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Bears, Bombs and Popcorn

Some considerations when mining other cultures for source materials, by Judith Berman

Bear_Daughter[The cover] painting is a made-up decoration merely done in Pacific Northwest style … meant to say to a reader “This novel is based on the mythology of the Pacific Northwest,” just as covers for other kinds of fantasy use images from Celtic, Norse, or Japanese mythologies to signal “pick me up” to the right kind of reader. ([Name withheld], p.c. Feb. 9, 2005)

In the background of the cover for my novel Bear Daughter sits an object that resembles a piece of Native American art. It looks, in fact, quite a bit like a painted wooden screen made by a Tlingit Indian artist in the early 19th century to represent the hereditary Bear crest of the Tlingit Naanyaa.aayí clan. That screen, now in the collections of the Denver Art Museum, formerly embellished the Ground Shark House in what is today Wrangell, Alaska.

Having worked for a number of years with traditional Tlingit art, I immediately recognized the resemblance of the cover image to the Naanyaa.aayí Bear screen. It also resembles, to a lesser degree, two other screens. The first of these, likely a copy of the Naanyaa.aayí screen, was made for the Killer Whale House of the Kaagwaantaan clan of Klukwan, probably in commemoration of the genealogical links between that house and Ground Shark House. The second, which the Naanyaa.aayí screen likely copied, is known only from a fragment preserved at the Burke Museum in Seattle.

Upon seeing the cover, my first concern was that the background object might be another related Bear screen, one I didn’t know about. Tlingit clan heirlooms like these screens are the focus, today as formerly, of deep emotions about one’s connections to past and future generations. The right to display such heraldic designs is a hereditary prerogative often acquired–“paid for,” as it is sometimes said–through the blood of one’s ancestors. In earlier times wars were fought over misuse of crest objects. A validated Tlingit crest object, as I wrote to my publisher, is

like a national flag, a trademarked product logo, a memorial to dead relatives and ancestors, and a family heirloom with strong emotional associations, all rolled into one. There is variation across the [northwest coast] region in what these objects mean and how they are used, but the notion that they are in some fashion property and “copyrighted” is near-universal.

Some crest heirlooms remain in Native custody, like the Klukwan Bear screen. Many others, however, have found their way into museums and private collections. The means by which they have done so are frequently not pretty, and the objects have been the subject of repatriation claims and other legal actions. Given that the cover artist had likely used photographs as the source for the cover image, US copyright law, which extends to so-called “derivative” images of copyright materials, might also have been called into play. In short, using an image of genuine crest art on my book cover could have been problematic.

The publisher, agreeing with many of these concerns, queried the cover artist. As it turned out, the artist had worked from photos of several objects. The resulting design differed sufficiently from the originals that, the publisher was satisfied, no copyright would be violated.

Part of my concern with the cover image arose from the fine line I felt I was walking with the novel itself. Bear Daughter is based on Native oral traditions–myths and clan histories–from the North American northwest coast. These stories, so rich in drama and invention, have occupied a central place in my imagination since I first encountered them via my academic specialisation in oral literature. They played a crucial role in opening my eyes to just how limited our ideas about myth are, in Western culture generally and specifically in genre fiction. The Native literatures differ not just in their story lines and the attributes of their supernatural actors, but in underlying notions of self, society, spirit, body, virtue, fulfillment, life, death, the place of humanity in the world, and the moral nature of the cosmos itself. Once I had begun to understand them, I found it impossible to conceive of writing mythic fantasy using only the much-recycled European and Near Eastern materials.

The northwest coast stories are, however, the very subjects that crest art like the Bear screen illustrates, and everything that can be said about crest objects, including indigenous notions of ownership and “copyright,” can apply to the stories as well. In writing the novel, I tried to go further than the cover artist had, and to render the specific sources unrecognizable. But my unease remained, and does so to this day. The alterations did not erase all the ethical issues that arise from using these stories–or source materials from other indigenous or colonised cultures.

At one point in our correspondence over Bear Daughter‘s cover, the publisher equated the cover design to fantasy-novel covers using images drawn from Celtic, Norse, or Japanese mythologies. The comparison seems to me to encapsulate a viewpoint common not just in mainstream US society, but quite widely outside the US as well. This viewpoint–which for lack of a better term I’ll call the mainstream viewpoint–forms the framework within which Bear Daughter was published and marketed, in which most readers will experience the novel, and even in which, to some extent, the book was written. As uncontroversial as the viewpoint may seem, the assumptions underlying it go straight to the heart of my unease.

First of all, the mainstream viewpoint assumes there is no difference, for the purposes of commercial publishing, between stories belonging to cultures far-off in time (the ancient Celts or Norse, or medieval Japan) and those belonging to contemporary cultures (for example, many Native American ones). Or it fails to recognize that any Native American cultures are still alive.

Second, the viewpoint assumes that no distinctions need be made, for these purposes, between cultures ancestral to the dominant North American cultures; cultures ancestral to other developed nations (which, however, have minorities living, sometimes uneasily, in North America); and stories from colonised, often endangered cultures, whose people were the object of intended or accidental genocide, and whose colonisation is the sine qua non for the existence of the US and Canada.

A third assumption embedded in the mainstream perspective would have mythologies–those of our own as well as of other societies–as a type of source material no different from any other domain of culture. I am using the term “mythology” here in the anthropological sense: a body of stories about the non-human, superhuman, or idealized human, set in an earlier era, in which the world as we know it is established, and which are often deeply felt as sacred. Such stories lie at the roots not just of religions and worldviews, but often of social and political institutions as well.

Cultures can vary widely in how such charter stories are conceived of, and the degree to which prohibitions limit their use. Some groups may have few concerns about what other people do with their myths. Often, however, mining the myths of living religions for source material can pose what Laguna Indian poet Paula Gunn Allen delicately refers to as “special problems.” Fatwas and burning embassies make the news internationally, but the consequences of other profound conflicts over the meanings of stories may never break the surface of mainstream cultural consciousness. Traditional Laguna Pueblo Indians, for example, attributed years of devastating drought, the radioactive tailings of a uranium mine, the nearby development of nuclear weapons, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to anthropologist Elsie Clews Parsons’ publications on Keresan (Laguna and related pueblos) myth and ceremony.

We may not all subscribe to a world view in which misuse of sacred stories causes nuclear holocausts, but we can acknowledge potential effects on the psychological health of individuals and communities. Even when a group’s charter myths do not form part of a religion in the usual senses of that term (as is true on the North American northwest coast), misuse of them can trigger a powerful sense of violation. And value conflicts over the meaning and proper function of stories are particularly fraught in the case of colonized and minority cultures, because generally their members have fewer avenues of recourse, and their voices and concerns are often drowned out. Laguna author Leslie Marmon Silko’s widely praised Ceremony has accreted a secondary literature authored by white academics referencing Parson’s publications. But the short article by Allen is to my knowledge the only publication to discuss the dismay traditional Laguna feel when sacred stories are exposed to the wrong people.

