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The Lost SHINE Interview: Lavie Tidhar


Again my profound thanks to the indefatiguable Charles A. Tan for interviewing all the SHINE authors. Well, all the SHINE authors? Charles missed one, possibly becuase he’s so close to him (relatively speaking: they both post on the World SF News Blog, but live a considerable distance from each other).

I thought about attenting Charles to this (and I will now), but on second thought decided to interview Lavie myself.

So here is the ‘lost’ SHINE interview with Lavie Tidhar (and as an extra bonus tomorrow I will post the podcast of Lavie’s SHINE story The Solnet Ascendancy, narrated, very vividly, by Ray Sizemore):

Jetse de Vries: Actually, I don’t really see you as an ‘optimistic’ writer (at least: the work that I’m aware of). So why try SHINE? Stretch your wings? The challenge? Or do you just want to be published in every publication available?

Lavie Tidhar: It’s interesting — how do you fit into an ‘optimist?’ label? I’m not sure I’d describe myself that way, but with my science fiction work — I’ve been working on my own sort of future-history in a sequence of short stories and at least one novel — and that assumption, that there is a future, that humanity goes on to the solar system and even out of it, that it develops the tools necessary for its own survival — that’s quite optimistic, isn’t it?

I’m not sure the stories themselves are particularly optimistic — which comes down to an awareness that, even if we do go out into space, even if we do develop alternative energy sources and so on — humanity will still remain the same. You’d still have abuse (of people, of power), greed, violence… which means you can still tell interesting stories. I don’t ever see a utopia emerging, but I also doubt we’ll destroy ourselves in the short term.

So — a realist? But I’m pretty sure realists don’t write science fiction…

Maybe the answer is just wanting to be in every publication going, as you suggested!

Jetse de Vries: You’re an avid traveller, and it informs your writing. Did your awareness of the wider world eventually initiate the World SF Blog?

Lavie Tidhar: Yes and no. I always knew I wasn’t a part of the American SF sphere, in a way. I grew up on a lot of American SF, but I also grew up on a lot of very obscure Hebrew fantastical fiction (not to mention growing up on a kibbutz, which is a real-world failed-utopian construct), so my interest, very early on, was in different modalities of science fiction and fantasy. You know, James Gunn can bleat all he wants about how science fiction is soooo American, but it’s not: it’s a way of thinking about the future that, one could argue, needs very little in common with the American pulps. So whenever I went travelling I always looked for that. I remember at eighteen — I wasn’t even eighteen then — travelling through Eastern Europe just post-communism, and picking up the Romanian Nemira anthologies, and some interesting Russian books in translation — and going to China a few years later was a delight, because I got to meet all these science fiction writers in Beijing. Most recently I went to Singapore and had a chance to meet a lot of people working in the field at the moment.

I’m very lucky I’ve been able to move around as much as I have, but then you also sacrifice a lot for it, I guess — a sort of stability is obviously lacking.

The blog was something I wanted to try for a very long time, but it was the publication of The Apex Book of World SF that finally enabled me to do that — it was meant to be a promotional tool for the anthology but, of course, very quickly took on a life of its own. And it’s been pretty incredible — all these talented people joining us, contributing articles, starting a real dialogue that’s still ongoing, that’s still evolving.

Jetse de Vries: When writers write about an ‘exotic’ place on today’s Earth, must they really have been there, or can they get away with making it up and a ton of research? Or in other words: does one need to have been in an exotic locale to write about it?

Lavie Tidhar: You know, as I’ve said before, what’s exotic for one person is commonplace to another. So if you approach a location as “exotic” you’ve already lost, in a way. I don’t personally know if writers need to have visited somewhere or not. Personally, I need to. I need to get a sense of place or I find it very hard to write about it. Which is why I almost never write anything set in the United States. For me, I need to learn a place slowly, over time, and even then I know I’m only scratching the surface. So part of it is pretending, obviously! But not too much, I hope.

Jetse de Vries: Why do editing projects at all, when you’re already writing? Basically, editing (anthologies, books, magazines) is a huge time sink (believe me: I know), so why bother?

