Tag: plugs

Interview: Djibril al-Ayad and Fabio Fernandes

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And now for something completely different: two friends of mine, Djibril al-Ayad and Fabio Fernandes, are having a peerbackers project to raise the money for We See a Different Frontier, an anthology of SF focused on the developing world. I’ve agreed to ask them a few questions to help them promote their project:

1. Can you introduce yourselves?
*Djibril al-Ayad*: Sure. I’m Djibril, and I edit The Future Fire, a magazine of social-political speculative fiction that has been publishing free online issues for about seven years now. We’ve focused in the past on feminist and queer issues, as well as environmental and colonial concerns. I have a soft spot for cyberpunk and dystopian settings, which are ripe for deep political storylines, but also like to experiment with surreal, magical realist and slipstream work.

*Fábio Fernandes:* I’m a science fiction author living in Brazil. I’m a professor of Creative Writing for Games and of Digital Culture scholar and translator for an university in São Paulo, and in my spare time I work as a translator (I did the Brazilian Portuguese versions of Neuromancer, Boneshaker and The Steampunk Bible, among many others). I’m edited a bilingual journal in Brazil a few years ago, and won two Argos Awards for Best Fiction (Brazil). I’m still doing some writing and editing in Portuguese, but since 2009 I’ve been doing most of my work in English.

2. Can you talk a bit about the project and its inception?
This project arises indirectly from the fact that TFF took a one-year hiatus last year, in part due to editor fatigue, and when we came back we felt we needed a bit of fresh blood to bring us back to form. Fábio was one of several people who responded to our call for proposals for themed and co-edited special issues, and his suggestion caught our eye right away: an anthology of colonialism-themed stories celebrating the viewpoints of people from developing countries or backgrounds. (We selected only two of the many proposals, the other being the Outlaw Bodies, currently reading submissions.)

We plan for the We See a Different Frontier anthology to be a professional rate-paying venue, which is why we’re asking people to help fund this through the Peerbackers venture. If we reach our target of $3000 we’ll probably be able to offer at least $0.05 per word and have a good spread of stories. (Obviously we hope we’ll exceed that and be able to pay an even more realistic “professional” rate for these stories.)

This anthology will publish colonialism-themed stories in any of the subgenres of speculative fiction: scif, fantasy, horror, surreal, weird, slipstream etc. We’re looking for stories from perspectives outside of the usual white, anglophone, Western, middle-class, straight/cis/male literature than dominates the genres. Although we’re not planning to place any restriction on who can submit stories, we are determined to avoid stories that contain cultural appropriation, orientalism and the like, so make sure your voices are authentic and come from a place of knowledge rather than wishful thinking.

3. The anthology is strongly focused on the experience of people from developing countries–a perspective that I find fascinating because it’s one that we don’t much see in the field (which has a plethora of stories written from what I’d call an “outsider” point of view, from people in developed countries writing about developing countries). What do you think are the main differences between this perspective and SF from developed countries?
*Fabio*: The outsider has always been the “industry standard”, so to speak. This, in itself, is not necessarily a problem – science fiction is a genre that serves pretty well to self-examination and criticism, hence the New Wave and the Cyberpunk Movement, for example. But whenever I want to see what’s lurking around the corner, it’s easier to find stories that take place in the other side of the galaxy than in a country of the Third World written by a citizen of said country. Take the case of Brazil: when I was growing up, all I could read in terms of SF was Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein (later, Frank Herbert, William Gibson) and a handful of Brazilian authors published by small presses. I became a member of an SF club which exchanged information with other countries (Argentina, China, Japan, UK, USA), but we mostly relied on Locus Magazine and Ansible for information; they served as information hubs mostly. We got more info from them than from Argentina; that still remains the case, sadly – but we must stress out that Brazil is the only Portuguese language country in the subcontinent, entirely surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries (11 only in South America – I’m not counting Central America or Mexico).

Still about Brazil, or should I say “Brasyl”? Ian McDonald’s novel about my country is pretty good and very well-written (one couldn’t expect less from McDonald), but I couldn’t shrug off the impression that he somehow failed to capture the essence of Brazil, the cultural and subcultural undercurrents that permeate our daily life. For instance, in a scene early in the novel, he describes a capoeira fight between a blonde woman and an African Brazilian man, and he describes all the racial tension between them – but he does it with an Anglo’s eyes! To a Brazilian, the tension is spread thinner and subtler than it was described there. It was something many of my Brazilian friends who read the novel didn’t even care about, but I’m sure that a Brazilian writer would have done it differently. This sort of thing, however, is apparently unsolvable: McDonald did his very best and the novel is good. I wrote a couple of stories about India and I think they were well researched, but I’m sure I will never write them as an Indian author. So, it is just a difference in perspective. It’s not necessarily good or bad, just different. And I want to see more of this different perspectives.

