Interview with Larissa Sansour

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‘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”

Westworld Then and Now

By Dev Agarwal

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Westworld (2017), HBO

Westworld landed on TV in 2017 and set genre cognoscenti’s tongues wagging. The consensus is that in ten episodes it has sealed its place in our current Golden Age of Television, and surpassed the original film from which it jumps off.

The current HBO-produced series had a long gestation period. It began with the original film by Michael Crichton in 1973, followed by fits and starts that may be better forgotten – the misfiring 1976 sequel Futureworld, plus a TV series, Beyond Westworld, that appeared in 1980 and was quickly cancelled – and the long haul of dormancy for the concept until 2016, when the first season of the contemporary reboot appeared. Season two is awaited this spring.

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Westworld (1973) by Michael Crichton

Overall, the 1973 Westworld was more a monster chase movie than a meditation on what it means to be human – the central theme of the current re-incarnation of the story. The Westworld reboot series so far has focused on just one park, the West, largely ignoring the film’s orgiastic Romanworld and castle-based Medievalworld (albeit there have been some allusions to samurais). However, fans of the original film should find that the rebooted series remains faithful to the original concept.

In both incarnations, 70s film and modern TV series, Westworld is squarely a science fiction idea (our genre gave the film nominations for the Hugo and Nebula). It’s hard SF in that technology is central to the premise: advanced AIs engage with people as “hosts” in a theme park. But it’s certainly also soft SF, in that the drama unfolds by exploring the social implications of technological change rather than by examining how the science works. Continue reading “Westworld Then and Now”

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”

From Our Archive: On Genre Boundaries

Air by Geoff Ryman

An Extended Review of the 2005 Arthur C. Clarke Award-Winning Novel, by Andy Sawyer

RymanAirThe success of Air in the latest Clarke award is nothing less than an act of magic.

The shortlist as it stood presented a number of problems which potentially could have wrecked the credibility of the Award at this rather troubled stage of its existence. It consisted of two novels (Geoff Ryman’s Air and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) which by anyone’s standards (though see below) should be considered outstanding, and four also-rans of varying quality from excellent to enjoyable-but-forgettable which suffered from being read in the shade of Ryman and Ishiguro but which were on the face of it considerably more science-fiction-ish. “Also-rans” sounds harsh, so I must qualify that by saying that I mean no insult to Ken MacLeod’s Learning the World, Alastair Reynolds’ Pushing Ice, Charles Stross’s Accelerando, and Liz Williams’ Banner of Souls by saying that they did not move and excite me in the way Air and Never Let Me Go did. Were those two not on the shortlist I would have been considerably less disappointed if one of the other four had won, if any of them had — if that makes sense. But with the short-list as it stood a decision to honour any other than Ishiguro or Ryman would have been a travesty.

Air took the award, of course, and this means that the science fiction writer, as opposed to the “mainstream” writer with something which looks like science fiction, was the success. In what follows I am, I hope, going to suggest why I feel uncomfortable writing a sentence like that, but also why it’s good for both the Clarke award and that collection of extremely different texts that we point to and call science fiction that it was Ryman who won the award. This is not to say that Air is the obvious compromise choice, a charge which is laid against just about every juried award at some time or another. I don’t know, or care, what happened in the discussions, but there’s no sense in Air that justifies this. In not giving the award to an outsider-sf text in favour of a book which must be sf because it has also won the BSFA award (as well as a number of other sf awards including the Tiptree), the jury has given first prize to a book that deserves it. As well as being central-sf, Air is also stunningly written; inventive and open, as sympathetic to the human costs of change as, without the darkness and claustrophobia of, Never Let Me Go. But why should I be presenting this as an ideological conflict as much as a simple decision between which of two books is the better?

Continue reading “From Our Archive: On Genre Boundaries”

JG Ballard: Art, Environment and Film

Over Christmas, BSFA members should have received the latest mailing, including the bumper-size Vector 261, and a copy of Winter Song by Colin Harvey. Mine arrived while I was away, and sat outside getting soggy, which is why it’s a bit rumpled; fortunately, Vector protected the novel.

