Thursday 31 May 2012

One last book giveaway

We're coming up to the home straight now. Just four days to go on the We See a Different Frontier colonialism-themed anthology fundraiser, and although we've already passed the enhanced funding target of $4000, the Peerbackers site will carry on accepting donations until some time on Sunday night, and all money donated will be put to use making the anthology as big and as great as possible. All our authors will be paid a professional rate, and no money will be taken home by us. The word-count will just get bigger.

To celebrate the last few days of the appeal, and thanks to several generous donors, we're running another book giveaway. Everyone who donates to the We See a Different Frontier fundraiser in the next four days will go into a hat to win one of the following titles:

  • Steve Berman & Joselle Vanderhooft, Heiresses of Russ (hardcover)
  • Kari Sperring, Living with Ghosts (signed)
  • Inanna Arthen, The Longer the Fall (signed and personalized)

We'll do the draw on Monday. If you don't want to be entered (but why wouldn't you!), just let me know when you donate.

Thanks again to the many people who have supported the project so far, in all capacities. You all rock.

Saturday 26 May 2012

Guest post: Decolonizing the Utopian Imperative

For this post, I’m wishing everyone thinking about utopia, imperialism or decolonization would just go read Ursula K. Le Guin’s esaay, “A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be.” You should go read that and come back.

Still here?

In this musing on the pitfalls of imperialism and its ideological conflation with utopia, Le Guin brilliantly brings together utopian thinking from Robert Elliot and Milan Kundera, notions about communitas via Victor Turner, social theory from Levi-Strauss, philosophy from Chuang Tzu along with some thoughts about the yin/yang of rationalism as opposed to the soft, the social and the unruly, the way of the Trickster. I can’t hope to summarize it here. 

But here’s what the essay inspires me to think about:

On the construct of the New World: as Le Guin says, “Only if a European discovered or invented it could America exist.”

Colonization, not only in the United States but all over the world, is/was based on economics, exploitation of people and resources, but in some sense, it’s also based on ideas. Big ideas like Democracy, Salvation, Order and Capitalism and their alleged superiority to existent social systems and relationships to the environment. Utopian ideas.

Results: subjugation, assimilation and disappearance of cultures, along with appropriation, tokenization and exoticism.

The West is still creating stories about the primitive and the unknown through history and literature: one pretends to tell the objective stories of the world, which ones are worth knowing and how to think about Progress and Civilization, and the other shapes our thinking about people, places and how to think about the Other. Maybe they both do (that landscape is changing, but there’s still a great deal of work to do).

Have you noticed yet what’s missing from my post/rant? Where are the perspectives from the “outside”? Where are the counter-narratives?

If you didn’t read Le Guin’s essay, go read it. While you’re at it, read Cornel West. Read Uma Narayan. Read Chela Sandoval. Read Arundhati Roy, anything by her at all, who said, “The only thing worth globalizing is dissent,” and “Fiction is truth. I think fiction is the truest thing there ever was.”

Support the creation of new narratives, like We See a Different Frontier. Suggest resources for counter-narrative in the comments below.

Write your own counter-narrative.

Monday 21 May 2012

Announcing cover artist for WSADF: Carmen Moran

We’re delighted to be able to announce the identity of the artist who will be providing book cover art for the We See a Different Frontier print anthology: an illustrator who has worked with TFF for some years by the name of Carmen Moran. As you know, the Peerbacker campaign is still open for a couple more weeks, and we’re keen to raise as much money as we call, so as to fill the anthology with as many great professional-rate stories as possible. Among the rewards, if you’re feeling flush, is the original signed piece of artwork that we’ll use on the cover. Carmen is a professional and exhibited (and as you can see, talented) artist, so owning a unique piece of her work will be a great privilege.

Carmen has been regularly illustrating stories for TFF (samples) since 2007 when she provided the wonderfully bright and quirky, yet powerful, images to accompany Mark Harding’s irreverent and political cyberpunk satire ‘Art Attack’, one of which (an airship exploding and giving birth to sparkling pink nanobots) we also used as the cover art on TFF #9. Her illustrations have ranged from flawlessly executed simple and gritty sketches, to extravagant and joyful cartoon-like celebrations of insane majesty. Most recently she created two heartstoppingly poignant and evocative illustrations for S. Ali’s fantastic and fierce Arab Spring parable ‘Bilaadi’, including the spine-chilling piece to the left.