4. One of the things that I find fascinating about SF is its strong roots in a colonial paradigm (it’s not for nothing that we talk about space colonisation, or that stories about the settlement of other planets bear strong parallels to the Conquest of the West). Obviously this is a subject that you mean to tackle in this anthology! However, if I may take it further… How do you think those original tropes affect SF today–and how do you think we should go about producing genre that doesn’t unthinkingly perpetuate those problematic tropes?
*Fabio:* I had a paper to present in this year’s ICFA, and sadly I could not attend it – but it was just about that: how Firefly dealt with the conquest of space drawing a simple parallel with the Conquest of the USA Wild West. This paper wasn’t accepted for a book on Joss Whedon’s works, and I wonder why – I am a fan of Firefly, but I happen to disagree with a few things I wanted to see and I didn’t. I just thought there wasn’t enough diversity in Firefly! Is that evil? Not at all, it’s just a tiresome thing – and I believe it is one of the reasons why the show unfortunately didn’t last.

I loved Tobias Buckell’s Xenowealth series, and I think he shifted slowly the colonial paradigm by changing the ethnicity of the colonists in the first place. This is a nice first step, and Buckell’s Caribbean upbringing helped him a lot to see things differently from the original SFnal tropes. Your own Obsidian and Blood trilogy deal with a culture that shifts from the old fantasy stories about pre-columbian peoples and treat the Aztecs as an extremely intelligent people, that is, as every people on the world should be treated historically, socially, and narratively. I think the best we can do is not underestimate the Other.

*Djibril:* I think the best and maybe only way for a writer to avoid unthinkingly perpetuating problematic tropes is to think–think hard about everything you say and write. That sounds like a platitute, but I seriously believe that we can learn a lot by being self-conscious. We can learn from analysing our own mistakes (and yes, being criticised for them, for all it can hurt). Of course the best way to avoid Western colonial attitudes in science fiction is to read and publish SF written by someone with a different perspective, with a different attitude, but even then there’s the danger that we internalize prejudice and the Western tropes have permeated pretty much the whole world, so thinking about what you’re writing and why helps even there.

But the most important thing, and what we’re trying to achieve with this anthology (and what collections like So Long Been Dreaming, Dark Matter, World SF, Walking the Clouds etc. have done before us) is actively to pay attention to speculative fiction being written from outside the dominant paradigm, to “give voice to the voiceless” as Salman Rushdie puts it (although I don’t want to suggest that such writers are voiceless, certainly not on this blog!). There’s a lot of great spec-fic out there, and as Fábio said in his response to our call, only reading the stuff by western white anglo straight cis male authors just isn’t good enough.

Thank you, Djibril and Fabio, for dropping by! And, if you feel like donating money to make this possible, go over to the Peerbackers website over here. I’m very much looking forward to this anthology.

And on the non-ranty side

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Books read recently:
Unseen Academicals: the latest Terry Pratchett about the wizards of UU playing football. A lot of the pleasures of the Pratchett books currently is the reccurrence of the main players such as Lady Margoletta, Sam Vimes, Rincewind and the witches, and this one is mostly the same. There’s a couple of hilarious set pieces (the chicken-powered computer is awesome), and the new characters are nice, though not all are memorable (I loved Glenda, wasn’t such a big fan of Juliet, who’s too good to be true, though I got it was the point).
The Sea Thy Mistress: Elizabeth Bear was kind enough to provide me with an ARC of this one, and I leapt at the chance. The Edda of Burdens is one of my absolute favourite series out there: All the Windwracked Stars had this awesome meld of technology, magic and post-apocalypse, and By the Mountain Bound has all the gravitas and sense of impending doom of the Norse epics. The prose is always a pleasure to read, and there’s a couple of really strong characters (the wolf Mingan, and Muire, the least of the waelcyrge, who learns that she can grow and come into her own). Short, non-spoilery version: the book is made of awesome, and you should go read it and its predecessors. It’s available for pre-orders now; I think it’s not out until Jan 2011.
(more spoilery discussion under the cut)
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Friend pimpage

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Fellow VDer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s beautiful tribal story, “Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan”, is now online at Fantasy Magazine. I first read it a year ago at VD4 in England, and just knew this awesome piece of prose would find a good home. Go read it!

If not for the Mama-oh’s quick actions, you would have grown up without a mother. With a bamboo tube, and a woven blanket, she captured your mother’s spirit just as it was leaving her body, and so your mother was restored to life.

Your father came to see you when he was told all was well.

He looked at you, and he looked at your mother, then he took you in his arms and he gave you your name.

“We will call her Bugan,” he said.

“A wise choice,” the Mama-oh replied. “The Sky Goddess will be pleased.”

There was a Canyao. A carabao was killed, two pigs were offered up, and rice wine flowed freely.

Read more.

Hugo recommendations

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So, with the deadline for the Hugos approaching, I thought I’d do some recommending. Herein is the stuff I’m really rooting to get onto the ballot. (fair warning: I know a lot of the people involved here, but I’m only recommending the stuff I loved, and sharing it in the hope that you’ll find some gems of your own in there).

Best short story:
“As Women Fight” by Sara Genge (Asimov’s December 2009): a nice and thoughtful take on gender changes, taking place on a planet where the gender in a couple is determined by who wins the annual fight. With neat reflections on friendships, abuse and the dividing line between man and woman. It’s been collected in two Year’s Bests, has made the Locus Recommended List, and I’ve already seen some support for it in the Hugo competition. Definitely worth a read.

