Haikasoru

viz.com

Space Opera. Dark Fantasy. Hard Science.
What is Haikasoru?
Our Books

world sf [Archive]

World SF, Worth Reading BEFORE developing an opinion

The Twitterverse is aflame today over comments made by Norman Spinrad in his latest On Books column in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. I was sent the link by three different people who wanted my opinion on it. At first I was excited. Was it a very juicy column? Was it about meeeee? Sadly, no.

Instead, it’s a meandering display of fundamental ignorance about what we call “world science fiction.” The column was brought to my attention thanks to 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.

Anyone who has read one of our lovely Haikasoru titles would stop there. Japanese SF certainly did not evolve independently of that well-loved European culture…the United States? (We’ll see soon that Spinrad includes most of the planet in “Europe” for some reason.) I spent a few hours some time ago digging up a copy of an obscure van Vogt story from 1944, “The Harmonizer”, as it is this story from which the titular character of our forthcoming The Stories of Ibis is named. Surely that doesn’t spoil a sixty-six-year-old story, right? Also, author Hiroshi Yamamoto named a chapter of his book The Universe on My Hands after the Fredric Brown short story collection Space on my Hands. 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.

Spinrad’s claim is simply inaccurate, but what really upset people was this:

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.

Very silly. Forget the fact that the film District 9—directed by South African Neill Blomkamp—was recently nominated for an Academy award. (This is rather aside than one what thinks of the film or its depictions of Africans, specifically Nigerians.) There are African science fiction writers: Nnedi Okorafor comes immediately to mind. By definition, of course, any African SF writer would be better at being an African SF writer than non-African Mike Resnick, despite non-African Norman Spinrad crowning him as such.

The problem is that Spinrad is just making an appeal to ignorance. He’s not familiar with the many writers of world SF, so he assumes they do not exist. For whatever reason, though he could be familiar with Japanese SF as some of it has been translated into English, he decided to ignore actually existing Japanese SF. He also utterly ignores Chinese SF, which has been a going concern since 1904 at least. China is also the home of Science Fiction World, the most widely read SF magazine on the planet.

Further, Spinrad isn’t necessarily a good judge of how writers tackle other cultures. He lauds Ian McDonald’s Brasyl which for the first 200 pages was indeed a very strong novel. It devolved utterly into a series of silly fights and battles though, and at least some of the silliness can be laid right at McDonald’s feet. He credits the Brazilian martial dance capoeira, for example, with a martial prowess it simply doesn’t have. That’s especially sad as there is a native Brazilian martial art which is one of the most formidable in the world: Brazilian jiu-jitsu. BJJ even has multicultural origins (based on Japanese Judo and Euro-American catch wrestling, perfected by a Scottish-Brazilian family: the famous Gracies), which is one of the themes of the book. Sounds like nitpicking, but much of Brasyl’s climax does hang on the efficacy of capoeira and anyone familiar with Brazil’s martial or street cultures knows that it just doesn’t work outside of its own set of highly stylized competitions. McDonald stumbled in my view—the last 100 pages of Brasyl just felt like action-packed “fan service”—and Spinrad didn’t notice the fall at all.

Of course, Spinrad has also managed to declare Latin America, thanks to Spanish and Portuguese, “not entirely culturally disconnected from the self-styled First World.” Indeed, but Japan isn’t so disconnected either. Indeed, nor are the science fiction writers of the Philippines and the Indian sub-continent, many of whom write in English as either their first language or as a close second. One cannot even appeal to the paucity of translations to defend ignorance of these SFnal traditions, as increasing amounts of SF in English from these countries has been becoming available thanks to the Internet and global publishing. Part of what makes the First World the First World is that it is nigh impossible to be culturally disconnected from it, after all.

