Quotes: Art Does More than Repackage Reality with a Fun-House Twist

Author Becky Chambers argues the case for optimism in art and twines it with history:

“Optimism is important not just for the future as a whole, but for the individuals heading toward it. Again, a duality comes into play: Acting in the interest of individual need without considering the greater good breeds carelessness and greed. Acting in the interest of the greater good without considering individual need invites tragedy and injustice. You have to work with both considerations in mind. So it matters little whether an optimistic story is intended for the purpose of grand, ambitious change or simply to make a person feel better than they did before they sat down to read (or watch, or play). Those are two sides of the same coin.

“History tells us that art is—and has always been—a mirror. It shows us who we are, where we’re at, what’s at stake. But art does more than repackage reality with a fun-house twist. There’s nothing passive about a reflection. If you aim it right, it shines light back. In the times we’re in, there are few things we need more.”

– Becky Chambers

Chambers wrote this as an opinion piece for The Book Smugglers (“SFF in Conversation with Becky Chambers: The Case for Optimism”) who were kind enough to publish it free online, too.

I’ve read her first book, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and loved its humanity, positivity, and empathy. It’s been in my mind recently as a great counterexample to the bleakness of Logan (the latest Wolverine movie).

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

Johanna Sinisalo Is a 2017 Prometheus Award Finalist

Author Johanna Sinisalo’s latest novel, dystopian The Core of the Sun (Auringon ydin, translated by Lola Rogers) has gained another distinction: it is a finalist for the 2017 Prometheus Award.

The Prometheus Award, sponsored by the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), was established in 1979, making it one of the most enduring awards after the Nebula and Hugo awards, and one of the oldest fan-based awards currently in sf. Presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention, the Prometheus Awards include a gold coin and plaque for the winners.

Congratulations! I hope she will give a talk on on TCotS at Worldcon 75.

Speculative Stories Online: Finnish Weird

Finnish Weird is a recent project to publish new Finnish speculative fiction in English. Published yearly by the Helsinki Science Fiction Society and edited by Toni Jerrman, the issues are available online for free to read or download as either epub or pdf.

Finnish Weird 3 Issue Covers

Each volume contains feature articles well as short stories by big-name authors such as Anne Leinonen, Leena Likitalo, Johanna Sinisalo, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Maria Turtschaninoff, and others. At this writing, the fourth issue (2017) has just been released.

fw4_logo

Author Johanna Sinisalo introduces the project and the style suomikumma (“Finnish weird”) in the inaugural 2014 issue:

“After barely a couple of hundred years of written literary tradition and decades of gatekeepers who have shunned works including elements of fantasy as cheap escapism, Finnish writers now create fiction that is a phenomenal mixture of sf, fantasy, horror, surrealism, magic realism – you name it. It’s highly original, fresh and surprising, sometimes it celebrates elements of our rich folklore and mythos, sometimes it soars sky-high in sf worlds, sometimes the stories are almost realistic, but have that little weirdness or twist that makes them something other than mimetic writing.

[…]

“I’m not trying to say that we Finns reinvented the wheel – new weird – and are trying to claim it as our own, not at all. What I am saying is that Scandinavian countries did not invent crime stories either, but in the wake of the international success of detective and crime fiction from Sweden, Norway, etc., ‘Nordic Noir’ has become a label for a certain quality of story. In my opinion, the label ‘Finnish Weird’ is also a brand – a brand that promises a roller-coaster ride of highly original prose from very diverse writers with truly personal styles. We are weird and very proud of it.”

Images via Finnish Weird

Bad Day at the Office, 257 BCE

Being in middle management sucks. You’re stuck between unreasonable bosses and uncooperative workers. If you’ve ever been in that position, you might have some sympathy with Panakestor, the overseer of a farm in Ptolemaic Egypt some of whose daily correspondence has been preserved on papyrus in the desert climate.

Between 323 and 30 BCE, Egypt was ruled by the Ptolemies, descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s generals. Ruling from Alexandria on the coast, the Greek-speaking Ptolemies depended on a large class of local administrators and subordinates to deal with the Egyptian-speaking population. Some of these subordinates were immigrants from Greece or other regions around the Aegean Sea; others were native Egyptians who saw opportunities working for the new regime. Panakestor was a Carian, from southwestern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey). He oversaw an estate near a town called Philadelphia belonging to Apollonius, a big shot in Alexandria who owned many such estates around Egypt.

The original agreement between Apollonius and the Egyptian farmers who worked his land was simple: at harvest time, they would hand over one third of their crop as rent and keep two thirds for themselves. In 257, however, Apollonius decided he wanted to change the system, even though it was very late in the season and almost harvest time anyway. Now he wanted the farmers to estimate the value of their crop at the beginning of the growing season and pay a portion of that as rent up front. This new arrangement would be good for Apollonius as he could guarantee his income, but if the crops failed the whole risk would be on the farmers.