In addition to SF illustrating, Carmen works in a wide variety of craft and design projects, a lot of which can be found in her portfolio. She makes and sells everything from stuffed monster toys and printed teeshirts to greetings cards and gift tags via her online store and at craft fairs, and has been commissioned for children’s books and educational exhibits. Some of our favourite examples of her work include this Tigershark print (right), monster bookplate (below), and the tattoo design (bottom).

We’re still in the drafting stage of working on the We See a Different Frontier cover art, so nothing to show yet (but watch this space for updates). One idea that Carmen is playing with is to create a stylized map, in the colours and style of an old atlas, but with the coastlines and contours and frontiers suggestive of folk art and symbols rather than the conventional borders and outlines we’re used to seeing on our maps, through western eyes and on a Mercator projection of the Earth's surface.

Another idea that always comes to mind from the POV of a Third World citizen is the concept of gambiarra. This word (maybe of Portuguese or Italian origin, but of etymology actually unknown) means something like “jury-rigging”, but with the passage of time it came to mean more than that—the poor people’s “McGiverish” power to, say, create a spaceship from junk, spit and paper clips. We thought of a “Frankenstein” spaceship of sorts, all made of different metal plaques welded together, showing different colors and different origins (a CCCP radar antenna here, a porthole design with Indian motifs, names of Brazilian and South African defunct corporations in a few scattered bits of equipment, all this decomissioned stuff, apparently junk—but a junk that works. A gambiarra spaceship made by competent people not from NASA or the European Space Agency. An alternative spaceship that takes off the ground and does its job better than a space shuttle. This has a kind of old cyberpunk flavor, but most of all it represents the post-colonial zeitgeist. The time for a true global SF has come, and we’re ready for it.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Guest Post: I Didn't Know I Was an Alien, or: How I Became a Recombocultural Sci-Fi Guy

text and art by Ernest Hogan

It's the 21st century. Modern media interconnects the world. Suddenly, we have a global civilization, and it is diverse.

Actually, that's an illusion. Civilization has always been diverse. Unless you are part of an isolated tribe that never contacts the outside world, you have to deal with cultures not your own. It's a basic survival skill going way, way, way, way the hell back.

This illusion is part of the colonial tradition. The conquerors come in and bring “civilization” to the natives, who are expected to cooperate if they don't want to be wiped out. In my part of the world, the Wild West, AKA Aztlán, AKA The Southwest (of the United States of America), it gets interesting – especially since I'm of Mexican descent, with some Irish thrown in, and I accidentally have the same name as the controversial Father of Ragtime.

I find myself to be a vintage, veteran multicultural (though I prefer the term “recombocultural” for reasons I'll explain later) science fiction writer.

Some folks would say speculative fiction – and they may be right, but let's get to that later . . .

I didn't intend to become Mr. Sci-Fi Recombozoid. It was thrust upon me, like my ethnic identity and place in society.

I was a wee tot way back in 20th century, in the Fifties. I was born in East L.A. – some folks call it the Barrio, my parents called it the Neighborhood. For me it was the flowers in my grandmother's garden that towered over my head. I thought the whole universe was like that.

Science fiction came in through the television set. Space Patrol and Commando Cody taught me about the larger universe. Later, Forbidden Planet landed at a local drive in. My developing mind learned early about crossing borders, and new frontiers.

At first the monsters scared me. I was plagued with nightmares, but couldn't stay away. Eventually, I came to love the monsters. They were easier to identify with than the whitebread-kid mold that the media was trying to stuff me into. I found it was easier to tell the kids at school that I was Martian rather than explain myself.

Those were the days of Godzilla multiculturalism: Japanese monsters, Mexican vampires, Russian space epics, European sleaze, and Filipino horrors were mixed in with the low-rent Hollywood fare. We can't forget that after Bruce Lee, guys in the ghettos and barrios felt they could be heroes, too.

