The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

Joyce Chng on YA in Singapore

Over at Visibility Fiction, Joyce Chng talks about writing YA and speculative fiction in Singapore. Here’s an excerpt:

Lack of exposure and the tendency for Westerners to fix Asians in pigeonholes are not helping the situation. What are Southeast Asians supposed to write about? Literary fiction about oppressive regimes, sad cultural traditions, tortured souls (who then find solace in a Western world/man/woman etc) and what?  If you want us to write about diversity, then let us write about diversity. Diversity in our terms, not your own, Western publishing industry. More non-US protagonists and characters, more exciting scenarios, more diversity in gender and sexual orientation.

You can read more at Visibility Fiction.

January 24, 2013 Posted by | January 2013 | , | 1 Comment

Table of Contents – We See a Different Frontier & Aliens: Recent Encounters

Here are two anthologies in 2013 which feature a diverse set of writers and topics.

First off, we have We See A Different Frontier edited by Ajibril al-Ayad and Fabio Fernandes:

  • Preface by Aliette de Bodard
  • Introduction by Fabio Fernandes
  • The Arrangement of Their Parts, Shweta Narayan
  • Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus, Ernest Hogan
  • Them Ships, Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Old Domes, J.Y. Yang
  • A Bridge of Words, Dinesh Rao
  • The Gambiarra Effect, Fabio Fernandes
  • Droplet, Rahul Kanakia
  • Lotus, Joyce Chng
  • Dark Continents, Lavie Tidhar
  • A Heap of Broken Images, Sunny Moraine
  • Fleet, Sandra McDonald
  • Remembering Turinam, Nalin A. Ratnayake
  • Vector, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
  • I Stole the D.C.’s Eyeglass, Sofia Samatar
  • Forests of the Night, Gabriel Murray
  • What Really Happened in Ficandula, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
  • Critical afterword by Ekaterina Sedia

Then there’s Aliens: Recent Encounters edited by Alex Dally McFarlane:

  • An Owomoyela – Frozen Voice
  • Ken Liu – The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species
  • Catherynne M. Valente – Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy
  • Zen Cho – The Four Generations of Chang E
  • Vandana Singh – The Tetrahedon
  • Paul McAuley – The Man
  • Ursula K. Le Guin – Seasons of the Ansarac
  • Molly Gloss – Lambing Season
  • Desirina Boskovich – Celadon
  • Genevieve Valentine – Carthago Delenda Est
  • Caitlín R. Kiernan – I Am the Abyss and I Am the Light
  • Jamie Barras – The Beekeeper
  • Robert Reed – Noumenon
  • Elizabeth Bear – The Death of Terrestial Radio
  • Sofia Samatar – Honey Bear
  • Karin Lowachee – The Forgotten Ones
  • Jeremiah Tolbert – The Godfall’s Chemsong
  • Alastair Reynolds – For the Ages
  • Brooke Bolander – Sun Dogs
  • Nisi Shawl – Honorary Earthling
  • Samantha Henderson – Shallot
  • Sonya Taaffe – The Boy Who Learned How to Shudder
  • Eleanor Arnason – Knacksack Poems
  • Gitte Christensen – Nullipara
  • Indrapramit Das – muo-ka’s Child
  • Jeffrey Ford – The Dismantled Invention of Fate
  • Karin Tidbeck – Jagannath
  • Pervin Saket – Test of Fire
  • Nancy Kress – My Mother, Dancing
  • Greg van Eekhout – Native Aliens
  • Lavie Tidhar – Covenant
  • Yoon Ha Lee – A Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel

January 23, 2013 Posted by | January 2013 | | Comments Off on Table of Contents – We See a Different Frontier & Aliens: Recent Encounters

Interview with Joan De la Haye

Requiem-Cover1-211x300Joan De La Haye writes horror and some very twisted thrillers. She invariably wakes up in the middle of the night, because she’s figured out yet another freaky way to mess with her already screwed up characters.Joan is interested in some seriously weird shit. That’s probably also one of the reasons she writes horror.

Hi Joan! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with fantasy, with horror, etc.?

I must admit I wasn’t a big horror fan growing up. I only found it in my twenties thanks to a friend handing me a copy of Stephen King’s Misery and telling me not to be such a literary snob. Then another friend got me reading Anne Rice and then I discovered my Dads collection of Dennis Wheatley books. I haven’t stopped reading genre fiction since.

What’s the appeal of fiction for you?

I think everybody loves to be swept away by a good story. We all want to escape from the mundane day to day of our daily lives and I think the best way to allow our imaginations to take flight is within the pages of a good book.

Since you write in a lot of genres, how would you describe your writing?

In a word, twisted. But if you need a longer explanation, I guess my writing is a little on the dark side. I explore the darker aspects of human nature and ask a few uncomfortable questions about that nature.

Is there a preferred format that you prefer, since you seem to write everything from short stories to novels?

I really enjoy writing shorter fiction. I’m not the most patient of people and quiet enjoy being able to thump out a story in a matter of days. But the long form also has a special place. There are some stories that need to be explored on a far deeper level that you just can’t do with short fiction. You also get to know a character far better in the novel format. So I guess that’s just the long way of saying that I like all the guises that fiction comes in. It’s important for a writer to be able to use all the tools at their disposal. It’s the story that dictates the length.

How did you end up getting published by Fox Spirit?

I’ve known Adele Wearing for a couple years now. I got to know her as a reviewer and after she reviewed my first book, Shadows, we became firm friends. Then when Shadows needed a new home and she was looking for books to publish for her new publishing company, Fox Spirit, I knew that it would be the perfect fit. Adele is a force of nature and will accomplish great things with Fox Spirit. I’m just proud that I can be a part of it.

