The World SF Blog

Speculative Fiction from Around the World

SF in the United Arab Emirates

Over at the SF Portal, new bureau head Arafaat Ali Khan discusses What has science fiction meant to the UAE over the lat few decades?

It’s difficult to put a finger on what constitutes science fiction in the United Arab Emirates. Difficult because the UAE has always been such an eclectic mix of nationalities that the culture has always consisted of a mix of Arab, Asian and European influences.

As a Pakistani growing up in the country, I never felt that there was a certain way of life that encompassed or dictated the form of entertainment that one would get accustomed to. In fact, one could say that it was the best of all worlds, being exposed to everything from European and American television shows, movies, and literature, to the more traditional forms of Arab entertainment.

Arab entertainment when it comes to science fiction came in the form of ‘Arabised’ forms of other cultures. People from the region have grown up with a love for giant robots and UFOs due to one simple animated series that surfaced in the early 80’s Grendizer, more commonly know as Goldarak in Europe and Canada where it was also loved.

Grendizer was a common Japanese Anime about UFOs and robots fighting for good against the forces of evil in many shapes and sizes with one important twist: it was dubbed extremely professionally into Arabic. What this meant for those of us growing up in the region is that we adopted it as our own. This wasn’t a Japanese show, no: it was an Arab show that touched the hearts of everyone who ever had the pleasure of growing up watching it.

And this was the kicker, the shot in the arm if you will that laid the groundwork for the dreams and inspirations of so many talented individuals in the region. Yes we had Doctor Who, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Star Trek and Stars Wars (to name a few) as well as a plethora of available literature including Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, Ben Bova, and the res,t but I truly believe it was that short-lived animated show about robots and monsters that really planted the seed for what we are beginning to see in the region today.

It has taken a while, sure but the talent is starting to make itself heard. From the first fully animated CGI Science Fiction short Xero-Error (featured at Cannes), to an unnamed fantasy novel and the first original Arabic language Manga The Gold Ring, the seeds are starting to blossom. The UAE and the Middle East region as a whole is no longer content with importing their science fiction and genre entertainment, they are ready to take the world by storm!

The region has been fostering this with numerous film festivals such as the Dubai Film Festival and Gulf Film Festival, book fairs, and more hoping to find the next big name in science fiction, fantasy, and art.

The announcement of the first Middle East Film and Comic Con has done nothing but foster this nascent talent. April 29th and 30th of 2011 ( will be the time when the region will truly have a voice, a voice to shout about their love of science fiction, fantasy, and everything in between.

As one of the organisers of the event, it is with no exaggeration that I say it has been awe inspiring to witness the level of interest and talent that exists in this region. The show is set to feature the very first science fiction novel in Arabic, and the first stand alone Arabic language science fiction graphic novel to name a few. It will be the first time that the artists, authors, and fans in the Arab world will have a chance to meet some of the global legends in science fiction, comic books, and animation.

Arafaat Ali Khan has spent the last 30 years in the United Arab Emirates and has been enraptured by science fiction, comic books and animation from a very young age. Discovering a love of writing at the age of 13, he wrote for a number of children’s publications, and recently game reviews in a local technology magazine. An avid comic book collector for over two decades, he started ExtraCake PR – the Public Relations division of an existing boutique communications agency, ExtraCake, who have recently announced the first Film and Comic Con in the Middle East region.

February 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Announcing The First Abu Dhabi Comic-con!

March 2011 will see the first ever regional comic-con in the Middle East, hosted at Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre.

From the Jerusalem Post:

Fans of comics, sci-fi and fantasy in the Middle East will now have their own comic convention. In March 2011 Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre will be the first in the region to host its own version of the San Diego Comic-Con International.

The event in San Diego started in 1974 as a meeting point for people interested in science fiction, comic books and movies. It has since grown into a four-day event with over 140,000 visitors and important industry events involving computer games, pop culture, Japanese cartoons known as anime and sale of memorabilia and merchandise.

