On the Colour and Texture of Intelligence

James D. Watson (of DNA double-helix Watson & Crick fame) has recently cancelled several UK engagements to return to the US, having made comments that revealed a belief that black people were 'less intelligent' than whites. The assertion was based on his belief that: 'There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should have evolved identically.' No, there are no firm reasons to anticipate this, but I think there are even less firm ones to anticipate the opposite, i.e. that there are indeed genetically based 'racial differences' implying group superiority or inferiority in intelligence. Watson has subsequently apologised for his comments but this revived an old issue which last received significant attention in the 1990's from the book by (the late) Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray (1994), authors of the controversial 'The Bell Curve'.

The book argues in essence that blacks score on average a standard deviation less on IQ tests than whites (+-15points) and that this is largely due to 'genetic' differences. There are obviously huge holes in this essentially racist thesis - and I am talking from the perspective of one who has been trained in the use and interpretation of 'intelligence tests'. (I also have a clinical experience of these tests going back over 20 years - much of it 'cross-cultural' - as well as using 'intelligence tests' in my Ph.D., where I was trying to unravel whether there are cognitive differences between deaf and hearing children. So I do feel fairly confident I can talk within the realms of my competence about this controversy.)

Firstly, the notion of 'intelligence' is a fuzzy and poorly operationalised concept, leading to such facile definitions as 'intelligence is what intelligence tests measure' - never mind that there are a plethora of different tests often measuring different things! (There is still no agreement as to whether intelligence can be summarized as per Spearman's general 'g' factor or whether it is manifest in several distinct forms, as per Howard Gardner's (1983) notion of 'multiple intelligences': e.g. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Secondly, intelligence tests have also largely been developed within western contexts with both overt and covert cultural assumptive biases that undermine the performances of non-western populations - western based norms are not valid comparators. Given the often disadvantaged social and material living conditions faced by most 'black' people contrasted with 'white', these are bound to exert negative 'cognitive performance' influences too. (See “Ethnic Differences in Children's Intelligence Test Scores: Role of Economic Deprivation, Home Environment, and Maternal Characteristics” - Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Pamela K. Klebanov, Greg J. Duncan. Child Development Vol. 67, No. 2 (Apr., 1996), pp. 396-408.) The authors show that factoring out social-deprivation differences reduce posited ethnic 'intellectual' differences to negligible and non-significant status.

Robert Sternberg - who, unlike Watson, does know what he is talking about in this area! - argues in 'Not a case of black and white' (New Scientist; 27th October 2007, p.24) that 'intelligence is a far more complicated issue than standard testing allows. And race is a socially constructed concept, not a biological one.' Essentially then, there is no 'colour' in intelligence. (This issue does matter - greatly - apartheid was partly based on pseudo-scientific assertions of 'intellectual racial differences' that led to massive and unethical 'racial' distortions in allocated resources and education amongst other things.)

However, there may perhaps also be a danger in over-emphasizing a P.C. argument for no group differences whatsoever. Although there appear to be no summative group differences in overall intelligence, there may well be varying 'profile' differences in group abilities, as different skills are selectively emphasized in diverse socio-cultural contexts. Thus, as Barbara Rogoff in (2003) The Cultural Nature of Human Development has argued with the notion of 'situated thinking'; there are cultural variations in the development of thinking skills, dependent partially on available resources as well as what 'expert' learners within the culture value and emphasise. Thus what adult learners support via selective scaffolding of development within their 'novice' learners helps shape the nature of unfolding 'intelligence'. The relatively advanced development of mathematical thinking amongst some Asian children suggested by some studies - which some credit to possibly differential parental support - might be one example of this. (d'Ailly, 1992, 'Asian Mathematics Superiority: A Search for Explanations' Educational Psychologist; 27(2), 243-261.

And even though there may be no clear and unanimous definition of what 'intelligence' is, there is agreement that it can be a useful (if fuzzy) attribute towards educational success amongst other things. However, perhaps even more useful are aspects such as 'emotional intelligence' (Daniel Goleman) and socially positive personality traits - as well as an environment to operate in that supports and facilitates optimal performance in all areas for all people.

For me, one of the most intelligent fictional books about intelligence was Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. This book provides an almost textured account on the nature and experience of varying intelligence within the same individual. Perhaps a case of fiction saying more than fact…

Further current fiction I am reading is Air by the always excellent Geoff Ryman and Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell, which feels like a brilliantly original debut fantasy novel.

I have received some fictional returns from amaXhosa students attending Sophumelela High School in Cape Town and hope to upload (in my view) the best story soon, under the Oscar Mpetha tab found within SF in SA.

To new and diverse stories that raise our collective intelligences!

Nick Wood: Nov/Dec 2007

For any who might be interested, I've uploaded the short piece that was originally published in the BSFA's Vector 147 (2006), entitled The Search For South African Science Fiction, under the SF in SA section (part 5); although for the sake of continuity, part 3 was added on after I'd written the Vector piece.

Tanya Barben, writer of the Timlin piece on The ship that sailed to Mars, (SF in SA part 4) has noted that there are several more South African sf books, which I hope to obtain and comment on at some point: Garisch, Dawn (2007) Once, two islands. Kwela Books. Rosenthal, Jane (2004) Souvenir. Bromponie Press. Cope, Michael (2005) Goldin: a tale. iUniverse. (Yes, his Spiral of Fire was mentioned in an earlier blog.) Tanya also mentions a couple of much older SF works from South Africa - Ninya (1956) by H.A. Fagan and The sheltered cave by Louis Herman.

Just a brief update as to some reading I've recently completed; a fiction and a non-fiction book, (hopefully) helping to keep some sort of a mad balance in life. The fiction work was the first published work by Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring - a rich, speculative mix of science fiction and mythic folklore, with an horrific edge - a book with bite! Nalo has written a number of other more recent works which I hope to read in time: http://nalohopkinson.com/ There is an interesting interview with Nalo by Michael Lohr in the latest Probe, published by Science Fiction South Africa (SFSA) http://www.sfsa.org.za/.

The non-fiction work was a book called Ecological Consciousness by a former Springbok (i.e. South African) rugby player; but from the old amateur days of rugby when players had careers in order to make a living. Dr. Ian McCallum is a psychiatrist with whom I worked at Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital in Cape Town for several years during the early to mid nineteen nineties. Ian was responsible for the adolescent unit, which organised very successful 'wilderness therapy' outings as part of the therapeutic programme for teenagers with mental health difficulties (suicidal, depression, psychosis etc.) The idea of 'communing with nature' has a hackneyed tone to it, but Ian's book and the therapy was anything but. It's a dense but rewarding read, informed by science and the insights of depth psychology, driving home the need to make a rooted connection with the earth and the animals we share it with.

As a spin-off from this, I've ordered a DVD called Earthlings, as recommended by my sister - see http://www.isawearthlings.com/. I haven't watched it yet, but I gather it's about our abuse of our fellow 'Earthlings' - the animals with whom we share, not only the Earth, but also so much of our DNA and evolutionary history, which means we must recognise and accept a large overlap with the 'higher' mammals in central nervous system development. This inevitably implies significant overlaps in cognition and the experience of feelings and pain with humans. I've found it hard to get hold of, eventually ordering it from the States - has anyone else seen it or had difficulty finding it?

