We’re going to take a couple of weeks break – spring break! at least in the hemisphere I’m currently in – but will be back to usual sometime after Easter/Passover/Pi Mai Lao/Songkran.
So enjoy your water festival/matzos/chocolate eggs in the meantime!
AA: The Alchemy of Stone was about feminism, free will, class struggle, and religion, and The House of Discarded Dreams is a place where forgotten dreams fester and take on a life of their own.Heart of Iron released this past summer and I really enjoyed the creative descriptions and imagery while reading it. For those people who haven’t read it yet, what is it about?
ES: Ostensibly, it is about alternate history in which Russia and China (well, the Taipings) allied against Britain and the Ottoman Empire – and the plot involves our heroine, Sasha Trubetskaya, trying to forge this alliance with help from her indomitable aunt, some suspiciously politically acute fur traders, heretical hussars, and some well-known legendary characters, against meddling and resistance from the British Secret Service led by Dame Florence Nightingale. But I guess people will enjoy the book most if they don’t expect a heart-stopping adventure but rather meditation on nature of heroism, national identity, strength, and the role of embarrassment in world history. It’s a very geeky little book, so be warned! I even wrote a historical compendium for it – and you can find it here:
AA: What was the motivation for writing Heart of Iron?
ES: I already spent the advance! Joking aside, I wanted to write alternate history dealing with a place other than the US or Western Europe, and I wanted to address concerns different from the ones Western-focused alternate history explore. Here, we are not looking at manifest destiny, but rather at two countries in the grip of dramatic change (the Taiping Rebellion in China, the dramatic reformism following the success of the Decembrist Revoltin Russia), and at people who are trying to control the chaos around them out of the sense of self-preservation, not necessarily heroics. And as in all my books, I was interested in the themes of oppression and people living under oppressive rules – and still doing their best.
Following the stepping down earlier of long-time Strange Horizons fiction editors Karen Meisner and Susan Marie Groppi, Strange Horizons are looking for a new fiction editor to join their team. Current fiction editor Jed Hartman remains in the position and is joined by Brit Mandelo. They are in need of one more fiction editor.
Note that while the 2 current fiction editors are both American, Strange Horizons does have an international staff, with the editor-in-chief being from the UK, the reviews editor from Israel, and they have a diverse team of reviewers.
Here are the position details.
Strange Horizons is looking for fiction editors! These are editor positions, not first-reader positions; the new editors will be part of the team that decides what fiction Strange Horizons publishes, among other responsibilities.
We’re looking for people who love short fiction, who are passionate about speculative literature, and who believe that there are a wide range of voices in our field that deserve to be heard. Prior editorial experience is nice, but not a requirement.
Like all of our staff positions at SH, these are volunteer positions with no salary attached. Also, staff members cannot submit fiction, poetry, or art to Strange Horizons. Staff members may submit nonfiction, but are not paid for it. If you currently have material under consideration with us, you may still apply; if you end up joining the staff, you can withdraw any submissions at that time.
If you’re interested in applying, the first step is to write us an application letter.
The letter is a chance for us to get to know you—tell us about yourself, why you’d like to join the team at Strange Horizons, and what you love about science fiction and fantasy stories. How would you describe your personality and your work habits? What kind of time can you make available for this job?
And what do you like to read? We’re most interested in hearing about what kinds of short speculative fiction you like, and why. Who are your favorite authors, and what are the stories that changed your life or that you couldn’t stop thinking about? Of the stories we’ve published here at Strange Horizons, which are some of your favorites, and what do you love about them? (Please mention three to five of them.)
Note: most of the applications we’ve received so far don’t answer the questions in that previous paragraph. In your application letter, please address those questions. In particular, be sure to answer the one about SH stories, and be sure to mention more than one SH story that you’ve liked.
Finally, is there anything else we should know about you that might help us decide that you’re the editor we’re looking for?
Your letter should ideally be somewhere between 600 and 2000 words long. But that’s not a strict rule; really, it should be long enough to tell us about yourself, in enough detail to address the above questions.
If we think you sound like a potentially good match, there will be further rounds of screening and interviewing.
Send your application letter (in the body of an email, not as an attachment) to email@example.com, with the following subject line:
CANDIDATE: Your Name
(except with your name in place of “Your Name”, obviously.)
- Reading and commenting on 15-30 incoming submissions per week.
- Participating in regular editorial meetings by phone or Skype.
- Working as part of a team to make decisions about which stories to publish.
- Communicating in a friendly and professional manner with authors during the publication process.
- Sending rejection notes for stories that we don’t publish.
- Helping to supervise a team of first readers.
- Proficiency with written English.
- Regular and reliable Internet access. (All story submissions are electronic.)
- Comfort with reading stories online and communicating with co-editors and authors via email.
- Ability to work and make decisions collaboratively.
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Zen Cho from Malaysia. Zen Cho is a Malaysian writer living in London. Her short stories have appeared in various publications including Strange Horizons, GigaNotoSaurus, Steam-Powered II and Heiresses of Russ. Her work has been nominated for the Selangor Young Talent Awards and the Pushcart Prize. She blogs at http://qian.dreamwidth.org/.
Prudence and the Dragon
There was a dragon in town.
Statues all over the city climbed off their pedestals and went walking about. The Winston Churchill from Parliament Square gave an interview to the BBC, still squinting as if the wind were blowing into its eyes. The statue was appropriately witty, but did not seem to remember anything about World War II. It did, however, have a lot to say about pigeons.
Silver griffins bowled down the streets of the City, tripping up lawyers and outraging bankers, and Winged Victory on the Arch finished her yawn and dropped her arms.
The pigeons grew human bodies, all of which wore suits from Austin Reed. They marched in their thousands into architects’ firms, university admissions offices, food consultancy businesses, struggling non-profits; they stole colleagues’ lunches and strewed cubicles with green-grey feathers. Despite these minor eccentricities they made excellent workers: they had a firm grasp of commercial realities, and never went on Facebook.
For several days every Tesco in the country stocked only pomegranates, nothing else. If you ate the seeds from one of these you vanished and your soul was dispatched to Hades. There was a rash of deaths before anyone realised.
The buses of London turned into giant cats–tigers and leopards and jaguars with hollow bodies in which passengers sat. You could still use your Oyster card on them, but bus usage dropped: the seats were soft and pink and sucked at you in a disturbingly organic way when you sat down, and the buses were given to stopping in the middle of the road to quarrel with one another.
Meanwhile the dragon coiled itself around the tip of the Gherkin and brooded over the city.
