[Note: you may have noticed the site is currently in shut-down mode. However I'm in some early talks about a possible hand-over. In the meantime...]
I’ve been following with some interest the recent brouhaha (don’t you just love that word?) around the SFWA (there’s a round-up of links here).
I was struck by a couple of tangential comments, however, neither of which is directly related. One of them was sent to me privately, an excerpt from a conversation on the SFWA boards, in which a member said:
“SFWA is supposed to be an organization of those who write and publish science fiction in America.”
The other two comments came from Twitter:
“If SFWA tried to be a truly global Association instead of a US-centric one, it could more easily address other biases too.”
“Luckily, being South African, I never saw any point to joining the SFWA.”
And that’s the thing. I probably qualified for SFWA membership years ago (it only takes the sale of three stories, really), but I’ve never felt, perhaps, that I had a place in what is, after all, the science fiction writers of America. Now, I am published in the United States. In fact, in the sort of global world we live in, I’d argue that it’s impossible to distinguish necessarily – in work terms – between an American and a non-American writer. Of course, some writers publish predominantly in one country and not the other. Many British writers are more successful in the UK, but I can hardly point to a single author never having business dealings with someone in the United States. The United States is the primary market for anyone – short story writer, editor, novelist – working in the field today.
Ironically, for a time the SFWA web site was relying on our own Charles Tan (from the Philippines) to provide much of its original content.
Now, it may sound like semantics, but there’s a wider issue here, I think. For me as an outside observer, the SFWA has improved a lot in recent years. After some frankly bizarre incidents and people associated with it (remember a president addressing people with “greetings, gentlebeings”? Or a former president currently taking to the Internet to explain the inherent differences between men and women which make sexism ok?) I felt the SFWA took grip of itself with John Scalzi as president, and moreover, after having people run things who no one has ever heard of, it’s nice when the organisation has an actual working writer at the helm (first Scalzi, and with Steven Gould is just coming into the job).
What the SFWA doesn’t have, however, is any sort of commitment to diversity or any seeming awareness of the global nature of publishing today. I mean commitment to diversity as a stated goal of an organisation, and I mean a global awareness in the sense that today’s working writers come from many places, only one of which is the United States itself, and that the issues facing authors are increasingly those from multinational corporations and publishing houses that are not bound by one narrow geographical area.
What it is, I think, is that I don’t just want to be eligible to join the SFWA. I want to be made welcome by the SFWA. If that makes sense. (and I don’t mean me myself, exactly. I’ve never been comfortable with membership in any organisation, though I’ve always been half-tempted to join the Israeli Transformers Appreciation Society (pop: 3 members)). I mean the people that, in a way, this blog represents. Some of our contributors are members of SFWA, others aspire to, others probably want nothing to do with it.
What is, after all, the purpose of an organisation like this? Is it to host occasional parties or hand out awards? Is it to fund emergency medical help for American writers living under a system of no social healthcare? Is it to offer business advice? At the moment, it seems half or more of the organisation’s budget goes on publishing a rather odd print journal (and we can see how that has turned out).
Imagine a different SFWA. One that has commitment to diversity in its masthead. One open to and welcoming international writers, doing things like the very World SF Travel Fund we have been running here. One that says, you know, American writers? They’re only a part of the world of genre fiction today. Imagine the budget going not on an obscure print magazine but an up-to-date web site, an organisation that frowns on editors putting together anthologies with a narrow focus that excludes international writers (who are, frankly, some of the most exciting voices working today in the field).
That same SFWA member in the forums also said:
This doesn’t look a lot like the organization I was invited to join back in the early 70’s.
To which I can only say, Thank God for that! We don’t live in the 1970s any more. The year is 2013, there’s a global communication network surrounding the world, publishing is owned by two major corporations neither of which is US-based, and if science fiction is the literature of change, then it must embrace that change.
And this goes beyond a couple of old farts making fools of themselves in a magazine no one reads. It is an institutional bias that proves almost impossible to remove.
So… consider this one more conversational point in the current debate. It’s not a call to arms, it’s not a call to quit, or join, the SFWA, it’s certainly not a call to “help change things from within” or, for that matter, from without. Hopefully, it’s a different take, from the bias of this blog, on how the Science Fiction Writers of America is perceived by some of us who are not under that national qualification.
And to go back to this blog, briefly, it has been tremendously gratifying to see it evolve, get some minor recognition, maybe even help change a few things, here and there – but it is also frustrating to be making the same argument, over and over, for the past four years – not just in blog posts but in person, in conversation, or in other public forums – and most of the time to people who nod politely without quite hearing you. To those of us fighting to be heard, and fighting for recognition, it’s an up-hill battle all the way, and I wish it wasn’t – not for myself but for all those writers this blog is here to champion.
