Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar writes on Arabic Science Fiction: A Journey into the Unknown:
This past decade has seen a shift in the Arab zeitgeist.
There is an acute confidence among creators and audiences which is propelling Arabic sci-fi forward. Over the past years, more writers, filmmakers, artists and many others have utilized the genre in a number of fascinating, creative ways to overcome the various political, economic, and social restrictions in place and be heard.
Over the past years, more writers, filmmakers, artists and many others have utilized the genre in a number of fascinating, creative ways to overcome the various political, economic, and social restrictions in place and be heard.
The internet, its effects on society yet unfathomable, has allowed alternative spaces for creators and their audience to connect beyond traditional, restrictive routes. The various uprisings in the region has opened brave new worlds for artists and thinkers to explore, the tropes of sci-fi appropriately tailor-made for the journey.
Meanwhile on the macro-level, the first number of symposiums and conferences dealing with sci-fi have been held in Morocco, Syria, and the Gulf. The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO) announced plans at the end of the 2009 sci-fi conference held in Damascus to bolster support towards Arab sci-fi, including establishing a literary prize exclusively for the genre, which has yet to be actualized. – read the full article!
Over at Fantasy Magazine, Saladin Ahmed talks about The Messengers, Monsters, and Moral Instructors of Islamic Literature:
The lore of every culture in human history contains sentient beings that are more than or less than human. Elves and vampires, nagas and orishas, daemons and spirit animals—each of these creatures has powers beyond those of mortal men and women, and each is enmeshed in the moral and symbolic order of creation particular to the culture from which it arises. Their strange forms and powers, their familiar-yet-foreign drives and weaknesses, teach humans about what it means to live in this world and the worlds beyond.
The stories and scriptures of the world’s numerous Muslim cultures are no different. Islam’s holy book (the Qur’an), its contested doctrinal traditions (the Hadith), and its various folklores are brimming with powerful nonhuman creatures.
First of all, there is the constitutive presence of God Himself in these texts and traditions. Below the divine, there are also several lower orders of nonhuman beings present. Angel, Djinn, and Ghoul: each of these creatures appears in numerous Islamic scriptures or stories, from theQur’an to the Thousand and One Nights to epic poetry. The cultures of Islam are profoundly diverse, of course, spanning centuries and continents. Local iterations of these beings reflect this diversity. But in every instance, when humans encounter these creatures, it is a test of faith, wit, and bravery. – continue reading.
Islamscifi.com interview Achmed Khammas:
Backgound: This is the first interview in a series of interviews with Muslim Science Fiction authors and people who have written about Sciene Fiction with Islamic themes. Achmed Adolf Wolfgang Khammas has written on the subject of the lack of Science Fiction in Arabic Literature and has written Sciene Fiction stories himself. Achmed was born in Berlin in 1952 to a German mother and Iraqi father and grew up in Damascus. Currently he is also active in the field of sustainable energy.
Ahcmed Khammas’s Official Website: http://www.khammas.de/
M. Aurangzeb: You have written about the lack of Futurism in Arabic literature. Do you think the literary culture is going to change in the future?
Achmed: Off course I HOPE – but I can’t believe it … because of the lack of scientific thinking in the whole society. There are nearly ZERO new innovations, inventions, patents in the Arabic world. Also there is a BIG lack on the practical side. No modern industry, so everybody use imported mobile phones… but 99% don’t know ANYTHING about how they work, this is just ONE example.
M. Aurangzeb: What types of cultures do you think are more receptive to Science Fiction?
Achmed: Any cultures with a solid ground of good education, technical-industrial interest and understanding, open mind, forward thinking etc.
M. Aurangzeb: Outside of the Arab world what scope do you think Science Fiction has in the Muslim world?
Achmed: I can’t tell because I never lived there.
M. Aurangzeb: You also write Science Fiction yourself, can you please tell us about your work?
Achmed: I wrote half a dozen short stories since the 1980ies but never find the time for a novel. Also I started with sketches for a big ‘parallel-world’ work playing around 1830 at the time of Muhammad Ali in Egypt. I write only in German, because this is my first language.
My Stories are mostly ironic – and show sometimes religious influence. ‘Der Wettbewerb’ (The competition) is about the coming of the Messiah ,this is a part of my real life also, as ‘Mohammed Superstar’ tell the story of cloning the prophet Muhammad.
M. Aurangzeb: What attracted you to Science Fiction in the first place?
Achmed: It opens my mind to new and newer and brand new ideas. Every story or novel is a kind of simulation of the recent world of today. Other people need to travel far away on holiday to recover. I only need a new space opera on 600 pages to read to be completely recovered.
