genre fiction, at the same time it acknowledges and calls attention to the fact that many voices are silenced for the sake of this national myth.

Who else do you see challenging that myth in the Canadian SFF scene?

While neither exclusively focuses on Canadian authors, the Toronto-based literary spec fic magazines like Augur Magazine and Anathema Magazine both have mandates that focus on stories from intersectional marginalized communities, and have been doing an amazing job at celebrating the work of queer writers, writers of colour, and writers with disabilities.

These kind of markets only exist because we have to carve out the space for ourselves. The need for this is what proves that acceptance and visibility within the mainstream publishing industry really isn’t there yet.

[Note: You can read my interview with Anathema here.]

I’m going to be having Augur on the blog too!

Good! I’m so excited by the work that they do, and I can’t wait to watch them grow. 🙂

Has it been hard to carve out the space you’re describing?

As an editor, my experience is obviously quite a different one from the unique frustrations that writers have to deal with. I try to use my position to hold space for marginalized voices, and take on the brunt of any tensions that may arise between the writer and the publisher.

It can be challenging, especially for anthologies, to wholeheartedly believe in a project, and have to convince a publisher that a focus on intersectional voices doesn’t immediately make it any less interesting to “the rest of the market”.

Do you have any other anthologies or projects in progress?

Oh, I have several dream projects, and would dearly love to just work on all of them at once!

This is such an exciting time for Canadian SFF. There is so much excellent work being produced, and so many incredible emerging writers and markets. I love this field, and I’m so excited to continue contributing however I can.

And that’s that! You can check out Kelsi Morris online and buy Those Who Make Us on Amazon, Kobo, and in stores.

Kelly Robson Talks about “Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach”

The cover of Kelly Robson's novella "Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach", showing the main character, Minh, standing in a river. Kelly Robson is an award-winning short fiction writer. In 2017, she was a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She was awarded the 2016 Aurora Award for best short story, and has been a finalist for the Nebula, World Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, and Sunburst awards.

Her latest novella, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach was just published by Tor earlier this week, and I was fortunate enough to get an ARC to read beforehand. Lucky Peach may be a shorter work, but this story about a set of environmental specialists in the 23rd century who have been sent back in time to research the ecology of ancient Mesopotamia is a surprisingly hefty examination of ethics, generational strife, and the effects of climate change. Plus, I tore through it in the space of less than 24 hours, so how’s that for an endorsement?

Robson was kind enough to chat with me over Twitter DMs for an hour earlier today, so this interview is hot off the presses. Let’s dive in!

(Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

Me: So, one of the things I found really interesting about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is how the first two parts of chapter 1 really prime the reader to expect a huge, violent conflict — but by the end, the forms of conflict you actually see are completely different. Was that something you wanted to analyze going in, or did that emerge more organically?

Kelly Robson: I knew before I began the first draft that I wanted to have that structure — with a few paragraphs from King Shulgi’s point of view at the beginning of each chapter. And the reason is — really nerdy.


When I was a kid, I imprinted on the novelization of Battlestar Galactica’s (original version) The Gun on Ice Planet Zero — which had that kind of structure. And I loved it so much. So I wanted to use the same structure — it’s like sprinkling candy in between the chapters. And because my main character Minh isn’t really interested in history, I wanted to be able to show what’s going on in Mesopotamia. Does that make sense?

Yes, totally. Part way through the book, I checked Wikipedia and learned Shulgi was an actual historical figure!

He’s so cool.

The wiki entry was pretty sparse about him, beyond the fact that he ruled for a while and was near the beginning of his particular dynasty. What made you decide on him versus any other Mesopotamian king?

I chose Shulgi first, because as far as we know, which isn’t much, his kingship was pretty stable, long lasting, and comparatively enlightened. And because Shulgi was actually a proven athlete, which is a detail that is rather telling. He was famous in his day for running a marathon to preside in a religious ceremony in two places on one holy day. Something like 200 kilometers. Impressive achievement of physical conditioning — especially for someone who must have had a lot of other demands on his time.


Yeah! But apparently long distance marathoners can actually do that.

Damn. I thought that was still out of reach even for contemporary athletes.

So this is something charismatic leaders do to seal their mystique — perform a feat that people consider impossible. That makes them special. It’s a public relations stunt. So I thought, Shulgi, you’re an interesting person! You’re the king for me 😀

And the thing is that the time travel point you chose is pretty early in his reign. It fits in pretty well with TERN’s statements that time travel doesn’t fundamentally affect the timeline. But in the end, we don’t learn enough to know whether that’s true or not. [Note: TERN is the agency that controls access to time travel in the story.]

We don’t know it’s true. Even Fabian — the project’s tactical historian — doesn’t know if it’s true. He just believes what the physicists tell him. But yes, as the writer, I can tell you that time travel doesn’t affect the timeline. I’m not interested in paradoxes.

The big question is, can you really say that what you do in the past doesn’t matter?

And that’s totally the kind of question only Kiki would ask.

Kiki is the moral conscience of the book. And she asks this kind of question because she’s not jaded. She believes in truth, goodness, and justice.

Yes! I remember thinking throughout that I was in complete agreement with her throughout the book.

So am I 😀

It’s a question we come up against in our post-colonial world. How do you go to someone else’s world, use it for your own purposes, and not do violence to the people there? You can’t.

Though I do wonder if you can delve into the generational relationships between Minh’s cohorts and Kiki’s cohorts. Kiki says that her generation is moving away because Minh’s generation has becme too self-centred. But we don’t see a lot of that outside of Kiki’s own perspective.