Where Prudence came from, spirits were an everyday thing. You knew they were there and you acknowledged them when necessary. You set out the bunga melur for Dato Gong when you were going to build a house, asked permission of the grandfathers and grandmothers before you took a shit in the jungle. You apologised to tree stumps if you kicked them accidentally, and made sure the dead were fed well in the seventh month of the year.
In Britain, people were far too sophisticated to pray to their spirits. Instead, they wrote articles about them. The broadsheets did serious-minded comment pieces about how the dragon was a metaphor for the Labour party in exile from Whitehall. Thaumatologists were quoted explaining that the mere presence of the dragon increased atmospheric magic levels and that was why clothes in Primark were now labelled things like, “Made by enslaved goblins in Fairyland.”
The tabloids wanted to know whether the dragon was receiving benefits. The gossip magazines claimed to have found a woman who was carrying the dragon’s baby. The fashion magazines did spreads on draconic style. This apparently consisted of gaunt models with sunken eyes, swathed in clouds of chiffon and arranged in awkwardly erotic positions on piles of gold coins.
Because Prudence Ong never read newspapers or watched British TV, she maintained a spotlessly pure ignorance of the dragon throughout. She encountered the dragon in a rather more traditional setting. She met him down the pub.
Historically, it was the Sorceror Royal who performed the role of human-dragon liaison, but nobody had been appointed to that office for the past couple of centuries. So it was the mayor who had to take the dragon to the pub, even though he would have preferred to stay in his office and worry about public transport.
He took the dragon to a pub on Lamb’s Conduit Street, where the dragon would not meet anyone the mayor knew. Everyone knew what the dragon’s visit was for, and while the mayor could think of several people he would like to have removed to another dimension, a dragon seemed too blunt and indiscriminate a tool to do it with.
In his human form the dragon was a man–imperially slim, as it says in the poem, with glowing blue-black skin and startlingly pale eyes. He was wearing a heather-grey suit and shining leather shoes. He was exquisite, so much so that when he paused at the entrance to the pub, he drew a gasp from the people inside. Men gazed hungrily at him; women touched their hair.
He didn’t seem to notice the sensation he’d caused.
“It’s considered terribly gauche now to obtain a maiden without first asking her if she wants to be obtained,” he was saying to the mayor. “I assure you, the maiden’s consent is paramount.”
“That’s good to hear,” said the mayor. He was thinking about bicycle lanes.
But he roused himself as they waited at the bar for their drinks. “Of course one would never wish to discard the noble old traditions for no good reason. But it does seem likely that there would be some outcry if there was any incident of—any sort of—anything that might possibly be construed as, er, snatching, if you understand me.”
“Oh no,” said the dragon. He was gazing around the pub with interest, like an alien at the Grand Prix. It wasn’t clear whether he meant that there would be no such incident, or whether he was saying that he didn’t understand the mayor. The mayor did not get the opportunity to clarify, because just then the dragon froze like a dog that had smelt a squirrel. He was staring over the mayor’s shoulder.
The mayor followed the dragon’s gaze to a group sitting at the other end of the room. The attraction was obvious: at the table sat a young woman of dazzling beauty. She was so beautiful even the mayor felt his heart wobble in his chest. But he was a married man and still recovering from his most recent extramarital scandal. He said to the dragon:
“Shall we find a seat?”
They sat next to the girl, of course. The dragon lost no time. He leaned over to the next table. The flowerlike face turned to him.
“Excuse me,” said the dragon. “What is the name of your charming friend?”
“Who?” said the beautiful girl. “You mean Prudence?”
It was only at this point that the mayor noticed the beautiful girl’s friend. She was a small, round-faced woman. Usually, she would have been brown, but just then she was almost fluorescent pink. An empty pint glass sat in front of her.
“Yes?” said Prudence.
She was feeling cross. Alcohol did not suit her and she did not like pubs. She was only there because Pik Mun had asked. Prudence had ordered cider because she did not think it was worth paying £2 for orange juice transferred from a carton to a pint glass, but she was beginning to regret it. Twin tentacles of a headache were slithering along her temples and would soon meet in the middle of her forehead.
She looked at the men who had spoken to Pik Mun. One of them was an intimidatingly beautiful model type in a suit, and the other was a podgy white man with a sort of nose.
The nose-possessing white man blurted, “What, her?”
“Prudence,” murmured the model, as if he were tasting the word and finding it delicious. “It’s so nice to meet you. My name is Zheng Yi.”
“Oh,” said Prudence. She was puzzled. “Why are you named like that?”
“Prudence!” hissed Pik Mun. She smiled at the dragon. “Sorry, my friend’s had a little too much to drink.”
“I told you already I don’t need a whole pint,” grumbled Prudence.
“Could I have your number?” said Zheng Yi.
Prudence knew the answer to this one.
“No,” she said. “I don’t even know you.”
She turned her back on him.
On the bus on the way home, Pik Mun expostulated with her. “I can’t believe you just turn him down like that! And you were so rude to him!”
“It’s not like he’s my friend what,” said Prudence. “I don’t like strangers who think it’s OK to talk to you. If I wanted to talk to them we would be friends already.”
“He was just being friendly,” said Pik Mun. She sighed. “And he was so cute!”
The unfair thing about Pik Mun was that she was intelligent as well as stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks beautiful. She was creative and generous and lively. She danced and painted and wrote poetry and sold her knitted creations to raise funds for asylum seekers, and she had a fanclub of boys who followed her around and made her bad birthday cakes by committee.
These days she went by the name Angela, but when Prudence had first met her in Standard One, at the age of seven, her name had been Pik Mun. Most of the people who knew them found it inexplicable that Angela chose to keep Prudence around, considering that the only book Prudence read was Cheese & Onion and she thought the flamenco was a kind of bird.
But Prudence was the only one among Angela’s friends who still called her Pik Mun. Angela valued history.
She also loved Prudence and wanted her to be happy. She said, “He seem so interesting. He had a Chinese name eh, even though he was so dark skin. Aren’t you curious to find out why?”
“You know I am not really curious one,” said Prudence. She reached up and knocked one of the jaguar’s vertebrae. The jaguar coughed and started inching towards the pavement.
“You asked him if he was mixed in the pub what,” Angela pointed out.
“Hah?” said Prudence.
“You know, when you asked about his name,” said Angela.
“Oh, that,” said Prudence, but it was her stop.
“You better not regret ah,” said Angela as Prudence stepped out of the bus. “If you change your mind, remember we can always try to Google him, okay!”