What’s the field like there in South Africa?

The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror fields here are still pretty small but they are growing. The genre writers are a small group and we all seem to know and support each other. It’s an emerging market.

What made you decide to set your novel in Pretoria?

I think it’s important to set a story in a place that you’re pretty intimate with. I set Shadows in Johannesburg because I was living there while I was writing it. I set Requiem in E Sharp in Pretoria because it’s my home town and where I now live once again. It’s an interesting city with a very high murder rate. It’s also a city I know better than any other and I discover new things about it every day.

Who are some of the authors or what books interest/inspired you?

The obvious one is Stephen King. Just the huge body of his work is inspiring. Then there’s Clive Barker, probably another obvious one. I also recently got to meet John Connolly in the flesh. The fluidity of his writing is inspirational. He’s also just a really nice guy, completely down to earth and easy to talk to. It’s always wonderful to meet a big name author like that.

Anything else you want to plug?

Readers can find out anything they need to know about my books on my website: and they can follow me on twitter:
They can also have a look at all the books published by Fox Spirit Adele has put together a fantastic collection of books and authors, all of which are worth checking out.

January 21, 2013 Posted by | January 2013 | , , | 1 Comment

Indian SF Magazine


We recently received an emailed from Geetanjali Dighe of Mumbai, India, who started a new digital magazine. Here’s what he they said:

Indian SF is a free to read digital magazine featuring Speculative Fiction (SF) stories. SF broadly stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is published from Mumbai, India.

Indian SF welcomes writers from all across the world, but wants to especially encourage Indian writers / writers of Indian origin.

Indian SF pays INR 750/- for original fiction and to the featured digital artist.

The Jan-Feb 2013 issue is the very first one. It features some re-published stories and original fiction and non-fiction.

And here’s the current table of contents:

Flash Fiction:
X Marks the Spot by Kat Otis
Two men follow a treasure map and get more than they bargained for.

Short Stories:
Staying Behind by Ken Liu
Those that have uploaded to machines try to steal children.

The Boy Who Cried Wolf by Ram V
There is more to the wolves that the boy sees in his dreams.

Goddess by Lavanya Karthik
A man finds a Goddess with three heads in Bhopal after the ‘Gas’.

With the writer and artist of Legends of Aveon 9 comic

Book Reviews:
Payal Dhar’s Satin – A Stitch in Time
Anil Menon’s The Beast With Nine Billion Feet
Reviewed by Mandar Talvekar

Digital Art:
A few Digital Art images (and cover) by Stephan Hurlmann

January 12, 2013 Posted by | January 2013 | , , | 4 Comments

Jagannath Giveaway Winners

Our winners of our Jagannath giveaway are: Kyle, Francene Lewis, and kummakissa. Congratulations!

November 21, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , | Comments Off on Jagannath Giveaway Winners

Marian Womack Interviewed by Charles Tan

Hi Marian! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first become acquainted with speculative fiction?


Well, of course, on some level all fiction is speculative fiction, and one of the great developments that has taken place over the course of my life is that some of the themes and ideas that have been traditionally considered as “belonging” uniquely to what was called “science fiction” have expanded beyond their genre boundaries (of course, genres don´t have boundaries, but that is another question…). So, a lot of what I read when I was a child or a young woman was speculative fiction “without knowing it”, as it were. For example, some of Lovecraft’s purer horror stories are very much based on a speculative fiction premise: what if we could re-animate the dead? What if we could come into contact with creatures from other dimensions?


When did you know you wanted to be a writer?


It’s always been there in the background: I’ve always liked words, and putting words together, but there are a handful of key experiences that really led me to want to devote my life to it: reading Crime and Punishment for the first time at the age of thirteen or so, discovering Borges… In a way the idea that it is what I’d do has always been there, even amongst my family and friends. It was sort of understood I would work with books… And in fact I have been a librarian, I’ve done academic research, I translate, publish and write. Short of having my own bookshop, I think I have always been surrendered to books and have lived not only through them, but also from them… Or at least that’s what I try to do!


Who are some of your favorite writers or what are some of your favorite works?


I believe in a healthy reading diet, and my list of “favourites” is perhaps unmanageable… I am also very indecisive… A great many things: from Alice in Wonderland to An Awkward Age by Anna Starobinets.


Where can we find some of your fiction?


I have contributed to a number of anthologies and have published a novel, which I describe as “with a ghost included” rather than being a straight horror story, which is not. The anthologies I have contributed to tend to focus on speculative, fantasy or horror topics, and amongst them I am extremely proud to be one of the only three female authors featured in a seminal horror anthology recently published called Akelarre: Antología del cuento de terror español actual, full of incredibly amazing writers. I cannot tell you how many times I have complained to my publisher that he should have searched for more Spanish female horror writers! All these anthologies fall within the very Spanish trend now for “high-literary” genre writing… This need to specify-redefine can be sometimes a bit silly, in my view… Genre writing doesn’t need to be “saved” by straight literature. There is some amazing writing out there… But perhaps more in the Anglo-American scene than here, I guess.


How would you describe your writing?


I think I’ve got quite a dark mind, and that is reflected in what I write: I am fascinated by the obscure, the half-hidden, what you might in general call “the gothic”. A lot of my friends say that I write in quite an “English” way: perhaps what this means is that I am not as keen on baroque circumlocution as some Spanish prose writers.


How did you get involved with translation?


I was broke. I submitted a speculative translation (of a whole book) to a publisher. It was Lady into fox, by David Garnett, a book I have always been fascinated with… He didn’t take it, but things started coming my way.

What are the challenges in translating into Spanish, especially since you translate both English and Russian works?