I still find the notion of finding extra-terrestrial life in order to confirm that 'we are not alone' slightly bizarre. We've never been alone - we just need to look more carefully and sensitively at our fellow (seemingly alien) creatures who inhabit the earth with us too. The difficulties of doing this are the possible ethical implications for lifestyle adjustments, for those who can afford it…and no, I'm not a vegan or vegetarian…a sporadically guilty meat-eating omnivore, yes!

And if we can't communicate adequately with the other obviously intelligent animals who share our planet, I think our chances are remote of establishing quick repartee with extra-terrestrial life through 'galactic universal translators' - or any other easy means. Solaris by Stansilaw Lem highlighted the difficulties of bridging contact with truly alien life-forms. The Strugatsky brothers Roadside Picnic similarly highlighted this existential gap - aliens maybe not even recognising us as worth contacting, but leaving their enigmatic debris in what ended up as a quarantined zone. (Dave W. Hughes also wrote an evocative short story The song of the shapes around this theme, in The Pseudo-Nymph: An Anthology of NSFA Member Magazines ed. Chris Hart Dec 1991).

There is a movement afoot looking at bringing sf 'home' to Earth - Mundane SF: http://mundane-sf.blogspot.com/. A good move, I think, whilst there are still fellow animals and people around to speculate alternative futures for - contingent upon what we can do now. Again, no, I am in favour of a space drive too - but a balanced one that acknowledges our need to prioritise the Earth as a long-term place to cherish, not to rapidly deplete and escape from in search of new places to colonise and rehash old mistakes (racism, speciesm etc…) That's enough of the soap-box for now though - I may sprain an ankle getting off from this height.

Nick Wood: Sep/Oct 2007

It is anti-racism blog week currently: http://community.livejournal.com/ibarw/ - so I guess it's only fitting I've recently read Steve Biko's I write what I like - a collection of political essays banned at the time in apartheid South Africa. The official (white) line at the time was obviously that his ideas were of extreme, radical demands and a 'terrorist' inspiration. So it was with slight - but not completely unexpected - surprise, that I read the essays with a feeling they were both eminently 'common sense' and restrained, laying out the need for a positive 'black consciousness' to develop in order to challenge the denigratory and oppressive system then facing black people. Even Biko's assertion that a black liberation movement needed to remain undiluted by involvement with (liberal) whites made sense in his philosophical justification of the need to develop a strong black 'antithesis' to the dominant 'thesis' of white power. (The black political opposition had been severely curtailed after the Rivonia treason trial in 1964. This effectively robbed anti-apartheid organizations such as the ANC of their leadership structure.)

The 'antithesis' did grow of course, burgeoning in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising in 1976 and the subsequent detention and murder of Biko in 1977: http://africanhistory.about.com/library/biographies/blbio-stevebiko.htm. It's a tragedy that he and so many others never got to see the eventual 'synthesis' that emerged from the (dialectical) conflict of 'black' and 'white' political forces into the non-racial democracy of South Africa in 1994 - when the 'Rainbow Nation' was born, with both its' ongoing triumphs and difficulties.

One of the obvious implications of Biko's philosophy is that it highlighted the experiential chasm between white and black in South Africa at the time, implying little - if any - point of meaningful contact. I have a feeling, however, that there may well be similar sorts of experiential chasms currently operating across the world. For a writer trying to create characters that represent a more-rounded and diverse world, this translates into how does one write authentically about characters of significant difference from one's own background and experience?

For a start, there has been some useful guidelines and suggestions developed in Writing the Other: a Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward (2006), as well as perhaps more ironic guidelines such as 'How to write about Africa': http://www.granta.com/extracts/2615. Further to that, I think one cannot skimp on where people come from - I'm not taking nationally here, but socio-culturally and politically. Which is why I think science fiction and fantasy in its richest form has an advantage - being not just able to illustrate past or current systems, but additionally being able to speculate and create future or alternate systems too - and to keep pushing the boundaries of experiential understanding, fostering the development of imaginative empathy - for all humans, animals, 'aliens' ('illegal' or science-fictionally otherwise)…

And for those who need reminding that today's so-called 'terrorists' may be tomorrow's - or even today's - 'freedom fighters', there's always Farah Mendelsohn's edited collection Glorifying Terrorism. rackstrawpress.nfshost.com

Finally, I would like to thank Tanya Barben from the University of Cape Town (UCT) for her excellent article on the wonderful work of Timlin, from Kimberley in the Cape, who wrote and drew a rare classic fantasy entitled The Ship that Sailed to Mars. Tanya's article has been uploaded into the section on SF in South Africa; part 4, as the work was written in South Africa.

Nick Wood: Aug/Sep 2007

I have recently read The Denials of Kow Ten (1998) by Jenny Robson, a South African Young Adult (YA) writer. Jenny has written an interesting take on the future, harnessing ideas from - amongst other sources - Ayn Rand. The novella is "brave" too, in the sense that the ending is less than upbeat, reflecting the uncertainty of the future for all of us. The story also uses a classic tactic, describing future worlds by corrupting place names that have presumably changed over time. (The book that for me consistently and brilliantly harnesses the idea of a future general corruption/change in language, is Russell Hoban's (1980) Riddley Walker, which also uses a younger protagonist.)

A great source of information on YA science fiction writing is Farah Mendlesohn's (UK) website The Inter-Galactic Playground: http://www.farah-sf.blogspot.com Another excellent source of information on YA writing is Sharyn November (US) at: http://www.sharyn.org/children.html For a South African perspective, there is: http://www.childlit.org.za

Thirdly, I have a colleague who will be providing a perspective on Afrikaans literature; which is also African literature.

With regard to future reading, I have ordered and plan to read Carole McDonnell's Windfollower when it arrives. Carole has an interesting blog at: http://darkparables.blogspot.com I also hope to read my (signed!) copy of Adam Robert's Gradisil, of which the Locus reviewer Nick Gevers said: "a potential harbinger of greatness."

I also hope to update the website in the next few weeks with an article on a sf/fantasy classic The Ship That Sailed To Mars by William Timlin, an architect who worked in Kimberley, South Africa in the early part of the twentieth century. The article is being written by the head of the special collections department from the academic library at the University of Cape Town. Also planned to follow is an article by a colleague on Afrikaans fiction.

Nick Wood, June/July 2007.

Stories come in many forms and I heard one recently in Cape Town, all the more impressive for its basis in reality. Having organised with the South African Environment Project (SAEP) - http://www.saep.org/ - to go into a township school again, I ended up spending two mornings at Sophumelela Secondary (High) school near Phillipi in Cape Town. This was for the purpose of running a creative writing workshop with students - or 'learners' as they are now referred to in South Africa. It being the Easter holidays I was impressed four students (15 to 19 years of age) turned up to attend.

