And here is the trailer!
Swedish author Karin Tidbeck‘s latest short story, Sing, is online at tor.com:
The cold dawn light creeps onto the mountaintops; they emerge like islands in the valley’s dark sea, tendrils of steam rising up from the thickets clinging to the rock. Right now there’s no sound of birdsong or crickets, no hiss of wind in the trees. When Maderakka’s great shadow has sunk back below the horizon, twitter and chirp will return in a shocking explosion of sound. For now, we sit in complete silence.
The birds have left. Petr lies with his head in my lap, his chest rising and falling so quickly it’s almost a flutter, his pulse rushing under the skin. The bits of eggshell I couldn’t get out of his mouth, those that have already made their way into him, spread whiteness into the surrounding flesh. If only I could hear that he’s breathing properly. His eyes are rolled back into his head, his arms and legs curled up against his body like a baby’s. If he’s conscious, he must be in pain. I hope he’s not conscious.
A strangely shaped man came in the door and stepped up to the counter. He made a full turn to look at the mess in my workshop: the fabrics, the cutting table, the bits of pattern. Then he looked directly at me. He was definitely not from here—no one had told him not to do that. I almost wanted to correct him:leave, you’re not supposed to make contact like that, you’re supposed to pretend you can’t see me and tell the air what you want. But I was curious about what he might do. I was too used to avoiding eye contact, so I concentrated carefully on the rest of him: the squat body with its weirdly broad shoulders, the swelling upper arms and legs. The cropped copper on his head. I’d never seen anything like it. – continue reading.
At the risk of sounding a little self serving, just a note to say that my latest novel, Martian Sands, is now available from PS Publishing in the UK as an £11.99 hardcover. A signed limited edition of 100 copies is also available.
1941: an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbour, a man from the future materialises in President Roosevelt’s office. His offer of military aid may cut the War and its pending atrocities short, and alter the course of the future . . .
The future: welcome to Mars, where the lives of three ordinary people become entwined in one dingy smokesbar the moment an assassin opens fire. The target: the mysterious Bill Glimmung. But is Glimmung even real? The truth might just be found in the remote FDR Mountains, an empty place, apparently of no significance, but where digital intelligences may be about to bring to fruition a long-held dream of the stars . . .
Mixing mystery and science fiction, the Holocaust and the Mars of both Edgar Rice Burroughs and Philip K. Dick, Martian Sands is a story of both the past and future, of hope, and love, and of finding meaning—no matter where—or when—you are.
Over at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, yet another story by this young author from Thailand, The Crows Her Dragon’s Gate:
Before the end there would be love-songs to a passion so fierce that the offspring of my body turned into suns; tales of our courtship a wildfire that scorched the world.
The annals of heavens may not always be trusted. They were texts carefully edited, passed to chosen scholars; it did well to remind the warlords—and once empire dreams had come true, the monarchs calling themselves heaven’s sons—that above them reigned paradise, and above paradise an everlasting emperor.
Much was elided and confused. But in the beginning, it was mostly that I was young.
The Huang He was new, freshly disgorged from a dragon’s gullet, brimming with stomach-lizards and fish with scales thick as lamellar. The heat drew me, as it too must have drawn him. And so I found Dijun by the banks with knees drawn up like a boy, gazing into the waters. In his palms flame detonated into monsters that cavorted to the edge of his nails and spilled onto the grass, turning green to black-brown.
I measured and watched him through the frame of my hands. What did I know of him then? That he was an oddity, not unlike me; that he was without a place at court, without sworn brothers earned through blood and fire. A lack that left him wifeless, for all that women gazed upon him as they would on rare silverwork. They would glance at him, and sigh a little, and look away. Untitled and unpositioned, what husband could he make?
I did not think of positions or titles.
He noticed my approach, and his smile intrigued me, for aesthetically it was most pleasing. Being young I mistook this for something else; being young I thought beauty was all there was.
“Would you like to try?” He held out his hand, where many-eyed beasts spun through their deaths and rebirths, purer each time, finer with each cycle.
“How did you know?”
“Your shadow moves on its own even when heaven’s light stands still. Like calls to like.” Dijun hesitated. “And I find I cannot look away from your radiance.”