Another assumption of the mainstream viewpoint is that the expressive products of other cultures–traditional art styles, specific designs, stories, music and the like–are, in the absence of patents, trademarks, or copyright, free for the taking. But consider some examples outside the arts. A Mexican doctor patents the traditional method of processing tepezcohuite bark, a medicine used by Mayan Indians in Chiapas for centuries to treat skin lesions. The industrialist to whom the patent is licensed acquires not only a government monopoly over production, but control over part of the limited territory where pharmacologically active bark can be found. As time passes, tepezcohuite is used ever more widely in cosmetics and skin creams marketed internationally, but for Chiapas Indians, access to the wild tree is limited, its stocks are depleted, bark prices have soared, and meanwhile they receive no compensation.

Or a non-Native company called “Kokopelli’s Kitchen” markets “Hopi Blue” popcorn–Hopi Blue Corn being a group of maize varieties selected and propagated over centuries by the Hopi Indians. This company is profiting from the labor, the name and whole-earth, mystical cachet of the Hopi, and from the name and distinctive image of a mythic character also of indigenous origin, and again the Hopi receive nothing (they may have to compete to sell their own product).

These instances of cultural appropriation–where members of a dominant culture appropriate and profit from a part of the cultural “capital” of a colonized minority–deal with the material realm. Such cases have received some media attention, especially in regard to patent issues. There is less awareness of the arguments many indigenous peoples have put forth for intellectual property protections for their traditional art and literature. This position is spelled out in article 29 of the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the most recent version of which was submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission in March of 2006:

Indigenous peoples are entitled to the recognition of the full ownership, control and protection of their cultural and intellectual property. They have the right to special measures to control, develop and protect their sciences, technologies and cultural manifestations, including … oral traditions, literatures, designs and visual and performing arts.

Within the dominant cultures of Western nations, narratives are usually viewed as different from pharmaceuticals. This is especially true for oral traditions that might have no fixed form on a word-by-word basis. Both the mainstream viewpoint and copyright laws recognize authorship (and stemming from that, various degrees of ownership) of the specific form in which, say, a version of Cinderella is written down, but not the Cinderella story itself. (Although one US firm, Knight and Associates, is currently seeking patents for “storylines.”)

Writing fiction is one way in which we in the West exercise one of our foundational values, freedom of expression. At the same time, in our economic systems, fiction is also a commodified product to be packaged, marketed and, hopefully, profited from just as are snack foods and skin cream. To the extent that bodies of folk literature are repositories of centuries of accumulated cultural invention and wisdom, we would have to see them as not all that different from bodies of traditional medicinal or agronomic knowledge. In this view, fiction based on other cultures could be a theft of someone else’s intellectual capital. Many Native Americans feel that when a member of the dominant culture uses any piece of their culture as the basis of an academic career, a novel, or other venture leading to personal gain, without corresponding benefit to Native people, it’s just another form of exploitation. Sentiment on this topic runs particularly strong in cultures like those on the northwest coast, where traditional notions of proprietary rights are well-developed.

Publishers who deal frequently with Native issues are increasingly recognizing indigenous concepts of ownership; the University of British Columbia Press, for example, now asks authors wishing to use contemporary images of Native crest objects to obtain written permission from the current holders of the heraldic prerogatives. Requiring permission for the use of clan-owned stories would be a logical next step.

At least one further mainstream assumption about using indigenous source materials is relevant here: that distinctions need not be too finely drawn as to the precise claims being made regarding the authenticity or accuracy of a book. An analogy with food labeling might clarify this point. In some parts of Africa, images on food packaging are expected to be literal representations of the contents (and thus smiling children or beautiful women are avoided). In the West, on the other hand, we might find images of, say, cherries not just on crates of fresh cherries, or on bottles of cherry juice, but also on products like Cherry Coke. A Western consumer will not necessarily expect that either the name or the image of cherries on a food label indicates any genuine fruit content. The cherries on a Cherry Coke label are essentially metaphoric, linking what’s there–the liquid in the can–with what’s not–actual cherries. (Cherry Coke does claim unspecified “natural flavors,” which, according to US food and drug regulations, are any “flavoring constituents” derived from plant or animal materials.)

A similar range of meanings can be signified by markers of “Indianness” on a book or in its content–markers which might include not just cover art and copy but indigenous names, terms, images, mythic characters, and more. Such markers might, at one end of the range, be literal signifiers, a claim to a completely authentic Native viewpoint and accurate Native cultural, historical or biographical content. Farther along, the markers might be a claim that the book contains–with processing and additives possible–some degree of accurate information, of an authentic viewpoint, or are otherwise the product of what might be considered authoritative knowledge. At the purely metaphoric end, the markers might be like the cherries on a Cherry Coke can, claiming only a flavor or frisson of Indianness, or what of a mainstream consumer imagines Indianness to be.

This semiotic catholicism is deep-rooted in Western conventions of packaging, and it extends far beyond food and books. One could argue that as long as a given interpretive frame is well understood by the viewer, no misrepresentation is taking place. Most genre readers are likely to read markers of Celtic, Japanese, or Native American mythology on a book cover as a combination of literal and metaphorical, and will understand that they represent a mix of historical or ethnographic detail and the purely fantastic.

But the fineness of the line between metaphorical description and false advertising provides a constant temptation for abuse. Even with food-labelling laws, the boundary between the two is continually pushed, and US regulations are continually rewritten. Publishing, on the other hand, has only voluntary standards, and a percentage of purported non-fiction about Native Americans, from The Education of Little Tree to the recent memoirs of the “Navahoax” Nasdijj, inevitably turns out to be fraudulent.

Fiction, though, is made-up stuff, and fantasy is made-up stuff contrary to what we think is real; their content is by definition metaphorical and false. In that respect the analogy with food-packaging breaks down. Still, to the degree that even fantasy contains real-world referents, and particularly to the degree that a book makes implicit or explicit claims to authoritativeness, the potential remains for false advertising. I would class my author bio in Bear Daughter as such a claim to an authoritative voice. As rewritten by my publisher, it consists almost entirely of my qualifications as an anthropologist. The book does have ethnographic and historic accuracy in some realms of detail. But it is written by a non-Indian about imaginary people in a fantastic universe. There may be some genuine cherry juice, but it’s much-processed with many additives.

The history of colonisation suggests particular caution in using metaphorical cultural markers, and claiming authority, in such a context. We would read the cherries on the Cherry Coke label quite differently if Coca-Cola had, in the not too distant past, led a campaign to eradicate genuine cherry trees–especially if we were the cherry farmers.

All of the foregoing may seem like a catalogue of reasons why I shouldn’t have written Bear Daughter, and more generally why speculative fiction writers should avoid mining indigenous, colonised, and minority cultures.

