Torque Control

Early Vector now open access (& a note on Judy Watson)

The BSFA have partnered with FANAC.org to make sixty years’ worth of back issues available free online. This collection includes for the first time scans of all of the first seven issues (editors inclue E.C. Tubb, Terry Jeeves, Roberta Gray, and Michael Moorcock).

Among the earlier issues, there are still one or two gaps, so if in the course of your spring cleaning you find a #12, #33, #46, #47, or #49 perfectly preserved in amber, or a  #50, #51, #53, #54, #62, #63 or #184 released by glacial melt, get in touch.

The archive is an absolutely fascinating place to swim around in. In Vector #79 (1977) I stumbled on two striking comic strips by Judy Watson. There are no words. In one comic, titled ‘The Last Fish,’ a fabulous high femme fish is exploring a desolate, junk-crammed ocean. Grinning fishers, evidently in competition with one another, track her on sonar, surround her, and all together cast their vast nets, sized for catches in the thousands or millions, snagging her in a monstrous tangled web. The final panel is remniscent of da Vinci’s Last Supper, except with a vast host of indistinct gatecrashers (5,000 at least) standing in observance. All attention is focused on the little fish on her platter. A single figure at the centre is poised with knife and fork. The seated ‘diners’ — crude national stereotypes — all point and reach, their faces fixed in eerie rictuses remniscent of fish-bones. One figure, skeletal from hunger, does not reach toward the last fish, but instead cowers from her.

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In another comic, ‘If,’ blood flows freely from the protagonist’s breasts. She tapes them up, and blood pours from her navel. She tapes this up too, and visits a Dr [Somebody] — or perhaps Dracula, the edge of the sign is obscured — a balding fanged man, who drinks the blood from her breasts. She weeps, her tears turn to blood, she sits weeping under a tree. Then there is an ambiguous ecological epiphany: she smiles, she finds herself covered with — perhaps she generates? — flocks of dragonflies and butterflies.

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A review of Stanisław Lem: Philosopher of the Future

By Bruce A. Beatie

Peter Swirski, Stanisław Lem: Philosopher of the Future. Liverpool University Press, 2015 (Liverpool Science Fiction Texts and Studies, 51). ISBN 978-1-789620-54-2. Paperback, $35.41 / £19.95.

Stanislaw Lem: Philosopher of the Future

Memory tells me that I started reading science fiction in the late 1940s in the form of Heinlein stories that had appeared in Boys Life, which I subscribed to as a boy scout. When I started college at Berkeley in 1952, I discovered the Elves, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society. By the time I’d spent four years in the Air Force and finished my graduate studies at Harvard, I had collected a large SF library,  including an almost complete run of Astounding. The point of this narrative is that my deepest knowledge of SF was the so-called Golden Age. Though I’ve continued reading SF and fantasy, and have published over fifty reviews of SF and fantasy books in the last twenty years, the renowned Polish writer Stanisław Lem has remained on the borderline of my reading.

When Vector (the journal of the British Science Fiction Association) solicited reviewers for this book, I offered because I wanted to learn about Lem. For readers who share my previous ignorance, Lem was born in 1921 in Lwów, Poland (now Lviv in the Ukraine), and died in Krakaw in 2008. According to Swirski’s bibliography, Lem’s first published science fiction story appeared in 1946 (Man from Mars—translated title); his first collection of SF stories appeared in 1957 (translated in 1977 as The Star Dairies). Fiasco, his final SF publication, appeared in 1987, translated with the same title in 1988.

Peter Swirski himself was born in Canada in 1966 but has spent most of his professional life elsewhere; presently a distinguished visiting professor in China, he has also taught in Finland and Hong Kong. His preoccupation with Stanisław Lem began with a 1992 article in Science Fiction Studies; the monograph reviewed here is the latest of Swirski’s six book publications on Lem. His other publications are on aspects of American literature and culture.

Stanisław Lem: Philosopher of the Future begins with a brief introduction titled “Cogito Ergo Lem” (1-5); those five pages are divided into three titled sections. As with the remaining longer sections, the title of the section is followed by the list of subsection titles, which are then repeated within the section itself. After a general first section, the two remaining sections describe the content of the book’s three main chapters. For the rest of the book, Swirski follows the same pattern. Each of the eight chapters lists all of the subtitles of the chapter before the text, and there are many subtitled sections: a total of 112 sections, in a book of 224 pages.

