SF Crossing the Gulf Episode 5: Greg Egan

The fifth episode of our podcast is up! Karen Burnham and I wrap up the discussion of Greg Egan’s short stories which we started in episode three. Karen demonstrates her impressive knowledge of Egan’s works and worlds and saves me from making uninformed judgements.

The next episode will be about The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. As always, discussion will be spoilery, so please do buy or borrow it and be ready in a fortnight’s time. The book is well worth the effort for both genre and literary readers.

Hugo Awards and SF Crossing the Gulf Episode 4

First of all, congratulations to all the Hugo award winners, and special congratulations to the winner of the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, E. Lily Yu!

(For the record, these are not belated congratulations, these are extended congratulations. I have been congratulating by tweet and email since Sunday.)

Secondly, it’s Wednesday-fortnight again and that means podcast! I’m delighted to be discussing The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Jamaican writer and sociologist Erna Brodber. I thought Karen Burnham would find it challenging – hah, she didn’t! And she loved it and we hope you do too. You can listen to the podcast here at SF Signal, but before you do, it’s worth visiting The Spaces Between the Words for an interview with Erna Brodber that will enhance your podcast experience.

Episode Three: SF Crossing the Gulf

Here it is.  We could have spent a lot more time talking about Greg Egan’s short stories and how they compare to Ted Chiang’s work, but we stayed strong and more or less kept to time. However, we will continue talking about Egan and Chiang … not in the next episode, but the one after that.

Next episode (in two weeks) we’re looking at Caribbean SF again: Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake. I invite you all to listen to the marvellous reading and interview by Erna Brodber at The Spaces Between the Words and check out the other links to interviews and reviews. It will be good preparation. Again, if you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. This is the kind of book that we could summarise and spoil to the max and you’d still find it new and surprising when you read it.

An interview and an invitation

Brad R. Torgersen, 2012 nominee for the Campbell Award, is interviewing the other Campbell nominees on his blog. So far he has an interview with Mur Lafferty and with yours truly. Go look!

The next episode of SF Crossing the Gulf will soon be released. Usually we warn listeners that we plan to be very spoilery and advise reading the book or stories in advance. This time we are discussing My Bones and My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer, which is out of print but available at libraries (the link provided leads to WorldCat, one of the biggest if not the biggest library catalogue search engines). We’ll provide a summary of the novel before our discussion and fill in details as we go along, so in this case you will not need to have read the book in advance. Mittelholzer is a great start point for anyone new to Caribbean SF, so I invite all novices to come and listen. I also invite the Mittelholzer specialists, those who are more than well-acquainted with Caribbean literature, to listen and ensure that I don’t misrepresent him too badly. I’m looking forward to having a vigorous and illuminating discussion in the comment thread afterwards!

Podcast! But wait, this is a special one.

When Karen Burnham (NASA engineer by day, SF reviewer and podcaster by night) approached me to ask if I would be interested in doing a podcast with her, the ‘yes’ couldn’t fly out of my mouth fast enough. We have a lot in common, including a first name, a degree (BSc Physics) and a hobby (martial arts/fencing). I was eager to tackle my to-read list and take some recommendations and, more importantly, do so in a meaningful way that would expand my appreciation of the craft of writing and the literary and scientific merits of speculative fiction. And so the podcast SF Crossing the Gulf came to be.

You can find it here, kindly hosted by SF Signal, and it will also be available via RSS feed and iTunes. Our first episode gives a little intro on what we plan to do, and then we get into the meat of the matter, the short fiction of the truly estimable Ted Chiang. The post also gives a link to a free pdf of the main story we’re discussing, a photo and sales link for the short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others, and a list of the works we plan to discuss in upcoming episodes.

Getting hold of the science fiction should be easy; laying hands on the Caribbean speculative fiction may be a little more challenging. My Bones and My Flute by Edgar Mittelholzer is out of print at the moment but is available at libraries. The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Erna Brodber is available at the usual online bookstores but, if they run out of stock, libraries (especially academic libraries) are probably your best bet. Our future choices should be easier to find.

