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The PRESS START TO PLAY Interviews! Players Up: Daniel H. Wilson, Jessica Barber and Yoon Ha Lee

John Joseph Adams, who, along with Daniel H. Wilson, edited the brand new Press Start To Play anthology has kindly asked us to share a series of interviews with the authors that have stories in the book.

Here’s the synopsis:


You are standing in a room filled with books, faced with a difficult decision. Suddenly, one with a distinctive cover catches your eye. It is a groundbreaking anthology of short stories from award-winning writers and game-industry titans who have embarked on a quest to explore what happens when video games and science fiction collide.

From text-based adventures to first-person shooters, dungeon crawlers to horror games, these twenty-six stories play with our notion of what video games can be—and what they can become—in smart and singular ways. With a foreword from Ernest Cline, bestselling author of Ready Player One, Press Start to Play includes work from: Daniel H. Wilson, Charles Yu, Hiroshi Sakurazaka, S.R. Mastrantone, Charlie Jane Anders, Holly Black, Seanan McGuire, Django Wexler, Nicole Feldringer, Chris Avellone, David Barr Kirtley,T.C. Boyle, Marc Laidlaw, Robin Wasserman, Micky Neilson, Cory Doctorow, Jessica Barber, Chris Kluwe, Marguerite K. Bennett, Rhianna Pratchett, Austin Grossman, Yoon Ha Lee, Ken Liu, Catherynne M. Valente, Andy Weir, and Hugh Howey.

Your inventory includes keys, a cell phone, and a wallet. What would you like to do?


You can also check out the table of contents here!

All interviews in this post were conducted by Jude Griffin.

About Jude:

Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.

On with the interviews!


Daniel H. Wilson is a New York Times bestselling author and coeditor of Press Start to Play. He earned a PhD in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he also received master’s degrees in robotics and in machine learning. He has published over a dozen scientific papers, holds four patents, and has written eight books. Wilson has written for Popular Science,Wired, and Discover, as well as online venues such as, Gizmodo, Lightspeed, and In 2008, Wilson hosted The Works, a television series on the History Channel that uncovered the science behind everyday stuff. His books include How to Survive a Robot Uprising, A Boy and His Bot, Amped, and Robopocalypse (the film adaptation of which is slated to be directed by Steven Spielberg). He lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Find him on Twitter @danielwilsonPDX.

Jude Griffin: How did this story come about?

Daniel H. Wilson: This story was from an idea that I had as a teenager, and tried (and failed) to write as a teenager. I have always wondered if this world is someone’s dream. And if so, who? And what happens to the rest of us when that person gets hurt or dies? Now I’m an adult, and I have realized that my memory isn’t perfect. A lot of the fear of forgetting my life also went into this story.

JG: Can you talk about the challenges of balancing the revelations of what might be happening? (It was so well done.)

DHW: Thank you! For a little while I considered making the story about Alzheimer’s and the deterioration of reality from within that perspective, but I dismissed that as too depressing and not sci-fi enough. Ultimately, pacing out the revelations was just a matter of figuring out the twist at the end so that I could build up to it. The short story itself appears within the context of an anthology about video games, so I knew the reader’s mind would jump to conclusions about that—and knowing that helped me throw a few red herrings along the way so that I could hopefully provide a good surprise at the end.

JG: Was there a direction for the story that you ended up not taking?

DHW: There were quite a few directions I ended up not taking. Originally, this was going to be a much longer story—maybe novella length. About midway through there is a sentence that says something like “Did we run to the coast? Did we fight? I can’t remember.” That line was a call-out to all the other adventures that these two characters were going to have. Ultimately, I realized that I could keep the poignancy without sending them on some world-spanning adventure. It was more emotional to stick to that a familiar setting and watch it fall apart piece by piece.

JG: This story, its scenario, lingered with me. Whose story has stuck with you long after reading?

DHW: Lots and lots of stories stick with me. One that comes up in my mind an absurd amount is Stephen King’s “The Long Walk.” Every time I’m walking anywhere, pretty much, I think to myself, “What if I couldn’t stop walking?” How long could you go before your sanity starts to crumble? Thanks a lot, Stephen!

JG: Any new projects you want to tell us about?

DHW: I have a playable story in the App Store that I’m very excited about, called Mayday! Deep Space. Using speech recognition, you literally answer a mayday call and help a survivor escape from a derelict spaceship overrun with horrifying zombies. It’s a unique pet project (selected as a “Top 25 Best Game of 2015” by Gamezebo) and you can grab it at!


