Today’s Tuesday Fiction is by Fábio Fernandes, an SFF writer living in São Paulo, Brazil. Fábio has several stories published in online venues in the US, the UK, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, and Brazil. He also contributed to Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s “Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded”, and has a story coming up soon in Lavie Tidhar’s “The Apex Book of World SF Vol. 2”.
This is the story’s first publication.
Deadly Quiet on the Western Front
“What did you do before the war?” asked the soldier in the trench.
“Was?” the corporal mumbled, distracted and disgruntled.
“What did you do before coming here, man?” the soldier asked again.
The corporal pretended he hadn’t heard the question. First, because the intimacy his subordinate showed him was very bothersome. And also, because he had more to do besides listening to the man babbling: binoculars in hand, he tried to look across the wasteland separating the two large areas of trenches. He couldn’t see a thing, and it was still light. When night fell upon that no man’s land, the hell of the bombs would torment them again.
“I was a painter,” he finally deigned to answer, still without looking at his brother-in-arms. But the soldier was gone.
So much the better. He wasn’t in the mood for idle chatter. And he needed the rest of the light to sketch.
He had almost added he had been a painter in Vienna. But that wasn’t important.
Unlike the other brothers-in-arms, the corporal wasn’t German but Austrian. Not that it mattered in the least: both countries shared the same language and practically the same culture.
The problem was in the practically.
Vienna was considered an enlightened capital, one of the greatest cultural centers of Europe, comparable to Paris. Its cafés and cabarets reunited the cream of the crop of the Viennese intelligentsia: poets, actors, musicians, painters.
All degenerate people.
The fact was, he didn’t like to talk to his fellow soldiers because of his temper. He couldn’t disguise his accent, typical of the suburbs of Vienna. The Wiener Vorstadtdialekt had always been a hurdle in life. More than a hurdle; a veritable curse.
The corporal was ashamed to be Austrian.
For him, Austria was a minor country. Germany was what really mattered, with its thousand-year culture, its powerful, vigorous music, its Germanic history, the Rheingold. How had Vienna contributed to the history of music, for instance? Mozart?
You didn’t want to get him started on Mozart. Little degenerate man. Confusing tunes. Too many notes. To him, Wagner was good. Yes, Wagner. Parsifal. Now that was music all right!
What about painting, then? Klimt, with his ill-proportioned women over geometric backgrounds with no meaning whatsoever? The paintings with biblical themes were passable, he conceded, but the final result, oh, the final result!
And what about Schiele? Who the hell was Egon Schiele, mein Gott? Painting sick women, syphilitic dancers, corpse-like whores, showing unashamedly their pudenda? Outrageous! And to think the little fellow had been accepted by the Akademie der Bildenden Künste!
The corporal’s application had been refused by the Akademie almost at the same time.
Not long ago – around 1906 – he had been selling his paintings in the cold streets of Vienna. Or at least trying to.
Nobody ever bought a single painting of his.
If the corporal had liked Van Gogh, he could have compared himself to the Dutch master. Not in quality or even technique, but in the fact that in years and years he never managed to sell a single painting.
But the truth was that he hated Van Gogh.
And all the Impressionists. Monet, Gauguin, Seurat. Especially Seurat! What kind of nonsense was that pointillism?
When the war was over, the corporal would follow the advice of the Direktor of the Akademie. He would be an architect. No modern art for him, thank you very much.
Alas, the new age didn’t seem to acknowledge the great painters of the last generation, like Feuerbach, Waldmüller, and Rudolf von Alt. Those men, the corporal thought, oh, they knew how to paint! The beautiful watercolors of von Alt, the living colors of Waldmüller, so realistic!
The corporal was a most realistic man. It was impossible to fight in a war and not be realistic, or at least so he thought. (The corporal was a most opinionated man.) He was well aware that he didn’t have an ounce of the talent of von Alt or Waldmüller. It doesn’t matter, he thought: destiny had other things in store for him. If he couldn’t be a painter, he would be an architect. And he would be an architect of great things.
But first things first. The thin shroud of light over the moonscape of Ypres offered to the corporal a phantasmagoria, something worthy of Gustave Doré. He thought Doré’s engravings for Don Quixote impressive works of art.
Using a tiny piece of charcoal, the corporal sketched. And planned for the future.
The corporal was, above all, an optimist.
If you happened to watch him from a distance, always serious and withdrawn, you certainly wouldn’t say that. But only an optimist would think everything would turn out right in the middle of an all-out war; the War to End All Wars.
(An optimist or a madman. But you couldn’t get caught saying that to his face, or he would go absolutely crazy. A raving lunatic, indeed.)
The corporal fulfilled his duties with the utmost seriousness. Maybe even beyond the call of duty.
Two years before, in October 1916, he had been wounded in France. Grenade shrapnel in his left leg during the Battle of the Somme. Nothing serious, but he was given a medal. He thought of refusing it – after all, it was his duty, nothing more – but you simply can’t shrug off a decoration from your fatherland.
They also gave him a bonus. He got a transfer to Germany and was stationed there for five months.
The worst five months of his life.
He had no family, no home to return to; he didn’t know what to do: it was the first time he had stayed away from the front in two years of war. His recovery was quick enough, but they insisted on an extended leave anyway. The corporal’s protests were useless. He was compelled to obey.