But I wouldn’t myself place all indigenous source materials off limits. For writers of the dominant society to avoid responding artistically to indigenous arts and literatures, even for the best of ethical reasons, for mainstream writers to designate minority writers as the only ones who are to write on freighted topics like race, colonialism, or the very existence of minority cultures (and making it the only employment they can get), merely repaints a corner of the colonial picture with the colors of guilt instead of greed and racism. Fictional Others may far too often be no more than a reflection of the writer’s stereotypes, or a pornography of the exotic, but only through contemplation of difference and the history of difference is there opportunity for genuine transformation of colonial relationships. Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for real conversation; the point isn’t to stop one person talking but to make sure others get heard.

But as important as decolonisation might be, the evolution of literatures, mainstream and otherwise, is also a worthy goal. The history of art and literature before, during, and after colonisation by the West has been a story not just of suppression and attempted eradication, but also, on both sides of the divide, of cross-fertilisation. This cross-fertilisation has brought about not only Native artistic and literary renaissances; it has also contributed to great transformations of Western art. I myself want to see what it will give birth to next–on both sides of the divide.

In a very personal way, that ground is where Bear Daughter originated. The issue of decolonisation did in fact shape the writing of it. By creating a fantastic version of pre-contact coastal peoples, imagining them as comparable in ways to valorised ancestral cultures of the West like the Homeric Greeks or the Anglo-Saxons of Beowulf, I hoped to strip away the stereotypes and preconceptions–some even held by academics–and communicate something true about indigenous cultures and histories.

But the primary impulses motivating the book arose, among other things, from my lifelong attachment to the northwestern forest and ocean, and the twenty-five years in which I have been immersed in the Native literatures of the region, attempting to understand the worldviews in which they were created. That still on-going process has given me new ways to think about many aspects of the human condition, including relations between humans and the natural world, and the problem of the self-as-body. These in turn resonated with issues of even more idiosyncratic interest, such as the profound sense of disempowerment some girls acquire at puberty.

Ultimately, whether my book and its packaging succeeds in negotiating the difficult ethical terrain is a judgement that isn’t mine to make. I hope in the not-too-distant future to post comment from some Native American readers on my website or blog. What I am sure of is that my personal debt to Native thought is impossible to measure.

I have no outright prescription for other writers wanting to use materials from colonised or minority cultures, beyond self-education and thoughtfulness, and the short list of cautions that could be extracted from this essay. The challenge of how to approach the imaginative wealth of non-Western traditions is one each writer will have to take up on his or her own.

Acknowledgements

Steve Brown very kindly supplied me the information on the current locations of the Naanyaa.aayí and Kaagwaantaan Bear screens, and told me about the fragmentary third screen; Jean Wilson filled me in on UBC Press permissions policies. Thanks also to all those, Native and not, who over many years have educated me on these issues through word and deed. Since the issues are implied in nearly every conversation about traditional northwest cultures, you are literally too many to mention.

Works cited

Allen, Paula Gunn (2002) “Special problems in teaching Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony.” In Allan Chavkin, ed., Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony: A Casebook, pp. 85-90. New York: Oxford.

Bear Daughter is published by Ace. Judith Berman won the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pioneer Award for her 2001 essay “Science Fiction Without The Future,” and is a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

This article first appeared in Vector 247 and has been made available previously on a website for Vector, now archived.


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By Alex Storer.

Any science fiction or space art aficionado should instantly recognise the name David A. Hardy – perhaps from the early part of his career working with Sir Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night and their award-winning books, including Challenge of the Stars and Futures / 50 Years in Space, or perhaps from his film and television credits, which include Blake’s Seven and The Neverending Story. Maybe you’ve got books in your SF collection adorned with David’s stunning cover art (maybe you’ve even read his own SF book, Aurora), or have encountered his work on the convention circuit. At the very least, if you’ve ever bought Cadbury’s chocolate, you’ll recognise the logo that Hardy originally designed during his time working at their Bournville factory, Birmingham, in the 1960s!

First published in 1952, David A. Hardy is the longest-established living space artist. Hardy started out as an astronomical artist, and the inevitable expansion into science fiction did not come for some years. Hardy’s work can transport you to the remotest corners of the Solar System, or into remote alien worlds and future times. What’s more, Hardy is still working and in as much demand as ever, regularly supplying cover art for the likes of Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and countless science fiction paperback and e-book titles.

Initiation of Akasa_F&SF

F&SF: Initiation of Asaka

Hardy’s artwork continues to move with the times – in tandem with spaceflight technology and our ever-expanding scientific knowledge about the planets in our Solar System, and advancing with the advent of computer technology and digital art.

I grew up in awe of Hardy’s work, courtesy of its inclusion in the most marvellous book, Space Worlds, Wars & Weapons (published in 1977 by the sadly defunct Paper Tiger imprint), and an art print that hung on the wall at home, entitled Stellar Radiance. This artwork my young imagination; it was like having a window into space. It sparked my obsession with science fiction art and ultimately led to me working as a science fiction artist myself, years later.

Stellar Radiance

Stellar Radiance

When I rediscovered my love of science fiction and space art in 2007, I realised it was time to start creating my own – and David A. Hardy’s work was my first port of call.

However, at the time, I did not know the name of that wonderful painting that I used to lose myself in, nor the artist’s full name – though the carefully scribed signature of “Hardy” in the bottom corner of the painting had always stuck in my mind. Thanks to a quick Google search, in no time at all I was in touch with the man himself, and soon found myself discovering his decade-spanning portfolio, starting with the books, Hardyware and Futures / 50 Years In Space. David’s enthusiasm and encouragement were invaluable and enough for me to know that I simply had to give it a shot.

One of the things which appeals to me about Hardy’s art is that whether it is paint or pixels, the work is still distinctly Hardy. When it comes to digital art in particular, I’ve always found it crucial to still have the touch of the artist’s hand, which I feel adds soul and personality to a digitally piece, eliciting just the same kind of emotional response one gets from looking at a canvas painting – and Hardy achieves this masterfully.

Despite being in the age of photographic imagery and photorealistic 3D graphics, hand-rendered art has remained important in science fiction circles, as it is another medium in which we can escape into other times or worlds – and more often than not, the art goes hand in hand with the SF literature we read; either adorning the covers of the books we love or simply inspired by them.

A ‘Hardy’ is immediately identifiable, not only by that kind of vibrant colour palette (regardless of medium), but by a consistent style and approach. Decades of experience and expertise all go into making each and every piece a work of wonder that one never tires of viewing.

I caught up with David to chat about all aspects of his work and career …

The first time I encountered computer-aided artwork in the early 1990s, it felt like a life-changing moment; a glimpse of the future. Do you remember the first time you saw computer art and did you realise it was going to be a significant way forward, especially in terms of science fiction art?