So the chance to mention it to Angela passed. But Prudence wondered about it as she walked home. The reason why she had asked the model type about his name was because when she was small, she used to daydream about marrying the pirate Zheng Yi and sailing the waves as an indomitable pirate queen. Zheng Yi had remained her ideal boyfriend until she turned twelve, when she put away childish things. In Prudence’s world, childish things included boyfriends.
Angela would have found that bit of history interesting, but Prudence would probably forget to tell her the next time they saw each other. Prudence shrugged the shoulders of her mind. It was just a coincidence anyway.
On Monday morning, Prudence opened her eyes knowing something was different. Zheng Yi smiled at her.
“Good morning, Prudence,” said Zheng Yi.
Prudence screamed and leapt out of bed.
“Aaaaah!” She picked up the nearest thing to hand and threw the bottle of moisturiser at him. “Aaaaah!” She threw the alarm clock.
Zheng Yi put his hands behind his head and leaned back against the pillows. He was in a black suit with a plum-coloured shirt and silver cufflinks, but at least he’d had the manners to take his shoes off.
“Come live with me and be my love,” he said.
“Aaaah!” A hardcover cookery book winged its way through the air. “Get out or I’ll call the police!”
“You can’t,” said Zheng Yi. Sure enough, Prudence’s mobile phone was nowhere to be found, though she was certain she’d left it on the bedside table before going to sleep the night before. She looked around for the telephone but that had vanished as well. It had turned into a ferret and escaped out of the window during the night, but Prudence didn’t learn about this until much later.
Nothing magical had happened to the mobile phone. It was sitting in Zheng Yi’s left pocket.
“You have no reason to fear me,” said Zheng Yi. “I won’t do anything to you against your will. I’m just making you an offer.”
Prudence stopped throwing things. She glared at him suspiciously.
“What?” said Zheng Yi.
“What’s wrong with your teeth?”
Had his teeth really looked like opals? The next time Zheng Yi smiled they were normal teeth, very white against his dark skin.
“Come away with me,” said Zheng Yi. “I will show you sorcerous wonders the likes of which you have never imagined. You will learn how to put your hand into fire and grasp its beating heart. You will speak to fairies, and they will speak back if they know what’s good for them. I will teach you the secrets of the moon and the language of the stars.”
Prudence threw the hairdryer at him.
“I’m not interested in astronomy!” she snapped.
The alarm clock had dropped behind the bed, but now it started ringing.
“Oh crap,” said Prudence. She rushed out of the room.
When she came back in she was brushing her teeth. She tugged at Zheng Yi’s shoulder with one hand.
“Get up,” she said. “You can go to the living room, whatever, I don’t care. I need to change. Late for school already!”
The living room and kitchen were open plan because there was not enough space for them to be separate rooms. There were four pieces of toast in the toaster. Prudence was conscious of her duties as a host even when her guest was an importunate model with the name of a pirate.
When Prudence came back in, Zheng Yi was inspecting the stethoscope on the dining table.
“What is this?” he said.
“Don’t play with my stethoscope!” said Prudence. She picked up a sheaf of notes on the colon. “You can have toast and kaya. After that must go already. I got to go for lecture, and you can’t get out of the building without the keys. How’d you get in anyway?”
Zheng Yi gave her a long look.
“I’m a dragon,” he said. His eyes contained galaxies.
Unfortunately the comets and nebulae were wasted on Prudence. She was taking the kaya and butter out of the fridge.
“Such thing,” she scoffed. “In my country this we call stalker.”
“You are amusing,” said Zheng Yi. “Has it not occurred to you to be frightened of me at all?”
“You said I don’t need to be scared of you what,” said Prudence. “No?”
“Usually people don’t believe me when I say that,” said Zheng Yi pensively. “Humans are so narrow-minded. A little fire breathing, a few maidens here and there, and suddenly you’re not to be trusted.”
Prudence was only listening to about forty percent of what Zheng Yi was saying, which was good because Zheng Yi only meant forty percent of anything he said. She lobbed the jar of kaya at him and he caught it.
“No need to talk so much,” she said. “Spread your own kaya.”
Angela had saved a seat in the lecture theatre for Prudence. It was next to the aisle, but by the time Prudence had opened her folder and uncapped her pen, this was no longer the case. She looked up to find Zheng Yi sitting next to her.
“Oh my gosh,” whispered Angela. “He’s a medic too? He’s a bit old to be a student, right?”
Prudence had parted from Zheng Yi on her doorstep. She narrowed her eyes at him. If Zheng Yi had not been far too elegant to grin, she would have sworn that that was what he was doing.
“No,” said Zheng Yi. “We came from her flat.”
Angela’s eyes went round.
“We had a business breakfast,” said Prudence, glaring at him. “Zheng Yi is going to be my…my—”
“Everything,” said Zheng Yi.
Angela laid a hand on Prudence’s arm. She looked a little faint. “Don’t you think this is moving too fast? You only met day before yesterday!”
“Pik Mun, he’s right there. Whisper also he can hear you,” said Prudence. “Zheng Yi is just saying that he is going to be doing everything for me. He is my personal assistant.”
“Huh?” said Angela.
“Is that a yes?” said Zheng Yi.
“He’s a management consultant,” said Prudence, inventing wildly. “But he’s thinking of changing career to become doctor. We bump into each other on the street yesterday and he ask me if he can shadow me, so I said OK lor, provided he help me with stuff.”
“Like what kind of stuff?” said Angela.
“Like taking notes,” said Prudence. “You know I find it hard to concentrate on what the lecturer’s speaking when I’m writing.” She shoved a notebook and pen at Zheng Yi. “Nah. You take notes.”
She waited till the lecture had started and Angela had turned her attention elsewhere. Then she hissed, “And no, that is not a yes!”
Zheng Yi was taking notes of the lecture with surprising diligence. He paused in the middle of a sentence to turn limpid sad eyes on her.
“I ask for your sake as much as mine,” he said. “To refuse would be to miss the opportunity of a lifetime. Any magician would give his left eye for what I’m offering you. Really, you’ll regret it tremendously if you say no.”
“I don’t even know what’s the question you’re asking!”
“Perhaps over time you will figure it out,” said Zheng Yi. He turned back to his notes.
“What’s that mean?” said Prudence, but Zheng Yi raised his finger to his lips.
“Shh, she’s listing the various drugs for treatment,” he said. “This is important stuff.”
He was right, which was a pity, as Prudence was not going to have any record of it. This became apparent when Zheng Yi handed her his notes.
“What’s this?” said Prudence.
“It’s the notes of the lecture you asked me to take,” said Zheng Yi.
