Luna Station Quarterly is a speculative fiction magazine featuring stories by emerging women authors.
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Issue 035 Author Interview: J. S. Veter and “Checkmate”

by Anna O’Brien


We’re back with another interview, this time with Issue 035 author J.S. Veter. Go read her story “Checkmate,” then come back for some dazzling insight from our fine author.

LSQ: There is a dark humor about your piece which is essentially about the unintended end of the universe. Can you tell us where this idea came from and what made you decide to employ this tone?

J. S.: I don’t really understand half the things my mind spits out at me, but dark humour has always appealed. I love being able to laugh when things are looking very bleak, and humour has gotten me through some very difficult times. As for “Checkmate,” I’d just finished reading an article about upping the stakes for your characters. I figured that the end of the entire universe was pretty big stakes, but I tend to write characters who are just plain, regular people. What can a regular guy do about the end of the universe? And when it occurred to me that he was actually responsible?  Well… that was just too good to resist, so I didn’t.
LSQ: This piece seems enormously fun to write. Was that the case? Were there elements that were difficult to write? What was the easiest part?
J. S.: It was enormously fun to write. I giggled my way through most of it because it was so deliciously absurd. I struggled most with the ending, which is unusual for me because I usually know how a story is going to end before I know how it’s going to begin. I had two different endings for a while, actually, and went back and forth between the two. It was literally the difference between two sentences (but each sentence changed the overall theme significantly!). I agonised over them for ages. The easiest part was Umam Preth’s reflections about his wife; I knew exactly what their relationship was like before the robot crashed through the kitchen window.
LSQ: Chess plays a central role to the main character. Do you have a personal interest in this game? Do you feel that sort of logic game lends itself to almost any alien culture?
J. S.: I’m horrid at chess, but have always been in awe of people who can play it (I used to play with my son, until he realised how bad I was). I have no idea if a logic game like chess would appeal to a real alien culture (I kind of hope they like games like Twister, or Go Fish, you know, something I’m good at). Choosing chess was more of an homage to the sci-fi genre in general—is it just me, or is every imagined future peopled with people who are brilliant chess players? Does being a bad chess player exclude me from the future?
Umam Preth seemed so much more likely to play Chess than play Twister. He probably has a bad hip.
LSQ: Regarding the ending and the importance of winning to the main character, who is portrayed as a male—is this a comment on that gender’s proclivities or does this truly just speak to the protagonist’s character flaws?
J. S.: I’m quite sure I’m not qualified to speak to any gender’s proclivities! I do, however, think that most of us want to go out on a positive note, but that how we define that note is very individual. And while I like Umam Preth as a character, as a person, I don’t think he’s very likeable at all. Winning matters to him overly much. I suppose the ending of the story is exactly the ending he deserves!
LSQ: Can you name a few authors you admire and why?
J. S.: Honestly, writing is such hard work that I admire every author I come across. I’m particularly enamoured of N.K. Jemisin, at the moment, for making it look so easy when I know it’s not. I’m devouring James S. A. Corey’s novels, too. I haven’t fallen so in love with a group of characters since Harry Potter! But, if I had to chose one writer’s books to take to a deserted island, I’d take C. J. Cherryh. I can read her stuff over and over again. Her world building is astonishing.
LSQ: Are you working on other writing projects at the moment? If so, can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on?

J. S.: I’m writing a HiLo Sci Fi (high interest, low vocabulary) series at the moment. My youngest is dyslexic, and really struggles to find books at a reading level he can access, but with a story that engages him. I’m aiming for a grade 1-2 reading level, but a grade 6-8 interest level. I was innocent enough to think that it would be easy writing. Hah! I’ve never sweated over writing something as much as I’m sweating over this. I’m also writing an adult fantasy novel which I’d love to finish by the end of the year, and I continue to write short stories, of course!


Food

by Cathrin Hagey


I live in Saskatchewan and enjoy hiking in the prairies while musing that bison, deer, and cattle (and any other grass munching creatures) live directly on top of what they love most: their food. I try to imagine how it might feel to constantly be surrounded by what I love to eat. For me, I’d be living in a chocolate house with a popcorn path and a red wine pond out front.

