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Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Short Story Highlight: “Sing” by Karin Tidbeck (Sweden)

Swedish author Karin Tidbeck‘s latest short story, Sing, is online at tor.com:

The cold dawn light creeps onto the mountaintops; they emerge like islands in the valley’s dark sea, tendrils of steam rising up from the thickets clinging to the rock. Right now there’s no sound of birdsong or crickets, no hiss of wind in the trees. When Maderakka’s great shadow has sunk back below the horizon, twitter and chirp will return in a shocking explosion of sound. For now, we sit in complete silence.

The birds have left. Petr lies with his head in my lap, his chest rising and falling so quickly it’s almost a flutter, his pulse rushing under the skin. The bits of eggshell I couldn’t get out of his mouth, those that have already made their way into him, spread whiteness into the surrounding flesh. If only I could hear that he’s breathing properly. His eyes are rolled back into his head, his arms and legs curled up against his body like a baby’s. If he’s conscious, he must be in pain. I hope he’s not conscious.

A strangely shaped man came in the door and stepped up to the counter. He made a full turn to look at the mess in my workshop: the fabrics, the cutting table, the bits of pattern. Then he looked directly at me. He was definitely not from here—no one had told him not to do that. I almost wanted to correct him:leave, you’re not supposed to make contact like that, you’re supposed to pretend you can’t see me and tell the air what you want. But I was curious about what he might do. I was too used to avoiding eye contact, so I concentrated carefully on the rest of him: the squat body with its weirdly broad shoulders, the swelling upper arms and legs. The cropped copper on his head. I’d never seen anything like it. – continue reading.

April 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Short Story Highlight: “I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You” by Karin Tidbeck

Swedish author Karin Tidbeck‘s latest short story, I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You, is now up at Strange Horizons.

Then came that Thursday in February when I stepped into my psychiatrist’s office and was presented with a goat.

I was in treatment, but it wasn’t going well. I suffered from recursive treatment-resistant depression or, possibly, bipolar II disorder—my doctors wouldn’t settle on a diagnosis. Whatever you called it, it was hell. Over the years, I had tried every combination of the usual substances: MAOIs, tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, SSRIs and SNRIs, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medication. They mostly gave me side-effects. I was bloated and sweaty and twitchy, but still depressed. The doctors were trying to get me into ECT, but I was reluctant. This is where the goat came in.

Dr. Andersson was in the office already. She took a chair in what was supposed to be the cosy corner: two armchairs, a little table with a box of tissues, a vase of flowers. On the wall hung a painting of a moose cresting a hilltop. Dr. Andersson looked like she usually did. Today, her bowl haircut and shapeless green muumuu were complemented by a necklace of wooden zebras. She was holding a leash. At the end of the leash, standing beside her chair, was the goat. It was small, reaching up to my knees, and jet black with floppy ears. It was nibbling on the armrest. I sat down in the opposite chair.

“This is your new treatment,” said Dr. Andersson. “It’s the latest in experimental therapy. I thought we might let you have a try, seeing as you’re a bit hesitant about ECT.”

“I see,” I said.

Dr. Andersson adjusted her glasses. “Do you know the origins of the word ‘scapegoat’?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Old Hebrew stuff. A goat sent out into the desert for everyone’s sins.”

“Exactly.” Dr. Andersson scratched the goat behind the ears. “This is a Sadgoat.”

I looked at the goat. It looked back at me, its horizontal pupils narrowing.

“I’m confused,” I said. – continue reading.

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

2013 Crawford Award to Karin Tidbeck!

From Locus:

Karin Tidbeck was named winner of the 2013 William L. Crawford Fantasy Award for her 2012 collection Jagannath: Stories (Cheeky Frawg Books).

The award, which includes a cash prize, is presented annually at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and is designated for an exceptionally promising writer whose first fantasy book was published the preceding year. Prior winners include Jonathan Lethem, Charles de Lint, Greer Gilman, Judith Tarr, Kij Johnson, Joe Hill, M. Rickert, Daryl Gregory, Christopher Barzak, Jedediah Berry, Karen Lord and, last year, Genevieve Valentine.

The final decision was a difficult one for the nominating committee, with Rachel Hartman a close runner-up with her novel Seraphina (Random House). The other shortlisted nominees for this year’s award were Saladin Ahmed for Throne of the Crescent Moon (DAW), Roz Kaveney forRituals (Plus One), and Kiini Ibura Salaam for Ancient, Ancient (Aqueduct). Those participating in the selection included Karen Burnham, Stacie Hanes, Niall Harrison, Ellen Klages, Cheryl Morgan, Graham Sleight, Jonathan Strahan, and Liza Groen Trombi.

Tidbeck was a 2012 co-recipient of the World SF Travel Fund.

February 7, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off

Guest-Post: Landscapes by Karin Tidbeck (Author Week #5)

Last night I dreamed of a landscape by the sea. I had traveled there to investigate a ruin that once was a sorcerer’s tower. I had lost most of my tools in the transition to this place; I’d managed to create a makeshift wind shelter out of an old sheet, and was sitting on the flagstones counting my coins, which at that moment was important. The sky overhead was purple with swollen clouds, the air heavy and still, waiting for the storm.