I inclined my head. Men offered flattery; women accepted with poise. That was the way of things. – continue reading!
The London Book Fair is almost upon us once more. Taking place at Earls Court in London from 15th – 17th April, the fair will encompass trade stands, workshops and seminars and talks from various featured authors.
This year, the London Book Fair is shining its spotlight on Turkey with both a professional and cultural programme.
One Turkish science fiction author visiting the fair is Baris Mustecaplioglu, creator of theLegends of Perg fantasy series set in the fantastical lands of Perg, which blends Eastern and Western cultures. His latest book is also a fantasy, Şamanlar Diyarı (The Land of Shamans), published in 2012. Baris’ books have found publication in Bulgaria, Serbia, China, Germany, Syria, Poland, Romania and India and he has also recently had a short crime noir story published in America in Istanbul Noir. Baris is also the General Coordinator of Fantasy and Science Fiction Arts Association in Turkey (FABISAD) – so from one society that appreciates the genre to another, hello!
Baris, who is currently getting ready to head to London from what he tells me is a very cold Istanbul, will be making the following appearances during the fair:Monday 15 April
18.30-19.30 Innovation and the Novel
Foyles, 113-119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EB
Participants: İnci Aral, Baris Mustecaplioglu & Jasper Fforde
For the details of the event visit the event page on Foyles’ website.Wednesday 17 April
11.30-12.30 New Fiction: Fantasy and Crime
Whitehall Room, Earls Court
Participants: Hakan Günday, Baris Mustecaplioglu & Ahmet Ümit
Chair: Barbara Nadel
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Indrapramit Das. Indrapramit is a writer and artist from Kolkata, India, currently living in Vancouver, Canada. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Apex Magazine, Redstone Science Fiction and Breaking the Bow: Speculative Fiction Inspired by the Ramayana (Zubaan Books, India), among others. He also writes reviews for publications including Slant Magazine and Strange Horizons, and comics for ACK Media. He has an MFA degree from the University of British Columbia, which he uses as a small tablemat while pretending to be an adult. To find out more, visit http://flavors.me/indra_das or follow him on Twitter (@IndrapramitDas).
The story was first published in the November 2011 issue of Redstone Science Fiction.
Looking the Lopai in the Eyes
by Indrapramit Das
Earth almost looks like home, from here. Brilliant blue, cloud-clothed. More visible land-masses, but otherwise strikingly similar. But Alwaea knows it will be very different. She touches the cold window, tracing with her finger the sun-brightened curve of the planet her genes were forged in. The planet that decided, so long ago, what she would look like, right down to the pattern of spirals on her fingertip, delicately imprinted on the glass.
Alwaea knows that Earth did not decide who she would become, and that is all she has. Her hand is trembling.
She is the Ambassador, she tells herself. She was chosen for this.
She will soon meet the governments of all the countries that sent their diaspora across the galaxy to populate her home. She cannot imagine the myriad cultures, the clashing languages, the opposing ideologies, the boiling throng of violent discord she understands Earth to be. She can barely imagine a planet inhabited by billions of humans, when her world has yet to host even a million.
When she first saw Earth through the windows, it almost felt like she hadn’t slept for years, nurtured by robots while her vessel folded space around itself. It felt like she hadn’t left at all. But the closer she comes to the planet, the more different it seems. The glass squeaks as Alwaea runs her fingers across it. This time she traces them along the shorelines she can now see below the clouds. In her mind, they evoke the Earth-map of hundreds of countries she had studied when she was younger, so different from the undivided canvas of her world’s supercontinent. The map had confused her, especially when her mother told her it was obsolete because of temporal distance and shifting politics.
Alwaea’s home is one world, and one country. She represents a single government, though her people have a different word for it.
She closes her eyes and thinks of the vast open spaces of her world. Of staring into the crafty yellow eyes of the Lopai on her nineteenth birthday, winter-breath lit up by the sister stars. She had locked her arms around its horns and rammed her booted feet onto its simian hands, hard enough to shock but not to break. She had wrestled the devil of the steppes to the ground, snow turning to slush underneath them, and she had let go and spoken one of the twenty words the Lopai speaks, one that her mother had taught her. She had watched it run from her on all fours, graceful muscles rippling and horns lowered sideways in submission, its long tail a whiplash against the white ground. She had laughed at the wet red of her hands, when she touched her bloody face.
