We’ve been covering various steampunk anthologies from around the world, and the most recent one comes from Singapore: The Steampowered Globe: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy contains 7 original stories by Singaporean writers. it is edited by Maisarah Abu Samah and Rosemary Lin. io9 reviews:
The Happy Smiley Writers Group is a group of seven writers located in Singapore. Through their Two Trees Pte. Ltd (http://twotrees.com.sg/books.html) micro-press they have published three science fiction anthologies since 2009. Their latest, The Steampowered Globe (ISBN 978‑981‑07‑0549‑7, SGD$18), is a steampunk anthology.
Part of the surprise comes from the collection’s very existence. Literary steampunk from Singapore? Obviously, there are a number of science fiction writers in Singapore and more generally in Southeast Asia, but nearly all of the steampunk short stories and novels published so far are from Western writers. I thought The Steampowered Globe would be an excellent opportunity to discover how Southeast Asian authors viewed steampunk and wrote it, and what the differences might be between steampunk written in the West, from descendants of the colonizers, and steampunk written in the East, from descendants of the colonized.
Maisarah Abu Samah, one of the two editors of Steampowered Globe, said that
the state of steampunk in Singapore is still budding…mostly people are exposed to it due to video games and books. Besides online influences, cosplay conventions are one way to spread what steampunk is for all the subculture fashions appear in them. For the writers in this anthology, some of them knew what steampunk was while others just read our explanation and references on what it was in our submission call page.
This raises the question: Why do a steampunk anthology? Add to that the fact that the guidelines for submissions to the anthology read, “No depressive ending, no preaching, no agendas, no angst-ridden misery.” Aub Samah said,
We placed that at the back of the book because depressive endings with angst‑ridden misery is prevalent here in local (Singapore) publishing. The bestsellers tend to be depressive woe is me cultural stories. It would have been okay if it wasn’t just that but there you go, we wanted an anthology that was a smack in the face to show that genre fiction exists besides literature texts. This anthology was to prove that yes, there are writers here who write science fiction, steampunk or genre fiction and that it is okay to write that. It is difficult to publish genre fiction here as people don’t think it is commercially viable or that no one wants to read them since they’re not assessment or text books.
What were the results? A 144 page, seven story anthology with a high rate of success—high by any standards, not just those of a writers group micro-press anthology. The fact that so many of the stories succeed is a tribute both to the Happy Smiley Writers Group and to editors Abu Samah and Rosemary Lim. – continue reading or buy a Kindle edition of the book!
The winners of the Romanian Galileo Awards 2012 (Premiile Galileo), voted by the subscribers of Galileo Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, were announced on Sunday. Here’s the list of the winners:
- Best F&SF Book Award (novel or short fiction collection published by a Romanian author in 2011): the novel DEMNET by DAN DOBOS, published by MediaTech in October 2011
- Best F&SF Short Fiction Award (short fiction published by a Romanian author in 2011): novella “POVESTEA LUI CALISTRAT HADIMBU DIN VIZIRENI, UCIS MISELESTE DE NENICUL RAUL COLENTINA INTR-UN HAN DE LA MARGINEA BUCURESTILOR” by MICHAEL HAULICA, first published in the STEAMPUNK: A DOUA REVOLUTIE anthology, edited by Adrian Craciun, Millennium Books, March 2011 (approximate translation of the title: „The story of Calistrat Hadimbu from Vizireni, cowardly killed by master Raul Colentina in an inn on the outskirts of Bucharest”)
- Best F&SF Anthology Award (an original anthology containing stories by Romanian authors, published in 2011): STEAMPUNK: A DOUA REVOLUTIE edited by ADRIAN CRACIUN, Millennium Books, March 2011 (translation of the title: STEAMPUNK: THE SECOND REVOLUTION)
In addition to the subscribers voted awards, the staff of Galileo Magazine and Millennium Books has also announced this year’s recipient of the Galileo Award for life-time achievement: Romanian writer LIVIU RADU, “for the extraordinary stories that he has given and that he keeps giving us”.
The Galileo Awards Ceremony will take place on March 18th, during the Final Frontier II Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Fair in Bucharest. Each of the winners will receive a cash prize of 500 lei and the Galileo trophy.
Here’s a link to the official announcement, on the Galileo Online page: http://revista-galileo.ro/premiile-galileo-2012-2/
Nick Mamatas has announced the table of contents for new anthology The Future Is Japanese, published by Haikasoru, and collecting brand-new SF stories from a mix of Japanese and foreign writers.
Table of Contents:
“Mono No Aware” by Ken Liu
“The Sound of Breaking Up” by Felicity Savage
“Chitai Heiki Koronbīn” by David Moles
“The Indifference Engine” by Project Itoh
“The Sea of Trees” by Rachel Swirsky
“Endoastronomy” by Toh EnJoe
“In Plain Sight” by Pat Cadigan
“Golden Bread” by Issui Ogawa
“One Breath, One Stroke” by Catherynne M. Valente
“Whale Meat” by Ekaterina Sedia
“Mountain People, Ocean People” by Hideyuki Kikuchi
“Goddess of Mercy” by Bruce Sterling
“Autogenic Dreaming: Interview with the Columns of Clouds” by TOBI Hirotaka
Ekaterina Sedia recently translated this delightful, non-existent table of contents for an Encyclopaedia of Feminism According to Harry Potter, compiled by Russian fans. We thought it was too good not to share!