A man came walking along the beach and up the stairs to the tower. He was dressed in clothes from the Italian renaissance: two-coloured hose, doublet, a little cape, no hat, but an unfriendly sneer.

“We entered from there”, he said, and gestured down the waterfront. “This is our territory.”

“Who are ‘we’?” I asked.

“The rest of us. We’ve made camp in the forest. Come.” He started down the steps.

Down in the surf, the waves rose up in the shape of a lion’s head, glowing in red.

“Mind the beasts”, said the man.

Thinking about it, this is the first time I’ve met another traveller.

The stories in Jagannath were written over the course of ten years, and have very diverse origins. Coinciding with the release of the collection is the publication of my first novel in Swedish, Amatka, the result of a process that has run parallel to the creation of the stories in Jagannath. Since I’ve mostly talked about the collection to the English-speaking audience, I’d like to mention some things about Amatka. It’s about mapping an old continent.

        

I spent about three years recording my dreams. I wasn’t interested in analysis or symbolism, but instead if my dream realm could be mapped as if it were an external place. What were these reoccurring places? Where were they in relation to each other? Who were the people and creatures populating them?  Over the months, patterns emerged, although in ways difficult to map: it was a country or continent, with cities, villages, flora and fauna, all shifting depending on what time it was in the dream, what time it was in the waking world, in what order they appeared, how they related to each other.

There’s a great plain, and a village where the houses have eaten their inhabitants and extend lanterns above their doorways to lure passers-by in; other parts of that plain are covered in enormous skeletons of long-dead migrant insects. An ocean to the west is dried out, all its water held in clouds above, and bright lights weave in and out of them. Further to the west there’s a forest of enormous trees from whose branches dangle sperical bathyscaphes. To the east, the celestial bodies crowd the sky and the giant orrery that holds them up becomes visible (and audible).

After some experimenting, I found that the best way to describe this world was boiling the images down into poetry: a process both uncontrolled and very much so. The resulting collection was partly published in Lyrikvännen, a Swedish poetry journal. I then laid it to rest on the compost heap and collected what seeped out a few years later:

Amatka is the story of colonizing a world where physical reality is mutable, and language both a tool and a threat. Vanja, a researcher who has failed to fulfill most of the duties expected of a good citizen, travels the distant colony Amatka to map hygiene habits. What she finds during her research leads to something quite different, unraveling the truth about the colonies and their history.

The idea for the novel partly originates in the dream project, with a series of dreams I had over the course of a couple of weeks. In the first one, I found a row of trucks on a dirt road, the drivers standing outside smoking. They were delivering goods to a town that lay far north and that no-one ever visited. The drivers refused to tell anyone what went on up there. In the second dream, I woke up in a town built entirely out of concrete, and knew in the fashion one knows things in dreams that this was that northern town the drivers visited. In the third dream, a copse of cast-iron pipes stood on a plain. Some of them were bent at the top like periscopes, others torn, like something had exploded out of them.

Amatka isn’t set in the dream world, but has borrowed some of the geography: the placement of the colonies that correspond to existing cities; topography, occurrences, elements, but above all, the fact that the fabric of reality, its base matter, is entirely controlled by language. The story itself is the result of plonking a socialist commune down in that universe and taking the consequences of the clash between them and the world they encounter. How would living in a mutable world change their way of thinking about reality and themselves? What would happen to social structure, philosophy, language? How much would they allow the world to change them?

By the time I’d finished the novel, I realized that the world I had mapped no longer resembled the landscape I now visit at night. The project is over. All that remains is to translate the story into English, so that I can show you what I mean instead of just talking about it. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy Jagannath.

November 16, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Jagannath: Stories by Karin Tidbeck, reviewed by Sofia Samatar (Author Week #5)

Illegal Mingling: Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath: Stories

Reviewed by Sofia Samatar

In a long twilight, the sound of tiny bells hangs in the air: a young woman’s mother is coming for her from the forest. Elsewhere, by the side of a lake, a family reunion is in progress, merry aunts and cousins hatching from cocoons. And in a tin can provided by charity, a tiny creature made of spit, salt, menstrual blood and a carrot kicks its legs, while the first October snow begins to fall. These are some of the strange, seductive images you’ll find in Karin Tidbeck’s stories.

Jagannath: Stories (Cheeky Frawg, 2012) is Tidbeck’s English-language book debut. It brings together works previously published in English, the author’s translations of her own stories—most of them from her Swedish collection, Vem är Arvid Pekon?—and original material. On the strength of Vem är Arvid Pekon?, Tidbeck won a grant from the Swedish Authors’ Fund; her first novel, Amatka, is forthcoming this fall from Sweden’s largest publisher. Jagannath gives English-language readers the chance to enter the shifting territory of Tidbeck’s marvelous multiple worlds.

