From the Academy, “Science Fiction as a Worldwide Phenomenon: A Study of International Creation, Consumption and Dissemination”
Here at Around the World it’s considered a self-evident truth that the production and consumption of speculative fiction is an international, multi-cultural, polyglot activity. Otherwise, why have Around the World at all?
But just how international is it?
With regard specifically to science fiction, a brief paper entitled Science Fiction as a Worldwide Phenomenon: A Study of International Creation, Consumption and Dissemination from Elysia Celeste Wells at the Savannah College of Art and Design begins to outline an answer to that question.
The focus of this research is to determine whether science fiction is primarily English speaking and Western or global; being created and consumed by people in non-Western, non-English speaking countries…
Wells uses three methods to try to pick the issue apart:
Science fiction’s international presence was found in three ways, by network analysis, by examining a online retailer and with a survey. Condor, a program developed by GalaxyAdvisors was used to determine if science fiction is being talked about by non-English speakers. An analysis of the international Amazon.com websites was done to discover if it was being consumed worldwide. A survey was also conducted to see if people had experience with science fiction.
All three research methods revealed similar results. Science fiction was found to be international, with science fiction creators originating in different countries and writing in a host of different languages. English and non-English science fiction was being created and consumed all over the world, not just in the English speaking West.
Wells had limited tools at her disposal–for instance her work was hampered by her survey’s very small sample size and exclusively English-language format–but her efforts represent a useful starting point for further investigation.
Click the image below to get a copy of the paper in PDF format from the Around the World Library, or click the text link underneath the image to get a copy from Arxiv.org
From the Academy, “From Pyongyang to Mars: Sci-fi, Genre, and Literary Value in North Korea”
Speculative fiction is shaped by many things, from the era in which it’s created, to the specific goals and tastes of the creator, to the buying habits of its public. And amongst those factors, as with any other cultural product, are the aggregated aspirations, fears, and attitudes of the society in which it’s created.
So what form does it take in the exceptional, hermetic society of North Korea? I’d never asked myself the question, and the moment I saw the title of Benoit Berthelier’s article From Pyongyang to Mars: Sci-fi, Genre, and Literary Value in North Korea on SinoNK.com I kicked myself for not having considered it.
Early on, Berthelier gives us a thumbnail sketch of the origins of North Korean science fiction:
Science fiction first appeared in North Korea in the mid-1950s with two volumes of translations of short stories by writers from the Soviet Union. Drawing upon these models as well as European authors of early science-fiction such as H.G. Wells and Jules Vernes, North Korean writers started to produce their own sci-fi works in the mid 1960s. Sci-fi stories continued to appear infrequently in youth magazines throughout the next twenty years, but it is really only at the end of the 1980s that the genre took off.
And what caused science fiction to suddenly “take off” in the 80s? Like so many things in North Korea, it was an order straight from the top.
After a speech delivered by Kim Jong-Il in October 1988 called for the development of science fiction on a larger scale, the number of sci-fi works grew significantly. From space travel to immortality or underwater exploration, sci-fi stories cover a wide range of subjects within settings that usually exceed the national boundaries of North Korea. If the country remains the central point of most plots, foreign characters–both positive and negative–are much more common than in traditional fiction.
I would love to know what possessed Kim to suddenly demand more science fiction, like Stalin arbitrarily setting a new wheat production quota for the latest five-year plan. Maybe a clue to the answer lies in the didactic quality of North Korean science fiction that Berthelier identifies. For instance:
Family or love relationships sacrificed for the pursuit of scientific truth are common clichés of both literature and film… just like the image of a worker spending nights after nights [sic] trying to improve his factory’s machinery. But in each case, while the actual process of research is mentioned it is hardly ever described. Science is not the object of the story but works more as a kind of plot device through which traditional matters such as family values or devotion to the country can be addressed.
On the other hand, if science fiction can act as a means of delivering propaganda, it can provide an unusually liberated imaginative space even as it does so:
The international and exotic settings of these works give writers greater freedom in the depiction of criminality and violence, from murder to drug trafficking, sexual abuse, or cyber warfare. This in turn allows for a level of action as well as a variety of characters and villains (such as sea pirates or hackers) otherwise unheard of in the country’s literary tradition.
Berthelier’s article left me wanting to know much more, but it provides a tantalizing glimpse behind the veil of North Korean literary life, as well as showing science fiction in yet another of its international incarnations.
Yasser Bahjatt and Arabic Science Fiction
Yasser Bahjatt is a technologist, the first Saudi to attend Singularity University’s graduate study program, and an active member of the TED community.
Bahjatt believes that scientific innovation springs, at least in part, from a healthy science fiction culture, or at least that the two reinforce one another. (He’s not alone in this view, which–for instance–lies behind the creation of the Center for Science and Imagination at Arizona State University.) As a result, he wants to see science fiction–which is he says is now largely absent from Arabic culture–fostered in Arabic countries.
