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THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 4 Interviews: Chinelo Onwualu, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Dilman Dila, and Haralambi Markov

Lavie Tidhar, the series editor for The Apex Book of World SF series has kindly asked us to share a series of interviews with the authors that have stories in the newest installment, The Apex Book of World SF 4.

Here’s the synopsis:

Now firmly established as the benchmark anthology series of international speculative fiction, volume 4 of The Apex Book of World SF sees debut editor Mahvesh Murad bring fresh new eyes to her selection of stories.

From Spanish steampunk and Italian horror to Nigerian science fiction and subverted Japanese folktales, from love in the time of drones to teenagers at the end of the world, the stories in this volume showcase the best of contemporary speculative fiction, wherever it’s written.

You can also check out the table of contents here!

Now on with the interviews!


CHINELO ONWUALU

Chinelo Onwualu is a writer, editor and journalist living in Abuja, Nigeria. She is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion West Writers Workshop which she attended as the recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship. She is editor and co-founder of Omenana.com, a magazine of African speculative fiction. Her writing has appeared in several places, including the Kalahari Review, Saraba Magazine, Sentinel Nigeria Magazine, Jungle Jim Magazine, and the anthologies AfroSF: African Science Fiction by African Writers, Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond, and Terra Incognita: New Short Speculative Stories from Africa. Follow her on twitter @chineloonwualu.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

CO: I’m a writer, editor and recovering journalist living in Abuja, Nigeria. During the day I run my own editorial consultancy hammering other people’s words into shape, but by night I’m comfy pants-wearing nerd trolling the internet for all manner of geekery. I co-run an online magazine of African Speculative fiction at Omenana.com and you can follow my wild ravings on Twitter @chineloonwualu.

Q: Tell us a little about the story selected for the anthology & what this story means to you & what it’s inspiration was.

CO: The characters in “Gift of Touch” came from a dream I had when I was about nine and they had lingered with me in one form or another since then. The plot came from an idea I had for some Firefly fan fiction, but as I married the two ideas together what emerged was something entirely different – a mediation of what it means to truly connect with another person and the barriers that can arise around that.

Q: Why do you write in the genre that you do?

CO: I tend to concern myself with encounters with the fantastic and what that might do to people. I guess I write because I want to explore ordinary characters in the middle of extraordinary circumstances. In Nigeria one can find numerous examples of grim and harsh reality everywhere so my concern has never been with depicting the world as it was – but as it could be, if we chose. Besides, I have a wild imagination and a lot of the fun is getting my ideas down on paper. It’s weird that because I’m writing out of my own experience as an African woman I seem to be doing something a little different but that has only encouraged me to keep going.

Q: What are you working on now & what do you have coming out next?

CO: I’m currently working on a YA novel set in a futuristic Nigeria which has elements of magic and fantasy. I also have a short story in the Humanity of Monsters anthology coming out in September.

Q: Who are some of your favourite writers?

CO: Stephen King, Helen Oyeyemi, Banana Yoshimoto, Douglas Adams and Nnedi Okorafor are definite favourites. I tend to treasure certain books rather than authors so I’ll list my top reads: The Famished Road by Ben Okri, Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. I just finished Kathrine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, which I adored and would highly recommend to everyone.

Q: What or who do you want to be next lifetime?

CO: I suppose that will be determined by who and what I am in this life – and so I’ll leave that question open and come back to it… later.


DEEPAK UNNIKRISH

Deepak Unnikrishnan. Writer. From: Abu Dhabi. Present: Chicago. Fiction and essays have appeared in Guernica, Himal, Drunken Boat, THE STATE, among others. Winner: 2014 Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

DU: I’m from Abu Dhabi. It’s where my family made and raised me, but I’ve also been shaped by two other cities, New York and Chicago, where I’ve lived and worked. Jersey should count too, and it does since I attended university, and met my mentor, there. Besides that, there’s little else to say, except: I write. About the Gulf. And I walk, a lot. And I’m always been attracted to stories by people on the move, by choice, or otherwise.

Q: Tell us a little about the story selected for the anthology & what this story means to you & what it’s inspiration was.

DU: At one point in my youth, barring my father’s father, whom I’ve never seen, the elders in my immediate family refused to die. This meant I got to spend time with my maternal and paternal great-grandmother, my maternal great-grandfather, both grandmothers, and my maternal grandfather. Such luck cannot last. Between 1983-98, I lost them all, my maternal great-grandmother the last to pass. I was still in my teens.

“Sarama” is a tribute of sorts to a storyteller who gave me some of my most cherished memories of childhood. It is a story about war, recited by an old woman to her great-grandson. Basically, I resurrected my Muthassi — Malayalam for great-grandmother — the first woman to hold me and tell me stories, the last great elder in my family to die. She’d be on her cot, I’d be by her side. I think I am four, then I am ten. I’m always listening. Her voice, that voice, it woke you up like brass bands wake you up! I loved this woman. I miss this woman. Sometimes, I’d fan her, as she recited stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata from memory. “Sarama” wonders about the closing moments of The Ramayana, when God in human form has rescued his wife from the clutches of evil. The version I was taught. Over the years, I’d begun to wonder at what cost Lord Ram decided to wage war, and whether there were other stories that needed/deserved to be mined. Stories that not only scrutinized the vanquished but also inspected the victors. I suppose you could say “Sarama” is my way of looking at stories that got buried in the celebrations of conquest.

