Superversive Blog: Interview with Abyss & Apex editor: Wendy S. Delmater


Subversive Literary Movement

Today we have a delightful treat, an interview with Abyss and Apex editor, Wendy S. Delmater.

Wendy was superversive before the rest of us ever heard of it. She is friends with Tom Simon, the gentleman who uses Superversive as an online name and who wrote our opening post. She brings her superversiveness to bear upon her work as the editor of Abyss & Apex Magazine, a long running semi-pro magazine of speculative fiction. A&A has been in print since 2003. The magazine’s name comes from quote by Friedrich Nietzsche: “And if you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

Wendy says of the stories she publishes: “We look for the unique: stories that stand out in a genre that pushes the envelope of unusual. We take special delight in detailed world-building: we like slipstream, YA, hypertext fiction, dark fantasy, science fiction puzzle stories, magical realism, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, science fantasy, urban fantasy, military science fiction, ghost stories, space opera, cyberpunk, steampunk… there is very little we will not look at, although we have a severe allergy to zombies, elves, retold fairy tales, sports, westerns, vampires, and gratuitous sex and violence. We have no subject/topic preference, beyond a requirement that the work have a speculative element. We are happy to read stories that don’t quite seem to fit elsewhere.

She also points out: The Urban Dictionary gives the following definition of superversive: Nurturing; supportive, building up — opposite of subversive.

Below is our interview with this perceptive and crusading editrix.

Q. Why do you consider yourself a superversive editor?

A. It's not because our stories are all rainbows and happy endings, although we occasionally run such content. But some of our fiction is quite dark. I suppose it is because I choose to handle themes that are positive, more often than not. For example, even a recent story about horrific, graphic  murder stalking a bleak prison asteroid has a surprisingly positive message at the end – a message of family loyalty and cheating death via quick wits and technology.

Other stories ultimately have themes like the importance of loyalty, justice, and honor; conversely, our fiction also talks about the follies of greed, pride, lust for power, or over-reliance on technology – or on magic.


Q. Are you ever criticized for being too positive?

A. Oh, sure. Humor is subjective, so I tend to be less concerned about those who complain about stories with a punch line or gentle sense of amusement, but critics can be quite upset about what they consider to be A&A's general lack of bleak “realism.” I think that there is more than enough grating evil and unhappiness in the world, so there is no need to add to it. If they want bad news, they can read a newspaper or a news site, or watch an actual newscast. Abyss & Apex is meant to be entertainment. We do literary-style stories as a part of the science fiction and fantasy genres, but only if they are also cracking good stories.

As to thinking of genre short stories as primarily entertainment, I'd like to channel Kristine Kathryn Rusch, here.

When literary tropes hit sf in the 1960s, solid characterization, good sentence-by-sentence writing, and dystopian endings became commonplace. “Realism,” both in character actions and in scientific approach, became more important than good storytelling.

Fantasy continued its heroic ways, promising—and usually delivering—those uplifting endings, those fascinating worlds, and those excellent (heroic) characters. But science fiction started resembling the literary mainstream. The novels became angst-filled. The protagonists, demoted from their heroic pedestals, lost more than they won. The worlds became as ugly or uglier than our own.

Suddenly, sf became unreliable. Readers had no idea if they would find uplifting stories or dystopian universes. They didn’t know whether, once they plunged through six hundred pages of nasty, ugly world-building, they would ever emerge into any sort of light. Sometimes, the sf devolved into one long scientific exposition. Or into jargon-filled, hard-to-follow stories that realistically explored situations set up in the bad old days of pre-literary science fiction.

– “Barbarian Confessions” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch,

I'd like to think a story can be literary as well as entertaining, such as our homage to Bradbury or one of our Islamic fiction offerings, A Hundredth Name. All I know is that Booklist said of our anthology that, “The quality of the contents is consistently extraordinary.


Q. Can you give me examples of what you consider to be superversive stories that have been published in Abyss & Apex?

A. Sure. It would be a long list if I mentioned them all, so I will pick examples from subgenre categories:


Do you find that people's definition of what is superversive is pretty similar? Or is there a wide variety?  

No one even knows what “superversive” is.


You've given us a wonderful treasure trove of superversive stories to investigate here. Are there any pointers you might want to share with authors who might wish to write a superversive piece?

Let's talk about what “superversive” means; I think it might be a new term to some of your readers. It's a fairly new word. The Urban Dictionary defines Superversive this way: nurturing; supportive, building up — opposite of subversive. 

