The following article by Charles Tan is reprinted from Apex Magazine. It was published in the pre-order edition of The Apex Book of World SF 2. The trade edition is out now – it is available direct from the publisher, through Amazon and Amazon UK, and or Kindle (US - UK).
World SF: Our Possible Future
By Charles Tan
For some, the fact that you are reading this on a screen is amazing. For me, however, what’s impressive is that you could be from any part of the world: London, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Seoul, Perth, Cape Town, etc, and you’re reading this now, not several months—or years—later. Welcome to publishing in the 21st century where, theoretically, everyone in the world has access to what you write.
This sounds like the premise of a science fictional—or fantastical—story. So why aren’t we living in a publishing utopia? As ideal as the scenario might sound, there are still borders that aren’t limited to geography. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, and writing to you in English is both an advantage and a disadvantage. A lot of cultural nuances are lost, and, perhaps, in an ideal world, I would not necessarily have chosen English as my primary language. But, as far as practicality is concerned, English is prominent in a lot of countries—thus reaching a wider audience—and I’ll most likely get paid more for writing in English.
Which brings me to World SF. This might sound strange coming from someone who’s been promoting World SF, but the term is problematic. Whenever I talk about the subject, I need disclaimers. And that’s one example of the borders I’m talking about, at how language is sometimes inadequate to convey everything that I want to say.
Why World SF is Problematic
The first constraint is to define what World SF is. I won’t even touch the “SF” part—arguments for and against genre borders have been a never-ending debate, whether the discussion took place two decades ago or takes place half a century from now. And in many ways, that’s the brilliance of editor Lavie Tidhar, who chose the title The Apex Book of World SF for his initial anthology: he didn’t have to define what SF stood for, whether it’s science fiction, speculative fiction, or something else. Nor, I think, should an anthology (or magazine, in this case) featuring fiction from all over the world be limited by such constraints. Terms like magic realism, speculative fiction or even fantasy can offend, especially when we act like tourists of another nation’s culture. And while we might easily shrug off the difference between fantasy, fantastique, and the fantastika, the nuances between those terms can be as wide and dangerous as the journey from the Shire to Mordor.
No, let’s talk about the first part of the term: world. What does it mean to be part of the world? Strictly speaking, isn’t every SF story part of World SF? How can one not be part of the world? By writing your story in space?
What we mean by World SF is something closer to International SF—beyond your nation, beyond your borders. But that in itself is problematic, because that implies a reference point. Unfortunately for the rest of us, that reference point is the US.
It shouldn’t surprise you that the US is not the only source of SF in the world. There’s Russia, China, Japan, Croatia, Romania, France, India, Africa, etc. But a lot of SF that we read is either set in the West, based on Western cosmology and belief, or written by Western authors (to say nothing of the inherent patriarchy, colonialism, and racism of such narratives). In the case of my childhood, despite having a rich—albeit seemingly invisible—tradition of SF in the Philippines, most of the SF I’ve read is from the US, and the bookshelves of local bookstores reflect this. Ask any Filipino SF fan: they can name you a lot of Western SF authors but will be hard-pressed to name a local SF author, a phenomenon not limited to the Philippines. If we’re just talking about the zeitgeist, a lot of cultures are Western-centric (for good or for ill) when that doesn’t have to be the case, especially when there’s a rich—and different—tradition of SF radically different from what Western readers are used to.
It’s not that people haven’t tried. But if you look at the SF works from other countries that have been translated into English, compared to SF works in English that have been translated into other languages, there’s a large disproportion in favor of the latter. Which can get quite ridiculous considering the US is just one country.
So there’s clearly a need to drift away from US SF—no offense to US writers (and I still read your books!)—and to highlight fiction from the rest of the world. Yet at the same time, because US readers hold a significant influence; we need to win them over as well. Right now, a lot of us are literate in English. This issue is being published by an American company. A lot of the books being sold in our bookstores are imports from the US.
And then there’s the gray area of Canada, the UK, and Australia. On one hand, they have more exporting capability compared to a country like Singapore or the Philippines, even when English is mutually their first language. But on the other hand, awareness and accessiblity to their literature isn’t automatically assured, and their fiction can be obscure. It’s an unfair generalization to group them as part of the US, but they clearly have a better advantage than most third-world countries.
Which brings me to the second problem: if World SF excludes the US, then how do we define who writes World SF? The term is malleable, open to interpretation, and will mean different things to different people. For example, let’s determine that for a work to be considered World SF, it needs to be written by an author that’s not American. Does that mean by nationality? Ethnicity? Do we do percentages of heredity? What happens if an American author moves to another country? Or the children of foreigners who migrate to the US? Do we strive for a more inclusive policy, or an exclusive one?
It’s not a question that can easily be answered. Nor should it be. It ignores plurality. Take myself for example: I’m Filipino-Chinese, a Filipino citizen born to pure-blooded Chinese parents. Don’t make me choose between being Filipino or being Chinese. I’m a product of both worlds and if I were to simply pick one over the other, I’d feel completely alien. You can’t isolate and excise the parts of me that are Filipino from the parts that are Chinese. If I hypothetically migrate to another country, that creates a new dynamic. My children will similarly have an entirely different paradigm compared to mine.
The third problem is that no one is an expert on World SF. It’s hard enough to keep track of all things SF in the Philippines (and I’m not necessarily succeeding). Or the US. Or—insert country here. How much harder would it be to keep track of the whole world, which implies hundreds of countries? And then we go back to plurality: no culture or race is a monolithic entity. There will be opinions, debates, even schisms within a particular community: just because I find a particular story to be very Filipino doesn’t necessarily mean another Filipino will find the same value in it, for example.
