Gold Coast Speckies interview Malaysian author Fadzlishah Johanabas:
I am a Malay, raised in multicultural Malaysia, and a Muslim. Not necessarily a model Muslim, but still. When I was in secondary school and in university, I thought that writing English stories featuring local people and setting didn’t seem right, so I wrote about Caucasians in their vaguely Caucasian world, courtesy of TV series and movies.
When I finally gave up that internal argument, I found my voice. In a way, the adage “write what you know” is spot-on. I know Malaysia. I know its settings and cultures and racial dynamics. I know its myths and legends. I know Islamic values and teachings. I used to have a writing group at Writing.com, and they loved the exoticism of my stories, which, to me, was inherently local.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a Muslim, and most of my characters are Muslims as well, as evident in “Act of Faith”. I’ve gotten mixed reactions for it. Other Muslim people across the globe are happy that a brighter facet of Islam is portrayed, while there are people who complain that I’m trying to preach and spread my Islamic ways.
I’m not. Christianity is deep within the pages and reels of fiction, but people don’t even blink twice. The crucifix, the invocation of Christ, the Christian ways of defeating vampires and other monsters. People don’t really think about the subtle messages of Christianity because they’ve always been there. When someone else from another culture and another religion uses what he knows, he sometimes gets a sound lashing. – read the full interview.
We continue our special Mexican Week feature this week with an interview with Mexican author and editor Federico Schaffler!
Federico Schaffler interview by Charles Tan
First off, how did you first get into science fiction and fantasy?
I think that the main reason for getting into these genres was that as a child I watched a bunch of great TV shows like Star Trek (when originally aired, so you can now guess my age), Twilight Zone, The Invaders, Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, UFO, Voyage to the bottom of the sea, Lost in Space, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Six Million Dollar man, among others. Afterwards, when I was around 12 years old, I began to buy and read Spanish pulp pocketbooks that managed to get to Mexico. I think I must have read around some 400 of them.
But most importantly, when I was in my first year of secondary school, that would be 7th for the US education system, I had to turn in a book report every month to my Spanish teacher. Because I already read a lot, I asked him if I could just tell him what I read and instead turned in a short story to get my grade. He agreed and that was the beginning of my writing career.
What’s the appeal of the genre for you?
The fantastic, being able to visit strange worlds and new civilizations (I wonder where I picked up that). The freedom to write what my imagination comes up without restraining myself to the boring reality that most of the time surrounds us. Being able to share my stories with whoever might read them.
Regarding terminologies, do you have a preferred term for science fiction and fantasy? For example, what’s your reaction when you hear the term speculative fiction? Magic-realism?
I´m very fond of Science Fiction, but can live with speculative fiction. Magic-realism is another species, vaguely related to SF, which I find difficult to relate to, but nonetheless admire. Sometimes I find that “science fiction writer” sets me apart, but it can also be an obstacle when I write essays, history books, chronicles or mostly the yearly reports of some of the Mayors of my city, Nuevo Laredo, when I have worked in the city government. Journalists more than once used my SF background to label those state of municipal affairs reports as “unbelievable science fiction”. It did not matter much to me because I got paid anyway.
What’s the field there like?
Right now? Almost inexistent. We had a very strong movement during the nineties, when we founded the Mexican Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, AMCYF, of which I was the first president. We also published magazines, held national short story awards, had several conventions and were recognized in national magazines, invited to international book fairs, published many books and were acknowledged in other countries. Sadly, this momentum came practically to a halt in 2000 after a fiercely fought campaign to preside AMCYF. After that, almost everyone went their own way and several authors kept the flame burning, but not me. I had a 10 year hiatus when I barely wrote because I had to work on other things.
But now I´m back and even though a part of me is strongly pushing me to once again put on the promoter and editor cap, as well to once again conduct a genre literary workshop (I coordinated the Terra Ignota literary workshop from 1990 to 2002), I think it´s time to do some serious writing of my own.
Here in the Philippines, there’s a predisposition for short stories rather than novels. Is that also the case there?
