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 Medium.com 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.

Texts

Sites


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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This entry was posted in Afrofuturism, From the Academy, Pakistani SF, Swedish SF and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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