An Interview with Sandra Newman

Sandra PictureSandra Newman’s fourth novel, The Heavens, is just out from Granta and Grove Atlantic. We think it’s a remarkable book, and we’re not alone. The New York Times has called The Heavens “heady and elegant … a chameleon, a strange and beautiful hybrid.” says, “How rare and wonderful it is to find a book that surpasses already high expectations.” The Washington Independent Review of Books praises the book for its humour and style, but above all for its knack for portraying the unstable reality of its two central characters. Vector recently got the chance to chat to Sandra about her writing …

The Heavens is literary speculative fiction with a kind of alternate history / time travel premise. One strand of the novel is drawn from the life of the early modern poet Emilia Bassano Lanier. The other strand portrays a strange, shifting present-day which (just like the world we live in) both is and is not the world we live in.

So at one point in the modern day strand, the main characters Ben and Kate kind of break up via watching Terminator 2 together. Do you think that’s a real thing? – that a movie can kind of have a whole conversation for you?

I once went to a play with a theater critic I had friend-zoned, and the entire play was about sexual frustration and thwarted love, and as the curtain went down and we applauded, he said to me, “If your aunt Wanda was just eaten by a bear, you go to a play and the first line is, “Poor Wanda never saw that bear coming.” And this is absolutely true.

That is really great. Although he did have probably most of the play to hone his line. I feel like I would have some draft in my head about Uncle Verner getting spooked by a scorpion, and it wouldn’t sound funny and I would just abandon the whole sorry witticism. Do you discard unfinished projects?

Yes and no. I have a lot of abandoned projects, but I keep trying to revive them. For instance, the first chapter of The Heavens is based on a short story I abandoned five years before I started writing the novel.

The Heavens, like Terminator 2, is a time travel story. In this case, that means a story pervaded by the confusions among different people’s versions of reality.

So even though time is out of joint, The Heavens feels really timely. The bits set around 2000 evoke our current era of fake news and filter bubbles. At the same time, of course, the novel evokes other, not necessarily malign, ways that fiction and storytelling can shape past, present, and future.

In the context of Ben and Kate, the conflicting realities sometimes made me think about gaslighting, and that attempt to control the present – to control a person in the present – by controlling the past. I wonder what you think about the relationship between fiction and gaslighting?

Fiction is never gaslighting because when you read fiction, you are alone, so if you argue with the fiction, you always win. That’s one of the nice things about fiction. It can only mindfuck you up to a certain point, and then you just close the book and get angry about it, and you automatically win the argument. Except sometimes when the fiction is really, really right in a way you can’t deny no matter how hard you try, but then it isn’t gaslighting, it’s just right.

The Heavens is also about dreams, like literal dreams that happen when you sleep. Do you think we’re too passive about our dreams? Should we have aspirations about how we want to dream? Should we follow our dream dreams?

I guess in theory we should since dreams are such a large part of our lives, and the potential seems so great. But we probably don’t care enough about our dreams because we don’t remember them, just as we don’t care enough about most people’s lives because they won’t be remembered by history.

Heavens Granta Mindfuck

Even though the novel is quite intensely about Ben and Kate, it’s also a real ensemble novel. You meet all these other fascinating marginal figures. And partly you get to know Ben and Kate through their relationships with these other people (although, because of Kate’s weird temporal status, she isn’t really inhabiting the same social ontology as Ben).

Can you tell us about some of the gang? Like Sabine and José and Oksana? I really liked Oksana, for example … I felt sort of compelled and confused …

I guess Oksana is an artist who had the misfortune to be born in the body of a woman without any money, and she’s playing that hand of cards as well as she can. Her importance to me might be that people don’t write about that person enough. I’ve met many versions of Oksana in real life. I might be a version of Oksana, actually.