One of the standard issues addressed in many writing workshops - and I speak from the perspective of having attended a few - is the notion of establishing a regular writing routine. I asked about this with some hesitance, as I could tell from the area - with a predominance of self-built corrugated shacks - that space and writing comfort would be a major issue. One of the learners - Sinathemba - proudly announced that he had built his own room and hung up posters of Tupac, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, so that it was his own space where he could write in private.

Now that's seriously establishing your own writing routine.

I asked about their reading - as an often helpful source of knowledge and inspiration for one's own writing. Sinathemba said he saw Maya Angelou on the Oprah show once and would love to read her work, but it turns out the school has no library. From my experience with Oscar Mpetha High in 2004 I was not surprised to find no computers or Internet access there, but I had hoped there might be at least a rudimentary library. Speaking to the organising teacher there, it turns out they had received a donation from a municipal library, but they were all broken/rejected stock and not fit to read. They were all expressing a hunger to find something to read - and were very impressed with the book by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Zahrah the Windseeker - http://www2.uic.edu/~nokora1/Zahrah.htm.

So if any of you reading this have books that you may want to donate to teenagers with English as second language in Cape Town, South Africa, please contact me and I will send you the address of the teacher at Sophumelela Secondary School who is co-ordinating literary resources.

Thanks are due already to Carole McDonnell, a Jamaican-American writer, who has responded quickly and generously:http://www.geocities.com/scifiwritir/OreoBlues.html.

The learners in the writing workshop agreed to have their pictures taken - with both a 'serious' and a 'humorous' pose.

Sinathemba (16Y); front from left to right - Tuliso (17Y); Nontlantla (15Y); Bongani (19Y).

Sinathemba (16Y); front from left to right - Tuliso (17Y); Nontlantla (15Y); Bongani (19Y).

At the back Sinathemba (16 years old) | Front from left to right - Tuliso (17 years old) | Nontlantla (15 years old) | Bongani (19 years old).
You all put my own writing routine - or lack of it - to shame!

With regard to my own reading, I finished Michael Cope's Spiral of Fire with its genesis in the 1986 State of Emergency in Cape Town. The metafictional novel has a developing science-fiction story running parallel inside it - meeting and trying to understand from an alien civilisation a kinder more integrated way of living - perhaps Black as Other, perhaps not. An interesting read nontheless, from a fraught time.

I have asked a colleague to write a perspective on Afrikaans fiction for the SF in SA section - some of which may be obtainable in English translation. The genres used may be variable - even at times labelled 'magical realist' (e.g. Andre Brink), but all of it no doubt engaged with issues of living and identity in Africa. I thus aim to update this section in the next month - Part IV to be added.

May many more inspiring stories flow from the schools in Africa and beyond - raising hope for hearing different voices, towards a better future. Till next time. Uhambe kakuhle l (Stay well - isiXhosa)

Nick Wood - April/May 2007.

Just a snippet of a dream to share since last time - 'losing' my youngest daughter while busy running around dealing with demands from a variety of people - to which I woke abruptly with a shock and some relief it was 'only a dream'. This was obviously a message reinforcing the need to finding a better work-life balance, which I've since been managing more firmly - and I am relieved to report I have not lost anything or anyone, so personal or important, in subsequent dreams.

So I've been reflecting a bit on how these meaningful narratives or stories emerge or are constructed - both in dreams where they tend to be more fractured, opaque and surreal - and in conscious existence, whereby we tend to story our lives as if we were central characters - often with varying degrees of felt control in the situations we find ourselves. There is some suggestion we create stories around ourselves to develop a sense of consistent agency and identity; perhaps functional for survival in a potentially chaotic and demanding world. Certainly the early history of stories and myths appears to partly be an attempt to make sense of human community and experience within the wider setting of the cosmos.

One approach which has been developed clinically, that harnesses the human drive to create stories, is narrative therapy. This has been formulated with a view to helping people look at the stories that shape and influence their lives. Michael White in Payne (2000) mentions Jerome Bruner's summary of the elements of stories, whereby he suggests there are two simultaneous 'landscapes' within which a story unfolds. Firstly, 'landscapes' of action and agency; where intentions and behavioural events and the contextual situations they are manifest in are central. Secondly, 'landscapes of consciousness' where there are varying degrees of knowing, thinking or feeling. Bruner thus suggests the 'timeless underlying theme' of a story's 'fabula' (or plot) comprises a 'plight into which characters have fallen as a result of intentions that have gone awry…what one seeks in story structure is precisely how plight, character and consciousness are integrated.'

Thus narrative therapy provides a means for understanding the stories people bring into therapy - the interactions of actions (events) and 'consciousness' (feelings, thoughts and beliefs) that have produced a sense of life going awry - the 'plight' of the person. The essential components are thus (1) 'external' events and (2) 'inner' experience, both set in (3) temporal sequence and (4) producing confusion or distress. People in chronic distress tend to have a dominant story, with a negative pay-off in terms of inner feelings and external events - a classic example being a depressed person anticipating rejection and either avoiding contact, being oversensitive to 'evidence' suggesting rejection, or even precipitating rejection via their own unwitting and often 'unconscious' poor action or inaction. This in turn 'confirms' the negative storyline and further entrenches the story as an absolute one, reflecting Freud's notion of the 'compulsion to repeat'.

So the therapy component becomes a process of collaborative 're-authoring' of stories to develop 'alternative landscapes of action and consciousness', i.e. to develop new - perhaps hitherto dormant - personal stories, with (hopefully) different and more adaptive personal consequences. This also often helps people to 'externalise' difficulties as a problem with self-limiting and dysfunctional stories, rather than seeing them as intrinsically part of their character.

There appears to be an almost universal drive to tell stories too, reflected particularly in people who have been abused or subject to trauma. Part of the healing process can be a retelling of the traumatic story to another human individual - issues of guilt, anger and culpability are reframed in an often altered story, which validates the person and normalises their traumatised responses to an abnormal situation.

These issues of stories around trauma can also take place on a larger, sometimes national scale. The granting of amnesty to enforcers of the apartheid regime, many of whom had committed multiple murders and torture, was a highly contentious move by the first democratically elected government in South Africa in the 1990's. This was an initiative by the post-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) led-government, in the interests of national reconciliation and healing, and provided the basis for the creation of the 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission' (TRC). The TRC was a formal forum for many difficult stories of abuse and trauma. (These are captured to some extent by Antjie Krog in her book 'Country of my Skull'.)

An interesting project in Aotearoa New Zealand which develops narrative approaches within the wider socio-political context and which also aims to utilise indigenous knowledge (e.g. Maori and Pacific Island), is the Just Therapy approach - as developed by Charles Waldegrave; Kiwi Tamasese; Flora Tuhaka and Wairi Campbell (2003).