“Part I: Biography” has two chapters: “Life and Times” (8-26), which provides a somewhat unusual biography in sixteen subtitled sections, and “In the Kaleidoscope of Books” (27-56), which discusses a selection of Lem’s works in chronological order. The “Life and Times” comments in its first section that “Lem has stamped his name on twentieth–century letters as analogist extraordinaire, capable of oscillating like a sinusoid between crazany and ultranalytical [sic] in the space of a single paragraph” (9).  After describing Lem’s funeral in 2006, Swirski notes that the author’s name is on Asteroid 3836. “It is an eerily comforting thought,” he comments, “that the writer forever linked throughout his art to the uttermost frontiers of space is linked with a celestial body bound to endure for millions, if not billions of years” (26). The second chapter, “In the Kaleidoscope of Books,” goes chronologically through Lem’s major works. Swirski suggests that Lem’s career can be “carved into the formative fifties (1946-1958), the golden sixties (1959-1970), the experimental seventies (1971-1984), the coda (1982-1987), and the two collector’s decades (1988-2006)” (28-29).  

Between Part I and Part II are eleven photographs and graphics, beginning with a photograph “in the 1950s” of Lem with the Nobel-Prize-winning poet Wisław Szymborska; the fifth photo “on the fateful day of 9/11” shows Lem with the Polish poet Ewa Lipska; the remaining photos and graphics were taken by Swirski. The last three are of the Stanisław Lem Garden of Experiences, a Cracow theme park honoring Lem.

The four “Essays” in Part II are on a variety of Lem’s works, with playful, obscure subtitles that only hint at the Lem works considered: “Game, Set, Lem,” “Betrization Is the Worst Solution … Except for All Others”—“betrization” is a term coined in Lem’s 1961 novel  Return from the Stars,” “Errare Humanum Est,” and “A Beachbook for Intellectuals”—its last two sections is on Lem’s 1976 novel The Chain of Chance, which Swirski compares with Walker Percy’s 1987 last novel Thanatos Syndrome and calls it “Lem at his ‘entertaining’ best” (163). The last two essays in “Part III: Coda” are on Lem’s last work translated into English, Fiasco (1987), and on The Blink of an Eye (2000), Lem’s last novel, which “ends with a stunning, if perhaps appropriate, farewell to the old millennium […] the final five words in the Book: ‘Happy End of the World’”—and those are also Swirski’s final words as well. (The apparatus sections of the book are “Appendix: Stanisław Lem Books” in order of composition with translated titles (187-189), “Works Cited” (190-195), and “Index” (198-203)).

I was ready to make some general comments on Swirski’s book when an email from Mat Costanzo responding to a query about “foundational works that should be read by everyone for their deep insights into life and reality” turned up on a list to which I subscribe. Among other suggestions, Mat said that “Stanisław Lem is essential reading for any sci-fi enthusiasts,” and included a short 2019 article from the New Yorker by Paul Grimstad on “The Beautiful Mind-Bending of Stanisław Lem.” The same cannot be said for Swirski’s Stanisław Lem. It is a useful book that provides a fair introduction to Lem’s life work, but its style is often quirky, and its division into 112 oddly-titled segments is difficult, and may make for unnecessary confusion.


Bruce A. Beatie lives in Ohio. He is Professor of Comparative and Medieval Literature (emeritus) at Cleveland State University.

 

I Went Looking for AfroSF 

In this article, Eugen Bacon reflects on her journey of discovery into AfroSF. Meanwhile, Ivor W. Hartmann’s groundbreaking AfroSF anthologies are currently included in the African Speculative Fiction bundle from Story Bundle.

By Eugen Bacon

It was a love and hate relationship with M. The brusque and direct nature of this editorial colleague of mine every so often came across as pomposity, and I knee-jerked. So much that I nearly fell in wonder when M approached me asking for a favour. 

“How about a pitch?” he said. “I’ve seen this AfroSF thing on Amazon a couple of times, it would be great to write an article.” 

M was offering an olive branch. He wanted me to write for his nonfiction section of a popular magazine. And I had just the title for this piece: “What is AfroSF?” To put it in context, this was a few years ago. 

