[note this link is for the 2D version of the trailer]
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World SF Travel Fund Fund-Raiser
A combination of genre professionals and fans from the international scene and the United States have gathered together to create the World SF Travel Fund. The fund has been set up to enable one or two international persons involved in science fiction, fantasy or horror to travel to a major genre event. This year’s recipients are:
Csilla Kleinheincz is a Hungarian-Vietnamese writer living in Kistarcsa, Hungary with her husband and daughter. She is the author of two novels and a short story collection. Her stories can be read in English in the anthologies Interfictions, Heiresses of Russ 2011, and The Apex Book of World SF 2. Some of her stories were translated into Portuguese, Finnish, Czech and Estonian. Csilla is also a translator of works by Peter S. Beagle, Kelly Link, Ursula K. Le Guin and Catherynne M. Valente. She currently works as the editor of the SF/F publishing house Ad Astra, and in her free time edits the Hungarian online SF magazine SFmag.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is a Filipino writer of science fiction and fantasy. A graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop, Rochita was the recipient of the 2009 Octavia Butler Scholarship, and the first Filipina writer to attend Clarion West. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including Interzone, Fantasy Magazine, Apex Magazine, Weird Tales, and the anthologies Robots: The Recent A.I., and The Apex Book of World SF 2. In the Philippines, her short fiction has been published in Philippine Panorama, Philippine Speculative Fiction 2, and Philippine Speculative Fiction 4. Rochita currently resides in the Netherlands with her husband and her two children.
The Fund has set up a Peerbackers Project with the hope of raising $3000, enabling two years of running. The Board, tasked with selecting future candidates, is composed of Lauren Beukes, Aliette de Bodard, Nnedi Okorafor, Ekaterina Sedia, and Charles Tan, reflecting the truly international nature of the SF world today. For inquiries and further information please contact co-administrators Lavie Tidhar or Sean Wallace at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over at Locus Online, Hungarian reviewer and linguist Bogi Takács discusses the Gregor Man trilogy by Péter Zsoldos:
One of the most important works of Hungarian science fiction has never been translated to English; it’s been translated to German, but the German editions are long out of print. The Gregor Man trilogy by Péter Zsoldos changed the way entire Hungarian generations saw science fiction and fantasy. I’ll try to summarize the plot in a nutshell (this means spoilers!) and explain exactly what the series has to offer the present-day reader. – continue reading.
Our eyes were created to be like God’s and God said, ‘Let the light come from your eyes, let it shine upon the world, let it dye the grass Green, the sea Blue, let the colors calm your senses. Shine, with Red light upon the blood as a warning, and also upon the twilight sky, to show when my Eye, the Sun, falls under the horizon of my lid.’
Our eyes opened and the world was filled with colors. Let the leaves be green, and they became Green, let the sand be yellow, and it became Yellow. Our skin was sweet Brown on sheets of Lilac and Purple.
We named the world with colors and gained knowledge of everything, and God shone upon us with His Lightning Eye, that it was good.
‘These are all God’s colors. What are yours?’ asked the Voice and it scared us. Our light could not see its source.
Yet the challenge had to be answered. – continue reading!
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Zoltán László from Hungary. Zoltán László’s first short story was published in 1999. Since then two dozen further short stories have been published in Hungarian SF&F magazines, periodicals and anthologies (for example Galaktika, Átjáró, Roham, Csillagszálló). He has also written four novels in various sub-genres like a mix of cyberpunk and alternate history (Hiperballada [Hyperballad]), urban-fantasy (Nagate) and science fiction (A Keringés [The Circulation], Nulla pont [Zero Point]). In most of his short stories and novels he is interested in the social influences of new inventions, and he uses strong capitalism-critique.
A Hundred Thousand Armstrongs
That night—the third one after Raoul left—was a stuffy, autumnal night, the kind when mist descends on the streets of the city and the osmotically-shifting damp air stirs slimy scraps of paper and plastic bags under the walls, always at the edge of your field of vision. Annabelle pulled a cigarette from the pocket of her air-conditioned German jacket while the heels of her Italian leather shoes—clickety-click—counted her steps.
She’d left behind the bustling streets by the beaches of Rio, where the stream of youthful flesh was flowing endlessly; the smell of sweat, marijuana smoke and strange pheromones—strange at least for a European nose—floated over the crowd. After so long Rio still seemed too hectic, too strident—too young for Annabelle. The scores of faces in their teens or twenties filled her with some atavistic generational fear. This is what the elders of the tribe must have felt when their time was about to come and they were suddenly a burden on the shoulders of their younger companions.
Here, where coming from the 11 de Setembro and the Rua de Santos she started on the steep lanes leading to the hotel, silence hung onto the crumbling façades of the old office buildings, and all the hot air brought was salsa rhythms from a howling portable radio and the voice of a woman’s painfully high-pitched scolding from among the rooftops below. Further away, the sound of firecrackers or gunshots ricocheted off the steep rocks of the Sugarloaf mountain.
Pricking her ears, Annabelle guessed she wasn’t hearing the celebrations of the Dia das Astronautas yet—if she really could hear Kalashnikovs and not firecrackers. They were probably ordinary looters intercepted by a military patrol or by another gang of looters. The overpopulated alleys of Rio de Janeiro always supplied the gangs with reinforcements—more and more children seemed to arrive endlessly as if they’d been produced by the casting mould of some strange social instrument. Except, of course, for that fortunate or unfortunate one hundred thousand who were admitted to the programme before they were even born.
It was thirty-three minutes past midnight. Nobody was bothered by the curfew; even the soldiers guarding the country-sized city saw it as the hysterical decree of an outgoing home secretary. The parties in the Rio night were no less lively than any time before. Actually, they were only becoming more boisterous as Astronaut Day was coming and the country was getting ready to celebrate her one hundred thousand new space travellers…. All those improved Armstrongs and Tereshkovas.
After smoking three-quarters of it, she chucked the Vogue and under the neon tubes full of dancing insects crossed the street to the other side where a pool of light tainted the damp concrete of the pavement. It was an all-night grocery store with the obligatory Coke commercial flashing above the door. Annabelle pushed the doorbell. A buzzing sound.
It was half past midnight but Annabelle didn’t manage to find the slightest sign of drunkenness in herself, although the tang of the cognacs she’d drunk at the Danish commercial attaché’s party and the aroma of French cigarettes formed a sticky film on her palate. She shoved her hands back into her pockets and waited. In the distance the sound of police sirens made her sinus mountains leap high.
Electric locks clicked one after the other from top to bottom, and the blurred figure behind the opaque plastic opened the door. The bars stayed in place.
‘Senhora? What do you want?’ asked the dishevelled shopkeeper. Although he was relieved to see that his customer was a well-dressed woman in her forties, he was still glancing suspiciously at the hands hidden in her pockets. ‘I’d prefer seeing your hands.’
Annabelle looked down at the barrel of the sawn-off shotgun pointing at her and slowly pulled her hands out of her pockets. She spoke in Portuguese. ‘All I want is a drink, man.’
‘Vodka, say. The most expensive brand. And I pay Euros.’
Just mentioning the name of the continental currency once used to grease the wheels of the commercial machine. Annabelle remembered those days. You were only a kid then—she was watching the shopkeeper’s face. The name of the EU had become meaningless in the third world. The introverted society of old fools. The ruins of bygone greatness. An open-air museum taken over by weeds.
‘That’ll be two-fifty, senhora. I only take cash. We’re living harsh times.’
Annabelle shrugged and—still slowly—counted the worn, old banknotes into the guy’s hand. He instantly checked them with a manual UV scanner, the Euro-stars faintly glowing in the purple flickering.
