The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Short Story Highlight: “A to Z Theory” By Toh EnJoe (Japan)

Strange Horizons have published A to Z Theory by Japanese author Toh EnJoe, Translated from the Japanese by Terry Gallagher. The story is part of the book is Self-Reference ENGINE by EnJoe, published by Haikasoru.

The Aharonov-Bohm-Curry-Davidson-Eigen-Feigenbaum-Germann-Hamilton-Israel-Jacobson-Kauffman-Lindenbaum-Milnor-Novak-Oppenheimer-Packard-Q-Riemann-Stokes-Tirelson-Ulam-Varadhan-Watts-Xavier-Y.S.-Zurek Theorem—called the A to Z Theorem for short—was, for a brief period about three centuries ago, in some sense the most important theorem in the world.

In some sense. Or possibly in all senses.

Nowadays, this amazing theorem is held to be incorrect, in terms of even elementary mathematics. Hardly anybody ever even thinks about it anymore, because it’s just plain wrong.

At a certain instant, on a certain day, in a certain month, in a certain year, twenty-six mathematicians simultaneously thought of this simple but beautiful theorem, affirmed it would be the ultimate theorem that would make their names immortal, wrote papers to the best of their abilities, and all submitted their papers to the same academic journal at roughly the same time.

The separate submissions from writers from A to Z arrived over the course of a few days, and the editor, looking at these virtually identical manuscripts, first checked his calendar. Even allowing for a full measure of variability and a wide deductive scope, there was no way they could all have been written on April 1. And so the editor was left perplexed as to what sort of day he might be experiencing.

Had twenty-six of the world’s top mathematicians suddenly formed a conspiracy that each was now seeking to lead? Or was some strange person, with an excess of time and money, playing some prank involving these twenty-six? At any rate, the editor was sure somebody was trying to put one over on him. – continue reading!

March 26, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off

Strange Horizons reviews The Apex Book of World SF 2

A lengthy review in Strange Horizons for The Apex Book of World SF 2:

What is “world SF?” For a young white man living an admittedly bourgeois lifestyle in the pleasing (though occasionally frigid) climes of Canada, the term conjures the image of a dusty marketplace where women wearing colourful hijabs trade coffee beans for nanocircuitry. It makes me think of Noah’s Ark-type colony ships, within which beneficent and enlightened world governments have loaded not animals, but a man and woman of every race and creed. But for every image so conjured, I bite my lip and wonder how I could possibly think these things seriously. I ask how I could ever reach an understanding of “world SF” that isn’t Anglo-centric—that doesn’t make of diversity simply a “sensawunda.”

Reading The Apex Book of World SF 2 was some kind of start towards having a fuller understanding of what world SF means. For me, personally, it was an experience just as much of education as of pleasure. But that isn’t to say that the anthology has any particular pedagogical method; if anything, it’s more like an anti-method, ramming together as many different types of fiction and authors as possible to make the point that there is no single, homogenous idea behind the enterprise. World SF is not a specific kind of fiction practised beyond the US-UK literary axis; nor is it specifically opposed to that kind of fiction. World SF exists, essentially, by its exclusion from the dominant discourse, and a better understanding of what it can offer is achieved simply by realizing that it is there—and that it is not what you expected.

The breadth of this anthology is striking. There are horror stories, steampunk battles, alien comedies, faerie tales, near-future hard SF, and post-apocalyptic wastelands all rolled in together. There’s even some stuff that’s just plain weird. The Apex Book of World SF 2 includes writers from South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It also includes writers living in America, but who are not American by birth, and writers from the English diaspora: Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In short, the idea of world SF is complicated. As Charles Tan writes in the afterword: “How can one not be part of the world? By writing your story in space? What we mean by World SF is something closer to International SF—beyond your nation, beyond your borders. But that in itself is problematic, because that implies a reference point. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that reference point is the US” (pp. 370-71).