Q: Why do you write in the genre that you do?

DU: There is a a good chance I’ll never converse with a cat in French, or meet a man who can transform into a suitcase, but I can do that on the page. I like that. I guess I write to see what’s possible with language and images, as well as conjure new ways to talk about things I’m passionate/concerned about. Could I move you? Can I shake you up? May I seduce you? Will you listen?

Q: What are you working on now & what do you have coming out next?

DU: There is a book, one exploring the pull, languages and fables of three cities: Abu Dhabi, New York, and Chicago. A book I’m trying to complete.

Q: Who are some of your favourite writers?

DU: I have always admired Nadine Gordimer and J.Coetzee. I’d also throw the reporter Joe Sacco into the fray, as well as the children’s book author/illustrator Shel Silverstein. I know a lot of people wouldn’t consider the comedian George Carlin to be a writer, but the man, in my opinion, was a genius with wordplay. And anyone who has been responsible for the fables and myths I’ve adored/respected over the years, whether they came from Arabia or in songs sung by the Roma. Then there is Hassan Blasim and Kuzhali Manickavel, Dorthe Nors and Georgi Guspudinov, the screenplays of Charlie Kaufman and Padmarajan. I’ll wade through rivers for Sara Levine’s next book. Arundhati Roy, Naipaul, Binyavanga Wainaina and Eula Biss, for speaking their mind. Thank you, Octavia Butler. But I’ll end with poets: Inger Christensen, Claudia Rankine, Nate Marshall.

Q: What or who do you want to be next lifetime?

DU: Anything that would involve using my hands: carpentery, musicianship. Or, and this I secretly hope I’d be able to be able to do this in this lifetime, dive/swim in the open sea. A man who lives and is of the sea, is what I’m trying to say, what I’ve always secretly hoped to be.


DILMAN DILA

Dilman Dila is a writer and filmmaker whose works have gained recognition in many prizes, including the BBC Radio Playwriting Competition, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Short Story Day Africa prize, the Million Writers Awards, and the Jalada Prize for Literature. His films include What Happened in Room 13 (2007) and the The Felistas Fable (2013), which was nominated for Best First Feature at AMAA 2014, and won four major awards at the Uganda Film Festival 2014. A Killing in the Sun is his first collection of short stories. More of his life and works is available at http://www.dilmandila.com.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

DD: I am a writer and filmmaker from Uganda. I recently published a collection of speculative stories, A Killing in the Sun. I was longlisted for the Jalada Prize for Literature (2015), longlisted for the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition (2014), shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (2013), twice longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize, and nominated for the Million Writers Awards (2008). I manage a literary magazine, Lawino, which seeks to promote new writing from Africa. My films include the masterpiece What Happened in Room 13 (2007), which has attracted over two million views on YouTube, and the narrative feature, The Felistas Fable (2013), which was nominated for Best First Feature at Africa Movie Academy Awards (2014), and which won four major awards at the Uganda Film Festival (2014). More of my life and works are available at my website http://www.dilmandila.com.

Q: Tell us a little about the story selected for the anthology & what this story means to you & what it’s inspiration was.

DD: “How My Father Became a God” came to me at one of those moment when, as my ex put it, I become delusional. In such moments, my daydreams carry me away and I sort of lock out the world. Not totally, for I can still hear things around me and see what’s going on, but I just get so immersed with the daydream that it feels like a vision. So one time, I met a girl who lived in Africa 500 years ago, but she went travelling through space on a craft her father made, though in reality she’s been gone only a few months, due to the miracle of time in space when she returns she lands in our world and five hundred years have passes. She told me a lot about her father, and her travels. She visits me frequently and maybe one time I will write her novel.

This story means a lot to me, not just because it is revisionist, re-imagining our history a little differently from what the foreign conquerors wrote, but it is in honor of my grandmother who introduced me to storytelling. I was trying to write a story that she would have told orally.

Q: Why do you write in the genre that you do?

DD: I love specfic, that is science fiction, horror, and fantasy, for it gives me a broad playing field to explore humanity. I often think of myself as a social activist. I want my stories to make a statement about what it means to be a human in this planet. With specfic, it then becomes possible to put humans in hypothetical situations and see how they behave. For example, in my book A Killing in the Sun, there are stories that tell of worlds where everyone has the same skin color, but racial discrimination still exists. In writing them I intend to point out that human beings are hardwired to categorise themselves and to discriminate against those they think are not like them.

Q: What are you working on now & what do you have coming out next?