The organizers of the event in the United Arab Emirates are expecting 10,000 to 15,000 visitors.

Arafaat Ali Khan is the managing partner at ExtraCake PR, which is organizing the event.

“We have been thinking about this since we were in diapers, so it’s been going on for a long time,” Khan told The Media Line.

“What we see now is that there is interest in the infrastructure as far as stores over here stocking anime, [Japanese] manga [cartoons] and comics,” he said. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”

“The genre is exploding in the Middle East. We have a growth in the sales and bookstores are dedicating entire shelves to comics,” Khan said.

“Then there is the latest trend in this part of the world – that is the talent of artists and writers that have no outlet for their passion and to become serious artists,” he said.

Khan said that the convention would be similar to the ones held in the U.S.

“The main difference will be the market but we will follow the tried and tested international ideas,” Khan said. “We are going to have expos, merchandise, games and show classical movies and hopefully some new trailers.”

Today the American comic and sci-fi events are used as major marketing platforms for feature films. Movie stars, both past and present from various genres attend to promote their latest works.

No special guests, however, have been announced for the Abu Dhabi event as of yet.

Local comic book fan Saeed Sabbagh said the event would be a good opportunity for networking. – continue reading!

December 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Comments Off on Announcing The First Abu Dhabi Comic-con!

Working Bibliography of Arab SF/Fantasy

Over at Eastwords, a working bibliography of Arab science fiction and fantasy! It’s quite short at the moment, but here’s hoping it grows. Also includes works by Apex Book of World SF contributor Jamil Nasir.

Mustafa Mahmud The Spider (1964) A Man Under Zero Egypt (1967)

Mohammed Aziz al-Habbabi The Elixir Morocco (1974)
Mohammed Abdelsalam al-Baqqali The Blue Flood Morocco (1979)
Kassem al-Khattat The Green Stain Iraq(1984)
Muwaffaq Uays Mahmud She Pulsates with Life Iraq(1987)
Ali Karim Kathem The Green Planet Iraq (1987)
Taleb Omaran, Syria  Planet of Dreams (1978) In Transit Behind the Sun (1979),  Secrets from the City of Wisdom (1985), There are no Poor People on the Moon (1995)
Ahmad Suwailem Travels and Medals (1983), Splinters (1994)

Yousef Al Kewary From the Notebook of an Unborn Man Tripoli, Libya 1971

Abdulhakim Al Tawiel A Faith Problem Tripoli, Libya 2006

Jamal Abuzaid Journey of Illusion London 2009

Jamil Nasir Quasar (1995) The Higher Space (1996) Tower of Dreams (1999) Distance Haze (2000)The Houses of Time (2008)

Nihad Sharif A Woman in A Flying Saucer (?)

Omayma Khafaji The Crime of a World (1992)
Tiba Ahmad al-Ibrahim The Multiple Man Kuwait (1992)

Jamshed Akhtar Ultimate Revelations (1997)

Ashraf Faqih Ghosthunters (1997) Yearning for the Stars (2000)

Writers with SF Themes

Kassem Kassem
Mustafa al-Kailani
Abdallah Khalifa
Mussa Oald Ibno
Sulaiman Mohammed al-Khalil
Lina Kailani



December 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

Amal El-Mohtar on Fantasy, The Middle-East, and a Conversation with Saladin Ahmed

Over at Blackgate, Amal El-Mohtar talks about her Middle-East experience, and interviews Saladin Ahmed. Here’s an excerpt from her essay and interview respectively:

Over the last nine years, I’ve had occasion to be startled, and then to cease to be startled, by the extent to which my Middle-Eastern-ness gets conflated with Muslim-ness as a matter of course, as well as the extent to which people feel entitled to learning my religion along with my name. This is not the space in which I want to think about why precisely that is – I have a blog too, after all – but it is the space which Ms. Awesomesauce Cooney offered me to talk about the ways in which we might see the Middle-East positively represented in fantasy, as well as showcase a writer of fantasy literature who does in fact happen to be Muslim.