I think there’s something about her that comes from the fact that being a female artist tends to get warped into sex work of some kind—there’s a very long history of that—and also that female artists tend to have the focus put back on them, especially when they’re young; people want it to all be autobiographical, and many artists end up playing up to that. You get a lot of self-portraits, a lot of performance art, a lot of memoir.

Oksana is a person who’s come out of all of that, and as the world around her gets more and more unforgiving, instead of being able to transcend that and turn it into something powerful, she’s broken by it.

There’s that moment when Oksana wants to honour her birthday by charging any man who wants sex with her a thousand dollars …

This is a real thing someone I knew did when she became 46. And incidentally when he learned about this, my father said to my stepmother, “I should have done that. I could have made three thousand dollars.”

How about José? What’s his deal?

José is based on two real people I know. One of them is a writer so I can’t name him because people who know him will know exactly what I’m talking about, and he’s a José type of person so everyone knows him. Anyway, he has that kind of Aw-shucks thing going for him, and he’s a successful Latino writer and part of his success is a Real Male thing because he was a college athlete and all that. But he’s also so nice!

And the other person was a guy named Jim who was a marine who was involved in a grassroots Democratic organization I was a member of, and Jim really was treated as an important celebrity because he was a marine who really fought in Iraq, and he also was a really nice person, and he was also, inevitably, really good-looking. I always remember him making a pretty ordinary joke once, and this other guy laughed so hard at the joke, like inappropriately hard in a way he wasn’t in control of, and it was obviously about male dominance hierarchies, and Jim himself looked really embarrassed.

And then Jim kind of vanished, and the other grassroots Dem guys randomly decided he had been a police informer all along, who had joined the organization to spy on them. But I could never determine why they believed this except that Jim stopped being their friend, and it hurt everyone’s feelings.

I mean, I said a lot of dumb shit to Jim too. I am not above that stuff. I make a total fool of myself at every opportunity.

I recently met a lantern-jawed astronaut, it was really really dire. What about Kate’s parents? They really seemed to me like – this maybe sounds silly, but – somebody’s parents.

OK, so Kate’s parents are just a representation of good parents. They are based on real people (real Hungarians, as it happens) but the bottom line is that they’re the parents of someone else, the ones you meet and they’re so great you can’t even imagine what it would be like to have such great parents, and yet somehow their kid still manages to be annoyed by them. And even that is great, because you then make the extra step of imagining being able to take those parents for granted.

Tell us about rich people in The Heavens.

In The Heavens, the only really rich person we meet is Sabine, who is a good person. This goes against everything I myself feel about rich people, but sometimes you write things just because you are tired of yourself and want to give other people’s ideas a chance. And after all, the novel does start in a utopian world, so maybe in a really utopian world, rich people too could be really good people. And who am I to say? I haven’t met all the rich people. Maybe lots of them are real gems.

And then there’s William Shakespeare. He’s a character too, although kiiind of also a collaborator or something. This is not the guy’s first rodeo, but this time feels different. In so many of the examples I can think of – Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Neil Gaiman’s Dream Country, Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – I get the sense that some kind of deep patterning in Shakespeare is being avidly endorsed, even when the work claims to be subverting or transcending.

Yes, some intertextual interventions do clap back at The Bard in various ways – Jeanette Winterston’s The Gap of Time, Margaret Atwood’s ‘Gertrude Talks Back,’ maybe? – but I feel like whatever their critiques, and despite their supposed mischief, they almost always gravitate toward some kind of reverence or mysticism. They want to participate in some kind of greatness that Shakespeare embodies or symbolises. Somehow, though, I think The Heavens genuinely escapes that gravity.

Well, I genuinely don’t believe in greatness, and I feel that the belief in greatness and the striving after greatness is really pernicious (which is one of the themes of the book). So in The Heavens the Shakespeare character is obviously very smart but otherwise relatively normal, and possibly a little lopsided as a person because his talent is so out of proportion to the rest of his character. I feel some sympathy with the need for the idea of greatness; we don’t want to believe it’s impossible for a person to rise above the common herd.

