Welcome to the World SF Blog.
The blog, dedicated to posting “links, news and original content related to science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics from around the world”, was a near-daily blog operating continuously from February 2009 to June 2013, for over four years.
The blog was a nominee for the 2011 World Fantasy Award, and won a 2012 BSFA Award for Best Non-Fiction, as well as a Kitschies Special Achievement Award.
Below you can refer to selected material, or use the tag cloud to highlight specific countries or topics.
While the blog is no longer being updated, the entire archive is available here.
I started the World SF Blog in February of 2009 – a century in Internet time! – partly as an excuse to promote my then-forthcoming anthology of international speculative fiction, The Apex Book of World SF – but mostly out of what can only be described as an ideological drive, a desire to highlight and promote voices seldom heard in genre fiction.
The blog ran for about a year on Live Journal – yes, people still used Live Journal back then! – but shortly made the transition to WordPress, where this current site and archive remain.
From the very beginning, I was aided and abetted by Charles Tan, who was chiefly responsible for the original content we were able to provide, conducting many of our interviews and contributing editorials and essays, as well as helping with soliciting material for the site (and taking over every time I was moving countries!). Anil Menon, too, was an early supporter, occasional book reviewer and guest-blogger, and a steadfast friend to the site.
We began publishing fiction in 2010 and by 2011 have taken on a dedicated fiction editor, Debbie Moorhouse. Debbie kept the fiction side going until stepping down in 2012, when Sarah Newton took over. We were also able to incorporate the entire The Portal web site archive, which was edited by Val Grimm (Val is also making the entire archive available through the Merril Collection).
I was incredibly gratified, over the past few years, with the level of enthusiasm and support the site has received. It felt to me that we were able to partly-initiate, and to encourage, a conversation that the genre had not had before, and in a very real way is only now beginning to seriously engage in.
Along the way, I was privileged enough to be able to publish The Apex Book of World SF 2, with a third volume scheduled for 2014. I am very grateful to Jason Sizemore of Apex Book Company for his unstinting support for this project from the very start, and in a very real way making it all happen.
Along the way, too, and with the help of Sean Wallace, we were able to establish The World SF Travel Fund, for facilitating the visit of international genre people to a major convention, the World Fantasy Convention. It began by wanting to help Charles Tan travel from the Philippines to the United States, where he was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, in 2011, but we continued the fund, helping Swedish authors Karin Tidbeck and Nene Ormes in 2012 and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz of the Philippines, and Csilla Kleinheincz of Hungary, in 2013.
The change I have seen in the four years of the blog is heartening. In a way, I have decided to stop now because the blog has fulfilled everything I ever wanted it to, and so much more.
And then, too, there is the fact that it has been four years. I’m not sure I ever intended the site to run for that long, and I did begin to feel a certain fatigue around a year ago. This entire crazy enterprise was run on enthusiasm and a certain desire for change, and I did not want to become resentful of the time or effort I was spending. To do a thing it must be done with joy, or not at all.
So I am – with joy, at everything we’ve accomplished! – shutting it down. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. And I’m grateful to all the wonderful people who supported the blog, contributed to the blog, wrote for us, but most of all for the conversation, which exists outside of this site, of different communities across different countries and language now talking to each other, and may you never stop. Too many people to thank, but you know who you are.
So here it is: The World SF Blog, over four years and hundreds of blog posts, all available online, on every aspect of international speculative fiction, from almost every country in the world. I hope it’s useful. I hope it’s fun.
And thank you.
If you have found the blog useful, do consider purchasing a copy of one or both volumes by clicking on the images below.
Over the past four years we’ve run a selection of articles, guest posts and round tables exclusive to the blog. Here is a small selection:
- Non-Western SF Roundtable (Part 1)
- Non-Western SF Roundtable (Part 2)
- (Global) Women in SF Round Table
- Australian SF Round Table
- Round Table: On Environment and Background, Part One
- Round Table: Environment and Background, Part Two
- The Dilemma of the Term “World SF” Redux
- Seeing Through Foreign Eyes” by Ekaterina Sedia
- On Japanese SF, by Nick Mamatas
- Lauren Beukes on Writing the Other
- Tim Maughan on British SF and the Class System
- SF in South Africa, by Nick Wood
- Editorial: Where is the World in the World Fantasy Awards?