The fate of our ancestors, including the ancient storytellers who whipped up the fairy tales we know to this day, was connected to the amount and kind of food they could conjure. Food in fairy tales generally serves one of the following: wish-fulfillment, fortune, misfortune, test, or challenge.

In the short, simple fairy tale “Sweet Porridge” an old woman of the forest gives a poor young girl a magic cooking pot. One day when the girl goes out her mother commands, “Little pot, cook.” When she has had her full she realizes she can’t recall the command to make it stop. “So it went on cooking and the porridge rose over the edge, and still it cooked on . . . just as if it wanted to satisfy the hunger of the whole world.” Eventually, the girl comes home, stops the pot, and “anyone who wished to return to the town had to eat his way back.” The townsfolk can now graze their way through life the same as any cow in the field or horse in the pasture. A wish fulfilled.

Jack and the Beanstalk” features a poor mother and son whose cow no longer gives milk. Jack is sent out to sell the beast but returns near dusk with a handful of beans instead of the cash they need to start a new life. While his mother laments his foolishness, she tosses the beans out the window and sends Jack to bed without any supper. A beanstalk grows overnight, so tall it disappears into the clouds.

This could have been the end of a tale of wish-fulfillment, with Jack and his mother eating beans to their hearts’ content. But Jack’s curiosity drives him to climb, higher and higher, until he discovers the mansion of a wealthy, man-eating ogre in the sky. He charms the ogre’s wife into feeding him, then outwits the hungry master of the house, steals his goose that lays the golden eggs, and beats it back to the ground in time to chop down the beanstalk. In the end, Jack and his mother are rich enough to fulfill the dreams of the whole world.

Beware insatiable hunger. Long ago, a woman gazed upon the glorious garden of a powerful witch. There, among the flowers and vines, grew a leafy green plant for which she began to hunger. “The desire grew day by day, and just because she knew she couldn’t possibly get any, she pined away and became quite pale and wretched.”

Her husband, alarmed, thought to himself, “Come! rather than let your wife die you shall fetch her some rampion, no matter the cost.” He climbs over the garden wall, gathers the leaves, and takes them to his wife. He does this several times, until he is caught by the witch. The price for raiding the garden to satiate his wife—as all those familiar with the story “Rapunzel” know—is their first-born child.

Though surrounded by what she most desires to eat, the wife in this tale has no right to the plant she longs for. The fulfillment of her passion only leads to the birth of a new one, one that will, in turn, be blighted.

Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” is as diminutive as a seed in the pod. At its heart: a test of a girl’s sensitivity, the testament to her worth.

The story begins with a prince’s exhaustive search for a suitable wife. Shortly after his return home, gravely disappointed, a storm erupts. Then there is a knock at the door, and when the king answers he finds a girl on the doorstep, soaked from head to toe. They offer her the shelter she seeks, but when she tells them she is a princess, the queen-mother hopes to discover the truth.

A bed is prepared for the girl on which three peas will rest beneath twenty mattresses topped by twenty feather beds. “The next morning she was asked how she had slept. ‘Oh, very badly indeed!’ she replied. ‘I have scarcely closed my eyes the whole night through. I do not know what was in my bed, but I had something hard under me, and am all over black and blue. It has hurt me so much!’”

Nothing is required of the princess for her to pass the test; she remains as raw, as unchanged, as the three peas.

Fairy tale challenges involving food are another story. No one describes this better than Midori Snyder in her beautiful essay “In Praise of the Cook.”