It was a journey of discovery that led me to a community. The African Australian in me was curious to unearth AfroSF, an inquisitive quest to decipher this literary movement, this subgenre of science fiction—what was it exactly? Yes, I anticipated that it had some derivation from hard or soft science fiction, cyberpunk, mutant fiction, dystopian or utopian fiction, pulp, space opera, and the like, and that it had something to do with Africa. What else would I discover?

An online search steered me to a 406-paged anthology published in December 2012 by StoryTime, a micro African press dedicated to publishing short fiction by emerging and established African writers. The StoryTime magazine was formed in 2007 in response to a deficit of African literary magazines.

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Some readers described it as a ‘ground-breaking anthology’ of diversity and hope, an ‘African Genesis’ that was intense and varied in its fresh viewpoints. Editor and publisher Ivor W. Hartmann spoke of his dream for an anthology of science fiction by African writers, and his realisation of this vision in a call for submissions that birthed original stories published as AfroSF. Illuminating his fascination with the collection, Hartmann said, ‘SciFi is the only genre that enables African writers to envision a future from our African perspective.’

Bravo, I thought of this Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, visual artist and author of Mr Goop (2010)—an award-winning post-apocalyptic short story of a boy who struggles with coming-of-age concerns like bullies and scholarly performance, in a science fiction society called the United States of Africa, guarded by robots and chaperoned by humanoid genoforms.

Continue reading “I Went Looking for AfroSF “

2019 BSFA Award winners

Best Novel

  • WINNER: Children of Ruin, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)

  • The Green Man’s Foe, Juliet E. McKenna (Wizard’s Tower)

  • Atlas Alone, Emma Newman (Gollancz)

  • Fleet of Knives, Gareth L. Powell (Titan)

  • The Rosewater Insurrection, Tade Thompson (Orbit)

Best Shorter Fiction

  • WINNER: This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Jo Fletcher)

  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton)

  • “Jolene”, Fiona Moore (Interzone 9-10/19)

  • Ragged Alice, Gareth L. Powell (Tor.com Publishing)

  • The Survival of Molly Southbourne, Tade Thompson (Tor.com Publishing)

  • “For Your Own Good”, Ian Whates (Wourism and Other Stories)

Best Non-Fiction

  • WINNER: The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)

  • Sideways in Time: Critical Essays on Alternate History Fiction, Glyn Morgan & C. Palmer-Patel (eds) (Liverpool University Press)

  • About Writing, Gareth L. Powell (Luna)

  • HG Wells: A Literary Life, Adam Roberts (Palgrave Macmillan)

  • “Away Day: Star Trek and the Utopia of Merit”, Jo Lindsay Walton (Big Echo)

Best Artwork

  • WINNER: Cover of Wourism and Other Stories by Ian Whates, Chris Baker (Luna)

  • Cover of Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, Aitch & Rachel Vale (Macmillan)

  • Cover of Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell, Julia Lloyd (Titan)

  • Cover of The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson, Charlotte Stroomer (Orbit)

  • Cover of Interzone 11-12/19, Richard Wagner

The awards were voted on by members of BSFA and the British Annual Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon). Congratulations to all the winners and all the shortlistees.

The BSFA Awards were administered by Awards Administrator Clare Boothby, with help from Allen Stroud, Luke Nicklin, Karen Fishwick, and others.

Earlier / Elsewhere:

Science Fiction’s big digital pivot

Over the past month or so, the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) has been hosting a series of livestream readings from SFF authors in the UK and beyond. We’re calling them the Lockdown Solidarity Salons or, if you prefer, Very Extremely Casual Tales of Optimism and Resilience (VECTOR). Authors, you are all such charmers!

You can find out more about the series on the Facebook page or YouTube channel. We hope you’ll join us this Thursday (8.15pm UK time) for Chinelo Onwualu, Fiona Moore, and on later dates for Naomi Foyle, Lauren Beukes, Temi Oh, Ian R. MacLeod, and more. Here’s Adam Roberts:

See below for Foz Meadows, Stew Hotston, Valerie Valdes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Malka Older, Tiffani Angus, Stephen Oram, Geoff Ryman, Wole Talabi, and Andrew Wallace. This Sunday, the BSFA will be holding our annual BSFA Awards ceremony (usually held at Eastercon, the UK’s annual national SF convention) on YouTube at 7pm BST.