Narrative group approaches have been developed too - an idiosyncratic variation on this theme has been developed by Ron Phillips in Auckland. Ron has written a classic journey-quest sequence of stories - Gem of the First Water - under the rubric of Therapeutic Story Intervention (T.S.I.) - http://www.tsi.co.nz/. TSI follows a protagonist dealing with a variety of developmental conflicts and eventful challenges, which progresses the main protagonist from an initial state of anger, disaffection and isolation, towards becoming more goal-oriented, empathic and positively involved socially at the end. I have participated in and observed these groups and have seen how this story has unwittingly engaged defensive adolescents via a process of vicarious identification and parallel processing of their own issues and events, leading to altered and more positively experienced lives at the end.

The works of narrative therapy works are a testament to the power of stories and perhaps one reason why they are both so ancient and so enduring - they help us make sense of our place in the cosmos and can also shape our current experiences and approach to life. So what story do you have about your life - is there a dominant one or are there perhaps several (possibly competing) ones that emerge in different contexts or when different feelings or experiences are more evident? As a teenager, I had an adolescent gloomy angst ridden one, about why try anything when the world would inevitably be burnt to a cinder when the sun goes nova? (I was fortunate enough to grow up within a family where there was sufficient love and resources to enable thinking about wider stories at all, and eventually political ones too.)

Now, I am more optimistic about the 'story arc' of my own life - but I'm acutely aware there are many global shaping stories which need to be faced up to and positively engaged with, in whatever small measure one can - e.g. global warming, issues around war and ethnicity, religion and culture. One potentially powerful way of participating, of course, is through the creation of yet more stories of hope and healing…

And I hope to comment next time on some of those I have been reading too - from stories within Farah Mendlesohn's Glorifying Terrorism to Michael Cope's Spiral of Fire. Hopefully I will have some stories to share from Cape Town, South Africa too, perhaps from Oscar Mpetha High again.

To stories…

Payne, M (2000) Narrative Therapy. London: Sage Publications.
Waldegrave, C., Tamasese, K., Tukaha, F., & Campbell, W. (2003) Just Therapy - a journey. Adelaide, S.A.: Dulwich Centre Publications.

Nick Wood, March 2007.

Just a brief update before uploading more information at the end of this month (February 2007) - I have made available several copies of my book The Stone Chameleon for purchasing through Amazon.co.uk - I have done this as I am aware it is difficult getting hold of personal copies through the publisher Maskew-Miller Longman, in Cape Town, South Africa - MML prefer to take bulk orders through schools.

Nick Wood (February 2007)

In Association with Amazon.co.uk

Happy New Year to all for whom it is a new year- and hopefully a continuing happy 'old' year for those to whom it is not new! I have good news since my last blog - it seems that the High Court in Botswana has ruled in favour of the San against the Botswanan government land removals - see:

This is at least some good news to set against ongoing atrocities and war in places such as Darfur: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3496731.stm and Ethiopia/Somalia: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/6222681.stm

Dreams have been vivid for me at the start of the New Year - often the case in transitional times, I've heard. In my case, it's settling back from our 'Antipodean' venture and into new and challenging work. Having been in dream analysis for several years under a Jungian analyst, and having carried out some dream interpretations myself clinically, I had a 'go' at unpicking the most recent dream. So I've started a dream diary again, but it's a lazy one, limited to dreams remembered on final waking. I've had enough of mid-night recordings and being unable to fall asleep again - and I don't want to be shot by my partner either!:-)

It starts with a gathering of swimmers on the coast of Cornwall - tri-athletes I imagine, from an elevated view, as if in a helicopter. They then leap into the sea and in a desperate surging of limbs, power through the water towards…the east coast of the United States? 'Surely not', I think, 'A leisurely solo unaided swim, maybe', (!) 'but surely not in a flat out race?'

The swimmers, numbering about a hundred or so, reach the mid-Atlantic and exhausted, dive suddenly, powering down to the bottom of the ocean, where they batter their heads against a sea-bed of discarded Ken and Barbie dolls, limbs broken, heads bobbling loose. As the swimmers bash their heads against them and the ocean floor, they are transformed into immobile, broken and empty plastic dolls themselves, drifting in the debris of dolls on the ocean floor.

And then I am in a room with three other swimmers, chained and being prepared for training to do a trans-Atlantic race. 'I think I need to get out of here,' is my final thought before waking.

Not the sweetest of dreams, then, to welcome in a New Year. But helpful perhaps if I can penetrate the language/symbolism to uncover its' meanings. It's been over a hundred years since Freud (1900) published his ground-breaking The Interpretation of Dreams, arguing for dreams as symbolic messages from the unconscious. Often ranged against this notion is the idea that dreams are just jumbled detritus from the day, randomly sifted by residual nocturnal cognitive processing.

For me, I've had too long a history of seeing the veracity of the first principle operating in my own life to believe all dreams are merely chaotic and trivial reprocessing. It may be the case that some may be though - there are dreams that appear so jumbled and potentially related to the day's activities, it's hard to penetrate an underlying set of meanings. Then again, though, waking recollection may be so flawed as to leave only the impenetrable and seemingly trivial pieces left. I do think however that we are essentially meaning makers in our conscious existence - so why not when we are asleep? (Rollo May's The courage to create illustrates the creative capacity inherent in dreams too.)

The language of dreams appears to be a primarily visual one, though, as if operating on a primordial pre-linguistic level. So, I had an idea where to start - trying to unravel the visual images as symbols. (Certainly not with dream dictionaries - symbols are so often individually nuanced with idiosyncratic associations, that the idea of a universal dream decoding dictionary is over-simplistic and reductionistic - although it may well be that some symbols may have more common meanings or associations, such as houses perhaps reflecting the psyche: Hall, 1983. This essentially means that no one can tell you what your dream means.) So it essentially becomes a matter of tracing the associations connected to components of the dream and piecing together the narrative/structural sequence.

And I do think daily events may provide triggers for stimulating dream concerns - so daily contexts are important. For me, it was attending a stimulating, high powered academic conference given by leading researchers in the area of developmental psychopathology. There's a collaborative collegial atmosphere amongst many researchers, but it's hard to ignore a rivalrous, driven and competitive edge amongst some too. I was aware of having done some research in the area myself, but feeling it was not enough - knowing that I had primarily been a clinician with very limited time to do research due to high clinical demands assuaged this feeling to some extent - but I guess I still took this to bed with me.

So I explored the main symbol of the swimmers - associating the issue of a race to personal competitiveness. That is, there's a competitive part of me that's setting very high goals - manifest in a dream that has a swimming race across the Atlantic - and another part of me that realizes it's an impossible target with an inevitable end; i.e. burn-out as symbolized by the diving, drowning swimmers. The dolls are an interesting twist - I think for me it's a realization this competitive drive is more about 'shells', i.e. external appearances rather than internal substance or conviction. It's also a drive that is restrictive to me - symbolized by being chained - and I would obviously rather be elsewhere.

So where would I rather be? (When dreams have unsatisfactory endings, it's sometimes useful to visualize alternative, more positive endings. This is a recommended cognitive-behavioural strategy for children with nightmares, for example.) Actually, I love the ocean and I love swimming, so I'm generally happy where I am in the dream - but as for details, I would rather be in the surf at Muizenberg (Cape Town) than churning across the Atlantic Ocean. What does this metaphorically mean in terms of my life?

