Awesome Campaign for a Grant to Increase Diversity in SF
Ellen B. Wright and Faye Bi are both speculative fiction fans, they both work in book publishing, and they’re both runners. Last year the two joined forces for an awesome cause that overlaps substantially with the mandate of this blog: a marathon to raise funds for a brand new writing grant (to be administered by the Speculative Literature Foundation) that will go toward supporting diversity in science fiction and fantasy.
As the pair noted on their fundraising page, science fiction and fantasy fans are a diverse group, but our beloved SF books, television, and movies don’t always reflect that diversity:
“…those of us who don’t fit into one particular box (and some who do) have noticed something. There’s one story that’s told in the genre over and over again. You’ve probably seen it. It’s about a straight white man, or often a bunch of straight white men, creating things with science, wielding magic, saving the world, blowing stuff up. If there are women or people of color involved, we’re probably love interests or sidekicks. We probably only talk to, or about, the white male lead. We probably die first, or to provide motivation for the protagonist.”
None of this is news to Around the World—after all, recognizing and enjoying diversity in speculative fiction is what it’s all about. But it’s nice to see someone taking concrete steps to do something about it.
Ellen and Faye teamed up with the Speculative Literature Foundation, which already administers the Older Writers Grant and the Gulliver Travel Research Grant, to create the Diverse Worlds Grant, which will:
“… help writers from backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in the genre to start and continue publishing. As good science fiction and fantasy worlds should, this grant will welcome all kinds of diversity: gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, ability level, religion, etc.”
The two women ran the 2013 NYC Marathon to raise funds for the new grant. Their efforts were a huge success, and the campaign exceeded its $2,500.00 goal, raising a total of $3,356.00, or 134% of their target amount.
So congratulations to Ellen and Faye, and congratulations to the speculative fiction community, which will be deepened and enriched by their efforts.
Rebooting the Original Robots: Classic Czech SF Revisited
The word “robot” came into the English language via a Czech play called R.U.R., written by Karel Čapek in 1920. R.U.R. also marked the first appearance of a theme that would be revisited more than once, notably in the Terminator films: a robot uprising.
Now, R.U.R. is having a renaissance of sorts, having been adapted into the short film R.U.R. Genesis. The original play was set in the 1950s or 1960s—then far in the future. The film is set in the same time period, in an alternate version of 1969, but from the vantage point of 2014, of course, the 1960s have become retro-futuristic.
The team at Helicon Arts Cooperative, who previously made the feature Yesterday Was A Lie (2008), hope to turn R.U.R. Genesis into a feature as well. The cast includes Chase Masterson, whom SF fans may know from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
You can watch the R.U.R. Genesis online and a behind-the-scenes featurette below. The film’s home page is here.
You can read the original R.U.R., translated into English by David Wyllie, here. You can also see a production of it on YouTube in the videos embedded beneath the R.U.R. Genesis videos.
R.U.R. Genesis Featurette
R.U.R. (the original play) Act I
R.U.R. (the original play) Act II
R.U.R. (the original play) Act III
SF News from Nigeria
Item One: Nigeria has a thriving film industry, often referred to as Nollywood. When Ficson Films—a new Nigerian company that provides film production, event coverage, documentaries, and commercials—wanted to announce their presence recently, they did it in an imaginative way: they released a short science fiction video on YouTube.
The Day They Came, Episode 1 (embedded below) doesn’t have a very expansive plot, but maybe it’ll be fleshed out in later episodes. A man comes out of a house to have a cigarette and clear his head. Everything’s normal—a rooster crows somewhere nearby. Then he hears something and looks toward the horizon, which is when the aliens arrive and all hell breaks loose.
It’s a fun little short and, given the number of times it’s been posted and reposted on Facebook and elsewhere, it appears to be doing what it’s supposed to do: getting attention.
Item Two: Nigeria is also the location for a small SF miracle—the discovery of nine “lost” episodes of Doctor Who, which came to light just in time for the recent 50th anniversary of the show (BBC page, Wikipedia page). The trove includes four episodes of the six-part story The Web of Fear, in which the Doctor battles robot Yetis who are spreading a poisonous fungus on the London Underground.
- “It’s official: Missing Doctor Who episodes have been found!” on io9
- “About time: Nine ‘lost’ Doctor Who episodes discovered in Nigeria” on The Guardian
Swedish Prime Minister’s Science Fiction Novel Becomes a Hit Play
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away the Monty Python gang had a brief gag announcement, “And now, a massage from the Swedish Prime Minister,” followed by the slapping sounds of a massage being administered.
Well, the real Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, wrote a dystopian novel called Det Sovande Folket (“The Sleeping People” or “The Sleeping Nation”) twenty years ago, and by all accounts it was a book with a message (not the subtle variety, but the hit-you-over-the-head kind).