It was the fabled Sixties. Besides comic books and monster movies, there was the space program, UFOs, ESP, LSD, and a world gone mad on the evening news. After the Chicano Moratorium riots, I found out I was part of a minority group.

Before that, Chicanos were invisible. Teachers would talk about “Mexicans” – as if we weren't in the room with them. Suddenly, we were problem. It was easier being a Martian.

So I let my overdeveloped imagination go wild. I wasn't just into science fiction – I was into surrealism, satire, underground, art films, low-budget obscurities, anything weird and out of the ordinary. Cultural mutations became a life-long obsession. Science fiction was a focus, but never a limit to my interests.

By the Seventies, my reading went to Edgar Rice Burroughs, to Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison. Dangerous Visions and the New Wave were a big influence – yes, “speculative fiction.” I also read translations from other countries when I could find them. I was always happy to find a new kind of sf.

I also reveled in writers like William Burroughs, Ishmael Reed, and Hunter Thompson.

I boldly started writing and trying to sell my work, I didn't limit myself. I tried to come up with the most daring, outrageous stuff I could, inspired by the diverse world I lived in.

Yeah, it took me years to get good – but even after I improved, I noticed that the genre and I were going in different directions. After Star Wars, science fiction became popular, but suddenly, everyone thought they knew what it was – traditional melodrama in funny clothes – and it wasn't what I was doing.

It was also assumed that the audience was white and male – all heterosexual nerds.

I was told things like “You have blacks and hispanics in there – you have to be careful, they get offended, you know.”

My name – that I share with a black historical figure – had them thinking I was white.

By the Eighties, I began to sell stories. These were out in the fringes, but I had my foot in the door. Some readers were confused as to what I was doing in their sci-fi magazine.

And I wasn't just submitting to sf markets. I sent my stories everywhere – especially if they paid well. It just happened that most of the places that have published me have the words “science fiction” as part of their title. There seems to a tolerance for strangeness in some of these places. It also may be a hold over from when science fiction was a catch-all term for things you didn't understand.

When I sold Cortez on Jupiter, I didn't mention anything about the Chicano or Aztec stuff. Or the Spanglish. I played up the science fiction elements. I had learned how to get away with things.

When it came out, I got good reviews (The best [first novel] I've read in science fiction since Neuromancer.Locus), and bad (an avalanche of excessive verbiage and abominable prose styleLocus, a few pages later). But nobody called it dull. And some folks really liked it.

When my second novel, High Aztech, came out, the publisher did not promote it. The ad in Locus showed the cover, but had no text. No review copies were sent out. People told me that they had to call the publisher and cuss them out to get copies.

Still, High Aztech gained an audience. People still discover it and put good reviews online. You could say it has a cult following.

And in the introduction to the glossary for the Españahutl slang is my first use of the word recombocultural. I coined to explain what I do in my work, that was rapidly being label multicultural – a term that was becoming maligned, and associated with political correctness. The recombo is as in recombinant DNA, emphasizes that what I am writing about are the cultural mutations that happen when cultures come together, fuck & fight, damage chromosomes, and generate fascinating new monstrosities.

But, back in the Nineties, they weren't ready for diversity. The New York-based publishers wanted formula entertainment for their sci-fi consumers that didn't present disturbing concepts. They assumed that the audience was white and middle class. Non-white characters were either pale or only showed the back of their heads on the covers.

Ideas became scarce. I kept meeting readers who said, “I like science fiction because I always know what's going to happen.” I wondered what I was doing trying to write in this genre.

Also, word spread about my ethnicity. It seemed like I was being treated differently – like the most talented leper they ever met. Like an alien. And it didn't seem to matter if I was legal.

I could still sell occasional short stories to far-out fringe markets, but New York wouldn't touch my novels. The rejections followed the same format: They would praise my work as highly original, then tell me that it wasn't what they were looking for. Then they'd inform me about the latest hot, new trend – military sf, sexy vampires, zombies . . .