M. Aurangzeb: What is your favorite Science Fiction author and why?
Achmed: Well – I think I will give an unconventional answer: They are some German authors as Wolfgang Jeschke (for his marvellous ‘Der letzte Tag der Schöpfung’ about the USA triying to steal the Arabian oil 65 million years back in the past) and Thomas R. P. Mielke (for his ‘Grand Orientale 3301’ in which the retarded Europe sells windpower-made electricity to the high developed arab countries).
M. Aurangzeb: Currently you are also involved in work related to sustainable development, can you please tell us about it and does Science Fiction inform this work or vice versa?
Achmed: And yes – in SF you find a lot of new ideas concerning energy … also you can notice the influence of renewable technologies on the modern authors. As example there is a great novel by Andreas Eschbach ‘Ausgebrannt’ (Burn out) about the ending of the Saudi Oil and the influence of this matter on modern German society. You can also have a look on my synergy website.*
M. Aurangzeb: Any words of advice for writers of Arab or Muslim background who might be interested in writing Science Fiction?
Achmed: Oh yes!! I would advice them to READ, to read, to read… and not ONLY Science Fiction. But they should as much as they could – and in any possible language. I mean, there are universes and universes of written imagination and not only Star Wars – or Matrix!. Then they should try to stay up to date in scientific development, also through reading in pages, newsletters, magazines etc. There happens SO MUCH recently that as a sci-fi writer you have to write quick … before reality pass by :-))
* Note: Achmed is referring the following website in German http://www.buch-der-synergie.de/ The following video clip has some information about his work with English subtitles: http://www.buch-der-synergie.de/trailer.html
Originally published in the journal Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction Issue 105: Fall 2009, Islam and Science Fiction has posted A Literary Review and Comparative Essay on Islam in Science Fiction and Fantasy (pdf):
“This article will provide a literary review of some scholarly writings on Islamic science fiction and fantasy and an analysis of two novels that incorporate Muslims and Islam in their science fiction storyline, one from Brian Aldiss’s HARM (2007) and Ali Mazrui’s The Trial of Christopher Okigbo (1971). Although over 30 years separate the publications of Aldiss and Mazrui, the similarities in some of the themes of both books are uncanny and offer some interesting observations on Islam as imagined in the science fiction genre, past and present, minor and major.”
Do you think there is a general lack of interest in Science Fiction in the Muslim community?
Yahya Emerick: Not to sound alarmist, but it has been my experience that any type of fiction in general has had a hard time opening the door in most Muslim homes in the Western world. This is ironic given that Muslim immigrants come from cultures that are rich in folklore, mythology and the ever-present ‘jinn stories’ which could easily be transformed into a love for alien stories! I’ve known the odd Muslim kid here and there who likes sci-fi/fantasy, but there’s not been any real groundswell of interest there.
M. Aurangzeb: The Muslims in your stories are multi-faceted characters while in a lot of other literature they are presented as one-dimensional in character usually represented as the other, what role do you think fiction has in healing between people?
Steven Barnes: Thank you. The humanity of the Muslim characters was of critical importance to me, and I would like to thank two of my advisors, Mushtaq Ali Ansari and Shaykh Taner Ansari, for keeping me honest. I think that fiction is the creation of a consensus dream of humanity, and as such it helps us understand how the author and the author’s culture thinks and feels.
Over the last nine years, I’ve had occasion to be startled, and then to cease to be startled, by the extent to which my Middle-Eastern-ness gets conflated with Muslim-ness as a matter of course, as well as the extent to which people feel entitled to learning my religion along with my name. This is not the space in which I want to think about why precisely that is – I have a blog too, after all – but it is the space which Ms. Awesomesauce Cooney offered me to talk about the ways in which we might see the Middle-East positively represented in fantasy, as well as showcase a writer of fantasy literature who does in fact happen to be Muslim.
I totally hear that. I felt that way coming across words that were clearly borrowed from Arabic in works by J. R. R. Tolkien, and seeing a dark-skinned boy say “salaam” in Ender’s Game. I thought, hey, here is something that speaks to me, directly. It was a huge, huge deal for me at sixteen.
Of course, the… shall we say sophistication of those depictions is an open question. Fantasy novels tend to trade in archetypes. As a reader, that’s a big part of what I love about them: the taciturn swordsman, the spunky princess, the befuddled old wizard, the crazed priest of an ancient god.
But archetypes are only a step removed, if that, from stereotypes. This is the case even when fantasy novels are dealing with Europe or pseudo-Europe. It’s even more the case when dealing with ‘other’ places and peoples, though, and often leads to reducing ‘Islam’ and ‘Arab’ to a stock set of signifiers – fanaticism, honor, violence, sexism, absolutism, scimitars, veils, turbans, and, above all, the harsh, unforgiving desert that produces a harsh, unforgiving people.