DD: Since my book, A Killing in the Sun, came out, the response from readers gave me confidence that there is interest in African science fiction. This has boosted my morale, and so now I am working on a novel, set in a futuristic Africa recovering from climate disasters, where survivors have to battle monsters, some of which are GMO, others supernatural, as they struggle to rebuild their communities. I am also working on a feature film, about a female peasant scientist who can transform her village into a paradise, but she has to fight a global charity that profits from the poverty in her village. This film borrows heavily from “How My Father Became a God,” the story in the anthology

Q: Who are some of your favourite writers?

DD: My grandmother is my favourite, though she never wrote anything. She was a fabulous storyteller. But I worship Amos Tutuola, who made me see that African writers can flourish in specfic, and Octavia Butler, who made me realise that written science fiction can have African characters. These two writers introduced me to African SFF. Others who I enjoy to read and draw inspiration from include (in no particular order) Margaret Atwood, Nnedi Okorafor, Sofia Samatar, Stephen King, Samuel R. Delany, Orson Scott Card, and Lauren Beukes. There are many others, but these are those who quickly come to mind.

Q: What or who do you want to be next lifetime.

DD: Anything, as long as it’s not as a writer. I hate the downside of the job, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the endless toil to become good and never getting there. I would love to live an ordinary life, with simple ambitions, wanting nothing more than to tuck myself in bed and snuggle with someone, or with something.


HARALAMBI MARKOV

Haralambi Markov is a Bulgarian critic, editor, and writer of things weird and fantastic. A Clarion 2014 graduate, Markov enjoys fairy tales, obscure folkloric monsters, and inventing death rituals (for his stories, not his neighbors…usually). He blogs at The Alternative Typewriter and tweets at @HaralambiMarkov. His stories have appeared in Geek Love, Electric Velocipede, TOR.com, Exalted 3 and are slated to appear in Genius Loci and Stories for Chip. He’s currently working on outdoing his output for the past three years and procrastinating all the way.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

HM: I’m a Bulgarian writer and an occasional reviewer and editor. I write speculative fiction –
fantastical stories that decompose reality, sensual stories with a dark touch, superhero fiction, though mainly it’s weird things happening to weird people – and live with the weird in the Sofia, Bulgaria. I’m bilingual, a stationary hoarder and get a bit too excited about pizza. Sloths and platypuses are my spirit animals and I probably watch too much TV for my own good.

Q: Tell us a little about the story selected for the anthology & what this story means to you & what it’s inspiration was.

HM: “The Language of Knives” has been a long journey, which started with an idea for a human cake that I considered using in a different story altogether back in late 2009 or early 2010. I couldn’t make the image work, so I was left with this concept that would not leave me alone. At the same time, the human cake as a visual was so powerful and headstrong that it wrestled me every time I tried to incorporate it in a story.

It wasn’t until I was at the Clarion Workshop in 2014, when I sat down and the story came to me fully formed. I haven’t felt such elation at finishing a story before and I don’t think I’ll be able to forget the hours in the Geisel Library and my dorm room, scribbling the lines in my notebook. The story itself means a lot to me. I opened up about several personal fears I have in my life and writing it helped me overcome my reluctance to write queer characters in my work. It’s a very special little story indeed.

Q: Why do you write in the genre that you do?

HM: It’s more liberating and real to me than realist fiction. At their heart, the stories I – every SFF writer, really – tell are universal as they deal with our humanity. Every story I write is an act of trying to figure out myself, the world as we’ve made it right now weighed down by all our cultural baggage and what the world could be without it or with different baggage altogether. The main difference is I externalize all the processes that go inside us and give them physical bodies – some beautiful, some horrifying.

Also, there is something very powerful in writing about monsters, dark magic and fairy tales. These are the oldest stories we’ve been telling each other and I’m very happy to be a part of this tradition.

Q: What are you working on now & what do you have coming out next?

HM: Right now, I’m turning “The Language of Knives” into a novel. This story refused to leave me and I had to tell the big stories I only hinted at in the short. I’m in the middle of the first draft and loving where I’m headed. I’m expecting several short stories to hit the shelves in various projects. “Holding Hands with Monsters” appears in Stories for Chip, which is already on sale. I also have stories coming out in Weird Fiction Review, Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, Genius Loci and The Near Now – all amazing projects I’m thrilled to contribute to as a writer.

Q: Who are some of your favourite writers?

HM: Apparently, I have a soft spot for Angela as a name, because both Angela Slatter and Angela Carter are up there with the writers that shape me. Ursula Le Guin, Kaaron Warren and Karin Tidbeck are also very dear to my heart. I’ve read only little by Cat Valente, Leena Krohn, Jeff VanderMeer, Gemma Files, Lisa Hannett and Molly Tanzer, but they’re quickly getting under my skin.

Q: What or who do you want to be next lifetime?

HM: If I make it into the next life as a person, I’d like to be a female roller derby skater with a real mean elbow, who also illustrates on the side and rocks billowy old timey sweaters. I think it’s the furthest thing from who I am and would love to be someone completely different. If I get to be an animal, I’d really like it to be a platypus. I’m partial to creatures that seem to perplex people and what is more perplexing than a cute beaver-duck with venomous spurs on its hind legs. It just speaks to me.

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Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00007]
Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00007]

About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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