“I can’t read this,” said Prudence. She could not even look at the symbols for long without feeling uncomfortable. The symbols seemed to writhe on the page.
“It’s written in Draconic Runes,” said Zheng Yi. “Much more interesting than any human language. Each ideogram is itself a poem on the qualities of each drug your teacher discussed, echoing the structure of each sentence, which discusses the same subject but reveals new layers of meaning and context underpinning your teacher’s every utterance, and every sentence joins together into a giant ideogram, an uber-ideogram if you will, the significance of which is, ‘I love Pru—'”
“Can’t you write in English?” said Prudence.
“No,” said Zheng Yi.
Another thing Zheng Yi could not do was take hints. He stopped sleeping on the bed after Prudence explained that this could only lead to grievous bodily harm, but he did not go away.
Fortunately, he was good at cooking. And he would have watered the tomato plants every day, except that this had two results: first, the tomatoes thrived; second, they grew faces and began to talk. Prudence asked him to stop because she didn’t like the way their eyes followed her around the flat, but after that the tomatoes stopped meeting her eyes and started weeping and begging for mercy whenever Zheng Yi came by their pot.
He was a difficult person to manage.
Also Prudence suspected that Angela was beginning to see through her ruse.
“Does he live here?” said Angela. She had come over for a cookout on Friday night, as was their tradition.
“No,” said Prudence. “Why you ask?”
Angela looked at the sofa she was sitting on. “Then why got blanket and pillow here one?”
“I like to lie down when I watch TV,” said Prudence.
“He’s not actually doing work experience, right?”
“Yes,” said Prudence. “I mean, no. I mean, he is! Why are you asking?”
Angela cast a glance towards the kitchen area, where Zheng Yi was bending over a bubbling pot of something or other. She leaned closer. “Your tomato got face! And I found this on your bathroom floor!”
She held up what looked like a chip of black marble, cut marvellously thin and translucent, with veins of gold running through it. Colours shifted on its smooth surface, as they do on an opal when you turn it this way and that in the light. Prudence was reminded of teeth.
She took it from Angela. It was less brittle than she thought it would be, bending like a thin sheet of plastic when she folded it.
“I think it’s a scale,” said Angela. “Like fish scale. I think your personal assistant is the dragon.”
Prudence gave her a blank look.
“Hah, don’t tell me you don’t even know about the dragon,” said Angela.
Prudence tried to look intelligent. It didn’t work.
“Prudence!” said Angela. “Don’t you even read the Evening Standard? Ah, don’t answer. This is what happens when you only read textbook. The dragon came to London, what, a few weeks ago? Something like that. It comes to London every one hundred, two hundred years like that. The British say it comes to choose a maiden and then it takes the maiden away to live in this other dimension where the dragons live. Forever!”
Prudence thought about this.
“What for?” she said.
“How I know?” said Angela. “Got a lot of theory but nobody knows for sure. The dragons don’t explain. People say maybe having a human helps the dragon to do its magic spells. But you don’t know, Prudence. Maybe they eat the humans.”
“Zheng Yi can’t be a dragon lah,” said Prudence. “Number one, he looks like human. Number two, he likes kaya toast. If you eat kaya toast, what for you want to eat human?”
“Then the tomatoes leh?”
“Hm,” said Prudence.
“What explanation do you have for a random guy who just shows up one day and follows you around, then?” said Angela.
“I thought maybe he’s homeless,” said Prudence.
“Prudence—” Angela dropped her hands in her lap. “OK. All that never mind. But tell me honestly, OK. Do you like him? Like, like him like him?”
“No,” said Prudence. “I don’t even like him with one like.”
“I heard that,” said Zheng Yi from the kitchen.
“Then are you just going to let him hang around?”
“How to make him go away? When I try to call police I only get the Worshipful Company of Glaziers receptionist,” said Prudence. “But never mind. I sleep with baseball bat one side, kitchen knife on the other side. And you know I do taekwondo.”
“I also heard that,” said Zheng Yi.
“Good!” said Prudence.
Angela still looked worried.
“At least you’ll tell me if you are going to another dimension, right?” she said. “You know we booked the bed-and-breakfast in Lake District already.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” said Prudence.
“I live in hope,” said Zheng Yi, coming to the table. He laid a crockpot of stew on the table.
With a supernatural effort at politeness, Angela said, “Oh, that smells delicious. What is it?”
“Potatoes, carrots, swede, some grated apple for sweetness, fairies for protein. But only non-sentient ones,” said Zheng Yi reassuringly. “Fairies are terribly good for you.”
They were also quite crunchy, and froze well.
Prudence was by nature an incurious person, but she did find herself wondering about Zheng Yi. Dragon or no dragon, having him around did not change Prudence’s life appreciably. She taught the tomatoes to sing songs so they would not get bored when she was away. She went to the hospital and for her lectures. Zheng Yi followed her around when she did not object and went about his own mysterious affairs the rest of the time.
They were grocery shopping at Sainsbury’s one day when Prudence said abruptly, “How come dragons need maidens?”
Zheng Yi paused in the act of picking up a Basics bag of Onions of Forgetting.
“So you agree that I’m a dragon?” he said.
“I didn’t say that,” said Prudence quickly.
“One keeps explaining to humans, but they never believe one,” said Zheng Yi. “It’s a very simple reason. It just gets lonely. After thousands of years alone in a cave, one longs for companionship.”
“Why don’t you hang out with the other dragons?”
“Other dragons are bastards,” said Zheng Yi. “I moved out of my mother’s cave after my mother tried to rip my guts out.”
“Granted, I had tried to steal her Tiara of Clairvoyance,” said Zheng Yi. “Bad idea. Never try to steal anything shiny from a dragon.”
“Not to say I believe you,” said Prudence. “But say you are a dragon. Why choose me for what?”
Zheng Yi stopped in the middle of the aisle to take her hand. They were standing between the pasta and the coffee. His eyes were the deepest bluey-green. Prudence had seen that colour only once before, out of a train window in Japan, speeding past mountain rivers that had taken on the colour of the dark-green pine forests around them.
Zheng Yi spoke in a low, velvety voice:
“You,” he said, “are tremendously funny.”
Prudence jerked her hand away.
“Must get some rice,” she said. “We’re running out.”
It was all fine and good when Zheng Yi was just making himself useful, but then he became a problem. The problem was, Angela fell in love with him.
Prudence was not very good at this sort of thing. She did not really understand feelings, so it puzzled her when Angela began to act funny.
