Utopias

By Sultana Raza.

Seeking / Restoring Green Gardens of Utopias

As environmental problems caused by industrialisation and post-industrialisation continue to increase, the public is looking for ecological solutions. As pandemics, economic crises, and wars plague our society in different ways, thoughts turn to the good old times. But were they really all that good? People are escaping increasingly into fantastical stories in order to find a quantum of solace. But at what point was there a utopia in our society. If so, at what or whose cost did it exist? Whether or not we ever experience living in a utopia, the idea of finally finding one drives us to continue seeking ideal living conditions.

Mythic utopias

Most myths are about a loss of power and/or balance. The idea of creating a utopia, or for trying to recover a lost one goes back to mythic times. For example, in the great Indian myth, entitled the Ramayana, there’s a utopia of sorts within the kingdom of King Dasharatha. But his second queen asks him for a boon, which is to send the king’s heir-apparent, Lord Rama into exile in the forest for ten years. That’s where trouble begins, and though Lord Rama manages to recover his kingdom, and establish Ramaraj, or good governance, it’s not without a price.

Also, in the Mahabharata, there’s trouble and outright war between two sets of step-brothers the Pandavas (who are five in number) and the Kauravas (who are one hundred in number). Their ideal world is shattered, and never fully recovers. Lots of heroes on both sides lose their lives, and a lot of fantastical weapons are mentioned in it. Some authors think that the outcome of the war mentioned in these Indian myths was akin to nuclear devastation. The Mahabharata also describes different types of flying vessels, which even had the capability of travelling between places on earth, and also between stars. However, that technology was lost after the great war in the Mahabharata.

Greco-Roman Myths

In the Greek myths, the Hesperides and Elysium are ideal realms where not everyone is allowed to enter. Even heroes have difficulties to enter these spheres. For example, Mount Parnassus, home of the Nine Muses, is supposed to be an ideal, and sacred place in pagan myths.

The prosperous and flourishing city of Troy, which was a utopia of its kind, was lost in Greek myths. Odysseus ended up on the islands of Circe and Calypso respectively, and could have lived in these utopias, but had to leave to go back home. However, he didn’t find any peace at Ithaca after his return either. It wasn’t his utopia anymore.

Celtic Myths

In the Celtic Myths, the Tuatha Dé Danann (a race of supernatural beings) lose their homeland, which was their own utopia. They are obliged to go underground by the Milesians. There are many stories of paradise lost, also at the individual level in these myths. Lyonesse is an island thought to have disappeared beneath the seas off the coast of Cornwall. Though it was a fair land in the beginning with hard-working folks in it, due to a horrible crime committed by its inhabitants it was sunk beneath the sea by a storm, as a punishment to its people. It’s yet another land that disappeared.

Paradise Lost

Biblical stories are about the fall of Man from legendary Eden, and the efforts of human beings to be allowed back into it. Consciousness in the Occident is filled with the idea that our paradise is lost, mainly due to Eve’s mistake. However, long before the advent of the three book-based creeds such as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, all of which outline the story of the fall of man, these kinds of stories abound in myths.

Camelot as Utopia

In the Occident, Arthurian legends are about establishing or seeking utopias. Camelot was a utopia of sorts with its fabled Round Table. All the knights who were allowed to sit at this table were supposed to be equals. But all this was before trouble began. With the fall of King Arthur, the utopia at Camelot dissolved.

The Castle of the Holy Grail was a utopia of sorts for the questing knights. Sir Lancelot wasn’t allowed to go in that castle because of his ‘sin’ with Queen Guinevere. Sir Percival was allowed to go in the castle because he was pure of heart. The Isle of Avalon was also a utopia of sorts and not everyone was allowed to go there. It’s Arthur’s final resting place and he’s supposed to come back from there after being healed, since he’s the once and future king.

Camelot; excerpted from Castles. Artist: Alan Lee

Utopia in LOTR

Since Tolkien based his stories on myths and legends, it shouldn’t be surprising that the concept of a lost utopia can be found in his Legendarium as well. The new Amazon TV serial, Rings of Power (ROP) will touch upon how the utopia of the Elves was tampered with by Morgoth, and how the Elves spent a long time defending Middle Earth and ultimately their Blessed Realms against threats. Then they defeated Sauron at the end of the Second Age, and then again at the end of the Third Age

Photo above: Rivendell; Artist: Alan Lee

In Middle earth, the Elves founded some peaceful realms such as Doriath, and Gondolin, and later on Rivendell, and Lothlorien which were kept hidden from the enemy. The Shire was a utopia for its inhabitants before it was attacked by Saruman at the end of the Third Age. In a way Tolkien’s long saga can be seen as attempts to restore the peace of the utopia in the worlds of the Elves, the Blessed Realms.

Dwarves arrive at Rivendell:

Dwarves have dinner at Rivendell:

The Fellowship reaches Lothlorien:

A utopia of sorts was also restored in Middle-earth when Aragorn became king, with Lady Arwen by his side at the end of the Third Age. And finally all Elves led by Lady Galadriel were able to go back to their version of paradise, ie the Undying Lands.

Utopia in ASOIAF

The world of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF)is much darker and grittier than that of Middle Earth. Yet, it can also be interpreted as being that of a search for a lost paradise in a way. Winterfell for its problems was a utopia of sorts for the Stark children.

Feast at Winterfell:

Danaerys Targarayen thought King’s Landing and Westeros would become her own personal utopia, but at least in the TV show, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Theon Greyjoy’s personal utopia was going to be his native Islands of Pyke, but that turned out to be just a pipe dream. He was pressured by his father to turn upon the Starks who’d treated him so well that he’d forgotten he was supposed to be a hostage there. In fact, once Theon helped turn the relative peace of Winterfell into a dystopia, he had cause to regret his actions very deeply.