Encyclopaedia of Feminism According to Harry Potter
The Practice of Female Separatism in Daily Life of Luna Lovegood
Hermione Granger on Liberal Feminism
Female Empowerment in Academia Through the Eyes of Minerva McGonagall
Women in Politics: The Dilemma of Dolores Umbridge
Women in the Military and Psychological Violence: The Case of Bellatrix Lestrange
Consequences of Limiting Abortion Rights: The Tragedy of Lily Potter
The Death Toll of Unpaid Labor: The Duel of Molly Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange
Replication of Violent Family Practices: Family Strategies of Nymphadora Tonks
The Duality of Economic Strategies for Women: Narcissa Malfoy
The Internalized Misogyny Among Successful Women: Rita Skeeter
Woman as a Scapegoat in Political Processes: Marietta Edgecombe
Forced Marriage as a Conduit of Classism: Pansy Parkinson
Fatphobia: Millicent Bulstrode
Ridicule of Victims of Violence as a Form of Demonization: Moaning Myrtle
The Founders of Hogwarts, or Men are Always in Charge: False Equality
Hufflepuff and the “Virtue of the Working Class”: The Silent Majority
Cho Chang: The Relations with Racial and Ethnic Minorities as a Casual Entertainment
The Marriage of Ginny Weasley: “Woman Exchange”
Good Homosexual is a Well-Educated White Men with No Sexual Liaisons: Albus Dumbledore
Polyamory and Childfree Lifestyle — Self-Positioning of Bellatrix Lestrange
Ariana Dumbledore: Murder of a Disabled Person as a Social Necessity
Argus Filch: Even Harry and Ron Can Laugh at the Handicapped
Goblins: The Apotheosis of the British Antisemitic Tradition
Flitwick and Hagrid: Ethnic Minorities Will Always Clean Up After You, or Uncle Tom in Hogwarts
If the Protagonist is Fed, Slavery is Awesome: House Elves
Only Stupid Girls Fight Slavery
Hermione Granger: A Good Woman Defends Others’ Rights and Provides Others’ Lessons
Alcoholism and the Esoteric: Coping Mechanisms under Conditions of Discrimination
House Elves: Just Like Women, Only Ugly and Invisible
Pomona Sprout: Good Girls are Liked but not Noticed
Professor Vector, or Anonymity of Women in Mathematics
Poppy Pomfrey: a Subservient Suffragette, or the Outcome of Courses of Higher Women’s Studies in St Petersburg
Bellatrix Lestrange and Luna Lovegood: Psychiatric Disabilities and Ableism in Hogwarts
Luna Lovegood, Tom Riddle, Harry Potter: Good Children Don’t Get PTSD
Luna Lovegood: Forced Acceptance into the Family Strategies of Psychological Repression
Conventional Man is Allowed Anger but not Grief. Harry Potter: The Masculinity Trap
Remus Lupin and the “Good Cripple” Archetype
Rolanda Hooch: Professional Women’s Athletics as Deviation
Molly Weasley and Fleur Delacourt: Differentiation Between Women as a Tool of Oppression
We tend not to run negative stories at the World SF Blog, focusing mostly on trying to bring to people’s attention all the cool things being written and done around the world in SF/F (and horror, and comics, and genre films). But this has been going on the blogosphere for a while, starting with a review of the Requires That You Hate blog of author R. Scott Bakker. The blog, run by a Thai fan, has come under extraordinary attack. Here she summarises some of it:
You will have heard of the Bakker brouhaha, if you are here. Let’s have a chronology:
- Requires Only That You Hate – R. Scott Bakker: Prince of Misogyny – dated 16 August 2011
- R. Scott Bakker – Sweet Manna – dated 16 August 2011
- R. Scott Bakker – Misanthropology 101 – dated 1 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – Requires Only Haidt – dated 6 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – The Halftime Show – dated 10 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – That Empty Place – dated 16 February 2012
- Peter Watts – In Vicarious Defense of R. Scott Bakker – dated 16 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – Um, does anybody got a mint? – dated 18 February 2012
You may be thinking I’ve willfully obscured something. Surely, surely no grown adult man could go on about that one post from August 2011… six months later? Surely not? I must have consistently attacked him! Blogged about him! Many times! Perhaps I may even have personally harassed him! Such is the way of bitchy, angry feminists: we hound offensive men to the end of the earth. So much so that their sales figures suffer and their family goes poor. (For your perusal and pleasure, try this bit of flash fiction by Elodie.)
Alas, no. I made but that one post. Ever after any mention of Bakker on this blog has been peripheral, because I didn’t care about him all that much, and wouldn’t especially want to read his books. But there it is: Bakker stewed over this, apparently, for six entire months. Peter Watts, who is a magical friend of Bakker’s, proceeded to call me “a rabid animal.” Something which even a person who finds me “toxic” recognizes as a loaded term. Not that Peter Watts would admit there’s any problem with him saying that because even if I’d been a fellow nerdy white boy he’d have called me the same, though even after having been told I’m a woman of color it did not stop him from graduating to “foul, rabid animal” which tells you all you need to know. You can go through the rest of that exchange, but I’m more interested in the larger picture of this. Which is: why is it that these people are so deathly afraid of being called sexist, racist, or any such thing… to that froth-at-the-mouth point where they go on to compound the offense by actively being sexist or racist?
