Delighted to say we won the 2012 BSFA Award for Best Non-Fiction, presented an hour ago at Eastercon, the annual British science fiction convention. Tor.com has the full list of nominees.
Our fiction editor, Sarah Newton, was on hand to accept the award on our behalf. I wrote a short speech, on the off chance, though I admit I wasn’t expecting us to win! Here it is:
We started the World SF Blog four years ago, in order to have a conversation: a conversation about science fiction and about diversity, a conversation we felt it was important to have. I’d like to thank Charles Tan, for being there from the very start; our former fiction editor, Debbie Moorhouse, and present fiction editor Sarah Newton (don’t blush, Sarah!). And I’d like to thanks Jason Sizemore, of Apex Books, for believing in this project from the very beginning.
I have seen a lot of changes in genre fiction in the past four years, a greater awareness to do with representation, and a strong and vigorous discussion of assumptions only a few years ago no one thought to question.
I am delighted I’ve been able to contribute to that discussion, in whatever minor capacity, and very grateful to the members of this convention for recognising us in this way.
ETA: And here’s Sarah with the award!
Strange Horizons have published A to Z Theory by Japanese author Toh EnJoe, Translated from the Japanese by Terry Gallagher. The story is part of the book is Self-Reference ENGINE by EnJoe, published by Haikasoru.
The Aharonov-Bohm-Curry-Davidson-Eigen-Feigenbaum-Germann-Hamilton-Israel-Jacobson-Kauffman-Lindenbaum-Milnor-Novak-Oppenheimer-Packard-Q-Riemann-Stokes-Tirelson-Ulam-Varadhan-Watts-Xavier-Y.S.-Zurek Theorem—called the A to Z Theorem for short—was, for a brief period about three centuries ago, in some sense the most important theorem in the world.
In some sense. Or possibly in all senses.
Nowadays, this amazing theorem is held to be incorrect, in terms of even elementary mathematics. Hardly anybody ever even thinks about it anymore, because it’s just plain wrong.
At a certain instant, on a certain day, in a certain month, in a certain year, twenty-six mathematicians simultaneously thought of this simple but beautiful theorem, affirmed it would be the ultimate theorem that would make their names immortal, wrote papers to the best of their abilities, and all submitted their papers to the same academic journal at roughly the same time.
The separate submissions from writers from A to Z arrived over the course of a few days, and the editor, looking at these virtually identical manuscripts, first checked his calendar. Even allowing for a full measure of variability and a wide deductive scope, there was no way they could all have been written on April 1. And so the editor was left perplexed as to what sort of day he might be experiencing.
Had twenty-six of the world’s top mathematicians suddenly formed a conspiracy that each was now seeking to lead? Or was some strange person, with an excess of time and money, playing some prank involving these twenty-six? At any rate, the editor was sure somebody was trying to put one over on him. – continue reading!
Noura al Noman is a science fiction writer from the United Arab Emirates, author of new novel Ajwan. Here, we are delighted to publish the English-language version of an interview with her, conducted by Cristina Jurado, and published by permission of the Sense of Wonder blog.
Noura al Noman Interviewed by Cristina Jurado
Cristina Jurado: Ajwan is an Arabic sci-fi novel for young adults. I would love to hear from you a small synopsis for our readers.
Noura al Noman: Ajwan is a real female name in Arabic – it is derived from the word “jown” which means a small sea or cove, Ajwan is the plural of it. She is a 19-year-old girl who is from a water-breathing race. The novel opens with total emotional devastation describing how she narrowly escapes being killed by a natural disaster, which destroys her planet, and annihilates her race. The traumatic experience awakens a latent ability in her -Empathy. She is further traumatized by the news that she is carrying a child – her husband had died in the disaster. How is she to go on with her life as a refugee in this vast universe? Meanwhile, violent acts taking place around the sector of the universe leave investigators stumped. Soon these mysterious events impact Ajwan’s life further traumatizing her. In order to take back her life, Ajwan is faced with a tough choice – to abandon the path of non-violence and to become a soldier; but can she do it when she is also an Empath?
CJ: I’ve read that you started to write Ajwan because you could not find an Arabic young adult novel for your daughter. How did you come up with the plot? How long did it take you to finish it?
NN: Yes, I have two adult sons and four teenage daughters, and they all grew up around my library that is filled with sci-fi and fantasy novels which I’d collected since the mid 80s – of course all in English. Around four years ago I looked for Arabic teen literature and found next to nothing specifically written for teens, and whatever was available could never compete with what I had in my library. My husband and my close friends urged me to write in Arabic.
