A thank you note is due to Gail Jamieson and the SFSA, for making available Probe 140 from earlier this year, to be made available for download alongside the other earlier issues from the Downloads page. There are some very interesting items in 140, including an interview of Zoran Zivkovic by Michael Lohr. Please support the SFSA if you can and subscribe too. For details click here.
Nick Wood - December 2009
The latest addition to the SF in SA series of essays is - as previously mentioned - a socio-historical overview of South African speculative fiction, recently published in the November 2009 issue of Locus Magazine and republished here with due acknowledgement to Locus as SF in SA 10. If there are any glaring omissions, please let me know, although as I have mentioned in the list of YA titles this is 'amongst others'; as it is hard to be truly comprehensive - which is hopefully a good sign for South African speculative fiction!
Further to note is the award The Last Drink Bird Head by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer, with the prize for " those who work to bring writers from other literary traditions and countries to the attention of readers in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia" being Charles Tan "for Bibliophile Stalker and various ad hoc efforts": http://charles-tan.blogspot.com/. Congratulations to Charles,who also specifically promotes Philippine as well as world speculative fiction generally.
Although not specifically related to speculative fiction, I must mention a tribute concert I went to for Mama Africa, a.k.a. Miriam Makeba - a great tribute to a great singer a year after her death. This was well marshalled by a wonderful Angelique Kidjo from Benin and is reviewed here - although personally for me, I've always considered West Africa to be the 'powerhouse' of great African music. Still, there's been no one quite like Miriam Makeba, long may she live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0t4Yibsh64&feature=related
Till Next year - blessed festivals to all.
Nick Wood - December 2009
So, on into November and for most of the years of my past that would
be a welcoming thought, with a view to the hotter and dryer Cape summer months ahead. Now, of
course, the opposite holds true - the nights lengthen and it gets colder, wetter and darker - with a
lot more bite than the old Cape winters! Still, work, writing and living continues.
Locus recently published my article on SF in South Africa in their current
November issue. I will upload this overview article onto the website at the end of the month as
SF in SA 10, with due acknowledgement to first publication in Locus. The article
focused on written sf, not other media or film. Thus District 9 (D9) does not get a direct
mention for example. For anyone wanting to pursue further analysis of D9 however, there's an
interesting collection of online essays at http://www.zeleza.com/symposium/949
Lavie Tidhar reports on the World SF Blog that Apex have a special world sf
issue, tied in with the release of their anthology. http://worldsf.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/special-apex-magazine-world-sf-issue-released. Kudos goes to
Lavie for his tireless efforts in raising the profile of non-Western or anglophile
speculative fiction. Till next time, i.e. December, and roll on summer.
- November 2009
A few items of note this month - firstly, for an interesting take on World SF have a look at SF Signal's online interview with Lavie Tidhar: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2009/09/interview-lavie-tidhar/. Again, I would recommend you support Apex's venture to showcase SF writing from across the globe: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/cart.php?m=product_detail&p=86.
Secondly, this month's (October) issue of The Psychologist includes a focus on fiction, with a number of articles being publicly available should you be interested: http://www.thepsychologist.org.uk. Thus there is an analytic take on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are; a look at the psychology of oral storytelling and an exploration of using prose to support the writing of a doctoral dissertation.
Finally, I'm pleased to report that Locus Magazine will probably be publishing an article of mine in their forthcoming November issue. This is essentially a socio-historical overview of South African speculative fiction down the ages. Locus have agreed that I can make this article available online once their subscribers have had a month to look at it. I will thus make this piece available online from early December. As a teaser, just to say South African speculative fiction in its broadest sense appears to be a growing genre.
Nick Wood - October 2009
There has been an interesting post by Nnedi Okorafor, who has been mentioned in these pages previously with regards to her African YA sf&f works Zahrah the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker'. Nnedi is American resident but with strong Nigerian roots and her works so far - yay!- have been invariably African based, in a style which I think she refers to as 'organic fantasy': http://nnedi.com/. The post is provocatively entitled 'Is Africa ready for science fiction?' and is on The Nebula Awards website at:
I haven't yet seen District 9 but I believe the portrayal of Nigerians within the film is possibly racist - not good within a country where xenophobic attacks have been ongoing - shameful, really, if so! I wait to see it now with mixed feelings.
