Nick Wood – September/October 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: There is an interesting interview with Nalo by Michael Lohr in the latest Probe, published by Science Fiction South Africa (SFSA)

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 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: 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