Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by Djibril al-Ayad, a French-born historian and archaeologist with research interests including ancient magic and futuristic technology. He runs The Future Fire, an online magazine of social-political speculative fiction, and is the co-editor of the anthologies Outlaw Bodies (with Lori Selke) and We See a Different Frontier (with Fabio Fernandes), and the forthcoming Accessing the Future (with Kathryn Allan).
Read on for one of the best slashfic cross-over SFF pairings we’ve ever encountered…
What is your favorite short story?
I have a million different answers, but today I have to go with Aliette de Bodard’s multiple award-winning “Immersion,” which I’ve just re-read. For me, it is the perfect illustration of multiple intersecting marginalizations without the narrative being didactic. The story tells of two women from an underprivileged ethnic group and their conflicting relationships to the Galactic technology that allows them to fit in (to adopt the taller, paler look of the dominant race). One avoids wearing her immerser whenever possible in an act of passive resistance, while the other, married to a benign Galactic businessman, wears hers so much that she has become physically, incurably reliant upon it to the point that she can barely function even with it. Aliette addresses feminist topics, offers a study in cultural colonialism, and shows sensitivity to disability issues and the cultural expectation that people should rely on prosthetics to “fit in” (rather than it being society’s job to make itself more accessible to a wider range of people). At the same time, the science fiction is great, the characters convincing, and the dénouement thrilling. I’ve seen people read “Immersion,” enjoy it, rave about it, while completely missing most of these points.
Describe your favorite write.
I love writing while sitting at an outdoor table up front of a café on the steps of the Alhambra, in Granada, Spain, where I can look up at the majestic Moorish architecture, down over the huddled rooftops of the Albaicín, and snack on garlic mushrooms and manchego while soaking up a thousand years of history and culture.
What would your Patronus/familiar be?
I’d like a familiar gecko, in the original witch-sense of “familiar,” meaning it and I could share traits, swap places, see through one another’s eyes, etc. I’d love to inherit its footpad nano-setae that enable it to climb any surface and hang upside-down, near invisible, from the ceiling; the ability to regrow teeth from stem cells in the gums; and possess its phenomenal night-vision. As to how any of these skills are useful to an office-based researcher, I’m less clear…
If you were secretly going to write fanfic (or, even better, slashfic) about any two characters, who would they be?
I’m tempted to say I’d write a piece of Flash Gordon/Prince Vultan slash, just so I could title it “Impetuous Boy!” But there’s no point in writing slash unless it’s actually sexy, so I would have to go for a Riddick/Scorpion King piece, which has so much potential both on the page, and in combining the mountainous manflesh of two rather scrumptious actors in the author’s imagination! ::blushes::
List three things you’d like our readers to know about you and your work.
1. A professional historian and occasional SFF writer myself, I edit an online fiction magazine, The Future Fire, that has a focus on social-political speculative fiction. We are especially interested in feminist, postcolonial, queer, and ecological SF themes, and in stories that reflect the fact that all marginalization and oppression has to be seen in intersection with other prejudices, including sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, religious bigotry and many others.
2. Although the magazine pays a token to semi-pro rate for fiction, we have also started publishing a few anthologies at a more professional level. Since we encourage submissions from under-represented and marginalized authors, I believe it’s especially important to pay authors a fair rate for their work.
3. I’m currently putting together an anthology of disability-themed and intersectional speculative fiction, titled Accessing the Future and co-edited by Kathryn Allan. We hope to attract authors from as wide a range of backgrounds and perspectives as possible. If you think paying professional rates to these authors is a worthwhile goal, and would like to support the anthology, you can pre-order a copy, or donate more and claim a perk such as a story critique or Tuckerization.
If you could find one previously undiscovered book by a non-living author, who would it be? Why?
I would find a lost novel by Jorge Luis Borges, and publish a detailed and critical review of it to great fanfare. But I would then keep the novel hidden, so scholars of Borgesian literature would have to attempt to reconstruct it from my response, and in fact a controversy and academic debate would rage as to whether the book really existed or was a figment of my deceitful imagination. Only after my death, when my estate and papers are opened to public scrutiny will the truth be revealed. (Or will it?)
Which language, real or fictional, would you like the ability to speak fluently? Who would you talk to?
I’d like to be fluent in spoken Ancient Greek (which has had no native speakers for a thousand years), and specifically the classical Attic dialect of ancient Athens. I would like to speak with and learn the true stories of Neaira the courtesan, Ninos the executed sacrilegious priestess, and Diotima, the Athenian philosopher who may or may not have existed. I’d discuss philosophy with Aspasia (wife/mistress of Pericles and literary patroness), Theano the Pythagorean(s), and Hypatia, Alexandrian mathematician torn apart by an angry Christian mob. I’d share poetry with Kleitagora of Sparta, Korinna the Boeotian lyricist, and Sappho of Lesbos, and I’d banter with (but also rebuke for graffitiing an ancient Egyptian statue) the Roman princess Julia Balbilla.