Fascinating interview in Arablit with new Arabic SF writer Noura Noman.
AL: Do you think science fiction could (should, will?) have a wider Arabic-reading audience? What will help grow the audience for Arabic sci fi?
NN: From the response I have had on twitter, and from the handful of young writers who said they read it in English and were interested to read it in Arabic and write it to, yes, I think this is the time for Arabic SF. What I believe would make it more popular is to avoid using it as a way to “fix” Arab issues. I also feel that we need to break away from the boundary of planet Earth and write about other planets, other life forms. I think that’s what will get the young generation to become interested in it. They are sick and tired of our age old issues which we never succeeded in conveying to them in a way that would make them hope for a better future. – read the full interview!
It was back in September 2009 that The National reported that teenage fiction in Arabic “doesn’t exist”. Publisher Dareen Charafeddine, of the Sharjah-based Arabic publishing house Kalimat, said: “If you find any [such books], they are very traditional. Nobody knows how to write for this age group. Children’s literature in general isn’t very developed in the Arab world.”
It was due to this lack of so-called “young adult” science fiction novels in Arabic that Noura Al Noman first decided to write her own. She scoured bookshops in search of suitable books in Arabic for her daughter and found none, and so her novel Ajwan was born.
“For something to be popular, it has to first exist. If you look for English novels in the genre, you’d find plenty, and I believe it is popular – it was popular for me when I grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But if you look for Arabic sci-fi then you will find that it is virtually non-existent,” said Al Noman.
Ajwan is a 19-year-old girl on a journey of empowerment, who comes from a “water planet” with the ability to breathe both air and water. “Jown” is Arabic for cove or a small sea, while “Ajwan” is the plural. Having survived the destruction of her planet, Ajwan finds herself having to survive in a universe of diverse races and nations. This is harder than it first seems after Ajwan’s infant son is kidnapped by a mysterious organisation, intent on conquering the sector with the help of a super-army, which wants to turn her child into a super-soldier. Ajwan realises she must learn how to find a balance between being someone from a peaceful nation and becoming a trained killer in order to save her son.
“She had to have an Arabic name,” Al Noman said, “because I feel that Arab teenagers need to be proud of Arabic names and concepts. However, the rest of the characters’ names are derived from many cultures and concepts in other languages.” – continue reading
Over at the SF Portal, new bureau head Arafaat Ali Khan discusses What has science fiction meant to the UAE over the lat few decades?
It’s difficult to put a finger on what constitutes science fiction in the United Arab Emirates. Difficult because the UAE has always been such an eclectic mix of nationalities that the culture has always consisted of a mix of Arab, Asian and European influences.
As a Pakistani growing up in the country, I never felt that there was a certain way of life that encompassed or dictated the form of entertainment that one would get accustomed to. In fact, one could say that it was the best of all worlds, being exposed to everything from European and American television shows, movies, and literature, to the more traditional forms of Arab entertainment.
Arab entertainment when it comes to science fiction came in the form of ‘Arabised’ forms of other cultures. People from the region have grown up with a love for giant robots and UFOs due to one simple animated series that surfaced in the early 80’s Grendizer, more commonly know as Goldarak in Europe and Canada where it was also loved.
Grendizer was a common Japanese Anime about UFOs and robots fighting for good against the forces of evil in many shapes and sizes with one important twist: it was dubbed extremely professionally into Arabic. What this meant for those of us growing up in the region is that we adopted it as our own. This wasn’t a Japanese show, no: it was an Arab show that touched the hearts of everyone who ever had the pleasure of growing up watching it.
And this was the kicker, the shot in the arm if you will that laid the groundwork for the dreams and inspirations of so many talented individuals in the region. Yes we had Doctor Who, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Star Trek and Stars Wars (to name a few) as well as a plethora of available literature including Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, Ben Bova, and the res,t but I truly believe it was that short-lived animated show about robots and monsters that really planted the seed for what we are beginning to see in the region today.
It has taken a while, sure but the talent is starting to make itself heard. From the first fully animated CGI Science Fiction short Xero-Error (featured at Cannes), to an unnamed fantasy novel and the first original Arabic language Manga The Gold Ring, the seeds are starting to blossom. The UAE and the Middle East region as a whole is no longer content with importing their science fiction and genre entertainment, they are ready to take the world by storm!
The region has been fostering this with numerous film festivals such as the Dubai Film Festival and Gulf Film Festival, book fairs, and more hoping to find the next big name in science fiction, fantasy, and art.
The announcement of the first Middle East Film and Comic Con has done nothing but foster this nascent talent. April 29th and 30th of 2011 (www.mefilmandcomiccon.com) will be the time when the region will truly have a voice, a voice to shout about their love of science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between.
As one of the organisers of the event, it is with no exaggeration that I say it has been awe inspiring to witness the level of interest and talent that exists in this region. The show is set to feature the very first science fiction novel in Arabic, and the first stand alone Arabic language science fiction graphic novel to name a few. It will be the first time that the artists, authors, and fans in the Arab world will have a chance to meet some of the global legends in science fiction, comic books, and animation.
As part of our on-going coverage of Arab genre fiction, here is a fascinating article in the National Newspaper from the United Arab Emirates on The Search for a New Chapter in Arabic Youth Fiction, by Kareem Shaheen:
According to publishers and others involved in literature, even if children are reading Arabic books at a young age, there is a severe lack of fiction available when they hit their teenage years.
The evidence, they say, can be seen in the best-sellers for teenagers at Abu Dhabi bookstores – a list dominated by Western titles such as the Twilight vampire series by Stephenie Meyer and J K Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.
The genre of Arabic young adult fiction “doesn’t exist,” said Dareen Charafeddine, a publisher. “If you find any [such books], they are very traditional. Nobody knows how to write for this age group.
“Children’s literature in general isn’t very developed in the Arab world.” – read the rest of the article.