Tobias Buckell is joining us today to talk about his short story collection, Shoggoths in Traffic and Other Stories. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Traffic is piling up, and strange things are headed your way in this new story collection by World Fantasy Award-winning author Tobias S. Buckell. In these twenty-seven stories you’ll find inhabitants of a small town who won’t vaccinate against a zombie plague, a lone sentry keeping motorists from stumbling into something ancient and evil, a man who puts stranded ghosts to rest, an ex-soldier traveling the seas who trades his new life of hardship for a return to swords and blood, and many more tales of speculative fiction.
Buckell’s fertile imagination is on display in Shoggoths in Traffic and Other Stories as he comments on edgy issues of injustice and offers a thorny path to discover the human heart and all the strange things humans do. All the while, he keeps you looking over your shoulder, waiting for rush hour to end.
What’s Tobias’ favorite bit?
TOBIAS S. BUCKELL
My latest short story collection is called SHOGGOTHS IN TRAFFIC AND OTHER
STORIES, and gathers together 25 fantasy short stories that arc from fantasy
intruding in the real world, to creating whole other secondary worlds where
the rules of reality have no claim. Putting it together was like planning a
mix tape where I had to find a theme (collecting all my fantastical stories,
not science fiction), and then map a road trip for readers. This was so
different than many of my last collections, which bundled stories based on
what was available. Here, I could curate and give the reader a journey.
But my favorite part of this collection isn’t just packing the range of
fantasy stories I’ve told between the covers in some interesting order, it’s
how so many of these stories came to be. And the first story and last
represent that: two zombie stories about how the world would really adapt to
challenges in our current climate of disinformation.
While science fiction often leaves us clearly trying to grapple with the
future, with technology, with what comes next, it’s not unusual to find a
story of mine interrogating the world we live in. “If this goes on” is a
natural mode for me. Yet, there are often some limitations in forecasting. If
you see something way out of bounds and want to talk about it, the
comparisons to our real world can bog a reader down. So, one of the secret
reasons I enjoy fantasy so much is that I often find ways to leave the field
and go much further off into the woods.
I have this mixed relationship with zombie stories, as told in the classical
genre world. So much of the history of it is bastardized Caribbean cultural
legacy often used to represent American fears (immigration from the global
south) or desires (unlimited ammo and body count). It often feels like a
third wire to me; problematic and yet full of raw Id and emotion. But I’m
drawn to them, because, if we’re going to have so many, why not some from an
author born in the Caribbean who wants to explore as well?
In the two zombie stories that bookend this collection, written before the
pandemic, I kept circling back to self-harming beliefs I saw expressed by
some so deep in a polarized bubble I saw them as near suicidal. From a man
with cancer who refused to get on Obamacare even it meant his own death, to
people who refused to believe in climate change. So many people say “if only
we could get the message out that this would harm, or this would materially
help these voters” but the reality is, they have the message: there’s another
one they are bound to. Even if it means their own death.
There’s a meme going around from twitter user @CaseyExplosion that says “any
zombie movie that doesn’t have hordes of people running toward the zombies to
deliberately get bitten because they’re convinced it’s a liberal hoax is
going to seem pretty unrealistic now” in response to the pandemic, and both
my stories in the years leading up to the pandemic are about just this!
Usually, it’s science fiction where I get readers writing me about being
‘predictive.’ But my most predictive short stories ever? Two zombie stories
about zombie denialism.
Isn’t the world a strange place?
This sounds really grim, now, my collection of stories. Who wants more
reminders of the world we live in when trying to escape between the books?
But there’s a lot more than that. There’s survival, there’s joy, there are
wondrous worlds to explore. Twenty-five of them!
But we can’t turn our eyes from the world. Fantasy gives us a tool to process
what we’re going through, stories give us the means to make sense of our
world. These stories weren’t meant to grapple with the pandemic, but each
came from seeds of pain, my struggles to understand the world around us, and
by using metaphor I can decouple the baggage and raw hurt that comes with
seeing people I have known refuse life-saving vaccines and look at my
feelings around hearing about their slow death. In fantasy, I can find humor
in the ridiculousness of it, and because I explored it even before our
current calamity, when it hit I already understood the shape of it because
I’d lived it in story.
And because many of my characters survive even greater destructions,
villains, and danger, I find inside myself the strength to not just survive
the times of chaos, but even, at least artistically, I find places to thrive
There’s a great quote from a young hobbit facing greater peril than I ever
will. “There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for,” said
Samwise Gamgee. And it is in my favorite fantasy novel, The Hobbit, that
Bilbo says “So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.”
Even dragons have their endings.
As the great dragon of the pandemic slinks around our world, I turn to
writing more and more about dragons, and trying to understand them and tell
stories about the ways in which we’ve always been fighting them, no matter
what forms they take. And we always will.
That is why stories about those who face dragons will always be needed. Their
sidekicks, families, found families, friendships, hard work, determination,
love, and communities, these are also found in my stories about the creatures
that lurk just beyond our campfires.
This is why I chose to collect all these fantasy stories, and bookend them
with stories about zombie denialists. This is how I’m trying to write my way
Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author and World Fantasy Award winner born in the Caribbean. He grew up in Grenada and spent time in the British and US Virgin Islands, which influence much of his work. His novels and over one hundred stories have been translated into twenty different languages. His work has been nominated for awards like the Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, and the Astounding Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Bluffton, Ohio with his wife and two daughters, where he teaches Creative Writing at Bluffton University. He is also an instructor at the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program.