Bran Stark thought he would find his own version of utopia beyond the Wall, but that didn’t work out for him quite as well as he’d imagined it. Although it’s arguable who is really the person on the Iron Throne at the end? Bran Stark or the three-eyed raven controlling him? The three-eyed crow was Ser Brynden Rivers, a Targaryen. So is a Targaryen sitting on the Iron Throne at the end of the GOT TV series? Or are some parts of Bran Stark somewhere inside his own head too?

In the entire series, we’re rooting for the Stark children to go back to Winterfell. At last Sansa Stark becomes the ruler and Lady of Winterfell. At least in the Game of Thrones TV series.

Finale for the Stark children:

Utopia in the Percy Jackson series

In the YA Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Camp Hallf-Blood is a safe haven for all the half blood demi-gods. It’s located in a hidden place on the north shore of Long Island near NY. Though there’s plenty of competition and squabbling between the demi-gods, they all feel protected from monsters and threats from the outer world. The Golden Fleece keeps the place protected.

Training at Camp Half-blood:

Finding strength at Camp Half-blood:

After every adventure, the heroes come back safe and sound to this haven. In the Heroes of Olympus series, Camp Jupiter is another safe place near San Francisco for the demi-gods. These utopias serve as anchoring places for these young protagonists. It also gives them a purpose to defend these mini-utopias when they come under threat. And they have a place to look forward to returning to when their quest or adventure is over.

Search for equilibrium & survival in Dune

In Dune, after the Atreides family is destroyed when they first land on the desert planet, the whole arc of Paul Atreides (and his descendants) is to restore their house to its rightful place in their inter-planetary society. And at least in the beginning to help the Fremen get their independence too. Make Dune a utopia for its inhabitants. Since the series stretches over thousands of years and across many planets, things don’t always go according to any one character’s plans. However, the overall quest for most protagonists of this series is to restore some kind of balance in society, even if the story stretches across time and space. Things evolve in surprising ways. But at least humanity strives to find better conditions, and is saved from the threat of extinction in the end.

Conclusion

While dystopias may be very much in fashion, a stable and sustainable society can function in the long term in its own version of utopia. Therefore, it can be argued that utopias are more important than dystopias. In fact, if there wasn’t a balanced and sustainable society to begin with, then it couldn’t be distorted to form a dystopia. For example, in Star Wars, the Empire took over planets and societies which had been functioning independently for years. And the mission to overthrow the evil Empire is a bid to restore balance of power, and/or utopias of different kinds on the planets in its iron grip. Just escaping the oppressive regime of the Empire would be the beginning of a more steady and calmer society on most planets. Utopias also enable growth and evolution both at the individual and the macroscopic levels.

In a way dystopias are dependent on utopias (even distant ones) in order to come into existence. A social structure that is out of balance wouldn’t last too long anyway, as it would collapse one way or the other. Most stories are about restoring some kind of stability so that the protagonists can continue to live or exist in a sustainable world.

-The End-

Note: Some of these ideas were mentioned/discussed at the Utopias Panel, entitled ‘Better Worlds are Possible’ held at Chicon 8 in September 2022. ++ Sultana Raza

A World of Afrofuturism: Creating Nicole Michell’s “Xenogenesis Suite” (Part II)

Interview conducted by Rob Thornton: This is Part Two of an interview with avant-jazz composer and flutist Nicole Mitchell, who paid tribute to Octavia Butler in 2008 in her composition Xenogenesis Suite. For more information, see Part One. SPOILER WARNING: This part of the interview assumes that you have read the Xenogenesis Trilogy or don’t mind knowing its entire plot.

Rob Thornton: You have talked about the darkness and the complexity of Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy. How does your piece reflect the novels?

Nicole Mitchell: Xenogenesis is an intricate trilogy expressing a metamorphosis of humanity through the interbreeding of extraterrestrials. It exposes our lack of self love, and illuminates Butler’s vivid world of other beings more powerful than humans, while documenting a journey of human survival and resistance. I focused on Dawn for Xenogenesis Suite. I was fascinated with the concept of Lilith being stripped of our homeland and her having to work towards continual survival in an alien world, alone. I created my own narrative inspired by Butler’s story, which served as the foundation of my compositions. You can include some of this below, if you wish.

1. Wonder

In wonder, there is beauty, and in wonder there is power. The power can be equally beautiful and horrific as is the power of humans to be so creative and equally destructive to planet Earth and ourselves. There is a wonder to our intelligence to build societies, study and imitate nature through inventions, and a wonder to our immaturity expressed by our inability to hold life sacred.

2. Transition A

If everything you had known is no longer, and you were placed in a seamless space, what would you feel? The space breathes; you are in the bellow of a monster. How would you find comfort i the unknown, knowing that your state of terror can only be temporary, if you are to survive. The space breathes again, adn you awaken. There is NO WAY OUT and NO WAY Back to what you have known. The only way to survive is to be altered.

3. Smell of Fear

There is a smell of fear. A loud and indistinguishable smell that sticks to its victim. It is residue from the canal between LIFE and DEATH. When on nears the death experience, through accident or tragedy, but is saved on the side of life, she survives with the residue, the smell of fear.

4. Sequence Shadows

When one keeps trying to wake from a dream, but the dream is of the past life. Now you have awakened and try to accept the alien environment that is around you. you have entered a new and strange realm. One awakens to sequences shadows; the eyes cannot grasp the horrific strangeness it sees, so it sees sequence shadows. The new reality dances a strange dance and the human must breathe and accept this new vision in the eyes.

5. Oankali

The names of your caretakers on this new journey. Find humor in your capturers, identify with them, so that you can save your mind. 

