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Black Static

New Horror Fiction BLACK STATIC 82/83 OUT NOW

The Future Fire: Ten Years On

24th Aug, 2015

Author: Peter Tennant

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Our good friends at online magazine The Future Fire are celebrating ten years of fighting the good fight, and to mark the occasion they're planning a rather special retrospective anthology. There's a fundraiser and a promotional blog tour, and this interview with TFF head honcho Djibril al-Ayad is a part of that. And, as I am either incredibly lazy or simply too pushed for time (and he has some compromising photographs from a Whispers and Fire Con that I'd rather didn't get posted to the web), in a total break from past procedure I've allowed him to imagine that he's being interviewed by me and think up his own questions.

It worked rather well I think, but we won't be doing it again any time soon as people might catch on that I'm really rather crap at coming up with intelligent interview questions.

Q: What was your inspiration for founding The Future Fire as a magazine of "Dark speculative cyberfiction" in 2005?

Djibril al-Ayad: Ultimately I guess my inspiration was the hand-printed, stapled fiction zines of the '90s, which in my mind had the freedom, the independence, the irreverence, the rebellious punk attitude that I craved in genre publishing. Magazines like Peeping Tom and Not One of Us were heroes to me when I was a young writer. (They never bought anything I sent them, although I wrote much more horror than SF myself, but that's neither here nor there.) Naively, I used to think of these sorts of publications as analogous to samizdat publishing (although in the absence of political repression the parallel is specious), but the raw, exciting, frontier-spirit of the zine medium stayed with me into the '00ies.

(I should add that I had three co-editors when founding TFF, and I can't speak for what inspired them. Off-grid living, nihilist postmodern literature, and cyberpunk transmedia, respectively, perhaps?)

In the early days of self-publishing the magazine online, where all it had in common with samizdat was low production standards, we were guided a great deal in the process of building a community around TFF by the examples of sites such as Whispers of Wickedness, Neometropolis, and the multimedia Black Library running out of Second Life. It was interacting with other people on the subject of genre publishing and reviewing that made the project fun, made it possible to keep the site going, and brought us readers, writers, artists, and other contributors and collaborators.

Q: We've debated several times whether TFF has a science fiction or fantasy/horror focus. Is there a definitive answer to this question, and has your attitude changed over the years?

DaA: Heh, yes, we have. Well, I could be facile and say that we're a "speculative fiction" zine and always have published across the spectrum of science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, absurdist, bizarro, surrealist. But that doesn't answer the question and ignores a series of very real shifts that have taken place in the contents of TFF over the years. Several factors have driven this evolution:

  1. When we founded the zine we thought of it as, among other things, a cyberpunk venue. We've always had some variant of "cyberfiction" in the tagline, and our hearts were with Delany and Gibson and Oshii and the Wachowskis.
  2. In the early days of the zine, when we didn't have much by way of community or outreach (it was a while before we discovered Duotrope, Ralan and Spicy Green Iguana), the few submissions we received were overwhelmingly horror and urban fantasy, perhaps because there's just more of that about, or maybe because of the company we were keeping.
  3. A few years later, when we were growing fast enough to be selective on genre and content as well as quality and attitude, we started to focus more on certain kinds of fiction, including perhaps more cyberpunk and eco-scifi. The first story that ticked all the boxes I had been hoping for since day one was Mark Harding's 'Art Attack!' in 2007.
  4. But we still wanted to carve a more specific political niche for ourselves, and experimented with themed issues on feminist and queer speculative fiction, and eventually anthologies on body politics, post colonialism and disability issues. These undeniably leaned toward science fiction, but fantasy and horror were never absent.
  5. Our latest anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, which aims to bring together the culture and diversity of Southern Europe, North Africa and the Near East to offset the usual monopoly that Northern European mythology enjoys, is a horror anthology.* Whether this pulls TFF back in that direction again, we'll see.

I did note, though, that when we brought together a representative selection of fifteen stories from the first ten years of TFF's publishing history, we ended up with slightly more fantasy and horror than we did science fiction. I haven't tried a comprehensive survey to see how representative this really is, but maybe more of the fantasy titles just satisfied our food groups across the years?

Q: Do you think any of these stages and variations reflect the state of genre in the rest of the publishing world? For example, is horror publishing in a much more healthy state than science fiction?