Since I’d always loved the TV series Man from Atlantis, I chose for the protagonist to be a water breather. In the beginning, I only knew that she will have empathy as her special power (I think there isn’t enough empathy in this world, and there are too many destructive super powers out there), and what it is that will cause her to cross paths with the antagonist. The rest came as I began to write paragraph after paragraph. I was inspired by issues from my part of the world: disenfranchised and marginalized people, and how unscrupulous power hungry individuals may use such groups to further their own agenda through terrorism and violent acts.
In order for me to actually finish such a project, while keeping a job and having a large family and commitments, I promised myself to write 800 words per day. I finished the manuscript in nine months resulting in 91,000+ words.
CJ: I believe that your novel is very courageous. First, you tackle a genre that has very little tradition in Arabic. Second, you choose a girl as a main character. Third, the story contains references to social and political issues. Was it difficult to find a publisher to back up your project?
NN: I tend to be an anomaly in a lot of the things that I do. As a teenager, I used to read English novels when I knew no one around me in my parent´s families or my school who did that. I used to wear jeans and t- shirt in the late 70s, early 80s when it was completely unheard of. In the mid 90s I was the only Emirati female to open a legal translation office of her own. I simply do not do things to please other people. The first Emirati publisher to read Ajwan (they had already published my first two picture books) said that they didn’t feel it is appropriate for under 18s. Two Arab publishers said they didn’t publish sci-fi, and the rest simply ignored my emails. One Emirati publisher read 3 pages from the middle and urged me to give it to him. I respected his work; but I was worried about his distribution (a problem most Arab publishers had) and also I have seen some of their work and the editing left a lot to be desired. You can say, I stuck it out till I got the right offer. I’d known that Nahdet Misr had translated The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, so I personally approached the chairwoman while she was in the Sharjah International Book Fair and she was very positive. Being picked up by Nahdet Misr finally showed me that I was not just a “geek” who thought she could write.
CJ: With a background in English and Translation, do you have any plans to translate Ajwan into English?
NN: Actually, almost as soon as I had finished writing it, a close friend who had been very supportive of my writing but who doesn’t speak Arabic asked me if she could read it. It took me a leisurely seven months to translate it. Of course, it remained just a translation, and needed proper editing – not by the translator. A month ago the editor sent it back all edited very nicely. Thankfully just in time for me to send it to the German publisher and the Turkish publisher who had contacted me after the launch to ask about Ajwan. And while all my friends are urging me to publish it in English, I cannot do so too soon. The problem we have in this part of the region is that our teens are reading English and almost no Arabic. The whole idea behind Ajwan was to provide Arabic content for teens. My 17-year-old daughter read it in Arabic and liked it. Three young ladies of close age tweeted to me saying it was the first Arabic novel they had ever read. This means that the subject matter (sci-fi) made Arabic seem more approachable to them. In short, I am going to wait a bit before I publish it in English.
CJ: In an interview you mention the difficulties of writing sci-fi in Arabic as certain new ideas are hard to express. How complex was to write sci-fi in Arabic?
NN: Writing Ajwan has been an education. Both in writing novels and in Arabic sentence and paragraph structure. I know it sounds funny; but it felt like I was writing in a second language – not my own mother tongue. I have a BA in English Lit and Masters in Translation. And I must admit I owe a lot to my professor, Basil Hatim for making me look at Arabic in a different way, and for helping me appreciate its nuances and guiding me to good reference books in the early 2000s.
Even then, I had almost no frame of reference, because I was driven to write the story, and I had little time to refer to Arabic novels or Arabic structure. While tackling “scientific jargon” problems, I had bigger problems trying to figure out how to write “action” scenes. How do I describe a fight? In fact, how do I describe simple things which we do every day like “she clicked her tongue”, “he folded his arms as he leaned against the desk.” I had two writer friends (Salha Ghabish &Fatma Al Nahidh) both are accomplished Arabic writers, and neither one could help me. Quite frustrating!
Thankfully, I live in a country, which subtitles all movies on the screen. So a viewer with little to no English background can still follow a sci-fi movie. This helped me in figuring out how “worm holes” and “ion/plasma drives” could be translated. I admit that they are not ideal (we really need our own jargon in Arabic); but at least I didn’t have to start from scratch. All in all, this has been an amazing experience for me, and I am thrilled to go through it over and over again, as I tackle new issues and push the boundaries of writing in sci-fi. In book 2, I have invented a word for an anti-gravity bike. I feel quite good about it.
CJ: Are you an avid reader of sci-fi? Which are your favorite authors and why?
