The OF Blog: BRIC-a-brac

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Just a quick thought/preview of something that I'm going to be working on as part of my ongoing series of articles on matters related to the notion of emerging "international" SF:  the BRIC powers (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) certainly seem to be cropping up a bit more in the newer SF novels that I've read/received recently.  Brazil in particular (and I keep finding myself typing it as "Brasil," which is how its citizens spell it, after all) has been mentioned quite a bit in a few novels, from Ian McDonald's excellent Brasyl to a few Brazilian authors I've been reading recently to now Paul McAuley's The Quiet War.  Interesting to see Brazil taking a leading (if not somewhat antagonistic) role that used to be reserved for the former First and Second World nations.

Anyone else notice that sort of mini-trend developing, that of the (re)emerging world powers of the 21st century having their politico-social potential reflected in the more recent SF fiction to be published, both in the Anglophone countries and elsewhere?  Or am I just dreaming of something here and making much ado about nothing?


tim said...

I have noticed it, too, and I think it is a very good thing, with reservations. Mostly these circulate aroung Ian McDonald, and I know I am in the minority here. I first read River of Gods, and it troubled me a great deal, and then Brasyl only confirmed it for me: not only has he explicitly stated that River was his attempt to write Kipling's Kim for the 21st century, his inscriptions of India and Brasil are so much (to me) a privileged, basically disassociated understandings of the countries that (to me) his works are little better than Gibson's Apocalypto (which seems little more than tired Western narratives with a very thin coat of new paint). Work like Pump Six and Other Stories, Adam Roberts Yellow-Blue Tibia, seem to work a lot better, as they for the most part show an effort by the authors to decenter their own positions, or at least to recognize that they are writing from a priveleged position.
McDonald, on the other hand, devalues his own uniqueness, claiming his Irishness and the colonial history of Ireland as a passcard for writing about any other once-colonized people and place. So if the possible trend follows McDonald, I worry, for while it pretends to be new and eye-openingly revelatory, it only reifies a tradition of literay exploitation rooted in the travel literature and Orientalist writings of the past few centuries: instead of bringing the possibility of actually engaging with a concrete otherness, these works only use real people and places as set pieces to play out personal fantasies. I know these a works of fantasy and science fiction, and they they don't necessarily need to be so cautious of their real-world impact because they are works of fiction, but I wish they would, especially when like McDonald's, the works come wrapped in statements that claim otherwise.
I ramble like this because I generally agree 100 percent with your criticism and reviews, and I believe your concept of the world (except for Dave Eggers... I just don't get it... I love him as an editor, but his own writing leaves me annoyed or upset that he is profiting off of other people's pain).

Lsrry said...

I understand the rant, Tim. I've had my share of concerns about some of the underlying elements in fictions such as McDonald's and while I think his fictions are well worth reading, I too worry that it might distort actual concerns/elements from these emerging countries by presenting these places as being little more than how you described Gibson's movie. That is something I'll address more at length in the coming weeks, I hope.

Anonymous said...

Totally OT, but I'm looking for a considered Lane Kiffin rant. Whatchya got?

Lsrry said...

Nothing much, other than apparently the hot girls who escort the recruits around campus are in a bunch of trouble :P

Fabio Fernandes said...

I completely understand Tim´s rant, because he summed it up most accurately - I´m probably the only Brazilian SF reader who didn´t like Brasyl, but I couldn´t exactly put my finger on why. Better yet, of course I could, but I wasn´t sure if it was a prejudiced view. I could see this more clearly in River of Gods - in Brazil, much as I liked the effort that he put into depicting Brazilian people and culture in a non-tropical-exotic-Carmen-Miranda-like way, I couldn´t help feeling he was patronizing us in some way. But I still think that´s a cultural misunderstanding rather than a bias.

As Antonio Carlos Jobim used to say, "Brazil is not for beginners." I tend to agree with him. (Even though I would really like to see more non-Brazilian writers try their hands on it. :-)

Lsrry said...


Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Paul McAuley's The Quiet War. I ended up enjoying the novel, but having a "Greater Brazil" in the 23rd century that seemed to be a stand-in for Bush-era US was quite odd, to say the least.

Fabio Fernandes said...

Larry, I started reading The Quiet War yesterday (restarted, actually), and so far it seems too artificial to me, I regret to say. I like Paul McAuley's stories, but I really don´t know about this novel. I admit I may sound biased, though, but I´ll definitely read it through before giving my opinion. At least now I can barely keep myself from reading it, and that´s very good.

Lsrry said...

The entire setting felt that way to me for the first third of the novel, then it got a bit better, with the notable exception of scenes set in Greater Brazil. Curious to hear your reaction when you finish reading it.

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