Although no one can be an expert in World SF, we shouldn’t stop trying. Perhaps, after reading this issue, or a copy of the The Apex Book of World SF, you think that you’ve fulfilled your quota of SF beyond the US. But no. Neither this magazine nor Tidhar’s anthologies are a comprehensive (or even holistic) summary of the World SF scene. If you gave us half a million words to work with, it still wouldn’t be enough. Heck, it’s not even enough to comprehensively tackle the literature of a single nation. Instead, they are biased snapshots, which will hopefully pique your curiosity. This should be the beginning of discovering what World SF truly means, rather than the final word on it. So don’t be surprised if I’m wrong when it comes to a lot of things.
There’s a certain comfort when you’re asked about SF from other countries. If you mention Serbia, I can name Zoran Živković. South Africa, Lauren Beukes. France, Aliette de Bodard. Finland, Johanna Sinisalo. But that’s actually false relief. For example, what else do I know about Serbian SF aside from Živković? It’s easy to jump to conclusions based on the works of a few writers, but just as no single author encapsulates all of American SF, there’s no single author—or even a set of writers—that fully encapsulates the SF field of any country.
Awards and Recognition
There’s no perfect system to gauge or determine acceptance—except perhaps being an actual best-seller, selling in the hundreds of thousands—but awards give the impression of recognition, by the voting jury at least. So awards are important.
It would be remiss of me not to mention what is perhaps the most important award when it comes to World SF: the relatively new Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards. One of the most difficult processes in propagating World SF, whether financially or logistically, is translation. For such an award to exist is a great boon, and their agenda similarly reminds me of one of our shortcomings: recognizing translators. Just approach your typical SF fan and they’d (and by they, I include myself) be hard-pressed to name a translator who works in the genre specifically, unless the translator is a prominent author to begin with, such as Ursula K. Le Guin or Ken Liu.
In 2011, the Translation Awards winners for long form and short form were A Life on Paper: Stories, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin, and Elegy for a Young Elk, Hannu Rajaniemi, translated by Hannu Rajaniemi, respectively. Honourable mentions went to The Golden Age, Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland, and Wagtail, Marketta Niemelä, translated by Liisa Rantalaiho. The special award went to Brian Stableford.
One of Lavie Tidhar’s frequent complaints is that the World Fantasy Awards is a misnomer, for while there’s the occasional nominee or two that’s not from the US, it’s mostly a very Western-centric award. However, last year’s nominees, at least for the novel category, were impressive: Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, N.K. Jemisin, Graham Joyce, Guy Gabriel Kay, and Karen Lord were the nominees, with Okorafor winning the award for Who Fears Death. Angélica Gorodischer was the lifetime achievement winner, while Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press won the special award in the non-professional category. I hope to see this trend continue.
There’s also the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, which Dubravka Ugresic won in 2010 for Baba Yaga Laid an Egg.
The Future of World SF
I honestly don’t know where World SF is headed, or if our efforts to spread awareness will succeed. But I’m cautiously optimistic about the field. Half a decade ago, for example, who would have thought there would be a Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, an imprint dedicated to translating Japanese fiction into English, or a second—much less a first—anthology dedicated to featuring SF from around the world? While there have been a few such anthologies in the past, there have been none this century and, previously, such efforts were by American or British editors who did not themselves represent World SF as we have attempted to define it.
Who would have thought readers would be interested to hear what I have to say? I’m not from America. I’m not white. I’m not famous.
That’s not to say all is well. The status quo is still against a global SF field. But change is coming and, hopefully, it swings in our favour. There’re a lot of voices that haven’t been heard; it’s not because authors aren’t writing.
Today on the WSB, Marcus Rauchfuss of Germany writes for us about his plans for a European Steampunk Convention.
ESC – The European Steampunk Convention
By Marcus Rauchfuss
Some weeks ago, I was twittering with Lavie and he suggested that what Europe needed was a big steampunk convention. Thus, the idea for ESC – The European Steampunk Convention was born.
The steampunk scene is active in Europe, more precisely, there are local, regional and in some cases country-wide scene active, but what we lack is something connecting us all. The European Steampunk Convention is there to change this. It will provide a means to bring all the steampunks in Europe together.
How it will happen:
Europe is a big and unfortunately politically divided place. It is not always easy or cheap to travel to another country; thus, we are choosing a different approach:
We are bringing the convention to you.
The date for the European Steampunk Convention will be September 29th – 30th 2012. There will be several events all across Europe. One major event will be The Second Steampunk and Gaslight Convention in Luxembourg. If all goes as planned, there will also be one or several things happening in Spain, France, Germany, Croatia, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Russia.
We are going to stream all these events into the internet so you can join in wherever you are. There will also be bands playing at some locations and we have planned for streaming the concerts, provided we can afford it.
So, all you need is internet access and ideally a webcam. There will be a virtual meeting place for all of us on the internet where we can connect. Of course it is more fun if you are surrounded by friends, but if you are the sole steampunk in your region, you can join us online!
What you can do:
If you can contribute, if you are a musician, a DJ, a technician, if you know, own or have access to a great location, get in touch.
Also, if you can provide mobile internet equipment, your assistance will be much appreciated. We are also obviously happy if people are willing to donate some funds, since thus far, the money is coming from our savings. The European Steampunk Convention will not be a commerical thing. And concerning this matter: If you know any reliable crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter which also accepts non-American projects, let us know. We cannot have our eyes everywhere.
And of course: You can spread the word!
Let us work together and create the first European Steampunk Convention!
How to get in touch:
You can find us on Facebook (LINK: http://www.facebook.com/pages/EuroSteamCon/187444791332522) and on our official site at http://eurosteamcon.com
On Japanese SF
By Nick Mamatas
In Issui Ogawa’s The Next Continent, the “war on terror” is a political afterthought thanks to an American retreat from the Middle East; Japanese businesspeople see themselves as a counterweight to Western globalization; and engineers can do anything from building undersea vacation spots to constructing a wedding chapel on the moon. Environmental problems have been solved or mitigated, capitalists aren’t all ruthless, and the state is neither utterly incompetent nor a single piece of legislation away from tyranny. Societies that work are a radical vision in today’s Western science fiction, but they’re refreshingly common in Japan.