Lauren Beukes' book Moxyland has been launched in both the UK and at WorldCon in Montreal just past (August) for North America - good luck to her for hopefully further good sales and reviews! I think the Harper Collins imprint Angry Robot may be offering a short story prize for stories within Lauren's Moxyland universe - which may include publication in Lauren's next book Zoo City, due out in May 2010: http://news.book.co.za/blog/2009/08/11/moxylandangry-robot-short-story-competition/. So get writing!!
Finally, I would like to thank Adam Roberts for his permission to use an article he wrote, originally published in The Valve, and then in Vector 257, Autumn 2008, the British Science Fiction Association's critical magazine, entitled simply Doris Lessing. Lessing is originally from Zimbabwe, although it was known as (colonial) Southern Rhodesia, in the years that she was born and lived there. Adam - http://www.adamroberts.com/ - also offers another interesting take on science fiction in Africa and so I have included the article in the section on Science Fiction in Southern Africa, Part 9. I am compiling an overview article on Science Fiction in South Africa and would be grateful if any of you have information of note you can send me about this. Till October.
Nick Wood - Aug/Sep 2009.
This is a brief update to mention that I've uploaded my story Thirstlands onto this website (click here) so that it is freely available for all to read, now that it is a year since it has been published in Subterfuge. In addition, in the spirit of the 40th Apollo 11 Moon-landing anniversary, I have made my article on Right and Wrong Stuff: Psychological Factors in Space Flight available to be read too - click here. Please also have a look and buy the magazine it was published in - cheaply available as a download or else through Amazon as a hard-copy publication. The magazine is Escape Velocity 4 and is a good mixture of science fiction and fact; available at: http://www.escapevelocitymagazine.com/
I am also looking forward to the appearance of the South African science fiction Film District 9; the accents on the brief trailer clip I've heard sound authentic, so I'm hoping it's all local actors who are involved and that local communities benefit somehow too! Till next month.
Nick Wood - Aug 2009
Lauren Beukes' Moxyland has launched in the UK under the imprint Angry Robot on July 1st and has already garnished a good review by Blue Tyson at: http://notfreesf.blogspot.com/2009/07/moxyland-lauren-beukes.html Moxyland will be released in the US and Worldwide at the start of September - good luck to Lauren; this is a polished, snappy and truly South African science fiction book. There is an interview with Lauren by Benny Alberts in the Probe 139 issue available from the Downloads page - which also incidentally includes my story Mindreader. I am hopeful Lauren will contribute a piece about "interesting synchronicities between Moxyland the real world that have happened since the book came out." If I'm able to secure this, it will likely be posted onto the SF in SA section (part 9).
Talking of Probe. Science Fiction South Africa have just celebrreated their fortieth anniversary, with the 141st edition of Probe - congratulations to SFSA; founded on June 16th 1969 in a meeting on a 'dark and stormy night'. Their anniversary edition includes a clever and amusing piece by South Africa's best known science fiction writer, Dave Freer, entitled Candy Blossom.
I went to hear Buzz Aldrin being interviewed recently, with the point being made tbe interviewer Andrew Smith that both Neil Armstrong and Buzz could lay claim to being first on the Moon as they landed simultaneously in the lunar-lander Eagle. Andrew's book Moondust is a fascinating account of tracking down the remaining 'Moon-walkers' for interviews.Another book of interest I'm currently reading is Visions of the Third Millenium - Black Science Fiction Novelists Write the Future by Sandra Grayson. Just completed regarding fiction is Cormac McCarthy's The Road, a bleak dystopian tale, post an ambiguous catastrophe. Also to be noted is the award of the Edge Hill short fiction prize to an under-heralded science fiction writer Chris Beckett for his short story collection The Turing Test. Finally, for those of you interested in World science fiction, a reminder to visit Lavie Tidhar's world sf blogsite and consider buying the Apex Book of World Science Fiction due out in a couple of months: http://worldsf.livejournal.com/. Till next month...
