Tuesday 31 January 2012

Artist Interview: Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein

http://futurefire.net/images/f18cover.jpgArtist and illustrator Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein (web page) first illustrated for TFF in our November 2009 issue. She hails from Hawai’i, studies fine art and printmaking, works with a small YA press, and has an obsession with things with claws. She was kind enough to answer a few questions and give us the excuse to show some of her wonderful work.

The Future Fire: For the story ‘Nasmina’s Black Box’, you produced very striking black and white images, including the piece showing the soldier and the corrupt priest that we loved so much we used for the cover image of that issue. Could you describe the process of creating these images, from deciding what scenes in the story to illustrate, through to the technical production of the art?

Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein: I think that this would be easier to demonstrate as describe (as many visual processes are). That said, I start every illustration by reading the story I’m working with and noting down which scenes stand out to me. Then I read it again the next day, this time with an eye for details or anything I might have overlooked the first read-through, and do a few rough thumbnail sketches.

[ Nasmina, © 2009 Rhiannon Rose ]For Nasmina’s Black Box, what immediately struck me was the main character, Nasmina, a girl stranded in a conflict that she’s really too young to understand. I wanted the uncertainty, alone-ness and danger to come across, so I chose to do the illustrations as stark black and white ink drawings. The first image came to me strongly (Nasmina encircled by a supportive shadow) which represented her family, but the second image, of the church, I struggled with more. I knew I wanted to do the scene in the church, since that’s the climax point of the story, but the final illustration really arose out of my frustration with executing the image. I think the finished one is the third attempt. The first two had a lot more white in them, and at some point on the second I got fed up, took my brush and covered most of the image in ink. Since it looked a lot better than I’d expected, I redid the picture with black instead of white, and then did a few final tweaks in Photoshop, most notably making Nasmina slightly transparent.

In my opinion, getting angry with one’s work is often an undervalued part of the creative process. It’s definitely crucial to my process!

TFF: I understand you’re studying art at Portland State University. How is that going? What have you learned in the course of this study?

RRS: I’m currently in the Fine Arts department at Portland State, which is a brand new program (it’s in it’s second year). Its a tiny program (thirteen students total), which I love, because we have a lot of one on one time with both the instructors and each other. I’m due to graduate in June, which is very exciting. Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with school at best throughout my career as a student and I am definitely not terribly broken up about moving past this stage in my life.

That said, school has given me opportunities and taught me things that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned. Mostly related to life and talking about art. If I had to choose one thing that I treasure above everything else I’ve learned, it’s printmaking. And astrogeology. Okay, so they’re not related...

TFF: How do you think art makes a difference in the world?

RRS: To be frank, I don’t think art itself can or does make a difference in the world. People make a difference in the world, and one way we communicate or express opinions is through art. What art can do is plant ideas. Without action also being taken to follow up those convictions, art is just window trappings. Decoration. And that’s fine.

TFF: What or who inspires you?

RRS: Illustration-wise, I tend to draw a lot of my inspirations from older works by printmakers like Yoshitoshi Tsukioka and Käthe Kollwitz. The contemporary artist Lee Bul continually does work that blows my mind. She works in this huge, elaborate installations, but the compositions and forms she’s working with are beautiful and disturbing, monochromatic, and expertly composed, something that I work for in my own illustrations.

Fiction-wise, I’m currently reading the David Hawke translation of The Story in the Stone (also titled as Dream of the Red Mansions) which is just crazy inspiring and I’m not even a fifth of the way through yet. Anyone interested in world fiction, Chinese history and culture, good literature, or just an entertaining story should pick these books up.

I also love comics! I work in an editorial capacity with a host of incredibly talented artists on an annual comics anthology, Tankadere, which can be found at the small press Crab Tank’s website, and working with them is fun and incredibly rewarding. There’s nothing like holding a finished book in your hands and knowing that it’s filled with amazing stories and that you had a role in bringing it about.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

“I Never Did Like Smart-Ass Utopians”

guest post by Tracie Welser

Part 1 of 3 guest posts on Utopian Narrative

Utopia is an obsession of mine. I find literature that explores notions of a perfect place very appealing. People living peacefully and work together in harmony, who wouldn’t want to live in a place like that? Who wouldn’t want to read about that?

Apparently, lots of people. It’s a “no-place,” they say. Or “it could never work, it always fails in the real world, so why bother with it?” For some (and I’m basing this on discussions I’ve had), talk of egalitarian society causes a sort of anxiety about political correctness, or liberal guilt, or anger/concerns about the evils of Socialism.

As Pandora says to her niece in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home, “I never did like smart-ass utopians. Always so much healthier and saner and sounder and fitter and kinder and tougher and wiser and righter than me and my family and friends. People who have the answers are boring, niece. Boring, boring, boring.”