Japanese science fiction has any number of futures to choose from. In the world of Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata, private property is so valued that a vending machine in a hotel hallway is given precedence over a human life. In Chōhei Kambayashi’s Yukikaze series, the fighter pilot hero is out solely for himself in his war against the alien JAM. His motto isn’t “Death before dishonor,” it’s “Not my problem.” In Jyouji Hayashi’s The Ouroboros Wave both individualism and strict hierarchies have been supplanted by a kind of corporate mutualism. Though we can talk about the typical themes and plots of Japanese SF, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no single Japanese future, no ubiquitous theme.
I am often asked what differentiates Japanese SF from its Western parent. Frankly, with a few name changes, in many cases there is no difference at all. Japanese SF authors grew up reading US and UK SF and have fully embraced the idiom. But some traits stand out.
Japanese SF often builds scenes in ways that are reminiscent of the manga panel as opposed to the motion picture. So flashbacks operate a bit differently, comical characters appear in otherwise serious scenes, and conversations don’t necessarily happen in what a Western reader would perceive as “real time.” Backgrounds are often sketched out in the boldest of strokes—the famous professor, the dying sun! On the other hand, scenes will always be given as many pages as they need to complete the story, which is suggestive of the serial nature of both manga and the Japanese bunkoban paperback.
Japanese SF is far more likely to feature a teenage girl as a protagonist than Western SF.
Japanese hard SF doesn’t foreground the “hard SF attitude” described by Kathryn Cramer as “a love of hardware for its own sake—and the hard-nosed Ayn Rand voice that we now identify as libertarian.” Though this isn’t to say that stories with a libertarian theme are unknown; Project Itoh’s Harmony, a Utopian satire about universal healthcare, certainly qualifies.
Japanese SF tends to be short. Most of the longer books we’ve published via Haikasoru were available as two, or even three, volumes in Japan. These volumes are released serially—sometimes a month apart, and occasionally even a week apart. (I think this compares favorably to the Western method of waiting for initial sales figures. How many trilogies are missing a final concluding volume?) An exception is Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s existentialist epic Loups-Garous, which was an oddity for being quite long and published in a single volume in Japan.
And most importantly at of all, in Japanese SF, the future is Japanese. I remember a conversation I had with someone when I first starting working for Haikasoru. “Isn’t it funny,” he said, “that all these future alien invasions and catastrophes and discoveries are supposed to happen on a little archipelago?”
“As opposed to happening on a continent largely empty of anything save corn fields and SUVs?” I asked him. “And not even the whole continent—just the middle bit!” Science fiction has many futures; it’s about time Western readers were exposed to a few of those visions of which they may not otherwise conceive. At Haikasoru, we’re just trying to do our part in creating a truly international future.
Welcome to 2011. Last year we looked back (and, in fact, Charles is busy compiling a year’s end summary for us this time around too) but for now, I wanted to look ahead, at 2011 and beyond.
The World SF Blog has been around since February 2009. Which means we’ll soon be celebrating two years! That’s quite a lot of what I think is pretty unique content, and over 2010 we’ve added not only the round of interviews, essays and other original material, but also weekly publication of short stories from around the world, which continues into this year.
We’re eligible for a Hugo, incidentally. We realise a predominantly American award (we even spell “realise” in a non-American way, don’t we?) is not the natural destiny for a blog (magazine? fanzine?) such as this, but I thought I should point it out.
Mainly, what I wanted to talk about is what’s coming up on the blog in the new year. There are several things we’re looking at, at the moment. I’d like to bring back Movie Week, which was a great success last year. We’ll continue to publish short stories every Tuesday, of course. We’re also looking at starting a new feature, a regular Author Week. These will probably be a week every one or two months focusing on one specific author, and will include exclusive interviews, short stories, guest-posts and giveaways. We’re currently preparing the first couple of these.
The other great thing for me is that, thanks to you, our readers, The Apex Book of World SF was greatly successful (a surprise, I suspect, for everyone involved!) and our publishers, Apex Books, have commissioned, and are preparing to release, a second volume, called simply The Apex Book of World SF 2. I’m very excited about this, obviously! The anthology should be out sometimes towards the second half of the year, and includes some fantastic stories from Africa and Latin America, Asia, Europe and Australia.
Which leads to another new venture we’re currently considering: a World SF Press, a small, select publishing initiative to release some unique international genre fiction (and non-fiction) in e-book format. I see this as complimenting both the blog and the anthology series, and our first project, in co-operation with Apex, is currently in its early stages. If you like the idea, and want to get involved, drop us a line!
As always, we’re looking for guest editorials, thought-provoking essays and short stories. Please send suitable material our way!
Finally, I wanted to thank you all for your continued support. I like to think this blog has become, over the past two years, a focus for a truly international community of readers and writers, and I’ve been delighted with its reception. This is, for Charles and me, and for everyone involved, simply a labour of love. These are exciting years for international SF and it’s great to be showcasing that every day. So thank you, our readers! Let’s have a great new year.
World Cup Feelings – Really Global Ones
By Fábio Fernandes
By the time you read this, it’s quite probable that the World Cup has already come to an end. Brazil, alas, is already out of the game, but that happens. What’s really important is that the FIFA World Cup has managed to do something extraordinary, and for decades now: to unite most of the world around a major event.
Note that I said most of the world. Not every country is crazy about soccer – or football, as it is called in Europe, or simply futebol, as I call it in Portuguese. (From now on, I will refer to it as football, because that is how this sport is referred to in the countries that really care about it.)
Not that the countries that don’t care about football should be covered in tar and feathers – I just feel sorry for them, because they miss all the fun! The emotion, the sheer energy of the players in the field running after the ball is something unique – everyone should go to a stadium at least once in their lifetimes to experience it.