I totally hear that. I felt that way coming across words that were clearly borrowed from Arabic in works by J. R. R. Tolkien, and seeing a dark-skinned boy say “salaam” in Ender’s Game. I thought, hey, here is something that speaks to me, directly. It was a huge, huge deal for me at sixteen.

Of course, the… shall we say sophistication of those depictions is an open question.  Fantasy novels tend to trade in archetypes.  As a reader, that’s a big part of what I love about them: the taciturn swordsman, the spunky princess, the befuddled old wizard, the crazed priest of an ancient god.

But archetypes are only a step removed, if that, from stereotypes.  This is the case even when fantasy novels are dealing with Europe or pseudo-Europe.  It’s even more the case when dealing with ‘other’ places and peoples, though, and often leads to reducing ‘Islam’ and ‘Arab’ to a stock set of signifiers – fanaticism, honor, violence, sexism, absolutism, scimitars, veils, turbans, and, above all, the harsh, unforgiving desert that produces a harsh, unforgiving people.

This is the case even when we’re dealing with a secondary world – if you’ve got a fantasy map at the beginning of the book, you can be pretty sure that, to the east of the Europe-ish landmass, there will be a big ol’ desert, and it will be inhabited by fierce, proud nomads who wear flowing robes and chop people’s heads off.  This handful of central casting shtick is a stark contrast to history’s reality of remarkably varied Islamic cultures.

November 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Issue of Expanded Horizons

Expanded Horizons has become the premier webzine publishing international writers these days, and their latest issue is a strong one, including two Apex Book of World SF II contributors! Check out stories from Hungary, Egypt, Malaysia, Mexico, Hong Kong and the Philippines at this great publication.

Issue Twenty-Four (Nov 2010)


Cornrows and Dill Pickles by Malon Edwards

The last time Nee-Nee did my hair I rushed for two hundred twenty-four yards and three touchdowns against Lane Tech in the Chicago Public League title game. Them dudes couldn’t tackle me.

The Guest by Zen Cho

Yiling was riding home on her motorcycle when she saw the cat. It was late evening and the air was thick with smells, but the scent of the cat rang out like the clang of a temple bell, cutting through the stench of exhaust and the oil-in-the-nose smell of fried food wafting from the roadside stalls.

Parallel by Eliza Victoria

Christopher had officially run out of words to describe the day. Hot, scorching, blazing, sweltering—he had gotten tired of running through his mental thesaurus, the sun getting to his head, blinding him, the sky spotless, cloudless, except for that one merciless orb, the streets unusually bright, as though lit from underneath, the streets absorbing the heat and reflecting.

Driving with Aliens in Tijuana by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I sit behind the counter and hum a bolero. Humans come in and out of the gift shop. Aliens pause to look at plastic cacti and cheap maracas.

Shaken by Omar Zakaria

Black wasn’t happy, the way things were going. The tavern was large and open, for one thing, and no matter how he adjusted his chair, he couldn’t face all the doors at once. And it was probably the one tavern in all of Locirla that didn’t serve iced coffee, didn’t even have coffee, only hot tea – hot tea in this infernal weather! – and spiced drinks.

Rabbits by Csilla Kleinheincz

The air was boiling above the highway, whipping up the smell of dust from the car seats, as if the road led into the past instead of to Lake Balaton.


The Key Keeper by James Ng

Issue Twenty-Four Contributor Biographies


November 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on New Issue of Expanded Horizons

Apex Magazine special Arab/Muslim issue released

Apex Magazine’s latest issue is a special Arab/Muslim themed issue:


“The Green Book”
by Amal El-Mohtar

“50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire”
by Pamela K. Taylor

“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted”
by Saladin Ahmed


“Kamer-taj the Moon-horse”
compiled by Dr. Ignácz Kúnos
(originally appeared in Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales)


“Me and Rumi’s Ghost”
by Samer Rabadi

“Tur Disaala”
by Jawad Elhusuni

“Al-Manara Dirge”
by Sara Saab

Cover art by Edward Dulac



November 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Muslim Superheroes The 99 at the Guardian Newspaper

We’ve previously reported on Islamic superhero series The 99, but now the UK’s Guardian newspaper has picked up the story as well, following an announced television series for the comics!