NN: From 14 to around 28 years of age, I read almost nothing but science fiction and fantasy. Later I got interested in other genres and moved away from sci-fi; but continued to read fantasy. After I finished Ajwan, I decided to go back to reading sci-fi. My fascination with sci-fi started when I caught the trailer of Star Wars in 1977. It owned me completely. One of the first works, which introduced me to “world-creation” is Frank Herbert’s Dune. Up till then, the books I had read were obviously of adventures around galaxies etc.; but when you see a complete world you are totally drawn into it and you even start to make your own little character, culture or adventure inside that world. Other authors were Alan Dean Foster with his Humanx universe.Anne McCaffrey with her Pern series. Julian May with her Saga of Pliocene Exile and the Galactic Milieu Series. Each and every one of these series taught me the virtues of creating a rich world with detailed backgrounds; they allowed for spin offs and sub plots at a later date. I wanted to do the same thing for Arab readers. However, I didn’t want to be bound by my own culture; if sci-fi is about the future, then I envision a future where Earth ethnicities have been so diluted that they are no longer recognizable. I think a lot of people will be upset by the lack of “Arab” culture in Ajwan. But I did that on purpose.
CJ: It was very surprising to learn that there are very limited sci-fi titles in Arabic. Why do you think is the case?
NN: I am not sure really. I must admit that I have not read any Arabic novels in decades. The last full novel I read was Ahmed Khalid Tawfiq’s Utopia because I heard that it was a SF novel and I was curious to see how Arabs write SF. Even though I enjoyed it, I didn’t really learn much reading it. It was about Egypt in a few decades. I read “reviews” of other novellas by male and female Arab authors. It seems they all had the same “limit” – they were all earth-bound and were not too far into the future. I don’t know why really, and I cannot make an analysis of this as I am not specialized in this field; but there has to be a reason for it. Also they seem to always tackle “Arab issues”, political or social ones; which isn’t wrong per se (as Ajwan also does the same); but I think they can be a bit depressing as a read. Does SF have to be an instrument for “fixing” things? Can’t it be about creating worlds where there is the possibility for so much more? I have read a lot of SF in my youth, and if it wasn’t for its leaps of fancy, for the other-world-ness of its plots and issues, I would not have been attracted to it. I am worried that this is why our youth do not read (or write) SF in Arabic. I could be wrong. Another related element is the educational system, which has failed to make the youth interested in science as a study and as a career. Without science, there can be no science related writings and, of course, no readers either. And the tragic consequence of that is also the fact that the Arab world boasts little to zero scientific patents too. It is funny how people underestimate sci-fi, when it has the capacity to bring us back to the fore of scientific advancement.
CJ: What do you think that sci-fi can bring to young Arab audiences?
NN: Like I mentioned in the last answer, it can produce the Arab scientists of the future. It can also show them that some predictions of the future actually do happen and that they have to be prepared for that change in the future, whether it is good or bad change. But one of the best things which sci-fi taught me and I think it can teach others is that we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We have to celebrate the similarities and to respect the differences without trying to impose our ideals on others. By using aliens to introduce these ideas, we can send a subtle message, which can create a more tolerant generation, and hopefully a more peaceful future. But then I have been told I am too naive.
CJ: In relation with the last question: what can Arab culture bring into sci-fi?
NN: I think every culture has a unique attribute which when fused with sci-fi can produce content which will appeal to readers from other cultures that have perhaps been jaded by the same old stories from their own culture.
CJ: There is s lot of Spanish influence in the names of the characters and scenarios of the story. You mentioned a story behind it. Our Spanish readers would love to hear it!
NN: When you create a world, you have to have a premise for it. My premise was that humans in the future will have left Earth and colonized other habitable planets. This has taken them away from our own solar system and they have completely forgotten where they originated from. However, as is the nature of humans, they travel in ethnic groups. My world has Russians colonizing a few planets of their own. Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Spanish doing the same. On their planets, names of rivers, mountains, cities and even people originated from the language spoken by the first settlers. In Ajwan, Esplendore is a planet, which contains a slightly similar group of settlers. There are Spanish, Turks and Italians who have made up their own “countries/kingdoms”. When I decide I want the events to take place on a new planet, I decide which nationality settled the planet, then I come up with a concept (courage, beauty, violence, function etc.) and use Google translate to produce words, which I then use as names. Esplendore has several kingdoms, and one is a “Sultanate” named Segovia. The Sultana of Segovia is being manipulated by someone, so I chose the name “Marionetta” for her. Her son, who is heir, is called “Heredero”. Now, remember these names are transliterated in Arabic, so the Arab reader sees them simply as names without meaning (unless he speaks Spanish, then I am in trouble). I have done this to practically every name in the book.
CJ: You are currently working in a sequel. Do you plan to make it a saga?
NN: So far I have the plot for 3 more books. Book 2 will see the end of the quest, which Ajwan started in book 1. However, more and more things need to happen to her before she becomes the woman she deserves to be. This is all about character development.
