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MIND MELD: Guide to International SF/F (Part II)

There’s a great big world out there! So we decided to ask folks from all over about the sf/f scene in their own countries/languages. This week we’ve got responses from the Netherlands, China, Poland, France, Italy, Finland, Russia and India. And the answers kept pouring in, so we’ll be finishing up next week, for a total of three weeks!

Q: What is going on right now in the international sf/f scene that anglophone readers might be missing out on?
Jetse de Vries
Jetse de Vries is a technical specialist for a propulsion company by day, and an SF editor, writer and reader at night. He was part of the Interzone editorial team from March 2004 until September 2008. His non-fiction articles, reviews, essays and interviews have appeared in Interzone, The Fix, New York Review of Science Fiction, Focus, and others. He writes SF since 1999, and had his first story published in November 2003. His stories have appeared in about two dozen publications on both sides of the Atlantic, and include Amityville House of Pancakes, vol. 1, JPPN 2, Nemonymous 4, Northwest Passages: A Cascadian Anthology, DeathGrip: Exit Laughing, HUB Magazine #2, Clarkesworld Magazine, SF Waxes Philosophical, Postscripts 14 and Flurb, amongst others. Recent reprints include stories in the A Mosque Among the Stars anthology (which portrays Islam and/or Muslims in a positive light), The Fleas They Carried (a relief anthology for animail aid) and The Apex Book of World SF (which celebrates SF from around the globe: upcoming September 2009). Right now, Jetse is in the middle of editing an anthology of near future, optimistic SF called Shine for Solaris Books, slated for an early 2010 release.

There is a huge lot going on in the international SF/F scene, more than any one person can keep up with (which is also true for English-language SF/F), with the added complication of language barriers.

I have traveled extensively for the day job (although now I have settled down a bit), and have always been fascinated by other places, other people and other cultures. There is a wealth of stories in every corner of this (admittedly round) globe. Obviously, since it is written predominantly by anglophone writers, English-language SF is mostly set in western countries with predominantly western characters (many exceptions notwithstanding).

Personally, I like seeing more settings and viewpoints from non-western countries. To encourage this, I have started a series of “Optimism in literature around the World, and SF in Particular” on the Shine blog. So far the following countries have been featured:


I have approached several other people (I also asked them to send something for this Mind Meld), and hope to hear back from them. While I’m at it: if a Mind Meld reader wants to send me a piece about “Optimism in literature around the World and SF in particular” of their country, then contact me at shineanthology@gmail.com. If I accept the piece for publication on the Shine blog, I’m willing to pay $50.

Note that Fabio Fernandes has also published an article about speculative fiction in Brazil on Fantasy Book Critic (preceded, more or less, by an article called “An Overview of Indian Speculative Fiction” by Mihir Wanchoo). Charles Tan is also a tireless promoter of SF & F from The Philippines.

I suspect he will be on this Mind Meld feature, as well, but nevertheless Lavie Tidhar has set up the World SF News blog (originally to promote The Apex Book of World SF, which he edited, but I know how such things can have a life of its own) with news from SF around the world.

Very recently my eye fell upon Ernest Hogan’s blog where he mentions African SF movies (and Ernesto has written novels like High Aztec and Smoking Mirror Blues that focus on Mexico’s original inhabitants). There is so much going on we don’t know about, so I’m mostly pointing you to people who are – hopefully – more in the know.

Typically – I started writing in English when I began writing SF – I’m not very much in the know about Dutch and Flamish SF. Actually I asked a good friend to write a piece about Dutch SF for the Shine blog, but he begged off because he was too busy. I might try him again.

So with the caveat that my knowledge of the Dutch SF scene is far from comprehensive, the authors and things I am most aware of are:

  • Felix Thijssen: nowadays he writes mostly thrillers, but he started out writing books for children, and wrote SF in the 70s, most prominently a space opera series featuring his character Mark Stevens;

  • Hugo Raes: best known as a literary author, Raes also turned his hands to SF with several novels and in several short stories;

  • Tais Teng: makes most of his money writing books for children (that have been widely translated), but he turns his hand to SF and fantasy, as well (it strikes me that Thijssen, Raes and Teng do not limit themselves to one genre);

  • Paul Harland Prijs: a yearly competition for the best genre story, with a main prize of €500;

  • NCSF: Dutch contact centre for SF. They are – as far as I know – the main place for Dutch SF fandom, and organise the BeneluxCon;

  • Pure Fantasy: Dutch F/SF/H magazine that is firmly trying to pave the way

Again, this is a personal overview that is woefully incomplete.