This is the case even when we’re dealing with a secondary world – if you’ve got a fantasy map at the beginning of the book, you can be pretty sure that, to the east of the Europe-ish landmass, there will be a big ol’ desert, and it will be inhabited by fierce, proud nomads who wear flowing robes and chop people’s heads off. This handful of central casting shtick is a stark contrast to history’s reality of remarkably varied Islamic cultures.
Apex Magazine’s latest issue is a special Arab/Muslim themed issue:
“The Green Book”
by Amal El-Mohtar
“50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire”
by Pamela K. Taylor
“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted”
by Saladin Ahmed
“Kamer-taj the Moon-horse”
compiled by Dr. Ignácz Kúnos
(originally appeared in Forty-four Turkish Fairy Tales)
“Me and Rumi’s Ghost”
by Samer Rabadi
by Jawad Elhusuni
by Sara Saab
Cover art by Edward Dulac
We’ve previously reported on Islamic superhero series The 99, but now the UK’s Guardian newspaper has picked up the story as well, following an announced television series for the comics!
Even if you deliberately set out to try to dream up the least probable superhero ever, it’s unlikely that you’d manage to come up with a character as far-fetched as Batina the Hidden. Forget Wonder Worm, or a man born with the powers of a newt, Batina is a superhero of a kind the world hasn’t until now seen. It’s not just that she’s a Muslim woman, from a country best known for harbouring al-Qaida operatives – Yemen – but that she wears an altogether new kind of super-person costume: a burqa.
She, along with her fellow crime-fighters, a vast team of characters from around the world, including Jabbar the Powerful from Saudi Arabia and Hadya the Guide from London, collectively known as “The 99″, are the world’s first Islam-inspired superheroes. And this week, in what is perhaps the ultimate comic-book accolade, they will join forces with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics, the US publishinggiant, will publish the first of six special crossover issues in which The 99 will be fighting crime alongside the Justice League of America, the fictional superhero team that includes Superman and Batman.
What’s even more remarkable is that The 99 only came into being in 2007 with some remarkable firsts: the first comic book superheroes to have Muslim names and be directed at an international audience and the first to come out of the Middle East. Crossovers don’t happen often and even less often with characters that are just three years old. Even The 99’s creator and mastermind, a Kuwaiti-born, American-educated psychologist and entrepreneur called Naif al-Mutawa, seems to be having some trouble believing the Superman link-up.
“For me, there’s a nerd part and a business part. On a business level, it’s pretty exciting to be acknowledged as having created something that’s considered to be on a level with something that’s been around 50 years or more. And that obviously has business ramifications. But the nerd part is the thing that makes my eyes light up.” – continue reading.
Ok, we’re not sure what “a teachable moment” means, exactly, but it’s an Americanism and we loves Americanisms. As James Gunn so helpfully pointed out, American science fiction is the base line against which all the other fantastic literatures in languages other than English must be measured.
No, seriously. Apparently it was the idea that Elizabeth Moon could be invited to Wiscon not as a guest-of-honour but to be educated, a little like a child being sent to summer school, and there was a lot of behind-the-scene discussion about it and the other guest-of-honour, Nisi Shawl, talked to Elizabeth Moon, though we’re not quite sure about what. Shawl said:
Part of my reluctance to go into detail stems from the fact that Elizabeth Moon will be calling me again, in about a month, when I hope to have the time to go return to the matter more fully. Note that this “teachable moment” is arranged around my schedule. And that it’s taking place before the con.
I hope that after our second talk Elizabeth Moon will have things to say to the community at large, and apologies to deliver. And that’s not just a rhetorical formula I’m mouthing; based on what she has already said to me privately, I really do actually have hope on that score. I really do.
So, very cloak-and-dagger stuff. Very Dumas, if you like. Moon, of course, has been silent about the matter ever since deleting the 500 comments on her blog. So we don’t know what she thinks.
Then there was a big debate over whether Moon’s invitation should be withdrawn. Apparently the convention organisers weren’t that keen on doing that. In fact, they said:
Even though we strongly disavow these elements of Ms. Moon’s post, we have not rescinded her invitation to be a Guest of Honor, nor do we plan to do so. The WisCon planning committee selected Ms. Moon earlier this year based on her past work and our feeling that she would make a positive contribution to WisCon. After extensive conversation in recent days, and having spoken directly with Ms. Moon on the subject, we continue to believe that her presence will contribute to the Con.