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.
The Best Fan Writer category of the Hugo Award is one of the odder – and historically irrelevant – categories of the Hugo Award, there to recognise people who write about SF in a non-professional capacity (It is “given each year for writers of works related to science fiction or fantasy which appeared in low- or non-paying publications such as semiprozines or fanzines”). I say it’s historically irrelevant since the same person won it for 21 times – it’s a bit like China Mieville winning Best Novel every single year for two decades.
But in the past few years the category became somewhat more interesting, with Cheryl Morgan winning in 2009, John Scalzi the year before her, and at the moment it seems like a new field. Worth highlighting, perhaps?
Last year’s winner, American writer Jim C. Hines, has recently posted his recommendations for the award shortlist for this year. Disappointingly, but not perhaps surprisingly, his list is composed entirely of American writers, and I thought it might be interesting to propose a list of some non-Anglophone writers who, I believe, add significantly to the global discussion of science fiction today.
Charles Tan, Philippines
Charles Tan is perhaps the hardest-working fan in the world. I’ve lost count of the places he contributes to, his own blog is always fascinating, and the World SF Blog would not be the same without his help. Charles has twice been nominated for a World Fantasy Award for his work, but never for a Hugo. I’d love to see him on the list – I can’t think of anyone more deserving of some recognition.
Abigail Nussbaum, Israel
Nussbaum blogs at Asking the Wrong Questions, with some of the most in-depth look at genre TV, film and novels of anyone writing today. In her spare time she edits the review section of Strange Horizons. She has come close in the past to making it onto the shortlist – perhaps this year she could break through?
Jaymee Goh, Malaysia
Goh blogs about steampunk and post-colonialism at Silver Goggles. She is one of the most insightful writers into the intersectionality of genre fiction, post-colonial theory and its often problematic handling of race and gender.
Jonathan Dotse, Ghana
Jonathan has been making waves since beginning his Afro Cyberpunk blog, with exposure in Wired and elsewhere. Writing about Cyberpunk and genre fiction from an African perspective, it is an important new voice in the global discourse on science fiction today.
Requires Hate, Thailand
Probably the most divisive name on this list, gathering around her as many fans as she does outraged voices, this is a writer who pulls no punches, uses inflammatory rhetoric and says things many people simply don’t want to hear. As Sean Wallace recently commented, “While a lot of what she says is uncomfortable, it probably needs to be said,” and I would add that I think hers is perhaps the most important critical voice in science fiction today. I doubt we would ever see her on the list, but SF fandom could do worse than take that step.
Athena Andreadis (Greece) blogs often and eruditely on all matters relating to SF; So does Aliette de Bodard (France), who was already up for a Hugo for her fiction; and Aishwarya Subramanian (India) is a voice to seek. There are many others, and we’d love to see some recommendations from you in the comments. What do you think?
The following article by Charles Tan is reprinted from Apex Magazine. It was published in the pre-order edition of The Apex Book of World SF 2. The trade edition is out now – it is available direct from the publisher, through Amazon and Amazon UK, and or Kindle (US - UK).
World SF: Our Possible Future
By Charles Tan
For some, the fact that you are reading this on a screen is amazing. For me, however, what’s impressive is that you could be from any part of the world: London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Perth, Cape Town, etc, and you’re reading this now, not several months—or years—later. Welcome to publishing in the 21st century where, theoretically, everyone in the world has access to what you write.
This sounds like the premise of a science fictional—or fantastical—story. So why aren’t we living in a publishing utopia? As ideal as the scenario might sound, there are still borders that aren’t limited to geography. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, and writing to you in English is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A lot of cultural nuances are lost, and, perhaps, in an ideal world, I would not necessarily have chosen English as my primary language. But, as far as practicality is concerned, English is prominent in a lot of countries—thus reaching a wider audience—and I’ll most likely get paid more for writing in English.
Which brings me to World SF. This might sound strange coming from someone who’s been promoting World SF, but the term is problematic. Whenever I talk about the subject, I need disclaimers. And that’s one example of the borders I’m talking about, at how language is sometimes inadequate to convey everything that I want to say.