Yan Wu
Yan Wu is an associate professor of Beijing Normal University. He began sf writing and publishing in 1979. Now he is the only one teaching sf as literature in a university that has a Master’s program on sf criticism. My short story “Mouse Pad” has been translated into English and published in Internova I.

I think that Chinese science fiction comes inevitably under three influences. First of all, it has been shaped by the Anglophone science fictions, with characteristics quite familiar to western readers. Secondly, it has been intensively influenced by local traditional culture. Thirdly, it reflects the specific demand of a certain era. As a result, it would be quite interesting to read Chinese science fiction from these three perspectives.

On the one hand, Chinese science fiction has a very strong proximity to the Chinese fairy tale, fable, folk tale, and the historical story. Intertextuality also frequently occurs between science fiction and Chinese folk tales. For instance, Pan Hai-tian’s story “Legend of Yanshi” is closely associated with some tales in the Spring-Autumn and Warrior State periods as well as Chinese values and ideas on authority, family, and technology. In addition to that, a great number of works convey a strong message of Chinese attitudes towards nature, like the reflections on Taoism’s value of the “harmonious relation between humans and nature”. In Han Song’s novelette “Escape from the Sorrow Mountain,” it is not impossible to imagine the occurrence of spiritual communication between Buddha and humans in Chinese culture. Likewise, most of Wang Jinkang’s works have been focused on taking over the position of rationality by Chinese harmonious ideas. The distinctive example is his novel Balance between life and death.

On the other hand, the dominant characteristics of specific eras show up in the Chinese science fiction of that era. Specifically, the early Chinese science fictions in the later-Qing era put great emphasis on the advocacy of building a wealthy and powerful nation. After the foundation of the People Republic of China, Chinese science fiction then shifted its focus on exalting communist ideals. With the dismantling of the Gang of Four, the lament on what was destroyed by the Great Cultural Revolution was the main theme in Chinese science fiction. Now prospects on China’s future have become the popular topic in Chinese science fiction. What does China’s future look like? Han Song’s Red Ocean and Liu Cixing’s Three Bodies and it sequel The Black Forests provided us their different insights on this issue. The former portrays the inescapable fate of China as one of the nations eventually declining due to environment degradation and destroyed by the inhumanity inflicted on the oceans. The latter, in an optimistic way, describes the leading role played by China in the world resistance movement in facing the invasion of a devil alien civilization. The two novels represent the top achievements of contemporary Chinese science fiction.

Jacek Dukaj
Jacek Dukaj is an award-winning Polish science fiction author, as well as a critic. An animated movie by Tomasz Bagiński based on his short story “The Cathedral” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003. His most recent novel, Lód (Ice, 2008) has won nearly every Polish genre award (Zajdel, Żuławski, Sfinks), as well as several mainstream ones, including The European Prize for Literature.

I’m not sure there is such thing as an “international sf/f scene”. The question implies the existence of a second, independent bloodstream of culture, parallel to the English one. Although it can look like this from the US perspective, it is a false simplification (I’m still baffled by the category “foreign films” being used in American cinemas. It reminds me of categories from a Chinese Encyclopedia described by Borges, like “all animals that belong to the emperor” or “innumerable animals”).

The model I’ve chosen would be closer to the picture of a neuron or a star: a massive center of global culture and separate clusters of local cultures connected to the center by dendrites or plasma jets. These clusters have no connection between one another – except the one going through the center. Our cluster of SF-F literature consists of Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Czech Republic. Relations here are not symmetrical: Polish-Czech translations happen both ways, but we translate much more from Russian language than into Russian. What goes on in other clusters, we only get to know when a certain book, certain author succeeds in the center: in the American/English market.

For nowadays the pressure of global culture is just too enormous. It’s like standing under the waterfall and trying to spit upstream – that’s the appropriate image of cultural exchange between any given cluster and the center, I think. So we have the same trends, the same bestsellers, the same niches – and in SF-F, firmly rooted in pop-culture, it’s even more evident. Our local versions can differ in scenery and historical references. For example: RPG-like fantasy adventures in 17th century Poland; satirical SF-F exploiting post-Soviet, provincial mentality; Blade-like vampires in contemporary Poland serving in special forces; alternative/future visions of powerful Poland written as techno-thrillers or New Weird etc.

There were bigger differences a generation ago. I’d like to mention a school of Polish sociological science-fiction (anti-totalitarian, dystopian), and then – religious SF-F (not Bible-fables like Left Behind or recent novels by Anne Rice, but serious dialogues between the reason and the faith). The first trend degenerates now into a form of anti-EU, right-wing SF, not unlike American fantasies about global government conspiracies.

