Ada Hoffmann Author Interview

Sometimes the ‘throw-away’ lines and background information authors include in their work can be just as intriguing as the main story. In that spirit, could you give us a plot synopsis or brief review of the movie Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls mentioned in How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World, or tell us something juicy about its star, Suman Bachchan?

IN A WORLD where GENETIC ENGINEERING has turned HUMANITY into MONSTERS, ONE MAN stands against the forces of CHAOS! Yet ALL in our hero’s world IS NOT AS IT SEEMS. For the LOYAL PTERODACTYLS to whom he has DEDICATED HIS LIFE, trained to DEFEND AT ALL COSTS the last bastions of true human civilization, may have secretly been genetically engineered THEMSELVES in a SHADOWY CONSPIRACY, which our hero must UNRAVEL as a legion of 27 adorable feline ASSASSINS trained by the GENETICALLY MODIFIED REBEL ALLIANCE close in. Will he SAVE the world he loves, yet LOSE HIS INNOCENCE? Or, after many spectacular CGI battles involving catgirls, pterodactyls, and for some reason giant robots around whom the smaller and nimbler combatants can skirmish freely, will he LEARN THE TERRIBLE TRUTH, CHOOSE THE SIDE OF GOOD, and FIND LOVE?

It’s basically pure popcorn from beginning to end. Surprisingly, it passes Bechdel, because there are interesting scenes of interaction and problem-solving between the different catgirls as they plan their rebellious battles. Several of them are fairly well-realized characters by the standards of this sort of movie and have their own character arcs, including queer catgirl relationships with each other. Also Suman Bachchan takes his shirt off a lot.

What are you currently reading/what have you read recently that you’re excited about?

Will I sound incredibly pedestrian and mainstream if I say The Ocean at the End of the Lane? Yes. Not far through it yet, but excited. I’m also in the middle of Rainbow Lights by Polenth Blake, which is really a remarkable book. There is such unpretentious nuance and verisimilitude in the way Blake deals with a wide variety of characters who are on the margins in various ways. (And robots, and squid, and ambulatory underwater fungi that eat physical manifestations of dreams which come out of a mysterious vent. Squeeeee.) When we don’t read multiply marginalized authors, we miss this; it’s impossible to do it so nonchalantly when it’s not your lived experience, or even when it’s only your lived experience in one way. Also some of it is very relevant to my disability-related interests; I’m definitely going to be reviewing this on my blog when I’m done. [Editor’s note: Hoffmann’s review of Rainbow Lights can be found here.]

What’s your favorite piece of cryptographic fiction (written, filmed, or otherwise)? Alternately, what real world cryptographic mystery (solved or unsolved) intrigues you the most?

Can I tell you a secret? I don’t really read cyberpunk. I mean, I run into it here and there, but with the really important works of cyberpunk, it’s one of these things where I keep meaning to and not. “Rania” comes much more from a place of my own experiences – as a millennial, as a computer /data scientist, as a person whose use of social media is both important in my life and somewhat atypical, and as someone who is continually frustrated by the rhetoric applied both for and against modern uses of social media – than from any real engagement with the existing cyberpunk tradition.
That said, I have very fond memories of the first Matrix movie. Not so much because of the movie itself, though it is a perfectly good movie. But because my first real engagement with a media studies class in high school was with a study of The Matrix. We tore it apart and worked out how everything from religious symbolism to color schemes was used to bolster the movie’s underlying ideas. It was wonderful, and the media studies program in general was wonderful. People think of it as a bird course because it’s all about watching movies and stuff. But I learned much more from those classes about how stories work, and about the dangers of certain kinds of story, than from any writing “how-to” book. And it is necessary to know a little about how stories work in order to navigate our culture, which is saturated in bright shiny media and stories of every kind.

What are you working on or do you have coming up you want people to know about?

Everyone is asking me this all of a sudden. I’m running out of interesting answers. I like to be vague about works in progress, because who knows what will happen. But I have some other works lined up to probably publish in 2014, including two novelettes (one in GigaNotoSaurus, and one in a small-press anthology). I’m also in the early stages of several collaborative projects which are very exciting to me.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

During my schooling, I spent seven years getting paid to sing at a Catholic cathedral on weekends, in spite of a few awkward little technicalities like not being Catholic. I did weddings and funerals occasionally, too. Music is a lot like writing, business-wise. It’s surprisingly easy to get paid for it if you know what you’re doing. But it’s very difficult to make any sort of living out of that.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

Mainly, after being passed around between several different schools as a child, I have learned MANY things about how schools can succeed and fail at actually taking care of their students. Accommodation policies are important, for instance, but they only work if there are the resources, as well as the flexibility and empathy on the part of everyone involved, to carry them out with individual attention. Otherwise they are just more red tape. In the absence of good policy, a sufficiently clueful teacher with sufficient resources and spoons can still accomplish a lot. Meanwhile, the attitudes that make things difficult for disabled children are also harmful to other groups, for related reasons. Any rigid box with the intention of fitting everybody is going to inadvertently hurt someone.

None of this was in the actual curriculum, but I picked it up here and there.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

I’m a broken record, but y’all need to go read Difference of Opinion by Meda Kahn. This minute. It’s free online and everything. GO.

Other wonderful short story authors who don’t seem to get attention: Georgina Bruce. Nghi Vo. Polenth Blake, as I mentioned above. Merc Rustad, though I’m biased because e’s my best writing friend & beta reader. Kiini Ibura Salaam.

(I tried to list some poets too, particularly Rose Lemberg, but speculative poetry is such a tiny tiny field that I really have no idea who is “obscure” and who isn’t. Maybe everybody here is obscure except for Catherynne M. Valente and the people who have been running the SFPA for like 15 years? And the latter would not have been on my list anyway.)

I’m trying to sum up what I love about these people and failing. The authors I love, famous or otherwise, tend to be gorgeous and strange, but a particular kind of strange. It isn’t only strange for the sake of strange. They hold up elaborate alien mirrors in which I recognize the parts of myself that cannot be seen in a mere human reflection.

I’m much less adventurous with novels. At some point, as I continue to make clumsy attempts at writing my own, this will have to change.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

The Chartreuse Monster in Expanded Horizons, July 2010. I actually think that one still holds up pretty well. Some of my other early published works were real clunkers – like “Five Songs and a River”, also from 2010, which was prettily written but vacuous and predictable. And the 2011 story that shall not be named in which I decided that incessant sex jokes were a good way to deal with the experiences and identity issues of an asexual protagonist. CRINGE. I am sorry about that one, asexual readers! But “The Chartreuse Monster” is a subdued little thing that does what it says on the tin, and I’m still proud of it.

Ada Hoffmann is a mild-mannered computer scientist by day and a writer by night. “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World” is her first foray into hard science fiction. Previous work has appeared in Strange Horizons, AE, Shimmer, and elsewhere. She also blogs about autism in speculative fiction. Find her at or on Twitter at @xasymptote.

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