(But, hey!, some of you will promptly say to me. The same applies to baseball, for example. What about the thrill of the game, all the fastballs, home runs, and whatnot. I won’t argue with that. I’m sure it’s awesome as well.)
Some people I follow on Twitter, most notably people from the US, simply can’t understand some key notions of the game, like the tie. For them, no match should end with both teams failing to score a goal, or – even worse – scoring the same amount of goals each (perish the thought!)
Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but certainly it’s not something you are born with. It’s more like an acquired taste. Or love at first sight. It may happen for both sports, and it does. Country notwithstanding.
Recently, Glenn Beck (for those of you who don’t know him – I, for one, didn’t before the World Cup began – he is the utterly conservative host of a news show in Fox News TV channel in the US) said that he hates “soccer”, and, guess what? Because it’s global!
(Years ago, I believe I already established that America is a concept that goes far beyond the borders of the country called United States, encompassing no less than three continental landmasses, North, Central, and South America, so I won’t tackle the subject again here – please refer to this guest post in Jeff VanderMeer’s blog.)
As for Beck, I take the liberty of quoting him from another site, Media Matters for America:
BECK: I don’t get the baseball thing, but the soccer thing, I hate it so much — probably because the rest of the world likes it so much, and they riot over it, and they continually try to jam it down our throat.”
It appears that Beck is not alone on this, and thinks that soccer is part of a kind of socialist conspiracy against America of something like that.
I’m not trying to reasoning with those arguments. I just wanted to say a thing or two.
First, going back to baseball, I’m truly sorry, but you can’t possibly call World Series a championship series comprising only one or two countries. If only Japan, Cuba (yeah, I know I’m dreaming), or even Brazil (we have baseball here too, but we’re less proficient in it than the US in soccer – for now, that is) were also on it, then the American professional baseball World Series would really be global. But then, according to Glenn Beck, it could be dangerous.
Second, and that maybe will strike you as a curiosity: in Portuguese, we often use the word socialize as a verb, but not with a political meaning. We just happen to use it sometimes when talking about sharing stuff with our friends. (For instance, let’s socialize this book, shall we? Or, let’s socialize the bottle, when you’re in a bar – you got it).
Does that sound odd to you? Maybe it does. What the hell, Brazil is a different country, so it should sound odd to you after all.
I don’t even know if this rarticle (part rant, part article) will be published, because it apparently doesn’t have anything to do with science fiction. But that’s just on the surface. Since we’re having a global conversation here, those were just some thoughts I thought I should share with you all. Or socialize.
Changes at the World SF News Blog
As you may have noticed, we’ve recently changed the theme for the blog – this is only a part of the planned expansion of the blog. What the new format allows us to do, amongst other things, is offer free advertising for international SF-related books and projects. We’ll be adding some more of these – and rotating them from time to time – but if you want to take advantage of it simply e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ads can be static images or animated GIFs, at a width of 164 pixels and a height no more than 200 pixels. Space is limited, but we’ll gladly offer the space for any relevant projects.
This, of course, is not the main change. International SF is at a good place right now, with more exposure than ever (most recently the special SF issue of World Literature Today), and we’ve been overwhelmed with the interest in, and support for, The Apex Book of World SF, which launched this blog in the first place.
Looking at our stats, hits truly do come from all over the world – Guy Hasson’s potentially-controversial recent article for us, American Authors vs. Foreign Authors, for instance, has drawn attention from, variously, Hungary, Poland and Greece, alongside the US, while our coverage of the controversy surrounding China’s Science Fiction World editor (covered here by Charles Tan) has naturally attracted readers from across the globe.
While the blog was conceived as a source of news for the international SF community, one of its main purposes of course to draw attention to fiction from around the world. As such, it is merely a natural progression for us to start offering fiction.
I’m very excited, therefore, to announce that, starting tomorrow, we begin featuring fiction on the World SF News Blog. our first offering is an original 15-part serial from Singapore: The Basics of Flight, by Joyce Chng. We will run one chapter a week, every Tuesday, for the next four months. We hope you enjoy it!
We already have a few more stories planned, so stay tuned!
A word on submissions: we’re still avidly looking for contributors for our regular (or semi-regular, at the moment), essays and editorials. This Wednesday we’ll have a new article by Anil Menon, but we are always looking for new material. Please drop us a line at email@example.com if you feel you can contribute.
Regarding fiction: we are interested mainly in reprints (being a non-profit blog, we can’t offer payment for fiction or articles), and are particularly interested in serials. If you would like to contribute, again, e-mail us.
We hope you enjoy the new, improved blog!
Last year, I wrote an essay entitled The Dilemma of the Term “World SF” on my blog. Right now, a couple of people in the blogosphere feels indignant at Norman Spinrad’s latest column, “Third World Worlds”, and I bring up my previous essay because Spinrad’s editorial tackles some of the themes which I originally brought up. What gets lost in some of the rants is that Spinrad does bring up some important and valuable points. For example, he writes about American and British writers tackling foreign cultures in their fiction (and I’d like to add writers like Geoff Ryman and Paolo Bacigalupi to that list). In some cases, they work, while in others, they don’t. Whether it’s the former or the latter however, it begs the question: can writers like Mike Resnick and Paul McAuley and Ian McDonald be considered World SF writers?
There are several points in Spinrad’s essay that I find problematic but his column is an interesting exercise in discourse because, at the very least, he’s consistent. I don’t know Spinrad (whether personally or his work), but it seems to be that he’s operating from a cultural paradigm. Take for example this quotation of his that has drawn the ire of several people:
So, for now at least, and in the apparent absence of a significant body of science fiction written by born and bred Africans, this Caucasian American is probably the closest thing there is or has been to an African science fiction writer, with the exception of Octavia Butler. Who did write the same sort of thing, and did it well, and was Black to boot, but I use that politically incorrect word rather than “African American” because aside from her genetic heritage she was no more African than Mike Resnick.