Nick Wood - July 2009
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!
I would like to acknowledge Gail Jamieson of Science Fiction South Africa for supplying another issue of Probe - the latest - number 139. Three episodes now available on my downloads page.
Until July then.
Nick Wood - May/June 2009
This month I'm pleased to report that Escape Velocity, issue 4 is out, available from Adventure Books of Seattle here. As can be seen on the front cover, my article on Psychological Factors in Space Flight is included within the issue. This is a good magazine which has picked up favourable reviews from The Fix Online, including my story from Issue 2, Mindreader http://thefix-online.com/reviews/escape-velocity-2/.
There have also been a couple of further online reviews of the anthology Subterfuge, which includes my story Thirstlands, at Best SF: http://www.bestsf.net/reviews/whatessubterfuge.html and at Tamaranth's Non-Ephemera, review number 22, dated Wednesday March 25th: http://tamaranth.blogspot.com/.
With the narcissistic self-promotion out of the way, we can move on to matters of perhaps more substance. The speculative fiction writer Lavie Tidhar, who has been mentioned here in a previous blog of mine, has collated The Apex Book of World SF, which looks extremely interesting and is a very worthwhile project: http://www.lavietidhar.co.uk/. The official site for the book is at: http://www.apexbookcompany.com/products/2009/03/the-apex-book-of-world-sf-cover-art-unveiled/ Lavie has also started a great ancillary project, a World SF online blog, with a fascinating smorgasbord of articles and links, including three links to South African speculative fiction, one to this website - thanks Lavie - one to Chimurenga (reviewed here in SF in SA 8) and finally to Something Wicked. I have started a subscription to Something Wicked, a South African 'science fiction and horror magazine' and hope to report back on it soon, when I get the next issue, which is number 10: http://www.somethingwicked.co.za/cms/ But if you have an interest in (hopefully) Southern African flavoured speculative fiction, check them out for yourselves too in the meantime.
Finally, to report back on a couple of read books - Nisi Shawl's Filter House, a varied and literary mixture of speculative fiction, ranging from fantasy to magical realism to straight science fiction, with a number of tales rooted in an African ethos. These are deftly written, eclectic tales, with my favourites being the short, sharp uplifting story Bird Day, the Beads of Ku, a dark story with a folk-tale sensibility and The Pragmatical Princess, a medieval (Islamic) fantasy narrated with a lighter touch, but just as smart in its execution. There is an excellent and more detailed review of this collection of Nisi's at The Fix http://thefix-online.com/reviews/filter-house-nisi-shawl/.
Then there is Glynne MacLean's The Time Stealers, a Young Adult science fiction novella which picks up a giddying pace to rival the readers' ride within its 'super suction' machine. The book ends with the implied importance of finding and embracing the past, in order to fully experience the present and to better face the future. It has been nominated for a Sir Julius Vogel Award, Aotearoa New Zealand's premier science fiction awards http://sffanz.sf.org.nz/sjv/sjvNominations-2009.shtml- and Glynne also has a junior fiction book nominated within the YA novel category, The Spiral Chrysalis.
It's also worth noting that the British Science Fiction Awards have just been announced: http://vectoreditors.wordpress.com/2009/04/11/bsfa-award-winners-2/. Congratulations to the winners - Andy Bigwood (Best Artwork) for his cover of Subterfuge; Farah Mendlesohn (Best Non-Fiction) for her book on The Rhetorics of Fantasy; Ted Chiang (Best Short Fiction) for Exhalation and Ken MacLeod (Best Novel) for The Night Sessions.
Finally, to future anticipated reads - PostScripts, an excellent UK quarterly anthology: http://store.pspublishing.co.uk/acatalog/postscripts_magazine.html and Interzone, Britain's long-running sf/fantasy staple magazine - where I had my story God in the Box published, a good few years ago now: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?INTZMAR03 Interzone's editor Andy Cox was kind enough to continue my life subscription, even though he took it over from Interzone's previous long-standing editor David Pringle.