6. Adrenalin

There’s nowhere to run, in a small space with no windows or doors, but the mind can find a place. Every once in a while, it can search for an opening somewhere, for peace, for the return of memory, of familiar. Where is this place? It is in waterside walks with family, sunshine and good food. The Earth is dead. Only in the mind can this place survive. In our Dreams we will run there.

7. Transition C 

Eventually, in your process of survival, you allow yourself to be altered, changed, improved by the unknown beings.

8. Before and After

Before being captured, before WAR and the destruction of the life we knew and loved, there were our busy lives. We were unaware and unappreciative of the simple things we loved. Then the explosions, the WAR, the suicide of humans. After, there is nothing. Nothing that we know. Just the unknown.

9. Dawn of a New Life

There is something after, the Dawn of a New Life. Only fragments of the past linger. Our memory altered, overwhelmed with new experiences, interacting with new and repulsive but fascinating beings. Together we enter the Dawn of a New Life.

RT: What method did you use to compose the Xenogenesis Suite? Did you compose for the Black Earth Ensemble or for a set of instruments? 

NM: I composed the work for Black Earth Ensemble, my main compositional vehicle. For each project, I choose specific artists who I imagine to manifest the project. For Xenogenesis, Mankwe Ndosi, the vocalist, played a central role, because I imagined her to represent Lilith, as a lone human within a strange extraterrestrial world that the other instruments would represent. I refrained from having her use a lot of language, because without it, her sounds expressed raw emotions ranging from innocence to terror. In that state, the expression of emotions through sounds without words, can also sound very alien, so the idea was to have her simultaneously represent the human element and the extraterrestrial element at the same time.  I used a hybrid score, including graphic notation and traditional notation. My handwritten score translated more to the vibe I wanted for the musicians, and the text I gave you above was a guide for them as well.

RT: When you introduced the Suite to the Black Earth Ensemble, what was their reaction?

Xeno was probably the most experimental of my projects at that time, so there were slight challenges. However, I worked with musicians that I trusted and that trusted me, because I was having them do things for this project that were often counter-intuitive, to illuminate what I was trying to express. For example, Dawn of a New Life, the last movement, would sound fantastic with a hiphop beat, but that’s not what I wanted. Marcus Evans, the drummer, had to resist that urge, to express the restrained intensity that I was seeking with the piece. 

RT: What was it like to perform the Xenogenesis Suite live? How did the audience react? Did it change when the Suite was recorded?

NM: We actually made the record at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, the day before the premiere at the Vision Festival in New York. It was a bit intense to perform it live, because the musicians really had to trust me even more in front of an audience, to resist some of the ways they normally play. But it went really well and the audience loved it.

RT: In “Before and After,” I hear some instrument (probably the piano) do a superb imitation of a nuclear weapon. Do you recall how that came about?

NM: I’m glad you heard that, because that was my intention. Actually, all the instruments are doing that sound together and it’s written in the score. The full title is “Before and After Nuclear War.” The musicians also have sections in that piece were they create animal sounds with their instruments, as well as cries for help. Butler’s Dawn speaks of nuclear war as the catalyst for the extraterrestrials to swoop down and save Earth and to take over humanity.

RT: For people who are not immediately familiar with avant-jazz sounds, could you give some advice to them on listening to the Suite?

NM: I found that science fiction is the perfect companion for experimental jazz and creative music, because both take the audience on a journey into the unknown. I’m grateful that musicians and audience members have shared with me that they started reading Octavia Butler after learning about this music. Hopefully it can be listened to while reading. 

RT: You composed the Suite back in 2008. Looking back at the piece today, how do you feel about it? 

NM: I still feel really great about the piece. This year, in 2022, it was incredible to perform Xenogenesis Suite at Carnegie Hall and receive a standing ovation, during the Afrofuturism Festival in February. I think when I wrote it, people weren’t as interested in Afrofuturism as they are now, and it is rewarding to see people’s interest increase now.

Epilogue (Nicole)

I wanted to add a few things….

Octavia Butler. Photo by and © Andrew I. Porter; all rights reserved.

Since Xenogenesis Suite, I created two additional suites of music for Octavia: Intergalactic Beings on FPE Records, which sonically revisits Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy, and EarthSeed, which was released in 2020 on Octavia’s birthday, inspired by Parable of the Sower. EarthSeed was a collaboration with Lisa E. Harris, where we created our own EarthSeed spiritual text, inspired by Olamina in the book. In 2017, I released Mandorla Awakening, which is an album inspired by my own Afrofuturist novella.

I really appreciate you interviewing me, because for a long time I’ve wanted to be more engaged with Octavia Butler scholars on the literary side. I know she would want us to be all connected.

 

A World of Afrofuturism: Meet Nicole Michell’s “Xenogenesis Suite” (Part I)

Nicole Mitchell

Interview conducted by Rob Thornton: Critic Mark Dery created the term “Afrofuturism” in his influential essay “Black to the Future” (1993). In the essay, he included an extensive interview with Samuel R. Delany and pointed to Black visions of the future throughout the world, including musicians such as Sun Ra and Parliament-Funkadelic who used science fiction tropes in their music. Afrofuturism in music has continued since 1993 with Black artists such as Janelle Monae, Kool Keith, Deltron 3030, Juan Atkins, Jeff Mills, and other Black artists such as Erykah Badu and Missy Elliot using futuristic elements in their performances.

Another contributor to the Afrofuturist tradition is Nicole Mitchell, a noted avant-jazz composer and flutist. She chose to take on Octavia Butler’s most challenging works, the Xenogenesis Trilogy, and create the Xenogenesis Suite, a collection of dark and disturbing compositions that reflect the trilogy’s turbulent and complicated spirit.

