Monday 5 September 2016

Nisi Shawl's Everfair

Tomorrow sees the US release of Nisi Shawl’s long-awaited African steampunk novel Everfair, a book that asks the question: what if the people of the Congo had access to steam power and technology in the nineteenth century, before they were colonized by Belgium? We invited Nisi to come say a few words about her book here.

I told Djibril I would write a paragraph about my novel Everfair. I’d rather offer you something different to read, though: thoughts on this novel’s growth medium. Everfair, I’d better first tell you, is a steampunk novel that’s primarily set in an imaginary Utopia in late 19th and early 20th century central Africa.

So where’d it come from? Yes, I’m the one who wrote my novel’s text. I had help, though. People gave me money, and ideas, and medicine, and food. Books. Flowers. Tea. Places to stay. They combed my hair, treated me with acupuncture, trimmed my toenails. That nurturing environment is what I’m calling Everfair’s growth medium. It holds my novel’s roots.

In my WisCon 35 Guest of Honor speech I proposed the idea that genius is not the manifestation of a single being but of a whole community. I said the same thing on Everfair’s acknowledgments page. I don’t know if what I’m manifesting is genius, but I’m very sure it’s an expression of my community and our concerns, from the pleasures of steeping ourselves in the sensory delights of technology to the ambiguities of fully nuanced interactions between a supposedly united mind’s conflicting yet simultaneously held beliefs.

My community is where Everfair is rooted, where it derives from.

And, in a truly fair turnabout, my community is also the atmosphere into which my novel unfurls itself and the light towards which it reaches.

When you read it, Everfair is fulfilled.

One early reviewer claims my novel is an “important entry in the movement for greater diversity in sf.” It only enters the movement through your eyes, though. It’s only important when it’s important to you.

Thank you for reading my book.

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly said of Everfair, “A compelling debut novel … Shawl deftly wields a diverse cast of characters to impressive effect, taking readers from the Victorian era to WWI and its aftermath. This highly original story blends steampunk and political intrigue in a compelling new view of a dark piece of human history.”

Nisi Shawl has posted on her website various teasers and extras, including photos of objects that inspired the story, an essay on sexuality and morals in 19th century Congo, the outline of a play performed in the novel, and other materials. There is also an extract of Everfair at the Macmillan website, where you can buy or preorder the novel.

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