After years of rejection, I published my novel Smoking Mirror Blues through a small press. I got a hint of why New York wouldn't touch it when an artist refused to do the cover because of a tantric sex ritual in the beginning. There was also a Chicano mad scientist, lesbian lovers, religion, politics, and the world-as-we-know-it reconstructed to illustrate conflicts that are shaping the future. Yet it has attracted a following.

As the 21st century lurched along, I gave up on New York. They still saw me as an unpublishable alien. The audience is now seen as being young women who are sexually attracted to the undead. And publishing is going through a crisis, with the economic turmoil and the arrival of the e-book. They say they only want to publish bestsellers, but nothing seems to be selling.

In the midst of it all, I see young writers coming on the scene, doing the sort of thing that I have been doing for decades. I hope they get treated better than I was. My advice to them is to write the most exciting fiction they can, inspired the world they live in.

Projects like We See a Different Frontier show promise by doing things in a non-traditional manner. We need these experiments. I expect to see traditional publishing dropping dead very soon.

Empires are falling. Colonies are rearranging. Cultures are mutating.

Recomboculture is in the air.

I have given up on being “commercial.” I am releasing my novels as ebooks, and working on ideas that the dying publishers wouldn't dare touch – like my science fiction bullfighting novel. I have seen the audience, and they are diverse.

The funny thing is, I am not alien – I am native. I am impure, a Chicano, a mestizo, a mongrel. And that is the future.

Ernest Hogan's Cortez on Jupiter is available as an ebook from Amazon and Smashwords. Smoking Mirror Blues and High Aztech be available later in 2012. Links to short fiction that can be read for free can be found at his blog, Mondo Ernesto.

Monday 14 May 2012

Guest Post: Decolonizing as an SF Writer

As I write this, I am thinking of a young writer somewhere in the world who comes from a country just like mine. I write reflecting on the process of decolonization that I am going through as I consider history. This look back may be painful and I may have to face unhappy truths, but still it is important. I need to understand the source of the pain, to accept it, embrace it and find healing so I can reclaim what is mine and become the writer that I want to be.


Towards the end of the Marcos regime in 1986, Filipinos marched through the streets protesting not only against the dictator, but also against the continued presence on our shores of the American bases and the perpetuation of American influence on Filipino politics and economics.

While history tells us that we were granted independence in 1912, we know for a fact that the Americans never truly intended to surrender their foothold in our country. Their presence in the Philippines was guaranteed by the acquisition of a lease that granted them permission to establish and maintain Military bases in the Philippines.

In 1991, this lease expired and as the newly installed Philippine senate refused to grant an extension of this lease, America was forced to vacate the bases. Ostensibly the Americans have left, but they haven’t really left us and what the American occupation has left behind is a great wound on the cultural soul of the Philippines.

Mark Twain, in his essay, To the Person Sitting in Darkness, speaks out against the Imperialism of the United States and in particular against the actions taken by the Americans in subjugating the Philippines and appropriating the victory of the Filipinos against the Spanish colonizers.

Mark Twain writes in his essay about the mindset of America in those days: We have got the Archipelago, and we shall never give it up.

When I read this essay, I can feel the bewilderment of the patriots who had fought and won the war against the Spanish, and I feel utter sorrow in knowing that our supposed allies painted us as being uncivilized and not fit to rule our own country. I also feel indignation on behalf of the soldiers who fought against the Spanish and who realized that they were facing another, more insidious enemy. The thing is, where Spain very clearly presented themselves as conquering overlords, America presented itself as a friend. It was an excellent strategy which confused us completely because what they did to the Filipino was a betrayal of that word “friend”.

Perhaps this explains why there is a keen edge to the anger we feel when we look at this history. We love and yet we cannot love because on the one hand, there is the face of friendship and the knowledge that the Americans were our allies. On the other hand we see the face of the trusted friend who betrayed us. We realize that we were never considered equals but in the eyes of our white allies, we were savages to be treated as children and to be condescended to as “the little brown brother”.

I quote history because as an SF writer who comes from a nation steeped in colonialism, this history is relevant as I seek to reclaim indigenous narratives and to break the impositions of colonialism on my culture.

