In our ongoing quest to connect you with stories that both expand the mind and capture the heart, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly is excited to feature an interview with speculative fiction guru Athena Andreadis, whose latest project is To Shape the Dark, an anthology about women scientists and the destinies they forge.
SFRQ: What inspired you to produce To Shape the Dark?
Athena Andreadis: As a research scientist, an unapologetic feminist and a nomadic cross-culture cosmopolitan who detests artificial splits (work versus family, intuition versus logic), I wanted to restore visionary science in SF without its traditional accoutrements of heedlessness to larger contexts and of socially inept scientists who need to be babied and buffered by self-denying helpmates. The success of The Other Half of the Sky allowed me to take this risk.
As with The Other Half of the Sky, I wanted (and got) swashbuckling with layers, ambiguities, dilemmas; nuanced characters, echoing histories, original worlds and societies. And interwoven with that, the real agonies, ecstasies and dilemmas of working scientists.
Scientists are humanity’s astrogators: they never go into the suspended animation cocoons but stay at the starship observation posts, watching the great galaxy wheels slowly turn while they chart destinations and attend to the hydroponics. To Shape the Dark is part of that vigil.
Please share the Table of Contents with our readers.
[Note: interested readers can see the first paragraph of each story here.]
- Athena Andreadis – Astrogators Never Sleep (introduction)
- Constance Cooper – Carnivores of Can’t-Go-Home
- M. Fenn – Chlorophyll is Thicker than Water
- Jacqueline Koyanagi – Sensorium
- Kristin Landon – From the Depths
- Shariann Lewitt – Fieldwork
- Vandana Singh – Of Wind and Fire
- Aliette de Bodard – Crossing the Midday Gate
- Melissa Scott – Firstborn, Lastborn
- Anil Menon – Building for Shah Jehan
- C. W. Johnson – The Age of Discovery
- Terry Boren – Recursive Ice
- Susan Lanigan – Ward 7
- Kiini Ibura Salaam – Two Become One
- Jack McDevitt – The Pegasus Project
- Gwyneth Jones – The Seventh Gamer
- Cover art and design: Eleni Tsami
Describe a few of the worlds, characters, and themes readers can expect from this anthology.
The stories in this volume have at their centers women passionately pursuing their science while enmeshed in their kinships and societies. Their vocations range from quantum physics to interspatial mathematics; their societies extend from city-states to galactic empires; their spacetimes range from an alt-ancient Egypt to eras so distant that Earth has been forgotten – or never existed; the aliens they encounter go from viroids to space-faring cephalopods. Many of the scenarios unfolding in this gathering are vastly improved, absorbing versions of pop films, TV series and games (I spent happy hours thinking of whom to cast in them). And the stories are full of echoes from myths, songs and stories that ever haunt us humans.
In the context of science fiction anthologies, what makes To Shape the Dark unique?
To Shape the Dark places writing quality and originality of imagination above agendas; tries to restore to SF the sense of epiphany, the pleasures of rigor and collaboration, the braiding of discipline, craft skill and imaginative play inherent in real science; and remains stubbornly accessible while avoiding clichéd tropes from both the Leaden and Meta Ages of SFF.
(Too) many argue that science and scientists are hard to portray excitingly in SF but both aficionados and detractors of “hard” SF confuse accuracy with verisimilitude. What matters is the larger context—the lucid dreaming and where it takes the reader’s mind. So I didn’t specify scientific accuracy for the stories; I specified respect for the scientific method and for the questing, aware mind. Scientists are as fallible as any human, but they have the great privilege and responsibility of shaping the dark. That’s what SF shows too rarely, in my view.
As with your space opera anthology, The Other Half of the Sky, female characters take center stage in To Shape the Dark. Tell us why that aspect is important.
I expound the reason at length in the introductions to both anthologies. I find it odd and redolent of several parochialisms that much of SF – a genre priding itself to leaps of imagination and unusual configurations – still doesn’t treat women as fully human.
Specifically connected to the motivation behind To Shape the Dark, science-based wonder is the core of SF. Yet its writers have mostly cast science as either triumphalism or hubris and exalted the lone (and almost invariably male) genius, neglecting such crucial attributes as cooperative labor and pride in craft. Ask an SF reader to name a woman scientist in the genre: the likeliest reply will be Asimov’s Susan Calvin.
I asked my partners in this venture to show me women scientists, mathematicians and engineers who passionately pursue their explorations, are not subject to the snooze-inducing conflict of work versus family and are aware of the limitations and consequences of their vocation; and for cultures where science is a holistic endeavor as necessary as art—or air.
Where can readers find To Shape the Dark as well as more information about it?
To Shape the Dark will be published by Candlemark & Gleam, the swashbuckling small press that published The Other Half of the Sky. If all goes as we plan – and so far it looks like it will – it will appear in April of 2016 and be available on the C&G site (where readers can purchase print and DRM-free ebook in one fell swoop). It will also be sold on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo and have a page on GoodReads.
What book are you looking forward to reading next?
Of books written in English: the next works of Tracy Chevalier and Susan Fraser King (historical fiction), Tana French and Jon Loomis (mystery), Mary Oliver and Olga Broumas (poetry); Mary Lovell’s bio of Jane Digby and Mark Mazower’s next historical exploration, whatever his topic. Finish Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons. Plus, of course, the new works of protostars and main-sequence luminaries I invited to Candlemark & Gleam!
Thank you so much for joining us here at Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. One last question: what’s your favorite part about being involved in projects like To Shape the Dark?
Thank you for inviting me, Heather! I particularly relish the background discussions with the authors when we’re sculpting the stories, a process that gives me glimpses into the larger universe behind each work. Often, what I already knew of a particular universe is what made me invite its creator to contribute to one of my anthologies. For this project in particular, I was immensely gratified that each story protagonist has a different vocation and most of the protagonists are old(er) but respected and heeded – all this without any prompting from me!