Tag Archives: science fiction

“The Relive Box” by T.C. Boyle

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A prolific American author, T.C. Boyle has published 24 books of fiction and his short stories have appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s. He received both his MFA and PhD from the University of Iowa, and he is a creative writing professor at USC. His work has been translated into more than two dozen foreign languages, and he’s won numerous awards.

I first discovered this story in The New Yorker, and I later had the pleasure of hearing T.C. Boyle himself read it aloud at the LA Times Festival of Books.


1. Consider the line, “deep in this moment which would give rise to all the rest.” What do you think of the protagonist’s idea that by pinpointing one moment in his life, he can understand everything that came after? How does this story explore the way(s) in which past and present are linked?

2. What techniques does Boyle use to cultivate the tone, both of the story as a whole and of the protagonist’s particular voice? How do these interact?

3. What did you think of Boyle’s use of the second person (“But let me explain the technology here a moment, for those of you who don’t already know”) and the way the author acknowledges the reader. Does this work/not work and in what ways?

4. This story is, in many ways, an exploration of grief, loss, and healing. With a device like this, which allows you to spend time with a (dead) person, would you ever really able to let go?

5. How does Boyle use the relive box to illuminate and explore the father-daughter relationship in this story?

6. What is the significance of Queenie?

7. What do you make of the conclusion? How does it further illuminate the story, and what do you see happening in the future for Wes (and Katie)?

This story will appear in Boyle’s upcoming collection, The Relive Box and Other Stories, which he’s currently working on. In a post dated July 11, 2016 he said he was revising one called “Are We Not Men?'” and that it “is not far off the mark with regard to the reality of what we are unleashing on the world with CRISPR/Cas-9 technology.” Can’t wait to read that one! In the meantime, enjoy “The Relive Box”–looking forward to discussing it!


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“The Closest Thing to Animals” by Sofia Samatar

Becca and I were chatting about the intersection of literary and science fiction, and she suggested I read “The Closest Thing to Animals,” by Sofia Samatar. It sucked me right in and I thought, this would be great for the MUG published piece! It’s a wonderful example of contemporary science fiction, especially as the lines between all kinds of genres become more and more blurred.

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories (due out March 2016). She has won the John W. Campbell Award, the Crawford Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award.

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“The Closest Thing to Animals” Image Header, firesidefiction.com


Questions for Discussion:

  1. How does Samatar sculpt the voice? How did you feel about the speaker, and did your feelings change over the course of the story?
  2. What can we learn from the way Samatar explores and blends race, science fiction, and character development?
  3. How does Samatar achieve a successful exploration of friendship?
  4. To me, one of the main questions here is: What is essential? How does Samatar answer this?

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“That Tear Problem”


Illustration by José Baetas.

“That Tear Problem” by Natalia Theodoridou is a science fiction short story that occupies a very internal place  and ponders in the flavor of Descartes. It’s especially interesting to me because there is not a lot of action, and yet Theodoridou delivers something both poignant and funny as the character struggles.

Theodoridou is a Greek theatre scholar and fiction author. Her science fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Spark, Strange Horizons and more.

Discussion Topics

  1. How does Theodoridou develop character even though there’s basically only one character?
  2. How’s the pacing?
  3. Do you have a clear sense of what is going on in the piece? How does that add or detract from the character’s state of mind? How about the story as a whole? Do you wish there was more explanation?

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Interactive Narrative: What Story Will You Create?

Lizardqueen A friend of mine recently showed me this web comic (incidentally, this is the published piece up for discussion for our meeting on April 2). Now, I am no fan of horror (to tell the truth, this kept me up with unreasonable terror the night after I read it), but I found myself rifling through Emily Carroll’s work.

And I found this.

I know we’re a writer’s group. And this story has no words in it. And it’s nonlinear. And sometimes it doesn’t even make snese.

But it’s still a story.

Cynthia talked a little bit a few weeks ago about the vignette. If I had to characterize “Grave of the Lizard Queen,” I’d call it a series of related vignettes. Alone, they barely tell even a piece of the narrative—and even that is up to interpretation. But together, we get a story of the entombed Lizard Queen’s life.

Nonlinear narrative can be a technique used for good—or for great evil. Notable examples in fiction are the Time Traveler’s Wife, Wuthering Heights, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and The Name of the Wind (I would love to see short-fiction examples of this if you have one!). I’m reading Locke Lamora now. Told both in the present (in which Locke is about 25) and in the past (in which he’s closer to eight or nine), the novel is less concerned with chronology and more concerned with world-building through specific events or characters. By portraying the ruthless king of all thieves, Capa Barsavi, in the present and past in quick succession, we get a better sense of Locke’s memories of Barsavi forcing him to swallow a shark’s tooth just as he’s walking in on Barsavi brutally torturing someone in the present. The result is the reader feels immediate tension in the presence of this awful guy.

It’s a pretty clever way to write a story. With the technique in media res, storytellers can skip right to the action sequences, and fill us in on backstory later. However, in traditional storytelling, we can usually control the order that the reader experiences pieces of the story, and therefore have a greater hand in the way their brains make the connections between different points in time.


With the images arranged in the way Emily Carroll put them, the viewer can experience the visual vignettes in whatever order she chooses. This happens in “choose your own adventure” stories and interactive novels like Blue Lacuna. Here, the “interactive dilemma” is that the author cannot always control which pieces of the story the reader is going to experience first. Readers, then, have more freedom in creating and interpreting the narrative the way they want to.

Check out this story, also by Emily Carroll. It involves both images and words, and two narrative choices at the end of the first page. Ever-so-slight changes in the second part of the narrative drastically change how the reader views the characters. Which image did you click on first? Who did you identify with more?


Let’s go back to our old friend the Grave of the Lizard Queen. Try clicking on the five images in different orders. What differences do you notice? Does the first image you click on impact how the story is told? In my case, I clicked on the center image first, so I got an immediately visceral idea of what it means to be a Lizard Queen: rebirth. This influenced how I interpreted the rest of the images. There are 120 possible stories that can be told with these five vignettes. Go hog-wild!

What I’m really interested in is how can we, as writers and artists, take advantage of this technique? More importantly, how can we (read: me) learn to let go of strict control of the narrative? I, for one, would really love to do a project like this in the future. Now, if only I could hone my artist’s skills as sharply as my wordsmithing skills…

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