spooky action at a distance

a SFF & IF review


March 2016

SFF REVIEW – achronism and agency in “Seven Cups of Coffee”

Today’s work is A. C. Wise’s “Seven Cups of Coffee”, published here in the March 2016 issue of Clarkesworld:

I knew I wanted to write about “Seven Cups of Coffee” from the moment I finished it; I’ve been returning to its exquisite structure in idle moments for several weeks now. The interplay of precise anchor points and looping, loping temporal shifts is a brilliant speculative fiction example of what I gravitate to within interactive fiction; the mechanic wedded seamlessly to the thematic, unable to see seams or scars. But despite my interest in narrative design, and my impression of this story as a well-crafted whole, I found “Seven Cups of Coffee” difficult to speak of precisely.

Looking back, that shouldn’t have surprised me.

Wise’s piece is a time-travel tale; it’s a story of a woman who, rejected by her family for being a lesbian, and driven by economic deprivation, agrees to a mysterious stranger’s offer to travel back in time to act as a “cleaning woman” – in fact, committing murder to order. The innocuous phrase allows our narrator to convince herself that she is simply arranging an accident for her target instead of ending a specific, individual life. Haunted by the murder, the narrator returns to attempt to halt the events she set in motion; instead, she falls in love. Again and again, our protagonist tries to change her lover’s fate. Again and again, she fails.

That’s the chronological version, at least. Far less striking when I tell it that way.

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IF REVIEW – travel & the iterative self: “Detritus”

Playable for free online here:

Mary Hamilton’s “Detritus”, like last week’s game, is written in Twine – but unlike “Solarium”, “Detritus” is not using Twine to tell a story so much as to experiment with the creation of a self – which, of course, is a kind of story in its own right.

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REVIEW THEME #1: spies, deception, and disguise

Spies, deception, disguise: our first review exchange. Two rec lists and two reviews.

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Spooky Action At A Distance – Welcome

Welcome to Spooky Action at a Distance, an IF/SFF review. This blog is a joint project between Arkady Martine and Cat Manning, covering exciting new writing in the disparate-but-overlapping narrative circles we love and work in. There’s so much cool stuff being published in both speculative and interactive fiction right now that it can be easy to miss exceptional, exciting work.

Cat: Arkady and I have had many conversations about how speculative fiction and interactive fiction speak to and can influence one another profoundly and productively. Interactive fiction takes up many of the same themes that SFF is interested in, and SFF plays with structure in ways that feel distinctly new. Even so, we aren’t yet really talking to each other as creative communities. We can learn from one another.

At the same time, we both became aware of the real need for more short SFF fiction and interactive fiction reviews — places to have conversations about the abundance of excellent, compelling, and diverse SFF & IF being published today. However: both of us are writers, and there are genuine ethical arguments against reviewing in the same space one is writing in. I don’t believe that this always has to be the case, and I’ve reviewed interactive fiction before while writing my own — and Arkady reviews for Strange Horizons (though mostly novel-length work.) But it was a concern we were both aware of — and combined with our growing interest in having our communities talk to one another …

… we came up with the idea of working together on an exchange: a review trade where we each explore the rich offerings in a field which we’re interested in or enthusiastic about, but isn’t our primary genre.

Spooky Action at a Distance comes from the idea of quantum entanglement — how two particles can interact in such a way that the state of each particle cannot be described independently. They don’t touch, but they mutually influence each other across a distance. Interactive fiction and speculative fiction both have porous boundaries. Our fields are constantly being redefined: as we create and innovate and complicate genre boundaries. Arkady and I want to acknowledge and explore the common threads in IF and SFF — it’s well past due.

Continue reading “Spooky Action At A Distance – Welcome”

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