More than other European languages, Spanish gets beautiful results on a fairly limited spectrum of emotional tone and nuances of vocabulary. I often feel when I am translating from English that I am trying to fit the Ocean into a bathtub. On the other hand, when something works in Spanish it works in a way that it is impossible to fake. Bad Spanish prose calls attention to its own inadequacies much more than bad English or bad Russian does. I should qualify here that when I translate from Russian it is as half of a translation team, of which I am the “native” Spanish speaker.


Who are some of the speculative fiction authors from Russia that we should be reading? From Spain?


Our Russian list is characterised by publishing gothic or science-fiction alongside more “traditional” Russian writers. One of the last books we have published is a collection of short stories by Anna Starobinets, published in English as An Awkward Age, which are speculative fiction-horror stories that really repay the Russian press’s description of her as “the Russian Stephen King”. Andrei Rubanov is also name to conjure with. In Spain I would highlight a recent anthology called Prospectivas: antología del cuento de ciencia ficción española actual. It’s got lots of major names in it, and it is a very well put together book.


What made you decide to pursue publishing?


We weren’t enjoying academia as much as we thought. We wanted a change of scene and decided to move to Madrid, a place neither of us knew, and to start a publishing house. We began with a list of about one hundred and fifty authors we liked and who weren’t published in Spanish, and went from there…


Could you tell us more about your press?


We started out publishing Russian fiction. We then decided to expand and open up an English Gothic line, so now we essentially have two distinct collections. We are hoping to open up even more to other literatures in the future. We have been going now for over three years, and have published about ten books a year. I don’t know how much longer we’ll keep this rhythm going, but at the moment we’re happy.


Could you tell us more about the anthology Steampunk: Antología retrofuturista?


This anthology has been in preparation for more than four years now: it is the first compilation of its kind in Spain. It was put together by Félix J. Palma, the writer of the bestselling The Map of Time and its sequels, and it aims to do two things: to familiarise Spanish readers with the genre, and also to provide them with an idea of what Steampunk could do in a Spanish environment.


What’s the speculative fiction scene in Spain like? The publishing scene?


I lived in England until recently, and so in some ways I feel like I am a newcomer to all of this, but my impression is that the speculative fiction scene in Spain is healthy: there is a good number of conventions and discussion groups online. The only thing I would suggest is that there is no obvious key figure around whom other authors congregate: not that this is a bad thing, just that the Speculative fiction community seems a little decentred sometimes, or over-focussed on Anglo-American developments. As far as publishing is concerned, the main development over the last few years has been the rise of small unaffiliated publishing houses, a group among which we are proud to count ourselves, which are willing to break down the previously rigid barriers between ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction: the idea that a company such as ours might publish a Soviet novel about a journey to Mars in the same collection as the memoirs of Dostoevsky’s roommate is thinkable now in a way it wouldn’t have been five or ten years ago.


What are the challenges in juggling writing, translating, and publishing?


Everything is tidal: the publishing season in Spain runs from January to June and from September to November; the translation work I get tends to be required within the same period; my writing is something I can only do when the conditions are right (I don’t think I’m a diva, but I have found that unless I can get a good run at a piece of work, unless I know I have a solid week to do nothing apart from write, then I don’t get much done)… So we go from periods of inactivity to periods of immense and complex work, and all the time-management in the world isn’t enough to make everything go smoothly all of the time.


What projects are you currently working on?


We are currently launching the first Spanish translation of Gladys Mitchell, a jewel in the crown of Golden Age English detective fiction. I am working on a series of young adult steampunky novels with the Spanish fantasy writer Sofia Rhei, am preparing a compilation of my anthologised stories, and am starting to take the first steps in writing what promises to be an extremely large-scale literary project, but I don’t want to mention more than that, as it might be years before anything appears. Before that I hope that an anthology I am preparing now, sort of “Spanish-writers-Lovecraft-homage”, will be published. You wouldn’t imagine the number of writers here who are a bit obsessed with him, who worship his work. We are quite a substantial community!


Anything else you want to plug?


For everyone who reads Spanish, Steampunk is an indispensible anthology. We are also about to publish El vivo, a novel by Anna Starobinets, which is amazing. Please visit our website:, and thank you for the interview.

November 20, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , | Comments Off on Marian Womack Interviewed by Charles Tan

Guest-Post: Landscapes by Karin Tidbeck (Author Week #5)

Last night I dreamed of a landscape by the sea. I had traveled there to investigate a ruin that once was a sorcerer’s tower. I had lost most of my tools in the transition to this place; I’d managed to create a makeshift wind shelter out of an old sheet, and was sitting on the flagstones counting my coins, which at that moment was important. The sky overhead was purple with swollen clouds, the air heavy and still, waiting for the storm.

A man came walking along the beach and up the stairs to the tower. He was dressed in clothes from the Italian renaissance: two-coloured hose, doublet, a little cape, no hat, but an unfriendly sneer.

“We entered from there”, he said, and gestured down the waterfront. “This is our territory.”

“Who are ‘we’?” I asked.

“The rest of us. We’ve made camp in the forest. Come.” He started down the steps.

Down in the surf, the waves rose up in the shape of a lion’s head, glowing in red.

“Mind the beasts”, said the man.

Thinking about it, this is the first time I’ve met another traveller.

The stories in Jagannath were written over the course of ten years, and have very diverse origins. Coinciding with the release of the collection is the publication of my first novel in Swedish, Amatka, the result of a process that has run parallel to the creation of the stories in Jagannath. Since I’ve mostly talked about the collection to the English-speaking audience, I’d like to mention some things about Amatka. It’s about mapping an old continent.