The stories in Jagannath are fascinating, frightening, and above all, tender. There’s an intimacy to them that’s immediately enchanting: several take the form of diaries or letters, or words exchanged with a close friend. “Some Letters for Ove Lindström” is written to the narrator’s dead father. I first read this story in Shimmer Magazine earlier this year: that’s when the name “Karin Tidbeck” stuck in my mind, along with the haunting melancholy of this story of a broken family, lost hope, and magic. “Some Letters” concerns a young woman, Viveka, who returns to the place she grew up, an old schoolhouse where her parents lived with the other members of a commune: the loss of Viveka’s nuclear family (her mother disappeared when she was three; she lost her father to alcoholism and then death) is mingled with the loss of the commune, which was both an extended family and a vision of a utopian future. Loss fills every line of the story, like Viveka’s last memory of her mother: a red dress and the sound of tiny bells. Who was Viveka’s mother? That question both deepens the sadness of the story, and expands it outward toward mystery, toward the forest.

The red dress returns in “Reindeer Mountain,” where it becomes the sign of the vittra: tall, handsome, magical people who live inside the mountain, and like to wear red. Two sisters struggle with fear of madness and envy of each other in this story of a family with mixed human-vittra blood. The theme of human contact with other species, subtle in “Some Letters from Ove Lindström” and explicit in “Reindeer Mountain,” runs through the collection. “Pyret,” a sly gem in the form of an encyclopedia entry, details the habits of vittra cattle. A footnote informs us that the most common crime among those accused of witchcraft in medieval times was “illegal mingling”: humans consorting with non-human beings.

Many of the stories in Jagannath play with this theme: in “Beatrice,” a woman’s love affair with a steam engine produces a whistle-voiced, coal-chewing child; in both “Miss Nyberg and I” and “Cloudberry Jam,” children are grown like plants. The narrator of “Brita’s Holiday Village” discovers two families at once: while her memories of her relatives begin to emerge in her writing, she dreams the life of a second, insect-like family. And in the collection’s title story, the mother of a family carries her brood inside her.

Other themes include transformation, the nature of time, and the judgments of God. The stories “Augusta Prima” and “Aunts” take place in the same world, a fairyland of the actual fairytale type, where games are bloody and casual torture is the order of the day. The stories show two different perspectives on what happens when time enters this timeless realm. These stories—like “Rebecka,” in which torture leads to salvation—explore different types of illegal mingling, mixing transgression with law and cannibalism with comfort. The intimate tone of so many of Tidbeck’s tales invites the reader to blend in as well, to imagine a personal shift into something slightly different. The words of “Some Letters for Ove Lindström” are ostensibly written to a dead man, but when you read them, you’ll know better. Like all of the stories in Jagannath, these letters are for us.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Karin Tidbeck Interviewed by Charles Tan (Author Week #5)

First off, what made you decide to pursue writing?

I’ve always made up stories, and I couldn’t imagine not writing. I did make a decision to work towards getting published when I was about 20, although actually getting published felt very distant at the time. I made another decision to start a new life with less money and more time when I was 29, and left my hometown to spend two years at one of the best creative writing workshops in the country. But I don’t think I ever made a decision to pursue writing. There just was no question about where I was going – it was a matter of how hard I was going to work for it.


For me, your fiction could easily fall under several categories. How would you describe your writing, or what term are you comfortable with?

I don’t consider genre when writing. Jagannath, like you say, is very diverse that way. I just published a novel in Swedish that’s been classified as a dystopia, which isn’t really true but was a solution for marketing purposes: fans of fantastic fiction will understand it has a fantastic or science fictional element, while readers who are put off by an sf label will accept a dystopia because it’s classified as literary. But any genre term will inevitably create expectations that will colour the reader’s experience – if they haven’t dismissed the book because it’s in the ”wrong” genre. So I’m not really comfortable with any terms. The ones I’m the least uncomfortable with are weird or fantastic fiction. But, you know, someone will always complain that X is the wrong term and that my stories are easily classified as Y.


In several of your short stories, there’s usually something that’s dark, unsettling, or tragic. Is this a conscious decision on your part and what is it about that aspect that fascinates you?

I wrote about the melancholy tradition in the afterword for Jagannath. It’s a kind of wistfulness that pervades much of our culture, and that became a natural element when I wrote the stories set in the fictional Swedish North. The themes or atmospheres aren’t a conscious choice, though, just like I don’t choose genre. Ideas show up and I write the stories in the way they need to be written. I don’t find what I write unsettling, most of the time not particularly dark or tragic either. But maybe my weird-o-meter is off? Because even when I think I’m writing beautiful, happy, utopian froo-froo someone will come up and say it gave them nightmares.

I will say that I have a lifelong fascination with madness, and the idea that reality – on the inside and on the outside – is a very frail thing. And that I like trying on mindsets or ethics that are alien to me, to see what it looks like from the inside.

 

How did Cheeky Frawg Books end up publishing Jagannath?

Ann Vandermeer had bought two pieces from me – Jagannath and Augusta Prima – and she and Jeff knew I’d published a short story collection in Swedish. They asked to see the rest of it, so I translated it and sent it over, and they thought it’d work with some additional material. We collected the other stories I’d published in U.S. magazines and anthologies that year.

What is it about the short story format that appeals to you? How different was the experience writing short stories vs. Novels?

I’m usually interested in exploring an idea or a concept, and am not too keen on drawing it out or surrounding it with fluff. I like the sport of boiling a story down to its bare bones, and then seeing how much flesh it needs to walk around but still have that concentrated taste. And I just have too many ideas, I want to work with all of them.

