This is the second part of our exclusive interview with Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek, editors of the new anthology, The Reinvented Heart.
And if you’ve already read the first part, here’s where we left off…
IP: Here I have a few questions that get into the SFF conversation as a whole.
You’ve both been a part of the SFF community for many years, in multiple different capacities. How would you say the science-fiction and fantasy scene has changed since you first got involved with it?
JB: I think the scene has opened up drastically. For me, this is one of the most interesting times to be an SFF author. You have the opportunity to choose how you want to be published, where you want to be published, whether that’s self-pub, boutique press, small press, or the big five. Being a hybrid author is probably the most economically viable, because not everyone can be a Seanan McGuire or a Diana Gabaldon.
Plus, you’re able to choose your own voice and medium. It can be written work, it can be YouTube videos, you can choose serialized versus full-length, you can do a series of novels, you can do micro-text novels.
I have friends who do all of the above. You can teach, edit, write, or do a combination of all three.
CR: I agree with all of that, and also that sci-fi has become more international. With the Internet connecting us more I’ve read a lot more African, Chinese, and all sorts of different kinds of fiction from beyond American borders.
Clarkesworld is one of the magazines that’s really good about bringing in stuff from translation, and I know Neil has worked very hard at that.
But another thing that’s changed is that there are more psychic resources for writers outside the mainstream. You know there are occasions in our industry where I’ve felt that there’s been a sort of psychic toll that has to be paid. Think of it like “oh, here’s another elderly science fiction writer inviting me to sit in his lap” and I’m just supposed to laugh it off.
It’s kind of political here, I’m sorry, but I think younger writers don’t tolerate that as much as they used to, and I salute them for that.
JB: I think the problems that have always been around in every industry are starting to come to light. I used to be a QA engineer for 13 years, and the problems in that industry cross over into this one too.
Some of the predators are getting smarter, and they’re playing the “I’m woke, or I’m an ally” card.
You know, just thinking about how we’re still having women in gaming panels shows us that we have a long way to go. And it’s taking longer than a lot of people want.
CR: Yeah, that’s very true.
JB: It’s not a perfect transition. Just today I read something about the Harry Potter series involving Kreacher. It was about how people were so accepting of how Harry was literally a slave owner.
CR: Oh yeah, and Dobby too. And Hermione was mocked for standing up for the house elves! I can get quite indignant about this.
JB: As much as we want to get better, we all still have a lot of blind spots. But it’s being shown more often, called out more often. It’s very uncomfortable, but you have to be uncomfortable to change.
I loved that whole series whenever it came out, but the more you dig into it and all your other old favorites, the more you’re like “Oh, my God.”
CR: Yeah, there are a lot of problems. Jo Walton talks about the suck fairy. She says don’t go back to childhood classics lest you find the suck fairy has visited them.
IP: I was thinking about that the other day because I was watching The Wheel of Time on Amazon. And I was thinking about when I read the first couple of books, and as a high schooler, there’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t really pick up on.
Thinking about it now, I’m like, “Wow, that’s really old and outdated.”
CR: Well, it’s interesting to me how much gender attitudes have shifted in the last decade. I mean, when I was growing up, the word “trans” wasn’t something that anybody said.
And that’s one of the things I think is really interesting and lovely about our times is that people are aware of non-binary, ace, and all the different relationships that fall outside of the Dick and Jane model. That’s very much what The Reinvented Heart is about.
That’s one of the things science fiction does so well is social reflection, and I think that’s really cool. In the anthology, we have a non-binary story, and we have another story where the character has anxiety about meeting up with the other person in real life.
So, the character goes to the hotel and they knock on the door, but the other person never opens the door because they’re feeling so anxious. At the end of the story, the character gets an email from the other person apologizing, saying, you know “I transgressed, I tried to push you past your boundaries and that wasn’t cool.” And that’s such a different ending than that story has been told with in the past.
One of the modes that drives me particularly crazy with gender stuff, is the cliché that if guys are willing to just keep after her, standing out in the rain with a boombox, that she’ll come around. And that’s present in narratives about women, too, but not in the same way.
It’s one of the things that science fiction does well, is deconstructing that narrative and rewriting it in a more meaningful, respectful way.
IP: Gotcha, I 100% agree with you. I guess then as a follow up to that question, where do you think the SFF community is headed in the near future? Or what do you hope happens in the community in the future?
CR: I would hope that we address a couple of marginalizations that haven’t particularly been addressed before.
And those are disability, neurodiversity, and economic circumstance.
People forget that there is a significant portion of the population that doesn’t have Internet access, isn’t accessing Twitter and all that. I’d love to see science fiction keep pushing to make that a part of the conversation.
JB: This goes along with economics, but I’d like to see more non-American authors have a clear way of getting their stuff in front of American audiences. I lived outside the US during my childhood because my father was in the military, so I learned a lot about other cultures, and that informed me growing up. The world of storytelling is so vast and amazing, I’d like to see some of that reflected in science fiction.
I saw recently there was a Kickstarter for an RPG about if America had never been colonized, and just seeing that made me want to explore that idea more.
For example, Black Panther, the Marvel movie. The themes that they brought in for that particular movie were so different from what I’d seen before. The mindset is more about what do we owe each other and society instead of what can I do. It’s I vs. we.
I had a conversation last year with Maurice Broaddus, and we were talking about magic. I said that magic should cost you something, because that’s my point of view. And he said that magic should never cost you. You should never be punished for being who you are.
CR: Oh, yeah, that’s good.
JB: That’s one of those points of view that I’m still wrapping my head around.
IP: I think a lot of that goes back to the fact that America is a very capitalist society, and that pervades a lot of our ideas. For a magician, if using magic takes a physical toll on you or something, it’s a transactional relationship. You’re giving your energy for magic, and that’s a capitalist thing.
I guess it goes back to what Cat said about seeing more SFF stuff from a different economic sphere. What would our science fiction look like if our society’s ideals weren’t capitalist, but instead were socialist, or something else?
CR: That’s something I see a lot of writers grappling with today. Our mutual friend, PJ Manney, worked with a Facebook group called The New Mythos, where they were explicitly trying to talk about how to create new stories. How do you create these new narratives?
I just did a story that’s coming out next April where I tried to challenge the way I thought the story would traditionally go, and make it go in a different direction.
And that’s all from our chat with Cat Rambo and Jennifer Brozek. If you’d like to check out The Reinvented Heart anthology, you can purchase an ebook or preorder the hardcover on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Thanks to both of them for joining us here at Signals from the Edge!