I think it means I'll be happy with a publication or two this year on top of work, whether it's fiction and/or non-fiction. It won't be earth shattering stuff I'm aiming for either- if just one person finds it useful and/ or entertaining, that will be good enough. I don't think it's a matter of settling for mediocrity, but recognition that we're not all cross-Ocean swimmers - in fact, none of us are - and it's the act of swimming that counts, not how far you go.

I wish you sweet dreams tonight.

Hall, James A. (1983) Jungian Dream Interpretation. Inner City Books; Toronto.

Some science fiction works focus on dreams too - Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heavenfeatures a protagonist who can change reality with his dreams. Roger Zelazny's The Dream Master has a character that can enter and change other people's dreams from within. Some of the works of PK Dick and JG Ballard carry an inherent surrealistic style that mimics dream-like states and blurs distinctions between fantasy and 'reality'.

For current speculative short-fiction with a range of styles and value for money, Postscripts will be hard to beat. Thick with content, Issue 8 contains an excellent lead-in by Michael Swanwick entitled The Bordello in Faerie, supported by consistently strong work from a variety of authors throughout; with even a couple of excellent sharp, sweet short-shorts by Brian A. Hopkins and Terry Bisson. (I'm generally not a big fan of short-shorts as I prefer a longer story immersion, but these were really very good!) Issue 9 has just been received - they follow a regular quarterly schedule. Postscripts is published by PS Publishing, who are a dynamic company publishing great twenty-first century fiction at: http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/

I've read a few comics and graphic novels recently, the most interesting of which features the work of Brian K. Vaughan. Y: The last man is a tale of one man and his monkey surviving a biological catastrophe which means essentially only women are the other remaining survivors. A great story makes a whole lot more of what seems initially like a wish-fulfillment tale. Ex machina is an even more engrossing tale for me of post 9/11 politics and the nature of (super) heroism.

Talking of politics, I've ordered and am looking forward to reading Glorifying Terrorism a new anthology edited by and available from Farah Mendlesohn on her live web-journal (Wednesday 13th December 2006) at: http://fjm.livejournal.com/?skip=20

As a brief addendum, there is a magical South African novel where dreams feature prominently too - The Heart of Redness. by Zakes Mda (see South African SF; part 3). The novel explores parrallel stories of post-apartheid rural life and a nineteenth century where the amaXhosa face border wars with the forces of British colonialism. Here, the lasting legacy of Nongqawuse's dreams - which almost resulted in national starvation - are unravelled.

May you all have a wonderful 2007.

Nick Wood (January/February 2007)

I've been wondering about words and roots recently; the languages we use to tell our stories and where they come from. This has been sparked by writing a story set in the land of my birth, Zambia, where I raise the issue of land and language - i.e. the naming of things, from the original African names (in this case Mosi-oa-Tunya) to European colonial re-labelling and subsequent post-colonial attempts at African linguistic reclamation. This is an ongoing issue pertinent to South Africa too. I've been looking forward to returning to Cape Town, South Africa, for a little while next year (2007), and will hopefully be flying in to Cape Town International (C.T.I.) Airport - no longer DF Malan (one of the founders of apartheid) Airport, as it has previously been known. Not really an African epithet, C.T.I., but there is some move to include fairly neutral names too, in the spirit of 'national reconciliation'.

I'm hoping to partly justify the carbon monoxide load of the flight by following up writing workshops I've held at Oscar Mpetha High School. Last time I was there the students elected to have it run in English, rather than through an interpreter, despite isiXhosa being their predominant home language. From what I gathered, they chose to use and write in English, as it is seen by many as the language of success and economic/world opportunity. The British Empire may be long gone, but the language of Empire still lingers on.

This may be of some concern for indigenous languages that could become increasingly marginalised, despite being vital repositories of identity and traditional/cultural knowledge. Languages can also die within communities that are facing re-colonisation or being forced into abandoning traditional resources and lifestyles, like the dangers facing the Khoi San in Botswana. There, many San (Bushmen) face forced 'resettlement' camps that throttle their traditional hunter-gatherer nomadic lifestyle; 'joblessness' and alcohol consumption no doubt ensuing in familiar destructive patterns for indigenous colonised peoples. (This is supposedly driven by governmental directives to facilitate 'integration', yet with a background of diamond companies looking for yet more mining land.)

There is an interesting online National Geographic article about the dying San lifestyle and the issue of names and meanings at: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0102/feature6/fulltext.html For more general information on the San people and organisations of support: http://www.san.org.za/.

South Africa has eleven official languages but I can speak only two; English and an increasingly sparse and frayed Afrikaans, with smatterings of Zulu and isiXhosa phrases picked up over the years - certainly not enough to work without an interpreter in non-English settings. I have had many varied experiences working with interpreters down the years, so I know it's a potentially problematic way of operating too - Rachel Tribe and Hitesh Raval's (2002) book Working with Interpreters in Mental Health offers some very useful advice - but I sometimes wish for the simplicity of a 'Babel fish' inserted in the ear a la Douglas Adams in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But there can also be good reasons for not being privy to all the nuances and details of everyone's communicative exchanges too. Thus, for example, I remember running an art therapy group during the State of Emergency in the late eighties in a psychiatric hospital for blacks only mental health patients in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. (It was also not unknown at the time for political opponents of apartheid to be incarcerated as 'mentally ill' and fairly common for emotional and 'mental' deterioration to accompany torture and prolonged detentions.) The group was run with the help of Zulu staff interpreters and I asked for patients to draw pictures of a hero or model person they admired or wished they could be like. Someone drew Nelson Mandela, who at the time was banned, imprisoned and with state sanctions in place against talking about him. As all visual images of Mandela had also been either officially deleted and/or censored, one of the staff members took the drawing, studied it carefully - and then pronounced it was indeed a very good likeness! He went on to proudly announce that he was also 'clever' because he also remembered what Mandela looked like from the Rivonia Treason Trial. There was a burst of group laughter and much of the subsequent conversation zinged around in Zulu, with minimal interpretation, and maximal rejuvenating energy for the group. The privacy of conversation seemed to afford them a sense of solidarity and no doubt privacy from myself as a marginalised (non-Zulu speaking) therapist/authority figure of - then as yet uncertain - trustworthiness. This was certainly adaptive, given the times, although if it entrenches us-them thinking in more open and current political climates, it may not always be helpful.

Different languages provide a richer repertoire of world-interpretations; i.e. may offer slightly different 'lenses' for 'seeing' the world or carving up experiences - an interesting SF tale extending this premise to language shaping reality is Ian Watson's first novel The Embedding from the early 1970's. Linguistic relativity as suggested by the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis is a fertile source for research examining the relationship between language and thought: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/relativism/supplement2.html.

Having (sufficient) publication opportunities for diverse languages seems one way of trying to ensure their survival - Cape Town's Centre for the Book is one project of a number that supports this endeavour: http://www.centreforthebook.org.za/.