People are interpreting this as Spinrad saying that Mike Resnick is African American due to his fiction (more so than Octavia Butler) but where I’m coming from, that’s not what he’s saying. It’s more of the reverse: Octavia Butler is American (and not African) because she grew up and was raised in America. There is some merit (but I’ll air the opposing paradigm later) to this line of argument. Take me for example: I’m genetically Chinese but was raised in Philippine culture. I consider myself more Filipino than Chinese. Or take South African writer Lauren Beukes (who is of French and Dutch descent). To quote her, in an interview I conducted last year:
In answer to your question, I think of myself as South African full stop. Those European ties are so old, so frayed, they’re not even a sepia photograph, they’re a faded oil painting dating back 350 years when my family first came to this country.
What Spinrad neglects, however, is the opposing paradigm, which shouldn’t easily be dismissed. It’s the classic argument of the expatriate: does Kaaron Warren stop being Australian just because she lived in Fiji for a time? Or our very own Lavie Tidhar, who has traveled all around the world (and is currently still seeking a home!), is less of an Israeli just because he doesn’t live in Israel? Or, following Spinrad’s line of thinking (growing up in the said country’s culture), doesn’t that qualify Tobias Buckell as a Carribean writer because he was born and raised in Grenada before moving to the US? And America has several writers who’ve traveled in their youth, whether it’s Jay Lake or Jeff VanderMeer.
Or let’s talk about me. Sure, I consider myself Filipino, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to contribute to the Chinese experience. My Filipino life is different from the Filipino life of an American-Filipino, a Korean-Filipino, a Spanish-Filipino, etc. in much the same way that my Chinese experience is different from that of a Chinese living in mainland China vs. one living in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, etc. My Chinese heritage, from genetics to the rituals we practice, does have an impact on me and who I am, even if I consider myself Filipino.
The problem with picking just one paradigm is that it’s reductionist. Butler is an African American writer of science fiction because of several factors. Yes, genetics plays a part, but so did her upbringing, even if she was raised in America. Just as there is no Platonic Filipino, there similarly is no Platonic American. There is no single true American experience, any more than there is a single American accent. America is a plurality of cultures: I visited L.A. and San Francisco and the Filipino-American culture in each place is different. How much more when we compare the Filipino-American experience of California vs. New York? Or perhaps the Chinese-American culture vs. Latino-American culture in Texas? There’s room for overlap but each one is also distinct. Butler is simultaneously an American and African writer, although it’s up to her where her as to where her ultimate loyalty lies, if such a choice was ever forced upon her (but that’s also faulty logic because just as American might have declared war on Iraq, not every American is anti-Iraq). The only honest answer I can give is that it’s complicated instead of a binary reply (and people are free to change their minds later on).
Another point that I want to argue with Spinrad is the way he breaks down culture into its component parts. Take for example this line:
With the exception of the Japanese, I at least, am at a loss to point to any science fiction that I know of that has evolved independently in non-European languages or cultures disconnected therefrom.
First off, it’s already difficult to separate the culture of a single nation. Now he’s including an entire continent, Europe, in his line of argument. If we’re just going that route, why don’t we ask the opposite question: Has there been any science fiction that has evolved independently of Indian languages or culture? How about Asia? (And I’d like to add that Palestine is in Asia, so when we’re talking about Christianity and the Bible, Asia has had a significant effect on European culture.)
The truth of the matter is, however, this is faulty logic. Each continent and culture has influenced others, whether on a major or minor scale. Can you imagine Chinese culture without India (goodbye Buddhism) for example? As science fiction fans, we all know about the Butterfly Effect and how this is one of the most overused tropes in time travel stories. How much more with real cultures and people?
Another problem is that while there are similarities between countries and cultures, that doesn’t mean they’re not distinct from each other. The Philippines for example was colonized by Spain. That doesn’t mean Philippine culture is the equivalent of Spanish culture. Nor does it mean that we’re the equivalent of another Spanish colony, like Mexico. So while there is some level of interdependence between cultural evolution–such as literature–it does not mean that just because that’s the case makes it less culturally unique. A concrete example of this is language: Filipino English is different from Indian English, Singaporean English, Korean English, British English, and American English. “Salvage” in Filipino English is slang for killing you indiscriminately and tossing your corpse into the river, the equivalent of “sleeping with the fishes” in The Godfather lingo. Clearly not in the same context as salvaging a sunken ship.
And of course, there’s all sorts of world science fiction out there–we’re just ignorant of it. Gord Sellar for example has this comment when it comes to Korean SF:
Korean SF is preoccupied with educational issues, to a degree that seems weird to a Western, in a way that reflects the society’s overwhelming and, to westerners, baffling preoccupation with education; it also seems, from what some Koreans describe and what little I’ve been able to read, to be less focused on problem-solving as an active, agency-driven process. Which also makes it hard to translate in a form that would make the text satisfying for most Western SF readers… we see deus ex machina where a Korean reader might see a happy ending that came the only way realistically imaginable.
Take my interview with Wu Yan, a Chinese writer, editor, and scholar:
Cixin tends to use a kind of globalization viewpoint to look at the world. He thought science could solve most of the problems in the future. His story has a lot of changing styles. Sometimes it looks like a thought experiment. For example, he wrote a story titled “I Do not Care to Die If I Have Got the Tao of Nature” (2002). It comes from a quote from Confucius Analects. Talks about people devoting their life to seeking the Tao (way) inside the world. In Liu’s story, it turns to be a testing platform in front of earthmen. Answer the question correctly, or die for not succeeding!
Or Jacques Barcia on Brazil Science Fiction:
Again, that has everything to do with SF literature. Brazil was cyberpunk and it’s becoming post-cyberpunk. If Brazil used to have marginal tech with a dirty, gritty and violent setting, now the country is techy, edgy, and hopeful. There are tons of examples of how things could get better with technology and how literature could represent those facts and hopes in fiction.