For me, the Russian wood-witch Baba Yaga is the most powerful of the ambiguous and transformative cooks in the fairy tale tradition. She straddles the threshold between life and death, between the promise of change and the imminent threat of destruction, between learning to cook a meal or become the meal. This is no sugar-coated, one-dimensional Gingerbread House witch. Baba Yaga is a potent mix of domestic and fantastic—potential helper to the hero or heroine in the guise of a ferocious grandmother with iron teeth and wicked claws. Baba Yaga’s house is surrounded by a fence of human bones and lit by lanterns made from the skulls of her previous meals. Yet we know we are in the presence of a powerful cook for her house rests on chicken legs (that key ingredient of any good soup) that lift and carry the house to different locations, reinforcing her ambiguity—the domestic combined with the dangerous, the tame with the wild, the oddity in a cannibal’s household of using chicken legs for transport and human beings for dinner. When not in use for culinary practices, Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, flailing the pestle like an oar. And her choice of weapon (beyond those great teeth and long nails) is the oven. Woe to the girl who stumbles into her path unable to cook, to separate wheat from chaff or poppy seeds from grit. But as Vasilissa the Wise proves by her encounter with Baba Yaga, this difficult cook can be appeased, cajoled by good manners and decent meals into providing the necessary ingredients for a long and healthy wedded life.

Fairy tales are the boiled-down bones of literature. They speak directly and succinctly to our needs, kindle our desires, and, best of all, nourish our spirits. Bon appetit!


 

First Image Credit: By skeeze at Pixabay.com
Second Image Credit: By Internet Archive Book Images – https://www.flickr.com/photos/internetarchivebookimages/14783256495/Source book page: https://archive.org/stream/journeysthroughb01sylv/journeysthroughb01sylv#page/n182/mode/1up, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44050382
Third Image Credit: By suju at Pixabay.com

Season of the Teen Witch

by Jen Gheller


It’s finally October, the best month of the year (subjectively)! The weather’s getting cool and crisp, pumpkin pie M&M’s are out, and general spookiness abounds. And with the Netflix reboot of Sabrina the Teenage Witch set for the end of the month, I’ve definitely got witches on my mind. Specifically, the teen witches I read about when I was a teen. They can’t fly on brooms or channel magic through a wand like the kind of witchcraft I dreamed about when I was little, but they taught me something even greater–that magic is real and anyone can practice it.

Stacey Brown from Laurie Faria Stolarz’s Blue is for Nightmares series is the first Wiccan in fiction I encountered. Full disclaimer, Stacey does have slightly paranormal gifts; her dreams often serve as premonitions, warning her of real-life dangers to come. Throughout her series, she must solve and avoid several mysteries and murders, using the Wiccan practices her grandmother taught her to decipher her dreams and protect herself and her friends. There are a few instances where her witchiness is scorned, but Stacey always stands by her beliefs. Her practice soothes her, guides her, and literally saves her life on multiple occasions. Stacey has been through a lot—mostly, kidnappings of her loved ones and murders—and it would be easy for her to ignore her nightmares and do nothing. Instead she faces the danger despite her fear, lets her craft empower her, and stops the bad situations from becoming even worse.

Sabine Rose from Linda Joy Singleton’s Seer series is similar to Stacey. She also learned pagan practices from her grandmother and uses her psychic abilities to prevent murders. She doesn’t see dead people in her dreams, though; she sees them in real life. They come to warn her of future danger and she uses her and her friends’ powers to save whomever is in trouble. Although Sabine is surrounded by her grandmother’s pagan community, this series is a lot less craft-involved than Blue is for Nightmares and leans a little heavier on fantasy elements. But even if her life is riddled with ghosts, I like that Sabine still tries to have a normal high school experience and pursue her hobbies. One cute touch to the books is that Sabine uses her gift of premonition to write students’ fortunes in her school paper. With all the grief her powers give her, she may as well have a little fun with them, too, right?

What I like so much about Stacey and Sabine is that, aside from all the mayhem going on in their lives, they’re just normal high school girls. People are drawn to the idea of teen witches as rebels, outcasts, and weirdos, like the girls from The Craft. Which they can be, of course. But Stacey and Sabine don’t define themselves by their craft. It’s just a natural part of their lives, as anyone who practices magic knows it should be. They don’t live to be witches. They just are.

Although not from a book, I have to give an honorable mention to Marnie Piper from Halloweentown for insisting she was a witch when everyone told her she couldn’t be, and for being able to fly on a broom and shoot sparks out of her fingertips, abilities I can only hope to attain in my dreams.