She has been president of Chicago’s legendary avant-jazz organization the Association of the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Influential jazz magazine Down Beat named her a Rising Star in flute from 2004 through 2009. Currently she teaches jazz at the University of Pittsburgh and leads her group the Black Earth Ensemble.

(Note: Given the care in which Nicole gave to her answers, the email answers are provided nearly verbatim with only minimal editing.)

Rob Thornton: How were you introduced to Octavia’s works and what was your initial reaction to them?

Nicole Mitchell: I grew up reading Octavia Butler’s books off my mother’s bookshelf when I was a youth. My mother, Joan Beard Mitchell (JBM) was a self-taught Afrofuturist painter and fiction writer, so at home, I was surrounded with visionary paintings. Two images that come to mind is one with Black women cradling their infants while sitting on planets, and another with a landscape featuring three setting suns on an unknown planet.  JBM was brilliant creative person from Chicago, who happened to be from the same generation and have much synergy with the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), whom I would become a part of later in life.

JBM was a big fan of Octavia’s work and had lots of her books, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Octavia had inspired her leanings towards writing sci-fi. On the other hand, my father, Michael E. Mitchell, had always shared his obsession with UFO’s with the family. He believed that there were people from outer space that were much more advanced than humans, and that our life on Earth was a school. My dad had moved us to southern California in the 1970s, partly so that he and my mother could connect with what they believed was a movement of people working to advance spiritual consciousness. They were of a very small group of African Americans involved in the New Age movement. So at my home, I was immersed in a world where Butler’s fiction really came alive and made sense.

RT: Why did you choose the Xenogenesis Trilogy as a source of inspiration?

NM: I had moved to Chicago, the place of my mother’s roots, back in 1990, to continue her artistic legacy. JBM (my mom) had left the planet in 1982 when I was a teenager, and I translated her mission into my own by seeking to make music that “bridges the familiar with the unknown.”  As JBM had been a self-taught poet and fiction writer, I gravitated to Third World Press (TWP), founded by Haki Madhubuti, and spent many years working there. I become a cultural mentee of Haki and Safisha Madhubuti’s Institute of Positive Education (IPE) complex, while simultaneously mentoring with musicians of the AACM, including Maia, Shanta Nurullah, George Lewis and Douglas Ewart. In 2006, met Octavia Butler when my Black Earth Ensemble performed for Chicago State University’s National Black Writer’s Conference, organized by Haki Madhubuti. In the moments that I met Octavia, her powerful, yet quiet and gentle mysterious presence reminded me of my mother, and I immediately had the idea to create a musical tribute for her. 

Dawn was one of the scariest books I have ever read, because it showed me the horrific side of human nature. With Dawn, Octavia opened up a fascination in me to ponder why we as humans are so compellingly creative and yet so incredibly self-destructive. I didn’t want to mimic Octavia’s narrative with my music, but with Xenogenesis Suite, I wanted to explore the process of facing fear, because Lillith was forced to survive in a constant state of horror, isolation, and disorienting circumstances on that space ship. I realize that Octavia was exemplifying real life horrors that humans have committed to each other over thousands of years, and still today. Power is too often abused. Yet, Octavia brilliantly creates fantastical settings to give readers space to see these human flaws more clearly. 

Xenogenesis Suite became a life-altering artistic challenge for me, because in a journey of facing fear, I had to access parts of myself that I was afraid of, and childhood memories where fear dominated. I had to create sounds that illuminated the uncomfortable and the disturbing, which pushed me beyond the boundaries of many of my music listeners’ expectations. (Even though I am a member of the avant garde and experimental side of the “jazz” scene, there remains a lingering expectation that music is supposed to make you feel good).

RT: Chamber Music America commissioned the Suite. How did that come about?

My original intention was to create Xenogenesis Suite in collaboration with Octavia, so that she could give input to my creation of the music. It would be a way to get to know her and to honor her as a living genius. But, literally the day after I turned my proposal to Chamber Music America in the mail, I heard that Octavia had suddenly died. So immediately I decided, whether I got support or not, I was going to do Xenogenesis Suite.

NM: Chamber Music America has a competitive program called New Jazz Works that I submitted my proposal to and I’m grateful that their panel chose to support Xenogenesis Suite that year. It allowed me to be able to fund travel for my eight piece Black Earth Ensemble from Chicago to New York so that we could premiere at the Vision Festival, and it made it possible for us to cover recording costs, travel, hotel and artists fees to record the Xenogenesis Suite album in New Haven for the Firehouse 12 record label.

[Read Part II of the interview tomorrow.]

Interview with Carol Pinchefsky About Her New Book, Turn Your Fandom Into Cash

By Daniel P. Dern: If you’re a fan of something, whether it’s potato cosplay (I just made that up but the phrase gets search results), making Star Trek paraphernalia, volunteering at science fiction conventions, or writing for File770.com, and want to turn your fan fave fun — particularly if it’s geeky — into money, Carol Pinchefsky has a new — published March 1, 2022 — book for you, available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook: Turn Your Fandom Into Cash – A Geeky Guide to Turn Your Passion Into a Business (or at least a Side Hustle).

According to Pinchefsky, book highlights include:

  • Interviews with lawyers about intellectual property (IP) infringement, with potential ways to avoid infringing.
  • A sample IP license request that turned two fans with zero experience into RPG/board game developers’ worth $3+ million.
  • Advice from geeky business owners who make a living doing what they love on how to actually run a business, from creating websites to social media to pricing items.
  • Frank discussions with people who have made–and lost–money in the geekosphere: cosplaying, running a convention, geeky social media influencing, writing, and throwing a film festival.
  • An interview with one of the founders of ThinkGeek, which was once valued at $140 million and was bought out by GameStop.
  • Recommendations from Kickstarter, as well as an author of an academic paper, on how to best run a crowdfunding campaign.

