Archive for May, 2009
Well, not sure if there will be a part 2, but just in case.
Anyway, over the past couple of days I’ve been writing responses to the first one hundred (102 to be precise) unsollicited submissions I’ve received so far. I’ve now responded to all submissions up until May 28, except for a single one of which I haven’t made up my mind.
Two breakdowns, one by suitablility and one by setting (and keep in mind that both breakdowns add up to *more* than 102 as for some stories more than one [un]suitability factor applies or as some have more than one setting):
By Suitability; number of stories that are:
1) Not Suitable (in general): 41
2) Dystopia Lite: 14
3) Technofix: 9
4) Flight Forward: 16
5) Alien Saviours: 15
6) Superheroes Save the Day: 8
7) Hold/Rewrite Request (held over for a second read, rewrite or serious consideration): 8
(A small clarification: Dystopia Lite = First the world goes to the dogs, but in the end there is a small light at the end of the tunnel [and I'm deliberately using the American (mis)spelling here as this is also basically soothes the effect of a problem rather than addressing the cause]; Technofix = A lone genius invents cold fusion/universal nanotech/immortality/whatever and all our problems are solved (this is a variation of the old deus ex machina); Flight Forward = We go into space, without solving the problems we have on Earth [note that the latter is true for all examples 2 up to 5]; Alien Saviours = Alien intervention will solve/has caused our problems. )
Then there are stories that have the right intention, but use a flawed or clichéd execution, like:
–How people from the future (or an alternate reality) show the protagonist how the world will go down the drains unless she/he mends her/his ways (already old since the days of Charles Dickens);
–A future where outer appearances have changed (people have become animal hybrids, androids, half-robots or uploaded avatars) while internally they’re still the (bickering) same;
–How machines (robots, AIs, car accessories, household appliances, sexual aids) learn to really understand the human condition (where the underlying moral unvariably teaches how superior humans are: I strongly suspect, however, that an artificial intelligence that’s truly more intelligent than humans would either be very sad or laugh itself silly);
–How humanity will be accepted by enlightened aliens if they just pass this test;
–And even *several* stories that combine future medical developments with basebal;
By Setting; number of stories that are set in:
–Rest of Europe: 4
–Latin America: 4
–Imaginary Setting: 2
Now a few tips on how to increase your chances of acceptance (apart from the bleedingly obvious, that is: write a superb story):
- Try to come up with a story where things actually change for the better with respect as to how they are now. A story that implements a solution for one of the great problems of our time, or that dies trying. And no: starting with an apocalypse and then showing a little light at the end of the tunnel (see point 2 above: ‘dystopia lite’) does not count: that world is, in general, much worse off than we are today;
- Try to come up with a story where humanity itself (partly) changes; that is: where humans change their behaviour, voluntarily, in order to address a huge problem (or several huge problems). As noted above, in the majority of stories I’ve seen so far either no big problems are addressed at all (Dystopia Lite, Flight Forward), or something else (Technofix) or someone else (Alien Saviours) does it for us, so we don’t change and haven’t learned a thing. In my viewpoint, SF is the literature of *change*, ideally of unexpected, deep-seated, paradimg-shifting change, both internally *and* externally;
- Be ambitious: most stories only change a minor thing for the better, as if the author was too afraid to tackle the really big subjects. If the antho would be an accurate reflection of the slushpile, then it would be full of nice little stories where good things happen to decent people. That might be very plausible, but is also boring as hell. I highly prefer to get a story that’s incredibly audacious, reaches for the sky, and spectacularly fails rather than all the competent ones that barely take any risk at all. Dare to be gloriously wrong!
- A setting that’s not in the western world. As is clear from the above count, less than 6% of the stories I get are set in the developing world, while I would very much like to see such settings represented in Shine;
- Similarly, while I do get about 40% of the stories seen from a female point of view, I would dearly love to see more stories from the viewpoint (or with main characters) of people of colour (I received only four of those, so far, of which two are held over) and from a GLBT standpoint (I received two of those, and am considering both seriously);
- Finally, I’ve only seen five humourous stories, so far. While most of the Shine anthology will be serious (although a light tone or funny moment won’t hurt), I do intend to add a few humourous stories for both variety and light relief.
As I hope is very clear now: I would like to see variety, as much variety as possible within the remit of the anthology. So not just optimistic, near future SF stories set in North America or Europe, but also those set in the other continents. Not just white males solving (or trying to solve) our problems, but females, PoC and GLBT characters fighting the good fight, as well.