Anyway, as always, the most important things are not trends, but individuals. Andrzej Sapkowski has already been translated. What good Polish SF-F are you still deprived of? I think you would like novels by Jarosław Grzędowicz, very popular now with hybrids of SF, fantasy and horror, well written and fast-paced. At the other end of spectrum – original “literary SF-F” by Marek S. Huberath, with strong metaphysical undertones, not for young readers.

Lionel Davoust
Lionel Davoust is one of the most remarked upon French writers of his generation – and something of a personal patchwork. Originally an engineer in fisheries dynamics studying marine mammals, he returns to his true calling at the turn of the century: literature. He first edits the French fantasy magazine Asphodale before focusing solely on SF&F translation and writing. His stories have been noted by the French and Belgian press (Le Monde, Le Soir); sometimes bitter-sweet or just plain crazy, he loves to change styles and voices. “L’Île close”, winner of a major French award (Imaginales award), will be translated in the Interfictions 2 anthology edited by Delia Sherman and Christopher Barzak and published by the Interstitial Arts Foundation and Small Beer Press.

I think that, over the years, a distinct taste of SF&F has developed in non-English speaking countries, giving rise to different and specific currents. If we take the genre in its widest sense, we have seen the appearance of magical realism mainly through Latin America, for instance.

Europe is currently very strong in SF&F and has respectfully detached itself from the influence of the great “golden age” writers, carving its own way. There is a sensitivity, a reflexion on the weight of history coupled with the tradition of the great adventure novel to European SF&F that makes it a bit distinct from the anglophone classics. It is also tinged with light poetry and romanticism that blurs the classical borders between the genres and several true SF&F books are actually marketed as mainstream, enjoying a wide audience. Many French writers have much fun playing on a variety of cultures, from the diversity of folklore to some light accents and reworkings of classical European philosophy.

Unfortunately, from a foreign point of view, the anglophone market feels quite closed to foreign literature (although this is slowly changing). This leads to the risk of missing out on budding currents and approaches of SF&F which might evolve into major movements. Cross-pollinization is always important in culture because it thrives primarily on evolution. It is often said that some anglophone publishers will not even look at foreign SF&F because why would they want to read and translate the same stuff that is already produced in English? Well, that’s the key: that’s not the same stuff, and some publishers are indeed already seeking out new foreign writers and approaches. Our sincere thanks to them!

Sergio Altieri
Sergio is currently the Managing Editor for Mondadory Mass Market, a division of straight-to-paperback books that are sold in newsstands and kiosks nationwide in Italy. Mondadori Mass Market publishes about 220 books a year on four different genres: Sci-FI, Mystery-Thriller, Spy-story/hard action, Romance. He also worked with Jim Morrow on the translation from Italian into English of “Sepultura”, by main Italian Author Valerio Evangelisti, which appeared in the SFWA European Hall of Fame anthology.

There’s a whole roster of Italian Authors that have a great output in horror, New-Weird, fantasy and sci-fi. So, here we go:

  • The great Valerio Evangelisti, whose work is translated in France and Spain. His Inquisitor Eymerich series — which has now reached more than ten novels — is an exceptional example of genre-mixing, from historical, to supernatural, to apocalyptic;

  • Licia Troisi is the best-selling author of the Overworld Chronicles, a sprawling fantasy saga aimed at the young adult market and translated in many European languages ;

  • Giuseppe Genna, although not properly a sci-fi author, is bridging the gap between literary conspiracy thrillers and weird/supernatural tales;

  • Gianfranco Nerozzi, a Bologna-based author, is a main voice in pure horror stories and hard-action thrillers;

  • Danilo Arona is a unique crafter of supernatural and New Weird thrillers;

  • Giovanni De Matteo, Sandro Battisti and others write a new trend in Sci-Fi called “Connectivism”;

  • Stefano Di Marino, one of the most prolific Italian authors of hard-action thrillers — his Professional series has reached 27 novels (plus countless novellas) in 15 years — and is now venturing in fantasy and supernatural as well;

  • Adriano Barone and Samuel Marolla — whose anthologies are soon to be published by Mondadori — are fresh new voices in horror/new weird.

The list could be a lot longer. Bottom line: Italy is a hot cauldron of excellent authors and challenging concepts. Glad I could contribute to this debate.

