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.