Why World SF is Problematic
The first constraint is to define what World SF is. I won’t even touch the “SF” part—arguments for and against genre borders have been a never-ending debate, whether the discussion took place two decades ago or takes place half a century from now. And in many ways, that’s the brilliance of editor Lavie Tidhar, who chose the title The Apex Book of World SF for his initial anthology: he didn’t have to define what SF stood for, whether it’s science fiction, speculative fiction, or something else. Nor, I think, should an anthology (or magazine, in this case) featuring fiction from all over the world be limited by such constraints. Terms like magic realism, speculative fiction or even fantasy can offend, especially when we act like tourists of another nation’s culture. And while we might easily shrug off the difference between fantasy, fantastique, and the fantastika, the nuances between those terms can be as wide and dangerous as the journey from the Shire to Mordor.
No, let’s talk about the first part of the term: world. What does it mean to be part of the world? Strictly speaking, isn’t every SF story part of World SF? How can one not be part of the world? By writing your story in space?
What we mean by World SF is something closer to International SF—beyond your nation, beyond your borders. But that in itself is problematic, because that implies a reference point. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that reference point is the US.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the US is not the only source of SF in the world. There’s Russia, China, Japan, Croatia, Romania, France, India, Africa, etc. But a lot of SF that we read is either set in the West, based on Western cosmology and belief, or written by Western authors (to say nothing of the inherent patriarchy, colonialism, and racism of such narratives). In the case of my childhood, despite having a rich—albeit seemingly invisible—tradition of SF in the Philippines, most of the SF I’ve read is from the US, and the bookshelves of local bookstores reflect this. Ask any Filipino SF fan: they can name you a lot of Western SF authors but will be hard-pressed to name a local SF author, a phenomenon not limited to the Philippines. If we’re just talking about the zeitgeist, a lot of cultures are Western-centric (for good or for ill) when that doesn’t have to be the case, especially when there’s a rich—and different—tradition of SF radically different from what Western readers are used to.
It’s not that people haven’t tried. But if you look at the SF works from other countries that have been translated into English, compared to SF works in English that have been translated into other languages, there’s a large disproportion in favor of the latter. Which can get quite ridiculous considering the US is just one country.
So there’s clearly a need to drift away from US SF—no offense to US writers (and I still read your books!)—and to highlight fiction from the rest of the world. Yet at the same time, because US readers hold a significant influence; we need to win them over as well. Right now, a lot of us are literate in English. This issue is being published by an American company. A lot of the books being sold in our bookstores are imports from the US.
And then there’s the gray area of Canada, the UK, and Australia. On one hand, they have more exporting capability compared to a country like Singapore or the Philippines, even when English is mutually their first language. But on the other hand, awareness and accessiblity to their literature isn’t automatically assured, and their fiction can be obscure. It’s an unfair generalization to group them as part of the US, but they clearly have a better advantage than most third-world countries.
Which brings me to the second problem: if World SF excludes the US, then how do we define who writes World SF? The term is malleable, open to interpretation, and will mean different things to different people. For example, let’s determine that for a work to be considered World SF, it needs to be written by an author that’s not American. Does that mean by nationality? Ethnicity? Do we do percentages of heredity? What happens if an American author moves to another country? Or the children of foreigners who migrate to the US? Do we strive for a more inclusive policy, or an exclusive one?
It’s not a question that can easily be answered. Nor should it be. It ignores plurality. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, a Filipino citizen born to pure-blooded Chinese parents. Don’t make me choose between being Filipino or being Chinese. I’m a product of both worlds and if I were to simply pick one over the other, I’d feel completely alien. You can’t isolate and excise the parts of me that are Filipino from the parts that are Chinese. If I hypothetically migrate to another country, that creates a new dynamic. My children will similarly have an entirely different paradigm compared to mine.
The third problem is that no one is an expert on World SF. It’s hard enough to keep track of all things SF in the Philippines (and I’m not necessarily succeeding). Or the US. Or—insert country here. How much harder would it be to keep track of the whole world, which implies hundreds of countries? And then we go back to plurality: no culture or race is a monolithic entity. There will be opinions, debates, even schisms within a particular community: just because I find a particular story to be very Filipino doesn’t necessarily mean another Filipino will find the same value in it, for example.
Although no one can be an expert in World SF, we shouldn’t stop trying. Perhaps, after reading this issue, or a copy of the The Apex Book of World SF, you think that you’ve fulfilled your quota of SF beyond the US. But no. Neither this magazine nor Tidhar’s anthologies are a comprehensive (or even holistic) summary of the World SF scene. If you gave us half a million words to work with, it still wouldn’t be enough. Heck, it’s not even enough to comprehensively tackle the literature of a single nation. Instead, they are biased snapshots, which will hopefully pique your curiosity. This should be the beginning of discovering what World SF truly means, rather than the final word on it. So don’t be surprised if I’m wrong when it comes to a lot of things.