Torque Control — editorial
Letters to Vector
The BSFA Awards — Donna Scott
Landscapes from a Dream: how the art of David Pelham captured the essence of JG Ballard’s early fiction — James Pardey
A Benign Psychopathology: the films of JG Ballard — Jonathan McCalmont
JG Ballard’s CONCRETE: thoughts on High Rise and Concrete Island — Lara Buckerton
An interview with Jose Carlos Somoza — by Ian Watson
First Impressions — book reviews edited by Kari Sperring
Progressive Scan: Ashes to Ashes, season 2 — Abigail Nussbaum
Foundation’s Favourites: The Voices of Time by JG Ballard — Andy Sawyer
Resonances 57 — Stephen Baxter
The New X: Careering — Graham Sleight

This issue was somewhat delayed, so the next two mailings (as mentioned in the previous post) should be following fairly hard on this one’s heels. Contributor copies of this issue of Vector will go out this week.

We’re using a new printer/mailing house, which seems to have had some teething problems. Most seriously, members have reported receiving torn envelopes and damaged or even missing contents — please contact us if your mailing was damaged,and we’ll sort out a replacement.

The thread for this issue on the BSFA forum is here; there’ll be a full news update, addressing the mailing delays and outlining plans for 2010, in the next mailing.

Vector 260: Fantasy and Mythology

A bit belated, this, for which I apologise. While I was away on holiday, the latest BSFA mailing should have dropped through members’ doorsteps. If you haven’t received it, let us know; it should have looked like this:

And the contents of Vector:

Torque Control — editorial
Letters — or, this issue, letter; keep ’em coming, though
Of Time and the River — Paul Kincaid on Robert Holdstock
Across the Dickian Multiverse — Hal Duncan interviewed by Tony Keen
Euripedes Bound: Hal Duncan’s use of Greek tragedy — Tony Keen
Other Views — Gwyneth Jones interviewed by Tanya Brown
First Impressions — book reviews edited by Kari Sperring
Progressive Scan — a column by Abigail Nussbaum
Foundation’s Favourites — a columnn by Andy Sawyer
Resonances — a column by Stephen Baxter
The New X — a column by Graham Sleight

There’s a little discussion of the issue in the BSFA forum. And inexcusably not credited in the issue is Drew Brayshaw, whose photograph provides the basis for the cover.

Also in the mailing, as the photo shows, is the latest issue of Focus, and the latest BSFA Special booklet: SF writers on SF film: from Akira to Zardoz, edited by Martin Lewis, who has posted about the booklet here. Adam Roberts has posted his contribution, on Blade Runner, here.

Last, but certainly not least: Matrix Online has relaunched. with oodles of features and reviews.

In The Grim Darkness Of The Far Future …

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do ever since the Vector website went up is to start reprinting content from the 45+ years of back issues. In fact, I had my eye on one essay in particular, from Vector 229, which is now online:

Freedom in an Owned World: Warhammer fiction and the Interzone Generation
By Stephen Baxter

‘”Curse all manling coach drivers and all manling women,” muttered Gotrek Gurnisson, adding a curse in Dwarvish …’

That’s the first line of ‘Geheimnisnacht’ by William King, the first story in the first book of Warhammer fiction, the anthology Ignorant Armies, published in 1989. Since that beginning there has been published a whole string of books, magazines and comics, set in the universes of the highly successful war games and role-playing games marketed by Games Workshop (GW).

Partly because of the involvement of Interzone editor David Pringle, who was editor of the GW line from 1988 to 1991, over the years several prominent British writers of sf and fantasy have contributed to the various series, many from what used to be known as the ‘Interzone generation’. My own involvement was modest, two short stories published in 1989 and 1990; there have been much more significant contributions from David Garnett, Kim Newman, Brian Stableford, Ian Watson and others. Today GW publishes new and reprinted fiction — great mountains of it, in fact — under its ‘Black Library’ imprint. But over the years GW fiction itself has been the subject of a saga of gamers and business suits, of orthodoxies and heresies, of Stakhanovites and rebels, of collapses and recoveries, of intriguing lost possibilities, and of struggles for literary freedom in an ‘owned universe’.