Lavie Tidhar: You’re right. I don’t really have an answer to that — it can be incredibly frustrating and time consuming and so on, but at the same time it can be incredibly satisfying. I love the fact I get to promote other people’s work, put together something I can be proud of. As long as it doesn’t take over fiction writing, for me (or playing with comics or whatever I end up being fascinated with) then it’s ok. I think it’s a bit like a bug — once you get it, it’s very hard to stop!

Jetse de Vries: In “The Solnet Ascendancy” you depict Mike Rowe as a well-intended volunteer, while the Vanuatu local in the story — Fatfat Freddy — in the last part of the story wistfully remarks: ‘“Fifty years of volunteerism—” he makes it sound like a rare type of disease, “and what did it get us?”.’ How ambiguous do you feel about volunteer labour in developed countries?

Lavie Tidhar: Sadly, I didn’t invent “volunteerism”. It’s an actual term used by development agencies. The fact that it sounds like a disease — and they don’t seem to get it — is quite sad, isn’t it? I know a lot of people in development, and I know a lot of them do feel ambivalent about it. How much good does it do? How much bad? How much of it is tied in with national or big-business interests, or with a very specific vision of what development means? It’s not things I can answer easily.

Jetse de Vries: When I spoke with John Berlyne at the last EasterCon, he was full of praise for your novel Osama (to be released by PS Publishing). An excerpt from it has gone up online recently on World Literature Today’s special SF issue (If I understand correctly). However, while John loved Osama, he also mentioned it was a near-impossible sell to the ‘big’ publishers. Do you intentionally try to write controversial material, or did it just happen? And do you think that something like — say — Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses would be published today by a major publisher?

Lavie Tidhar: What’s published in World Literature Today isn’t actually a part of the novel. It’s a story about a guy who wakes up one morning to find out he’s Osama bin Laden. I write a lot about politics, I think. The novel, Osama, actually owes part of its origin to a story I wrote a while back, My Travels with Al-Qaeda (in Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s anthology Salon Fantastique), which is sort of a love story, about two people trapped by several bombing attacks — which is sort of what happened to my wife and me. We were in Dar-es-Salaam when the American embassy was bombed, my wife was in the Sinai during the Ras-al-Saitan bombinbgs, in London during the Kings’ Cross bombings… so you do get to the point where you think, hey, is this personal?

Osama is, I think, a very ambitious novel. And I do think that, at heart, it’s a love story. What John said is absolutely true. A lot of editors liked the book, but were afraid to publish it. And we’re very lucky Nick Gevers and Pete and Nicky Crowther at PS were so enthusiastic about it.

Now, I don’t set out to write ‘controversial’ material. But I do feel I should engage with what’s important, that I should write about things that matter. It’s not to say I don’t love the escapist stuff as well, but at heart I’m a political writer — because there’s so much that we need to talk about, need to understand.

Would The Satanic Verses be published today? I have no idea. So far, however, Osama has been turned down by, oh, well, a fair number of publishers, yes. But I’m lucky to have PS, and I am still hopeful someone would get over this fear and pick it up. We’ll see…

Jetse de Vries: Do you think science fiction (or any other writing) is capable of changing the world?

Lavie Tidhar: Well, everything we do changes the world, doesn’t it? It’s a question of scale, not effect. But yes, absolutely it does. Books have a tremendous power. And even it all it ever does is help someone pass a lonely night, well, that’s still changing the world to the better, isn’t it?

Jetse de Vries: Does being an Israeli inform your writing in any specific matter?

Lavie Tidhar: Obviously it does, though being also a naturalised South African and having permanent right-to-remain in the UK makes me feel like Uri Geller, sometimes… I find Israel fascinating, as an experiment in large-scale myth-making — it has an entire history written and patched-together to justify it. In a very real way it was, and is, an experiment in creating a fictional state. You’d have to be crazy, as a writer, not to want to engage with it.