Irma Hirsjarvi
Irma is a Ph.D. researcher at the Research Centre for Contemporary Culture at the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland

I published my Ph.D research about Finnish sf fandom on March 2009 (Faniuden siirtymiä. Suomalaisten science fiction fanien verkostot. Nykykultuurin julkaisuja 98, 2009/Mediations of fandom. Networks of Finnsh science fiction fandom). While doing it from the perspective of contemporary culture studies I was fascinated by the way the early ideas of sf arrived to our country through literary activists, translators and critics since late 1980’s, and how the members of Finnish fandom have taken a strong hold in all those roles since the 1970’s.

In this context I think one of the major things happening in the small language areas as well in the large non English areas are related to international fandom and their activism. A small Finnish fandom, for example, has created a major literary network which affects strongly not only in fandom publications and literary events but also in many ways into mainstream literature. People of sf fandom have become the critics, writers and teachers of sf and they have many roles in distributing the genre, too, as specialists of the field, also in international scale.

I have understood that slipping of the elements of sf into the mainstream literature is an international phenomenon, but also localization process is something that should be looked in an international scale. In Finland there has been a clear shift from copying the Anglo-American motives into Finnish towards using national and even themes from folklore in a fresh way in science fiction. In this sense sf and religion is the area where I expect the most interesting stuff to be published in near future.

Rafał Dębski
Rafał Dębski is a Polish fantasy, crime and historical fiction writer, author of 12 books, as well as the editor in chief of the Science Fiction, Fantasy i Horror magazine.

Western literature, and particularly Anglo-Saxon literature, is rather hermetic, not willing to open itself to other markets. The publishing policy, focused only on authors writing in English leads to the Western readers being devoid of ability to acquaint themselves with valuable books created by writers from other regions of the world. Meanwhile, interesting things happen everywhere. For example, in Poland.

Jacek Dukaj, Jarosław Grzędowicz, Maja Lidia Kossakowska, Anna Kańtoch, Łukasz Orbitowski, Andrzej Sapkowski, Jacek Komuda are just examples of a whole range of Polish authors worth noticing by readers all around the world. Each of these writers represents a different approach to science fiction or fantasy, brings something new, fresh into it. It ranges from sublime, philosophical literature, to horror, historical fantasy, fantasy works that can be called classical novels, and classic fantasy and science fiction, all of it in various shades and colors, spiced up with tasty plot twists, beautiful language and literary techniques. I am aware that to an extent I am unfair to a dozen, if not several dozen other writers, whom I haven’t listed here, but listing them all and saying why each one of them is worth knowing would take too much space – Polish genre fiction is exceptionally rich and to that extent it does not stray from world standards. The problem is absolutely not its level, but the aforementioned lack of openness of Western publishers to cultural currents from this part of Europe.

But I would like to mention not only Poles here. For some time now, I have been translating books by Russian authors. And I must say that beyond Poland’s eastern borders there are works not only just worth our attention, but also ones of which one could without any risk say that they should satisfy even the most demanding reader. Russian literature did not end with the Strugastky brothers, just like Polish literature did not die with Stanisław Lem. The Russians write. They write a lot. Their writing – of course – varies, but one can definitely find real literary gems there.

I am deeply convinced that readers from the US, UK or France would be surprised, were they able to acquaint themselves with the works of writers from countries located east of Germany, which often seem to be distant, even though they are actually within an arm’s reach. And it would definitely be a positive surprise, because literature that is being created here is definitely a bit different from what an average citizen of Western Europe and the United States is accustomed to, but different does not equal worse.

Maria Galina
Maria Galina is a Russian science fiction writer, as well as translator of English-language sf and a critic. Her fantasy novel Iramification has recently been translated into English.

Being a Russian writer and critic, I am mostly interested in our own literary news but one interesting event took place during this April: Academia Rossica presented top Russian authors at the London book fair: by a very meaningful coincidence almost all of them are related to the sci-fi genre. For example, famous writer, journalist and poet Dmitry Bykov (http://academia-rossica.org/en/literature/russian-literature-week-2009/writers2/dmitry-bykov2) presented his new novel Enlisted – the first installment of a grotesque fantasy trilogy. It is not translated yet but his famous and provocative anti-utopia about Russia’s eternal fate –«ЖД» (in English it is titled Jewhad) will soon be on the bookshelves of real and virtual bookshops and I advise all readers and critics who vote for “intellectual” SciFi and “Gogol-style” Russian literature to pay attention to it. An Academia Rossica poster promises it “to be a bomb” – I am not sure if it will be one in the West but in Russia it definitely was. Also two books by Russian Booker Prize winner Olga Slavnikova (http://academia-rossica.org/en/literature/russian-literature-week-2009/writers2/olga-slavnikova2) were presented: her prize-winning, eloquent futurology novel 2017 and a short story collection – also non-realistic, they will both be published in English soon.

