Issue #10: Swedish Futurescapes, Usman Malik Meets Bram Stoker, and A Nutshell Guide to Afrofuturism

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Contents of This Issue

(1) Twilight, Snow, and Big Machines: Swedish SF Art
(2) Pakistani Author Usman T. Malik takes Bram Stoker Award
(3) From the Academy: “Race in Science Fiction, The Case of Afrofuturism” by Lisa Yaszek
(4) Publication Note

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(1) Twilight, Snow, and Big Machines: Swedish SF Art by Simon Stålenhag

Because I grew up in Canada, a lot of my childhood memories involve snow. And since I would stay out later than I was supposed to–exploring construction sites, vacant lots, and scrubby fields–a lot of that snow had the bluish glow that comes with twilight. Typically, it surrounded large industrial machines, or it blanketed near-empty vistas.

Sweden must look a whole lot like Canada, because Simon Stålenhag‘s illustrations resemble those memories: often twilit, mostly from a child’s point of view, and populated by giant industrial contraptions.

The difference is that his contraptions look like something out of Star Wars.

And sometimes there are dinosaurs.

Stålenhag's Sweden: twilight, snow, and big machines.

Stålenhag’s Sweden: twilight, snow, and big machines.

Stålenhag's Sweden: memory and imagination from childhood.

Stålenhag’s Sweden: memory and imagination.

As I write this, Stålenhag’s Kickstarter campaign (running until May 29, 2015), which is intended to fund the publication of two books of his work in English, has not only reached it’s minimum funding goal but has also met thirteen of its stretch goals.

The books.

The books.

The backstory for the images posits an alternate history for modern Sweden, in which huge machines conjure up huge creatures:

In the 1950s, the Swedish government orders the construction of a large particle accelerator. The state agency RIKSENERGI is tasked with developing this massive project. In 1969 the The Facility For Research In High Energy Physics is ready, located deep below the pastoral Mälaröarna-countryside. The local population soon calls it THE LOOP.

From it’s inception to it’s closure in 1994, The Loop was the largest accelerator in the world. The thousands of staff: scientists, engineers and maintenance workers, all serve Riksenergi during these years – and makes possible tremendous scientific advances. But the power of the Gravitron, the heart of the accelerator, proves difficult to control. The side effects of the project are dramatic. Strange sightings and bizarre rumours taints the scientific image of The Loop.

In the shadow of the weird machines filling the countryside, life continues as normal. The kids of Mälaröarna grew up living above the technological marvel of The Loop, but for them it was just a part of their very ordinary lives. Until strange beasts from another time showed up, that is.

The artist.

The artist.

Stålenhag gives an illuminating interview (subtitled in English) on the Kickstarter page, which I recommend.

Stålenhag's Sweden: spaces and scales that dwarf human beings.

Stålenhag’s Sweden: spaces and scales that dwarf human beings.

Stålenhag;s Sweden: giant machines and giant creatures.

Stålenhag;s Sweden: giant machines and giant creatures.

You can watch a montage of the images, set to atmospheric melodies, below.

And just in case that isn’t quite enough awesome for you, in a separate project Stålenhag and a partner have developed a free, browser-based online game, Ripple Dot Zero, in which (as The Verge put it) you get to be a “boomerang-wielding, jetpack-riding battle penguin.”

The launch video is below.

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(2) Pakistani Author Usman T. Malik takes Bram Stoker Award for Short Fiction

Usman T. Malik is, as his blog puts it, “a Pakistani vagrant camped in Florida.”

Malik has become the first Pakistani author to win the Bram Stoker Award, an annual honor from the Horror Writers Association, tying in the short fiction category with Nevada-based author Rena Mason.

Usman Malik

Usman Malik

Malik is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop.  His work has been featured in Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror.

Malik is also a co-founder of the Desi Writer’s Lounge, and in 2014 he taught at The Rising Dust, Pakistan’s first professional workshop in speculative fiction.

Left: Malik at The Rising Dust. Right: Qualia Nous.

Left: Malik at The Rising Dust. Right: Qualia Nous.

The story for which Malik won, “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family,” was originally published in the anthology Qualia Nous, a science fiction/horror mashup which also included stories by horror éminence grise Stephen King and science fiction icon William F. Nolan, co-author of Logan’s Run.

Translation rights for the story were recently acquired by China’s Science Fiction World Magazine. Commenting on the acquisition, Malik says:

We’re moving toward a world where, thanks to the internet and e-publishing, cross genre, multicultural, and global literature will dominate the marketplace. There’s no question in my mind about it. Injection of fresh themes, settings, and voices is already revitalizing western and eastern literature and that’s only bound to increase.

You’d be hard pressed to find an attitude more in tune with the SFATW vibe.

The winning story is now available free online on and, if you want to read more of Malik’s work, his story “Resurrection Points” is available on Strange Horizons.

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(3) From the Academy: “Race in Science Fiction, the Case of Afrofuturism” by Lisa Yaszek

In 2011, the Smithsonian Institution acquired the Mothership–a stage prop used by George Clinton and the various incarnations of Parliament, Funkadelic, and the P-Funk All Stars–and a core piece of Afrofuturist memorabilia found a permanent place of honor. It was a long time coming, but it’s just one more indication of Afrofuturism’s rising star.

The mothership: on stage (left). on an album cover (center), and in the Smithsonian (right).

The mothership: on stage (left). on an album cover (center), and in the Smithsonian (right). (Click to enlarge)

That said, a lot of confusion remains about what Afrofuturism is, when it began, and how it’s been manifested over the years.

From the Academy is an occasional feature at SFATW, which focuses on academic publications and lectures, but if the thought of reading stuffy academic writing gives you the heebie jeebies, don’t worry.  Lisa Yaszek’s paper, “Race in Science Fiction, the Case of Afrofuturism,” is almost entirely casual and conversational in tone.

And that’s a good thing, because for anyone who’s been wondering what this whole Afrofuturism thing is all about, Yaszek’s paper provides a straightforward, brief introduction, including a critical reframing of the whole idea of world speculative fiction:

[T]he story we usually tell about this subject is that science
fiction was the creation of white Europeans and Americans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and it’s not until the collapse of European colonial projects and the ascendancy of the American civil rights movement in the 1960s that we begin to see the people of color enter the genre. It’s a neat and clean story–except that it’s not true.

One of the most interesting things that scholars are talking about now is the fact that science fiction has actually been a global phenomenon since its inception. We see science fiction coming out of Brazil as early as the 1830s and coming out of China and Japan by the 1860s. So in short, it seems that any time a nation or an ethnic group begins to participate in industrial culture, its authors naturally turn to science fiction…

And really, it only takes a little thought to see that many of the concerns that are habitually addressed by science fiction would be of particular interest to people who’d been colonized or enslaved, or who lived with the long-term aftereffects of those social arrangements.

Recent Afrofuturist-themed anthologies.

Recent Afrofuturist-themed anthologies. (Click to enlarge)

What’s a more iconic theme for a science fiction story than an encounter with an alien civilization? It’s often a very dangerous encounter, too–sometimes an outright invasion. How could that theme possibly fail to resonate with, for example: Africans abducted into slavery, Chinese soldiers facing British forces who are militarily enforcing the continuation of the drug trade in China during the Opium War, or Edo-era Japanese citizens as the country is forced to open to foreign trade through literal gunboat diplomacy by the United States?

In the United States in particular, once slavery was abolished but before anything like racial equality had been established, who could have been more acutely concerned with issues of the future than people who were excluded from participating fully in society in the present?  As Yaszek says:

[N]ow that we know where turn of the century Afrofuturists published and now that we have a better sense of why they published there, let’s consider the main questions that comes up time and again in Afrofuturist stories of this period: “will there be a future for black people?” and “what is it that black people will have to do to secure a future where they are free citizens?” To answer those questions, Afrofuturist authors told their audiences thrilling stories about black people who use science and technology to do amazing things: survive disasters, start revolutions, and build brave new worlds.

Click on the red PDF banner below to open the paper in a new window and you can download it from there.

(And if free publications are your thing, don’t forget to check out the SFATW Library right over here for more.)

Race in Science Fiction: The Case of Afrofuturism, by Lisa Yaszek (click to go to the SFATW Library to find this and other papers).

Race in Science Fiction: The Case of Afrofuturism, by Lisa Yaszek (PDF). Click here to go to the SFATW Library for more free, downloadable publications.

If you’d rather watch Yaszek speak than read the PDF–or if you’d like to do both–we’ve got you covered.  She delivers the paper in person, complete with slides, in the video below, which runs just over 30 minutes.

Finally, Yaszek references a number of texts and web sites in the paper (and talk), which are linked below.

For the books and stories I have included only links to full text versions.  For the sites, I have only included those that are currently active.



For more information on Yaszek herself, there’s a brief interview here: “Lisa Yaszek, Sci-fi Sage.”

Lisa Yaszik.

Lisa Yaszek.

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(4) Publication Note

Now that SFATW has a companion publication–H. Artificialis, which deals with fictional artificial humanity and the prospect of the real thingthe two will publish in alternate months. In all other respects, everything remains the same.

Both publications will appear this month (May 2015), but in June only SFATW will publish, in July only H. Artificialis, and so on.

And so, until next issue mes amis, au revoir!