In the end, it just feels as though Spinrad isn’t making a cultural argument, but a racialist one. Japan was occupied by the US and the origins of modern Japanese SF are most often located by historians to that occupation and subsequent cultural exchange. (Even the pre-war Japanese SF, of which there was some, was heavily influenced by translations of Western SF and mystery stories.) Why insist that Latin America is essentially connected to the “First World”, but that African and Asian countries—which include many Francophones and Anglophones thanks partially to colonialism—somehow are not. (And thus have no SF!) In Spinrad’s essay, there appears to be an unexamined assumption that Africans and Asians are fundamentally different than Europeans—and “Europe” for mysterious reasons includes the peoples of the Americas. This is not even due to a dependence on the old framework of First/Second/Third World, as Spinrad acknowledges how problematic these terms are. Ultimately, Spinrad doesn’t know much about world SF, and feels entitled to project his own vision on terra incognita, thus his insistence that white American midwesterner Mike Resnick is as close as the world has come to an “African science fiction writer.”

As world SF becomes more popular, such attitudes will surely be corrected one way or another, but right now it is quite disappointing to see such a wrongheaded essay in the country’s leading science fiction magazine.

Twofer Tuesday

It’s Tuesday and we have two of everything!

TWO hits in the world of science fiction. The first is this neat-o interview with yours truly over at the World SF blog: An Interview With Nick Mamatas, in which I am so clever I say things like:

And the translator, unlike the author, cannot simply do wholesale rewrites to make something work. We’re playing a hand that has already been dealt. Then there’s the issue of translator skill; few have the ear of a novelist. That’s when I come in. I’ve managed to find some excellent creative translators, but can also nudge and pull and yank and tug at the work. So far I haven’t had to put in any footnotes to explain this or that untranslatable term or cultural reference, though part of my luck there has been the immense cultural exchange between Japan and the English-speaking world over the past two decades thanks to video games, manga, and anime.

Click here to read more.

We’re also thrilled that the January issue of Locus Magazine has reviewed Usurper of the Sun. The review isn’t online and I’m not about to key in the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

…based on John Wunderley’s translation of Housuke Nojiri’s Usurper of the Sun, [Haikasoru] promises to be a fascinating program…The main provocative idea that Nojiri introduces here has to do with the nature of mind and perception, and what he calls the difference between adaptive and non-adaptive intelligence, but to say more would be to reveal the story’s most intriguing surprise. With that in his basket, a tightly focused narrative line that marches us relentlessly through 35 years of future history, and a genuinely engaging heroine, he’s acquitted himself well.

Not only do we have two publicity coups, we have two new books out today! Here’s my shakeycam pic of The Book of Heroes out in the wild.


Yes, sadly it is in the manga section and not either Science Fiction/Fantasy or Young Adult, so keep an eye out!

And we also have Yukikaze hitting shelves today. Don’t have a snap of that book yet, but people are reporting buying it. This guy seemed to like it. I mean, he SHAT BRICKS. That’s positive, right?

Words Without Borders, WORLDS Without Borders

The wonderful online magazine Words Without Borders has just published its December issue, which has the theme of world science fiction. Included are great stories and excerpts from the likes of Stanislaw Lem, and work by writers from Poland to Pakistan. Japan and, indeed, Haikasoru is represented with The Universe on my Hands by Hiroshi Yamamoto. This is one of the seven titular stories in our forthcoming The Stories of Ibis, a novel-in-stories about the rise of true artificial intelligence we’ll be releasing in March.

Things are looking good for what is being called “world SF”, though what precisely that term means is open to interpretation. We’ve seen the launch of the World SF blog, and the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, the just released anthology The Apex Book of World SF, four volumes of Philippine Speculative Fiction, and another of other forthcoming books and initiatives.

Why the recent explosion of world SF? Well, you’re soaking. Blogging and the increasing number of publishers that accept email submissions from around the world have built a platform for the publication and discussion of science fiction from around the world. Many novels have hinted at the possibility of a global future, and now we finally seem to be living in one, albeit one with many discontents. One of the great positives though, is that science fiction is emerging as a worldwide genre, and as a worldwide conversation.


Entries (RSS) and Comments (RSS)

HOME | ABOUT VIZ MEDIA | ADVERTISE | TERMS | PRIVACY POLICY

© 2009 VIZ Media, LLC