How did you find the historical research? How was it researching Emilia Bassano Lanier?

Emilia is pretty easy to research because there are a very few books about her and her family, and all the information is there. But Elizabethan England in general, and what it was like to live there, was a nightmare to research. It was just an endless slog of research. Would it be probable for this person to speak to that person in that tone? What did they have for breakfast? Who were the servants in a country house? What might servants have felt about their employers? What did things smell like? Etc. Each scene felt like a gigantic risk because there were so many details you could get wrong, and there are so many people who spend their lives studying the period.

I wonder if the little glitches serve a valuable function too? That speedball of joy and fury you might get, as a historian or literary scholar, from mildly inaccurate historical fiction set in your period? Arguably in The Heavens you have a get-out clause, because many of the early modern episodes are not quite in our timeline …

I’m also vaguely reminded of M. John Harrison’s squib about ‘the great clomping foot of nerdism,’ although that related to worldbuilding secondary worlds. He was writing about worldbuilding and storytelling again quite recently …

John Harrison is one greatest writers of our time, in my opinion. I can understand why he’s not more popular, because he’s over the heads of a lot of people, and he’s not tying things up in a bow in any way. The baggy and confusing plots he uses have never been popular in English language fiction, either, outside of science fiction, though in Russian fiction, for instance, they’re pretty common. Anyway, I think he’s one of the only living writers I’ve encountered who introduced me to fundamentally new ways of thinking about the world instead of just adding little details at the margins or expressing familiar things well.

Heavens USA ButterfliesSo, the fantastic is often thought to be a space where we work out social anxieties and obsessions. And the same fantastic tropes actually get reworked again and again according to how those anxieties and obsessions shift.

What do you think it is about time travel that speaks to the present moment? Or, do you think the time travel trope of the past was doing something different? If today’s time travel trope could travel in time to meet the time travel tropes of the past, what would they say to each other?

Time travel has meant more and more to us as we become more frantic to fix our world and more conscious of the incompetence of our attempts. I mean, the idea of time travel has always been that you go back in time and do something wrong (step on a butterfly) and when you come back, history is ruined; or you go forward in time and realize that everyone in your time was making terrible mistakes that lead to a world of Eloi being devoured by Morlocks.

The genre is about how humans make mistakes and ruin history, and we are incapable of doing anything right. Even if you go back to kill Hitler, it somehow makes things worse. It’s all about how our attempts to do the right thing are doomed. Another common theme in time travel is that the time travelers have to avoid changing anything of any significance, because it will create a paradox. Basically, when we think of the possibility that a human might alter history, we quickly become convinced that they’re going to fuck everything up even worse. And yet in our own present, we are constantly trying to alter history, and urging others to try, which I guess is because we’re already messing things up just by being here (stepping on butterflies) so we have to scramble desperately just to minimize the damage.

Though I guess occasionally the protagonist of a time travel narrative just travels back in time to have sex with a hot Scotsman. So that’s another possibility of the genre.

Was The Heavens a time travel story from the start?

Yes, this story was always a time travel story. It started as a time travel story where the protagonist travels back in time to have sex with a hot Scotsman, except instead of a hot Scotsman, it’s Shakespeare. Then it turned into the other kind too.

Forgiveness can be another way of sort of changing the past, or trying to. Can you talk about the relationship between time travel and forgiveness?

I guess according to the novel, no matter how many times you go back in time to fix things, there is no forgiveness because you are still the same flawed human being. And so the novel’s answer is to relax and forgive the world for not being good enough and forgive yourself for not having saved it, because there is nothing else and there never was.

I can’t think of any time travel narratives from Emilia’s time. Do you know if there were any?

I don’t think there were? Weirdly, the idea of time travel seems to have actually been invented in the Eighteenth Century and only to have really taken hold in the Nineteenth. It seems like such a core concept to us, but it’s a very rare example of an idea that (I’m pretty sure) doesn’t appear in literature until a certain date.