- Editorial: The Language of Science Fiction
- Hungarian Post-Communist Science Fiction
- World-Building in a Hot Climate, by Anil Menon
- Science Fiction Can Be Glorious Again, by Guy Hasson
- American Authors vs. Foreign Authors, by Guy Hasson
- Africa in Science Fiction, by Nick Wood
- 2011 South African SF/F in Review
- The Persistent Neoteny of Science Fiction
- Guy Hasson on Writing for Two Cultures
- Science Fiction in Romania since the 1990 revolution
- S.L. Grey: Writing Genre Fiction in South Africa
- Science Fiction in Portugal
- Our [Hu]man in Havana, by Daniel W. Koon
- Journey to Forbidden Planet: Writing Speculative Fiction Set in Mexico
- Working in two Tracks, by Fábio Fernandes
- Hugh Cook – The Wordsmith and the Warrior
- In Other Wor(l)ds: Workshops in Collective Writing of Feminist-Queer Science Fiction by Tea Hvala
- Landscapes by Karin Tidbeck
- Samit Basu on Writing
Over the past four years we’ve run a plethora of exclusive interviews. Here is a small selection:
- Interview with Blaft Publications of India
- Portuguese Dagon Magazine and Roberto Mendes
- Indian author Samit Basu interview
- Finnish author Hannu Rajaniemi
- Romanian author Sebastian A. Corn
- British author Richard Calder interview
- Greek author and editor Athena Andreadis
- Haikasoru editor Nick Mamatas
- Russian author Lena Meydan
- Filipino artist Leonardo M. Giron
- Malaysian author Zen Cho interview
- UAE author Noura al Noman
- Japanese author Sayuri Ueda
- Russian author Ekaterina Sedia
- Brazilian author Misha’El
- Barbados author Karen Lord interviewed
- Filipino author and editor Paolo Chikiamco
- Chinese author and editor Wu Yan interviewed
- Indian author Vandana Singh
- Mexican author Federico Schaffler interview
- Swedish author Karin Tidbeck interviewed
- Malaysian author K.S. Augustin
- Egyptian author Ahmed Khaled Towfiq
- Singaporean author Anders Brink
- Brazilian author and editor Fabio Fernandes
- Israeli film festival director Uri Aviv interview
- South African author Tom Learmont interview
- Spanish author Rodolfo Martinez
- South African author S.L. Grey
- Mexican author Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Israeli translator Gili Bar-Hillel
- Author Frank Haubold of Belgium
- Indonesian author Oscar Simanjuntak interview
- Japanese translator Cathy Hirano interview
- Israeli author Guy Hasson interview
- South African writer Joan de la Haye
- Spanish editor Marian Womack interview
Since 2010, we have published a total of 61 stories and 1 novella. We published authors from 30 countries. We published 23 original stories published for the first time, or for the first time in English, on the World SF Blog.
Here is out full list of short fiction published on the World SF Blog.
FICTION LINE-UP (from October 26th, 2010, newest stories first, * denotes if first published on the World SF Blog)
- Smile of the Monster, by Ido Sokolovsky, Israel (June 18, 2013) *
- Sanditon, by Helen Marshall, Canada (May 28, 2013)
- Synchronicity, by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo, Philippines (May 14, 2013)
- A Puddle of Blood, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexico (May 7, 2013)
- Ratan Mirrors, by Geetanjali Dighe, India (April 30, 2013) *
- Looking the Lopai in the Eyes, by Indrapramit Das, India (April 16, 2013)
- Battleflag, by Bojan Ratković, Serbia (April 2, 2013) *
- Case Notes of a Witchdoctor, by Nick Wood, South Africa (March 19, 2013) *
- Eternal Return, by Rodolfo Martínez, Spain (March 5, 2013) *
- Eagle Feathers, by Joyce Chng, Singapore (February 19, 2013) *
- Poison, by Henrietta Rose-Innes, South Africa (February 5, 2013)
- On the Feast of Stephen, by Cyril Simsa, Czech Republic (January 22, 2013) *
- Ceremony of Innocence, by Armando Salinas, Mexico (December 4, 2012) *
- Planetfall, by Athena Andreadis, Greece (November 20, 2012)
- Brita’s Holiday Village, by Karin Tidbeck, Sweden (November 13, 2012)
- Don’t Move a Muscle, Mr. Liberty, by Jordan Ellinger, Canada (October 23, 2012)
- Valletta, City of Guilt, by Michael Vella, Malta (October 9, 2012) *
- Disclosure, by Sarah Newton, United Kingdom (September 25, 2012) *
- The Princess and the Shadowspawn, by Ben Godby, Canada (September 18, 2012) *
- The Good Things in Life, by H.H. Løyche, Denmark (September 4, 2012)
- Electric Sonalika, by Samit Basu, India (August 28, 2012)
- Morrie and the Grand Potato, by Tom Learmont, South Africa (August 7, 2012) *
- The Transformist, by Horacio Sentíes Madrid, Mexico (June 26, 2012)
- Deadly Quiet on the Western Front, by Fábio Fernandes, Brazil (June 19th, 2012) *
- Waiting With Mortals, by Crystal Koo, Philippines (June 5th, 2012) *
- The Portal Plague, by Dinesh Rao, India (May 22nd, 2012) *
- Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold, by Theodora Goss, USA (May 8th, 2012)
- Flight of the Ibis, by Fadzlishah Johanabas, Malaysia (April 24th, 2012)
- Prudence and the Dragon, by Zen Cho, Malaysia (March 20th, 2012)
- Dali’s Clocks, by Dave Hutchinson, UK (March 6th, 2012)
- Fear and Loathing in Deptford, by K.A. Laity, USA (February 21st, 2012)
- You Cannot Fight the War for Reason: Wearing the Wrong Trousers, by Aditya Bidikar, India (February 7th, 2012)
- Cosmic Love, by Harry Markov, Bulgaria (January 24th, 2012) *
- Clay Cast Cats, by TCA Lakshmi Narasimhan, India (January 10th, 2012) *
- A Hundred Thousand Armstrongs, by Zoltán László, Hungary (December 27th, 2011) *
- Kolkata Sea, by Indrapramit Das, India (December 13th, 2011)
- The City of Silence (Part Two), by Ma Boyong (translated by Ken Liu), China (December 6th, 2011) *
- The City of Silence (Part One), by Ma Boyong (translated by Ken Liu), China (November 29th, 2011) *
- Dancing Together Under Polarized Skies, by Milena Benini, Croatia (November 15th, 2011) *
- Maun of the Dead, by Sarah Lotz, South Africa (October 111th, 2011)
- The Man who Was Stronger than God, by Guy Hasson, Israel (April 12th, 2011)