‘Um momento!’ And the shopkeeper was gone. Annabelle waited patiently outside the door. She looked around but the street was still yawning empty, only a gutter was slurping quietly but doggedly a bit further away. Suddenly, rattling and the shouting of children sounded from a distant crossroads. All the muscles tightened in Annabelle’s body but she managed to overcome the old reflexes. A rusty three-wheeler sped through the junction under the lights with four kids wearing pasteboard spacesuits. The laughter died away as the group was swallowed by the crossroads. Annabelle would have liked to smile.
The vodka came in a seven-decilitre plastic bottle. Maybe it was made in Mexico: the Smirnoff label meant nothing with the economy of the world lying in ruins. She sank the bottle in her pocket without a word.
Locks clicked behind her as she manoeuvred around the torn-off posters swelling in the puddles and started to ascend the slope. On the façade of the hotel blue LEDs were flickering. Her hand played with the plastic cap of the bottle in her pocket. Ceaselessly.
The desolate hotel lobby was a bubble in time—the furniture reflected the fashions of fifteen years before. Annabelle nodded towards reception, called the elevator, and on the sixth floor walked down carpets worn out in the middle. Earlier, she had programmed the room to recognize her fingerprints.
The laser glow of Christ the Redeemer on top of the Corcovado drew sharp contours around some of the furniture in the room. Annabelle said nothing to the lighting; she could have found anything, with her eyes closed, in a hotel room like this. The last thing she needed at the moment was light: in the depth of the night even the lights would seem grey, somehow reminding her of her own foul mood. With her coat still on, she sank to the floor and pulled out the vodka. The seal on the neck of the bottle let go with a soft hiss: a familiar sound. The first gulp burnt her throat but she could stand it.
She got up and took a box of tomato juice from the bar. She poured some into a glass, leaving room for the vodka and the sauce.
‘Letters and messages. Replay,’ she instructed the Sony module in the corner. The display came alive, and silvery electronic glamour surrounded Annabelle’s figure and everything around her. She was forced to squint; she didn’t like the idea of becoming a post-industrial icon.
A saint would surely not arrive in Rio for the same reason she had come here.
‘Rioting? Terrorist attacks? Hide away from all the trouble. Spend the weekend…’
‘Advertisements off,’ she grunted. The well-dressed guy disappeared in a flash and the picture turned much darker and lower definition—welcome to reality—though the face of her contact, Mr Paris, was still recognizable.
‘I only call you in case you aren’t aware of the fact that our friend’s programme on Astronaut Day has changed. Please, seek new information.’ Annabelle grinned, irritated. She was not new to this. She had known for a long time that Grenius was now to give his address in the foyer of Santa Cruz University at ten a.m. instead of ten-thirty, as he was supposed to have a working lunch in Brasilia in the Presidential Palace.
‘Delete,’ she told the Sony, then took a sip from the Bloody Mary. She had put too much salt in it, as always. ‘Next.’
Annabelle was petrified. The boy was exactly three days younger in the message and yet she could still not delete it.
‘Look, I called you because…I’m leaving. It’ll never work out, I’m sorry…. My mistake. I wanted you to know. And please, don’t try to find me.’
Darkness. The illuminated Jesus sneered at her through the window.
Raoul appeared again, his short, wavy hair hidden under a knitted cap. He looked sad and that was some consolation for her, if there was to be any consolation at all.
It was Annabelle who had given him that cap. Also the bag he had packed his things in.
‘Hello. I’m Raoul,’ he said as fate shepherded them together between the guest rooms and the almost industrial-size kitchen.
Annabelle stared at him. ‘Nice to meet you. Valeria Luskowka.’
Someone at the Swedish embassy was throwing the party and a bunch of local celebrities were also invited, though Annabelle didn’t know any of them. Earlier, she had talked to some Europeans her own age. ‘Horrible,’ one of them said, a man wearing Louis Vuitton glasses. ‘These urchins on the street. Many of them won’t even live to be eighteen, but over there they’d be great pillars of the retirement funds.’
Some of Annabelle’s friends worked for companies that were trying—without much success—to lure labourers to Europe. ‘They’re useful here,’ she commented, before thinking about what she was going to say. ‘This demographic power stretched the third world until they got to Mars. And they’ll settle there, too.’
‘But they’re hardly human,’ shuddered a woman who Annabelle thought might be an Italian talk-show hostess. ‘Those genetic manipulations to make them capable of long space flights….’
‘I don’t give a damn about space,’ the man retorted. ‘I’ve paid what I had for retirement funds in my life but who’s going to support me?’
Annabelle shrugged, then apologized and moved on. The house proved to be enormous. And then she came across Raoul.
Almost-black hair, suntanned skin, straight eyebrows, warm brown eyes. The boy didn’t look more than twenty-five. He was eyeing the bustle of the party with a benevolent but enigmatic grin: Mona Lisa’s smile dipped in beta-phenylethylamine. Annabelle looked down on the now lukewarm South African beer in her hand. ‘You want some? I’m bored with it.’
‘No.’ He shook his head warily. Annabelle noted that he was delicately shaking. ‘What I’ve taken doesn’t mix with alcohol. You can’t have them both at the same time,’ he explained, as if he was talking about some special medical treatment.
She just nodded. ‘And is it any good?’
Raoul frowned. ‘Can’t you tell?’
‘I can…’ Annabelle was drunk; she was fed up with the party; she was fed up with everyone. ‘I can tell that it’s all the same. It’s quite obvious that you just want to get laid. Anyone will do, the more expensive the better. But you know what?’ She leaned closer to the boy. ‘If not today, you’ll feel it tomorrow.’
He caught up with her at the elevator. He grabbed the closing door; his arms were muscular, covered with fine hair. The lines on his skin exposed him: a fallen angel. The door clicked and opened wide. Irritated, Annabelle struck the button for the foyer again. This was the last thing she needed.
‘What do you know about me, hm?’ He followed her into the elevator, his face a pale, hysterical mask. Despite herself, Annabelle considered the ways she could deal with this guy with bare hands. She wasn’t afraid.
‘What the hell do you know about me?’ Raoul was raging. ‘We were the dress rehearsal, see? These tiny astronauts with their ability to hibernate and cope with cold wouldn’t be here, there’d be no one to celebrate, if it wasn’t for us. But we were simply used, Grenius and the rest of the scientists just created us and then swept us aside.’ The pitch of his voice got higher, yet Annabelle didn’t look at him.
‘I’m talking to you, can’t you hear me?’ He punched the metal wall of the elevator with his fist. Annabelle had had enough: she reached out and two quick movements were enough to force the violent youth onto the floor. He seemed to get even more furious, and for a moment even attempted to fight back. Then his muscles went slack and suddenly he burst out laughing.
The bitterness in his voice made Annabelle shiver. ‘I’ll never get up there. We’re never going to space even if we were born to do that,’ he whispered tiredly. ‘The new ones took that away from us.’
Annabelle didn’t look at him; she was only shaking her head slowly like a wise, old man, then she said, ‘You’re not the only ones’ without having a clue which floor they were on.
Bull’s eye, she thought. Raoul, the fallen angel, had no answer.
He looks human, Annabelle warned herself, but he isn’t exactly that. Deep inside, within her cells, a bunch of things worked in a different way.
They were on the bottom floor now, but Annabelle sat down beside him and offered him a cigarette.
The Sony was humming quietly; on the display Raoul’s face, in the message, had paused just before the final word, his hazel eyes motionless, unfathomable.