“The Chrysanthemum Bride” by Angela Slatter in Fantasy Magazine, a dark story set in Ancient China, about a poor but vain daughter of peasants taken to be the bride of the emperor. Truly horrific, and will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished it.

Best novelette:
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” (Interzone 220, reprinted online in Apex): ok, the title has me checking it every time I type it out, but this is one that’s made of awesome. Set in a world where people don new identities every morning with the help of masks, this one follows a typical individual as he stumbles onto the foundations of the society. It’s strange and rich with beautiful language, and a kickass ending.

Best novel:
By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear: a story that takes its inspiration in Norse myths, it follows the einherjar and the valkyries, the Children of the Light who try to uphold the order of a new world even though their Father (Odin) has died in Ragnarok. When a strange woman washes ashore, claiming to be the Lady, one of the gods the Children have been waiting for. She means to fight the prophecied war against their enemies–but is she really who she claims to be?
This one is a prequel to All the Windwracked Stars, which I also loved. Unlike its sequel, it’s definitely more epic fantasy in tone–but it takes its cues from the Norse epics, which are far more sombre and violent than most moden fantasies. I loved the ending–and loved that Elizabeth Bear had the guts and the skills to pull this off.
Canticle by Ken Scholes: sequel to Lamentation, this one continues to follow Scholes’ characters as they inch every closer to the secret of the destruction of the city of Windvir. Gypsy leader Rudolfo faces assasination attempts, and the birth of his own sickly son; young Neb seeks a secret in the desolate Wastes, one that could change the face of the Named Lands; and Winters, the ruler of the Marsh People, has to deal with heresies among her own people. Scholes melds religion and science brilliantly in this post-apocalyptic fantasy–this is even better than Lamentation (which had already blown me away).
The Shifter by Janice Hardy: I really wish there were a YA category on the ballot, but in the absence of that we’ll make do with Best Novel :=) The Shifter (aka The Pain Merchants in the UK) is the story of Nya, an orphan in a world where pain can be shunted off into a special metal. But Nya is special: she can shift pain into other people. When her sister disappears, Nya has to use her abilities to find her–without letting herself be found out and used as a weapon…
It’s got an awesome core concept, and a unique and fun voice for Nya that makes the whole book very endearing. Also, it doesn’t shy away from darker moral choices, definitely making it stick in the mind.

Best Semiprozine:
Interzone: regularly on the semiprozine ballot without my plug, I suspect, but still… I do love the magazine. It’s really willing to take risks and publish very different kinds of stories, and the fiction offerings are neatly complemented by DVD and book reviews. Been a subscriber for 4 years; and I fully intend to renew this one. For an example of cool fiction, see the Foster story above.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies: another one of the few I enjoy reading regularly: there’s a tremendous variety of style and subject matter, and a mix of new and established authors that combines to a very pleasant result. For an example of cool fiction, see the rich and complex “Thieves of Silence” by Holly Phillips, or Rodello Santos’s atmospheric “To Slay with a Thousand Kisses”, a neat take on cursed spirits.

Best Fanzine:
StarshipSofa: yup, podcasts are eligible for the Hugo. Check out my previous post for more info.

Campbell Award:
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (First Year of Eligibility): Rochita has published fiction in Apex, Fantasy Magazine and Weird Tales. She has this beautiful, fluid writing style that allows her to move smoothly from a humorous, whimsical story like “Teaching a Pink Elephant to Ski” to more sombre subject matters like the plague-wracked world of “59 Beads”. My only regret is that she writes so little, because I sure as heck want to see more of her fiction out there getting recognition.

Juliette Wade (Second Year of Eligibility): Juliette is a member of my crit group, Written in Blood, who has sold stories to Analog. She draws on her experience as a linguist to craft strange and utterly believable alien races in stories like “Cold Words” or “Let the Word Take Me”. She also has an awesome blog, “Talk to You Universe”, where she discusses worldbuilding, linguistics and strange customs, a must for spec-fic writers.

Chris Kastensmidt (Second Year of Eligibility): Chris got a little unlucky for Campbell purposes, as he sold a single eligible story before a drought, a humorous retelling of Little Red Hood co-published with Jim C. Hines. His story “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara”, an awesome tale of adventure, treasure hunting and magic set in colonial Brazil, is due out in the next issue of Realms of Fantasy. In the meantime, you can read his more humorous (but slightly dated) stuff here and here, and check out his awesome website for the Gerard van Oost and Oludar series here.

Sean Markey (Second Year of Eligibility): Sean writes quirky stories with beautiful language. Check out “The Spider in You,” in Strange Horizons, a very odd and dark story about people who worship large poisonous spiders as gods, or “Waiting for the Green Woman”, a story of a very peculiar father-daughter relationship: what do you do when your daughter is a tree in the desert?

Shweta Narayan (First Year of Eligibility): I really enjoy her stories–including “The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar”, in the Shimmer Jungle Clockwork issue, a clever set of nested stories set within a Hindu/Mughal milieu, and “Nira and I” in Strange Horizons, a beautiful story about mists, spirits and caste divisions.