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Issue #9: An African Future + Writing on Walls

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Contents of This Issue

(1) A Special Introduction: Don’t Miss Our New Publication
(2) An African Future: Graphic Novel Trilogy Launches in Nigeria
(3) Writing on Walls, Part 1: Under the Surface of Batman Graffiti
(4) Writing on Walls, Part 2: Peace Be With You Pratchett
(5) Writing on Walls, Part 3: Namaste Nimoy

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(1) A Special Introduction: Don’t Miss Our New Publication

Artificial human beings are a staple of speculative fiction, whether they consist of a natural consciousness uploaded into an artificial body or an entirely synthetic consciousness housed in just about any form you can imagine.

Increasingly, though, the technologies that could make them possible are emerging in the real world, in fields as diverse as robotics and medicine.  And as our science progresses, our art adapts to that change and invents yet more new possibilities.

Homo Artificialis is a new publication from Hipper Tiger, the publisher of SF Around the World, that deals with the science and culture of artificial humanity, as portrayed in fiction and as it increasingly comes to be fact.

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Homo Artificialis is free, and is published online six issues a year.  The inaugural issue is available now.

Contents of the first issue:

(1) H. Artificialis: Handmade Humans
(2) Robophilia: Synthetic Intimacy and the Erotic Turing Test
(3) Robophobia: Enhanced Workers and Killer Robots
(4) Artificial Evil: Red Flags and Storm Warnings
(5) Creating and Critiquing: H. Artificialis and the Arts
(6) Expanding the Umwelt: The Reality Behind the H. Artificialis Video Logo

Take a look!

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(2) An African Future: Graphic Novel Trilogy Launched in Nigeria

SFATW looked in on South African comic book culture in issue number seven (SFATW Issue #7, “South Africa: Comic Book Culture”).  Now it’s Nigeria’s turn.

EXO: The Legend of Wale Williams is an upcoming graphic novel that will arrive this summer, with a further two installments expected later.  If the novels can establish a solid foothold, they may also be adapted into a film project, and a test animation has already been released.  The entire slate of projects has been developed by Lagos-born digital animator Roye Okupe, founder of and YouNeek Studios.

Wale (pronounced Wah-Leh) Williams is a young man who comes home to a near-future Nigeria after a five-year absence. He investigates the disappearance of his father, an inventor who worked for a dubious tech company. Wale finds his country transformed by new forms of corruption and an increasing gap between the thriving rich and the desperate poor.  He also finds a legacy from his father: a nanosuit that confers superhuman powers upon the wearer.

Like any good Joseph Campbell monomythic hero, Wale at first refuses the call of destiny. As the YouNeek home page puts it:

Initially, Wale does not embrace the suit or the idea that he could be a “hero,” but his journey takes him through a crucible of events that prepare him, and he slowly begins to realize he needs the suit’s powers to unravel the mystery behind his father’s disappearance and save the city from grave danger.

The danger takes the form of CREED, a radical organization led by Oniku, an extremist who wants to bring down the government and take over the country. Wale must rise to the challenge of stopping CREED, in the process becoming a superhero, EXO.


The animation (embedded below) includes a lot of standard tropes and familiar lines, but perhaps that’s to be expected from a work-in-progress that’s intended as a starting point for a more fully realized and original animation.

The test for EXO will come in at least two parts.

First, can the graphic novel deliver a compelling story that’s well realized in a way that plays to the strengths the graphic novel format?

And second, if it can, will the animated version come into its own, delivering the familiar thrill of a superhero saga combined with original elements that make the genre its own?

SFATW will keep an eye on Wale’s progress.

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(3) Writing on Walls, Part 1: Under the Surface of Batman Graffiti

Graffiti artists tend to be a very international bunch, so they fit right in here at SFATW, at least they do when they cross-pollinate with the genre culture that’s at the heart of the SFATW mandate.

This month our cup floweth over with a hat trick of graffiti-related stories.

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PeteOne and Belgian Batffiti

First there’s a collection of images that has recently made the round of several web sites. It consists of several photographs of graffiti in an abandoned medical building in Belgium. As Lost at E Minor reports:

Redditor sneakylawyer and his girlfriend were out ‘urban exploring’ … in Ronse, Belgium when they came across the message, ‘There’s beauty in destruction’, painted on an abandoned hospital. Like the characters in a horror movie, they did the most logical and safest thing to do, go in the abandoned, structurally unstable, evil lair-ish hospital.

Inside, they did find the most villainous of characters. But not what you might expect. Painted on the walls were graffiti art of Gotham’s villains, i.e. The Joker, Bane, Poison Ivy. But nothing to fear, there were also murals of Gotham’s Dark Knight. The graffiti were signed by a guy named ‘Peteone’.

The spate of articles about the Belgian images got me wondering: can Bat-Art really be confined to a single lonely building in Belgium? That seemed improbable, and as I dug around for an answer two things quickly became clear.

First, the Belgian art has a backstory.  It’s not the work of a random, unknown artist, but of a painter who’s relatively well known in his country, and whose paintings in this particular building have just been memorialized in film–moments ahead of the wrecking ball.

Second, Batman clearly has minions in a variety of nations, emblazoning surfaces with his image.  And sometimes with more tactile forms of homage.

First, a few of the images that set the thought in motion.  I have gone back to the original photographs so I could reproduce them in full size–click on any image to enlarge it a lot.

Bgraffiti01 Bgraffiti02
Bgraffiti03 Bgraffiti04

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PeteOne, the Movie

Digging a little deeper, it turned out that PeteOne is not only a well known graffiti artist in Belgium, but also the subject of a short film, There’s Beauty in Destruction, which is embedded a little further down the page.

Screenshot from "There's Besuty in Destruction."  Click to enlarge.

Screenshot from “There’s Besuty in Destruction.” Click to enlarge.

On the Reel King Media web site the filmmaker, Raine McCormack, gave some details of the shoot:

In January [2015] I was hired to shoot a video for Triamant.

Pete One is a very well known urban artist in Belgium and it was Triamant’s wish to capture the work he had done in a building that they were soon to demolish. Time as usual was of the essence on the shoot.  I only had 4 hours to shoot as the winter light was failing me. I had an idea before I wan on the location of how I’d like to capture it, pans, slides, etc., but it wasn’t until the edit that I started to really get the feeling this was far more nostalgic than I had first thought.

Above the building’s main entrance are the words “There’s Beauty in Destruction,” and it is right (to a degree, subject dependent!). The one thing that struck me the most as I edited the piece was how the artist had a leaning towards beautiful, powerful women and comic books. My mind got swept away with the nostalgic trip of childhood.

I started to see the sadness in the loss of these great pieces of art and it felt so similar to the loss of that child-like innocence that we all experience as adults. The pieces of art became ghost like memories that spoke of adventure, imagination and unhindered child-like energy.

I tried to portray this in my final edit, instead of just documenting a building in a dull almost lifeless way. The use of cross fades, the music choice and the angles all add, I feel, to those sentimental memories of childhood.

Did McCormack succeed? See for yourself.

Meanwhile, over on the FatCap street art site, there are at least a few sketchy details about PeteOne:

Pete One was born in Ronse, Belgium in 1982.  He started graffiti in 1999 and like every graffiti artist, he developed his artistic skills and graduated in what we can call the Urban Academy,  the streets!

Pete is an active member of the Ai-Lab crew, he unchains his artistic devils onto canvases as well as walls. He fulfills projects on demand.

His ultimate goals are travelling through graffiti-art, spraying on outsized objects [such] as windmills, watertowers and big buildings.

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Batminions the World Over

And people aren’t just sneaking around Belgium with spraycans painting frescos of Batman, they’re sneaking around the whole damned world.  Here are a few examples.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania actually has a Google map showing the locations of local Batman graffiti, which is not quite as awesome as it first sounds once you realize that the “graffiti” is official, placed there as part of a publicity campaign for The Dark Knight Rises in which people had to find and tweet images of hidden bits of Batffiti.

Still, the fact that such a map exists, complete with multiple Batlabels, is a tiny bit of awesome all on its own.

Batman graffiti locations in Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

Batman graffiti locations in Pittsburgh, PA, USA.

Probably the most ambitious project–if not the most visually impressive at first glance–is the one carried out by infamous Toronto street artist, Posterchild, called “Evidence of Batman,” in which Batman himself is never seen.

Instead, the Dark Knight leaves behind indications of his having been present in multiple locations, in the form of several different styles of Batarang (Batman boomerang, for the uninitiated), and footprints bearing Batman’s famous crest in the tread.

Click the image below to enlarge and see the details of each component photograph. You can learn more about the project on the Comics Alliance page.

A montage of work by Posterchild in the "Evidence of Batman" project: Batarangs and bootprints.

A montage of work by Posterchild in the “Evidence of Batman” project: Batarangs and bootprints. Click to enlarge.

Here are a few of the other instances of Batman street art from around the globe.

Batman on a scooter by another Toronto artist.

Batman on a scooter by another Toronto artist.

Baby Batman in Melbourne, Australia, by Fintan Magee .

Baby Batman in Melbourne, Australia, by Fintan Magee.

Batman in Bristol, UK, by an unidentified artist.

Batman in Bristol, UK, by an unidentified artist.

Batman by French artist Anthony Noble.