[Not] Just One of the Guys: Gender, Mental Health, and Women’s Strength in SFF

by Tracy Townsend


Every teacher has their peccadilloes. One of mine is my abhorrence for calling diverse groups of people “guys.” This hatred gets a workout any time I observe a peer teacher’s class or listen to my students attempt to start presentations, forever defaulting to shouts of, “Guys, hey guys!” to draw the room upright and into order. I hate “guys” as a gender-neutral stand-in because it so transparently isn’t one. If you’re talking to someone and telling a story, setting the stage with, “So we were waiting for a table at this restaurant, and a group of guys comes over” will invariably call up a wash of male faces from your mind’s central casting department. Describe someone as “a good guy” if they have an at all gender-ambiguous name (like, for instance, mine: I’ve known more men than women called Tracy) and you’re asking your interlocutor to assume they are cis-gender male. And so, I can’t address my classroom or any other mixed company of people as “guys.” It elides the presence of anyone who isn’t “guy-ish.” (And before you protest this isn’t so, consider what we’re really saying when we describe a woman as “just one of the guys” as an endorsement of her character. There’s nothing neutral about “guys” and never has been.)

That tendency to paint the default composition of a room as masculine rubs off on so much of daily life, it can all too easily go without comment. It rubs off in our imaginations, too, leading to a variety of ways sff has tried (and often failed) to create visible, memorable women characters without stumbling all over the gender identity or trying to scour it off with male-coded toxicity. The struggle to understand what a woman’s presence actually means in a story, and what her strength and agency can look like beyond masculine definitions, goes all the way back to proto-scientific theories of hysteria as literally rooted in a woman’s uterus. Thus, lumping women together with men – making them “one of the guys” – might be read as some kind of compliment, an effort to look past the native weakness of women.

Until it becomes useful to weaponize a woman’s sex, and use it as a means of disqualifying her.

 

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Perhaps my fundamental rankling at “just one of the guys”-ness is what draws me so powerfully to Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars, a novel that specifically examines the ways a woman uses the social and emotional powers of her identity to overcome barriers set up by skeptical men, infantilizing media, and even her own brain chemistry. Elma York’s nemesis is a handsy misogynist pilot with a grudge against her astronaut candidacy and the power to keep her grounded, principally by exploiting the socialized fear of “hysterical women.” In other words, by exploiting their “failure” to actually be “one of the guys.”

Writing Elma York on the lowest difficulty setting would have stopped at her list of qualifications to be among the first astronauts in Kowal’s alt-history: she’s an ex-WASP pilot with hundreds of hours logged flying aircraft through dangerous territories, a physicist, a mathematician, and the most gifted computer at the International Aerospace Coalition. She’s forthright, articulate, and ambitious. But the lowest difficulty setting doesn’t make a strong character, as Kowal well knows. Elma’s strength lies in her ability to both embody, and defy, the hysteria fear that keeps women out of the astronaut corps.

Elma York has clinically diagnosed anxiety. Her success leads to media attention, and media attention leads to a spiral of self-consuming fear, driven by her mother’s haunting rhetorical cry: “What will people think?” Shrugging off the toxic male frame of “strong female character” in favor of “strong realistic woman” means seeing Elma take anti-anxiety medications; embrace the support of her husband, Nathaniel (who is his own study in deconstructing gendered strength); and come to terms with the fact that her emotions aren’t what make her weak. They are the very thing that has made her so strong, able to see past others’ motivations to real issues, to unpack conflicts and defuse them, and to show empathy and grace, even when it isn’t deserved.

Even Elma’s panic attacks are reminders of how utterly, thoroughly competent she is. She manages them through mathematical mantras that are in themselves astounding reminders of what she can accomplish even when “compromised.”

Nathaniel stood directly in front of me. “197 times 4753?”

“936,341.”

“Divided by 243?”

“3853.255144032922. . . How many decimal places do you want?” . . .

“That’s fine. Square root? To five decimals. . . if applicable.”

. . . “62.074559.”

Equally important to Elma’s strength being authentic, defined by skills that have nothing to do with her gender, are the strengths she enjoys because of her gender identity and her relationship with her husband. Nathaniel doesn’t kick and punch his way through problems to help Elma. He stands at her side, a faithful auxiliary, and does whatever is needed to help her do for herself.