The long form is a different beast altogether. Writing Amatka was grueling. An editor I’d sold two short stories to asked if I had a novel. I didn’t. I did have an old, old project: a bunch of short texts and a poetry collection set in the same world, and which I’d begun trying to turn into a novel at some point. So like any sane person would, I told the editor ”Certainly! Let me just do some edits”, and finished the first draft in a blind panic. I’m very happy with the result, but I’m not sure I’ll revisit the traditional novel format anytime soon. The idea of nested stories is appealing, though, or short stories with an overarcing narrative.


How did your experience at Clarion 2010 influenced the way you write, or the way you view the industry?

Clarion changed a lot of things. I knew little about the industry outside Sweden – only what I’d gleaned from working in a bookshop and reading the occasional issue of Locus – so that was a whole new world. I got the tools for breaking into the industry. As for writing, I started writing longer pieces, and it was a magnificent exercise in pushing mental boundaries: there’s too little time for self-censorship, too little time to question what the hell you’re on about. I wrote Jagannath (the short story) during the last week. People living inside a biomechanical centipede, sure. Who was I to argue? I’m a huge fan of Keith Johnstone, especially what he talks about the dangers of censoring your first impulse because you’re afraid it’s ”obscene, psychotic or not original”. This became a demonstration of the wonderful things that happen when you gag the censor. People wrote some incredible things during those final weeks.


At the end of your collection, you talk about translation and some of the nuances between English vs. Swedish. What was the most challenging and rewarding aspect of translation?

The main challenge is to bring nuances and atmosphere over to the other side. It became very clear over the course of translating from Swedish to English that there were more layers to my language than I’d been aware of. It’s not just finding the right words, it’s also about cultural shorthand and wordplay that doesn’t even appear as such on the surface. Peeling those layers back was a huge learning experience. The same goes for English to Swedish, really. There are tones and built-in references in the English language that only carries over to Swedish with difficulty. I admire professional translators who can do this with other writers’ works. At least I have myself right here for reference.

How different is your process when writing in Swedish? In English?

Writing in Swedish is very intuitive. I can sit back and just record what I see in my head. With English, there’s always an extra language filter, so the process is slower – unless I’ve been speaking and writing in English for more than a few hours and my brain has had time to shift gears. (I’ve been wondering if my English and Swedish would score differently on a readability index, but I haven’t found a calculator that can take both languages.) Other than that, I don’t think the processes differ much.

What’s the Swedish genre scene like?

It’s perked up dramatically over the last few years. Not long ago it was near-impossible to publish fantastic fiction – there were two or three fanzines that published sf or fantasy short stories, and maybe a handful of indie publishers. Larger publishers were uninterested in fantastic fiction unless it could be marketed to children or sold as literary. But things are definitely looking up, both in that fantastic fiction has seeped into the mainstream market and is now much more visible in mainstream media, but also in that blogs, magazines and publishers are popping up everywhere. There are a bunch of very exciting new authors that I hope will get the international attention they deserve, like Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren with their brilliant Engelsfors trilogy (the first installment, The Circle, was recently published in English); Nene Ormes and her unique urban fantasy novels set in Malmö (the second installment, Särskild (”particular” or ”special”, came out just a couple of months ago); Jenny Milewski’s meta-novel Skalpelldansen (The Scalpel Dance) is one of the most exciting books to happen in the horror field lately. Add to this a HUGE surge in graphic novels and comics – I haven’t seen anything like it since the late ’80s. Artists like Lina Neidestam, Fabian Göransson, Kim W Andersson and Karl Johnsson will hopefully become internationally known before too long.

 

Who are some of your favorite writers?

I have many, but to mention just a few: China Miéville, Ursula K Le Guin, Elizabeth Hand, Tove Jansson, Caitlín Kiernan, Chip Delany and P C Jersild. On the graphic novel side, Neil Gaiman and Roman Dirge.


Anything else you want to plug?

Nothing other than that I’d ask everyone interested in Sweden to check out the names above. There’s so much cool stuff happening on the Swedish scene right now, it deserves more attention.  

November 14, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , , | 1 Comment

Tuesday Fiction: “Brita’s Holiday Village” by Karin Tidbeck (Author Week #5)

This week on the World SF Blog we’re delighted to feature a story from Karin Tidbeck’s latest collection, Jagannath: Stories.

Brita’s Holiday Village

by Karin Tidbeck

29/5

The cab ride from Åre station to Aunt Brita’s holiday village took about half an hour. I’m renting the cottage on the edge of the village that’s reserved for relatives. The rest are closed for summer. Mum helped me make the reservation—Brita’s her aunt, really, not mine, and they’re pretty close. Yes, I’m thirty-two years old. Yes, I’m terrible at calling people I don’t know.

I didn’t bring a lot of stuff. Clothes and writing things, mostly. The cottage is a comforting old-fashioned red thing with white window frames, the interior more or less unchanged since the 1970s: lacquered pine, green felt wallpaper, woven tapestries decorated with little blobs of green glass. It smells stale in a cosy way. There’s a desk by one of the windows in the living room, overlooking Kall Lake. No phone reception, no Internet. Brita wondered if I wanted a landline, but I said no. I said yes to the bicycle. The first thing I did was bike down to the ica store I saw on the way here. I stocked up on pasta and tomatoes and beans. I found old-fashioned soft whey-cheese, the kind that tastes like toffee. I’m eating it out of the box with a spoon.

