Science Fiction & Fantasy

Transcendent Annual Series

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Author Spotlight: Jessica Barber

What was the seed for “Coma Kings”?

I’m an electrical engineer, and I occasionally work building hardware for neuroscience labs, so on a day-to-day basis I spend a reasonable amount of time discussing and thinking about brain-machine interfaces. One day a co-worker and I were having a conversation about what we were jokingly referring to as “brain DJs,” the idea being that you’d take, say, EEG recordings of somebody who was in a deep meditative state (or tripping, or whatever), and then induce somebody else to match their “brain waves” using magnetic stimulation (or flashing lights, or whatever). Super fun at parties! So “Coma Kings” sprung from that sort of idea of collaborative hallucination.

I loved the description for Lady K’s place—was it inspired by some place you’ve been?

Thanks! And no one place in particular; more an amalgam of various labs and hackerspaces I’ve worked in or visited over the years, with a dash of high school friends’ garages/basements for good measure.

Why “kings” in the title when the protagonist, Jennifer, is female (as is her sibling, Annie)?

Honestly, only that I had the title in mind before I’d really fleshed out the plot, and then was disinclined to change it. There’s probably some snarky meaning to be assigned there about gaming/tech culture and the demographics to which it tends to cater, but that would be giving myself too much retroactive credit.

See also, in the “formative childhood influences” sub-category, Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons and the gender non-specificness of the title of “King of the Dragons,” which absolutely blew my little brain when I first read it.

Did you have the end in mind when you started? If not, how did it evolve during the shaping of the story?

Yes, I definitely knew from the beginning that I wanted the story to end this way. I’m a fan of ambiguous endings. I wanted to screw around with genre fiction tropes and thwarting expectations; with the idea that in real life, winning your hacker showdown (or magical battle, or whatever) isn’t always enough to defeat the big bad and live happily ever after. That sometimes there’s still work to do to overcome whatever you’ve got going on.

That being said, I did get critiques of a “that’s it?!” nature, so I suppose YMMV.

Any news or projects you want to tell us about?

I write at a truly glacial pace, so nothing in the immediate publishing pipeline. I’m just wrapping up a novelette about lake monsters and growing up in southern Appalachia, so hopefully you’ll see that somewhere soon!

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Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.