Apollonius sent out a message ordering Panakestor to put the new system in place. Panakestor did his best, but soon wrote back explaining that things were not going well. Apollonius then sent out an impatient second memo:

[To Panakestor] from Apollonius. I was astounded at your negligence that you have written nothing, either about the estimation or about the harvest of the grain. Write to me now how each matter stands.

– PSI (Papiri della Societa Italiana) 5.502

(My own translations)

Panakestor wrote back giving fuller details of the problem. His letter also survives:

Continue reading

How to Helsinki: Finnish Summer

“Kesätie” = Summer Road

Worldcon is in Helsinki this year. As a Finnish-American couple, we are very excited about this! In the coming months, we’d like to offer some practical advice about visiting Finland to our fellow fans who are considering going to the event but haven’t had experience with Finland and Finns before.

Erik here. There is something special about the summertime in Finland and if you haven’t experienced it before, you have a lot to look forward to. If you’re not used to the summer at high latitudes, though, you should know what to expect. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The Finnish summer is a time of light. In northern parts of the country near midsummer, the sun is in the sky all night long and there’s no visible difference between midnight and noon. In Helsinki in August, although the sun does set for a few hours, it doesn’t get darker than twilight. Expect to see a lot of sun.
  • Unless it rains, which can happen a lot. There’s an old joke: “The Finnish summer may be short, but at least it doesn’t snow much.” Summer weather can be changeable, from cold, raw, and rainy to clear and hot. Be prepared for all possibilities.
  • If you’re not accustomed to the light summer nights, they can mess with your body clock (especially when piled on top of jet lag). You may find it easy to lose track of time without the changing light to cue your body to feel hungry or tired. Keep an eye on the time and make sure you’re eating and sleeping regularly.
  • If you’re like me, the light nights may also make it hard for you to sleep. Most hotels in Finland will have light-blocking curtains, but you may also want to consider a sleep mask. (I find melatonin very helpful for regulating my sleep as well.)
  • With the light nights, it cal also be easy to lose track of time if you have an appointment to make or shopping to do. Many Finnish shops and restaurants are not open as long as Americans may be used to, and they may have different hours in the summer (including some that have very limited weekend hours). It’s always a good idea to check store hours ahead of time.
  • Summer is also mosquito and tick season. If you’re going to the woods (which you definitely should, if you have the chance), make sure you protect yourself well with long, loose, light clothing and bug spray.
Finnish summer night
  • Despite these warnings, the Finnish summer is magical. There is really nothing to compare with the light, quiet summer nights. If you have the opportunity, go for a late-night walk. You’ll be glad you did.
  • Speaking of magical, don’t miss out on Finnish ice cream. Ice cream kiosks pop up all around in the summertime where you can get a cone or ice cream bar. Finns make good ice cream, and a lot of it is low-lactose or lactose-free (look for “VL” / “vähälaktoosinen” or “laktoositon”), and/or gluten-free (“GL” or “gluteeniton”).

I hope you enjoy seeing Finland in the summer. It is one of the best times to visit the country. It is also one of the best times for meeting Finns. The summer is a relief from the cold, dark winter and, at least for some people, it can have an effect on temperament. Characteristically dour, taciturn Finns can become more relaxed and open in the summer sun, even a little goofy. Summer is when this sort of thing happens:

Thunderstruck by Steve’n’Seagulls (LIVE) by Steve Seagulls

Enjoy it!

Images by Erik and Eppu Jensen

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Western Asian Science Fictional Art

Omar Gilani is an illustrator, designer, and concept artist currently based in Pakistan. Not all of his art has sci-fi elements, but the pieces that do are amazing. Take a look:

Omar Gilani 2
Omar Gilani
Omar Gilani 5
Omar Gilani

The engineer-turned-artist takes inspiration from everyday life and combines traditional drawing with digitally created elements.

Omar Gilani sits4
Omar Gilani
Omar Gilani maybe3
Omar Gilani

I am very sorry I found out about his work only a day(!) after the Hugo nomination period closed. Well, hopefully he’ll continue producing genre art so I can nominate him next year.

Found via Islam and Science Fiction.

Crossposted from the Playfully Grownup Home blog.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Random Thoughts on Kong: Skull Island

In no particular order. Spoiler warning in effect.