There’s a certain comfort when you’re asked about SF from other countries. If you mention Serbia, I can name Zoran Živković. South Africa, Lauren Beukes. France, Aliette de Bodard. Finland, Johanna Sinisalo. But that’s actually false relief. For example, what else do I know about Serbian SF aside from Živković? It’s easy to jump to conclusions based on the works of a few writers, but just as no single author encapsulates all of American SF, there’s no single author—or even a set of writers—that fully encapsulates the SF field of any country.
Awards and Recognition
There’s no perfect system to gauge or determine acceptance—except perhaps being an actual best-seller, selling in the hundreds of thousands—but awards give the impression of recognition, by the voting jury at least. So awards are important.
It would be remiss of me not to mention what is perhaps the most important award when it comes to World SF: the relatively new Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards. One of the most difficult processes in propagating World SF, whether financially or logistically, is translation. For such an award to exist is a great boon, and their agenda similarly reminds me of one of our shortcomings: recognizing translators. Just approach your typical SF fan and they’d (and by they, I include myself) be hard-pressed to name a translator who works in the genre specifically, unless the translator is a prominent author to begin with, such as Ursula K. Le Guin or Ken Liu.
In 2011, the Translation Awards winners for long form and short form were A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin, and Elegy for a Young Elk, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi, respectively. Honourable mentions went to The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland, and Wagtail, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho. The special award went to Brian Stableford.
One of Lavie Tidhar’s frequent complaints is that the World Fantasy Awards is a misnomer, for while there’s the occasional nominee or two that’s not from the US, it’s mostly a very Western-centric award. However, last year’s nominees, at least for the novel category, were impressive: Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, N.K. Jemisin, Graham Joyce, Guy Gabriel Kay, and Karen Lord were the nominees, with Okorafor winning the award for Who Fears Death. Angélica Gorodischer was the lifetime achievement winner, while Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press won the special award in the non-professional category. I hope to see this trend continue.
There’s also the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which Dubravka Ugresic won in 2010 for Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.
The Future of World SF
I honestly don’t know where World SF is headed, or if our efforts to spread awareness will succeed. But I’m cautiously optimistic about the field. Half a decade ago, for example, who would have thought there would be a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, an imprint dedicated to translating Japanese fiction into English, or a second—much less a first—anthology dedicated to featuring SF from around the world? While there have been a few such anthologies in the past, there have been none this century and, previously, such efforts were by American or British editors who did not themselves represent World SF as we have attempted to define it.
Who would have thought readers would be interested to hear what I have to say? I’m not from America. I’m not white. I’m not famous.
That’s not to say all is well. The status quo is still against a global SF field. But change is coming and, hopefully, it swings in our favour. There’re a lot of voices that haven’t been heard; it’s not because authors aren’t writing.
We tend not to run negative stories at the World SF Blog, focusing mostly on trying to bring to people’s attention all the cool things being written and done around the world in SF/F (and horror, and comics, and genre films). But this has been going on the blogosphere for a while, starting with a review of the Requires That You Hate blog of author R. Scott Bakker. The blog, run by a Thai fan, has come under extraordinary attack. Here she summarises some of it:
You will have heard of the Bakker brouhaha, if you are here. Let’s have a chronology:
- Requires Only That You Hate – R. Scott Bakker: Prince of Misogyny – dated 16 August 2011
- R. Scott Bakker – Sweet Manna – dated 16 August 2011
- R. Scott Bakker – Misanthropology 101 – dated 1 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – Requires Only Haidt – dated 6 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – The Halftime Show – dated 10 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – That Empty Place – dated 16 February 2012
- Peter Watts – In Vicarious Defense of R. Scott Bakker – dated 16 February 2012
- R. Scott Bakker – Um, does anybody got a mint? – dated 18 February 2012
You may be thinking I’ve willfully obscured something. Surely, surely no grown adult man could go on about that one post from August 2011… six months later? Surely not? I must have consistently attacked him! Blogged about him! Many times! Perhaps I may even have personally harassed him! Such is the way of bitchy, angry feminists: we hound offensive men to the end of the earth. So much so that their sales figures suffer and their family goes poor. (For your perusal and pleasure, try this bit of flash fiction by Elodie.)