‘Off, for heaven’s sake!’ At last Annabelle had managed to overcome the curiosity that made her try to work out what was hidden in those eyes at the moment of the final good-bye. Defiance. Most likely. They always find self-awareness, she knew well. Suddenly, they realize they’ve become lapdogs, the toy of a woman twenty years their senior. They want to behave like men, though they’re not needed as men. Well, not only as men.
Above the bathroom mirror, a bluish halogen light was shimmering. Around it a languid mosquito was circling, after having somehow squeezed through the ultra-sound curtains. Annabelle turned on the tap and washed her face in the lukewarm water welling from the filter unit. She looked into the mirror, struggling to get a detached impression. Forty-three years. Recently, she’d often wondered what it would be like if she’d had children, if, like others in her generation, she hadn’t found everything else much more important.
Thoughts like this might be definite signs of aging. And men like Raoul. How could it feel to be born to populate a new world, to be literally created to do that and nothing else?
The drops of water formed tiny rivulets on her face-bones and the porcelain of the sink felt cool and relaxing under her palms.
Raoul, shaving. Turning back, laughing, the water washing down black-dotted foam from the disposable Gillette. Small eddy over the chrome of the drain.
Annabelle closed her eyes and swiftly turned to the toilet. She swayed back and forth as spasms twitched her stomach rhythmically.
‘Look at them, Raoul.’ Annabelle pointed through the taxi window.
At the foot of the grandiose statue made for Astronaut Day a white monster, an armoured police truck, reversed slowly on the pavement with its blue lights flashing jerkily.
‘The Marslanders?’ The figures of the statue raised Brazilian, Chinese and Indian flags in the shape of a cone towards the spot where Annabelle thought the Red Planet might be in the sky. Pousados em Marte. When she was a kid, it would have been strange if a new expression didn’t spread in English. Or at least Russian. But lots of things had changed since then.
‘No, the people.’ The troop-carrier beeped while reversing, then it jerked to a halt. Its blunt steel nose still blocked part of the road, forcing the traffic to a pathetic crawl.
‘What about them?’ Raoul asked, sleepily. He lost his interest in the cops’ vehicle even though it started to pour forth men with helmets and shields who instantly swept aside the small group of protesters from the statue. The whole affair didn’t last more than three minutes.
‘Those people were protesting against the space programme. Don’t you think they deserve better?’
Raoul stared at a student in a yellow raincoat lying on the pavement. ‘Those people are harmful,’ he commented lightly. ‘And stupid.’
Annabelle was watching the boy’s face. ‘Are they stupid because they don’t share your views? Because they don’t think that instead of eliminating social differences police states like this ought to spend most of their GDP on their space programme?’
Maybe she was too harsh on him. But earlier they had driven through the favellas south of the Sugarloaf mountain where children burnt tires by the side of the sewerless streets to melt copper from old electric circuit panels. The copper would probably be needed for those giant, sluggish spacecraft. Which these kids would never get close to: those craft belonged to the New People, the hundred thousand identical, strange and cold Tereshkovas and Armstrongs.
‘And we’re at it again,’ Raoul murmured bitingly.
‘Why? Don’t you think I’m right? You can see the poverty even here, in the city. The starving children. What do you mean we’re at it again?’
‘That’s European rubbish you’re talking. You Westerners forced poverty on us with your globalism, leaving us no other way out than space. And now, with not enough workers to support the millions of European and American pensioners, you’re trying to hold us back.’ Sensing the fierce outburst, the concerned driver turned round on his side of the armour. Raoul didn’t care. ‘Can you really believe we don’t know that you’re only worried because of your labourers? Because if the overflow of people from the third world chooses space there’ll be no one left for you?’
‘That’s the same bamboozle your president—’
‘Who are you to call it bamboozle? We, Brazilians, Hindus and I don’t know who else, believe in it. And Jesus be my witness, we’ll do it.’ The lines on the boy’s hand—the stigmata of prenatal gene therapy—turned black.
‘Raoul, for God’s sake, what have beliefs got to do with it? I only said there were problems these people wanted to draw attention to. They should have the right to express what they think of the space programme or anything.’ Annabelle carefully retained the calm tone of her voice, though it made her feel as if she were trying to hush a distraught child. The unsteadiness of Raoul’s nerves was the result of gene therapy; they claimed to have sorted that out for the new generation.
‘Oh, your relentless and effusive liberalism.’ Malice sparkled in Raoul’s beautiful eyes. ‘You know, that’s what did you in. That good-for-nothing relativism. When the imams of the mosques in Berlin and Paris openly called for the destruction of the West, you were still babbling on about multiculturalism and tolerance. The bombs and everything were the results of your own mistakes.’
Annabelle pressed her lips together. ‘Raoul, that’s not fair. Many people died those days. If you count the radiation, more than ten thousand only in Warsaw, where I was born—’
‘And why? For no reason at all. For a failing culture that was not able to stand up for its own ideals any longer. Your feeling of guilt for what had happened in the twentieth century ruined your twenty-first century. But it’s our turn now, up there!’
‘Raoul, that’s not as simple as that. And I don’t think, it’ll be you that—’
‘Merda,’ he said, with a strangely distorted expression. ‘Why? Why can’t I understand? Because I’m too young?’ He felt for the door sensor. ‘Stop!’ he yelled at the driver. The man cursed but braked abruptly, causing the plastic readers and Virgin Mary statuettes hanging on the inside mirror to clank into the windscreen.
‘And what if you old people lost your clear view of the world? If we are the ones who see it the right way?’ Raoul leaned back into the car for a moment but he didn’t wait for an answer that never came anyway.
As he stormed away, his white shirt kept popping up among the crowd staring at the police operation.
Annabelle mixed herself another Bloody Mary; the ice clinked into the glass from the slot in the bar. With her drink in her hand, she stood in front of the window watching the statue of Christ the Redeemer extending his arms on the mountain. At first, it had protected the city there on top of the Corcovado, but the new laser technology had painted a new expression on its face: it was watching the sky, the frontier of space, which was to be broken through by the children of this city…. This made the widespread arms look like a gesture of offering. Annabelle contemplated Raoul’s words. Maybe it really was the end for them, Westerners. What remained was moralizing, trying to appreciate everyone even when it was time to act.
If it was so, she was simply a criminal.
On the outside, the suitcase seemed a simple burgundy-red Samsonite. Most businesswomen had one exactly like it and in the world of the Rio consulate parties she was definitely considered one. The hidden drawer slid out from between the small wheels when she stroked the artificial leather covering in the right spots. The vial shone coldly, transparently, in Jesus’s light.
She wondered if she was doing it because she had never had children.
Raoul’s phone rang. There was no picture, but the boy answered her call. He may have remembered the number of the hotel. Or he may have been curious who the unfamiliar number belonged to.
‘Raoul? I only call you because I want to tell you something.’
The boy’s voice was distant and icy. ‘Look, Valeria, I think it’d be better for both of us if—’
‘Oh, you innocent, silly kid. I don’t want to talk about the two of us. Remember what you said in the taxi? About the ideals.’
‘You said we weren’t capable of action any longer. We old Westerners. All I wanted to say is that you were wrong. You’ll see. Good night.’
At ten to ten, along with the teeming crowd of visitors, Annabelle got into the cool foyer of Santa Cruz University, where, fastened to the stucco of the ceiling, old-fashioned ventilators were revolving. She had to queue at the main entrance and started to worry that she’d miss the speech.
Sunlight poured down from leaden skies and people had put all kinds of creams on their skin where it was left uncovered by their Sunday best, which made them look like the participants in some sort of voodoo ceremony. Reaching the top of the broad flight of stairs, Annabelle flashed the VIP card she had been issued in her capacity as a commercial delegate, and the sweating police personnel in their scanner goggles instantly stood aside.
