The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes out now, and book trailer!

South African author (and Apex Book of World SF 2 contributor) Lauren Beukes‘s hotly-anticipated new novel, The Shining Girls, is now out!

And here is the trailer!

April 25, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

Monday Original Content: Africa in Science Fiction, by Nick Wood

Africa in Science Fiction

By Nick Wood

Late November, ‘Africa Si-FI’ season featured visual images by Kofi Allen flickering across the large screen in the Queen Elizabeth Hall forum on London’s South Bank: http://kamarazikofiallen.weebly.com/ Stylish, futuristic images, with (black) men and women in exotic clothes that alternatively shroud – or shine with shocking power – sometimes even encasing in bulky suits, seemingly designed to protect against a hostile environment or unseen alien threats. These were just some of the images heralding the beginning of a ‘Literature and the Spoken Word’ session on ‘Africa in Science Fiction.’

More pictures scrolled across the screen later, additional to the work of Allen, generally marked out by colourful artwork. These images also included posters for a film such as ‘Robots of Brixton’, as well as paintings and sketches juxtaposing ancient (‘tribal’) scenes sprouting into futuristic ones; shaman alongside spaceships: http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/science-fiction-comes-africa

Then came the call to enter the nearby Purcell Room for the main event – revealing a panel of three, hosted by Toyin Agbetu, who enthusiastically engaged the two African SF writers present. These were the Gambian born Biram Mboob (who has a story in Afro SF, the science fiction anthology by African writers) as well as Tosin Coker, who identifies as one of the first black British women SF authors: http://tosincoker.com/

An opening gambit to the panel was the question purportedly posed to Octavia Butler about what good is SF to African people. (She was reported to reply: ‘What good is anything to African people?’) The panelists reflected on the importance of the genre to raising awareness and considering alternative future possibilities from the present; the possibility of changing futures by being aware of shaping pasts and current trends.

When asked about what had drawn them into SF, Biram Mboob stated that the pervading Afro-pessimism around the Millenium – particularly The Economists’s report on ‘The Hopeless Continent’ – inspired him to engage with western canons of science fiction (SF), with a view to writing subversive African versions. Furthermore, he found the ‘moral heart’ of SF appealing; asking the audience a rhetorical question – should we free or torture androids that become too human? Tosin Coker felt that SF had ‘chosen me’ and had been inspired (although initially daunted) by the writings of Octavia Butler. She was approached by the independent black film director Menelik Shabazz, who said to her ‘Black people don’t see ourselves in the future, so we don’t write ourselves into it.’

The panel discussed the crucial difference between science fiction about African futures and science fiction set in Africa, where the Continent acts as an exotic prop. Both panelists agreed they sought and brought African realities with SF, not SF with ‘black people in it.’ Biram read a work in progress, a novella focused on the development of a Cape to Cairo super-road shredding the Continent, his chosen scene focused on the Ngorongoro crater in Kenya (another country where he has lived.) Tosin’s reading focused on her book ‘The Mouth of Babes’, integrating African spirituality with engaging characters facing life lessons. As Tosin summarised, she also writes to ‘see herself’, as there are not enough ‘mirrors’ of black experience.

Finally, questions were solicited from a responsive audience. Asked about writing to entertain or teach, Biram said he felt it was fine ‘just to entertain’, as implicit in this was taking ownership of black representation – characters who would be more than just sidekicks or villains. He said he would like to ‘saturate space with ourselves, but not with stuff psychologically damaging to black experience.’ He went on to say that many people in Gambia live very richly in the present, but this is not to say they don’t think about the future. Tosin reiterated the message that ‘we don’t write ourselves into the future as if we are actually going to be there.’

When asked if anything was ‘off topic’ to them as SF writers, Biram said that although not off topic, the persecutory treatment of homosexuality in countries such as Uganda and Jamaica made him very angry. He disagreed that this negative attitude was an intrinsic part of African culture, but admitted it was ‘Tough to tackle, though.’ Tosin said she had dealt with taboo subjects and did not believe in censoring herself, but may hold back on anything that might directly hurt her family.