The first big question seems to be, what constitutes the “perfect place,” and for whom? Is it a beautiful, unspoiled place very far from anywhere else, where perfectible dreams are possible? To Thomas More, credited with coining the word “utopia” in the 16th century, the perfect place meant a land with no unemployment, no overpopulation, no religious bigotry, and the elimination of private property (although, oddly enough, slavery was okay).

The dream of a perfect place depends on where you’re standing, the historical or cultural moment from which the dream arises. That perfect place may exist in a possible future, or in a place, or even in a past “Golden Age.”

In the U.S., the utopian ideal could be considered a founding principle of the nation and the driving force behind colonialism and westward expansion. The New World was New Eden, a collective fantasy, a dream of a better world. Never mind that the land was already occupied.

In fiction, these worlds exist as thought experiments. Narratives encourage the reader to reflect on social problems and possibly even solutions. Speculative fiction, science fiction and fantasy have a way of doing that.

Utopia, then, is dreaming, yearning, for something that doesn’t quite exist and never exactly will. But is it problematic that these worlds don’t, won’t or can’t exist?

Fast-forward to modern ideas of the perfect place. Let’s dream a little bit.

What would your ideal society look like, your perfect place?

How about a society where equality is the norm for people of all races and genders and ableness of body, where inequity and violence have been eliminated?

What problems or tensions do you foresee?

Suggested Reading
Ivana Milojevic and Sohail Inayatullah, "Futures Dreaming: Challenges from Outside and on the Margins of the Western World."

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Sultana’s Dream (A non-Western utopia)

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed

(Next month: Feminist Utopias: What’s Gender Got to Do With It?)

Saturday 14 January 2012

Signal boost: Heiresses of Russ 2012

Signal boosted for Sacchi Green:
Heiresses of Russ, the new annual anthology series created in honor of the late writer, academic, and feminist Joanna Russ, is now taking recommendations for the 2012 edition. We’re looking for lesbian-themed speculative fiction first published in 2011.

The 2011 edition, co-edited by Joselle Vanderhooft, is available now, including work by Ellen Kushner, Tanith Lee, Rachel Swirsky, and other outstanding writers. This year Steve Berman of Lethe Press has invited Connie Wilkins to co-edit the 2012 edition with him. Connie also edited Time Well Bent: Queer Alternative Histories for Lethe Press, and has edited seven anthologies under an alternate name in an alternate genre.

We're looking for the best lesbian-themed speculative fiction published in 2011, with a length limit of 2,000-10,000 words. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, interstitital, just plain weird—we'll know it when we see it. We can’t succinctly define superlative writing, either, but we know it when we see it.

Recommendations from readers, authors, and publishers will be welcomed. We don't need the stories themselves just yet, but if we're interested and can't find copies on our own, we'll ask for manuscripts. Only work published in 2011 will be considered.

Our deadline for recommendations is March 15, 2012. The payment for these reprinted stories will be $25 each and two copies of the anthology. Recommendations and queries can be e-mailed to conniew@sff.net or sacchigreen@gmail.com.

If you can't think of any stories to recommend, go forth and read more!

Monday 2 January 2012

Outlaw Bodies

Outlaw Bodies, a themed anthology from The Future Fire
Call for Submissions

The “Outlaw Bodies” issue of The Future Fire will gather together stories about the future of human bodies that break boundaries—legal, societal, biological, more.

In the future, what sorts of bodies will be expected and which will violate our expectations—of gender, of ability, of appearance, of functionality? What technological interventions with the "natural" body will be available, expected, discouraged, restricted, forbidden? How will societies ensure conformance to their expectations—through law, through which incentives and disincentives? How will individuals who do not conform to embodied expectations (by choice or otherwise) make their way in these future worlds?

The anthology seeks stories that interrogate these questions from feminist, disability rights, queer, postcolonial and other social-political perspectives, especially intersectional ones, for a special issue on the theme of “Outlaw Bodies,” to be guest co-edited by Lori Selke.

Word count is flexible, but we are unlikely to accept any story over 10,000 words. Send your stories as an attachment to: outlawbodies.tff@gmail.com. We prefer .doc, .docx, .rtf or .odt files—query first for any other format.

Deadline: May 1, 2012.
Payment: $35/story.

About the publisher: The Future Fire is an e-published magazine showcasing new writing in Social-Political Speculative Fiction. See our manifesto at http://futurefire.net/about/manifesto.html for more details.

About the editor: Lori Selke has been published in Strange Horizons and Asimov’s. She’s been active in queer, sex radical and feminist activist circles for over two decades. She is also the former editor/publisher of the tiny lit zine Problem Child.