I guess unless you count generic ‘visions of the futures, delivered via dream’ stuff. So, one bit of Shakespeare which seems to haunt The Heavens is Horatio’s ‘purposes mistook / fall’n on th’inventors’ heads.’ This is a major theme, right? And maybe partly the problem comes from wanting to save the world in the abstract? That can lead to all kinds of fearful and anxious thinking.

Free will can only exist if you have a magical understanding of the world. So in the novel, the time travelers have something that is similar to free will, or seems similar; they are the only ones who can really alter the path of history in an otherwise deterministic world. But later on, their egotism somehow turns out to pervert whatever will they might think they have. Maybe their choices are determined by self-interest, and no matter what they think they’re doing, that is basically what is happening.

It’s sort of a messed-up version of what we all often find when we try to be altruistic. But really, I’ve always been concerned with the issue of free will. Because it seems to me that it’s obviously an illusion, unless you believe in some supernatural origin of the self, a self that can come from outside of the chain of cause and effect, and alter it. Which makes each person a little deity of a sort, who is creating things ex nihilo. And I think that’s an interesting idea, but it’s hard to see how it fits into our ordinary conception of reality.

And if it coincides with God’s will, then that on the one hand feels a bit convenient, but on the other hand, whatever, what even is God? No version of God is conceivable without arriving at a lot of preposterous places conceptually.

Do you like time?

No. I’m an introvert so I would like there to be a non-time option where nothing happens at all.

I was hoping in the last part, we could talk about one or two of your other works? You’re the author of at least four novels, a memoir, a book of literary criticism, and articles and essays. Your last novel before The Heavens was The Country of Ice Cream Star.

I have this penetrating observation that The Heavens and The Country of Ice Cream Star are quite different books. For example, The Heavens isn’t just a taut bittersweet philosophical tragicomedy of manners with time travel. Whereas The Country of Ice Cream Star isn’t just a YA post-apocalyptic dystopian epic. So I guess my question is … is there anything special that the two books have in common?

The Heavens is partly about the state I was in when I wrote The Country of Ice Cream Star, when I did not primarily live in the “real” world other people were living in. And had no particular wish to return to it.

The Country of Ice Cream Star is mostly written in your own constructed variety of English. It’s a kind of future evolution primarily of African American Vernacular English. I was interested in something you said in an interview somewhere, that AAVE is probably objectively the best English going …

I really believe AAVE is the most vital and intelligent and aesthetically sensitive use of English now. It’s really dynamic and it changes rapidly and is more open to constant invention than most other forms of English. It has the words and idioms everyone else wants to steal. I feel like this is so obvious I find it hard to defend as a proposition, but I do still encounter people who call AAVE “uneducated” English and it completely boggles my mind. It’s like being a person who thinks French people speak French because they’re too dumb to learn English.

I wanted to ask about your article, ‘What kind of person makes false rape accusations?’ I encountered it in the context of your short Vox piece on Kavanaugh, but the article was something you’d already written, right?

I became a false rape accusation geek because it gradually became clear to me that people said a lot of poorly researched or completely baseless stuff on the topic, and it got on my nerves. So I started researching it until I came across some actual information about who was being falsely accused, and why, and what happened when a false accusation was made. I mean, I just became obsessed with it for a while and wouldn’t let it go.

Finally, I realized it had never been put together into an article. I mean, it was one of those geek moments where you suddenly realize you’ve inadvertently become the person on Earth who knows the most about this subject by a pretty wide margin. So I put it together into an article, which took me an extraordinarily long time because it’s a complex subject and I’m not that great at nonfiction. And then it took a really remarkably long time to find someone who would publish it.

One of the main things I found was that people who make false rape accusations are really extreme characters. It’s not a mainstream thing to do; it’s a serious crime, and it’s generally committed by the same people who commit other crimes: teenagers, addicts, sociopaths, career criminals. The awkward thing is that these groups are also more likely to be victims of real rape. For instance, false accusations are relatively common in the prison system, but real rapes are incredibly common in the prison system too. It’s not a simple issue.