Yes, even though it is common knowledge that novels are easier to sell to the publishing houses and many have been able to appear to wider markets, but not with a SF label. Short stories can be found in personal collections, very few anthologies, electronic and printed magazines and blogs. Several novels have been published in Spain and that has opened up some doors that still are difficult to cross. Others prefer not to be labeled and have managed to publish in general collections.
Could you tell us more about the Mexican SF anthology that you edited, Mas alla de lo imaginado?
It was the first anthology published in Mexico that had only stories from Mexican writers. The National Council of the Arts, CONACULTA, by way of the Tierra Adentro Cultural Program, commissioned me in 1990 to prepare what eventually came to be three volumes, with 42 different authors, the youngest of whom was 17 and the eldest 72. The first two volumes appeared in 1991 and immediately sold out. The third appeared in 1994 and the fourth and fifth volumes never were published.
Mas alla de lo imaginado, or MADLI, as we call it, served as a loud wakeup call that motivated new writers, at the same time that it served as a common ground for those of us who already wrote and published but were not widely known about.
Many of the authors in MADLI later on garnered national or international literary awards, were published in Mexico and other countries and became household names for the SF community.
What was your criteria in selecting the stories for all three volumes?
I wanted to show a wide range of well written stories, most of them dealing directly with Mexican themes or characteristics. Many stories were intimate, other galaxy spanning and several very well could be included in other non-genre anthologies. I tried to balance new voices with established writers and sought stories from many sources, among them the Premio Puebla, a well known SF short story competition that began in 1984.
How would you describe Mexican science fiction and fantasy?
Mexican science fiction is more about how people react or is affected by technology, mainly because we have a very poor scientific education level and we are consumers and not developers of scientific advancements or technological innovations. There are more SF stories with Mexican space heroes written by non-Mexicans than those that are written in our country.
Who are some of the Mexican writers we should be reading?
Alberto Chimal, José Luis Zárate, Gerardo Porcayo, Pepe Rojo and Bernardo “Bef” Fernandez have been publishing widely and have a strong group of followers. Some of the lesser know authors beyond our borders are also very good, among them Hector Chavarria, Irving Roffe, Guillermo Lavin, Jose Luis Velarde and Gabriel Trujillo. You can search for stories by them and many others mainly in the Axxon webpage, an Argentinian SF electronic magazine that has been publishing since the early nineties and has over 225 issues at their website (axxon.com.ar) with Spanish speaking authors from many countries around the world.
When it comes to your writing, what’s the appeal of the short story format for you?
I originally found it a lot easier to tell a story that had the appeal of its short length. Now, I have to force myself to go back to the basics, regarding the scope and length of the story, because they started getting longer and longer. This makes me think that I might be ready to finish one of the several novels I have begun over the years and that remain unfinished.
How would you describe your own fiction?
First of all, I want it to entertain, to surprise the reader, to leave them sometimes with a smile and other times thinking. I try to find and use humorous or unexpected twists, some time even being cruel to the characters. I almost always see that the story, while universal, contains particular aspects of Mexican culture, ideology, traditions or customs that try to make it different from others.
What’s the publishing industry in Mexico like?
I think it´s the same as in other countries of Latin America. Publishers want sure-fire bets, mostly with books from well recognized authors. That is why it is easier to find new books (at least because of their publication date and not because of when they were written) by Isaac Asimov, Orson Scot Card, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke and other authors instead of books by Mexican authors who do not have a wide fan base. Magazines, on the other hand, are more open to publish stories from new authors or from those with at least some name value.
What’s your opinion on the upcoming anthology Three Messages and a Warning (http://smallbeerpress.com/forthcoming/2011/03/23/three-messages-and-a-warning/#more-8815)?
I just got it a few days ago, when I attended a book presentation in San Antonio, Texas, when I finally got to personally meet one of the editors, Eduardo Jimenez Mayo, as well as five of the authors, two of whom were already friends of mine. I finished the book in a couple of days and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to have a broad panorama of current Mexican fantastic fiction. I also hope that Eduardo and Chris N. Brown can soon publish a follow-up volume because there are many more authors that were not included who should be well known to English readers.