And just to mention that I do actually read more than I comment upon - so I only tend to comment on what I like. I know how hard it is to create stories that people enjoy, so I have no wish to critique another author's 'difficulties' (in my view), when I still have so many of my own! Onwards, to new stories, to both savour and enjoy.
Nick Wood - April 2009.
As reported previously I've finished reading Lauren Beukes' book Moxyland, a feverish, high paced near future sf book set in - wait for it - Cape Town. In some ways it reminds me of Cory Doctorow's sharp and much lauded YA politico-techno thriller Little Brother. Moxyland is a gradually increasing inter-locking narrative told from the perspective of four main characters - old 'racial' identity markers of the past now swept aside by more fluid online personas and characters. Here, in a Cape Town just ten years hence, a new power differential - an alternative version of apartheid perhaps - is emerging between State-corporations and the individual. Moxyland tracks the tale of the main characters varied responses to this political predicament as they head towards a climactic clash...with resonant echoes of past struggles. The book itself also comes with a music CD and is thus a multi-media book of the future indeed. I have heard it is due to be released internationally this year and will keep you posted about this. For further website information you can visit: http://www.moxyland.com/.
Just a further note to add on Lauren Beukes' book Moxyland, it's due for a UK/Australia release on 26th June and for release in the US on September 1st 2009. The UK publishers are Angry Robot. For more information about the UK release go to http://angryrobotbooks.com.
Another book I've read with the encouragement of my niece is a set-work book in some Cape Town schools, Skyline by Patricia Schonstein Pinnock. This is a more contemporary tale but tracks the varied stories of a number of immigrants and refugees into South Africa and puts the xenophobic attacks of last year within South Africa into a stark and shameful relief.
Finally, I hope to report next month on books by Glynne MacLean and Nisi Shawl. In the meantime, I am also making some headway on my YA book and at least have a title now as the narrative takes shape, namely Lunar Voices, Ancestral Steps. Now all I have to do is finish it properly and find a willing publisher! Until next month.
Nick Wood - Mar 2009.
This month I'm listing recommended readings from the Carl Brandon Society: http://www.carlbrandon.org. The Society has recommended a variety of speculative fiction books written by writers of 'African descent' - I've started the anthology written by Nisi Shawl , called Filter House , which is engaging, interesting and varied in both the tone and content of its stories. I've just bought the Nalo Hopkinson book listed and have also thoroughly enjoyed the works of Carole McDonnell and Nnedi Okorafor, so it's a worthy list in a field that seems to enjoy copious lists of note.
As quoted: THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY recommends these books of speculative fiction by writers of African descent for Black History Month 2009, with descriptions from our members:
Dark Matter: A Century Of Speculative Fiction From The African Diaspora by Sheree R. Thomas, ed.: It's an important book because it shows that people of color were indeed represented in the speculative literature world back in the day, something I frankly didn't realize until I read the book. I'm sure the book will do the same for many others.
Sly Mongoose by Tobias S. Buckell: Fourteen-year-old Timas lives in a domed city that floats above the acidic clouds of the Venus-like planet Chilo. To make a living Timas is lowered to the surface in an armored suit to scavenge what he can in the unbearable pressure of Chilo's dangerous surface, where he'll learn a secret that may offer hope to a planet about to be invaded.
Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler: A different take on the vampire novel.
The Good House by Tananarive Due: The story of a house, magic, and pure terror. I loved every scary moment of reading this book.
Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson: Caribbean folk in space, coming of age, magnificent aliens, how "reality" becomes folk tales. Magnificent.
The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor: When fifteen-year old Ejii witnesses her father's beheading, her world shatters. In an era of mind-blowing technology and seductive magic, Ejii embarks on a mystical journey to track down her father's killer. With a newfound friend by her side, Ejii comes face to face with an earth turned inside out -- and with her own magical powers.
