For the past fifteen years the podcast Escape Pod has presented science fiction stories by both established writers and writers hoping to establish themselves. In honor of this milestone, current co-hosts Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya — both respected sci-fi writers in their own right — have assembled the new book, Escape Pod: The Science Fiction Anthology (paperback, Kindle), which includes stories by such iconic science fiction writers as N.K. Jemisin, John Scalzi, Sarah Gailey, Tim Pratt, and Lafferty herself. In the following email interview, Lafferty and Divya discuss why they put this book together, and what went into its creation.
Please note: All answers come from both Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya unless otherwise indicated.
Mur Lafferty, S.B. Divya
First off, for those who aren’t familiar with it, what is the Escape Pod podcast?
Mur: Escape Pod is the premier weekly science fiction podcast. It launched in 2005 before most people had heard of podcasts, and was the brainchild of Serah Eley, who wanted to publish short audio fiction and pay authors for their work. Serah’s tagline was “Have fun!” which was the concept she put into the magazine. There’s plenty of dark, serious, or sad sci-fi out there, and she wanted to offer a more fun look. It’s hard to define fun, we discovered. It didn’t always mean comedy (although it could) and it didn’t always mean a happy ending (although we did enjoy those that did.) The concept of “fun” has evolved in the fifteen years since, and under myself and Divya, we consider fun stories to be those that offer a sense of hope or a very satisfying ending.
And then what is Escape Pod the book about and, aside from the name, how does it take inspiration from the podcast?
We felt the fifteenth anniversary was worthy of celebrating and worked with Titan as publisher for the anthology. To bring about the book, we wanted a mix of stories from authors who had previously been involved with the podcast. In the early days we had stories from N.K. Jemisin, John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, Cory Doctorow, and Ken Liu. We got reprints from these authors. Some were stories that had run on the podcast, and some had been published elsewhere. Some of our previously published authors were tapped to give us original stories, and it is a thrill to say we are publishing original stories by T. Kingfisher, Maurice Broaddus, and Sarah Gailey.
What conditions did the stories have to meet to be included in this collection? Did they have to fit a theme, or are all the stories about escape pods…
It was more of a “who’s who” yearbook kind of anthology, since we wanted to feature authors who had sent stories to Escape Pod before, even though the stories themselves could be reprints or new to the podcast or brand new stories. We wanted them to have, overall, the same sense of “fun” we look for in stories that we publish in the podcast, but they are very different from one another. The Tina Connolly story is a sweet teen love story and the Jemisin is very satisfying and Scalzi and Kingfisher bring us hysterical stories, while Gailey gave us the absurd. We have darker, more thoughtful stories as well, since we were looking for the kind of anthology experience that gives a wide variety of stories.
A lot of the stories in this anthology are new. Why did you decide not to make this a best-of collection?
Some of the stories have been on the site before, like the Scalzi, Kowal, and Doctorow stories. But mostly we wanted to bring new stories to our audience. All of our stories remain free in one location, so it’s not like you have to hunt down an old issue of a magazine. We wanted to highlight some of our favorite authors while giving loyal fans stories they haven’t seen before.
The Escape Pod podcast has been around since 2005. When you were putting this anthology together, how did you decide which authors to approach for inclusion?
Some of the folks were not well known in the early days, and we were proud to say we gave these authors a step towards the careers they have now, so we looked at who we had published in the first few years who were larger names now. We also looked at exciting newer voices who excelled in short fiction and whom we had worked with. We were lucky that most of the authors we approached could give us a reprint or a new story.
John Scalzi, Kameron Hurley
The subtitle of the book is “The Science Fiction Anthology.” But aside from sci-fi, what other genres are represented by the stories in this collection?
None — they’re all science fiction. Some are set in space or other planets, some are far future, some have fantastical elements, but they’re all sci-fi at the core. Escape Pod is fairly strict about genre boundaries because Escape Artists [the company that publishes the Escape Pod podcast] also have shows to run fantasy, horror, and YA stories, so the anthology reflects that.
I’ve found that short stories are a great way to discover new writers. Do you think the stories in Escape Pod are good representations of the contributors’ work?
Oh, definitely. Readers know what they’re going to get when they read a Cory Doctorow or Kameron Hurley story. So they should trust that if they’ve never read a story by Sarah Gailey before and want to find more, they will find more of the same amazing work they write elsewhere.
Now, Mur, along with co-editing Escape Pod, you also have a story in it. Some writers who edit anthologies think you should never do this, others think it’s okay and that people who buy them will expect it. How much of an internal debate with yourself did you have over this, and why did you ultimately decide, “Screw it, it’s my book, too; I’m putting one of my stories in it”?
Mur: Heh, that’s not quite what I said. Our publisher, Titan, had a list of authors it hoped we could get for the anthology, and they asked for a story from me. Since I wasn’t the only editor on the project, I could step away from the editor role and trust Divya to decide whether what I turned in was a good fit for the anthology.
Mur: I’m not done telling stories in that universe.
So do you think that working on the podcast and putting together this anthology has, in any way, influenced your own writing?
Mur: I’ve been working with Escape Artists in some kind of editorial capacity for several years, so this anthology didn’t feel much different. I can’t say anything tangible was influenced by the anthology any more than the other editing I’ve done. But as pro writers, Divya and I agree that reading anything will make your own writing richer.
Finally, if someone enjoys Escape Pod, what multi-author sci-fi anthology would you suggest people check out next?
A People’s Future Of The United States, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, and Defying Doomsday edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Hench. Both of these feature science fiction told from viewpoints that are underrepresented in genre and reality, and both show how people can come together in situations of adversity. They have kernels of hope, and we think that’s something people need right now. It’s also something that Escape Pod‘s audience is used to getting from our stories. One of the stories from the former (“Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death” by N.K. Jemisin) is featured in our anthology, and a story from Defying Doomsday (“Given Sufficient Desperation” by Bogi Takács) ran at Escape Pod.