- Mardock: Two Hundred Below by Tow Ubukata (translated by Nathan Collins), Japan (March 22nd, 2011) *
- Irredenta, by Lou Antonelli, US (March 15th, 2011) *
- A Change of Season, by Carmelo Rafala, US/UK (March 8th, 2011) *
- Encore, by John Kenny, Ireland (March 1st, 2011)
- Dance Dance Revolution, by Charlie Human, South Africa (February 22nd, 2011)
- Borrowed Time, by Stephen Kotowych, Canada (February 15th, 2011)
- Sand, Crushed Shells, Chicken Feathers, by Eliza Victoria, Philippines (February 8th, 2011)
- Seas of the World, by Ekaterina Sedia, Russia/US (February 2nd, 2011)
- LAPINS, by Michael Haulica (translated by Adriana Mosoiu), Romania (January 25th, 2011)
- An Orbital Flight With A Small Surprise, Pyotr Kowalczyk, Poland (January 18th, 2011)
- Thirstlands, by Nick Wood, South Africa (January 11th, 2010)
- Magique, by Lynne Jamneck, South Africa/New Zealand (December 21st, 2010)
- The Salt Line, by Grant Stone, New Zealand (December 14th, 2010)
- Copyfighter, by A.R. Yngve, Sweden (December 7th, 2010)
- Ganesh, in the Afternoon, by Fábio Fernandes, Brazil (November 30th, 2010)
- Eustace Albert, by Anil Menon, India (November 23rd, 2010)
- Mortal Danger, by Frank Roger, Belgium (November 16th, 2010)
- The Time traveler’s Son, by Jason Erik Lundberg, US/Singapore (November 9th, 2010)
- The Word of God, by Nir Yaniv Israel (November 2nd, 2010)
- Mélanie, by Aliette de Bodard, France (October 26th, 2010)
Our first feature was an original serial by Joyce Chng from Singapore: the 15-parter THE BASICS OF FLIGHT:
Part One: Basics
- Chapter One: Beginnings: First Steps (May 11, 2010)
- Chapter Two: Finding her Balance: Standing on Two Feet (May 18, 2010)
- Chapter Three: Balance of the World: An Interlude (May 25, 2010)
- Chapter Four: Finding her Balance: Walking Aware (May 25, 2010)
- Chapter Five: Maintaining Equilibrium (June 1, 2010)
- Chapter Six: A Moment of Gravity (June 9, 2010)
- Chapter Seven: A Moment of Lift (June 29, 2010)
Part Two: Flight
Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Ido Sokolovsky. Born in 1967, Ido is from Israel, and used to read science fiction in his youth. Now in his mid-life crisis, he writes sci-fi stories in Hebrew for any one willing to publish them. His friend Yehudit translated this story in return for a plate of humus.
This is the story’s first publication.
Smile of the Monster
by Ido Sokolovsky
“There was a monster in the loch. It’s not there now, but once there was.”
The old man’s face is red, his hooked nose surrounded by blue veins, testimony to long years of alcohol consumption. His eyes are bloodshot and he nods his head vigorously, adding: “It’s not a fairy tale. When I was a boy it was here in the loch.”
“And when was this, Garison? Seventy years ago? Eighty?” Mrs Campbell passed by him, carrying a heavily loaded tray on her way to the table of the two tourists. The young man in the green sweater has been holding forth to his red-headed freckled girl-friend as to why a monster in Loch Ness is unlikely. It is this that has awakened the old man from his drunken sleep near the counter.
“You must forgive Garison,” explains Mrs Campbell. “That’s his third beer this morning.”
Expertly she places their order before them. The young man leans over so that Mrs Campbell doesn’t block his view of the old man and asks aloud: “Do you mean to tell me that you have actually seen the monster?”
The old man is silent and closes his eyes more tightly. Apart from the tourist couple there are four old people at the inn, all well on in years. They wear peaked caps and are intent on playing some kind of card game. The remaining tables are abandoned in the cavernous dining room. Garison alone sits near the counter, a glass of beer in front of him. The windows look out on the blue-green waters of Loch Ness, surrounded by thickly forested hills. In the distance towers Ben Nevis, its summit wreathed in clouds. It is not surprising that more tourists don’t come to the inn to enjoy the stunning view. The Three Pines is at the top end of the village and reached by steep, narrow, twisting lanes. In fact it is to be wondered why the Campbells ever chose to establish their hostelry in this isolated spot rather than down by the loch where all the other shops, pubs and restaurants in the mountain village are located.
The young man interprets Garison’s silence as defeat and gives a triumphant grin towards his girlfriend. “You see, Julia, there are almost no fish in Loch Ness. If there are no fish, what does the monster live on?” Mrs Campbell who was half way back behind the counter suddenly claps her hands, her eyes wide with consternation. “I completely forgot your mustard, love,” she shouts, and dashes behind the counter, emerging with a small metal mustard pot in one hand, the soles of her shoes resounding on the old wooden floor. Mrs Campbell is short and wide, her greying hair caught up with a clip. She wears a simple brown dress and a large kitchen apron round her waist. She has plump red cheeks and although she, like Garison, is entitled to be described as “old”, when she smiles she looks like a little girl, and she smiles almost all the time.
“Once there were honest, God-fearing folk round here,” declares Garison, “and Reverend McPherson, may God have mercy on his soul, said he saw the monster, and that’s enough for me.”
“I’ve not been here as long as you, Garison,” answers Mrs Campbell, “but I did get to meet Reverend McPherson, and he never told me anything of the sort.” She turns to the girl. “Here, have some mustard, love.” She ignores the protests of the girl, who apparently does not like mustard. “This isn’t shop stuff. I grow the mustard in my garden, you know, without chemicals and things.”
“You, Flora,” grumbles the old man. “You say it’s nonsense, but your brother makes a nice living from the souvenirs he sells down at the store.”