Alas, no. I made but that one post. Ever after any mention of Bakker on this blog has been peripheral, because I didn’t care about him all that much, and wouldn’t especially want to read his books. But there it is: Bakker stewed over this, apparently, for six entire months. Peter Watts, who is a magical friend of Bakker’s, proceeded to call me “a rabid animal.” Something which even a person who finds me “toxic” recognizes as a loaded term. Not that Peter Watts would admit there’s any problem with him saying that because even if I’d been a fellow nerdy white boy he’d have called me the same, though even after having been told I’m a woman of color it did not stop him from graduating to “foul, rabid animal” which tells you all you need to know. You can go through the rest of that exchange, but I’m more interested in the larger picture of this. Which is: why is it that these people are so deathly afraid of being called sexist, racist, or any such thing… to that froth-at-the-mouth point where they go on to compound the offense by actively being sexist or racist?
In opposition, here are two other writers – Mark Charan Newton writes about Things He Got Wrong, while he and Jesse Bullington have a measured, fascinating conversation about the pitfalls of writing about race and gender. They are a masterclass in how to address the issues with humility and consideration. Here is Bullington:
I went through a similar sort of Palomarian lizard-gazing with my last novel, as I knew from inception I wanted an African woman protagonist. That I figured out early on that she was also going to be a lesbian didn’t exactly make the process any less fraught with doubts over whether or not I was shitting the bed at any given point in the story. Now that the book is the better part of a year out in the wild, I’m quite a bit more confident in my work–not because I think I did such a great job and aren’t I just the awesomest for writing about GBLT PoC, but because I know I did the very best that I could, and I thought very, very carefully about what I was doing. Which, dahoy, is what we should be doing as writers any way, all the time, but I imagine for some authors who shall remain nameless, potentially difficult subjects are an afterthought rather than a starting point.
That said, I know from an amazon review of Enterprise that for at least one reader who identified as a woman of color I did an awful, offensive job of it, which is about the worst feeling in the world. Compounding matters, the particulars that she took issue with were all things I did intentionally to subvert racial stereotypes–rather than being a tall, light-skinned, “exotically” hawt sex-interest for a white dude, my protagonist Awa is short, very dark-skinned, uninterested in men, and not exactly attractive to the white, European characters she encounters.
For this reader, however, rather than it being refreshing to see a black protagonist who didn’t fit into the popular genre parameters for women of color, it was odious–she thought I was objectively implying darker-skinned Africans are less attractive than lighter-skinned individuals, when I was actively trying to recreate the cultural climate of Renaissance Europe–a climate with standards of beauty that are all-too easily mirrored in our own problematic times (then there’s my general antipathy to the idea that protagonists have to be physically beautiful…). Furthermore, Awa’s being a lesbian was seen, I gather, as my relegating her to a non-sexual “mammy role” for the novel’s white male protagonist, rather than an attempt on my part to actively portray a lesbian that didn’t exist solely to titillate straight male readers.
It wasn’t my intention to offend, and the source of the offense was in the (attempted) service of writing something that played against stereotypes of what a black heroine could be…but that doesn’t invalidate said reader’s emotional reaction to what I wrote. The bottom line is I’ll never be able to undo the hurt that I caused her, however inadvertently, which, yeah, is a shitty feeling,
and one that I have to own–and acknowledge that my having my widdle progressive author feelings hurt is a good deal less sucky than encountering awful stereotypes about yourself on the page, the screen, etc. on a regular basis.
In contrast to that, here is a rather extraordinary post from Patrick Rothfuss, adding to the whole sense that we’ve somehow entered the silly month in sci fi, on that geek girl from school, who became a porn star. Because, you know, that’s what happens to geek girls.
You know that it’s going to be like? It’s going to be like wandering onto an internet porn site and seeing a video of a girl I had a crush on in high school. You probably knew someone like her. The smart girl. The shy girl. The one who wore glasses and was a little socially awkward. The one who screwed up the curve in chemistry so you got an A- instead of an A.
She was a geek girl before anybody knew what a geek girl was. And that was kinda awesome, because you were a geek boy before being a geek was culturally acceptable.
You liked her because she was funny. And she was smart. And you could actually talk to her. And she read books.
And sure, she was girl-shaped, and that was cool. And she was cute, in an understated, freckly way. And sometimes you’d stare at her breasts when you were supposed to be paying attention in biology. But you were 16. You stared at everyone’s breasts back then.
And yeah, you had some fantasies about her, because, again, you were 16. But they were fairly modest fantasies about making out in the back of a car. Maybe you’d get to second base. Maybe you could steal third if you were lucky.