The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi: The first book by a talented new author. Set in England and Nigeria, this is the tale of magic gone wrong and twisted around an unsuspecting child.
Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell: Loic, the son of the wealthy headman of the Doreni clan, falls in love at first sight with Satha, the impoverished but proud daughter of his father's old Theseni friend. Loic requests an immediate marriage, but for Satha, passion takes longer to ignite, and Loic's father's jealous third wife plots to destroy their happiness. The two must reaffirm their faith in each other and the Creator God to find their way through their troubles.
Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison: A novel of southern-fried magical realism that rivals anything the Southern Hemisphere has produced.
Filter House by Nisi Shawl: A long-awaited collection of short stories by a Carl Brandon Society founder. Shawl's roots in African American community of the Great Lakes area, and her commitment to using speculative fiction to decode power relationships and uncover magic come through loud and clear in this wonderful book.
Also, just to mention that my story Thirstlands was long-listed on the British Science Fiction Association's (BSFA) Award for Best SF of 2008 - it is indeed a long-list though. It didn't make the final short-list of four stories, but being nominated was a good enough experience. Next month I aim to give you an overview of what I've read myself and also just to alert other writers out there of the James Patrick Baen Memorial writing contest, where I hope to submit a story I'm writing at the moment. Why not give it a go too, if you have a 'hard sf' story inside you? See -
http://williamledbetter.com/contest Good Luck!
Nick Wood - Feb 2009.
The 3rd Best of South African Science Fiction collection is now out and can be ordered through the Science Fiction Club of South Africa, who may also have overseas contacts to channel foreign currency for those not resident in South Africa. It's a mixed and interesting collection of stories culled from Probe and SFSA's annual Nova short story competition. The writing is by South African authors, hence the title of the collection, as the stories don't all carry a South African scene or setting.
Picks of the bunch for me were Marianne Case's There are still places, an engaging gender take on issues in a miner community on a foreign planet. Another stand out piece for me was Bernie Ackerman's Do robot farts smell of brimstone? - a clever detective story with an AI as the detective. Finally, W.G. Lipsett's Of course it'll burn is a poignant Close Encounter variation in a Karoo setting. Incidentally, Lipsett won the SFSA Nova short story competition fairly consistently in the 1970s and early 1980s with good locally flavoured science fiction stories.
What was intriguing overall about the collection was the relatively light South African seasoning in most of the stories - a curiosity given they were selected from offerings between 1986 and 1993, which in real time represented a massive political shift in South African history and society.
A novel which makes no bones about it's political leanings and engagement is Cory Doctorow's Little Brother - I've written a review of this which I hope to post soon - so if you want a story that is smart and engages with the cusp of electronic development in a near-future U.S.A., this may well be for you. (The book is also aimed at a YA audience and again, raising political issues with this generation is in my opinion to be much applauded!)
I'm writing this early in 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa, and have just been given an sf novel set in a future Cape Town, written by Lauren Beukes called Moxyland.
It looks very promising and I will report back on it here. For those of you who are in a New Year - may it be a good one! To those of you who are not on a Christian calendar, may the rest of your year be good. Happy reading and/or writing.
Nick Wood - Jan 2009.
I was pleased this month that Thirstlands won a British Science Fiction Association Orbiter writing competition, judged by Ian Watson, whose science fiction work I've read since the nineteen seventies. One of the results of winning this competition is publication in an anthology called Subterfuge, edited by Ian Whates. The anthology should be available from Amazon as well as NewCon Press http://www.newconpress.com/.
As a word of explanation, Orbiters are online writing critique groups run by the British Science Fiction Association - I feel both lucky and privileged to have won this competition and to end up signing copies of Subterfuge at its launch at NewCon4 in Northampton - (pictured) - so much thanks to Ian Whates for running this. Roll on NewCon5.
Nick Wood - Oct/Nov 2008.
I would like to acknowledge Gail Jamieson of Science Fiction South Africa for supplying another issue of Probe - the latest - number 137. Two episodes now available on a downloads page.