Go read it. It’s very long — over 10,000 words — but it is, I think, my favourite of the articles that have been published in Vector in the time I’ve been reading it. Oddly enough, what prompted me to get around to putting it online was Abigail’s excellent post on Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners”, in which she quite rightly talks about how central the depiction of fannish behaviour is to understanding the story:

… there’s nothing that’s not familiar about the all-consuming devotion with which Jeremy and his friends incorporate The Library into their everyday lives. They watch — and re-watch — the episodes together, as a communal experience, discuss and analyze the events of each episode, and dress up as their favorite characters. I don’t imagine there are many people reading this post who can’t sympathize, or offer an example of similar behavior. For me, it was The X-Files, but I imagine there are people my age who might offer up Babylon 5 as their first fannish love, and folks a bit older who first geeked out over Star Trek: The Next Generation. Whatever television show it was that once captured your heart to the extent that it became part of your life, “Magic for Beginners” will read, in some ways, like excerpts from your own adolescence.

I have previously said that Angel fandom, and specifically the corner of it found in uk.media.tv.angel, was my first fandom. That’s not quite accurate; what it was, was my first fandom that endured, the first fandom in which I formed friendships that are still going strong. That didn’t happen for me with The X-Files, or Babylon 5, or any other earlier TV show — it’s hard to be genuinely fannish about something when you don’t have the internet, and don’t know anyone else who watches it in the way you do. But before all of them, my first actual fandom was Games Workshop and their tabletop fantasy wargames.

So for me, reading Baxter’s essay is not-unlike a trip down memory lane. Except it’s a slightly odd trip, because my involvement with GW coincides quite neatly with the period in which they weren’t putting out fiction. I got into the hobby — or, if you prefer, the cult — sometime in 1993, and got out of it, finally, in 1999. Baxter’s essay spends most time on the period between 1987, when GW fiction was started, and 1995, when Ian Watson’s Chaos Child was the last GW title to be published. By that time I was deep into the hobby, and I remember that, and it was an event, Speaking of the later reissuing of his books, Watson says they added “fictional prefaces denouncing the books, my suggestion, as tissues of heresy and lies, the ideal solution …” but I remember Chaos Child being presented as heretical even at the time of publication. GW stores didn’t stock it; the staff (GW stores having a deliberate “hobby” ethos, the staff and regular customers often got to know each other quite well) would tell teasing tales of how brilliant the first two volumes in the trilogy, now unavailable, were; there were excited rumours that a copy had been sighted in the WH Smith’s round the corner; and so on. I did eventually get my hands on copies of all three of Watson’s books — I think I still have them — and I remember them as being exactly the sort of dark and twisted thing I wanted from 40K fiction.

And then, a couple of years later, I was there for the launch of the short fiction magazine Inferno!, and the subsequent launch of the full Black Library imprint. By that point, or about that time, I was actually working for the Evil Empire myself. I was incredibly picky about getting a part-time job as a teenager — having set my heart on working for GW, nothing else would do — and for some reason my parents let me get away with it. To be fair, it may have been pragmatism on their part, since if I hadn’t been working there and enjoying the staff discount (miniatures at lead weight!) I suspect they’d have gone bankrupt trying to feed my habit. But I got the job, and it was quite an experience — on the one hand, a lot of fun, on the other, a steep learning curve about exactly how corporate GW really was, and how much the hobbyism was a veneer.

Of course, it was still incredibly addictive. I had armies, plural, for all the major games (If you’re wondering, Wood Elves, Chaos Dwarves and Dwarves — now all overpowered runic weapons to the end! — in Warhammer, and Dark Angels, Tyranids and Eldar — now all ludicrously powerful everything to the end! — in 40K; I’m not going to list everything, at least not unless prompted in the comments); was there every games night, Thursdays ’till 8, even when I wasn’t working; spent god knows how many hours painting the miniatures; and went to the exercise in controlled mass hysteria that was Games Day every autumn. Did I care that the universes in which the games were set were thinly-disguised ripoffs of, well, everything else? No, not a bit — although in my defence, I was never as far gone as this guy. Games Workshop is even responsible for my first and only foray into fanfic — if memory serves, I wrote about a young girl from a farm planet who stowed away on a ship to Earth but got captured by an Arbitrator.