Angela started having other things to do on Friday night. Friday night cookouts were not a sacred tradition; they were allowed to miss Fridays if they had stuff on. But three Fridays passed by and Angela was busy every week.
Of course they still saw each other, at lectures and lunch and so on, but she was different then as well. They would be talking naturally, laughing away as they had always done, and then Prudence would say something about the food in her freezer and Angela’s face would just change. Prudence did not need to be sensitive to notice change in a face she had known for so long, though she did not understand what it meant.
It was worst when Zheng Yi was around. Then Angela was outrageously rude to Zheng Yi, but at the same time he was the only one she had any attention for. She had no time to speak to Prudence.
Perhaps the fight was inevitable. Yet Prudence felt she might somehow have avoided it, if only she were not such a tactless person. She had not even meant what she was saying. They were in a park eating sandwiches after lectures and before clinics, and talking about babies. Angela was a great one for baby-watching.
“That’s a pretty one,” she said, waving her ciabatta at a little curly-haired brown baby. “I think I would like my baby to have curly hair.”
“Where got Chinese got curly hair?” said Prudence.
“I’ll just have to marry somebody non-Chinese lor,” said Angela. Prudence hmed.
“I don’t mind,” said Angela. “My parents are quite chilling about this kind of thing. My auntie got marry a Mat Salleh. Blue eyes, blond hair, everything.”
“Mat Salleh are OK,” said Prudence. “It’s when they’re not-Chinese not-Mat Salleh. Then you see whether your parents are chilling or not. Especially if darker skin.”
Angela made a face. “True.”
They lapsed into silence, Angela considering the merits of each passing baby, and Prudence struggling with her baguette. Despite four years in a sandwich-eating country, she had yet to master this tricky form of food. Her chicken mayonnaise was starting to drip out the other end.
“I think I will name my baby Tristram,” said Angela.
“Very posh,” said Prudence. Perhaps if she started eating from the other end? But then the chicken mayo started coming out of both ends. It was difficult to know what to do.
“Don’t you like Tristram?”
“It’s a bit hard to pronounce,” said Prudence. She caught a piece of chicken before it could make a break for it, and put it in her mouth. “And maybe the other kids will make fun.”
“What you want to name your kids?”
“I don’t want children,” said Prudence. “OK, OK, but if I have to, I wouldn’t name something like Tristram. If I have children already they will probably be bullied.”
“Because they’ll be mixed mah,” said Prudence. “Not so many people are half-reptile.” She was too much entangled in mayo-smeared disaster to observe Angela’s expression, or to notice the way she said, “Oh.”
Prudence managed to get the remainder of the baguette in her mouth and chewed, feeling relieved. Next time she would get sushi to go.
“Are you and Zheng Yi together?” said Angela in a low voice.
“Ngah? Ngro.” Prudence swallowed.
“No,” she repeated. The past five minutes replayed themselves in her head. She had not really been listening to what she had been saying. For some unaccountable reason her cheeks felt hot.
“No lah,” said Prudence. What a ridiculous thing to have said! What could have possessed her to say it? Such things did happen. You said something meaningless, for no reason, to fill the air with noise. It was just embarrassing when other people noticed it. The only thing to do was to pile more noise on top of it until it was forgotten.
“Why so curious? You’re interested, is it?” she said jokingly. “You can have him if you want. I don’t want him.”
Angela’s face closed up, like a gate clanging shut. The voice that came out of that taut pale face was like a stranger’s.
“Well, that’s a remarkably stupid thing to say,” said Angela. “Even for you. And not like you’re known for saying clever things like that.”
Prudence had never seen Angela’s face so mean. She managed to get out, “What?”
“You know I like him!” shouted Angela. “You pretend like you’re so blur but actually you just pretend because it makes things easier for you! If you’re blur then easy lah, you don’t have to see anything you don’t want to see, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. People will accommodate you because you are so naive konon. You think it’s cute, is it? Maybe you think you’ve fooled everybody. Maybe you’ve even fooled yourself. But you don’t think you’ve fooled me.”
She stood up. In the way of Angela, she did not even have any crumbs on her lap to brush off. She looked Prudence up and down and for the first time Prudence was acutely conscious of the bits of bread and mayo stains on her jeans, of the width of her thighs, of the depressing lankness of her hair. Her hoodie did not look good on her; her face was too big. The whole world could see this.
“Just remember this,” said Angela. “I don’t need anybody’s leftovers. And I especially don’t need yours.”
She stormed off.
Prudence put her hand on her chest. To her surprise, it was still whole.
Mostly Prudence felt bewildered. She was confused enough that when Angela didn’t meet her at the station, she simply got on the train to Oxenholme by herself. It didn’t occur to her to call the B&B and cancel the room they had booked for a week.
She had made it clear to Zheng Yi that he was not to come along. She hadn’t said so in so many words, because Zheng Yi had an inconvenient way of ignoring direct orders, but he had instructions to look after the tomato plant and use up the food in the fridge.
When she looked around and saw him in the seat next to her, she was not surprised, or even annoyed. It seemed quite natural for him to be there.
Zheng Yi did not say anything. He took her hand. Prudence nodded, and turned to look out of the window at the countryside flowing past. The green fields, the little red houses in the distance, the gentle grey sky above. Angela loved this kind of scenery: “The English countryside is so romantic,” she liked to say. Prudence’s face felt numb.
Angela was not at Oxenholme station either. Perhaps she would be at the B&B. There was no harm in going. They had booked it already.
When Angela was not at the B&B, and Prudence came to the awful realisation that she was not going to come, that this was serious, that they were fighting and perhaps they would never be friends again, she turned to Zheng Yi.
“Might as well go for a walk,” she said. “Get to know the area a bit.”
She only started crying when they were safely away from the village.
If Prudence was confused, Zheng Yi was in an even worse state. He had been looking at Prudence the whole time with the expression of a dog who does not understand why you won’t play fetch with it. This expression intensified with Prudence’s tears, with an added dimension of panic. Now he looked like a dog who is worried that you might be thinking of throwing the stick away altogether.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Seventeen years!” said Prudence. “We were friends for seventeen years. That’s how old some people are! Some people have only lived seventeen years!”
“I don’t understand,” said Zheng Yi.
“I’m never not friends with Pik Mun before,” wailed Prudence. “Why…why…why she doesn’t like me any more?”
“What is that coming out of your eyes?” said Zheng Yi. He looked closer. “And your nose?”
“What?” said Prudence. She touched her face and her hands came away wet, but they were not any alarming colour. “It’s water. I’m crying, you doink! You’ve never seen tears before?”