Karen’s a podcasting pro, but I’m still a bit new to this. Bear with me and keep listening; I’ll improve with time and practice!


Podcast updates

The Readers Summer Book Club interviewed me about Redemption in Indigo. I may have mentioned The Best of All Possible Worlds briefly, in passing. Click here for the podcast.

I was invited to the SF Squeecast where I chose to squee about the new novel by Curdella Forbes, Ghosts. How much did I like Ghosts? Click and listen to find out. Bonus entertainment: I run the Squeecast’s traditional silly questions gauntlet.

The Bim Lit Fest, Spanish rights and an interview

The inaugural Bim Lit Fest, which took place from May 16-20, deserves a far better post than I can craft at the moment. It’s harder to blog than Bocas because there were fewer events, and the highlights were more personal than general. It was great to see Kei Miller (Jamaican poet and novelist) and Kendel Hippolyte (St Lucian poet) again, to meet John R Lee (St Lucian poet), and to encounter in one space the Caribbean greats Austin Clarke, George Lamming, Earl Lovelace and Derek Walcott. I had a fascinating conversation about Caribbean literary speculative fiction with Jeremy Poynting of Peepal Tree Press. I had old school friends with me, supporting me and enjoying the festival. I am slowly updating my haphazard and not at all definitive list of Caribbean writers and poets.

Kudos to Esther Phillips for bringing the Bim Lit Fest from idea to actuality! I’m looking forward to seeing it continue and grow and become a fixture in the Barbadian events calendar.

In other good news, Cooke International has sold Spanish rights to The Best of All Possible Worlds to RBA Libros!

Finally, fellow nominee Stina Leicht is interviewing all the nominees for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and my interview is here.

Day Four of Bocas 2012 – The End

The last day of Bocas 2012 was a Sunday and the schedule was as packed as any other day, which made for some cruel choices. I split my time between two morning sessions, hearing a little of Kei Miller’s poetry but sadly missing Mervyn Morris to catch the end of the reading and interview with Rabindranath Maharaj. Rabindranath read from The Amazing Absorbing Boy, which was on the Bocas fiction longlist last year. His reading reminded me of Kei’s fiction; it was humorous even when events were semi-tragic. Is this a Caribbean thing, to tolerate writers who make you chuckle and smile and relax at misfortune before they slip the angst in like a stiletto between the third and fourth ribs?

Much to my disappointment, I missed the drama-documentary Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask directed by Isaac Julien. My presence was required for a panel to discuss ‘Anxieties of influence: postcolonial writing and literary tradition’. Here is a tweet and twitpic of the event, courtesy of Annie Paul.

It was a good time to feel intimidated. Winner of the Bocas 2012 poetry prize Loretta Collins Klobah, Shara McCallum who was longlisted for poetry this year, and Kei Miller who was longlisted for poetry last year – they are all bona fide university-affiliated academics, scholars, lecturers in literature. Then there was me. One of these things is not like the others. The moderator, literary critic Kenneth Ramchand, was kind and did not mock me for talking about the ‘voices’ of Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury (yes, of course I mentioned Paul Keens-Douglas, Andrew Salkey and others, but still!). I think, however, he may have downgraded his estimation of my intelligence when I flaunted my childhood decision to never study literature because teachers always sucked the fun out of it. (In my defence, I did take some English courses as an undergrad, but I was always disappointed by the literature courses, so I can’t say my decision was wrong).

Fortunately, my highly-qualified fellow panellists did not once make me feel like I had no right to be there. I had a lovely conversation afterwards with Loretta about the shared culture and history of the Caribbean expressed in different languages (she lives in Puerto Rico). Shara McCallum … did you know that she’s in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Tenth Annual Collection (1996, eds Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)? And so is Olive Senior! Who says that Caribbean speculative fiction is a new thing? I’m trying to tempt Shara to come to the World Fantasy Convention this year. We need a Caribbean posse to take over the parties.