Or Nnedi Okorafor’s interview (part of a larger article on SF in Africa) with Naunihal Singh, a professor of comparative politics specializing in conflict, civil-military relations, and the politics of Sub-Saharan Africa at Notre Dame University:
“The Ghanaians just weren’t connecting to it. Bring the Terminator to West Africa, and he’d stop running in a day. He’d sit there and glitch. It’ll be hard to make people afraid of a future where computers take over the world when they can’t manage to keep the computers on their desk running. These are very western stories. On the other hand, classic science fiction, like space exploration stories, would probably work better…assuming it was adapted for the audience. Africans would love to see stories about Africans on a space ship. The idea that Africans might be dominant in the future would resonate so well with nationalism.”
And Nick Mamatas when it comes to Japan:
Japanese SF authors will often proudly wear their influences on their sleeves, and those influences include American science fiction writers of the Golden Age and New Wave, as well as manga, the space race, philosophy both Western and Eastern, etc
Mamatas’ quote is something I want to highlight because it’s proof that a piece of text can be influenced by other cultures, yet still be unique.
And for all my complaints against Spinrad, his essay does bring up good points when it comes to writers trying their hand at writing “alien” cultures, or as Jeff VanderMeer pointed out:
He talks about colonialism. He talks about the insertion of the white guy into a non-white culture/setting, and understands that that’s often a recipe for terrible cliches. An interesting quote near the end, where Spinrad also talks about how understanding other cultures is a way of deepening your self and your writing.
The end of Spinrad’s essay also fittingly concludes with the following:
Except to repeat the old saw that travel broadens the mind, and extend it into the contemporary realms of the virtual; fiction, music, cuisine, language, to travel within the realms of as many Other Cultures as you can by whatever means available; directly, or via media, on every level possible, from the lofty heights to the rhythms of the gutter, so that while they may remain different from your own, your mind is opened to the infinite multiplexity of human cultures and styles, real and to be imagined, so that nothing different remains alien.
Travel in this extended sense indeed broadens the mind.
It also renders it deeper.
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Award Season in New Zealand
By Ripley Patton
For writers the world-over, what comes after the holiday season? Award season, of course. Early in the calendar year, every year, nominations are accepted for the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Sir Julius Vogel. Haven’t heard of that last one? I’m not surprised. While international awards are well-publicized and renowned, their younger siblings, nationally specific awards, tend to be overlooked.
Did you know there is a science fiction and fantasy award specific to Australian work? And Canadian. There is a Polish award for science fiction, and a Dutch award, a Japanese award, a Croatian award, an Italian award, and an award for work originating in Finland. And last, but not least, there is an award for New Zealand science fiction, fantasy, and horror called the Sir Julius Vogel Award.
Where have all these awards come from? More often than not, they have originated from the heart of fandom and a sense of national pride. Every country in the world has its own culture of creativity, its favorite writers, its beloved stories, and a deep, genuine desire to honor them. But often that honoring has humble beginnings, and goes on quietly and unnoticed by the wider world. At least, at first.
And so it was with the Sir Julius Vogel Award, which started out in 1989 as the New Zealand Fan Awards and was given for such categories as Best Fan Writing and Best Fan Zine. The Award kept its fandom emphasis and its fannish name until OdysseyCon (New Zealand’s 22nd annual science fiction convention) in 2001, at which it was decided by the New Zealand fan organization, SFFANZ, to expand the award categories to include professional efforts. This also resulted in the need for a new name, and Sir Julius Vogel was chosen by a near unanimous vote.
But who is this Sir Julius Vogel? Well, he was the eighth Prime Minister of New Zealand in the mid 1870’s, but he was also a writer of science fiction. In 1889, he published his science fiction novel, Anno Domini 2000 – a Woman’s Destiny. The book was strongly centered on New Zealand and depicted a utopian society where women were allowed to hold positions of authority. (It can be found in its entirety on-line at http://188.8.131.52/tm/scholarly/tei-AnnVoge.html). Four years later, in 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women full voting rights, and later went on to boast a period (2005-2006) when all five of its highest government offices were held by women. The New Zealand award had a formidable name. Now all it needed was a trophy and some professional nominees.
In 2009, at ConScription in Auckland, while nervously awaiting my first award nominee banquet, I stepped into a back room at the Grand Chancellor Hotel into a world of wonder. There, I found a group of dedicated fans, patiently and painstakingly painting the ornately designed Sir Julius Vogel Award trophies, one of which I dreamed would soon be mine. It was like stumbling upon Santa’s workshop. But Santa’s workshop is a little farther north. Here in New Zealand we have a different workshop known as Weta. You may have heard of it. Weta Workshop http://www.wetanz.com/weta-workshop-services/ is internationally famous for its creative work on such projects as the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, King Kong, and, most recently, Avatar. Weta also spends a little time every year making a few, stunning award trophies, one of which it was awarded in 2003 for Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy.
The original design of the trophy was created by fans Norman Cates and Peter Friend, with help from Creative New Zealand, Brownstone Design, Te Papa and Te Maori. As seen below, the trophy has three sides, one depicting a dragon (or taniwha), one a spaceship, and one a robot (sort of).
What is an award without nominees? A new award can sometimes have difficulty acquiring them in quantity and quality. It takes time for an award to prove itself as prestigious, legit and viable. It takes money, organization and concentrated effort to publicize it. Thankfully, in 2001, Peter Jackson had released Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. He was a New Zealander who had put New Zealand on the world fantasy map, and he was awarded a SJV for Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form and an SJV for Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy in the first year of the awards.
In 2002 the SJV had only 5 professional categories and only 12 total nominees in those categories. Over the years, as the award has became better known, the amount of categories and nominees has risen. In 2009, the SJV had 9 professional categories and 37 professional nominees on the final ballot.
