In this Author Spotlight, we take a look at Tanith Lee’s career and life leading up to her story “Black Fire.”
If you’re not familiar with Lee, you have countless opportunities to change that, starting with her new short story for Lightspeed, “Black Fire.” In this charismatic transcript, we hear the perspective of several different men and women with varying tales of the same event. Her characters call the shots, deciding when and where and how and why, and rarely do they hold anything back. Pick up one of Lee’s books, and you might find a young woman smitten by a handsome robot (The Silver Metal Lover and Metallic Love), a demonic prince who kidnaps a human boy to save him from the world (Night’s Master), or a group of teenagers experimenting with new bodies and genders in a world where life is all about pleasure (Biting the Sun).
So what led her to write this story from these different perspectives, in a transcript format? Lee herself told us, “It’s just how it came. Everything I write comes with its own voice, and its own individual formula. They tell me.”
In addition to bold and spirited characters, Lee lets them live their lives wherever they want, whether India, France, some off-world, futuristic society, or her native England, where “Black Fire” is set. The subtle ways of these odd intruders, with their careful appeal particularly to the women, are frightening; this might even happen to you, that single knock at your door. When you open the door and the visitor gazes at you with his disarming smile, you suddenly feel as if you’re the most important person in the world.
What did that visitor want, ultimately? You can almost imagine the cunning smile on her face as Lee said, “I know what he wanted. Hopefully the reader finally will…the clues are in the story.”
Gender also plays a role in each witness’s recollection of his or her experiences, which is no surprise, as many of Lee’s books address gender with regards to power and dominance. In “Black Fire,” the women found their experience enticing, while men were threatened and afraid. Soon, things start adding up: The same man described all over the country, no sightings other than those who actually encountered the man (implying he only appeared to specific people), and the suspicious number of victims—666. The word “devil” comes to mind. Is this intentional?
“Yes,” Lee says, “there’s no other answer. Let’s assemble the story’s clues: 666. Tempted women. An ultimate (forbidden?) knowledge. The scent and taste of an apple. The fear that it may have all happened before, and been Science Fiction back then too. The coded names of the witnesses—Adam and Eve…
“Oh, and by the way, the title,” she adds. “‘Black Fire’ is a quote from Milton’s epic poem–Paradise Lost.”
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