I also have the first chapter of a fantasy book for YA, which takes place in the UAE, and takes the heroes (a group of teens) on an adventure all around the seven emirates. Sadly, this will have to wait till I finish Ajwan 4, unless I go live on a desert island on my own and produce 5000 words per day. I can dream! It all started with a dream anyway.
Cristina Jurado Marcos writes the sci-fi blog Más ficción que ciencia on Libros.com. Having a degree in Advertising and Public Relations by Universidad de Seville and a Masters in Rhetoric by Northwestern University (USA), she currently studies Philosophy for fun. She considers herself a globetrotter after living in Edinburgh, Chicago, Paris or Dubai. Her short stories have appeared in several sci-fi online magazines and anthologies. Her first novel From Orange to Blue was published in 2012.
We apologise for the delay in sending out rewards for Levels 1 and up.
Reward e-mails will be sent out today and over the weekend. Many thanks to Angry Robot Books for sponsoring the fund and providing us with the reward books!
[Via the BSFA]
Jo Fletcher has acquired rights to a big fiction bestseller from India, The Shiva Trilogy by Amish, epic fantasy based on Indian mythology. The first two books in the series, The Immortals of Meluha and The Secret of the Nagas, have become a phenomenon in the Indian market,topping all the charts and selling close on a million copies so far, making it one of the bestselling series of all time in the country. The third volume of the trilogy is
due out next year. Jo Fletcher Books bought English language rights outside of the
Indian sub-continent and will publish the first book, The Immortals of Meluha, in the
UK in January 2013, and in the US in Summer 2014.
Since publication, the books have attracted a wide and devoted audience, including
this from the internationally bestselling author and guru Deepak Chopra, who said:
‘Amish’s mythical imagination mines the past and taps into the possibilities of the
future. His book series, archetypal and stirring, unfold the deepest recesses of the
soul as well as our collective consciousness.’
Publisher Jo Fletcher said, ‘I am thrilled to be able to bring this new Indian classic to
a wider audience. Amish has done a brilliant job of re-editing the book for a Western
audience who might not be so familiar with the legend of Shiva, whilst losing none of
the flavour of the text that makes this such a compelling read.’
Amish added, ‘I’m delighted to be partnering with a passionate publisher like Jo
Fletcher Books to bring The Immortals of Meluha into the UK market. I hope that all
British readers who enjoy fantasy, mythology and historical thrillers will like this
grand adventure of one of the most popular Indian Gods, Shiva.’
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Nick Wood. Nick is a South African writer, currently resident in London, UK. Nick has published a YA SF book in South Africa entitled The stone chameleon, as well as about a dozen short stories in venues such as Infinity Plus, Interzone, PostScripts, Albedo One and AfroSF. He has also published and presented on (South) African speculative fiction in general. Nick is a member of the Clockhouse London Writers group and can be found at http://nickwood.frogwrite.co.nz/ , where (amongst other things), he is touting his second novel (tentatively titled Azanian Bridges.)
This is the story’s first publication.
Case Notes of a Witchdoctor
He’d reached the age where he’d seen it all—liars, psychopaths, the neurotic… and the completely insane. Psychosis it was, though, that still just about held his interest.
Like the young black man in front of him, sitting and grimacing, but trying hard not to tilt his head. He has some insight, then, not wanting to reveal a listening attitude in the silence of the sickly yellow room.
Not enough insight, though.
Mark spoke, to put the young man out of his misery.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay in for the weekend, Kolile.” (Try as he would, he’d never been able to make the correct click on the X in Xolile’s name.)
This time he could see he had the patient’s full attention. “Please, asseblief doctor, I need to go home this weekend.”
Mark played with the orange government biro on the open folder between them, feeling a little bored, a little helpless. There was a limit to what he could do—and it was Friday afternoon, with rush-hour traffic no doubt building early along De Waal drive.
He took the pen and wrote with finality in the psychiatric notes—Provisional Diagnosis: Psychosis. Keep in for further observation.
He looked up. Xolile was sitting rigid, staring behind him.
Despite himself, Mark turned, to see the thick door and blank wall. He dropped his hand away from the panic button underneath his desk.
“What do you see, Kolile?” he smiled reassuringly and with certainty, keen to wrap up the consultation quickly now.
The young man looked him squarely in the eyes, as if oblivious to customary respectful gaze avoidance for his elders.
“An old white man,” he said. “I think he may be your father.”
Mark laughed then, loudly. His father had been dead three years.
He stood up: “You’ll feel better after a weekend in, on your medication. The staff are very good here.”
The young man stood up and held his gaze, until tears leaked from his eyes and he looked down.
“Please,” he said, “my mother needs me. I am sick, yes, but I think it is because the ancestors call me.”
Mark hesitated; he’d been reminded of caring for his own mother, for a good many months after dad’s death.