In opposition, here are two other writers – Mark Charan Newton writes about Things He Got Wrong, while he and Jesse Bullington have a measured, fascinating conversation about the pitfalls of writing about race and gender. They are a masterclass in how to address the issues with humility and consideration. Here is Bullington:
I went through a similar sort of Palomarian lizard-gazing with my last novel, as I knew from inception I wanted an African woman protagonist. That I figured out early on that she was also going to be a lesbian didn’t exactly make the process any less fraught with doubts over whether or not I was shitting the bed at any given point in the story. Now that the book is the better part of a year out in the wild, I’m quite a bit more confident in my work–not because I think I did such a great job and aren’t I just the awesomest for writing about GBLT PoC, but because I know I did the very best that I could, and I thought very, very carefully about what I was doing. Which, dahoy, is what we should be doing as writers any way, all the time, but I imagine for some authors who shall remain nameless, potentially difficult subjects are an afterthought rather than a starting point.
That said, I know from an amazon review of Enterprise that for at least one reader who identified as a woman of color I did an awful, offensive job of it, which is about the worst feeling in the world. Compounding matters, the particulars that she took issue with were all things I did intentionally to subvert racial stereotypes–rather than being a tall, light-skinned, “exotically” hawt sex-interest for a white dude, my protagonist Awa is short, very dark-skinned, uninterested in men, and not exactly attractive to the white, European characters she encounters.
For this reader, however, rather than it being refreshing to see a black protagonist who didn’t fit into the popular genre parameters for women of color, it was odious–she thought I was objectively implying darker-skinned Africans are less attractive than lighter-skinned individuals, when I was actively trying to recreate the cultural climate of Renaissance Europe–a climate with standards of beauty that are all-too easily mirrored in our own problematic times (then there’s my general antipathy to the idea that protagonists have to be physically beautiful…). Furthermore, Awa’s being a lesbian was seen, I gather, as my relegating her to a non-sexual “mammy role” for the novel’s white male protagonist, rather than an attempt on my part to actively portray a lesbian that didn’t exist solely to titillate straight male readers.
It wasn’t my intention to offend, and the source of the offense was in the (attempted) service of writing something that played against stereotypes of what a black heroine could be…but that doesn’t invalidate said reader’s emotional reaction to what I wrote. The bottom line is I’ll never be able to undo the hurt that I caused her, however inadvertently, which, yeah, is a shitty feeling,
and one that I have to own–and acknowledge that my having my widdle progressive author feelings hurt is a good deal less sucky than encountering awful stereotypes about yourself on the page, the screen, etc. on a regular basis.
In contrast to that, here is a rather extraordinary post from Patrick Rothfuss, adding to the whole sense that we’ve somehow entered the silly month in sci fi, on that geek girl from school, who became a porn star. Because, you know, that’s what happens to geek girls.
You know that it’s going to be like? It’s going to be like wandering onto an internet porn site and seeing a video of a girl I had a crush on in high school. You probably knew someone like her. The smart girl. The shy girl. The one who wore glasses and was a little socially awkward. The one who screwed up the curve in chemistry so you got an A- instead of an A.
She was a geek girl before anybody knew what a geek girl was. And that was kinda awesome, because you were a geek boy before being a geek was culturally acceptable.
You liked her because she was funny. And she was smart. And you could actually talk to her. And she read books.
And sure, she was girl-shaped, and that was cool. And she was cute, in an understated, freckly way. And sometimes you’d stare at her breasts when you were supposed to be paying attention in biology. But you were 16. You stared at everyone’s breasts back then.
And yeah, you had some fantasies about her, because, again, you were 16. But they were fairly modest fantasies about making out in the back of a car. Maybe you’d get to second base. Maybe you could steal third if you were lucky.
And maybe, just maybe, something delightful and terrifying might happen. And yeah, it would probably be awkward and fumbling at times, but that’s okay because she’d be doing half the fumbling too. Because the only experience either one of you had was from books. And afterwards, if you make a Star Wars joke, you know she’ll get it, and she’ll laugh….
That’s the girl you fell in love with in high school. You didn’t have a crush on her because she was some simmering pool of molten sex. You loved her because she was subtle and sweet and smart and special.
So you stroll onto this porn site, and there she is. Except now she’s wearing a thong and a black leather halter top. She’s wearing fuck-me red lipstick and a lot of dark eye makeup. Her breasts are amazing now, proud and perfectly round.
Someone’s taught her to dance, and she does it well. She’s flexible and tan. She has a flat midriff and walks like a high-class Vegas stripper. Her eyes are dark and smouldering. She has a riding crop, and she likes to be tied up, and her too-red mouth forms a perfect circle as she sighs and moans, and tosses her head in a performance designed to win any number of academy awards….