“D’you mean something like this?” The young man sticks his hand into the backpack that lies at his feet, and brings out a glass decorated with a long, dragon-like creature, its mouth open in a roar.
The old man leans towards the couple and examines the glass, then nods as though his worst fears were realised.
“So Leonard’s your brother?” asks the girl.
“Yes, love. And I know exactly what you’re thinking: how can a little thing like me have such a tall brother?”
“You’re not that short.” The youth tries to be polite.
“Aw, you fibber! You’re too nice,” says Mrs Campbell. “You’re Americans, aren’t you?”
“Australian” he answers, adding: “I’m Jim and this is Julia”.
Jim is tall and good-looking and now he affectionately rumples his girlfriend’s mass of red curls. Julia, who has just taken a bite of her sandwich, gives him a long look as though she is not altogether thrilled with this display of ownership.
“Flora,” says Mrs Campbell. “Widow Flora Campbell.”
“And there’s a horse, too,” declares Garison. “A white horse who plays with children in the grass. He’s called Kelpie.”
“Oh, that stupid story,” says Mrs Campbell, and she suddenly looks her age as the smile vanishes from her face.
“He convinces one of the children to get on his back. The hands of the bairn stick to the horse and it disappears with him into the Loch and he’s never seen no more. ”
Silence reigns in the room. Then Jim sits up with renewed interest. “Just a minute,” he says.
“You’ve actually seen this horse?”
Garison half turns to Jim, which causes him to wobble on his chair. “When I was a lad I had a friend called William…”
“That story again,” says one of the peaked cap ancients. He doesn’t even raise his eyes from his cards.
“You hush, Busby,” says Garison angrily. “You don’t know nothing about it.” He struggles not to fall from the tall chair. At that moment, a door behind the counter opens, and out steps a young and pretty girl and lays her hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“Stop it, Garison. You know how mum hates it when you talk about that.”
Garison nods, wearily, and turns back with difficulty to the counter. He points to his empty glass. The girl takes it and expertly fills it from the draught piston.
Mrs Campbell regards the couple apologetically. “After you hear that scary story a hundred times…” She shrugs and returns to the counter.
Jim pays no attention to her. His gaze is fixed on the girl holding the glass. She has straight brown hair over a clear forehead, large green eyes and high cheekbones. A small mouth and straight nose complete the likeness of a Greek goddess. Behind her, glimmers of light through the open door reveal a hob burning in the kitchen, but the girl does not at all look like someone who was slaving over a hot stove for the last hour, but more like someone who just emerged from the ministrations of a professional make-up artist. Only after Julia’s astonished gaze lingers on his face for several long seconds does Jim suddenly shake himself and return to his fish and chips, which he devours with gusto.
“Thanks, Mary. You can go back inside,” says Mrs Campbell, and the beautiful girl goes back into the kitchen closing the door behind her.
“Strange” says Jim, his mouth full of fish. “Such a beautiful girl. I’d have thought she would be behind the counter to attract customers.”
“Maybe the owner wants people to eat her food rather than sitting and staring open-mouthed,” answers Julia, tartly. Jim turns to her with a big smile and shakes his head teasingly left and right. “Do you think I am going to abandon you for some Scottish lass? Don’t worry, Julia, for me you are the most beautiful girl in the world.”
Julia doesn’t seem reconciled, and finishes her sandwich with big bites and signals Mrs Campbell for the bill, then sits and rakes Jim with her eyes while he struggles to extract the leather pouch hidden under his clothes and pull out coins and notes. After Mrs Campbell leaves their change on the table, Julia takes a few coins and leaves the rest. She hurries to shoulder her red backpack, and waits with pursed lips while Jim struggles with his. It is now impossible to leave the inn because a large tourist bus completely blocks the door. As the bus passes the door its logo, a smiling snake-like creature, can be clearly seen below the inscription: Nessie Tours. During the enforced delay Julia notices by the door a framed photograph of a smiling boy. A small brass plaque announces “In Memory of our Little Angel Andrew. The Loch took him.” She slips the coins in her hand into a wooden charity box below the picture.
“God bless you, love,” says Mrs Campbell, pressing her hand in thanks, and Julia nods curtly. By this time the bus has passed and by the sound of it has found parking behind the inn. The young couple leave and disappear down the narrow lane leading away from the Three Pines. After a minute, the sigh of hydraulics indicates that the doors of the bus are opening to disgorge its passengers.
An attractive tourist guide now appears. Blonde, thirtyish, Celia stands and counts the tourists, mostly elderly but with one or two families as they file into the large room.
Just as she finishes making sure that everyone is in place, Aidan, the tall, taciturn driver arrives, having locked up the bus. Mrs Campbell indicates with a movement of her head the far end of the dining room, and guide and driver go and sit close to the four old men. The hubbub in the room hasn’t even made them raise their heads from their cards.
For the next hour Mrs Campbell rushes round the inn like a hurricane, handing out menus, taking orders, pouring drinks and yelling orders in the direction of the kitchen door, where Mary is intently preparing the meals. She places loaded plates on tables, collects dirty dishes, disappears with them into the kitchen and returns at a pace that many a young girl might envy. Notes and coins change hands and disappear under her apron, while the exact change is unfailingly returned each time. And all this time Mary does not set foot outside the kitchen even once, and none of the diners has the pleasure of seeing her.