And maybe, just maybe, something delightful and terrifying might happen. And yeah, it would probably be awkward and fumbling at times, but that’s okay because she’d be doing half the fumbling too. Because the only experience either one of you had was from books. And afterwards, if you make a Star Wars joke, you know she’ll get it, and she’ll laugh….
That’s the girl you fell in love with in high school. You didn’t have a crush on her because she was some simmering pool of molten sex. You loved her because she was subtle and sweet and smart and special.
So you stroll onto this porn site, and there she is. Except now she’s wearing a thong and a black leather halter top. She’s wearing fuck-me red lipstick and a lot of dark eye makeup. Her breasts are amazing now, proud and perfectly round.
Someone’s taught her to dance, and she does it well. She’s flexible and tan. She has a flat midriff and walks like a high-class Vegas stripper. Her eyes are dark and smouldering. She has a riding crop, and she likes to be tied up, and her too-red mouth forms a perfect circle as she sighs and moans, and tosses her head in a performance designed to win any number of academy awards….
And what’s the problem with this? Well… in some ways, nothing. What you’ve found is perfectly good porn. Maybe even great porn.
But in other ways the problem is blindingly obvious. This girl has nothing in common with your high-school crush except for her social security number. Everything you loved about her is gone.
We loved the sweet, shy, freckly girl. We still remember her name, and after all these years she lives close to our heart. Seeing her in lipstick and stiletto heels dancing on a pole is like watching Winnie the Pooh do heroin and then glass someone in a bar fight.
It just isn’t something that I look forward to seeing….
It also has the added benefit of being quite offensive to actual geek pornstars (Sasha Grey, for instance, is a well-known gamer). What do we learn from this? That geek girls are “rabid animals”? Or that they’re lifeless porn stars who rob men of their innocent childhood crushes? All we know is, we would have preferred to run a different story altogether but that, somehow, one simply can’t ignore the silly things some writers say…
Comments, as always, welcome – we’ll be back to regular service tomorrow with some cool stuff from Russian fandom.
Judges have been announced for the World Fantasy Award 2012. I’ve written about the WFA in 2009 – Where is the World in the World Fantasy Award? – so I won’t reiterate what I wrote there, only note that, like last year, the jury has one token non-Anglophone member. Last year, it was Sacha Mamczak from Germany. This year it is Jacques Post from the Netherlands. In 2009 it was Jürgen Snoeren, also from the Netherlands. In 2008, there wasn’t even a token – it was 4 Americans and an Australian.
This is notable particularly in view of last year’s international line-up of nominees, culminating in the first black woman ever given a WFA (Nnedi Okorafor for best novel), and seeing several international figures – including French publishers Stéphane Marsan and Alain Névant, of Bragelonne in France, Karen Lord from Barbados, and Charles Tan from the Philippines – nominated in various categories (though it is worth noting none of them won).
I don’t want to rail at the award. I’ve argued for a more international jury in the past, but I am not the awards administrator and my influence is – surprise! – limited.
So this year, I want to try something different.
The judges for the WFA have to wade through an enormous amount of material. That that material is exclusively in the English language comes as no surprise, but still. I would like to see 2012 being truly representative of the best that international fantasy has to offer.
I would also like to see the Special Award (Professional and Non-Professional categories) being representative of the international scene.
We can help make this happen.
So here’s your mission – should you choose to accept it!
Tell us, in the comments, who you would like to see shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Best Novel? Best Short Story? Special Award?
We’ll put together your recommendations into a list and post it. And let’s all hope for a year where the World Fantasy Award reflects that first word in its title.
[Note on criteria: this should be for works published during 2011]
Today on the WSB, Marcus Rauchfuss of Germany writes for us about his plans for a European Steampunk Convention.
ESC – The European Steampunk Convention
By Marcus Rauchfuss
Some weeks ago, I was twittering with Lavie and he suggested that what Europe needed was a big steampunk convention. Thus, the idea for ESC – The European Steampunk Convention was born.
The steampunk scene is active in Europe, more precisely, there are local, regional and in some cases country-wide scene active, but what we lack is something connecting us all. The European Steampunk Convention is there to change this. It will provide a means to bring all the steampunks in Europe together.
How it will happen:
Europe is a big and unfortunately politically divided place. It is not always easy or cheap to travel to another country; thus, we are choosing a different approach:
We are bringing the convention to you.
The date for the European Steampunk Convention will be September 29th – 30th 2012. There will be several events all across Europe. One major event will be The Second Steampunk and Gaslight Convention in Luxembourg. If all goes as planned, there will also be one or several things happening in Spain, France, Germany, Croatia, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Russia.