She had not meant it seriously, but for the first time since Prudence had met him, Zheng Yi looked shy.
“Never,” he said. “I’ve never actually had a human. You’re my first.”
“This dragon bullshit again!” Prudence rounded on him. “Can you stop talking nonsense? Pik Mun doesn’t want to friend me any more and you can still talk cock like this!”
“I am a dragon,” said Zheng Yi. “You know that.”
“I don’t know anything!” snapped Prudence. She turned and made to stomp away. However, she had not been looking where she was going for quite some time. She found herself stomping right into a river.
It was too late to stop by the time she realised. The ground was muddy and treacherous—it had just rained. She slid down the bank and the water came up and hugged her close. It was freezing cold, and the force of it swept her along with the course of the river with dizzying speed. She pushed both her arms straight out and kicked.
Don’t panic, she thought. Must stay calm. Swimming couldn’t be that hard, you just kept moving and somehow that made it so you didn’t sink—but she was sinking. And she couldn’t breathe. Everything was a white swirl, and the roaring in her ears made it difficult to think. She was drowning—she had to stop drowning—
Stay still, said Zheng Yi’s voice. She heard it as if he was speaking directly into her ear. Stop fighting me. You’re safe.
The water trembled with the words.
Everything came together, the disparate elements of air and water and sound reconfiguring themselves into a logical pattern. The river turned from chaos into one long smooth curve, and Prudence was locked safely in its heart. She was not being battered any more, not being flung about by the untamed force of the river. She was inside the river. The river was the dragon. She was sitting on a fixed place and she was moving, but in the way that you are moving when you sit in a plane—there is the forward motion of something larger than you that you scarcely feel.
She put out her hand and touched river water, cold as winter. She put out her hand and touched warm pulsing flesh. She was sitting in the dragon’s mouth. She could see daylight through the gaps between his teeth. Magic clogged her nose and tingled on her skin.
The river and the dragon spat her out on the bank, and when the river receded it left the dragon. Prudence saw through bleary eyes a long, gleaming black creature like an overgrown gecko. When she blinked Zheng Yi was human-shaped again.
“You see?” said Zheng Yi, looking smugger than anything that isn’t a cat should be able to look.
“Can’t see anything,” Prudence managed to croak, before a fit of coughing overtook her.
“I am a dragon,” said Zheng Yi superfluously. “Now will you come away with me?”
Zheng Yi helped Prudence sit up, but there was still a pressure in her chest. She pressed her hand against her chest to relieve it. The wail burst out of her startled throat.
“Shut up! I say no means no already! You don’t know how to listen meh? Go away!”
“What?” said Zheng Yi, but Prudence was sobbing.
“You shouldn’t make fun of people,” she hiccupped. “You shouldn’t invite people when you don’t want them to come.”
“What’s this?” said Zheng Yi. His voice had gone all soft. Prudence felt embarrassed and hid her face, but she was soaking wet and it wasn’t all that pleasant. She looked for somewhere else to hide her face and found a convenient expanse of warm fabric right next to her. Unfortunately, this turned out to be Zheng Yi’s shoulder, and dragon or not, he understood enough about human norms to take this as an indication that he should put his arms around her.
“I want you to come,” said Zheng Yi. “Why would I ask you if not? Why would I go to all this trouble?”
“Don’t simply hug people,” grumbled Prudence, but only half-heartedly. It was difficult to tell someone not to hug you when you were busy wiping your nose on their sleeve.
“Why wouldn’t I want you?” said Zheng Yi.
“You always laugh at me,” said Prudence.
“When do I ever laugh at you?”
“You said I’m amusing!” said Prudence.
“Oh, that. You are,” said Zheng Yi. “Terribly.”
This was the most he would ever say. As dragons go Zheng Yi was actually quite good at feelings that weren’t goldlust, but he would never understand that he had to explain that when you are a dragon, and thousands of years old, most things become boring. The most wonderful thing anything can be is amusing. It was his way of telling her that he was madly in love with her.
“I bet you don’t think I’m pretty,” said Prudence, who was in a mood for self-pity.
“Oh no,” Zheng Yi agreed.
“I don’t even know why you want me to go with you then,” said Prudence.
Zheng Yi seemed puzzled. “But I’ve told you so many times.”
“Anyway,” said Prudence. “We can’t go anywhere. I haven’t finish med school yet. And after that I still want to get a job and work a few years in UK first.”
“I don’t mind staying in your dimension for a few years,” Zheng Yi conceded. “Not more than a thousand or so, mind. I’d want to get back to the cave after a couple of millennia.”
“Hah!” said Prudence. “I’ll be dead by then lah. Don’t you know anything about humans?” She stretched within the confines of Zheng Yi’s arms, and noticed something.
“I’m not wet,” she remarked. Even her canvas trainers were dry. Even her socks. The tips of her fingers were warm.
“Don’t you know anything about dragons?” said Zheng Yi.
Well, it was like having any other kind of roommate. Zheng Yi looked human most of the time anyway.
“What about the time the dragon was seen drinking up half the Serpentine and the Daily Mail said he should be deported back to where he came from?” said Angela.
“He was hungover! I made beef stew and you know I don’t drink. So he had to drink up the rest of the red wine,” said Prudence. “Anyway, the Daily Mail says that about everybody.”
“True,” said Angela.
It was a relief to have made up with Angela. It turned out that the falling out, like everything else, was really Zheng Yi’s fault. A few days after they had come back from the Lake District, Angela had come to visit. She brought pandan-flavoured cupcakes with gula melaka icing that she’d made, and they talked as if nothing had happened, until Angela said suddenly,
“I don’t even like him. He’s not even my type. I don’t know what happened.”
“Oh,” said Prudence, in a voice full of cupcake.
“No, that’s a lie,” said Angela. “I think I know what happened. It’s not a good excuse, though.”
“It’s OK, we don’t have to talk about it,” she said quickly. She did not want to talk about feelings. To have Angela back and pretend that nothing had happened was her idea of an ideal happy ending.
“I think,” said Angela, “it’s because he was glamouring super hard. I really never felt like that before. It was like when he was around I couldn’t think. And then when you all went away, it was like a cloud went away. Suddenly I could see clearly again.”
“You think it was magic?” said Prudence.
“Oh, I wouldn’t accuse your boyfriend just based on what I think,” said Angela. “I went to a thaumaturge and she confirmed my magic levels were super high. I don’t have any talent myself so she say probably I kena secondary glamour.”
“But why would Zheng Yi want to glamour you?” said Prudence. Angela thwapped her on the back of the head.