I think that this is the best way to understand world SF in the context of this anthology: that it is fiction from outside the US. Although Tan also points out that “a lot of SF that we read . . . is based on Western cosmology and belief,” and this is certainly very true, this is not an appropriate way to look at this anthology, which (without even returning to the complicated fact of including authors who are obviously culturally “western” and authors who are, though of different background, living in the United States) includes some very prototypically western stories—such as “The Malady,” by Andrzej Sapkowski, a romantic retelling of the Tristan and Iseult story. It’s more appropriate, in a certain sense, to look at this anthology as a piece of affirmative action. Those who published it, and those who are going to read it, are deliberately trying to let in the voices of people who might be pushed to the side and left unheard because of geographical, historical, or linguistic barriers. This anthology isn’t just literary: it’s political. – continue reading!

August 8, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off

Strange Horizons interview Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck

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.

May 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Strange Horizons is looking for an international Fiction Editor

Following the stepping down earlier of long-time Strange Horizons fiction editors Karen Meisner and Susan Marie Groppi, Strange Horizons are looking for a new fiction editor to join their team. Current fiction editor Jed Hartman remains in the position and is joined by Brit Mandelo. They are in need of one more fiction editor.

Note that while the 2 current fiction editors are both American, Strange Horizons does have an international staff, with the editor-in-chief  being from the UK, the reviews editor from Israel, and they have a diverse team of reviewers.

Here are the position details.

Fiction Editor

Strange Horizons is looking for fiction editors! These are editor positions, not first-reader positions; the new editors will be part of the team that decides what fiction Strange Horizons publishes, among other responsibilities.

We’re looking for people who love short fiction, who are passionate about speculative literature, and who believe that there are a wide range of voices in our field that deserve to be heard. Prior editorial experience is nice, but not a requirement.

Like all of our staff positions at SH, these are volunteer positions with no salary attached. Also, staff members cannot submit fiction, poetry, or art to Strange Horizons. Staff members may submit nonfiction, but are not paid for it. If you currently have material under consideration with us, you may still apply; if you end up joining the staff, you can withdraw any submissions at that time.

If you’re interested in applying, the first step is to write us an application letter.

The letter is a chance for us to get to know you—tell us about yourself, why you’d like to join the team at Strange Horizons, and what you love about science fiction and fantasy stories. How would you describe your personality and your work habits? What kind of time can you make available for this job?

And what do you like to read? We’re most interested in hearing about what kinds of short speculative fiction you like, and why. Who are your favorite authors, and what are the stories that changed your life or that you couldn’t stop thinking about? Of the stories we’ve published here at Strange Horizons, which are some of your favorites, and what do you love about them? (Please mention three to five of them.)

Note: most of the applications we’ve received so far don’t answer the questions in that previous paragraph. In your application letter, please address those questions. In particular, be sure to answer the one about SH stories, and be sure to mention more than one SH story that you’ve liked.

Finally, is there anything else we should know about you that might help us decide that you’re the editor we’re looking for?

Your letter should ideally be somewhere between 600 and 2000 words long. But that’s not a strict rule; really, it should be long enough to tell us about yourself, in enough detail to address the above questions.

If we think you sound like a potentially good match, there will be further rounds of screening and interviewing.

Send your application letter (in the body of an email, not as an attachment) to fiction@strangehorizons.com, with the following subject line:

CANDIDATE: Your Name

(except with your name in place of “Your Name”, obviously.)

Editorial Responsibilities

  • Reading and commenting on 15-30 incoming submissions per week.
  • Participating in regular editorial meetings by phone or Skype.
  • Working as part of a team to make decisions about which stories to publish.
  • Communicating in a friendly and professional manner with authors during the publication process.
  • Sending rejection notes for stories that we don’t publish.
  • Helping to supervise a team of first readers.

Job Requirements

  • Proficiency with written English.
  • Regular and reliable Internet access. (All story submissions are electronic.)
  • Comfort with reading stories online and communicating with co-editors and authors via email.
  • Ability to work and make decisions collaboratively.

