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The PRESS START TO PLAY Interviews! Players Up: Holly Black, Marguerite Bennett, and Nicole Feldringer

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!

On with the interviews!


This interview was 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.

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

Jude Griffin: What was the spark for “1UP”?

Holly Black: I wanted someone to have left a puzzle in a game for friends to solve—friends who had only known one another online before. That’s such an interesting personal dynamic.

My gaming background is primarily in role-playing games and then games that imitate role-playing, so I am always interested in the way people who get together to play games can be really, really different from one another and yet become super tight by virtue of having a shared love of making up stories together.

JG: What made you use the text-based game approach: your own predilection/gaming experience or the story and its characters?

HB: I think text-based gaming is really fascinating, especially in the way that it persists even as mainstream games get more and more visual and the visuals in them get more and more cinematic.

JG: Text-based gaming is a little like reading a story, which created an excellent formal structure for a story.
How did the story change from the first draft to the final version?

HB: I actually didn’t immediately think of using text-based gaming, so in the original draft, I was trying to write the story of someone who made a level for his friends, the way you could in Doom. Once I figured out that I could use text-based gaming, the story got a whole lot easier to write.

JG: Ever thought of creating your own game world? Are there any online MUSH/MUDs based on your works?

HB: When the Spiderwick movie game out, there was a Spiderwick game too. If I remember correctly, you could play Thimbletack and stab things with a pencil. It was great.

I’d love to have a game based on other work, and I’d love even more to be involved in the writing/development. Maybe someday.

JG: No faeries, no vampires, but a hint of zombie: can we expect more about zombies in your future works or have the unicorns won?

HB: Coming back from the dead just makes you a member of the undead, to which I have no objections. I like a ghoul, for instance. Or revenants of many kinds. Just not zombies. Never zombies.

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

HB: I recently sold a new Faerie trilogy to Little, Brown books. The first one, The Cruel Prince, will come out early 2018.


This interview was conducted by Jude Griffin.

Marguerite Bennett is a comic book writer from Richmond, Virginia who has just moved from New York City to Los Angeles. She attended the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2013. She has worked for DC Comics, Marvel, BOOM Studios, and IDW on projects ranging from Batman and X-Men to FOX’s Sleepy Hollow. She loves Disney movies, superheroes, and body horror. She has been fortunate enough to see over a million copies of her work published.

JG: Has writing comics influenced your text storytelling style? “Stats” seems cinematic, visual.

Marguerite Bennett: Thank you kindly. I have a tendency toward concrete images in description that can come off as overripe in prose; I think comics is my more natural medium, consequently.

JG: Joey fucking Connor’s exaggerated characteristics make it easier to see him suffer, to see evil get its comeuppance, to even find the humor in some of the situations, but the irony is that this rests on a lack of empathy, the very thing he is condemned for. Do the evil abdicate any right to empathy?

MB: In a way, it’s an evil story. We read the opinions and actions of a nasty, petty man; we take nasty, petty enjoyment in his punishment. We tokenize the oppressed to experience the suffering created by tokenizing the oppressed. It’s a mean, sticky cycle, and attempting to break it means becoming an antagonist—all your misbegotten attempts at doing good made as vulgar and offensive as those of the person you loathe. It’s the denial of empathy on both large and intimate scales. It was uncomfortable to write, and, I hope, uncomfortable to read.

JG: Is empathy the key to a just and equal society?

MB: I sincerely believe so. The ugliest thing I could do to someone was give them a life without empathy.

JG: From NYC to LA, you do nothing by halves, do you?

MB: I used to. I was compliant and eager to please because that’s what I was taught girls were supposed to be. I grew out of it. Now I’d rather be assertive, decisive, make choices, even knowing some of them will be wrong.

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

MB: In comics, I work on Marvel’s A-Force, the all-female Avengers team, with G. Willow Wilson and Jorge Molina, and on Bombshells, an alternate history WWII featuring the heroines of DC Comics. They are both beautiful, graceful, thoughtful series—as far from “Stats” as you can get, though I hope all three have value to the readers, to whom I am grateful for checking out our anthology.


This interview was conducted by Lee Hallison.

About Lee:

Lee Hallison writes fiction in an old Seattle house where she lives with her patient spouse and two lovable dogs. It is also where Skyping with her newly minted college freshman has helped her overcome empty nest syndrome. She’s held many jobs—among them a bartender, a small town librarian, a tropical plant-waterer, a CPA, and a university lecturer.