Alwaea opens her eyes, and she is still shaking. She has never been this afraid in her life.
She opens the envelope in her hand, takes out the letter inside. It is from her mother, who was also Ambassador. It has been years since she handed it to Alwaea on the surface of their world. The vacuum seal of the locker it was in has kept it from weathering. The handmade paper is still crisp, if a little warped. She can even smell the overwhelmingly familiar fruit-sweet traces of pyrap musk her mother wore as perfume, hiding under the smoky scent of brewed ink. Alwaea has waited for all of her voyage to read the letter, as she was told to. She reads it aloud, so the whispered words reverberate in the cramped landing capsule.
“Don’t let them look down on us, Alwaea, like they did to me. You’re far stronger than I. Show them how we’ve grown, and show us how you’ve grown. Come back with our independence in your hands.”
Alwaea’s chest tightens to see her mother’s slanted handwriting again, after this endless voyage of cold sleep. She should feel fury at the letter, the way it leaves no room for failure, no room for concern, even. But she thinks of the time her mother sat in a capsule much like this one, approaching Earth, both her parents long dead from pre-vaccine contagions. Her mother, who came to Earth and failed at diplomacy, failed to show its nations that her home no longer needed to be called a colony but a world of its own.
No, Alwaea thinks. Light-years away from home, she cannot remain angry at the woman who taught her to tame the devil of the steppes, to look the Lopai in the eyes, the woman who had kissed her bloody forehead and come away with lips red to show her pride. Alwaea knows that her mother might no longer be alive by the time she returns to her world. But she will bring their independence with her all the same.
Alwaea puts the letter in her lap. Earth comes closer, little by little, the sun glaring off the mirrors of its oceans. Her people’s motherworld, still beautiful despite its age. Yes. Alwaea will show Earth how they’ve grown in the solitude of another constellation. She realizes she is no longer shaking.
Alwaea touches her face. Her palms come away wet, and she laughs.
Forthcoming anthology gathers “tales from Afrofuturism and beyond”
Co-editors Bill Campbell and Edward Austin Hall are pleased to announce that their forthcoming anthology, Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, has already attracted a diverse array of story submissions. Nonetheless, with roughly a month left until the close of the collection’s submissions phase, the editors hope to see yet more genre fiction by, for, and/or about persons of color.
Washington, D.C.-based Campbell, who initiated the project, describes its genesis and goals this way: “When we look up at the night sky, space is black as far as the eye can see. Yet when we read novels about it or watch something on TV or in the movie theater, it is white beyond all comprehension. With this collection, we hope to give space some much needed … color, shall we say (and other genres, of course).”
Hall, a longtime Atlantan, said of the acquisition process for Mothership, “We’ve been extraordinarily lucky. In just the last few days we accepted several stories, including ones from Nisi Shawl, Eden Robinson, and Junot Diaz. I can’t wait to see the stories yet to come, though, whether from practiced hands or exciting new talents.”
More information about the project (including guidelines for submission) and the anthologists appears online: http://mothershipconnect.com/index.html
There has been a resurgence of arguments over grimdark fantasy, sparked by Joe Abercrombie’s recent second salvo after his earlier pas-de-deux with Leo Grin. This time around, Abercrombie equated “realism” (as in: non-stop pillage and teen-level gothness… or is it kvothness?) with “honesty” while arguing with a semi-straight face that he, unlike those who dislike gratuitous grottiness, was not making moral judgments.
Last time around, I was the sole non-anglomale to enter this fray. This time, several women responded (links below). All raised important issues (the exclusive focus on rape of women; the determined distortion/impoverishment of real history; the fact that several items are subsumed under “grittiness”), though Elizabeth Bear’s defense of (revisionist) grimdark bears this immortal phrase: “…sociopathic monsters can and do accomplish good – sometimes purposefully, sometimes not.” In other words, a soldier who participated in flattening a village is a force for good because he let one of the village children survive.