He spent part of that time visiting historical and architectural monuments in Berlin. And dreaming of, one day, himself being counted among the creators of such magnificent stuff. Sketching the Doric columns of the Brandenburg Gate and glimpsing the occasional dirigible transporting materiel – probably guns, and the new mechanical golems made by those Viennese steel manufacturers, the Wittgensteins – as near to the front as it dared.
Scheissköpfe, all of those Imperial Army Generals! How could they think that Jewish automata could replace real Menschen, real men like him?
As soon as he had fully recovered from his injuries, he was sent to Munich. To work in a supply division.
He almost had a hysterical fit. He was a man of action, not of idling around.
He had petitioned the War Office to return to the front as soon as possible. Now he was back in his true home, the List Regiment. Doing what he did best: running. The corporal acted as a messenger between the regimental staff and the outposts. It best suited his surly, solitary temperament.
Anyhow, the regiment was his home because he liked the pure, Spartan environment of the battle front. There he could revel in the hardships of the field, and the few moments of meditation and contemplation of the landscape.
That was more than he could ever have wanted. A fine home? A family? That he didn’t care for. Deep down, the corporal knew very well what his so-called brothers-in-arms thought of him.
No matter how hard he tried (and he tried very hard), he couldn’t disguise the fact that he was and would always be an Austrian. At the end of the day, in spite of being united by the same goal (temporarily, it was good to remember) – defeating France – the Germans never forgot their class system, a division similar to the complex network of castes in India, in the corporal’s opinion.
For the corporal, however, the entire situation only existed because of the degeneration brought about by that mixture. And the Jews were to blame for that.
The Jews were an ugly, impure people. They were a riff-raff of criminals and communists. The problem was that the German government did not turn away the Jews who wanted to fight for Germany on the battlefield. But that didn’t mean the corporal had to like them.
And he was quite sure that his Jewish superiors had barred his promotion to Sergeant First Class.
It doesn’t matter, he thought at meal time, eating bread and jelly, wiping the spatters with his hand to avoid smearing them even more over his uniform, already stained with mud and soot. To be a corporal was better. He didn’t want to be a leader. Not for now, at least.
One day, the war would be over. And, when that happened, he wanted to be part of the new order. Any little thing would do, since he would be able to help restore Germany to its position of prominence on the world scene. Deutschland über alles, he thought while eating his bread and jelly and petting the dog that rested at his feet.
He smiled, savoring the sweet irony. He despised any kind of intermingling of blood, but the dog was just a mongrel that had come from nowhere one day and had stayed by his side.
He called her Fox. She was a smart bitch, and could run almost as fast as he. A fine companion, she was. Better than his degenerate regiment colleagues.
The year 1917 was a particularly troublesome one for the List Regiment. Its members fought in the trenches on the French side of Flanders, in the Battle of Arras in the spring and in the Chemin des Dames in the fall. The corporal was one of the most vigorous fighters, and showed such a lack of restraint on the battlefield that he won even more medals.
That, of course, was of no consequence to the corporal. What he really wanted, in his heart of hearts, was to win the war. Only Germany triumphant would make him really happy, and free to realize his dream.
From time to time he received letters; never from his sister, with whom he had lost contact years before. One of his few correspondents was a painter who was also fighting in the War, Ernst Schmidt. In their letters, Schmidt and the corporal talked a lot about politics and the future of Germany. In their exchange, the corporal mentioned to Schmidt his recent interest in politics. After all, there were too many architects already. Of course, maybe he wouldn’t be able to give up architecture just like that; he needed to survive, natürlich, to earn his daily pumpernickel (something he had not always managed during his time as a painter in Vienna, and the memory of hunger still haunted him). But he would enter politics anyway, no matter what.
The corporal never gave up. He had the utmost contempt for several of his regimental colleagues. Not brothers-in-arms, no – he could never use such an expression, particularly for those who had families. Because those were the first to come up with reasons to be discharged from service, on the slightest pretext.
Not he, no. He had no family. And, even if he had, he wouldn’t give up his chance to fight for his country. His Heimat! No excuses for him, no sir. He would follow the call of duty to the bitter end.
The year 1918 was even better for Germany. In March, the Reich imposed on Russia the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and by April had virtually annihilated the Romanian defenses. The mechanical golems had been particularly helpful with that, even the corporal admitted (though grudgingly).
Things were so good that the List Regiment easily beat the Frenchmen in Montdidier-Noyon and, soon after that, in Soisson and Reims.
That was why nobody expected the mortar strike.
When the bomb exploded in his regiment’s tent, the corporal was leaving to get his dog, which stubbornly ran off around the trenches just at lunch time.
He was by the entrance to the tent when all hell broke loose. The last thought that crossed his mind was: I must punish that bitch, Scheisse!
Then he blacked out.
Only the first half of 1918 had been good for Germany.
The bloody battles, to which the soldiers gave themselves body and soul, were utterly destructive for the Army of the Reich. In early August, with insufficient soldiers and no food, which was even worse, the Germans in desperation stopped attacking. This gave the allied powers the chance to make a counter-strike.
So successful a counter-strike that, by the end of September, the German Chief-of-Staff, General Ludendorff, proposed an armistice, offering the surrender of Germany.
But not even Ludendorff knew the Germans’ ultra-secret weapon.
Gustav Noske did.
A member of the Sozial-Demokrat Partei, the German Social-Democratic party at the beginning of the century, Noske was a hardline military officer. Just before the War, he had become a member of the Reichstag, supporting a pact between Left and Right so that the country could face the harshness of war.
All bullshit, of course.
