Coverage of the Chinese Space Programme, with some amazing artwork from the 1960s onwards!
The succesful launching of the Shenzhou V, the Divine Vessel, on 15 October 2003, withtaikonaut Yang Liwei on board, marked a giant leap forward in the Chinese space program that saw its origins in the 1960s. With this result, China joined the club of space-travelling nations that previously had been limited to the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation. A previous Chinese launching , in 1970, had already brought a satellite into orbit that endlessly broadcast Dongfang hong (东方红, The East is Red), not the national anthem, but probably one of the best known Chinese tunes, eulogizing Mao Zedong. The success of this mission was solely ascribed to the genius of Mao Zedong Thought, which had guided the scientists and workers. In reality, Qian Xuesen (1911-2009), a rocket engineer formerly attached to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California, U.S., who had been expelled in the 1950s for suspected Communist sympathies, designed China’s first missiles, earning him the accolade of being the father of the space program. – continue reading and to see more art!
Little guests in the Moon Palace, early 1970s
Troubled young runaway Aydee escapes her abusive home and stumbles across a bookstore called Lost Pages. After a series of bizarre encounters with a variety of creatures and divine beings, Aydee is befriended by Lost Pages’ shopkeeper Lucas and his myriad pet dogs. Together with Lucas, Aydee works and grows up at Lost Pages while dealing with its peculiar customers and the strange books in stock. But far from being a peaceful haven, Lost Pages thrusts Aydee into an ancient conflict between old gods and monsters until she is forced to confront the uncomfortable reality of her own true identity. Continue reading
The Best Erotic Fantasy & Science Fiction edited by Cecilia Tan and Bethany Zaiatz is a cohesive, balanced collection of stories that definitely live up to Circlet Press’ goal to find new ways to break open the strictures and formulas of the science fiction and fantasy genres in tandem with breaking open the formulas of erotica. There is a little something for everyone as long as you keep an open mind and aren’t shy about the s-word. As you might imagine this book is definitely all about SEX. But it’s also about many other things, most especially love. Love in all its wild and varied forms, from first love, to unrequited love, to obsessive love, to downright strange love. Continue reading
Thought we’d take off early this week, and what better way than with some very astute commentary – which is also a hell of a lot of fun! – on some the problems of producing genre works in places where they are not, traditionally, appreciated…
The Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) have just announced the nominated works for their annual Nebula Awards. French author, and Apex Book of World SF contributor Aliette de Bodard is nominated for Best Novelette, with “The Jaguar House, in Shadow”, from Asimov’s, while the forthcoming Apex Book of World SF 2 Indian contributor Shweta Narayan is also nominated for Best Novelette, with “Pishaach” from the Beastly Bride anthology. And Apex Book of World SF 2 contributor, Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor, is nominated for her novel Who Fears Death.
The Apex Book of World SF 2 will be published later this year.
In addition, huge congratulations are due to our publishers, Apex Book Company, for having two stories on the ballot this year: Lebanese-Canadian writer Amal El-Mohtar‘s “The Green Book” (published at Apex Online) is up for Best Short Story, alongside Jennifer Peland‘s “Ghosts of New York” (published in Apex anthology Dark Faith).
This is probably the most diverse short-list in the award’s recent history – congratulations to all the nominees and to the SFWA!
Today we have a short-short from South African writer Charlie Human.
Dance Dance Revolution
By Charlie Human
Special Forces secure the perimeter of the town and give us the green light to parachute in. Clearing hornet nests is something of a specialty of ours. Special Forces don’t like us, but they’re wise enough to keep their mouths shut.
We advance, Alpha Team in Swan Lake formation. The phosphorescent flares Special Forces have sent up make everything glitter with radiance. The town’s populous wail and cry when they see us. A woman, gnashing her teeth and pulling her hair, throws herself at my feet. Navy Seals they spit at. Dancers they beg for mercy.
Our Killbots trundle next to us awaiting orders. I watch mine, Nureyev, drive over a fruitseller’s stand with his heavy, spiked tracks. I smile. I have a suspicion that his programming has a few sadistic lines of code.
The insurgents engage us with a few exploratory rounds of rifle fire. I click my heels together. You’re not in Kabul anymore, motherfuckers. I pirouette which sends a volley of heavy machine gun fire back. I know the hit is confirmed even before the green lights blink on Nureyev’s back.
Alpha Team snaps into motion. Dance is an intuitive, responsive medium. We react to the attack without thinking about it. The machines are linked to us via biofeedback which translates our dance steps into destruction. My new tutu is lighter and more accurate at mapping my movements, based as it is on cutting edge motion-capture technology used in CGI movies. Heel-toe, Heel-toe and dip. Four men die without knowing they’ve been spotted.
