Why SF? Asking kindred spirits in the SF community the story of why they give back and create forward.
Djibril al-Ayad is the /nom de guerre/ of an academic historian, writer and futurist with interests spanning science, religion and magic; education and public engagement. He has been editor-in-chief of online speculative magazine The Future Fire for nearly eight years, and a writer for over thirty.
Interviewed by Tegan Lott
Tell us about FutureFire and how you got involved.
I founded The Future Fire in 2004 with a group of friends who were scattered between California, England, Scotland and Switzerland, and the first issues appeared online in 2005. We have a different set of editors now, but we're still widely international. Our aim is to publish fiction and criticism that addresses social and political themes, including (but not limited to) feminist, queer, environmental, multicultural and body-positive issues, while including only the most beautiful stories that are elegant and powerful in their own right. The message is important to us in our selection process, but the medium—well-written, competently structured and entertaining fiction—is non-negotiable.
From http://futurefire.net/index.html "We shall publish dark science fiction and art with a social conscience, a political sensibility and of the highest quality." Futurefire has been publishing since 2004. How have the issues raised changed or evolved?
I don't know if the issues raised in the fiction we've published has actually evolved so much—perhaps I'm standing too close to the trees to see changes in the shape of the wood. But we have in recently years started to receive many more stories that overtly express the sort of political issues that we think are important in the real world. This may be because we have gotten involved in active discussion groups such as The Outer Alliance and the FeministSF Twitter group, and so raised our profile in these circles, or similarly because of the themed issues we're publishing this year, "Outlaw Bodies" on gender, queer, trans, disability and cyberpunk theme, and "We See a Different Frontier" on the theme of colonialism. So perhaps there has been some fairly organic evolution, even if I can't trace any world political themes driving it.
In 2006 you published an Okal Rel story called "Making History" http://futurefire.net/2006.05/fiction/makinghistory.html. Can you describe the collaboration with the Okal Rel Universe?
That was a lovely story; I still remember it very fondly. When Lynda sent it in to us, it was immediately clear that this was a powerfully political story, dark and cynical at the same time, as well as quirkily humorous in its indirect storytelling via the protagonist's response to a propagandist performance about her own history. I was a little concerned by one feature of the plot—the idea that a "fair society" could be built on a big lie (Plato would have approved!)—and we discussed with Lynda some ways to tweak the story to make the cynicism of that position a bit more overt.
This was also in the days before we had professional artists working on the magazine, so I'm afraid the crude illustrations are the results of my playing around with GIMP, patched together from heavily modified stock imagery. The first image at least captured a good moment of the plot, though, I think.
Would you describe theFutureFire as an online journal? Or something else. How would you like it to be seen and experienced?
An online magazine, yes. We don't charge for access, so it's a free and non-profit making publication. We also make available a PDF version which is something of a facsimile of a print edition—which readers can download and print if they prefer reading from paper (as I do)—as well as Epub and Kindle format e-books for the last couple of issues. The stories themselves are the important content, and matter much more than the format we put them out in. For the couple of themed anthologies we're bringing out this year we'll be publishing copies in print (for sale) as well as e-books, and depending on how successful that is, we may expand in that area in the future.
We've always thought of TFF as an online venture, though, and making great fiction available for free is the core of our mission. We'd love to publish more material that makes use of the online medium in deeper ways: stories where the medium is part of the message, which couldn't be told this way on paper. Hypertext stories, stories that engage with the web in active or dynamic ways, stories told through more than one medium simultaneously, multimedia, or whatever. Obviously, I can't say what we want in that area; that would be part of the author's creativity, but we're open to suggestions. Equally obviously, the story will have to be as great as what we usually publish as well as technically creative, for us to consider it.