Tag Archives: science fiction

20 Jun

A voice from the Islands: Stephanie Saulter talks about her novel Gemsigns

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Stephanie Saulter‘s first book, Gemsigns, is available in the UK and Commonwealth and in the US from Jo Fletcher Books. It arrived not too long ago on my doorstep, and I asked Stephanie if she’d like to post on this blog because I thought my readers might be interested in her work (see Boing Boing’s excerpt of the novel here).

Stephanie has a Caribbean connection, like me. And has had some very similar experiences visiting the US.

Read on:

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Gemsigns has made it to America, almost thirty years after I did. I’ve been contemplating that fact a lot lately. Although it’s been well received everywhere, I’ve observed with interest the way reactions to the book differ between the United Kingdom, where I’ve lived for over a decade now and where the story is set, and the United States, where I went to university and lived and worked for many years. Above all it’s been a revelation to discover just how much of what I ended up embedding in the novel can be traced in a straight line back to what was embedded into me, when I came to America all those years ago.

One of the things that every incoming freshman in 1988 received was a work of fiction: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, to be precise (it wasn’t my year but I somehow ended up with a copy anyway). It was part of a program to try to encourage a broader range of interests, and in particular an appreciation for the arts and humanities, amongst a resolutely nerdy student body who tended to focus exclusively on their core math, science and engineering subjects. The initiative aimed to develop social and political awareness, alongside scientific and technological expertise. There were concerns about what I remember being called ‘the arrogance of intellect’ – the sense that exceptional academic ability confers a kind of entitlement to do whatever you like, to follow the threads of your curiosity and ambition wherever they may take you, regardless of the impact on others; indeed, the feeling that consequences are for other people.

The university’s response? A recognition of fiction’s ability to provoke the imagination; to unsettle and challenge; to ask difficult questions about the consequences of wealth, and arrogance, and entitlement. To engage instead of harangue, persuade instead of criticise. To speak truth to power.

It was one of the most potent lessons I learned as a college student. It’s stayed with me.

Another lesson soon learned was about race, and appearance, and expectation. I’m from Jamaica, and one of the most common refrains I heard back then (and to this day) was, ‘Oh, I didn’t know there were white Jamaicans!’ – Uttered always by some white person, regarding me as though I were a pleasingly exotic discovery.
‘There are, but I’m not one,’ I would (and still do) reply. ‘My family is mixed race. I just happen to be on the vanilla end.’ This would be greeted, more often than not, by a stunned silence. I had no idea why anyone found it so shocking, until an African-American friend explained things to me.

‘You could pass,’ she said bluntly (and then had to explain what ‘passing’ meant). ‘No one would know if you didn’t tell them. In this country, having even the smallest amount of black ancestry means you are black. Period. You’re choosing that.’

Given that the majority of people reading this post will likely be Americans, I don’t imagine I have to explain the significance of that apparent choice. What was a simple matter of fact for me – like having brown eyes not green – was in the minds of others a hugely impactful decision to reject privilege. It gave me a strangely honorary status. It opened my eyes. Although Jamaica is also a country of great and grave inequalities, it was in America that I really learnt about the politics of race.

That lesson’s stayed with me too.

So, on to the ®Evolution. When I set out to write the story that would end up being Gemsigns, I knew that every aspect of the plot would turn on how people dealt with difference. In my near-future, post-apocalyptic scenario, genetically modified humans – ‘gems’ – have only recently been emancipated from a system euphemistically referred to as indenture but in truth little different from slavery; they’d been the property of the biotech corporations that created them. These pillars of industry have now, essentially, been asset-stripped. The gems have received their liberty, but little else. The norm population is facing an influx of people into their communities whom they’ve mostly only dealt with at arms length, if at all, and have been brought up to think of as other, alien, inferior, and often dangerous.

