Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Interview: Fabio Fernandes on "We See A Different Frontier" Project

Earlier this month, I posted about The Future Fire's PeerBackers project, "We See A Different Frontier", an anthology that seeks to address a large hole in SFF: the voices of people from formerly-colonized regions. So I caught up with Fabio Fernandes to talk about this project!

Fabio, as you may or may not know, is a Brazilian SFF writer who makes a living as a professor of Creative Writing and translator at a university in São Paulo. I follow him on Twitter, and he blogs at The Cogsmith.

How did the anthology idea come about?

I had been thinking of editing an anthology of Latin American stories for a while now. By the end of 2009, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer invited me to be assistant editor for Latin America in their awesome Best American Fantasy collection. Unfortunately, the BAF ended in 2010, just before the volume four, which would have been my debut. In 2011, however, I started thinking that I could at the very least try to edit an anthology of Brazilian science fiction in English to make it available to the English-speaking public. I managed to get a few stories, but most of the authors couldn't translate them neither rewriter them in English, and I was too busy to do it all by myself. Then I saw an ad in the Outer Alliance list published by Djibril al-Ayad, creator and editor of The Future Fire, asking for Guest Editors for two special issues. I saw that as an opportunity - but this time not only for Brazil or Latin America. I thought I could shout out louder. So I drafted a project about colonialism and sent it his way. He liked it and here we are now.

What is your vision for it?

I thought of the particular place humanity is in right now. We are still at war in many places around the world, but something is a-changing: the socialist Second World has pretty much ended almost 25 years ago, and the First World and the Third World are, if not changing places, are definitely suffering major alterations in their structure. I think it's past time we discuss that in our fiction, and what fiction suits best the discussion of the zeitgeist, the spirit of times, our times and the times to come, than science fiction? A few authors are doing it now (Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, Neal Stephenson, Alastair Reynolds, and Ian McDonald come to mind - but guess what? All male Anglos. I want to make clear I have absolutely NOTHING against them or their works - I love them all and I find them true trailblazers. I just wanted to see more people from different countries, speaking different languages, from different ethnicities, genders, writing about the same issues. Or similar issues from their own POVs.

Are you sure you can't think of a single female non-white author whose fiction suits our time? C'mon, Fabio!

Of course I can! Lots of them! (But did you ask me this? I didn't think so) Octavia E. Butler, Nalo Hopkinson, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, N.K. Jemisin, Aliette DeBodard, Nnedi Okorafor, to name a few.

I didn't ask, you defaulted to white Anglo males yourself :P

Guilty as charged! :)

But the names you picked reminds me of the fact that this anthology will be filling a hole in English-language SFF. Ideally, stories such as the ones this anthology is looking for will be part of any SFF anthology released internationally, especially English-language ones. How far do you think we have to go before this is the case? Feel free to make optimistic estimates, like, "five generations".

I don't feel comfortable making estimates, or even guesstimates, because it's like you said: a hole. And a hole can't always be filled very easily. Depending of the kind of hole, sometimes the answer is never. I don't really have the illusion we will fill completely this gap. But five generations, as you mentioned, is an interesting figure - I think we will have a much more miscegenated world, and I surely hope stories (and anthologies) like this one will be something people will look at in wonder and say, "wow! Did people need to do such anthologies?"

Are there any limitations and problems you are foreseeing in the development and submissions?

Not particularly - I'm really curious to see what kind of submissions we will get, and from what countries. For me, the maximum diversity we can get, the better. Naturally we are aiming for quality, but I'm confident we can get quality, quantity, and diversity. The world is big, you know, and so is the SFF global fandom. All we have to do is boost the signal. That, for me, is the most important part. 

Ideally what type of stories are you expecting?

I have no ideal, written-in-stone type of story. I just want original stories that deal in some way about colonization and its malcontents. We have no particular limitations in scope: you can write a story dealing with wrongdoings of colonial system in a specific country both in the past and in the present (but I'd rather have no clichés), or you can even write a story taking place in the future, extrapolating real trends of inventing new ways of colonization - as well as new ways of revolting against said colonization. They can be stories focusing on the micro, a day in the life of a single person, or opera-like, a story starting in media res right in the middle of a revolution. I'm just scratching the surface here - there's much more, and I'm sure the writers will know what they will want to write about when they see the call for submissions.

Are there any current works which interested writers could read to get a feel for what you and Djibril would like to see?

Sure! So Long Been Dreaming, Dark Matter, Walking the Clouds, and The Apex World Book of SF (Vols One and Two) are good to begin. 

In describing Anglophone SF/F as "treat[ing] subjects close to the hearts of straight, white, English-speaking men," you also write of a market that caters greatly to the White Gaze. How do you think writers could challenge themselves to write beyond this Gaze?