Even if you deliberately set out to try to dream up the least probable superhero ever, it’s unlikely that you’d manage to come up with a character as far-fetched as Batina the Hidden. Forget Wonder Worm, or a man born with the powers of a newt, Batina is a superhero of a kind the world hasn’t until now seen. It’s not just that she’s a Muslim woman, from a country best known for harbouring al-Qaida operatives – Yemen – but that she wears an altogether new kind of super-person costume: a burqa.

She, along with her fellow crime-fighters, a vast team of characters from around the world, including Jabbar the Powerful from Saudi Arabia and Hadya the Guide from London, collectively known as “The 99”, are the world’s first Islam-inspired superheroes. And this week, in what is perhaps the ultimate comic-book accolade, they will join forces with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics, the US publishinggiant, will publish the first of six special crossover issues in which The 99 will be fighting crime alongside the Justice League of America, the fictional superhero team that includes Superman and Batman.

What’s even more remarkable is that The 99 only came into being in 2007 with some remarkable firsts: the first comic book superheroes to have Muslim names and be directed at an international audience and the first to come out of the Middle East. Crossovers don’t happen often and even less often with characters that are just three years old. Even The 99’s creator and mastermind, a Kuwaiti-born, American-educated psychologist and entrepreneur called Naif al-Mutawa, seems to be having some trouble believing the Superman link-up.

“For me, there’s a nerd part and a business part. On a business level, it’s pretty exciting to be acknowledged as having created something that’s considered to be on a level with something that’s been around 50 years or more. And that obviously has business ramifications. But the nerd part is the thing that makes my eyes light up.” – continue reading.


November 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on Muslim Superheroes The 99 at the Guardian Newspaper

Islamic Steampunk?

Yakoub Islam writes about his hopeful novel-to-be, a steampunk adventure based on Islam.

Here is a blurb:

December, 1148. Europe’s second crusade has failed to take Damascus, and worse, a new Saracen threat is ascending – steam power. At least, that’s the terrifying message Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux brings to Pope Eugenius, in order to convince the Pontiff to declare the steamer al-Jaariya an agent of the devil. In truth, the unarmed paddleship steaming up the the Tyrrhenian is the invention of a secret society united by a vision of peace and prosperity through technology: Ikhwan al-Idries (the Brethren of Enoch), and among its esteemed passengers is the world’s greatest living geographer and the Brethren’s special rapporteur, Muhammad al-Idrisi. But Abbot Bernard is not the only enemy of the Brethren determined to sink the steamer. An equally deadly foe is already aboard – an Ismaili assassin, identity unknown. Then late one night, accompanied by his young student Dwadar, al-Idrisi enters the mysterious Cabin 13, and encounters the only human being alive who knows the dangers al-Jaariya faces, and the means to safe passage: Hildegard of Bingen.

And here is an essay on The “Muslim” in Muslim Steampunk:

One of the most intractible problems in the planning of my hope2be novel is the part played by Islam in the main characters’ lives and thoughts. My fear is that characters will be either superficially pious, performing salah whilst uttering perfunctory insha Allahs – yet for all intents and purposes possessing the worldview of of an engineer living in Uxbridge, or else be imbewed with an Islamic sensibility so “authentic”, the novel will be rendered virtually inaccessible to all but the most pious Muslim readers.  Evidently, a middle way is required. – continue reading.

Yakoub maintains the Steampunk Sharia / Tasneem Project web site, where he has a series of essays focusing on aspects around his novel in progress. Do check it out!


October 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments

Apex Magazine to host special Arab/Muslim Issue in November

Catherynne Valente, editor of Apex Magazine, has announced the November issue will be a special showcase issue:

I was thinking the other day about the whole horrifying Elizabeth Moon situation.