What Noske really wanted was power, whatever the cost. And power he got, with a new medical technique which went beyond the boundaries not only of imagination, but also of ethics and convention. After some political and corporate string-pulling, Noske created as early as 1917 a special group of fighters, the first military – and secret – force of the Deutsches Reich: the “Freikorps” (“freedom fighters”, or, in a more literal and less ironic translation, the “free bodies”).
The first group was a band of de-cerebrated soldiers. Literally de-cerebrated: only those brain-damaged and thus considered officially dead could be part of the Freikorps.
It was the first application of the Faust Auferstehung Methode on a large scale, outside research and development laboratories. If the French horse-eaters and the American doughboys were still fighting and resisting the mustard gas and even the mechanical golems – which were huge and sturdy machines, but, truth be told, very clumsy and prone to defects more often than not – nothing less than resurrected (and therefore unkillable) German soldiers could stop these Allies now.
But then, it was a dirty war.
At the cold chrome operating table, the German surgeons don’t stop to think: thinking is not their job; they are not there to think. Let others do that, while drinking Schnapps and eating Sauerkraut in the old, gay bars of München and Berlin. Long may they continue, is all one of the surgeons can think as he is stricken by a sudden desire to drink a large Glas Bier and look into the beautiful blue eyes of his fiancée, who waits for him in the Bavaria of his youth.
Not now, however. Now the doctor must concentrate and perform the surgery. It’s an experimental procedure, but one already performed successfully on animals. The next logical step, of course, was bound to be with humans, sooner or later – and war is always a good operating theater, a test tube, a Petri dish for the souls of men. These, naturally, are just metaphors: for the surgeons, there is no such thing as a soul. What does exist, however, is the mind. Without the mind, there is no life.
Therefore, the corporal who is on the operating table before them – he and several others caught by the shrapnel from the bomb that destroyed almost the whole of the List Regiment – is dead. And, if a soldier never usually has a say in anything, obliged to do whatever he is ordered, what then of a dead soldier?
A mere technicality. The soldier on the bed is not quite dead. His veins pulse; his heart pumps blood; his muscles react when stimulated by electrical impulses.
Only the brain remains dead.
But the body, ah, the body – is alive!
How strange is fate: if the corporal now being operated on on the cold chrome table had stayed inside the tent with the others, he would have been blasted into oblivion. Instant, utter, irretrievable death. On the other hand, had he taken just a few steps more, and distanced himself, say, eight, nine feet away, he would have had no more than a few burns, nothing serious, and would have been back on the battlefield in no time at all – or, with luck, could have obtained medical leave and a much deserved rest at home, where most certainly his loved ones would be eagerly waiting for him.
But that was not to be.
A piece of shrapnel penetrated the corporal’s frontal lobe, rendering him completely unconscious. He probably never even felt it.
Now there he was, his mind totally erased. The metal fragment had lobotomized the corporal’s brain.
The surgeon doesn’t think of what awaits the soldier if the surgery is successful. After all, things could always be worse. For one who loves and cherishes life, there is no fate worse than death.
The corporal doesn’t think any more. Thinking is not his job; he’s not there to think.
If asked, he won’t be able to answer. He can’t remember anything. Not even how to speak. For the corporal, everything is nebulous, everything is mist.
He has no other memory than the present moment, and the present moment is this: a tall, square-jawed man, yelling at him something he can’t understand.
The man points to him, and to others who, just like him, are sitting in folding chairs inside a tent, boards with faces painted on them. After some more yelling, the man opens a flap in the tent and shouts to someone outside. Other men bring another man inside, similar but different. The color of the mist surrounding him is different.
The corporal notices that the color of the man’s clothes is different from the color of the clothing that he and all the others are wearing.
The yelling man is still yelling. He gestures with his hand. The corporal doesn’t understand what the man wants. Until the man grabs a long, heavy thing with another thing pointy and shiny at its end, and shoves it into the corporal’s hands. He points to the man with the different color mist, and then to the pointy shiny thing now in the corporal’s hands. He begins to spear the belly of the different man with his fingers.
Then the corporal gets it.
He lunges forward and pushes the pointy shiny thing he’s carrying into the belly of the different man. The different man screams a thing that the corporal doesn’t understand. The corporal smells a very smelly smell. The different man falls to the ground.
The yelling man opens the flap again. He pulls the corporal by the sleeve of his jacket. Outside, a line of other yelling men forms a corridor that hurriedly pushes the corporal and the soldiers, everyone now carrying the same heavy things with the pointy shiny thing at the end. At the end of the corridor, a ladder. The man at the foot of the ladder shouts and points to the top, to whatever there is beyond the ladder.
It’s a small ladder. The corporal climbs its rungs with some difficulty because of the heavy thing in his arms, but he does well. And he gets to see what’s at the top of the ladder: a field of dead, dark earth. No plants, no sign of life.
But, in the distance, the corporal sees something.
Mists of a different color.
Now he knows what he must do.
Grenades and mortars fall all around, showering the corporal with black earth and body parts. The ones who don’t lose too much – an arm here, a leg there, half a torso gone but their heart still beating fine, an eye, ach, what is an eye after all? – keep on going inexorably.
Then, when the undead soldiers are close to the enemy trenches, the machine guns start spitting fire.
The corporal feels impacts on his legs, arms, shoulders, belly, face. He feels his body wet. He smells the same smelly smell of the different man when he stabbed him.
But nothing matters now. In fact, as soon as the corporal is reminded of these things, he forgets them.