Det Sovande Folket was all but forgotten, and isn’t in print any more, although a pirated version is available on internet torrent sites. But now that Reinfeldt is running the country it’s become a hot property and it’s been turned into a play that has sold out every performance. Reinfeldt has refused to comment.
Written when he was 28, the novel is set this year, in 2013, making his tenure in office a perfect time to resurrect it. It portrays a Sweden that is feeling the effects of twenty years of Social Democratic government, where the populace is divided into the Fools, who do all the work and who finance the welfare state, and the Sleeping Brains, who lazily watch television all day long while living on benefits. Sounds positively Ayn-Rand-ian!
- “Swedish Prime Minister’s sci-fi novel becomes hit play” on UPI.com
- “PM’s sci-fi book becomes surprise stage success” on The Local
- “Fredrik Reinfeldt” on Wikipedia
Hit Film Gravity Crosses Borders
Caution: spoilers ahead.
There’s some debate as to whether or not the film Gravity (home page, Wikipedia, YouTube trailer), which stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and which set an all-time record for an October film opening last year, should be classified as science fiction. There’s nothing fundamentally speculative about it—everything in it could happen today, with current technology and in the current social context—so maybe it’s better considered simply as a space-based thriller.
Whatever the merits of the arguments on each side, it certainly features a setting associated with science fiction (indeed, a setting that was science fiction until fairly recently), has been well received by SF fans, and is considered SF by many people, so I’ll let that classification stand for the purposes of this column.
Being a major Hollywood release, Gravity doesn’t fall within Around the World’s mandate in any obvious way, but it has several international aspects, both in story and execution. The film was co-written, co-produced, and directed by Alphonso Cuarón, the Mexican director of Spanish-language films like Y Tu Mama También and English language features like Children of Men.
And then there’s the Chinese connection. The massive Chinese film audience is being courted by innumerable film projects these days, often through co-productions with Chinese companies or through the casting of Chinese actors.
But as the International Business Times notes, Gravity appears to be have its sights set on China using story elements alone. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) first takes refuge in a state-of-the-art Chinese space station, then hitches a ride home in a Chinese capsule—giving uncommon cinematic recognition to the growing Chinese space program. It couldn’t come at a better time: China’s space program recently celebrated its first decade of manned flight, and it has plans to return man to the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 in 1972.
And it appears possible that the Chinese story elements succeeded in pleasing Chinese authorities, because the film has been approved for distribution in China.
The International Speculative Fiction Alumni Department: The Entire Roster from International Speculative Fiction #2
Much of the content that will appear on this blog in the future will also appear in the column of the same name in International Speculative Fiction, where I’m the non-fiction editor. For this initial column at least, all of the content appeared recently in ISF.
The ISF column regularly checks in on authors who’ve been featured in its pages and given that ISF features some of the best international voices in speculative fiction (ISF#4 featured three winners of the World Fantasy Award), it seems like a good idea to maintain the author roundup in the blog even though it isn’t explicitly tied to the publication where their work appeared. With that in mind, here’s some recent news on ISF authors.
ISF #2 featured fiction by three authors, Ken Liu, Lavie Tidhar, and me, Nas Hedron, and each of these alumni has recent news.
Ken Liu has actually appeared in two issues of ISF (#2 and #4). Given that this is only issue #5, that makes him practically a member of the family. Recently Ken had a brief profile on the Malaysian news site The Star Online. It recaps his historic sweep of the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and World Fantasy Award in 2012, the first work of fiction to take all three awards in a year. Ken was in nearby Singapore as part of the Read! Singapore program. Until now he has focused on short fiction, but told the Star that he’s now at work on his first novel, which he hopes to finish by the end of the year. I’m sure I’m not the only one at ISF looking forward to it.
Lavie Tidhar, meanwhile, has been interviewed at length for the current issue of Clarkesworld, in “Deep Into the Dark: A Conversation with Lavie Tidhar.”
Finally, I recently released a free soundtrack album to accompany my 2012 magic realist novelette The Virgin Birth of Sharks (home page, Amazon.com page). The story is about a Desi street kid in Toronto who learns that she was, inexplicably, conceived while her mother was in prison and had no contact at all with men. The Album is The Virgin Birth of Sharks: the Soundtrack for the Movie in Your Head.
The album includes music ranging from blues to tango to ambient, and features artists from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, Ukraine, and the United States, and is available as a free download here.
Two tracks are embedded below. The first is a beautifully constructed piece of music by Jason Brock, an independent musician whose organization, ArtisTech Media, operates the remix site ccMixter.org. Jason built the track around a rich, tasty organ riff from French electronic music mogul Morusque (who also contributed a track of his own to the album).
The second is a remix of my own, featuring tracks available through ccMixter.org and my own spoken word recording.
If you know of an item you think should be included in the next installment of Around the World, please send it to us at ISFAroundTheWorld@gmail.com.
(Adapted from a column pulished in International Speculative Fiction #5, January 18, 2014)