And of course, we’re not the only ones.

Continue reading “Science Fiction’s big digital pivot”

Becoming Visible: The Rise of Black Speculative Fiction

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Eugen Bacon is an award-winning writer of speculative fiction and non-fiction. Her works include Claiming T-Mo (Meerkat Press 2019), Writing Speculative Fiction: Critical and Creative Approaches (Macmillan 2020), Inside the Dreaming (NewCon Press, 2020) and Hadithi and The State of Black Speculative Fiction, a forthcoming collaboration with Milton Davies (Luna Press, 2020). In this essay, she reflects on some of her favourite black speculative fiction.

 As an African Australian who’s grappled with matters of identity, writing black speculative fiction is like coming out of the closet. It’s a recognition that I’m Australian and African, and it’s okay—the two are not mutually exclusive. I am many, betwixt, a sum of cultures. I am the self and ‘other’, a story of inhabitation, a multiple embodiment and my multiplicities render themselves in cross-genre writing. As a reader, writer and an editor, I’m increasingly noticing black speculative fiction, and it’s on the rise.

Continue reading “Becoming Visible: The Rise of Black Speculative Fiction”

Productive Futures: A report

Conference Report

Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction

12- 14 September 2019

Bloomsbury, London

By Jasmine Sharma 

“The history of science fiction (SF) is the history of unreal economics: from asteroid mining to interstellar trade, from the sex work of replicants to the domestic labour of housewives of galactic suburbia, from the abolition of money and property to techno- capitalist tragedies of the near future.”

The opening statement of the Call for Papers caught the attention of researchers, scholars, artists and authors engaged with the central theme of the conference: science fiction. The connection between science fiction and economics broadened the dynamics of multidisciplinary interaction, encouraging presentations not only from literary studies, but also from architecture, arts and aesthetics, cultural studies, film studies, law, history, politics and international relations, media studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, social anthropology and many more. 

Organized by the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC), and held within the heart of the city, that is the School of Arts Building, Birkbeck, the conference witnessed an exciting exchange of ideas and an orientation to global participation. UK delegates were joined by those from other European countries like Denmark, Germany, Finland and Netherlands, from Canada and the USA, and finally from institutes as distant as The University of Wollongong, Australia, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and The Indian Institute of Technology, India. It was suggested at the end of the conference, only half-jokingly, that LSFRC now stood for Large Science Fiction Research Community.

Continue reading “Productive Futures: A report”

Sideways in Time: A review

Sideways in Time: Critical Essays on Alternate History Fiction, edited by Glyn Morgan and C. Palmer-Patel

Reviewed by Nick Hubble

On Friday 19 February 2016, Boris Johnson, wrote two drafts of an article intended for publication in the following Monday’s Daily Telegraph. The first argued in favour of Britain leaving the European Union; the second argued in favour of Britain remaining in the European Union (see Shipman 2016: 170-3, 609-18). As we know, Johnson opted to publish a redrafted version of the original, went on to become the figurehead of the successful Leave campaign and, in 2019, became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and then won a General Election by a landslide. But what if he’d published a polished version of the second article instead and decided to support Remain in the European referendum?

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Deconstructing the King of the Katz

By David John Beesley

King of the Katz Title shot

Making art can follow many differing paths: allowing the subconscious to do its thing; waiting for inspiration to strike alongside the time to realise craft, developing pleasure in process and deeper understandings of the self. The Neo Liberal market’s force for establishing one’s own name as a brand is a powerful psychological vortex, and for some, it is also imperative to follow the academic establishment’s call for deep research and being precise in defining one’s conceptual intentions. For myself, a commitment to the process of assemblage seems appropriate in an age of polarised economical ideologies; I see this as a way of presenting stratified social critiques –  an ethical choice. 

My favourite indulgence in developing ideas is a long walk or deep soak in the tub – establishing time for reflection. I came up with a draft for my film in about two or three hours… I was twitchingly excited, as I’d conceived an idea to make a Cli Fi Western. 

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Continue reading “Deconstructing the King of the Katz”