Nathaniel breathed into my ear.  “1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9 –”

“That’s wrong.” I clung to him. “The Fibonacci sequence adds the prior number to the current one, so it should be 3, 5, 8, 13. . . Oh. Clever man.”

“I can do more bad math, if that will help.” He gave me a squeeze and stepped back to look at me. “Just remember that astronauts get to fly T-33s.”

I snorted. “Here I thought you were going to tell me to remember to that you loved me.”

“Eh. You know that. But a T-33? A jet? I know where I stand. . .”

Part of what has driven sff writers toward strong female characters with few real differences between themselves and the men surrounding them is this old concern about how women feel their world and process it — and the fear that a woman might not be able to “do for herself” if she was anything less than identical to the men around her. Kowal’s book and its sequel, The Fated Sky, remind us that the solution to writing authentic women doesn’t lie in running from what challenges them or makes them different, but in exploring it, making it normal and real.

The Fated Sky, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Kowal is hardly the first sff writer to write a mentally ill protagonist who earns the reader’s trust in her strength and capability. Mishell Baker’s Arcadia Project books also unpack their heroine’s mental health, embrace her struggles, and allow her to be both vulnerable and adamantine at turns. It’s refreshing to see women characters finally given the space to be less than perfect that’s so long been afforded to their masculine counterparts.

Finally, women in sff really are getting to be “just one of the guys.”

Borderline, by Mishell Baker

 


LSQ Monthly News Flash: October 2018

by Anna O’Brien


News, LSQ-style. Right here, right now, directly to your little eyeballs. Here’s what’s up this month:

  • In case you missed it, we published our Issue 035 on September 5. Available both online and in print, this beauty has 16–yes 16!–speculative fiction short stories by women-identifying authors.
  • We are currently open to submissions. Go here to check out our guidelines. We will close to submissions on November 15.
  • December 1 is the date of our next issue, 036. This one is special indeed, as it will be our first ever themed issue: crones. We can’t wait for you to see it.
  • East coast events this month include the New York Comic Con October 4 through 7 and the Boston Book Festival on October 13.

Weekly Wrap-Up: Week of September 24, 2018

by Anna O’Brien


There once was a weekly wrap-up

That went well with tea in your cup

Take a peek down below

Because that’s where we show

How we like to make things all shake up

  • On Monday, Suz Thackston came back for another bi-monthly installment of her column “Waifs, Wolves & Warriors – Women in Greek Mythology” where she explored the goddess Athena and some of her modern day emulations;
  • On Tuesday, Maria DePaul posted a fun run-through of female comedy roles in sci-fi movies;
  • On Wednesday, we interviewed Issue 035 author Patricia Correll about her short story “Faithful“;
  • On Thursday, Elora Powell asked who needs a sidekick in her column “Frequently Asked Questions”;
  • On Friday, we had a double-header: first, we welcomed our newest blogger, D.M. Domosea, and her debut monthly column “The S Word.” Second, Christina “DZA” Marie explored how not to write a romantic subplot in her monthly column “The Bitch Shelf.”

How NOT to Write Romantic Subplots

by Christina “DZA” Marie


[Warning: this post contains minor spoilers for the Throne of Glass series. Serious mind-fucks and plot twists, however, are not mentioned here.]

Last month I wrote a two-part article on how to write romantic subplots. This month, we’ll be looking at how not to write them and we’ll be using Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass series as a case study.

Disclaimer: I love the ToG series. I love the world building, the mind-blowing plot twists, the powerful women, all the different cultures, the characters, all of it. It’s awesome. If you haven’t read it yet, I do highly recommend it. So far there are six books (plus an anthology of prequel novellas that become extremely relevant in book four), and the seventh and final book comes out in October. Cue squealing. I can’t wait!

