In Tiamat’s Terrain’s latest roundup I’ve scoured high and low for all forms of SFF and genre fiction coming out this spring. From small publishers to dedicated teams behind niche websites, from an uncommon short-story to the glitz of the Cannes Film Festival, this round up really underlines what I’ve been noticing these meager six months on the job: that there are people all around the globe working hard to build bridges and connect the world to this region’s fascination with SFF and graphic novels. The creators, the publishers, the event organizers, and the website administrators are (sometimes even unwittingly) all part of an amalgamation that I am just constantly amazed by.
So when you’re reading through today’s roundup, spare a thought for the people behind IslamSciFi, for the editors at Interlink who decided to publish a magic realist Arabian novel, for the people at Self Made Hero who insist on publishing best-selling European graphic novels in English, for the organizers in Dubai who manage the Middle East’s most anticipated ComicCon for the 4th year running. Tiamat’s Terrain tips its hat to them all.
G. Willow Wilson, known for her graphic novel Cairo, her debut SFF book Alif the Unseen, and of course as the new creator of the wildly popular Ms Marvel gets interviewed over at islamscifi. She talks about how she got into SFF and comics and how people have responded to her work outside of America:
I have been very surprised by the level of interest and support that I’ve gotten. For a long time I thought it was just the American Muslim community, because there is a lot of geek cultures, generally sci-fi fantasy comics, is really big in the Muslim community because it’s an outsider culture. That really resonates with American Muslims who are kind of struggling to reconcile too often conflicting identities. I mean that kind of thinking is at the core of sci-fi and fantasy. You’ve got the kid who’s kind of on the outside, but he has super powers; he discovers he’s got this great destiny or you know, things really aren’t that bad after all, and I think that really appeals to Muslim, especially youth, Muslim youth in America. I had always thought, “gosh it’s a good thing that people abroad, and Cairo, and the Middle East are not reading this stuff because I’m sure I would just get skewered,” and then I started, just before last year, I got a message on Twitter from a couple of guys in Cairo who said “we really want you to do a signing in Cairo. We love your books and we’ve read Cairo the graphic novel and some of the other stuff and we want you to come do a signing.”
Yorgos Lanthimos’ first English-language feature film will be hitting Cannes this year. It’s called The Lobster and some of the stars onboard include Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, and Léa Seydoux. Where Lanthimos’ infamous Greek film Dogtooth (2009) had a pretty bizarre storyline, The Lobster promises to keep it weird, this time with a sci-fi spin. The storyline takes place in a dystopian future where single people are arrested and forced to find a mate in 45 days. If they don’t find one, they can either be transformed into an animal of their choosing or get released into the woods, but one man defies the rules. This sounds like a beautiful but devastating backdrop to a humorous tale.
Coming out soon from Interlink, Dreams of Maryam Tair by Casabalancan author Mhani Alaoui has certainly piqued my interest. Their description below gives us a taste of a tale steeped in a fertile culture of local mythology, but that unwinds into its own type of magic realism:
Outside of time, the legendary storyteller and queen Sheherazade tells a little girl a story that has happened and is yet to happen, the rebirth of a story ancient and forgotten.
Dreams of Maryam Tair: Blue Boots and Orange Blossoms brings readers to a Casablanca of myth and metaphor; curses and student revolts; and of witches, demons, djinns, and bureaucrats. During Casablanca’s 1981 Bread Riots, enigmatic Leila and scholar Adam catch the attention of the demons, and are disappeared. Months later—after centuries in the demons’ lair—Adam and Leila reunite at her parents’ once grand and now cursed house as shadows of themselves. But Leila returns from her ordeal pregnant with a special, singular child, one who draws out magical beings and has the power to change everything. A daughter she names Maryam, born with the scent of orange blossoms and a body filled with pain.
Seamlessly interweaving a sprawling, multi-generational family tale with ancient creation stories, Mhani Alaoui’s cyclical half-myth, half-reality story celebrates the radical power of disobedience.
Self Made Hero continue to translate European comics into English with their publication of Pablo by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie. This graphic novel biography of Picasso won the Grand Prix at France’s RTL Graphic Novel Awards and Birmant and Oubrerie. Self Made Hero describe it thusly:
Taking in the artist’s early life among the bohemians of Montmartre, with all of its scandal and frustration, and his turbulent relationship with his model and lover Fernande, Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie show how Picasso’s style developed in response to his friendships and rivalries. An entertaining and beautifully drawn account, this authoritative graphic novel explores the themes and obsessions—among them, sex, death and his great nemesis, Henri Matisse—that drove Picasso to express himself.
Here’re some sneak peeks of the graphic novel itself.
Here’s one for those of you who love detailed art, the world of fashion, historical fiction, or all of the above. France’s renowned graphic novelist, Annie Goetzinger, has produced a stunning fictional biography of Christian Dior, told through the eyes of the young up and coming Clara who starts working for Dior in 1947; and NMB have just released it in English. To those of you unfamiliar with Goetzinger, here’s a small taste of her varied and lush illustrations over at forbidden planet. Girl in Dior follows the complicated blossoming of the fashion industry as the second world war ended, touching on a moment in history that many of us didn’t know existed, but that changed the way we understand fashion today. As Matthew Burbridge writes in his review for Graphic Novel Reporter,
“Goetzinger gives her readers an intimate and clever look into the life in the post-war French fashion industry. The reader follows Clara Nohant, a young journalist en route to her first article. Little do we know that her first article is on the very first Christian Dior collection release, to be remembered as the very first contemporary fashion show. This is a moment in fashion history much written about, ranging from the many angles it was reported by the media to the socialites and celebrities present, and remembered most widely for the shockwave of controversy that followed.”
Arkady Martine is by her own admission part Byzantine scholar and part SFF writer. And when the two mix you get extraordinary short stories like “City of Salt.” The story follows the re-encounter of two old lovers, Ammar a soldier and Sogcha an illusionist. Sogcha is where he left her, in sole control of a once powerful city that has now collapsed into salt and kudzu. Ammar has returned to make amends and take her away. The first five words of the story, “In the month of Tammuz,” immediately transfer the reader to somewhere in Mesopotamia, burning in a summer heat that is all too familiar to this reader. And while Martine’s story could ultimately be read as a story about love and desires, it is at the same time abundant in familiar mythological tropes turned unfamiliar, threaded with illusion and history, a stark reminder of the rise and fall of empires in this ever arid region.
When I finished reading “City of Salt” I was left wondering at a tale that can embrace the barrenness of a land and moment while evoking such richness of story-telling. Beware, you may find yourself trying to sweep salt and sand off your face when you’re done reading this one.
The Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) ran from the 9th to the 11th of April. It was held in Dubai and was graced with the presence of illustrious names like William Shatner, Gillian Anderson, Kelly Hu. Apart from the international stars, the Con also showcased some pretty interesting local production.
“Among the highlights,” writes The National, “was the premier of the trailer for the Emirati-produced Aerials, which the producers say is the UAE’s, and possibly the Arab world’s, first feature-length sci-fi film […]
“The trailer shows Dubai invaded by aliens, complete with impressive shots of an alien spaceship hovering over the Burj Khalifa. The film is in the later stages of post-production, and the makers say they are in talks with distributors and hope to have it in cinemas by the end of the year.”
Alex Mangles lives in the Levant. She tweets from @alexantra.