The only thing that matters is the different colored mist. And what he was just taught to do to it.
Inside the tent, the sergeant in charge of the special attack group receives the report of the charge on the enemy trenches.
A total success. Every single Englishman killed.
On their side, no losses among the soldiers. That is, among the living ones of the second platoon.
Among the undead soldiers, as they are already beginning to be called by the superstitious and ignorant Army riff-raff, things are quite different.
Of the twenty-seven soldiers who served as guinea pigs for the experiment, nine got back to the German trenches unharmed. Twelve suffered considerable damage (loss of limbs, mostly), but the field doctors especially sent by the secret project guarantee that, after blood transfusions and replacement of the lost limbs with cheap prosthetic ones, they will be able to fight again in a couple of days with the same efficiency as they did today.
Six soldiers were deemed completely unrecoverable. Among them, the leader of the squad, the corporal wounded in the mortar bombing a few days earlier. The sergeant met him once: a bad-mouthed, bad-breathed fellow, who used to talk to himself. He had already seemed a lunatic even before the accident, Gott in Himmel!
But at least the son of a bitch had taken a lot of lives to hell with him. Judging by the report, Corporal Adolf Hitler was responsible for a veritable massacre in the enemy trenches before his body finally hit the ground.
Ach! the sergeant thinks to himself. War is war; one bastard more, one bastard less, what’s the fucking difference? A mediocre Scheisskopf like this Hitler would never have survived much longer anyway.
Charles Tan interviews Fabio Fernandes about his writing, SF in Brazil, and his new crowd-sourced project on colonialism-themed SF.
Hi Fabio! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get into speculative fiction?
I started writing speculative fiction in my early twenties. I had already written for the stage (and won an award) when I was 19 years old, but nothing related to fantastika. I always loved speculative fiction, specially SF (I was a fan of TV shows of the genre, like Star Trek and Star Lost, since early childhood, and read a lot of comic books – my absolute favorite was the X-Men). In my teens I started to read what every Brazilian boy and girl my age used to read: Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, occasionally Heinlein. In my case, since I finished my English course by 18, I discovered Frederik Pohl, Robert Silverberg, and Frank Herbert as well. My first speculative story was published in a fanzine when I was 21. That was exactly 25 years ago – my goodness, time flies!
For readers unfamiliar with the speculative fiction scene in Brazil, how would you describe it?
A thriving scene today. It was a very harsh panorama by the time I was writing for fanzines, in the 1980s and 1990s, but today there is what some call the Third Wave (I’m from the Second Wave, the Gen-Xrs, in fact), and now there is a new anthology every couple of months. Since 2008 the speculative fiction scene in Brazil has become a very rich one in terms of publishers too – there are now at least half a dozen small press uniquely dedicated to publish SFF. We have an annual convention, Fantasticon, and until 2010 we had a biannual con, Invisibilidades, which I curated, but sadly is no more because the institute who sponsored it cut the funding. But I’m planning to do another model of con in the next few years.
How did you become a fiction writer? A translator?
I suppose fiction comes spontaneously. One day you are reading, and you feel like writing too. Either because you feel you can write something better than the writers you are reading, or because you want to be part of a tradition of such accomplished storytellers (that’s my case). I started with poetry (badly) in my teens, then wrote plays (still do, but right now I’m in a sabbatical from the theatre) and one day I woke up to the fact the I could write short stories. Then I met the members of CLFC (the Brazilian Science Fiction Reader’s Club, founded in 1985 by Roberto Nascimento and which still exists to this day, although I’m not a member anymore) and I saw that I could indeed do it. Then I started to write for their fanzine, SOMNIUM, and it was the beginning (that was in 1987).
My career as a translator began shortly before that. I had just left high school and didn’t know what to do at the university (we don’t have college in Brazil – 4-5 years in university are pretty much the same of college+university for us here).
One of my concerns is colonialism, and how there’s a disproportionate amount of literature coming from the West to other countries, but the reverse is not true. For you, why do we need to address this problem? And how does this play into us as SF readers?
I think this is a two-tiered problem. The first tier is related to the amount of translations to the English language. It still amazes me how few translations there are, for instance, of Brazilian literature (in general, I’m not even speaking of the genre) in English. Consider movies: almost every time a non-English-language movie is a big hit, what Hollywood do? Immediately buys the rights and remakes the film, just because AMERICANS DON’T WANT TO BE BOTHERED READING SUBTITLES (remember True Lies, Nikita, The Departed). Then why aren’t we seeing more translations in literature? (I’m aware this comparison is not exact, but it fits the bill anyway). It should be an easier thing to do, since in a book you won’t be able to perceive the “alienness” of the work languagewise, which is not possible in a subtitled movie, where the foreign language is there all the while upsetting the spectator (I try to see this through the POV of the American, for instance, because as a Brazilian, I watch subtitled movies all the time and I don’t care, I’m used to it). But some of the reasons we don’t see more novel translations is because, naturally, it’s more difficult to translate a novel than a movie, it takes much more time, and it’s more expensive to do so. That seems to be a major impediment.
The second tier is related to the writers. If you are a non-Anglo writer and you are interested in make yourself heard in the Anglo world, maybe you should consider writing in English. There’s nothing wrong with that. Joseph Conrad (born and raised in Poland, native speaker of Polish and French) did it. Vladimir Nabokov (born in the former USSR, native speaker of Russian, did it. And they became masters of the English literature.
