This month at Tiamat’s Terrain the cluster of SFF features frame big questions: Both Israeli writer Tidhar and Cypriot director Kyriacou want to know “What’s a superhero anyhow?” Palestinian-American Abdelrazaq and Lebanese-Canadian El-Mohtar think through the ever-present questions of displacement and coping in times of war. Noura Al Noman explores what Arabic fantasy literature and world building look like, while Franscesco Verso has started a publishing house for speculative fiction in translation, wanting to open doors into how other cultures and languages write about tomorrow. And finally, last year’s IPAF winner has an English publication date.
Stories of Displacement and Belonging
Amal El-Mohtar recently published a poignant short story in the well-established Strange Horizons entitled “The Truth About Owls”—originally published in Kaleidoscope. In this story an unusual meeting takes place between Welsh myth and Lebanon’s July War, all mediated by a sagacity of owls. El-Mohtar strikes the balance just right in her young protagonist, Anisa, who lives in the UK with her mother, having left Lebanon and her father behind in a horror of bombings. Anisa visits an owl shelter where she meets the owl Blodeuwudd and its keeper, Izzy. There she learns about the myth of Blodeuwudd, a woman made of flowers who turns into an owl and begins an exploration of Welsh language and culture, pulling away from her own Arabic heritage. El-Mohtar beautifully handles the tensions of languages and cultures, the childhood ache of missing a parent to the unknown, and the mixed fears of war and of never belonging.
Still thinking about Lebanon and belonging, Leila Abdelrazaq’s graphic novel Baddawi tells “the story of a young boy named Ahmad struggling to find his place in the world. Raised in a refugee camp called Baddawi in northern Lebanon, Ahmad is just one of the thousands of Palestinians who fled their homeland after the war in 1948 established the state of Israel. In this visually arresting graphic novel, Leila Abdelrazaq explores her father’s childhood in the 1960s and ’70s from a boy’s eye view as he witnesses the world crumbling around him and attempts to carry on, forging his own path in the midst of terrible uncertainty.”
An Epic Search for Truth
Lavie Tidhar, author of the award-winning 2012 novel Osama, and more recently of A Man Lies Dreaming, has a couple of exciting announcements. The first is that his book, Violent Century has finally been published in America by Thomas Dunne Books. And the second is that he and Rebecca Levene are co-editors of two exciting e-book anthologies: Jews versus Zombies and Jews versus Aliens.
Violent Century has been around for a while in the UK and has had rave reviews. The British Fantasy Society’s Glen Mehn writes:
“[t]he book is framed in an epic search for truth, the eponymous Old Man of the Bureau trying to clear up his records of an event, somewhere, in the War, and it weaves together heroes, lovers, friends, and enemies, asking complex questions without hesitations about what it means to be any of those, what it means to be human, what it means to be a hero, to live with the consequences of life in this violent century… [Tidhar’s] level of awe-inspiring craft places him firmly within the highest tier of writers working today, no longer an emerging writer, but a master.”
In his Tor.com review, Niall Alexander has high praise of his own, saying,
“Lavie Tidhar’s latest is at once a love story, a tragedy, a spy novel, a memoir of a friendship, an exposé of the horrors of war, and a very serious study of the superhero: the origins of the concept as well as its relative relevance. The Violent Century is a difficult text, yes, but one that gives as good as it gets.”
This American edition contains an exclusive Author Q&A, and a brand new short story, “Aftermaths,” set some time after the end of the novel.
Meanwhile, the two Jews versus… anthologies “irreverently explore the links between speculative fiction and Judaism. Authors featured include Orange Prize winner Naomi Alderman; The Big Bang Theory’s writer/co-executive producer Eric Kaplan; BSFA Award winning science fiction writer Adam Roberts; Israel’s Sapir Prize winner Shimon Adaf; Nebula Award winner author Rachel Swirsky; and cult fantasy author Daniel Polansky, among others. The stories run the gamut from the light-hearted to the profound, in turns surreal and enchanting.”
SFF in Translation
Meanwhile, Future Fiction, an ambitious boutique publishing company based in Rome has caught my eye. Francesco Verso, its editor, writes that Future Fiction “is a multicultural project aimed at scouting the best Speculative and SF literature from English and non-English speaking countries. As there are many nations, there are many futures. We believe in every one of them and want to depict them all.”
The result is that Future Fiction is opening up non-English SF into English and other languages too. So far they’ve translated and published (among others): Michalis Manolios’s “Aethra / The Quantum Mommy” (Greece), Francesco Verso’s “Two Worlds” (Italy), Cristian Teodorescu’s “Big Bang Larissa / Case 74” (Romania), and Efe Tobunko “Proposition 23” (Nigeria). In 2015 they’ll be publishing a host of other novels from Latvia, to China, to Sri Lanka, to France. They also collaborate with contemporary theatre and installation artists, bringing SF onto the stage and into new media.
In Other News…
Catching up on some old news, I’m thrilled that Frankenstein in Baghdad (discussed in an earlier edition of this column) by Ahmed Saadawi, last year’s winner of the International Prize for Arab Fiction, has set a date for its English edition! The novel has secured English publication with Oneworld in the UK and Penguin Books in the US. It is set to be published in Autumn 2016, translated into English by Jonathan Wright.
Meanwhile the IPAF 2015 shortlist has been announced, and the winner will be announced on May 6th.
After almost 18 months of doing the festival rounds, Andreas Kyriacou, a Cypriot film director, has finally put up his short, Whispers, onto vimeo for all to watch. Whispers tells the story of young man working at a comic book shop in Nicosia during the country’s worst economic crisis. He just wants to be a superhero. But the moral of the story here might be to be careful what you wish for.
Noura Al Noman is the author of two Arabic SF novels for young adults that have yet to be translated into English. In an old interview with The World SF blog she talks about how to write SF in Arabic and in a culture unused to readings SF YA books. Over at Arabic Literature, M. Lynx Qualey features Al Noman’s recent piece on finding a new Arabic fantasy series by Islam Idris, published by the Kuwaiti publisher Platinum Books.
Alex Mangles lives in the Levant and is confident that she’ll discover the lost city of Atlantis any day now. She tweets from @alexantra.