SF Crossing the Gulf

Whirlpool Galaxy and Companion. Credit: NASA, ESA

The last episode of my podcast series with Karen Burnham went up on SF Signal last Thursday. I was at first slightly peeved that there was another cool thing to blog about that would have to wait until I got back from Toronto, but the delay ended up being profitable. Thanks to Cheryl Morgan and Karen Burnham, we now have a cleaner, better audio for Episode 6 (The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell).

All the podcasts can be accessed via the link http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/category/columns/sf-crossing-the-gulf/ but they show up in reverse chronological order, as tagged posts are wont to do. This gives me an excuse to list them here separately with relevant comments and links.

Episode 1: A Discussion of Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” and Others

Click here for my post on this blog introducing the podcast in general and this episode in particular. I included library links for My Bones and My Flute and The Rainmaker’s Mistake.

Episode 2: Edgar Mittelholzer’s My Bones and My Flute

My deepest regret for this podcast was the challenge to readers trying to find a 1950’s, out-of-print book. But Mittelholzer is a key West Indian author and I could not imagine starting a discussion on Caribbean SF without him. You can read about the lengths I went to in order to secure a copy.

Episode 3: Discussion of Greg Egan’s “Crystal Nights” and Others

Running out of time for Ted Chiang during Episode 1 proved an advantage as we spent Episode 3 comparing and contrasting his work with Greg Egan’s.

Episode 4: Discussion of Erna Brodber’s The Rainmaker’s Mistake

Click here for a reading and interview with Erna Brodber, and links to other interviews, reviews and resources.

I was afraid this would be too challenging, but Karen took to it like a duck to water and shared with me some important insights into this literary work from the point of view of a non-West Indian and a genre reader.

Episode 5: Discussion of Greg Egan’s “The Planck Dive” and Others

I had to urge Karen not to be modest about the fact that she has spent over three years researching Egan’s fiction. With her knowledge of Egan’s entire fictional universe(s), she stopped me from making assumptions based on the snapshot of a single short story. We acknowledge that we’ve missed out some of Egan’s best work because we chose stories available for free on the internet. We hope to make up for this in the future.

Episode 6: Discussion of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow

Oh, you have no idea the pangs this episode gave us. We loved the book, we were in awe of the author, and we spoke with fluid eloquence (relative to previous podcasts!) about our love and awe. But Karen was moving house and the change in the usual setup resulted in some distressingly poor audio. We actually decided, very sadly, to re-record the podcast, but bad weather (I cannot podcast during heavy rain and/or thunder!) and continuing tech issues made that impossible. Karen did her best to manually improve what we had. However, I am very happy to report that Cheryl Morgan recently performed some added cleanup and with their combined efforts we now have a fresh upload of a podcast that should be much easier to listen to.

Episode 7: Discussion of Curdella Forbes’s Ghosts

I thought Karen would find this easier and more enjoyable than The Rainmaker’s Mistake and I was wrong (though thankfully not badly wrong). I think there is more in there for the reader who knows West Indian history, culture and literature and gets the little hits of nostalgia and recognition at the right moments. Nevertheless, Karen was very appreciative of the author’s talent and put it into the slipstream category with The Rainmaker’s Mistake. Overall verdict on Caribbean SF? Readable, enjoyable, layered, literary and well worth the effort.

Episode 8: Season One Wrap Up

We made it to the end, and we finally found a graphic for the podcast! You may already know that Karen Burnham’s internet moniker is Spiral Galaxy. The photo shows the Whirlpool Galaxy interacting with its companion NGC 5195. We decided this interaction was a symbol of clear boundaries vs fuzzy boundaries, the linear vs the elliptical … which is a good way of differentiating between hard SF and Caribbean SF as well as different reader/critic approaches to understanding them. I won’t be changing my moniker to Elliptical Galaxy just yet, but it pleases me to think that there might be a curve and a swerve and a cycle to how I tell and read stories as well as a certain lack of defined boundaries that might be a challenge or a delight.

Whirlpool Galaxy and Companion. Credit: NASA, ESA

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.

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!


Introducing the Bocas Lit Fest 2012

I thought I would blog daily while at Bocas 2012, but once I got there I didn’t want to dutifully blog and I didn’t want to take pictures of everything. I wanted to enjoy myself and I did, only tweeting and taking snapshots when I felt like it. Now I want to look back, remember, and tell you all about the amazing people and works I have encountered.

Day one of the festival started with a welcome ceremony. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Independence, there were four readings of classic works from around fifty years ago: the prose of V.S. Naipaul, poetry by Derek Walcott (both of them Nobel Laureates, as I’m sure you already know), a speech by Eric Williams, and satire by ‘Macaw’, the pseudonymous Trinidad Guardian columnist. The excerpt from Derek Walcott’s ‘The Star-Apple Kingdom’ concluded on a powerful image:

… a black woman, shawled like a buzzard,
climbed up the stairs and knocked at the door
of his dream, whispering in the ear of the keyhole:
‘Let me in, I’m finished with praying, I’m the Revolution.
I am the darker, the older America.’

It was beautiful … gorgeous readings expertly read … an excellent beginning. Our appetites were whetted. Here’s the one tweet I managed.

Off I went to my first selected event (there were usually three events on at a time, so we were forced to choose). Jamaican novelists Sharon Leach and Kei Miller (who is also a poet) read from their novels. Sharon’s segment was enthralling and cleverly ended on a cliffhanger – a fender-bender, a carjacking, and a gun to someone’s head. Kei read from a work in progress which fascinated me. I recognised the same voice as in Redemption in Indigo: the personified omniscient narrator. He told of tragic events with a comic twist. We laughed at a man proud to be stricken with an STD in his old age, laughed at his instinctive horror when he was told he could expect to live another twenty years or more, laughed as he died of heart failure shortly afterwards in his sleep, in a wet dream. You had to be there. I’m sorry I’ll have to wait a while for this to be completed and published.

My tweets and twitpics of the event are herehere and here.

Here’s one of Kei’s poems featured in the UK Guardian and an article in the Jamaica Observer about an award for Sharon last year.

My own reading took place in the afternoon. I was sharing a timeslot with Erna Brodber. Erna Brodber. She is an elder for almost all aspects of my career, as a writer, a sociologist, folklorist and pattern-maker. She has received awards and honours for her fiction, her research and her community work. I felt awed. She read from her most recently published novel The Rainmaker’s Mistake and captivated all who listened.

I invite you to look here for the view from the official Bocas 2012 blogger Shivanee Ramlochan. There’s also my post-session tweet.

If you want to know more about Bocas than what I was able to take in, check out the hashtag #bocas2012 and the official blog.

I’ve turned off comments on this blog due to unrelenting spam, but if you were at Bocas and have a tweet, article or site that would add to the Day One overview, do message me on Twitter or Facebook and I’ll edit it into this post.

Tomorrow I’ll give you a glimpse of my second day at the Bocas Lit Fest!

Bocas Lit Fest 2012

Do follow my twitter carefully for the next few days (check the sidebar or go straight to @Karen_Lord). I’m in Trinidad for the Bocas Lit Fest having a marvellous time, and it’s far easier to update on the iPad with Twitter (snatching wifi wherever I can find it). I’ve already heard from two incredible Jamaican writers, Sharon Leach and Kei Miller. My own reading is scheduled for later this afternoon, and I’m sharing a slot with the legendary Erna Brodber, Jamaican writer and winner of the 1989 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the Caribbean/Canada region.