“Holiday village” is a misleading expression; the village is really just twelve bungalows arranged in two concentric circles with a larger house—the assembly hall—in the middle. The dark panelling, angled roofs and panoramic windows must have looked fresh and modern in the sixties, or whenever they were built. The wood is blackened now, and the windows somehow swallow the incoming light, creating caverns under the eaves. I’m a little relieved to be staying in the cottage.

Brita said that before she bought the holiday village, back when they were building it, the old man who owned the cottage refused to leave. When he finally died, the cottage was left standing for private use. It’s much more cosy, anyway. I’d feel naked behind those panoramic windows.

 

30/5

I got up late and unpacked and sorted music. I’ve got a playlist with old punk and goth for the teenage project, an ambient playlist for the space project, and a list of cosy music, everything in order to feel at home and get into the mood and avoid writing. Did some cooking. Rode the bike around until I was tired. Found an old quarry. Tried to go for a swim in Kall Lake and cut my feet on the rocks. Bought goat whey curd. Finally, I couldn’t avoid it anymore: writing.

So I have two stories I want to do something about. First there’s the science fiction story about child workers in the engine room of a spaceship. It’s a short story really, but I’d like to expand it into a novel. I know you’re not supposed to worry about form or length—it’s a guaranteed way to jinx the whole thing—but I’d really like to. I like the characters and their intense relationships, like Lord of the Flies in space.

The other story is a pseudo-biographical thing about a teenager growing up in the Stockholm suburbia of the 1980s, during the heyday of Ultra, the tiny house turned punk headquarters. I suppose it’s a cooler and bolder version of myself. Also, older. I was too young to ever hang out at Ultra. It had already burned down by the time I discovered punk. I used to go to Ultra’s next iteration—Hunddagis, the club housed in an old day care centre for dogs. I still remember the punk aroma: beer, cigarettes, cheap hair spray, and day-old sweat.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing: writing down a bunch of teenage memories and transposing them onto a little older and bolder version of myself and it’s just slow and boring work. I had a go at the science fiction story instead, but it wouldn’t happen. I ended up shutting everything down, realized it’s now one o’clock in the morning (actually it’s 1:30 now), and I’m going to bed.

 

31/5

I took a walk through the village this morning. Things that look like white, plum-sized pupas hang clustered under the eaves. They’re warm to the touch. I should tell Brita—it’s some kind of pest. Wasp nests?

Biked to the quarry after coffee, gathered some nice rocks—very pretty black granite. Went home, made pasta with chickpeas, tried to write. Writing about punks at Hunddagis doesn’t feel the least bit fun or interesting. Mostly because I’ve realized what a lame teenager I was. I was always home at the stroke of midnight; I didn’t like drinking mash; I didn’t have sex. I read books and had an inferiority complex because I was afraid to do all that other stuff. I don’t know anything about being a badass punk rocker.

It’s the same thing with the story about the engine room kids— what do I know about child labour? What do I know about how kids relate to each other under circumstances like that? Not to mention, what do I know about spaceships? I’m talking out of my ass.

So there I am. I can’t write about what I know, and I can’t write about what I don’t know. Better yet, I’ve told everyone that I’m staying in Åre until I’ve finished the novel. I somehow thought that saying it would make it happen.

Hang in there for another couple of weeks. And do what? Try some more. Go on biking trips and eat whey-cheese.

 

2/6

I’m taking a break. I’ve scrapped everything I was working on. I rented a car and drove west over the border into Norway, where I bought ice cream in a lonely little kiosk. When I was a kid, I thought the sign in Norwegian that said åpen, open, meant apan, the monkey. It was the most hilarious thing ever.

I had my ice cream, and looked at the Sylarna Mountains and the cotton-grass swaying on the bog. There was a thick herbal smell of mountain summer. Little pools and puddles were everywhere, absolutely clear, miniature John Bauer landscapes. I considered going on to Levanger, but it felt too far. I went for a swim in Gev Lake on the way home. It was just like when I was little: warm and shallow enough that if you walk out into the middle, the water only reaches your waist. Tiny minnows nibbled at my feet.

 

3/6

I’m having coffee in the little cabin on Åreskutan’s Summit. It’s a clear day, and I can see the mountain range undulating in the west, worn blunt by the ice ages. Mum once said that when she was a kid, there was a leathery old man who every morning hiked all the way up the mountain with a satchel full of coffee thermoses and cinnamon rolls that he would sell in the cabin. This was before the cableway, somewhere in the 1950s. The old man had done that since time immemorial, even when my grandmother and her sister were kids and dragged baking troughs up the mountain to ride them down like sleds.

 

4/6

I went for a walk in the holiday village. I became a little obsessed with the thought of stuff you can do when nobody’s looking. Build a pillow fort outside cottage number six. Streak howling through the street. I was thinking specifically of howling when I spotted the pupas. They’re the size of my fist now. That was fast. I forgot to tell Brita. Of course, I had to touch one of them again. It felt warmer than my hand.