Pinchefsky is a freelance writer of geek culture, technology, science, and business, as well as the competition editor for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Prior to that, she was a first reader for Weird Tales magazine. I recently interviewed Pinchefsky (by email) about her new book, how and why she came to write it, and other parts of her geek background.

DANIEL: What is Turn Your Fandom Into Cash about?

CAROL: The title says it all — it’s about making money in geek culture, showing you the ins-and-outs of making money involved in the worlds you love to immerse yourself in or world you want to create yourself.

DANIEL: What got you interested in this geeky business?

CAROL: I’ve been a geek my entire life, stretching back to a Universal Monsters movie marathon on television, seeing Star Wars when it was released, and then working my way up to the hard stuff: Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. A few years ago, my friend Heather Krasna wrote a book on getting a job in public service and nonprofits (Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service), and she said I should write a book about getting a job in geek culture. I said, “Sure,” and started researching.

During my research, I took a look at the dealer’s room at a New York Comic Con, and I saw hundreds of thousands of dollars being exchanged. I also saw several cases of IP (intellectual property) infringement. With so much money on the line, IP holders would be well within their rights to sue these infringers. I spoke with several lawyers who made suggestions on how to avoid drawing the wrath of IP holders.

Here is where my publishers would say this isn’t legal advice, and business owners should consult their own attorneys.

DANIEL: What — other than this book — geek culture money-making projects have you done? Helped others with?

CAROL: Well, I’m a freelance writer of geek culture, so I make money that way. To be honest, I earn more money in tech and other non-geeky markets. But I frequently manage to involve my geek background. For example, I wrote “5 lessons IT can learn from ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’” and “8 ways sci-fi imagines data storage”.

I’ve also co-written two LARPs (live-action role-playing games) with a few friends. The games didn’t put money in our pockets, but we did manage to pay for our hotel rooms, travel, and food for those two conventions. So…kinda sorta money-making-ish.

DANIEL: Of the endeavors you mention in the book, do you have any favorite, most amusing, weirdest, etc, to mention?

CAROL: It’s kind of remarkable how many people had started a business without realizing they had started a business. People just started doing what they loved and managed to make some cash off of it.

I was also impressed by people who managed to insert themselves into their fandoms. For example, Max Salzman made bracelets that appeared in their favorite TV series, Orphan Black, and Troy Foreman was an extra in The X-Files’ finale in 2018.

DANIEL: Any particular products you were excited to be able to buy?

CAROL: I bought a Star Trek dress from Elhoffer Design. Catherine Elhoffer was one of the first designers in the geekosphere to recognize the demand for high-end goods. I also bought a fabulous vest from Volante Design. Volante creates extremely well-made, eye-catching outerwear. My husband has one of their jackets, which billows when he walks. He calls it his “slow-walking jacket,” because it’s what slow-walking villains would wear.

There’s also Tea & Absinthe‘s tea. I recommend their not-Harry Potter, not-House Ravenclaw tea, “Elixir of Wisdom.”

DANIEL: What have you learned about this topic from writing this book (either in research, or the book-writing process?

CAROL: I really liked what I learned and what I taught my interviewees during our conversations.

One of my interviewees is a former executive creative director for DC Comics. He said he had turned down a licensing application for Superman-themed condoms. I laughed and said it was perfect, because of Larry Niven’s essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.” It turns out that he hadn’t known about it, so I sent him a link.

Fans of that essay–which explains the foreseeable doom of any person who chooses to have sex with Kal-El–know instantly that Superman-based condoms would be the perfect marketing tie-in.

From there, I learned that IP holders won’t approve any item that goes against their brand, no matter how hilarious it would be.

DANIEL: To anticipate comments from my fellow long-time DC comic fans, there would be ways to avoid  said doom, like microdosing Green Kryptonite, etc.

CAROL: Damn, that’s funny. But I think condoms would be the perfect solution to protect the Man of Steel’s lovers. Sadly, Niven failed to mention condoms.

DANIEL: What was some of the first sf/f you read (as a child?)

CAROL: You know the line in Star Wars [Episode IV – A New Hope], “Your father wanted you to have this when you were old enough?” When I was 12, my father handed me I, Robot — Isaac Asimov’s collection of his robot stories — and The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein. Around the same time, I also read The Hobbit.

I also got into a fight with a librarian over Dracula. She said the book was too “big” for me and refused to let me take it out. Lucky for me, I had a mother who wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with a librarian, and I got the book.

I started with the greats, and genre fiction keeps getting greater.

DANIEL: What/how got you into fandom?

CAROL: I joined the science fiction club in high school, and we got enough money together to rent a van so we could go to Lunacon — a nearby science fiction convention. That changed my life. Also, my best friend and I found out there was a regular Star Trek-centered convention: Creation Convention. We went to every one for years. We particularly honed in on fanzines like SLAYSU, the Clipper Trade Ship, and anything else fanzine editor Roberta Rogow would sell me. (Funny enough, her daughter Louise became one of my closest friends in college.)

I’ve attended conventions every year, either literary or media, since then. I just love them, because it’s filled with my friends and the friends I haven’t met yet.

DANIEL: Have you sold SF/F fiction?

CAROL: Although I’ve written almost 2,000 articles, I’ve only sold one short story. I’ve also sold multiple poems. I’ve been nominated for three Rhysling Awards (from the Science Fiction Poetry Association). Sadly, I haven’t won. Yet.

DANIEL:  What are some of your favorite cons? Favorite con activities?

CAROL: My favorite cons are Worldcons. Not only do I get to meet like-minded people from all over the world, it’s a great excuse to travel.

DANIEL: I have a semi-vague memory from at least a decade ago of meeting you at a Worldcon and briefly comparing digital cameras.