But there’s one thing about this series that really rankles me. Take a wild guess: it’s the romantic subplots. There are a lot of them in this series. Apparently, Maas can’t write a single character who isn’t pining after another character, and I’ll get back to that in a minute. Basically, the ToG romances fall into three categories:

  • The ones done well, where the characters have romantic and/or sexual chemistry, and that further the story: Sartaq/Nesryn, Dorian/Manon, Dorian/Sorscha, Elide/Lorcan;
  • The ones that are tolerable because they have a narrative purpose, but could probably be replaced with a strong friendship: Sam/Caelena, Caelena/Chaol, Aedion/Lysandra;
  • The ones that need to burn and die right now: Yrene/Chaol, Aelin/Rowan, and every goddamn love triangle

Book three (Heir of Fire, where Aelin goes to the eastern continent and meets Bitch Queen Maeve) is arguably my favorite book of the whole series, in large part because so much of it focuses on Aelin and Rowan’s developing PLATONIC relationship. They spend the first half of the book absolutely hating each other, which does even more emotional damage to Aelin than has already happened. And then after their respective low points, they start an adorable sibling-like relationship that is the bomb. They even say–multiple times–that they have no interest in the other romantically or sexually, which is why I felt so annoyed and betrayed when they ended up in a romantic relationship just one book later.

I had a hard time finishing book six (Tower of Dawn, the one that focuses exclusively on Chaol and Nesryn as they seek help and answers in the southern continent) mostly because of Chaol and Yrene Towers’ unnecessary romantic relationship. It was stereotypical, cliched, and forced. It was six hundred pages of, “She healed him physically and emotionally and that turned him on.” It serves no purpose and speaking as someone who works alongside the medical field, starting a relationship with a patient the way Yrene did and then getting married after a mere two weeks is a terrible, terrible idea.

And then the love triangles. Holy hell, the love triangles. I overlooked the one between Dorian, Chaol, and Caelena in book one because it was quick and everyone (stunningly) managed to be adults about it. But then Maas does it again with Tower of Dawn between Chaol, Nesryn, and Yrene, and it was really only used to cause romantic tension between Chaol and Yrene, which is even more unnecessary than usual because Nesryn had already accepted that she and Chaol weren’t going to work and was already falling for Sartaq (a relationship which is way more interesting than two thirds of all the others)!

So far, Maas has made two critical errors regarding her romantic subplots: she betrays her audience by making them think two characters are going to be platonic only to turn around and make them fall in bed together (Aelin/Rowan), and she falls on tired tropes and cliches for another (Yrene/Chaol).

Her third mistake is having too many of the damn things. And maybe this is why I have so little interest in Yrene and Chaol. Every other major character has fallen into (and in many cases, out of) a romantic relationship, so by the time book six roles around, it just feels like they’re going through the motions. Like, “Well, everyone else is doing it, so we ought to get on the bandwagon, too.”

But that’s more than just lazy writing. The only characters who so far have not been or tried to be in a romantic relationship are the bad guys and the minor characters. All of the major characters who are not romantically involved are absolutely miserable. It’s almost as if Maas is saying, “You can only be considered complete and happy if you have a significant other.”

Which, speaking as a single woman with little interest in finding a romantic partner at this time, is bullshit.


A World Without Sex: An Introduction

by D. M. Domosea


I wrote a blog post on my site last January that discusses the use of prostitutes in speculative fiction. You can read that post if you’d like the details, but the gist is that—as writers—we seem to have difficulty imagining fictional worlds that are free of patriarchal foundations. Even when we believe we’ve written something that equalizes gender and places female protagonists at the vanguard of worlds with true parity, aspects of our own male-dominated societies creep in there. It’s hard not to fall back on it when it’s all we’ve known.

So how can we escape such ingrained familiarity in order to build worlds that are neither patriarchal nor matriarchal? Or ones that are consciously crafted to be one or the other? How can we neutralize the influence of default male perspective from our works of fiction? One way might be to engage in a thought experiment based on one simple question: what if sex as we know it didn’t exist?

Wait, what? Why sex?

At its most basic, sex is functional—a means of procreation designed to ensure chromosomal diversity and propagation of sexually-reproductive species. Sounds clinical and boring, right? But among humans, sex has become much more. It is a tool for advertising and entertainment. It is a weapon in war, both on a symbolic gender level and a visceral violent way. It is a method of creating closeness and intimacy. It is a basis of exclusion for those who do not practice it in a way “sanctioned” by others. It is a way of experiencing simple physical pleasure. It can unite us on a personal level and divide us on an ideological one.