And what’s the problem with this? Well… in some ways, nothing. What you’ve found is perfectly good porn. Maybe even great porn.
But in other ways the problem is blindingly obvious. This girl has nothing in common with your high-school crush except for her social security number. Everything you loved about her is gone.
We loved the sweet, shy, freckly girl. We still remember her name, and after all these years she lives close to our heart. Seeing her in lipstick and stiletto heels dancing on a pole is like watching Winnie the Pooh do heroin and then glass someone in a bar fight.
It just isn’t something that I look forward to seeing….
It also has the added benefit of being quite offensive to actual geek pornstars (Sasha Grey, for instance, is a well-known gamer). What do we learn from this? That geek girls are “rabid animals”? Or that they’re lifeless porn stars who rob men of their innocent childhood crushes? All we know is, we would have preferred to run a different story altogether but that, somehow, one simply can’t ignore the silly things some writers say…
Comments, as always, welcome – we’ll be back to regular service tomorrow with some cool stuff from Russian fandom.
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by K.A. Laity from the USA. K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of Pelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and the forthcoming Owl Stretching (both from Immanion Press) as well as Unikirja, a collection of short stories and a play based on Finnish myths and legend, for which she won the 2005 Eureka Short Story Fellowship as well as a 2006 Finlandia Foundation grant. With cartoonist Elena Steier she created the comic Jane Quiet. She currently resides in Galway, Ireland where she’s a Fulbright Fellow in digital humanities at NUIG. Elizabeth Hand writes, “Laity is a very remarkable sorceress indeed.” www.kalaity.com
Fear and Loathing in Deptford
I am waited upon by a wench with green snakes writhing at her brow, a hideous sneering gash of crimson for a mouth, and a pendulous bosom of terrifying proportions, but she throws a sack at me and I unclasp it and drink deep, glad to close my eyes to her gruesome visage. Dr. Jack jostles my elbow and mutters incoherently about dire predictions, and I recall at last Rowley’s dark prophecy. Settle thy gorge, Marlowe and begin to sound the depths of your decadence. Bene bibere finis vitae est. A greater subject fits my wit than shadowed words that I am to die tonight. “Bibamus, moriendum est,” I say to Jack, but his eyes roll and he falls off the bench. He never could balance his drinks.
Leaning over to assist his rise, I realize I am in grave danger of spilling my own sodden carcass. I jerk myself to upright once more. How I am glutted with this cheap Spanish venom. Why, why this night? What desperate enterprise brought me hither, to drink, to danger, to the damp smells of this dim hostelry? Jack is crawling through the dust, murmuring a wild soliloquy of blistering loss and betrayal. Jack, oh yes. We had begun the afternoon in his cheerless study, surrounded by the parcels and bottles of his trade, the rank stench of his potions and unguents. As usual, he was bubbling with servile enthusiasm for a new discovery, the latest translated from some book of Cornelius Agrippa. Having canvassed every quiddity thereof, he swore this would be the best yet. I remembered too well, however, the last miracle, the one that left us barking like dogs and then retching like them too.
No, no, he had assured me with all his unctuous charm. He had in fact tested it on his serving maid. That made me smile. The doctor was becoming crafty. “Where is she?” He giggled and fetched a small key from his desk. Crossing to the hallway he unlocked a small closet and out spilled the wretched girl. Jack grabbed her elbow and her glazed eyes stared at him in wonder. “Hedgehog,” she said, pointing toward his head, then becoming entranced by the movement of her own arm, allowing it to sway over her head like a willow branch. “Bring her here,” I said greedily. With some difficulty he steered her across the floor, her hips undulating to unheard music, her bleary gaze still entranced by the sway of her own arm. Pity she was not more attractive, for with her mismatched features and horsey teeth—a face that might launch a thousand ships away from shore with alacrity—she was perfectly pliable. I could see the good doctor had already realized his freedom, hoisting her up before him and letting his hands roam around her poorly-fed frame. Her breast was hardly worth such caresses, hardly a mouthful to be spared. Jack was not known for his generosity to servants, but then it wasn’t the lack of money which drove them to steal away in the night, a prayer on their lips and terror in their eyes. This one seemed unfamiliar; no doubt, she too was new and would soon be skittering away in the dark, clutching her small bundle, tears streaming wildly.
But it was no business of mine; a man’s household must be his castle. Curiosity was my sport, not spying—well, not this time anyway. I held the pathetic girl’s chin in my hand and tried to direct her attention toward me. Not easy, for she was beginning to respond to Jack’s ministrations with a gyrating sway, and a crude smile touched her lips, lending some tremulous light to her plain countenance. I shook her chin and her eyes lazily opened, although they remained crossed with a distant film. “What do you see?” I asked her gently, then repeated my question. Her eyes focused at last and she reached up to touch my chin, strangely mirroring my posture. Involuntarily, I felt myself begin to sway with her. “Colors,” she said at last, “a thousand stars.” Her eyes closed once more and she gave herself over to the pleasure of Jack’s rough touch while continuing to mouth the colors she saw even with her eyelids firmly shut. “You see,” he said eagerly, “no nausea, and a certain agreeable, ah, lassitude, should we say.”
