I’ve just received my January/February 2021 copy of Analog in the mail and am excited to report that it contains my short story “The Tale of Anise and Basil”! I had a great experience publishing one of my previous pieces in Analog, and I’m so happy that they liked “The Tale of Anise and Basil” enough to buy and print it as well!
Since there’s no author interview through Analog for this story, I thought I’d share a few thoughts here about how “The Tale of Anise and Basil” came into the world. I wrote it shortly after I published my very first piece of fiction, “Echoes”, online at Every Day Fiction. The story (like most very short stories) leaves a lot unexplained: the nature of mind/body transplants, how advanced the technology in the setting is, and the protagonist’s gender (for the first half of the story, at least) all are left to the reader’s imagination. I was surprised to discover in the comments on my story that some readers found the lack of textual specificity jarring and enjoyed my story less because of it. I love speculative fiction that gives me enough detail about a world to spark my imagination but not so much detail to make its remarkable features feel full specified and less than alien (Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief series is one that hits the spot for me, as well as, more recently, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth), so it had never occurred to me that others who loved the genre too might look for something so different from what I was looking for from my favorite stories.
These comments got me thinking about the ways in which writing speculative fiction differs from writing the academic philosophy papers I’ve spent most of my professional career writing. My goal, when I sit down to write a philosophy paper, is to clearly and precisely demarcate a specific philosophical problem or puzzle and then address it in detail. The language used and detail given need to be direct and bloodless, almost clinical, if I want my (ideally wide, though de facto extremely narrow) audience to really understand the issue I’ve taken on. This kind of writing is, I think, the reason why so many people complain that academic philosophy is boring to read, but it works because it addresses the concerns raised in some of the comments on “Echoes” – details are laid out as clearly and precisely as possible, and there is hopefully very little wiggle room for varying interpretations of the text I’ve written.
I found myself wrestling with the following question: what would a sci-fi narrative written with the degree of specificity and rigor demanded by my analytic academic discipline look like? I knew it would likely be extremely boring and probably tedious to read, but I mapped out the details that would become teller’s story about Anise and Basil in the shower over several days anyway. It was an interesting thought experiment, and I didn’t see myself doing anything more with it until I thought up a broader narrative context to embed it in, one that would serve as a contrast to the dry narrative and, hopefully, inspire readers to think critically about the experience of reading fiction and what they hope to get out of it. In the end, “The Tale of Anise and Basil” evolved into one of my favorite pieces of fiction I’ve ever written, and I’m so glad that it’s now out there in the world for others to enjoy! You can find it in the January/February 2021 volume of Analog Science Fiction and Fact at https://www.analogsf.com/.