Yes, sex can be a glorious and beautiful act, but it also can be—and has been—harmful, predominantly for women. Any casual read-through of current daily news or light research into the history of human warfare provides evidence of that. Sex influences power, privilege, prestige, prejudice, pain, and pleasure, and these dynamics have almost always prioritized the male experience. Without sex as a historical motivation to subjugate, there might be more equal footing today between the masculine and feminine, but it’s an idea that can’t be practically examined within our current reality.

Hence, the thought experiment. Think of it as a springboard, a “what if” scenario in which we conceive a significant fictional event in human history that affects the mechanics of human procreation and ends sex as we know it, then consider the repercussions in context of our modern world and glean from it plausible narratives to shape our world-building.

I’ll leave the details of this reproductive change to your own boundless imagination, but whether evolutionary or instantaneous, earthbound or alien in origin, humans find their former means of procreation altered to a perfunctory yet necessary act with no allure. This event happens in our distant past—say, before the development of written language—so the concept of pleasurable or recreational sex becomes nothing more than an archaeological question or footnote rather than a titillating fact of our history that can be fetishized in the present.

In our experiential world, we’ll retain the current gender makeup—biological male and female with various degrees of gendered and non-gendered identities along the spectrum—as well as the basic function of mammalian procreation, i.e., fertilization of female-produced eggs via male-produced sperm. We can’t theorize what our current reality would look like in a sexless society if we neuter everyone to a single uniform gender (though this exercise might also hold value to writers who wish to craft mono-gendered worlds).

We’ll also retain the aspect of motherhood, in that the biological female experiences pregnancy and childbirth. The idea is to keep this imagined reality as close to the one we already know; to conceive how the lack of sex might affect the various social and personal relationships we form and the interactions we make, to include maternal and familial bonds.

Each month, I’ll present a different aspect of modern life and consider how that aspect might differ if it developed in a world free of the influences of human sexuality. Topics will include: advertising, business, conflict, education, entertainment, family, fashion, gender, motherhood, politics, recreation, religion, and sports. Some of these might necessitate only a few paragraphs while others could fill a tome worthy of Tolstoy. Either way, you can expect three things from this column:

  1. More questions. Each monthly topic will pose questions and suggest potential outcomes that will likely lead to more questions, and that’s because I expect to provide . . .
  2. No definitive answers. I won’t spend hours doing research to validate theories provided in this thought experiment (I haven’t the time or economic incentive), but also, remember that all theories in my column are coming from . . .
  3. A limited perspective. This thought experiment brings with it the identity bias of its writer: white, cis-gender wife and mother from a middle-class conservative southern Baptist background. I’ve landed far afield of my upbringing, but I still carry some of that associated baggage, especially when it comes to sex. (What recovering Baptist doesn’t feel an involuntary twinge of guilt when they drink, dance, or fornicate?)

I hope this column finds a diverse audience willing to bring their own experiences and perceptions to the conversation via the comment section. After all, my intent is to spark the imagination of speculative fiction writers who wish to build worlds that escape the confines of present-day reality, but our realities are shaped in part by our identities. As a woman, I can present scenarios to challenge the default male bias of our society, but other biases exist that bind our creativity and tint our writing, and those are challenges I’m not equipped to present.

And now, with all that out of the way, it’s time to play “What if sex wasn’t a thing?” We’ll start next month with our first topic—fashion. See you then!


Who Needs a Sidekick?

by Elora Powell


The concept of a sidekick is a slippery one in today’s storytelling climate. Traditionally, at least as far as superheroes go, sidekicks have been junior partners to a hero—usually adolescents (yikes!), training under the tutelage of the titular hero of the book in question. Many were introduced to relate to the presumed audience of young, adolescent males.

Sidekicks have been—ahem—kicked to the curb lately in superhero media. Traditional sidekicks have been either aged up to make them equal partners with their heroes, such as Captain America’s friend, Bucky; or implied to have been killed off-screen in some vague point in the past, and never given a second mention (thanks for that, Batman v Superman. You’d better give us a Red Hood or Nightwing film now…). To some extent, this is understandable. It’s a little bit terrifying if you really think about a 13-year-old fighting in the streets of Gotham City, or the front lines of WWII.