DaA: I can't speak to sales figure and audience share (I expect you know the answer to this better than I do), but I do get the feeling that fantasy sells more, crosses over with non-genre readers better, and gets made into blockbuster movies more often, yes. I'm not sure I'm convinced that a tiny microcosm like TFF is much use as an indicator of the larger picture, as much as it is simply an indicator of our tastes and agendas. When I was a subscriber, I had the sense that T3A and now Black Static were much more solid and internally consistent venues than, for example, Interzone. That again has to say more about my tastes than the SF vs. horror scenes, surely?

Q: A random question: which historical, cultural or political event would have you liked to witness?

DaA: I'm sure I'd give a different answer to this yesterday or tomorrow, but at the moment I can't think of anything more awe-inspiring and hopeful than the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. Yes, there was the Terreur that followed, and no, it didn't result in a fairer world for all overnight, but it was the overthrow of a powerful, oppressive regime with the military at its disposal and the ruthlessness to use it against unarmed civilians, by a gathered, idealistic, desperate populace who had just had enough. That must have been such a hopeful moment.

Q: Is this the kind of "social-political" agenda TFF pushes?

DaA: Ha ha! No! We're actually pretty hopeful and optimistic in our outlook most of the time. By social-political we usually mean we're interested in speculative fiction that talks about the human element of the (secondary) world of the story, rather than obsessing about light-speed ships, systems of magic, kings and generals, or police procedural. We also mean that we try to publish underrepresented groups and themes, especially including queer content, diversity of culture and language, disability and intersectional feminism.

This is not to say that we don't like a good revolutionary short story full of iconoclastic rage and world-tearing-down hope from time to time-but we're not publishing fiction to try to provoke the next revolution. We believe in much more gradual, positive, and inclusive change than that. (We also don't believe that a small press online magazine is going to effect that change, but we do believe in doing good rather than harm even in the small things.)

Q: TFF also features tailored illustrations alongside all the stories you publish. How does that process work? Can you pick an artwork that you think did a particularly good job of capturing the story it accompanies?

DaA: I believe in giving artists pretty much free rein-we don't pay them enough to commission a particular style or medium or content, and I don't believe that offering artists "exposure" nearly cuts the mustard, so illustrating a TFF story has to be useful to them. I basically give them the story, and ask for two illustrations, avoiding spoilers of the story. We get the rights to print the illustrations with the story, but all rights to the work belong to the artist, so they can include it in their portfolio if that's useful, use it for other promotion, sell it again to someone else, or whatever. Plus, if we like an artist enough to ask them to illustrate for TFF then we also trust them to come up with something creative. An artist isn't just an artisan who produces illustrations to order, any more than the author of the short story is.

I can't possibly pick my favourite artwork (I know, you didn't ask me to!). But there are so many that leap out at me as having done a wonderful job of capturing their stories, my head is spinning just thinking about it. One illustration that took my breath away when I first saw it (and still does now) is the one we used on the cover of TFF #24-also one of our most successful issues in terms of density of honoured stories in it. Our in-house artist and co-editor, Cécile Matthey, read a story set in the Philippines, and chose the character of the civet cat to illustrate. She's an archaeological and biological/entomological illustrator, so her eye for detail is flawless: the civet (not actually a cat), the branch, the out-of-focus rainforest foliage in the background, it's almost photographic. And then, if you look closer, at the eyes of the civet? They're glowing slightly red, as if reflecting a conflagration behind the viewer, yes? The fire in the narrative to which this alludes takes place years later, near the end of the story, but has been captured in this single image. (Download the issue and check out the full-size image, the thumbnail doesn't do it justice. If you really want, Cécile can probably sell you a print of this image-it's been exhibited at an art gallery in Switzerland.)

Q: Okay, we've made you work for your bread today-now go ahead and plug your new anthology or fundraiser or whatever it is...

DaA: Sure! So we're celebrating a decade of publishing this small-press, non-profit-making, diverse short story venue by putting out an anthology of representative stories from the past ten years, as I mentioned earlier, and by running a fundraiser to try to raise the pay rate for our authors and artists. (I believe it's especially important to be paying a fair rate given the diversity and underrepresentation of many of the authors we feature or are trying to attract.) If you'd like to help us in this goal, you can support the project over at Indiegogo, where up until the end of August you can preorder the anthology or our other forthcoming books, pick up other generously donated goodies, or "go large" and claim a limited number of story critiques, or undead dolls knitted in your image, or even have a story of yours illustrated by the wonderful Cécile Matthey. Grab 'em while they hot! They won't be here forever!

Thanks so much for having me; it's been a lot of fun to chat.

*Still open for submissions - check out the link below





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