Furthermore, also to note that Science Fiction South Africa are imminently publishing a Best of South African Science Fiction III. I hope to obtain a copy or two - the previous issues of the two earlier volumes sold out in the late nineteen eighties.
Nick Wood: October 2008
The 2008 Caine Prize for African Writing has been won by Henrietta Rose-Innes, a South African writer who has written a science-fictional tale of a catastrophic event in Cape Town. The Guardian has posted the full story online at - http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/jul/09/caineprize.
An interesting analysis of this story and why so little African science-fiction has been published, was written by Kenyan science writer Liz Ng'ang'a - click here.
Nick Wood - Sep 2008.
This is just a very brief blog this month as I've written another section (8) to the SF in SA area of the website, focusing on 'insider' and 'outsider' African speculative fiction, with reference to two worthwhile collections. I hope you enjoy - please e-mail me if you have any comments, corrections or suggestions!
Nick Wood - Aug/Sep 2008.
Unfortunately it looks like only the first issue of Escape Velocity is still available as a free download. However, I aim to upload my article on Right and Wrong Stuff: Psychological Factors in Space Flight due out in EV4 in July, after sufficient post-publication time has expired.
What I have been able to obtain - with both thanks and acknowledgement - is a presentation by Professor Ingrid Johnston (a Canadian educationist) delivered at last year's (2007) Cape Town Book Fair. Her article focuses on African Novels in Canadian Schools and was published in Bookbird, an international journal of children's literature: This provides an interesting external perspective on African novels, with some particular and relevant focus on Southern Africa and is uploaded as Part 7 in SF in SA
Regarding Southern Africa, Zimbabwe of course is a current focus of news at the moment, a souring tragedy further unfolding … 'Chimurenga' refers to a Shona word for 'Struggle' - reflecting the Zimbabwean version of the South African political 'Struggle' for independence and human rights against colonialism and white oppressive rule. But does it now also apply to political opposition to the current ruling regime? (ZANU-PF have co-opted or kept the term, depending on your perspective, with regard to their farm invasions or 'land reclamations' agenda.) Chimurenga music as performed by Thomas Mapfumo and at times Oliver Mtukudzi is driving energetic music, associated with previous political struggles against white domination and is well worth seeking out.
Next time I hope to report on the namesake African spec-fic issue of Chimurenga referred to in my May 2008 blog: http://chimurenga.co.za/index1.html". All I can say, for now at least, is 'to the people of Zimbabwe…'
Nick Wood - July 2008.
Moving on from the musical mention last month - Toumani Diabate, I was again fortunate to witness and hear some wonderful African music again - this time it was the son of the late great Ali Farka Toure - Vieux. Hearing his guitar play, it made me realise the father does indeed live on through the son - albeit in a unique and altered way, through the inimitable style and interpretation of his son:
And so we survive - our music, stories, dance and genes - transmuted for new generations; mixed and stirred too, as people, cultures and 'places' collide together in an increasingly mobile world. Lots still to look forward to then, despite the planet facing an ecological crisis…And talking of future near-possibilities for the planet, Interzone have just published their Mundane SF issue - science fiction addressing the imminent issues of the near-future:
In July/August, Escape Velocity is due to publish their 4th issue; for which I've written an article entitled: Right and Wrong Stuff: Psychological Factors in Space Flight.'The title itself is self-explanatory - I'm looking at psychological issues involved in space travel, both past, current and what may be important in the future too, if crewed missions to Mars are pursued. I have had some very helpful input from Prof. Al Harrison, who has written the book Spacefaring
The e-versions of Escape Velocity should still be free in July, despite the rising costs of just about everything else:
So, in the interim - happy reading, listening and dancing.
Nick Wood - June 2008.
Just a brief update this month - firstly, to let you know that free downloads of Escape Velocity magazine are available: here: Mindreader is in Escape Velocity, issue 2, if anyone is interested.