Celia, who has finished her meal, leans back with a smile. “Amazing, isn’t she? She must be sixty if she’s a day,” she says to Aidan. Aidan nods without saying a word. Celia regards him sideways and the smile fades on her lips. Aidan was certainly an improvement on a randy predecessor, but long months of working with someone who barely acknowledges your existence certainly gets to one. Strange, the only time she had heard Aidan speak more than one sentence at a time had been when he recommended the Three Pines inn after some tourists had complained about the crowds down by the loch. Since then they have come here every trip, and she is very satisfied. She doesn’t have to worry that one of the tourists will wander off into the crowd, as happens all too often in the restaurant area down below, needing to be tracked down when time comes to board the bus. Not only that, but the stunning view from the windows reminds her each time why she has chosen this profession. Also there is another reason why she’s always happy to come here, a reason she keeps secret from Aidan, although it’s really no effort to keep a secret from someone who is totally uninterested in you.
She decides that the time has come, gets up from her place and heads towards the door. When she reaches the counter she stops to call out loudly: “Half an hour more, everyone”. In the momentary silence that follows, Garison’s voice is clearly heard. “…his liver floated to the shore… but he was never found…” A few embarrassed smiles appear on the faces of some of the guests. Celia acts as though she hasn’t heard, and goes out. The noise quickly starts up again, voices and the clink of glasses and cutlery fill the air while Garison’s head slowly sinks onto the counter and he mumbles drunkenly, “William, William,” and his eyes close.
Celia stands near the back door of the inn and waits. Mary, spotting her from the kitchen, comes out wiping her hands on her apron and they stand facing each other for a moment, apart yet close.
Inside the inn, Aidan sits and stares at Mrs Campbell. Now things have quietened down a bit she walks slowly, and signs of fatigue mark her face, but instead of sitting she moves among the tables checking that the guests are satisfied. One of the tourist children waves the monster doll in her face and she pretends to be frightened. But although she faces the opposite direction it seems that she senses Aidan’s stare, and goes over to him, taking the chair vacated by Celia.
“She’s with Mary,” he says, and continues to look at Mrs Campbell with no change of expression.
“What have those two got to talk about?”
Aidan doesn’t answer but continues to look at her until her smile gradually fades as understanding dawns.
“You mean to tell me… she’s, she’s like that, the other way?” There is genuine horror in her voice.
“I’ve never seen her with any bloke, ever. But she’s got two tickets for the concert tomorrow.”
“The pervert!” says Mrs Campbell through clenched teeth. “I’ll show her what for!”
Mrs Campbell gets up with renewed vigour and disappears behind the counter. “Mary!” Her voice sounds from the kitchen. “Mary! Get back to work right now, d’you hear me?”
Mary obeys, but not before she casts a long look over her shoulder at Celia as she disappears inside the inn.
Mrs Campbell, confronting the guide, points a trembling finger at the company logo embroidered on the pocket of Celia’s jacket.
“A smiling monster—that fits,” she snarls. “I should have known you were up to something when you never came to collect your kick-back.”
A thin smile flits over Celia’s face.
“If I was a man it would be perfectly alright, wouldn’t it?”
“If you were a man I’d know what to expect, sly thing that you are. Let me tell you, Mary’s spoken for!” growls Mrs Campbell. “She’ll marry when her lad comes of age this summer.”
“Oh, really!” Celia rolls her eyes. “Even you must know things have changed these last fifty years. Spoken for? Maybe when you were Mary’s age.”
“Everything OK, ladies?” Aidan appears from round the corner of the inn, his hands in his pockets, a pair of elderly tourists in his wake on their way to the toilets.
“Dear Aidan,” Mrs Campbell addresses him formally, “you are welcome to bring your tourists to my inn whenever you please, as soon as you find a new guide—one who doesn’t foist her perversions on my Mary.”
“Aiden answers to me,” says Celia, scowling. The stupid woman really lives in the last century, thinking that Aidan is the boss just because he is a man.
“As for you!” Flora Campbell points a finger, trembling with rage. “You won’t come near my inn if you know what’s good for you.”
“Very well. And I hope your business won’t suffer too much,” concurs Celia, then raises her tour guide voice to Mary in the kitchen. “Nine o’clock tomorrow night, Mary! I’ll be at the main entrance.”
Mrs Campbell makes a pushing motion with her hand at Celia’s face as though she would knock her over by remote, and goes into the kitchen slamming the door behind her.
Celia goes towards the bus where a few tourists are already gathered waiting for Aidan to open the door. Aidan also looks at the back door and seems sunk in thought. Mrs Campbell has done well to conceal the connection between them, but this business of Celia and Mary must be stopped. Therefore he waits until Celia passes him, and says quietly: “Scotland is not London, you know.”
Celia stops, and turns towards him questioningly.
“I mean to say,” says Aidan, “that here in the mountains all kinds of accidents happen to people who don’t behave with care.”
“Are you threatening me, Aidan?” asks Celia, her eyes narrowing with fury, lowering her voice so that the waiting tourists won’t hear. “You haven’t heard the end of this.”
“I’m not threatening,” says Aidan. “Just warning. You’re not from here and you don’t know this village. It’s true they all have television and most of them are connected to the internet, but make no mistake: they don’t live in the same world that you do. In some ways most of them live according to the rules of their grandfathers and grandmothers.”
He turns and goes towards the bus, pulling his keys from his pocket. Celia watches him go with pounding heart. Aidan is different from the usual blustering male; certainly he is not one for idle talk. The inn seems suddenly less friendly, the view of the lowering mountain more threatening as she boards the bus.
Despite the lovely weather round the loch that day, towards evening a thin, annoying rain begins to fall. In the inn Mrs Campbell closes the windows one after the other and pulls the heavy wooden shutters to. A bright neon strip illuminates the wooden floor with an unnatural, almost sickly light. Garison is long gone, and Busby and his card-playing friends get up and leave the inn, nodding to Mrs Campbell, disappearing into the dark one by one, bending their heads against the unceasing rain.