What projects are you currently working on?
I´m working in translating into English some of my stories, as well as and writing new ones directly in this language. I am also outlining two novels that I expect to begin soon (I still do not know which one will be first). I am also trying to finish a space opera novella that I started and left unconcluded a dozen years ago. I recently finished a book of flash fiction, called “From Zero to a Hundred” that has stories that have a word count between 0 and 100 and I have a pet project of writing this year twelve stories, ranging from one to twelve pages long, on January 1, February 2, March 3 and so on (1/1, 2/2, 3/3…) so I can finish with a 78 page chapbook. But most importantly I will try to break into international markets, by publishing in the US, Canada, Spain and Argentina, among other countries.
Federico Schaffler was founding president of the Mexican Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, AMCyF, in 1992. He also edited the first anthology of original SF stories from Mexico, “Mas Alla de lo Imaginado” (3 volumes, 1991-1993), as well as another 22 books that range from essays to short story collections and chronicles. In 2011 he was designated Emeritus creator of the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico, due to his writing and editorial work for over 28 years. He was once a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, in the early 1990´s, when he gained admission after successfully arguing that America is the whole continent, and not only the USA, and that as a Mexican national he was eligible to be a member. After that, the SFFWA eventually changed their admission guidelines.
Cheryl Morgan interviews Egyptian writer Ahmed Khaled Towfik. Originally published in Locus.
Ahmed Khaled Towfik Interview
By Cheryl Morgan
Ahmed Khaled Towfik is one of the most prolific authors in Egypt, having written over 500 books. A trained doctor himself, he specializes in medical thrillers and horror, but he has also written science fiction and it is his latest foray into that field, Utopia, that has been published in English translation by BloomsburyQatar.
Can you tell us a little bit about the book?
If you want to divide science fiction into genres then I’d call it a post-apocalyptic dystopia. The vision of a near futureEgyptthat it paints is something that has been very real recently. The rich are becoming richer, the poor are becoming poorer, and the rich are sequestrating themselves in colonies on the north coast. One of them is even called Utopia.. When I found that out I had to put a disclaimer in the front of the book to make it clear I wasn’t writing about them.
The major innovation I have made, for theEgyptof 2023, is to make a rite of passage for young men from the enclaves to go out and hunt one of the poor, and take his hand for a trophy. So the hero and his girlfriend go out amongst the poor in search of someone to kill.
I based this in part on a true story. A young man from a relatively poor family had got into university to study engineering. His parents had saved a lot of money to give him this start in life. He was invited by fellow students to visit one of these enclaves. They were out swimming, and some rich people were playing on jet skis. The student was hit by one of these jet skis and killed. There was no investigation or trial. The rich are above that.
This sort of setting is the basis of a lot of cyberpunk.
That’s not really what I’m doing here. I have written a cyberpunk trilogy. It is called WWW, and it is about the adventures of a computer virus as it moves from one computer system to another. There’s nothing like that in Utopia.
How did the book come to be translated?
First of all it was very successful in Egypt.. Everyone who reads fiction was talking about it. So Bloomsburyapproached me and asked for a translation. I don’t think it is a masterpiece as such, but it is essential for understanding how people are thinking in Egyptat the moment. There is another book called Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? by Galal A. Amin, he’s an economist at the American University in Cairo. You won’t understand what happened in Egypt, and how the revolution came about, unless you read this book. And I see my Utopia as telling the same story, but in novel form.
There are some horrible things in Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? and indeed in the revolution as a whole. There was the brutal murder, by the police, of a young man called Khaled Saeed. I think he was one of my readers for sure. You can Google the story. He was beaten to death in a cyber café in front of many people. I think this was one of the events that helped spark the revolution.
How well known is science fiction in Egypt?