“Why do they call you?” he asked, cursing himself for delaying on what was surely a certain decision, but looking for a hidden delusionary system.
“To become a healer too, like you,” Xolile said, his voice muffled in the blue overalls, head bowed. Mark realised abruptly that the young man’s head was bowed to hide his tears.
“We shall see,” he said, opening the door. Staff Nurse Dumisane, who’d been waiting outside in respect for psychological confidentiality, came in and ushered the young man out.
Mark nodded goodbye and closed the door.
Friday at last, Friday, fucking Friday. The surf must be pumping at Kommetjie by now. Time to wash the working week off him in that frenzied cold water.
He closed the file on his desk; Xolile Ngubane. Shut.
He’d seen so many tears, so much snot en trane, this was no different.
But Xolile’s presence didn’t seem to have fully left the room. Mark could almost smell the lingering pain of his tears, the sourness of his body odour, his leaking desperation.
Still, he had seen it all. He picked up the file to leave the room.
“Where are you going, son?”
Mark dropped the file, having half-opened the door with his right hand. He peered back into the room, scanning the walls, the psychometric test cupboard, the desk, underneath the desk…
He stopped himself. Stupid, stupid, he really just needed a rest; it had been a hell of a week.
No one to go home to, though. Sharon had left eight months ago, and he’d left Jo’burg over a year ago now, to get away from a needy mother. There had been lots of leavings, with so few greetings anymore.
He picked up the file and sighed. At least the sea didn’t judge him. Muizenberg soon with a boogie board maybe, for, actually, he felt like a warmer and gentler swim. So, home first, pick up the board and head waves-side, before the beach bursts with manne jostling for board-space.
He stopped himself from announcing his plans to the air and cursed as he saw the black smear on his fingers. The cheap plastic biros tended to leak like an old man with a dodgy prostate. (At least he could still piss a few bubbles into the pot.) Throwing the pen into the bin, he wiped his fingers with some desk-tissues; it’s okay, man, just so long as he’d kept the file clean.
He hesitated, the wall was dripping sound. Leaning his right ear against the bricks’ clammy, slippery surface, he listened.
A quavering voice, soft but through cold stones, old stones—a leper asylum before it became a mad-house, so he’d heard.
A dim and distant voice, which was just repeating his name, over and over again.
So many voices lost here.
But this one knew him.
He had no answer. It was time to go.
Softly, he closed the door behind him and headed for the nurse’s station, along the banana-coloured hospital corridor. He nodded at a puffed up psychiatrist passing him; Jesus, that guy needed to learn to treat his patients more respectfully.
He took a right turn into the nurse’s station and the adjoining patient lounge, which was empty, as they were all out for their early supper. Behind the glassed sealed area Sister Mbolo and Staff Nurse Dumisane were standing, collecting night meds from cabinets, eyes flickering up to patient charts on the walls.
Mark stepped into the station quietly; file ready to be deposited alphabetically into the cabinet. He’d update online records next week.
He needed a swim badly.
Dumisane glanced at him, sieving a few tablets into a metal bowl. “Xolile to stay in then?” he asked, clicking extravagantly, to Mark’s ears. (He’s Zulu after all; Xhosa clicks come easy to him.)
The old man caught his eye, lounging just across the room. He didn’t recognise him, but he knew it wasn’t—it couldn’t be—his father. But dad had lain a bit like that, in the days following his stroke, limp and helpless and dumb.
Three weeks of silent helpless lying, before dying quietly, in the middle of the night, when no one was around.
But he’d done his grieving, processed his feelings, put it all behind him. He’d known what to do, after all. (Spilling himself verbally and with tears; off-loading to Sharon, while trying to hold mom together at the same time.)
Three months after tossing the last bit of dirt on his dad’s grave with his own hands, Mark had realised he’d put it all behind him. (Well within the stipulated normal grief time parameters: he’d been proud of that, until Sharon had punctured it by leaving without explanation.)
The old man in the lounge bent over and pulled a page from one of the ward Bibles. It looked like he was going to roll a cigarette with it. Despite himself, Mark smiled—certainly not dad, then.
“Dr. Bezuidenhout?” Dumisane was standing up straight, peering at him with obvious bewilderment.
“Um,” he said, “Kolile can go home for the weekend, but will need to be visited tomorrow by the community team, to get collateral information from his mother.”
“The community team’s off this weekend—I can go, I’m on duty and Sister and the others can cover me,” Dumisane smiled.
“Really?” The sister glowered at him and then laughed. “So he’s safe to go out?”
Mark paused, looking at the Sister, short and smiling, but knowing she was also pure steel underneath.
“He thinks his ancestors are calling him.”