I was intrigued. But I was not willing to settle for some slovenly servant for paramour should the herbs bring me to the same ecstatic lethargy. Jack had no qualms on the topic though, as his increasingly frenzied raptures proved. I grabbed him roughly by the collar. “Fiend, you selfishly pursue your own pleasure and neglect your promise to me. Let us ingest your new concoction and retire to some solitary grove to ply our wiles with more suitable companions”—I paused to raise an eyebrow at his slumping girl, a smile still plastering her disheveled form even as the doctor panted, hands thrust deep into her layers of clothing—”and a good cold luncheon to while away the afternoon.” He nodded vigorously, trying to simultaneously bow and drag her back out of the room, while mumbling something about sending word to Madame Helena, our current favorite procuress, although I did not doubt he would make good use of the pliant doll before he did so. Sycophant! Imagine such studied politeness to a shoemaker’s son. How it amused me. How I have grown in the world, thanks to my dear Franny.
They stumbled off with a great deal of noise, leaving me unoccupied. No mind, I could wait. I helped myself to a portion of the good doctor’s brandy, its fiery glow doubling the anticipatory warmth already rising within me. I had come to enjoy of late these experiments with the good physician, especially since my Franny had been so put out with my troubles. Dear Franny and his scruples. What booted it to think of Queen or country? I did it for the thrill, for the chance to laugh behind my hands. He of all people should have known me better. If it weren’t for that mischievous goat—but I digress. I should have predicted he could not sustain much in the way of pain, but why did he blame me? I could only assume as the torturer’s ministrations grew wearisome he must have thought, why not? Why should I suffer? Why not Marlowe? Great inconvenience to me! It was envy, I suppose. Not just the plays—the little goat may bleat all he likes, but it is my plays the public crave, to wallow for a while in sin and then imagine themselves washed clean when they pass once more through the gates. Such vain fancies, and the little goat’s despair that he would, never daring, never succeed the heights I have reached. But that wasn’t it, was it? Not even the plays really, but the rooms afterward, where Franny’s folk scraped and bowed and begged for the touch of my hand, toasted and swanned before this shoemaker’s son even though they feared for their very souls and knew my proclivities, knew that the god I served was mine own appetite, knew that I might very well bathe in warm babies’ blood on the altar of a young boy’s back.
Franny could never understand. No, he still saw that shoemaker’s son and reveled in each success as if it might well be the last. Always with him it was the politics, the Catholics, the plots, the serious games of his life. If he only knew that they have been less than a dice game to me. I poured another glass of the amber elixir and tossed it straight down my throat and it warmed me to the cockles. It would be good to die between someone’s thighs tonight. I only hoped that Jack wouldn’t get some base bawd for me like last time, although God’s teeth! she proved persistent when the sack had the upper hand of my slovenly knight. I gave her an angel for her trouble and she seemed quite pleased. I remembered then how far I had come from the time when money alone satisfied me. Not that I am averse to keeping my purse tied. That cozening draw-latch Frizer always seemed to think that, having the most, I should pay the most; but come whirlwinds, tempests, thunder and lightning, I’ll pay my share and no more.
Jack returns to find me sprawled comfortably upon the cushioned bench, awash in my thoughts and his brandy. “I have sent for Helena’s best,” he said, emphasizing the latter word. Gesturing to the window, he continued, “And our little luncheon is on its way as well.” A small troupe of his servants carried plates and baskets to the grove at the back of his ill-kempt garden. Jack was inordinately proud of that garden, which he claimed had been laid in the time of the first Henry. I had to doubt him, but he waxed poetic on the charms of its long-standing history, though I would have sworn the trees to be no more than twenty years old. No mind—for he had already turned to his desk and rattled together the vials and flasks that held the latest elixir. A foamy white flecked with herbaceous green, it plopped thickly into the goblets. He handed me one tarnished globe and we clinked them and shouted “To your health!” at one another and swallowed the bitter contents in one protracted gulp.
It slid down like pudding or a thick gruel, and I winced at the tart metallic taste. Nevertheless, I had some confidence in the doctor despite our recent outing. I had to admit, after the barking and vomitus, there came such a profound swell of peace, as if I lay in the lap of blind Homer and he sang songs only for me, and comforted me with a mother’s weeping. It pains me to recall it, but there was something to the melodramatic scene. Yet today, I hoped for a very different experience, and the warm grasp of the brandy in my belly that seemed to have got hold of my pillicock whispered to my very innards that this day would be historic. As I stepped to the door with the good physician, I could sense the potion begin to chart its course through my soul.
Warmth radiated from my limbs and my brow. I felt a joyous noise fill the air, as if a melodious harp plucked forth ravishing sounds. At once all nature became soft and inviting, like some old quean’s bed, desperate for my fall. Jack grabbed my arm and wailed, “It is beginning! Take care!” but already his voice took on the tones of the crumhorn, blatting at my ears and I laughed because none of it mattered at all. We steered our unsteady way to the grove, where the troupe of players awaited—servants for service and whores for pleasure. I was gratified to see that Helena had sent the golden youth who had captivated my fancy during a recent visit. Frivolous I may be, but sometimes, Franny, I do not want clever conversation and court gossip, but only mute caresses and those golden locks, and the too-pink globes in my devouring hands.
