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[INTERVIEW] Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim, Editors of PEOPLE OF COLO(UR) DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION

Nalo Hopkinson, born in Jamaica, has also lived in Trinidad, Guyana, and Canada. She is the author of eight books of fiction and a chapbook, the editor/co-editor of four fiction anthologies, and a fiction co-editor for the Lightspeed special edition “People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction.” She is a recipient of the John W. Campbell Award, the World Fantasy Award, the Andre Norton Award, and a two-time recipient of the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her novel “Midnight Robber” received Honorable Mention in Cuba’s Casa de las Americas prize for literature written in Creole. “Falling in Love With Hominids,” her second collection of short stories, appeared from Tachyon Publications in 2015. She is a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside, where she is part of a research cluster in science fiction which founded UCR’s programme in Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies. She is currently working  on “Blackheart Man,” a fantastical alternate history set in an imagined Caribbean, and (with artist John Jennings) on “Nancy Jack,” a graphic novel. She has been a juror for the Tiptree Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature.

Kristine Ong Muslim is the author of several books of fiction and poetry, the most recent being the short story collection Age of Blight (Unnamed Press, 2016). Widely published in magazines and anthologies, she grew up and continues to live in a rural town in southern Philippines.


Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get involved in People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction?

Kristine Ong Muslin: Nalo invited me.

CT: For you, what does it mean for PoC to “destroy” Science Fiction?

KOM: For me, the “destroy” in that statement refers to the smashing of barriers to inclusivity and multiplicity of voices, perspectives, experiences.

Nalo Hopkinson: Well, above all, it means for us to write it. And to bring our talent, our cultures, our histories, our languages, our experiences of the world to bear upon it, as any writer does. I don’t think we break science fiction at all. I think we contribute to it.

CT: What will be your criteria, or what are you looking for, in the stories to be included in this special issue?

KOM: One, the story has to fit the science fiction mold. And two, the story has to hit a nerve but in a good way, of course. To be blunt, a disproportionate number (relative to available slots for acceptance) of high-quality stories are in the slush right now. Just thinking about the looming deadline for the original fiction lineup, as well as the eventual elimination process and hard decision-making that go with it, is already giving me a headache.

NH: Hard to say. For me, it’s one of those things where you know it when you see it. I’m looking for stories that make me sit up and take notice. For engagement with language and style in ways that the genre doesn’t see enough of. For “oh no they didn’t” moments. For content that challenges my assumptions, rocks my world, and leaves my brain feeling changed.

CT: How did the rest of your team become involved in the project?

KOM: Referrals from the first few ones involved in the project.

NH:  I’d heard about Kristine’s work, she has editorial experience and the type of sensibility I think is a good one to bring to this project. And I liked very much the fact that she lives in the Philippines. We wanted international perspectives. As to how the others joined the project, John might be a better person to tell you what his process was.

CT: What are currently the challenges in funding and running PoC Destroy Science Fiction?

KOM: No challenges at all—funding-wise. The Kickstarter is a major success! As for the “running” part, everything’s systematic. Everyone has a specific role. Section deadlines were spelled out clearly. There shouldn’t be any serious problems in running the project.

NH: Another question for John.

CT: What are your plans to make sure PoC and diverse voices are included in the issue? What are some pitfalls you’re trying to avoid?

KOM: The guidelines operate based on the honor system, so the only possible pitfall I can think of is a repeat of Yi-Fen Chou.

NH: I’d like to find great stories from as many parts of the world as possible. We broadcasted and narrowcasted the call for submissions. For my part, I tried to get the word out to people who are information hubs in their communities, because they could propagate the call quickly. One challenge is that breaking science fiction means, well, breaking science fiction. Many communities of colour have a different approach to narratives of science; we can be more focused on what it means for a culture to have the means to control its world through scientific experimentation and technological innovation than on the exactitudes of how the science works. That statement is pretty overgeneralized, but it is an issue. The other is that many of our cultures have been hybridized, through globalization and through other means, or are outsider in other ways. A lot of our artistic and literary traditions value playing around with form and genre, culture-jamming them to express our experiences of the world. So I am a bit worried that having a POC Destroy Science Fiction issue and a separate POC Destroy Fantasy issue is too obedient to form, and risks great stories falling through the cracks because they aren’t one or the other. But this is where we as editors come in. After all, Damon Knight once said something along the lines of “Science fiction is what I’m pointing at when I say “science fiction.”” In the context of these two special issues of Lightspeed, we get to choose the work that we think fits.

CT: What are your long-term goals?

NH: Get this issue out. Hope that it adds to the great discussions, explorations and understandings of science fiction and race as they’re currently happening in the field. Give readers more wonderful stories to discover. Give POC writers another venue for their work. Finish my novel-in-progress.

CT: Anything else you want to plug?

NH: My short story collection “Falling in Love With Hominids” came out from Tachyon in August 2015.

4 Comments on [INTERVIEW] Nalo Hopkinson and Kristine Ong Muslim, Editors of PEOPLE OF COLO(UR) DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION

  1. TheAderian // February 16, 2016 at 9:09 pm //

    There’s a classic line in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, “If you’re going to shoot, shoot, don’t talk”. That meets don’t talk about what you’re going to do, just do it.

    I’ve been waiting forever for an actual Asian author to write a fantasy or science fiction story. I want to know how a character of that culture would actually think, instead of reading how some white author imagines how an Asian character thinks. Just the same I WILL NOT read a story with a female main character written by a man.

    Just write these stories, don’t talk about doing it.

  2. AncillaryEthics // February 17, 2016 at 10:56 am //

    TheAderian, go to a bookshop and pick a book by Liu Cixin or Ted Chiang? “Waiting forever” for the books already written… The self-righteous and offended masses speak again LOL (if you don’t get the reference first time, don’t bother, it’s too complex).

  3. @TheAderian: Ken Liu, Yoon Ha Lee, Wesley Chu, Malinda Lo, Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Cindy Pon, E. Lily Yu, John Chu, Julie Kagawa, Shweta Narayan

    And that’s just the authors I’ve read stuff by that I can think of off the top of my head.

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