The OF Blog: 2009 in Review: General Impressions

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 in Review: General Impressions

With less than 10 days remaining in the year, it perhaps is now finally safe to make some general comments upon the year that has been.  It is a year that has seen the continuing rise and expansion of various sub-genres. There have been moments that have brought people closer together and times where the teacup tempests seemed to morph for short bits into something larger.  For some, 2009 brought a plethora of reading goodness, while for others doubtless 2009 will be seen as  "dry" year due to the usual delays endemic to the publishing world.  It is perhaps the best of worlds and the worst of worlds, depending on one's take.

For myself, this year has seen a mixture of both.  Personally and professionally, I have had to deal with coping first with a horrid job situation and then returning to an old job, which brought its own uncertainties for a while.  A few health scares, some of which are still unresolved, although thankfully less pressing than they were months ago.  I exit 2009 with more hope than I had when the year began.

In terms of this blog and related activities, 2009 has been an outstanding year.  Although my blogging time has decreased somewhat the second half of the year, I also have been better connected with what others are doing.  I conducted several interviews this year with authors that are among the best I've ever done, not because I stood out and had a "presence" in them, but because I believe I am getting better in being able to withdraw more and more to the background and allowing the authors to have the opportunity to share interesting information about themselves and their works.  When I took some social work classes four years ago, I was taught that in a successful client interview, the interviewer should speak much less than the client.  I believe I'm beginning to take this lesson to heart.

Working with other sites and publications has been a dream of mine ever since I revived this blog back in May 2007.  Contributing two interviews and an article on International SF to the Nebula Awards website not only allowed me to work with wonderful people like Charles Tan, but it also introduced me to SF fans, writers, and editors from other parts of the world, such as Roberto Mendes and Luis Filipe Silva, who are translating my International SF article and publishing it in a new Portuguese SF magazine, Dagon.  I also will be writing articles (that will be translated into Portuguese) for Correio do Fantástico, an offshoot of the magazine.

Speaking of international SF, or rather non-Anglophone SF, 2009 has seen a continued rise in visibility.  A few months ago, Lavie Tidhar had his anthology, The Apex Book of World SF, published in the United States.  I will have more to say about it in the next week or so, but I will note that it appears to be part of a vanguard of translated fictions that are increasingly being published in the United States.  I have been a fan of authors such as the Serb Zoran Živković for years now, but it was nice to be introduced this year to talented writers such as David Toscana (The Last Reader, although I read this in the original Spanish), Aliette de Bodard (several short fiction pieces), and Michael Ajvaz (The Other City). 

In addition, I began more aware of SF communities whose authors' works largely have not been translated yet into English.  Thanks to two friends of mine, the Brazilian writers Fábio Fernandes and Jacques Barcia, I have been made more aware of what is transpiring in Brazil.  I bought, read, and ultimately reviewed an original anthology of Brazilian steampunk, Steampunk:  Histórias de um Passado Extraordinário, which I found to be one of the better 2009 anthologies that I have read to date.  There doubtless will be more authors emerging from Brazil in the coming years, especially as writers like Fábio and Jacques shift to writing in English or through more publishers and magazine editors being willing to take a gamble and arranging for translations of the finer stories into English.  The announcement a few months ago that the Best American Fantasy series will be looking to incorporate more fictions from authors south of the US-Mexico border merely signals that "American fiction" may prove to be a more plastic term than what has been the case for the past two centuries. 

Such developments would be nigh impossible if the continued global integration of SF communities hadn't led to news spreading in minutes from one locale to several dozen others.  Some interesting debates (and a few fiascos) have been the result of this hyperconnected world. Sometimes, as in the case of the infamous Racefail '09, Amazonfail '09, or any of the diatribes written by author John C. Wright, invectives threatened to overwhelm any cognizant points that were made (with the exception of the Wright case, where the matter began with some rather bizarre rationales from Wright for discriminating speech).  However, the social networks did much more good than harm.  When Canadian SF author Peter Watts announced that he ran afoul of the US customs officers a couple of weeks ago, thousands of dollars were raised for his defense fund.  When English writer Robert Holdstock slipped into a coma and later died from E. Coli poisoning, several writers and fans had already made others aware not just of the personal tragedy of Holdstock's death, but how much his fiction meant to them and how wonderful of a person he was to those who had the pleasure of meeting him.  Although 2009 continued trends toward more instantaneous communication, it felt as though things across the globe were more immediate and thus more "local" for people of all nationalities, genders, creeds, sexual orientations, etc.

Speaking of this immediacy, the summer protests in Iran over its controversial election results led to several within and outside the SF communities to stand stands of solidarity with the protesters.  Although little can be done in places such as this outside of changing one's color scheme to indicate support for the anti-regime movement, the very fact that several SF fans, writers, and editors were speaking so openly about this outrage (not to mention utilizing Twitter to receive and to transmit images and messages from those brave souls protesting in Tehran and elsewhere in Iran) underscores more than ever how closely intertwined our personal beliefs, professional lives, and our hobbies have become with events transpiring thousands of miles away in several cases.

These connections can also be found in the literature published in 2009.  While I will not divulge which books I plan to highlight in the coming 9 days, I will note that the 2009 releases that caught my attention the most often reflect the concerns noted in the paragraph above.  One of my favorite 2009 fictions contains scenes that parallel not just what has occurred with the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, but which also contains some interesting elements in common with what has transpired in resistance movements in other parts of the world.  Other novels that I have enjoyed have made some interesting comments on gender relations or how apocalyptic mindsets can be even scarier than the occasional violence that they inspire.  It is perhaps fitting that J.G. Ballard died this year, as his The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard (released in the United States this summer) illustrates just how frightening and "true" a "Ballardian future" has become.

If I had to sum up the most important thing to emerge from the 2009 literary scenes in just a single sentence, it would be that 2009 revealed (again) an intimate connection between the "real" and the "imagined" that spans more than ever countries, languages, religions, and continents to embrace both the brightest and darkest elements of humanity.  It has been a very interesting year.  Still trying to decide if that's a Chinese curse or an American blessing.


Roberto Bilro Mendes said...

A Great look to an even greater year for Sf. I was delighted to be mentioned, I sure hope that the Dagon Magazine will contribute to International Science Fiction, bringing the world together. Thanks for everything.

Merry Crhistmas:)

Roberto Mendes

Larry Nolen said...

Merry Christmas to you as well, Roberto! :D

Fabio Fernandes said...

2009 was pretty much the same to much (in health issues if in nothing else), but you already know that. :-)

Let´s only hope 2010 will be better (and it will - I´m an optimist at heart.)

Larry Nolen said...

Here's to hoping! I know for sure it'll be different for me (and I suspect for you) when it comes to fiction, no? ;)

Fabio Fernandes said...

Sure it will! I´m already working on it! :-) And did I congratulate you on your Portuguese assignment yet?

Luis F Silva said...

Thanks for mentioning me, Larry, and for your insightful comments about my international SF piece.

Wishing you Happy Holidays and we'll have more to discuss, hopefully, on the other side of the New Year. :)

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