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.
Who we are:
Arkady: I’m Arkady Martine. I write SFF. I mostly play in the short fiction club scene – I’ve had stories in Apex and Strange Horizons recently – but I also write poetry and am working on a novel. In my day job I’m a professional Byzantinist – a historian of the Byzantine Empire. I’m a New Yorker but I live in Sweden, where I’m part of a project called Text and Narrative in Byzantium, so basically I’m interested in empires, histories of the future, and how people tell stories, and I can’t stop working on those things, even when I’m at ‘work’.
I’ve never been a person who was really into games, though I’ve played my share of tabletop RPGs. (And while my Sunless Sea obsession is not how Cat and I met, our early friendship had a lot of discussion of the Dawn Machine in it.) So I’m coming to interactive fiction from a very interested but very ignorant place, and I expect to learn a lot.
Cat: And I’m Cat Manning. I like weird text. Particularly media which occupies multiple spaces (or perspectives, or languages) simultaneously. I mostly write in interactive fiction circles – my latest piece can be found at Sub-Q magazine – and my work gravitates toward speculative fiction in theme. My day job is also academic: I’m working my way towards a doctorate in English literature, which also takes up these concerns of intertextuality, albeit from a historical perspective (no cybertext in my dissertation, I’m afraid).
I play a lot of narrative games, obviously, but I also have a long-standing interest in SFF. I used to read it sporadically, but never really had an idea where to dive in. I’ve been devouring short stories lately, but the field still feels huge, especially compared to interactive fiction. So I would describe myself as an undereducated enthusiast, and am really looking forward to exploring more.
How we’re getting started:
We imagine this blog as being a mutual exchange. That’s why Arkady is writing the reviews of interactive fiction, and why Cat is writing the reviews of speculative fiction: we want to open new perspectives for one another and for the communities we’re part of.
So when we talked about how we wanted to begin, we spent a while having very serious conversations about things like narrative causality and ethical reviewing inside your own community – and then we kind of shrugged and said well, why don’t we start by having fun?
We’re in this because we love it, after all.
What’s fun? Well. Spies are fun. Spies and disguises and deception are really fun. Showing each other our favorite versions of spies-disguises-and-deception in our respective genres seemed like an excellent way to kick the blog off.
So, having picked a theme, we each went away and came back with a recommendation list of stories and games we’d liked. Those lists are little capsule introductions in and of themselves, and they’re at the end of this post. Then, each of us picked one story from the list we’d been given to write an in-depth review about.
How Spooky Action works:
We update with full reviews on (usually) Wednesdays, alternating weeks – so you’ll get a SFF review followed by an IF review. If you have suggestions of a work one of us ought to look at, drop us a line!
We’ll do special themed rec list exchanges like this one every month or so, and other non-standard amusements (here Arkady breaks in to wave her hands enthusiastically about narratology, the blog post! and also the non-zero probability of us devolving into geek chic fashion discussion) as they come to us.