It’s all about communication, you know. If we really want to address this problem, we must learn how to communicate with each other. As SF readers in a global community, English is our lingua franca. And we, who live outside the Anglo world, should use it more, and more creatively, introducing neologisms and words of our own languages, helping English to take the next step to evolve into a really global language instead a colonizing language.
How did you become involved with The Future Fire? For unfamiliar readers, could you tell us what the magazine and the Peerbacker fundraising is about?
I was aware of TFF a year or so ago, via The Outer Alliance, an LGBT-friendly association of which I’m a member, and I started to read it since then. By the end of 2011, Its editor, Djibril al-Ayad, issued an ad looking for guest editors for two special editions in 2012. These editors should present fresh, relevant projects of their own, related to the spirit of the magazine, which has a distinct social-political orientation. I offered then a project regarding an investigation on Colonialism, and Djibril liked the idea very much. The fundraising was suggested into the project pitch, so we spent a couple of months searching for the best fundraiser site to help us. Peerbacker was the best for a number of reasons, not the least of which the fact that it accept projects from outside the US (I’m from Brazil, Djibril is from the UK). We aim to raise just enough money to pay a professional rate for authors and artists. But we will do the editorial and technical work for free.
What made you decide to title it We See A Different Frontier?
I’m a big fan of the cyberpunks, and one of my favorite Bruce Sterling stories is We See Things Differently, where he portrays a difficult situation for an Arab world journalist faced with a post-crisis America. It’s a prophetic story of sorts, and I was really wondering, after reading it, how did Bruce had the balls to write it (of course, he wrote that years before 9/11, so the answer is simple – I read it after). Evidently I didn’t condone the actions of the protagonist, but I liked the complexity of his character, and the words he says in the end of the story – words which happen to give the story its the title. And, even if the ending had been more peaceful and understanding, the words wouldn’t have ringed any less true. Because people of different cultures really see things in a different light, even small, quotidian things. And that can be beautiful instead of weird. So I decided to title this guest edition We See A Different Frontier to celebrate the difference and to clarify the fact that, in the world of the 21st Century, geopolitical borders are indeed changing, and concepts like First World and Third World maybe just doesn’t apply anymore.
Here in the Philippines, we’re sometimes criticized for borrowing a foreign term, speculative fiction, and using it as our own. What’s your stance when it comes to appropriating the title for an American’s work, and using it for your own?
That’s an excellent question. I’m a strong believer in DADA and the Surrealists (in the works of the Modernists, by the way – I taught Art History for quite a while), and the matter of appropriation is quite adequate. Appropriation can indeed be akin to what some would consider “stealing” ( I don’t), but in the case of our title I took the care to change it for one simple reason: keeping the original simply would not translate my idea. If I thought it would, I’d ask Bruce about using it as a homage. But is he didn’t agree, that would be okay – between me and Djibril, we had two dozen more suggestions of titles. We just happen to like that better.
Assuming the fundraising succeeds (and I hope it does), do you have the contributors already planned, or are you just about to start soliciting/announcing a call for submissions?
Thanks for the best wishes! We really hope too! In fact, we are thinking of inviting contributors, but we will announce a call for submissions for at least half of the stories (we haven’t decided yet how many stories will fill the issue – we are thinking of eight), but this number may reach two-thirds, because we want to be surprised – and I’m guessing we will have a lot of surprises out there.
What would be your criteria as far as fiction and contributors are concerned?
One US writer told us via Twitter that he loved the idea, but he was very said because he wouldn’t be able to be a part of it. Then I asked him why, and he answered because you’re asking for people outside the Anglo world. Then I had to ask him to read more carefully our pitch text in Peerbackers. We are not excluding anyone – we just want more people from outside the Anglo world, that’s all. But we welcome everyone. Period. I must admit I won’t be happy if all we get are subs from North America and Europe, for instance, but we will take them, read them, and if they are good, we will publish them. Why is that? We want the experience from people who lives the daily reality of non-Anglo world – be it from the POV of a poor person living in Central America, Sudan, North Korea (highly unlikely, but why shouldn’t we aim high?), be it from a rich, spoiled Brazilian, Indian, South African kid living the good life now that her country is one of the BRICS. All these POVs can bring us a rich experience and give us a lot of food for thought.
Why is this project important? Why should readers care?
Because we are really living in a globalized world, you know. Aside from a few isolationist countries which still insist and create a new curtain (an infocurtain, if you will) to alienate their citizens from reality, like North Korea and Iran, most of humankind communicates, or desperately tries to communicate, via the web and mobile devices. The future has come, and the tech corporations have done their part regarding the making of devices to unite us all over the world. Now it’s our turn to do something which really matters with it.
Anything else you want to plug?
I want to thank you, Charles, and Lavie, for the excellent work that The World SF Blog have been done for international SF. I just hope our Guest Edition can do a work as good as yours in raising awareness for the state of SF around the world.
Hyperpulp is a new electronic magazine from Brazil, edited by Alexandre Mandarino. It is a bilingual magazine, publishing the stories in both Portuguese and English. This seems to be becoming more common – see, for instance, the recent French-English web magazine Onirismes – it will be interesting to see if this heralds some new movement in world sf magazine publishing.
The new issue of Hyperpulp features Gustavo Bondoni from Argentina, Carlos Orsi from Brazil, and Berit Ellingsen from Norway, amongst others.
