At The Z Review, we have great respect for any woman who sees something generally considered a boys’ club, and kicks the door down. Writer Leah Schnelbach is such an individual.
Schnelbach is the fiction editor at No Tokens, a journal “run entirely by women and non-binary individuals.” All fine and good, but where she really upsets the apple cart is as a writer at Tor.com, a science fiction and fantasy website. Yes, Schnelbach must suffer the slings and arrows of crybaby misogynist incels who insist that women and sci-fi don’t mix, and that she should go away and give them leave to more readily enjoy their sausage party, lest she “replace” them.
Despite that fascinating suggestion, Schnelbach isn’t going anywhere, and in addition to everything she’s already doing, she also has a book in the works. The Z Review caught up with her and asked her questions. Five of them! She was also kind enough to create a playlist with the theme of “Heroes,” which appears after the interview.
TZR: When did you first start becoming drawn to the science fiction and fantasy genres, and what were your earliest influences?
LS: My first favorite movie was The Neverending Story, which I probably watched twice a day when I was eight. It was closely followed by Poltergeist and The Princess Bride — I actually saw The Princess Bride long before I read very many fairy tales, so when I did get around to reading Grimms or Andersen or Perrault I would go in looking for a twist, if that makes sense, because The Princess Bride is so infused with snark and Borscht Belt humor, so then I’d be vaguely disappointed by the sincerity of the real fairy tales. Same with sci-fi, really, because I found The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at the beginning of middle school, so then trying to read serious sci-fi later on never quite worked as well for me.
TZR: The science fiction and fantasy subculture is known as something of male-dominated one that’s hostile to women. To what degree is this true, and do you have any horror stories? Or has your experience been different?
LS: This is extremely true. I don’t think any of my experiences count as “horror” but I have dealt with the constant waves of condescension. I used to work at the sadly shuttered Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, specifically hosting many of our public events, and there would be so many men who would trip over themselves to corner me and explain things! Never mind that I’m the host of the event, the co-chair of our education department, that I put in between 20-30 hours a week working at this museum — obviously I needed to have someone explain comics to me. Now having said that — I also dealt with a lot of really cool guys, and made some of my best friends working there, and our own board was actually majority women.
TZR: What are you working on now?
LS: I just finished the latest draft of my novel, which is literary fiction with no speculative fiction in it (although both of the main characters are science fiction and fantasy fans) and it took a lot out of me. So I’ve started on something that will hopefully be fun, which is a Southern Gothic haunted house horror satire novella. I’ve never tried writing horror before, so I’ve been trying to figure out how one writes something truly frightening, and I’ve been dipping into The Changeling, Shirley Jackson, and Grady Hendrix’s work to dissect how you get ink on a page to be bloodcurdling.
TZR: What is your opinion of the Star Wars franchise now that Disney has taken over? Do you like what they’re doing with the movies?
LS: I have two answers to this. First, I hate that Disney is gradually buying everything under the moon, because as a fan of Neal Stephenson and David Foster Wallace, I’m terrified of the consolidation of corporations. I worry that someday we’ll all be serfs toiling in the fields of either Disney or Starbucks, or polishing Elon Musk’s latest space Cadillac, and that there simply won’t be the money or time or room for ordinary people to make a decent living, let alone make and fund independent art.
But then, part B: Watching the original trilogy stands as one of the most important movie experiences of my life. I hated the prequels precisely because I thought they were so impersonal and inhuman compared to the original trilogy, although I agree with my colleague Emily Asher-Perrin that the prequels are beautiful silent films. I liked The Force Awakens and I thought Rogue One was pretty good, but needed to spend more time with its characters before the big heist at the end. I thought Solo was fun but completely unnecessary, and also it sort of weirdly dipped into talking about enslavement and sex trafficking but then backed away from those topics in a way that felt half-baked to me.
Now, on to the Last Jedi-shaped elephant in the room. I’ve loved Rian Johnson since I was approximately five minutes into my first viewing of Brick. The Brothers Bloom is one of my all-time top ten movies ever. I love Looper. I loved The Last Jedi. Loved it. I love how huge and weird and messy it is. I love that Rey’s backstory doesn’t matter. I love Rose Tico. I love everything about the Luke arc. I’m even almost willing to be talked into the Canto Bight subplot. I love the kids at the end. I love it. And I will be first in the Fandango queue for whatever Rian Johnson’s Star Wars spin-off trilogy turns out to be.
TZR: What are your five desert island fantasy/sci-fi shows or movies?
Oh gosh. I usually watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy as one long movie, so I’m counting that as one — you’ll never trick me, genie!
Lord of the Rings, A Matter of Life and Death, Ratatouille, Hannibal — the TV show, not movie — and… Joe Vs. The Volcano will narrowly edge out The Neverending Story, since I can just act out all the parts myself if I have to. I’ll leave Star Wars off because watching one will make me want to watch the rest.
Lord of the Rings is simply my favorite piece of art, any medium.
A Matter of Life and Death is one of the greatest of the Powell-Pressburger collaborations — a gorgeous story about life and hope in the face of impossible odds.
Ratatouille was one of the other great viewing experiences in my life. I was at a pretty low ebb, spiritually speaking, but Remy pulled me right up. And it may be a cartoon about a rat, but it’s also the single greatest artist statement, and the greatest argument for the value of intelligent criticism, that I’ve ever seen.
Hannibal is the greatest love story of our time.
Joe Vs. the Volcano is effervescent and silly and shockingly deep, and I think I could watch it every day and not get bored. Plus it’s about a pair of people who end up as castaways on an island, so I’m guessing it will have even more resonance for me once I’m similarly stranded.