Having said my piece on grittygrotty fantasy, I don’t deem the subgenre interesting enough for additional investment. However, during these discussions journalist and author Sabrina Vourvoulias wondered if Ink, her debut novel, is classifiable as grimdark because it contains some of the items that are de rigueur in that domain: betrayal by friends; death of beloved and/or central characters; violence and violations; grim settings and unhappy endings. I had long intended to write a review of Ink, so I considered this my opportunity.
My verdict: Ink is not grimdark if only because it’s not the standard-issue SFF watery gruel. It’s also not grimdark because: it spends as much time showing beauty, heroism and honor as squalor, betrayal and violence; its violence (except in one instance) is neither gratuitous nor meant to titillate; it shows imperfect but functioning individuals, families and communities, not the baboon troops standard in grimdark; it doesn’t fridge its women (instead, it hews to the more traditional mode of “men die, women endure”); it shows mutual desire and consensual sex with neither prudery nor prurience; it’s layered and nuanced; and it’s politically engaged and grounded in reality while also containing doors ajar to other worlds.
Some reviewers compared Ink to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because both show near-future US societies based on plausible extrapolations. But whereas The Handmaid’s Tale is straight dystopia, Ink is more than that. Ink is a nagual, like one of its protagonists: a twinned being, a shapeshifter – something common in non-Anglo literature that has left its genre boundaries porous instead of having them patrolled by purity squads. Ink combines mythic, epic, dystopian, urban and paranormal fantasy – it’s a direct descendant of the better-known Hispanophone magic realists. Its closest contemporary relatives are Evghenía Fakínou’s luminous works, famous in Hellás but unknown to Anglophone readers.
Ink describes a very near-future US in which the distinction between full citizens and the rest has become absolute and is enforced by biometric tattoos that specify status. Those who are not full citizens are subject to the customary abuses: curfews, job and housing discrimination, deportations, concentration camps, child abductions, involuntary sterilizations, vigilante violence. The story, spread over a decade, chronicles the reactions to this setting in both the real and magical realms.
The real echoes are multiple: there have been many near-silent holocausts in Latin America during caudillo regimes; biometric identification and surveillance methods are already with us; the treatment of “aliens” has been an endemic festering wound in many polities, the US prominently among them; tattoos and concentration camps have been used throughout history to isolate “others”; and “others” are routinely dehumanized across times and cultures – usually as a means of retaining power (for the strong), borderline privileges and self-esteem (for the weak), as well as an easy method for retaining social homogeneity.
The magical echoes are subtler but just as layered: the naguales come from age-old shamanistic practices in Mesoamerica; the belief in magic linked to a specific location is ancient and universal; so are the concepts of shadow doubles and wereanimals, both good and evil. There are liaisons between the two realms – not only the half-dozen primary and secondary characters with second sight and/or twinned selves, but also the kaibiles, who appear as fearsome adversaries in dreamtime within Ink but in realtime were the infamous Guatemalan counter-insurgency special forces.
There are no “alpha” heroes in Ink; those of its characters who achieve heroic status do so without fanfare by simply being decent and taking risks despite fear and consequences – and while embedded in complex networks of blood and chosen relatives (the sole glaring absence is that of old women). The characters are economically but sharply delineated and their intertwinings are natural and believable. Where Ink approaches quotidian is in the choices of its protagonists’ occupations: Finn, a journalist; Mari, a liaison/translator; Del, a painter; Abbie, a computer wunderkind.
Ink also stumbles slightly by giving its two women protagonists remarkably similar fates. Both get violated – Mari by a decent-appearing vigilante, Abbie by a once-dear friend. The latter is the only point where Ink is in danger of entering generic grimdark territory: not only is Abbie’s sadistic scarring not really necessary to the plot, but it’s also totally out of character for the person who inflicted it. Also, both women have to carry on after the loss of the loves of their lives, with children as their main consolation prize (though they also reclaim other vital pieces of themselves that make them more than just custodians of the future).