Here’s the table of contents for new anthology The Immersion Book of Steampunk, edited by Gareth D. Jones and Carmelo Rafala and published by Immersion Press. International contributors include Aliette de Bodard, Jacques Barcia, Anatoly Belilovsky and Lavie Tidhar.
Table of contents:
- “Follow That Cathedral!” by Gareth Owens
- “The Machines of the Nehphilim” by James Targett
- “The Siege of Dr. Vikare Blisset” by Jacques Barcia
- “The Clockworks of Hanyang” by Gord Sellar
- “Cinema U” by G.D. Falksen
- “Kulterkampf” by Anatoly Belilovsky
- “Rogue Mail” by Toby Frost
- “Electrium” by Elizabeth Counihan
- “Leaves of Glass” by Lavie Tidhar
- “Memories in Bronze, Feathers, and Blood” by Aliette de Bodard
- “Empire of Glass” by Tanith Lee
- “Steam Horse” by Chris Butler
- “Professor Fluvius’s Palace of Many Waters” by Paul Di Filippo
Via Side-Show Freaks:
Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show (IGMS) and The Elephant and Macaw Banner have partnered up to create a contest that will bring the best of Brazilian speculative fiction to the English-speaking world via the Hydra Competition (Concurso Hydra in Brazil’s native [sic] language of Portuguese).
A panel of judges will select three finalists from short stories first published in Brazil in 2009 and 2010. Orson Scott Card, one of the world’s best-selling authors of speculative fiction, will select the winner.
Card says, “Ever since I lived in Brazil in the early 70s, the nation and people of Brazil have been important to me. That’s why in Speaker for the Dead, the colonists are Portuguese-speaking Brazilians! When I returned to Brazil to take part in a science fiction convention twenty years ago, I made new friends and read the work of some exciting authors. I’ve continued following the Brazilian science fiction scene ever since, and I am proud that IGMS will be a means of bringing the work of some of these writers to American readers. Till now, American readers have had little idea of how much good work is being done in our genre in Brazil.”
The winning story will be translated from Portuguese by author Christopher Kastensmidt, finalist in this year’s Nebula Awards and organizer of the Hydra Competition, and it will be published inInterGalactic Medicine Show.
IGMS editor Edmund R. Schubert says, “We’ve been publishing stories from around the globe for nearly as long as the magazine has been online, but it was always the English-language speaking parts of the world. This opportunity to reach into Brazil, to a whole new way of not just speaking, but of thinking and of viewing the world, is exciting. South America and Latin America have long been renowned for incorporating magical realism into their fiction and that’s a perfect avenue for IGMS to explore. I’m incredibly excited to see the stories that come to us out of this contest.”
Competition organizer Christopher Kastensmidt adds, “The Brazilian speculative fiction community has produced hundreds of excellent stories over the last two years, but almost none of them have made the passage to the English-speaking world. Orson Scott Card and the staff at InterGalactic Medicine Show recognize that speculative fiction is international, and their support will make this competition one of the biggest incentives ever for Brazilian writers.”
The name for the Hydra Competition comes from the Hydra constellation. Being a group of stars named after a mythical monster, the Hydra constellation is symbolic of both the fantasy and science fiction produced by the speculative community today. The constellation crosses the celestial equator, joining the northern and southern celestial hemispheres, just as the Hydra competition hopes to join the northern and southern hemispheres of speculative fiction. The Hydra is also one of the constellations on the Brazilian flag.
Submissions will be open from July 1st through August 15th and all eligible Brazilian authors are encouraged to participate. Rules will be published in Portuguese on the website Universo Insônia (universoinsonia.com.br). There is no entry fee to participate; however, the winner will receive a publication contract and be paid atIGMS’s full rate.
After a few years of apparent stagnation, the speculative fiction market has been gaining strength in Brazil, with top publishers bringing foreign authors, and independent publishers opening the door for local ones. There are exceptions, but that’s how most publishers operate. Imaginários 3, from Draco Pub. Co, is a fantasy, science fiction and horror collection from different generations. In its third volume it brings stories from Eduardo Spohr, Marcelo Ferlin Assami, Rober Pinheiro, Douglas MCT, Lidia Zuin, Marcelo Galvão, Cirilo S. lemos, Fernando Santos de Oliveira, Ana Cristina Rodrigues & Fábio Fernandes. Below is my take on some of them.
The problem, I think, is the niche.
This week’s short story, by Brazilian author Fábio Fernandes.
Ganesh, in the Afternoon
by Fábio Fernandes
“For starters, the first sentence in a short story must always be a startling one,” said Villupuram the Elephant God, waving the printed pages in one of his four hands.
“Right, but what about the story? Did you like it?” Satyajit the puny mortal man asked anxiously.
“You will want to create something supernatural, something that does not exist in the world as we know it,” Villupuram answered obliquely. (Villupuram was the mortal name of the Elephant God, for he also was a man, at least part-time.)
“Then you didn´t like it,” Satyajit said, already beginning to feel sorry for himself.
Villupuram just wobbled his head. In Indian body language, the head wobbling is usually considered a sign of approval. With that giant elephant head, however, you could never be sure. That head shake could also mean I’m giving you the answer I think you want to hear, or I hear the words that are coming out of your mouth, or even I really want the answer to be yes, but…
“On the contrary,” his friend finally answered. “I found it most interesting.”
Villupuram started to polish his glasses using the hem of his white long-sleeved kurta; he did it very slowly, with careful circular motions, probably so as not to let the fabric of the tunic scratch the lenses.