After a while Mrs Campbell begins to lift the chairs and lay them upside down on the empty tables. When she is done she takes a broom and with expert movements sweeps the floor, gathering the dirt at the threshold and sweeping it out into the rain. Then, when it is clear that no more guests will come, she locks the door and switches off the neon light. Only a small lamp above the counter now lights the large room. Mrs Campbell goes to the cash register and begins to count the day’s takings.
“Take a good look at that money,” says Mary, emerging from the kitchen. “It’ll be a long while till you see a take like that in one day, now that you’ve taken care to drive away the one tour bus that comes here.”
“I’m not worried,” murmurs Mrs Campbell without turning to face her daughter. She continues to count feverishly.
“Twenty, twenty-five… We’ll have a few hard months and then Aidan will come here with a new guide, preferably a married woman, forty, fifty… and you my dear will stop playing with fire and stay in the kitchen when there are customers. D’you get me?”
“You can’t imprison me here for life, mum.”
The old woman’s shoulders droop, and she turns wearily to Mary who is rocking back and forth as she leans aggressively against the half-open door.
“I know it’s boring for you here, but just a few more months and Stuart will be of age, you’ll wed him and have bairns, and believe me that will keep you more than busy!”
“And if I don’t want that lout? His head is full of straw and he’s got pillars instead of legs!”
Flora Campbell approaches her daughter and lays a hand on her shoulder, shaking her head from side to side.
“Don’t do that!” Mary closes her eyes, and turns her head away.
“Open your eyes.”
“Don’t want to.”
Slowly and agonizingly the young girl opens her eyes and looks into the eyes of the old woman who now holds her shoulder with force.
“Now,” says Flora. “Tell me please what happened to your Auntie Ronda when she went to live in the city?”
Mary obediently declaims: ”A gang of hooligans pounced on her in a dark street and tore off her clothes.”
“Exactly.” And Flora concludes: “And she wasn’t half as pretty as you. Busby and his people from the back section had to find those hooligans one by one and cut their throats, and then all of us shook with fear for months in case the police found out and came here.”
“Just a moment…” Mary raises her head. “Don’t even think…”
Flora increases the pressure on the girl’s shoulder, and leans forward till her face is almost touching hers. But this time Mary doesn’t blink, and they stand facing each other for a minute until the corners of Flora Campbell’s mouth droop disappointedly, while Mary grins, bitterly.
“Look at that,” says the girl. “It seems I’ve grown up earlier than you think. In the end I belong to the same place as you and I’m not a little girl anymore.” She grins while the old woman turns to the counter and buries her head in her hands.
“If you’re no longer a little lass it’s time you began to think realistically.” Her muffled voice is heard from between her hands and she mutters, as though to herself: “Once it was all so simple. Everyone was in the same place. When the schools began all the children went to the same school, all the youngsters married whoever their parents told them to, we were like everyone else. Today…”
“Today, deviants are not ashamed of who they are.” Mary completes the sentence, lifting her head and looking sadly at her mother.
“What exactly are you going to do with that pervert in Inverness, Mary? What do you think she’s going to want after you see the performance and have a few pints together? Don’t you realise that at some point she’ll try to touch you up? Then what’ll you do?”
“And if it was a man?”
“Exactly the same problem. That’s why you’re intended for Stuart. He may not be a genius but there’s no-one else for you…”
“And if I don’t agree?” Mary raises her head now. “Maybe I want to wander in the world, to see places and not to stay imprisoned in that kitchen, in this depressing village. Maybe it’s better for me to be alone and not have any children, ever? Children like me who need to hide all their lives.”
The old woman’s eyes widen, and she raises a finger in front of Mary’s eyes. “And little children will continue to disappear into the loch because you are not willing to do your bit?”
“I didn’t choose that role.”
The door opening with a bang cuts short her words. Aidan stands there, his bare head wet with rain.
“Everyone is here already,” he says. “Except for you two and Mrs Strachan. We should get moving.”
The two women look at each other.
“Well?” says Flora Campbell to her daughter.
“Oh, I’m coming,” says Mary crossly. “Andrew was my favourite nephew. But I’m making no promises after this evening.” She goes behind the counter with her mother in her wake.
“And you,” she says to Aidan, when she reaches the entrance, “don’t even breathe in Celia’s direction. Understand?” She goes out into the darkness. Flora stops by Aidan and they exchange looks. She opens her mouth to say something, but changes her mind and takes from the pocket of her brown dress a bunch of keys.
Outside, the rain intensifies. Aidan goes to the bus while Mrs Campbell stays to lock up the inn. Mary waits tensely for him near the open door of the bus, sticking her chin out so that the rain wets her hair and streams down her face. Aidan bends, seizes her by the waist and carries her over his shoulder into the bus. Afterwards he goes back just as Flora reaches the door, and he carries her in the same manner. The bus is full to bursting with villagers, and a chorus of voices greets the two women. Mary wipes the rain from her hair with the sleeve of her shirt and nods curtly to everyone.
“What a sour face,” jokes Stuart, a large-bodied youth of seventeen, and immediately receives a blow on the back of his head from his father, Mr Denis Calderwood, who is sitting beside him. Mary, for her part, demonstratively ignores him.
“Thank you for coming, everyone,” says Mrs Campbell.
“What a thing to say! Andrew was one of us,” says Margaret Gon, a tall thin women whose woolly cap covers her curls.
“I suggest quiet, now.” Leonard’s voice sounds from the centre of the bus. Leonard is a tall man, and although there are a few seats left he remains standing, his head almost reaching the ceiling.
