The OF Blog: October 2005

Monday, October 17, 2005

Wondering about that Emotional Punch to the Junk

Over the past year or so, I've slowly become less and less inclined to read a work of overt speculative fiction, as I have become more and more enamoured recently with the works of a great many Latin American authors, from Jorge Luis Borges to my current read, José María Arguedas. I never really sat down and thought about why this was happening until I read a couple of pieces that made me wonder about what possibly could be missing from most contemporary speculative fiction.

I think what I miss most is that sense of connection, as if the plight of the characters were somehow important to me. Reading Arguedas's Los ríos profundos (Deep Rivers) has made me think about the oppression of the indios of Peru, of those impoverished, yet proud, descendents of the Inka, whose rich cultural tradition has had a layer of European architecture and values superimposed upon it as the streets of Cusco have Inka foundation and European storeys. Where is this sense of loss, this sense of an utterly human tragedy in most fantasy or science fiction stories? Where is the connection between the lives that the characters have lived (or died) and that of my own? Where is the realism that underlies our fantasies?

Is it because it is so very difficult to write a scene set outside our perceived world and have it become 'meaningful' to us? Can we truly experience such a sense of shared triumph or communal loss as some have while reading works such as Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front or Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises?

Recently, I was reading the comments over in wotmania's WoT messageboard in regards to the apparent 'insensitivity' that readers were showing toward a moment in the just-released latest WoT book, Knife of Dreams, that the author himself said should make people "gasp." The relative blasé attitude toward that stuck me as rather interesting - was it due to people being desensitized, or could it deal more with a greater difficulty in becoming emotionally attached to a fantasy world and its peoples and their struggles?

Is there something inherently lacking in the way that most fantasies and science fiction works are written that prevents us from associating ourselves, perhaps in cathartic fashion, with the characters being represented? It is a question that puzzles and troubles me.

Perhaps others reading this will have thoughts on this issue. Perhaps they can think of exceptions to what I have mentioned, or perhaps other ways of viewing this. Shall be interesting to see what the Blog readers here will make of this.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Well, time to get this blog active again vol.2, yes?

Seems to me there has been little to no activity here over the last few months. Too long for my liking...

Some of you might know me, others don't. I've come here partly to speculate and partly to complain.

Those of you, who recognize my name should remember I often expressed my strong opinion about the state of Western fantastic fiction. Negative opinion, I might add. For the last few years the number of interesting new writers and interesting ideas has constantly been decreasing. At the same time, I have been reading a growing numbers of opinions that Western scifi&fantasy writers are burnt-out. That of course, is the common opinion here, in Poland or perhaps in general to the east of the river Oder.

We strongly believe that Eastern European authors have more to offer today than those you are accustommed to. The reason? The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves... I don't want to elaborate this, I'm not the right person for that, but if I were to speculate, I'd go with different historic experiences, different cultural background or even ethnic origin. This all adds up to a unique blend of critical look at the modern society and its future and our own past. This doesn't mean typical, low-quality pulp is not available here. On the contrary. But we do get many interesting texts that wouldn't have any chance for being published where you live folks. And that brings me to what I intended originally.

I really loathe Western publishers. Oh, I do realise they need to earn a living and should publish those authors that offer a chance of good return on investment, but who said only Westerners have monopoly on profits, huh? While investments in foreign writers certainly require some spending, they may in turn result in income. As the example of Spain shows, different culture does not necessarily mean readers will be discouraged. In truth, a certain Polish writer (who happens to be the most popular fantasy writer in Poland), Andrzej Sapkowski, has recently gained huge popularity there and his books have been a great success (winning him some of the most important Spanish awards). Success of the first writer resulted in a decision to sign publishing deals with other authors from Poland and Russia.

Unfortunately, this doesn't even seem to be a light in a tunnel when it comes down to American and English publishers, two of the biggest book markets in the world. Given all the information I gathered, it looks that it's damn hard for Poles to find a publisher in the USA or even UK. It didn't even help a young but great Polish writer Jacek Dukaj, that a short animated film based on his fantastic novel, "The Cathedral", was nominated for Oscar two years ago. Translated by renowned Michael Kandel (the excerpt of the novel can be found here) together with another great story by Dukaj ("The Iron General", which in turn is available as an excerpt here) despite efforts couldn't find a publisher.

If a good translation and an Oscars buzz didn't help, what else will? Will the same happen to an interesting Russian writer Sergei Lukyanenko and the chance for international promotion he's having? A blockbuster hit, "Night Watch", based on his very good novel by the same title should hit cinemas in the West very soon. Will the merchandising oppportunities surrounding the film help to promote the book? Time will tell. I can definitely recommend this book to you.

Back to merchandising and Sapkowski I mentioned above. Some Polish computer games company is working on a possible major hit for computer games. The game called The Witcher is based on his hugely successful series of short stories and novels on witcher Geralt, a warrior trained from the early childhood to combat monsters. The early rave reviews suggest the game itself may be really successful, but I'm interesting in whether this would mean a chance for promoting Sapkowski. Again, time will tell. As of today there is no word on a possible translation of his works into English...

*sigh* Anyway, thanks for reading my ramblings. Perhaps anyone of you out there, who happens to read this post is on familiar terms with a publisher interested in new discoveries. If so, let them know there are great writers abroad waiting for a chance.
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