Two secondary characters cast enormous shadows in Ink and almost walk away with the novel – I for one would happily read tomes centered on each: Toño, a gang leader with the charisma and code of honor that often goes with such positions; and Meche, who walks between worlds like Mari – and is also a formidable chemist, the inventor of synthetic skin that can give passage to legitimacy. [Note to self: the successor to The Other Half of the Sky will focus on women scientists; tap Sabrina for a Meche story.]
Stylistically, Ink commits all the “errors” excoriated in HackSFFWorkshop 101, though (repeat after me) they’re common in literary fiction and I personally love them: its four protagonists speak in first person and often in present tense; it makes unapologetic jumps in narrative time; it has an enormous cast of characters, without obvious telegraphings of who’s important and who isn’t; and its chapters have titles instead of numbers.
The language in Ink clearly comes from someone who is a fluent speaker of more than one tongue: it has the giveaway shimmer of submerged harmonies, of unexpected, felicitous word couplings. Ink also has snappy dialogue and vivid descriptions. Some exchanges made me laugh out loud or weep a little, and the erotic passages pack real heat. The peripheral characters are sharply drawn and distinct, and the Latinos are not generic. They’re Mexicans, Cubans, Guatemalans, with their unique histories, customs, dialects and magicks.
Some reviewers complained that the paranormal element in Ink was intrusive or not well integrated. I’d argue that the real problem is that Ink should be much longer than it is. Although it’s a saga of sorts, it has a strobe-light staccato effect that fits its current lean frame. But unlike just about any other SFF book I’ve read recently (nearly all infected with the dreaded sequelitis virus), the issues and characters in Ink – as well as its author’s talent for weaving richly-hued tapestries – cry out for a Márquez-size door stopper.
If Ink had been written in any language but English, it would have become a bestseller with reviews in the equivalent of the NY Times. For Anglophones, Ink is an uncategorizable hybrid. These terms are invariably used to signify that a book is doomed because it doesn’t aim for an automatically defined readership. I, however, a walker between worlds myself, use the terms as rare praise.
Images: 1st, Ink (publisher: Crossed Genres); 2nd, a jaguar nagual (sketch from a Zapotec stela by Javier Urcid); 3rd, Sabrina Vourvoulias
Links to recent discussions of grittygrotty fantasy:
The latest issue of Clarkesworld Magazine is headlined by new Thai author Benjanun Sriduangkaew, with “Annex”:
On the eve of Samutthewi’s entry into the Costeya Hegemony, Esithu was sloughing off the shell of their birth-body. There would be speculation afterward what Esithu was born as—someone’s son, someone’s daughter? To that Esithu would always say, “I was born as I am now,” which became a stretch after Esithu obtained a second then a third body. A hardware upgrade, they liked to say. You can never have too many.
That was much later.
Esithu was a creature of solitude but, afflicted with being so new in a world so old, they found themselves craving company.
This close to the heels of conquest, sedition was a rife, busy game, and it drew Esithu as war drew soldiers. They came to it—or it came to them—in a little club on the outskirts of Vithansuthi, the city in which everything happened.
On the walls, flowers fought and devoured each other, mouth-tipped stamens tessellating in choral fury. Onstage a dancer moved in simpatico, mercury limbs shimmering silver, a body of animated liquid.
“It is said,” Esithu’s table companion began, a non-sequitur to follow a conversation they never started, “that the universe was sung into being by a divine androgyne.”
At that point Esithu was not yet acquainted with quantum theories, though even further along in life they would find said theories little more than superstition. Blunt, they asked, “Are you some sort of evangelist?”
The woman’s eyes glittered. Her sclera and irises were hidden behind compound lenses, all ruby facets. “Truth is always in need of evangelizing. Now more than ever, and I’m not talking about creation myths.”
“This is a bad climate for demagogues.”
“Indeed no; it’s never been better.”
“We lost, you realize.” Their government bent so quickly to surrender there’d hardly been casualties. Esithu had bet on that, and reaped a tidy profit against friends more patriotic.
“Our defeat is opportune. It is now that we can subvert them from within.”
Esithu snorted. Newly assimilated border planets subverted nothing except their own sense of self. Samutthewi would lap and swallow until it was as Hegemonic as the rest.
