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Interview: Guest Editors AJ Fitzwater and Tim Jones

Flash Frontier: What is your own experience with the idea of speculative fiction? How did you first know of the form, and what draws you to it?
AJ Fitzwater

AJ Fitzwater: My first memories of speculative fiction were the TV shows ‘Under The Mountain’ and ‘Children of the Dogstar’, and the original Star Wars. Worlds apart in wonder – the NZ-based science fiction made me feel connected to the characters and the land unlike other children’s TV shows, and Star Wars connected me to a universe of possibilities. Speculative fiction as an all-encompassing impact on my life didn’t gel until I was fifteen and given Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight to read for Fifth Form English. Discovering strong women characters and women authors opened up all new possibilities.

Speculative fiction allows me to imagine better worlds and solutions for historically marginalized people. It allows us to work through our feelings about our history and present by preparing and hoping for a different future.

Tim Jones: A number of my books are speculative fiction – including my first short story collection, Extreme Weather Events, my fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret and my latest novella, Where We Land.

My Dad was a keen science fiction reader and I started reading SF in my childhood. During my teens, it was pretty much all I read, and while my reading is a lot wider now, I still read plenty of speculative fiction.

Tim Jones
I keep coming back to speculative fiction because of the opportunity it offers to ask “what if?” – what if things were different, or, less optimistically,j what if things carry on the same way? Where We Land is very much in that latter “if this goes on…” camp.

FF: Who are some of your favourite writers of the genre? Or what are examples of writing that you think best exemplifies this kind of writing?

AJF: The longer I’ve been involved in the speculative fiction scene, the more I’ve come to understand and embrace the concept of Queering The Literature – breaking old hegemony like ranking authors. There are too many for me to play favourites. Communal uplift works like collective organizing.

I feel the most innovative, progressive writing is being done in the speculative short form, especially in LGBTQIA publishing. With short stories, novelettes, novellas and poetry, there is the space to take risks with narrative, prose and identity that most Big Publishing’s attempts to fit into a capitalist mold usually airbrushes out. There are some breakthroughs and watersheds though. I’ll be watching the industry with interest over the next few years.

TJ: In terms of science fiction, my favourite writers include Ursula Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Gene Wolfe, James S. A. Corey and (a recent discovery) Arkady Martine. I like science fiction that intertwines physics, biology, character and politics. As for fantasy, Ursula Le Guin, J R R Tolkien and George R R Martin are the writers I tend to keep going back to. But if I had to pick the speculative fiction story that made the greatest impact on me, it was “The Voices of Time”, an early novella by J G Ballard, when he was all about entropy. I read it when I was about 10, and it did my head in.

FF: This is a NZ issue of the journal – with NZ writing and art. Do you see themes emerging among writers of Aotearoa New Zealand that are specific to our experience in the world? Do you think NZ writers are especially drawn to speculative fiction?

TJ: Very much so. When I started writing speculative fiction, that was seen as a very weird and unproductive – perhaps even unpatriotic! – thing for a New Zealand writer to do unless they were writing for a YA market. But through the influence of a number of writers – I think of Phillip Mann, Elizabeth Knox and a newer cohort of writers including Andi Buchanan, O J Cade and my co-editor A J Fitzwater – I think NZ speculative fiction has grown in both stature and quality.

What’s more, there used to be an assumption that NZ speculative fiction writers had to produce work that was indistinguishable from that produced by US and UK authors. Now, speculative fiction is a much more international field and writers from all over the world, including many indigenous writers, are having speculative work published that is rooted in whole or part in their own identity. I think this is happening in Aotearoa and in the Pacific, too. And there’s an “try it and see what works” empiricist aspect to life in Aotearoa that lends itself to speculative writing, too.

AJF: I often find NZ writing has a dry sense of humour, a sense of dislocation brought on by our geographical position which creates interesting dystopias, heavy influence by environment, environmentalism and more recently climate change, and a nuance created by our colonizing society that is different to other countries which is often not understood well by international readers. This nuance is part of what creates our ‘cultural cringe’ when we see or hear ourselves on the international stage, and it’s something I’ve worked hard to overcome and be comfortable writing stories set in Aotearoa New Zealand.

NZ has had a strange relationship with speculative fiction. Sci Fi has been unfairly maligned and linked to pulp and space opera, a Hollywood/US contrivance. NZers’ colonial behaviour has historically been to discourage bombast and suppress mythology not Christian in nature. Any Sci Fi that has broken through has been for children and young adults, metaphorical teaching scripts, or with a very literary bent (eg. The Quiet Earth).

We can thank modern indigenous creators for bringing the spotlight on diverse and fun stories. Taika Waititi getting to play in the Marvel sandpit, and throw in jokes and references only we will understand, is a real game changer.

FF: Do you have work of your own to share that offers examples of speculative fiction?

AJF: Everything I write is speculative fiction. Stories set in Aotearoa New Zealand that I’ve had published include “From the Womb of the Land, Our Bones Entwined” (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Books), “Splintr” (At The Edge, Paper Road Press), and “The Origami Tree” (Regeneration, Random Static). I also have a novella out from Paper Road Press in 2020, No Man’s Land – a fantasy set in WW2 North Otago.

TJ: In addition to Where We Land and the other books I mentioned above, several of which you can find on my Amazon author page, here are two speculative short stories of mine published in the US magazine Strange Horizons:

and also a couple of speculative flash fictions from Flash Frontier itself:

FF: What are you currently working on/ thinking? What ideas and themes inspire you as we come to the close of 2019?

TJ: I’ve been an environmental and climate change activist for many years, and while that’s reflected itself in my writing, that’s never been truer than today. So climate fiction and climate poetry is a big focus. I’m currently working on a very-near-future climate fiction novel – more about what’s happening right now than what might happen in 30 years.

After that, I have a couple more ideas for novellas, and I also have a … something (poetry collection? series of essays?) in mind about aviation. My Dad was a pilot in World War 2, and retained a fascination with planes throughout his life. But the unchecked growth of commercial air travel is one of the things that is killing the planet. There seems to be an opportunity to bring personal and environmental writing together there.

AJF: Since 2016, I’ve been more forthright and political in my writing, if that’s possible. The world is at a crisis point, and we need to shout the stories of people of marginalized genders and sexualities – we will not go backwards. I’ve been writing a lot of stories with communal organizing, punk and anarchy, post-apocalyptic survival and climate changed worlds.

My two big projects coming out in 2020 is the WW2 shapeshifters land girls fantasy novella from Paper Road Press called No Man’s Land and a collection of short stories about my capybara pirate called The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper, from Queen of Swords Press. Rodent pirates might sound cute, but below the cuteness it’s all about found family, asserting queer identity, reclaiming a voice in history, and pirate union organizing!

Thank you, Tim and AJ – your work and words are inspiring, and we look forward to more.
See our Guest Editors page for biographies of AJ Fitzwater and Tim Jones.

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