I have translated a lot of science fiction. Young people in Egypttoday can read Ray Bradbury, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov. I am very proud to have done this. But science fiction is a relatively new innovation in Egypt. People there have only been writing novels for just over 100 years, starting with Francis Fathallah in Syriaor Haikal in Egypt. Before that we had very little fantastical literature, except for the Arabian Nights. Sophisticated new inventions such as science fiction are very rare. Most people still are not aware of it, or don’t understand it. It will take 50 to 100 years before it is respected.
There are works in English from Tawfiq al-Hakim and Mustafa Mahmud, but they date from the late 1940s. What has happened since?
Only one writer has concentrated exclusively on science fiction in Egypt. That was Nihad Sherif, who died recently.. He wrote several important works, including The Olive Pearls, The Conqueror of Time, which was made into a movie, and Number Four Orders You. There are a number of other authors as well, such as Nabil Farouq and Raouf Wasfi. But there is one thing we all have in common, myself included: we have all depended on what we read in Western literature. I have yet to see any genuinely original Egyptian SF. Possibly the closest we have come is a story called “The Spider” by Mustafa Mahmud, which I think is available in translation.
Of course some people have identified the Epic of Gilgamesh as the first science fiction work in history, and then you have the Arabian Nights. But their connection to SF is tenuous. Even the early writers such as al-Hakim did not see themselves as producing SF. The idea of specifically sitting down to write science fiction in the manner of Asimov and Clarke developed, forEgypt, with Nihad Sherif.
What about fantasy – is there anything like George Martin or Tolkien in Egypt
No. We are very impressed with those writers, Tolkien has a lot of fans in Egypt, but we don’t write anything like them. For us everything refers back to the Arabian Nights, as indeed it does for many Western writers. H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King have mentioned them as inspiration. But the reputation of the Arabian Nights is so enormous that no one wants to try to write like that.
Do people write novels set in the time of the Pharaohs?
I have tried that a few times, but there is one author who works exclusively in that period. His name Muhamed Soleman and he is very good.
What about the rest of the Arab world. Do other countries where Arabic is spoken produce science fiction?
There was a very good science fiction writer fromSaudi Arabiacalled Ihsan Al Faqeeh, but he met with no success there so he emigrated toCanada, where he is doing very well.Syriahas a thriving science fiction community. They have held conferences and they give an award for science fiction in Arabic, the Assad Prize, named after President Assad. The first winner was Nihad Sherif.
Is a work written in one Arab country understandable in all other Arab countries, all across North Africa and Arabia?
The language varies somewhat from country to country, especially the slang. And the accents are very different. If they show an Algerian movie on Egyptian TV they provide subtitles. But there is a traditional form of the language called Fosha that should be understandable everywhere. Also most people understand Egyptian slang as we produce the most movies in the Arab world.
You have written a huge number of books.
Yes, but I write mainly very short forms, usually novellas from maybe 17,000 words. Even Utopia is only between 35,000 and 40,000 words. I think short books are less effort. Also I have a very hungry audience. They are always wanting more books from me.
And your audience is mainly young people, college students?
That’s right. They are the only people who read fiction. There are statistics that say that the average Arabic reader reads only 20 pages a year, whereas the average Japanese reads 40 books a year. We have newspapers, of course, but they are full of nonsense. People should read more books.
Is there anything we can do to help get more Arabic science fiction translated?
I think there is a growing interest in Arabic literature, ever since Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize. That was very important. And also The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, which is a very famous novel, translated into many languages. These things have drawn the attention of the world to Egyptian contemporary literature. Hopefully if Utopia sells well then Bloomsbury will translate my next book.
Over at Strange Horizons, Dustin Monk interviews Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck:
Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck attended Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop in 2010, and there was much discussion of writing gnomes. A short story collection, Vem är Arvid Pekon? was published in Sweden in September 2010, and another is set to be released later this year from Cheeky Frawg Books; her short story “Jagganath” first published in Weird Tales #358—was featured on Drabblecast in March. It was great to catch up with Ms. Tidbeck; in this interview we discuss the speculative fiction market overseas, LARPing, the dark and dangerous worlds of Tove Jansson, and, of course, those gnomes.