Kofi Allen – the artist mentioned at the beginning of this piece – commented from the floor that through ‘your words and my vision, our images and words’, black and African science fiction would eventually flourish. (The second half of the show was to address African SF in films, such as ‘Pumzi’ and the pending ‘Who Fears Death’ and ‘Zoo City.’)

This was an interesting and worthwhile event then; which, following as it does the Bristol based Arnolfini exhibit ‘Superpower: Africa in Science Fiction’, indicates a growing interest in the steady burgeoning of African approaches to standard SF tropes and ideas. http://www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/exhibitions/details/1300 I was unable to view this exhibit, but there have been several intriguing commentaries, notably Cheryl Morgan’s blog:  http://www.cheryl-morgan.com/?p=13820 as well as  ‘Africa Is A Country': http://africasacountry.com/2012/05/10/africa-in-science-fiction/

Finally, as ‘Bookshy’ reports in her recent review of Afro SF, although this development may perhaps be somewhat patchy Continent wide, i.e. focused mainly in Nigeria (leading light Nnedi Okorafor) and South Africa (leading light Lauren Beukes), it is not limited to these countries. http://bookshybooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/book-review-afrosf-science-fiction-by_23.html  The Afro SF anthology additionally publishes stories by authors from Zimbabwe, Gambia and Kenya. The Apex Book of World SF 2 (2012) publishes Malawian author Daliso Chaponda’s ‘Tree of Bone’ and Zimbabwean Afro SF editor Ivor Hartmann’s story ‘Mr. Goop.’ Last year, the ‘Future Lovecraft’ (2011) anthology published Malawian writer Luso Mnthali’s story ‘People are Reading What You Are Writing.’

So, it seems, the (diverse) African giant awakes – not just economically – but to the possibilities inherent in SF.  Africa steadily appears to becoming a more ‘Hopeful Continent’ – despite ongoing difficulties, including neo-colonialism – its eyes opening to staking an ownership in its own future, finally writing itself there. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/series/new-africa  To African SF then, onwards and upwards!

Nick Wood was born and lived in Zambia and South Africa for 35 years before stints in Aotearoa New Zealand and now currently England. He wrote YA sf/fantasy novel called ‘The Stone Chameleon’ published in South Africa in 2004, as well as a batch of short stories published over the years.

December 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 5 Comments

South African writer Sarah Lotz sells new novel to Hodder

South African author Sarah Lotz has signed a major new deal with UK publisher Hodder.

We have previously reported on Sarah selling her Deadlands novels (zombies in South Africa!) to Constable & Robinson, and reprinted her story Maun of the Dead. She also contributed to our 2011: South African SF/F in Review. Congratulations, Sarah!

From the press release:

Hodder and Stoughton are proud to announce the pre-emptive acquisition of the first solo thriller from South African author Sarah Lotz in a major deal for World Rights. The Three was agented by Oli Munson at Blake Friedmann. Hodder will publish the first of two novels in February of 2014.

The Three is an enormously ambitious mainstream crossover novel in the vein of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, telling the chilling story of four plane crashes, three survivors, and how their interlinked fate will change the world. It combines the complexity of the tv series Lost with the thrills of Stephen King. The novel is set in Britain, the US, South Africa, Japan and Australia, giving it global appeal.

‘Sarah Lotz is a phenomenal talent,’ says Lauren Beukes, author of the forthcoming novel The Shining Girls. ‘She’s one of South Africa’s most exciting and versatile and utterly compelling storytellers.’

The Three is Anne Perry’s first acquisition in her new role as commissioning editor, working with Associate Publisher Oliver Johnson on the Hodder science fiction, fantasy and horror initiative. Anne comments, ‘I have long been a great admirer of Sarah’s work, both her solo and her collaborative projects. Sarah is a prodigiously talented author, and I couldn’t be more delighted to be working with her on such an extraordinary project at such a thrilling moment in her career.’

‘When Anne and Oliver turned up on our doorstep unannounced, I knew they meant business,’ says Oli Munson. ‘There was a phenomenal amount of interest in the incredibly brief time The Three was on the market but the passion and commitment shown by the two of them quickly convinced both author and agent that Hodder was the right home for Sarah’s terrifying imagination.’

US and foreign rights interest has already been buzzing pre-Frankfurt.