I spent about three years recording my dreams. I wasn’t interested in analysis or symbolism, but instead if my dream realm could be mapped as if it were an external place. What were these reoccurring places? Where were they in relation to each other? Who were the people and creatures populating them?  Over the months, patterns emerged, although in ways difficult to map: it was a country or continent, with cities, villages, flora and fauna, all shifting depending on what time it was in the dream, what time it was in the waking world, in what order they appeared, how they related to each other.

There’s a great plain, and a village where the houses have eaten their inhabitants and extend lanterns above their doorways to lure passers-by in; other parts of that plain are covered in enormous skeletons of long-dead migrant insects. An ocean to the west is dried out, all its water held in clouds above, and bright lights weave in and out of them. Further to the west there’s a forest of enormous trees from whose branches dangle sperical bathyscaphes. To the east, the celestial bodies crowd the sky and the giant orrery that holds them up becomes visible (and audible).

After some experimenting, I found that the best way to describe this world was boiling the images down into poetry: a process both uncontrolled and very much so. The resulting collection was partly published in Lyrikvännen, a Swedish poetry journal. I then laid it to rest on the compost heap and collected what seeped out a few years later:

Amatka is the story of colonizing a world where physical reality is mutable, and language both a tool and a threat. Vanja, a researcher who has failed to fulfill most of the duties expected of a good citizen, travels the distant colony Amatka to map hygiene habits. What she finds during her research leads to something quite different, unraveling the truth about the colonies and their history.

The idea for the novel partly originates in the dream project, with a series of dreams I had over the course of a couple of weeks. In the first one, I found a row of trucks on a dirt road, the drivers standing outside smoking. They were delivering goods to a town that lay far north and that no-one ever visited. The drivers refused to tell anyone what went on up there. In the second dream, I woke up in a town built entirely out of concrete, and knew in the fashion one knows things in dreams that this was that northern town the drivers visited. In the third dream, a copse of cast-iron pipes stood on a plain. Some of them were bent at the top like periscopes, others torn, like something had exploded out of them.

Amatka isn’t set in the dream world, but has borrowed some of the geography: the placement of the colonies that correspond to existing cities; topography, occurrences, elements, but above all, the fact that the fabric of reality, its base matter, is entirely controlled by language. The story itself is the result of plonking a socialist commune down in that universe and taking the consequences of the clash between them and the world they encounter. How would living in a mutable world change their way of thinking about reality and themselves? What would happen to social structure, philosophy, language? How much would they allow the world to change them?

By the time I’d finished the novel, I realized that the world I had mapped no longer resembled the landscape I now visit at night. The project is over. All that remains is to translate the story into English, so that I can show you what I mean instead of just talking about it. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll enjoy Jagannath.

November 16, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Jagannath: Stories by Karin Tidbeck, reviewed by Sofia Samatar (Author Week #5)

Illegal Mingling: Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath: Stories

Reviewed by Sofia Samatar

In a long twilight, the sound of tiny bells hangs in the air: a young woman’s mother is coming for her from the forest. Elsewhere, by the side of a lake, a family reunion is in progress, merry aunts and cousins hatching from cocoons. And in a tin can provided by charity, a tiny creature made of spit, salt, menstrual blood and a carrot kicks its legs, while the first October snow begins to fall. These are some of the strange, seductive images you’ll find in Karin Tidbeck’s stories.

Jagannath: Stories (Cheeky Frawg, 2012) is Tidbeck’s English-language book debut. It brings together works previously published in English, the author’s translations of her own stories—most of them from her Swedish collection, Vem är Arvid Pekon?—and original material. On the strength of Vem är Arvid Pekon?, Tidbeck won a grant from the Swedish Authors’ Fund; her first novel, Amatka, is forthcoming this fall from Sweden’s largest publisher. Jagannath gives English-language readers the chance to enter the shifting territory of Tidbeck’s marvelous multiple worlds.

The stories in Jagannath are fascinating, frightening, and above all, tender. There’s an intimacy to them that’s immediately enchanting: several take the form of diaries or letters, or words exchanged with a close friend. “Some Letters for Ove Lindström” is written to the narrator’s dead father. I first read this story in Shimmer Magazine earlier this year: that’s when the name “Karin Tidbeck” stuck in my mind, along with the haunting melancholy of this story of a broken family, lost hope, and magic. “Some Letters” concerns a young woman, Viveka, who returns to the place she grew up, an old schoolhouse where her parents lived with the other members of a commune: the loss of Viveka’s nuclear family (her mother disappeared when she was three; she lost her father to alcoholism and then death) is mingled with the loss of the commune, which was both an extended family and a vision of a utopian future. Loss fills every line of the story, like Viveka’s last memory of her mother: a red dress and the sound of tiny bells. Who was Viveka’s mother? That question both deepens the sadness of the story, and expands it outward toward mystery, toward the forest.

The red dress returns in “Reindeer Mountain,” where it becomes the sign of the vittra: tall, handsome, magical people who live inside the mountain, and like to wear red. Two sisters struggle with fear of madness and envy of each other in this story of a family with mixed human-vittra blood. The theme of human contact with other species, subtle in “Some Letters from Ove Lindström” and explicit in “Reindeer Mountain,” runs through the collection. “Pyret,” a sly gem in the form of an encyclopedia entry, details the habits of vittra cattle. A footnote informs us that the most common crime among those accused of witchcraft in medieval times was “illegal mingling”: humans consorting with non-human beings.

Many of the stories in Jagannath play with this theme: in “Beatrice,” a woman’s love affair with a steam engine produces a whistle-voiced, coal-chewing child; in both “Miss Nyberg and I” and “Cloudberry Jam,” children are grown like plants. The narrator of “Brita’s Holiday Village” discovers two families at once: while her memories of her relatives begin to emerge in her writing, she dreams the life of a second, insect-like family. And in the collection’s title story, the mother of a family carries her brood inside her.