But is there still any place for the concept of sidekicks in comics and genre fiction today? I think there is.

Simply from a storytelling perspective, sidekicks serve some very important purposes. Especially for very powerful, and very iconic heroes, sidekicks give the reader an “in-character”—someone they can relate to. Most of us don’t have superhuman strength, incredible mental capacities, or unlimited social stature and capital. So, it’s the sidekicks that really get us invested in the stories.

In addition, by their very presence, sidekicks humanize their heroes. They give them people to talk to, relate to, and care about. They up the stakes due to their comparative disadvantage in whatever skill or power the hero possesses. No one exists in a vacuum. Sidekicks give us a chance to see the way our heroes practice teamwork and interpersonal conflict.

As speculative fiction and comics continue to move away from and individualistic model of character development, I expect to see the importance of sidekicks and supporting cast members increase. The movie Black Panther was a good example of community-based storytelling. T’Challa was far from the only fleshed-out character in the story. He and his family and friends relied on each other to protect the innocent, and overcome the villains.

Superhero sidekicks may have moved away from 13-year-olds in tights saying “gosh, yes!” to everything their hero says; but I believe they are far from obsolete. Even the most lonely, brooding characters need someone to bounce off, because we, as readers, need to see people in established relationships working together, just as we see in real life.


Issue 035 Author Interview: Patricia Correll and “Faithful”

by Anna O’Brien


We’re continuing to celebrate our 35th (!) issue. We had the recent opportunity to interview our Issue 035 author Patricia Correll and chat about her short story “Faithful.” Go read it then come back and get the insight behind it.

LSQ: Firstly, let me say what a lovely, bittersweet story you’ve written. It’s tricky to write these sorts of pieces, balancing precariously between melodramatic loss and sticky sweet memorial but you’ve managed nicely! Please tell us where this idea came from (was it inspired by a pet of yours?) and what it felt like to write it. Was it emotional for you to write this?

Patricia: In 2006 my husband and I went to Japan on our honeymoon. The one thing I insisted we do was go to Shibuya Station to see the statue of Hachiko. Hachiko was an Akita who accompanied his master to the train every day when he left for work and met him when he returned home. When his master died suddenly in town and never came back, Hachiko continued to meet his evening train every day for ten years, until his own death. This true story happened in the 1920s and ’30s, but even after all this time Hachiko has the power to touch people with his display of loyalty. When I wrote “Faithful,” I was working on the notion that perhaps Hachiko wasn’t necessarily waiting in vain. I often have the sense that animals can see things we can’t, and it’s comforting to me to think old Hachiko was never really without his beloved master.
I wrote the story quickly (for me – I’m a slow writer!) in a few days. As a dog lover it was emotional for me to write and hopefully emotional for readers as well. Dog stories usually are!
LSQ: The sensory details are so crisp in this short piece; how easy was it to place yourself in this world? What was the easiest part of this story to write? What was the hardest and why?
Patricia: I’ve been to Shibuya and while it’s very different than it was nearly a century ago, the smells and sounds of a busy train station don’t change much. Tokyo is an interesting amalgam of traditional and ultramodern, so many of the narrow streets and even old houses can be found without too much searching. It was surprisingly easy to tell a story from a dog’s point of view, with its limited understanding. More difficult was my concern about using such a well-known event as a basis for fiction, and making the story uniquely my own.
LSQ: Can you name a few authors you admire and why?
Patricia: Ursula K. Le Guin’s recent death left me bereft; I’ve rarely seen an author with such a deep understanding of the human heart combined with a lyrical writing style. I also love Ray Bradbury, Mary Renault, and Shusaku Endo.
LSQ: Are you working on anything else right now? If so, can you tell us about your other projects? 
Patricia: My novel The Unseen World, a YA fantasy, will be released through Kindle Direct Publishing this month. And my short story “Dearest Willa” will be released in a ‘twisted Gothic’ anthology set to come out in early 2019 from FunDead Publications. I’m also working on an LGBT retelling of the Japanese folktale “The Peony Lanterns” and a sequel to my YA novella “The Corpse-Eater.”