Hodder have finalized a US deal with Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown.  An eclectic publisher with a history of publishing New York Times bestsellers, they will publish The Three in the Spring of 2014.

Hodder has also accepted significant two-book pre-empts from Casa Editrice Nord in Italy and Fleuve Noir in France.  There are on-going auctions in Germany and Brazil, as well as offers on the table in five more territories and an overwhelming amount of interest from editors around the world.

Sarah Lotz is a screenwriter and novelist with a fondness for the macabre and fake names. She writes critically acclaimed urban horror novels under the name S.L. Grey with author Louis Greenberg and a YA pulp fiction zombie series with her daughter, Savannah, under the pseudonym Lily Herne. She lives in Cape Town with her family and other animals.

October 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

Introducing AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers anthology

Apex Book of World SF 2 contributor Ivor Hartmann has edited the first anthology of speculative fiction by African writers, AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers. It covers writers from both Africa and the African diaspora. It will be released in December 2012 in an ebook edition first and later a print edition, published by StoryTime. It also includes stories from Apex Book of World SF 2 contributors Tade Thompson and Nnedi Okorafor.

Table of Contents:
  • ‘Moom!’ Nnedi Okorafor
  • ‘Home Affairs’ Sarah Lotz
  • ‘Five Sets of Hands’ Cristy Zinn
  • ‘New Mzansi’ Ashley Jacobs
  • ‘Azania’ Nick Wood
  • ‘Notes from Gethsemane’ Tade Thompson
  • ‘Planet X’ Sally Partridge
  • ‘The Gift of Touch’ Chinelo Onwualu
  • ‘The Foreigner’ Uko Bendi Udo
  • ‘Angel Song’ Dave-Brendon Burgh
  • ‘The Rare Earth’ Biram Mboob
  • ‘Terms & Conditions Apply’ Sally-Ann Murray
  • ‘Heresy’ Mandisi Nkomo
  • ‘Closing Time’ Liam Kruger
  • ‘Masquerade Stories’ Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu
  • ‘The Trial’ Joan De La Haye
  • ‘Brandy City’ Mia Arderne
  • ‘Ofe!’ Rafeeat Aliyu
  • ‘Claws and Savages’ Martin Stokes
  • ‘To Gaze at the Sun’ Clifton Gachagua
  • ‘Proposition 23’ (Novelette) Efe Okogu

October 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 4 Comments

Read Lauren Beukes’ “Branded” From the Apex Book of World SF 2!

Over at io9, we have Lauren Beukes‘s short story, Branded, available to read – one of the 26 stories now available in The Apex Book of World SF 2. Check it out and consider buying the anthology – direct from the publisher or via Amazon or Amazon UK!

We were at Stones, playing pool, drinking, goofing around, maybe hoping to score a little sugar, when Kendra arrived, all moffied up and gloaming like an Aito/329. “Ahoy, Special K, where you been, girl, so juiced to kill?” Tendeka asked while he racked up the balls, all click-clack in their white plastic triangle. Old school this pool bar was. But Kendra didn’t answer. Girl just grinned, reached into her back pocket for her phone, hung skate-rat style off a silver chain connected to her belt, and infra’d five Rand to the table to get tata machance on the next game.

But I was watching the girl and as she slipped her phone back into her pocket, I saw that telltale glow ‘neath her sleeve. Long sleeves in summer didn’t cut it. So, it didn’t surprise me none in the least when K waxed the table. Ten-Ten was surprised though. Ten-Ten slipped his groove. But boy kept it in, didn’t say anything, just infra’d another five to the table and racked ‘em again. Anyone else but Ten woulda racked ‘em hard, woulda slammed those balls on the table, eish. But Ten, Ten went the other way. Just by how careful he was. Precise ‘n clipped like an assembly line. So you could see. – continue reading!

September 14, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now Coming to UK

South African writer (and World SF Blog contributor) Charlie Human has been sitting on this news for a while (and so have we!) but, well, here’s the official announcement:

Charlie’s debut novel APOCALYPSE NOW NOW, plus an untitled follow-up, has sold to Jack Fogg at Century for a very healthy five-figure sum in a deal negotiated by John Berlyne of the Zeno Agency. Century will publish in the UK and Commonwealth (Ex SA) IN SUMMER 2013. South African rights sold in a separate deal to Frederik de Jager at Random House Struik.