The first forays into Military Dance Interface were predictably clunky, death by Fred Astaire 1.0, but things improved. It’s easy to marvel at how far information interface has come in society; from the flipping and flicking of touchscreen devices to controller-free sports games which map human movement. This is just like that. Just with 50 calibre machine guns.
Beta Team moonwalk across my vision laying down a barrage of RPG fire. A round clips my shoulder and I see a sniper on a rooftop with my head in his crosshairs. I break formation to reach for the sky and shimmy. The insurgent dies in a hail of bullets. Disco has saved my life more than once.
Rounds ricochet off the wall behind me but I hardly notice. In this business you’ve got to dance like nobody is watching you through laser-guided scopes. The fighting has become close and Alpha Team switches to a Bollywood dance sequence. The Killbots respond by initiating close combat mode.
Clasping my hands together and lifting them above my head; Nureyev chainsaws through kevlar and flesh. Bobbing my head from side to side: Nureyev snaps necks with the passionless precision of machine jiu-jitsu. Delta Team scythes through opposition on our flank. For a second I pity the enemy. Those line-dancers are brutal.
We glide down an alley and straight into a trap. Nureyev is hit by a grenade and our link is severed. Dancers fall to gunfire all around me. One of them, Katya Illinova, teeters on pointed toes as bullets rip into her. She doesn’t falter as she performs a last bow which initiates a kamikaze run by her Killbot. The explosion lights up the town like an orange sunset.
I pirouette into a house to avoid any surviving snipers. Straight into the arms of the Dictator. I recognise him from intelligence photos; a handsome man with a long moustache, dressed in military uniform. We lock eyes. I hold out my hand and he takes it. We tango slow and sure. He smells faintly of explosives, sweat and vanilla, his hand on the small of my back, his breath on my neck.
He dips me and I bring my leg up to his shoulder. The military network satellite responds to my muscle command and dispatches several Tomahawk missiles to our location. We’re still dancing as everything is obliterated.
Dance Dance Revolution (c) 2010 Charlie Human. First published in Chew Magazine.
Albedo One bills itself as Ireland’s longest-running and foremost magazine of the fantastic, and I’m happy to take their word for it. This issue, # 39, contains an interview with Mike Resnick, several reviews of new novels, and six short stories. Though remarkable in their breadth and diversity, all six stories probe in some way themes of time, death, and the transience of human life, and the more I consider it, the more I enjoy the subtle ways in which such seemingly disparate works overlap.
How well like a man fought the Rani of Jhansi,
How valiantly and well!
— Indian ballad
My opinion of steampunk is low. However, last week’s lovely Google doodle by Jennifer Hom reminded me that I like at least one steampunk work. After I wrote my Star Trek book, I was asked why I did so. My reply was The Double Helix: Why Science Needs Science Fiction. Here is its opening paragraph:
The first book that I clearly remember reading is the unexpurgated version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Had I been superstitious, I would have taken it for an omen, since the book contains just about everything that has shaped my life and personality since then. For me, the major wonder of the book was that Captain Nemo was both a scientist and an adventurer, a swashbuckler in a lab coat, a profile I imagined myself fulfilling one day.
I was five when I first read the novel. Unlike Anglophone readers, I was lucky enough to have the complete version rather than the bowdlerized thin gruel that resulted in Verne being consigned to the category of “children’s author”. Of course, 20,000 Leagues set me up for the inevitable fall. It prompted me to read most of Verne’s other works, in which he’s as guilty of infodumps, cardboard characters and tone-deaf dialogue as most “authors of ideas”. Too, his books are boys’ treehouses: I can recall two women in those I read, both as lively as wooden idols. Even so, Captain Nemo stands apart among Verne’s characters, both in his depth and in the messages he carries.
Verne has Aronnax describe Nemo at length when he first sees him. It takes up more than a page — but even now I remember my frustration when I reached the end and found out Verne says exactly nothing about Nemo’s build, hue, eye and hair color or shape. All he has told, in excruciating detail, is that Nemo looks extraordinarily intelligent and has a formidable presence.
However, my book copy contained several sepia-tinted plates from Disney’s film version of the book (in lieu of Édouard Riou’s engravings that accompanied the original editions). I had no idea who the actors were – I discovered that James Mason was British in my early twenties. On the other hand, several hints in the book, including the “liquid vowel-filled” language spoken by his multinational crew, coded the captain of the Nautilus as different. So in my mind Nemo was olive-skinned, black-haired. He looked like my father the engineer, like my father’s seacaptain father and brothers, like the andártes of the Greek resistance. He looked like me.
He acted like the andártes, as well. He sided with the downtrodden, from helping a Ceylonese pearl diver to giving guns to the Cretans risen against the Turks. And when he lost companions, he wept. Yet he was not merely a warrior; he was also a polymath. Besides being a crack engineer, a marine biology expert and an intrepid explorer, he spoke half a dozen languages, kept a huge library, and was a discerning art collector and a talented musician. The Nautilus is the precursor of Star Trek’s Enterprise: a ship of science and culture that can also wage war. Too, Nemo’s conversations bespoke someone from an old civilization tempered by melancholic wisdom – not an insouciant triumphalist.