Dustin Monk: Your first published story in English was “Augusta Prima,” in Weird Tales. It concerns the titular character’s curiosity about the nature of her world and time which, as she points out, “can’t be measured properly here.” Sweden has several months of perpetual darkness and several months of perpetual light; did this influence the story at all and how does it affect your own sense of time, if at all?
Karin Tidbeck: I grew up in Stockholm, which is in the south, so no total darkness or light. However, a midwinter day is maybe six or seven hours long, and summer nights are so short that it never gets completely dark. Sunrise and sunset is a slow, very gradual process that can last for hours. I suppose the way this affects my own sense of time is that I’m always a little jet-lagged. Midday isn’t the same time as it was last week; or, suddenly dusk starts at five p.m. and not seven. It can be hell on your sleep cycle. We spend a lot of time in twilight, which is a liminal condition, a no-man’s land. The light has an eerie and melancholy quality. I suppose this has carried over into my writing as well, both in the sense of the eerie and melancholy, but also the sensation of having stepped sideways into another world where the sun has stopped in its course.
DM: You’re working on an English translation of your short story collection, Vem är Arvid Pekon. What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of translating a work, even your own?
KT: The main challenge is that you don’t have the same intuitive grasp of a second language as you do with your first. I’m not talking about skill, but about how words resonate with you. Swedish is the language in which my brain has been programmed; the meaning of words is instinctive and immediate. I can manipulate that language with precision and find the words that feel right. With English, it’s sometimes like writing with gloves on because the language isn’t hard-wired into me. I must be getting better, though, because I started out with mittens.
Dialect and register is another issue. Some of my Swedish stories are a little troublesome because I’ve written them in a specific dialect, for example a story in phonetic working-class Stockholm dialect. On another level, there’s vocabulary or turns of phrase that identify the speaker’s geographical or social origin. Then there’s using sentence structure and punctuation to convey the general feel of the story. All of these need an English analogue. It can only be an approximation, because the two languages come with different cultural baggage and worldview. So what I’m really doing is a re-imagining, not a translation. I’ve ended up with two voices as a writer: a Swedish and an English one. – continue reading.
Djibril al-Ayad is general editor of The Future Fire, an online magazine of social-political speculative fiction. In the past, TFF published themed issues on Feminist SF and Queer SF, and two guest-edited, themed anthologies are currently in development:Outlaw Bodies, themed around trans, queer and disability issues with a cyberpunk flavor, edited by Lori Selke; and We See a Different Frontier, which will publish colonialism-themed stories from outside of the white, anglo, first-world perspective, edited by Fabio Fernandes, who also interviews.
Fabio Fernandes: First of all, Djibril al-Ayad is not your birth name. I’m not going to ask you your former name, but I’m curious to know why you chose this particular name, and what meaning (linguistic, social, political) it has in your life?
Djibril al-Ayad: Yes, “Djibril” is the nom de guerre I use in speculative fiction publishing and campaigning. I use another pseudonym as a horror/cyberpunk writer and a third (almost my original name) as an active academic historian. I use three names primarily to keep my web presence distinct, for convenience, rather than trying to hide my identity or anything. (Having said that, I do prefer not to cross the streams!)
In fact “Djibril” is pretty close to being my own name; it’s a regional variant of my given name, and Ayad was the family name of my Algerian grandfather. My (French) grandmother died when my father was a small child, and her relatives took him away to be raised in a vile orphanage run by sadistic nuns rather than let his poor and foreign father keep him, so my family has no real Algerian roots, we never learned Arabic, etc., and my grandfather is long dead. In a way my reclaiming the name is a reaction against the injustice of that story, which has always made me angry, although no one else on either side of the family seems to see it that way.
FF: How the idea of creating The Future Fire came to you? And, speaking of names, how did the magazine get its name?