DAH: I had a similar “Eureka!” moment when I discovered the airbrush in 1957! Here was a way to paint atmospheres, glows, nebulae in a way that was realistic yet wouldn’t take hours of painstaking blending of paints. I have always kept up with new technology, and started using photography, especially ‘derivative’ (manipulated) images, in my work. In the 1980s I did all my own darkroom work and even became a LRPS. I also bought a large-format camera and started taking photos of my work to send to publishers as transparencies (slides) rather than entrusting valuable artwork to the tender mercies of the Post Office! I became aware of the intrusion of computer art in publishing, and it was exciting, but I couldn’t afford any of the equipment. Then when the Atari ST came along in 1986 I got a 520, then a 1040 and finally a Falcon before getting my first PowerMac in 1991. But it was still some time before I felt able to use this professionally. (I did however produce graphics for an Atari/Amiga game, Kristal, which won an industry award.)

Kristal

Kristal

Many SF artists have continued to work with paint while others have moved to digital or only work digitally – yet you have maintained a healthy balance of both. What do you feel you can achieve with digital art that you can’t with traditional media – and vice-versa?

DAH: Digital art is much more flexible – you can change, delete, try different effects and save the results separately. There are filters and plugins which produce results quite impossible to achieve in painting. And of course one can send JPEGs to publishers by email. (This can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage, as it gives them an opportunity to request many changes, some of which would be virtually impossible with traditional media. Fortunately, though, this rarely happens to me now!).

How do you feel your work has progressed since branching out into digital art?

DAH: I’m not sure it has progressed – perhaps this is for others to say? My method of working has changed, because now I usually produce a digital version first on my Mac, to see what I am working towards, before putting paint on canvas.

You create works both in paint and digitally which both clearly have your distinctive style. How would you say you achieve this?

DAH: Well I suppose it is inevitable that my work will look like mine, however I work. In either case I know how I want my final work to look, and I just continue until I achieve that, in whatever medium. However (see below) computer art can have a rather bland look, and I try to avoid that by using various ‘real media’ filters and other techniques.

Mountain Grill_Portals_comp

Mountain Grill Portals

I personally dislike the term ‘digital’, as it all too often makes people think of cold 3D renderings or that the computer does all the work, whereas you still work by hand using a graphics tablet – the way of working is practically the same, just the medium that is different. Would you agree?

DAH: I do agree. TV presenters especially tend to give the impression that ‘digital art’ is produced simply by pressing a few buttons. This is far from the case – I use very little ‘3D’ art, but I admire those who can, because it is a very steep learning curve to use Vue or Lightwave, and the results can be incredible. I do user Poser to help me with figures, and used the original version of Terragen as a terrain generator for many of the new illustrations in Futures: 50 years in Space. But then they changed it, and instead of being a user-friendly graphic interface one has to enter numbers and such – not what I call art!

Comet Probe

Comet Probe, as featured in 50 Years in Space

It’s only in recent years that digital has become more accepted as a medium – yet there’s no less imagination or creativity involved. How do you feel when collectors voice concerns about there being no ‘original’ so to speak?

DAH: I can quite understand that. Yes one can produce any number of prints from a traditional painting, but there is only one original, and the difference is immediately obvious on close inspection. Also, when painting I often use ‘impasto’ effects – paint applied thickly with a palette knife – and although it is no doubt possible to simulate this, it is quite impossible to do digitally. There is a huge amount of trust involved in digital fine art (personally I only use the computer for illustrations), as the customer is expected to accept that only one, or a limited number of prints will be made from a digital file, which may or may not then be destroyed. . .

Talk us through your general process when starting a new piece. Are you more inclined to head to your digital or wet studio? What kind of creative routines or rituals do you have?

DAH: As I said above, I often produce a quick digital version first when painting, but for illustrations – covers and such – I always use the Mac. So the choice is quite simple really. Currently I am experimenting with less realistic, even abstract techniques, and for these the wet studio is the only choice. Actually, after working for perhaps weeks on a 27” monitor it is a pleasure to be able to slap some paint on a large canvas, and I enjoy the whole physical process of working directly with my hands.  Routines? None really, except to have all my tools readily available and to hand.

Do you remember when you first realised that science fiction and space art was something you absolutely had to do?

DAH: When I was thirteen my parents took me to Blackpool. I walked down the seafront from the boarding house, and found a newsagent’s which had some SF ‘pulps’ on a shelf. I bought two: Seven to the Moon by Lee Stanton and Rocket Men by King Lang (a pseudonym if ever I saw one!). They were the first ‘adult’ SF books I had read, and I was hooked!  From then on I got SF whenever and wherever I could, including of course H.G.Wells from the library. Sometimes the covers were quite good, if garish, but often I would amuse myself by trying to create my own based on the stories. A year later, in 1950, I found a copy of The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley, with the most amazing photographic paintings of the Moon and planets by Chesley Bonestell.  That was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do! From then on, although I read and was involved with SF, I thought of myself purely as a space artist; this was of course amplified by the fact that I was working with people like Patrick Moore, and illustrated my first book for him in 1954. In fact it wasn’t until 1970 that my first published SF covers appeared, first on Vision of Tomorrow and then on F&SF.

EnigmaF&SF- Enigma

Enigma (1970) and the F&SF cover featuring it

DAH: In the 40s and 50s F&SF, and to a lesser extent other magazines such as Amazing and Galaxy, used Bonestell art as covers. Yet he always insisted that he was not a SF artist, but an astronomical one. When Challenge of the Stars (a book that I co-wrote with Patrick Moore as well as illustrated) was published in 1972, F&SF and a couple of the other mags used my paintings from that in exactly the same way that they had used Bonestell. But sadly, 1972 was also the year in which men visited the Moon for the last time, and public interest in space began to wane. To give me a reason for still painting space art covers I invented (with my cartoonist friend Anthony Naylor) ‘Bhen’, the benevolent green B.E.M., who I showed with the Viking lander, riding in the bowl of the Pioneer probe at Saturn, riding the Lunar Rover, and so on.  (Not a little green man, as some have called him, because if you compare him with the NASA vehicles he is about two-and-a-half metres – nearly 8ft – tall!). He first appeared on F&SF in 1975, and of course the earlier covers – there have been ten – were painted, though the last one, in 2015, was digital.

Bhen on Mars v1

BHEN on Mars (1975)

Bhen 15

BHEN ExoMars (2015)

In recent years, we’ve seen a healthy revival of painted/illustrated covers for SF titles. What do you think it is about this kind of artwork that has such longevity, and right for the genre?

DAH: I suppose it’s largely tradition, and nostalgia? We became so used to expecting SF covers to look a certain way that it still gives us pleasure to see that type of work.

In your opinion, what makes a good SF book cover?

DAH: Ah, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it! For me, it’s essential that it really relates to the content of the book (but preferably without giving too much away), and that is exciting and eye-catching.

Is there any particular SF novel that you’d still like to illustrate?

DAH: Loads, but I couldn’t really list them. . .

Moving briefly on to space art – your earlier depictions of Pluto turned out to be astoundingly accurate in recent years, when NASA published its first high-definition images of the planet. This must have been a proud moment.