A sharp urban fantasy with a uniquely South African twist, APOCALYPSE NOW NOW has been described by fellow SA writer Lauren Beukes (author of the Arthur C. Clarke award winning ZOO CITY) as ‘… mad and dark and irreverent and wonderfully twisted in all the right ways‘. Here’s a taste of what you can expect…

‘Baxter Zevcenko is your average sixteen-year-old-boy — if by average you mean kingpin of a schoolyard porn syndicate and possible serial killer who suffers from surreal  nightmares. Which may very well be what counts as average these days. Baxter is the first to admit that he’s not a nice guy. After all, if the guy below you falls, dragging you down into an icy abyss you have to cut him loose — even in high school.

That is until his girlfriend, Esmé, is kidnapped and Baxter is forced to confront a disturbing fact about himself — that he has a heart, and the damn thing is forcing him to abandon high-school politics and set out on a quest to find her. The clues point to supernatural forces at work and Baxter is must admit that he can’t do it alone. Enter Jackie Ronin, supernatural bounty hunter, Border War veteran, and all-round lunatic, who takes him on a chaotic tour of Cape Town’s sweaty, occult underbelly.

What do glowing men, transsexual African valkyries, and zombie-creating arachnids have to do with Esmé’s disappearance? That’s what Baxter really, really needs to find out.’

John Berlyne said ‘When this one landed in my in-box I knew immediately that it was something special. It’s sly, iconoclastic, off-the-wall and full of the kind of energy that I hunger for in my reading. It’s also extremely well written – the kind of book that reads effortlessly. I’m very pleased indeed that Century – who’ve had such a success with Ernest Cline’s superb READY PLAYER ONE – will be publishing.’

Jack Fogg said ‘APOCALYPSE NOW NOW is one of those rare, generous novels which goes to incredible lengths to entertain the reader. I haven’t laughed so hard or flat out enjoyed a ride more in a very long time. Charlie is a fantastic writer, at the forefront of the nascent speculative fiction scene in South Africa, and I feel incredibly privileged to be publishing his unique novels.’

Charlie Human is a writer from Cape Town, South Africa. His short story, The Immaculate Particle, appeared in Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse, and Land of the Blind was printed in the UK version of ZOO CITY  by Lauren Beukes. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town.

Charlie’s story, Dance Dance Revolution, was published on the World SF Blog in 2011.

May 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

Five Continent Reading in Second Life

Michael Iwoleit got in touch recently to tell us of an incredibly cool thing he’s organising – a virtual book reading in the world of Second Life, by 5 science fiction authors each from a different continent!

Michael writes:

On May 5th an event will take place in Thorsten Küper’s and Kirsten Riehl’s steampunk location Kafé Kruemelkram that may be unique in the history of the 3d Internet world Second Life: Five science fiction writers from five continents, all writing in English, will read from their works live. The invited writers are:

For Asia: Guy Hasson (Israel)
For Africa: Jonathan Elorm Dotse (Ghana)
For Europe: Michael K. Iwoleit (Germany)
For South America: Gustavo Bondoni (Argentina)
For North America: Ahmed A. Khan (Canada)

For further information please refer to Michael K. Iwoleit’s homepage (iwoleit.wordpress.com – in English) or Thorsten Küper’s blog (kueperpunk.blogspot.de – in German).

April 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

2011 South African SF/F in Review

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:

http://nnedi.blogspot.com/2011/12/lovecrafts-racism-world-fantasy-award.html

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…

March 12, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Maurice Broaddus interviews Ekaterina Sedia

Maurice Broaddus interviews Apex Book of World SF 2 contributor Ekaterina Sedia (author of the fantastic The Secret History of Moscow and the recent The House of Discarded Dreams):

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!

February 16, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Monday Original Content: Interview with South African Author Tom Learmont

Nick Wood in conversation with South African author Tom Learmont.

