Ted Rabinowitz’s fiction is often inspired by historical research, sometimes sending the author to dig around in medieval cookbooks. Read his new short story “Charioteer” [in our January February issue, on sale now!]
Analog Editor: How did this story come to be?
TR: It started as a writing exercise: Imagine a person in a room, and expand. The room became a cabin in a spaceship, the person became an astronaut, and then I had a situation: a pilot on a crippled ship, dangerously near the sun. I started asking questions: Who was she? How did she get there? How could she escape? I used the Try/Fail Cycle, where a protagonist tries to solve their dilemma, and their attempt either fails, and things get worse, or it succeeds, but things are now bad in a different way. You continue the cycle until the final attempt, which either succeeds fully or fails so completely that nothing more can be done.
(For a helpful explanation of the cycle and other useful tools, I recommend Mary Robinette Kowal’s YouTube lecture on short stories.)
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
TR: The backstory reminded me of the Roman arena, where desperate people were forced to compete for their freedom. Hollywood focuses on the arena gladiators, but chariot races were just as popular, and the charioteers were often in more danger. The chariots were built to be lightweight and could easily come apart or overturn, leaving the jockeys to be trampled. They carried special knives in their belts to cut themselves free of their traces in case of an accident.
AE: How much or little do current events impact your writing?
TR: I think you can see a lot of that influence in “Charioteer”—certainly in the motivations and methods of the antagonists. Other stories I’ve written might be inspired by emergent situations or by the attitudes of people in the news. The protagonist of The Rebel Feed (which will appear in Analog in a few months) is based on some finance and tech bros I’ve met.
Current events inspire my writing more than they did five or six years ago, and they’re more influential in the short stories than in the novels. The world is changing dramatically right now, and it’s important to reflect those changes in our stories—especially in stories about the future.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
TR: The first is Hero’s Army, a sequel to my historical fantasy The Wrong Sword. It’s the continuing adventures of a scheming ex-monk from Paris and the magic sword that hates his guts. The second is Conjure Man, a dark fantasy set in a New York City where the prestige industry isn’t law or finance, but sorcery.
The world is changing dramatically right now, and it’s important to reflect those changes in our stories—especially in stories about the future.
AE: What is the weirdest research rabbit-hole that working on a story has led you down?
TR: Medieval cookbooks. I wanted to put a food fight in The Wrong Sword (achievement unlocked) and I needed it to be authentic, so I found a translation of a 14th century cookbook and collections of Renaissance recipes. Now I know how to make a syllabub . . . in theory. I’ve never had the nerve to try it.
AE: If you could choose one SFnal universe to live in, what universe would it be, and why?
TR: If we’re including fantasy, then the Sandman universe and Roger Zelazny’s Amber would be up there. I love a cosmos where there’s room to really push reality. If we’re talking strictly about science fiction, then maybe Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkisiverse. FTL travel, a crazy feudal empire fighting an even crazier eugenic aristocracy, cool uniforms, and Beta Colony technology when you need a medical tune-up. And Dune is appealing for the potential for personal improvement through philosophy.
AE: What are you reading right now?
TR: I just finished Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which is gorgeously weird. I’m in the middle of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl, which is brilliant but sometimes a tough read (for content). Next up in the TBR pile is Fonda Lee’s Jade City.