I don’t like to just watch bad things happen and make outraged noises and then go back to reading the intertubes like nothing happened. I always want to do something–something positive, something that stands on its own and says something good just by being. I can’t do anything about Moon or Wiscon or any of it. I’m not on the concom and I’m not a habitual buyer of Moon’s books.

What I am is the editor of Apex Magazine.

And I have the Wand of Editorial Oomph.

I would like to announce that the November issue of Apex will be an entirely Arab/Muslim issue. It will be beautiful. It will showcase writers of Arab descent and Muslim writers. (I am aware that many folk not of Arab descent are Muslim, that’s why I’m structuring it this way, so that writers from either culture or both can be part of the issue.) It will show how Islam is as much a part of the human experience as any other faith or story system that writers of the fantastic draw from. It will be a small thing, in the grand scheme. It will not save the world. But it will exist, and perhaps in its own way can stand beside the recent ugliness in the SFF world as something bright and good.

I am looking for material, but most especially poetry, from Muslim authors and authors of Arab descent. Let’s make it easy: if you think you might “count,” then you do. Southeast Asian Muslims, yes. American Muslims, yes. Anybody with a connection to the cultures of Islam, yes. The subject of your works can be anything you like, but I am only looking for authors with connections to Islam and/or the Arabic world. Please do not send reprints, we have that covered.

I want to do what I can. This is a thing I can do. I believe it will be extraordinary.

Submissions guidelines:

1) Mail submissions to
2) Maximum word length a firm 7,500 words.
3) Payment is .05 per word. Paid within 30 days of publication.
4) Please submit either a Microsoft Word Doc or RTF file.
5) Use standard manuscript formatting as outlined by William Shunn. Essentially–double space, 12 pt. Courier or Times New Roman, 1″ borders.
6) We accept reprint submissions. However, your story must have been sold to a highly respected semi-professional (think InterzoneWeird Tales, and so forth) or professional publication (F&SFAnalog, and so on). Payment is a flat $10. Mark your story as a reprint in the subject heading of your email. Word limit for reprints is 10,000.

Poetry Guidelines:

1) Send no more than five poems at a time. No simultaneous submissions with other publishers.
2) Payment is $0.25 per line or $5 per poem, whichever is greater, paid within 30 days of publication.
3) Format your submission professionally (Writers Digest format). Single-space within stanzas.
4) Poems formatted flush left are preferred over those requiring special formatting (concrete poems, poems with staggered indentation, etc.). We’re looking for creativity of expression rather than of page layout.
5) Mail submissions to

September 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 3 Comments

Female, Muslim and Mutant: Muslim Women in Comics

Jha sent over this fascinating article: Female, Muslim, and Mutant: A Critique of Muslim Women in Comic Books, by Jehanzeb Dar. She discusses two of the most important Muslim comics series – The 99 from Teshkeel Comics, and the works published by AK Comics.

While I believe there is very little known about the images and roles of women in comic books, the subject of how Muslim female characters are portrayed is even smaller. In part 1 of this essay, I looked at how the character of “Dust” was depicted in a popular American comic book (X-Men). In part 2, as promised, I will examine how numerous Muslim female characters are depicted in comic books written by Muslim writers. I will begin by discussing two female characters in Naif Al-Mutawa’s fascinating comic book, “The 99,” and then critique two more female characters appearing in the world of AK Comics, founded by Dr. Ayman Kandeel. Al-Mutawa’s company, Teshkeel Comics, and Dr. Kandeel’s AK Comics couldn’t be any more different in their presentation of female characters – the former shows us arguably the best depictions of Muslim female characters to have ever appeared in comic books, while the latter gives us an unimaginative redux of unrealistically curvaceous and buxom super-heroines who look like clones of Wonder Woman and Catwoman. By bringing these characters into the spotlight, we can learn how incredibly significant it is to battle sexism and racism in comic books as well as how we can create a much-needed dialogue and understanding between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim the rest of the article!

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | 1 Comment

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