Interview with Tom Learmont – 14th November 2011; in a nondescript pub, Mill Hill, London, by Nick Wood

I picked Tom Learmont up from Finchley Central tube station in North London and we made our way to a nearby pub for a conversation. Tom asked if this was my ‘local’ and I professed to not yet culturally assimilating into Britain, even after 13 years — the pub had been chosen purely for convenience’s sake — and was empty, bar a couple of people and a pile of discarded bottles! It must have seemed like a far-cry indeed from the reported vibrancy of his more familiar drinking space, the Radium Beer Hall in Johannesburg: http://www.theradium.co.za/

In good spirit though, Tom did not let the dullness of our surroundings phase him and we passed the time in lively conversation, while he nursed a pint of the local bitter. Tom spoke initially of the immediate inspiration for Light Across Time — he’d been gripped by Philip Jose Farmer’s book Tarzan Alive, which uses a biographical and scientific approach to transfer the legend of Tarzan into the realm of apparent credibility. Tom himself had a freewheeling range of ideas linking evolution and the geology of ‘weird events’ — such as strange lights and reported alien visitations — into a scientific narrative, providing the dramatic backdrop for a love story.

Woven into the narrative of Tom’s book Light Across Time are several detailed and seemingly first person accounts of historical locations — the first being Calais in the 1530s. I asked him how he had researched the accounts, as the level of close detail did indeed suggest first hand experience. He reported having bought a book concerning the ‘Lyell papers’, a first hand account of the times by Lord Lyell, for ten rand (less than a UK pound, little more than a US dollar) from Pick ‘n Pay (a South African super-market chain.)

Tom then went on to recount how the major scenes in the book had been written while on location, to try to ensure a more detailed sense of veracity, at such places as the Cradle of Humankind at Maropeng in South Africa. Some of the events were also based on ‘real’ experiences — Tom expressed some disdain for enforced novel writing blitzes inherent in such approaches as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), as he is concerned these may end up with lots of words, but words somewhat decoupled from their underpinning experiences.

When asked about writing influences, Tom indicated Nabokov was a revered figure — so much so, that he was put beyond emulation — and a Nabokovian work forms a reference point in his book Light Across Time. Other listed SF/F influences are James Blish, Brian Aldiss, Theodore Sturgeon, Walter M. Miller and Barrington J. Bayley. More recent writers of influence cited were Adam Roberts, M. John Harrison, John Courtenay Grimwood, and Iain M. Banks. Echoing that last writer, there is a hint of Scottish brogue in Tom’s Southern African accent — a journalist by trade, he was educated in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and Scotland.

Tom has written one earlier book — composed back during the days of Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Britain, under Ian Smith’s white government — which is  entitled After the Eclipse. The book was published by Discobolus under Tom’s pseudonymous surname Rymour, perhaps an echo of one his literary personas, Thomas the Rhymer, whom he calls a ‘putative ancestor’. After the Eclipse won the Sanlam Literary Prize in South Africa in 1998 and is a satire, inverting not only race but behaviour and custom, in a ‘futuristic’ Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, as told through a ‘spirit medium’ — Tom himself described the book as an (African) ‘Swiftian cacotopia’.

He thought the book’s initial success promised a career launch into fiction writing and became somewhat disillusioned when this did not materialize, but realized he would need to persevere — and so he has, with the publication of Light Across Time by Kwela Books in South Africa this year (2011). The book has met with polarized responses — Tom interprets this as indicative it is on the ‘cutting edge.’ (One of his admirers is the South African novelist and poet Christopher Hope.)

When asked about African perspectives in science and speculative fiction, he said Africa has a rich tradition of the fantastic and he has no doubt more rich fantasy work — ‘whether you call it fantasy or magical realism’ — will emerge from Africa, to accompany such works as Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City.

Currently Tom is living and working in Johannesburg and has written a set of interconnected short stories with different voices, spanning time but linked in theme, which he is calling ‘Radium Tales’  — all of them resonating from his beloved Radium Beer Hall in Jozi/Joburg. (More details can be found on his website: http://tomlearmont.com/ )

When I dropped Tom back at the Finchley Central tube, against a dreary and early darkening sky, I thought of how much he probably longed for the warmth, colour and vibrancy of his own ‘local’. I wait to see what rich tales will emerge from what he calls ‘the navel of Africa’.

December 12, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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