Around the net, science fiction fans are blogging about Norman Spinrad’s column, “Third World Worlds.” Their hackles are up, especially by what he said about Octavia Butler and Mike Resnick. I won’t quote what everyone else has, but recommend you read Spinrad’s column whole, to understand the quote in context. The bloggers also claim that Spinrad is ignorant of science fiction from other countries – but then Spinrad says that too. I know I’m very ignorant. [This argument is important and it does bring up lots of examples of science fiction from other countries – see Jason Sanford, Nick Mamatas, Fábio Fernandes and a link compilation. Read the comments for specific examples. All these blogs have very worthy unique viewpoints on the topic, so I recommend following the links. It also illustrates the value of blogging.]
Most people assume science fiction is an American literary invention while ignoring the obvious Jules Verne and H. G. Wells counter examples. At best, we might say we first marketed science fiction as a specific genre and gave it a name. But I’ve always assumed the desire to speculate about the future has existed in all cultures going far back into time. Because of language barriers, exporting these dreams and fears about the future seldom happens.
And I agree with Spinrad that American writers can’t write African science fiction just because Africa is a topic they like or have a cultural heritage. I assume there are people in every Africa nation that speculate about the future, and whether or not they package it in short stories and novels like we do is another issue. But wouldn’t it be far out to read science fiction stories from the Maasai, for instance.
I’d love to read more science fiction written by writers in other cultures. I’d love to understand their dreams and hopes about the future, and what they fear. But doing that is hard. Look at Science Fiction World from China (Wikipedia says SFW has more readers than any other SF mag in the world). Except for the pictures I haven’t a clue as to what they are saying. Wouldn’t it be great if Asimov’s Science Fiction would reprint one story each issue translated from a foreign language science fiction magazine? At best I’ve poked around and found some SFW covers (I’m guessing one is a different magazine.)
They look like covers that appear on English language science fiction magazines.
Does that mean the stories are alike too? I’d expect yes and no. Cultures make us different, but we’re all dealing with the same reality. A rocket to the Moon might be universal, but characters onboard will be different from every culture. But are the reasons we want to go to the Moon different? Does science fiction make us more alike, than show our differences?
When I watch The Amazing Race the producers try hard to make each stop show off it’s unique cultural traits, but the show has a different unintentional purpose too. We see every country has the same looking airports, taxis, hotels, highways, gas stations, bus stations, cell phones, computers, etc. Technology is homogenizing us, so wouldn’t spreading science fictional concepts do the same thing?
If I could read science fiction from all over the world my guess would be each story’s unique flavor would come from the past, and all the future aspects are making us the same. Does science fiction push us away from older myths, religions and fairy tales and towards a universal acceptance of science?
It would be great if a web site tracked science fiction from around the world. Locus Magazine has a huge reservoir of such knowledge trapped it its back issues, and is currently offering “An Overview of International Science Fiction/Fantasy in 2009” by Jeff VanderMeer. So I think the urge to know about SF from around the world is growing. I wonder if the Internet is a reverse Tower of Babel?
JWH – 3/12/10