From The Future Fire:
We are seeking submissions for a colonialism-themed anthology of new stories told from the perspective of the colonized, titled We See a Different Frontier, to be guest edited by Fábio Fernandes and published by The Future Fire.
It is impossible to consider the history, politics or culture of the modern world without taking into account our colonial past. Most violent conflicts and financial inequalities in some sense result from the social-political-economic matrix imposed by European powers since the seventeenth century—even powerful countries such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) have to be viewed through the filter of our history to fully appreciate their current circumstances. The same is true of art and literature, including science fiction; asRochita Roenen-Luiz eloquently explained, “it is impossible to discuss non-Western SF without considering the effects of colonialism.” Cultural imperialism erases many native traditions and literatures, exoticizes colonized and other non-European countries and peoples, and drowns native voices in the clamour of Western stories set in their world.Utopian themes like “The Final Frontier”, “Discovering New Worlds” and “Settling the Stars” appeal to a colonial romanticism, especially recalling the American West. But what is romantic and exciting to the privileged, white, anglophone reader is a reminder of exploitation, slavery, rape, genocide and other crimes of colonialism to the rest of the world.
We See a Different Frontier will publish new speculative fiction stories in which the viewpoint is that of the colonized, not the invader. We want to see stories that remind us that neither readers nor writers are a homogeneous club of white, male, Christian, hetero, cis, monoglot anglophone, able-bodied Westerners. We want the cultures, languages and literatures of colonized peoples and recombocultural individuals to be heard, not to show the White Man learning the error of his ways, or Anglos defending the world from colonizing extraterrestrials. We want stories that neither exoticize nor culturally appropriate the non-western settings and characters in them.
We See a Different Frontier will pay US$0.05 per word, with a minimum payment of $50, plus the possibility of royalties if sales are good enough. We are looking for stories between 3,000 and 6,000 words in length; we are willing to be flexible about this wordcount, but the further a story falls outside this range, the harder a sell it will be. Please do not submit stories that are also under consideration elsewhere. Query before sending more than one story to us. We are unlikely to be interested in reprints unless they were published in an obscure market unlikely to be known to our audience, but in any case please query before sending a reprint, explaining when and where the story has appeared before.
Please send submissions as an attachment (.doc[x], .rtf or .odt) firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is midnight GMT, September 14, 2012.
About the publisher: The Future Fire is an e-published magazine showcasing new writing in Social-Political Speculative Fiction, with a special interest in FeministSF, Queer SF, Eco SF, Postcolonial SF and Cyberpunk. See http://futurefire.net/ for more details.
About the editor: Fábio Fernandes is a SFF writer and translator living in São Paulo, Brazil. His short fiction in Portuguese has won two Argos Awards in Brazil. In English, he has several stories published in online venues in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Romenia, and Brazil. He also contributed to Steampunk Reloaded,Southern Weirdo: Reconstruction, and The Apex Book of World SF Vol. 2. His articles and reviews have appeared in The Fix, Fantasy Book Critic, Tor.com, and SF Signal. He is also the non-fiction editor forInternational Speculative Fiction.
We continue our special Mexican Week feature this week with an interview with Mexican author and editor Federico Schaffler!
Federico Schaffler interview by Charles Tan
First off, how did you first get into science fiction and fantasy?
I think that the main reason for getting into these genres was that as a child I watched a bunch of great TV shows like Star Trek (when originally aired, so you can now guess my age), Twilight Zone, The Invaders, Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, UFO, Voyage to the bottom of the sea, Lost in Space, Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Six Million Dollar man, among others. Afterwards, when I was around 12 years old, I began to buy and read Spanish pulp pocketbooks that managed to get to Mexico. I think I must have read around some 400 of them.
But most importantly, when I was in my first year of secondary school, that would be 7th for the US education system, I had to turn in a book report every month to my Spanish teacher. Because I already read a lot, I asked him if I could just tell him what I read and instead turned in a short story to get my grade. He agreed and that was the beginning of my writing career.
What’s the appeal of the genre for you?
The fantastic, being able to visit strange worlds and new civilizations (I wonder where I picked up that). The freedom to write what my imagination comes up without restraining myself to the boring reality that most of the time surrounds us. Being able to share my stories with whoever might read them.
Regarding terminologies, do you have a preferred term for science fiction and fantasy? For example, what’s your reaction when you hear the term speculative fiction? Magic-realism?
I´m very fond of Science Fiction, but can live with speculative fiction. Magic-realism is another species, vaguely related to SF, which I find difficult to relate to, but nonetheless admire. Sometimes I find that “science fiction writer” sets me apart, but it can also be an obstacle when I write essays, history books, chronicles or mostly the yearly reports of some of the Mayors of my city, Nuevo Laredo, when I have worked in the city government. Journalists more than once used my SF background to label those state of municipal affairs reports as “unbelievable science fiction”. It did not matter much to me because I got paid anyway.
What’s the field there like?
Right now? Almost inexistent. We had a very strong movement during the nineties, when we founded the Mexican Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, AMCYF, of which I was the first president. We also published magazines, held national short story awards, had several conventions and were recognized in national magazines, invited to international book fairs, published many books and were acknowledged in other countries. Sadly, this momentum came practically to a halt in 2000 after a fiercely fought campaign to preside AMCYF. After that, almost everyone went their own way and several authors kept the flame burning, but not me. I had a 10 year hiatus when I barely wrote because I had to work on other things.
But now I´m back and even though a part of me is strongly pushing me to once again put on the promoter and editor cap, as well to once again conduct a genre literary workshop (I coordinated the Terra Ignota literary workshop from 1990 to 2002), I think it´s time to do some serious writing of my own.
Here in the Philippines, there’s a predisposition for short stories rather than novels. Is that also the case there?
Yes, even though it is common knowledge that novels are easier to sell to the publishing houses and many have been able to appear to wider markets, but not with a SF label. Short stories can be found in personal collections, very few anthologies, electronic and printed magazines and blogs. Several novels have been published in Spain and that has opened up some doors that still are difficult to cross. Others prefer not to be labeled and have managed to publish in general collections.
Could you tell us more about the Mexican SF anthology that you edited, Mas alla de lo imaginado?
It was the first anthology published in Mexico that had only stories from Mexican writers. The National Council of the Arts, CONACULTA, by way of the Tierra Adentro Cultural Program, commissioned me in 1990 to prepare what eventually came to be three volumes, with 42 different authors, the youngest of whom was 17 and the eldest 72. The first two volumes appeared in 1991 and immediately sold out. The third appeared in 1994 and the fourth and fifth volumes never were published.
Mas alla de lo imaginado, or MADLI, as we call it, served as a loud wakeup call that motivated new writers, at the same time that it served as a common ground for those of us who already wrote and published but were not widely known about.
Many of the authors in MADLI later on garnered national or international literary awards, were published in Mexico and other countries and became household names for the SF community.
What was your criteria in selecting the stories for all three volumes?
I wanted to show a wide range of well written stories, most of them dealing directly with Mexican themes or characteristics. Many stories were intimate, other galaxy spanning and several very well could be included in other non-genre anthologies. I tried to balance new voices with established writers and sought stories from many sources, among them the Premio Puebla, a well known SF short story competition that began in 1984.
How would you describe Mexican science fiction and fantasy?