It’s why I’m doing a series of “Optimism in Literature around the World, and SF in particular“, and inviting people from all over the world to contribute. It’s why I’m mentioning places like Chili, the Pacific, Africa and the Islam world in my “Crazy Story Ideas” series. It’s why I’m doing the @outshine Twitterzine: to demonstrate in miniature what I have in mind.
Finally, a few remarks about the dystopias I see in the Shine slushpile (one would expect that an anthology that clearly proclaims that it’s looking for near future, *optimistic* SF would not get dystopias. Well, see point X above: you’d be quite wrong) and dystopias versus utopias in general.
The lovers of doom, gloom & apocalypse never tire to mention that utopias, in general, are naïve at best and extremely implausible at worst. Yet those same critical minds accept, without a second thought, that everybody in that dystopian setting (and I don’t care what caused the apocalypse: nuclear war, huge asteroid impact, massive volcano eruption, floods, catastrophic climate change, whatever) is armed to the teeth.
Think about it for a minute: the whole modern infrastructure has come down, people are starving and have almost (or already partly) turned to cannibalism, hardly have any decent clothes or housing to speak of, yet there is no shortage of guns. Rather the contrary: in your average dystopia, both the heroes and the villains have more weapons, and often highly sophisticated futuristic weaponry like plasma guns, fragmentation bombs and even rocket launchers in abundance. Your average street gang would drool at the weaponry those dystopian people have at their disposal.
And nobody runs out of ammunition, ever. Somehow, as the modern industrial complex has come crashing down, weapon factories keep running at top production. And no ragnarok aficionado ever calls that naïve or extremely implausible.
You can quote me for saying that the average dystopia is at least as implausible as your average utopia. Both are extreme extrapolations that will never happen in reality. Yet the verisimilitude of the former is never questioned, while the credibility of the latter is always called into doubt.
Engulfed in super fiction fields, @outshine helps the false pictures dissolve:
Monday May 4:
[Quote for the Monday] Lying is the beginning of fiction.”
[Source] Jamaica Kincaid (1949 – ) / Antiguan-born U.S. novelist, short-story writer, and journalist / The New York Times.
[Ed] Submission stats, week 18: 36 subs, 27 by men, 9 by women, 3 acceptances. Re-opening Monday July 6.
Tuesday May 5:
A canonical album from the noise-rock duo who’ve practically dissolved the idea of ‘canon'; stimulating, but not for the unadventurous.
Wednesday May 6:
Lament of the Amoeboid Eremite: Quivering prophase
–Such lust cleaves our devotion!–
My mitotic sin.
[Bio] Nancy Chenier switches continents at random. In Japan now, but more permanence can be found at http://is.gd/jhTp .
Thursday May 7:
An origin story, done in two minutes in a previous film, is stretched into 107 minutes of dull with dialog like “Nobody kills you but me.”
[#Spitballs] Wolverine / Directed by Gavin Hood / http://is.gd/bMQl .
Friday May 8:
[Quote for the Friday] “A pun is a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect.”
[Source] Charles Lamb (1775 – 1834) / British essayist / Last Essays of Elia, “Popular Fallacies”.
Saturday May 9:
“You’re good as new,” Dr. said,
“I installed a new emotion processor
so you won’t have to worry about another
murderous psycho snap.”
[Bio] Andrew Hilbert lives and works in Orange County, CA. He regularly contributes to newversenews.com .
Sunday May 10:
Mankind’s future rests with its villainy; rebirth and renewal are shrouded in comic & tragic darkness, Brechtian lyricism and an odd end.
[#ShineComics] THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY: 1910 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill; Top Shelf/Knockabout, 2009, $7.99.
How about positive developments in Islamic countries? Or, as SF is – at least in my book – supposed to do: imagine the near-unimaginable.
While the western world is still, unfortunately, in throes about ‘the war on terror’, I suspect that coercion and brute force in most cases work rather counterproductively, and that much more can be achieved through negotiations and open dialogue. And even then, it’s not necessarily a case of either (coercion) or (dialogue), but sometimes of either (outside pressure) and (internal dialogue).
Obviously, Islam and muslims have been getting a lot of bad press, and in many cases, such as the Taliban threatening to kill Pakistani schoolgirls, and a Saudi judge refusing to annull a marriage between a 47 year old man and an 8 year old girl, this is unfortunately correct.