She guessed Grenius would talk for some twenty minutes. After a bit more than half of that time had passed, she stood up and walked to the toilet.
Inside, the smell of sewage-water mingled with the oversweet odour of some industrial cleansing agent. Annabelle opened the door of the first box but, seeing that the toilet hadn’t been flushed, she turned around. She chose the farthest box, sat down on the seat and took out her tools.
The flesh-coloured glove was made of a polymer as thin as a veil; if it was worn carefully you had to be real close to notice it at all. Its molecules were arranged so tightly that no poison could get through. Annabelle cracked the top of the vial and dripped its contents onto her gloved hand.
Outside, Dr. Grenius was about to conclude his speech. The tiled walls of the room echoed his voice. ‘…Nobody believed we would be able to do it. After the ideological struggle of the cold war it became clear that investors did not see enough business potential in space travel to finance the costly developments instead of the great powers.’
Annabelle raised her fingers in front of her eyes. On the palm and fingertips of the glove soft pads were formed in order to suck in the poison that would have evaporated quickly otherwise. All she had to do now was implant it into the doctor’s body, and it would take its course from then on: the substance, adjusted for his immune system, would start reproducing and Grenius would be infected in a week’s time. As Annabelle had been told, the doctor preferred to examine his young creations himself. The infection should then swiftly spread through their ranks.
Fallen angels like Raoul, those from the early stages of the experiment, might remain unaffected. Annabelle wasn’t sure but she didn’t care, either. She had never had a child and Raoul had left her. This thing was not about them or about their sick relationship.
‘We are the ones who refuted that,’ Grenius went on outside, defiantly, like a rebel, ‘when we decided to give a new future to our children after we could no longer cherish the illusion that one day they would live a life similar to that of European or American people: a car on the driveway, an automated kitchen, middle-class consumption…. This planet cannot provide all these for everyone. However, we can provide our children with something else: a new future, their own financial life which will be created out there in space. And they’ll be the first to get there, not the Americans, not the Europeans!’
She stood up, slid the bolt aside on the door and stepped out.
And there was Raoul standing in front of her.
Annabelle moved swiftly, but she was too late. He grabbed her, almost as if he was trying to embrace her, and she just felt a hard knock in her belly. Surprised, she looked up at the man’s immaculate young angel face. She didn’t feel the pain yet, though she knew it would arrive eventually.
‘Annabelle….’ Raoul used her real name. She held up her gloved hand to touch his face but he caught her arm and held it against the cold tiles. For a moment, he stared at the glove, then he smiled. ‘Clever….’
Burning, acrid pain started to grow inside her. Raoul’s knife twisted in her stomach, tormenting her. She felt her own hot blood running down onto her stockings.
‘Many fear a genetically redesigned generation,’ Grenius recited outside. ‘The new people who will be able to spend months in deep sleep like the hibernating animals from which the relevant gene sequences originate. Tomorrow, on Astronaut Day, they will all be parading before your very eyes. A hundred-thousand new children, the first settlers on Mars.’
‘We knew you’d try,’ Raoul said. ‘That you’d be late as always but you’d try.’
‘You still don’t understand what…?’ Annabelle moaned and felt her heels slip on the floor. Raoul held her tight, though. ‘The ideals. We stand by them…. We really do.’
The boy answered, but Annabelle didn’t hear him. Everything had a strange echo now. And as Raoul’s face slowly disappeared in the gloom creeping in from the edge of her sight, Annabelle saw nothing but the astronauts, the hundred-thousand marching Armstrongs and Tereshkovas parading across the world under the extended arms of Jesus Christ.
First published in Galaktika 204., in March 2007.
SF Signal have released the table of contents for upcoming anthology Heiresses of Russ, “a new annual anthology created in honor of Joanna Russ”. We’re delighted to notice the presence of Malaysian writer Zen Cho, and Hungarian writer Csilla Kleinheincz (a contributor to the upcoming Apex Book of World SF 2) in the anthology.
The full ToC:
- “Ghost of a Horse Under a Chandelier” by Georgina Bruce
- “Storyville 1910″ by Jewelle Gomez
- “Her Heart Would Surely Break in Two” by Michelle Labbé
- “Black Eyed Susan” by Esther Garber / Tanith Lee
- “Thimbleriggery and Fledglings” by Steve Berman
- “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
- “The Children of Cadmus” by [info]ellen_kushner
- “The Guest” by Zen Cho
- “Rabbits” by Csilla Kleinheincz
- “The Egyptian Cat” by Catherine Lundoff
- “World War III Doesn’t Last Long” by Nora Olsen
- “The Effluent Engine.” by N. K. Jemisin
I am delighted to introduce this week’s original feature, a round table on women in SF, from a global perspective, with some of our favourite authors. Without further ado:
(Global) Women in Science Fiction Round Table
With: Aliette de Bodard (France), Joyce Chng (Singapore), Csilla Kleinheincz (Hungary), Kate Elliott (US), Karen Lord (Barbados), Ekaterina Sedia (Russia/US)
Kate: It’s difficult for me to articulate all the strands of thought interweaving in my head when I think about this. I’m going to throw this out just as a kind of fragmented opener that barely touches on the core issues and is mostly definitional, for which I apologize.
One place I could start is with Joyce’s mention in her excellent rant on the World SF blog of the very term “World SF.” I’m glad the World SF blog exists; I think it needs to exist. At the same time, “world sf” becomes a bit like the current use of the word “ethnic” in American English: it denotes a particular thing that has to be marked because it isn’t the thing that doesn’t have to be marked. Just as we have an entire discussion about “women writers” instead of “writers.” World SF still exists outside the default, and can be ignored or included depending on the needs of the discussion, because the discussion is indeed still US/UK-centric and, of course, Anglophone-centric (which I admit is great for me, being a native English speaker).
It would be easy to criticize sff as a genre form of cultural imperialism, but I don’t think the global world culture is so easy to categorize these days. Not that the reach of advertising dollars and multinational companies don’t skew the larger global cultural picture, because they do, but we have only to look at the global music scene to see how musical styles from one place can both reach out and be woven into music from another place. Sometimes this is appropriative, but more often it reflects (I think) the normal human tendency to gather and weave.Caribbean-American writer Tobias Buckell just posted a fabulous account of AnimeKon, held in Barbados (Karen can speak to this as she was there). To me one of the salient points I take away from his post is that sff, anime, manga, and film has become/is becoming a shared global cultural mix. To my mind, the way it will remain vibrant and urgent and alive is insofar as it is embraced, changed, mashed up, and transfigured by that global reach.
Karen: I’m glad Kate mentioned AnimeKon. While we were there, I asked Tobias things like ‘how does the gender balance here compare to other cons you’ve been to’, ‘are there more males than females buying your books’, and so on. I’ve heard that Dragon Con has a similar good mix of gender and age, but other cons can be very age- and gender-specific. To me it isn’t unusual to see all kinds of people enjoying all kinds of SF/F, and daring to create it too!
I think that some genre boundaries become self-fulfilling prophecies. It might be a consequence of the kind of marketing mentality that says to the reader ‘If you liked Author X, you will love Author Y!’ It may make for easy marketing, but it trains readers to be unadventurous, and then pushes new authors to fit into established moulds if they hope to sell – or even get published, for that matter. Potential new readers are being passed over because a lot of genre publishing rarely takes risks. You have to look to small presses, literary presses for that.