That never failed to bother Satyajit: he knew that every time his longtime friend and former teacher did that (and he did that even in his original human form), when he ran through those motions, those calming gestures that usually triggered a calmer mindset which Satyajit himself sometimes used to meditate, he would be more often than not simply looking for the most kind, adequate words to say in an embarrassing situation.
“Is it that bad?,” Satyajit couldn´t help but blurt out the words he wanted to hold back. But maybe it was for the best; if he must have his story completely bashed, he wished the coup de grace to be as quick and painless as possible.
Villupuram squinted his beady eyes and looked at his ex-disciple for a minute (which for Satyajit had seemed the proverbial eternity).
“I didn´t say it was bad,” said Villupuram, his voice strangely mellow for what should certainly be an elephantine glottis. “I said it is interesting. That is many steps up the quality ladder.”
“How many steps?” asked Satyajit.
His friend laughed. An incredibly crystalline laughter.
“You are still so impatient,” Villupuram said. “It´s not bad, this impatience, though.”
The Elephant God rose from his cushions beside the small table they were having tea at and walked clumsily to a wooden closet on the wall of the room, still holding the pages in one hand – the lower right one, Satyajit now noticed. He also couldn´t stop watching that huge body and wondering how could that big, gray, leathery skin fit in human clothing.
He (certainly it was a he, Satyajit thought; it never occurred to him to ask Villupuram if he also underwent a sex change when he turned to godmode) opened the two upper doors of the closet and craned his neck (what neck?, Satyajit asked to no one. He is an elephant, for crying out loud!)inside, as if he was looking for something.
Satyajit could glimpse several figurines inside the closet, which he now noticed was a kind of private shrine: a small silver Kali, a middle-sized golden Gautama Buddha, the ever-present minuscule white-and-blue china figurine (so out-of-fashion for decades now) of Kung-Fu-Tze fishing in a pond, a big purple Krishna.
And, in the center of the shrine, an almost life-sized Ganesh towered over the other gods and philosophers. It was a very colorful statue – the only one of the whole bunch which was full-colored – , all draped in real folds of yellow, saffron, and blue cotton. The plaster skin was painted salmon, as it was commonly depicted in the Indian iconography.
With the statue right by his side as if put there for comparison, Satyajit could see that Villupuram wasn´t so similar as Ganesh as his mother had told him at the airport. He looked more like a strange version of that old nineteenth-century Englishman, whose name he can´t for the love of Vishnu remember now but he knows that was dubbed “The Elephant Man”, because of his deformities, than like a real elephant.
Villupuram straightened his back again and shut the doors close. In his upper right hand, he carried a burning stick of brazilwood incense.
“It´s been a long time since I smelled brazilwood,” Satyajit said approvingly, sniffing the scented air.
“I know,” his friend said with what passed for a smile with that big elephantine mouth (at least he didn´t have tusks, Satyajit thought; he would have trouble to eat). “Your mother told me that the day before you returned home. Speaking of which, you didn´t tell me anything at all about your stay in the motherland. And about the workshop.”
“Oh, the workshop was great,” Satyajit said, managing a not very sincere smile.
“Then why are you here?”
Satyajit´s smile crumbled.
“It didn´t come out exactly as I expected,” he finally answered.
“And why not?”
Satyajit let out a deep, sad sigh.
“I didn´t get a good feedback on my stories,” he said. Then, after a few seconds: “People in the motherland seem to be so closed to themselves. It´s as if they didn´t recognized me as their equal. Sometimes I got the feeling that they can only really appreciate their own writings.”
“A surprise ending,” Villupuram said, looking at Satyajit´s story again.
“What?” Satyajit said, frowning. It didn´t become his friend, always so scientific-minded, to change subjects like this. (He thought that it also didn´t become him to have statuettes of gods at home, but that was becoming a common item now in the houses of many of his friends of the University since the Blossoming.)
“Aside from the complete absence of the supernatural element,” Villupuram added, apparently oblivious to his friend Satyajit´s amazement, “your story doesn´t have a surprise ending. Maybe that´s why the members of the workshop didn´t give this one, for example, the attention you thought it deserved.”
“But you think it was just because of that?”
Villupuram raised his enormous head and just looked at his friend.
“You know better than that,” he said.
Satyajit blushed and nodded, eyes lowered. Some things should be left unsaid.
“Anyway,” Villupuram went on, as if nothing had happened, “the underlying narrative structure of a short story is, as the name goes, much too short in order to allow the adequate development of a complex situation. One must create a sharp, shock situation, a scenario that gives the reader the impression that it simply sprouted from nothingness while things are going on all around, as if that universe was always there.”
“But, from the very start, the writer must feed the reader with small portions of his universe, as bits of paratha along the way.”
“I´m not sure I´m following you…,” Satyajit said.
“Do you remember the tale of Hansel e Gretel? Little bits of bread or cake are also in order. But with parsimony, otherwise the story doesn´t go off. Doing so, the writer can make the narrative go wherever he sees fit, until a finale that catch the reader unawares, taking him by surprise.”
“And how can I do that?”
“There is, indeed, an efficient method you can use,” said Villupuram, stroking his snout. “It´s the hidden story method. You tell one story in the surface, but in fact you´re telling a different story running in a parallel track, so to speak. In the end, you make it abundantly clear to the reader that the parallel narrative in the background was in fact the story that mattered the most, not the one on the forefront.”
“It doesn´t seem easy,” Satyajit Said. “Even more for a Fantasy tale.”