Jetse de Vries: Finally, anything you want to plug (apart from The Apex Book of World SF and the World SF News Blog)?

Lavie Tidhar: I’d like to give a shout-out to Shine, an anthology of optimistic SF stories!

Truth is, I’ve got a ton of stuff coming out. The Bookman, my novel from Angry Robot Books, comes out in the US in October — it’s kind of a love letter to steampunk. And another novel in the same world, Camera Obscura, is coming out next year. Can you say kung fu-noir?

There’s also Martian Sands, a short novel coming out from Apex Books in the US — late this year or early next year, I’m not sure — which deals with the holocaust, kibbutzim on Mars, fictional detectives, digital intelligence and evolution, drugs, four-armed Martian warriors and, well, lots more. I think of it as Schindler’s List meets Total Recall.

Osama, as we mentioned, is coming out of PS Publishing in the UK, in a limited hardcover edition. This is probably next year sometime?

PS are also releasing my novella Cloud Permutations soon, which is about Melanesian colonists on a distant planet, a boy who wants to fly, possibly sentient clouds and a quest. You got to have a quest! And PS will release another novella from me at some point, Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God, which I think of as a guns & sorcery novella — think sex, drugs and violence, with no redeeming features!

And Apex Books are re-issuing my novella, An Occupation of Angels, very soon — a supernatural cold war thriller with angels. And there are quite a few short stories coming up — from Interzone to Ellen Datlow’s anthology Naked City.

Keeps me busy…

[End of interview]

Anyway, with the excerpt of his story posted yesterday here on the SHINE blog, and an interview with him today, and a podcast of his story tomorrow, we might as well call it Lavie Tidhar week.


SHINE Reviews, part 3: For a Few Dollars More

More reviews of SHINE (I seem to be doing them in batches of six: so this one would make the number of the beast complete, and prove SHINE is really a badass anthology for the good…;-), and these are already a week old:

“De Vries has assembled an excellent anthology. There are no real duds, and fully half the stories are absolutely outstanding; while there are no hard and fast correlations, the majority of the latter are among the longer stories. If another collection of stories as good as this is published this year, it will be an annus mirabilisShine is one of the best single anthologies of recent years.

  • Gardner Dozois in the April Locus Magazine (link leads to Table of Contents: review is not online) discusses at some length how truly difficult writing optimistic SF is, and says that “the stories here that probably do the best job with this complex balancing act are The Solnet Ascendancy by Lavie Tidhar, Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic by Gord Sellar, and The Earth of Yunhe by Eric Gregory.” He also says that SHINE “also contains good work by Jacques Barcia, Ken Edgett, Madeline Ashby and others.” A quote:

“although not all the stories work, a fair number of them do a credible job of successfully balancing drama and optimism without sacrificing cultural complexity.”

While Gardner Dozois admits that writing near-future, upbeat SF is very hard (and that “portraying yet another desolate and decaying dystopia where all hope has been lost and the future promises nothing but more of the same or worse” is “taking the easy way out”), he still seems to implicitly assume the default position that optimistic SF must run the tightrope (“this complex balancing act”) without sacrificing cultural complexity, while pessimistic SF somehow does *not* need to run that same tightrope (after all, in most cases it has already destroyed most ‘cultural complexity’). I do prefer to be kept to a higher standard, but I also find this general uncritical attitude towards downbeat SF somewhat ‘taking the easy way out’.

Finally Gardner Dozois conclude with “Perhaps optimistic SF is just more upbeat mundane SF?” As I said in the previous reviews post, the theme of SHINE is *near-future*, optimistic SF (very much on purpose, because that is the greatest challenge: I wanted writers to think, very hard, about solutions to today’s problems). That doesn’t mean I’m defining *all* optimistic SF as near-future, or mundane.

  • Rich Horton in the April Locus Magazine (link leads to Table of Contents: review is not online) is positive overall, if not enthusiastic (giving a special mention to Gord Sellar’s Sarging Rasmussen: A Report by Organic):

“I approve, on the whole, and I enjoyed the stories, on the whole, but … I want greatness, and this book is full of goodness.”