“You’re drooling,” Jack seemed to be saying, but he was sounding more like a trumpeting swan than he did normally, and I noticed a certain wavering in his gait as he bumped somewhat roughly into me. Supporting one another we ambled across the herbal expanse until, at last, we rolled onto the outspread blankets. I felt myself grin as I threw out my arms and legs, begging come to me, come to me. And at once there were delicacies pressed to my lips, wine decanted into goblets then thrust to me after each rich mouthful, and it was all beautiful, worthy of Helen of Troy, of Jupiter himself, ambrosia. The sky stretched blue and endless above me, for me, only me, it was the circle of my existence. Somewhere the waters, too, flowed only for me, and I could hear the grass growing, straining to touch me. I heard flowers call my name in crimson pale flutes of songs.
“The girls,” Jack panted, and they approached him as I watched, grabbing his eager hands and laughing, shucking his clothes with practiced ease. He giggled like a novice, babbling incoherently, as the homely trulls went about their business. The sauced drink was no doubt helping all this along, I realized, as the wanton youth turned at last to me. No figs for me, I thought, as I reached out to caress his silk-clad curves. As I brought his eager young lips to mine the sky exploded with a thousand stars, yes, even with the late afternoon sun, I could see for miles and miles into the welkin, clear of the heavens, into the universe, far beyond god’s golden chariot, to the rainbow of colors at the end of time and space. I brought my hand down to stroke the youth’s downy cheek and my own hand floated before me and swelled to reveal universes, worlds of its own, where storms brewed and lightning struck, traveling down my arm to my gut and then my codlings, charging me with a white heat that made my very head sing withal. I fastened my lips more firmly upon his squirming face and thrust my hands deep, searching for the knob. Exquisite joy burned though me like the brandy, like the wine, like the herbs of many colors that bloomed in my heart like wild wanton flowers. My heart panted and quivered as I stroked golden treasure, and under the lad’s arm I saw the good philosopher and his trulls, costards up and down, feet flying up in the air, and all was blue, so blue, like the sky, like the ocean, like Franny’s cold eyes. The warmth quickened in my gut again and flooded the limbs of my body and arced like lightning over to the body of my golden fellow, who groaned ecstatically. I enveloped him with insatiate hunger, as if I must needs consume his gift, his life, his very skin. Homo fuge, I whispered, homo fuge, but he only sighed and succumbed to my ministrations with a corrupt grin.
Over his shoulder three angels arose, the first arrayed in white for hope, the second in red for blood, and the third in black for the end which was coming soon. They beckoned and I left my boy behind, taking their hands. Together we flew up over the garden, over the city, like falcons, I imagined it must be, like the view from the seat of a dragon’s cart. They spoke to me as we glided soundless through the firmament, but I could not understand and only drank their words in, imbibed them like the wine, like the brandy, like endless flagons, skins without number, barrels without bottoms. It was truth they told, and though I could not recall a word later, somehow I knew, to my very humours, I knew that they were sharing sacred words, god’s own secrets with me. When we stopped at last, the mists swirled around us and I lay flat on my back in a meadow so pristine, so new, it could be the very chin of Eden. I looked up to my companions and they looked down upon me somewhat harshly, for I saw their teeth grew long and sharp and their eyes blistered mine with the light of a thousand lamps. Two held me down as the black angelus bent low over me, speaking that intolerable tongue I could not decipher as its hair coiled thickly around its head, making a halo alive with bright light. It pulled out a cuttle, and I confess I flinched, but it put one long-fingered hand of claws on my chest to hold me down and murmured words of senseless reassurance and I knew I could not die no matter what happened here. If I could survive their ministrations, how I would be blessed—such knowledge, such insight. I gathered my courage and jerked my head in a nod, so down it thrust the cuttle into my eye, and the world exploded: colors leapt from my mind and my body shook with an exquisite ecstasy even as it shuddered with pain and violation while the universe sang in my ears, tears fell, and a rapturous joy filled every limb. Was it heaven? Was it only the remnant of my body’s plight back in that prosaic garden, the ordinary expenditure of passion? No matter—if Julian’s wounds brought her to enlightenment, if she herself could pass through the side of the Christ, why could not an angel pass through my eye and inhabit my very bones with its wisdom and grace.
Cut it did—the blade felt like a singing shriek, parting my eye, my bone and brain with its cold steel, seeking, seeking, what? My heart, my mind, my soul? As if in answer the point of the cuttle tweaked a pain so deep, I knew it must at last be that wretched shadow of mine, my paltry soul. I saw him at once with my angelic vision as a tiny, wizened figure who scowled at my abrupt entry on the point of the knife and cursed me. His ire was unfeigned, for we had always been at odds, and by my deeds, no less, I had charmed him to hell and left him quite bereft of any salvation. “Murderer!” he cried in the depths of my being, the words resonating inside my empty skull. “Wretch, what hast thou done?” he cried again, cowering before the glowering angelic companion at my side. The black angel spoke and pointed to my soul, and I knew again that the incomprehensible words it uttered condemned me likewise. There was nothing I could do to shun the snares of death and then final damnation, my soul itself rebuked me, cheerless and devout. My soul uttered a cry of black hopeless despairing and grew even smaller between my eyes and the voice of the dark angel roared in my ears and in my skull a reproving blow of sound that echoed throughout my limbs. False cocklorel! Foolish, prating beast! it seemed to say, look upon your sins and tremble. The terrible eyes of the lord are upon you as well, and he is harsh and unforgiving.
