Archive | October 2020

Fire&Ice: Sol 12/19

§ Foy says: If you could peek into the Ice Dragon lair, you would find—with less than 24 hours ’til Halloween in the United States—bats freshly taped to the walls, the glue still oozing from behind their misaligned googly eyes, pumpkins in perfectly good health, guts unspilled, faces uncarved, and only a single, solitary bag of candy to somehow safely feed the roving legions that may (or may not!) show up. I could try and blame this on a global pandemic but the truth is I am The World’s Worst Party Planning Parent™. (One day it’ll just come easily, right? Maybe after a level up??). Failings aside the little dragons are unreasonably cute in their costumes and there will be a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies to liven our leaky, but cozy lair. Whether you’re celebrating or abstaining this ghoulish holiday, thank you for sharing the last dregs of October with us here at Fire&Ice. ❤

QUESTIONS? Tweet us at @FlashFridayFic, shoot us a note here, or tap any of the judges.


Fire&Ice Guidelines: 

Time: The Fire&Ice contest is open between exactly 12:01am to 11:59pm on Fridays, Washington DC time (check the current time here). Entries submitted outside of this window are welcome, but will be incinerated ineligible to win.

How to Play: Write and submit an original story 1) based on the photo prompt and 2) including EITHER the fire dragon or ice dragon‘s requirement. Pay attention to the 3) varying word count constraints! Story titles (optional) are not included in the word limit. At the end of your story, add your name or twitter handle, whether you chose the fire or ice dragon’s element, and word count. That’s it!

Be sure to review the contest rules here.


JUDGES: Today’s judges are Karl Russell and Betsy Streeter. Check out their bios on the Fire&Ice Judges page.



Each Fire&Ice prompt includes 1) a photo, 2) a required element (choose between the fire dragon or ice dragon’s offering), and 3) a specific word count. Your story must include all three requirements to be eligible to win.

Photo for Sol 12/19


Changing role patterns. Haarlem, The Netherlands. CC photo by Nationaal Archief. Find the description here

Fire & Ice PromptRequired elements:

Fire dragon option: Include a dollmaker


Ice dragon option: Include a fugitive

Today’s word count: Less than 200 (no minimum)

Fire&Ice Sol 11/19: WINNERS

§ Rebekah says: I said before and am delighted to say again what a joy Mondays are! This is particularly true when the previous week was a bit of a bear. (Thanks to those of you expressing concern for my surgery; I am home and resting well.) -We’re pushing on through 2020—can you believe we’ve got 11 sols behind us already!?—and I for one am delighted by the opportunity to write alongside you these few precious remaining weeks. Stay tuned & keep writing with us, because we plan to end our run of Fire&Ice with a bang


Quick note on judging: Six pairs of judges across multiple nationalities and genres are taking turns reading your submissions (meet the judges here). As soon as each contest round closes, your stories are first stripped of all personal info before being sent on for judging. This represents our effort to maximize every story’s chances, whether it’s the first or hundredth story you’ve written. ♥ 


Tamara Shoemaker:  This week’s stories cut a sharp dichotomy between despair and joy, happiness and sorrow, as per the prompt options. Each story resonated with such feeling that it was difficult to think of anything else, so background chatter from my darling offspring was abruptly cut off with a sharp Monty Python-esque: “Go away, or I shall taunt you a second time,” leaving my offspring hopelessly confused, but allowing myself to continue on with my reading enjoyment. 

Thank you, again, for contributing your considerable talent for this contest; it is, as always, such a privilege to delve into your work! Before we move on to prizes, there are a few shout-outs I want to stir into the pot: R.J. (Rebecca) Kinnarney‘s “What Colour Is This?: For the superb exploration of two levels of conversation; Becky Spence‘s “Untitled (4pm)“: For the vivid climax and plunge of a tragic emotional roller-coaster. Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: For the multitude of shapes throughout this piece that cut to the heart.

Eric Martell:

I was clearly drawn to darkness in these stories. Even the ones that chose joy that spoke to me still involved loss and death. I see literally no joy in the world right now, so I guess that’s where my headspace was. Because of this, I have chosen to let Tamara choose the top story – I think her perspective was more open than mine, and her words describing it are powerful. That being said, there were truly beautiful explorations of the dark this week. I see as much beauty in a stark, barren landscape in the winter as anyone does on the most vibrant spring day, and some of these stories took me along that path. Thank you all for taking us with you on your journeys.