And there are lots of other counter-intuitive things about it. But really more research has to be done into this topic. I had to get most of my data from studies that were designed to discover something else, and produced information about false accusations as a by-product.

You revealed a novelist’s secrets How Not To Write a Novel, co-authored with Howard Mittelmark. But when will you reveal a writing coach’s secrets in How Not To Write How Not To Write a Novel?

Obviously I am the last person to advise anyone on How Not to Write How Not to Write a Novel.

And what do you feel are your biggest challenges as a writer?

Definitely paying the rent. All my other challenges are child’s play by comparison.

What actually is advice? Any advice, not just writing advice.

I guess advice is a kind of fiction. When you ask for advice, you’re asking someone to tell you a story about how they would solve your specific problem if they were you. So they tell you a story about a character loosely based on you in the form of advice, and you think about the story, and see if you find it convincing.

Sandra, thank you so much!

You can read an extract from The Heavens hereSandra Newman is the author of five novels: The Only Good Thing Anyone Has Ever Done, (shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award), CakeThe Country of Ice Cream Star (longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Literature), and The Heavens. With Howard Mittelmark she co-authored How Not to Write a Novel. She has also written The Western Lit Survival KitRead This Next, and a memoir, Changeling. She lives in New York.

This interview was partly conducted using time travel.

Laurie Penny interview

In August we caught up with Laurie Penny at Nine Worlds in London.

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How’s your con?

Oh, well, I’ve always liked Nine Worlds! I missed last year, but that’s the first year I’ve missed. This year, there have been some fantastic panels – the Hidden Histories panel was a favourite. But probably my highlight was playing four hours of The Good Society. It’s a Jane Austen based tabletop RPG. And it was really intense.

Who were you?

I played the heiress, the daughter of the lady of the manor. You know, beset by suitors, having to choose the one that was least awful … and you can’t choose nobody.

Oh my God. What happened?

Well, the misconception is that in Austen novels nothing happens. But imagine if you watched somebody trying to defuse a bomb, and you didn’t know what they were doing …

You’d assume they were doing nothing?

Yes! Every tiny movement in Austen is immensely high stakes. Everything is life or – okay, if not death, then at least permanent disgrace and penury. It’s massively mercenary and exciting. What’s really interesting was watching people who are used to playing swords‑and-sorcery games adapt to those mechanics. And we had a fantastic game as well.

That sounds so cool. I wanted to ask you, actually, about the role of conflict when you write fiction. In a lot of writing advice, we’re told how important conflict is. I wonder what you think about that from a craft perspective?

I mean, I’m not the most accomplished fiction writer. We’re sitting at Nine Worlds here, and I guarantee you that within this three-hundred square metres, there are people …

We stare in quiet awe at a nearby group of people.

I don’t know these people here, but I absolutely guarantee you that there’s probably somebody better to ask just sitting around.

We’re all fucking brilliant.

Everybody’s fucking brilliant. But to answer your question, I guess ‘tension’ is as good a word as ‘conflict.’ If you’re writing about something that’s problematic, something that’s tense …

Continue reading “Laurie Penny interview”

Florence Okoye interview

In August we caught up with Florence Okoye at Nine Worlds in London.

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How are you enjoying the con?

I loved how you get a proper introduction to everything when you come in. They’re so considerate of every single thing, from pronouns, to whether you want to be spoken to, whether you want to be photographed – like, every single thing! And also accessibility allies, which is a fantastic concept. So I’m actually very impressed.

I came fairly late, so I’ve only had time to get to one panel before the one I was on. That was ‘Let The Past Die: Sacrificing Sacred Cows in Star Wars The Last Jedi.’ It was a really interesting panel – a lot of unexpected connections being made by the panellists, some great questions being asked.

So tell us about Afrofutures UK.

It’s a very informal collective I started up in 2015 with some friends, back when I was living in Manchester. We were just like, ‘Well, we’re really interested in Afrofuturism, and nobody around us really talks about it … so let’s just do a thing about it.’ We started with a conference in October 2015, where over a hundred people turned up, which was amazing. It was just the power of Black Tumblr and Twitter at work to be honest.

Since then Afrofutures UK have done conferences and events, working with other organisations, trying to raise discussions at that intersection of race, technology, and speculative fiction from a variety of different perspectives. We tend to make sure that there are practical things like workshops – Arduino and programming or zine making workshops, for instance – really going for an approach that is intersectional, holistic, and creative.

Creating cultural infrastructure, as well as talking about culture that already exists. Awesome. So the theme of our next issue of Vector (#288) is economics. Would you like to talk a bit about Afrofuturism and economics?

I think at some point you realise how much everything is dependent on economic infrastructure. So you might say, okay, we want more Black people to be writers. Then you think, hang on, this is also to do with funding, this is also to do with levels of education attainment, this is also to do with just having spare time. I know plenty of creative people who have literally no time to do their creative work. So if the funding isn’t there, could Black communities provide funding ourselves? Oh, but we don’t have the money either, because we’re historically disenfranchised! And so very quickly you come back to this question of economics and the impact of institutionalised racism.

One thing I’ve found really interesting – really through Tumblr at first – was how Black people have been really good at taking advantage of digital infrastructure. So that might be someone using Patreon to fund their education, for example. And that can be a very practical quid pro quo: ‘You’re giving me money to help with my education, I’m going to make sure I write this number of books, and share them.’ Or that might be somebody using Etsy, and saying clearly, ‘Look, this is a Black-owned business, this is how we work, come and support us.’ So there are all of these interesting things that have happened through the internet. It’s really about people saying, ‘Okay, how do we support each other, in financial terms?’

Circumventing structures that might have systemic bias.

Well, yes, even though we’re still all using those systems in a sense. It’s about doing what we can. And maybe one day, as we have more amazing software developers specialising in financial software, maybe there will be like, say, a Black, co-operative version of PayPal. So we can be like, ‘Actually, yes, this is the right infrastructure to use to share our work.’ Personally, I like to think what you’re seeing now are prototypes.

Right, because the big tech companies that provide this infrastructure are still problematic. They’re still bound up in various ways in systemic racism. But the model is there.

Exactly. The co-operative model is there.

So tell us about what you’ve been working on recently.

Continue reading “Florence Okoye interview”

Dave Hutchinson interview

In August we caught up with Dave Hutchinson at Nine Worlds in London. 

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Are you enjoying the con so far?

I always enjoy Nine Worlds. It’s different to Eastercon of course. The emphasis isn’t quite so much on fiction – it’s more multimedia and general culture. Just saw a panel about villains, which was good … that was Adrian Tchaikovsky, Jeannette Ng, Anna Stephens and Mike Brooks.

Oh yeah, I saw that. That was good.

There was some conversation there about the Bond franchise, and the way the villains are frequently ‘othered,’ whether that’s a racialized other, or what-have-you. It struck me that it’s always been that way. Bond was always fighting the Russians, it was always the West versus the East. The Russians disappeared as the geopolitical other, although perhaps that dynamic has returned to some extent. But we are sort of looking for different ‘others.’

And meanwhile, there are increasingly plausible rumours about getting our first Black Bond.

Idris Elba? He’s a terrific actor. He’d be really good. One of the many reasons I hated Prometheus is that it totally wasted him.

I’ll watch anything that’s got him in it.

Y-y-yeah …

Haven’t seen Prometheus though! Maybe that’s …

You may want to draw the line with Prometheus. [Laughs]. It really is a terrible film.

What else do you plan to see at Nine Worlds? Continue reading “Dave Hutchinson interview”

Interview with Larissa Sansour

‘In the Future, They Ate From the Finest Porcelain’ by Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind.

Larissa Sansour is an artist working across video, photography, sculpture and installation, often to create political artworks that explore life in Palestine. Our cover image for Vector No. 287 is taken from her recent film installation, ‘In the Future, they Ate from the Finest Porcelain’, a collaboration with the artist Søren Lind.

An interview with Larissa Sansour first appeared in the same issue, Spring 2018.

Vector: In an interview for “Reorient”, you talk about how your piece uses SF to address the ongoing trauma that is both national and personal. The film swerves away from a documentary approach, yet you leave room for it to be interpreted as a realistic narrative by using a framing device common to 19th and early 20th century SF. It is possible to imagine our world just off screen. On the soundtrack we hear a conversation between a woman and her therapist – they can be in the here‑and‑now; the visual narrative of the film can be interpreted to describe an imaginary world of the patient’s mind, her dreams, her hopes, fears and fantasies. Was this ambiguity intentional? Was there a decision not to commit fully to science fiction?

Larissa Sansour: Working with science fiction offers a lot of malleability in how I choose to comment on present day issues. There is a tendency when addressing heated or urgent political topics to fall into an already established and non-flexible discourse. One then generally has to accept the premise of the arguments that preceded your contribution. Science fiction helps me posit a new equation in which a new approach to can be formulated. So, the trauma, fear and fantasies are intended to occupy the blurry space between fantasy and reality and, like in most of my work, to question the basis of our understanding of what reality means. In In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain, this focus is very much on historical narratives, and how much of that is really based on truth value.

The anachronism in the film is also very intentional. It is hard to talk about the Palestinian trauma without addressing several tenses. The Palestinian psyche seems to be planted in the catastrophic events of 1948 and is tied to a constant projection of the future, yet the present is in a constant limbo. Continue reading “Interview with Larissa Sansour”

Queer Muslim Futurism: Alif Para La Revolución

Imagining a Queer Muslim Futurism 

From the interview with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto [GARAGE]

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a few new projects, including Queer Muslim Futurism, which is about creating future queer landscapes through a Muslim lens. The narrative is about my drag character who, as a rebel leader, talks about contemporary politics in a future that signals a different dimension. This is a world in which the marginalized fights back. I create future guerrilla Muslim drag warriors on the front of resistance and blur the line between a revolutionary and a terrorist. The gaze of the Muslim male subject is queered, not in a docile way but to challenge the Western perspective of Muslim maleness. I’m doing films and performances in which gender and sexuality are undefined and identities are left unclear.

via Queer Muslim Futurism: Alif Para La Revolución

SF and the future of security: an interview with Ping Zheng

Defiant Today
‘Defiant Today’ Phil Jones

In late December 2017, a group of writers and scholars of SF, scientists and technologists, and defence analysts and policymakers, gathered at Dstl (UK government’s defence science and technology laboratory) in Salisbury to explore science fiction’s contribution to defence policy. Vector caught up with Dr Ping Zheng from Canterbury Christ Church University Business School, to ask her about her impressions of the day, and a few other things …

During the first breakout session, you were in the Human Behaviour in Smart Environments group. How did that go?

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Dr Ping Zheng

We had some inspiring discussions about how humans may react in smart environments. I think the group dynamics probably extended the scope of planned discussions, and allowed us to engage in more diversified discourse, ranging from individual perspectives, to emergent impacts at a societal level, and also to policy perspectives. For example, two prominent issues were debated: national and cultural differences, and ethical concerns such as privacy.

Perhaps the value of events like these is that you might discover that your original questions can be re-framed, or that your stakeholders are not precisely who you imagined them to be. Your other breakout session was ‘Defence (In)efficiency: What Does the Future Hold?’?