We are going to stream all these events into the internet so you can join in wherever you are. There will also be bands playing at some locations and we have planned for streaming the concerts, provided we can afford it.
So, all you need is internet access and ideally a webcam. There will be a virtual meeting place for all of us on the internet where we can connect. Of course it is more fun if you are surrounded by friends, but if you are the sole steampunk in your region, you can join us online!
What you can do:
If you can contribute, if you are a musician, a DJ, a technician, if you know, own or have access to a great location, get in touch.
Also, if you can provide mobile internet equipment, your assistance will be much appreciated. We are also obviously happy if people are willing to donate some funds, since thus far, the money is coming from our savings. The European Steampunk Convention will not be a commerical thing. And concerning this matter: If you know any reliable crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter which also accepts non-American projects, let us know. We cannot have our eyes everywhere.
And of course: You can spread the word!
Let us work together and create the first European Steampunk Convention!
How to get in touch:
You can find us on Facebook (LINK: http://www.facebook.com/pages/EuroSteamCon/187444791332522) and on our official site at http://eurosteamcon.com
The past few days, I’ve been working with Jason, the hard-working publisher behind The Apex Book of World SF, on the second volume of the anthology series. We’re at the layout and formatting and cover art stage, and…
I found out a curious thing.
The Apex Book of World SF 2 includes stories from all around the world, and as editor I tried to take a particular focus on African and South/Latin American fiction. I was lucky enough to get stories from Cuba and Mexico and Brazil, and from South Africa and Malawi and Nigeria – and it occurred to me that I very much wanted that reflected in the cover art.
We tend, for budgetary reasons, to search for an existing piece of art – on places like DeviantArt and others – rather than commission an original piece, and I figured it surely can’t be very hard to find what I needed.
I was wrong.
I wanted either African or South American science fiction art. The first volume featured a futuristic Asian city on the cover. I thought I’d quite like some sort of African SF cover this time. I wanted, to put it somewhat bluntly, black faces on the cover.
It is, of course, quite possible I am doing something wrong. But my experience so far has been that science fiction art features almost no black faces, that in fact the vast majority shows white people, and aliens.
Well, we all know who the aliens are.
There are exceptions, of course. And people have been pointing them out to me – rather pointlessly, as it happens, since I was already aware of them – the great covers done by Angry Robot Books, for instance, for Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City or Maurice Broaddus’ King Maker, or Apex’s own cover for Chesya Burke’s new collection, Let’s Play White (you need this book!). Or the cover of Cherie Priest’s Clementine. The March 2011 issue of Lightspeed Magazine, with a rare Latino face on the cover.
The point was these covers were a) specially commissioned and b) were the exception – the very notable exception – rather than the rule.
Where is the sci fi art with black astronauts, with African futuristic cities, am I just looking in the wrong place?
To paraphrase The Sixth Sense – I see white people, all the time.
So, this editorial, this post, is an appeal. Help us find the art we’re looking for. This is, to me, more than about finding a cover for the next Apex Book of World SF, now. It’s about finding this art, period. But, of course, we’re specifically looking for cover art for the next anthology.
So, send us your recs. Send us links. Send us art. Post comments here or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to do a piece especially for us, we can talk, but as I said we have a small budget and we really, really want to open this up to as many people as possible. In short, rather than commission one cover, we’d like to see a lot of covers.
Give us examples of recent covers you liked! And we’ll post them here during the coming days.
And spread the word. Let’s talk about this. Most importantly – let’s see some cool skiffi art!
On Japanese SF
By Nick Mamatas
In Issui Ogawa’s The Next Continent, the “war on terror” is a political afterthought thanks to an American retreat from the Middle East; Japanese businesspeople see themselves as a counterweight to Western globalization; and engineers can do anything from building undersea vacation spots to constructing a wedding chapel on the moon. Environmental problems have been solved or mitigated, capitalists aren’t all ruthless, and the state is neither utterly incompetent nor a single piece of legislation away from tyranny. Societies that work are a radical vision in today’s Western science fiction, but they’re refreshingly common in Japan.
Japanese science fiction has any number of futures to choose from. In the world of Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, private property is so valued that a vending machine in a hotel hallway is given precedence over a human life. In Chōhei Kambayashi’s Yukikaze series, the fighter pilot hero is out solely for himself in his war against the alien JAM. His motto isn’t “Death before dishonor,” it’s “Not my problem.” In Jyouji Hayashi’s The Ouroboros Wave both individualism and strict hierarchies have been supplanted by a kind of corporate mutualism. Though we can talk about the typical themes and plots of Japanese SF, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no single Japanese future, no ubiquitous theme.