I suppose we can agree to disagree about the ‘greatness’ of certain stories, but I do wonder why an anthology full of stories where people try to change things for the better needs to be ‘approved’, while anthologies where the population is decimated, the Earth is brought to the brink of destruction (sometimes beyond) and nihilistic characters gleefully engage in violence get that stamp of approval by default. Maybe this says something about the current mindset of written SF?

  • Paul Graham Raven at Futurismic chimes in, and is critically positive (as can be expected of him: he won’t take my word on anything…;-), picking and choosing the stories that worked for him (and those that didn’t):

“[…] it also ably demonstrates the potential of optimistic science fiction to entertain and speculate at the same time.”

“Shine left me feeling like a cat lazing in the sunshine, happy and inspired.  It’s vital and relevant, an almost living thing.  If it’s not looked back on as a significant early step on a new path for sci-fi – along with The Apex Book of World SF – I’d be surprised.”

“One thing that does deserve significant praise, though, is the international scope of the stories. The solutions, the hope, comes from around the world, from Africa to South America to Asia to Europe to North America.  There’s no focus on a single continent or culture. I think, perhaps, that’s what makes the collection so inspiring.”

“Whilst a great number of Sci-Fi books look at the darkside of mankind’s future, this offering Edited by De Vries really does look at some of the positive aspects of what is yet to come. Its put together with a lot of raw new talent and as such allows a reader the chance to try new people for a relatively cheap price. A great deal all round and back that up with the different angle it’s a real gem of a title to own.
Great Stuff.”

Finally, while the indefatiguable Charles A. Tan has interviewed almost all authors of the SHINE anthology on SF Signal, he missed one. Who? Find out in “The Lost Interview” coming here and at DayBreak Magazine soon…

SHINE reviews, part 2: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Things are moving so fast in the day job and with SHINE (I hope to announce where you can get DRM-free E-versions of the anthology soon, thanks to the people of Solaris Books working very hard on this behind the scenes), meaning I’m struggling to keep up.

Here’s a catch-up with some of the earlier reviews out there (I know: there are more recent reviews: I will post about those in a few days, otherwise this post will just burst out of its seams…;-). Cue to Ennio Morricone:

The Good:

For an anthology with a very tight remit — optimistic near-future science fiction — there is a huge variety in the stories themselves. It occurs to me that this book is the perfect introduction to SF for readers who wouldn’t normally venture into the genre.

Outreach again! Make no mistake: if SHINE becomes one of the gateway drugs to lure innocent readers into SF, then I’m all the happier for it.

  • Sumit Paul-Choudhury at New Scientist proclaimed: ‘The near future looks brighter than ever‘, and while — like every other reviewer — he didn’t like certain stories (and interestingly this differs very much from reviewer to reviewer), in the end his thumbs are up:

But it would be difficult — some might say doubly impossible — for every entry in an anthology as ambitious as Shine to appeal to every reader. It is to de Vries’ credit that all but the most hard-hearted of sci-fi readers should find their own brand of optimism represented somewhere among Shine‘s array of bright futures.

  • While Val (not his real name) at Val’s Random Comments admits that ‘I am by no means optimistic about the (near) future’, it does seem that SHINE won him over (even if only temporarily):

The diversity of the stories and the consistently high quality of this collection is testament to his passion for this project. Where some themed anthologies struggle to collect enough stories that fit the scope of the anthology well enough, Shine manages to make one statement out this diversity. It does not propose solutions to the world’s problems but it does offer hope that we’ll be able to climb out on that handbasket after all. A shining example of what positive thinking can achieve.

  • Jonathan Cowie at Concantenation took the trouble to write a lengthy review where he touches upon almost every aspect of the anthology (he told me at the SHINE launch party at Adyssey that it took him a full day to write it: it shows, and thanks). In the end, he’s quite positive about it:

More than enough tales to keep you satisfied. As I indicated, this is not a perfect collection (few are) but it did set itself very ambitious goals. Yet there are enough sufficiently good tales, if not outright hits, to say that this anthology does in its way markedly stand out from the crowd, and so serious SF readers will want to keep an eye out for it.