Other themes include transformation, the nature of time, and the judgments of God. The stories “Augusta Prima” and “Aunts” take place in the same world, a fairyland of the actual fairytale type, where games are bloody and casual torture is the order of the day. The stories show two different perspectives on what happens when time enters this timeless realm. These stories—like “Rebecka,” in which torture leads to salvation—explore different types of illegal mingling, mixing transgression with law and cannibalism with comfort. The intimate tone of so many of Tidbeck’s tales invites the reader to blend in as well, to imagine a personal shift into something slightly different. The words of “Some Letters for Ove Lindström” are ostensibly written to a dead man, but when you read them, you’ll know better. Like all of the stories in Jagannath, these letters are for us.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Karin Tidbeck Interviewed by Charles Tan (Author Week #5)

First off, what made you decide to pursue writing?

I’ve always made up stories, and I couldn’t imagine not writing. I did make a decision to work towards getting published when I was about 20, although actually getting published felt very distant at the time. I made another decision to start a new life with less money and more time when I was 29, and left my hometown to spend two years at one of the best creative writing workshops in the country. But I don’t think I ever made a decision to pursue writing. There just was no question about where I was going – it was a matter of how hard I was going to work for it.

For me, your fiction could easily fall under several categories. How would you describe your writing, or what term are you comfortable with?

I don’t consider genre when writing. Jagannath, like you say, is very diverse that way. I just published a novel in Swedish that’s been classified as a dystopia, which isn’t really true but was a solution for marketing purposes: fans of fantastic fiction will understand it has a fantastic or science fictional element, while readers who are put off by an sf label will accept a dystopia because it’s classified as literary. But any genre term will inevitably create expectations that will colour the reader’s experience – if they haven’t dismissed the book because it’s in the ”wrong” genre. So I’m not really comfortable with any terms. The ones I’m the least uncomfortable with are weird or fantastic fiction. But, you know, someone will always complain that X is the wrong term and that my stories are easily classified as Y.

In several of your short stories, there’s usually something that’s dark, unsettling, or tragic. Is this a conscious decision on your part and what is it about that aspect that fascinates you?

I wrote about the melancholy tradition in the afterword for Jagannath. It’s a kind of wistfulness that pervades much of our culture, and that became a natural element when I wrote the stories set in the fictional Swedish North. The themes or atmospheres aren’t a conscious choice, though, just like I don’t choose genre. Ideas show up and I write the stories in the way they need to be written. I don’t find what I write unsettling, most of the time not particularly dark or tragic either. But maybe my weird-o-meter is off? Because even when I think I’m writing beautiful, happy, utopian froo-froo someone will come up and say it gave them nightmares.

I will say that I have a lifelong fascination with madness, and the idea that reality – on the inside and on the outside – is a very frail thing. And that I like trying on mindsets or ethics that are alien to me, to see what it looks like from the inside.


How did Cheeky Frawg Books end up publishing Jagannath?

Ann Vandermeer had bought two pieces from me – Jagannath and Augusta Prima – and she and Jeff knew I’d published a short story collection in Swedish. They asked to see the rest of it, so I translated it and sent it over, and they thought it’d work with some additional material. We collected the other stories I’d published in U.S. magazines and anthologies that year.

What is it about the short story format that appeals to you? How different was the experience writing short stories vs. Novels?

I’m usually interested in exploring an idea or a concept, and am not too keen on drawing it out or surrounding it with fluff. I like the sport of boiling a story down to its bare bones, and then seeing how much flesh it needs to walk around but still have that concentrated taste. And I just have too many ideas, I want to work with all of them.

The long form is a different beast altogether. Writing Amatka was grueling. An editor I’d sold two short stories to asked if I had a novel. I didn’t. I did have an old, old project: a bunch of short texts and a poetry collection set in the same world, and which I’d begun trying to turn into a novel at some point. So like any sane person would, I told the editor ”Certainly! Let me just do some edits”, and finished the first draft in a blind panic. I’m very happy with the result, but I’m not sure I’ll revisit the traditional novel format anytime soon. The idea of nested stories is appealing, though, or short stories with an overarcing narrative.

How did your experience at Clarion 2010 influenced the way you write, or the way you view the industry?

Clarion changed a lot of things. I knew little about the industry outside Sweden – only what I’d gleaned from working in a bookshop and reading the occasional issue of Locus – so that was a whole new world. I got the tools for breaking into the industry. As for writing, I started writing longer pieces, and it was a magnificent exercise in pushing mental boundaries: there’s too little time for self-censorship, too little time to question what the hell you’re on about. I wrote Jagannath (the short story) during the last week. People living inside a biomechanical centipede, sure. Who was I to argue? I’m a huge fan of Keith Johnstone, especially what he talks about the dangers of censoring your first impulse because you’re afraid it’s ”obscene, psychotic or not original”. This became a demonstration of the wonderful things that happen when you gag the censor. People wrote some incredible things during those final weeks.

At the end of your collection, you talk about translation and some of the nuances between English vs. Swedish. What was the most challenging and rewarding aspect of translation?

The main challenge is to bring nuances and atmosphere over to the other side. It became very clear over the course of translating from Swedish to English that there were more layers to my language than I’d been aware of. It’s not just finding the right words, it’s also about cultural shorthand and wordplay that doesn’t even appear as such on the surface. Peeling those layers back was a huge learning experience. The same goes for English to Swedish, really. There are tones and built-in references in the English language that only carries over to Swedish with difficulty. I admire professional translators who can do this with other writers’ works. At least I have myself right here for reference.

How different is your process when writing in Swedish? In English?