In his book, “Oral Traditions of the Ifugao”, Manuel Dulawan writes of the colonization of the Ifugao and how the Americans employed public education as a means to neutralize and to Americanize the people. This move was so effective that subsequent governments adapted the principles set down by the American education system without realizing just how much damage this had done and was doing to the existing indigenous culture.

Dulawan writes: They have been brainwashed in the schools and in the churches and made to believe that their culture is backward and not worth keeping or learning. As a result, their sense of cultural values is disoriented.

He describes the effects of this cultural brainwashing as being traumatic, sad and painful and writes of how many of those who inherited or adopted the Christian religion assume the conditioned belief that anything of Ifugao cultural origin is either no good or inferior.

In Ifugao culture, the passing on of traditions and rites are done by native priests who are called Mumbaki. They are assisted in this by the elder tribeswomen who are also trained in the oral tradition. In the past, young girls would spend time with the elder women who taught them the traditions, the chants and the songs. Young boys were sent to spend time with the Mumbaki who passed on to the next generation the oral literature, the rituals of the tribe and the practices which were inherited from the forefathers.

During the American occupation, the passing on of the oral tradition was suppressed as the native priests and their rituals were demonized not only by the white colonizer but also by the white missionaries who followed in their wake. This meant that the true traditions and the original culture were slowly overlaid with the glaze of white culture and white belief.

Add all this up and it is no wonder that the psyche and the culture of the Filipino is so scarred and wounded to the point where we see the white and the west as being superior to us in all things.

Reading the history of conquest and colonization is a traumatic experience for the colonized. The Philippines went through not one, but two colonizers. I wonder how many colonizers other countries had to endure.

From reading these histories, it becomes clear to me that the erasure and subjugation of existing indigenous narratives were prioritized as these were viewed as being rival to the colonizing power.

Before the coming of the Americans, the Philippines had already endured four hundred years of colonization under the Spanish regime (1521-1898). It was a colonization that started with the suppresion and the eradication of many of our indigenous culturebearers. Where the American colonizers sought to erase the indigenous culture through the use of education, the Spanish brought with them Spanish friars with the intention of subjugating and exerting influence on the native Filipinos through the use of religion.

Reading this part of my country’s history, I see how the image of the strong indigenous Filipino woman was slowly and surely erased to be replaced by the idealized and hispanized version of what a Filipina should be. The liberated women of our country were shamed and called lewd and bad and this Christianization inflicted a sense of shame and lesser worth in us.

In her essay “Silencing the Babaylan”, writer Gemma Araneta Cruz writes of the Babaylan and of the Spanish response to the presence of the Babaylan: Fray Alzina (the Spanish priest) and missionaries like him saw that the babaylan was a formidable obstacle to Christianization who had to be discredited, if not destroyed and forever silenced.

Who are these Babaylan and what role do these women play in the cultural life of the Philippines?

When these Spanish friars came to the villages, they noticed the presence of strong women of influence. These strong women were the Babaylan who not only had the power to heal, they were the authority on mythological and cultural heritage, they were the harbingers of ritual and they knew astronomy.

It was during these encounters that the Friars saw how the Babaylan were a major force and a possible obstacle to their goal of hispanizing and subjugating the archipelago. It was then that the decision was formed to disempower the Babaylan.

In “Betraying the Babaylan”, Araneta Cruz describes the technique of divide and conquer which the Spanish employed to disempower the Babaylan and effectively erase them. The first thing that the Spanish did was to alienate the effeminate Babaylan from the women priestesses. They also gained the support of the tribal elite in their cause to wipe out the Babaylan through the use of bribery and promises of power. With the male Babaylan and the elite on their side, the Spanish friars went on to accuse the Babaylan of being of the devil and of practicing witchcraft.

While I narrate events that are specific to the Philippines, I find myself wondering if such events were also mirrored in countries that were colonized by foreign powers. How pervasive is that other culture? How much has it stolen from or killed of the original culture?

When I look at my country, I see how much these things have harmed our psyche and I also see the resilience of our culturebearers who employed whatever means was at their disposal to preserve our culture. Even so, the wounds have spread deep and there are certain things that demonstrate to us how deeply rooted colonialism is.