“But now is the time,” the woman insisted. “Not five years from now when we’ve grown comfortable; not ten years from now when we think back and say, ah, it used to be untidy and now that we’ve the Hegemony breathing on our neck everything is better—faster—more beautiful. Then it will be nearly impossible.”
They laughed in her face. “It is impossible now.”
A second dancer vaulted over the first, feet and fingers full of fire. – continue reading!
I’ve been meaning to post about the Hugo Awards, which were recently announced. Usually with awards, we tend to post a note highlighting any writers of international interest (if any) and leave it at that, but I feel it might be worth saying a few more words this time, so please bear with me.
There seems to be a conversation about the Hugos every year, of roughly the same nature. A good example is this recent one, which takes them to task by saying:
Although the Hugos present the image of something more cosmopolitan or representative than the standard convention award, it’s becoming increasingly apparent every year that, despite being the most recognizable award in science fiction and fantasy cultural awareness, the Hugos are nothing more than an amalgamation of like minded WorldCon members, or agendized voting blocs, bent on vociferous back patting.
I have sympathy with this sort of argument, though it’s worth noting neither the Hugos nor the “WorldCon” were ever meant to be international or all-inclusive. “WorldCon” gets its name from the World’s Fair that took place in New York in 1939, and the “Hugos” take their name from a Jewish immigrant to the United States, Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first science fiction pulp magazine. Moreover, the Hugos do reflect popular taste – a quick look at the sales figures of the shortlisted novels suggests they are very popular indeed, and are recognised as such.
I think a part of the sense of – disaffection – we get every year is the very real sense that science fiction [ETA: I'm using this as an umbrella term for speculative fiction, including fantasy] itself has profoundly changed over the decades. Some terribly ambitious novels had won the award since it began in 1953, a period during which science fiction was in a very real sense an avant garde literary movement. The first novel to win was Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man, and the 1960s saw such novels as A Canticle for Leibowitz, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune and Lord of Light winning – surely some of the most remarkable and ambitious examples of American science fiction ever written.
But the nature of genre publishing itself changed. It is now a massively successful, commercial genre, with thousands of titles published annually, multiple franchises and diverse fandoms. William Gibson’s Neuromancer, a winner in 1985, still seems to me to represent a watershed moment for SF, a when-it-changed – less the arrival of a new era as the death of an older one, and it is suggestive that is was followed, a year later, by Ender’s Game, a novel that very much stands for the new kind of SF.
Ambition, experiment, a sense of being at the vanguard are not necessarily the qualities one looks for in a Hugo winner, though certainly ambitious and challenging work continues to be recognised – Mieville’s The City and the City, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to take two.
And science fiction fans, globally, continue to be invested in the Hugos, whether they vote for them or attend a Worldcon. It is not seen as belonging to the thousand or so people who vote for it, but to anyone who is a fan of SF. And they are not easy to vote for. Attending a WorldCon is an expensive proposition, and even a supporting membership, purely for voting, can be a massive expense for someone not earning “First World” salaries.
The arguments, I suspect, will continue for years to come, but I thought it valuable to highlight just what I see as so remarkable in this year’s shortlist.
And the thing is this – this is perhaps the first year in the award’s history (and the Campbell, a “Not a Hugo” award) where we see such a strong representation of international voices. I’m not sure I can highlight this enough. Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon, for instance, is the first novel by a Muslim writer ever to be nominated for a Hugo. The first by an Arab-American, for that matter. (And this is when being Muslim in SF is still cause for a lot of nasty sniping, to put it mildly). Ken Liu, a Chinese-American author doing amazing work, amongst others, in translating Chinese science fiction into English, is nominated for Best Short Story. Aliette de Bodard, a French author of Vietnamese ancestry, is nominated for both Best Novella and Best Short Story, while Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a surprise nominee with a translated story in the Best Novelette category.
Even more exciting, the Campbell Award, recognising emerging writers, has author Zen Cho as a nominee – the first time a Malaysian author is so recognised.
The Hugos are changing, I think. Or SF as a whole is changing. The surprise is not that popular American writers are nominated for a Hugo – but that diversity is increasingly represented on the ballots.
And frankly, for all my love of 1960s American SF, this seems to me to be the more exciting time to be involved with the genre.