Batman by French artist Anthony Noble.

And, last but definitely not least, there is Batman Alley, a multi-artist graffiti panorama right here in my second home of Brazil.

Beco do Batman, as it’s called in Portuguese, is an area in São Paulo that’s entirely covered in street art, one image lying on top of another, each new one covering up an old one, like a medieval palimpsest.

This is also an open project, to which anyone can contribute, so the images on the walls change day by day, the entire montage morphing through an endless series of alterations and mutations.

It got its name because of one image that endures: a pants-less, cigarette-smoking Batman, with his mouth wide open and his Havaiana flip-flops dangling, reminiscent of a Mad Magazine cartoon, who presides over the entire funky mess.  Many of the other images are more beautiful, but this is the one that remains stable through the project’s ongoing evolution.

The Brazilian Batman of São Paulo's Beco do Batman.

The Brazilian Batman of São Paulo’s Beco do Batman.

Batman Alley is officially condoned, and while it began as a local project it now bears work by artists from all over the world.   As I said at the outset–graffiti artists are an international bunch.

Here are a few of the non-Batman images you can find in Batman Alley.  At least, you could at one time–by now any or all of them may have been covered up by new ones.

BA02 BA01
BA03 BA04

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(4) Writing on Walls, Part 2: Peace Be With You Pratchett

On March 12 Sir Terry Pratchett, the beloved (and prolific) fantasy author, died of Alzheimer’s disease, with which he’d been diagnosed in 2007.  Although he had discussed using assisted suicide to end his own life in a manner of his own choosing, ultimately his death was natural.

By March 18, the first graffiti tribute to Pratchett had turned up.  There are now at least two, both in the UK: one in London and one in Bristol.

The one in London shows Pratchett surrounded by images inspired by his work.

Pratchett 02

The one in Bristol bears the legend “R.I.P. Terry Pratchett.”


I’ve never been a Pratchett fan–his fiction simply wasn’t to my particular taste–but by all accounts he was not only a stellar writer but a very nice guy.

Peace be with you , Mr. Pratchett.

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(5) Writing on Walls, Part 3: Namaste Nimoy

Of course, Terry Pratchett isn’t the only SF icon we’ve lost so far in 2015.

Leonard Nimoy, who portrayed Spock on the original Star Trek television series, died in February. Famous admirers–from U.S. President Obama to Marie Osmond, from Kevin Smith to Steve Martin, from his Star Trek co-stars to the man who took over playing his iconic role, Zachary Quinto–paid tribute.

And, of course, fans the world over created their own diverse memorials, many of which–as with Pratchett–took the form of graffiti.

One thing that Pratchett didn’t get, though, was his image on legal tender.

In Canada there’s a long tradition of altering five-dollar bills–which bear the image of Canada’s seventh Prime Minister, Wilfrid Laurier–so that the serious-looking politician is transformed into Spock.  There’s even a longstanding Spocking Fives Facebook page that’s been around since 2012.

When Nimoy died, Canadians began “Spocking” the heck out of their money in tribute. So much so, that the Bank of Canada had to ask them to stop (Spocking Canadian currency isn’t illegal, so asking was the only thing they could do). There’s little sign that the appeal had any significant effect, and Trek fans in other countries soon followed suit.

Spocked fiver

There are several different styles of five-dollar bill, but fortunately Laurier is an adaptable Spock substitute, so all the styles work.

Spocked Fiver (2)

As for the more traditional, painted graffiti, here are a few of the better memorial images.

spock01 spock07
spock03 spock05
spock08 spock02
spock04 spock06

Unlike Terry Pratchett, Mr. Nimoy was someone whose work I actively followed and admired, from his acting to his photography to his writing to his occasional forays into–um–music, yes let’s call it music (I’m looking at you Ballad of Bilbo Baggins).

Like Mr. Pratchett, however, he seems to have been a genuinely nice man.

Namaste, Mr. Nimoy.  I am surprisingly filled with Earth emotions at your passing.

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And so, until next month amigos, adiós!

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Issue 8: Real Space Opera, Godzilla Haiku, and The Pope Reads Dystopian Fiction



(1) A Real Space Opera: Japanese Team Turns Polish Novel Into Parisian Opera

(2.1) First We Take Shinjuku: Godzilla Reconquers Japan
(2.2) Then We Take Haiku: The Awesome Double Bill You Didn’t Know You Wanted… Godzilla and Janis Ian

(3) Three-Body Problem Nominated For A Nebula

(4) Dystopian Fiction On The Pope’s Bookshelf

(5) Skeletons and Science Fiction: Mexican Illustrator, Smithe

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(1)  A Real Space Opera: Japanese Team Turns Polish Novel Into Parisian Opera

Solaris is an international smörgåsbord of a story.

It began life as a Polish science fiction novel by author Stanislaw Lem, became a largely forgotten Soviet television movie, then became a revered classic film by Russian/Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, and was later reinterpreted in a remake by American Steven Soderbergh that’s been reviled almost as much as it’s been ignored.

(If you want to start a fistfight, go to a gathering of film buffs and claim loudly that the Soderbergh version is superior to the Tarkovsky version, as my brave–or possibly reckless–friend Peter Watts has done in this blog post.)

Solaris Iterated: Two versions of the book cover (far left and left), and posters for the two movies (Tarkovsky right, and Soderbergh far right).  Click to enlarge.

Solaris Iterated: Two versions of the book cover (far left and left), and posters for the two movies (Tarkovsky right, and Soderbergh far right). Click to enlarge.

It’s been an album, Music for Solaris, by Australian composer/producer Ben Frost and Icelandic composer/conductor Daníel Bjarnason. The album was inspired by both the novel and the Tarkovsky film, and was performed with “film manipulations” by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson (you can hear a selection on Bandcamp or on the Icelandic label Bedroom Community).

It’s also been a chamber opera by German composer Michael Obst.

And now, at long last, it’s been turned into a full-blown orchestral opera.

Oh, wait. Actually it first became an orchestral opera in 2012, when another German composer, Detlev Glanert, adapted it (see the video below), receiving several glowing reviews.

Okay, but now it’s an avant garde orchestral opera, blending familiar operatic elements with 3D images and electro-acoustic music (see the video embedded below).  In addition, each main character is portrayed by two players: by a singer/actor, as tradition requires, but also by a dancer.

Japanese composer Dai Fujikura and choreographer Saburo Teshigawara have collaborated to create an otherworldly experience on stage at the Opéra de Lille.

The play premiered March 5.  How did it fare?

The reviews appear to be mixed.  Miranda Jackson of Opera Brittania called it “consistently captivating” and the musical performance “sublime.”

Francis Carlin of the Financial Times was less impressed.  Although it had “strong singing” and the score had “memorable and emotional moments,” the choreography and electronic effects “overwhelm.”  And, Carlin asks, “what is the point of writing an opera when you park the singers at either side of the stage and have dancers tell the story?”

Maybe only time will settle the matter.  If history’s verdict is negative, it will only encourage someone to take yet another stab at the story.  On the other hand, if Solaris‘s track record as an adapted work is any indication, then even if the verdict is positive that’s unlikely to hinder later artists from adapting yet again.

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(2.1)  First We Take Shinjuku: Godzilla Reconquers Japan

Two Godzilla-related pieces of news have come out of Japan recently.

Toho, the Japanese studio that produced the original Godzilla films, announced late last year (December 2014), in the wake of Gareth Edwards’ successful 2014 venture, that they were getting back into the giant monster game (see, for instance, BBC and Variety).

Toho had previously said that their 2004 installment in the franchise, the 50th anniversary project Godzilla, Final Wars, would be their last.

Godzilla circa 1954.

Godzilla circa 1954.

Then, just recently, the Hotel Gracery in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, announced that it is refurbishing its premises to include a Godzilla theme, with a giant Godzilla head bursting through the roof, themed rooms, and Godzilla movies in the Toho theater under the hotel.

Gracery web site screenshot (above) and artist's mockups of the project (below). Click images to enlarge.

Gracery web site screenshot (above) and artist’s mockups of the project (below). Click images to enlarge.

Gracery images

It’s great to see old lizard-breath towering over Tokyo again!

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(2.2)  Then We Take Haiku: The Awesome Double Bill You Didn’t Know You Wanted… Godzilla and Janis Ian

And here’s a bit of Godzilla-mania that’s not from Japan.

If you’re familiar with Janis Ian it’s probably as a Grammy-winning singer/songwriter who rose to fame in the 1960s and whose most recognizable song is the hit “At Seventeen.”

What you may not know is that Ian is also a lifelong science fiction fan and an SF author. She edited and contributed a story to Stars: Original Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian, an anthology whose roster includes Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, Robert J. Sawyer, Nancy Kress, David Gerrold, Harry Turtledove, and Michael Swanwick.

She also has a story in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine (Issue 4, September 2013), edited by Mike Resnick.

Stars (left) and Galaxy's Edge, Issue 4 (right).  Click image to enlarge.

Stars (left) and Galaxy’s Edge, Issue 4 (right). Click image to enlarge.

And lately, Ian has initiated a truly magical project: Godzilla haiku.

Yes, the Japanese movie star monster has conquered Ian’s heart. She writes Godzilla-related haiku and posts it on her Facebook page.  She also invites you and me and everyone else to write our own Godzilla haiku and send them to her for posting.

