I enjoyed the set up and reversals of the plot, like a contemporary version of Kafka’s The Trial but with a modern non-cis SF focus. Did you intend to play with existential dread through this lens?
As an immigrant “alien” living as a full-time resident in Trump’s America, my inspiration was a much more contemporary experience. The immigration interview. I’m sure my subconscious was aware of the Kafkaesque reverberations, but my conscious mind was trying to find a way to talk about the experience of living as a liberal non-mainstream individual in this surreal but sadly all too real era.
Thanks for giving the existential dread and sense of powerlessness to those in power! The setting is one that is both familiar and horrible to many people of color (security at an airport), so I was curious if a personal experience (or many) made this setting the most apt given the themes?
My worst experience occurred at New Jersey’s Newark Airport where I was grilled relentlessly by a fellow South Asian person of color who found it impossible to believe that I would be travelling with several books just for my own reading (and research) purposes. Like most Kafkaesque scenarios, it was both surreal and absurd. All told, it wasn’t really that bad: He just wanted to be sure I wasn’t here to try to make a living selling used books out of my suitcase! So clearly I wasn’t channeling my own experiences, or it would have been a very different story. But I witnessed, overheard, or knew of many awful experiences, especially those of fellow persons of color, trans persons, refugees, Muslims, who were put through humiliating interrogation. No matter how many times you go through without a hitch, a part of you is always dreading that this will the be day when they pounce on you and stretch you on the rack. It was that sense of a shared experience that I tried to capture.
In satire and weird fiction (as well as pulp SF), there is much joy found in personification. The bag was hilarious, a pocket “Eater of Worlds,” and yet I loved that for the uninitiated it was empty and yet utterly full. Why the focus on garments as the most human creatures Octavia encounters?
Clothes have been politicised so much. Take the hijab. Or the yarmulke. Or ethnic regalia. They’re appropriated, abused, misused, misunderstood. They deserve to have their stories told, too!
The consumption of world through fabrics was a great visual. Why the focus on garments as the SF transformative elements?
Isn’t all matter ultimately a rearrangement of the same basic atoms and molecules? It just grew organically out of the link between clothing and identity. Why not a “god” fabric? Or a “black hole” fabric. Or whatever unnamed phenomenon the Quiltbag represents.
For many writers, dialogue is where the “fight scene” happens. I loved the reversal on Octavia’s interrogation being in fact a trial for the oppressors (only they don’t know it). What inspired this kind of plot?
I try to find stories about empowerment rather than disempowerment. We’ve all read enough stories about marginalised individuals or communities being abused, subjected to endless atrocities and suffering. Those are all valid. But we also need stories that empower and inspire. That’s the beauty of SF. To interrogate the tradition of White Cis SF and use its devices and tropes to disembowel itself. An autopsy that results in a reanimation of the genre! “The Quiltbag” is one of a sequence of stories I’m writing that attempts to take classic SF narratives, perform gleeful vivisections, and reanimate them as shiny pretty new things. I have a story titled “By His Bootstraps” appearing in A People’s Future of the United States, edited by Victor La Valle and John Joseph Adams, which is part of this sequence.
It is very popular and necessary to view the future through a dark lens. This one was comedic, realistic, absurdist, and hopeful (reminding me somewhat of some Terry Bisson’s short stories where the present is viewed as a dystopia). How much was that the needs of the story and how much was a reflection of your own reading of SF today vs. current events?
I love that so much contemporary SF is bringing #ownvoices narratives to the surface. My attempt is to do that while directly confronting current events, politics, social justice, in provocative narratives that interrogate the foundations of SF, dismantle and demolish them, then recycle the debris to build a new house where a new kind of SF can live, thrive, and grow. It’s a work in progress.
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