I gasped and sought to withdraw from the darkened chambers of my terrifying skull, but remained held captive by the sharp edge of the blade and the murderous grip of the dark angel. Had death already come from the lethal concoction of the doctor’s brew, had Lucifer come to claim me as I writhed in desperate lunacy, and the very blood of my heart dried from simple fear? I would weep with frustration but my stubborn spirit rose up in its pride, swinging away again with feeble weapons, seeking a port any port for its blade—any but me, but us. The black spectre leaned over me in cruel anticipation and my soul cowered, defeated, behind me as I struck out blindly, desperately, like a cornered animal with no mercy, no compassion from its mindless predator.
All at once a ray of brilliant sunlight strikes across the dark chamber of my mind. We three turn as one to see the floor of my skull break forth and another player join the stage. He is as radiant as the angel is black, a wild hue of colors blistering from his face his heart his mouth, I cannot tell which. But he comes to save me, I know and I spread my wings to join him in flight through the midnight black of my skull, and my soul and my angel gnash their teeth in anguished desolation: the prisoner escapes! He is my saviour, my brilliant resurrector, my hope, my glory, with the face of my mother and those long flowing curls of flax, and arms open and welcome, with a rainbow of lights to show me the way, to show me myself, radiantly reflected in the armor of his chest. We wrap our arms around one another and sail into the bright sun opening up in my skull, tearing away the inky forgetful night of that angel, so grim, so angered, so disappointed. And we traveled to heaven—or was it only a sunny pasture—and there he made me lie down beside flowing waters, and there he gave me the simple pleasure of the brutish beasts, before I dissolved, complacent, into the very elements, still me, still in his arms, and I know that here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips, and all is dross that is not He. I will be Paris, I swear to the crook of his neck, and for love of thee, in stead of Troy shall all London be sacked, and I will combat with every weak Menelaus who thinks he has thee in his heart, and I shall wear thy colors on my plumed crest. I will wound fond Achilles in the heel, and then return to thee for a kiss. Oh, thou art fairer than the evening’s air, clad only in the beauty of a thousand stars and my arms. Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter, when he appeared to hapless Semele: more lovely then the Monarch of the sky, in wanton Arethusa’s azure arms, and none but thou shalt be my Paramour, forever and ever, world without end.
I awoke to find only the earthly corpse of my golden lad who, upon being given a not too gentle nudge, untangled his form from mine long enough to draw me another goblet of wine. I heartily devoured it in one gasp and again felt its comforting fire run through my bodily members. My fair partner again plied his lips to the trade as I swirled more wine into my glass, but I feared even his coaxing would do nothing for my sleep-shattered knight. I patted his head gently and bad him rise for one final sodden kiss, then staggered off to raise Jack from the dead. This proved more of an ordeal, for it took some time to sort one set of coarse limbs from another and I was far too impatient. I wanted to be walking under the night sky, filling my lungs with its crisp bouquet and trying to understand the vision of which I had been deemed worthy of partaking. A few smacks and some moans later, the good doctor emerged, grinning and groaning in equal parts, gathering his misshapen garments from the far corners of the plot and apologetically dressing with speed. He poked the trull nearest with the toe of his slipper, indicating that her rest was over and that she and her companions might go, but, as we staggered to the gate, I looked back to see them all prone once more, enjoying a rare moment of peace, and in my head I bad farewell to my fair-haired boy.
We walked and we talked—I talked rather, trying in vain to capture the gist of my vision and the strange secrets it had imparted. We took frequent strength from the jug of sack Jack thoughtfully retained, and rambled vaguely southward. The old sot brabbled on about his pedantic desires, and I came close to throttling him for his refusal to comprehend my new world’s image, but we drifted on complacently until we came here to this night-rule under our dame Nell’s benevolent and thoughtful nose. True, green tentacles rose from her brow too, and the voice from her throat seemed like a cart-wheel’s groan. But the marvelous draught of the doctor still streamed through my flesh and left me dazed and sated.
The solid bench beneath my collops and the next skin of Spanish sting failed to dispel completely the dreamy vision encircling my brow. When it returned again to my memory after an hour of sodden vagueness, I gasped in sudden recognition, and the perils hemming me in at every side were at once as nothing. A peculiar benevolence o’ertook my limbs, and I smiled at the death that surrounded me. And even that sheep-biter Poley, back from the Hague with truffles and spice and the sting of saltwater, could not deflate my wonderful sense of peace and well-being. I could hardly hear the churlish comfits that fell from Frizer’s gob and felt no peril at all when his knife sprang forth toward my eye to send me back, forgetful but ever so grateful, into the arms of my beloved.
First published in The Women’s League of Ale Drinkers 1 (Oct 2010): 29-40.