I am often asked what differentiates Japanese SF from its Western parent. Frankly, with a few name changes, in many cases there is no difference at all. Japanese SF authors grew up reading US and UK SF and have fully embraced the idiom. But some traits stand out.
Japanese SF often builds scenes in ways that are reminiscent of the manga panel as opposed to the motion picture. So flashbacks operate a bit differently, comical characters appear in otherwise serious scenes, and conversations don’t necessarily happen in what a Western reader would perceive as “real time.” Backgrounds are often sketched out in the boldest of strokes—the famous professor, the dying sun! On the other hand, scenes will always be given as many pages as they need to complete the story, which is suggestive of the serial nature of both manga and the Japanese bunkoban paperback.
Japanese SF is far more likely to feature a teenage girl as a protagonist than Western SF.
Japanese hard SF doesn’t foreground the “hard SF attitude” described by Kathryn Cramer as “a love of hardware for its own sake—and the hard-nosed Ayn Rand voice that we now identify as libertarian.” Though this isn’t to say that stories with a libertarian theme are unknown; Project Itoh’s Harmony, a Utopian satire about universal healthcare, certainly qualifies.
Japanese SF tends to be short. Most of the longer books we’ve published via Haikasoru were available as two, or even three, volumes in Japan. These volumes are released serially—sometimes a month apart, and occasionally even a week apart. (I think this compares favorably to the Western method of waiting for initial sales figures. How many trilogies are missing a final concluding volume?) An exception is Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s existentialist epic Loups-Garous, which was an oddity for being quite long and published in a single volume in Japan.
And most importantly at of all, in Japanese SF, the future is Japanese. I remember a conversation I had with someone when I first starting working for Haikasoru. “Isn’t it funny,” he said, “that all these future alien invasions and catastrophes and discoveries are supposed to happen on a little archipelago?”
“As opposed to happening on a continent largely empty of anything save corn fields and SUVs?” I asked him. “And not even the whole continent—just the middle bit!” Science fiction has many futures; it’s about time Western readers were exposed to a few of those visions of which they may not otherwise conceive. At Haikasoru, we’re just trying to do our part in creating a truly international future.
Welcome to 2011. Last year we looked back (and, in fact, Charles is busy compiling a year’s end summary for us this time around too) but for now, I wanted to look ahead, at 2011 and beyond.
The World SF Blog has been around since February 2009. Which means we’ll soon be celebrating two years! That’s quite a lot of what I think is pretty unique content, and over 2010 we’ve added not only the round of interviews, essays and other original material, but also weekly publication of short stories from around the world, which continues into this year.
We’re eligible for a Hugo, incidentally. We realise a predominantly American award (we even spell “realise” in a non-American way, don’t we?) is not the natural destiny for a blog (magazine? fanzine?) such as this, but I thought I should point it out.
Mainly, what I wanted to talk about is what’s coming up on the blog in the new year. There are several things we’re looking at, at the moment. I’d like to bring back Movie Week, which was a great success last year. We’ll continue to publish short stories every Tuesday, of course. We’re also looking at starting a new feature, a regular Author Week. These will probably be a week every one or two months focusing on one specific author, and will include exclusive interviews, short stories, guest-posts and giveaways. We’re currently preparing the first couple of these.
The other great thing for me is that, thanks to you, our readers, The Apex Book of World SF was greatly successful (a surprise, I suspect, for everyone involved!) and our publishers, Apex Books, have commissioned, and are preparing to release, a second volume, called simply The Apex Book of World SF 2. I’m very excited about this, obviously! The anthology should be out sometimes towards the second half of the year, and includes some fantastic stories from Africa and Latin America, Asia, Europe and Australia.
Which leads to another new venture we’re currently considering: a World SF Press, a small, select publishing initiative to release some unique international genre fiction (and non-fiction) in e-book format. I see this as complimenting both the blog and the anthology series, and our first project, in co-operation with Apex, is currently in its early stages. If you like the idea, and want to get involved, drop us a line!
As always, we’re looking for guest editorials, thought-provoking essays and short stories. Please send suitable material our way!
Finally, I wanted to thank you all for your continued support. I like to think this blog has become, over the past two years, a focus for a truly international community of readers and writers, and I’ve been delighted with its reception. This is, for Charles and me, and for everyone involved, simply a labour of love. These are exciting years for international SF and it’s great to be showcasing that every day. So thank you, our readers! Let’s have a great new year.