“Third World Worlds” Link Compilation

Here’s a compilation of reactions to Norman Spinrad’s “Third World Worlds” article. Since I’m not omniscient (and I start to shut down on weekends), feel free to add links in the comments section. Last I talked with Lavie (he is literally a wandering vagabond right now, which explains why I’m the one doing these updates), he wanted to hint that the second volume of The Apex Book of World SF will include African-American (edit: my error) stories from Africa and Latin America (since the first volume didn’t really include stories from that region), assuming everything pushes through (so go buy the book? Get it as a gift for Norman Spinrad?).

Edit: Also worth mentioning that Locus just released An Overview of International Science Fiction/Fantasy in 2009.


6 thoughts on ““Third World Worlds” Link Compilation

  1. Great list, Charles! Will do a shout-out!

    And by all means, tell Lavie to send a copy to Mr. Spinrad! I’ll be sure to send Lavie a story of mine too – maybe there will also be a story from Brazil in second volume of The Apex Book of World SF, so NS won’t be able to complain he didn’t know there was no SF below the Equator! 😉

  2. I Told You So or Is Vidia Neypaul a Third World Writer?

    Abundant self-citation in science is abhorred. Yet, I will start with one, it helps to demonstrate a point. I few weeks ago I wrote a comment in a blog: (http://www.nebulaawards.com/index.php/guest_blogs/international_sf_and_problems_of_identity) saying: “… I have been delighted to see Western SF writers – Ian McDolanld comes to mind – that explore foreign cultures. Ironically, these are probably the best “International SF” (quotes were intentional!) books of today.”

    I dare say that the essay of Mr. Spinrad (whom I respect very much for the Alternate History novel The Iron Dream) that appeared shortly after in Asimov’s SF strongly supported my idea. To summarize, he first reviews his knowledge of the foreign speculative fiction: “I at least, am at a loss to point to any science fiction that I know of that has evolved independently in non-European languages or cultures disconnected there from.” Next, he admits: “If it exists, I haven’t seen a significant amount of it translated into any language I can read, however badly, nor have I read much about it in secondary sources.” Then, he proceeds to discuss in detail the successes and failures of books by British or US writers set in Third World countries (missing in the process some notable examples as the recent novels by Jon Courtenay Greenwood’s Arabesk series, Adam Roberts’s Yelloe Blue Tibia, Chris Roberson’s Celestal Empire series, The Hunter’s Run by the trio Daniel Abraham, Gardner Dozois, and George Martin, etc.).

    In effect, the title of the essay is misleading, which must have caused most of the outcry. It is about the perception of the Third world by Western writers, and not about the Third World writers themselves.

    But to me, the thoughts of Mr. Spinrad are mainly a testimony that the foreign SF&F remains a terra incognita to most Western readers (and editors, and publishers).

    He show some preoccupation with the locale of the books, and judging from the responses, I suspect that this is a popular misconception. The cultural setting is not identical with expressing the spirit of a culture. Perhaps the best example is The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin. It is not set in China, but a few years after reading it, I took a Philosophy class at the University, and it required some effort to reckon where from I was familiar with the Confucianism. Eventually it occurred to me – from that novel! Another example is The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, which contains a very German discussion on power without being set in Germany. Formally this is a pure far-future space opera.

    It is hard to expect “independently evolved” speculative fiction as the genre in its modern form evolved from the works of Herbert Wells, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne barely more than a century ago. However, there is a body of foreign writers that do incorporate in their work the folklore and the culture traditions of their native countries. I think, the disappointment of Mr. Spinrad only demonstrates the rarity of translations, and the bias toward more culturally-independent stories that can easily be transplanted in the pax-americana.

    Furthermore, the scale works against the foreign SF&F because a smaller national market doesn’t produce the same number of books per capita: the writers can’t make a living from professional writing alone, and on average half of the time that they would have spent producing immortal novels would be eaten up by their day-job.

    Some self-censuring, perhaps at subconscious level, takes place among the “Third World” writers too. Small countries usually have great pasts, and being “small” today implies there was a moment of fall some time ago. Any attempt to write a positive future for your country can easily be interpreted as revanchism, and it takes a lot of sensitivity to avoid the trap of building a positive, albeit fictional, feature for your culture, not at the expense of others.

    Mr. Spinrad’s thoughts made me ask myself if somebody like Vidia Naipaul is a Third World writer. He comes from the mainstream and it makes him free from the technological bias which sadly works against the developing nations. He was born in Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, he was educated in Oxford, he writes in English, and he had a British born wife. A main topic of his writing seems to be yet another continent – Africa. He has been accused of looking down upon the Third World. Is he a Trinidadian writer, an African writer or a British writer?

    As fascinating as these questions are, their answers doesn’t make a difference whether we like his writing and his ideas or not. I think it is the same with the speculative fiction. The strange settings and the foreign culture background can make it easier to express some ideas (i.e. they are very powerful for creating the sense of strangeness), they can add variety to the genre, but at the end these are tools for expressing an idea. Science Fiction and Fantasy are world genres. At present they are dominated by USA and UK writers and publishers but this is OK with me as long as the story and book markets are open and (hopefully) accept works by foreigners on merit.

    Finally, a personal experience of the SF&F globalization: a few years ago in a train in the Netherlands I (a Bulgarian fan) had a short chat with a Spanish fan reading a UK bough, English language edition of a Russian novel “Night Watch” by Sergei Lukyanenko (born in Kazakhstan, then part of the USSR, to a Russian-Ukrainian father and a Tatar mother, living currently in Moscow).

Comments are closed.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: