Friday, May 18, 2012
GUEST POST: DJIBRIL AL-AYAD INTERVIEWS FÁBIO FERNANDES
I'm handing this one over to Djibril and Fábio to discuss We See a Different Frontier and speculative fiction in Brazil. There's also some of my artwork for the sheer sci-fi eye-fry.
Djibril is the general editor of The Future Fire an online magazine of social-political speculative fiction. In the past TFF published themed issues on Feminist SF and Queer SF, and two guest-edited, themed anthologies are currently in development: Outlaw Bodies, themed around trans, queer and disability issues with a cyberpunk flavor, edited by Lori Selk; and We See a Different Frontier, which will publish colonialism-themed stories from outside of the white, anglo, first-world perspective, edited by Fábio Fernandes.
Here Djibril asks Fábio to talk a little about his background and the colonial anthology.
D: When we advertised for a guest co-editor for a themed issue of The Future Fire last summer, you suggested an anthology of new stories on the theme of colonialism. Could you say a bit about what inspired you with this theme?
F: Strangely enough, I wasn’t planning particularly anything about this theme in advance. It was just something that occurred to me as I read the call for guest editors. Since I already had some knowledge of The Future Fire’s content and mission statement, I decided the magazine would be the perfect venue to talk about politics. It then occurred to me that, being a Brazilian writer trying to publish in the English-speaking world, I had lots of things to say that an American or a British writer, for instance, couldn’t—or at least would not say with the same knowledge. I was thinking particularly of Ian McDonald’s Brasyl, a novel I liked but at the same time upset me in a way I couldn’t explain at first. When I read it a second time, I promptly found out why: even though McDonald had succeeded in portraying Brazilian landscapes and a few characters, some particular things regarding their behavior just weren’t right. For instance, there is a scene in which a white girl and a black guy are playing capoeira, a Brazilian martial art that is mostly taught as a dance/performative art instead of a fighting technique today, and the scene, from the POV of the black character, turns the dance into a competition fueled by racism. This would seem be adequately put—in the US or in the UK, maybe, but things don’t usually happen this way in Brazil. There is plenty of racism here as well, unfortunately, but things are more subtle in a variety of ways. This scene doesn’t affect the novel as a whole, but I couldn’t avoid thinking, Damn, I should have written this novel. (Talk about being modest, huh?) The thing is, I still thought a Brazilian writer should and could have done better. But, as we say here in soccer, “quem não faz leva”, that is, if you won’t score, the other side will. I just happened to notice, when I saw the TFF ad, that I could be the other side now—inviting writers from other countries (non-Anglo speaking ones, in particular) to send their stories for a wider audience (the English-speaking world) to read. That way, we all could score.
Is there a strong tradition of speculative fiction in Brazil?
There is a steady flow of speculative fiction since the 19th Century, but always a closeted one. For instance, Machado de Assis, one of our most celebrated classic authors, wrote lots of stories that could be easily labeled Fantasy or Weird stories today, but scholars won’t even hear anything about it. This thing is happening ever since—the only writers that are considered speculative fiction authors de facto in Brazil are Murilo Rubião and José J. Veiga, our only “Magical Realism” representatives (even though I must stress out that Magical Realism neither originate from Brazil nor is popular among our writers. We love reading Latin American writers as Garcia Márquez, for instance, but our literary tradition (unfortunately, in my opinion) is much more deeply rooted in European literature than in Latin American tradition (more about that later).
As for spec fic proper, Brazil has a tradition and an ever growing number of writers. Since the early 1960s, according to some, we’ve had three “waves” of writers. The first was composed of writers published by Gumercindo Rocha Dórea, a famous publisher whose small press was the first to publish now modern classics like Rubem Fonseca and Nélida Piñon. (Fonseca writes mostly noir fiction, but he wrote a few SF short stories in the 60s). The second wave, in the 80s, was the Gen-Xrs wave, writers who started publishing in fanzines and anthologies with very small print runs. Only a handful had the chance of publish a novel or two at that time (one of them, Braulio Tavares, is one of our most celebrated writers and composers—he published a few stories in English then, among them “Stuntmind”, which is in the anthology Cosmos Latinos). Chronologically, I belong to the second wave but only published my first novel in 2009.
The third wave came circa 2007/8 and is more focused on Fantasy (though there is a lot of interest in Steampunk and there are now quite a few LGBT authors, an awesome thing here). There are lots of small presses now and most of these new writers have no hardships when it comes to publish their stories or novels.
How does Brazil differ in this regard from the rest of Latin America, for example?
To be completely honest with you, I don’t have the foggiest idea. To quote a recent tweet from Silvia Moreno-Garcia (I’m guessing she wrote it with irony, I’m using it seriously): “Brazil is not part of Latin America. You don't speak Spanish.” And she is absolutely right! For centuries Brazil was a country apart from the rest of Latin America. Only in the past decade, thanks to our last President’s (Lula) administration, we have been approaching Latin countries more and more. Once I read an article on Latin American SF written by an Argentine writer. It was a very good, all-encompassing article... but for one thing: it didn’t mention Brazil. Or rather, he did mention it—only to say he wouldn’t talk about Brazil because it was a sui generis country in Latin America, a Portuguese-speaking one with a very different culture and no connections with the rest of the continent. Sadly, he was also right.
Brazil has a very rich cultural tradition but its spec fic writers would rather write about European folklore (vampires, werewolves, and the like) instead of exploring this richness. I keep telling that to my Creative Writing students at the university, “You don’t need to write about rural lore; you can write about urban legends as well. We also have them a lot.” My latest story, “The Unexpected Geographies of Desire”, published in Kaleidotrope is about one of these popular urban legends of the 1970s in Brazil. We have a plethora of themes that are still begging to be explored. We have the technology. We can do it. ;)
We’ve been talking about “science fiction” and “speculative fiction”, but these are terms in Anglo-American genre thinking and publishing that are not always reflected in the literatures of other cultures. Are there Brazilian traditions such as magical realism that cross genre boundaries and are not easy to translate into Anglo genre terms?
Brazilian literature in general still has a strong link with Naturalism and Realism, with lots of Post-Modernism sprinkled in the middle, but when it comes to spec fic or science fiction, bot terms are still pretty much anathema. Fantasy is becoming more and more accepted, as long as its authors have the sense to keep to the YA section, where they should belong (according to the critics and most of the big publishers).
We definitely don’t do Magical Realism, even though we respect it and love it, but it’s not our cup of tea. What we do best is humor: two of the best Brazilian science fiction novels in the past twenty years are cyberpunk-ish narratives plenty of satire, parody, and acid humor: Piritas Siderais, by Guilherme Kujawski, is a near future dystopia in a Brazil where everyone has her own personal saint/entity due to implants and such. Kujawski approaches the reader in a way reminiscent of Cory Doctorow (but Piritas... is a 1994 novel) with heavy doses of Brazilian Modernist writer Oswald de Andrade. And Fausto Fawcett’s Santa Clara Poltergeist, a cyberpunk romp in Copacabana with plenty of hi-octane adventure, sex and weird creatures around an energetic nexus caused by a former exotic dancer-turned-miracle worker who can’t control her increasing magnetic powers. Both novels would be really hard to translate to anyone who doesn’t have a big experience of Brazil, but they are some of our best fiction and definitely challenge boundaries.
You have also worked as a translator, rendering some of the classics of modern science fiction for a Brazilian readership. How does this experience differ from writing scifi? Do you ever need to translate more than just language, for example cultural concepts, memes, pop-culture references or whatever?
The translator experience is a whole other realm of sensorial experience from writing. You don’t need to create from scratch, but re-create, and that makes all the difference. I love it, nonetheless, and thinking of ways to translate memes and references have helped me along the years to hone my linguistic skills and, I think, to make me become a better writer in English. I’m still far from being 100% proficient in this language, but I’m making a good, steady progress, and I am in no hurry.
What work of speculative fiction would you most like to see translated into Portuguese?
Speaking as a translator, I’m very fortunate because, in more than 25 years working as a translator, I did translate several of the works I wanted to. Neuromancer, for example. Clive Barker’s Weaveworld is another one that comes to mind. But a novel I really would like to translate because of its linguistic challenges is David Zindell’s Neverness. I love it. And EVERYTHING by Gene Wolfe, for that matter.
Regarding other languages I sadly can’t translate (I can only do English and Spanish—and a bit of French, but so far I have only translated non-fiction pieces), I would really like to see Arab world writers like Ahmed Khaled Towfik (Egypt, author of Utopia, recently translated to English) and Achmed Khammas (raised in Damascus but writes short stories in German, which seems to me a very interesting experience already). From Africa, Mohammed Dib (Algeria), who wrote in French a dystopian novel called Qui se souvient de la mer.
What Brazilian work would you most like to see translated into English, and why?
Both abovementioned works: Piritas Siderais and Santa Clara Poltergeist. I think the English-speaking readers would benefit a lot from reading these classics, and they would begin to understand Brazil is much more than beautiful women, beaches, capoeira, cachaça, and all that tourist-guide talk.
Finally, would you like to say anything else about what you’d like to see in the We See a Different Frontier anthology?
I would like to see in WE SEE A DIFFERENT FRONTIER a weirder-than-weird anthology. Not necessarily a weird fiction anthology, mind you—just a book where readers hopefully will be able to find really new, different, fresh voices from countries really underrepresented. The very fact that an American or European reader will read a story from a country she knows almost nothing about (or even a story that doesn’t take place in the country of origin of said author, but with her particular view on things) will likely provide for a cognitive estrangement experience (see Darko Suvin) very similar to the reading of a good weird narrative. And weird narratives tend to be eye-openers, a thing we are much in need of in the world today.
at 10:44 AM