DAH: Yes, I think I was as surprised as anybody when we saw that there actually was a cracked, icy plain which they named ‘Sputnik Planum’, few craters, and that on Charon there are great crevasses – just as I had painted them in 1991 for The Universe by Ian Ridpath. I don’t really claim any prescience; I had just based my version on the geology of some of the outer moons, like Neptune’s Triton.

New Horizons at Pluto.jpg

New Horizons at Pluto

As a space artist, do you feel it vital to keep painting new and updated interpretations of our planets, as we learn more about them? For example, the way you may have painted Jupiter from Io in the 1970s would be significantly different to how you would paint the same scene today.

DAH: Absolutely. I’ve heard people say that the paintings of, say, Bonestell from the 1950s have no value now because they are inaccurate, showing tall, jagged mountains on the Moon or canals on Mars and so on (and of course I was highly influenced by him then). Rubbish! What we painted then was based on the scientific knowledge of the time, so yes, we do need to keep updating our work as new data come in. Having said that, even Bonestell should really have known that the lunar mountains have been eroded by millennia of impacts by micrometeorites and extremes of temperature – French astronomer/artist Lucien Rudaux knew, back in the 1930s, because he observed the limb of the Moon, where the mountains can be seen in profile – though they still cast sharp, pointed shadows in a low light.

Despite the amazing, high-resolution photographs of other planets which we now can see thanks to modern technology, there continues to be a healthy interest in space art. Why do you think this is?

DAH: It’s true that instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have sent us the most amazing, detailed colour images of distant nebulae etc. But much of the information we receive comes in the form of data, and while numbers, charts and graphs may be exciting to astronomers, the public and the media prefer to see exciting visual interpretations. This is where space artists come into their own. It is also the area where we see the difference between space artists and SF artists: while SF and fantasy artists are free to use their imagination, space artists need to combine these talents with accurate scientific knowledge. And they can’t afford to get it wrong!

Two Worlds 15

Two Worlds

This Summer Hardy exhibited at Visions of Space 2 – An Exhibition of Astronomical and Space Art by British IAAA artists at Wells & Mendip Museum in Somerset, at which he also gave a talk on the Moon and Eclipses on the opening night. His next event is next month at Novacon, the UK’s longest-running SF convention, at which Hardy has attended and exhibited every year since it began in 1971.

Every year, Hardy presents a display of work covering all aspects of science fiction, fantasy, space art and beyond. Not one to rest on his laurels, Hardy continually pushes himself and experiments with new artistic media – the most recent being sculpted 3D relief landscapes and scenes, and also abstract art.

At 81, David A. Hardy could easily be living proof that art and creativity keeps both the body and the mind young – youthful in appearance, with a mind as sharp as his wit, just a few minutes of conversation with the artist leaves you feeling inspired and educated. His passion and dedication for his art and everything that has influenced it over his long career, is as strong today as it ever was – and this should be an inspiration to us all.

Alex Storer is a science fiction artist and electronic musician. www.thelightdream.net


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Posted by The Editors

By Alex Storer.

Any science fiction or space art aficionado should instantly recognise the name David A. Hardy – perhaps from the early part of his career working with Sir Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night and their award-winning books, including Challenge of the Stars and Futures / 50 Years in Space, or perhaps from his film and television credits, which include Blake’s Seven and The Neverending Story. Maybe you’ve got books in your SF collection adorned with David’s stunning cover art (maybe you’ve even read his own SF book, Aurora), or have encountered his work on the convention circuit. At the very least, if you’ve ever bought Cadbury’s chocolate, you’ll recognise the logo that Hardy originally designed during his time working at their Bournville factory, Birmingham, in the 1960s!

First published in 1952, David A. Hardy is the longest-established living space artist. Hardy started out as an astronomical artist, and the inevitable expansion into science fiction did not come for some years. Hardy’s work can transport you to the remotest corners of the Solar System, or into remote alien worlds and future times. What’s more, Hardy is still working and in as much demand as ever, regularly supplying cover art for the likes of Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and countless science fiction paperback and e-book titles.

Initiation of Akasa_F&SF

F&SF: Initiation of Asaka

Hardy’s artwork continues to move with the times – in tandem with spaceflight technology and our ever-expanding scientific knowledge about the planets in our Solar System, and advancing with the advent of computer technology and digital art.

I grew up in awe of Hardy’s work, courtesy of its inclusion in the most marvellous book, Space Worlds, Wars & Weapons (published in 1977 by the sadly defunct Paper Tiger imprint), and an art print that hung on the wall at home, entitled Stellar Radiance. This artwork my young imagination; it was like having a window into space. It sparked my obsession with science fiction art and ultimately led to me working as a science fiction artist myself, years later.

Stellar Radiance

Stellar Radiance

When I rediscovered my love of science fiction and space art in 2007, I realised it was time to start creating my own – and David A. Hardy’s work was my first port of call.

However, at the time, I did not know the name of that wonderful painting that I used to lose myself in, nor the artist’s full name – though the carefully scribed signature of “Hardy” in the bottom corner of the painting had always stuck in my mind. Thanks to a quick Google search, in no time at all I was in touch with the man himself, and soon found myself discovering his decade-spanning portfolio, starting with the books, Hardyware and Futures / 50 Years In Space. David’s enthusiasm and encouragement were invaluable and enough for me to know that I simply had to give it a shot.

One of the things which appeals to me about Hardy’s art is that whether it is paint or pixels, the work is still distinctly Hardy. When it comes to digital art in particular, I’ve always found it crucial to still have the touch of the artist’s hand, which I feel adds soul and personality to a digitally piece, eliciting just the same kind of emotional response one gets from looking at a canvas painting – and Hardy achieves this masterfully.

Despite being in the age of photographic imagery and photorealistic 3D graphics, hand-rendered art has remained important in science fiction circles, as it is another medium in which we can escape into other times or worlds – and more often than not, the art goes hand in hand with the SF literature we read; either adorning the covers of the books we love or simply inspired by them.

A ‘Hardy’ is immediately identifiable, not only by that kind of vibrant colour palette (regardless of medium), but by a consistent style and approach. Decades of experience and expertise all go into making each and every piece a work of wonder that one never tires of viewing.

I caught up with David to chat about all aspects of his work and career …

The first time I encountered computer-aided artwork in the early 1990s, it felt like a life-changing moment; a glimpse of the future. Do you remember the first time you saw computer art and did you realise it was going to be a significant way forward, especially in terms of science fiction art?

DAH: I had a similar “Eureka!” moment when I discovered the airbrush in 1957! Here was a way to paint atmospheres, glows, nebulae in a way that was realistic yet wouldn’t take hours of painstaking blending of paints. I have always kept up with new technology, and started using photography, especially ‘derivative’ (manipulated) images, in my work. In the 1980s I did all my own darkroom work and even became a LRPS. I also bought a large-format camera and started taking photos of my work to send to publishers as transparencies (slides) rather than entrusting valuable artwork to the tender mercies of the Post Office! I became aware of the intrusion of computer art in publishing, and it was exciting, but I couldn’t afford any of the equipment. Then when the Atari ST came along in 1986 I got a 520, then a 1040 and finally a Falcon before getting my first PowerMac in 1991. But it was still some time before I felt able to use this professionally. (I did however produce graphics for an Atari/Amiga game, Kristal, which won an industry award.)