Went shopping in Kall, had a cup of coffee, bought the newspaper, went past Brita’s house. I told her about the pupas. Her reaction was pretty strange. She said something about the pupas sitting there in summer, and that I should leave them alone. That’s why she’d put me in the cottage outside the village, so that the pupas would be left in peace. Yes, yes, I said. I won’t do anything. Do promise you won’t do anything, said Brita, and suddenly she was pleading. They have nowhere else to go, she said; you’re family, I can trust you can’t I? Yes, yes, I said, I promise. I have no idea what she’s on about.

 

5/6

I dreamed that there was a scraping noise by the door. Someone was looking in through the little side window. It was human-shaped, but it sort of had no detail. It was waving at me with a fingerless paw. The door handle was jerking up and down. The creature on the other side said nothing. It just smiled and waved. The door handle bobbed up and down, up and down.

It’s five past ten. I’ve slept for almost ten hours.

I went into the village to check if the pupas had grown, but all that remains are some empty skins hanging under the eaves. So that’s that.

 

6/6

There’s a knock on the door and someone’s waving at me through the side window. It’s a middle-aged man. When I open the door, he presents himself as Sigvard and shakes my hand. He’s one of the groups of tourists who live here during the summer. They’ve rented all the cabins, and now they’re throwing a party, and they’ve seen me sitting alone in my cottage. Would I like to join them? There’s plenty of food for everyone. I’m very welcome.

The party takes place in the little assembly hall. People are strolling over there from the other cabins. They’re dressed up for a summer night’s party: the women in party dresses and lusekofte sweaters tied over their shoulders, the men in slacks and bright windbreakers. Inside, the assembly hall is decked with yellow lanterns, and a long buffet table lines one of the walls. The guests are of all ages and resemble each other. I ask Sigvard if they’re family, and Sigvard says yes, they are! It’s a big family meet-up, the Nilssons, and they stay here a few weeks every summer. And now it’s time to eat.

The buffet table is covered in dishes from every holiday of the year: steak, roast ham, tjälknul, hot cloudberries, new potatoes, patés, pickled herring, gravlax, lutfisk, seven kinds of cookies, cake. I’m starving. I go for second and third helpings. The food has no taste, but the texture is wonderful, especially the ice cream mingled with hot cloudberries. Everyone seems very interested in me. They want to know about my family. When I tell them that Brita is my great-aunt, they cheer and say that we’re related then; I belong to the Anders branch of the family. Dear Brita! They love her! I’ll always be welcome here. Everyone else here belongs to the Anna branch: Anna, Anders’ sister and the eldest daughter of the patriarch Mats Nilsson.

When we’re done eating, it’s time to dance. The raspy stereo plays dansband music: singers croon about smiling golden-brown eyes, accompanied by an innocent and sickly-sweet tune. Everyone takes to the dance floor. Sigvard asks me to dance. This is like a cliché of Swedish culture, I say without thinking. Yes, isn’t it, says Sigvard and smiles. He holds me close. Then I wake up.

 

8/6

I started writing again. Throwing the old stuff out worked. Something else has surfaced—it’s fairly incoherent, but it’s a story, and I’m not about to ruin it by looking too closely at it. It has nothing to do with teenage trouble at Hunddagis, or Lord of the Flies with kids in spaceships. It’s about my own family in Åre, a sort of pseudo-documentary. Some mixed memories of my grandmother’s and mother’s stories of life up here, woven together with my own fantasies to form a third story. Above all else, I’m having fun. I refuse to think about editing. I write and stare out over Kall Lake.

The dreams are a sign that things are happening—I keep dreaming about the same things, and it’s very clear, very detailed. It’s the same scenario as before, that is, Sigvard knocking on the door and taking me to the assembly hall. We eat enormous amounts of food and dance to dansband classics. I talk to all my relatives. They tell stories about Mats Nilsson’s eldest daughter and how she started the new branch of the family when she married and moved north from Åre. I don’t remember those stories when I wake up.

 

13/6

I started with Mother’s stories, continued with Gran’s generation, and am working my way back in time to form a sort of backwards history. I wrote about the war and how Great-gran smuggled shoes and lard to occupied Norway. Then I wrote about how Gran met Grandpa and moved down to Stockholm. Right now Gran is a teenager, it’s the twenties, and she’s making her first bra out of two stocking heels because she can’t afford to buy a real one. She and her sister are getting ready to go to a dance in Järpen. It’s an hour’s bike ride. I’m looking forward to writing the story about my great-great-grandfather who built a church organ out of a kitchen sofa. Some things you can’t make up.

The dreams change a little each night. I’ve discovered that I have a fair amount of control of my actions. I wander around in the cabins and talk to the inhabitants. In true dream fashion, they all come from little villages with names that don’t exist like Höstvåla, Bräggne, Ovart; all located somewhere north of Åre, by the lakes that pool between the mountains.

Sigvard’s wife is called Ingrid. They have three teenage children.

