Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Author Spotlight: John Chu

The idea of double time, using time travel as a literal replay of the past and also as part of figure skating choreography, is spectacular! As we see at the end, it’s also crucial to the emotional core of the story. Tell us where this idea came from.

“Double Time” started as a Clarion story. There was a streetlamp right next to the window in my dorm room. The upshot was that my room never really got dark. So, this idea may have come from sleep deprivation?

Seriously, a problem with trying to crank out a story a week (and, by the way, our instructors actually advised against doing this) is that you don’t actually have time to do very much research. So, this story very much came out of my love of figure skating (and lack of need to do research about it).

(By the way, the story that finally got published is very much not the story I wrote at Clarion. When Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein asked me to submit a story to their anthology, Kaleidoscope, I thought of this Clarion story. Instead of revising it, though, I wrote a different story with the same speculative element, same main character, and same central relationship.)

Intersectionally speaking, Shelly is juggling a lot in this story: gaining approval from her mother and coach as a young adult; excelling on her own terms in a competitive sport; mastering time travel; and living up to the expectations of an immigrant upbringing. How did you choose a character like Shelly to tell this story?

Shelly evolved as I wrote. At the start, I knew that she was a Chinese-American girl. Despite the speculative element, I wanted the story to take place in more or less the present. Given that I wanted to write a figure skating story, that meant the mother had to be this huge Michelle Kwan fan. It’s hard to overestimate the impact Michelle Kwan had on Chinese-Americans of a certain age. Everything else about Shelly more or less fell out of that.

I really appreciate how the story assumes the centrality of Shelly’s being Chinese-American and steeps the narrative in her world. This approach is so important for readers starved for more inclusive fiction. How intentional was this approach when you sat down to write?

Completely intentional. The goal (even in the version I originally drafted at Clarion) was always to portray a parent-child relationship rooted in the specifics of Chinese-American immigrant culture of a certain era.

You had a story published previously in Queers Destroy Science Fiction! What does it mean for you to destroy science fiction?

I’ve always taken the word “destroy” in this context somewhat ironically, as a way to reclaim the attempted insult sometimes deployed at women, the non-cis, the non-straight, people of color, or anyone else who is not of a dominant group. There is this weird, unfounded assumption that we have just recently sprung out of nowhere. For me, to “destroy science fiction” is to assert that we have always been here and we will always be here. Our work has always had an influence on the field and it always will.

Is there new work of yours that we can look forward to?

In March, The Revelator published “The Law and the Profits,” a fantasy noir story that’s tangentially related to The Wizard of Oz. A bonus point to anyone who works out what that relationship is. The reference in the text to the Emerald City is a red herring.

This summer I have two stories coming out. The Book Smugglers is publishing “How to Piss Off a Failed Super-Soldier” as part of their Year of the Superhero. Also, Twelve Planet Press is publishing “Selected Afterimages of the Fading” in Defying Doomsday, an anthology of apocalyptic science fiction focused on disabled and non-neurotypical characters.

Christian A. Coleman

Christian A. Coleman

Christian A. Coleman is a 2013 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. He lives and writes in the Boston area. He tweets at @coleman_II.