Jessica Barber grew up in Tennessee, but moved to New England to attend MIT, where she studied physics and electrical engineering. After a brief stint building rocket ships in southern California, she returned to Cambridge, where she now spends her days developing open source electronics, with a focus on tools for neuroscience. Her work has previously appeared in Strange Horizons and Lightspeed Magazine.

This interview was originally published on

JG: What was the seed for “Coma Kings”?

Jessica Barber: I’m an electrical engineer, and I occasionally work building hardware for neuroscience labs, so on a day-to-day basis I spend a reasonable amount of time discussing and thinking about brain-machine interfaces. One day a co-worker and I were having a conversation about what we were jokingly referring to as “brain DJs,” the idea being that you’d take, say, EEG recordings of somebody who was in a deep meditative state (or tripping, or whatever), and then induce somebody else to match their “brain waves” using magnetic stimulation (or flashing lights, or whatever). Super fun at parties! So “Coma Kings” sprung from that sort of idea of collaborative hallucination.

JG: I loved the description for Lady K’s place–was it inspired by some place you’ve been?

JB: Thanks! And no one place in particular; more an amalgam of various labs and hackerspaces I’ve worked in or visited over the years, with a dash of high school friends’ garages/basements for good measure.

JG: Why “kings” in the title when the protagonist, Jennifer, is female (as is her sibling, Annie)?

JB: Honestly only that I had the title in mind before I’d really fleshed out the plot, and then was disinclined to change it. There’s probably some snarky meaning to be assigned there about gaming/tech culture and the demographics to which it tends to cater, but that would be giving myself too much retroactive credit.

See also, in the “formative childhood influences” sub-category, Patricia C. Wrede’s “Dealing With Dragons” and the gender non-specificness of the title of “King of the Dragons,” which absolutely blew my little brain when I first read it.

JG: Did you have the end in mind when you started? If not, how did it evolve during the shaping of the story?

JB: Yes, I definitely knew from the beginning that I wanted the story to end this way. I’m a fan of ambiguous endings. I wanted to screw around with genre fiction tropes and thwarting expectations; with the idea that in real life winning your hacker showdown (or magical battle, or whatever) isn’t always enough to defeat the big bad and live happily ever after. That sometimes there’s still work to do to overcome whatever you’ve got going on.

That being said, I did get critiques of a “that’s it?!” nature, so I suppose YMMV. 🙂

JG: Any news or projects you want to tell us about?

JB: I write at a truly glacial pace, so nothing in the immediate publishing pipeline. I’m just wrapping up a novelette about lake monsters and growing up in southern Appalachia, so hopefully you’ll see that somewhere soon!


Yoon Ha Lee was introduced to video games by way of a Commodore 64, became the world’s worst FPS player in high school after encountering Wolfenstein 3D, and is currently in extended mourning for the Crysis Wars mod Mechwarrior: Living Warriors. (Favorite mech: Shadowcat A.) Lee authored the Storynexus game Winterstrike for Failbetter Games, wrote the IF game Moonlit Tower in Inform 6 after being sucked into the genre, and outsources CRPG min-maxing to their husband. Lee’s collection Conservation of Shadows came out from Prime Books in 2013. Other works have appeared in venues such as Lightspeed, Clarkesworld,, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Lee lives in Louisiana with family and has not yet been eaten by gators.

JG: How did “Gamer’s End” come about? Is the title a play on ENDER’S GAME?

Yoon Ha Lee: I originally wrote it to submit to a special issue of a zine. I was hard up for an idea, but I’d been thinking about John Kessel’s critique of Ender’s Game, “Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender’s Game, Intention, and Morality” I’m not sure I agree with Kessel on all points, but his essay is definite food for thought. Ender’s Game was the sf novel that made me decide that I wanted to write science fiction, back in high school—before then, I’d primarily been interested in writing fantasy—so when I had an idea based on some of Kessel’s critique, I thought I might as well have a go. Maybe the title was overkill, but I wanted to acknowledge my debt to a story that has meant a lot to me.

JG: The world of the Shuos and the Kel keeps expanding: how has your vision for that world evolved?

