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 by Philippe McNally
Please, tell us about
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still-unpublished, desperately-in-need-of-redrafting novel.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
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
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
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.
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
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.