Samples of Janis Ian's Godzilla haiku.

Samples of Janis Ian’s Godzilla haiku.

This is clearly one of the best ever uses of Facebook ever.

The maddening thing about it, though, is that once you begin reading the haikus, it’s almost impossible not to try your hand at them.  As I wrote this, I kept being interrupted by nagging fragments of giant monster haiku that would pop into my head.

Eventually I gave in and tried writing one.

Colored leaves drifting
Sweet fragrance of late autumn
Bones crunch in my mouth

And whether you think your first attempt rocks or sucks, it’s also damned near impossible to prevent yourself from trying another one.

My breath, my fiery glow
Makes drifting ash of a town
Yet burns me inside.

You see what I mean.

Meeting my agent
Bitter argument at lunch
Human sashimi.

You can find a recent Facebook post about the project, and about how to participate, here. If you dare.

Janis Ian in 1981 (left) and 2013 (right).  Click image to enlarge.  Photo on left by Eddie Mallin, available here, and used pursuant to a  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Photo on right by Jeffrey Beall, available here, and used pursuant to a Creative Commons  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

Janis Ian in 1981 (left) and 2013 (right). Click image to enlarge. Photo on left by Eddie Mallin, available here, and used pursuant to a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Photo on right by Jeffrey Beall, available here, and used pursuant to a Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

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(3)  Three-Body Problem Nominated For A Nebula

In Issue 4 of SFATW we caught up with Liu Cixin, the celebrated Chinese SF author whose novel The Three-Body Problem had just been published in an English translation by Ken Liu (“Sino-SF: Liu Cixin Makes a Splash in English With “The Three-Body Problem“).

Now Three-Body has been nominated for a Nebula Award (official announcementYibada article).

Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin

In related news, The New Yorker has published an article about the author, calling him “China’s Arthur C. Clarke.”

Which is kind of like calling someone “the next Bob Dylan,”a term applied to a long string of musicians over the last forty-plus years, from Donovan and John Prine to Bruce Springsteen.  It’s a bit of journalistic shorthand that’s meant to be a little descriptive and a little complimentary, but which tends to be not much of either.

It is, most of all, something an artist outgrows as he or she becomes sufficiently well known that journalists no longer feel the need to identify the person by using other artists as points of comparison.  Here’s hoping that Liu Cixin is soon familiar enough not to be burdened with a dopey title.

In a nother Three-Body-related tidbit, Ken Liu, who translated the novel into English, has also been nominated for a Nebula.  His nomination comes for the novella “The Regular,” which I’m pleased to say you can read in the (free!) first issue of the new magazine Forever, from Neil Clarke (of Clarkesworld magazine).

Get your copy of the first issue of Forever in ePUB or Kindle format from the links on this page.

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(4)  Dystopian Fiction On The Pope’s Bookshelf

I was interested to see Salon announce that the current pope–who has made waves in a number of ways–is also “Pope Francis, science fiction lover.”

I scrolled down, anxious to see whether the Argentine former nightclub bouncer, currently resident in the Vatican, was, perhaps, a Star Trek fan (guessing that he’d be a connoisseur of the original series, if anything).  Or maybe, given that he’s been unpredictable on other counts, he would turn out to have a shelf (or eReader) full of more dour fare–some paranoid Philip K. Dick and disturbingly prescient John Brunner, for instance.

It turns out, though, that what he’s a fan of is a single novel that I’m not sure really qualifies as science fiction, although it’s clearly speculative fiction of a dystopian type.

Robert Hugh Benson and his novel, Lord of the World.

Robert Hugh Benson and his novel, Lord of the World.

The book is Lord of the World, by English author Robert Hugh Benson, first published in 1907.

It’s set in the early 21st century–now, in other words.  A U.S. senator is elected president of the entire world–a world now dominated by an atheistic, Marxist, global police state in which suicide and euthanasia are legal and Esperanto is the official language of the UK.

Benson was a convert to Catholicism, and in the hellish world he creates, the world government hunts down the last pope, who is in hiding with his retinue.

As Salon writer Gordon Haber puts it:

Julian Felsenburgh, a man of great charisma and linguistic ability… rises from U.S. senator… to President of the World. He encourages pogroms against Catholics and destroys Rome, which everybody goes along with, even though the guy might as well have a giant blinking Anti-Christ on his forehead.

In other words, it sounds a lot like Left Behind and a host of other apocalyptic, End Times religious fiction.  From a speculative fiction point of view that’s not very interesting, no matter how compelling it may be for someone with a particular strain of Christian faith, or how much insight it may give into the current pontiff’s thinking, but what is interesting is the place the novel has in the history of speculative fiction.

First, it’s considered one of the earliest works of dystopian fiction, and it’s a clear predecesor to that brand of dystopia where ordinary people look for meaning and happiness in a world dominated by an oppressive government or company. In this sense it’s an ancestor to 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Soylent Green, and THX 1138, and some aspects of the Alien franchise, as well as more recent entries like The Hunger Games.

Second, although it has many sources and antecedents, the particular form it takes is as a reaction against the technophilic optimism of H.G. Wells.  Benson sets himself up as the anti-Wells, sketching out a world with many of the elements Wells believed might bring about a utopia, but inverting the result so that Wells’ dream is turned into a nightmare.

If you’re curious about Lord of the World, Project Gutenberg offers it for free in multiple formats.  To download, click the link below for the format you prefer.

>> Click to Return to Table of Contents <<

(5) Skeletons and Science Fiction: Mexican Illustrator, Smithe

Mexican genre art seems to be haunting SFATW. We’ve touched on it twice in previous issues:

And now here it is again.

The Mexican illustrator and graffiti artist known as Smithe turns out some gorgeous images that clearly draw both on traditional Mexican sources and on modern imagery from science fiction, horror, and comics, all of it brought together with a surrealistic touch.

You’ll find Smithe’s home page, with many more images, here. He’s also part of the band .Stendal.

A huge tip of the hat to Jeff Hamada, founder and editor of the very awesome Booooooom, who brought Smithe to my attention in this post.  Don’t miss Booooooom.  Seriously, go there right now.

I strongly recommend you click on the images–each one will embiggen (a lot) individually.

Smithe01 Smith02
Smith03 Smithe04

And so, until next month amigos, adiós!

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Posted in Chinese SF, Japanese SF, Mexican SF, Polish SF, The Vatican and SF | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Issue 7: White Manga, Black Superheroes, and Mexican Pulp


(1) Fans (and George Takei) Revolt Over Hollywood Whitewashing
(1.5) UPDATE (March 1, 2015): Diversity in Casting and Profitability

(2) South Africa: Comic Book Culture

(3) South Africa: Alien Resurrected
(3.5) UPDATE (March 6, 2015) Messing With the Canon

(4) The Glory of Mexican Pulp Art

(5) On the Horizon: Homo Artificialis

(6) Halloween Watch: Under the Surface of Cerberus

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(1)  Fans (and George Takei) Revolt Over Hollywood Whitewashing

For anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with Hollywood it’s an old story: white actors being tarted up in yellow-face to play Asian characters.

In the early 20th century we had white actors playing Asian good guys (Charlie Chan was played by Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Roland Winters) and bad guys (Fu Manchu was played by Boris Karloff and Harry Agar Lyons, as well as by repeat offender Warner Oland).

As late as the 1970s, Bruce Lee was passed over for the lead role in the television show Kung Fu (which he may or may not have had a hand in originating) in favor of white actor David Carradine.

Warner Oland (left to right) as Charlie Chan, as Fu Manchu, as himself, and in a makeup session.  Far right: David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine.  (Click image to enlarge)

Warner Oland (left to right) as Charlie Chan, as Fu Manchu, as himself, and in a makeup session. Far right: David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine. (Click image to enlarge)

In the last few years the Hollywood remake machine has begun to grind its way through the extensive back catalogue of Japanese anime and manga.  A live action version of Ghost in the Shell is in the offing, a live action version of the venerable classic Astro Boy is being floated, and Warner Brothers have been working on a live action Akira and are testing the waters for a live action Bleach.

With so many movies–and so much casting–at stake, the issue of whitewashing has been highlighted like never before. Fans–as well as everyone’s favorite gay sci-fi icon, George Takei–have had just about enough.

George Takei: back then, and now, and back then again.

George Takei: back then, and now, and back then again.

Takei, famous for playing Hikaru Sulu in the original Star Trek television series, and almost as famous late in life as an advocate for gay rights and other equality issues, took issue with Warner Brothers considering white actors to play the (Japanese) main character in Akira:

The Advocate: Were you surprised to find out Warner Bros. is courting white leading men for roles in the adaptation of Akira?
George Takei: It’s not a surprise because that’s been a Hollywood tradition. For example, when I was very young, I read Pearl Buck’s epic novel of China, The Good Earth. And that film, all of the principal major roles were cast with Caucasians. As a matter of fact, Luise Rainer, who played the wife, won an Oscar for that. Paul Muni was her husband. It’s an old Hollywood tradition that we’ve always been battling, not just Hollywood but Broadway too, if you remember Miss Saigonand the furor over that. So, no, I really wasn’t surprised, but the audience has changed now, and I’m surprised Warner Bros. is not keeping up with the audience. The manga and anime phenomenon is mostly white in this country. It originated in Japan, and, of course, it has a huge Asian fan following. But it’s the multi-ethnic Americans who are fans of Akira and manga. The idea of buying the rights to do that and in fact change it seems rather pointless. If they’re going to do that, why don’t they do something original, because what they do is offend Asians, number 1; number 2, they offend the fans. The same thing happened with M. Night Shyamalan. He cast his project [The Last Airbender] with non-Asians and it’s an Asian story, and the film flopped. I should think that they would learn from that, but I guess big studios go by rote, and the tradition in Hollywood has always been to buy a project, change it completely and flop with it. I think it’s pointless, so I thought I would save Warner Bros. a bit of failure by warning them of what will most likely happen if they continue in that vein.