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

Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik Reviewed

Strange Horizons reviews Ahmed Khaled Towfik‘s Utopia:

Utopia, the first novel by the prolific and popular Towfik to be translated into English, was published in Cairo in 2008. It was an instant bestseller, and has been reprinted four times. Set in 2023, it depicts a bleak Egypt divided into the pampered inhabitants of Utopia, and the Others. The people of Utopia have everything; the Others, next to nothing. Utopia is located on Egypt’s northern coast, while the land of the Others comprises a ghastly Cairo devoid of water or electricity, where drug-addled and hungry youths hunt the few remaining stray dogs through defunct subway tunnels. The book has two narrators: a teenager from Utopia, who takes the name Alaa at one point, though it’s clear this is not his real name; and Gaber, a young man of the Others. Alaa’s sections carry the title “Predator.” Gaber is the “Prey.”

Alaa has everything, and he’s bored. He describes his daily routine in a laconic style that communicates the monotony of his life: “I wake up. I take a leak. Smoke a cigarette. Drink coffee. Shave. Fix the wound on my forehead to make it look terrible. Have sex with the African maid. Have breakfast” (p. 16). Alaa goes on to puke on his mother’s bedroom carpet, get high, and listen to “orgasm music,” and he’s out of things to do. The wound on his forehead—a decoration designed by an Israeli doctor—hints toward a central theme of the book: violence as entertainment. Alaa wants to go hunting. The hunt is the one thrill left to the youth of Utopia: stalking one of the Others, and cutting off an arm as a souvenir.

Alaa sneaks out of Utopia on a bus full of Others heading home after a day of work in rich houses. With him is Germinal, a girl from his clique and occasional sex partner—a weak character whose motivations remain unclear throughout the book. The two of them lure a young woman off to kill her and cut off her arm, but are discovered by a gang of Others before they can manage it. Gaber saves them, and takes them home to live with him and his sister Safiya until they can find a way back to Utopia.

Reading Utopia in 2011, it’s impossible not to think of what’s being called the “Arab Spring,” and particularly the uprising that led to the fall of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. The world of Utopia is an only slightly exaggerated twenty-first century Egypt, recognizable in the gap between rich and poor, the crumbling of government services, the privatization of space and resources, the anger at the links between the Egyptian, American, and Israeli governments, and the yearning for revolution. The strongest aspect of the book is its depiction of the frustration of young men, both rich and poor, who have run out of options. Alaa is bored and powerful, but Gaber, bored and weak, suffers the same debilitating sense of the meaninglessness of life. A life without dreams, Gaber thinks to himself, is “one looooo(what are you waiting for?)oooooo(nothing)ooong, grim present” (p. 52). That the very rich and very poor experience a similar “grim present” suggests that Utopia addresses those who are both poor and rich: the educated and unemployed young people who played such an important role in Tahrir Square. “A society without a middle class,” reflects Gaber, “is a society primed for explosion” (p. 108). – continue reading.

December 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

Strange Horizons reviews A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud

Strange Horizons review French author Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud‘s collection, A Life on Paper, published by Small Beer Press:

I first came across Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud in the pages of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #25. The story, “A City of Museums,” concerns a group of “rats”: homeless youths living secretly in public museums. From the first sentence, I felt I’d stepped into an old-world sort of fiction, a story by Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne: a tale told by gaslight, accompanied by meaningful pauses and gulps of ale. “You wouldn’t dream of staying here without having booked a hotel room far in advance, for once in town, trying to find lodgings with the locals is hopeless” (p. 139). This sort of tale generally ends with the teller rubbing his beard (yes, it’s a he, and he has a beard), and delivering advice or a piece of rueful philosophy. That doesn’t happen in Châteaureynaud’s world. Instead, the tale opens, revealing a dizzying gorge with something at the bottom you can’t quite make out. There’s a death, a chalk outline, a slap, a hint of betrayal, a glimpse of dreams pursued in secret, and then it’s over.