Even to this day, we see young women buying whitening creams because white is perceived as the ideal color. I long to tell my fellow Filipinos, there is nothing more beautiful than kayumanggi (brown).

At Eastercon, a good friend asked me who I wanted to read my work. It was a question that was unexpected and perhaps because I didn’t expect it, I gave the answer that came quickest to me. I want Filipinos to read my work and in particular, I want the people from Ifugao to read my work. Of course, I amended, I want everyone to read my work, but when I write, I am always thinking of the Philippines.

When I heard of the We See A Different Frontier project, I was immediately attracted to the premise of an anthology that seeks to bring attention to stories coming from people and places who have endured colonization.

As a Filipino writer who engages Science Fiction, I see myself in conversation with the SF that comes from the West. A great part of existing SF narrative is that of the colonizer, but my narrative is one wherein I strive to reconcile my decolonization with the truth of my country’s history, the reality of where I am now and my vision of where I want to be.

I may transgress against the rules of SF because there are many things that I do not know about Science Fiction. I did not grow up surrounded and soaked in its language as Science Fiction fans and writers from the West. But I do know what SF looks like when seen with the eyes of the decolonized. It is a different SF, but it is still Science Fiction. As my Clarion West instructor, John Kessel said: Science Fiction is when I point to it and say that’s science fiction.

It is easy to be intimidated, and it is a struggle not to be so. And that’s why I think it is important for a writer of color to see other writers and fans of color in the field of Science Fiction.

In the course of this journey, I have been told that I need to learn English better. That I can’t possibly grasp the nuances of the English language the way a native English speaker does and that I will never be published as an SF writer.

And then, there are people who say that because I write in English, my narrative is contaminated and no longer true to the culture I come from.

The people saying those things may believe those things to be true, but I persist because I hear the voices of those who have admonished me from the moment I engaged this genre.

I hear the voice of my elder sister telling me: Don’t be stupid. Is this your dream or what? Are you going to let yourself be silenced by those words?

There is my precious grandaunt who told me: there are no limits. If this is what makes you feel passionate, then you must keep on writing it.

And there are dear friends like Aliette de Bodard who, when I was thinking of giving up, asked me: So, are you going to wait until someone else appropriates your culture? 

And so I go and commit SF yet again.


*This essay was inspired by a twitter exchange between Djibril al-Ayad, Kate Elliott, Requires Hate, Aliette de Bodard and I.

Rochita was the first Filipina writer to be accepted into the Clarion West Writer's Workshop. She attended the workshop in 2009 as the recipient of the Octavia Butler Scholarship. Her short fiction has been published in The Philippines as well as outside of The Philippines. She has a livejournal at

This essay is also cross-posted to Kate Elliott's blog where there may be further comments/discussion.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Guest post: International SF - A Modest Proposal

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately regarding difference in SFF – after all, that’s what happen when you start a project called WE SEE A DIFFERENT FRONTIER (if you still don’t know what’s that about, please check here and here). Being part of a global Science Fiction and Fantasy community, you come to expect a great conversation to ensue between people from all over the world – but that doesn't always happen (aside from social networks like Twitter). In fact, although there is SFF of good quality (and quantity) all over the world, most of this material is never read beyond the borders of their home countries, and there seems to be little interest in having them translated to other languages. The Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards crew is doing a great job of raising awareness in the English-speaking world about that, but it’s a big, hard job and their role is not to publish translations.

In countries like Brazil, we do a lot of translations – mostly from English, but also from French, Spanish, German and Italian. As a result, there is more International SFF in our bookstores’ shelves than Brazilian fiction. Can we say the same thing of an American or French bookstore? Of course not.

A few days ago, Lavie Tidhar posted on Twitter a comment on his experience regarding Non-Western SF panels in conventions. Quoting him:

“non-anglophone panel==how can i (english person) get my stuff published in your country.”

In Brazil’s case, this is easier than you could think – there’s LOTS of publishing houses looking forward to translate American and British SFF, for example (Fantasy is trending HUGELY in Brazil since Harry Potter, Twilight and, now, for an older audience, with Game of Thrones – SF, alas, not so much). But I wonder – would a Latin American writer find the same easy environment in which to get translated out there? The answer, unfortunately, must be no again.