A few other stories worthy of comment: Betsy Streeter‘s “The Flawed Lens“: Who doesn’t have a “you”-shaped hole in their life? Who doesn’t ache for a parent or a lost love of, in this story’s case, a lost child? Bill Engleson‘s “Maeve“: This story didn’t quite use the prompt given, but I thought it was worthy of comment. How do we wear our figurative or literal masks to keep us safe, to keep us from breaking? Can we wear them after loss? Should we? Bart van Goethem‘s “The Clouds in October“: October is my favorite month, in part because of the grey weight of the sky and what it reveals about the encroaching dark. This story made me see those clouds and feel their importance.



Whispers in the Mouse’s Ear by Phil Coltrane

TS: This story strikingly encapsulates a child’s view of tragedy and the simplicity of innocence, and the contrasting gap between “Those flowers are all dead” and “The flowers were so pink” impacts on many levels. Well done!

EM: You could picture these two kids in that attic, talking and playing, using words that children use, knowing only pieces of the world around them, but more pieces than we as adults sometimes realize.

Hearing Voices by Helen Laycock

TS: From the analogous first sentence (creeping thyme/creeping time) to the last (I feel her joy, and I know she feels mine), this story sings, nearly literally, with longing for the loved one who is absent and the joy of finding him in memory. So good!

EM: That last line gets me – “Probably nods.” Grief and loss and voices that make make a child feel loved.


Return to the Wailing Wood  by Mark King

TS: This story reaches into a place identifiable to many people: where a spot held dear by a loved one is horribly empty. How often has this year brought such pain into stark reality? This story touches on a sore point for many of us, and yet how it makes us feel seen, recognized, and understood as we each long for the “one who’s missing.”

EM: When we lost what would have been our first child, I learned how many other people out there had gone through the same kind of tragedy. It’s a beautiful vision, a world in which all of those losses are taken away, if only for a day, and we can see those children laughing and playing and living. It’s the kind of joy that can’t help but break your heart, and therein lies its power.

And now: it is our pleasure to present to you our




What Remains

TSThis one took me four close perusals to really begin to grasp the intricacy and depth of this piece. I loved how the three persons of the prompt picture were, according to the third paragraph, different manifestations of Hana, each person a representation of the choices she could have made, but didn’t. The narrative as a whole was a vivid commentary on risk-taking, and begins with Hana plodding beneath the trappings of normalcy, before she steps off the beaten path and flees through the flowers, where salvation gives new air, new life, immunity from the encumbrances that have held her captive for so long. No one else follows: only Hana the Risk-Taker. She does the thing no one else has courage to do. She finds the break, she climbs to freedom. Beautiful writing throughout leaves me speechless, and the message fills me with inspiration. This was so. well. done!

EMI took a fresh look at this story after reading Tamara’s comments on it – trying to set aside my inner despondency. The language is beautiful and evocative, descriptive and lovely. I want to know what the difficulties were, and I want to trample the blossoms with Hana. A worthy choice for winner, and I’m glad that we get to judge in pairs

Congratulations, NANCY! Here’s your winning story:


As Hana approaches the phlox fields, her stomach gives a lurch. She hasn’t gone blossom-viewing since the difficulties. But it’s May, and that’s what’s done.

Breathing her discomfort down to a flutter, she steps onto the paved river that flows through the profusion of moss pink. Crowds once thronged these fields, annual group photos backdropped by shibazakura brilliance. Even during the difficulties, a few would venture here searching for normalcy.

Normalcy. No. She cannot be tugged by the hand into the childishness of the past, nor bent by the loneliness of the future. Even those who survived the difficulties succumbed to the anguish of comparisons.

There’s only now.

And now, her feet trample humble blossoms. Shame halts her. Straying from the path is not done. She’s ruining it for… everyone… else.

The flutter becomes an earthquake.

She drops her parasol and runs–away from comparisons, from normalcy—until she collapses at the crest of a knoll.

Petals kiss her cheek. She breathes in their earthy pungeance. The sky bends over her to nuzzle the rosy horizon. Evening shades to indigo. Stars wink at her through the darkness.

Although it’s not done, Hana remains all night.

Flash! Future: “Indian Speculative Fiction”

WELCOME to the wild ride that is Flash! Future! One of the many things I love about Fire&Ice/Flash! Friday is the privilege of meeting writers from so many parts of the world. We’ve introduced a number of these to you via our Flash! Past and Spotlight features, through whom we’ve gotten to know still more writers. Take for example our conversations with the lyrical Firdaus Parvez, who highlighted for us celebrated Indian writers like R.K. Narayan, Anita Desai, Ruskin Bond, and many others (read her most recent interview with us here). 

For today’s Flash! Future we’re taking a return trip to India for a (massively inadequate) peek at the world of speculative fiction, and all the complicated things that title alone engenders. 