I think a tapestry of stories from across the world will be stronger for being based in their original tongues - translations are invaluable and may extend their reach, but will hopefully never entirely replace the original linguistic sources. (Although it is inevitable all languages will evolve with interaction and history; some more so than others.) But I fear we face the threat of too much biological extinction in the global warming years ahead, without needing to add the words so many (or now so few) of us speak too.

With regard to possible reading material for the Oscar Mpetha High School, I've just finished (and hope to make use of) Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's (2005) Zahrah the Windseeker. It's an engaging tale of a young adolescent girl's attempt to rescue a friend who has been bitten by a deadly snake, by venturing alone on a dangerous quest far out into 'The Greeny Jungle' in search of a cure. It is wonderfully described with appealing characters and enriched by the detailed contrasts of organic technology in the static community that fears the jungle and the wildness and diversity of life in the jungle beyond community borders. The book has a mythic resonance emanating from a Nigerian (Igbo) story of The Flying Africans that provides an underpinning for Zahrah's quest and her latent abilities. I think the YA students at Oscar Mpetha High will enjoy the book very much.

And, talking of enjoyment, I mentioned previously a few examples of some of the music I enjoy while writing - but this was only a few examples. I have a broad love of music in many forms, but perhaps not stretching quite as far as gangsta rap and James Blunt.

Till next time:
Salani Kahle (Zulu) Stay well (Plural)
Totsiens (Afr) Till I see you
Salaam (Arabic) Peace
E haere ra (Maori) Goodbye (from a person staying)
Ka kite ano (Maori) Until I see you again
Sayonara (Japanese) Goodbye
Goodbye (Eng)

Naro - one of the Khoisan languages, still spoken, apparently, by a few people in the Kalahari.
[Loaded in graphics to show diacritics correctly - Webmaster].

  • OR, if using IPA (International Phonetic Association) method of transcription:
    Meaning, literally, Stay well, with rain.

  • OR, if using IPA (International Phonetic Association) method of transcription:
    Meaning, literally, You must stay cold, with God.

Nick Wood - Nov/Dec 2006

I have heard my YA book The Stone Chameleon has been selected as part of a Virtual Book exhibition themed Books for Africa, from Africa. This was set up by IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People. The 84 selected African books were taken to be displayed as part of the World IBBY Congress in Macau, China, at the end of September (2006). The reference to The Stone Chameleon is available here [it comes up quite slowly - Webmaster].

At the end of August, I attended a writing course The Arvon Foundation, with tutors Adam Roberts and Justina Robson. It was set in a wonderful old house in Heptonstall in Yorkshire, previously owned by Ted Hughes (the poet). Sylvia Plath's grave is in a Churchyard nearby I believe - I couldn't find it, apparently it's hard to find, being situated on 'overflowing' Church ground. (A colleague at the workshop found it and took the pictures below posted for anyone with an interest or a graveyard fetish.)

Bank, previously owned by Ted Hughes photo copyright Yvonne Hewett
Lumb Bank, previously owned by Ted Hughes
Photo © Yvonne Hewett reproduced with permission.

Sylvia Plath's grave in nearby Heptonstall. Photo copyright Yvonne Hewett
Sylvia Plath's grave in nearby Heptonstall
Photo © Yvonne Hewett reproduced with permission.

Adam Roberts: and Justina Robson: complemented each other beautifully as tutors and I hope to put together an article on The Arvon Experience - certainly not as gruelling or intense an experience as the renowned Clarion writing courses are reputed to be: but extremely useful nevertheless. (Of course, the acid test is how much writing and actual publications ensue after the course for all attendees!)

I've recently been reading a book on Research Methodology in Psychology and the two authors list the music that inspired them during their writing process. This was an interesting and diverse set of lists, with little overlap between the two, and I was somewhat befuddled at how few items on the list I actually recognised. This made me think about the huge volumes of music that comes out, especially with the Internet now available as a potential medium - the same applies for words and writing too, no doubt!

I also wondered how much of the music I listen to when I write might others recognise or identify with? And what do you enjoy listening to when you write or relax? As for me, it's Philip Tabane of Malombo - whom I first saw live at the Rainbow Jazz Club in Pinetown, Natal, one of the very few non-racial music venues open during the State of Emergency in South Africa in the late 1980's - and a host of mainly West African musicians, including Baaba Maal, Orchestra Baobab, Mansour Seck, Oumou Sangare and, a tragic loss to music this year, Ali Farka Toure.

This is occasionally interspersed with bouts of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, REM, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin - and, somewhat embarrassingly to add as I age and mellow (and rot?), early Neil Diamond! "If music be the food of love"- to many, it seems to be the food of words and communication too. Further betraying my age no doubt, the words of John Miles (Rebel: 1976) comes to mind: "Music was my first love and it will be…"

Nick Wood - September/October 2006

This is a brief addendum to mention I've added an update to my section on SF in South Africa, entitled Part 3: South African SF - i.e. Speculative Fiction, not just Science. This extends an article I have had recently published in Vector, the BSFA critical journal.

As regards recent and current reading, I have just finished Ben Okri's wonderful novel The Famished Road and look forward to starting a YA book by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu called Zahrah the Windseeker. I have also received the latest PostScripts magazine with a lively opening editorial by Lucius Shepard, raising amongst other things the importance of political perspectives in writing. Given the fraught political challenges facing the world, 'enlightened' political views in fiction seem vital to help us all live together more peacefully. (I'd define 'enlightened' as any view which agrees with mine! :-) )

I hope you find update interesting and please let me know if there are any other South African writers I should be aware of, regarding science/speculative fiction.

Nick Wood/August 2006

I mentioned a few blogs ago that Internova may be publishing an overview of SF in SA by Gail Brunette - unfortunately they have not been able to publish another hard-copy issue and are looking at moving online - see
http://www.nova-sf.de/html/en/index.htm. I will look to hopefully update my own column on SF in South Africa (part 3) in the next week or so.

I have increasingly been realising the importance of stories...a workshop I recently attended was looking into developing a research tool for psychotherapy. The workshop was headed by Prof. Bren Grinyer of the University of Woolongong in Australia and involved using the Core Conflictual Relationship Method (CCRT) to distill central themes that emerge from psychotherapy encounters. These main themes end up forming part of a narrative(s) constructed in therapy. Prof. Grenyer suggested that people who seek out therapy may have a limited number of narratives concerning their life - and these often end up being repetitive, with maladaptive or problematically set up endings, e.g. 'I always end up in bad relationships.'

So the art of therapy becomes a process of helping people develop new stories and new possibilities for their lives - akin to narrative therapy, but couched in different terms, depending on the therapeutic model used. This made me think of a BBC documentary I'd seen several years ago, trying to unpick where the sense of self resides in the brain.

The programme ended up highlighting the difficulty of pinpointing self in the brain, essentially seeming to state that the brain processes a story to hang the clothes of the self on - i.e. our sense of self emerges from the narrative(s) our brains construct about our lives, in order to make sense of it. Thus, with developing language our words become available to assist self-reflection and engendering stories about ourselves that situate and make meaning of our body and its relationship to the world. This may not always result in sharply individually based identities - cultures around the world vary in terms of how much emphasis they put on self versus group identities.