However, the girl has now been granted a divorce. The request to anull the marriage was turned down twice, but finally overturned. Chalk one up for the forces of progress: even if it’s not clear if this was from international and human rights groups pressure, this is at least a small step forward.
Also, there are counter-movements. In reaction to the Saudi judge’s ruling, a Saudi Women’s Rights Group condemned the judge. The co-founder of the group (the Society of Defending Women’s Rights), Wajeha al-Huwaider, told CNN that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to “keep us backward and in the dark ages”. Also, in reaction to the Taliban’s threat to school girls in Pakistan, some people have set private schools in their homes to educate the girls.
So, behind the borders, screens and doors of many muslim countries a quiet revolution is taking place, while at the same time the image of Islam in western countries is slowly improving.
A few, almost semi-random, examples from the last couple of months, first of the former (better image of Islam in the West):
- This may already be a case of reality preceding fiction: cue to the recent article in the New York Times: Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book (and Shaun Green’s apt review).
- Also, A Mosque Among the Stars — an anthology with stories that portray Islam or Muslim characters in a positive light — was released last November 14th (feel free to call me biased because I appear in there with my story “Cultural Clashes in Cádiz”: however, this story was originally published in the Amityville House of Pancakes, vol. 1 — which is not available anymore — back in 2004, so I’m definitely not jumping on any particular bandwagon).
And a few examples of the latter (a slow change in Islamic countries):
- Most importantly, an article in the Times: A Quiet Revolution Grows in Islam!
- In Indonesia, Imams are approving FaceBook – but no flirting! A few salient points: while FaceBook is haram (forbidden) when used for gossip and spreading lies, the clerics noted there were many upsides to FaceBook – which is more popular than Google and Yahoo in Indonesia – and other modern forms of communication: “It is easier for the young to become connected, erasing space and time constraints.” (Does almost sound like SF, right?) Also: “It makes it possible for young couples – before marriage – to get to know each other, and see if they are really well-suited.”
- In Dubai, the first major SF movie made in the Middle East is being produced: Xero Error directed by Ashraf Gohri.
- And yes, there are feminist movements in Islamic countries (mostly brought to my attention by this article in Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, where a subtle differentiation is made between ‘muslim feminists’ = feministic females who happen to be muslims and ‘islamic feminists’ = feminists who are fully muslims *and* who see the idea of equal rights confirmed in the Quran). The impression I get is that there is not one, big feminist movement, but a lot of ‘islands of activity’ where women locally fight for their rights. For example, Musdah Mulia – professor in Qur’an studies, chairwoman of the Fatayat, an Indonesian mass organisation of muslim women – has devised a concept marriage law, based on the Sharia, in which a woman is fully equal to a man. In Morocco, the King has passed a progressive family law: the mudawana. Indeed, it’s the Islamic family laws – in which matters like marria, custody and inheritance are ruled – that feature big inequalities between men and women, and which are the focus of many feminist movements in muslim countries. Those laws are often referred to as ‘the sharia’s last bastion’, and they are under increasing attack;
- Apropos Morocco: ‘Also bearded men have affairs’ another Volkskrant article, in which the sexual mores in that Isalmic country are discussed. As one might expect, orthodox muslims have just as much desires as more enlightened muslims. However, the feel much more remorse. Last January, a movie called Amours Voilées (directed by Aziz Salmy, Muslimah Media Watch review of it here) premiered in Morocco, in which a woman is torn between Allah and a flesh-and-blood man, who is very attractive but also not interested in marriage. Fundamentalist muslims riled against the movie, while director Salmy hastens to add that the movie isn’t against (the use of) veils, or satirises Islam, but “is a reflection of our current society”. As the Muslimah Media Watch said about movies (in Islam countries) with pre-marital sex: “They’re a dime a dozen these days”.
This shows that Islam – contrary to popular belief – is not a big, homogeneous block, but more – like for example Christianity – an overarching name for a wide variety of different beliefs. Also, like Christianity, it is developing and evolving (and before some of you say that Islam is nothing but backward and that Christianity has gone more with the times, let me remind you of how the Catholic Church has only began praising Galileo’s work 400 years after the fact [and I'm not sure if they have withdrawn their heresy verdict against Galileo, even if Pope John Paul called it a 'tragic error' in 1992], not to mention their stance on homosexuality).
