Thanks to Effie Seiberg for granting me a silly interview!
Effie is a San-Francisco-based writer with the requisite San-Francisco-based tech job. In college, she studied philosophy and logic. Now she bakes novelty cakes shaped like “spaceships and facehuggers.” Follow her on Twitter at @effies, or check out her other stories at effieseiberg.com.
1) One of the first times I met you, it was because you were on the liar’s panel at FogCon where people compete to tell outrageous lies. If I remember correctly, it’s an annual panel, and I think you’ve been on it before. How did you get involved?
The 2014 FOGcon Liar’s Panel was my favorite panel ever. For my slot on the panel, it was a tie between me, the zombified head of Richard Nixon, and a Magic 8 Ball, but of those I was the only one willing to do it without an outrageous speaking fee.
It was a lot of fun! If I recall, at one point one panelist was both Neil Gaiman and Seanan McGuire at the same time, and another panelist was the entire Nebula voting committee, and I believe I shot a raygun at the first audience member who asked a question. Sadly, FOGcon hasn’t had another Liar’s Panel since. I can’t imagine why.
2) Is the above an outrageous lie?
This sentence is a lie.
3) If the answer to number one is not an outrageous lie, can you tell us an outrageous lie?
The answer to question 4 is the truth.
4) Wait, how do I know you aren’t sneakily telling the truth?
The answer to question 3 is a lie.
5) All right, I’ll let it go. Just know that I’m aware that at any point you could be LYING. So. You studied philosophy and logic. Do you use that in your fiction?
Absolutely! There’s a long tradition of slipping philosophy into speculative fiction, especially since they’re both about exploring ideas and taking them to their logical conclusions. Some of my favorites are Italo Calvino’s “All at One Point” and Asimov’s “The Last Question” for metaphysical cosmology, Ken Liu’s “Mono No Aware” for ethics, and Roald Dahl’s “William and Mary” for epistemology, and the movies Labyrinth and Monty Python’s Holy Grail for classic logic. Also the entire Discworld series for all the philosophy ever.
The fun of it is putting it into a story that doesn’t sound like a dry philosophy text. So, take metaphysical cosmology, which is about questions of the nature of the universe, its existence, and its origin. That’s a pretty good basis for a science fictional story! Calvino turned that first state of all matter condensed into a single point as a crowded apartment building. Asimov used increasing magnitudes of computational ability to define the pre-conditional state for creation. For my take on it, I just went with a recipe. No really, “Recipe: 1 Universe” uses a mix of real references about the states of the universe after the Big Bang, plus some baking tips, plus a bit of whimsy thrown in for good measure, so that you too can create and be destroyed by your own universe.
Or take utilitarianism, a branch of ethics that says that you should optimize to do the most good for the most people. Liu created a moving story of self-sacrifice in the face of peril to save the human race. (Seriously, go read it. And have tissues on hand.) I, on the other hand, wrote a story about a cute and naive smartbomb. “Rocket Surgery” (available in the Jan issue of Analog) is about a smartbomb named Teeny who, while going through a variety of test simulations, starts to question how to optimize its actions to do the most good. These actions don’t always align with the General’s plans.
It’s also fun to take logical fallacies like the slippery slope argument, where you extrapolate something to its logical extreme until it really makes no sense anymore, as a foundation for satire. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” uses this to propose that we all eat babies. I decided to go with a toy line launch predicating the end of the world. “Re: Little Miss Apocalypse Playset” is a corporate epistolary showing a string of well-meaning decisions with disastrous outcomes. (Also the characters chose to re-brand the four ponies of the apocalypse as Punchy, Bonesy, Sniffles, and Om-Nom, so you can already tell that this wasn’t going to end well.)
6) Repeating: you studied philosophy and logic. Does that make you more or less susceptible to “Someone is wrong on the internet” syndrome? (https://xkcd.com/386/)
It pains me to inform you that humans aren’t logical and never will be. This is why I welcome the upcoming rise of our robot overlords.
7) What was your experience with Women Destroy Science Fiction like?
I’m so grateful that “Ro-Sham-Bot”, about a robot who just wants to play rock-paper-scissors, was a part of Lightspeed’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction!”. When I heard that an entire special issue of the magazine (which walks and quacks like an anthology) was going to be 100% written, edited, and illustrated by women, and took as its title the core of a snarky misogynistic comment from twitter, I was delighted. It’s the most elegant screw-you response to misogyny I’ve ever seen, all while staying positive in tone. The fact that it was my first pro story sale was just icing on the cake!
It was pretty shocking and humbling to have a story nestled in the table of contents among some of your favorite authors (N.K. Jemisin! Seanan McGuire! Sarah Pinsker! You!) and then see WDSF go on to win awards and become required classroom reading, but my favorite part of the whole experience was watching the conversation unfold online after publication. On reddit, sometimes known as a bastion of intolerance and misogyny, I watched people talk about the personal essays and share their own experiences. Trolls saying they didn’t like it when women wrote science fiction and to “get your feelings off my spaceship” were shut up when others talked about other great SF writers like Nancy Kress and Connie Willis and Anne McCaffey. The tone of the conversation shifted, and it was incredibly gratifying to watch.
It’s also been amazing to see the projects that this has spawned. Women are far from the only marginalized voices in the field. Since then we’ve seen Queers Destroy and People of Color Destroy, and People with Disabilities Destroy will come next. The Escape Artists podcasts have put out Artemis Rising and Artemis Rising 2, two all-women collections. Fantastic Stories of the Imagination just announced a Queers Take Over special issue. The projects just keep coming!
It’s exciting to be a tiny ant surfing on this growing wave of inclusion!
8) Upcoming projects: got some?
After having a string of short stories come out recently, I’m switching the focus to novels. I’m finishing up a YA fantasy novel right now about a naive princess chemist who tries to gain membership to the neighboring country’s scientific society, only to find out that it’s full of corruption and sabotage and is a front for an upcoming arms race. It’s got explosions and pre-steampunk flying machines and academic satire and awkward nerds flailing at each other in attempts at flirting. Mostly explosions though. Now that I think of it, there are a lot of things on fire in that book.
After that, I think I’m going to try my hand at a Middle Grade novel that I’m thinking of as candy-colored noir, with mobsters and a failed heist and a chicken-parrot hybrid that belches out fireballs. Hmm, I think I see a theme here. You don’t need to worry – you don’t seem to be wearing anything that flammable.
9) Were you lying about your upcoming projects? You were, weren’t you?
I can neither confirm nor deny that [[[MESSAGE REDACTED BY GOVERNMENTAL CENSORS]]], especially about the baboons.