Being egoistic, I also want to mention that my fantasy novel Iramification (Glas publishing house), translated into English by Amanda Love Darragh this year was awarded the Academia Rossica prize for the best translation (http://academia-rossica.org/en/literature/rossica-prize/2009-awards) – but this is mostly thanks to Amanda, the translator and to the editor, Natasha Perova though I humbly think that the original is not bad.

I also want English speaking readers to pay attention to our literature sci-fi heritage – the brilliant 7 Stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “a writer-visionary, an unsung genius” (George Shengeli) who died in obscurity in 1950 but since 1989 has started to be recognized by Russians as one of their great prose writers of the 20th century (http://academia-rossica.org/en/literature/rossica-prize/2007-awards) published by GLAS and translated by Joanne Turnbull.

Jean-Louis Trudel
Born in Toronto, Jean-Louis Trudel holds degrees in physics, astronomy, and the history and philosophy of science. Since 1994, he has authored a couple of novels published in France, two fiction collections, and twenty-four young adult books published in Canada. His short stories in French have appeared in magazines like imagine… and Solaris, and in various other venues. In English, his short fiction has been published in several Canadian and U.S. anthologies, but also in magazines like On Spec and Prairie Fire. When time allows, he also does translations and science fiction criticism.

Short answer: come to Anticipation in Montréal in August to find out; as much as we can, we’ll provide answers to this question straight out of the horses’ mouth.

Long answer: “What aren’t they missing?” would be the better question. The number of SF&F novels and short stories translated into English is ridiculously low and the U.S. market may not even always benefit from the translations published in Great Britain or Canada. In those markets, one-time translations of major authors aren’t always followed up because the initial translation was not deemed a success and because publishers absurdly equate the situation of an author with an established career and successful body of work in another language with that of a beginning writer. And, yet, there is much more reason to believe that a successful writer can build an audience for himself or herself in translation than a new author picked at random (assuming that the translations are of acceptable quality, which is a different issue).

Meanwhile, bestselling Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski is just starting to be translated, while I still await an English translation of some of the other novels by Germany’s Andreas Eschbach, starting with Jesus Video. Or take Italy’s best-selling novelist Valerio Evangelisti, who has been reasonably well translated into French, Spanish, and German, while only a short story of his can be read in English, as far as I know. From Spain, Juan Miguel Aguilera is only known in English for his comics work, as best as I can tell. Und so weiter.

From France, outside of special cases like Houellebecq or Werber, works are only trickling out in English translation: a new collection from Jean-Claude Dunyach, a fantasy novel by Pierre Pevel… Yet, there are many more authors and works that deserve translating, or that might be found interesting or entertaining. Looking at the list of winners of one of the top awards in French SF&F, the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire, one has to go back to 1983 to find a winning novel that was translated into English: The Children’s Wing by Pierre Billon, which was translated in Canada in 1995. The 1982 winner was also translated in Canada, as The Silent City by Élisabeth Vonarburg, in 1988.

Otherwise, one has to go all the way back to the 1974 winner to find a non-Canadian translation of a French SF novel, Chronolysis by Michel Jeury, translated in 1980 for Macmillan with an introduction by Theodore Sturgeon. Unless I’m mistaken, that is it: none of the other novels recognized as the best in France over a span of more than thirty years has ever been read in English.

To be fair, some other winning authors have been translated into English, such as Maurice Dantec and Antoine Volodine, but not their award-winning works. While I haven’t read all of the winning works myself, I know enough of them to recognize the great variety of works that have been rewarded by the Grand Prix: both science fiction and fantasy novels, including some that verged on the surrealistic; massive tomes, serial novels, fix-ups; books featuring lyrical prose, heavy-hitting action, sensitive portrayals of inner lives, political works, epic quests… Obviously, I could name a few favourites, such as La Horde du contrevent by Alain Damasio or Demain, une oasis by Ayerdhal, but that would slight the tremendous diversity of French SF over that time span. Clearly, it is much easier to just list the available translations.

In comparison, French-speaking Canadians have not done too badly, due to the bilingual nature of the country and governmental support for translation. Authors such as Sylvie Bérard, Joël Champetier, Suzanne Martel, Esther Rochon, Daniel Sernine, and Élisabeth Vonarburg have all had novels translated, as well as numerous short stories. And Yves Meynard penned one fantasy novel directly in English, The Book of Knights. The May 2009 issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction includes a partial bibliography of these translations. On the whole, given the size of the originating body of literature, the available translations provide a quite fair sampling of the SF&F in that part of the francophone world.