What got me out of it, in the end, was going to university. I tried to carry on the job part-time, but quickly realised that wasn’t going to work; I went along to the local gaming club for a while, but never really got to know the people there as well as I’d known the regulars at my home store, not least because I had so much less time to devote to the hobby. I think there was probably a short period during which my GW addiction was tailing off, and my Angel fandom was just starting up, but I don’t think I could say for sure. And while it is my Angel fandom experiences that resonate most strongly when I read “Magic for Beginners”, there are certainly elements of the story — the camaraderie, the anticipation of new releases — that carry back into GW fandom as well.

As for Baxter’s essay, well, having now got into general sf fandom in the way that I have, reading an essay that explains that some of the prehistory of my first fandom is intertwined with what I think of as the modern start of my current fandom (British Boom and all that; I suspect I found Baxter’s Raft at around the same time that I was reading Ian Watson’s Inquisitor novels) inevitably also has enormous resonance. But I think the essay is well worth reading even if you don’t have my personal experience. The list of recognisable names who wrote for GW can be quite startling if you’re not expecting it — Charles Stross, Kim Newman, Nicola Griffith, and Brian Stableford, for starters, with David Pringle editing the initial list — and Baxter does an excellent and entertaining job of filling in the context, as well as investigating the conflicting issues that surround writing franchise fiction. Which, let’s face it, haven’t gone away.

Another thing that hasn’t quite gone away is my desire to play the games. Like a junkie jonesing for a hit, I still sometimes get the urge to break out my armies from their foam-packed stasis and head down to the local store, though I suspect the rules have changed (yet again) since my day, and really (much like World of Warcraft) I know that if I let it gain a foothold, it would swallow my life whole. And then, in the back of my mind, as a compromise measure, I get this crazy notion of contacting the Black Library to ask for some review copies …

Vector History

A brief word of explanation for those of you who (inexplicably) may not have given much thought to the history of the BSFA: Vector has been around for a while. Way back in the 1960s, when issue numbers were only two digits and the magazine was being edited by Rog Peyton, a series of fanzine review and fannish commentary columns started to appear under the title “Behind The Scenes”, as by Malcolm Edwards. This was a pseudonym for Pete Weston (whose With Stars in my Eyes was a Best Related Book Hugo nominee last year), and caused some confusion when a real Malcolm Edwards entered fandom a few years later.

Greg Pickersgill has now put the columns online, with his own covering note:

It was forty years ago —

My copy of the British SF Association’s magazine, VECTOR, issue 43, dated March 1967, was a really big thing for me. I’d been aware of sf fandom for while, my curiosity and interest aroused and increased by various mentions in the back-issue magazines I enthusiastically collected, and in Kingsley Amis’ NEW MAPS OF HELL and Damon Knight’s IN SEARCH OF WONDER, books I read and re-read with endless fascination. Then there was the column ‘Our Man In Fandom’, by Lin Carter, which appeared in the then-current British reprints of WORLDS OF IF, and then, incredibly, in one of the last of the hard-to-get Compact issues of NEW WORLDS, a small-ad for the BSFA itself. Dazzlement! Enchantment! I joined instantly.

Even the rather rudimentary nature — poorly duplicated, folded foolscap paper — of the magazine that eventually arrived (after a worrying delay, the BSFA being in one its occasional disorganised phases) was no deterrent to my growing enthusiasm. Unlike so many sf readers who seem to be unaccountably frightened by the unfamiliar I was deeply attracted to the new world of sf fandom with its sometimes unusual terminology, and even the sense that everyone knew everyone except me was no real barrier. Of course as the only sf reader in school — as I was at that time — I was used to being the outsider, no question.

I read that issue of VECTOR so many times I’m surprised the pages didn’t drop to shreds from the endless eyetracks; all of it was new and absorbing, but the prime delight was the BEHIND THE SCENES column by one Malcolm Edwards. This character wrote fluently and knowledgeably about fandom, fans and fanzines and sounded like the right sort of person, absolutely. If only I knew someone like that, I thought. But there were no fans within at least a hundred miles of where I lived at the time, so maybe I’d better get a burst on and get into this fanzine thing, learn the language, find out who’s who about town. And I did. Not without incident, including a letter to the BSFA complaining about how all those Big Name Fans just wouldn’t get off their high horses once in a while to help the poor struggling neophyte. Well, I was sixteen, and much more stupid then.

Fandom before the internet, eh?