“We don’t need nosey parkers like Garison to peer out of their windows just now to see what’s making the noise.”
Wordlessly, Flora goes up to her brother and hugs him briefly, and then turns and sits in a vacant seat exactly behind Aidan. The sound of air is heard as Aidan releases the hydraulic brakes of the bus, and he manoeuvres expertly in the narrow lane so that the bus turns towards the exit without once having to use the reverse gear which would sound the alarm and draw unwanted attention. The rain has become a silver screen dancing in the lights of the bus as it travels through the lanes of the village in the direction of old Mrs Strachan’s tumbledown shack.
Some two hours later the bus stops on a low hilltop overlooking Loch Glau. The noise of the motor is silenced and the lights turned off, and again the darkness is filled with the sound of falling rain. From the windows of the bus dozens of pairs of eyes search the surroundings of the loch. More than once they have had to cancel everything because a pair of lovers had decided to be alone in the wild, but tonight the rain has driven every living creature from the loch. Soon it will be too cold, but meanwhile the weather is perfect. After five tense minutes all the occupants of the bus nod to each other and Aidan frees the hand brake. The bus sails noiselessly down the hill and stops with its wheels almost touching the waters of the loch licking the shore.
Mrs Campbell now removes her brown dress and exposes her drooping breasts and wrinkled belly. Next to her Mary takes off her shirt, and the smooth white skin of her shoulders becomes rougher and rougher until it becomes a hard scaly crust. Stuart who has taken off his shirt places two muscular hands on this father’s shoulders, who for his part pulls his son’s trousers down. The trousers are joined to the boy’s shoes, and now two long hooks are exposed in place of legs. Meanwhile, Mary puts her back against her mother’s breasts. Flora clasps her close until the breasts disappear into the body of her daughter, and her head melds into her back. When Leonard undresses with great difficulty, from the waist down he can be seen to be all one bone, and this is why he cannot sit. At the back, Busby and his three card-playing friends are struggling to take off their clothes and Aidan, watching from the front, signals to Mrs Strachan, whose scales are beginning to spread over her back, to go and help.
“It’s alright, Strachan,” groans Busby, still struggling with the sleeves of his shirt with stiff arms. “We’re managing, here.”
Aidan waits until he sees that those in the rear of the bus are progressing satisfactorily and then strips off his own clothes. From the outside his shirt looks as if it’s made of normal cloth, but the inside is covered with sponge over a row of white teeth which now slowly emerge. He goes to the moving bulk which was previously the occupants of the front seat, and turns his back to them while slimy trickles attach to him to join him to the pile of bodies that is merging into a unified whole.
For several minutes, an orgy of panting, groaning bodies rocks the bus, and then there is silence once more. After several minutes, the head of a huge reptile peeps out of the front door of the bus, in its wake a snake-like body with dozens of short legs. The creature flows quickly into the black waters and disappears. Again, silence reigns, and for a long time nothing happens.
Suddenly, bubbles appear in the centre of the loch, then a powerful whirlpool, then the head of a white horse emerges from the dark water. Its eyes are wide with terror and it thrusts with its hooves against the foaming water, trying desperately to reach the shore and escape the enraged predator at its heels.
Translated from Hebrew by Yehudit Keshet
by Athena Andreadis
Note: this is part of a series in which I discuss works of the contributors to The Other Half of the Sky. Links to other entries in the series appear at the end of each discussion. The article originally appeared at Starship Reckless and recent discussions within the SFF community make it particularly relevant.
By 2011 I had reached the point where I found SFF-as-usual intolerable, as a cross-section of my blog entries will attest. The blinkered parochialism, the impoverished imagination, the retreading of exhausted tropes and regressive clichés left me annoyed and – the kiss of death – bored. So before giving up on the genre altogether, I went out into the edges where the shrubs aren’t all pruned into the same shape and looked around for unruly life.
One of the names that popped up was Aliette de Bodard, a French-Vietnamese computer engineer. Her two major worlds are a fantasy Aztec universe in which gods are real; and a near-future SF one in which North America is divided between two superpowers: a still-powerful Aztec oligarchy (Mexica) controls the South, an empire of pre-Manchu-invasion Han Chinese (Xuya) the West. There’s a shrunken USA in the Northeast and both Incan and Mayan polities are still extant.
The Mexica are an continuation of the pre-conquista Aztec culture whereas the Xuya are a Confucian society that has retained extended families, age seniority, scholar supremacy and ancestral worship, though its women can attain high official positions as well as practice polyandry. Two Xuyan stories were originally on the site: “The Lost Xuyan Bride” and “The Jaguar House, In Shadow”. I liked them for reasons of both style and content, including the non-Anglo settings and minor-key endings, and said to myself, This is prime space opera material. Let’s see if her future Xuyan stories unfold amid the stars.
To my delight, the Xuyan stories that followed the first two (“The Shipmaker”; “Shipbirth”; “Scattered along the River of Heaven”; “Heaven under Earth”; “Immersion”; “The Weight of a Blessing”; On a Red Station, Drifting; “The Waiting Stars”) indeed took to the stars and made the universe larger and deeper. Several ingredients got added when de Bodard made her cultures interstellar: memory implants that literally allow “worthy” descendants to get advice from their ancestors; Minds (hybrids of Iain Banks and Farscape equivalents) who run starships and space stations, their abodes designed by feng shui adepts; and the Dai Viet spacefaring culture, a “softer” Confucian society based on extrapolation of an imperial Viet on earth that threw off both French and Chinese invaders, though it must still fight the other powers (Mexica, Xuyan and the generically named Galactics, European/US proxies) to maintain territory and status.