  • Kong: Skull Island is a much better movie than anything called Kong: Skull Island has any right to be. We went in with pretty low expectations and we were pleasantly surprised.
  • This movie is a fine demonstration of how important good acting is, even in a movie that is mostly about a giant ape smashing stuff. Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson stand out, but the entire cast is solid. (After this movie and Avengers, I’m going to say yes to any movie that includes Hiddleston and Jackson squaring off.)
  • Kong very smartly avoids two of the major tropes for what happens when modern white westerners encounter native cultures. One is the Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now trope: the westerner goes out of control and loses his sense of humanity. The other is the Dances With Wolves / Avatar trope: the westerner “goes native” and becomes a better native than the natives. In Kong (despite the ways the movie plays with Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now), the newcomers and natives achieve mutual understanding and respect while still remaining who they are.
  • The movie is littered with the sorts of characters who always die in this kind of film: the nerdy sidekick who provides occasional comic relief; the soldier who keeps talking about how much he wants to go home; the crazy old man in the wilderness who has information vital for everyone’s survival. Two of these guys are even black. And they all survive to see the end credits.
  • It’s so nice that we have started to see movies that respect that men and women can go through difficult experiences and form close bonds of friendship without automatically becoming romantically attached.
  • It wasn’t a surprise when Deadpool used the post-credits scene for a meta joke, but when big action movies like this start doing it, that might be a sign that the post-credits scene is getting played out.

 

Additional randomness by Eppu

  • I agree—KSI is an exceptionally good monster movie.
  • I also noticed the presence of several competent black men who weren’t clones of each other and who didn’t die first. (About fricking time!) Now do the same for black women!
  • Speaking of women, it’s really rather pathetic that there are only two female characters with a major speaking role in this movie. Even more pathetic than that, we saw the photographer (played by Brie Larson, whose coat check girl in The Community is fantastic) shoot plenty of film throughout the story, but the biologist (Tian Jing, whom we first saw being awesome in The Great Wall) had hardly anything to do that showcased her expertise. Jing’s character didn’t get an arc, either. Boo.
  • Also seconding the merits of no forced romance.
  • KSI was also brutal, as it should, what with the predators the size of skyscrapers. I hesitate to say “refreshingly brutal” because I don’t find explicit gruesomeness appealing (like Game of Thrones, blech). On the other hand, I’m also quite fed up with sanitized movie violence (Warcraft: The Beginning was particularly ridiculous in this respect). I guess what I’m trying to say really is that, for my taste, KSI danced the line between making the stakes high and turning off the audience expertly.
  • It was nice that Kong got to stay on his island instead of being dragged off.
  • I saw several reviews that praised KSI‘s visuals. I was sceptical—how special can you make a war movie with a giant primate?—but, boy, was I wrong. It. Was. Beautiful. The directing and cinematography (as far as I can tell, being a complete civilian) were fresh and innovative.
  • KSI referred to historical events from the storytelling point of view effectively and efficiently, and the movie was really well styled and propped. The usage of archival film footage, photos, and other visuals was plentiful but not overwhelming, and the invented elements fit in seamlessly. Kudos. (And I don’t even like the 1960s-1970s style!)

Image: Kong: Skull Island poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

A Hannu Rajaniemi Standalone to Come in August 2017

Mathematician and author Hannu Rajaniemi, known for his Jean le Flambeur series, will publish a new novel later this year.

Gollancz Summerland_revised

Called Summerland, the novel is a standalone and sounds like a mix of ghost and spy stories:

“Loss is a thing of the past. Murder is obsolete. Death is just the beginning.

“In 1938, death is no longer feared but exploited. Since the discovery of the afterlife, the British Empire has extended its reach into Summerland, a metropolis for the recently deceased.

Yet Britain isn’t the only contender for power in this life and the next. The Soviets have spies in Summerland, and the technology to build their own god.

“When SIS agent Rachel White gets a lead on one of the Soviet moles, blowing the whistle puts her hard-earned career at risk. The spy has friends in high places, and she will have to go rogue to bring him in.

“But how do you catch a man who’s already dead?”

Summerland will be published at the end of August.

Having read the Jean le Flambeur trilogy, though, “ghost and spy story” is a woefully flat and utterly inadequate description. I’ve no doubt Rajaniemi will again produce something extraordinary. I’m looking forward to reading this particular fellow Finn again.

Image: Summerland cover by Jeffrey Alan Love via Gollancz

Johanna Sinisalo on the 2016 James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List

Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo’s novel The Core of the Sun (Auringon ydin, translated by Lola Rogers) made it onto the 2016 James Tiptree Jr. Award Honor List.

Amazon Sinisalo The Core of the Sun

The James Tiptree Jr. Award is a juried award presented annually to works of science fiction or fantasy that explore and expand the understanding of gender and gender roles. In addition to selecting the winners, the jury chooses a Tiptree Award Honor List. The Honor List is a strong part of the award’s identity and is used by many readers as a recommended reading list.

Onnea! That’s fantastic news. Earlier, The Core of the Sun was also voted onto the BSFA Awards 2016 longlist for best novel. Sounds like a very good year for the book.

The Award announcement has several books that I’ve already read or that are on my TBR pile. I might also have to check out some of the others; several sound interesting.

Image via Amazon