The Bad:

  • Well, the worst mention so far — on a good place, at that — isn’t that bad: Neville Hawcock of the Financial Times initially proclaims it (in his very short review) a ‘mixed result‘, and takes me to task for the intro- and outro tweets (“the tweets appended to each story are toe-curling”). But he also mentions the stories (which are considerably longer than the tweets) that he enjoyed:

But there are some strong stories: “Overhead”, Jason Stoddard’s sketch of a moon colony, is the best; Holly Phillips’s “Summer Ice”, set in a greener future metropolis, and Kay Kenyon’s “Castoff World”, also satisfy.

For any value of ‘bad’, I’ll take it.

The Ugly:

  • To be frank, Liviu Suciu’s review at Fantasy Book Critic isn’t actually bad (he rates SHINE a B+), and as any reviewer he’s totally entitled to his opinion and taste. The ‘ugly’ part I’m referring to is in an assumption he makes right in his first paragraph:

“Shine” is an anthology that comes with a lot of hype and an introduction that is utterly misleading — or maybe it’s me and Mr. de Vries having quite different definitions of the terms *sf* and *optimistic* — since what Shine is about is mostly *mundane near future sf* extrapolated from current headlines, or sometimes even yesterday’s headlines like carbon trading — and by optimistic, Mr. de Vries means something that to me is almost Utopian considering what human history teaches us [more…]

I have no problem with Liviu Suciu having a totally different view of *optimistic*: each to his own. However, I am *not* limiting the *definition* of SF to that of the near future: no, the theme of this particular anthology is — as clearly written above the huge “SHINE” letters on the cover — ‘an anthology of near-future optimistic SF’. Also, in  the introduction I write:

This was not an easy task, or as Jason Stoddard had it: ‘There’s nothing like taking on two kinds of impossible’

Impossible part 1 is getting SF authors to write an optimistic story. Impossible part 2 is getting them to write about the near future, which is immensely hard to do right, as well.

That Liviu Suciu doesn’t like near-future SF is also totally up to his taste and preferences. But at no point did I state that SF should be limited to *mundane near future SF*: that’s a bit like saying that Ellen Datlow, with her recent anthology Tails of Wonder, is limiting all of the genre to just stories about cats, or that John Joseph Adams, with The Living Dead (1 or 2) is limiting horror to just zombies.

Having said that, his verdict can be summarised as:

This being said, “Shine” starts with a bang with six stories that I enjoyed a lot and could not stop reading, but after that it became very hit and miss for me though several stories from the second part are quite touching but without the sf-nal intensity of the first ones.

More reviews (plenty more reviews) to be linked to soon. Stay tuned!

SHINE sighted in the Wild, part 2

More SHINE sightings in the wilds of the wide world and teh intarwebs:

At Suvudu by Matt Staggs: ‘Does the Future Shine? Or Is It Wasted?‘;

Dylan Fox had initial misgivings, but changed his mind, see his post ‘Many Little Green Shoots‘;

Short mention at Futurismic, where Paul Graham Raven notes that the tireless Charles A. Tan has interviewed all the SHINE authors, hence:

SF Signal interviews by Charles A. Tan (in alphabetical order by author’s last name: I’ll update it with links when the interviews go live):

At Coilhouse Magazine, in an article called ‘All Tomorrows Sovereign Bleak‘, David Forbes mentions SHINE as an antidote against the predominant bleakness of the (current) Sci-Fi landscape. To quote:

In 1967, sci-fi needed a designated anthology to finally be dangerous, edgy and bleak. As I write this, the SHINE anthology (which you should buy), has hit the stores. It is designated specifically for optimistic sci-fi.

Compare to the remark I made at John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” feature:

And I find it highly ironic that the first ‘dangerous visions’ of the 21st Century—that is, fiction going against the current grain—are upbeat stories.