I realise I haven’t really addressed the questions, but that’s because they’re not so much loaded as … not entirely relevant to my experience? Yes, the conversation has been UK/US-centric thus far. Does that mean that gender in SF/F is more of an issue in those countries? Or that too few have sufficient knowledge of literary traditions in other countries to broaden the discussion? Science fiction more appealing to men? Not according to me, nor to my female friends. Have I written science fiction? I have, but it hasn’t been published yet (though the manuscript did win an award). It didn’t feel different, or special. Was it supposed to? I have a major in physics and a minor in astronomy. Does that exempt me? Someone did tell me once, years ago, that physics isn’t a girl’s subject. I think I laughed in his face.
Csilla: What struck me most in Joyce’s rant was the bitter truth of world SF being exotic curiosity. As Kate had mentioned, the discussion about women writers and even any discussion about SFF is heavily US/UK-centric, making it seem more important, which is a misconception fed by the fact that even though English language serves as an intermediary when it comes to SFF, only 3% of all books published in the US is a work in translation (I don’t know the percentage for SFF but my guess is it’s even more dismal). There are wonderful gems of SFF literature all over the world, by women and men alike, and the English-speaking world, the great common marketplace of the SF doesn’t even know of, and by lacking an edition in English, other countries remain also ignorant of these (with a few exceptions of course). Take “Vita Nostra” by Maryna and Sergey Dyachenko (Ukraine), or the WonderTimes tetralogy by Etelka Görgey (Hungary) (http://sfmag.hu/2011/01/11/etelka-gorgey-wondertimes-religion-family-saga-and-science-fiction-in-four-volumes/): they will only be recognized globally if they get translated to English. That is a task a non-English speaking writer has to bend to – on the other hand, being present in English also opens a lot of doors (doors that are by default open to native speakers).
World SF is a colourful and invisible mass, with only limited permeability. English is the language that should serve as an intermediary yet it shouldn’t only be the responsibility of the writers themselves to translate and promote their work. The view the world gets about world SF is distorted: the ones who master English or are able to get a good translator get published (if they are lucky) while others remain mostly unknown. World SF is an iceberg with only the tip visible and it would do well to raise awareness of it for SFF would only benefit from the cultural cross-pollination. Non-English speaking writers get plenty of influence from translated US/UK works. This should be a two-way channel.
I am not saying of course that everything that gets published in other countries is brilliant. It isn’t. World SF has the same percentage of crap as US/UK SF. Hungarian science fiction, for example, is mostly stuck in time and is definitely dominated by men – to tie the conversation back to the original women writers discussion. This is partly due to the fact that there was a long hiatus in the publication of science fiction, and even before that, the translated works were mostly Golden Age works, with only a handful of women writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Andre Norton. Neuromancer came in only in 1992, and Hungarian writers were slow to follow. The retro character of Hungarian science fiction is also a direct result of publishing and awarding mediocre works that are ignorant of the themes and changes in global science fiction. Although there are Hungarian science fiction writers who read and write modern works, we never had a New Wave movement, and only have isolated attempts at quality. As there are only a few Hungarian female role models in SF, women are discouraged and leave the genre, which only enforces the artificially upheld notion that science fiction is only for men. Even awareness that this is a problem is lacking.
After SF Signal’s Mind Meld Gábor Takács, editor of the Hungarian magazine SFmag made the statistics based on the majority of Hungarian science fiction short stories in 2010 to see how many women were published (19%) and how many stories feature a female protagonist (7%). (http://sfmag.hu/2011/06/17/zsoldos-dijra-jelolt-novellak-ertekelese-statisztika-es-osszegzes/) Our only science fiction award, the Péter Zsoldos Award has a 14 years old history, yet there has not been a single woman winner either in the novel or the short story category (in spite of the jury having strong chairwomen). Many of the women who write SFF in Hungary are not even published and have to turn to POD or self-publishing, and not because of the lack of talent. Before being recognized as part of world SF they need to be recognized in their own country, hardships that those who have the privilege of being men or US citizens or native speakers are not aware of.
Writers all over the world would benefit from being judged on a global scale. World SF needs the raised awareness as much as women writers do — and needs a lot more publishers who raise that three percent.
Aliette: this is raising a lot of points, and, like Kate, I’m not quite sure how to tackle them in an orderly fashion. While the world is a more complex place than it was during the Cold War, I don’t think we’re quite past the cultural imperialism of the US–or, at any rate, that science fiction hasn’t quite got over it. As far as the genre is concerned, English is the language, and Western Anglophone the reference (not the case, for instance, with mysteries, which can get translated more easily, though there are still a lot of problems). SF in particular has very strong US roots and US sensibilities: in France, we had a period of our SF aping the Golden Age (we got over it, but it was painful while it lasted). I’m not saying it’s deliberate imperialism, just the sort of unconscious bleed-out from a dominant culture, coupled with the tendency not to question its “superiority”.
Reading Joyce’s article, the one other thing that I wanted to comment on was the use of “minorities”. I think a clear difference needs to be made between minorities in the US (who might have a hard time getting heard because of the White-dominated publishing industry), and non-US, non-Western folks (who, not being part of the dominant culture and the dominant country, have an even harder time). I don’t think the distinction is clear enough right now, and it leads to people lumping everything together and claiming that the debate is inclusive because US POC are having their say (which is an important thing, but again not the whole of the scene). What I saw of Racefail, for instance, was heavily focused on US sensibilities and US perception of racism. Again, I’m pretty sure other corners of the web had other discussions, but the dominant voice was that of US people.
The fact that the discussion is centred on SF is… I’m not quite sure how to articulate it. I appreciate the Russ Pledge, I really do; but it does leave a slight impression that SF is the important genre, and that fantasy doesn’t even bear mentioning. Of course, it’s always the case when you start putting genre boundaries; but there’s something about this that bothers me. You could argue that we’re making the Russ Pledge because fantasy doesn’t need it; but I’m not even entirely sure that this is the case. All major fantasy bestsellers are written by men, and there are known biases in that genre as well. I’m not quite sure what to think. Still, I guess we have to start somewhere in order to tackle inequalities.
Hum. I realise I haven’t tackled a lot of the questions either… Have I written science fiction? A little–it didn’t feel like me to be appealing more to men than to women, though science fiction written by women does tend to appeal more to me than that written by men. I’m not entirely sure why; probably personal taste. Tales entirely focused on science at the detriment of everything else tend to leave me cold, but that’s because I’m a scientist myself, and science in novels, even if really well done, reminds me too much of work (but my husband, a physicist by trade, is equally bored by that kind of tale, so it’s probably not a gender thing).
I’m curious. Do you think that what women write (and read) tends to have a slightly different sensibility than what men write? (I’m not saying it’s a rule, just a trend) Not sure how to articulate it, but even my husband, who is very open-minded and progressive, reads way more men than women; while I read both equally.
Kate: Karen, what were Toby’s observations about gender and age balance at AnimeKon?
I should note that I agree with Aliette about cultural imperialism. I was trying to say I think it is no longer only cultural imperialism that gives sff/anime/etc its global reach. The degree to which these subjects and forms show up cross culturally speak to a more universal form, if you will, of how they connect with certain readers and viewers as we move further into the 21st century. (And, off topic, I agree completely about Racefail. It was a hugely important and valuable discussion, but it was deeply US-centric and at times unaware that it was so.)
I learned more about Hungarian sf (and the difficulties faced by women writing in the genre there) from reading what Csilla just wrote than anything I had ever known before, which to me is symptomatic of how fenced-in the Anglophone US/UK market can be and how difficult it is to get non-English works translated into English, much less sell them to consumers. For example, I was introduced to Argentine writer Angelica Gorodischer through Small Beer Press’s 2003 edition of Kalpa Imperial, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, yet when I check Amazon.com, I don’t see any English editions of her many other works.
