Editorial: Where is the World in the World Fantasy Awards?
Writers talk – and one of those on-going conversations recently, here at WSNB HQ, has been the World Fantasy Award. It’s a very worthy award, singling out some remarkable works of fantasy in both long and short form. But one question kept bugging us, and it’s this: where is the World in World Fantasy?
It requires a mere glimpse at the list of winners, nominees or, indeed, judges to know that there is nothing very international about the WFA. Sure, there are the notable exceptions – namely S.P. Somtow and Zoran Zivkovic – but the award is predominantly – overwhelmingly – American.
Which is no bad thing, of course. American fantasy is, well, fantastic. But to call an American award the World Fantasy Award is to set out certain expectations and, one could argue, certain obligations. Are there no major works of fantasy in China? In Japan? In Russia? In France? In Latin America or Africa or the Middle East?
Not according to the WFA. I wonder how many of the previous judges could even read a second language. I do wonder what a panel of European judges would make of the award but, of course, English-speakers have dominated the judging, with very rare exceptions. My friend Alain, a French publisher, was a judge one year, and I remember him expressing similar frustration.
And it is frustrating. I’m not arguing a truly international award will ever be possible. But if it isn’t – and the WFA certainly isn’t – why not change its name? The American Fantasy Award seems a much more accurate description, and a more humble, more appropriate name. No French writer would raise eyebrows if they weren’t nominated for the American Fantasy Award. But to have a world – encompassing, one would imagine, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, South America and – yes – North America (not to mention islands like Singapore or England) – in the title, and then constrict it to mean a small sub-section of humanity is hubristic, and unbecoming.
People might assume, incidentally, that the World SF Convention – the Worldcon – gained its name from a mandate that sees at least the possibility of it being held somewhere outside the United States (as the recent Japanese Worldcon – the first, and so far only Worldcon ever to take place in Asia). The explanation is much simpler, however, and rather charming – when it was set up by a group of young fans in New York, the World’s Fair was taking place in the city, and the organisers decided putting “world” before “convention” would make it sound grander (read Pohl or Asimov’s memoirs for the details). Nothing more, nothing less – and the convention has evolved over the years, as mentioned, to at least include the possibility of international hosting. Though it has to be noted the Hugo awards are still almost entirely dominated by American writers and publishers (to the exclusion of otherwise-obvious candidates from the UK, for instance), even when it travels outside of the US.
The World Fantasy Convention, on the other hand, was only set up in the 1970s, so I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind the name. The WFC takes place in the United States every year, and is widely seen as the important business convention in the American genre market. Again, one simply wonders why it has to be called something it clearly isn’t.
But what can be done about the WFA? Nothing, you might say. What difference does it make what it’s called? If you want, go and start your own, I don’t know, International Fantasy Award and leave us the World. Or, and that’s something organisers might, just possibly, consider, there’s the possibility of making the award more inclusive. How about a year without a single American or British judge? How about a mix of European, Asian and African judges? How about a year of French judges? Wouldn’t that be interesting? Or maybe I’m aiming too high. Even just one such judge might mix it up a little. Right now, there aren’t any.
I take international speculative fiction – that whole wide and exciting world of Malaysian horror and Japanese manga, of Israeli fantasy and French steampunk, of African magic realism and Chinese science fiction – seriously, because it’s seriously cool. There’s some amazing stuff out there – but not according to the WFA.
Perhaps it’s time to change that.
Or, more simply, change the name.
Sebastian A. Corn is the literary pseudonym of Florin Chirculescu, who was born in 1960 in Bucureşti, Romania. He studied medicine and in the everyday life is a thoracic surgeon. He made his debut with the short story “Snorky” in 1994 in Jurnalul SF (The SF Journal) and since then he published stories in different Romanian magazines and publications. He published 6 novels under the pseudonym Sebastian A. Corn and one as Patrick Herbert:
2484 Quirinal Ave (1995), Aquarius (1996), Dune 7 – Cartea Brundurilor (Dune 7 – The Brundurs Book, 1997) as Patrick Herbert, Să mă tai cu tăişul bisturiului tău, scrise Josephine (To cut myself with the edge of your scalpel, wrote Josephine, 1998), Cel mai înalt turn din Baabylon (The highest tower in Baabylon, 2002), Imperiul Marelui Graal (The Empire of the Great Grail, 2004) and Vindecătorul (The Healer, 2008).
Sebastian A. Corn was rewarded with almost 40 local awards for his works, such as Quo Vadis!, RomCon, Dan Merişca, Supernova, Helion, Nemira and Vladimir Colin, but also with The Award for the European Debut at the Eurocon in 1995 at Glasgow.
Contributor Mihai Adascalitei interviews Sebastian A. Corn.
Some authors write for money, some for fame and some for pleasure. Why are you writing? What made you start putting your thoughts on paper?