Writing in Swedish is very intuitive. I can sit back and just record what I see in my head. With English, there’s always an extra language filter, so the process is slower – unless I’ve been speaking and writing in English for more than a few hours and my brain has had time to shift gears. (I’ve been wondering if my English and Swedish would score differently on a readability index, but I haven’t found a calculator that can take both languages.) Other than that, I don’t think the processes differ much.

What’s the Swedish genre scene like?

It’s perked up dramatically over the last few years. Not long ago it was near-impossible to publish fantastic fiction – there were two or three fanzines that published sf or fantasy short stories, and maybe a handful of indie publishers. Larger publishers were uninterested in fantastic fiction unless it could be marketed to children or sold as literary. But things are definitely looking up, both in that fantastic fiction has seeped into the mainstream market and is now much more visible in mainstream media, but also in that blogs, magazines and publishers are popping up everywhere. There are a bunch of very exciting new authors that I hope will get the international attention they deserve, like Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren with their brilliant Engelsfors trilogy (the first installment, The Circle, was recently published in English); Nene Ormes and her unique urban fantasy novels set in Malmö (the second installment, Särskild (”particular” or ”special”, came out just a couple of months ago); Jenny Milewski’s meta-novel Skalpelldansen (The Scalpel Dance) is one of the most exciting books to happen in the horror field lately. Add to this a HUGE surge in graphic novels and comics – I haven’t seen anything like it since the late ’80s. Artists like Lina Neidestam, Fabian Göransson, Kim W Andersson and Karl Johnsson will hopefully become internationally known before too long.


Who are some of your favorite writers?

I have many, but to mention just a few: China Miéville, Ursula K Le Guin, Elizabeth Hand, Tove Jansson, Caitlín Kiernan, Chip Delany and P C Jersild. On the graphic novel side, Neil Gaiman and Roman Dirge.

Anything else you want to plug?

Nothing other than that I’d ask everyone interested in Sweden to check out the names above. There’s so much cool stuff happening on the Swedish scene right now, it deserves more attention.  

November 14, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , , | 1 Comment

Tuesday Fiction: “Brita’s Holiday Village” by Karin Tidbeck (Author Week #5)

This week on the World SF Blog we’re delighted to feature a story from Karin Tidbeck’s latest collection, Jagannath: Stories.

Brita’s Holiday Village

by Karin Tidbeck


The cab ride from Åre station to Aunt Brita’s holiday village took about half an hour. I’m renting the cottage on the edge of the village that’s reserved for relatives. The rest are closed for summer. Mum helped me make the reservation—Brita’s her aunt, really, not mine, and they’re pretty close. Yes, I’m thirty-two years old. Yes, I’m terrible at calling people I don’t know.

I didn’t bring a lot of stuff. Clothes and writing things, mostly. The cottage is a comforting old-fashioned red thing with white window frames, the interior more or less unchanged since the 1970s: lacquered pine, green felt wallpaper, woven tapestries decorated with little blobs of green glass. It smells stale in a cosy way. There’s a desk by one of the windows in the living room, overlooking Kall Lake. No phone reception, no Internet. Brita wondered if I wanted a landline, but I said no. I said yes to the bicycle. The first thing I did was bike down to the ica store I saw on the way here. I stocked up on pasta and tomatoes and beans. I found old-fashioned soft whey-cheese, the kind that tastes like toffee. I’m eating it out of the box with a spoon.

“Holiday village” is a misleading expression; the village is really just twelve bungalows arranged in two concentric circles with a larger house—the assembly hall—in the middle. The dark panelling, angled roofs and panoramic windows must have looked fresh and modern in the sixties, or whenever they were built. The wood is blackened now, and the windows somehow swallow the incoming light, creating caverns under the eaves. I’m a little relieved to be staying in the cottage.

Brita said that before she bought the holiday village, back when they were building it, the old man who owned the cottage refused to leave. When he finally died, the cottage was left standing for private use. It’s much more cosy, anyway. I’d feel naked behind those panoramic windows.



I got up late and unpacked and sorted music. I’ve got a playlist with old punk and goth for the teenage project, an ambient playlist for the space project, and a list of cosy music, everything in order to feel at home and get into the mood and avoid writing. Did some cooking. Rode the bike around until I was tired. Found an old quarry. Tried to go for a swim in Kall Lake and cut my feet on the rocks. Bought goat whey curd. Finally, I couldn’t avoid it anymore: writing.

So I have two stories I want to do something about. First there’s the science fiction story about child workers in the engine room of a spaceship. It’s a short story really, but I’d like to expand it into a novel. I know you’re not supposed to worry about form or length—it’s a guaranteed way to jinx the whole thing—but I’d really like to. I like the characters and their intense relationships, like Lord of the Flies in space.

The other story is a pseudo-biographical thing about a teenager growing up in the Stockholm suburbia of the 1980s, during the heyday of Ultra, the tiny house turned punk headquarters. I suppose it’s a cooler and bolder version of myself. Also, older. I was too young to ever hang out at Ultra. It had already burned down by the time I discovered punk. I used to go to Ultra’s next iteration—Hunddagis, the club housed in an old day care centre for dogs. I still remember the punk aroma: beer, cigarettes, cheap hair spray, and day-old sweat.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing: writing down a bunch of teenage memories and transposing them onto a little older and bolder version of myself and it’s just slow and boring work. I had a go at the science fiction story instead, but it wouldn’t happen. I ended up shutting everything down, realized it’s now one o’clock in the morning (actually it’s 1:30 now), and I’m going to bed.



I took a walk through the village this morning. Things that look like white, plum-sized pupas hang clustered under the eaves. They’re warm to the touch. I should tell Brita—it’s some kind of pest. Wasp nests?