Secondly, to alert you of the publication of a new African spec-fic magazine from Cape Town, South Africa: Chimurenga: - a double issue of numbers 12 and 13 is combined under the title: Dr. Satan's Echo Chamber. This includes a section from Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's wonderful YA spec-fic novel set in a futuristic Sahara, The Shadow Speaker
Thirdly, just to let you know I was lucky enough to see Toumani Diabate live at St. Luke's - a Hawksmoor Church in the east end of London. His kora playing lit up the place, including a last moving tribute to 'the late great Ali Farka Toure with Cachaito of the Buena Vista Social Club: http://www.myspace.com/toumanidiabate.
Nick Wood - May 2008
I've just heard that my story 'Thirstlands' has just been short-listed for the Aeon Awards 2008.
I am currently dipping in and out of a book on African history as work allows. It's the pre-colonial history that particularly fascinates me, not just the colonial or post-colonial periods. This interest has been nurtured by many conversations with a long-standing friend, who has been working for several decades within South African archaeology and has contributed to the overhauling of information in museums, by both reinvigorating pre-colonial information and redressing biased and racist colonial interpretations after the demise of apartheid. Of course, this hasn't always neatly fitted with perhaps more popular current conceptions of history either - history and its interpretation is an inevitably political activity too - and, from what I gather, it has been a delicate balancing act to present the limited evidence available objectively. It has thus also been a matter of trying to ensure as much as possible that all voices are heard in the gathering of evidence and the presentation of historical narratives - including those communities who may still feel to some extent marginalised, such as the Khoikhoi and the San.
What does history have to do with writing? A huge amount, I would think, as history impacts both on our sense of who we are and where we come from. We have a personal sense of history too and the further back we go, the less reliable our recollections seem to become, certainly as they enter pre-verbal realms, where language is not available to bootstrap our experiential memories. So we end up creating stories of our lives to try and link the fragments of memories we have - some of which may have been 're-described' and reinterpreted by our families and perhaps also seasoned with our own fantasies and dreams. In the end, it's hard to assert what is 'absolute reality' and what is reconstructed experience. So perhaps it goes for communal histories too - even ones that have documentary evidence forming historical literary evidence, there remaining questions as to who's version of history is presented and how 'accurate' and full a representation it may or may not be.
So is this just another post-modern plea for the relativity of all histories? I hope not - I have many clear memories that I strongly feel actually 'happened', some of which I'm proud of, others less so. Similarly there are many events and achievements in African history such as significant civilisations in Kush, West Africa (e.g. Ghana, Mali and Benin) and Great Zimbabwe, as well as other more disturbing places and events - e.g. contemporaneously Zimbabwe and Darfur, although colonial and post-colonial influences often end up exacerbating these places and situations as well.
As for stories, they often reflect these themes too - i.e. trauma, pain, achievement; the best of which has a realistic verisimilitude which encourages the 'suspension of disbelief'. A central story of science which appeals to me is that we are ALL Africans, if we go back far enough.
Finally - after all that! - in order to read a non-Afrocentric story of mine recently published, please see Escape Velocity http://www.escapevelocitymagazine.com/. The Fix Ezine has now published a review of Escape Velocity available at thefix-online.com/reviews/escape-velocity-2/ which includes a review of my story Mindreader two thirds of the way down the page.
Nick Wood - Mar 2008
I have received two stories from 'learners' (students) from Sinethemba High School and have uploaded the one, which ends with a wonderful poem. The author, Sinethemba, writes with English as his second or even possibly his third language, and gives some interesting ideas in his story - he's the one at the back in the picture of workshop participants further down the page. Although there is some uncertainty about the viewpoint character, I think it was well written overall. (It has been uploaded into the Oscar Mpetha section on this site, entitled: Diamond in the Dirt and Blind South Africa)
For those of you interested in science fiction in South Africa, I have uploaded an article by Gail Jamieson called Science Fiction in Southern Africa; under the Sf in Sth Africa tab (part 6). And for any readers who are interested in the Science Fiction Club of South Africa's magazine, Gail as editor has given me permission to upload the latest issue of Probe (number 134) as a freebie sample. Thanks Gail! Please note it is a very large file 1.2 megabytes and if you are not on a broadband connection may take some time to download. To download click here. It and later issues are available on the downloads page.