Back in the Middle Ages, when Europe was still going through its Dark Ages, Islam was having its Golden Age, initialising an agricultural revolution and producing a number of technological breakthroughs (most prominently the invention of the crankshaft by al-Jazari) in agronomy, astronomy and meteorology, botany, and Earth sciences. Through their environmental philosophy they produced the earliest known treaties about environmental science, and through that developed innovative and early usages of hydropower, tidal power and wind power (although they were early adopters of, indeed, fossil fuels, as well). How about a near future story where Islam has its Renaissance, or even its (beginning) Age of Enlightenment?
Maybe this could take place in Iran?
Check this article out: Iran’s quiet revolution (from 2006, but still very current).
To emphasise the feminist angle, from the above linked article: “At twenty-four, she is a graduate student in engineering — not unusual given that 63 percent of Iranian university students are now women.”
Nor does Shirin Ebadi, a human rights lawyer and the most powerful woman in Iran. In 2003, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming Iran’s first-ever Nobel laureate and the only Muslim woman to receive the honour. “Change, she believes, must be internally generated, as has been the case in parts of the former Soviet Union.”
“For Shirin Ebadi and other pro-democracy dissidents, military action against Iran threatens to roll back the hard-won gains of recent years: change, they argue, must come from within, and the West should be engaging in constructive diplomacy, not threats of war.”
Or, to quote Shirin Ebadi:
“I never believe in foreign pressure,” she told me, her hair protruding from beneath a white scarf. “I believe in Iranian public opinion. Look at Iraq and look at Kazakhstan. In Iraq it was foreign pressure and in Kazakhstan it was people pressure, from the bottom up. How much have they hurt Iraq Yet with no casualties, the people in Kazakhstan won.”
In such a near future scenario, the best thing the West can do is keep an open dialogue, while simultaneously helping out with energy matters. Iran’s nuclear power program is eyed with great suspicion in the West, while it is a source of national pride in Iran. So an outright boycott against it would work counterproductively, especially as Iranians see this as the West holding a double standard: why are India, Pakistan and Israel allowed to have nuclear weapons, and Iran – which, unlike those three countries, has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – is not?
Also, The IAEA has yet to find any evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, and even if Iran’s nuclear ambitions include acquiring the bomb, US intelligence suggests that such an achievement is likely ten years away. So why not imagine an approach where the West delivers solar energy systems to Iran – in order to reduce their reliance on oil, a nice ironic twist – along with technological aid for increased internet coverage throughout the country.
A quiet revolution needs power to grow, and free power from the Sun, and subtle power in the form of FaceBook and other modern forms of communication might just provide that extra push towards a change, a non-violent one. A change that brings people – moderate Muslims – to the fore, or people who sympathise with the Muslims Against Sharia blog. The kind of moderate muslims that are using modern technology to their advantage already.
As the article in De Volkskrant about (sexual) mores in Morocco mentioned (translated quote):
In the Christian world that has changed and it is inevitable that it also happens in the Muslim world. And sometimes you need to take a step back before you can move forward.
Which is what might be happening in Iran (and other Islamic countries) today: the tentative ‘step back’ before it moves forward?
The morning of hope wipes out the darkness of despair, now is the long-awaited daybreak.
Ahmad Shawqi (1868 – 1932) / Egyptian poet.
UPDATE: As I mentioned above, two weeks ago, “In such a near future scenario, the best thing the West can do is keep an open dialogue, while simultaneously helping out with energy matters.”
The open dialogue part is already happening: “Obama in Egypt Reaches Out to Muslim World“.
So here’s a thing to consider: had this been a short story with the above-mentioned scenario, then 50% of it would have been right, while the other 50% can be wrong. Did it then fail because it was half wrong, or succeed because it was half right? Should we only write a near future story if we’re 100% certain that we are right (which we’ll never be), or do we accept that we can be gloriously wrong (and get it right in parts)?
Has SF become so bleak that an anthology of optimistic, near future SF might as well be called ‘Dangerous Visions‘?
UPDATE 2: and things move faster than you think. The quiet revolution is turning into a very, very loud protest after election results in Iran many locals think are fradulent. More than a million protesters in the streets of Tehran. Reporters without Borders agree with them.
In a previous post I said that trying to predict the near future, sometimes you should be very bold, as things sometimes go faster than you think or suspect. This is such an example: in this very post my expectations for the willingness to change in Iran were too conservative: I felt it would take another decade or so. Not that I expect actual change in Iran to happen overnight (no matter how much I would like it), but I severely underestimated the willingness of a huge part of the Iranian people to change.