Quoting from Hamlet (a White Gaze, I know, I know, heh): "To thine own self be true", Polonius's last piece of advice to his son Laertes. But, really, there is no better advice. Write what you want to write, not what you think the majority of readers out there will want to read. That should do the trick.

Ah! But "to thine own self be true" is also a murky subject, given how many colonized peoples now identify and agree with colonizer perspectives. Colonialism is so much more than just economic and military domination, no? How do you think writers from colonized peoples can deal with this issue?

Now THAT'S an excellent question - and I must confess I'm looking forward to see the responses I'm going to get from writers regarding this particular issue. I'm aware I can get stories from the POV of colonized people who now are completely comfortable with their former colonizer's culture. This, in fact, seem to be the rule, not the exception, at least in Latin America. Take Brazil, for instance. We were colonized by Portugal, and we absorbed all we could from Continental Europe culture until 1950s, when we started to absorb USA culture. Our 19th Century average writer, from Romance novelist José de Alencar to Realist Machado de Assis (our most revered writer, and, most important of all, a black writer, a fact that was severely downplayed until not so long ago) drank on the sources of French and British authors - Alencar was a reader of Victor Hugo's, and Machado de Assis was an avid reader of Swift and Sterne.

In our literary circles, things have changes a lot. Today, the average Brazilian writer usually reads other contemporary Latin American authors, like Roberto Bolaño and Enrique Vila-Matas, so their experience is becoming more and more rich. But in other fields of culture, as in cinema, say, things are still pretty much dominated by Hollywood, for instance. Right now we have an awesome film here about an old soccer star, Heleno de Freitas, starring Rodrigo Santoro (of *300* fame), but everyone is really looking forward to watch The Avengers. This sort of thing happens, I believe, almost everywhere. I would gladly welcome stories both agreeing and disagreeing with colonizer perspectives, as long as they are written by people who have lived in the flesh this experience.

We have a similar problem in Malaysia, where local talent is underappreciated, and "global" (i.e., Hollywood-accredited) works have more value. The issue is definitely both one of psychological imperialism and economic power re: distribution, which makes this anthology's aim seem even more ambitious. How do you plan on marketing this anthology after publication? What avenues will you and Djibril pursue?

We don't have money - that's why we put this project on Peerbackers for a crowdfunding effort. We're also counting with a great bunch of friends who are helping us, both bonating and spreading the word: you, Aliette De Bodard, Ekaterina Sedia, Rose Fox, Karen Burnham, and China Mieville are just a few of them. (Thanks SO MUCH to ALL of you!! WE LOVE YOU!) We'll continue to market the anthology via Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and every which way we can. We are still discussing a couple of other possibilities, but I can't tell you anything yet.

You were involved in translating the beginnings of stories in Vaporpunk, the Brazilian steampunk anthology. What was that experience like?

Not as good as I would have liked to, unfortunately. I loved to work with all the stories, but some of the authors involved didn't like the final result and one of them was not just quite vocal, he was very unpolite to me, in public. That made me rethink my role of translator from Portuguese to English. Now I find it better that each writer does her/his own translation or seeks out the translator she/he is more comfortable with.

In your interview with Alliette De Bodard, you were talking about the nuances that outsiders wouldn't be able to catch in localized settings, referring to Ian MacDonald's book about Brazil. You've probably caught my conversations with @requireshate about similar books that fail to capture SEAsia (such as Paolo Bacigalupi's Orientalist trainwreck). Following up on this, and with your question about the possibility of incomprehensible signs, do you feel most commercial/mainstream fiction thus simplifies local issues for the outsider/generic gaze, or misrepresents them?

Oh, both things. My guess is that most of the times the writers do that without even be aware of it (that's a sort of patronizing behavior, and that's one of the maladies of colonialism). In McDonald's case, I know he didn't live in Brazil, but he did a pretty good research, so I can only think of a misrepresentation. It didn't do any damage to Brazil (an let's be honest, pointing fingers at him because one or two things he didn't portray with 100% of accuracy would be only ridiculous.) 

Given the anti-colonial framing of this anthology, what do you think of literary ways to resist colonialism within the writing? e.g. using non-standard English, purposefully writing to alienate the White Gaze, etc.

I would love to see stories using a mishmash of languages, something akin (but not necessarily as radical as) the fake pidgin used by the character of Edward James Olmos in Blade Runner. I just finished a story in which I created such a mix, using mostly Latin languages, but inserting them in an Anglo matrix, so as to make easier the understanding of the reader (and, naturally, I don't use this mix all the time, in every dialogue - I'm still testing the waters). But cultural mixed signals are an interesting thing too. I keep asking myself this: how far can a writer go to create a sense of wonder in the mind of the reader without alienating her/him with incomprehensible signs?

The deadline for "We See A Different Frontier"'s Peerbacker is in June, so please do consider supporting if you can!

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