Then there was the Lucifer strain that appealed to me just as much, coming as I did from a clan of resistance fighters. Nemo embodies the motto by which I have come to live my life: Never complain, never explain. He’s an evolved incarnation of the Byronic hero. His name is not only the Latin version of Outis (Noone) that Odysseus gave to Polyphemus; it is also a cognate of Nemesis (Vengeance). Today’s security agencies would call Nemo a terrorist, even though he fights in self-defense and retribution after invaders massacre his family and occupy his homeland.
Since victors write history, the losers’ freedom fighters become the winners’ murderers. Beyond that, there’s a fundamental difference between Nemo and fanatics like bin Laden: Nemo is not fighting to establish an Ummah, an Empire, a Utopia, not for power, riches, or glory. He’s not a fundamentalist secure in celestial approval of his actions. He is deeply conflicted and feels grief and guilt whenever he exacts revenge.
In this, Nemo shares his creator’s determined Enlightenment outlook. Verne was never apologetic about his heroes’ secularism or love of political freedom. However, Pierre-Julien Hetzel, Verne’s excessively hands-on editor, was acutely mindful of social and political conventions. As a result, Verne has Nemo go through a deathbed act of contrition in the vastly inferior Mysterious Island – something totally at odds with his character in 20,000 Leagues. Left to himself, Verne might have given a far darker ending to the first novel, as Disney did in his film version and as Verne later did with Robur, a coarsened power-obsessed Nemo clone.
Verne had originally conceived Nemo as a Polish scientist fighting against Russian oppressors. Hetzel did not want to alienate the lucrative Russian market. Also, neither Poland nor Russia are known for their naval prowess: a Russian-hating Nemo would put a serious crimp on the sea battle drama in 20,000 Leagues. So when Verne reveals Nemo’s provenance in The Mysterious Island, he makes him an Indian prince, son of the Rajah of Bundelkhand. Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi (a region of Bundelkhand), was one of the leaders of the Sepoy Uprising, the same uprising that cost Nemo his family and home. It makes me glad to think Captain Nemo, Prince Dakkar, may have been Lakshmi Bai’s cousin – that they grew up together, friends and like-minded companions. I’m equally glad Nemo is free of the poisonous concepts of caste purity.
Who could animate Captain Nemo’s complexities and dilemmas onscreen? Mason may have been ethnically incorrect, but he truly captured Nemo – both his torment and his charisma. The incarnations since Mason have been anemic and/or off-key. In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Naseeruddin Shah did his best with the paper-thin material he was given, but the film was so unremittingly awful that I’ve wiped it from long-term memory. Besides him, I have a few other possibles in mind and I’m open to additional suggestions:
Jean Reno, real name Juan Moreno, the stoic ronin whose Andalusian parents had to leave Cadiz during Franco’s regime; Ghassan Massoud, who wiped the floor with the other actors (except Edward Norton as the uncredited Baldwin) as Saladin in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven; Ken Watanabe, who left Tom Cruise in the dust in The Last Samurai; Oded Fehr, who made the screen shimmer as the paladin Ardeth Bey in The Mummy; in a decade or so, Ioan Gruffudd, whom Guinevere should have taken as a co-husband in Antoine Fuqua’s Arthur; also in about a decade (provided he keeps lean), Naveen Andrews, the soulful Kip in Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient.
It goes without saying that I have an equally long list of candidates who could embody Captain Nemo as a woman – but I’ll keep these names for that never-never time when this becomes possible without the venomous ad feminem criticisms (some from prominent women) that greeted Helen Mirren as Prospero. Because gender essentialism aside, Captain Nemo was not someone I wanted to fall in love with, but someone I wanted to become: a warrior wizard, a creator, a firebringer.
Addendum 1: I received excellent additions to the Nemo candidate list. Calvin Johnson suggested Ben Kingsley, real name Krishna Pandit Bhanji, who needs no further introduction (Calvin and I also agreed that Laurence Fishburne in Morpheus mode would be great for the part). Anil Menon proposed the equally formidable Gabriel Byrne. Eloise Lanouette brought up Alexander (endless full name) Siddig who keeps getting better, like fine wine.
I also received a palpitation-inducing… er, tantalizing thought-experiment from Kay Holt; namely, a film in which each of my candidate Nemos inhabits a parallel reality. Ok, I’ll stop grinning widely now.