Regarding the history of sf, I’d be curious to hear from Ekaterina, because it seems to me that Russian and Eastern European sf writers were deeply influential in the evolution of the field, not to mention that the word “robot” comes from a Czech writer.
This discussion brings me to think of the resorts that dot the world, where Westerners can travel to “exotic” destinations while remaining in the comfort of familiar surroundings whose decor varies in pleasing but not too demanding ways. The obstacles facing world sf writers are really profound, and for women, I think, doubly so.
I have more to say (or at least questions to ask) about Lavie’s question about the greater discussion focusing on science fiction and leaving aside fantasy and urban fantasy/paranormal, especially as it affects the visibility of women who may be writing not in English in those genres which often do not get the same level of respect sf does. But I’m thrashing around trying to make sense of my chaotic thoughts. And that’s leaving aside Aliette’s question about reading and writing sensibilities! My time zone is headed for bed; I’ll return in the morning.
Csilla: Thank you, Aliette, your thoughts on cultural imperialism. It reminded me that there was a time when the Western dominance in SF was a relative thing. Ekaterina could tell more about the Soviet fantastika that defined the SF literature of the whole socialist block in Europe and Asia. We grew up reading People Like Gods by Sergey Snegov, Roadside Picnic by the Strugatsky brothers, The Cyberiad and Eden by Stanislaw Lem, books that had defined our perception of science fiction as much as Ursula K. Le Guin or Asimov. With the borders opening it seems to me that we have traded this diversity and co-existence of cultures for the previously banned works of Western science fiction, unconsciously giving in to the notion that Western SF is somehow superior.
Now that I think back, the Soviet SF books I read were mostly written by men with only a few women writers. I am sure the contribution of women in the Soviet fantastika must have been greater than the handful of stories I encountered, but Ekaterina surely knows more about it. Just like Kate I am also curious how fantastika has changed during the past years.
Joyce: Okay, jumping in right here as I manage to get some time on the computer to do non-work stuff. What Aliette has asked is very pertinent: I believe that what women write (and read) tends to have a (slightly) different sensibility than what men write. Then again, I would expand on the question. What are women expected to write? If we are expected to write romance, then that is just stereotyping. If we write science fiction, are we expected to write ‘soft’ science fiction?
I think as women SFF writers, we are expected to conform to a certain stereotype. What happens to women who write hard science fiction?
Joyce: I feel that – as what I have ranted – is that the discussion is still very US/UK-centric. It is fine that the POC and minorities are speaking out in – say – the States, but that is still very US-centric/dominated. I also feel that women from places like Southeast Asia might not have the same experiences/common ground to talk about and we end up grappling and confused. There is a lot of intersectionality – what are Southeast Asian women (with different experiences/backgrounds) going to say? What are Southeast Asian women supposed to say? Likewise, when it comes to SFF, what we experience might be similar but vastly different as well. Often as such, we end up trying to conform to foreign-sounding standards and end up feeling confused.
I grew up watching Star Trek and many other American SFF shows. At the same time, I watched wu xia series (Jin Yong, anyone?) and listened to Chinese legends. So in a way, I am straddling in between two worlds. I was not American (because I am not), but I grappled with issues of identity and self-perception. The educational system in Singapore was based on the Anglo-Saxon system, thanks to British colonialism. I think and speak in English… and struggle with my Mandarin Chinese. I speak Cantonese than Hokkien, my mother tongue, simply because my mother was brought up Cantonese by her mother.
How am I going to approach SFF with this skein of experiences?
Wolf At The Door was written as a challenge to norms (that Southeast Asian urban fantasy is just as interesting and perhaps more diverse than the US/UK ones). I write urban fantasy, yes… but I am also interested in ‘soft’ science fiction. Many of my SFF stories deal with future worlds colonized by Terrans. These Terrans often deal with their own identities beside coping with new flora and fauna. Are their languages going to change or are they going to remain the same? Will they change their traditions or integrate new experiences into them to form cultural hybrids? I explore such issues in my SFF stories. I do believe science fiction is changing. Note: I hasten to add that science fiction will only change, when people are willing to change and incorporate new ideas/ideologies/beliefs. Science fiction is no longer an old boys’ institution.
I hope to see more Southeast Asian women writing SFF. I believe there are many (I am one of the editors of a new anthology – “Hybrid”!) and I do see women writing. I also hope to see more non-US/UK women writing SFF. I am heartened from what I see in the roundtable discussion! Perhaps the iron gates will open… in the future.
Karen: ‘Soft’ sci-fi – that’s like what Ray Bradbury wrote, right? Let’s assume, purely for the sake of argument, that women are inclined (nature or culture?) to write and to enjoy a certain type of fiction. Is there a hint of judgement attached, that the male-dominated subgenres are, if not more lucrative, more prestigious? More likely to be ‘true’ sci-fi? I have a vague impression, completely unsupported, that more women write speculative fiction that crosses from genre into literary (there’s another arbitrary boundary with value judgements attached). Do male writers who produce soft, near-literary sci-fi find themselves overlooked when it comes to awards and mentions from genre reviewers?
I think that the problem isn’t whether women write or read different things. It’s the imposition of boundaries and the assigning of value that’s the problem – whether that boundary is genre vs literary, world sf vs Western, or women writers vs men. As a reader, I don’t want to miss out because the next great SF/F writer happens to be the ‘wrong gender’ and has been discouraged from writing what they’re best at writing.
Kate, I just checked in with Tobias to make sure I’m not misquoting him in public! He says that he found the AnimeKon gender balance and age distribution to be much closer to Comic Con than WorldCon (with Comic Con having the better age and gender mix), and in fact the female attendance at AnimeKon was even better than Comic Con. He also reminded me that the gender balance extended to the organisers (one male, two female), something which we both agree must make a difference.
Kate: Karen, absolutely on organization. I’m chuffed by these observations about the balance and distribution at AnimeKon. Also, I’m watching you write in real time as I’m writing this. Kind of cool. Now I have to go walk the dog, though.
Kate: Without wanting to take anything away from the genuine problems women writers of science fiction have in, say, the UK, where it is clear they are deeply underrepresented compared to how many are and could be writing sf, I think you’re all identifying a potentially bigger point.
By focusing on sf are we privileging it as a more “serious” or “prestigious” form of writing? Are urban fantasy and paranormal looked down on because of their subject matter and approach–their sensibility, as Aliette says? Are there more non US/UK women writing urban fantasy? Are these women being ignored both because of the issues relating to English translation and because of the status of urban fantasy itself? Would a man writing sf be more likely to be picked up for translation than a woman writing urban fantasy or paranormal, because sf is taken as a more “serious” and therefore more “important” genre? Is there a “sensibility” in female written uf or fantasy or sf that is seen as less serious and important, so therefore can be derided or dismissed?
I’m not one to agree with essentialist views of gender. There may be essential differences between male and female, but to my way of thinking our cultural blankets obscure what those might be. However, I do think that just because of culture and societal conditioning and expectations that many women may well write with a view or focus whose sensibility may differ in some ways from that of men. At the same time as women’s “concerns” are often dismissed as trivial or unimportant, the way we as women view and examine the world is often dismissed as “the wrong way” or not “the right way” and thus women fall afoul of being judged as not worthy of a greater readership. This can influence how women writers are read, and how they are reviewed, and whether they’re published at all or can get past the gatekeepers.