“Oh,” she rolled her eyes. “Another ukuthwasa then. Bloody government’s to blame I tell you. They still haven’t created enough real jobs.”
He chuckled to himself as he picked up a pen. It was fine for her to say that!
He hesitated and then, for the first time in a long time, Mark changed his file notes using stale, scratchy white correction fluid, countersigning the change as the traffic grew rapidly louder along the road outside Valkenberg hospital.
He smelt burning and looked up in alarm. The old black man was smoking the Bible.
* * *
Mark woke with the sense of someone watching him.
Without even opening his eyes, he knew who it was.
“Hi, dad.” On opening his eyes, he was unsurprised to find his room empty. His dad had been dead three years, after all.
Mark rolled over, groaning, stiff from a late evening”s bodysurf at Muizenberg. As it had for many months now, the bed felt too big for him.
It was a bright and sunny master bedroom, looking out on a small but neat Rondebosch garden, orange bougainvillea framing razor wire and a hyperactive alarm. It was all somewhat on the dull side in long Cape winters, though. As for the children’s bedroom—well, that never happened, did it?
He walked stiffly through to the bathroom and splashed his face with clear and cold water.
Water always does the trick.
A pale and wrinkled face stared blankly back at him, gray hair hung lankly down alongside his cheeks. Shocked, he took several paces backed, slipped and banged his head against the towel railing. No stars, just a burning red blur in front of his eyes.
And an expressionless dead face.
It was his father’s face, not his.
Mark reeled backwards, averting his eyes.
God, it was as if dad had died without feeling, without thoughts, a pale husk of a once strong and fierce—but funny—man. It was early morning when we’d last seen him, but for moments he’d failed to recognise it was him, so shrunken and waxen he was.
Mark sat on the bathroom mat, its crinkly blue plastic fur tickling his naked thighs—but he couldn’t give a shit about that, quietly crying until thoughts came again.
Including one terrifying and growing thought.
He resisted it at first, hiding it away behind deliberate thoughts of beach or shopping, moving in safe and familiar spaces.
But there was no hiding from it—it kept popping back into his head.
He sighed. He knew he had a phone-call to make. He knew he had somewhere to go.
Mark stood up and faced the mirror. His own tired face looked out at him. He washed his face, shaved and dressed carefully and respectfully in white collared shirt and grey slacks. The house was too quiet, too empty—and the face in the mirror looked even emptier still, although he was just relieved it was his face.
Pulling his mobile from his trouser pocket, he speed dialed the ward.
“Staff Nurse Dumisane? Doctor Bezuidenhout here. I think I should come with you to visit that patient this morning. Ja, I’m ready—half an hour, hey. See you outside my house, you’ve got my address, ja nee?”
The street was quiet, still early on a Saturday morning in a cul de sac set back from the Main Road. The trees were in full bloom but starting to sway from the gathering South-Easter.
Mark jingled some coins in his pocket, deciding to text his sister in Jo’burg as a distraction.
He was going someplace he’d never been before; a place he’d always managed to avoid.
A black township.
The white Government Garage car arrived, an old Fiat, Staff Nurse Dumisane waving cheerfully from the rolled down driver’s window,
Mark got in, feeling even more anxious.
As they pulled off and headed down past Rondebosch station and across the wasteland of the Common, he felt his pulse start to race.
“So,” he said, “where are we going, again?”
Dumisane glanced at him sideways and then focused on the road, swerving to avoid a taxi pulling out suddenly.
“Gugs, been there before, Doctor?”
Ah, Gugulethu, not the worst thankfully, but no doubt bad enough, with very few—if any—white mense there.
Mark shook his head coolly. “”No, can’t say I have, Dumisane—any tips?”
The staff nurse gave a big laugh as he swung past a bus and the streets started to fill up, heading steadily away from the Mountain. “Stick close to me, doctor, and you’ll be fine.”
Houses had given way to wide and dingy council flats surrounding dirt yards, bright washing swinging from lines hanging out of windows or in courtyards.
The men on the street looked rougher and tougher and downright dangerous.
Dumisane pulled to a halt alongside a small brick terraced house, brightly painted in blue, with a small but neat path.
Mark raised his eyebrows discreetly. He’d expected more overt poverty, more visible desperation.
“We don’t all live in corrugated iron shacks, you know,” Dumisane said shortly, getting out of the car.
Mark felt a pang of shame; Dumisane was a damn good nurse and obviously a sharp reader of people. He still couldn’t stop himself looking carefully around, before opening the door and stepping outside to join Dumisane.
The staff nurse was already by the door, chatting in swift isiXhosa with a smiling middle-aged woman in a neat red dress and headscarf. He beckoned Mark over.
“This is Xolile’s psychologist,” he said. “Doctor Bezuidenout, this is Mrs. Ngubane.”