Within this setting, de Bodard explores the rewards and problems of extended families and of hierarchical societies; the wounds and scars of imperialism and colonization and the shortcomings of different types of ruling structures; the clashes between societies and between classes within each culture; alternative family arrangements (from male pregnancy to lesser/greater partners in dyadic marriages, the ranking determined by collective standards); the promise and danger of immersive, invasive neurotechnology; the dilemmas of creating Minds, Borg-like immortals embedded in starships and space stations, born at great peril by human mothers and considered family members – genii loci and living ancestors in one.
As a representative slice of this universe, the novella On a Red Station, Drifting (Immersion Press, $14.95 print, $2.99 digital) takes place on Prosper, a Dai Viet space station inhabited by essentially a large extended family of distant relatives plus a small Xuyan contingent. The story centers on the conflict between two powerful women: Lê Thi Linh, a scholar and magistrate in political exile who requests asylum on the station, and her cousin, Lê Thi Quyen, who has become stationmistress by default. Added to the mix are the station Mind who is slowly but inexorably failing, the agendas of other members of the Lê immediate family, and the strain put on Prosper’s people and resources by the faraway yet intrusive interstellar wars.
The story starts in media res, as is de rigueur for SF, and shifts back and forth between Linh and Quyen as (unreliable) narrators. Both are supremely capable and accustomed to authority, yet have cracks in their self-esteem for reasons related to their status. As a result, they are hypersensitive to slights, real and perceived. Their prickly pride and the Dai Viet culture’s standards of obliqueness and reticence set up the stage for a confrontation that pulls others into its vortex. During the ensuing battle of wills, many of the characters in Red Station cross into gray ethical territory or outright emotional cruelty.
De Bodard navigates deftly through this complex, polyphonic structure that’s part family saga, part cultural and political exploration, part space opera – but (happily) without blazing plasma guns, macho messiahs or standard father/son convolutions. None of the story’s devices are original but many are freshly recast: the unstable AI (de Bodard’s Minds are direct descendants of Joan Vinge’s Mactavs in “Tin Soldier”, including their gender); the space station in jeopardy (in this subcategory, Red Station ties as my favorite with C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station and M. J. Locke’s Up Against It); neural/VR familiars (here explicit ancestral presences); design magicians (in this universe, the multi-skilled engineers who shape the stations/ships and their resident Minds).
The family dynamics are complex but clear and, as is typical of de Bodard’s stories, center on interactions between second-degree relatives rather than the more common first-degree ones. The two principals are well realized, with all their strengths, flaws and blind spots – though Linh is given more distinguishing small idiosyncrasies than Quyen. However, secondary characters remain quasi-generic types, with the partial exception of Quyen’s tortured brother-in-law and the fleetingly glimpsed but unforgettable Grand Master (Mistress) of Design.
There’s enormous tension in the story despite its leisurely pace, generated by the jeopardies inherent in the situation (annihilation of Prosper and its people is a real possibility and can come from several directions, including their own side) and also from the fact that none of the many subplots are completely resolved. Nor are any of the characters, several chafing against societal roles and expectations, fully reconciled to their fates or to each other. In this, Red Station is far closer to mainstream literary novels than the neatly tied endings common in SFF.
The style, straightforward with occasional flourishes, serves the story well: the membrane of illusion is never punctured. Vivid touches, from subtly nuanced poetry to mention of war-kites (a Yoon Ha Lee influence?) to xanh (read cricket) fights do much to make the Viet culture come to life – although if you’ve read other stories in this universe, you notice the recycling of fish sauce, zither sounds and wall calligraphy as cultural shorthands.
The most striking attributes of Red Station are not its intricate worldbuilding and plot, unusual and well-executed as they are. What makes it stand out is that its two fulcrums are women who clash over primary power, not over lovers, children or proxy power through male relatives; and that the story is set entirely within the Dai Viet context, making it the norm rather than an “exotic” variant juxtaposed to a more easily recognized “default”. Similar recastings distinguish all of de Bodard’s space operas and I, for one, hope she continues telling us stories of this universe. She deserves her recent Nebula award.
Cover art by Nhan Y Doanh
In the same series:
Apex Magazine’s latest issue has a new short story by Chinese author Tang Fei, translated by Ken Liu: Call Girl.
Morning climbs in through the window as shadow recedes from Tang Xiaoyi’s body like a green tide imbued with the fragrance of trees. Where the tidewater used to be, now there is just Xiaoyi’s slender body, naked under the thin sunlight.
She opens her eyes, gets up, dresses, brushes her teeth, wipes away the foam at the corner of her mouth with a towel. Staring at the mirror, all serious, her face eventually breaks into a fifteen–year–old’s smile. Above her, a section of the rose–colored wallpaper applied to the ceiling droops down. This is the fourth place where this has happened.
My house is full of blooming flowers, Xiaoyi thinks.
“There must be another leak in the pipes,” her mother says. “There’s a large water stain growing on the wall.”
They sit down together to have a lavish breakfast: soy milk, eggs, pan–fried baozi, porridge. Xiaoyi eats without speaking.
When she’s ready to leave the apartment, she takes out a stack of money from her backpack and leaves it on the table. Her mother pretends not to see as she turns to do the dishes. She has turned up the faucet so that the sound of the gushing water is louder than Xiaoyi’s footsteps.
Xiaoyi walks past her mother and the money on the table and closes the door. She can no longer hear the water. It’s so quiet she doesn’t hear anything at all.
Her knees shake.
She reaches up for the silver pendant hanging from her neck, a dog whistle. – continue reading.