ianmcdonald (ianmcdonald) wrote,


Over on her blog, triciasullivan asks me what I think about Norman Spinrad's Third World Worlds piece in the April May Asimov's. This after a grumble from me about being sub-poenaed as a witness for the prosecution led to an ugly and unnecessary derail-war on her blog. Only reasonable that I haul it over here, as her place is looking like the Ypres Salient at the moment.

Now, I last saw Norman Spinrad at Utopiales in Nantes last November where I also met Aliette de Bodard. He was in good form, if looking a bit frail, and as entertaining to talk with as ever. Now there's this Asimov's piece. It's explosive. I'm trying to work meanings and intentions out of it. If it's a call for sf written outside the 'Anglosphere' to be published and read in the conservative US market (and SF, moreso than fantasy, is a conservative genre), it's kak-handed in the extreme. I think it shows ignorance of what's going on the field, and is deliberately provocative in a way that falls over into giving offence. However, as a way of stimulating debate about whose voices are heard in the genre, and why, and what other voices there are outside the US value-system; it succeeds all to well.

What can I make of these paras?
Now I must confess that I do not read Mandarin Chinese, any African language, Arabic—indeed any Asian language at all—and I must also confess for we Anglophones, that, with the exception of Japanese, hardly any, maybe no, science fiction written in these languages has been translated into English, or for that matter other European languages, and it would seem that such science fiction may hardly exist at all.

If one includes Latin America in the Third World, a hot-button political minefield I intend to sidestep here, it’s a large exception to this, since there is a goodly amount of science fiction written there in Spanish and Portuguese. But these are languages of European origin, and therefore not entirely culturally disconnected from the self-styled First World. With the exception of the Japanese, I at least, am at a loss to point to any science fiction that I know of that has evolved independently in non-European languages or cultures disconnected therefrom.

I'd like to hear Ashok Banker on that last (and why have most of the voices on this been North American?)--pace Charles Tan Other bloggers and commentators have the reading lists. Go read. Start with The Apex Book of World SF Japan has evolved its own science-fiction which is quite distinctive from US-UK SF. Does he mean that India, China, North Africa, West Africa, South Africa, South America, South East Asia have yet to develop their own SFs, as distinctive and formed by their own cultures and peoples as Japan's? That would be enormously exciting. Certainly then voices like Lauren Buekes' will become even more valuable than they are already.

As the Octavia Butler/Mike Resnick piece, I'm trying to work out what this might mean. Is he trying to challenge US concepts of identity and ethnicity? Is he saying that they are both writing as outsiders? That surely was a matter for Octavia Butler. She can't speak for herself, but her works surely tells us how she saw herself, her culture and her voice in US and world society. As someone points out elsewhere in the blogosphere, safer by far to go after dead Octavia Butler than live Samuel Delaney. Normas certainly knows what button to press.

Am I happy to be held up as an allegedly 'shining example'? As triciasullivan says, 'with friends like Spinrad, who needs enemies?' I'm not trying to be a good example of anything, I'm just trying to write as honest a book as I can, while retaining the author's privelege of, as saladinahmed says, I wish writers -- white, Black, Arab, etc. -- would just say "I have X personal experience with this place/culture, have done Y amount of research, and have tried my best. But that doesn't change the fact that this is SOME SHIT I MADE UP." There are lots of things in our writing we can take a deep stake in -- but 'authenticity' is probably the least productive one.. I do find myself looking and listening much more than talking these days. That's why I blog so seldomly on genre: it's more interesting to listen than to opine.

Is this a useful article to have published? I think it's a careless one that has caused much offense, and the offense undoes what value it might have. Voices do go unheard because of the nature of the mass-market publishing industry and Western readerships. This impoverishes us all. Asimov's could run a reply next month. I wonder what the feedback to the magazine has been like?

Finally, a line says I’m not trying to get into a political argument here, but I certainly could. I think you've already done that, mate.
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