Then there was a lot more stuff and N.K. Jemisin ended up quitting Wiscon in protest:
On the WisCon concom’s mailing list, I was honest with the folks there about my feelings: that bringing a bigot to WisCon as Guest of Honor was counter to the con’s feminist mission, not to mention a slap in the face to a whole bunch of people. I advocated for her GoHship to be rescinded because of this — and I also said that if she came to the con, I planned to participate in protest efforts already being discussed among WisCon’s former and current attendees (e.g., turning my back on her during her GoH speech, challenging her when she’s on panels). For this, I got verbally slapped by several other concom members with accusations of being abusive, unreasonable, too emotional, hysterical, and worse. I got into a particular battle with one woman who, when I pointed out that second-wave feminism was inadequate for dealing with this issue and it should be considered from a third-wave intersectional perspective, proceeded to try and inform me about how much second-wave feminism had done for me, and the poor black, Irish, and American Indian women who are my immediate ancestors.
Leaving aside the mind-boggling ignorance of statements like this, I was seeing another dynamic at work. All kinds of irrelevant points got brought up during this period: one guy wanted to discuss WisCon’s future in light of the advent of the internet (I don’t even know), another wanted to revisit the PoC safe space and whether it should exist (yeah, I know), and so on. Basically, WisCon’s concom wanted to talk about something, anything, other than the cranky, stinking elephant in the room.
Then things got quiet for awhile, as the concom exhausted itself and we waited for… something. I wasn’t sure what. But when two weeks passed in silence, it seemed clear that the Troika had had plenty of time to hear from the WisCon membership, and was either not going to change its mind or was simply waiting for the member rage to blow over. So, annoyed by this, and still pissed off over the Racism 101 reactions I’d encountered on the concom — I kept thinking, didn’t any of these people actually attend any of WisCon’s panels? — I sent a note to one of the Troika members with whom I was familiar, and let her know I was quitting in protest. She let me know about the SF3 organization’s resolution in favor of rescinding Moon’s GoHship… but also let me know that it didn’t really mean anything. In point of fact, that resolution had been passed almost two weeks before (nobody bothered to make it public), and nothing had happened since. It was a pretty, but empty, gesture.
And then, today, a notice has been posted on the Wiscon parent site (an organisation called the SF3) that simply said: “SF3 has withdrawn the invitation to Elizabeth Moon to attend WisCon 35 as guest of honor.”
So, to be honest, we’re not quite sure why she was disinvited – was it because of her statements, or because of public pressure, or because of sunspot activity? Hard to tell.
Meanwhile, Moon’s response (ok, we’re only inferring that), was on her blog:
Last night, well after dark, the squirrels were still at it. This morning, before dawn, the squirrels were at it again. They beat the early birds out of bed. They prefer this side of the house when they’re in the mood, and although it’s sometimes fun to watch them flirting their tails and chasing each other up and down trees and turning somersaults (however many are in the mood at the time) they make enough noise to be disruptive. Both vocally and in the noise they make rushing around or falling ka-thump! on the water tank (which, when not full, booms like a big drum) and rustling in the leaves.
I wish they’d just go on and get it over with. They won’t, of course. They’re going to be leaping, running, chasing and being chased until the last pair finally give up sometime in December. (Ah. The first bird just spoke up–a blue jay. And that pair of squirrels is now silent (or much farther away. Back to work.)
Quite poignant, really.
Anyway. We really weren’t going to comment on this beyond our initial post, but the sad reality is that that single post generated more hits on this site than anything else we’ve been posting for two years. When we posted about French author Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud recently, do you think anyone read it? When we posted on Islamic steampunk, or a new manifesto for Islamic science fiction, do you think it got the same amount of hits? Or our recent exclusive interview with Indian author Samit Basu?
Which, to me, is the real tragedy. What Moon proved is that there is more interest in the negative comments of a single American writer, than there is in the entire body of work of a mass of international writers. Which is what this blog is about. It’s not about Moon, or Gunn, or whether the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) will ever give another woman writer a Grand Master Award (3 out of 27, at the last count).
So, if you come to this post because you wanted to follow the last bit of controversy surrounding Moon – I like MoonGate myself for it, as a name, but you can pick your own! – why not stick around? Check out some of the other hundreds of posts? Try a short story highlight, or an interview, or look at some of our other original content? Check out Arabic science fiction. Or African science fiction. Check out what’s happening in the Philippines. Or France. We don’t mind which!
Or pick up a copy of The Apex Book of World SF. We’re having a sale on. If memory serves, there are a couple of Muslim writers there and, really, you could do worse than check them out. Let’s all have a teachable moment! Who knows, it could be fun.