 

15/6

I’m a little disgusted by the direction this is all taking. I don’t know how to interpret what’s going on. The front doors are always unlocked, I go where I wish. Last night and the night before last, it happened several times that I walked into a house and people were having sex. On all surfaces, like kitchen tables or sofas. They greet me politely when I open the door and then go back to, not making love, but fucking. Nobody seems particularly into it. They might as well be chopping onions or cleaning the floors. In and out and the flat smack of flesh on flesh. And it’s everyone on everyone: man and wife, father and daughter, mother and son, sister and brother. But always in heterosexual configurations. I asked Sigvard what they were doing. We’re multiplying, he said. That’s what people do.

 

20/6

It’s Midsummer. I’ve managed just over eighty pages. I’ve gotten as far back as great-great-great-grandfather Anders, son of Mats Nilsson, and if I want to get even further back I’ll have to do some research on Anders’ five siblings or just ramble out into fairy tale country. Not that making stuff up seems to be a problem. There’s no end to it. I’ve gone back to the start to fill in holes, like Mother and Gran’s siblings. No editing just yet, just more material. Brita asked me if I wanted to come with her to celebrate Midsummer. I declined. All I want to do is write. Besides, it’s freezing outside, and the gnats are out in full force. It’d be a good idea, research-wise, to see Brita, but I don’t feel like being around people.

 

21/6

Sigvard came knocking on my door. He was wearing a wreath of flowers and held a schnapps glass in one hand. We danced to dansband music, the legendary Sven-Ingvars; we competed in sack racing and three-legged racing. Most of the women and girls had large, rounded bellies and moved awkwardly. When the dancing and playing was over, we ate new potatoes and pickled herring, little meatballs and sausages, fresh strawberries with cream, toasting each other with schnapps spiced with cumin and wormwood. It’ll get darker now, said Sigvard. He burst into tears. Yes, I replied. But why is that so terrible? It makes me think of death, he said.

 

1/7

150 pages! That’s an average of five pages a day. Very well done. The last ten days have been about putting more meat on the bones I finished building around Midsummer. In other words, embroidering what facts I had with more ideas of my own. Editing is going to take a lot longer, but I have a solid structure from beginning to end—no bothersome gaps or holes.

I decided to stop at Anders. I need to check the other siblings now, especially Anna. I’ve tried to talk to Brita, but she’s always busy whenever I come over. I’m done with this place, though. I’m homesick. I’ve booked a ticket to Stockholm for the sixth. I can go back home with a good conscience.

 

4/7

They’re weeping and wailing. They’re all dressed in black. They won’t say why. I’ve told them I’ll be leaving soon, but I don’t think that’s why they’re sad.

 

5/7

I finally caught Brita for a cup of coffee. She apologized for being so busy. I asked her about Mats Nilsson’s children, but she doesn’t know much outside our own branch. Still, I asked her if she knew anything about Anna, the eldest daughter. Not much, she said. But then there wasn’t much to know about her. She disappeared without a trace when she was twenty years old. The consensus was that she probably drowned herself in Kall Lake, or in one of the sinkholes in the quarry. In any case, she was never seen again.

 

6/7

I’m leaving on the night train. I cleaned out the cottage; all that’s left is to hand over the keys to Brita.

Sigvard knocked on the door in my dream. The whole village was crowding behind him. They looked aged and crumpled somehow, and they were weeping loudly. Some of them didn’t seem to be able to walk on their own—they were crawling around. Sigvard came in first; he dropped to his knees and flung his arms around my legs. I sat down on the floor. He put his head in my lap. My dear, he said. It was the best summer ever. We’re so grateful. Then he sighed, and lay still. The others came, one by one. They lay down around me and curled up. They sighed and lay still. I patted their heads. There, there, I said. Go to sleep now, go to sleep. Their bodies were like light shells. They collapsed in on themselves.

I was woken up just after seven by an ice-cold draft. The front door was open. I went for a last walk in the village. Clusters of tiny spheres hang under the eaves.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Author Week #5: Karin Tidbeck

We have another Author Week here at the World SF Blog after our hiatus. This time, it’s Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck, and to mark the release of her latest collection, Jagannath: Stories, published by Cheeky Frawg, we’re giving away three (3) copies of the book. For a chance to win, simply comment down below, and make sure to fill in your e-mail address so we know to contact you if you won. Competition closes on Friday, and we’ll announce the winners on Monday.

Also, watch this space as we publish a short story, an interview, a review, and a guest post from Tibeck.

Karin Tidbeck has published short stories and poetry in Swedish since 2002, and in English since 2010. Her 2010 book debut, the short story collection Vem är Arvid Pekon?, awarded her the coveted one-year working grant from the Swedish Authors’ Fund. Her English publication history includesWeird TalesShimmer MagazineUnstuck Annual and the anthology Odd?.  She also recently sold her first novel to Sweden’s largest publisher.

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote: “I have never read anything like Jagannath. Karin Tidbeck’s imagination is recognizably Nordic, but otherwise unclassifiable–quietly, intelligently, unutterably strange. And various. And ominous. And funny. And mysteriously tender. These are wonderful stories.”

Update: From Jeff VanderMeer in the comments: Just to make it interesting, Cheeky Frawg will also throw in ebooks by Amal El-Mohtar, Amos Tutuola, and Leena Krohn for those winners who want them (the Tutuola and Krohn will be available by the end of the month). In addition, we will stick in a couple extra treats with the Jagannaths that are sent out….