The result is massive social and economic upheaval, public unrest, and general uncertainty. Emancipation is all well and good, but what form should freedom take? What’s the best course for the gems – to assimilate, slip into the norm population and hide the truth of their origins? For some, whose visible differences amount to no more than their glowing, jewel-coloured hair, this may be possible – though not necessarily agreeable. For others, whose anatomy has been more radically altered or whose minds have been too terribly damaged, it isn’t an option. And what about the norm majority? Public sentiment may have turned against the indenture system, but that doesn’t mean there’s any kind of consensus about what should replace it. Should gems continue to live and work separately? Should integration be encouraged? What about the threat from gems harbouring deep resentments, and possibly even deeper psychosis? Might norm fears not be justified?

It sounds like I must have mapped it out, doesn’t it? Drawn up a chart of the politics and prejudices of the real world, and then ticked them off as I created equivalent scenarios in my invented one. I swear to you I did not do that. It wasn’t until quite late on in the editing process that it even began to dawn on me just how much this tale of a possible future drew on the realities of the present, and the past. And in fact I’ve heard from many readers who’ve enjoyed the book without noticing any parallels with the history of the Caribbean or the American South; or who, if they relate the gem/norm dynamic to contemporary events at all, see connections with local controversies around European immigration or economic inequality.

Of course those parallels are just as accurate as any other, but I suspect it was what bled into my awareness back in the 1980s that led, a generation later, to my imagined tale of the 22nd century. Because what I learned then, and what I know now, is this: We tell stories in order to understand the world. Stories are where we replay past events, and test future possibilities. They give us a way to examine our prejudices, our fears, our hopes and our dreams. They are how we map uncharted territory to the terrain we know, and thereby find a safer path. They’re where we can tell each other, and ourselves, the truths that are sometimes too hard to speak. They are the sleeper agents of the unconscious.

Hello, America. I’m back. I wrote a story. I hope you like it.

§

AUTHOR BIO

Stephanie Saulter writes what she likes to think is literary science fiction. Born in Jamaica, she earned her degree at MIT and spent fifteen years in the USA before moving to the UK in 2003. Her first novel, Gemsigns, was published there in 2013 and released in the US in 2014. The second, Binary, is already out in the UK and will be released in the US next spring. Gemsigns and Binary are the first two books of the ®Evolution trilogy, and are set in a near future London, in the aftermath of a pandemic which required human genetic modification in order to prevent extinction. The novels take a look at the conflicts, compromises and relationships between the different types of human that result.

19 Jun

Orphan Black: the show too few are watching

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Indeed. Worth watching just to see Tatiana Maslany inhabit all the different roles:

“Orphan Black isn’t most shows. It’s one of the best shows; the only problem is that no one is actually watching it.

Genre fans are living in a golden age of television these days, with series like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead tearing up the charts as fellow standouts such as Arrow and Doctor Who continue to carve out strong niches. But ratings aren’t always indicative of quality, and those aren’t the only awesome shows out there.

Not content to keep riding the coattails of Doctor Who and other imports from across the pond, BBC America expanded into original science fiction fare last season and took a shot on an ambitious little series that — at face value — sounded almost like a ripoff of The CW’s fairly terrible (and short-lived) Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle Ringer. Oh, how wrong that early assessment was.

Instead, the network had essentially given screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett free rein to develop an insanely deep character drama framed around a cloning conspiracy. They also gave the duo enough development time to map out not just the first season, but a framework for future seasons so they could plant seeds and start peeling back layers until those happy few actually watching realized that, yes, this is one of the best shows on television, science fiction or otherwise.”

(Via Orphan Black is absolutely the best sci-fi show you’re not watching | Blastr.)

19 Jun

Small press publisher Hadley Rille Books is crowdfunding their move to the next level

Just got an email from Hadley Rille about their IndieGogo campaign to take it to the next level:

“Founded in 2005, Hadley Rille Books is a quality small press that publishes exceptional titles in fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. Our critically acclaimed authors craft a variety of worlds with diverse, complex characters, including everyday people who face extraordinary challenges.”

(Via Support the Growth of Hadley Rille Books: A Quality Small Press Publisher | Indiegogo.)