“You never listen. I got secondary glamour. It was a side-effect of hanging out with you. He was glamouring to impress you lah. Did it work?”
Prudence tilted her head from side to side. Her thoughts shot around and bumped into each other inside her skull, as lively as ever.
“I think I can think. Don’t feel like there’s any cloud,” said Prudence. “But Pik Mun, sorry. What did you call Zheng Yi?”
“What?” said Angela. “‘Your boyfriend,’ is it?”
“Oh,” said Prudence. So that’s what it was.
First published in Crossed Genres Quarterly #1 (February 2011)
Zen Cho is a Malaysian writer living in London. Her fiction has been featured or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, GigaNotoSaurus, PodCastle, Fantastique Unfettered, Steam-Powered II and year’s best lesbian speculative fiction anthology Heiresses of Russ. She is a Selangor Young Talent Awards finalist and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
On tomorrow’s World SF Blog we will be featuring a story from the author.
Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first get into speculative fiction?
Thanks for interviewing me!
I always knew I wanted to write speculative fiction. A lot of the books I’d grown up reading and loved most were fantasy or science fiction and I enjoyed the escapist aspect. As I’ve grown older I’ve also come to appreciate the tools sff gives you for throwing fresh light on familiar situations and “real life” problems or ideas.
I suppose what appeals to me most, and what I seek in sff, is strangeness.
How would you describe your writing?
Malaysian fantasy. In terms of style, I like what P. G. Wodehouse says about there being two ways to write novels: “One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn …” My stories are probably more on the musical comedy side.
How did you first get acquainted with the genre?
It was what was on the shelves when I was a kid hungry for books. The books I steeped my brain in and took inspiration from were mostly British fantasy — Edith Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien — but I read a few of the usual American sff authors as well, Asimov and McCaffrey and the like.
Could you elaborate more on Malaysian fantasy? Does it mean Malaysia as a setting, or Malaysian characters, or some other quality? (We’re also wrestling with this question when it comes to Philippine speculative fiction.)
In practice nearly all the stories I’ve written for publication either take place in Malaysia or feature Malaysian characters, so that’s not a question I’ve really exercised myself over! I think it’s possible for a story to have a distinctively Malaysian sensibility or Malaysian qualities without taking place in Malaysia or featuring avowedly Malaysian characters, but it would probably take more than its being written by a Malaysian author for it to qualify as “Malaysian fantasy” in my eyes.
What made you decide to write with the short story format?
It took me a while to figure out how to write anything longer, so I started with short stories. I’ve been working on longer projects, actually, but I’ve found the short story both a good training ground and a rewarding format in its own right. I like how condensed it is.
You mentioned some British and American authors. Are there any Malaysian authors – not necessarily genre – that you’ve read?
Yes, but not nearly so many as British and American authors. Most of the better-known Malaysian authors who write in English write literary fiction, which doesn’t appeal to me as much as genre. (I read for excitement, and tend to find dragons and comedies of manners more exciting than the emotional issues of middle-aged dudes ….) The best known Malaysian author I like is probably Shamini Flint, who writes fun detective novels. For non-fiction I’m a big fan of Shanon Shah, who writes a couple of columns for the Nut Graph, a Malaysian news site, and historian Farish Noor.
Has living in London affected the way you write (and if so, how?)?
In the sense that any life experience affects one’s writing, certainly. It’s made me think a lot more about diaspora and issues of identity — what makes me Chinese or Malaysian when I live in Britain? Living as a member of a small minority has also given me an interest in communities that exist on the margins of the mainstream, both nowadays and in history. London is a particularly good place for learning about whose stories get recorded in textbooks and literature, and whose stories are forgotten. People often think of Britain as being historically a racially homogenous country and that may be true for many parts of it, but London has been multiracial for hundreds of years. Of course, every country and every city has its hidden histories, but the advantage of living in London is that its histories are very well recorded and easily accessible.
What books are you currently reading?
I’m currently absorbed in Eileen Chang’s The Book of Change, which is the second of two semi-autobiographical books written by Chang in English, chronicling her student days in Hong Kong during the war. I admire Chang a lot, though I could never write like her (and I’ve tried!). Her family makes Amy Tan’s mothers look like pussy cats.
I’ve also just finished Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass, which is very entertaining pop linguistics about how language influences how we think. The curse of having a Kindle means I have several books on the go at once — the sff ones I’m currently reading are The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin and Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m plugging away at a YA urban fantasy novel set in Kuala Lumpur which contains every id-pleasing trope I can think of — the more over-the-top the better — without bringing in vampires or werewolves. It’s taking up most of my energy at the moment so that’s about it.
Tehran 2121 is an animated SF film from Iran, Directed by Bahram Azimi, who is otherwise “mostly known for the animated driving commercials he has made for the Iranian police.” The film is “about the past and present of a 160-year-old man. The story of this animation takes place in the year 2121, when robots live alongside people who live for over 160 years due to progress in medical science.”
The Tehran Times has a fuller report – but we have the trailer!
Fantasy Academy is an Iranian science fiction and fantasy club devoted to promoting SF/F. They have their own short story contest and related award, and maintain a web site in both Persian and English. They also translate Persian short fiction into English.
The team includes:
- Amir Sepahram Administrator, Editor in chief, Translator
- Behzad Ghadimi Translator, Editor
- Somayeh Karami Translator, Editor
- Alireza Ghesmati Translator, Editor
- Mehdi Samadi Graphic Designer, Painter
About Fantasy Academy:
Who we are:
Fantasy Academy (www.fantasy.ir) is the most popular Iranian website in its field of activity. It is one of a kind place where thousands gather digitally and form the biggest Persian virtual community of Science-fiction and Fantasy fans. The contents published on Fantasy Academy cover complete a spectrum of these genres, from literature to cinema to comics, from critiques to scientific discussions.
Fantasy Academy is a non-governmental, non-commercial, non-political, independent body and is not related to any organization, party or group.Fantasy Academy is a privately governed community, with no dependence to any governmental body, whatsoever. All activities in Fantasy Academyare non-for-profit.