For which I apologise.
I wish the protesters all the best. And I wish I could do more, except send more money to Amnesty International and similar organisations.
Real democratic change in Iran won’t come from U.S. intervention, but from a broadening and deepening of the protest movement.
UPDATE 4 (several ones):
- Neda Agha-Soltan, one of the protesters illegally killed by the riot police, is becoming an icon for the democratic movement in Iran. As a side note: contrary to previous iconic images (the execution of a Vietcong prisoner in 1968, the lone, unarmed defiant man in front of a tank on Tiananmen Square in 1989), this one was taken by a cell phone, not by a professional photographer.
- Dispatches from the Iranian cyberfront: help to the democratic Iranian underground is already being supplied, both covert and not-so-covert.
- MPs snub Ahmadinejad party: 105 of Iran’s 290 MPs have snubbed an invitation to celebrate Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election win, local press reports say.
UPDATE 5: While the Iran government tries to blame UK embassy staff of playing a ‘significant role’ in the post-election protests, ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has demanded an honest investigation into the June 12 elections (via Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant,an English link when I see it).
UPDATE 6: And there it is, on CNN. Rafsanjani doubts Iranians ‘satisfied’ with elections aftermath. Almost simultaneously, on BBC: ‘Iran Clerics Defy Election Ruling.’ Interesting times, indeed.
UPDATE 7: Volkskrant (Dutch national newspaper) columnist Amanda Kluveld opines ‘Twitter Iran Free‘. She argues that this first ‘Twitter revolution’ is much more than just Twitterers colouring their avatar green (guilty! But I also wrote the above well before that):
- It launched several initiatives in the western world to help facilitate uncensored access to free media for the Iranian people,for example:
- I Proxy Iran: where Dutch professors, lecturers and students appeal to companies to reroute excess bandwidth of their computers and servers for the Iranian protesters;
- In the US, a group of ‘hacktivists’ around ICT advisor Austin Heap have developed software to bypass the Iranian censure filters;
- And Dispatches from the Iranian cyberfront (already mentioned in UPDATE 4 above), and probably more;
Therefore (to translate the last paragraph of the Dutch opinion piece):
“In the Twitter revolution democratic freedoms are being fought for with new weapons. We, the citizens of the free west will win this fight together with citizens living in a dictatorship. Pass the word, in every way possible. Through Twitter. And, of course, through mouth-to-mouth.
And that makes me feel just a little bit more optimistic!
UPDATE 8: Via the LA Times: “Iran’s Mir Houssein Moravi planning new political group“. No matter how much the current Iranian government tries to blame the protests on the West, those protest movements refuse to die down so far.
So long, your serenity: @outshine transmits from the sea of tranquillity:
Monday April 27:
[Quote for the Monday] “The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.”
[Source] Arthur Koestler (1905 – 1983) / Hungarian-born British writer and journalist.
[Ed] Submission stats, week 17: 16 subs, 9 by men, 7 by women, 3 acceptances. Again short on humourous pieces.
[Ed] Next week’s your last chance to get a piece in: I’ll be closing @outshine to submissions in May & June, as the Shine anthology beckons.
Tuesday April 28:
It’s built of stock parts, but Daath’s attention to detail and consistent pace makes for a neck-breaking beast of an album. With Kabbalism.
Wednesday April 29:
Were people really so – alone, granpa?
Disbelief in her deep brown eyes
Yes, dear, said I
Old friends laughing in the back of my mind.
[Bio] David Heijl lives in Belgium; juggles children, day job and night-time writerly ambitions but hasn’t dropped anything so far.
Thursday April 30:
On Terra it’s all sky whales and eco-harmony until the ultimate evil comes: Man. Preachy but Pixar-pretty, and won’t bore the kiddies.
[#Spitballs] Battle for Terra / Directed by Aristomenis Tsirbas / http://www.battleforterra.com/ .
Friday May 1:
[Quote for the Friday] “For hope is but the dream of those that wake.”
[Source] Matthew Prior (1664 – 1721) / English diplomat and poet / Solomon.
Saturday May 2:
A monk, a clone, and a telepath walk into a bar. Which one cries, “I have a question for my maker”? Which one replies, “Yes, my son”?
[Bio] Greg Beatty (http://gregbeatty.net) lives in Washington with his wife Kathy, where the biggest challenge is staying dry.