CAROL:  That was back when phones were dumb. Soon, we will be welcoming our phone-OS-based overlords.  

DANIEL:  One or two favorite fan/con anecdotes/memories?

CAROL: At a World Fantasy Con, many years ago, I attended Neil Gaiman’s reading of his upcoming book, Neverwhere. Afterward, I walked up to him and said, “Sell me that book.” He said, “I can’t, I have a reading.” And I said, “You just finished.” He said, “Oh,” looked at the back of the book, and charged me cover price. Because of this, I can officially state that I bought the first copy of Neverwhere sold in the United States.

And at a convention in DC in the early 2000s, there was an auction where I bid on a beautiful necklace. I came back a few hours later to see that Robert Jordan had outbid me…by a lot. Just then, he came by and said, “I want this necklace for my wife.” I said, “You’re richer than me, aren’t you?” He agreed that he probably was. We had a lovely chat about The Wheel of Time before I abandoned all hope of acquiring that necklace.

DANIEL: One or two bits of advice (that are presumably also in the book).

CAROL: If you do try to get an IP license, do start with smaller IP holders, then build up a track record. Work with the owners of a book, an indie game or comic book, or even a YouTube channel you love. They’ll be way more responsive than a large IP holder like Disney, who already works with dozens of creators.

Also, don’t try to do everything yourself. Get help from an accountant when filling out tax forms, and get help from a lawyer for any questions surrounding IP.

DANIEL: Any advice or other thoughts for File 770’s readers?

CAROL:  My book is for anyone who thinks Lando Calrissian is the hero of the Star Wars saga. After all, he’s the guy who went from smuggler and scoundrel to successful small business owner.

And talk to your lawyer!

DANIEL: Thanks! And best of luck with your book! (And I see my library has a copy on order, I’m now reserving it — done!)

CAROL: Thank you! If you or your readers have questions about the book, please reach out.

Meet the New Gunn Center Director

Giselle Anatol, the new Director of the J Wayne and Elsie M Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas, has written to introduce herself to those who have worked with the Center and to the broader SFF community as well.


Director Giselle Anatol

Greetings from the Gunn Center!

My name is Giselle Anatol. As you might have heard, I started as the new director of the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction (Gunn CSSF) at the beginning of the month. I am honored to have been asked to serve in this capacity; I know I have enormous shoes to fill. Former Director Chris McKitterick and former Associate Director Kij Johnson have my deep gratitude for helping to ease the transition in leadership. I look forward to continuing to work with them, and to hearing from you as we begin plans for the next few years of CSSF programming. Currently, we anticipate establishing a monthly virtual book club, a fall symposium in conjunction with the presentation of the Sturgeon Award for Best Science Fiction Short Story, and a variety of speakers and workshops; we’re eager to foster diverse community engagement, so please let me know if there are other events that you’d like to see and participate in!

This letter also serves as an introduction. My childhood introduction to science fiction came in the early 1970s, sitting beside my father as he watched Star Trek. I was fascinated by Spock’s stoicism, proud to see Uhura—who was brown and female, like me—on the bridge, and determined to figure out how to teleport. I recall, some years later, being a 5th grader and proudly handing my father a library copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which I had just finished. I was awestruck by this book that blended the science of tesseracts, sheet-stealing “witches,” and a poignant reflection of my own pangs of adolescent anxiety about not fitting in. The story conveyed a preteen’s feelings of devotion to her father; it also conveyed science fiction’s power to deepen the bond between me and my father—in essence, establishing bridges between readers of different ages, genders, nationalities, and a host of other experiences.

My family is from Trinidad & Tobago, so when I decided to pursue my doctorate in English literary studies, I focused on Caribbean women’s writing. The study of children’s and young adult literature was also compelling to me. These fields overlap in many of my courses and my scholarship on Black Speculative Literature—works by artists from African nations and the African diaspora (especially the Caribbean) that engage the imaginative considerations of “What If?” My most significant publication in this area is The Things that Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora (Rutgers University Press 2015). For an early lecture I gave on the subject, click here.

I was hired as an assistant professor of English at KU in 1998, and promoted to full professor in 2016. I served for two terms as the department’s Director of Graduate Studies, and have had the chance to teach and learn from a host of students with interests in speculative literatures. One of these students is Jason Baltazar, an exceptionally talented young writer who is completing his doctoral degree this semester. I am delighted to have the chance to work with him again; he has extensive experience working in the Gunn Center and has been appointed as the CSSF Graduate Research Assistant for Spring 2022.

You can contact either of us at gunn.sf.center@gmail.com or by phoning (785) 864-4520. If you are interested in being put on our contact list for news about future events, please email us at this address with your most updated contact information. I will be reaching out to the CSSF Board of Advisors in the near future to ascertain their interest in continuing to work with the Gunn Center.

In the meantime, please accept my very best wishes for 2022!

Ever onward,

Giselle

A Bibliography of Jules Verne Translations

By Jeffrey Smith: I’ve always enjoyed making lists of books, though with the internet and its copious bibliographies I don’t do near as many as I used to. I love my recent, handwritten Agatha Christie reading order one; I keep thinking I should type it up, except I like the handwritten one so much, with its arrows shifting the positions of books around.

Thinking about Jules Verne, with the new TV version of Around the World in Eighty Days about to start, I just bought the Wesleyan edition of Five Weeks in a Balloon, translated by Frederick Paul Walter – after researching what the good modern translations of Verne are. Verne has been abysmally translated into English over the years, but there’s been a push to correct that.

In the back of this edition, there is a bibliography of Verne’s work that includes lists of good translations and bad translations for each novel. I typed up a simplified version of just the recommended editions of the Voyages Extraordinaires for my own use, and then decided to share it here. This bibliography is from 2015, so reasonably up to date, though there might have been a few good translations since then.