I could’ve, should’ve, and didn’t attend the readings of the Bocas 2012 winners, again opting for a rest-afternoon to prepare for the final act, a party at the residence of Earl Lovelace. There was food, drink, conversation, music and dancing. It was the perfect conclusion to Bocas 2012. The chair of last year’s fiction judges, Margaret Busby (OBE, British co-founder of the publishing house Allison & Busby, born in Ghana, Barbadian father), very kindly complimented me on Redemption in Indigo and introduced me to Earl Lovelace. I congratulated him on his win this year. He congratulated me for being longlisted last year. I need to have grandchildren some day so I can tell them about this.

That’s it! I have shared with you my highlights of Bocas 2012. I hope you have enjoyed them. It is only the second year of the Bocas Lit Fest and it’s already a literary festival of note not only regionally but internationally. Follow their twitter @bocaslitfest and their website. Enter your work, if eligible, for consideration. Start making plans to come to Bocas 2013. You might just see me there.

Day Three of Bocas 2012

With no scheduled appearances, I was able to enjoy the fest like a reader, and whenever wifi was available, I tweeted more. I’ve put links to those tweets at the relevant parts.

First I attended a very enjoyable morning event featuring Joseph O’Neill, Irish author of the award-winning Netherland. The topic was ‘the joys – and perils? – of writing a Trinidadian character’. This sounded very much like a ‘Writing the Other’ kind of situation, so I was interested to hear his strategy. Surprisingly, it appears that in order to write the Other, it helps if you know the Other. O’Neill played cricket in a New York club and thus acquired several Trini teammates. He also visited Trinidad when he was a barrister in the UK assessing appeals from death row prisoners. In addition to the direct experience, he noted two cultural similarities: Trinidad and Ireland both have a verbal culture, and both have the ‘smartman’ character ‘found everywhere people from places without power are trying to bluff their way upwards’.

After lunch, I wandered about looking at the booksellers’ tables. I indulged in a bit of nostalgia. Did you know Peepal Tree Press has a reprint series, Caribbean Modern Classics? I bought Andrew Salkey’s Riot. I still have my copy of Hurricane from school days, but these new reprints are beautiful and I might just get the full quartet (includes Drought and Earthquake, which should tell you something about the region I live in).

I just now looked at the illustrations, which I always loved, and felt a strange familiarity. Yes, they were the illustrations from the old 70s edition I’d read, but wasn’t that the style of the illustrator of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters? I looked it up, and behold! It was William Papas! I can’t believe it took me so long to realise this!

I didn’t linger for the afternoon sessions but left early to rest up and prepare for the main event – the awards ceremony for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. Hoping to find a snack to tide me over for the duration of the ceremony, I took an early shuttle to the venue with Frank Birbalsingh, chair of the non-fiction panel of judges … but wait, this is a good time to talk about the judges. I’ve already mentioned two of them in previous posts. Erna Brodber was one of the non-fiction judges, and Rabindranath Maharaj was one of the fiction judges. I met Achy Obejas, another fiction judge, when someone on my twitter list introduced us by handle and she re-introduced herself in person! I had dinner and much marvellous conversation with poetry judges Kendel Hippolyte and Nicolette Bethel, whose twitter feed (@nicobet ) under the #bocas2012 hashtag makes for rich reportage. The full list of judges, the longlist of books, the shortlist, and the prizewinner are all at the Bocas blog, but check that later and stay with me for now.

As I said, we got there early, but before we could snoop around for a roadside food cart, Nicholas Laughlin (the utterly charming programme director of Bocas 2012 – no really, I am not being a luvvie, we all adored him) snaffled up Frank to take him to his assigned front row seat. Insufficiently hungry (or brave) to forage by myself, I followed them into the COLD (typical!) theatre and vaguely decided that I might as well take in the pre-ceremony concert. It was the best non-decision I ever made. After proving their mettle with Peter Warlock’s Songs for Tenor and String Quartet, the faculty musicians of the University of Trinidad & Tobago then blew us away with The Old Yard: Carnival Portraits from Trinidad, composed by Adam Walters. The music was accompanied by images by Maria Nunes and each movement was prefaced by a poem by Muhammad Muwakil (I need to know when those poems will be available for purchase, because they were striking). I enjoyed the images even more when I discovered that the gentleman sitting beside me was Michael Jobe, whose carnival designs were featured during the fourth movement which celebrated the moko jumbie (stiltwalker).