The question here is asking about the present, but it is worth looking at the past record if only because present-day works in a given language may not be fully intelligible without some familiarity with older works. Can a novel like Catherine Dufour’s Le Goût de l’immortalité [The Taste of Immortality] in 2005 be understood without some appreciation of politically-positioned French SF novels going back to the Seventies? So, while anglophone readers may be missing out on all sorts of French SF&F books today, from the gripping YA fantasy of Pierre Grimbert to the grand space operas of Laurent Genefort and Laurent McAllister, the masterpieces that have come before should not be forgotten either.

Arvind Mishra
Dr. Mishra has nearly 1000 popular science articles, essays, SF stories published in magzines and newspapers of national repute, viz; Dharmayug, Saptahik Hindustan, Kadmbini, Jansatta, Sahara Samay, Vigyan Pragati, Aaviskar etc. Also, his SF stories are acknowledged and praised by the Czech republic’s S.F. writers. He has had stories translated into the Czech, French and German languages. He is currently the Assistant Director of Fisheries/ Chief Executive Officer, Fish Farmers’ Development Agency, Varanasi

A current topic of discussion amongst Indian sf buffs is the curious relationships between SF/F and mythology. Science fiction as we know is all about strange new ideas and imagery, i.e. the same elements which characterize mythological stories as well. It’s for this reason that SF/F buffs are usually tempted to draw analogies between science fiction and mythology. A statement which is often quoted in this context is ‘sf is a contemporary mythology’ which in other words simply means that sf, like mythological imaginations at times, anticipates scientific and technological developments. It is in the very nature of sf that it usually deals with the non-existent social set ups, technology and gadgetry, etc. of an imaginary future making the genre quite analogous to myths since the latter is also known for its depictions/descriptions of imaginary things and people. We have had and still have fascinating discussions on ‘sf vis a vis mythology’ amongst Indian sf buffs and it would perhaps be worthwhile to recapitulate that discussion here.

Indian mythology as contained in Hindu scriptures abounds in imaginative ideas and human/humane values. Carl Sagan was very impressed and inspired by these sources of ancient knowledge. He once appealed sf writers to delve deep into Indian mythology to get original sf theme ideas. I am tempted here to quote Greg Bear who, while addressing some queries made by Indian sf buffs said recently:

I don’t know of any Western sf writers who haven’t been inspired by one or more traditions of mythology. Physicists in particular seem taken with Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, since they deal with such long vistas of time, and such curious cognitive and metaphysical states–much like modern physics. Roger Zelazny, decades ago, wrote the much-admired Lord of Light based on Indian stories and myth. Sir Arthur’s Fountains of Paradise takes place on both ancient and future Serendip, today known as Sri Lanka… I’m sure there are many more examples! Perhaps the greatest analogs to stories like Mahabharata are found in comic books–tales of superheroes–and in movies and television shows like X-Men and Heroes. Is Dr.Who a wandering god with a propensity for young human females? Perhaps we should color him blue, like Krishna ! ……

I think the ancient Indian writers and thinkers would have gotten along well with science fiction writers–and certainly taught us a thing or two. I’m utilizing Hindu concepts and words (and ancient gods, reshaped) in City at the End of Time, but there’s always more Indian source material to be mined for inspiration. (In Eternity, I opened the novel with a quote from the Upanishads…”

Quite interestingly there are extrapolations, imaginative themes, and descriptions of gadgets often in contemporary sf and in Indian mythology alike. For example, Puspak Viman–a special kind of aeroplane which possesses a vacant seat for any last minute VIP entrant! (Remember, Rendezvous With Rama by Clarke?) Sudarshan Chakra (a kind of revolving disc) and arrows used by Lord Krishna and Rama come back to them just after hitting the target (the same concept as guided missiles!). In Maya Yuddhaa (some kind of virtual war) as described in the epic Ramayan while no real damage is done all enemy soldiers get frightened and surrender owing to horrible virtual projections and imagery of all sorts! There is an oft repeated example on which I would like to elaborate a bit and that is of Trishanku–a celestial body which is said to have been projected into space by an ancient sage Vishwamitra. An imaginative leap of our ancestors which indicates that the sky could be conquered by man one day!