16 Jun

I’m over at the Tor-Forge blog, talking about the Caribbean’s forgotten space program

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“I’m in Barbados doing research, and I’m standing under a 100 caliber barrel. The thing looks big enough to crawl into, but not quite. And the barrel just keeps going and going. Big enough that I have to trudge through the wet grass a ways to get some perspective on the whole thing. This cannon is so damn big it has a structure around the barrel to keep it rigid. It’s mounted on a concrete pad the size of an office building’s foundation. And there’s this huge space for recoil: a dark pit that I don’t want to fall down into, because it’s filled now with stagnant water.

I’m on the coast of Barbados, so there’s a pleasant, salty wind kicking up that’s cutting the heat as I walk around the 119 foot long barrel. It’s pitted with exposure to the corrosive ocean, but still majestically aims off over the Atlantic crashing against the low cliffs not too far away.

I was born in Grenada, an island further to the west of Barbados, both of us at the southern tip of the sweep of the Caribbean as it curves down toward South America. Only Trinidad and Tobago lie between Venezuela and us. And all that time growing up, I had no idea that a lost, but no less major and fascinating chapter of humanity’s early attempts to get into orbit lay just one island over from me.”

(Via Hurricane Fever and the Caribbean’s Forgotten Space Program | Tor/Forge Blog.)

I had to keep the essay a little short, so I could talk about how Karen Lord and Robert Sandiford were really important in getting me there. Again, thanks to them both for taking me to see this amazing piece of history last summer.

05 Jun

A voice from the Islands: R.S.A Garcia talks about how she came to write her science fiction novel Lex Talionis

I recently asked R.S.A Garcia if she wanted to take over my blog for a day to talk about her latest novel, LEX TALIONIS. I did it because I was getting ready to give it a shout out, then thought ‘why not let her tell you all about the book?’ Publishers Weekly recently called it a ‘stunning debut’ and gave the book a star. She’s gotten props from Tor.com and SF Crowsnest, and hopefully those are the first of many reviews.

Now, this is something I don’t do too often, but I thought that if you read about her story, some of my readers might find some overlap with what I’ve been up to as well, as R.S.A Garcia hails from the south Caribbean (Trinidad).

Seriously, read on:

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Thanks, Tobias, for giving me this opportunity to talk about my book, LEX TALIONIS, a space opera mystery that just launched from the small press, Dragonwell Publishing.

THE STORY

On one of Earth’s planetary outposts, a young woman dies–and is brought back to life by a mysterious alien.

Inside a military starship, a wounded soldier is stalked by an unseen enemy.

When Lex reawakens in a clinic, she doesn’t remember who she is, or who killed her. All she remembers is a phrase she does not understand. Lex Talionis. The law of revenge. Stripped of her past, Lex focuses on the only thing she can. Retribution. She will find the people who murdered her and she will make them pay.

What Lex doesn’t know is that she’s being hunted. The alien who saved her and the soldier fighting for survival are the keys to her past…and her future. She must discover what they know before the hunter finds her. Every clue brings her closer to powerful enemies. Everything she learns draws her nearer to the person who almost destroyed her.

The only man she has ever loved.

IF YOU WANT TO HELP A STARVING ARTIST

‘Lex Talionis’ is available on Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Dragonwell Publishing.

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THE LONG, WINDING ROAD TO HERE

As a child I was a terrible bookworm. I preferred reading over sleeping, which frustrated my mother no end at bedtime. While my many cousins were out climbing mango trees, or plum trees, or guava trees (depending on the season), I would remain inside, devouring the latest Enid Blyton book, or Nancy Drew novel, or Hardy Boys mystery. When I did go outside, it wasn’t long before I wanted to go back in again, which made my cousins laugh at me and deride me as strange and weird.

I didn’t care. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t love books as much as I did. I thought they were the weird ones. I started writing stories at 8, and finished my first collection at 10. One of my stories was about a soap dish. Ground-breaking stuff, I tell you. Despite all this, I didn’t actually realise I wanted to be a writer until I was 14 and a school friend asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. As soon as I said it, my heart sank because I knew it was true, and I knew how impossible it was that a girl from a tiny West Indian island would ever publish the kind of stories I liked to read. I had no hope of ever leaving my island to go form ties with the right people in other countries, and no possibility of being discovered while at university in the UK or the USA. But I decided in that moment to do it anyway. I would become a writer, and I would be published.

Publication in the West Indies was all about post-colonial fiction. Our close ties to the Commonwealth and England had given a voice to many revered and talented authors who wrote contemporary literature, but no one wrote modern commercial fiction. That was the down and dirty stuff. The common stuff. Everyone wanted to be Derek Walcott and win a Nobel Prize.

I was different. I wanted to write stories. Absorbing stories. Heart-stopping stories. Stories that people actually bought from bookstores. Not the stories they read because it was on the school curriculum or because it was all the rage in certain circles.

And it wasn’t because I didn’t like the other kinds of stories. Are you kidding? You’ll never begin to understand the meaning of Carnival to Trinbagonian society until you read the amazing and poetic The Dragon Can’t Dance by Earl Lovelace. You haven’t been scared until you’ve read My Bones And My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer. You haven’t laughed until you’ve read Samuel Selvon.

But the truth was, none of these writers made me save money for months to buy their stuff. No one lined up in bookstores to get their books. In my country, that honour was reserved for people like Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Alex Haley and VC Andrews.

And for people like me, the books that moved me were even less popular because they were about something West Indians somehow didn’t seem to think they were part of.

The future.

I spent my formative years in the library reading stories by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Katherine Kerr, Anne McCaffrey, Arthur C. Clarke, Carl Sagan, L. Ron Hubbard, Margaret Weis and Ursula K. Le Guin. And don’t get me started on my fantasy list, or my mystery list, or my horror list, or any of the other genres I was into. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was a lover of genre fiction. Even more importantly, I was in love with speculative fiction before I knew what it was.

My library was outdated, of course, so I didn’t even discover writers like Octavia Butler until I was an adult, after the Internet opened up the world to my corner of it. No, before the internet, I was eating a steady diet of people from other countries and other societies, and there weren’t that many women in those stories that were more than just the girl the hero gets.

I started thinking about that. Really thinking about it. Because a little known fact of the West Indies is that women rule here. We hold the family unit together. Grandmothers often babysit so mothers can go to work. Grandmother’s word is often the law, whether there is a grandfather or not. Strong women are the norm here, a holdover from the centuries of slavery and the splitting of the family unit that came with it. The children stayed with the women. So it was then and even now, it’s often the same. Wisdom is the old women in the neighbourhood. Families emphasize to girls that they have to get an education if they want to get up and out.

At the same time I started noticing how important the women in my family were to the family as a whole, I fell in love with space opera. Star Wars and Star Trek changed my world. Dr. Who was wildly popular in my school. Any story that featured multiple aliens and cultures had my attention. Was that because I was growing up in a society that was more cosmopolitan than most in the West Indies? Perhaps. Trinidad and Tobago is no Canada, certainly not in size, but it has a diverse population and I grew up with best friends who were East Indian, Chinese, American, Creole, Spanish and so many more. I am a black woman, but I am also East Indian, Chinese and Spanish, and that’s just what I know of up to my great-grandparents. The rest of my large family’s past is clouded by the centuries.

All I knew for sure was that I loved this. I loved thinking about the what ifs, and the future and the big ideas. I didn’t have much access to science articles or the latest advancements, but along came the internet and everything changed. Suddenly, my library wasn’t so outdated. And if it was, a simple search at my workplace after hours could change that. The stories I’d been writing had always had bits of my Trinbagonian heritage and mythology in it. Now I could branch out into the future too.

LEX TALIONIS was partially born of this. I wanted to write about a strong woman. I wanted her to be part of those space adventures that only men got to have in the books and movies I grew up with. I wanted to write a story about how it feels to be a small cog in a big machine, a tiny island in a big world. A story that came at the future from a slightly different angle–what if humanity was a tiny, unimportant world in a universe of strange and powerful races? What if we were discovered by the aliens and they didn’t want to blow up our seats of government, or take our planet–they wanted to trade? What if we spread out amongst these huge galaxies and almost no one knew that we carried within a singular bloodline the most important part of the universe’s future?

Yes, I cheated a little. Yes, I made humanity simultaneously important and not. But that reflects what I believe–that even the smallest amongst us has a purpose and can be important in the vast scheme of things, whatever their history. I think I’ve told a story about a strong woman, with an unusual background who overcomes her past and takes hold of her future.

It’s something the West Indies has done and is still struggling to do. We are struggling to find our place in the world and the discussion of power going on now. As a region, we are trying to make our voices heard over the more ‘important’ ones. To chart a course in a vast, unfamiliar world that touches ours more and more intimately every day. And I think, whether we are successful or not, we deserve a chance to talk about this journey, in our own words.

In the end, I hope that’s what LEX TALIONIS is. Part of a discussion on power and morals and so much else that society makes decisions on every day. A personal journey that looks into the dark side of humanity and tries to pin down what the light side is and isn’t–and how much that might matter to our future.

A BIT ABOUT ME

R.S.A. Garcia lives and works on the island of Trinidad in the Caribbean with a large family and too many dogs.

Her debut novel, LEX TALIONIS, a science fiction mystery, is out now and has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and advanced praise from award-winning author, Elizabeth Bear.

You can find out more about the author at her website, rsagarcia.com. She’s also usually hanging out on:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lextalionisrsagarcia
Twitter: @rsagarcia
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21806455-lex-talionis
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/rsagarcia/

21 Jan

Dear Mr. Gee: you don’t punch down

This is pretty fucked up:

“Henry Gee is an editor at Nature magazine. I’ve met him: he’s smart, he’s interesting, he’s extremely opinionated and often obnoxious, so we have at least one of those things in common. He and Dr Isis have a long-running feud — it may have begun with Gee publishing an awful piece of short fiction called Womanspace, or it may have been something to do with an argument at Science Online, but I don’t know and don’t care.

But now it has blown up in ways that are ultimately going to be damaging to Gee. Dr Isis is a pseudonymous blogger and scientist, and rather vindictively, Gee has outed her. Why? Because she was mean to him.”

(Via Oh, Henry » Pharyngula.)

I’m a science nerd, I even considered a degree down that direction, but realized my passion more aligned with spending time with story. But Nature was one of the magazines I used to pore over in the library, or when I hung out at the college’s science center. I had two stories published there, and it was really one of those full circle, realized dreams moments.

However, I after reading the links and following this up, I can’t in good conscience say that I’d feel comfortable supporting or submitting my work there again given what is done to those who bring criticism.

Criticism is healthy. Henry Gee is in a position of power, and as I’ve said before, you don’t use power to punch down. Mr. Gee did exactly that.

Punching down is a concept in which you’re assumed to have a measurable level of power and you’re looking for a fight. Now, you can either go after the big guy who might hurt you, or go after the little guy who has absolutely no shot. Either way, you’ve picked a fight, but one fight is remarkably more noble and worthwhile than the other. Going after the big guy, punching up, is an act of nobility. Going after the little guy, punching down, is an act of bullying.

I’m far from a prominent scientist, or a major SF figure. But I don’t think I care to be associated with this.

Fuck this shit. I’m out.

You won’t be seeing anything from me in Nature in the future.

21 Sep

Core SF’s visions are getting almost 100 years old, let’s bold on a few new ones?

An interesting thought by Alex Steffen:


While a lot of people think SF/F is futuristic, and shiny, one of the things I’m noticing about some of the discussions being had about stuff that’s just over the horizon is that the ideas that many fans at conventions want to focus on end up being a lot of those symbols of that 100 year old stuff. I was especially thinking of the fetishizing of rocket technologies (what Winchell Chung points out to as Rocket Punk):

However, regardless of whether the proposed science fiction background is Rocketpunk or something more like NASA, there is the elephant in the room to consider. Basically, there currently is no reason compelling enough to justify the huge investment required to create an extensive manned presence in space.