Mexican science fiction is more about how people react or is affected by technology, mainly because we have a very poor scientific education level and we are consumers and not developers of scientific advancements or technological innovations. There are more SF stories with Mexican space heroes written by non-Mexicans than those that are written in our country.
Who are some of the Mexican writers we should be reading?
Alberto Chimal, José Luis Zárate, Gerardo Porcayo, Pepe Rojo and Bernardo “Bef” Fernandez have been publishing widely and have a strong group of followers. Some of the lesser know authors beyond our borders are also very good, among them Hector Chavarria, Irving Roffe, Guillermo Lavin, Jose Luis Velarde and Gabriel Trujillo. You can search for stories by them and many others mainly in the Axxon webpage, an Argentinian SF electronic magazine that has been publishing since the early nineties and has over 225 issues at their website (axxon.com.ar) with Spanish speaking authors from many countries around the world.
When it comes to your writing, what’s the appeal of the short story format for you?
I originally found it a lot easier to tell a story that had the appeal of its short length. Now, I have to force myself to go back to the basics, regarding the scope and length of the story, because they started getting longer and longer. This makes me think that I might be ready to finish one of the several novels I have begun over the years and that remain unfinished.
How would you describe your own fiction?
First of all, I want it to entertain, to surprise the reader, to leave them sometimes with a smile and other times thinking. I try to find and use humorous or unexpected twists, some time even being cruel to the characters. I almost always see that the story, while universal, contains particular aspects of Mexican culture, ideology, traditions or customs that try to make it different from others.
What’s the publishing industry in Mexico like?
I think it´s the same as in other countries of Latin America. Publishers want sure-fire bets, mostly with books from well recognized authors. That is why it is easier to find new books (at least because of their publication date and not because of when they were written) by Isaac Asimov, Orson Scot Card, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke and other authors instead of books by Mexican authors who do not have a wide fan base. Magazines, on the other hand, are more open to publish stories from new authors or from those with at least some name value.
What’s your opinion on the upcoming anthology Three Messages and a Warning (http://smallbeerpress.com/forthcoming/2011/03/23/three-messages-and-a-warning/#more-8815)?
I just got it a few days ago, when I attended a book presentation in San Antonio, Texas, when I finally got to personally meet one of the editors, Eduardo Jimenez Mayo, as well as five of the authors, two of whom were already friends of mine. I finished the book in a couple of days and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to have a broad panorama of current Mexican fantastic fiction. I also hope that Eduardo and Chris N. Brown can soon publish a follow-up volume because there are many more authors that were not included who should be well known to English readers.
What projects are you currently working on?
I´m working in translating into English some of my stories, as well as and writing new ones directly in this language. I am also outlining two novels that I expect to begin soon (I still do not know which one will be first). I am also trying to finish a space opera novella that I started and left unconcluded a dozen years ago. I recently finished a book of flash fiction, called “From Zero to a Hundred” that has stories that have a word count between 0 and 100 and I have a pet project of writing this year twelve stories, ranging from one to twelve pages long, on January 1, February 2, March 3 and so on (1/1, 2/2, 3/3…) so I can finish with a 78 page chapbook. But most importantly I will try to break into international markets, by publishing in the US, Canada, Spain and Argentina, among other countries.
Federico Schaffler was founding president of the Mexican Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers, AMCyF, in 1992. He also edited the first anthology of original SF stories from Mexico, “Mas Alla de lo Imaginado” (3 volumes, 1991-1993), as well as another 22 books that range from essays to short story collections and chronicles. In 2011 he was designated Emeritus creator of the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico, due to his writing and editorial work for over 28 years. He was once a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, in the early 1990´s, when he gained admission after successfully arguing that America is the whole continent, and not only the USA, and that as a Mexican national he was eligible to be a member. After that, the SFFWA eventually changed their admission guidelines.
I’m delighted to have this week a story from the Small Beer Press anthology Three Messages and A Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown. My thanks to Small Beer Press and the author and translators for letting us reprint the story.
Intoduction: A History of “The Transformist”
by Horacio Sentíes Madrid
“The Transformist” is a tale about the concept of reality. The story is based in the first description of Frégoli Syndrome by Professor Paul Courbon and Dr. G. Fail in January 17th, 1927. Leopoldo Frégoli (Roma 1867 – Viareggio 1936) was an Italian transformer actor who was famous because he was capable to modify his physical and psychological appearance—specially his face—in a very fast way during his performances, he could play up to sixty characters in one performance. Frégoli wrote in his memoirs in 1936 that “Art is the Life and the Life is the Transformation.” Frégoli Syndrome consists of the conviction that some physical and psychological characteristics go through from one person to another. This syndrome occurs after right frontal lobe lesions secondarily to trauma, neurodegenerative diseases, or a stroke. In the tale some of the philosophical and historical ideas about reality, from Parmenides to Henri Bergson are described. Some of the events of Sarah Bernhardt’s life are included since this actress was part of the delirious ideation of the first patient diagnosed with this syndrome. Physical and psychological characteristics from this patient are described in the tale including his belief in “Mentalism.” The importance of the memory in the perception of reality is emphasized, so Marcel Proust becomes a central figure in the story.
Horacio Sentíes Madrid
Translated by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and José Alejandro Flores
For Bruno Estañol, with admiration
October 15, 1923
One always chooses how one dies and, in the end, death is nothing but a transformation: this idea is an obsession of Monsieur Poulenc, who swears he knows the day and time of his death. Perhaps in the future someone will decide to die a gaucho’s death, dagger in hand, somewhere in the remote south of Argentina. All my miseries began when Sarah died, this past March, but only until now have I dared to write about my sorrows. Her funeral was attended by one hundred fifty thousand people. I took some flowers to her grave in Pere-Lachaise. After leaving them, I felt a terrible pain on the right side of my head as I bumped into one of the stone arches while roaming about the grounds.
I was eleven when I first saw her. My father had taken me to the Odéon Theater: which years later she utilized as a convalescent hospital, caring for the war wounded, an effort earning her the Legion of Honor. Her performance as Queen Elizabeth, interpreting Moreau’s film script, was superb. A couple of years later I witnessed her transform into Jeanne Doré. The beauteous Oceanids, legendary daughters of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys, must have paled in comparison to her splendor. In 1887 when she appeared at the Grand National Theater of Mexico as “a beautiful stranger,” her performance in “La Dame aux Camelias” earned her glowing praise from the critics: “We were fortunate to be visited by one of Virgil’s goddesses, shrouded by a dense veil of mystery. More than a woman, she is a burning bush.” After her right leg was amputated, following years of suffering, I could no longer see her on stage. Unlike other actresses her mannerisms were natural. I hated the gross overacting of her contemporaries. She delved into the mood of her characters: every intonation, every gesture, was uniquely suited to her role. Most intriguing was her stage interpretation of “dying”—stammers, groans and agony during which the cobalt blue of her eyes and her blond hair seemed to glow and then fade. Perhaps she slept in a coffin so as to be closer to death in life. The photographs of Monsieur Nadar and his son capture her practicing this custom.