DA: I’ve always liked the idea of running a science fiction magazine. I grew up with this romantic image of the pulps and of xeroxed fanzines produced at home, and the idea of putting something out there full of weird fiction, surreal art, political agendas and baffling juxtapositions appealed to my love of collage and recycled scrap art. It wasn’t until I was working in digital publication myself that I realised I could actually do this, and so in 2004 I got together with a bunch of friends in Scotland, Switzerland and the USA, bought some webspace, and started writing a “manifesto” (really a call for subs).
The name was the hardest thing. Twenty years ago when I thought about putting out a 12-page xeroxed pamphlet, I was going to call it “Ya God, it’s a…” The idea was for each month’s theme to add a different word to the end of that phrase—but the juvenile humour was in the fact that yagoditsa is apparently the Russian word for “buttock”. (So clever. So glad we didn’t have the internet then.) I think The Future Fire name was more or less random, or the result of a brainstorm between the five original editors or something. It worked because of the alliteration, the dystopian connotations, and the environmental postapocalypse feel of it too. I think we all thought this was mostly going to be an Eco-SF magazine in those days.
Besides being a writer, you also offer translation services from German to English and English to German, and are a native German speaker. Do you feel this gives you a nearly unique perspective as a writer? Do you think it affects how you approach writing?
Well, I’m not completely unique, since there are a few writers who write in a language that is not their mother tongue, including a handful of Germans writing in English. And some of these writers are bound to be translators, since it’s a natural career choice for those who are fluent in two or more languages.
Regarding my translation work, I have done a bit of fiction, but the overwhelming majority of my translation work is non-fiction, business and tech translation, because that’s where the money and the work is. Even though it’s unfair that tech translation pays so much better than fiction translation, because fiction translation is very difficult to do well.
As for whether being bilingual and writing in a language that is not your mother tongue gives you a different perspective as a writer, it certainly does. First of all, being bilingual gives you a heightened sensitivity for language in general and improves grammar and vocabulary skills as well. There’s plenty of research to back this up. And since language transmits culture, being multilingual also heightens cultural awareness, which is extremely useful when writing about people (or if you’re an SF or fantasy writer, beings) that are different from yourself.
A curious side-effect of writing in a language that is not the language you grew up speaking at home and in school is that writing swearwords and the like won’t make you cringe. Because the sense of violating a taboo while swearing is something that we acquire in childhood and you only acquire it for whatever language the world around you is speaking during that time. But while I intellectually know which English words are considered very rude or even completely taboo, these words don’t evoke the visceral cringing that the equivalent German word would evoke.
Finally, writers are the sum of their influences. And due to having grown up in Germany (though I also spent part of my formative years in the U.S., the Netherlands and Singapore), I have a couple of influences e.g. British or American writers don’t have. I even wrote non-fiction articles on a few of those influences such as the Dr. Mabuse series, pulp heroes John Sinclair and Jerry Cotton and the German Edgar Wallace film adaptations of the 1960s. And of course these influences show up in my fiction, even though I have published only one story which is set in Germany (The Other Side of the Curtain, a spy novella set in 1960s East Germany) with another, a historical novelette set in the late Middle Ages in the Rhine-Moselle region, coming soon. – read the full interview.
Charles Tan interviews Fabio Fernandes about his writing, SF in Brazil, and his new crowd-sourced project on colonialism-themed SF.
Hi Fabio! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get into speculative fiction?
I started writing speculative fiction in my early twenties. I had already written for the stage (and won an award) when I was 19 years old, but nothing related to fantastika. I always loved speculative fiction, specially SF (I was a fan of TV shows of the genre, like Star Trek and Star Lost, since early childhood, and read a lot of comic books – my absolute favorite was the X-Men). In my teens I started to read what every Brazilian boy and girl my age used to read: Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, occasionally Heinlein. In my case, since I finished my English course by 18, I discovered Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Frank Herbert as well. My first speculative story was published in a fanzine when I was 21. That was exactly 25 years ago - my goodness, time flies!
For readers unfamiliar with the speculative fiction scene in Brazil, how would you describe it?