In order to qualify for a Sir Julius Vogel Award, nominees must be New Zealand citizens or residents. Professional categories for nomination include Best Novel, Best Novella/Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Collected Work, Best Artwork, Best Dramatic Presentation (both long and short forms), Best Production/Publication, and Best New Talent.
1. During January-March (though this may vary depending on the timing of the annual Con) anyone in the world can nominate any number of works published or produced in the previous calendar year in any category. Information on how to submit nominations can be found at http://sffanz.sf.org.nz/sjv/sjvAwards.shtml
2. In early April, a short-list is announced of up to five finalists (or up to seven in the case of ties) in each category. The short list is determined by the number of nominations in the first round.
3. The final ballot is made available to members of SFFANZ and members of that years Con, and is a preferential ballot, allowing members to rank all the nominees.
4. At that years Con (or by mail, previously), the ballots are submitted, tallied, and the trophies awarded at a ceremony and banquet honoring the nominees. In 2010, the SJV awards will be presented at Au Contraire http://www.aucontraire.org.nz/ in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Sir Julius Vogel Awards have come a long way in the last decade, thanks to the perseverance and commitment of the SFFANZ community. They expanded it from a fan only award, to include the professional realm. They acquired an inspiring and historically relevant name. They honored outstanding men and women from New Zealand in the field of speculative fiction, fandom, and other media. They increased their public profile, their prestige, and were flooded with an onslaught of nominations last year that is only likely to increase this year.
In preparation for writing this article, I interviewed Norman Cates, a founder of SFFANZ and, for all intents and purposes, the father of the SJV awards. I asked him what he hoped to see for the awards in the future.
He said, “I would love to see the awards gain national recognition, even TV coverage.
Science fiction and fantasy are genres where we can discuss ideas that cannot be done any where else. There is a vast history of SF literature behind us, and it’s getting more and more main-stream all the time. We are no longer a minority genre, if we ever were. I would like to see these awards recognize that more publically. There are hurdles to that, of course. But who knows 5 or 10 years in the future…”
For those of us who write science fiction and fantasy, the future isn’t all that hard to imagine. I, for one, like to imagine it with a shelf in my office sporting an ornate, green and copper trophy. I like to imagine it as a place where creative minds are beautifully rewarded, even in one of the smallest, hemispherically-challenged, island nations of the world.
And I like to imagine that the whole world knows about it.
Ripley Patton is an American writer of speculative fiction happily living on the South Island of New Zealand. She was short-listed for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Short Story in 2009, and currently has multiple short stories and one novelette that qualify for the awards for 2010. More about her writing, plus links to her work, can be found on her website at http://www.ripleypatton.com or at her Livejournal http://rippatton.livejournal.com.
SF FROM THE RIM:
WRITING FOR AMERICANS VS. WRITING FOR “FOREIGNERS”
By Guy Hasson
Having spent my childhood in both the U.S. and Israel, I am a man who belongs to both cultures and yet remains an outsider in both. I am an author of – and for – two cultures. When writing a story or a book, I consciously write stories that would easily fit the two different audiences I know. This allows for an interesting perspective, which I hope to explore here: Writing for Americans vs. Writing for Israelis (or, on a wider scale, ‘foreign countries’).
THE RACE OF THE CHARACTERS
The American audience needs strong justification for the lead character not to be an American.
The American audience as a whole (not everyone) sees the U.S. as the center of the world in which, naturally, almost all important things happen. The archetypical protagonist is American.
Non-American characters are exotic to the American audience. It is harder to connect with them, it is harder to feel they are ‘one of us’, and in any case, an explanation is always necessary in the back of the reader’s mind. The author needs to subtly-or-otherwise explain his choice of foreign protagonist within the story.
The foreign audience needs strong justification for the lead character to be of that country.
While the Americans subconsciously see themselves as an empire and in the center of the world, people in most other countries see their own countries as part of a greater whole, usually dependent on America’s (or, in the past, the Soviet Union’s) foreign aid, dependent on other countries’ protection, and equipped with a regional bad blood (usually) that goes back thousands of years. People of most ‘foreign’ countries feel subconsciously that they are in a country that is but a cog in a greater complex.
Add to the mix the fact that more than 95% of the most influential and powerful literary and cinematic SF has historically come from the U.S. and the U.K. and you’ll understand why the audiences of other countries are preconditioned to see the dwellers of the English-speaking world as the natural protagonists of most SF stories.
And so to write protagonists that are ‘foreign’ (meaning ‘native to the country in which the books/stories are written’) the author needs a strong justification why the story can only be moved forward using a non-traditional hero. The author needs to show the audience that no other character of any other country could possibly have been the main character.
SEXUAL AND POLITICAL TABOOS
Different cultures have different sexual, political, and moral taboos. Authors are sometimes interested in pushing the envelope on one or more of these taboos. In trying to write for two cultures simultaneously, the author has to find a way to bring both audiences to the moral starting point of his story.
The trick is for the author to realize that when he’s stepping over a line, he’s stepping over a line. As long as he is aware of it, he will treat it in a manner that befits it (gently or crudely, understanding the reader’s difficulty or being ‘in your face’ about it; letting the characters join in on how hard it is to cross the line or in letting the characters step over the line and discover that they’ve done it and it’s not so bad; etc.) There are many ways to help the readers along a new moral path.
The American audience, for example, comes from a more repressed sexual upbringing/morality, and yet American SF authors (like Silverberg, Heinlein, and Pohl, to name but a few) have brought in sexual content more extreme than their readers were ready for. These authors took their readers’ existing morality, and helped them down new paths. In writing for at least two cultures, the author has to subtly do the work for two readerships, not one.
MIDDLE CLASS WOES VS. REAL LIFE WOES
The American SF audience prefers reading about middle class woes.