For over three years her spirit pursued me closely in all my whereabouts, every woman’s face became hers. The countenances of the women around me invariably reflected her features and she took possession of their thoughts and feelings as well. Terribly, unavoidably, I succumbed to her spell. I was forced to evade my places of work—the coffee shop, the factory, the restaurant, private homes—hoping to escape from her invasive presence. But to no avail. I took to sleeping in the shelters of the Salvation Army to elude her roving spirit. When I look at my mother in a matter of seconds her face began to assume the appearance of the woman with “the golden voice.” Not only my mother, mind you, but all the people with whom I associated suffered this transformation; even their clothes mimicked Sarah’s: camisoles, bustles, corsets, crinolines, petticoats. A few days ago a begging girl knocked at the door. Upon seeing her face assume Sarah’s features, I decided to lock her in the shelter pantry, thinking maybe that way I could get rid of her forever. I even contemplated killing the child. I went out but the first face I saw became that of my persecutor. I decided to return to free the little girl who was crying incessantly when I arrived. The abducted child was sitting on the floor, hugging her knees, when I opened the door. Her face morphed into Sarah’s, momentarily expressing the actress’ mocking laughter, before she rose to her feet and ran from the place.
November 6, 1924
Lately the situation has become intolerable. Sarah’s mother and aunt were women of ill repute. She inherited her real name from her Aunt Rosine. Neither she nor her sisters knew who her parents were. Her sister Jeanne dedicated herself to the courtesan’s life. But she was committed to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital under the care of Professor Charcot for the treatment of neurosis and morphine addiction. Why is it that women of ill repute, patterned after Manon from the homonymous opéra comique, always seem to end up confined in Pitié-Salpêtrière? As a child, Sarah remained in a boarding school in Auteuil near the homes of Bergson and Proust, and later in the Grandchamp convent school near Versailles.
She wanted to devote her life to God but her mother influenced her to be a high-class courtesan. At first, she refused. But after her abandonment by Prince de Ligne while pregnant with Maurice, her libertinism began. Monsieur Hugo chose her for the role of the Queen in the revival of Ruy Blas, and ever since then her name was associated with his, as it would be with Monsieur Doré and Monsieur D’Annunzio. Monsieur Nadar photographed her naked on several occasions. Her marriage to Monsieur Damal was a sham. Both were exemplars of infidelity. Only another morphine addict would have thought to marry her. Marie Colombier recently provoked a scandal by publishing Sarah’s Les voyages en Amérique and Mémoires, for which a three-month prison sentence was imposed in response to public outrage at the materials’ supposed indecency. The gallant life of the actress is revealed in them in all its grandeur.
Sarah’s sister has also begun to haunt me atrociously. I am the only woman in my family who lives in chastity. I have been able to keep away foolish men with the assistance of a skin condition that makes me look prematurely aged yet affords me the opportunity to remain purer than my sisters. Perhaps this is why Sarah’s sister has chosen to invade my thoughts and compel me nocturnally to make dirty and immoral contact with myself of which I am ashamed.
December 3, 1926
How has Sarah accomplished her postmortem persecution of me? I can only explain it through Spiritualism. Allan Kardec in, The Spirits’ Book, explains how the dead can come into contact with the living. I firmly believe that this is possible and I am joined in this belief by the likes of Ravaisson-Mollien, Monsieur Lachelier, a Scottish writer named Conan Doyle and even the recently assassinated Mexican president. I have attended the performances of magicians Erik Weisz and Erik Jan Hanussen and I have read about mentalism in search of a solution to this martyrdom. Despite the spectacular cures of James Braid and Professor Charcot through hypnosis, in my case this treatment has had no effect whatsoever. After meeting Monsieur Hoffman, the magnetizer, I turned to the glass harmonica for assistance. I experienced a temporary improvement similar to that of Maria Theresia von Paradis, the woman who despite her blindness managed to play concerts by Mozart and who was treated by Monsieur Mesmer himself. I decided to abandon my treatment regime after a few days because Sarah appeared again, ubiquitously, and because many have witnessed that those who hear the sound of the glass harmonica, an invention of Benjamin Franklin, eventually grow as insane as Lucia di Lammemoor.
December 9, 1926
A new patient came to me a few days ago. She is twenty-seven, employed as a domestic servant, and her appearance is a little coarse. She has striven to develop a modicum of culture and is a fervent believer in mentalism. She possesses the firm belief that the former actress, “The Great Sarah Bernhardt,” and her sister, are pursuing her by imposing their facial and physical characteristics on the people with whom she associates. During the course of my interview with her, for example, she mentioned that I and the interns who accompanied me had assumed their visages. I have written to our colleagues Capgras and Reboul-Lachaux; but the woman who sought help from me suffers from an illness opposite to the one in which they specialize. I always appreciate your valuable opinions and hope you might shed some light on this experience.
Best wishes and warmest affections,
December 20, 1926
My Dearest Friend:
I have been thinking about the woman whom you refer to in your letter and I do not have a plausible explanation for it, but it awakened in me some reflections which I shall make an effort to present to you. It seems to me that the whole problem lies in the understanding one has of reality. Parmenides said that the universe, including time and space, and perhaps we ourselves, are nothing but an appearance or a succession of appearances. Thomas Carlyle, in Sartor Resartus, promotes a similar view, only that for the Scot the whole universe is a charade. Similarly, Bishop Berkeley holds that matter consists of a series of perceptions whose reality would be inconceivable without consciousness. John Locke would reduce reality to our perceptions and feelings, even more precisely, to our memories and perceptions of those memories; matter exists because the five senses make it so. All this establishes that the nature of the reality of objects is not contained in their primary characteristics, rather in the perceptions that we are able to create on the basis of their secondary characteristics.
Now I shall mention some new ideas that my father-in-law Paul Sollier related to me and which are relevant to this case. Remember that my father-in-law was a disciple of Professor Charcot and some twenty years ago wrote a book called Les phénomène d’autoscopy. He worked primarily on the phenomenon of memory. In fact, one of his patients whom he treated at Boulogne-Billancourt wrote a novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, inspired by the concepts in my father-in-law’s scientific essay, Les troubles de la mémoire. In the novel of which I speak, the son of Professor Adrien Proust wrote that true reality exists only in the mind; consequently, the reality we perceive depends only secondarily on the objects and circumstances surrounding us but primarily on the perceptions and memories that we have of them. The unfortunate woman you describe, relentlessly pursued by the Bernhardt sisters, represents a pathological example of this psychological truth. What a dreadful life she must lead, tormented by the guises of deceased souls. I do not think you can convince her otherwise, for her perceptions fashioned from powerful memories are as real to her as yours are to you. Our friend Henri Bergson, akin to Proust, has devoted much of his attention to the analysis of reality. In fact his book Matière et mémoire takes up the subject directly. For Henri, the brain registers movements, sensations and perceptions, but “pure memory” refers to a spiritual reservoir of images of the past continuously reshaped according to present conditions and necessities. Objects must be situated and conceptualized to ensure the stability of their representation. Man relies on such representations to make sense of reality and yet he laughs at them, knowing them to be a caricature or deformation of reality as such. The impressionist painters of the past century and now the surrealists remind us of the treachery of human consciousness. Their work speaks volumes on the condition of your patient besieged by omnipresent images of the Bernhardt sisters.
Receive my most cordial greetings,
Chef de Service
Hôpital Sainte Anne Paris
1 Rue Cabanis
January 3, 1927
Your reflections are interesting but perhaps a bit too positivist given this woman’s mystical nature. I would like to discuss her case further with you and for you to meet her, perhaps this Friday afternoon. Afterward we might attend the Olympia Theatre, which, as you recall, stands opposite to the home and studio of Monsieur Nadar on the Boulevard des Capucines. A retrospective film will be shown there of Leopoldo Frégoli, the great quick-change artist who said that art is life and life is transformation.