That’s why I, in a sort of rant, wrote a week ago the manifesto below (or a mini-manifesto, since it’s small and a kind of a draft – I still want to elaborate it further, but the Locus Roundtable and The Cogsmith Roundtable (thanks to Karen Burnham and to Djibril al-Ayad, respectively, for organizing them) prompted me to join in the discussion with a modest proposal, namely:

How to End International SF in Six Steps – A Mini-Manifesto
Fabio Fernandes

1. Accept and embrace diversity. All kinds of. Why? Because it’s there. It was ever there. Here, there, everywhere. It’s all around us. And you are part of it.

2. If your native language is English, please do yourself a huge favor to learn at least one other language. It’s not as hard as you’d think. It’s not Matrix-easy, but that’s the beauty of it: you only really learn it by practicing it. And one of the best ways of practicing it is with native speakers. And that’s when you can learn more about other cultures.

3. Speaking of cultures: no culture is superior or inferior to any other. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You only assume that, if you are, for example, a First World citizen, it’s only your duty to humanity to be kind and to help every which way you can the poor citizens of the Third World. Doctors Without Borders is an excellent way to do so. I highly recommend it. You can even help your own poor, because there is hunger in the First World as well (but you already know that). But, in fiction, don’t take anything for granted. Of course conditions may vary (and they will), but people’s needs and emotions are the same wherever you go.

4. One of the reasons why International SF has the “international” in it is not just because it is from all over the world, but because it is so rare to see it in shelves of Anglo-American bookstores. Well, that should have ceased to be a problem for quite a while now, cause, see, we have thing called the webz. And the webz can be good. But, if the native English speaker must learn another language, the non-native English speaker (who, in most cases, can speak English to save her life, but that’s just it) should walk the extra mile and learn to write (or to translate) her stories to English. English is not going away. (Although it will probably change and mutate in the next decades and becomes something very, very different by the end of the century, but we probably won’t be here, so let’s focus on the present, shall we?)

5. Writing in English really won’t matter much if non-Anglo speakers don’t do a little more to participate in the global conversation. For example, did you know that ANY SFF NOVEL, REGARDLESS OF THE LANGUAGE IT’S WRITTEN IN, can be nominated for the Hugo Awards? Will it really make a difference? Not in the first few years; not even in the first decade. But eventually it will generate a buzz. A teeny, tiny, persistent buzz. Something that will make people want to learn that language or to have that novel translated so they can read it. And then something may happen. (Before anyone says I’m a Hugo-lover, let me clarify: Yes, I am. But I’m open to conversation about Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, Ditmar, Aurora, and whatever awards you may happen to remember.)

6. Maybe we should just stop calling it International SF and just call it SF.

Fabio Fernandes is an SF writer, and he will be guest editing a special edition of The Future Fire magazine dedicated to colonialism in science fiction. TFF put up a Peerbackers project to raise enough funds to make this a professional rate-paying anthology for authors and artists from outside of the mainstream.

Sunday 6 May 2012

The Killing Moon – Death to Order

Following on the success of her 2011 Hugo and Nebula awards nominated The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from  her Inheritance Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin’s new novel The Killing Moon, was officially released to rave reviews this week. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC, so when Future Fire editor, Djibril al-Ayad suggested I write an essay about some of the themes instead of a review, I was delighted. 
In interviews and guest blogs, Jemisin has talked about how wanting to write about ninja priests evolved into a novel about a priest who brings death with love. 

“And the clincher of his character was that he wouldn’t be doing it for some paltry material reward or to satisfy a bloodthirsty god; he would be doing it because he cared. He would intend only the best for his victims; indeed, he would be trying to save them from a far worse fate. He would love them. And what could be more effective — or relentless — than an assassin motivated by love?”

The book as a whole touches on so many important themes: religion, abuse of power, fratricide betrayal, the meaning of family and love, and the struggle to protect a way of life. The issue which resonated most powerfully with me, however, was the idea that the time and manner of one’s death could be chosen, either by an individual or by others. By another name, this is a topic most of us are familiar with – euthanasia.