JHL: The world actually started with an unpublished space opera/military sf novel, Ninefox Gambit, that I wrote partly as a love song to Legend of the Five Rings (a loosely samurai-based fantasy collectible card game and roleplaying game for which I had the privilege of writing game fiction for a year), Warhammer 40,000 (I do not play but I adore the over-the-top grim darkness of the setting), and Jack L. Chalker’s setting in his Flux & Anchor series (except I like to think that I am a little better at math than Chalker—sorry, Chalker!), with a dash of The Sandbaggers (TV show) and the abuse of large chunks of Ross Anderson’s Security Engineering, 2nd ed. The short story I first published in the setting, “The Battle of Candle Arc,” was originally an outtake from a couple of lines in the novel. I was going to leave it to the reader’s imagination how Jedao managed to win a battle outnumbered eight to one, and then I foiled myself by deciding to write the story anyway and having to figure out how it happened. (I cribbed heavily off the Battle of Myeongnyang, in which the Korean national hero Admiral Yi Sun-Shin crushed the enemy while outnumbered 10 to 1, taking fewer casualties than my character did because I didn’t want to push suspension of disbelief.)

“Candle Arc” and “Gamer’s End” take place centuries apart. Ninefox Gambit was going to be a standalone, and then I kept thinking of other things that I wanted to say about the setting’s past and future, and about how the “history” of this imaginary world would play out. (It is perhaps not a coincidence that when I went to college, I wanted to be a history major before switching over to math so that I would be able to feed myself.)

JG: You’ve said that you want to leave the reader with an object lesson or ethical question: what was it for this story?

JHL: Ha! Just the idea of what, exactly, we should be selecting for in soldiers. (Which seems terribly arrogant for me to address, considering I have gone nowhere near military service and I doubt someone with my particular health problems would be suitable for it.) I haven’t yet had a chance to read all the stories in the anthology, but to my mind Hugh Howey’s “Select Character” does a fantastic job with this question—go read it!

JG: Whose story or novel left you with the most powerful object lesson or ethical question?

JHL: As you might expect, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game was one of them, not because of Ender, but because of characters that I rarely seem to see discussed (perhaps I am not looking in the right place?), the instructors Graff and—Anderson? I’m having trouble finding the names in my copy. I was interested when I went back for the original short version of “Ender’s Game” published in Analog in August 1977 that (of course) a lot of elements added to and developed in the novel were absent: the Giant’s Drink game, Ender’s siblings, and (for the most part) the dialogues between the two instructors. It really made me wonder how far you could go to justify pedagogical techniques in a desperate situation. (I guess this was a sign that I would end up as a teacher, even if I didn’t do it for very long.)

The other I’d like to call out is Harlan Ellison’s short story “The Deathbird,” which I first read in his collection Deathbird Stories. I was a Christian at the time and having this unrepentant, thoroughly revisionist take on the Christian mythos thrown in my face was quite a shock! I wandered around in a daze for about two days after reading it. It’d never before occurred to me to wonder what the snake’s viewpoint was in the Garden of Eden. And of course, besides its themes, that story is amazing in how well-integrated its narrative techniques are. I learned so much from it.

JG: Where do you fall on the continuum of response to invaders from nonviolent resistant to spare-the-civilians to all is fair in war?

JHL: This may not be a popular answer: I am not a pacifist, nor do I believe that all is fair. I believe that there is such a thing as a just war, and that a just war is based on three foundations: a just cause for war (jus ad bellum), ethical conduct of war (jus in bello), and—perhaps sometimes neglected—the proper conduct of postwar relations (jus post bellum). This is a framework I learned about from Brian Orend’s The Morality of War, an interesting and cogent follow-up to Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars.

I do not pretend to be an ethicist or particularly good at philosophy or, if you come to that, a particularly good or nice person. My main objection to all-out war is not so much ethical as pragmatic. As far as I can tell, all-out war is immediately damaging to both (all?) parties’ ability to relate to each other as human beings, and then continues that damage into the future, after the war is over. I find that objectionable on the grounds of wastefulness.

JG: Any new projects you want to tell us about?

JHL: As it so happens, Solaris Books have acquired the trilogy consisting of Ninefox Gambit and its two sequels, of which I’ve already turned in books one and two. Ninefox Gambit is due out in June 2016—you can find more information here.

I’m also currently working on a game for Choice of Games, Star Spy Academy, which is set in Shuos Academy a bit before “Gamer’s End.” It’s a somewhat diluted version of the setting, partly due to the constraints of the medium, and partly to make the game friendlier to a broader audience—the Shuos teach an “Introduction to Seduction” course that I have elected not to mention in the game on the grounds that it would, er, alarm people! But it’s terrific fun writing about a bunch of baby spies running around backstabbing, or not backstabbing, each other.


About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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