The most recent provocation is the casting of Scarlett Johansson as the (Japanese) lead character in Ghost in the Shell, Major Motoko Kusanagi.  Johansson is much beloved in geek circles for her turn as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is fast becoming a staple in science fiction films from the ridiculous and mediocre (Lucy) to the arty (Under the Skin).

But all the goodwill that Johansson has built up won’t insulate her, or the movie, from fan ire.  As both the Mary Sue and Comic Book Resources have noted, a petition demanding that Dreamworks, the studio making the movie, replace Johanssen has gathered a healthy number of signatures (as of this writing it’s over 40,000).

A screenshot from the petition page (click to go to the petition).

A screenshot from the petition page (click to go to the petition).

Hell, even Forbes magazine sounds cross with Dreamworks (“Hollywood Loses The Plot With Its ‘Ghost In The Shell’ Movie Casting“).  When a publication as starchy and retrograde as Forbes is calling you out on a race-related faux pas, dude you are in deep doo doo.

Anyone who signs the petition can include a comment if they wish, and the preponderance of the comments illustrate the fact that, while the issue of whitewashing has been raised before, a cultural tipping point may have been reached that places it squarely beyond the pale.  Tyler Bechstein of California, signatory #39,408, is a good example:

I’m this movie’s target demo. I’ve watched the source material multiple times, and I WANT to like this movie and recommend seeing it to my friends. But whitewashing is a huge problem in Hollywood, and I straight up won’t see this movie if I feel Dreamworks (whose movies I usually adore) is casting white people in Asian roles because they feel I might be afraid to see the movie otherwise. I’m a white dude, and I won’t see this movie if it’s not as representative as the source material. If you’re targeting millennials, you’ll find that to be an exceptionally common attitude. Dreamworks: Fix this shit.

Here’s hoping that either Johanssen, Dreamworks, or both, come to a wiser decision.

UPDATE (March 1, 2015) Diversity in Casting and Profitability

One of the ostensible reasons behind the whitewashing of Asian characters is that bankable stars, who are predominantly white, are thought to help ensure that a film project makes back the significant investment it requires in the first place.

Making a film, after all, isn’t only an artistic venture, it’s also a business endeavor, and if it fails to make money or at least break even, that failure affects everyone who has a stake in the film, from investors, whose money is on the line, to the director and cast, whose prestige and future prospects are involved.

Racial diversity in Hollywood

Racial diversity in Hollywood

Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that if Asian actors continue to be underrepresented in film casting,  even in films featuring Asian characters, they’re going to have a very hard time becoming “bankable” stars.  It’s true, but it may not be persuasive to the people in charge of a particular project who need that project to succeed.

Now comes a new report on diversity (and its absence) in Hollywood.  One important conclusion: diversity makes money.

2015 Hollywood Diversity Report: Flipping the Script (click to go to the relport's information and download page).

2015 Hollywood Diversity Report: Flipping the Script (click to go to the relport’s information and download page).

NPR covers the report and quotes one of its co-authors, Ana-Christina Ramón:

“We continue to see that diversity sells,” says Ramón. “And that’s a big point that needs to be then relayed to the studios and the networks.”

According to the report, “films with relatively diverse casts enjoyed the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment.” The same holds true for success in television.

A word to the wise folks at Dreamworks and elsewhere: when you whitewash, you’re not just perpetuating a noxious, immoral, irrational tradition, you may well also be shooting yourself in the foot.  Or in the bottom line.

You can download a PDF of the report for free here.

(2)  South Africa: Comic Book Culture

As a kid who was both a comic book geek and a socially conscious hippie, I still remember when Marvel first gave Black Panther his own title in 1977.  He may have been created by two very pale white guys–Stan Lee and Jack Kirby–but he was the first black superhero in American mainstream comics, having been introduced a decade earlier in Fantastic Four #52.

(For more on African American superheroes, see “Afros, Icons, and Spandex: A Brief History of the African American Superhero” on Comic Book Resources.)

The Black Panter in his first appearance in 1966 (left) and the first issue of his own title (1977) (click to enlarge).

The Black Panter in his first appearance in 1966 (left) and the first issue of his own title (1977) (click to enlarge).

How things have changed since then.

The Wikipedia list of black superheroes includes more than thirty comic book companies with black superheroes and the Black Panther will get his own major motion picture in 2018 with Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa. Black superheroes are no longer exclusively created by white dudes and they’re not always American either.

Case in point: Afropunk reports on a new South African comic book called Kwezi, created by artist Loyiso Mkize.


Kwezi is a 19-year-old South African.  He’s steeped in popular youth culture, but also establishes a connection with his traditional roots–and discovers he has super powers.

You can read the first issue of Kwezi online at the comic’s home page.

Reading Kwezi online (screenshot).

Reading Kwezi online (screenshot–click to enlarge).

Here’s wishing Kwezi and Mkize great success and a long run.

(3)  South Africa: Aliens Resurrected

One of the great moments of 2009 for speculative fiction fans–and especially fans of international SF–was the release of the wonderful District 9, set in South Africa.

The movie was directed by South African/Canadian Neill Blomkamp and written by Blomkamp and his wife, Terri Tatchell (both graduates of the Vancouver Film School).

So it’s welcome news that if the Alien franchise is to go through the mandatory reboot that’s affecting just about every successful movie franchise at the moment–or perhaps Alien‘s simply getting a new installment rather than a reboot, the details aren’t clear yet–at least the new film will be in Blomkamp’s capable hands.

Neither Blompkamp nor anyone else associated with the new film has released any hard details, but the director did post some concept art online, including an image of Ellen Ripley wearing alien-inspired headgear and one of Dwayne Hicks with his face disfigured by alien acid.

The art was created at a time when it appeared that Blomkamp would not make the new movie, and it may not translate directly into elements in the film, but it certainly gives a sense of Blomkamp’s mood and demonstrates that the project already has its teeth well into him (so to speak).

Some of Blomkamp's Alien concept art (click to enlarge).

Some of Blomkamp’s Alien concept art (click to enlarge).

UPDATE (March 6, 2015) Messing With the Canon

Does Neill Blomkamp intend to mess with the Alien canon?  Might all the Aliens3 haters out there–not to mention the detractors of Alien: Resurrection–have something to cheer about?

In a recent interview, the director said that he’d like his Alien movie (should it get off the ground) to “feel like it is literally the genetic sibling of Aliens. So it’s, Alien, Aliens,this movie.”

No mention of the less beloved third and fourth installments of the film franchise.  Could they be headed for the memory hole, as George Orwell dubbed the pit of no return to which inconvenient facts, things, and people are consigned when history is re-written?

Stay tuned for more details as they emerge.

(4)  The Glory of Mexican Pulp Art

Juxtapoz magazine–SFATW’s longstanding favorite art mag–recently posted sample images from a show called Pulp Drunk, running January 23 to March 7 at Ricco/Maresca in New York, featuring art from Mexican pulp publications.

(click to enlarge).

Images from Pulp Drunk (click to enlarge).

As SFATW has noted before, comic book culture has deep roots in Mexico (SFATW Issue #2, “Mexican Psychedelic SF: Inés Estrada and the English debut of Lapsos“).  And as anyone who’s visited Mexico can tell you, the Mexican comic art tradition and the pulp art tradition are two veins of the same artistic gold, overlapping and bleeding into one another.

Views of the exhibition (click to enlarge).

Views of the exhibition (click to enlarge).

Ricco/Maresca describe the pulp covers this way:

Post-war America saw the rise of the erotic pulp paperback novel covers. The objective of these covers was to lure in potential buyers with the promise of sex, suspense and drama. Simultaneously, a similar type of book and marketing strategy was being developed in Mexico. This brand of novel included racy cover art designed to attract and entice consumers; yet the differences in the subject matter being peddled to consumers was vast. While Mexican pulp covers did celebrate sex as much as their American counterparts, they also threw in violence, sci-fi weirdness, psychedelia, murder, and crime, often opting for scenes that depicted the blatantly bizarre rather than soft core smut.

These sensationalized images from the sixties and seventies often feature surreal and lurid images of extraterrestrials, robots, dinosaurs, killers, Zorro and many other icons involving suspense, mystery, romance, and the supernatural. The central characters in the narratives tend to be ordinary people facing the common challenges of day-to-day life. They are not gallant martyrs but commoners who have found themselves confronting outlandish and startling predicaments as a result of poor decisions or risky behavior. Through vivid colors, dramatic lighting and bold imagery, the cover art manages to leave the viewer with a sense of disillusionment and apprehension regarding the character’s fate without reading a word of the novel itself.