Some months ago in an online venue, I read the comments section of an article whose subject I don’t recall except that it was about fantasy or sf. But in the comments several well known male fantasy writers said the most demeaning and insulting things about urban fantasy and paranormal; it was so sexist it shocked me, not that it should have, but it did anyway. They were younger men (i.e. younger than I am); I really thought they would have known better or been beyond that, but they weren’t. It made me sad. I suppose it’s possible to argue that if urban fantasy/paranormal sells well, then publishers will be more likely to take on translations, as they do with mysteries, yet I do wonder even with mysteries if anyone has done a statistical study of the male/female breakdown of how many non-English-language mysteries have been translated into English. As Aliette points out, does the greater representation of women in fantasy (as compared to sf) mean equal representation in all aspects, such as promotion and bestseller lists? In epic fantasy I would say emphatically no; in urban fantasy I would say yes–within the English language market. Yet I still don’t think that makes it easier for the non-English writer to move into the English language market, especially not for women.
Kate: A brief comment which I won’t make again. It is so hard to step outside my US-centricity, even when I try to be conscious of it. So thanks for putting up with it here.
Karen: Kate, I should have stopped to read your comment before editing mine. That’s exactly what I’m getting at, the question of respect, and also inclusion. Why dismiss urban fantasy, or YA? Or why move the goalposts of definition to conveniently exclude from your genre a writer who might be outside the usual demographic of the genre’s writers and readers? Why should authors need to ‘neuter’ their names in order to appeal to male readers? For some reason, I’m thinking about the crime genre. Men happily read female crime writers, don’t they? Are the expectations different?
And 100% agreement with the need for more translated works, especially home-grown literature as opposed to imitations of golden age SF/F.
(By the way, I’m trying to be as ‘global’ as I can in my comments, but I’m an anglophone from a former British colony and can only do so much!)
Aliette: I was mentioning it earlier, but crime also feels fairly global, at least in France. I don’t have the data by genre, but I have read crime novels from a lot more sources than US/UK (Sweden, South Africa, China…) ; whereas most non-French SF and fantasy is translated from English. And yes, a lot of the big names in crime are female; it doesn’t seem to be the case in SF, at least in Anglophone countries.
On the question of inclusion: I agree with Karen and Kate that it’s a very problematic one, especially since the boundary between SF/fantasy/horror is so fluid–you can basically define it as it suits you. And, while the Russ pledge in urban fantasy would have no interest (except for men!), I think a modified version of it would have merits, ie not draw attention to the women writing it, but to the quality of what is being written. UF is very easily dismissed in the debate, and it’s making me quite ill at ease. In “male” terms, one possible analogue of UF would be military SF–which is overwhelmingly written by men–but I don’t see it being military SF being dismissed quite as fast as UF.
I’m not conversant enough with the French SF/F scene to tell whether there is misogyny at work. Certainly our biggest selling SF writer, Pierre Bordage, is a man; and one of the only French SF/F writers to be translated into English is Pierre Pevel. But on the other hand, you have people like Jeanne A-Debats, whose short stories and novels swept up all the major awards in France; or Charlotte Bousquet, who won the Prix Imaginales this year. I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem that matters are that bad here (but again, there might well be invisible factors at work that I don’t see). France, from my (somewhat biased and limited) point of view, has more of a literary sensitivity, and I think the French are not quite as fast to pigeonhole novels into one slot or another: the various genres and subgenres of SF/F do exist here, but you get books which cheerfully ignore all labels and go on to win awards and sell a reasonable amount of copies (though by Anglophone standards, “reasonable” would be pitifully low). Similarly, our two biggest sellers at the moment, at least according to Amazon, are George R R Martin and Robin Hobb (both translations, I know, but at least we have gender parity…)
I do wonder about those rare SF/F books being translated into English–aren’t nearly all of those written by men (not to mention bestsellers in their home countries)? I can think of Pierre Pével, Sergei Lukyanenko, Dmitry Glukhovsky, etc., but I have to admit I can’t put my finger on a single woman in the lot…(also doing my best, but remember I’m seeing the French SF scene through a tiny little pinpoint of living in the country and reading some of the books. I haven’t actually hung out with that many authors and got “the inside picture”, so to speak)
Ekaterina: I’m sorry to disappoint, but since I am living in the US now (and for the past twenty years) I’m not as current on Russian SF as I should be. However, there are certainly a few prominent women writers — for example, Dina Rubina who is not strictly SF, but certainly uses enough fantastic elements to be considered at least speculative. Then there are wonderful Maria Galina and Maria Chepurina, Mariam Petrosyan, and Yulia Zonis. And of course female writers are translated in even smaller numbers than male ones, although Petrosyan’s DOM V KOTOROM… is probably one of the best three books I read in years, just remarkable.
I feel like anything I’ll say I’ll be repeating myself, because basically I feel like I’ve been banging my head against the wall with this topic — the one-way street of SF, where English-language works get translated all over the world, while the reverse is not true. While we can talk about English being an equalizer language (as Csilla mentioned), it also works as an effective tool of exclusion: it is so dominant that the expectation is for the rest of the world to speak English, not to try and understand them. And even foreign writers who DO write in English are by no means on the level playing field with the native speakers: there is a pressure to write in one milieu, there’s a tendency of editors to assume that every non-standard usage is a mistake, there are not-so-subtle hints that maybe one didn’t write one’s books, etc etc.
Joyce’s post certainly brought up a ton of issues, and it is difficult to sort through all of them at once. One thing is true: it seems that the mainstream tolerates only one level of otherness (as in deviation from white male default) at a time. You can be a woman or a POC or a non-Anglophone, but if you’re more than one of those categories, frames of reference become increasingly divergent from the conditioned default (because let’s face it, with the penetration Hollywood and Western media have all over the world, pretty much everyone is exposed to and is expected to relate to a white American dude as a hero. Once you start introducing separators — race, gender, nationality — you lose chunks of audience. Sure, some people find different perspective interesting and refreshing, but many more find them alienating and difficult, especially when they are reading “for pleasure” (another weird phrase, because why the hell else would you read?) Really, the advantage of being a cultural dominant is that you don’t have to know how to relate to anyone else, and I have no answer as to how that can be changed. The irony is that as some of the US-based SF is becoming more internally diverse, it seems more closed off to the outside influences. If that makes any sense.
Joyce: Just to comment on the urban fantasy=female authors – the bookstores here in Singapore stock up on many US titles. Does this show that Singaporean readers are still fixated on US or indeed UK titles (and authors). There is one Singaporean author SM de Silva (female) who self-published her urban fantasy novel Blood on The Moon – but even then the reception of home-grown UF authors is not there. Many readers are still reading US and UK titles (okay, I hope I don’t sound as if I am whining…)
Then again, I have an impression even within the SFF world, paranormal romance is received with disdain or at least with a curl of the lips (that signify disgust/dislike?). I wonder why though. Is it because it’s been overdone or that paranormal romance (italics for emphasis) equates women’s writing?
Aliette: I know UF used not to sell at all in France; and it’s only in recent years that we’ve started having huge hits (our big editor Bradgelonne started a “Milady” imprint, and I understand it’s been selling like crazy, even more than epic fantasy). In many ways, it does feel (again), like the one-way street: the US are the trendsetter, and everyone else is following in their wake with a slight delay–but there is no import of, say, French or Chinese or Singaporean trends back into the Western Anglophone world (like Ekaterina, I’ve been banging my head against the wall at this state of things for a while).
Coming back to what Ekaterina is saying about US SF: I have also noticed this phenomenon of US SF becoming more diverse, but closing itself to external influences. I wonder how much of that is a feeling of “having paid their dues to diversity”, so to speak? There’s both the notion of each step from the norm being more and more costly, as Ekaterina said (US POC are already “different” enough for many people); and the equation of US minorities with their countries of origins. I suspect that the general perception is that SF is more diverse because minorities are finally having their say (and this is a good thing, don’t mistake me), and that people equate this with the notion that everyone in the world is having their say (which I don’t think is the case, even though there have been efforts with imprints like Haikasoru, and activism from Cheryl Morgan, Jeff Vandermeer, …).