If the recommended ones are old, I’ve marked them “best available” instead of “recommended,” figuring they still aren’t as good as a modern translation. And while my initial thought was that all the ones from the 1960s on were probably good, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Also, anything translated by I.O. Evans is an automatic don’t-buy; although he loved Verne’s work and thought he was providing a service by translating so many of his novels, and some of them might not be bad, they are spectacularly unreliable. Many of the later novels have no recommended versions at all.

[The list begins after the break.]

Continue reading

International Interactions with Tolkien – A Roundtable

Compiled by Sultana Raza.

Introduction: Though Tolkien’s novels were very successful in the last century, after the Peter Jackson trilogy in the early 2000s, their reach increased to encompass the globe. Irrespective of geographical or linguistic differences, they spoke to us in different ways. In an informal Discussion Group at Oxonmoot 2021, (held online), participants were welcome to share their thoughts/reactions/ take on various aspects of Tolkien’s works, mainly his Legendarium. The following questions were asked at the discussion group, hosted by Sultana Raza. The responses below were written and compiled after the event had ended. While María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez (MFCG) took part in the Discussion Group, Shareef Kitabi didn’t attend it. We’d like to thank the Tolkien Society and the Oxonmoot organizers for including this Discussion Group on Diversity in their programme. The views expressed herein are those of the contributors, and not of the Tolkien Society.

(1) Whether you first came across Tolkien’s books or films, please feel free to tell us about what struck you most about them.

Sultana Raza: I first came upon Tolkien’s work while watching TV. In fact, many people, from friends, acquaintances, to complete strangers (on the bus, or even some Kiwis on a plane) told me to watch the films when they first came out. In fact, though it’s a bit far-fetched, I felt a bit like Dr Joe Darrow (played by Kevin Costner) in the 2002 film Dragonfly, as he got many signs from his wife to go to a certain place. In my case, though I was told to watch the films, I resisted, because of all the media hype surrounding them. Strangely enough, I even watched the 2004 Oscars late at night, rooting for Return of the King, though I didn’t know why at that time. Then one evening, as I was having a telly dinner, FOTR started playing, and I was hooked. I couldn’t move at all, till the film was finished. Then I asked a friend who had DVDs of TT and ROTK to lend them to me, so I could watch the rest of the trilogy. While the films made Middle-earth seem to be real and believable, I was most struck by the overall plot, as I am with most films/TV series. I could have read a summary of the rest of the books on the Internet, but I resisted doing that. Watching the other two films was the fastest way to get to the end of the story. But I’ve read the books several times since then.

María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: It is hard to say exactly when I knew of Tolkien’s books. My parents loved watching the movies, and my dad had read the books. But the first time I read Tolkien wasn’t exactly planned. I decided to have a look at my Dad’s books, and there was one with John Howe’s illustration of Smaug. The cover and the title, The Hobbit, called my attention. I marvelled at Thrór’s Map. When I discovered that the book belonged to my paternal grandmother, and that she was a big fan of Tolkien, I read The Lord of the Rings, and we discussed it together, and I can remember that one of the things that struck us both was the incredible world-building, and the strong emotions presented in the story. Everything seemed to be meaningful, nothing seemed superficial.

Shareef Kitabi: I’d read The Hobbit and LOTR in my mid-teens in India through a lending library. What kept me going through the books was the sense of adventure, and I wanted to know how it would end. I got quite invested in the characters, especially the Fellowship, and it was fun to go on this journey with them. I could also identify with some of the characters and their struggles to save their world. When the films were released, I went on the first day to watch them, mainly because I was interested in the special effects created by Weta Digital as I was intrigued by the technical aspects of these effects, especially how Gollum’s character was created. 

I’d like to mention that since I was used to reading classical literature (such as a set of George Bernard Shaw’s plays or Victor Hugo’s The Hunch-back of Notre Dame, or Tolstoy’s War and Peace), in my mid-teens, I didn’t find LOTR to be too long, or heavy-going, and was content to lose myself in his world. I was too young to understand everything in these masterpieces, but I enjoyed the plot-lines which kept me going.

(2) Which aspects of various characters, value systems, races, cultural mores, mythical elements etc. did/do you (or someone from your country would) relate to most?

Sultana Raza: I found Frodo’s character to be the most appealing, mainly because he was carrying such a heavy, and unique burden. His gender didn’t matter, because all of us have some sort of baggage that we try to carry as best as we can. He seemed to be somewhat isolated, as none of the others could have understood what he was going through, except perhaps for Gollum in a twisted sort of way. As Frodo neared Mount Doom, we got hardly any glimpses into his mind, which was a very effective technique used by Tolkien. Mainly because the reader wants to know more about what’s going on inside Frodo’s head. On the other hand, since the story is told through Sam’s point of view, he got more exposure to the readers than Frodo in the third book. Did Tolkien do a disservice to Frodo by not letting us see his huge internal struggles in ROTK? How much of his destiny did Frodo control?

In fact, I even presented and published a paper about it: Who Forged Frodo’s Fate: the Elves or Himself? For what it’s worth, I think Frodo’s the hero of the story, because at least he got to Mount Doom overcoming enormous inner conflicts to run away with the Ring. I found the value system in the books to be more, or less the same as ours, and the Elves to be the most fascinating race. Since I’m very interested in legends, I appreciated the mythical depths of Tolkien’s worlds, specially after I managed to wade through The Silmarillion, and later on the three ‘new’ books, i.e. Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and Fall of Gondolin.