“It´s not easy at all, in no literary genre,” Villupuram said. “But Fantasy is not different, say, from whodunits or suspense stories, is it? Remember the pulp stories of Mohandas and Thomas that you liked so much to read as a boy.”
“But they really happened,” Satyajit countered. “Thomas just happened to retell their cases in the format of detective stories.”
“Some of them, yes,” Villupuram said, scratching his elephant ear with his upper right hand. “But let´s not forget that, after Thomas´ death, further novels started to be written by other authors, keeping Thomas´ name as a house name. And they always follow a preordained formula.”
“But that doesn´t make them necessarily bad stories.”
“No, you´re right,” Villupuram said, twirling in the fat fingers of his lesser left hand the pair of glasses that didn´t fit in his currently overgrown head. “But that formula is just one element of the equation.”
Satyajit listened to his friend´s lesson not in a rapture, as he always did when he came there to study Literature in the past. He was trying very hard to listen now, but the ears flapping, the snout moving up and down snakelike, the four arms gesturing all at the same time, all of this was very confusing and tiring. His cup of tea grew cold on the table.
When Satyajit arrived at his friend´s house, everything was normal, as it should be. The transition to divinity status, however, went so smoothly that several minutes passed until he noticed Villupuram´s ishvara manifesting itself. He never even knew Villupuram, being an intellectual and an accomplished writer, would have an ishvara. Even so, it became manifest the only way it could for a man of letters: Ganesh, the Indian elephant god of wisdom and writing, who acted as a scribe for the sage Vyasa in the Mahabharata.
Villupuram/Ganesh didn´t even seem to have felt the transformation of his flesh; the abnormally grown elephant head, however, had substituted the former one, a beautiful head doted with silky white hair and a long salt-and-pepper beard, and also bright dark eyes framed by prescription glasses.
His two human arms now were four, ending not in elephant paws but in bloated hands, not quite human as well. The upper left hand held a cup of tea with fingers fat as sausages, the upper right one grabbed a saucer, and the two lower ones flipped through the pages of Satyajit´s story.
“Let´s see, then. This paragraph here, for instance,” and the Elephant God showed Satyajit something he felt his former student must see.
* * *
Satyajit knew what Villupuram was talking about. After he said goodbye to his friend, he went home in a kind of daze. He strolled around, watching the streets in the rush hour brimming with people in full godmode and simple mortals, walking to and fro, minding their own businesses.
When he got home, he spent hours reading again the pages of his story, slowly, deliberately. He tried to find any error, grammatical or logical, but to no avail. His teachers at the University had already told him that every writing needs a time to breathe, like a good wine. Only with a certain amount or drawer time the author will really be able to read it without acting like a jealous father.
Maybe it would be all for the better. Maybe his story – an utopian tale in which every single human being had the powers of a god – should be rewritten, or even abandoned for good.
* * *
Later, Satyajit watches the blood-red sun setting slowly from his window. He stopped his writing for a while, and automatically called to mind the words of the Bhavagad Gita: Set thy heart upon thy work, but never on its reward; Work not for reward; but never cease to do thy work.
Writing is just a means to a greater end, not an end in itself. He should have known this by now.
His father came into his room to tell him it´s time to leave for the Festival. He would meet him and his mother in a while: he rose from his chair and walked to the rosewood bookcase near his bed, picking from the topmost shelf one of his favorite books: Ten Little Tigers.
The entire collection is still there: Death on the Amazon, Murder on the Punjabi Express, and many other books featuring the adventures of the famous lawyer/detective Mohandas Gandhi and his loyal friend, the American journalist later-turned-Buddhist monk, Thomas Merton. Maybe these are the kind of stories he is meant to write. There is no blame in that. He just needs to figure out if that it´s what he truly wants to do before trying to write his next story.
Book in hand, he goes to the windowsill. The moon is rising. It´s the full moon of May, the Vesak: the time of year when, according to Buddhist tradition, Siddharta Gautama was born, reached illumination, and died. Satyajit and his parents will follow the ritual procession all the way to Hunchback Mountain to celebrate the Vesak at the feet of the gigantic statue of the Enlightened Buddha.
From up there, they will watch the fireworks and see the lights of the entire city of Vaisakha Nadi, with its big river cutting the land in half, the River of May, which gave its name to the capital city of the Indian colony of Virupakshanagar, in South America.
And it has been much more beautiful since the Blossoming, when the gods started to incarnate in the bodies of humans, for they will always dance and congregate with simple mortals in festival times.
It´s going to be a beautiful night, Satyajit thinks to himself. Literature can wait until tomorrow.
Ganesh, in the Afternoon (c) 2009 Fábio Fernandes. First published in The Nautilus Engine.
The Portal is a free, volunteer-run, online review of short-form science fiction, fantasy, and horror from around the world. We review work in English and also provide English-language coverage of short fiction markets, anthologies, and genre literary activities in many language communities.
Launched at the World Fantasy Convention this weekend, The Portal‘s first issue offers reviews of Russian SF magazine Polden, Brazilian collection Paraíso Líquido and others, and articles on SF in Bolivia, France and Denmark.
The Portal is managed by Val Grimm (Editor-in-Chief) and Elizabeth A. Allen (Editor).
Luiz Bras: Paraíso Líquido
This is a book you won’t be able to read in English in the near future. Published as a free edition under the auspices of the government of the State of São Paulo, Paraíso Liquido (Liquid Paradise) is the latest collection of short stories by Luiz Bras. Continue reading