Most of American SF fans have a pretty good life. They live in the richest country in the world, they are usually not homeless or in a position in which they must physically fight for their lives. Most SF literature (and cinema) comes from a point of view that describes the small woes of a life that is generally good. This is true even when describing SF conditions that are harsh. Since the audience doesn’t ‘connect’ with the harshness, neither do the characters. Reading or seeing about the true harshness of homelessness, rape, war, etc. is not the cup of tea for most readers although there are, always, a few exceptions.
The foreign SF audience prefers reading about harsh woes and/or non-existent woes
Life in foreign countries is harder, and the potential readers are usually faced with harsher daily news and harsher events of the day. In addition, life (job, money, family) is usually a greater struggle. Many countries have been exposed to dictatorships, civil unrest, poverty, violence, war, or terrorism on a much grander scale than American citizens have. Life is harder, and therefore SF literature is usually about harsher subjects and certainly not about middle class woes. The opposite side of this is that sometimes an audience that lives in a harsh life prefers escapist literature.
My own solution for this dichotomy: in writing stories for both cultures I either write about middle class woes in a way that is seen as escapist in other cultures or about harsher woes while leading the audience there in a way described above in the morality section.
WRITING ABOUT THE FUTURE
The future for the American audience is relatively stable.
The Americans live on a rather stable tectonic political plate. Even big events like the JFK assassination, the Vietnam War, the Cuba crisis, and 9/11 did little in the overall run to change the inertia of the American future. The American readers feel the present as a relatively stable one, and therefore writing about the future for the American audience is not a problem.
The future for the foreign audience is less stable.
This depends on the country. Since Israel is the ‘foreign’ country in question, writing about the long-term future for the Israeli audience is a big problem. Political and regional realities change every two years or so in major ways: Peace breaks out, war breaks out, terrorism breaks out, life-changing elections break out, nuclear war might break out in a couple of years, etc. These change the political landscape and with it the landscape of the future. What seems a reasonable assumption when you write a story becomes ridiculously outdated by the time the story is published.
This has been a small, short glimpse into the mind of an author with a dual perspective. Feel free to check out two of my stories, reprinted at Infinity Plus, and see the duality that exists in them: ‘Her Destiny’ and ‘The Dark Side’.
I hope you enjoy your new dual perspective.
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Editorial: Looking Back on 2009
I started the World SF News Blog in February this year, on Livejournal; in many ways, it was intended to be a companion of sorts for The Apex Book of World SF. It has quickly evolved beyond that, though, and in October I made the decision to move it to a better hosting platform – wordpress – and expand the remit of the blog to include original content.
So, less than a year old, and still very much growing – I hope. I am very happy about the move in October. The blog as it currently is would not have been possible without, first and foremost, Charles Tan coming on board – Charles continues to provide the majority of our interviews and much more besides. Anil Menon has been an early supporter, with many good suggestions along the way. I am incredibly thankful to the whole community of writers and fans who have contributed material over the past three months – Guy Hasson, Kaaron Warren, Aliette de Bodard, Nuno Fonseca, Mihai Adascalitei, Nick Wood and others. You can see all of our original content here, and editorials here.
Right now, we aim to publish one original feature every Monday (an interview, review, essay, round table or other material) and one editorial most Wednesdays. Editorials are open to anyone – drop us a line if you’d like to contribute.
Our most popular feature by far this year has been the Ashok Banker interview (no longer available), but we’ve been getting a lot of interest (and the occasional lively debate) in a couple of the editorials (Where is the World in the World Fantasy Awards? and Don’t Shut Up!), in our Australian SF Round Table and in the feature on SF in South Africa. Our 2009 summaries for some of the short fiction magazines have also proven very popular.
This is the end of the year in the Gregorian calendar. Chinese new year isn’t for another two months, Lao/Thai new year for three, and Jewish new year for nine. But the Gregorian is the internationally-accepted civil calendar, so we’ll follow it for this purpose…
Just an English is the most prevalent “contact language” between multilingual people. Which brings me to the “purpose” of this blog. There seems to be an idea floating around of “world sf” being some sort of movement, which I find patently ridiculous. Perhaps it is a “sub-genre” of science fiction? Just as I find it silly to think this blog has any particular political agenda. All this blog aims to do is to share – with whoever wants to – some of the incredible diversity, joy, and sense-of-wonder that can be found around the world. Will American or British publishers suddenly exclaim – oho! We must publish more Chinese SF? – unlikely. Today, a headline such as “American publisher to release French SF novel” is noteworthy – a “man bites dog”. The reverse – “French publisher to release American SF novel” – is everyday – a “dog bites dog” headline. My point is, this blog is not meant as a sort of “missionary” outreach device to the monoligual masses of English. Indeed, one of the things I am most excited about that came as a result of this blog and the anthology is the planned new Portuguese magazine Dagon, which is promising to release international SF stories (some drawn from the anthology) in Portugal. Similar cross-fertilization is happening elsewhere, and I love the idea that the world of SF is being expanded across the globe, for readers in a multitude of languages.
And yet, things have been quite exciting on the English-language front, too. In 2009 we saw, on the American side, the rise of Haikasoru, the new imprint of Japanese SF in English translations, a new translation award that should come into effect next year, a special world sf issue of Words Without Borders and, on my own part, the release of both The Apex Book of World SF and the special world sf issue of Apex Magazine. And this blog, of course. French and Polish fantasy novels are being translated into English. We’ve seen a number of world sf writers published in high-profile magazines – from the New Yorker to Strange Horizons, and others signing book deals for English-language novels, such as Aliette de Bodard or Hannu Rajaniemi (or, indeed, myself).
I hope you discover, through the links and discussions on this blog, some of the wonderful surprises hiding in that great myriad world that is world sf. There are some great writers out there, and some great stories, and there are, as always, a lot of things still to talk about, and debate, and argue over. As the late, great Kurt Vonnegut once said about science fiction fans:
They are joiners. They are a lodge. If they didn’t enjoy having a gang of their own so much, there would be no such category as science-fiction. They love to stay up all night, arguing the question, “What is science-fiction?”
And long may it be so.