King Trisanku, according to Indian mythology, decided to perform a great sacrifice which would enable him to ascend bodily to heaven. The sage Vishwamitra assisted him in this pursuit. But in heaven, Indra, the king of gods barred his entry, and Trisanku was thrown back to earth from the celestial abode of the gods. Sage Viswamitra in rage started creating new constellations and new forms of life and became a threat to the work of Brahma (the creator in the Hindu trinity, others being Vishnu the preserver and Lord Shiva as destroyer) and Trisanku was made immortal by arresting his downward fall midway between heaven and earth. Since then he has been hanging up above the earth. A constellation in Hindu almanac is also named after Trishanku.

This legend in the Indian mythology that Trisanku is hanging in the sky between the heaven and the Earth, though regarded as incredible, has fascinated one and all since time immemorial. Now we all know about the Lagrangian points which are the five positions in an orbital configuration where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects (such as a satellite with respect to the Earth and Moon). In 1945, Arthur Clarke also wrote in an article published in Wireless World that placing three geostationary satellites (Compare Trisanku!) above the equator would revolutionize global telecommunication. A mythological idea that objects can be made to appear stationary above the Earth found a place in science fiction. In 1964 the first Trisanku (!), Syncom, with the generic scientific name geostationary satellite/geosynchronous satellite was placed above a fixed longitude on the equator, and thereby a myth became a reality.

Impressed by such imaginative and prophetic/visionary elements of Indian mythology with which even an ordinary uneducated Indian citizen is very familiar, we devised an experimental design combining mythology and sf in order to effectively communicate the related science among the masses. By carefully amalgamating myth with certain breakthroughs and future possibilities in the field of biotechnology and telecommunications as described in many sf stories we made attractive tableaux to lure the public and then to educate them about S&T principles and background. We showed for the first time that science fiction can effectively teach science to lay people who do not have access to other forms of communicative broadcasts. Peggy Kohm has referred to this innovative approach in Biology in Science Fiction and also mentioned that in the U.S. there seem to be some teachers who are using science fiction books and movies – both with good science and with bad science – to teach basic scientific concepts.

With the help of tableaux and blends of sf and myth we tried to introduce many concepts easily to Indian masses. Some remarkable ones are as follows:

A. Cloning: With the help of a mythological story entitled Raktbeej and Mahishasurmardini (demon vis a vis a Hindu goddess ) and sf extrapolations on cloning we explained the process and implications of the emerging technology to lay people in a tableaux form.

B. Biotechnology: The science fictional biotech tree akin to mythological ‘wishing tree’ (Kalpvriksh) demonstrated the hidden potentials of biotechnology.

C. Water harvesting: Traditional techniques of rain water harvesting and its necessity as narrated in many sf stories and various Hindu myths notably the efforts of sage Bhagirath to bring the river of gods that is the sacred Ganges on earth.

D. Tsunami: Awareness and preservation of natural mangroves is the key to safety from killer waves was demonstrated with the help of many catastrophe models as described in sf stories and myth of Lord of death i.e. Yamraj.

The bottom line is that sf stories with a judicious mix/blend of Indian myths may be effectively used through attractive tableaux to communicate science and technology to masses that do not have access to other recent ways and means of communication. A similar approach could be replicated to other parts of the globe. I would appreciate feedback from those interested in interrelationships of mythology and SF/F and the innovative approach to communicate science to lay people by a judicious cocktail of both the disciplines.

About Karen Burnham (82 Articles)
Karen is vocationally an engineer and avocationally a sf/f reviewer and critic. She has worked on the Orion and Dream Chaser spacecraft and written for SFSignal, Strange Horizons, and Locus Magazine.

13 Comments on MIND MELD: Guide to International SF/F (Part II)

  1. Jacek Dukaj’s statement about the lack of direct communication between regional clusters is true to some extent, but on the other hand, in recent years I’ve seen more Italian genre books being translated (Valerio Evangelisti, Licia Troisi, Silvana De Mari) into Polish than Czech ones (I can only recall Miroslav Žamboch). And Sapkowski was translated into French and Spanish before being published in English. So I think the situation might be slowly changing.

  2. nosiwoda // July 1, 2009 at 2:10 am //

    Yes, but these are exceptions. We don’t know the whole Italian or Czech SF/F scene – we only know few names and novels. This communication between clusters is even worse, when we take under consideration (i.e.) Jewish, Portuguese or Croatian SF/F. Do we (as “eastern-european cluster”) know anything about it?

  3. Probably in Europe we could consider a bigger exchange of ideas and influences in dedicated forums and /or meetings: I have to admit I didn’t know the most of the authors mentioned in the interview. On the other hand, I’m perfectly aware I’m completely unknown outside of Italy, so it doesn’t even surprise me that much.