Biked to the quarry after coffee, gathered some nice rocks—very pretty black granite. Went home, made pasta with chickpeas, tried to write. Writing about punks at Hunddagis doesn’t feel the least bit fun or interesting. Mostly because I’ve realized what a lame teenager I was. I was always home at the stroke of midnight; I didn’t like drinking mash; I didn’t have sex. I read books and had an inferiority complex because I was afraid to do all that other stuff. I don’t know anything about being a badass punk rocker.

It’s the same thing with the story about the engine room kids— what do I know about child labour? What do I know about how kids relate to each other under circumstances like that? Not to mention, what do I know about spaceships? I’m talking out of my ass.

So there I am. I can’t write about what I know, and I can’t write about what I don’t know. Better yet, I’ve told everyone that I’m staying in Åre until I’ve finished the novel. I somehow thought that saying it would make it happen.

Hang in there for another couple of weeks. And do what? Try some more. Go on biking trips and eat whey-cheese.



I’m taking a break. I’ve scrapped everything I was working on. I rented a car and drove west over the border into Norway, where I bought ice cream in a lonely little kiosk. When I was a kid, I thought the sign in Norwegian that said åpen, open, meant apan, the monkey. It was the most hilarious thing ever.

I had my ice cream, and looked at the Sylarna Mountains and the cotton-grass swaying on the bog. There was a thick herbal smell of mountain summer. Little pools and puddles were everywhere, absolutely clear, miniature John Bauer landscapes. I considered going on to Levanger, but it felt too far. I went for a swim in Gev Lake on the way home. It was just like when I was little: warm and shallow enough that if you walk out into the middle, the water only reaches your waist. Tiny minnows nibbled at my feet.



I’m having coffee in the little cabin on Åreskutan’s Summit. It’s a clear day, and I can see the mountain range undulating in the west, worn blunt by the ice ages. Mum once said that when she was a kid, there was a leathery old man who every morning hiked all the way up the mountain with a satchel full of coffee thermoses and cinnamon rolls that he would sell in the cabin. This was before the cableway, somewhere in the 1950s. The old man had done that since time immemorial, even when my grandmother and her sister were kids and dragged baking troughs up the mountain to ride them down like sleds.



I went for a walk in the holiday village. I became a little obsessed with the thought of stuff you can do when nobody’s looking. Build a pillow fort outside cottage number six. Streak howling through the street. I was thinking specifically of howling when I spotted the pupas. They’re the size of my fist now. That was fast. I forgot to tell Brita. Of course, I had to touch one of them again. It felt warmer than my hand.

Went shopping in Kall, had a cup of coffee, bought the newspaper, went past Brita’s house. I told her about the pupas. Her reaction was pretty strange. She said something about the pupas sitting there in summer, and that I should leave them alone. That’s why she’d put me in the cottage outside the village, so that the pupas would be left in peace. Yes, yes, I said. I won’t do anything. Do promise you won’t do anything, said Brita, and suddenly she was pleading. They have nowhere else to go, she said; you’re family, I can trust you can’t I? Yes, yes, I said, I promise. I have no idea what she’s on about.



I dreamed that there was a scraping noise by the door. Someone was looking in through the little side window. It was human-shaped, but it sort of had no detail. It was waving at me with a fingerless paw. The door handle was jerking up and down. The creature on the other side said nothing. It just smiled and waved. The door handle bobbed up and down, up and down.

It’s five past ten. I’ve slept for almost ten hours.

I went into the village to check if the pupas had grown, but all that remains are some empty skins hanging under the eaves. So that’s that.



There’s a knock on the door and someone’s waving at me through the side window. It’s a middle-aged man. When I open the door, he presents himself as Sigvard and shakes my hand. He’s one of the groups of tourists who live here during the summer. They’ve rented all the cabins, and now they’re throwing a party, and they’ve seen me sitting alone in my cottage. Would I like to join them? There’s plenty of food for everyone. I’m very welcome.

The party takes place in the little assembly hall. People are strolling over there from the other cabins. They’re dressed up for a summer night’s party: the women in party dresses and lusekofte sweaters tied over their shoulders, the men in slacks and bright windbreakers. Inside, the assembly hall is decked with yellow lanterns, and a long buffet table lines one of the walls. The guests are of all ages and resemble each other. I ask Sigvard if they’re family, and Sigvard says yes, they are! It’s a big family meet-up, the Nilssons, and they stay here a few weeks every summer. And now it’s time to eat.

The buffet table is covered in dishes from every holiday of the year: steak, roast ham, tjälknul, hot cloudberries, new potatoes, patés, pickled herring, gravlax, lutfisk, seven kinds of cookies, cake. I’m starving. I go for second and third helpings. The food has no taste, but the texture is wonderful, especially the ice cream mingled with hot cloudberries. Everyone seems very interested in me. They want to know about my family. When I tell them that Brita is my great-aunt, they cheer and say that we’re related then; I belong to the Anders branch of the family. Dear Brita! They love her! I’ll always be welcome here. Everyone else here belongs to the Anna branch: Anna, Anders’ sister and the eldest daughter of the patriarch Mats Nilsson.

When we’re done eating, it’s time to dance. The raspy stereo plays dansband music: singers croon about smiling golden-brown eyes, accompanied by an innocent and sickly-sweet tune. Everyone takes to the dance floor. Sigvard asks me to dance. This is like a cliché of Swedish culture, I say without thinking. Yes, isn’t it, says Sigvard and smiles. He holds me close. Then I wake up.