“Pulp Drunk: Mexican Pulp Art” reintroduces this art form to public as a brilliant and often overlooked pop-culture revelation. This exhibition is a celebration of the art that graced the covers of the paperbacks released south of the US border yet also serves as a visual observation of the fundamentals of Mexican attitudes towards art and consumerism. As Maria Cristina Tavera states in her introduction to the 1997 book Mexican Pulp Art, “The fantasy elements reflect Mexican attitudes about life, death, mysticism, and the supernatural.”

More images from the show (click to enlarge).

More images from the show (click to enlarge).

Not all of us can get to New York for the show, of course, but don’t despair.  It turns out that Mexican pulp art is actually pretty well curated on several sites online.

SFATW has run down some of the major sources and present them here for your delectation.  Click on any of the screenshots below to go to the relevant site.

Mexican pulp art on Flickr (click to go there).

Mexican pulp art on Flickr (click to go there).

Mexican pulp art on Tumblr (click to go there).

Mexican pulp art on Tumblr (click to go there).

Mexican pulp art on Monster Brains (click to go there).

Mexican pulp art on Monster Brains (click to go there).

And, if you prefer your art delivered in the old school fashion, you might also want to investigate the book cited by the gallery, Mexican Pulp Art by Maria Cristina Taver.

(5)  On the Horizon from Hipper Tiger: Homo Artificialis

SFATW will soon have a companion publication.  The first issue of Homo Artificialis will appear in March 2015, with six issues per year.

H. Artificialis: coming in March 2015 (click to enlarge).

H. Artificialis: coming in March 2015 (click to enlarge).

H. Artificialis focuses on the science and culture of artificial humanity.

On the scientific front it looks at current science that could, at least in theory, ultimately contribute to some of the forms of synthetic person we see in fiction, including both artificial intelligences and natural intelligences uploaded into artificial bodies.

On the cultural front, it looks at reactions to the notion of artificial humanity as portrayed in the arts, as well as the use of synthetic processes in the making of art, and notions of how art may evolve as artificial humanity evolves.

The topics covered on H. Artificialis will include, among other things:

  • artificial intelligence
  • robotics
  • AI/robotics and synthetic emotion
  • AI/robotics and ethics
  • whole brain mapping
  • brain-computer interfaces
  • regenerative medicine
  • nanothechnology and nanomedicine
  • tissue engineering
  • artificial organs
  • xenotransplantation

The first issue will feature the following articles:

  • “Synthetic Intimacy and the Erotic Turing Test (Part I)” — A look at intimate relations between humans and artificial persons in art and in real life.  First in a series.
  • “Robophobia: Killer Robots and Real-Life Warfare” — The increasingly heavy reliance on drones in combat raises questions about the use of autonomous weapons in war.
  • “Artificial Evil: Red Flags and Storm Warnings” — Several high-profile figures have recently issued warnings about the dangers of AI.  What can we make of their premonitions?

Like SFATW, H. Artificialis will also feature a library of free publications.

A free, downloadable paper from HAL (the Homo Artificialis Library).

A free, downloadable paper from HAL (the Homo Artificialis Library).

(6)  Halloween Watch: Under the Surface of Cerberus

This October will see the third annual installment of the Ten Halloweens Project, a decade-long art project in ten parts with a theme ranging from the supernatural to the surreal.

Each Halloween over a span of ten years, from 2013 to 2022, I release a free work that becomes available in October, then disappears.  The Ten Halloweens site goes dark until the following year, when it reappears with all the previous installments plus a new work for the new year.

Different iterations of Ten Halloweens take different forms.  The first year it was poetry, and the second it was a short story, both of which could be read online or downloaded as a free ebook.  This year it will be in a multimedia format.

At this point I’m releasing just two details to tease the new installment.

The first is the title: Under the Surface of Cerberus.

The second is the image below: Imaginary Portrait of Kenzaburō Ōe.

Make of that what you will–and be sure to visit Ten Halloweens come October.

Imaginary Portrait of Kenzaburō Ōe (click to enlarge).

Imaginary Portrait of Kenzaburō Ōe (click to enlarge).

And so, until next month, au revoir mes amis!

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Posted in African SF, Anime, Free Stuff, Japanese SF, Manga, Mexican SF, The Ten Halloweens Project, Upcoming Projects | Leave a comment

Instant Update (Number 1): More “Metropolis” Music

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Instant Updates bring you up to speed without having to wait for the next full issue of SFATW.  Sometimes they will cover an item that’s time-sensitive.  Other times, like with this first one, they’ll be a brief follow-up to a topic in an a past issue.

In the January issue of SFATW we saw eight different pop music takes on the early German science fiction film Metropolis, from performers as diverse as Janelle Monáe, Kraftwerk, St. Vincent, and Brazilian metal band Sepultura.

Here’s another one for the list.

Years ago I fell in love with a dreamy song called “2300 Hawaii” (video embedded below), which I discovered on a well-curated shibuya-kei compilation called Sushi 4004.  The song’s deliciously louche invitation “would you like a mai tai,” droning out over a tune that resembled sticky musical syrup, made it perfect for an afternoon of mixed drinks.

Sushi 4004

Sushi 4004

Just recently I finally tracked down most of the discography of the song’s creator, the brilliant Yoshinori Sunahara.  “2300 Hawaii” came from his 1998 album Take Off and Landing, but as I was listening my way through his oevre I found that one of the songs on his 1995 album Crossover included yet another musical reference to Metropolis.

The song is called “MFRFM (Music For Robot For Music),” and it incorporates a narration by the great Forrest J. Ackerman, science fiction superfan, collector, editor, and booster, which includes the following:

Hello, this is Forrest Ackerman, Editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland and Spacemen…

I’ve been interested in robots for about 35 years and as a boy of ten, I had the thrilling experience of seeing the great film masterpiece “Metropolis” when it was brand new. It was a silent picture produced in the mid-twenties and the most unforgettable scene was when the robot was animated. When that smooth, streamlined mechanical humanoid figure was commanded to rise by Rotwang, its creator, and slowly, ever so slowly, an inch at a time, almost like Im-ho-tep, the Egyptian mummy dead 3700 years, the robot moved and came to life. You could almost hear the whirring as Rotwang, his artificial hand covered with a black leather glove, ordered his robotrix — it was in female form, you see — to rise from her chair and present her cold, steel hand to John Masterman, the master of Metropolis — the greatest city on earth in the year 2026. Twenty Twenty-six, hmm. Come to think of it, that’s quite a few years yet.

The video for “MFRFM (Music For Robot For Music)” is also embedded below.  Enjoy!

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Issue 6: Geek Culture + Minister Faust, German Science Fiction, Afrofuture(s), and Writing SF in China and Laos (January, 2015)


(1) Geek Culture, Number 01: Minister Faust and the New MF Galaxy Podcast

(2) German Science Fiction: A Lecture and Essay by Sonja Fritzsche

(3) Early German SF on Film: Metroplolis (1927).

(4) Early German SF on Film: Alraune (1928)

(5) Jalada 02: Afrofuture(s)

(6) Writing SF in China, Writing SF in Laos: Cixin Liu and Bryan Thao Worra Talk Turkey

(7) Our New Video Logo

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Geek Culture Column: Minister Faust and the New MF Galaxy Podcast

This is the first installment of a new occasional column on SFATW called Geek Culture.  What is geek culture? At least two things.

Thing One: No form of expression exists in a vacuum. The speculative fiction covered in SFATW is part of a larger culture, here referred to as geek culture. It includes the usual SFATW topics–science fiction, fantasy, and horror–but also things outside that range that are still likely to be interesting to anyone who geeks out on the regular SFATW fare.

An album of music that sounds like it belongs in a science fiction film?  That’s geek culture. A new technology that’s reminiscent of science fiction? That’s geek culture too.  So is a work of visual art that propels you into a world of fantasy, or a poem that evokes the same feeling as a horror movie.

Thing Two: Expression that comments on geek culture is also geek culture.  A new blog that covers Asian horror movies? A podcast that reviews science fiction and fantasy books? Both are geek culture.

Enough prelude–on to the culture itself!

This month we note the arrival of a new venture from Minister Faust, who’s been a favorite author around here ever since The Coyote Kings: Book One, Space-Age Bachelor Pad, but who’s also worked in Canadian radio and print journalism, and who is a longtime community activist online and in his native Edmonton.

MF Galaxy deals with four main topics: writers on writing, pop culture (including science fiction, gaming, and graphic novels), progressive politics, and afrocentricity.  Faust is digging back into his deep archive, as well as conducting many new interviews, to bring listeners some gems.

Minister Faust

Minister Faust (click to open his home page).

At this writing the podcast is up to eight episodes.   They include an interview with Eden Robinson, the First Nation author of TraplinesMonkey Beach, and Blood Sports (as well as the story Terminal Avenue, which appeared in an anthology of postcolonial science fiction and fantasy called So Long Been Dreaming), who discusses her persistent childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, and an interview with the great Gene Luen Yang, author of the award-winning comic American Born Chinese, who discusses (among other things) how and when to turn the Jack Kirby style of comic book art on its head.

Don’t miss it!