Update 2: The winners are Kyle, Francene Lewis, and kummakissa. Congratulations!

November 12, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , | 42 Comments

Announcement: 2012 World SF Travel Fund Recipients

Set up last year to enable one or more international people involved in science fiction, fantasy or horror to travel to a major genre event, this year’s two recipients of the World SF Travel Fund are Swedish authors Karin Tidbeck and Nene Ormes. Both will be attending World Fantasy Con 2012 in Toronto, Ontario, also helped by the kind assistance of Cheeky Frawg Books (Ann & Jeff VanderMeer).

Karin Tidbeck has published one story collection, won a prestigious literary grant, and just sold her first novel to Sweden’s largest publisher. A graduateof the iconic Clarion Writer’s Workshop at the University of California, San Diego, in 2010, her English-language publication history includes Weird Tales, Shimmer Magazine, Unstuck Annualand the anthology Odd. Her first English-language collection, Jagannath, will be published by Cheeky Frawg books in November 2012, and has already been blurbed by the likes of China Mieville and Ursula K.  Le Guin. Tidbeck blogs at karintidbeck.com and has an author page atwww.facebook.com/ktidbeck

Nene Ormes has been dubbed Sweden’s first urban fantasy author. She debuted in 2010 with the critically acclaimed novel Udda Verklighet (“Odd Reality”), a tale that draws on folklore and local legend to create a unique vision of her native Malmö. The sequel, Särskild (“Special”), is out in August 2012. Ormes was awarded a prestigious working grant from the Swedish Authors’ Fund this spring. Originally a trained archaeologist, Ormes writes part-time and works in SF-Bokhandeln, Sweden’s oldest and most popular science fiction and fantasy bookstore. Ormes blogs at neneormes.wordpress.com and has an author page on FB: www.facebook.com/pages/Nene-Ormes/163512086998912

The World SF Travel Fund Board, tasked with selecting future candidates, is composed of Lauren Beukes, Aliette de Bodard, Nnedi Okorafor, Ekaterina Sedia, and Charles Tan, with Lavie Tidhar and Sean Wallace acting as administrators for the fund, reflecting the truly international nature of the SF world today. For inquiries and further information please contact worldsftravelfund@gmail.com.

July 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

Swedish author Karin Tidbeck’s debut English-language collection

Jeff VanderMeer has announced Swedish author Karin Tidbeck’s debut English-language collection, Jagannath:

Here at Cheeky Frawg, we’re getting more and more excited about the fall release of Swedish author Karin Tidbeck’s debut English-language collection Jagannath, which will be available in e-book and trade paperback formats. We hope to have a book release party at World Fantasy Convention in Toronto, and there is a possibility that the author will be able to attend.

Check out these advance blurbs!

URSULA K. LE GUIN: “I have never read anything like Jagannath. Karin Tidbeck’s imagination is recognisably Nordic, but otherwise unclassifiable–quietly, intelligently, unutterably strange. And various. And ominous. And funny. And mysteriously tender. These are wonderful stories.”

CHINA MIEVILLE: “Restrained and vivid, poised and strange, Tidbeck, with her impossible harmonies, is a vital voice.”

KAREN JOY FOWLER: “Tidbeck has a gift for the uncanny and the unsettling. In these wonderful, subtle stories, magic arrives quietly. It comes from the forests or the earth or was always there in your own family or maybe exists in another realm entirely. It arises from the pages as you read, leaving you slightly dazed and more than a little enchanted.”

KAREN LORD: “The mundane becomes strange and the strange familiar with near-Hitchcockian subtlety. I loved Tidbeck’s clean, classic prose. It creates beautifully eerie music for a twilight domain.”

Under the cut, find more information about this excellent book–out in November. I’ll have some advance reader copies at ReaderCon. (In other news, we have the translation of Finnish writer Leena Krohn’s novel Datura and will have a pub date for it shortly, along with a pub date for a collection by Amos Tutuola.)

Enter the strange and wonderful world of Swedish sensation Karin Tidbeck with this feast of darkly fantastical stories. Whether through the falsified historical record of the uniquely weird Swedish creature known as the “Pyret” or the title story, “Jagannath,” about a biological ark in the far future, Tidbeck’s unique imagination will enthrall, amuse, and unsettle you. How else to describe a collection that includes “Cloudberry Jam,” a story that opens with the line “I made you in a tin can”? Marvels, quirky character studies, and outright surreal monstrosities await you in what is likely to be one of the most talked-about short story collections of the year.

About the Author: Karin Tidbeck is a rising star in her native country, having published a collection there in Swedish, won a prestigious literary grant, and just sold her first novel to Sweden’s largest publisher. A graduate of the iconic Clarion Writer’s Workshop at the University of California, San Diego, in 2010, her English-language publication history includes Weird Tales, Shimmer Magazine, Unstuck Annual and the anthology Odd.

For fans of: Kelly Link, Elizabeth Hand, Karen Russell, Lauren Groff, Ursula K. Le Guin, and China Mieville.

Cheeky Frawg is a literary imprint founded by Hugo Award-winner Ann VanderMeer and her husband World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer.

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

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