Sunday May 3:
The trouble is, alas, is that the book feels static and lifeless, from the Bowie-homage cover to the too-cute done-in-one story inside.
[#ShineComics] MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS by Michael “Doc” Allred (story and art) and Laura Allred (color art); Image, 2009, $3.50 .
Two things that put a smile on my face, albeit that the first one is a warm smile, and the second more of a wry one:
- The Fleas They Carried, an animal aid anthology edited by Jeff Richárd (note the accent aigu for pronunciation) has just been released through Lulu. All proceeds from this anthology will go towards reputable shelter and rescue groups, and will be matched dollar for dollar by the editor/publisher (within reason: if the antho sells like crazy then all you buyers will have outmatched the tireless editor, and that will be a great thing to happen). A caveat: I am one of the contributors to this anthology with my story “The Frog’s Pool” — which originally appeared in Nemonymous 4 — but have just ordered two (paper) copies — electronic ones are available, too — while, like the other contributors, not getting paid (apart from one electronic copy). The electronic copy looks great, and with fellow contributors like Eugie Foster and Mike Jasper this looks like a fine one (wish I wasn’t buried in slush, so I could read it quickly). Also, keep an eye on the Relief Anthology website: there are more projects coming up.
- What puts a wry smile on my face is the news that the Dutch entry to the Eurovision Song Festival didn’t even make it past the semi-finals. The tentative link to this very blog is that their song is called “Shine” (you can’t make such things up). Let’s say that the song isn’t exactly to my taste, and that the glittery suits that these ‘toppers’ were wearing just about signifies their style (tastes differ, and YMMV, of course*). The ‘toppers’ (literally translated: ‘those on top of the bill'; chart-toppers is about right) are hugely popular in Holland (not outside, because they sing mainly in Dutch), routinely selling out the Amsterdam Arena – home stadium of Ajax — several nights in a row. René Froger sold over 6 million albums in The Netherlands, and both Gordon (whose fortune is estimated at 8 million euros) and Jeroen van der Boom (two number one hitsingles in 2007) aren’t doing much worse, either. So pity is about the last thing we should feel for these ‘toppers’ not making the Eurovision final. The wry thing, though, is the fact that Gordon — a well-known homosexual**, who attends the Gay Pride Amsterdam — decided not to attend the Gay Pride in Moscow (which was banned), ‘for safety reasons’. And even if that gay pride rally was broken up by the Moscow riot police, it would have been a good opportunity to draw attention to Russia’s very poor record on gay rights, and humanitarian rights in general.
* = I don’t follow the Eurovision song festival at all, but the song title ‘Shine’ just caught my eye;
** = I don’t like his music, which is a matter of taste. I do enjoy listening to other homosexual singers like Freddy Mercury, Rob Halford and Doug Pinnick.
UPDATE: Andy Remic has just launched the Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics blog, whose mission is — “to celebrate everything positive, funky and exciting in the Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Universe!”
The SFFE is a core platform, a hub of authors who have banded together with the aim of celebrating all that is positive in genre fiction. We aim to leave cynicism and negativity at the door, and concentrate on what makes us smile, what entertains us, and what brings light and joy to our SF, fantasy and horror universe.
I’ll sure be keeping an eye on that one…;-)
Under Twitteresque skies, @outshine unfolds before your eyes:
Monday April 20:
[Quote for the Monday] “Remember that to change your mind and follow him who sets you right is to be none the less free than you were before.”
[Source] Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180) / Roman emperor and philosopher / Meditations.
[Ed] Submission stats, week 16: 16 subs, 9 by men, 7 by women, 3 acceptances. Again short on humourous pieces.
[Ed] Next week’s your last chance to get a piece in: I’ll be closing @outshine to submissions in May & June, as the Shine anthology beckons.
Tuesday April 21:
Goth and Euro-pop-metal merge and reign on the Italian band’s fifth; a bit overpolished, perhaps, but catchier than a chrome beartrap.
Wednesday April 22:
A pastel blue bloom, close enough to cup in my hands. The quiet white petals I remember; vivid leaves. Home is near; as are you, at last.
[Bio] Stephanie Campisi is a writer of the weird and wonderful. Find her at www.stephaniecampisi.com.
Thursday April 23:
DIY FX and a too-pat ending, but still an effective near-future riff on Mexican cyber-illegals from a director who’s going to be a big deal.