Monday Original Content: REVIEW: Three Messages and A Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic
This week Charles Tan reviews Three Messages and A Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown and published by Small Beer Press. We’ll have more material on the book this week, so stay tuned!
Three Messages and A Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown
Reviewed by Charles Tan
I’ll say it outright: we need more anthologies like these. There’s ambition in Three Messages and A Warning — perhaps more so than the Philippine Speculative Fiction volumes I’ve been reading (and sometimes contributing to) for the past eight years. For one thing, there’s the sheer number of translations, in addition to maintaining a consistent tone and atmosphere.
Second, reading this anthology is diving into the unknown: the strength — and perhaps weakness — of such a book is that every contributor is an unknown factor. Their contributions could be award-winning stories. Or it could be their first piece of published fiction. The only thing that affects my judgment are the stories themselves since I don’t have any preconceptions about the author.
Third, there’s a sense of diversity in the book. Two stories, for example, share a common concept, a town populated by animals: “Lions” by Bernardo Fernández and “Wolves” by José Luis Zárate. However, the treatment, theme, and allegory of the two stories are very different from each other. Whereas “Lions” showcases a gradual juxtaposition, “Wolves,” on the other hand, is this inevitable surrender to something beyond mortal comprehension. And that’s simply scratching the tip of the proverbial iceberg. One could make an argument that certain stories aren’t speculative fiction: “The Guest” by Amparo Dávila and “Three Messages and A Warning In The Same Email” by Ana Clavel come to mind. But again, the sensibilities in which they are, are stylistically different: “The Guest” features this unnamed entity while the titular story weaves itself in a mystery that’s either science fiction or literary metafiction. These stories tackle genre tropes or challenge existing definitions that’s refreshing to read and encounter.
If you’re looking for a common motif, a recurring element that attempts to define the “Mexican Fantastic,” you won’t find it in this book. The selections are simply diverse, and perhaps the only conclusion that one can claim is that a lot of the stories are relatively short as several are flash fiction while the lengthier pieces don’t even come close to the novelette. It’s simply a different kind of sensibility, one that makes sense in this kind of anthology where the aim is to showcase variety and breadth.
As far as impact is concerned, the stories hit home, although perhaps not too deep. They’re jabs and body blows instead of knockout punches, but considering the length of the stories, it’s understandable why several of them don’t leave bruises.
If there’s one significant flaw with the anthology, it’s not that the book has three introductions (which is, admittedly, overkill), but one of them is written by Bruce Sterling. I know he means well, and it’s not everyday that a famous writer gets to write the introduction to a book, but there’s this sense that he’s patronizing. There’s some value in his introduction, don’t get me wrong, but the crux of his argument is that “The United States of America is Mexicanizing much faster than Mexico is Americanizing” so “The face of an old friend can be better than a mirror, sometimes,” the old friend being Mexico.
Save for that one detail, Three Messages and A Warning is a treasure trove of stories that showcases a unique brand of aesthetics when it comes to the fantastic.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz has a new story up at Philippine Genre Stories: Song of the Body Cartographer.
Siren traces the marks on Inyanna’s body. There are concave hollows in Inyanna’s arms, and there are connectors along her ribs that allow her to jack into her windbeast when she is in flight. Under Siren’s fingers, the patterns on Inyanna’s shoulders register as bumps—like tiny hills grouped together in circles that wind in and around each other.
“That tickles,” Inyanna says.
Her voice sends shivers along Siren’s spine and her fingers clutch and caress Inyanna’s skin.
“There is no one more beautiful than you,” Siren says.
She worships Inyanna’s body and follows the shape of muscle and bone with her hands. There is no fat on her body and Siren takes note of this too. Her fingers glide over her love’s hipbones, and she feels the muscles contract and hears Inyanna’s indrawn breath.
“There,” Inyanna says.
The shiver in her voice makes Siren smile.
“Here?” she asks.
She blows gently and watches Inyanna stretch and reach upwards.
In the moment when Inyanna reaches climax, Siren feels as if she has traced the road from Lower Ayudan to that place where the high gods dwell. – continue reading.
The editors of LONTAR are looking for quality literary writing with elements of the fantastic, which is in some way connected with the cultures, traditions, mythologies, folk religions, and/or daily life in Southeast Asia. While we are happy to look at works by writers outside of the region, we want to actively encourage Southeast Asian writers to submit your work.
LONTAR is not a market for horror fiction, but we may consider dark fantasy (and please do educate yourself on the difference between the two). We are also not a market for erotica, although some sexual content (as long as it is integral to the plot) is acceptable. (And it should go without saying, but we’re also not interested in fan fiction.)
Please see the below categories (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Sequential Art) for specific descriptions of what we would like to receive from our potential contributors. When you are ready to submit your work, please be sure to do so under the appropriate category to ensure that it goes to the correct editor. Do not send submissions for consideration via email, as they will be deleted unread.
Do yourself a favor and consult the list of clichéd story premises to avoid at Strange Horizons’ guidelines for “Stories We’ve Seen Too Often,” as well as William Shunn’s article on Proper Manuscript Format. And please refrain from giving a description of your piece in your cover letter; previous publication credits are fine, but your submission should speak for itself.
Upon acceptance, your piece will appear in both the print and e-book editions of the journal; we also reserve the right to publish your piece as an extract or in full on our website. We buy First Worldwide Print and Electronic Rights; in exchange, payment is a $25 SGD honorarium via PayPal (or $10 SGD per poem) and two contributor copies of the issue in which it appears.
We will consider simultaneous submissions, but request that you contact us immediately if your piece is bought elsewhere first. We do not accept unsolicited reprints.
Please wait to hear from us about your submission before sending another; LONTAR is a labor of love, and although we will attempt to get back to you as soon as possible, please wait 90 days before querying about your submission. We regret the use of form letters, but are unable to send personalized rejections at this time.
We look forward to seeing your work!
Over at InterNova there’s a new story by Israeli author Guy Hasson, A Good Ending:
This story has a good ending.
Well… for the bureaucrat.
Once upon a time, in a country far, far away, there lived a bureaucrat. And the bureaucrat’s son, who was six at the time of this story, had very bad dreams. The bureaucrat’s son used to wake up in the middle of the night shouting, his heart pounding, his breath short. The son would run to his mother, the teacher, and his father, the bureaucrat, and they would hug him and tell him it was just a dream and that everything was all right.
This was not a problem specific to the bureaucrat’s son.
Many children had nightmares. Many adults had nightmares, as well. Although adults could more easily wake up and tell themselves that they had only been dreaming, and that none of it had been real. In fact, adults sometimes decided that, since it was only a dream, they would try to re-enter the dream and bring about a better ending.
This did not always work. Dreams are hard to control.
Well… dreams were hard to control.
But it is not yet time to tell you about that.
On the night that our story begins two important things happened: the bureaucrat’s son had another dream and the bureaucrat received a phone call. – continue reading.
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Fábio Fernandes, an SFF writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. Fábio has several stories published in online venues in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, and Brazil. He also contributed to Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s “Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded”, and has a story coming up soon in Lavie Tidhar’s “The Apex Book of World SF Vol. 2”.
This is the story’s first publication.
Deadly Quiet on the Western Front
“What did you do before the war?” asked the soldier in the trench.