Finally, for those of you interested in my earlier blog last year about the therapeutic power of story, there was a really good article in a recent copy of the Guardian, entitled: The reading cure: http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2235352,00.html
Nick Wood - Jan/Feb 2008.
What is change? This is one of the 'problem based learning' exercise questions we sometimes ask our new clinical psychology trainees to research and report on, with particular reference to clinical practice. It's a peculiarly science fictional theme too, where the notion of the 'future' as distinct from the present is speculated upon, very often with implications for the 'here and now.' It's a question I was asked recently, with reference to Cape Town - presumably because as I am no longer currently living here, it was perhaps assumed that I have an 'outsider's perspective' on the matter.
Yes, Cape Town has changed - but having visited often and being familiar with the 'nooks and crannies' of the place from decades of living here, perhaps less radically than it may have felt, had I been absent for a long time. Certainly it's a more African city and it's good to see previously segregated communities - especially the young - mix with a lot more freedom than they used to. Poverty is still here of course, as is crime, but that was also present in spades under the apartheid regime; just less apparently in previously 'whites only areas', which had been brutally 'protected' by an aggressive police force.
It's a lot more cosmopolitan than it used to be, with a huge variety of nationalities represented in the variety of art and food on display. There are many more languages I hear now too, and I have seen vibrancy and laughter in the interactions between people. I gather a sense of general optimism, although it may be more muted on the Cape Flats, where crime and the devastation of 'tik' (crystal methamphetamine) addiction grips harder. It remains to be seen how changes in the overarching political scheme - e.g. the leadership of the ANC - will impact further on Cape Town, as well as South Africa more broadly.
Still, I remain cautiously optimistic too, after all this country has positively survived. I remember sending a story many years ago to a prominent sf magazine - which was eventually published as 'African Shadows' in Scheherazade - and was told by one of the sub-editors at the time that it was "too mindlessly 'right on' about Africa, a place of perennial problems."
Sure, but I had thought science fiction was about future change too -'perennial' seemed a bit harsh and limiting, especially with what I had lived through and experienced as an African. (I also wondered whether the reviewer had much direct experience of Africa themselves on which to base their opinion, or whether it had been garnered from the 'received wisdom' of the Western media, much of which seems to foster a pervading sense of Afro-pessimism.)
My latest story 'Thirstlands' - which I aim to revise as 'Soutie' - struggles with this notion, i.e. some of the difficulties here, but also some of the joys and hopes too. I think it's a racist assumption to think Africa will remain a 'basket case' through all the changes that lie ahead - there may not be a full-flowering 'African renaissance' that Thabo Mbeki spoke about, but who really knows - just perhaps eventually there may be? There was a recent article in the New York Times about positive developments in Africa: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/02/opinion/02fri1.html. And, after all, with change, who can predict with any certainty at all? ***
I have thoroughly enjoyed Carole McDonnell's 'Wind Follower' - a rich tapestry of a book. The social structures underpinning the novel have been described in loving detail and the characters are real, vivid and flawed, i.e. humans, struggling with their fellow humans, the spirits and God.http://www.juno-books.com/windfollower.html
I have sold my story 'Mindreader' to 'Escape Velocity', which is due to appear in issue 2 around February 2008. http://www.escapevelocitymagazine.com/ 'Thirstlands', mentioned above, received an 'Honorable Mention' in the Writers of the Future Contest, 4th quarter, 2007. Both stories have reached the last 10 of their respective sections ('General Section - 'Mindreader' and 'South African Section - 'Thirstlands') in the 2007 Science Fiction South Africa Nova short story competition (winners due to be announced January 2008) http://www.sfsa.org.za/
What does 2008 hold? Hopefully, it will be a good year for anyone reading this. Hopefully, there will also be more stories too. What's for certain is that it will be different from 2007 - after all, that's the nature of change.
Nick Wood - Dec 2007/Jan 2008
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