[#Spitballs] Sleep Dealer / Directed by Alex Rivera / http://www.sleepdealer.com/landing.htm. .
Friday April 24:
[Quote for the Friday] “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
[Source] Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862) / U.S. writer / Letter to Harrison Blake.
Saturday April 25:
One night at the nude colony,
the moon rose celestially.
With no clothes to stifle
I transformed in a trifle
To eat snacks, packaging-free.
[Bio] Writer-mommy-doctor who loves artists & underdogs: melissayuaninnes.net .
[Ed] and only now I find out that Melissa’s piece was planned for April 18, and Paula’s (pub’d on April 18) for today: my apologies to both.
Sunday April 26:
An official look at a key part of the series background, interesting but confusing; too much compression and bad art are strikes against it.
[#ShineComics] BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THE FINAL FIVE #1 by Kevin Fahey & David Reed (script), Nigel Raynor (art); Dynamite, 2009, $3.99.
Since this is the ‘crazy story ideas’ topic, let’s head to an area where precious few have gone before, and imagine — even less people have gone there — a prosperous future for it (or at least a future where things change for the better): Africa.
Often referred to a ‘the lost continent’. Or, to quote:
The only thing Africa has left is the future.
Marita Golden (1950 – ) / U.S. writer and teacher / A Woman’s Place.
First, let’s not see it as a ‘lost’ continent, and take hope (and lessons) from these newsbits:
- A Victory for democracy in Africa (from CNN).
- Women getting so fed up with their men’s (political) bickering in Kenia that they have started a ‘sex strike‘.
They say they want to avoid a repeat of the violence which convulsed the country after the late-2007 elections.
That dynamic ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and today “there’s a new generation of Africans who are now saying, ‘No — show us what you can deliver,’ ” says Farhan. “They are getting their message across. You find autocrats are reincarnating themselves as democrats. They are increasingly no longer in control. It’s really interesting. There’s a new mood sweeping Africa.”
- Or, as this 2008 end-of-year report on PRI.org indicates: while the bad news — which was most prominently featured — came from Zimbabwe and the Congo, this was, according to US amabassador Charles Stith: “It really is at the end of the day the tail wagging the dog … cause the numbers speak for themselves — you’ve got 16 countries with 650 million people out of 800 million, so the vast majority of people are in countries that are on track. The good news is that the numbers of states that are coming on-line, in terms of issues of governance and the economy, is increasing.”
- The World Championships Football of 2010 will be held in South Africa. This cannot be underestimated: football is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, and while its darker side (hooliganism) is well known, it also inspires hope and creates joy worldwide;
Next, let’s explore Africa’s potential:
- “Saharan sun to power European supergrid“, from the The Guardian almost a year ago (July 22, 2008; and I read the same news in a recent issue of New Scientist a few weeks ago, here is the same news on the Times online of March 15, 2009, so the idea isn’t quite that new);
- Africa’s (relative) lack of infrastructure can be an advantage, in a similar way as the Dialectics of progress (originally coined as “De wet van de remmende voorsprong” by Dutch historian Jan Romein in 1935):
- Thus, instead of large energy-generating plants with a huge power infrastructure and electricity grid, they can develop small local power plants based on solar, wind or water energy and biomass;
- Small, cheaply produced water purification units can supply clean water locally;
- In a similar manner, internet access can be done via WiFi (also no large cabling infrastructure needed): the mobile phone is already paving the way for this, as the number of the number of African mobile subscribers surpassed those in America already in May 2008;
- For transport, they can use/develop zeppelins instead of using planes, trains & automobiles (each of which need, again, a huge infrastructure: a zeppelin needs no rail, road or runways, and is energy efficient);
- Finally,the equator runs through Africa, so it’s a prime location for a space elevator base;
Obviously, there are enormous obstacles to overcome, political, cultural, sociological and technological. The challenges are huge, but I like to think that a lot of people tend to underestimate the possibility of change. A few examples: in the early eighties nobody — me included — would have believed that the Iron Curtain would come down, peacefully, in 1991. Similarly (see the Tutu quote below),
Improbable as it is, unlikely as it is, we are being set up as a beacon of hope for the world.
Desmond Tutu (1931 – ) / South African clergyman and civil rights activist / The Times (London).
hardly anybody would have believed that apartheid (one of the the best-known and ugliest Dutch words) would come to an end, starting with the release of Nelson Mandela in February 11, 1990, and ending — after several years of negotiations — with the election in 1994.