“Was?” the corporal mumbled, distracted and disgruntled.
“What did you do before coming here, man?” the soldier asked again.
The corporal pretended he hadn’t heard the question. First, because the intimacy his subordinate showed him was very bothersome. And also, because he had more to do besides listening to the man babbling: binoculars in hand, he tried to look across the wasteland separating the two large areas of trenches. He couldn’t see a thing, and it was still light. When night fell upon that no man’s land, the hell of the bombs would torment them again.
“I was a painter,” he finally deigned to answer, still without looking at his brother-in-arms. But the soldier was gone.
So much the better. He wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter. And he needed the rest of the light to sketch.
He had almost added he had been a painter in Vienna. But that wasn’t important.
Unlike the other brothers-in-arms, the corporal wasn’t German but Austrian. Not that it mattered in the least: both countries shared the same language and practically the same culture.
The problem was in the practically.
Vienna was considered an enlightened capital, one of the greatest cultural centers of Europe, comparable to Paris. Its cafés and cabarets reunited the cream of the crop of the Viennese intelligentsia: poets, actors, musicians, painters.
All degenerate people.
The fact was, he didn’t like to talk to his fellow soldiers because of his temper. He couldn’t disguise his accent, typical of the suburbs of Vienna. The Wiener Vorstadtdialekt had always been a hurdle in life. More than a hurdle; a veritable curse.
The corporal was ashamed to be Austrian.
For him, Austria was a minor country. Germany was what really mattered, with its thousand-year culture, its powerful, vigorous music, its Germanic history, the Rheingold. How had Vienna contributed to the history of music, for instance? Mozart?
You didn’t want to get him started on Mozart. Little degenerate man. Confusing tunes. Too many notes. To him, Wagner was good. Yes, Wagner. Parsifal. Now that was music all right!
What about painting, then? Klimt, with his ill-proportioned women over geometric backgrounds with no meaning whatsoever? The paintings with biblical themes were passable, he conceded, but the final result, oh, the final result!
And what about Schiele? Who the hell was Egon Schiele, mein Gott? Painting sick women, syphilitic dancers, corpse-like whores, showing unashamedly their pudenda? Outrageous! And to think the little fellow had been accepted by the Akademie der Bildenden Künste!
The corporal’s application had been refused by the Akademie almost at the same time.
Not long ago – around 1906 – he had been selling his paintings in the cold streets of Vienna. Or at least trying to.
Nobody ever bought a single painting of his.
If the corporal had liked Van Gogh, he could have compared himself to the Dutch master. Not in quality or even technique, but in the fact that in years and years he never managed to sell a single painting.
But the truth was that he hated Van Gogh.
And all the Impressionists. Monet, Gauguin, Seurat. Especially Seurat! What kind of nonsense was that pointillism?
When the war was over, the corporal would follow the advice of the Direktor of the Akademie. He would be an architect. No modern art for him, thank you very much.
Alas, the new age didn’t seem to acknowledge the great painters of the last generation, like Feuerbach, Waldmüller, and Rudolf von Alt. Those men, the corporal thought, oh, they knew how to paint! The beautiful watercolors of von Alt, the living colors of Waldmüller, so realistic!
The corporal was a most realistic man. It was impossible to fight in a war and not be realistic, or at least so he thought. (The corporal was a most opinionated man.) He was well aware that he didn’t have an ounce of the talent of von Alt or Waldmüller. It doesn’t matter, he thought: destiny had other things in store for him. If he couldn’t be a painter, he would be an architect. And he would be an architect of great things.
But first things first. The thin shroud of light over the moonscape of Ypres offered to the corporal a phantasmagoria, something worthy of Gustave Doré. He thought Doré’s engravings for Don Quixote impressive works of art.
Using a tiny piece of charcoal, the corporal sketched. And planned for the future.
The corporal was, above all, an optimist.
If you happened to watch him from a distance, always serious and withdrawn, you certainly wouldn’t say that. But only an optimist would think everything would turn out right in the middle of an all-out war; the War to End All Wars.
(An optimist or a madman. But you couldn’t get caught saying that to his face, or he would go absolutely crazy. A raving lunatic, indeed.)
The corporal fulfilled his duties with the utmost seriousness. Maybe even beyond the call of duty.
Two years before, in October 1916, he had been wounded in France. Grenade shrapnel in his left leg during the Battle of the Somme. Nothing serious, but he was given a medal. He thought of refusing it – after all, it was his duty, nothing more – but you simply can’t shrug off a decoration from your fatherland.
They also gave him a bonus. He got a transfer to Germany and was stationed there for five months.
The worst five months of his life.
He had no family, no home to return to; he didn’t know what to do: it was the first time he had stayed away from the front in two years of war. His recovery was quick enough, but they insisted on an extended leave anyway. The corporal’s protests were useless. He was compelled to obey.
He spent part of that time visiting historical and architectural monuments in Berlin. And dreaming of, one day, himself being counted among the creators of such magnificent stuff. Sketching the Doric columns of the Brandenburg Gate and glimpsing the occasional dirigible transporting materiel – probably guns, and the new mechanical golems made by those Viennese steel manufacturers, the Wittgensteins – as near to the front as it dared.
Scheissköpfe, all of those Imperial Army Generals! How could they think that Jewish automata could replace real Menschen, real men like him?
As soon as he had fully recovered from his injuries, he was sent to Munich. To work in a supply division.
He almost had a hysterical fit. He was a man of action, not of idling around.
He had petitioned the War Office to return to the front as soon as possible. Now he was back in his true home, the List Regiment. Doing what he did best: running. The corporal acted as a messenger between the regimental staff and the outposts. It best suited his surly, solitary temperament.
Anyhow, the regiment was his home because he liked the pure, Spartan environment of the battle front. There he could revel in the hardships of the field, and the few moments of meditation and contemplation of the landscape.
That was more than he could ever have wanted. A fine home? A family? That he didn’t care for. Deep down, the corporal knew very well what his so-called brothers-in-arms thought of him.
No matter how hard he tried (and he tried very hard), he couldn’t disguise the fact that he was and would always be an Austrian. At the end of the day, in spite of being united by the same goal (temporarily, it was good to remember) – defeating France – the Germans never forgot their class system, a division similar to the complex network of castes in India, in the corporal’s opinion.
For the corporal, however, the entire situation only existed because of the degeneration brought about by that mixture. And the Jews were to blame for that.
The Jews were an ugly, impure people. They were a riff-raff of criminals and communists. The problem was that the German government did not turn away the Jews who wanted to fight for Germany on the battlefield. But that didn’t mean the corporal had to like them.
And he was quite sure that his Jewish superiors had barred his promotion to Sergeant First Class.
It doesn’t matter, he thought at meal time, eating bread and jelly, wiping the spatters with his hand to avoid smearing them even more over his uniform, already stained with mud and soot. To be a corporal was better. He didn’t want to be a leader. Not for now, at least.
One day, the war would be over. And, when that happened, he wanted to be part of the new order. Any little thing would do, since he would be able to help restore Germany to its position of prominence on the world scene. Deutschland über alles, he thought while eating his bread and jelly and petting the dog that rested at his feet.
He smiled, savoring the sweet irony. He despised any kind of intermingling of blood, but the dog was just a mongrel that had come from nowhere one day and had stayed by his side.