The Nebula Awards, given out by the Science Fiction Writers of America, have announced their shortlist for the year, recognising Ken Liu (novella and short story), Aliette de Bodard (short story) and Nnedi Okorafor (YA novel).
ETA: Cheryl Morgan points out Tom Crosshill (nominated for short story) is from Latvia. We’ll see if we can’t catch him for an interview later in the month!
A full list of nominees is here.
de Bodard is a contributor to the first Apex Book of World SF; Okorafor to The Apex Book of World SF 2. Liu has been active not only as a writer but a translator of short SF from the Chinese – we ran his translation of Ma Boyong’s The City of Silence recently.
Lavie Tidhar’s latest book, the picture book Going To The Moon, about a boy with Tourette’s Syndrome who wants to become an astronaut, is now available. Lavie is interviewed over at SF Signal, who also review the book.
Photo (c) Sandy Auden 2012
From Paul Weimer’s review:
Going to the Moon is the story of a young boy named Jimmy who wants to be an astronaut. He wants to go to the Moon. Jimmy also doesn’t want to have to fight his constant, taxing struggle against the Tourette’s syndrome that dominates his life. He doesn’t like the dance-like involuntary movements it causes in him. He’s bullied, in the way young people who are different are often bullied. The corprolaia of Toruette’s syndrome means that he involuntarily uses curse words, even though he doesn’t want to. As such, the book doesn’t shy away from trangressive words. Words I can’t use in this review.
The real heart and soul of the book is found in the pictures by Paul McCaffrey. They are beautifully and colorfully drawn. But there’s more to the book than just Lavie’s words and the pictures. Like the best picture books, the text and the images engage and interpolate with each other, in a dialogue that makes the book stronger for that interaction. The theme of aliens (and Jimmy himself is definitely an alien in some ways) is reflected in the imagery much more than the text. To cite another example, the use of curse words in exclamation in the imagery reminds me of the innovative subtitles in the movie Night Watch.
And the end brought tears to my eyes as the reader figures out what Jimmy and the friend he makes are too young to realize. Curse you, Lavie Tidhar…your audacity strikes me again.
It’s not a book you’d want to read to your children, because of the language. Although its about a young boy and his concerns, its a book for adults. And it moved me. It will move you, too. – read the review, or interview!
2. Is African folklore an interest of yours? What made you decide to explore this for a fantasy novel? With themes of the lingering effects of colonialism at play in your book, what sorts of concerns did you have about cultural appropriation as you wrote it?
Yes, it is of great interest, along with other non-Western narratives. In all my books, I try to break away with the traditional linear three-part arc, so embracing a different tradition certainly gave me a good template of doing so. As for imperialism: I don’t think one can honestly write about the world today without talking about it. I mean, we grow coffee and cocoa where we grow it because of it – imperialism shaped the world, and going about as if it was just that brief phase that ended without any long-lasting effects is disingenuous, to say the least.
As for cultural appropriation, it’s a several-fold answer. It’s always a concern, sure. First, I was reluctant to use existing myths, so I used them very sparingly and in close consultation with Tait, the aforementioned friend. The myths that characters tell each other are all made up but within bounds of existing folkloric tradition (such as characteristics of animals) or literary ones (man-fish is a Zimbabwean urban myth of sorts, explored by Marechera, and one of Vimbai’s stories is a riff on Tutuola.) Europeans tend to be very liberal while “collecting” folklore and I tried not to do it – that is, I went by definition of creative transformation rather than mere copying as described in African customary laws folklore copyright protection (summary document here: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001277/127784e.pdf).
Then, Vimbai herself is a cultural outsider to her parents’ tradition – that is, she is second generation and is culturally an American, with not as much insight into her parents’ culture as she would like. I would not be comfortable writing about Zimbabwean folklore from the insider perspective, because I am not an insider. I was careful to speak about the culture rather than for it, which I believe is a crucial distinction between talking about other cultures and appropriating them.
Finally, I do realize that my insight is limited, and the book is really much more about the immigrant experience – something I do know about first-hand. And this is something I spoke a lot to my friend about. He was very supportive of the book, but he also said, “You do realize that some Zimbabweans will not like this book because it was written by a white woman.” And yes, of course I do realize that, and you know what? It’s a valid position. I think it’s an important thing, to accept that you won’t have a unanimous approval, and to not be hurt about it. Westerners writing about other cultures either seek validation or just default to “haters gonna hate so screw them, I’ll write what I want” positions. So for me, I think it’s important to do one’s best, but not expect that everyone will love you for it. I mean, I myself am wary when Westerners write about my culture, so who am I to expect a different treatment? – read the full interview!
In 1981, comics writer Alejandro Jodorowsky teamed up with French comic artist legend Moebius and created a new French comic serial called The Incal, (allegedly salvaging a bunch of material Jodorowsky created for an aborted film adaptation of Dune). The Incal‘s story is barely comprehensible, a mystical, satirical space-opera that anticipates many of cyberpunk’s tropes. But the story isn’t the point of The Incal. Reading Self-Made Hero’s new English edition of Incal is an exciting and delightful experience for reasons having nothing at all to do with the consistency or comprehensibility of its plot. – continue reading.