I started writing again. Throwing the old stuff out worked. Something else has surfaced—it’s fairly incoherent, but it’s a story, and I’m not about to ruin it by looking too closely at it. It has nothing to do with teenage trouble at Hunddagis, or Lord of the Flies with kids in spaceships. It’s about my own family in Åre, a sort of pseudo-documentary. Some mixed memories of my grandmother’s and mother’s stories of life up here, woven together with my own fantasies to form a third story. Above all else, I’m having fun. I refuse to think about editing. I write and stare out over Kall Lake.

The dreams are a sign that things are happening—I keep dreaming about the same things, and it’s very clear, very detailed. It’s the same scenario as before, that is, Sigvard knocking on the door and taking me to the assembly hall. We eat enormous amounts of food and dance to dansband classics. I talk to all my relatives. They tell stories about Mats Nilsson’s eldest daughter and how she started the new branch of the family when she married and moved north from Åre. I don’t remember those stories when I wake up.



I started with Mother’s stories, continued with Gran’s generation, and am working my way back in time to form a sort of backwards history. I wrote about the war and how Great-gran smuggled shoes and lard to occupied Norway. Then I wrote about how Gran met Grandpa and moved down to Stockholm. Right now Gran is a teenager, it’s the twenties, and she’s making her first bra out of two stocking heels because she can’t afford to buy a real one. She and her sister are getting ready to go to a dance in Järpen. It’s an hour’s bike ride. I’m looking forward to writing the story about my great-great-grandfather who built a church organ out of a kitchen sofa. Some things you can’t make up.

The dreams change a little each night. I’ve discovered that I have a fair amount of control of my actions. I wander around in the cabins and talk to the inhabitants. In true dream fashion, they all come from little villages with names that don’t exist like Höstvåla, Bräggne, Ovart; all located somewhere north of Åre, by the lakes that pool between the mountains.

Sigvard’s wife is called Ingrid. They have three teenage children.



I’m a little disgusted by the direction this is all taking. I don’t know how to interpret what’s going on. The front doors are always unlocked, I go where I wish. Last night and the night before last, it happened several times that I walked into a house and people were having sex. On all surfaces, like kitchen tables or sofas. They greet me politely when I open the door and then go back to, not making love, but fucking. Nobody seems particularly into it. They might as well be chopping onions or cleaning the floors. In and out and the flat smack of flesh on flesh. And it’s everyone on everyone: man and wife, father and daughter, mother and son, sister and brother. But always in heterosexual configurations. I asked Sigvard what they were doing. We’re multiplying, he said. That’s what people do.



It’s Midsummer. I’ve managed just over eighty pages. I’ve gotten as far back as great-great-great-grandfather Anders, son of Mats Nilsson, and if I want to get even further back I’ll have to do some research on Anders’ five siblings or just ramble out into fairy tale country. Not that making stuff up seems to be a problem. There’s no end to it. I’ve gone back to the start to fill in holes, like Mother and Gran’s siblings. No editing just yet, just more material. Brita asked me if I wanted to come with her to celebrate Midsummer. I declined. All I want to do is write. Besides, it’s freezing outside, and the gnats are out in full force. It’d be a good idea, research-wise, to see Brita, but I don’t feel like being around people.



Sigvard came knocking on my door. He was wearing a wreath of flowers and held a schnapps glass in one hand. We danced to dansband music, the legendary Sven-Ingvars; we competed in sack racing and three-legged racing. Most of the women and girls had large, rounded bellies and moved awkwardly. When the dancing and playing was over, we ate new potatoes and pickled herring, little meatballs and sausages, fresh strawberries with cream, toasting each other with schnapps spiced with cumin and wormwood. It’ll get darker now, said Sigvard. He burst into tears. Yes, I replied. But why is that so terrible? It makes me think of death, he said.



150 pages! That’s an average of five pages a day. Very well done. The last ten days have been about putting more meat on the bones I finished building around Midsummer. In other words, embroidering what facts I had with more ideas of my own. Editing is going to take a lot longer, but I have a solid structure from beginning to end—no bothersome gaps or holes.

I decided to stop at Anders. I need to check the other siblings now, especially Anna. I’ve tried to talk to Brita, but she’s always busy whenever I come over. I’m done with this place, though. I’m homesick. I’ve booked a ticket to Stockholm for the sixth. I can go back home with a good conscience.



They’re weeping and wailing. They’re all dressed in black. They won’t say why. I’ve told them I’ll be leaving soon, but I don’t think that’s why they’re sad.



I finally caught Brita for a cup of coffee. She apologized for being so busy. I asked her about Mats Nilsson’s children, but she doesn’t know much outside our own branch. Still, I asked her if she knew anything about Anna, the eldest daughter. Not much, she said. But then there wasn’t much to know about her. She disappeared without a trace when she was twenty years old. The consensus was that she probably drowned herself in Kall Lake, or in one of the sinkholes in the quarry. In any case, she was never seen again.



I’m leaving on the night train. I cleaned out the cottage; all that’s left is to hand over the keys to Brita.

Sigvard knocked on the door in my dream. The whole village was crowding behind him. They looked aged and crumpled somehow, and they were weeping loudly. Some of them didn’t seem to be able to walk on their own—they were crawling around. Sigvard came in first; he dropped to his knees and flung his arms around my legs. I sat down on the floor. He put his head in my lap. My dear, he said. It was the best summer ever. We’re so grateful. Then he sighed, and lay still. The others came, one by one. They lay down around me and curled up. They sighed and lay still. I patted their heads. There, there, I said. Go to sleep now, go to sleep. Their bodies were like light shells. They collapsed in on themselves.

I was woken up just after seven by an ice-cold draft. The front door was open. I went for a last walk in the village. Clusters of tiny spheres hang under the eaves.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | November 2012 | , , , , , | 2 Comments

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