Finally, until very recently, nobody would have believed that the US would elect a black president (even if it took eight years of grandiose misgovernment and the biggest economic crisis since 1929 to help pave the way: sometimes, unfortunately, things need to get worse — even much worse — before they get better). So, in that vein:
One shouldn’t offer hope cheaply.
Ben Okri (1959 – ) / Nigerian novelist, short-story writer, and poet, 1992.
Isn’t SF about imagining the (seemingly) impossible? Write about an Africa that changes for the better (actually, I know about one writer who already does: but I swear I already had written most of this post before we talked about this at EasterCon), and send it my way.
When hope dies, what else lives?
Ama Ata Aidoo (1942 – ) / Ghanaian writer / Our Sister Killjoy, or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint.
UPDATE: well, I’ll be darned! The moment I post this, this news arrives: Africans Must Travel to the Moon. Although Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s reasons –
“The Americans have gone to the moon. And the Russians. The Chinese and Indians will go there soon. Africans are the only ones who are stuck here,” Museveni said, addressing a meeting of the Uganda Law Society in Entebbe.
“We must also go there and say: ‘What are you people doing up here?’.”
– may sound a bit awkward, they do resonate, in a local, African version, my notion of how building a space elevator might help solve Earth-based problems:
“Uganda alone cannot go to the moon. We are too small. But East Africa united can. That is what East African integration is all about,” he said. “Then we can say to the Americans: ‘What are you doing here all alone?’.”
Museveni has campaigned — very vocally — for a common East African economic and political zone. Hey, SF writers: take this cue from today before the near future runs away from you!
UPDATE 2: I don’t know how I missed this, but here are some links and remarks about Africa’s so-called ‘Cheetah generation’. So, a bit late to the game (brought to my attention via ‘Ondernemen 2.0, nu ook in Afrika‘ ["Entrepreneurship 2.0, now also in Africa"] in de Volkskrant), I think a good place to start is Rob Salkowitz’s article on Internet Evolution “Africa’s ‘Cheetah Generation’ Rises on the Net“.
A few salient points:
- Since 2006, Africa has been gaining new Internet connections faster than any other region — a curve that’s only expected to steepen with the widespread deployment of mobile Web and wireless satellite-based services. Costs continue to fall, extending access further and further down the economic pyramid.
- Nearly 45 percent of a total population of 160 million Nigerians is under the age of 15, for example. In The Economist‘s “Ageing” index, which measures the ratio of under-15s to over-60s in country populations, 14 of the 15 youngest countries in the world are African.
- Now, the rapid spread of information and communication technology (ICT) and a more entrepreneurial approach to the problems of bottom-of-the-pyramid populations is turning the 20th century liability of “too many mouths to feed” into the 21st century asset of “millions of minds at work.”
Compare this with another salient point made by Vijay Mahajan at This Is Africa in his ‘Travels with the Cheetah Generation‘ article (and keep in mind that Mahajan is a Professor of Marketing, so basically he’s looking at Africa as a big business opportunity, not as a continent that needs aid):
It would come as a surprise to many — it did to me — that Africa’s economic strength is greater than India’s, which has a comparable population. If Africa were a single country, according to World Bank data, it would have had $978bn in total gross nation income in 2006. This places it ahead of all the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) except China. Africa has greater wealth than most think.
At the time of this update, SHINE has been released and contains two stories set in Africa (which are, alas, not by African authors. If I can do a follow-up, this is one thing I certainly hope to correct): “Sustainable Development” by Paula R. Stiles and “Paul Kishosha’s Children” by Ken Edgett. The former sees hope for Africa’s future beginning on a small scale, the latter even sees it become a leading continent in the future. Which ties in with Alastair Reynolds (also a SHINE contributor)’s planned 11K trilogy where Africa also becomes the leading continent in the future.
Looking at the Cheetah Generation and various other developments, that assumption may not be as far-fetched as many of you probably think. To illustrate that, another quote from Mahajan’s article:
Another statistic about Africa relates to the diaspora. With perhaps 100 million members around the globe, the diaspora is investing billions of dollars annually on the continent. And unlike the recent past, Africans living abroad are more likely to return home to lead and create new businesses. They are helping to propel Africa’s rise.
As it is, the eponymous Paul Kishosha in Ken Edgett’s story is an African living abroad who returns home and creates — if not a new business — something new and inspiring, indeed.