Interview: Elly Blue editor of Pedal Zombies: Thirteen Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories

Finalist of the 2015 Shelf Unbound Competition for Best Independently Published Book

Microcosm Publishing

In the not-so-distant future, humans turn to two-wheeled vehicles to transport goods, seek glory, and defend their communities. In another version of the future, those with the zombie virus are able to escape persecution and feel almost alive again on two wheels. In another scenario, bicycles themselves are reanimated and roam the earth. An array of writers bring their diverse visions to this volume: sometimes scary, sometimes spooky, sometimes hilarious, always on two wheels.  —EB

Shelf Unbound: Zombies and bicycles and feminism. Where did you get the idea for that combination?

Elly Blue: I had been planning for a long time to write a nonfiction essay about zombies and bicycling, and publish it as a zine. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that this would be a fabulous topic to solicit short stories about, so I did. A very short version of that essay ended up being the introduction. I was worried that being so extremely specific would put off writers, but instead it seemed to inspire people—I received more submissions than I have for any other project. 

Shelf Unbound: What do you make of pop culture’s current obsession with zombies, and what do you think is behind it?

Blue: I think it goes beyond just zombies—if you’ve been to many movies in the past couple of years, there’s a cultural obsession with the end of the world and the collapse of society into something infested with monsters. So the easy answer is that it’s a combination of anxiety about climate catastrophe and the stress and anger bubbling up in modern life. The harder answer is that the globalized consumer society has created a situation where a relatively wealthy minority is more or less actively destroying the lives of the majority of workers through every single action we take, whether driving a car, buying chocolate, or working all day on computers that rely on unethically mined minerals, and, at least subconsciously, we tell ourselves stories to help us understand and live with ourselves. 

Shelf Unbound: Many women eschew labeling themselves as feminists. What does feminism mean to you and why assemble this collection of stories incorporating it as a theme?

Blue: The two basic criteria for the stories in my feminist bicycle science fiction line are that they incorporate bicycling in some way, and that they not blindly conform to the bad old sexist stereotypes in science fiction—men as action heroes and women reduced to damsels in distress, or prizes for good conduct, or objects to look at. I also asked for stories that represent perspectives that aren’t standard in science fiction, in ways that go beyond just gender. The stories don’t have to be about feminism as a topic, and they don’t have to be written by women. It’s pretty straightforward, and it sometimes feels like overkill to put “feminism” on it, since it’s really just about not being sexist, but sadly that’s still needed.

The dictionary definition of feminism is advocacy for women to have equal basic economic, social, and human rights as men. The fact that so many women and men feel that they can’t believe in that simple idea without being shunned by the people they live and work with is exactly proof that active feminism is needed from everyone, regardless of gender. In the bicycle industry, blatant sexism has long been the norm on every level, and I’m hoping to help change that culture. 

Shelf Unbound: How did you go about collecting these stories?

Blue: Some of the stories came from contributors to the first two Bikes in Space volumes. I publicized the call for submissions in every way I could think of, in the science fiction industry, among bike people, and in feminist networks, and got a really great variety of stories to choose from in response. It was hard to choose!

Shelf Unbound: This is your third Bikes in Space collection. Have you determined the themes of the next one?

Blue: The next one doesn’t have a name yet, but its theme is utopia and dystopia. And bicycles, of course. 

Read a Excerpt:

Featured in Dec/Jan 2016 Issue: 2015 Indie Best Award Winners

Zombie marches happen at least once a year in Portland. The idea is that dozens or hundreds of people dress as zombies, with elaborate makeup and ripped clothes, and march through the streets staring vacantly and jerking their arms around. Sometimes it’s a bike ride; often it culminates in a zombie prom or other kind of zombie party. Alcohol is a factor.

My friend April has been participating in these since 2006. I asked her: Why? Why do all these people want to be zombies, rather than, say, heroic zombie hunters?

“The makeup is really easy to do,” she said. “And it’s fun.”

Pressed further, she divulged that the friend who got her into the zombie scene “definitely felt like the world was turning him into a zombie.” 

And finally, “Zombies are scary because people are scary.”

We are scary. Whether we’re more terrifying to ourselves or each other is an open question, but it’s obvious to anyone who’s been going to the movies lately that we are telling a lot of scary stories about the future of humanity. Zombie stories are by nature dystopian. Zombies signify failure—of political will and social cohesion, of technology and medicine, of the human body and soul. These are all topics that are being battled over right now, among people who care about all three worlds that this series occupies: science fiction, feminism, and bicycling. Questions permeate news and internet discussions like: Who has power and who ought to? What forms of social or personal control are desirable and which are anathema? What is the line between life and death, humanity and inhumanity? When it comes down to it, who will survive? 

From Pedal Zombies: Thirteen Feminist Bicycle Science Fiction Stories, edited by Elly Blue. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 

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