Kristal

Kristal

Many SF artists have continued to work with paint while others have moved to digital or only work digitally – yet you have maintained a healthy balance of both. What do you feel you can achieve with digital art that you can’t with traditional media – and vice-versa?

DAH: Digital art is much more flexible – you can change, delete, try different effects and save the results separately. There are filters and plugins which produce results quite impossible to achieve in painting. And of course one can send JPEGs to publishers by email. (This can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage, as it gives them an opportunity to request many changes, some of which would be virtually impossible with traditional media. Fortunately, though, this rarely happens to me now!).

How do you feel your work has progressed since branching out into digital art?

DAH: I’m not sure it has progressed – perhaps this is for others to say? My method of working has changed, because now I usually produce a digital version first on my Mac, to see what I am working towards, before putting paint on canvas.

You create works both in paint and digitally which both clearly have your distinctive style. How would you say you achieve this?

DAH: Well I suppose it is inevitable that my work will look like mine, however I work. In either case I know how I want my final work to look, and I just continue until I achieve that, in whatever medium. However (see below) computer art can have a rather bland look, and I try to avoid that by using various ‘real media’ filters and other techniques.

Mountain Grill_Portals_comp

Mountain Grill Portals

I personally dislike the term ‘digital’, as it all too often makes people think of cold 3D renderings or that the computer does all the work, whereas you still work by hand using a graphics tablet – the way of working is practically the same, just the medium that is different. Would you agree?

DAH: I do agree. TV presenters especially tend to give the impression that ‘digital art’ is produced simply by pressing a few buttons. This is far from the case – I use very little ‘3D’ art, but I admire those who can, because it is a very steep learning curve to use Vue or Lightwave, and the results can be incredible. I do user Poser to help me with figures, and used the original version of Terragen as a terrain generator for many of the new illustrations in Futures: 50 years in Space. But then they changed it, and instead of being a user-friendly graphic interface one has to enter numbers and such – not what I call art!

Comet Probe

Comet Probe, as featured in 50 Years in Space

It’s only in recent years that digital has become more accepted as a medium – yet there’s no less imagination or creativity involved. How do you feel when collectors voice concerns about there being no ‘original’ so to speak?

DAH: I can quite understand that. Yes one can produce any number of prints from a traditional painting, but there is only one original, and the difference is immediately obvious on close inspection. Also, when painting I often use ‘impasto’ effects – paint applied thickly with a palette knife – and although it is no doubt possible to simulate this, it is quite impossible to do digitally. There is a huge amount of trust involved in digital fine art (personally I only use the computer for illustrations), as the customer is expected to accept that only one, or a limited number of prints will be made from a digital file, which may or may not then be destroyed. . .

Talk us through your general process when starting a new piece. Are you more inclined to head to your digital or wet studio? What kind of creative routines or rituals do you have?

DAH: As I said above, I often produce a quick digital version first when painting, but for illustrations – covers and such – I always use the Mac. So the choice is quite simple really. Currently I am experimenting with less realistic, even abstract techniques, and for these the wet studio is the only choice. Actually, after working for perhaps weeks on a 27” monitor it is a pleasure to be able to slap some paint on a large canvas, and I enjoy the whole physical process of working directly with my hands.  Routines? None really, except to have all my tools readily available and to hand.

Do you remember when you first realised that science fiction and space art was something you absolutely had to do?

DAH: When I was thirteen my parents took me to Blackpool. I walked down the seafront from the boarding house, and found a newsagent’s which had some SF ‘pulps’ on a shelf. I bought two: Seven to the Moon by Lee Stanton and Rocket Men by King Lang (a pseudonym if ever I saw one!). They were the first ‘adult’ SF books I had read, and I was hooked!  From then on I got SF whenever and wherever I could, including of course H.G.Wells from the library. Sometimes the covers were quite good, if garish, but often I would amuse myself by trying to create my own based on the stories. A year later, in 1950, I found a copy of The Conquest of Space by Willy Ley, with the most amazing photographic paintings of the Moon and planets by Chesley Bonestell.  That was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do! From then on, although I read and was involved with SF, I thought of myself purely as a space artist; this was of course amplified by the fact that I was working with people like Patrick Moore, and illustrated my first book for him in 1954. In fact it wasn’t until 1970 that my first published SF covers appeared, first on Vision of Tomorrow and then on F&SF.

EnigmaF&SF- Enigma

Enigma (1970) and the F&SF cover featuring it

DAH: In the 40s and 50s F&SF, and to a lesser extent other magazines such as Amazing and Galaxy, used Bonestell art as covers. Yet he always insisted that he was not a SF artist, but an astronomical one. When Challenge of the Stars (a book that I co-wrote with Patrick Moore as well as illustrated) was published in 1972, F&SF and a couple of the other mags used my paintings from that in exactly the same way that they had used Bonestell. But sadly, 1972 was also the year in which men visited the Moon for the last time, and public interest in space began to wane. To give me a reason for still painting space art covers I invented (with my cartoonist friend Anthony Naylor) ‘Bhen’, the benevolent green B.E.M., who I showed with the Viking lander, riding in the bowl of the Pioneer probe at Saturn, riding the Lunar Rover, and so on.  (Not a little green man, as some have called him, because if you compare him with the NASA vehicles he is about two-and-a-half metres – nearly 8ft – tall!). He first appeared on F&SF in 1975, and of course the earlier covers – there have been ten – were painted, though the last one, in 2015, was digital.

Bhen on Mars v1

BHEN on Mars (1975)

Bhen 15

BHEN ExoMars (2015)

In recent years, we’ve seen a healthy revival of painted/illustrated covers for SF titles. What do you think it is about this kind of artwork that has such longevity, and right for the genre?

DAH: I suppose it’s largely tradition, and nostalgia? We became so used to expecting SF covers to look a certain way that it still gives us pleasure to see that type of work.

In your opinion, what makes a good SF book cover?

DAH: Ah, that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it! For me, it’s essential that it really relates to the content of the book (but preferably without giving too much away), and that is exciting and eye-catching.

Is there any particular SF novel that you’d still like to illustrate?

DAH: Loads, but I couldn’t really list them. . .

Moving briefly on to space art – your earlier depictions of Pluto turned out to be astoundingly accurate in recent years, when NASA polished its first-high definition images of the planet. This must have been a proud moment.

DAH: Yes, I think I was as surprised as anybody when we saw that there actually was a cracked, icy plain which they named ‘Sputnik Planum’, few craters, and that on Charon there are great crevasses – just as I had painted them in 1991 for The Universe by Ian Ridpath. I don’t really claim any prescience; I had just based my version on the geology of some of the outer moons, like Neptune’s Triton.