Toward that end, he helped found Yatakhayaloon, The League of Arabic Sci-Fiers (the Arabic portion of the name translates loosely as “they are imagining”). In an interview with Ares Magazine, Bahjatt describes Yatakhayaloon as:
… a long term experiment in social science to figure out whether there is a causality between SciFi and R&D. We still do not have any solid evidence of causality but have strong coloration data.
The idea actually started from a simpler question: “Can you mention one technological development that was not described in SciFi at least 20 years prior to its existence in reality?” This question started as a joke but the longer the joke went one that more I realized that no one can actually mention any such technology; and if they do, I would easily find its SciFi reference to prove them wrong.
So now with Yatakhayaloon we want to see if scientific development grows in the region with correlation to the amount of SciFi exposure and if any technologies would be developed from the region that we can clearly point out its reference in our SciFi. Wish us luck!
Bahjatt is also the co-author (with Ibraheem Abbas) of a best-selling Arabic science fiction novel, HWJN, a science fiction romance about the relationship between a jinn (or genie) named Hawjan who falls in love with a human woman, Sawsan, that became the top selling novel in Saudi Arabia. Bahjatt told Foreign Policy:
Most people would say this book is fantasy, because it includes jinn… but we believe Islam is a scientific religion, so we try to explain the claim of existence of such beings through speculative science… that is why we consider it science fiction.
Bahjatt referenced string theory, among other theoretical frameworks, that might explain the existence of jinn and other multidimensional beings.
But the path Bahjatt has chosen may not be as straightforward as one would hope.
Bahjatt gave a TED talk on his project in 2012. In November 2013, HWJN was removed from some book shops in Saudi Arabia on the order of representatives from the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, although reports indicate it hasn’t been officially banned and is still available for sale. In December of the same year, however, HWJN was banned in Kuwait and Qatar.
How Bahjatt’s initiative will fare in the long run is still an open question.
Bahjatt’s TED talk is embedded below, as is the trailer for HWJN.
You can read more about Bahjatt and the tribulations of HWJN in the Ares Magazine interview (“Yasser Bahjatt, Author”) and (if you create a free account) in a substantial article in the journal Foreign Policy (“Can Science Fiction Survive in Saudi Arabia”).
Bonus Feature (With Free Stuff): The Ten Halloweens Project Turns Two Years Old
Around the World is devoted to all speculative fiction, whether it’s science fiction, fantasy, horror, or something that fits into no specific genre at all. And since “horror” is on that list, Halloween naturally has a special place in our hearts.
Apropos of the upcoming visit from the Great Pumpkin, I’ll mention that the Ten Halloweens project–a decade-long art project in ten parts with a supernatural theme–has just turned two.
For each Halloween over a span of ten years, from 2013 to 2022, I’m releasing a new, free work.
Last year saw the release of The Haunt in the Meadow, 100 years of haunt contained in 12 poems, illustrated with photographs. It was available free, but only from mid-October to November first. You could read it online or download it in either ePUB and Kindle format, but once the time was up, it disappeared.
Now, as year two rolls around, The Haunt has reappeared alongside the new, 2014 installment of Ten Halloweens, so for a brief time you can once again download last year’s Halloween treat as well as this year’s. And of course next year there will be another installment, another the year after that, and so on, all the way to 2022, for a total of ten Halloweens.
Different iterations of Ten Halloweens will take different forms. The first year it was poetry and this year it’s a short story. In future years it may be a musical composition, a series of visual images, a video, or just about anything else. They may have a traditionally supernatural theme or be otherworldly in some other way appropriate to the season.
This year’s installment is a short story called The Terminal Case, once again available as a free ebook. Think spirits only haunt old houses and dark, gothic crypts? How about a bright, sleek, international airport?
Ghosts are mostly associated with old buildings rather than modern ones, but I did quite a bit of background reading to get ready for my investigation and I was surprised by some of the places that are supposed to be haunted. Whenever new territories open up through exploration, or new spaces are created by technology, ghosts show up to occupy them. There are already rumors of a ghost on the Kunlun Multiuse Space Platform that China launched last year. A female taikonaut involved in a love triangle is supposed to have killed her rival, cutting the other woman adrift during an EVA to float off amidst the dead satellites and other space debris, making it look like an accident.
An airport may not look much like a traditional haunted house, but if we already have space ghosts then it makes sense that there are aviation ghosts too. There’s an industrial airport in Nevada haunted by an employee who shot three of his co-workers and then himself. There are aviator ghosts from World War II in Egypt and Italy, and there’s a squadron of half-visible kamikazes near Ulithi Atoll who will swarm a ship and then fade into the clouds and spume. Ghosts from more than one commercial air disaster are supposed to gather at their crash site on the anniversary of the day they died. And then there are my subjects, Toronto’s own star-crossed lovers, Veronica Heinecke and Lawrence Dean.
Each year’s iteration of the project also comes with an image I’ve created to help set the tone. The annual image may be related to the new work that appears that year, or it may stand entirely on its own. In 2013, and again this year, the images have been standalones.
Here’s this year’s image, “Darla Can’t Sleep, Doesn’t Dream,” taken from the series Circus Somniorum (Dream Circus).
Happy Halloween everyone!