Yes, I can already hear the outrages screams of SF fans, and the flood of arguments attempting to refute the elephant. Just keep in mind [a] you are always free to ignore the problem in the same way most SF authors ignore the difficulties associated with faster than light travel and [b] chances are any arguments you have are addressed below, so read this entire page first. Since everybody is busy ignoring the elephant in the room, nobody will notice if you ignore it as well. Like I said about FTL travel: you want it, they want it, everybody is doing it.

It was interesting to run up against the religious belief that rockets would give us all super cheap energy with a solar mirror at the last Worldcon I was at, and see the tremendous outrage and anger at the suggestion it wasn’t economically realist anytime soon. Rocketpunk has a fundamentalist streak with some followers.

I do like playing with the symbols and ideas in rocket punk, as a child of the cyberpunk years and having been born post-Apollo, my own baked-in impressions of rocket punks religious regalia are not so nearly wide-eyed.

And it’s not that I mind a spirited clash of ideas, I think Elon Musk might well get us to swerve around a grim, no humans-in-space mode, but we have a lot of technology to invent yet. He’s doing more to make it less horrible, but there are still major challenges.

The other thing that fascinates me is how Elon is fast becoming a saint in some techno-fetishist circles. With his double threat of leading both electric cars and space access, he’s fast on his way to embedding there (and he’s doing SolarCity as well).

But, while these things do play with bread and butter SF, some of the most amazing thinking is coming out of authors not playing with some of the obvious symbols. And that disappoints me slightly, because after almost a hundred years, we can’t remain defined by only those older technological obsessions.

Right?

08 Aug

Omni, reboot: a major presence is back

I remember that even non-SF readers were familiar with Omni and often had subscriptions (one of my uncles). The UFO stuff got a bit weird and I would skip right over all that, but before that became too burdensome, it was quite a presence.

“Today, though, Omni is coming back — and with it, questions about how our vision of science and science fiction has changed since its launch. Omni’s resurrection comes courtesy of Jeremy Frommer, a collector and businessman who acquired Guccione’s archives earlier this year. Inside a warehouse full of production assets lie thousands of Omni photos, illustrations, and original editions, which Frommer plans to release as prints, books, or collector’s items. But he wasn’t content with mining the past. Instead, he hired longtime science writer Claire Evans as editor of a new online project, described as an ‘Omni reboot.’”

(Via Omni, reboot: an iconic sci-fi magazine goes back to the future | The Verge.)

07 Aug

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism & Beyond – 12 hours to go for a cool anthology I’m a part of

This is a dynamite project with a fantastic line up of authors. 12 hours to go, and the project is just shy of its goal!

“Author Bill Campbell (Koontown Killing Kaper, Sunshine Patriots), poet/journalist Edward Austin Hall (the forthcoming Chimera Island), and artist Professor John Jennings (Black Comix, Black Kirby Project) have assembled 40 extraordinarily talented writers who represent just a part of the changing face of speculative fiction.

Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism is the dynamic, genre-expanding end result.”

(Via Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism & Beyond–Support the Writer Campaign | Indiegogo.)

12 Jul

Add another Caribbean novelist in SF/F to your list: Gemsigns

A lot of people ask me about other Caribbean novelists writing novels. I always cite Nalo Hopkinson and Karen Lord in addition to myself. I recently linked to Robert Sandiford’s superhero novel. Now you can add Stephanie Saulter’s Gemsigns to the book. It’s released via Jo Fletcher/Quercus in the UK. Hopefully we’ll see it in the US soon as well.

I have not had a chance to read it, just ordered a copy from overseas.

“For years the human race was under attack from a deadly Syndrome, but when a cure was found – in the form of genetically engineered human beings, Gems – the line between survival and ethics was radically altered.

Now the Gems are fighting for their freedom, from the oppression of the companies that created them, and against the Norms who see them as slaves. And a conference at which Dr Eli Walker has been commissioned to present his findings on the Gems is the key to that freedom.

But with the Gemtech companies fighting to keep the Gems enslaved, and the horrifying godgangs determined to rid the earth of these ‘unholy’ creations, the Gems are up against forces that may just be too powerful to oppose.”

(Via Gemsigns | Jo Fletcher Books.)

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