Science Fiction & Fantasy

Null States

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Rachael Acks

How did this story come about?

There were a bunch of factors that came together for this story and it just worked. The title was actually the first thing I came up with, which is unusual for me. Normally I’m total crap at titles. Then I had some notes written down, in regards to drone warfare, PTSD, things like that. I wasn’t really motivated to do anything until Elise Tobler reminded me about the War Stories anthology, which made me just sit down and write. And right around then I’d been reading more about the scandals in the Veterans Administration in America and the lack of support faced by veterans. I’d also just finished re-reading Coriolanus; Tom Hiddleston was set to star in a production of the play at the Donmar Warehouse starting not long after. All that just kind of mixed around and I poured it out over my keyboard in less than forty-eight hours. There wasn’t a lot of editing required after, either. Ever since Comes the Huntsman three years ago, I’ve written a story each year, kind of, for Tom Hiddleston’s birthday, since I have a ton of respect for him as an artist and a genuinely good human being. Since I couldn’t have written this one without the inspiration from Coriolanus, I dedicated this one to him.

Does Tom Hiddleston know that he inspires you to write important, poignant stories that raise money for UNICEF UK?

Oh goodness no. Or at least I hope not. I’d probably die of embarrassment. I honestly feel kind of weird doing the dedications on the stories, but then I feel even more awkward about leaving them off since it seems almost dishonest in a way. I also publicly talk about the donations because it’ll hopefully get other people to consider throwing a few dollars at UNICEF.

Please tell us about one of your favorite projects/activities UNICEF conducts.

I really like UNICEF’s focus on children in general, but particularly the immunization program and the focus on malnutrition, with emergency nutritional supplements for young children.

If this story had a soundtrack what would it be?

The song I wrote it to is “War Again” by Oingo Boingo. Most of my short stories have a single song that ends up driving them.

I love how you capture the experiences of soldiers trying to re-integrate into society and the complex challenges of trauma. What sort of research did you do for this story?

I’d already been reading a lot of news stories about the various VA scandals in the U.S. and the lack of government support, as well as the massive and often ignored problem of suicide in the military and among veterans. There are some absolutely heartbreaking interviews that you can find online from NPR’s Fresh Air and similar news programs, and I searched out as many of those as I could to listen or watch. I also searched for blog posts from veterans and active duty soldiers about the experience of PTSD. Some of them are very frank, such as with that concept of never feeling safe, always thinking about the exits. I’m grateful that veterans and currently serving soldiers are being more open about their experiences; it’s important for civilians to understand these things, because we’ve frankly been failing pathetically when it comes to our responsibility to those who have served and are serving.

If you had a TAOG put in your head, what would you call it?

I think I’d probably end up calling it Kat, after my best friend. Even though the TAOG ends up being a lie in the story, it’s supposed to stand in for someone you trust, who won’t betray you.

What needs destroying in science fiction?

At its base, the idea that so many people seem to have, that there are only set ways to do it right. There are more characters than the default that have worthwhile stories, more sciences to explore than just physics and astronomy, more stories that can be told in more different ways, and by more different writers. Boundaries in art are meant to be pushed. We need to be brave any time someone tries to narrowly define our genre and tell them that our vision of the future and present day is far greater than what any one person can imagine.

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Liz Argall

Liz Argall (photo credit Right Stage Photography)

Liz Argall’s short stories can be found in places like Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death. She creates the webcomic Things Without Arms and Without Legs and writes love songs to inanimate objects. Her previous incarnations include circus manager, refuge worker, artists’ model, research officer for the Order of Australia Awards, farm girl, and extensive work in the not–for–profit sector.