Want a taste?

Here are three of the five movements on Adam Walter’s soundcloud.

Here are some of Michael Jobe’s moko jumbies, captured by Maria Nunes.

The entire Carnival photo gallery is huge, but well worth a look. You’ll see there some of the other images used for The Old Yard. I could not find the Carnival Bat, but there are the Blue Devils, the Midnight Robber, and Dame Lorraine.

On to the ceremony! There was the announcement of a new prize, the Hollick-Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, which will offer support for an unpublished Caribbean writer resident in the region to complete a work in progress. It’s an amazing opportunity, and if you think you might fit the criteria, keep an eye on the Bocas blog which will soon post details on how to enter.

The chairs of the panels spoke about the longlisted books, and short videos of readings and interviews with the winners were shown. The winner for poetry, Loretta Collins Klobah, and the winner for non-fiction, Godfrey P. Smith, both glowed as they spoke the honour of being listed with the winner for fiction, Earl Lovelace. George Lamming, overall chair of the judging panel, spoke movingly of the role of literature in keeping history alive, particularly those events which some try to forget or erase. He then announced the winner of the Bocas Prize: Earl Lovelace for his novel Is Just a Movie.

This is a very long post, so I will draw the veil of discretion over the post-ceremony celebrations. I did, however, have the pleasure of drinking, talking and sharing antipasto and bruschetta with writer Myriam Chancy and critic Charmaine Valere.

One more day, one more post. There will be dancing!

Day Two. Bocas Continues Fine.

I was scheduled for a two-hour workshop with award-winning author Rabindranath Maharaj (born in Trinidad, based in Canada) on the topic ‘Getting to the end: how to bring a work in progress to its best conclusion’. Due to the assigned time, I missed other interesting morning events like Michael Anthony’s talk on the evolution of Carnival and W.A.R. Stories, a documentary on the life of Walter Rodney directed by Clairmont Chung. Once more, my inability to bilocate proved a nuisance.

I learned more from helping to conduct that workshop than I would have learned from taking it! Rabindranath was all kindness and reassurance, and I leaned heavily on his years of experience teaching writing. I was not ashamed to ask a question or two myself. Some questions and answers were retained for later musing. Why does a novel get stuck? Because something isn’t working and perhaps your own suspension of disbelief has been compromised. But what isn’t working and why? Is the character development consistent? Does the plot make sense? What about my own work – do I also feel it when the society doesn’t make sense even if the characters are individually consistent in their words and actions? When do you admit defeat (or at least temporary retreat) and put down an unfinished draft? When does a novel ‘end’? At the first draft, the final draft? The first edit, the copyedited manuscript? The reviews and reader-reactions that inspire the author to change their approach in future, perhaps-related works? There are different strategies for getting through each of these stages.

Here’s my post-workshop tweet and a tweet plus twitpic from writer/researcher/lecturer Rhoda Bharath. I look a bit wrapped up; the air conditioning was on full-force!

After a quick lunch I prepared myself to record an interview for the podcasters at The Spaces Between Words. They are a lovely, professional team. They worked hard for the duration of the lit fest and they have a long list of podcasts from Bocas writers and others waiting in their queue. Check out their Still to Come page – classics and debuts, legends and new wave! I read a bit from Redemption in Indigo and answered some questions, and although I can’t guarantee I made sense it was one of the best interview experiences I have ever had. My heartiest thanks to interviewer Nicha Selvon-Ramkissoon, assistant editor and technical assistant (and photographer!) Ryan Durgasingh and editor Giselle Rampaul.

After the interview, I wandered into the tail-end of an afternoon talk by Anne Walmsley (former Caribbean editor for Longmans) on ‘Caribbean Publishing in the 1970s’. The audience appeared fondly nostalgic and slightly awed at her account of the nurturing of the Caribbean literary voice in that decade. I was drawn in as well by the mention of Ann Musgrave, the late proprietor of one of my favourite bookstores in Barbados, the Cloister, which could always be counted on to have shelves well-stocked with Caribbean literature.

Two incredible days down, two more days of Bocas to come!