A thriving scene today. It was a very harsh panorama by the time I was writing for fanzines, in the 1980s and 1990s, but today there is what some call the Third Wave (I’m from the Second Wave, the Gen-Xrs, in fact), and now there is a new anthology every couple of months. Since 2008 the speculative fiction scene in Brazil has become a very rich one in terms of publishers too – there are now at least half a dozen small press uniquely dedicated to publish SFF. We have an annual convention, Fantasticon, and until 2010 we had a biannual con, Invisibilidades, which I curated, but sadly is no more because the institute who sponsored it cut the funding. But I’m planning to do another model of con in the next few years.
How did you become a fiction writer? A translator?
I suppose fiction comes spontaneously. One day you are reading, and you feel like writing too. Either because you feel you can write something better than the writers you are reading, or because you want to be part of a tradition of such accomplished storytellers (that’s my case). I started with poetry (badly) in my teens, then wrote plays (still do, but right now I’m in a sabbatical from the theatre) and one day I woke up to the fact the I could write short stories. Then I met the members of CLFC (the Brazilian Science Fiction Reader’s Club, founded in 1985 by Roberto Nascimento and which still exists to this day, although I’m not a member anymore) and I saw that I could indeed do it. Then I started to write for their fanzine, SOMNIUM, and it was the beginning (that was in 1987).
My career as a translator began shortly before that. I had just left high school and didn’t know what to do at the university (we don’t have college in Brazil – 4-5 years in university are pretty much the same of college+university for us here).
One of my concerns is colonialism, and how there’s a disproportionate amount of literature coming from the West to other countries, but the reverse is not true. For you, why do we need to address this problem? And how does this play into us as SF readers?
I think this is a two-tiered problem. The first tier is related to the amount of translations to the English language. It still amazes me how few translations there are, for instance, of Brazilian literature (in general, I’m not even speaking of the genre) in English. Consider movies: almost every time a non-English-language movie is a big hit, what Hollywood do? Immediately buys the rights and remakes the film, just because AMERICANS DON’T WANT TO BE BOTHERED READING SUBTITLES (remember True Lies, Nikita, The Departed). Then why aren’t we seeing more translations in literature? (I’m aware this comparison is not exact, but it fits the bill anyway). It should be an easier thing to do, since in a book you won’t be able to perceive the “alienness” of the work languagewise, which is not possible in a subtitled movie, where the foreign language is there all the while upsetting the spectator (I try to see this through the POV of the American, for instance, because as a Brazilian, I watch subtitled movies all the time and I don’t care, I’m used to it). But some of the reasons we don’t see more novel translations is because, naturally, it’s more difficult to translate a novel than a movie, it takes much more time, and it’s more expensive to do so. That seems to be a major impediment.
The second tier is related to the writers. If you are a non-Anglo writer and you are interested in make yourself heard in the Anglo world, maybe you should consider writing in English. There’s nothing wrong with that. Joseph Conrad (born and raised in Poland, native speaker of Polish and French) did it. Vladimir Nabokov (born in the former USSR, native speaker of Russian, did it. And they became masters of the English literature.
It’s all about communication, you know. If we really want to address this problem, we must learn how to communicate with each other. As SF readers in a global community, English is our lingua franca. And we, who live outside the Anglo world, should use it more, and more creatively, introducing neologisms and words of our own languages, helping English to take the next step to evolve into a really global language instead a colonizing language.
How did you become involved with The Future Fire? For unfamiliar readers, could you tell us what the magazine and the Peerbacker fundraising is about?
I was aware of TFF a year or so ago, via The Outer Alliance, an LGBT-friendly association of which I’m a member, and I started to read it since then. By the end of 2011, Its editor, Djibril al-Ayad, issued an ad looking for guest editors for two special editions in 2012. These editors should present fresh, relevant projects of their own, related to the spirit of the magazine, which has a distinct social-political orientation. I offered then a project regarding an investigation on Colonialism, and Djibril liked the idea very much. The fundraising was suggested into the project pitch, so we spent a couple of months searching for the best fundraiser site to help us. Peerbacker was the best for a number of reasons, not the least of which the fact that it accept projects from outside the US (I’m from Brazil, Djibril is from the UK). We aim to raise just enough money to pay a professional rate for authors and artists. But we will do the editorial and technical work for free.