  • The MF Galaxy home page is here and if you like it, well then like it over on it’s Facebook page.
  • You can find the podcast on lisbyn or iTunes.
  • If you enjoy MF Galaxy, be sure to support it on Patreon.


A related treat: Faust has also gone head to head with another SFATW favorite author, Peter Watts, in a literary smackdown hosted by the CBC entitled Peter Watts vs. Minister Faust: Can sci-fi be a happy place?

MF Galaxy Interviewees.  Left: the cover of So Long Been Dreaming, which includes a story by Eden Robinson.  Center: the cover of American Born Chinese.  Right: a page from American Born Chinese. (Click image to enlarg.)

MF Galaxy Interviewees. Left: the cover of So Long Been Dreaming, which includes a story by Eden Robinson. Center: the cover of American Born Chinese. Right: a page from American Born Chinese. (Click image to enlarge.)

German Science Fiction: Lecture and Essay by Sonja Fritzsche

The good folks in the English Department at the University of Hamburg in Germany have provided an awesome Virtual Introduction to Science Fiction.  You can enjoy the goodies on their page, but from time to time I’ll reproduce some here.

We start–appropriately for a university in Hamburg–with German science fiction.

German SF Flag


A video lecture by Sonja Fritzsche is embedded below.  The accompanying essay can be found in PDF format in the SFATW Library–just click the tab at the top of the page or click the image of the paper that appears after the video.

If you’re expecting a German version of The Real History of Science Fiction, with talking head interviews and film clips, forget it.  As much fun as that is, this ain’t that.  On the other hand if you geek out on academic lectures and papers, like I am, with footnotes and the whole shebang, this is definitely for you.

German Science Fiction, by Sonja Fritzsche. Click the image to go to the SFATW Library, where you can get this and other free papers in PDF format.

German Science Fiction, by Sonja Fritzsche. Click the image to go to the SFATW Library, where you can get this and other free papers in PDF format.

Early German SF on Film: Metropolis (1927)

Since we’re on the topic of German science fiction, let’s take a moment to appreciate two early gems of German SF cinema.

First, the inimitable Metropolis by Fritz Lang, references to which–once you start to look for them–turn out to be almost everywhere.

It would take a while to detail everything that’s important or interesting about Metropolis–you can find plenty of that by trolling papers on–but instead, let’s focus in on one particular element of its legacy that’s often overlooked in scholarly treatments.

Pop music has perhaps been the medium most susceptible to Metropolis‘s spell. Some of the main instances are listed below in chronological order.  Videos are embedded (scroll down to below the film) for the individual songs–no videos for the albums.

  • 1978: Kraftwerk included a song named after the film on the album The Man-Machine.
  • 1984:  Giorgo Moroder re-released the film with a new soundtrack featuring his own music, as well as that of Jon Anderson, Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, Cycle V, Loverboy, Freddie Mercury, Billy Squier, and Bonnie Tyler.  I know, I know, Loverboy. Still, there it is.
  • 1989: Madonna referenced  the film in her “Express Yourself” video.
  • 1993: The video for Whitney Houston’s song “Queen of the Night”–another unlikely entry–featured clips from the film and Houston appeared wearing a shiny metallic outfit.
  • 2007: Janelle Monáe based two entire releases–one EP and one album–on the film: Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) and The ArchAndroid.
  • 2009: Lady Gaga referenced the film in the videos for “Alejandro,” “Born This Way,” and “Applause,” and overtly mimicked the robot from the film in her video for the song “Paparazzi “.
  • 2013:  The Brazilian metal band Sepultura, who are just down the road from me in Belo Horizonte, have a habit of naming their albums for literary references.  There was Dante XXI (2006), whose title referenced Dante’s Inferno, and there was A-Lex (2009), whose title was a reference to A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.  Then in 2013 came The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart, whose title is a line of dialogue from Metropolis.
  • 2014: St. Vincent’s video “Digital Witness” (with Chino Moya), features the singer standing in for Maria, the poor worker in the film.
Music by Janelle Monáe.  Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase)(2007) and The ArchAndroid (2009).

Music by Janelle Monáe. Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) (2007) and The ArchAndroid (2009) (click image to enlarge).

The full movie is embedded below.  This is a recent, partially restored version (some segments remain lost), accompanied by a new soundtrack by The New Pollutants.

The soundtrack by The New Pollutants is available via Bandcamp here.

And here’s the video playlist referred to earlier:

    Kraftwerk, Metropolis
    Madonna, Express Yourself
    Whitney Houston, “Queen of the Night”
    Lady Gaga, Paparazzi
    St. Vincent

Early German SF on Film: Alraune (1928)

Alraune may not have the profile of Metropolis, but it’s another classic of early German science fiction cinema.  The story originated in myth, evolved into a novel in 1911, and then made it to the screen no fewer than five times, although the 1928 version is widely regarded as definitive.

In the novel, a scientist who is interested in the laws of heredity artificially inseminates a prostitute with the semen of a hanged murderer.  She conceives a female child, Alraune, whom the professor adopts, but the girl has no concept of love. She becomes sexually obsessive and perverse. Ultimately, she learns the story of her origins and avenges herself against the professor.

Three versions of cover art for Alraune.  Left: a German edition. Center: an English translation.  Right: one issue of the erotic comic. (Click image to enlarge)

Three versions of cover art for Alraune. Left: a German edition. Center: an English translation. Right: one issue of the erotic comic. (Click image to enlarge)

Like Metropolis, Alraune has attracted pop culture attention, including a series of erotic comic books with the same title and a heavy metal band that’s adopted the name as their own.  The band’s album The Process of Self-Immolation made number 16 on Spin Magazine‘s 20 Best Metal Albums of 2014, so kudos to Alraune. A video for the album’s titular song is embedded below, under the film itself.

In fact, given that Alraune (much in the vein of Frankenstein) takes a strong spine of myth and then dresses it up in lurid pulp elements–a mad scientist, the criminal underworld, perverse eroticism–it’s surprising that it hasn’t inspired more pop culture incarnations.

When a hip, high-profile, twenty-first century version of Alraune pops up, maybe an avant garde opera or a participatory installation in a refurbished factory, remember that you heard it here first.

Jalada 02: Afrofuture(s)

Jalada is a relatively new pan-African writers’ collective.  Previous collections they’ve issued include Sext Me and Sketch of a Bald Woman in the Semi-Nude and Other Stories. The new issue is entitled Afrofuture(s).

There’s not a lot that needs to be said about Jalada, except that it will definitely be worth whatever time you take to explore it, so I’ll just say that.  Having poked around in several issues, color me impressed.

You can find the Afrofuture(s) issue here.

Three issues of Jalada.

Three issues of Jalada (click to enlarge).

Writing SF in China, Writing SF in Laos: Cixin Liu and Bryan Thao Worra Talk Turkey

In issue 4, back in November, we covered the hoopla surrounding the new English edition of Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem.

In mid-January the author (and the book’s translator, Ken Liu, who’s an award-winning SF author in his own right) took to i09 to discuss the writing of science fiction in China with i09 staff and its readers, who posted questions.

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

i09 published an article titled This Is What It’s Like To Write Science Fiction Novels In China, but also posted the full interaction (Author Cixin Liu Is Here to Answer Your Questions).

It’s an interesting read, but it’s made even more interesting by the fact that Bryan Thao Worra, an award-winning Laotian American writer who, among other things, writes science fiction poetry, wrote a companion piece on his blog entitled What it’s like to write science fiction in China and implications for Lao science fiction.

Both are well worth reading.

Liu (above) and Worra (below). (Click image to enlarge.)

Liu (above) and Worra (below). (Click image to enlarge.)

Our New Video Logo

Say hello to our new video logo, which will open all videos that SFATW creates or presents (at least until the next logo comes along, after which we’ll choose one or the other based on momentary whims).

A still from the new SFATW video logo.  View it and decide for yourself what story lies behind these twelve seconds.

A still from the new SFATW video logo. Watch it below and decide for yourself what story lies behind these twelve seconds.

You can also see it at the opening of the German Science Fiction video, embedded above.

And now, until next month, adeus e boa sorte!

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Issue 5: Old Boys and Blade Runners, Polyglot Skype, Sino-Gore Gaming, and Egyptian Comic Culture (December, 2014)


(1) Of Old Boys and Blade Runners: Park Chan-Wook Rumored to Direct SF Thriller “Second Son”

(2) In An Alien Tongue: Polyglot Skype And An Update on Machine Translation

(3) Sino-Gore Gaming: Retro Game Lets You Slay Monsters From Asian Culture

(4) “Pass By Tomorrow” and Egyptian SF Comic Culture

(5) Happy Holidays From SF Around the World!

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Of Old Boys and Blade Runners: Park Chan-Wook Rumored to Direct SF Thriller “Second Son”

Back in the 1990s, before digital distribution of film really took off, the only way for Torontonians to see most Asian films was to make a pilgrimage to Chinatown, where a few sidewalk vendors and pop-up stores around Dundas and Spadina would satisfy your jones for the latest in Hong Kong crime dramas, Japanese avant garde movies, and Korean blood-fests with bootleg DVDs.

(Cultural clarification: Yes, you could get Japanese and Korean films. Vietnamese too. Like many Chinatowns, the one in downtown Toronto long ago became a kind of amalgamated Asian-town, although Chinese culture still predominates there and other Asian enclaves, like Bloor Street’s Koreatown, have popped up elsewhere.)