Most of us in the SFF community are aware of Sir Terry Pratchett’s  campaign to win the right to decide when and where to end his life before the Alzheimer’s that has attacked him destroys his mind. Currently the UK government forbids this. 

In last year’s BBC Two Documentary, ‘ Choosing to Die’, Pratchett sensitively tackled the extremely complicated issue of euthanasia. He declared from the outset that, in his opinion, the timing of his death should be his choice, not the government’s.

We also saw footage from his visit to the Swiss euthanasia group Dignitas, and watched the death of 71-year-old millionaire Peter Smedley – a sufferer of motor neurone disease.
The Guardian article makes the point that death in this type of environment does not come cheaply. 

Of course, for many terminally ill people, the warm, safe, relatively pain-free death offered by Dignitas is not an option. It costs around £10,000 and many could either not afford it or would not wish their families to have to pay for it.

In the Killing Moon, the Gatherer Ehiru provides this service almost for free, out of love. He serves the priesthood of the Goddess Hanaja. In the book we are told that many, especially those in pain from terminal illness, see the coming of the Gatherer as a blessing.

But there are others, for whom the right to decide has been abrogated. Family members at the end of their tethers and resources may decide that it’s time to send old grandpa on his way to the land of dreams, Ina-karekh.  Or, in other more ominous situations, a contract is requested for  political reasons, making the Gatherers into de-facto assassins, something many people in the city of Gujaareh regard them as in any case.
Ehiru frowned. “Women need no Gatherer’s assistance to reach Ina-Karekh--”
“In this case the commission is requested as a kindness, both to her and to her city. Her soul is corrupt, the supplicant says.
“Has an Assay of Truth been performed?”
“Unnecessary. The supplicant is beyond question.”

We also meet Talithele, the ailing mother of the circus caravan leader that helps Ehiru, his apprentice Nijiri and the Kisua diplomat Sunandi escape from the soldiers of the corrupt prince. When Ehiru offers to relieve her pain by sending her to the Land of Dreams she vehemently refuses him, preferring to experience all that is life for as long as she can.

Jemisin has spread out before us four possibilities for dying. Which would we chose? And what are the political implications of each? In The Killing Moon, the Gatherers are able to do their work because they are supported by the dominant religion of the community. In out real world choosing death by suicide is forbidden or frowned upon by many of the world’s religions. Would getting the Pope or Archbishop of Canterbury to amend their views make euthanasia more or less likely?

More troubling is the second example. Would easing the prohibitions on euthanasia result in more families deciding that Granny could no longer make an informed decision and sending her on her way, with or without her consent?

And finally I don’t think we can discount the possibility of some governments deciding to ease the suffering of deranged dissidents or political challengers with an easy send off. Clearly the issues swirling around the topic of euthanasia are many and complicated. Jemisin’s book doesn’t offer any answers but it does prod us to think about the questions.

So, what would you chose?  I personally share Pratchett’s concerns. My greatest fear is to end up bed-ridden and unable to communicate. Would I chose euthanasia if it were offered? I don’t know. Do read N. K. Jemisin’s brilliant new book, The Killing Moon; then we can talk.
The Killing Moon, N. K. Jemisin, May 2012, Orbit Books

Wednesday 2 May 2012

And the Winners Are...

We did the draw for the signed books giveaway last night, and the lucky winners (all drawn from generous donors over the past five days) are as follows:
  • Kelly Jennings’s Broken Slate goes to Alicia Cole
  • Catherine Lundoff’s Silver Moon goes to Siobhan NiLoughlin
  • Tim Maughan’s Paintwork goes to Ryan Baumann
  • Sophia McDougall’s Savage City  goes to Heidi Cautrell
  • Ian Sales’s Adrift on the Sea of Rains goes to Dylan Fox
Congratulations to all of our winners, and thanks to the generous authors and publishers who donated and signed the books, as well as to everyone who has backed the We See a Different Frontier fundraiser so far. We'll have more prizes and incentives coming soon!