Continue reading “SF and the future of security: an interview with Ping Zheng”

From our archive: An interview with Saul Williams by Richard Howard

slamSaul Williams is a poet, hip-hop M.C., producer and actor who first came to prominence through his victory at the poetry Grand Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café in 1996. This event kick-started an acting career for Williams with the lead role in the feature film Slam in 1998, and a music career in which Williams began to blend his poetry with his love of hip-hop. What makes Williams’ work interesting from a science fiction standpoint is the obvious affinity he has with the genre, evident in his lyrics and the soundscapes that he chooses to rhyme over. From the outset, Williams wrote and produced with a speculative bent. In the song ‘Ohm’ from 1998’s Lyricist Lounge compilation, Williams announced ‘I am no Earthling, I drink moonshine on Mars/And mistake meteors for stars ‘cause I can’t hold my liquor/But I can hold my breath and ascend like wind to the black hole/And play galaxaphones on the fire escapes of your soul’. The glimmering production on ‘Ohm’ is no less science fictional, especially as it accelerates at around the three-minute mark.

Continue reading “From our archive: An interview with Saul Williams by Richard Howard”

BSFA events: Anne Charnock interviewed by Glyn Morgan

The BSFA holds regular events in London, usually on the last Wednesday of the month, at the Artillery Arms near Old Street. These events are free, and open to members and non-members alike. Keep an eye on the BSFA website for news of future events. In November 2017, former Vector editor Glyn Morgan interviewed acclaimed author Anne Charnock, whose first novel A Calculated Life was nominated for a Philip K Dick Award and whose second novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind was listed by The Guardian as one of the Science Fiction Books of the Year in 2016. She also regularly takes part in The Ada Lovelace Conversations, a collaborative project between The Arthur C Clarke Award for science fiction literature and Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Anne’s latest novel, Dreams Before the Start of Time, is out now.

 Andrew Wallace has checked his watch, confirmed he was there and reports as follows…

What will survive of us is love

dreamsThe themes of Anne’s latest novel Dreams Before the Start of Time evolved from ideas about reproductive technologies likely to be with us within the next forty years. The book explores the psychological, ethical, legal and social implications of these technologies by following generations of the same family into the future as they take advantage of these new opportunities and deal with the unexpected consequences. Anne believes that fiction offers the best means of analytically, emotionally and aesthetically engaging with the potential impacts of innovations and trends, from our ‘reproduction’ as digital selves to artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and the emergence of China as both a strategic world player and presence in our future lives.

Continue reading “BSFA events: Anne Charnock interviewed by Glyn Morgan”

#SciFiSessions: Adam Roberts & Jeff Noon

The first of Sci-Fi Sessions with Glyn Morgan, at Waterstones (Gower Street, London). Click here for details of future events, #SciFiSessions return in January 2018.


Andrew Wallace

Host Glyn Morgan (a former editor of Vector) was joined by two distinguished science fiction authors: Adam Roberts and Jeff Noon. Adam is a lecturer in nineteenth-century fiction at Royal Holloway and the author of seventeen books, including the British Science Fiction Association Award-winning Jack Glass. Jeff is a former punk, doyen of the 90s Madchester rave scene and author of eleven books, the first of which, Vurt won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 1993. Both have recently published new novels; Jeff’s A Man of Shadows is published by Angry Robot; Adam’s The Real Town Murders by Gollancz.

rtown2017Both novels blend crime fiction and science fiction, challenging the genre boundaries. A Man of Shadows is the film noir-influenced story of a 1940s-style gumshoe private eye searching for a teenage runaway, while The Real-Town Murders follows another private investigator trying to solve a case that seems impossible. The idea for the murder came from Alfred Hitchock, who posited: what if a dead body was discovered in the boot of a car that had been assembled by an automatic factory with no human intervention? Hitch said that if he could work out how the body got there he would make the film. He couldn’t, so never did and now Adam Roberts has picked up the challenge.

Continue reading “#SciFiSessions: Adam Roberts & Jeff Noon”