Nurturing also includes tough love. Sometime science fiction and fantasy peels back the gloss of civilization and the everyday to remind us that human nature can be cruel or selfish or flawed–what the Judeo-Christian tradition calls “fallen.” Our story, “Snatch Me Another,” shows the consequences when the world's economy becomes totally dependent on theft from other universes. It's chaos. Tough love always has consequences, and that's why stories of “What if people had this magical power” or 'What if we had a technology that could do “X”?' are so often cautionary tales.


What is the hardest part about your job as a superversive editor?

*Grin* I ditched the hardest part when I decreed we would not look at horror stories. We do not like hopelessness, unless, of course, it is a consequence earned by intentional, unfortunate actions. Even  then, stories of redemption are satisfying. Very satisfying. Or why did we all get choked up when Darth Vader chose his son over the Emperor, even though it meant death?


What is the most rewarding part?

I love helping those who paint pictures on the minds of men – with words. There is a rush in finding a story I know will resonate with others, and a real joy in helping the new writer get across the story that is in their head, or showing them where they've made a wrong turning.


Do you have trouble finding enough superversive stories? And, if so, do you ever find yourself under pressure to accept a well-written story you don't really care for to fill the space?

We have trouble finding enough exceptional stories, things worth publishing. This is entirely our fault, since we take unsolicited manuscripts, and that means kissing a lot of frogs before you find a prince! We also do not pay more than $75 per story, so when writers get really good they tend to leave us for better paying gigs. That's okay.

As to pressure? Pfft! I run this mag, I print what I want, end of story. The only times I've ever felt the slightest push to publish something was years ago, when under pressure from a staff member, who simply thought they knew better than me, I published a story I knew would bomb and the critics completely agreed with my warning analysis. That person has since moved on, their lesson learned. 

I've noticed certain unnamed genre critics having a propensity toward [not] recommending stories that had happy endings or humor. I'm not there to reinforce their negative world view, though.


You mentioned a Muslim superversive story, which sounds intriguing. Do you get many submissions with a Christian theme, or do SF and Christianity tend to shy away from each other?

We get all religions. That Muslim superversive story would be “Mind-Diver,” by Vylar Kaftan, which tells about a Muslim doctor who enters wounded psyches, to heal. Or would it be “A Hundredth Name, a story about a Muslim man in space coming to grips with his wife's death?  We've done some Jewish SF, too: Lavie Tidhar's “Out of the Blue” , a few golem stories (most notably Emmet, Joey and the Beelz) and  Joanie Steinwachs' “The Number of Angels in Hell,” which tells a story of a fall and personal redemption in a rather horrific way (consequences, again.)  Buddhist SF stories include “Bodhisattva Breath,” and “Incarnation in the Delta.”  And we get Christian stories. “The Third Attractor,” for example, has a priest as a major character, and is about AIs and mathematical proof of an eternal soul. Then there's the overtly Christian “God's Guitar”  There are even alien theologies in stories like “A Time To Weep” and “Nine Thousand Four Hundred Ninety-Four Days.”

When you start avoiding the Big Questions, it get boring. But in all the above cases imperfect humans ran up against their flaws, blind spots, and misconceptions, and grew.

Fantasy is the genre that seems to shy away from Christianity. Unless you're Tolkien writing about Christ-figures like returning kings and faithful servants, or C.S. Lewis writing about Christ, period (Aslan), there seems a tendency for fantasy writers to make up their very own pantheons of Godknowswhat. One of the real challenges in picking fantasy stories out of the slush is to find tales that incorporate anything that is not a made-up religion, or avoids religion altogether. I usually chose things based in on historical religious setting or traditions, such as the druids in “The Fifer of Moments” and the Japanese celestial in “The Heaviest Dream.” A good find was “Affairs of Honor” as it talks about how magic would affect Revolutionary war-time America, a deeply Christian environment. But, A&A fantasy picks just don't talk about their religions as much as in our SF.

In all cases, values like honor and trustworthiness being rewarded and dishonorable behavior being punished seem to resonate with our readers. Call it Karma, if you will.


Do you think superversive stories can help those going through dark times find the light at the end of the tunnel?

You mean, like restoring their faith in humanity? Maybe. All I know is that JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Asimov,  Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey. Cj Cherryh, Connie Willis, Phillp K Dick, Kelly Link, Will McIntosh, Nancy Kress, and other writers keep pulling me out of dark times. They graciously let me inhabit the worlds they've created and I am richer as a result.

Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy Stories” said that the work of fantasy was to, basically, get us outside of this world so we can get a good look at where we are: perspective. When times are tough it's good to rest the mind on favorite books or nibble on new adventures in new lands. Whether it's a trip to Faerie or outer space, A&A hopes to be your travel agent.


In closing, we are very grateful for Wendy’s insights and grateful to know that Abyss & Apex Magazine may hold many yet undiscovered gems to delight the superversive-yearning heart.


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