What we do:
At Fantasy Academy we:
- Search, find, read and discuss, then translate the best short stories, novels, articles and comics of sci-fi and fantasy world into Persian (Farsi) language
- Cast hot news of this genre from all around the world
- Digitally publish Iranian fantasy and sci-fi writer’s artwork on the website
- Hold a country-wide annual story-writing contest in the genres and introducing award-winners to the community
The Guardian reports on the death of French comics artist Moebius (Jean Giraud):
The artist Jean Giraud was principally known for his work on comic books under two pen names. As Gir, the co-creator of Blueberry, one of France’s most popular strips, his brushwork was detailed and realistic; as Moebius, he used intricate, visually arresting penwork to explore the subconscious in his creations Arzach, Le Garage Hermétique (The Airtight Garage) and L’Incal (The Incal). But Giraud, who has died of cancer aged 73, had an impact on the visual arts that went beyond comics. He was seen as a figurehead linking bandes dessinées with modernism and nouveau réalisme. As the co-creator of Métal Hurlant magazine, he took comics to an older, more literate audience. In cinema, his fans ranged from Federico Fellini to Hayao Miyazaki and his style influenced dozens of others, including Ridley Scott, George Lucas, James Cameron and Luc Besson. – read the full obituary
2011 – A Year South African Speculative Fiction Gathers Momentum
By Sarah Lotz, Nick Wood and Tanya Barben
2011 has been a bursting year for South African speculative fiction, as it gathers further pace and push from the heralding, punchy impact of Lauren Beukes‘s first two novels. (2011 being split almost mid-year by the Arthur C.Clarke Award being presented to Lauren’s Zoo City.) Either side of this seminal event for South African speculative fiction lies various SF/F/H publishing successes for a growing number of local South African authors.
Nerine Dorman is doing great work in the indie horror world. She has published The Namaqualand Book of the Dead (Lyrical press) and is the editor of the annual Bloody Parchment Anthology. She also collaborates with Carrie Clevenger on a humorous paranormal/vampiric romance series (the first one is called Just my Blood Type). The Pornokitsch.com publishers – Anne Perry and Jared Shurin – launched Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse, with excellent stories in it from a host of SA writers (Sam Wilson, Lauren Beukes, Charlie Human and SL Grey).
The Irish SF magazine Albedo One (Issue 40), published Nick Wood’s alternative history story Bridges, set in a contemporary South Africa where apartheid has survived. Nick also presented an overview of South African speculative fiction at the University of Riverside, California, with one attendee in the audience being the Jamaican-Canadian author and GOH Nalo Hopkinson (who now holds a professorial post at the University.)
South Africa’s spec-fic magazine, Something Wicked, is still going strong as an e-version (it’s bringing out an anthology of the best of 2011 soon): http://www.somethingwicked.co.za/
Although a Malawian writer in origin, Luso Mnthali is currently a South African resident and her story People are Reading What You Are Writing was a clever story within the Moreno-Garcia and Stiles anthology (2011) Future Lovecraft. The anthology’s stories were bound by the engaging conceit of ‘Lovecraftian’ tales set in the future. Again, although not South African, Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor posted a fascinating series of blogs about Lovecraft, after winning the World Fantasy Award for her novel Who Fears Death:
Diane Awerbuck’s highly-lauded short story collection, Cabin Fever, includes a wonderfully creepy and psychologically disturbing story featuring the Mami Wata - when Diane tackles spec fiction, she does it superbly. Additionally, although not strictly horror/spec, Louis Greenberg wrote of Henrietta Rose-Innes’s Nineveh:
“Henrietta Rose-Innes, the Caine Prize-winning author of ‘Poison’, a story about a post-apocalyptic Cape Town, released her third novel, Nineveh, this year. Nineveh is what you might call subtle-spec, an ostensibly literary novel that gets weird when a plague of bugs takes over a hubristic new housing development south of Cape Town. In all her work, Rose-Innes is preoccupied with archaeology: digging away layers of history and meaning, and set squarely in contemporary South Africa and Cape Town where reality is often too bizarre and frightening to fictionalise, it is inevitable that strange things emerge from her imaginative excavations.”
Furthermore, Andrew Salomon was short-listed for the Terry Pratchett Prize for his novel Lun, which explored a variety of themes, including the smart and funny notion of a ‘sanctuary for tokoloshes’. Tom Learmont’s Light Across Time (Kwela Books) explored a novel evolutionary idea for extraterrestrials, back-dropped amongst a heady mix of zany theories and meticulously researched historical events.
Ken Sibanda’s The Return to Gibraltar was a welcome and enterprising SF debut by a black South African author – although he is now American too (Proteus Books). The novel involves an African American protagonist time-traveling to 1491 to help the Spanish Moors resist the Christian ‘reconquista’.
SL Grey’s The Mall (Corvus UK) was a dark and at times savage exploration of the life underneath (or parallel to, or even within) shopping malls, as experienced by a young white man and black woman, thrown unwillingly together by who knows whom – or what…
And, speaking of SL Grey, 2012 brings yet further exciting developments with the publication of The Ward, Grey’s second urban horror novel.
A ‘relative’ of SL Grey, Lily Herne, will follow up 2010’s wonderful YA zombie-SF novel Deadlands, with its sequel, Death of a Saint.
Also making an appearance in February 2012, Cat Hellison’s internationally published When the Sea is Rising Red. Although categorized as YA fiction, it’s undoubtedly a crossover novel, and its political undertones and cliché-smashing heroine have already been much praised by reviewers.
And, against this growing and exciting brew of South African spec-fic writers, Lauren Beukes has secured a spectacular hat-trick of book deals for her next novel, The Shining Girls (due out in 2013 from Random House Umuzi, Mulholland US, HarperCollins UK and Australia; various foreign rights have also been snapped up). As well as penning and producing documentaries and film scripts (including the screenplay for the forthcoming adaptation of Zoo City) she’s currently working on six issues of Fairest, a spin-off of Bill Willingham’s Fables comic series. It’s due in October 2012 and features a dark take on Rapunzel’s legend, set in modern-day and ancient fairytale Japan with yokai, yurei and yakuza.
2012 will also include the imminent anthology The Apex Book of World SF 2, with stories by Lauren Beukes and Ivor Hartmann amongst many others. You can see the TOC at Lavie Tidhar’s site: http://lavietidhar.wordpress.com/books/the-apex-book-of-world-sf-2/
Speaking of Hartmann, he plans to launch an African SF e-Anthology; there’s still time to submit, so get writing and go here: http://blogs.african-writing.com/ivor/2012/02/25/call-for-submissions-a-new-scifi-anthology-afrosf/
Roll on 2012, for the next thrilling wave of South African speculative fiction…
From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year’s most anticipated fantasy debuts, THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights.
The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:
Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, “The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat,” just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame’s family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter’s path.
Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla’s young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God’s justice. But even as Raseed’s sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.
Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man’s title. She lives only to avenge her father’s death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father’s killer. Until she meets Raseed.
When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince’s brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time–and struggle against their own misgivings–to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.