The story stayed with me, and when a collection of Châteaureynaud’s stories, A Life on Paper, was published by Small Beer Press, I bought it. And I experienced, time after time, the sudden jerk, the sense of being swept up by a rogue wind, which had thrilled me when I read “A City of Museums.” In these stories, a father records his daughter’s brief life in 93,284 photographs; inscriptions with a terrible meaning appear all over a soldier’s body; a collector purchases a mummified girl and dresses it in jeans and a sweater; a decapitated head drinks moonshine and begs for death. Yet the weirdness is never left to stand on its own. The tale always takes one more step, yielding powerful imagery or psychological insight. When the living head drinks, it sits in a bucket and swallows the same moonshine over and over; when the mummy meets her end, her erstwhile owner gets married with the insurance money. The startling moments and unexpected turns packed into these extremely spare stories, many of which are less than five pages long, make for a reading experience that is disorienting in the most rewarding way, subtly creepy, and often breathtaking. – continue reading.

August 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

Adam Roberts reviews Jean-Christophe Valtat’s Aurorama

French author Jean-Christophe Valtat‘s latest English-language novel, Aurorama, a current Campbell Award nominee, is reviewed by Adam Roberts at Strange Horizons:

Better yet, the novel is as well-written as it is well-imagined: full of nice phrases—”the vandalized Bibi Eybat oil wells burned non-stop in the night, in true Zoroastrian fashion” (p. 153); a blizzard “whirls madly like a trapped wolf” (p. 174)—and Valtat handles his cod-nineteenth-century tone sweetly (“he beheld, almost miragenous through the whirling snowflakes, four hooded shapes hurrying away down the back alley” (p. 197)). North Pole politics are “poletics”; people travel around not in taxis but “taxsleighs”; and the prose approaches the business of swearing with a degree of propriety (“. . . they were against the Council then, and now those phoque-in-iceholes work hand in hand” (p. 69)). Although, at the same time, the writing sometimes falls into the uncanny valley between the formal idiom of Victorian prose and the unidiomatic stiffness of a non-native speaker (“‘This is very kind of you. But it happens that one likes to hunt for oneself, even if one is a bad hunter,’ he said” (p. 41)). I don’t mean to be a neat-piquer. That Valtat, a French national, wrote this long, accomplished novel in his second language represents an almost Conradian achievement. So if I gracelessly note that sometimes the style doesn’t quite hit the bull (“It would, Gabriel thought, enlighten his return home . . . provided he would not go alone” (p. 68; “provided he didn’t go home alone” would be more idiomatic); or “as he hurried he could perceive rooms whose open doors revealed the strangest scenes” (p. 160; “perceive” isn’t the right word there, I think)—then I must also declare that Valtat’s command of English is better than many published Anglophone authors I could mention. Overall, this is a very good novel indeed. – read the full review.

June 29, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Strange Horizons, February 7-March 21, 2011

“Widows in the World” by Gavin J. Grant embodies the word strange in the ezine’s title. Told in two parts, published 7 February and 14 February 2011, this surreal rambling, which invokes Roald Dahl,  is unintelligible. Continue reading

April 20, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Comments Off

Nisi Shawl on Race and the IFCA

Strange Horizons are having a week dedicated to American writer Nisi Shawl, who writes about racism, science fiction and the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts:

Sometimes race is the official topic of a given conversation, and sometimes it isn’t. For many of us, though, race is always on our minds, in our hearts, at the tips of our tongues. It can’t not be.

ICFA ended a day ago. That’s the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (IFCA), an annual academic gathering-cum-ProCon held poolside in Orlando, Florida. I first attended in 2010, thanks to the generosity of Arthur D. Hlavaty, Bernadette L. Bosky, and Kevin J. Maroney. That year, ICFA 31’s theme was “Race and the Fantastic.” The Guests of Honor (GOH) were Nalo Hopkinson, Laurence Yep, and Takayuki Tatsumi—all people of color. This was reflected in the attendance. There was a strong and unabashedly responsive racial minority presence in the audience for the GOH speeches. (In her speech, Nalo “channeled” a translator having trouble with phrases from white speakers such as “I’m not racist,” which they could only make sense of as “I can wade in feces without getting any of it on me.”)