I don’t know for sure… During my first years of writing, I just had an urge to write, that was all. The main idea was that I enjoyed spending some good hours, each day, in a world of my own. I enjoyed building this world and that was the most forceful drive.
You’ve studied medicine and you work as a surgeon. How does medicine get along with the writing career? How does your medical experience influence your writing?
Medicine is extremely time consuming. Writing is also time consuming. At first sight, medicine and writing don’t seem to get along that well. On the other hand, medical studies offer you a scientific background (I talk about fundamental sciences connected with medicine) that always makes you ask: what if…? Besides, practicing as a doctor enables you to meet all sort of people who are willing to communicate more thoroughly about their problems. In a way, a doctor is connected to a various array of characters and this helps a lot in writing. Bottom line, medicine is a humanist profession and it certainly loads you with lots of unsolved problems. I try to solve those problems in writing.
Why the choice for the science fiction literature? What attracted you towards the speculative fiction?
I just liked it. I just love to build specific worlds of my own into which the usual, daily problems have a more straightforward manner to express. I regard science fiction as a shortcut to express such problems. Mainstream literature contaminates the fundamental problems of mankind by embedding them in colloquial situations.
Which are your favorite authors and who influenced your style of writing the most?
Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert and Gerard Klein. Hugo Pratt, as a cartoonist also influenced me a lot.
You work under pseudonym. Why did you choose to use a pseudonym? From where does the pseudonym Sebastian A. Corn originate?
A cousin of mine made me an anagram while we were kids. It came out as FC Corn. Sebastian is a name I like very much and A. stands for Aaron.
It took me a year to penetrate on the Romanian market by publishing in magazines. Then, I began to get local literary prizes. When I had my first book issued, “2484, Quirinal Ave”, I was really exhausted and I could not even celebrate the event.
You published works in both short and long form of fiction. With which one do you feel more comfortable?
The novels, of course.
From all of your works so far which one is closer to your heart? Which one do you consider to be the best so far?
I read that you are rewriting one of your novels, Imperiul Marelui Graal (The Empire of the Great Grail) and that you plan to write a series starting with this novel. What made you rewrite your novel? Does it happen for you to be unsatisfied with the result of your writing and to change the work you did until that moment?
I am dissatisfied with many of my works. Concerning Imperiul Marelui Graal (The Empire of the Great Grail), I am in love with its world and characters and I think they deserve some good couple of more drafts in order to make this novel really readable.
You wrote under the Patrick Herbert pseudonym a novel set in the Dune universe. What made you want to write in the Dune universe? How difficult is to approach an established series in the personal style?
It was an offer from Nemira Publishing House. Back then, I had already written a novel, Cartea Brundurilor, when they made me this offer. Unfortunately, a certain haste, let’s say, from their part made us lose the terrific momentum which the Dune Universe carried in itself. The project is one of the most dissatisfying in my career because in my opinion, immersing in Frank Herbert’s universe deserved more work, more collaboration with those who translated the series in Romanian and so forth, in order to accommodate a specific text to the needs of Herbert’s universe. Sometimes, the publisher’s rush to issue a title is not the best thing in the economy of writing a book. Unfortunately, I learned this only too late.
I know that you are working also on a mainstream novel. Do you like to experiment in other genres as well? Do you think that an experience in other genres can help improve the writing of an author?
Let’s say that the ideas that drive me nowadays are best expressed by a mainstream text. However, I consider that transgressing the genres is most helpful for a writer.
In 1995 you were rewarded with the Eurocon Award for the European Debut. Do you think that that award changed your career? Does the fact that you won numerous awards (almost 40 if I am not mistaken) set a higher standard for you and your works?
That award surely eased my relationship with the publishers. However, the standards of anyone’s works are not related to the awards a specific writer got in his career. A writer always writes with the purpose of offering his best, each and every time he writes.
Which is the award that took you by surprise and which does it please you the most?
The Vladimir Colin Award.
You have experience also as editor, critic and translator so may I ask you, as an inside opinion, how do you think that literature is seen in Romania? How about the speculative fiction?
Literature is having some bad time lately in Romania, just as in other cultural areas. To be sincere, I am not so sure that books as we know them will still be a desired, hm, “object” in, let’s say, 25 years from now. Speculative fiction finds an easier way to the public through the PC games, unfortunately.
What do you think that the future has in store the speculative fiction in our country, especially for the Romanian writers? Do you think that it is possible in the future for a Romanian author to be a professional writer?
A professional writer needs a market in order to live on his books and nowadays, these markets are the English language, the Spanish language, maybe the Chinese etc. Considering this, it seems very hard for a Romanian writer to earn a living by publishing.