Slightly related: SF Signal finds out via io9 that h+ magazine had an article on ‘5 positive science fiction novels to enjoy while waiting for the singularity‘ (written by Jason stoddard), which was in the free Spring 2009 issue over a year ago. But hey, the more news about upbeat SF, the better…;-).

On a personal note, I was happy to see SHINE available in the American Book Center in The Hague.

John Lampard at Disassociated mentions ‘A More Positive and Realistic Science Fiction Future‘;

As an aside (which is topical, read further), I’m shamelessly supporting Patrick Farley’s Electric Sheep (via BoingBoing), even though I don’t know it yet: purely on the basis of the awesomeness of Don’t Look Back (a Dicebox Aside comic).

Pledge Your Allegiance (Suicidal! Suicidal! Suicidal!)…;-)

SHINE Reviews, part 1: The Bold and the Beautiful

When thinking about a title for this post, I was thinking along the lines of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, but I haven’t seen an ugly review (yet). Then I thought “The Bold and the Beautiful” works better this time around. Anyway, the first reviews of SHINE have been put online, and here they are (at least, the ones I’m aware of, so far. Do feel free to point me towards others!):

The Bold:

  • Bibliophile Stalker Charles A. Tan boldly assumes that my own story “Transcendence Express” is, more or less, the template or the ‘perfect example’ for a SHINE story. I would like to emphasize that this was not my intention: as an editor I know that an author is too close to her/his own story to judge it objectively, so taking my own story as the ‘mother copy’ for SHINE would be folly. I’ve put up several posts explaining what I was looking for (not to mention a few crazy story ideas), and none of them mentions my on story, very deliberately. Having gotten that off my chest, Charles gives an honest assessment of the anthology, coloured — like that of any reviewer — by his own viewpoints. He calls it a ‘mixed success’, where ‘the good stuff outweighs the bad’.
  • Nihilistic Kid Nick Mamatas — the boldest reviewer at SciFi Wire — boldly proclaims: ‘Sick of the Apocalypse? Check out 16 futures worth living in!’ He takes me to task for being too obtrusively present (while noting that my intros can be easily skipped), he takes some of the stories to task for too much naïveté, and while praising Mari Ness’s story remarks that it has ‘an uninspired little fart of a title: “Twittering in Space” (the actual title is “Twittering the Stars”). But all in all he is positive: “Overall, Shine is utterly worth reading”.
  • Maurizio Del Santo of Fantascienza (warning: Italian language review) is, like Charles and Nick — if the Babelfish translation is any help — both praising and critical, while some of his remarks seem to echo some of Nick’s;

The Beautiful:

That’s why Shine is such a significant – dare I say, historic – anthology. And with a rich diversity of settings and thematic speculation, this is a collection most science fiction fans will undoubtedly embrace.

  • Liz de Jager — who admits to not being a core SF fan — on SFRevu takes the time and trouble to discuss each and every story. She only dislikes two (a score I’m very happy to take), and concludes with:

I’m not the biggest SF fan in the world, but I’ll happily promote this to others who, like me, feel the same way. Here are authors with stories and characters I could relate to. But then, I suspect hardened SF readers out there will devour this with gusto. Jetse de Vries has done a truly remarkable job putting Shine together and I’d like to be signed up to read any follow-up anthology because this one has genuinely broken down some preconceived ideas I’ve had about the genre.

Outreach, people: one of the (many) things I’m aiming for with SHINE is to reach an as wide audience as possible, and it is encouraging that both a very well-read SF reviewer and one whose main preferences lie outside SF both enjoyed SHINE.

STOP PRESSES: Damien G. Walter at the Guardian Booksblog just posted an article on ‘The Bright Side of Science Fiction‘, where SHINE gets mentioned in a long paragraph. A bit too short to be an actual review, but it does tie in with the outreach I mentioned above, to quote:

But if we are to have some some influence over how that change unfolds, isn’t it important that our stories, whether they be in the news, on television screens or in the pages of science fiction novels, fully explore the optimistic possibilities that technology represents?

Amen to that!