Chinatown in Toronto. Photo (c) 2008 Nas Hedron.

Chinatown in Toronto. Photo (c) 2008 Nas Hedron borrowed from my free album over here.

It was there that I first encountered Park Chan-wook, through movies like J.S.A. and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Not long after, he burst onto the stage at Cannes, taking the Grand Jury prize with Oldboy. Then, in 2013, he made his crossover debut in Hollywood with Stokerstarring Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, and Matthew Goode–which received mixed reviews.

Park Chan-wook

Park Chan-wook

Now, according to Variety, it seems he may be taking on a science fiction thriller called Second Born, based on a script that brought newcomer David Jagernauth second place at Scriptapalooza in 2010.

Coverage of the script puts it in the genre territory of Blade Runner and Strange Days. The coverage is available in PDF format here. The summary includes the following:

In the future, scientists are able to download the human mind onto a device no larger than a finger. This backup brain, called a Memex, digitally records every thought, experience, and dream consciousness itself and is often referred to as the soul of a person.

A Memex can be removed at death and placed in a digital world as a holograph or it can be transferred to a different living body. This has led to innocent people being kidnapped and sold on the black-market for their flesh. Special Agent THANE MERRICK (35), investigates these illegal rebirths.

One night his boss, Director CHRISTOF ZEKI (70’s), calls Merrick to investigate the murder of Chief Justice LAURA DAMATO (65). Merrick follows a few clues but cannot find the killer as he has been “reborn” into several different people’s flesh. When Damato is reborn in her clone body, Merrick suspects the new Chief Justice is not who she claims
to be. However Merrick’s supervisor, Deputy Director VANNEVAR KOCH (44), will not let him pursue his hunch.

Merrick secretly continues his investigation, but as soon as he gets close to the truth, Merrick is murdered. He wakes up with his Memex in a stranger’s body. Merrick discovers he has been saved by a mysterious man wearing a mirrored mask
known only as DOPPELGANGER.

There are enough shades of William Gibson and Richard Morgan in there (not to mention my own forays into the fiction of uploading in Luck and Death at the Edge of the World, Felon and the Judas Kiss, and Los Angeles Honey) to tempt me, even without the director of Oldboy being on board. There’s a long road between here and the finished film, but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out.

Jagernauth discusses the origins of the script (among other things) in the video below.  Below that is an interview with Park Chan-wook recorded at a showing of Stoker.

In An Alien Tongue: Polyglot Skype And An Update on Machine Translation

The issue of translation is necessarily one of the core concerns of any genuinely international culture and, of course, is well represented amongst SF tropes like Star Trek’s universal translator. We’ve touched on it before (SFATW Issue #2, “In An Alien Tongue: SF and Translation“), and I’m sure we will again.

In this issue’s update on the issue, telecommunications company Skype throws its into hat into the machine translation ring.  As the company’s Big Blog post, “Skype Translator Preview–An Exciting Journey to a New Chapter in Communication,” says:

Today, we are excited to announce the first phase of the Skype Translator preview program. The preview program will kick-off with two spoken languages, Spanish and English, and 40+ instant messaging languages will be available to Skype customers who have signed-up via the Skype Translator sign-up page and are using Windows 8.1 on the desktop or device.

Skype brings people together to make progress on what matters to them. Skype Translator will open up endless possibilities for people around the world to connect, communicate and collaborate; people will no longer be hindered by geography and language.

From the Skype post “Skype Translator–How it Works.”

From the Skype post “Skype Translator–How it Works.”

Elsewhere, in a piece titled “Skype Translator–How it Works,” Skype has posted some (fairly general) details about the translator’s functioning:

Machine Learning is the capability of software learning from training data examples, and Skype Translator is built on a robust Machine Learning platform. By learning from the training data during this preview stage, along with all of its nuances, the software can learn to better recognize and translate the diversity of topics, accents and language variation of actual Skype Translator users.

Skype Translator’s machine learning protocols train and optimize speech recognition (SR) and automatic machine translation (MT) tasks, acting as the glue that holds these elements together. This “glue” transforms the recognized text to facilitate translation. This process includes the removal of disfluencies (i.e. ‘ahs’ and ‘umms’ as well as re-phrasings), division of the text into sentences, as well as addition of punctuation and capitalization.

The training data for speech recognition and machine translation comes from a variety of sources, including translated web pages, videos with captions, as well as previously translated and transcribed one-on-one conversations. Skype Translator records conversations in order to analyze the scripts and train the system to better learn each language. We have also had many people donate data from previous conversations, which we also analyze and use to create training material for the statistical models that teach the Speech Recognition and Machine Translation engines how to map the incoming audio stream to text, and then the text to another language. Skype Translator participants are all clearly notified as the call begins that their conversation will be recorded and used to improve the quality of Microsoft’s translation and voice recognition services.

After the data is prepared and entered into the machine learning system, the machine learning software builds a statistical model of the words in these conversations, and their context. When you say something, the software can find something similar in its statistical model, and apply the previously learned transformation from audio to text and from text into the foreign language.

You can view a demo in the video below.

Sino-Gore Gaming: Retro Game Lets You Slay Monsters From Asian Culture

Well, it seems like you can’t turn around in the speculative fiction world these days without bumping up against Asian genre culture. In perhaps the most meta instance of this phenomenon, Games in Asia reports on the success of the Chinese Zombie War games, in which ghouls from Asian genre films are recycled as the antagonists in Asian genre games.

Malaysia’s Tomato Animation was one of the few Asian game companies to make use of this often overlooked supernatural phenomenom back in 2011, when it released its hit game Chinese Zombie War.

“We knew we couldn’t compete with big game companies, so we decided to focus on the Asian market. That’s one of the reasons why we chose Chinese vampires,” explains Nas Rahmat, speaking for the studio.

The action game features you venturing down dark paths filled with ghosts and ghouls, battling jiangshi [Chinese vampires] among other beasties. Visually, it’s got some pretty awesome 3D modeling and animations – probably some of the best I’ve seen out of Southeast Asia – and proves to be a fun time slapping talismans onto vampiric heads.

Images from the Chinese Zombie War Games.

Images from the Chinese Zombie War Games.

Chinese Zombie War was successful–one of the top five apps in China–so naturally it’s spawned a sequel, Chinese Zombie War Demon Arise.  A major update to the games is due in May 2015, and an animated series is planned to follow.

Take a tour through the world of the games in the video below.

Pass By Tomorrow and Egyptian SF Comic Culture

In Issue #3 of SFATW we looked at Arabic Science Fiction and its potential role in real-world innovation (SFATW, Issue #3 “Yasser Bahjatt and Arabic Science Fiction“).  A quick look around indicates that genre culture in the Arabic world is likely to be an ongoing topic.

This issue we witness the birth of a new futuristic comic in Egypt, Pass By Tomorrow.  As Eihab Boraie reports in a recent article in Cairo Scene, comic culture is well established in Egyptian life:

Long before there were PlayStations, the internet or smart phones, Egyptians young and old used to bury their noses in comics books as an escape from the cacophony of the Cairene life. With the rise of technology, the passions for comic books faded but were not forgotten. Determined to bring back this medium to cultural light is Sherif Adel with Egypt’s newest Arabic satirical Sci Fi comic book series, Pass By Tomorrow.

The publisher's web site.

Darth Vader and Doctor Doom inhabit the publisher’s web site.

Adel told Boraie about the roots of Pass By Tomorrow:

“I was inspired by little novellas that were famous in 90s called Malaf el-Mustaqbal (Future Files) by Dr. Nabil Farouq,” he explains. The Future Files debuted in 1984 and ran until 2009 releasing 160 titles in that period and solidifying itself as the only Egyptian Sci Fi offering on the scene. Set in 2000, the not-so realistic, but always imaginative series followed the tales of the fictional Egyptian Scientific Intelligence Agency. According to Adel, “They got me into science fiction and painted a very positive and optimistic view about Egypt, where organised and forward thinking Egyptians were called upon to save the world hundreds of times.”

Inspired by the series, Adel set out to create his own vision of the future filled with all the humour of present day Egypt. “How I imagined the future is that it would still be a bit like it is now. Disorganised with crazy things happening all the time and from that picture I wanted to add funny satirical ideas about how Egyptians would deal within it,” describes Adel. Adel’s writing and illustrations manage to walk a fine, albeit funny, line in predicting how Egyptians would deal with an alien invasion through the eyes of series’ main character, Fahmy. Without giving too much away, Adel hints “that aliens are coming to Egypt, and while the world’s media is baffled as to why Egypt… Egyptian media spreads the news that it is because Egyptians are the most intelligent.“ With clever writing and wonderful illustrations, Adel achieves at creating a space-time wormhole between today’s reality and the twist-filled futuristic world he has created.

We wish Adel–and Egyptian comic book fans–the best of luck with Pass By Tomorrow.

For anyone who wants to keep up with the comic, the publisher’s web site is here and the Pass By Tomorrow Facebook page is here.

Happy Holidays From SF Around the World!

To everyone out there–no matter which holiday you celebrate, if any at all–happy holiday season from SF Around the World!

Around here it’s time to kick back and watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 version, of course) and Die Hard.

See you on the other side of the new year

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