We’re starting with a 2018 two-part article by Mimi Mondal at for a sweeping perspective/overview. From there we step back in time to a lively 2013 Strange Horizons panel discussion of “Indian speculative fiction,” and we’ll finish with a return to 2018 and a different take on the same topic. I hope today’s writers and their rich works and conversations will send you through glorious portals from which, like me, you will not return unchanged. ♥

Mimi Mondal, Twitter 10/23/20

Name: Mimi Mondal

About SFF in India: (A fascinating & deeply informative historical survey of SFF in India via in 2018—both parts are a must-read): 

A Short History of South Asian Speculative Fiction, Part I

(Mondal:) Hinduism is one of the four major world religions, with more than 15% of the world’s population adhering to it. Many of them are faithful and like to write about their beliefs. It pains me to find Western readers regularly conflating such works with fantasy. To think of other people’s actual faith as speculative fiction is a fairly heinous act of racism. Don’t be that person…

As science fiction became more distinctly recognizable as a genre in the West through the twentieth century, the language that most directly caught the influence was Bengali. The original center of Bengali SFF was Calcutta, and this tradition has remained. I am from Calcutta—I grew up reading SFF and horror in Bengali and was deeply entrenched in genre culture. Every prominent Bengali author has written speculative fiction in some parts of their career—stories that are widely read, loved, and often included in school syllabi—since the speculative imagination is inseparable from realism in the Bengali literary culture. Many Indian SFF writers, even now, come from Calcutta, though not all of us write in Bengali.

A Short History of South Asian Speculative Fiction, Part II”  

(Mondal:) The first distinctly genre fantasy writer in India was Samit Basu, whose Gameworld trilogy was published by Penguin India beginning in 2004, much to the delight of a new generation of SFF fans who read primarily in English, and were only reading SFF by white writers until then. (I was in high school in 2004, and this group included me.) The earliest immigrant Indian writers of SFF from this period are Vandana Singh and Anil Menon. Their short fiction has been published widely in American magazines and anthologies. They also have works published exclusively in India. Speculative fiction in India is also becoming rapidly lucrative, with Netflix recently announcing an original series based on Prayaag Akbar’s novel Leila.

Best known works

Also known for:

  • Editorial/sensitivity work (projects include N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became)
  • Former Poetry/reprint editor at Uncanny Magazine 


  • Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler (Locus Award winner, Best Nonfiction, 2018; Hugo Nominated, Best Related Work 2018; British Fantasy Award Non-Fiction Nominated, 2018)
  • His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light (Nebula shortlisted 2020)

Gautam Bhatia. Photo from Twitter.

Name: Gautam Bhatia

About reading & writing SFF

A conversation on science fiction and fantasy between the two Indian nominees for the Hugo Awards (conversation between Mimi Mondal and Gautam Bhatia, 2018)

(Bhatia:) Strange Horizons has taught me a lot. I grew up reading Asimov, Clarke, Zelazny and the like, and my canon was limited (I now know) to a bunch of dead white men. Literally within a month of joining Strange Horizons, I was hearing names like Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okrafor, and my own personal favourite now, the Cuban punk-rocker SFF-author Yoss. Strange Horizons not only broadened my horizons about the genre, it exploded them, and exposed me to just how rich, varied, and beautifully diverse it all is.

Best known work:

  • The Wall  (HarperCollins India, August 2020)

Also known for

Panel Discussion: back in 2013 Strange Horizons hosted a panel on “Splitting the Difference: A Discussion About Indian Speculative Fiction”: Part I and Part II. Worth the read, my goodness, for a dip into the complexities of the topic itself, and for troves and troves of gorgeous reading recs. 

Salik Shah. Photo from

Name: Salik Shah

About writing SFF

Why Indian science fiction? Because we are human. Stories make us human. Because we can & we must tell our stories in our own words. Because stories rooted in science can help us make sense of the world around, within & beyond us, and bring about a change we thought impossible. (Salik Shah, Twitter, March 15, 2018)

(Shah:) As a writer, I want to be in control and break new ground. Mythological characters are like superstars. You can cast them but it’s difficult to make them your own. There are more than three hundred Ramayanas, and I suspect that most writers secretly nurture the ambition to tackle The Big Book, adapt and somehow make it their own…

Anyone who grows up bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual in Asia has to come to terms with the history and legacy of colonialism and the tyranny of English language. We are marked by anxieties and doubts—how we came to acquire this language which we call our own is often an unresolved question that we learn to avoid. What is the place of Indian writers in English language? Who are our readers? You can find hints to a never-ending struggle to resolve these questions especially in my poetry.

Best known for


  • “The Architecture of Loss” (L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Honorable Mention, 2nd Quarter 2020)
  • Khas Pidgin” (Poetry collection; Nominated Elgin Award 2018)