Interview: Phoebe Barton

Today we’re joined by Phoebe Barton. Phoebe is a phenomenal science fiction author who specializes in hard science fiction. She enjoys writing women-centered fiction and has published a few stories online. Her work has a lot of relevant themes and sounds positively fascinating. It’s clear she’s a dedicated and passionate artist, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

Portrait 1-sm [Philippe McNally]
Portrait by Philippe McNally

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I write science fiction; people have tended to describe it as hard science fiction, and while I don’t agree with the way “hard science fiction” is often wielded as a hammer to invalidate peoples’ work, I do try to get things as correct as I can with the knowledge I have access to. If I can’t believe the accuracy of something, what business do I have expecting a reader to believe it?

I prefer writing stories that centre around women, and some of my favourites are the ones that include no men at all – even before I knew I was a trans woman, I knew that was what made it more comfortable for me to inhabit the story’s world. Since I started being published I’ve only written from two masculine perspectives, and one of them is a character in my still-unpublished, desperately-in-need-of-redrafting novel. Themes of isolation come up a lot in my work as well, with stories set in places like the rings of Saturn or Earth orbit or the fringes of the known galaxy, which owes a lot to my own isolation growing up on the suburban edge of Central Ontario.

What inspires you?

Thinking about all the wide and diverse possibilities of what the future could hold, of what could become of us if we’re wise enough to know what we’re doing while we reach for it. A lot of my characters are genetically engineered or technologically enhanced in some way or another, and I’ve always been inspired by how the vast canvas of science fiction can allow us to look at new things in new ways, as long as we’re careful to not fall into familiar pitfalls.

I’ve also been inspired to write stories as rebuttals to obscure, nearly-forgotten science fiction stories from decades ago. There were a lot of problems with the genre back then – there still are, to be honest – but I think that building something modern on its foundation is beneficial.

Sometimes, too, it’s just things that jump out at me in the course of ordinary reading that sends me on trajectories I never would have expected. Sentences in Wikipedia articles have unfolded into stories, and Foz Meadows’ Manifold Worlds books got me thinking about new story possibilities I might not have considered otherwise.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in science fiction – I grew up with a library of Star Trek VHS tapes and tie-in novels – and I’ve been writing for about as long. My earliest breakthrough was in high school, when my Grade 9 English teacher gave me a 10/10 for a short story that, honestly, wasn’t very good, but it was the first time I’d ever got a hint that there might be something to stringing all these words together. I never thought of pursuing it in an organized, focused way until fairly recently, though.

When I was a teenager, I read the Writer’s Handbook 1998 Edition over and over, as if it contained all the secrets for success I’d ever need to know. My original copy disappeared in a move, so I bought a used copy a little while ago and still read through it occasionally. I think it’s good to be aware of your personal journey, where you started and how far you’ve come.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I enjoy building puns into the framework of a story, but mostly the sort that don’t immediately present themselves as such. The entire concept behind my story “One to Watch,” for example, was derived from a multilingual pun.

Beyond that, all my stories take place in the same setting, in different points of space and time. There’s something calming and focusing about gradually building something intricate out of ordinary parts. The unifying threads can be hard to see sometimes, but they’re usually there.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Don’t wait until everything feels perfect. Press on with what you have, and keep pushing. Some of it will taste pretty sour after you’ve been at it for a while, but that only means you’ve learned and grown as an artist.

Be curious, and be aware of the context your art lives in! I didn’t even know that there were markets for short science fiction when I was just starting out. The more you know, the more you’re capable of.

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I identify as a sex-repulsed grey-asexual. It took me a long, long time – we’re talking decades – before I realized that, no, this is not the way everyone is. Most people don’t think of sex the same way as that Fear Factor challenge where they put you in a giant tank and then fill it to the brim with wriggling mealworms.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve been fortunate to not encounter very much of either. Granted, it’s not something I talk about much either, so it may be that my luck comes from not bringing it up.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

That it’s not a thing that exists.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

You are valid and you are not broken. As much as this culture might want to justify it as “being a late bloomer,” sex is not the be-all and end-all of life. You are not the only one going through this, and you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I’ve recently opened an author website at www.phoebebartonsf.com with a bibliography, links to my online fiction and non-fiction, and some other bits of interest. Some of my stories are available to read for free online at www.curiousfictions.com. I also maintain an older blog, www.actsofminortreason.com, where I run a couple of science fiction review series, among other things. Additionally I’m active on Twitter at aphoebebarton.

Thank you, Phoebe, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.