So we're all story tellers, then, and our stories change and develop over time. In addition, it seems that the richer and more diverse our stories, the happier and healthier we can potentially become, with a greater set of resources and possible solutions to the challenges ahead.

I don't feel so guilty then, calling myself a writer, despite a limited number of hard-copy publications - we are all writers - whether on paper, or in our heads. And, the more stories we have, the better...So here's to your writings too - may they help carry you with joy and good connections through your life ahead.

"...we have never lived enough. Our experience is, without fiction, too confined and too parochial. Literature extends it, making us reflect and feel about what might otherwise be too distant for feeling..."

From Martha Nussbaum in The Moral Of The Story : An Introduction To Ethics / Nina Rosenstand. 5th ed.(2005)

With Thanks to Mandy (my sister) for finding this quote - she is a wonderful and big character in my own life story.

Nick Wood/July/August 2006

We're back in the UK after a stunning trip through the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as a week in San Fransisco to break up the jet-lag. May Day is over, heralding spring and workers' rights. For us, work starts again, but at least the pink and white blossoms are thick on the trees along our routes in to work. Blair and New Labour are struggling a lot more than they were when we left London in 2004 and we have been quick to register as voters again, as a start. Our South African history means that we have no choice but to take political processes seriously.

Along with the personal battle to rectify the sleep cycle has come a barrage of remembered dreams which often happens in times of transition. Three years of Jungian analysis plus some training in dream interpretation has been helpful with 'unpicking' some of these dreams - something we sometimes do with a laugh as a family 'exercise' around the breakfast table. But there are always elements that remain irreducible and I am happy with that, as it is with life. Several of my stories have sprung from dreams, but I don't think it's possible to reduce them completely - the language they speak is too different and our readiness to hear variable and limited. But I do think they generally remain more than the random processing of every day events - so why not messages to aid us to live more fully and humanely - whether they flow from the Self, God or our ancestors?

Speaking of ancestors, they feature in a very good YA sf/fantasy novel I have just read set in Zimbabwe, by Nancy Farmer, who lived there for a number of years. It's called The Ear, the Eye and the Arm. It's an intriguing story which harnesses futuristic projection with traditional beliefs and the tension between science and belief. The characters are well drawn and I had to smile at her descriptions of the 'English tribe', caricatures though they may be. Finally, I watched a BBC documentary on the Da Vinci Code last night which looked at the issues of science, religion and conspiracy theories. There was some argument that Dan Brown has obviously tapped a Millenium nerve about finding meaning in this age where 'science and faith have fought themselves to a standstill', and where belief in both have dwindled. Interesting, despite the fact that I have yet to read the book and a part of me resists the urge to read it, although I am not sure why. Perhaps it will come out in my dreams? Here's to all of our dreams for the year ahead.

Nick Wood/May 2006

One final update before our brief venture into the South Island and then leaving these beautiful shores of Aotearoa New Zealand. I have an article entitled Some Thoughts On South African Science Fiction probably due for print publication later this year - the title hints at this as a personal reflection and not a comprehensive survey. I think Gail Brunette from Science Fiction South Africa may possibly have a broader article upcoming in 'Internova', although it may be a case of 'watch this space' for confirmation.

Secondly, I thought I'd mention some African spec-fic stories by an exciting, new-ish and pretty prolific writer with South African, Israeli and English (residential) connections: Lavie Tidhar. Lavie's website is at: www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~lavie/.

  • Tokolosh - appeared online at Whispers of Wickedness (www.ookami.co.uk) - About a man voyaging through a dreamland Africa, haunted by Tokoloshe, meeting N'kosi. The story is available at: www.ookami.co.uk/html/tokolosh.html

  • Another story called Tokolosh appeared in a small press anthology called Wicked Little Girls. This story takes place in Alexandra and is about a girl, Sarafina, who seals a bargain with the Tokolosh

  • The Invasion of the Zog - this story appeared in issue 1 of Apex Digest in America and Thrilling Wonder Stories 52. The Zog invade South Africa.

  • The Pattern Makers of Zanzibar - appeared in a subscription-only, short-lived UK e-zine, about the slave trade in Zanzibar, with aliens possibly doing the trading.

  • Prophets of the City - set in post-apocalyptic Cape Town. This appeared in a small press anthology, Fantasque 2004.

  • Malarial Nights, Blood-Poisoned Days - more of a prose poem about being sick with Malaria in Malawi, appeared online at The Dream People.

  • Lake of Stars - part of a 3-story cycle of which Pattern Makers is the second. This is the third - it's all about a secret history of African colonisation in which aliens are secretly running things. This one takes place on Lake Malawi and appeared in Jupiter Magazine. .

  • My Travels with Al-Qaeda - due out next year (2007)in an anthology edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling in the US, Salon Fantastique. It takes place partly in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi, and concerns the Al-Qaeda attacks.

I have read several of Lavie's stories and they are well worth tracking down. Finally, I hope to eventually post up some pictures of our travels across the South Island of The-Land-of-The-Long-White-Cloud this coming week. My next update will probably be from London, England. To good journeys as much as can be for all.

Nick Wood/April 2006

We are definitely relocating back to London after 18 months in Aotearoa New Zealand, effective from April 20th. We leave with some sadness and regret - this is an especially beautiful country and we look forward to travelling up to Northland and then down to Queenstown and Aoraki Mount Cook in the South Island, before we go. Following through on the 'home' theme from my last blog, having lived in four countries, it is hard to locate a solitary place as definitively 'home.' I think perhaps I have several homes, but what feels like a 'heart' (origins) home, remains Africa. We have just had to complete a New Zealand census form before we leave and I have put down 'African Pakeha' under ethnic identity. I am not sure what the Brits might make of that classificatory term, if we have to fill out another census form when back in the UK, but I won't lose sleep over it.

I mentioned Octavia Butler's Wild Seed in my last blog, but have subsequently to report the awful news about her recent death, at the young age of 58 years. The world of sf is much poorer for her death - she had more great sf books in her, I am sure, and from all I have heard she was a wonderful human being too.

There have been many web tributes to OB, two samples at: http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/02/27/093932.php and http://www.tayarijones.com/blog/archives/2006/02/remembering_oct.html.

My recent reading has included an interesting YA South African story called Jedro's Bane by Peter Slingsby, as well as a wonderfully evocative book called The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda. The Mda book is also South African and the narrative involves the juxtaposition of prophetic amaXhosa dreams from the 19th century with post-apartheid issues in an Eastern Cape village. I have written an article on South African speculative fiction mentioning the Mda book, which I hope to be able to print here, if I get no traction from a magazine I am considering submitting it to.

With regard to short fiction I am half-way through PostScripts 5. So far the standout piece has been a gentle horror-film take on second chances by Joe Hill, Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead. An interesting but slight hard sf tale by Steven Baxter and a Lawrence Person story which, although well written and with some basis, still riffs on stereotypes to me, Starving Africans.