Nicole Feldringer holds a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Washington and a Master’s degree in Geological Sciences. In 2011, she attended the Viable Paradise Writer’s Workshop, and her first published short story appeared in the Sword & Laser anthology. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she is a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology. Find her on Twitter @nicofeld.

Lee Hallison: What a fun way to combine crowd-sourced science and gaming! Did any real-life “research by volunteers” inspire this story?

Nicole Feldringer: I was inspired by and its predecessor, SETI@home, which both use the concept of volunteer computing. In the case of, large ensembles of state-of-the-art climate models are run on the donated idle time of personal computers. I’m not involved in the project, but from my perspective it’s been a grand success scientifically and also captured public imagination in a profound way.

Accomplishing those simultaneous goals is ideal in crowd-sourced research.

Of course, distributed computing was just baby steps. I later learned of Foldit, an online puzzle video game about protein folding developed at the University of Washington. Apparently protein structure prediction is a big challenge in molecular biology and medicine, and humans are good at pattern matching, even to the point of outperforming computer algorithms. It took Foldit gamers 3 weeks to decode an AIDS protein that stumped researchers for 15 years! That’s when I started imagining what gamification of climate prediction might look like.

LH: Esme’s relationship to her father has directed her rebellion. Do you think Esme and her father will be able to work together now that the project is one she’s triggered?

NF: I think that all depends on whether her father can take a back seat and let Esme see her vision through. I’m cautiously optimistic about their partnership, though I imagine they’ll always butt heads to a degree. They’re too much alike–and equally stubborn–not to.

I also imagine that she could stand to listen to his advice more often than she will. She still has some growing up to do.

LH: Your work in atmospheric science strongly underpins this story. Are you working on any real life projects to fix Earth’s climate?

NF: Fix, not so much. Improve understanding, absolutely. My research is in climate dynamics, with an emphasis on climate feedbacks and sensitivity. In other words, how do processes in the atmosphere, such as clouds, water vapor, and sea ice, amplify or damp how much warming occurs for a given change in greenhouse gases. I do a lot of work with idealized models called aquaplanets, in which we strip out the continents and try to understand the fundamental response of the atmospheric circulation and large-scale patterns of climate change.

That’s the easy part in a sense. One of the challenges for humanity is the gap between the state of scientific understanding and the raft of socio-economic barriers to enacting a solution. And the sad truth is that scientists are often not the best communicators of their science. The situation is that we know the scope of the problem more or less, operating of course with some inescapable amount of uncertainty because the Earth is a complex system, but in my mind “fixing” climate is largely in the realm of politics rather than science at this point.

LH: The story is convincing that climate manipulation might be possible. Do you believe large-scale geo engineering or climate modification could become a viable way to address global warming?

NF: It’s probably possible, to an extent, but the devil is in the details. One of the leading contenders is stratospheric aerosol injections, which falls under the umbrella of solar radiation management because the aerosols reflect sunlight, thus cooling the climate. The natural analog is volcanic eruptions, such as Tambora in 1815, which led to the so-called Year Without a Summer.

However, large-scale geoengineering schemes raise a number of ethical issues. For instance: Who controls the thermostat? Canada and India would likely have different priorities for optimizing global climate.

While some modeling studies suggest that we may be able to cancel warming with stratospheric aerosols, regional effects such as melting ice sheets and changing patterns of precipitation are more difficult to reverse. There will always be winners and losers, and the sad truth is that the countries that are least resilient to climate change also face the largest impacts.

Another chilling aspect is that once you start geoengineering, you can’t stop. Imagine we inject aerosols into the atmosphere for 25 years, then (for economic or geopolitical reasons) the project is halted. If we haven’t simultaneously reduced greenhouse gas emissions, then all the unrealized warming is still there. But it happens over decades rather than a century. It’s difficult to imagine how societies and ecosystems could adapt to that sort of extremely rapid climate change. Finally, what little we know is based on simulations. Our models are sophisticated, but they’re still just models and we have only one Earth. Unintended consequences are a real danger, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that an individual or corporation will violate international treaties and just do it. It’s happened with iron fertilization in the ocean, which highlights the grey area between geoengineering global climate and local modifications, such as boosting salmon populations or cloud seeding. And then we have to deal with the consequences. Playing ostrich isn’t terribly helpful, much as the view is nice.

All of which is to say, I have no answers, only questions. I’m rather more pessimistic about geoengineering than Esme, more cynical in general. I despair to see future technology used as an argument for present inaction, but I’m also inspired by human innovation. I struggle with these conflicting ideas, which is when I turn to writing science fiction.


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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