In fact, thinking of Haikasoru, it occurs to me that quite possibly the only subgenre where this isn’t a one-way street is SF published in mangas. Not quite sure why that is, or why it’s limited to this particular medium?
Joyce: Oh yes, I agree with the feeling of “having paid their dues to diversity”. Have that masterlist with token POC/minority characters and they feel like they are good allies with a pass to get away from POC censure. Then again, what is a good ‘ally’? Cluebat: Everyone in the world is still not saying their say.Then again, why should US/UK take the lead?
Csilla: It seems to me that we are trying to tackle in one go problems that are interrelated yet cause serious headache even separately. The situation of women writers in general, the borders world SF has to tear down, the underappreciation of urban fantasy: they could be all traced back to the existence of a privileged class and privileged traits. It’s difficult for me to find an approach that could give an answer to all the questions above, so I will try to focus instead on fantasy as the conversation turned that way, although Aliette and Kate pretty much covered the main points.
What you said made me think about non-Western fantasy and science fiction, speculative fiction so different from what we used to label SF that even the writers and readers don’t realize it’s SF. This strangeness may come from the stylistic approaches of the mainstream, the themes and sometimes merely from the fact that these works reflect very strongly the angst and mentality of a certain nation. All non-Western countries have these books, but we are so used to being told what SF is and what SF should be that anything that doesn’t follow the US/UK trends automatically falls into the mash category of the mainstream (and I am not talking about magic realism, nor those who study literature, just the general idea of SF that lives in the heads of an average reader). Now that I think about it, it’s exactly these works that could contribute the most to the dynamism and diversity of global SF (as “world SF” is used to define non-US/UK SF I have the need of a more universal term, is there one…?) and perhaps bend a little the boundary of what is SF.The problem is, just like Ekaterina said, that the more the fiction deviates from the default, some of the audience is lost. Strangeness is a spice that is tolerated but people like to enjoy it with moderation.And this is the drawback of English language serving as a mediator. While being published in English is clearly the most effective way for a non US/UK writer to make her work available to readers all over the world, English language publishing is not a non-profit organization. The preferences of the editors and publishers shape the genre, and they go for what they know will be selling, because it’s familiar or at least not too strange to be a turn-off, just strange enough to get favorable reception. And why would readers pick up a foreign novel if most of the review sites don’t even mention it and are all about Western publications?World SF writers may try other venues if the big publishers turn them down, and they do, but they need compensation for the lack of privilege or else it won’t be a big surprise that in a race where some people run free and some in sacks, those with tied feet will always falter behind the privileged.I hope this makes sense. As I have never lived in the US/UK I don’t have a firm understanding of its SF industry so my guess at what publishers or readers like or not like is just a speculation.
Joyce: Yes, you made sense, Csilla. People are still in sacks and those with tied feet are still faltering. That’s my main beef/worry/concern when it comes to Western publications. Diversity is one thing. But actually walking the talk is another.
Csilla: Aliette, I have seen that France has a wonderful and rich comic culture – here in Hungary when French SF comes up it’s the BDs that are mentioned, Metabarons, Enki Bilal’s and Jean-Claude Gal’s works etc. Perhaps they could serve as the foot French writers could plant in the door to keep it from closing?
Aliette: (just a tangent on BDs) Csilla, I think it’s been tried before. A couple of French BDs were translated for the US market, and they didn’t work so well. More than anything, it highlighted the differences in conception between a French BD and a US comic: a French BD is a series of long episodes that are usually published a year or so apart, the individual episodes being quite thicker than a comic (usually 50 A4 pages, sometimes more). They can be standalone episodes, but also part of an ongoing series: Universal War One, for instance, one of my fave time travel SF series, is a complete story in six volumes. Comics are usually released issue by issue (sometimes day by day for the online strips); and I know there have been some problems with that when Marvel tried to publish translated BDs: there was backlash, centred on the fact that the individual episodes weren’t complete, and that people would have to wait a long time for the sequel. I think that, because the individual episodes were far longer than a single comic issue, readers expected them to be complete stories in and of themselves.
There are also very different expectations on storyline, and even on art, which I don’t think help the BDs reach into the US. But if there’s a way to export them elsewhere, I’d be all for it. BDs are a treasured part of my childhood, and they shaped me way more than golden age SF/F.
Csilla: Aliette, thank you for your answer. It’s interesting as it also highlights the difference in mentality and expectations; other Europeans usually have no problem reading BDs.
Karen: Csilla said something I found really striking: ‘speculative fiction so different from what we used to label SF that even the writers and readers don’t realize it’s SF’. The boundaries of SF are drawn differently for different cultures, or simply don’t exist. Redemption in Indigo is speculative fiction, but most of the Caribbean readers I’ve talked to don’t encounter it as fantasy. Our literature has a long tradition of incorporating supernatural elements, and for some readers ‘fantasy genre’=elves & orcs.And here’s my favourite bit from Csilla, bolded:
This strangeness may come from the stylistic approaches of the mainstream, the themes and sometimes merely from the fact that these works reflect very strongly the angst and mentality of a certain nation.
Now, as a reader, I want that. I want to read a book or short story so evocative of another time or place that I am positively inspired to go to the library or the Internet and research the non-fiction sources of the tale. I want stories that test me so much with their difference that I need to read more authors of that country, to get into the habit of listening to their particular idiom.The irony is that traditional UK/US SF/F has so much created its own idiom that it does not realise the extent to which it has become opaque to the mainstream reader. The tropes and homages are all known to the insider, but to the outsider they add another layer of difference and difficulty. And yet much of ‘global’ SF, with its lack of adherence to the UK/US rules, could end up being more accessible to the mainstream reader, especially those who are allergic to Tolkien and technology. It probably just has to be marketed right.
This issue features four female authors, three of whom are Indian, and one who is from the Philippines. Though there are only four stories, they cover such varied topics as transdimensional portals, mermaids, the Indian goddess of destruction, and space travel. The offerings of Filipina Eliza Victoria and Keyan Bowes are flavored with tragedy, Neesha Meminger’s “Daughters of Kali” reads like a modern folktale, and Devyani Borade ends the issue on a light-hearted note that celebrates imagination.
The story “God in the Sky”, by An Owomoyela, is especially interesting coming as it does on the heels of the Rapture hype in the news in May. In this story, a light appears in the sky. Scientists study it, others claim it is evidence of God, everyone panics. Owomoyela uses the light in the sky as the motivating force for a study of family dynamics in this character-based piece. The secondary theme involves the relationship of people to their religion, or lack of one. In the face of ill-defined potential doom, people turn to and from their families, to and from their religions. As in real life, and unlike many stories, none of these tensions are resolved. Continue reading
Hungarian fantasy is based on the pre-existing anglophone literary traditions and did not develop independently. Hungarian fantastic literature is varied but authors did not form a movement based on the common usage of the surreal and the fantastic, and did not have a mentor-student tradition. Fantastic elements may be significant in a writer’s work and even influences can be observed between authors and writings, but these were isolated examples, and therefore lacked the influence to start a boom of fantasy writings. That came with the abundance of translated foreign fantasy.
Hungarian fantasy appeared in the footsteps of English fantasy literature in the beginning of the eighties, when Péter Kuczka (legendary editor of the Galaktika magazine) and other editors started to publish foreign fantasy within the intellectual and infrastructural boundaries of speculative literature (mostly science fiction). This boom was apparently independent from the autonomous artistic endeavors of the Hungarian fantastic literature of the 20th century.