For a more upbeat contribution to African stories, there is a dedicated blog which hopes to promote young African writing too: http://www.jjafrican.blog.co.uk/

I have written a short story set on Robben island recently, as well as an academic article on racism and therapy. Other than that, I continue work on my second book, set on the Moon, although the move will no doubt interrupt the narrative flow. I also have a University job interview before the move, facing a telephonic panel late at night here in NZ, shortly before flying out to the UK.

So the next time I write an update will be from the colder and darker climes of London, England, but hopefully already heading into a promising spring...!

With Best wishes

Nick Wood, February/March 2006

I hope you have all had at least a good, if not a great start to 2006!

I have unfortunately not been able to make contact with Jaroslav Olsa, a knowledgeable man with regard to SF in Africa. I will keep trying. I do believe, however, that Internova, a magazine of International SF, may be publishing an article on SF in South Africa sometime in the near future and will keep you posted: http://www.nova-sf.de/html/en/index.shtm

With regard to reading, I have currently read Interzone 201, with the stand out story for me being Paul Di Filippo's Harsh Oases. Other than that, I have read a couple of sf novels by women: Octavia Butler's Wild Seed and Sheri Tepper's Grass. Both books were very good and I am hopeful the 'feminine' and feminist voice in SF will continue to grow. (Octavia Butler as a black woman writer provides an interesting take on issues central to Africa too, such as the legacy of slavery.)

I have just returned from Cape Town, (South) Africa, where the issue of slavery in the history of the Cape is being illustrated in such places as the Iziko Museum's Slave Lodge, operative as such between 1679 and 1811. We paid a visit to the District Six Museum - an area destroyed under apartheid's Group Areas Act with the enforced removals of the local so-called 'coloured' population during the nineteen sixties and seventies. We also made a pilgrimage of sorts to a small island in Cape Town's Table Bay, which was a prison 'home' to so many of South Africa's current political leaders up until just over a decade ago. Sobering stuff, but we did also make time to meet up with our 'whanau' (Maori for 'extended family') and to 'hit' the wonderful Capetonian beaches too…

Having been born and raised in Africa, spending almost 18 months currently in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and with a planned move back to London, England, I've been thinking a lot about places and what constitutes 'home'. I have plenty of thoughts, images and feelings jostling around, which may make their way into a story one day, if they behave themselves and become a little more coherent.:-) And if there's anyone reading this with ideas about what is 'home,' let me know. Till next time, may we all find, create or keep a good home of our own, which is safe and happy. To a special 2006 ahead for all, I hope…

Nick Wood - December 2005/January 2006

I have been trying to track down updates on SF in Africa by Jaroslav Olsa Jr., who has worked as a Czech diplomat in a number of African countries, including Zimbabwe currently, I believe. I hope to update my SF in SA section with this information if I am able to contact Jaroslav and obtain his permission to use this material

Otherwise, with regard to reading, I have enjoyed two British short fiction SF magazines. One is a relative newcomer with four published editions. It is called PostScripts and is published by an excellent enterprise called PS Publishing, which also publishes some wonderful novellas and collections of short stories. The website is at: www.pspublishing.co.uk/postscripts.asp. I found the first volume of PostScripts mixed in quality but it has been on an upward curve in terms of the quality of its' fiction, with the latest edition (4) being the strongest in my opinion. There is a great lead-off story from Alistair Reynolds with Zima Blue, about an alien artist working on a cosmic scale. The stories that follow are strong and varied in tone and theme. Incidentally, the opening editorial by Nick Gevers was an exercise in nostalgia for me, as Nick mentions trawling the Cape Town bookshops in his youth for SF.

Interzone is the second magazine from the UK I keep up with. It has been going since the early 1980's and its' most recent edition is 200. It has recently changed editors after a long haul from David Pringle, being taken over from Andy Cox of TTA press. Interzone's web address is: www.ttapress.com/IZ.html. Interzone has been overhauled in terms of its presentation and layout, looking a snazzy colour upgrade. The fiction is a sound and enterprising mix of stories, but my longstanding non-fiction favourite has to be Nick Lowe's film reviews.

With regards to books, I must mention Richard Kunzmann's 'Bloody Harvests' has been deservedly nominated for the CWA Dagger Award for best first detective novel. www.thecwa.co.uk/awards/2005/creasey.html.

There is a recent review of my book 'The Stone Chameleon' on the Infinity Plus website at: www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/stonechameleon.htm.

Other than that, I will probably be in the process of moving back to the UK after a stint of clinical work in Aotearoa/New Zealand, sometime early in 2006.

Nick Wood, October/November 2005

Hi there! I have uploaded Part 2 of my personal take on speculative fiction in Africa. A spartan piece it is too, so I would welcome any additions to my admittedly limited knowledge in the area. I do hope you enjoy the personal take on the subject though, and let me know if there are any glaring omissions or inaccuracies!

I have currently finished reading Richard Kunzmann's 'Bloody Harvests' - a fast and gripping read in the area of crime and traditional African belief and the struggle towards the fusion of Western and African perspectives. I do hope someone makes a film of it!

I have also moved on to Postscripts 4 - 3 had a raft of good stories in it, not only the lead as mentioned previously. My other favourites were 'Best New Horror' by Joe Hill; 'Curious Green Colours Sleep Furiously' by Stephen Volk, and 'black and green and gold' by David Herter. Good value for money, with a number of other solid stories, including a conceptually intriguing one by Gene Wolfe.

In my latest update on SF in SA I have also noted a website dedicated to expanding the global awareness of speculative fiction, set up by Lavie Tidhar. Please support this important venture! Any and all mistakes in my updated article are shamefully mine...Happy reading.

Nick Wood, September 2005.

I am in the process of collecting information around the development of SF in SA, and will add this to my web page soon. With regard to reading, currently I have finished a great account of the Apollo programme called 'Moondust' by Andrew Smith, as well as an evocative YA sf book called 'Roivan' by NZ writer Glynne MacLean. With respect to short fiction, I am reading Interzone 199 and Postscripts 3, which has a wonderful lead story by Chaz Brenchley, 'Dragon Kings Play Songs of Love'. I have also started reading a detective/horror book set in South Africa by Richard Kunzmann, called 'Bloody Harvests'. On the comics/graphic novels front, I have just finished reading Warren Ellis, Colleen Doran and Dave Stewart's 'Orbiter', very topically about space shuttles and the 'pull' of space.

Nick Wood - 11/08/2005 16:36

Hello, Molweni, Kia Ora etc…as you have probably guessed by now, my name is Nick Wood and I will be updating this site with news around writing, both mine and others; musings about speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) in (South) Africa and other topics of interest to me and hopefully to you reading this.

If there is anything I say that triggers a strong response, please feel free to e-mail me via contact details and I will try and respond as soon as I can. Like most people on the web I am not a Divine Oracle, so please take my ramblings with a hearty dose of salt, if need be.

Thank you to FrogWrite Creations for getting this site running and I hope you find something of interest here…

Nick Wood - July/August 2005
16/07/2005 13:49

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