  4. These posts are wonderful. They give me a chance to see a picture of worldwide speculative fiction. I personally would like to see more authors coming on the English market and their works being translated (one of them is Jacek Dukaj). I am an Eastern European too, but unfortunately I have to say that my country lacks many wonderful and big names of English speculative fiction so other valuable Eastern European authors or Western European are even more hard to find. And it is a sad thing. On the other hand there are a few Romanians who deserve to come in English, but once again I am sad to say, that there are not many speculative fiction authors in my country.

  5. Science fiction are based on advanced technology and are often are like magic. After all there is lot of truth in what Clarke says, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. All stories of Indian mythology are like magic with some moral. They, like Mr. Arvind Mishra says,  are well suited to to introduce modern ideas to the masses.

  6. Science fiction are based on advanced technology and are often are like magic. After all there is lot of truth in what Clarke says, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. All stories of Indian mythology are like magic with some moral. They, like Mr. Arvind Mishra says,  are well suited to to introduce modern ideas to the masses.

  7. By the way, fragments of Jacek Dukaj’s award-winning novel “Other Songs” have just been translated into English and are now available on Dukaj’s website:

    http://dukaj.pl/English/ReadingRoom/OtherSongs

  8. Amit Waswan // July 2, 2009 at 2:30 am //

    What Arvind has said appears to be  a battered state of SF in the country. He is talking only of mythology which indicates towards his inclination towards pseudo-science. Is he plauged by pseudo-science. I have read some indian SF and also a story by Arvind and I have found science to be the weakest in his stories. Its sad and sorry state. It becomes laughable when writers like arvind talk like that — all these people can think of is indian mythology. sad sad sad.

  9. Anonymous // July 2, 2009 at 4:52 am //

    Many thanks to Maria Galina for all the info about Russian SF. I am an adept to Russian literature, I loved what I read by Russian SF writers and I thank Maria Galina for the info that there is more material by those excellent writers now accessible to English speaking readers.

     

    Thanks to Sergio Altieri; his statement about Italian SF is perfectly true, they do have many excellent SF writers and editors in Italy. I was very impressed by the work of surrealist SF writer Roberto Quaglia; his novel will appear in English (if I am not mistaken it will be launched at Fantasycon). Congratulations to all Italians, keep up with the excellent job!

     

    Special thanks to Yan Wu for the info about Chinese SF. I have always been attracted to Chinese mythology and fairy tales and I wish more Chinese texts will be translated in the future.

     

    Un petit clin d’ oeil a Jean-Louis Trudel whom I had the pleasure to meet in Epinal.A very interesting answer by him and I think that his excellent work does not need more advertising.

     

    Sincere thanks to all who wrote here and congratulations to the editors of MM for their excellent initiative to promote international SF.

     

     

  10. sissy pantelis // July 2, 2009 at 4:55 am //

    The previous comment was by me. I do not wish to be ” anonymous”; I just thought that my name would appear automatically. Apologies for this.

  11. This is fantastic and I would like to see more international SFF, especially from the Southeast Asian region.

  12. The surreal SF novel by Roberto Qualgia which will be published in English in September by Storm Constantine’s Immanion Press (UK) and launched at Fantasycon in Nottingham UK is Paradoxine: The Adventures of James Vagabond, a much revised translation of Pane, Burro e Paradossina, which originally came out in English (although never in Italian) from delos international — and Roberto and I have just published with Newcon Press (UK) The Beloved of My Beloved, with a perhaps unusual and innovative (ahem) website at http://www.belovedbook.com, linking to http://www.newconpress.co.ukThe Beloved of My Beloved may well be the first full-length genre fiction book co-written by 2 Europeans with different mother tongues — and I’d be interested to know of any other such full-length collaborations, such as between a Pole and a Russian, say, or a German and a Finn.  Paradoxically, one of the stories from The Beloved of My Beloved appeared in the excellent Italian magazine Robot, translated into Roberto’s own mother tongue by somebody else.   So here’s a case of an Italian author, two of whose books can’t be read in Italian, only in English!

     

  13. Amit Waswan

    Who you are partner behind this beautiful name and masqaurading as a connoisseur of sf ?

    Any way ,like any sensible person I too abhor pseudo science ,the issue in point was how to communicate science /sf concepts to gullibles ,lay people ! And to understand the finer interrealtions in between mythology and sf one have to be a little bit imaginative and must have an evolved sense of understanding and a refined taste of literature -sf is not only science and an extremism to this effect would only damage the genre.

     

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