New Horizons at Pluto.jpg

New Horizons at Pluto

As a space artist, do you feel it vital to keep painting new and updated interpretations of our planets, as we learn more about them? For example, the way you may have painted Jupiter from Io in the 1970s would be significantly different to how you would paint the same scene today.

DAH: Absolutely. I’ve heard people say that the paintings of, say, Bonestell from the 1950s have no value now because they are inaccurate, showing tall, jagged mountains on the Moon or canals on Mars and so on (and of course I was highly influenced by him then). Rubbish! What we painted then was based on the scientific knowledge of the time, so yes, we do need to keep updating our work as new data come in. Having said that, even Bonestell should really have known that the lunar mountains have been eroded by millennia of impacts by micrometeorites and extremes of temperature – French astronomer/artist Lucien Rudaux knew, back in the 1930s, because he observed the limb of the Moon, where the mountains can be seen in profile – though they still cast sharp, pointed shadows in a low light.

Despite the amazing, high-resolution photographs of other planets which we now can see thanks to modern technology, there continues to be a healthy interest in space art. Why do you think this is?

DAH: It’s true that instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) have sent us the most amazing, detailed colour images of distant nebulae etc. But much of the information we receive comes in the form of data, and while numbers, charts and graphs may be exciting to astronomers, the public and the media prefer to see exciting visual interpretations. This is where space artists come into their own. It is also the area where we see the difference between space artists and SF artists: while SF and fantasy artists are free to use their imagination, space artists need to combine these talents with accurate scientific knowledge. And they can’t afford to get it wrong!

Two Worlds 15

Two Worlds

This Summer Hardy exhibited at Visions of Space 2 – An Exhibition of Astronomical and Space Art by British IAAA artists at Wells & Mendip Museum in Somerset, at which he also gave a talk on the Moon and Eclipses on the opening night. His next event is next month at Novacon, the UK’s longest-running SF convention, at which Hardy has attended and exhibited every year since it began in 1971.

Every year, Hardy presents a display of work covering all aspects of science fiction, fantasy, space art and beyond. Not one to rest on his laurels, Hardy continually pushes himself and experiments with new artistic media – the most recent being sculpted 3D relief landscapes and scenes, and also abstract art.

At 81, David A. Hardy could easily be living proof that art and creativity keeps both the body and the mind young – youthful in appearance, with a mind as sharp as his wit, just a few minutes of conversation with the artist leaves you feeling inspired and educated. His passion and dedication for his art and everything that has influenced it over his long career, is as strong today as it ever was – and this should be an inspiration to us all.

Alex Storer is a science fiction artist and electronic musician. www.thelightdream.net


Jeremy Shaw’s ‘Liminals’

Oct. 13th, 2017 09:22 pm
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Posted by Polina Levontin

jeremyJeremy Shaw’s Liminals can be seen at The Store Studios 180 The Strand, until 10th of December 2017. It is the first off-site exhibition by Berlin based KÖNIG Galerie and forms part of their recent expansion to London.

Liminals, a work of Vancouver-born artist Jeremy Shaw, takes the form of a fictional documentary made not more than a couple of decades into our future. From the narration, we reconstruct some of its historical context, although the focus of the documentary is on ‘periphery altruist cultures’. The Liminals are one such sub-cultural group, who are observed by the posited filmmakers with a detached fascination (and a style) reminiscent of the early 20th century ethnographies.

It is far from clear who is the intended audience, because humanity’s days, the documentary reveals, are numbered. Technology is to blame, specifically, choosing to let computation replace ritual. Kieslowski’s warning in the first episode of Decalogue against elevating computers above faith has clearly gone unheeded, and in 2024 all spiritual experiences are replaced by VR via a technological innovation called ‘The Unit’. ‘The Singularity Disaster’ follows in 2033, and soon after ‘The Announcement’ of ‘the countdown to extinction’ is made.

Amongst the general apathy that ensues, radical groups emerge, as they always do – observes the film’s narrator – during the Millenarian periods of history. The most radical of these groups believe that a possible salvation lies in the ideas of ‘pre-Unit’ science fiction writer Samuel Delany, specifically the paraspace:

a specific paraspace could serve as a transitory zone for humanity – an intermediate area between the physical and the virtual where a generative incubation period towards our next phase in evolution could take place. They refer to this paraspace as The Liminal.

The documentary is an exposition of the methods by which The Liminals are trying to reach that paraspace.

 


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Posted by Polina Levontin

mollyTade Thompson, whose novel Rosewater was reviewed in Vector earlier this year (see below), has just published a new work of fiction. The Murders of Molly Southbourne is set to appear on screen as well, which is not surprising given the beautifully harrowing images that the novel fosters. It is a work of science fiction which reads like a thriller. It might be bloodier than Cormac McCarthy, yet it has the sweetness of a coming-of-age romance. The emotional confrontation with one’s reading self that ensues (‘should I be enjoying this scene?’), as well as all other inner conflicts, are put into perspective by the novel’s narrative of self-destruction. The science-fictional world of Molly Southbourne is a combination of Cold War past and a low-fertility future. The latter is particularly refreshing given the dominance of overpopulation scenarios in both science fiction and everyday conversations. Tade Thompson’s medical and psychiatric knowledge is always put to good use in his novels, the characters are entirely plausible in their contradictions, and the science is internally consistent and evidently very carefully thought through.

RosewaterRosewater by Tade Thompson (Apex, 2016) reviewed by Polina Levontin

Rosewater is Tade Thompson’s second novel, set in Nigeria, which in 2066 is the epicenter of an alien invasion. Loss of sovereignty is the subject of the novel – the serious heart of a narrative that artfully masquerades as thriller, romance, and detective fiction, recalling Nollywood slapstick at some points and Dante’s Divine Comedy at others. In Rosewater, we encounter aliens, homunculi, zombies, a phoenix, a griffin, and an even more mythical – a flawlessly beautiful, stiletto-wearing secret agent.  Below this exuberant surface of a fast moving first person narrative, ‘invasion’ is examined, from both the perspective of the intruders and the colonized. The parallels of aliens landing in London, absorbing the consciousness of an Italian immigrant, and then making their way to Nigeria to establish a colonial base compresses the history of the Roman and British Empires. More presciently, Rosewater comments not just on the history of colonization on Earth but insightfully portrays the scientific scenario of a possible future colonization of space by intelligent, human-designed nanotechnology – a scenario Yuval Harari finds likely in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.  In Rosewater, the aliens got to us first.

The ability to invade minds is the scientific innovation explored most in depth. The treatment of this subject is clearly benefiting from the author’s scientific expertise as a psychiatrist. The aliens rely on a quantum network of nano-filaments that can transmit and store information – this xenosphere extends through space and time. The aliens in Rosewater are more like intelligent biotech mushrooms spreading through the universe, capable of mimicry and adaptation via symbiotic relationships to local forms and conditions. On earth, they learn to take human form and develop individual, almost human-like selfhoods, which leads to human-like problems – for example, disagreements over policy towards ‘natives’ emerge.