ICFA 32’s Guests of Honor were Connie Willis, Terry Bisson, and Andrea Hairston. I felt I had to come to this session also, in support of Andrea, an audacious thinker, brilliant writer, and dynamic speaker. More generosity from friends made this possible. ICFA’s 2011 theme: “The Fantastic Ridiculous.” Thus Connie Willis and Terry Bisson, two of SF’s more successful authors when it comes to infusing imaginative literature with humor. Andrea, as the Scholar GOH, gave her speech on Igbo traditions of satire, and the ambitions and failures of the film District Nine. Race was not the theme ICFA’s organizers had chosen, but it was a factor in the conversation beyond any doubt—not only present but demanding attendees’ overt acknowledgement.

The ridiculous intersects with race in several ways. Of course there are racist jokes. There’s the ridiculousness of the pseudoscience inherent in the lack of any biological basis for racial classification. And then there are dozens of ludicrous ideas about racial difference, plus dozens of other racial concepts creating the tension laughter releases. During an ICFA panel on the problem of assigning genre labels, James Patrick Kelly posited as precursors to SF some nonexistent stories by an 1890s version of his copanelist Ted Chiang. Then Jim asked Ted if he thought he could have written those stories back in the 19th century, without the benefit of an SF tradition. “Assuming I didn’t die working on a railroad,” Ted said. The room exploded. Not that the idea of Ted dying was funny. But he had just whisked aside the drapes covering the elephant furnishing this conference’s conversational nook, revealing the racial element missing from Jim’s thesis. There followed questions about cultural and racial assumptions influencing genre assignment. – continue reading.

 

April 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off

Strange Horizons looking for Women Reviewers

Prompted in part, no doubt, by this post by Athena Andreadis, Strange Horizons reviews editor Abigail Nussbaum has put out a call for women reviewers to join the Strange Horizons team:

Ten days ago Niall Harrison posted The SF Count, a look at how genre review venues break down according to gender–how many female authors are reviewed, and how many of the reviewers are women. The numbers, though unsurprising to those of us who have been paying attention to this issue, nevertheless paint a stark picture: few venues had a better than 1:2 ratio of female to male authors reviewed, and only one had a majority of female reviewers (Fantasy & Science Fiction, which has only five regular reviewers). Strange Horizons places at the head of the pack in the former measurement, and near the middle in the other.

These are, of course, only two very simple metrics. There are other ways of examining the diversity and inclusiveness of a review venue. By some, Strange Horizons does very well. In others, not so much. I think that the department I inherited from Niall displays one of the broadest, most eclectic ranges of material, and of opinions, in the field (and, not coincidentally, is one of the best review organs in the field). But there’s always room for improvement, as the numbers Niall collated show. While increasing the number of female authors that Strange Horizons reviews is a task that can be shouldered, for the most part, by the department’s editor, it takes a lot more people to increase the number of the department’s female reviewers. Specifically, it takes you.

If you are a woman who reviews or blogs about genre fiction, I’d like to invite you to review for Strange Horizsons. You can get a sense of the kind of books we review in the department’s archives, and a sense of the kind of reviews we’re looking for in itssubmission guidelines (I’ve also started a series of discussions–currently stalled but hopefully soon to resume–about the kind of reviews the department should run; the first two entries are here).

If you think you’d like to review for Strange Horizons, send an email with the subject REVIEWER QUERY: and your name toreviews@strangehorizons.com. In the email, tell us a little bit about yourself, include some samples of your writing (or links to samples), and give a sense of the kind of books you’d like to review (science fiction, fantasy, horror, YA, literary fiction, short fiction, nonfiction, etc.). I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

(It should go without saying that queries from men will not be tossed aside unread. This effort is geared at encouraging the participation of women in the department, but we’re always ready to hear from new potential reviewers of all stripes. In addition, though this discussion has been about gender, there are other forms of diversity. We welcome queries from POC, queer, and international reviewers.)

 

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off

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