The woman gave a little nod as she took his hand with both of hers. “Please come in,” she said. “Would you like some tea?”
Mark smiled, wondering if the English resonance was intended for him. She led the way inside, into a small but neat kitchen with dining area. Mark noted the door through to the other rooms—or room—was firmly closed.
Mrs. Ngubane lit a gas cooker underneath a battered but ready silver kettle. She turned to Mark: “Five Roses or rooibos, Doctor?”
“Uh, rooibos please, Mrs. Ngubane.”
Dumisane was obviously a Five Roses man. She gestured them both to sit on stools arranged tightly around a small wooden table.
Mark turned as the door creaked behind him.
Xolile stood, the room behind him darkened, but he looked cheerful and neatly dressed.
“Hello, doctor, staff nurse,” he said breezily, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. He leaned back against the door and folded his arms.
Mark sat and drank his hot tea, looking at family pictures arrayed on the wall, while the conversation drifted awkwardly around Xolile’s interrupted studies. He’d been a physiotherapy student at UWC before he’d been picked up by a police patrol, wandering and confused, in the dunes near Monwabisi.
Mrs. Ngubane looked cross, reminiscing on the events, “You sure it’s not dagga, my boy?”
“No, mamma!” he said. His arms dangled by his sides, as she had already reprimanded him for the rudeness of folded arms, following up with a warning against hands in pockets.
There was a man in some of the photos, but only in those with a younger pre-adolescent Xolile.
Mark signaled to Dumisane. Dumisane would be able to get much better information from the mother if both were unburdened from the demands of English.
Mark put his empty mug down and stood up. “Is there a space we can talk in private, Kolile?” (Always, he struggled with the correct pronunciation.)
The young man stood up squarely, a good few inches taller than Mark. “Sure, doctor, the street.”
“The street?” Mark heard his voice almost crack with a sudden surge of panic. “Why the street?”
“A bedroom is too private,” he said. “The street is better.”
Mark wondered whether Xolile had guessed he was anxious there—and even more so at the thought of walking and talking in a township street. He seemed brighter and more lucid today—perhaps indeed it was a reactive psychosis—just maybe drug induced?
He followed the young man through the doorway, down the path and onto the pavement. A few men and women stalked past, turning to stare briefly at him.
Xolile smiled. “You’ll be fine,” he said. “Everyone knows me.”
So, for some minutes, they walked and talked, Mark probing about his past and recent present, looking for cues and clues as to the onset of his confusional state. His father had left suddenly when he was ten; they had no idea where or why. Prior to his admission, all he could remember was a gathering glow inside and his dead grandmother whispering in his ears, telling him he needed to become an isangoma, to heal his people.
Mark stopped. Xolile had turned into a main street, littered with spaza shops and large shipping containers filled with people doing business. There was a particularly appealing cell-phone company obviously doing great business inside a grey metal container jutting some way into the road, people spilling out into the road and pavement, taxis hooting past. Mark was relieved to notice that few seemed to look at him anymore.
Xolile gestured him onwards. Mark hesitated. He wanted to ask Xolile something for his own benefit, rather than Xolile’s. Ethically, such role reversals were generally frowned upon. There was something slightly freeing about being on strange streets, however, so he took a deep breath.
“My father,” he said, “is gone like yours, but dead. You saw him at the hospital and I’ve seen him since. What must I do?”
Xolile stopped. Mark noted he sighed slightly before speaking. “I saw an old man, who I guessed might be your father. Beyond that, I cannot help you at all, doctor.”
“But don’t your beliefs involve contacting the ancestors?”
Xolile looked straight at him and Mark could see amusement and something else etched on his face.
“My beliefs, not yours, doctor. Even then, I’m not sure of them myself. Look!” He turned to gesture at a shop behind them.
The shop had an open hanging canopy, dangling with jars filled with… strange looking shapes in syrup or brownish liquid, organs perhaps—or animal parts?
“Would you consult here? Would you take those things if prescribed, to help you contact your father?”
Mark spotted a placard outside. It was a doctor’s surgery, but not one that he recognised.
It looked as though Xolile had only just started. “Would you sacrifice a chicken—or a goat? Doctor, there are no shortcuts; you cannot pick and choose our beliefs, like a vulture that is fussy for only the best meat. You must swallow all the bones, too.”
The young man looked down, as if suddenly ashamed of his outburst.
Mark looked down too, embarrassed at asking, wishing he could retract his thoughts and words.
There was a muffled ringing noise. Xolile fumbled a cell-phone out of his pocket. “Nomfundo!” he shouted, turning away and breaking into rapid isiXhosa.
Ah, a girl!
Mark looked up as his father walked past.
For frozen seconds, he watched the stooped and familiar gait down the busy street, dad’s slight right-sided shuffle after an earlier warning from a left-sided stroke.