What made you decide to title it We See A Different Frontier?
I’m a big fan of the cyberpunks, and one of my favorite Bruce Sterling stories is We See Things Differently, where he portrays a difficult situation for an Arab world journalist faced with a post-crisis America. It’s a prophetic story of sorts, and I was really wondering, after reading it, how did Bruce had the balls to write it (of course, he wrote that years before 9/11, so the answer is simple – I read it after). Evidently I didn’t condone the actions of the protagonist, but I liked the complexity of his character, and the words he says in the end of the story – words which happen to give the story its the title. And, even if the ending had been more peaceful and understanding, the words wouldn’t have ringed any less true. Because people of different cultures really see things in a different light, even small, quotidian things. And that can be beautiful instead of weird. So I decided to title this guest edition We See A Different Frontier to celebrate the difference and to clarify the fact that, in the world of the 21st Century, geopolitical borders are indeed changing, and concepts like First World and Third World maybe just doesn’t apply anymore.
Here in the Philippines, we’re sometimes criticized for borrowing a foreign term, speculative fiction, and using it as our own. What’s your stance when it comes to appropriating the title for an American’s work, and using it for your own?
That’s an excellent question. I’m a strong believer in DADA and the Surrealists (in the works of the Modernists, by the way – I taught Art History for quite a while), and the matter of appropriation is quite adequate. Appropriation can indeed be akin to what some would consider “stealing” ( I don’t), but in the case of our title I took the care to change it for one simple reason: keeping the original simply would not translate my idea. If I thought it would, I’d ask Bruce about using it as a homage. But is he didn’t agree, that would be okay – between me and Djibril, we had two dozen more suggestions of titles. We just happen to like that better.
Assuming the fundraising succeeds (and I hope it does), do you have the contributors already planned, or are you just about to start soliciting/announcing a call for submissions?
Thanks for the best wishes! We really hope too! In fact, we are thinking of inviting contributors, but we will announce a call for submissions for at least half of the stories (we haven’t decided yet how many stories will fill the issue – we are thinking of eight), but this number may reach two-thirds, because we want to be surprised - and I’m guessing we will have a lot of surprises out there.
What would be your criteria as far as fiction and contributors are concerned?
One US writer told us via Twitter that he loved the idea, but he was very said because he wouldn’t be able to be a part of it. Then I asked him why, and he answered because you’re asking for people outside the Anglo world. Then I had to ask him to read more carefully our pitch text in Peerbackers. We are not excluding anyone – we just want more people from outside the Anglo world, that’s all. But we welcome everyone. Period. I must admit I won’t be happy if all we get are subs from North America and Europe, for instance, but we will take them, read them, and if they are good, we will publish them. Why is that? We want the experience from people who lives the daily reality of non-Anglo world – be it from the POV of a poor person living in Central America, Sudan, North Korea (highly unlikely, but why shouldn’t we aim high?), be it from a rich, spoiled Brazilian, Indian, South African kid living the good life now that her country is one of the BRICS. All these POVs can bring us a rich experience and give us a lot of food for thought.
Why is this project important? Why should readers care?
Because we are really living in a globalized world, you know. Aside from a few isolationist countries which still insist and create a new curtain (an infocurtain, if you will) to alienate their citizens from reality, like North Korea and Iran, most of humankind communicates, or desperately tries to communicate, via the web and mobile devices. The future has come, and the tech corporations have done their part regarding the making of devices to unite us all over the world. Now it’s our turn to do something which really matters with it.
Anything else you want to plug?
I want to thank you, Charles, and Lavie, for the excellent work that The World SF Blog have been done for international SF. I just hope our Guest Edition can do a work as good as yours in raising awareness for the state of SF around the world.