Speculative fiction ( I see that you prefer this term J ) in Romania has some specific traits and the writer who will be able to transgress the language barrier besides the ability to use a good old story telling expertise will maybe make a breakthrough in the literary market. Unfortunately, this seems a remote perspective. I know of some Romanian writers who got awards in Canada – I think that they have the chance to rebuild the confidence in the Romanian SF literature.
What do you think that are the differences between the Romanian speculative fiction and the English one?
The main difference is the way the plot is built. Romanians are more prone to develop and express “smart ideas” on behalf of the story telling. I don’t find this as a good solution when writing literature because I still believe that a reader wants to read THE story. I also had these drawbacks and not only once…
Do you think that in the future some of the Romanian speculative fiction will be published on the English market? Do you hope that your works will be translated in English?
I hope so. There are some titles which could be translated and receive a good critic, I think, but this depends on more things than simply writing a novel.
At what are you working in the moment and what future projects do you have?
We talked about SF literature up to now, but my future project is a mainstream novel. I can’t yet decide on the title… Will it be “Parsifal”, or “Nolli’s Plan”? However, at this moment, I do only the research. I will start writing it next spring, I think.
Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.
Adrenergic! by Sebastian A. Corn
Format: Paperback, 112 pages
Publisher: Millennium Press
Sebastian A. Corn is one of the most important Romanian science fiction authors, with 7 novels awarded by the Romanian speculative fiction community and with important appearances on the speculative fiction magazines. “Adrenergic!” is a novella first published in 1994 in “Jurnalul SF” (SF Journal) and printed this year in its own volume.
In the future, in South Sabrata, Tamerlan Banks, the honorific director of the United T-Skell Spaces company, is dissatisfied with his new position, being an honorific director means a more respected and a better financial rewarded position, but no power of decision. Jealous on Hugh Secada, the new executive director of the company, for his new position and for marrying Priscilla Ydriss, Tamerlan plans to show his invaluable knowledge of the virtual reality and to discredit his rival.
Adrenergic! is a cyberpunk novella and one in which Sebastian A. Corn proves to be a very talented and imaginative author. The world created by Corn is very interesting and its concepts appealed to me the instance I discovered them. Everything in South Sabrata, the setting of the novella, is improved with biotechnological implants, which are modified live tissues through genetically engineering. And these implants work as a spying system as well, since almost every street, building and piece of furniture can sense and identify a human presence through different senses, be it visual, auditory, olfactory or tactile. Humans may benefit from these biotechnological implants too, the main character Tamerlan Banks has one, but they are rather seen as rebellious acts.
On the other hand we have the virtual reality, where every structure present in the real world is sustained by microorganisms, turboskells, in order to work. The new and improved turboskells are the work of Tamerlan Banks, but these ones tend to break the agreements they reach with the humans and build new virtual spaces that slow the system. The interaction between the realities is made through the spacefors, humans that go into tanks full with normal saline solution connected to cables and communicating with the virtual reality. But the humans who spent too much time as spacefors reached a vegetative condition.
The novella follows the conflict between Tamerlan Banks and Hugh Secada, a conflict that goes from the real world into the virtual reality and has at its core the desire to control the turboskells. Adrenergic! has a steady rhythm, Sebastian A. Corn managing to keep a steady pace from the beginning until the end. However, I find the second part of the novella to be a bit too flat and a bit repetitive. The conflict reaches an end that is quite predictable and that didn’t offer me any surprises. Also, Sebastian A. Corn uses a language throughout his story that I can define as hard. I slowly engaged into his novella because Corn doesn’t explain any notion to the reader and therefore every concept has to be learned from the bits of information scattered along the story. In my opinion this aspect might drive a few readers away from the novella.
I admit that I enjoy more fantasy literature than the science fiction one, but I like exploring the second from time to time. I have to admit also that from the sub-genres of science fiction cyberpunk appeals the least to me, with only a few pieces that stick to my memory. Still, Sebastian A. Corn’s Adrenergic! is a novella that reminded me of the works of the heavy names of science fiction, especially Philip K. Dick, and of the Matrix movies, but you have to consider that Corn’s novella is written with 5 years before the first Matrix movie. And although on the personal level Adrenergic! didn’t offer me the best of readings I believe that the fans of science fiction in general and cyberpunk in particular will find it to be a valuable piece of fiction.
I was present when the Israeli Society for SF&F was formed. That was back in 1996, and Brian Aldiss was the guest of honor. They were looking for someone to build a website for the Society, and I volunteered. I built a very simple site which ran for several years, but which I wasn’t really happy with. In 1999, friends of mine created one of Israel’s first online magazines, “Ha’ayal Hakore” (those two words mean “Elk” in ancient Hebrew, but one of them also means “reader”; a word game, yes). The moment I saw the software that they wrote for it, I knew that I could use it to run an SF magazine. I lured the Society into paying for the project, and viola! Israel’s first online SF magazine was born. - read the rest of the interview.