I may well need to update my bio sketch now, as I am no longer writing a series of stories about a man torn between the calling of his ancestors and Mars. I have indeed finished this and submitted it to a publisher, with a provisional title of Lunar Voices, Ancestral Steps or Phulani Matlala, Lunar Astronaut. It's of a length and style which will hopefully appeal to a late childhood or even early YA audience, i.e. around 9-13 years. I've written it with a vivid sense of what captured me at that age - stories such as Tom Swift, the science fiction books of Captain W.E. Johns, the Heinlein 'juveniles', and books with titles such as Stirring Space Stories for Boys etc. I read those books growing up in Zambia and South Africa however and so I've written mine with an additional entrenched sense of what the future will probably hold - i.e. a greater human diversity represented in the flow of events. I have thus submitted to a publisher interested in reaching a diverse audience. For anyone interested in a synopsis in the meantime, it's as below:
Lunar Voices, Ancestral Steps or Phulani Matlala, Lunar Astronaut - Synopsis
Phulani is a precocious 17 year old amaZulu linguistic expert from South Africa, trained in group psychology and employed as a communications officer to improve the social and communicative functioning on the Lunar Base. He arrives on the Moon, feeling caught between the pull of his family and leaving home in his drive for exploration. On the Moon, he learns to stand up for himself when faced with interpersonal conflict; he develops a wider strategy to deal with conflicts on the Base generally, and solves a crisis with the help of a friend and colleague on the Moon's surface when confronted with a solar storm. Throughout it all, he is guided by his shades of his grandfather and Inja his dog, developing confidence and strength as he learns the importance of family and friendship, persevering courage and acceptance. (He also has a lot of fun along the way, as he develops a new game to transform the way the Base operates!)
Lunar Voices, Ancestral Steps or Phulani Matlala, Lunar Astronaut is a multi-cultural science fiction book set on a lunar base around the middle of this century. The teenaged character, story length (16618 words) and themes are designed to appeal to pre-teens or perhaps even very early teens, i.e. 9-12 or 10-13. The context of the multi-national Lunar Base is based on a proposed template of International co-operation needed to resource such a venture and supportive of a multi-lingual and diverse cast of characters that aims to be inclusive and encouraging of the notion of the Earth (and the Moon) as being equally for all its people.
There is an ongoing debate around the issue of cultural appropriation and imperialism, partly represented in the development of the RaceFail '09 debate: http://wiki.feministsf.net/index.php?title=RaceFail_09. As per Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward's advice in Writing the Other: http://www.writingtheother.com/, I have obtained the input of an amaZulu consultant around the issue of cultural authenticity and respect within the text. This is not a clear-cut issue though - all cultures shift over time, which impacts on futuristic representations. Furthermore, there is much diversity within cultures, so the issue of what constitutes 'legitimate' representation may be of relevance too. I have adopted the stance that the integrity of the story and the protagonist is paramount and the cultural context hopefully enhances this. There is an amaZulu saying: umuntu ungumuntu ngabanye abantu, i.e. loosely translated, we are indeed only human through our (humane) interactions with others. I hope this understanding will emerge in the book's implicit dialogue with (still as yet only potential) readers.
One story which I am pleased should almost certainly see the light of (publication) day is Of Hearts and Monkeys, which I have just sold to the UK speculative fiction magazine PostScripts: http://store.pspublishing.co.uk/acatalog/postscripts_magazine.html
The issues raised in the previous paragraph apply to this story too, except with specific reference to amaXhosa culture and input. So why do I write these stories? Both out of admiration and the characters asking for their stories to be written; is the short answer. And no, I don't believe in the superiority of one culture over another - all cultures no doubt have both strengths and adaptive flaws. But I do believe all cultures and voices need to be heard and validated, as do all people. This is a central belief I've developed and strengthened living under apartheid and beyond. (As an aside, there is an excellent recent Channel Four (UK) show on the secret negotiations that heralded the demise of apartheid, entitled Endgame, that is worth watching if you can access it: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/endgame )
Current readings? Benjamin Zephaniah's excellent YA book Refugee Boy and Craig Gidney's beautifully written collection of short stories Sea, swallow me. Craig's collection has been nominated as a finalist in the Lamda Literary Awards, due to be announced May 28th: http://www.lambdaliterary.org/awards/current_finalists.html#scif Good luck, Craig!
Until July then.
Nick Wood - May/June 2009