Then he ran, until he was alongside and in front of him.
It was an old man indeed, but with a craggy black face and silver pepper-corned hair, neatly dressed, as if off to a Saturday Church. The man looked at him uncertainly. “Police?” he asked, “or tourist?”
Mark raised both hands, ducking his head in apology as well.
He made his way back to Xolile slowly. He was still busy on his phone, talking excitedly and looking at the ground.
Mark looked around to track the smell of burning meat. A man and a woman were braaing a sheep’s head over a hollowed metal barrel. A few other people were gathering round, bringing drinks, perhaps from a local shebeen.
He felt exposed, isolated.
Xolile finished his call. “Sorry, doctor.”
Mark held his hand up. “Never mind,” he said. “I don’t suppose you saw me running after anyone just now?”
Xolile gave him a puzzled look.
Mark gave a wry smile. “No matter, perhaps it was all in my head.”
Xolile shook his head firmly. “No wonder you umlungu have such big heads,” he said. “You try and fit everything into it.”
Despite himself, Mark laughed. As he laughed, it suddenly dawned on him that just maybe he would never stop missing his father.
He no longer felt so certain of anything and everything, either.
They turned to watch people gather for food. “You fancy some, doctor?”
Mark laughed again: “Just a little taste.”
It was nice to be invited.
There were indeed new things to see—and new things to do.
Level 0 rewards have already gone out, courtesy of Apex Book Company.
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[note this link is for the 2D version of the trailer]
Swedish author Karin Tidbeck‘s latest short story, I Have Placed My Sickness Upon You, is now up at Strange Horizons.
Then came that Thursday in February when I stepped into my psychiatrist’s office and was presented with a goat.
I was in treatment, but it wasn’t going well. I suffered from recursive treatment-resistant depression or, possibly, bipolar II disorder—my doctors wouldn’t settle on a diagnosis. Whatever you called it, it was hell. Over the years, I had tried every combination of the usual substances: MAOIs, tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants, SSRIs and SNRIs, mood stabilizers and anti-anxiety medication. They mostly gave me side-effects. I was bloated and sweaty and twitchy, but still depressed. The doctors were trying to get me into ECT, but I was reluctant. This is where the goat came in.
Dr. Andersson was in the office already. She took a chair in what was supposed to be the cosy corner: two armchairs, a little table with a box of tissues, a vase of flowers. On the wall hung a painting of a moose cresting a hilltop. Dr. Andersson looked like she usually did. Today, her bowl haircut and shapeless green muumuu were complemented by a necklace of wooden zebras. She was holding a leash. At the end of the leash, standing beside her chair, was the goat. It was small, reaching up to my knees, and jet black with floppy ears. It was nibbling on the armrest. I sat down in the opposite chair.
“This is your new treatment,” said Dr. Andersson. “It’s the latest in experimental therapy. I thought we might let you have a try, seeing as you’re a bit hesitant about ECT.”
“I see,” I said.
Dr. Andersson adjusted her glasses. “Do you know the origins of the word ‘scapegoat’?”
“Sure,” I replied. “Old Hebrew stuff. A goat sent out into the desert for everyone’s sins.”
“Exactly.” Dr. Andersson scratched the goat behind the ears. “This is a Sadgoat.”
I looked at the goat. It looked back at me, its horizontal pupils narrowing.
“I’m confused,” I said. – continue reading.
Gold Coast Speckies interview Malaysian author Fadzlishah Johanabas:
I am a Malay, raised in multicultural Malaysia, and a Muslim. Not necessarily a model Muslim, but still. When I was in secondary school and in university, I thought that writing English stories featuring local people and setting didn’t seem right, so I wrote about Caucasians in their vaguely Caucasian world, courtesy of TV series and movies.
When I finally gave up that internal argument, I found my voice. In a way, the adage “write what you know” is spot-on. I know Malaysia. I know its settings and cultures and racial dynamics. I know its myths and legends. I know Islamic values and teachings. I used to have a writing group at Writing.com, and they loved the exoticism of my stories, which, to me, was inherently local.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a Muslim, and most of my characters are Muslims as well, as evident in “Act of Faith”. I’ve gotten mixed reactions for it. Other Muslim people across the globe are happy that a brighter facet of Islam is portrayed, while there are people who complain that I’m trying to preach and spread my Islamic ways.
I’m not. Christianity is deep within the pages and reels of fiction, but people don’t even blink twice. The crucifix, the invocation of Christ, the Christian ways of defeating vampires and other monsters. People don’t really think about the subtle messages of Christianity because they’ve always been there. When someone else from another culture and another religion uses what he knows, he sometimes gets a sound lashing. – read the full interview.