He called her Fox. She was a smart bitch, and could run almost as fast as he. A fine companion, she was. Better than his degenerate regiment colleagues.
The year 1917 was a particularly troublesome one for the List Regiment. Its members fought in the trenches on the French side of Flanders, in the Battle of Arras in the spring and in the Chemin des Dames in the fall. The corporal was one of the most vigorous fighters, and showed such a lack of restraint on the battlefield that he won even more medals.
That, of course, was of no consequence to the corporal. What he really wanted, in his heart of hearts, was to win the war. Only Germany triumphant would make him really happy, and free to realize his dream.
From time to time he received letters; never from his sister, with whom he had lost contact years before. One of his few correspondents was a painter who was also fighting in the War, Ernst Schmidt. In their letters, Schmidt and the corporal talked a lot about politics and the future of Germany. In their exchange, the corporal mentioned to Schmidt his recent interest in politics. After all, there were too many architects already. Of course, maybe he wouldn’t be able to give up architecture just like that; he needed to survive, natürlich, to earn his daily pumpernickel (something he had not always managed during his time as a painter in Vienna, and the memory of hunger still haunted him). But he would enter politics anyway, no matter what.
The corporal never gave up. He had the utmost contempt for several of his regimental colleagues. Not brothers-in-arms, no – he could never use such an expression, particularly for those who had families. Because those were the first to come up with reasons to be discharged from service, on the slightest pretext.
Not he, no. He had no family. And, even if he had, he wouldn’t give up his chance to fight for his country. His Heimat! No excuses for him, no sir. He would follow the call of duty to the bitter end.
The year 1918 was even better for Germany. In March, the Reich imposed on Russia the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and by April had virtually annihilated the Romanian defenses. The mechanical golems had been particularly helpful with that, even the corporal admitted (though grudgingly).
Things were so good that the List Regiment easily beat the Frenchmen in Montdidier-Noyon and, soon after that, in Soisson and Reims.
That was why nobody expected the mortar strike.
When the bomb exploded in his regiment’s tent, the corporal was leaving to get his dog, which stubbornly ran off around the trenches just at lunch time.
He was by the entrance to the tent when all hell broke loose. The last thought that crossed his mind was: I must punish that bitch, Scheisse!
Then he blacked out.
Only the first half of 1918 had been good for Germany.
The bloody battles, to which the soldiers gave themselves body and soul, were utterly destructive for the Army of the Reich. In early August, with insufficient soldiers and no food, which was even worse, the Germans in desperation stopped attacking. This gave the allied powers the chance to make a counter-strike.
So successful a counter-strike that, by the end of September, the German Chief-of-Staff, General Ludendorff, proposed an armistice, offering the surrender of Germany.
But not even Ludendorff knew the Germans’ ultra-secret weapon.
Gustav Noske did.
A member of the Sozial-Demokrat Partei, the German Social-Democratic party at the beginning of the century, Noske was a hardline military officer. Just before the War, he had become a member of the Reichstag, supporting a pact between Left and Right so that the country could face the harshness of war.
All bullshit, of course.
What Noske really wanted was power, whatever the cost. And power he got, with a new medical technique which went beyond the boundaries not only of imagination, but also of ethics and convention. After some political and corporate string-pulling, Noske created as early as 1917 a special group of fighters, the first military – and secret – force of the Deutsches Reich: the “Freikorps” (“freedom fighters”, or, in a more literal and less ironic translation, the “free bodies”).
The first group was a band of de-cerebrated soldiers. Literally de-cerebrated: only those brain-damaged and thus considered officially dead could be part of the Freikorps.
It was the first application of the Faust Auferstehung Methode on a large scale, outside research and development laboratories. If the French horse-eaters and the American doughboys were still fighting and resisting the mustard gas and even the mechanical golems – which were huge and sturdy machines, but, truth be told, very clumsy and prone to defects more often than not – nothing less than resurrected (and therefore unkillable) German soldiers could stop these Allies now.
But then, it was a dirty war.
At the cold chrome operating table, the German surgeons don’t stop to think: thinking is not their job; they are not there to think. Let others do that, while drinking Schnapps and eating Sauerkraut in the old, gay bars of München and Berlin. Long may they continue, is all one of the surgeons can think as he is stricken by a sudden desire to drink a large Glas Bier and look into the beautiful blue eyes of his fiancée, who waits for him in the Bavaria of his youth.
Not now, however. Now the doctor must concentrate and perform the surgery. It’s an experimental procedure, but one already performed successfully on animals. The next logical step, of course, was bound to be with humans, sooner or later – and war is always a good operating theater, a test tube, a Petri dish for the souls of men. These, naturally, are just metaphors: for the surgeons, there is no such thing as a soul. What does exist, however, is the mind. Without the mind, there is no life.
Therefore, the corporal who is on the operating table before them – he and several others caught by the shrapnel from the bomb that destroyed almost the whole of the List Regiment – is dead. And, if a soldier never usually has a say in anything, obliged to do whatever he is ordered, what then of a dead soldier?
A mere technicality. The soldier on the bed is not quite dead. His veins pulse; his heart pumps blood; his muscles react when stimulated by electrical impulses.
Only the brain remains dead.
But the body, ah, the body – is alive!
How strange is fate: if the corporal now being operated on on the cold chrome table had stayed inside the tent with the others, he would have been blasted into oblivion. Instant, utter, irretrievable death. On the other hand, had he taken just a few steps more, and distanced himself, say, eight, nine feet away, he would have had no more than a few burns, nothing serious, and would have been back on the battlefield in no time at all – or, with luck, could have obtained medical leave and a much deserved rest at home, where most certainly his loved ones would be eagerly waiting for him.
But that was not to be.
A piece of shrapnel penetrated the corporal’s frontal lobe, rendering him completely unconscious. He probably never even felt it.
Now there he was, his mind totally erased. The metal fragment had lobotomized the corporal’s brain.
The surgeon doesn’t think of what awaits the soldier if the surgery is successful. After all, things could always be worse. For one who loves and cherishes life, there is no fate worse than death.
The corporal doesn’t think any more. Thinking is not his job; he’s not there to think.
If asked, he won’t be able to answer. He can’t remember anything. Not even how to speak. For the corporal, everything is nebulous, everything is mist.
He has no other memory than the present moment, and the present moment is this: a tall, square-jawed man, yelling at him something he can’t understand.
The man points to him, and to others who, just like him, are sitting in folding chairs inside a tent, boards with faces painted on them. After some more yelling, the man opens a flap in the tent and shouts to someone outside. Other men bring another man inside, similar but different. The color of the mist surrounding him is different.
The corporal notices that the color of the man’s clothes is different from the color of the clothing that he and all the others are wearing.
The yelling man is still yelling. He gestures with his hand. The corporal doesn’t understand what the man wants. Until the man grabs a long, heavy thing with another thing pointy and shiny at its end, and shoves it into the corporal’s hands. He points to the man with the different color mist, and then to the pointy shiny thing now in the corporal’s hands. He begins to spear the belly of the different man with his fingers.
Then the corporal gets it.
He lunges forward and pushes the pointy shiny thing he’s carrying into the belly of the different man. The different man screams a thing that the corporal doesn’t understand. The corporal smells a very smelly smell. The different man falls to the ground.