Addendum 2: I got e-mails expressing curiosity about my female Nemo candidates. So here’s the list. Again, I welcome suggestions:
Julia Ormond, who radiates intelligence and made a tough-as-nails underdog hero in Smilla’s Sense of Snow; Karina Lombard, who brought tormented Bertha Mason to vivid life in The Wide Sargasso Sea; Salma Hayek, the firebrand of Frida; Michelle Yeoh, who bested everyone (including Chow Yun Fat) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Angela Bassett, who wore kickass Lornette “Mace” Mason like a second skin in Strange Days; last but decidedly not least, Anjelica Huston — enough said!
Great additional suggestions have come for this half as well: Lena Headey who made a terrific Sarah Connor, Indira Varma of Kama Sutra — both in about ten years’ time. Sotiría Leonárdhou, who set the world on fire in Rembetiko. And, of course, Sigourney Weaver, the one and only Ellen Ripley.
Images: 1st, the Nautilus as envisioned by Tom Scherman; 2nd, Captain Nemo (original illustration by Édouard Riou; detail); 3rd, James Mason as Nemo; 4th and 5th, my Nemo candidates, left to right; 4th, the men — top, Jean Reno (France/Spain), Ghassan Massoud (Syria), Ken Watanabe (Japan); bottom, Oded Fehr (Israel), Ioan Gruffudd (Wales), Naveen Andrews (India/UK); 5th, the women — top, Julia Ormond (UK), Karina Lombard (Lakota/US), Salma Hayek (Mexico); bottom, Michelle Yeoh (Hong Kong), Angela Bassett (US), Anjelica Huston (US).
Athena Andreadis brief bio
Athena Andreadis was born in Greece and lured to the US at age 18 by a full scholarship to Harvard, then MIT. She does basic research in molecular neurobiology, focusing on mental retardation and dementia. She is an avid reader in four languages across genres, the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek and writes speculative fiction and non-fiction on a wide swath of topics. Her work can be found in Harvard Review, Strange Horizons, Crossed Genres, Stone Telling, Cabinet des Fées, Science in My Fiction, SF Signal, The Apex Blog, H+ Magazine, io9, The Huffington Post, and her own site, Starship Reckless.
Over at the SF Portal, new bureau head Arafaat Ali Khan discusses What has science fiction meant to the UAE over the lat few decades?
It’s difficult to put a finger on what constitutes science fiction in the United Arab Emirates. Difficult because the UAE has always been such an eclectic mix of nationalities that the culture has always consisted of a mix of Arab, Asian and European influences.
As a Pakistani growing up in the country, I never felt that there was a certain way of life that encompassed or dictated the form of entertainment that one would get accustomed to. In fact, one could say that it was the best of all worlds, being exposed to everything from European and American television shows, movies, and literature, to the more traditional forms of Arab entertainment.
Arab entertainment when it comes to science fiction came in the form of ‘Arabised’ forms of other cultures. People from the region have grown up with a love for giant robots and UFOs due to one simple animated series that surfaced in the early 80’s Grendizer, more commonly know as Goldarak in Europe and Canada where it was also loved.
Grendizer was a common Japanese Anime about UFOs and robots fighting for good against the forces of evil in many shapes and sizes with one important twist: it was dubbed extremely professionally into Arabic. What this meant for those of us growing up in the region is that we adopted it as our own. This wasn’t a Japanese show, no: it was an Arab show that touched the hearts of everyone who ever had the pleasure of growing up watching it.
And this was the kicker, the shot in the arm if you will that laid the groundwork for the dreams and inspirations of so many talented individuals in the region. Yes we had Doctor Who, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Star Trek and Stars Wars (to name a few) as well as a plethora of available literature including Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, Ben Bova, and the res,t but I truly believe it was that short-lived animated show about robots and monsters that really planted the seed for what we are beginning to see in the region today.
It has taken a while, sure but the talent is starting to make itself heard. From the first fully animated CGI Science Fiction short Xero-Error (featured at Cannes), to an unnamed fantasy novel and the first original Arabic language Manga The Gold Ring, the seeds are starting to blossom. The UAE and the Middle East region as a whole is no longer content with importing their science fiction and genre entertainment, they are ready to take the world by storm!
The region has been fostering this with numerous film festivals such as the Dubai Film Festival and Gulf Film Festival, book fairs, and more hoping to find the next big name in science fiction, fantasy, and art.
The announcement of the first Middle East Film and Comic Con has done nothing but foster this nascent talent. April 29th and 30th of 2011 (www.mefilmandcomiccon.com) will be the time when the region will truly have a voice, a voice to shout about their love of science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between.
As one of the organisers of the event, it is with no exaggeration that I say it has been awe inspiring to witness the level of interest and talent that exists in this region. The show is set to feature the very first science fiction novel in Arabic, and the first stand alone Arabic language science fiction graphic novel to name a few. It will be the first time that the artists, authors, and fans in the Arab world will have a chance to meet some of the global legends in science fiction, comic books, and animation.