Minh’s generation, in Calgary and the other habs, are basically not willing to retire. They’re mostly rugged individualists and workaholics. They believe that they are the only people who can be trusted to do the important jobs. That means that with the economic contraction that time travel has created for the above-ground habs, that there are few opportunities for young people. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In a way, it’s all an illusion. The habs have universal basic income. Nobody has to work. But people like to work! They like to know their time is well spent and valuable. Kiki yearns to do important work. Kiki and her generation don’t want to feel their potential is going to waste.

But if there’s UBI, I’m not sure how that plays into the fact that debt, and banks, play such a large part in Minh’s decisions. As for the modern-day parallels, I totally see those.

Yup. So in this world — and this is implied, not delved into — economic competition, investment, and debt happens between the Habs, Hives, and Hells (basically these are all city-states). Personal debt is a function of accounting that allows you to access luxuries or easier/quicker access to some services, or more personal living space in your city.

So, Kiki is in debt because she’s young. Minh isn’t because she’s been working for 60 years. But Minh’s type of expertise isn’t valued by the Bank of Calgary, so she’s not comparatively rich.

Ah, so it’s not actually a representation of money per se, but really a representation of privilege (for which money is a pretty good proxy).

Totally. What the banks really want is to have people whose expertise is sought out by other cities, then they can trade that person’s time for economic advantage.

I find it really interesting, though, that all things considered, Minh’s goals are incredibly valuable — long term ecological rehabilitation. So in one sense her refusal to retire is greed, but in another sense it’s a form of selflessness.

Yes — she has spent her whole life pursuing her passion, and you don’t retire from that. She did try — she became a professor who helped establish the University of Tuktoyaktuk and started teaching others to do what she does, but that venture collapsed when time travel was invented.

I worked for environmental scientists for 15 years, and what they really like — what’s easiest for them — is to do all the work themselves. Having to work with other people on a project is so much more work than doing it all themselves.

And they HATE mentoring people. Too much work! They’d rather work for 20 hours a day than wrangle other people to do the same work in less time. If they do it all themselves, then they know it’s all done right — or they way they think is right, anyway.

And thus Kiki’s choice to change her body to get on the mission.

Such a bad decision, Kiki! But you know, when I was 23, I would have done exactly the same thing.

I like how her choice is shown to be a painful one, but not a limiting one, ultimately.

It’s not limiting, but there would be social consequences if she ever wants to go back to Jasper, to be with her generation.

From your perspective, would you say that the society of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach is more or less ableist than ours?

Overall the world is much less ableist than ours. In the habs, the above-ground cities where the plague babies are the dominant social group, it’s much less ableist. Some of the other cities — the Hives and Hells — would be slightly more ableist than the Habs.

I believe the future includes disabled people. Some people write the future like everyone’s going to be physically perfect, and that’s just not realistic. There will always be disabled people, and their contributions are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

And in the future, the ways in which people can adapt to different levels of ability will be far beyond what we can probably think of today. As you show with Minh’s prostheses, and also Kiki’s.

Totally. Which is the same right now. People can use prostheses to be extra-human — jump higher, run faster. Little difference between a prosthetic leg and a snowboard, really.

Are there any plague babies at TERN? Because I wonder if the cavalier way the time travellers treat past human lives is a manifestation of an overall lack of compassion or understanding of the value of human life, no matter the form or time it takes.

Right. No, there’s no plague babies at TERN. TERN is the time travel division of CEERD, which is an economic think tank, and they’re a bit insular. They’re not a hive, hab, or hell, but an independent economic unit kind of like a university, which leases living space from other habs, hives, and hells. They’re kind of like venture capitalists.

Basically, CEERD really likes playing economic games with other city states. And they play to win. So yes, you nailed it. Compassion and understanding of the value of human life? Not a priority for CEERD. Which is the essence of evil, really.

So in a way, it’s almost like the members of the time travel crew represent a spectrum of morality. From Fabian being the worst, to Minh, to Hamid, to Kiki.

Interesting! Yeah. Totally. Hamid’s off the scale, though. All he cares about is animals. 😀

He’d have loved memes and cat gifs. 😛


Moving back towards Shulgi, was he one of the major seeds of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, or did he get fitted in further along in the creative process?

Shulgi was the seed. There was a Mesopotamia exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, and it was fascinating. Alyx and I went about five times. One of the items they had there, from the British Museum, was a statue of a king carrying weapons which were specifically meant for killing monsters. Alyx and I were fascinated, because…

Imagine you’re this king, you have your monster-killing weapons, and your job is to kill monsters — keep the kingdom safe! But you’ve NEVER seen a monster! What do you think about it???

This was the seed for the whole story. What does this king think when no monsters show up? And what if monsters come and they’re not monsters at all?

Lucky Peach also hit a particular button for me, which is trying to explain modern technology to ancient people if time travel existed. Like, would you be able to explain a combustion engine or electricity to Julius Caesar?

Or even weather systems? You wouldn’t have the vocabulary.

Oh my god, yeah.

And if you tried to paraphrase to explain, it would sound all mystical.

Yes! “Electricity is lightning, but bottled in wires.”

“The air is more dense” “How can air be dense?” “Well, molecules…” “What??”

“The warm air is less strong than the cold air.” “That’s just dumb.”

Oh man. It’d be hard.

I think that about wraps it up,  but I do have one final question: In honour of Pi Day, what is your favourite flavour of pie?


And that’s that! This chat was a delight, and I appreciate Kelly’s time. You can learn more about Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach on Tor’s website.

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