Like anthropology in the age of European colonialism, a system of collecting knowledge about the colonized is invaluable to the aliens. The government keeps the existence of this network and a few ‘sensitives’ who develop abilities to interact with the xenosphere a secret. Kaaro, the narrator, is the most skilled of the sensitives.  The two-way connection to the xenosphere means that not only can he intrude into other people’s minds, but he is vulnerable to being inundated with memories, experiences and feelings that belong to others, threatening his sense of identity. His psychic abilities are a burden, trapping him in jobs he hates and despises, such as interrogating prisoners for the government.

Rosewater is both insightful and entertaining. Tade Thompson’s understanding of both history and the human mind gives the story a solid core. The structure of the novel reflects its other theme of time-travel: several storylines starting at various points in the mid-21st century are interwoven but in a way that enhances the understanding of Kaaro’s personal journey.  Kaaro lives in millenarian times – history, human history at least, is coming to an end. The apocalypse creeps with an ecological pace. Kaaro has his entire lifetime to develop understanding and perhaps acceptance of the change. Nothing forces one to reconsider how one should live than the approaching end of the world. Even though Kaaro’s answers are predictable – love, kindness, and respect for liberty – it does not make them less profound or less valuable.

If Rosewater’s vision is flawed it is in predictions rather than analysis. Sometimes, the pessimism about the future is depressing: it is 2066 and homosexuality laws are still on the books in Nigeria and people still read Ayn Rand.  Sometimes, predictions are hard to believe – would clubs in 2045 still sound like they did in the 1990s? Kaaro is not always a likable character, but his music taste is on point, if a little antiquated for his times. He listens to Miles Davis, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. But if I had to compile a mixtape for the apocalypse, I’d include them too.

 

 

 


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Posted by The Editors

The BSFA holds regular events in London, usually on the last Wednesday of the month, at the Artillery Arms near Old Street. These events are free, and open to members and non-members alike. Keep an eye on the BSFA website for news of future events. In June 2017, Tom Hunter rendezvoused with Dave Hutchinson, author of the acclaimed near-future spy series, Fractured Europe. Our asset Andrew Wallace returns safely to HQ with the following intelligence …

Any writing career has its highs and lows, and in Dave Hutchinson’s case, quite literally. One of the jobs he applied for after leaving university (he graduated from Nottingham with a degree in American Studies), before beginning a career in journalism, was air traffic controller. Dave credits the absence of planes falling from sky to the fact that he didn’t get the job. Still, it’s intriguing to think of Dave Hutchinson, author of the award-winning near-future Fractured Europe series, as an air traffic controller in a parallel universe … managing the borders between nations, between earth and sky …

The Fractured Europe series is inspired by Cold War spy fiction: bleak, powerful stories which often rely on national borders for political and narrative tension. Once the Iron Curtain fell, Dave says, the spy genre lost its way. He realised that writing the thriller that he really wanted would mean reintroducing borders. But where would the barriers lie? For some time, he had been thinking about a family of uncanny map-makers. Eventually he had them create different versions of England to overlay our own. The Fractured Europe novels follow a spy, Rudi, as he crosses the boundaries of reality, while Europe itself breaks into ever smaller nation states, some no larger than a city.

Balkanized Europe
Image credit: Karl2025

Not only is Rudi a spy, but he’s also a chef. Dave wanted a character who did an ordinary job. Besides, the universal need for food means chefs can have a kind of cross-border role; indeed, chefs are almost a nation unto themselves. Further character layers came from Dave’s experience as a service station kitchen porter and his observation that in science fiction, people don’t cook and eat enough. Soon Rudy became a little voice in his head. Dave enjoyed writing a cynic, someone who’s seen it all but still plods along and doesn’t give up.

The composition of Europe in Autumn is an interesting parallel to Dave’s fiction writing career. The novel began as fragments that slowly coalesced, were sequenced over years and then bolted together. The last chapter became the first and the whole thing was retrofitted to accommodate the map-makers.

Similarly, Dave’s writing evolved from disparate influences woven together over four decades of patient craft. He had always read science fiction and started writing his own when he was sixteen. His influences were Heinlein and Asimov, although it was Keith Roberts’s novel Pavane, about an alternative history where the Spanish Armada triumphed, that proved most inspirational. Not only did Roberts show that there could be science fiction specific to England, he also wrote about people working in filling stations rather than star ships.

Dave became a journalist when a fellow graduate suggested the role; it was writing after all. A job on Fleet Street led to experience covering politics, crime, world affairs; everything except sport. Dave continued to write science fiction in the evenings, producing short stories for magazines, small presses and online. He was happy with this cottage industry approach, which kept him going for over forty years.

The hugely positive response to the publication of Europe in Autumn had already changed Dave’s career, even before Europe in Winter won this year’s BSFA Award. Meanwhile, the television rights to all three Fractured Europe books have been sold to Seven Stories (think “Red Riding“). Pending finance, they plan to shoot in Poland and Tallinn.

In a further twist, the recent divisive European Union membership referendum and its Brexit result have made the novels even more relevant. Fortunately, the DNA of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its corresponding snarky humour run through the Fractured Europe sequence, putting the absurdity of Brexit into suitable perspective. Dave has no idea if the referendum result has boosted sales, and although Europe in Autumn has been sold in the non-fiction department of Waterstones, he denies that Brexit is somehow his fault.

In the books, Britain breaks up, but England is still in the EU. What’s most telling is how boring the alternative England is. Stripped of foreign influence, it’s a psychopathic, stodgy place of bland food with no spices, which is particularly egregious to chef Rudy.

Here too, character and author seem to share emotional space. As a science fiction writer, Dave needs the spice of surprise. Not just any surprise will do. He talks about the time he tried to write a police procedural, but got bored and introduced elves to the plot, creating what he describes as the worst book ever written. Like the river in Europe at Midnight that opens into an alternative England, the route into a fantastic realm must be the suitable one.

Appropriately, the three Fractured Europe books aren’t straightforward sequels to each other; Winter is a follow-up to both Autumn and Midnight. Dave certainly doesn’t want to write a direct sequel to Winter because people will expect that. He wants a big reveal worthy of the other Fractured Europe stories.

So far, all we know is that Europe at Dawn will feature Rudi, railways and canals. Given that the map used on the cover for an early version of Europe in Autumn was Crimea just before Russia invaded, we can only hope that if reality insists on following Dave around the way it has, there is at least a mildly optimistic outcome to the fourth part of the series. Now that really would be a twist.

Andrew Wallace is a SFF novelist and blogger whose latest novel, Diamond Roads: The Outer Spheres, is available now. www.andrewwallace.me

Tom Hunter is the Director of the Clarke Award.


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