The yelling man opens the flap again. He pulls the corporal by the sleeve of his jacket. Outside, a line of other yelling men forms a corridor that hurriedly pushes the corporal and the soldiers, everyone now carrying the same heavy things with the pointy shiny thing at the end. At the end of the corridor, a ladder. The man at the foot of the ladder shouts and points to the top, to whatever there is beyond the ladder.
It’s a small ladder. The corporal climbs its rungs with some difficulty because of the heavy thing in his arms, but he does well. And he gets to see what’s at the top of the ladder: a field of dead, dark earth. No plants, no sign of life.
But, in the distance, the corporal sees something.
Mists of a different color.
Now he knows what he must do.
Grenades and mortars fall all around, showering the corporal with black earth and body parts. The ones who don’t lose too much – an arm here, a leg there, half a torso gone but their heart still beating fine, an eye, ach, what is an eye after all? – keep on going inexorably.
Then, when the undead soldiers are close to the enemy trenches, the machine guns start spitting fire.
The corporal feels impacts on his legs, arms, shoulders, belly, face. He feels his body wet. He smells the same smelly smell of the different man when he stabbed him.
But nothing matters now. In fact, as soon as the corporal is reminded of these things, he forgets them.
The only thing that matters is the different colored mist. And what he was just taught to do to it.
Inside the tent, the sergeant in charge of the special attack group receives the report of the charge on the enemy trenches.
A total success. Every single Englishman killed.
On their side, no losses among the soldiers. That is, among the living ones of the second platoon.
Among the undead soldiers, as they are already beginning to be called by the superstitious and ignorant Army riff-raff, things are quite different.
Of the twenty-seven soldiers who served as guinea pigs for the experiment, nine got back to the German trenches unharmed. Twelve suffered considerable damage (loss of limbs, mostly), but the field doctors especially sent by the secret project guarantee that, after blood transfusions and replacement of the lost limbs with cheap prosthetic ones, they will be able to fight again in a couple of days with the same efficiency as they did today.
Six soldiers were deemed completely unrecoverable. Among them, the leader of the squad, the corporal wounded in the mortar bombing a few days earlier. The sergeant met him once: a bad-mouthed, bad-breathed fellow, who used to talk to himself. He had already seemed a lunatic even before the accident, Gott in Himmel!
But at least the son of a bitch had taken a lot of lives to hell with him. Judging by the report, Corporal Adolf Hitler was responsible for a veritable massacre in the enemy trenches before his body finally hit the ground.
Ach! the sergeant thinks to himself. War is war; one bastard more, one bastard less, what’s the fucking difference? A mediocre Scheisskopf like this Hitler would never have survived much longer anyway.
Charles Tan interviews Spanish author Rodolfo Martinez, whose novel The Queen’s Adept is now available for the Kindle in an English translation by Jordi Balcells.
An Interview with Rodolfo Martinez
By Charles Tan
Hi Rodolfo! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction?
I was very young, 9-10 years old. My father was an avid reader of science fiction and I was very curious about those books he read, with those striking covers of space ships and stars and nebula and so forth. Then one day I took one of his books and began to read it. It was a short stories compilation (from F&SF, if I recall correctly) and there was too much there I didn’t understand, but I was fascinated with the material. My father caught me reading, he smiled, and said he would give me something more suitable.
So he gave me The Early Asimov and shortly after that the Foundation Trilogy, both by Asimov, and The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke…
That was the beginning. And, after that first contact I became… well, a fan. We could almost say an addict.
That was a long time ago (before the Internet, but after The Beatles, we could say, paraphrasing William Goldman) and, as time went by, another literary universe and genres appeared for me to discover: fantasy, and noir novel, and 19th Century adventure novel, and historic novel, and the classics, both Spanish and abroad. And… well, almost everything. But genre literature (popular literature, as the one 19th English and American writers wrote: Conan Doyle, Stevenson, London, Twain…) was always my favorite. But my first love was science fiction and I never really left it, both as a reader and as a writer. We could say I sometimes visit other rooms of the same house but, sooner or later I go back to the SF room.
Who are some of your favorite authors or favorite books?
Well, it’s hard, there are so many. But, let’s try.
In science fiction: Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, the first Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game, Hart’s Hope, Wyrms… those first novels, I mean), Frank Herbert, Richard Morgan, Connie Willis…
In fantasy: Borges, Cortázar, John Crowley, Clive Barker, Tolkien, Lovecraft…
In other genres: Robert Graves, Raymond Chandler, John le Carré, García Márquez, Alexandre Dumas, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle…
As you can see, the list could be endless.
There a few books that mark in a special way some moments of my life: Watership Down, Cien años de soledad, I, Claudius, The Mote in God’s Eye, The Lord of the Rings, The End of Eternity, Tinker, Taylor, Soldier Spy, At the Mountains of Madness, Little, Big…
And let’s not talk about comics because then I had to mention Watchmen and Swamp Thing and From Hell by Alan Moore, or Sandman by Gaiman, or Thor by Simonson or Fantastic Four by Byrne, or…
Well, I believe you can get an idea of my literary tastes, more or less.
How did you get involved with writing fiction?
I began to write when I was twelve, three years after having begun to read SF. It was 1977, the year the first Star Wars movie was released and, shortly after that, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. 2001: a Space Odyssey was re-released by that time in Spain, and there were a handful of American SF TV series as well on Spanish TV, so there was science fiction not only in books, but everywhere. And, when I began to write, I wrote SF, the genre I love reading and watching in movies and in TV (series like Star Trek, TOS and Space 1999, and U.F.O. and Thunderbirds…)
Why did I begin to write? I really don’t know. I remember when I was a kid I used to create (just for myself, never told anyone) new adventures of my favorite comic-book characters or my favorite TV series. And one day, I suppose, I just decided to put them on paper. So I wrote a… well, we can call it a hard space opera, I guess, or the idea a 12-year-old kid could have of what space opera and hard SF were.
And, once I began I just couldn’t stop. If I was an addict to reading I soon became an addict to writing.
As a writer, my first works where SF, but I soon began to write fantasy as well, and mystery stories and, in the end, what I was doing was a half-breed literature that had ingredients from every genre I love: SF, fantasy, mystery, adventure. My novels usually are a strange cocktail where things that, at a first glance, seem impossible to blend but go hand in hand. Though there always is some SF element in almost every one of them: a rationalist point of view that, in the same way, makes even my fantasy to be some kind of science fiction.
A good example is my four Sherlock Holmes novels, where the detective becomes a swivel upon which I create a universe where Lovecraft myths and pulp literature, and western and even superheroes, can exist. The first one, La sabiduría de los muertos (The Wisdom of Deadmen) was published in 1996 and the last one in 2007… a long and satisfactory journey for me as an author.
Could you tell us about your novel, the Queen’s Adept?
Like most of my work, it was born from the desire of blending two things that, at first glance, do not seem very much… “blendable”, so to say. One day I told myself: “What would a James Bond adventure be like in an epic fantasy scenario?” I began to play with the idea, and the more I did it, the more I liked it. So I designed the main character, the plot, the pseudo-historical setting (I took some Historical moments I liked, such as the Renaissance, the 19th Century, the Middle Ages and the 20th Century Cold War and put them all together). And I began to write.
And, as I was writing, the story grew, and so did the main character; everything began to be more complex and I soon realized I was creating a character and a scenario that I could not put in just one novel. In fact, there are now two novels about Yáxtor Brandan (the main character) and three short (or rather medium-large) stories; and a third novel is on the way.
