The OF Blog: Norman Spinrad and the latest kerfluffle about international SF, with positive remedies

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Norman Spinrad and the latest kerfluffle about international SF, with positive remedies

Norman Spinrad seems to have put his foot in his mouth, at least that would be the cursory take on his April 2010 article appearing in Asimov's.  In his On Books column, Spinrad attempts to tackle non-Euro-American SF and pretty much comes off sounding in turns rambling, misguided, and perhaps worst of all (besides the racial undertones that many detected), clueless as to the breadth and depth (and the intricate similarities and differences) of national SFs outside the so-called "First World."

As is usual, there have been swift and numerous responses.  SF Signal has collected some of them.  I'll refer people to what Nick Mamatas wrote and to Jeff VanderMeer's comment inside Jason Sanford's post, as those two cover much the ground that I would have, likely with greater eloquence and a lesser propensity to say "what the fuck was that dumbass on when he wrote that?"

But since this post is meant not just to castigate someone for poor choice of words, but rather to be helpful for those who are left thinking, "No, really...what 'international SF' is out there that I can sample?"

Well, Charles Tan covered this in passing in a related post found in the SF Signal link above, but for those wanting to know more about Filipino SF, do read the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler series.  I've read vol. 4 and it was uniformly excellent.

Lavie Tidhar's The Apex Book of World SF is often bandied about in similar discussions as being a good look at what is available in English and English translation from SF writers across the globe.  It is a good anthology, but some of the stories are stronger than others.  Always meant to review that one.  Perhaps when I re-read it in a few months.

Nnedi Okorafor is often mentioned when it comes to Nigerian(-American) fantasy/SF.  She is an outstanding writer and be sure to read her guest blog on the Nebula site on African SF.  Ben Okri is another African writer who touches upon some SF motifs in his writing.  Do I need to tell people (again) just how awesome The Famished Road is?

Naguib Mahfouz, the late Egyptian Nobel Prize winner, often included elements of the supernatural in his fiction.  Children of the Alley is an allegorical tale that still resonates (too deeply, for some!) with those caught up in the politico-religious-social clashes occurring in much of the so-called Middle East.  But he is far from the only Arab writing that includes elements of SF.  Problem is, most of it is not available in English translation.  Closest would be the French translations (or originals) of several Lebanese writers.

China has a huge SF market, but it's very unknown to Anglo-Americans in particular because of translation issues.  Chang Hsi-Kuo's The City Trilogy is the only work written in Chinese characters (the author is Taiwanese) that I have read and it is an interesting meld of Chinese philosophical traditions with Western-SF style riffs on the Other.  Thanks to the Haikasoru imprint, there is a greater sampling of non-manga/anime Japanese SF out there, some of which I've reviewed here on this blog in the past year.

And of course I'm leaving out the Latin American region, or more precisely, the Southern Cone, Brazil, Colombian, Cuban, and Mexican scenes (which are but the largest of several others).  I've already reviewed the Brazilian Steampunk anthology here (and discovered that it generated a ton more discussions on Brazilian Twitter accounts, blogs, and Orkut forums than virtually anything I've ever said or reviewed in English has anywhere in the Anglophone SF discussion fields).  Lots of good stuff coming out of there.  Just view the non-English links in my Blogroll.  Several of those are to Portuguese-language blogs.  A friend of mine, Jacques Barcia, will have his story from the Brazilian Steampunk anthology translated into English and posted online as a supplement to the Steampunk Reloaded anthology that Ann and Jeff VanderMeer are releasing in October.  I could say a lot more, but then I'd have a blog entry of over 10K words devoted solely to Spanish-language SF and SFnal works, ranging from Bolaño to César Aira to Edmundo Paz Soldán to Juan Filloy get the point, right?

All of this is a roundabout way of saying in turns that yes, there is a ton of non-European/North American SF out there.  Too much to keep track of.  It's easy to understand how Spinrad may have rambled and stumbled and made a fool of himself to many by his ignorant comments.  Ignorance is not bliss.  Nor is it something that should be castigated without something else transpiring.  The best solution to ignorance is to educate oneself and to be willing to be corrected when an honest mistake is made.  So...for those of you who were shaking your heads over what Spinrad said, how willing are you to go out there and to read up (some more?) on the various national literatures, especially genre ones?


Brian Lindenmuth said...

Larry, One you may not be aware of is Blaft Publications. They are translating Indian genre and pulp fiction for the first time to English speaking markets. There is The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction and The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction vol II.

To date I've only read the first pulp fiction anthology from them as well as some of their crime fiction but they do have other titles like:

Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel

Zero Degree by Charu Nivedita

Where Are You Going, You Monkeys? — Folktales from Tamil Nadu by Ki. Rajanarayanan

Moonward a graphic novel by Appupen

But like I said I haven't actually read any of those titles yet.

Just figured I'd put them on your radar screen.

Larry said...

No, no I wasn't aware of them, Brian. Thanks, as I certainly am curious about what's being produced in India right now :D

Charles said...

I guess I should post the Blaft interview at the World SF Blog by next week...

Charles said...

Here's Anna Tambour's review of Tamil Pulp Fiction.

Larry said...

I'd love to it, Charles. The more I (and others) know, the better :D

Brian Lindenmuth said...

As far as the crime fiction community goes I've got an essay on Asian crime fiction that will be going up at Spinetingler that focuses on The 65 Lakh Heist by Surender Mohan Pathak (from Blaft) and The Cage by Kenzo Kitakata (from Vertical.)

I've also arranged to have an excerpt from the translators note from The 65 Lakh Heist appear in Crime Factory.

So, hopefully we can start to spread the word.

Larry said...

I'm not all that well-versed in crime fiction, as you know Brian, but that does sound like something that deserves a wider audience. I wonder if my mother would read these type of stories have strong language/sexuality? She's much more prudish than I am.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I can't recall any explicit sex in The 65 Lakh Heist. It is the third or fourth book in the series (can't remember at the moment) and in the first book he was double crossed by his wife. Vimal is sleeping with someone else's wife but it is all off page and he does kindle a relationship with another woman for the second half who is a prostitute but again very much off the page.

The violence is hardboiled in nature, the plot does involve a bank robbery and a double cross, but nothing gratuitous.

Vimal is, to a large extent, an anti hero though so that should be factored in to her reading tastes.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Spinrad might have a better opinion if some of the works were readily available. I can not buy the short story collection by Vera Nazaran, The Woman Who Thought She was Planet and other stories. If you want it you must order it from India and pay in Rupees. Just try that and see how successful you are.

Larry said...

I regularly import books from Spain and sometimes Argentina, so I understand the difficulties. Luckily, most of what I've named is readily available in the US and UK and is in English/English translation.

Aishwarya said...

Anonymous - The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet is by Vandana Singh. I had no idea it was that hard to get hold of - I live in India and tend to order most of my books from abroad (paying in other currencies) so I'm not sure exactly what the difficulty in paying in rupees is?

Larry - I think you would really like Blaft. I own everything they've published so far and it's been consistently good. And since we're talking SFF, the Kuzhali Manickavel short story collection and Appupen's Moonward are two of my favourite books to come out of India in years.

Josh said...

I live in the U.S. and have bought six copies of Vandana Singh's The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories. It costs six U.S. dollars according to the publisher's website. Dunno what Anonymous is on about, or who charges rupees for Vera Nazaran books.

I second the recommendation of Kitakata's The Cage; there are also a few translated Japanese detective novels by Miyuke Miyabe, of which All She Was Worth is by far the best.

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