In your acknowledgements, you mention the importance of maps. Could you elaborate on this?
Well, it’s more or less as I say in the acknowledgements. There were elements that I put in the map that, at first, had no more role than to give the lands a realistic aspect: some mountains and rivers and forests, for instance. But then I took a second look at the map, I saw those large woods I had created and thought: “Well, yes, menialbodies could be born there, why not?” From that thought, Darkwoods were created and became a pivotal element, not only for this novel but for the entire scenario and its development.
It was originally published in 2009. What made you decide to translate it into English?
I had been considering for some time the idea of trying the English/American market. Some years before, it had been very hard (you had to find a publisher interested in translating and publishing your work, a thing that, unless you were a big best-seller in your homeland, it was very unlikely to happen), but electronic publication and print on demand had eased things. In paper there is still the big issue of distribution, but in ebook you can reach almost the entire world with no effort.
So I began to translate some of my works. Short stories, at first, and one day I decided it was time for me to try a full novel. The Queen’s Adept series was my most recent work (and one of my best, at least that’s what I think) so I tried it.
What was the translation process like, since you translated it yourself? What was the role of Jordi Balcells?
It was hard, almost exhausting sometimes, but at the same time it was refreshing and fascinating. In some ways I was not translating myself, but writing again the same story from a new and fresh point of view. And I discovered I liked very much how my work sounded in English.
Jordi was an invaluable part of the process. Not matter how good my English was (if in fact was any good), I needed someone else to revise what I had done. My eyes were too close to the text, we could say. Jordi is a professional translator and he jumped aboard the project with enthusiasm: he translates from English to Spanish, so to revise and correct a translation from Spanish to English was a challenge for him, in a way.
What were the challenges, both in writing, publishing, and translating the book?
As I began to write as a very young boy, I was never aware that there was any challenge at all. I mean, at that age, you really don’t think about those things: you just want to do it, so you do it. As time went by, of course, things change and you begin to think about what you do and how you do it and why you do it. The main challenge, for me as a writer, is to be able to make things real to the reader: while he’s reading my book he must forget the world outside the pages he reads, he must feel he’s there, inside the book, and the characters seem real to him or her.
Above all, the thing that worries me most when I begin to write new material is: who is telling it? Who tells the tale? Seeking a narrator suitable for the story you want to tell is sometimes hard, but when you find him, when you feel the voice you have chosen to tell the tale, it’s the voice the tale is demanding, you know everything will be fine. In The Queen’s Adept it soon became obvious to me that third-person narrator wasn’t enough, I needed something more. From there arose the quotations that begin every chapter, and that helped me, in some ways, to feel that the material was more real, more plausible. It was a way of giving the novel a denser background.
I began to publish (first myself and then other people) three years ago, after having been publishing with others for fifteen years (my first novel was released in 1995, so do the math). It was something I wanted to do, specially because there was some material I could not find a publisher for. I’m talking about my SF written and published in the Nineties: short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels that had been published many years ago in many different places and were sold out. All of them shared a common scenario (my Drímar universe) and I wanted to bring all that material together and publish it in three of four chronologically ordered volumes. And I wanted to try electronic publication also. So, Sportula, my very-very-very-very small press, was born that way: it began with a couple of books in paper (printed in POD) and half a dozen ebooks. Things went well and the project began to grow and sometime later I found myself publishing other people.
It’s a work I enjoy, not only the, well, “intellectual” part of the process but the physical as well: composing the book, working with the illustrator and the designer, sometimes designing the cover myself, those things. The real challenge is to reach an audience, specially in paper publications and working without a professional distribution, but little by little, with patience and thinking long-term, we are getting it. Translating into English is just one step more in the same direction.
And about the translation, we can say my main fear is that I’m not really sure if it will be good enough for the potential readers. I mean: it’s those people’s language, for heaven’s sake! And there I am, daring to translate without being a native.
How would you describe your fiction?
The word that suits it the best is “half-breed”, “mestiza”, as we say in Spanish. I write a “mestiza” literature that picks from here and there, everything I like, and put all those things together fearless of the possible results. With a special predilection for popular genres: SF, mystery, fantasy, adventure… Though as I said, there is always, or almost, some SF element. The Queen’s Adept, for instance, can seem fantasy at first glance, but it could be SF too, just switching your point of view. The novel (and the entire scenario, in fact) is deliberately in a kind of no man’s land that can be F or SF depending on the reader’s choice.
Have you considered translating your other novels, novellas, and short stories?
Yes, of course I have. I’ve translated a couple of short stories and surely in the future I’ll translate a few more. Another novel? Hard to say: it takes time, it’s hard and… well I have to write new novels as well, and time is limited. When I can afford, I guess I will hire a professional translator for the second novel of The Queen’s Adept series. And, from there… well, we’ll see.
How would you describe the genre scene there?
In Spain, the SF market is a very tiny one. If your book sells 1,500 copies you’re doing good, and if it sells 5,000 you’re almost a best-seller. So Spanish science-fiction landscape is full of small and medium-size presses and a couple of big publishers. It’s very difficult to earn a living just writing SF.
On the other hand, there are certain writers that are successful writing SF (or novels that have SF elements) for the mainstream… but without saying that’s SF. People like José Carlos Somoza or Félix J. Palma, for instance.
It’s a perception problem, we could say. SF label is discredited and it’s hard to fight against prejudice. But if you’re smart enough you can disguise your SF as… well, tecno-thriller, cyber-fantasy… things like that, and you can get the mainstream reader to read your book.
There are a dozen authors that, like me, began to publish in the ’90s, and in time they had fled from pure SF to less “problematic” genres, like historical fantasy. Juan Miguel Aguilera, for instances, has done well there and, in fact, has succeeded beyond our borders and achieved success in France with his Historical fantasy.
New generations of writers prefer horror, dark fantasy or just fantasy and SF is maybe a little abandoned. In fact, I haven’t write pure SF since 2005, with my cyberpunk novel El sueño del Rey Rojo (Red King’s Dream). I’ve moved from there to that half-breed literature I mentioned before that contains elements of several genres. And many of my colleagues have done the same.
My experience says that the audience, the mainstream audience, likes certain kinds of SF… when they’re not aware they’re reading SF.
Anything else you want to plug?
Just thank you this chance to make a first contact with American audience. I hope you’ll enjoy The Queen’s Adept and I hope this will be just the first of my books published in English.
Several of the short stories nominated for this year’s SF&F translation Award are now available for free online.
From the award website:
We are pleased to report that a number of the short fiction finalists for our awards are being made available online. Currently you can find the following stories:
“The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated from the Chinese by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld #59, August 2011)
“Paradiso” by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin (Liquid Imagination #9, Summer 2011)
“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translated from the Dutch by Laura Vroomen (PS Publishing)
“The Short Arm of History” by Kenneth Krabat, translated from the Danish by Niels Dalgaard (Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors, Carl-Eddy Skovgaard ed., Science Fiction Cirklen)
“The Green Jacket” by Gudrun Östergaard, translated from the Danish by the author and Lea Thume (Sky City: New Science Fiction Stories by Danish Authors, Carl-Eddy Skovgaard ed., Science Fiction Cirklen)
Out thanks to the various publishers who have made these stories available. We are in discussions with Comma Press and PIASA Books regarding the other two stories and hope to have good news soon.