María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez (MFCG): It might sound absurd, but I try to follow some values embodied by Treebeard. I know he can be analysed according to Cohen’s Monster Studies, or his mythological association with the personification of nature. But I believe this character represents some positive qualities that are fundamental in life. He is an old Ent who was taught by Elves about the creatures that inhabit Middle-earth, their names, and languages. However, when he meets Pippin and Merry, he realizes he’d never heard about Hobbits before. At first, he might be a bit suspicious and confused, but then, he is eager to know more about them, and he accepts them for what they are. He’s tolerant, and open-minded. He listens to them and also practices hospitality. Additionally, as an Ent, he cares about Fangorn Forest, and of course, nature. Those are qualities that I value, which is why I named my blog “Books from Fangorn”.

Shareef Kitabi: I was impressed by Aragorn’s noble goals, and his leadership style as well. Though Gandalf was an effective strategist, he could have been more communicative with his team. Some people think I was similar to Pippin when I was younger, but possibly all of us were a bit naïve and foolish once. I really liked Pippin in the films too, for the much-needed comic relief. Sam showed us the value of hard work and perseverance, which is an integral factor of the Asian work ethics. The Fellowship represented the way our international teams have to work and get on together, since there’re a lot of different cultures in Asia. We can glean valuable lessons about cooperation from the functioning of the Fellowship. I suppose one could learn capital management from the Dwarves, as long as we don’t wake up any monsters by mining too deep for gold. I also liked the character of Faramir, and the exploration of his (blind?) obedience to his father, which is something that’s encouraged in the Indian culture too. In fact, we can relate to a lot of the values present in the books in Asian societies as well.

(3) What aspects of Tolkien’s works reminded you of facets of your own traditions/legends/classical stories from your region?

Sultana Raza: I couldn’t help thinking of the two most famous epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Since Tolkien was inspired to a certain degree from European epics, and these in turn have some common factors with Indian sagas, there are bound to be some similarities between Tolkien’s sub-created world and Indian legends. People tend to forget the word ‘Indo’ in Indo-European myths. For example, inter-planetary vehicles are mentioned in Indian epics, comparable to Elvish ships that took them to the Undying Lands from Middle-earth and vice-versa. The stars where the Valar have their home are described as heavenly, as is the abode of Lord Vishnu, for example, called Vaikuntha or Vishnulok. Shiva’s abode is in Kailash or Mount Meru. There are imperishable seven upper lokas or dimensions, realms, or spheres. And seven lowers lokas/spheres.

There are also similarities between certain characters such as Dronacharya (an (irate) ascetic in Mahabharata) and Saruman. Though Dronacharya was sympathetic towards the Pandavas (the protagonists), he sided with the Kauravas (the antagonists) during the Mahabharat war. Dronacharya’s excuse was that he was doing his duty towards Hastinapur, the kingdom of the Kauravas which he was supposed to protect. Similarily, when it suited his own interests, Saruman switched sides as well. In fact, I’ve given papers on the similarities between Indian legends and Tolkien’s worlds, one of which, Projecting Indian Myths, Culture and History onto Tolkien’s Worlds can be viewed on Tolkien Society’s YouTube channel.

María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez (MFCG): This is honestly a very hard question to answer. On the one hand, unfortunately, my generation has been shaped mostly by “Western” tales and stories rather than local ones. On the other hand, Iegends, tales and traditions are diverse in Chile, as they depend on the geographical region. Nevertheless, I found some similarities, for example, between the monstrous beasts that the Nazguls ride, and the Mapuche´s legendary creature, the Tué Tué. Both make a sound that fills almost anyone who hears them with dread. Now, the Tué Tué is an evil wizard who can turn into a wicked bird. Another example I can think of, are some similarities between a legend from the North and some Tolkien’s stories about the Elves.

In the north of Chile, there is a popular legend that gives the name of a red flower, Añañuca, which tells the story of a beautiful young lady, and a young foreign miner who fell in love with each other. After they lived together for a while, the man went away to find a mine he had been searching for, and never came back, implying that he died in the desert. Añañuca waited for him until she passed away from pain, but when they search for her body, they found some red flowers instead, which they named after the lady. The story of Añañuca reminds me in a way of the story of Nimrodel, as both ladies acquired a new shape that is related to nature: a flower, and a spirit of the river respectively, and they are both associated with a place. Now, some versions of Añañuca’s story mention the fact that the woman was of indigenous origins, and the man was a Spaniard. This might be also compared with Elvish ladies such as Lúthien, and a man such as Beren. A love that breaks cultural barriers, but unlike Tolkien, the local legend ends tragically.

Shareef Kitabi: As I grew up in India, obviously the two big epics mentioned above come to mind. But since I’ve been living in Singapore for a long time, I’ve also watched various documentaries on the history of China. Not to mention epic Chinese or Japanese TV series (including some fantastical ones). I can answer this question in reverse. When I was watching Chinese TV series such as Heavenly Sword and Dragon Sabre (2009), The Sword of Legends (2014), or Fights Break Spear (2018), I was reminded of Peter Jackson’s films based on Tolkien’s books. Sometimes it’s the long story lines, the stunning landscapes, the intrigues among the characters, or attention to detail when it comes to props. Also, the fighting styles of different races in PJ’s films are interesting to compare with the way the action scenes are choreographed in Chinese TV series. In fact, I think PJ could have learned a thing or two from watching the sword fights in Chinese/Japanese TV series.

(4) In what ways do you project familiar elements from your culture onto Tolkien’s works and vice versa?

Sultana Raza: I enjoy reading, or watching films/documentaries about the Mughal dynasty in India. Their complicated relationships with each other, their social and cultural values of appreciating art for example, remind me somewhat of Elvish culture too. If some Elves had travelled East, would they have ended up building a monument with white marble like the Taj Mahal? Certain mosaics of flowers found in Mughal era buildings wouldn’t be out of place in Rivendell, for example. To quote Cath Pond: “The first Art Nouveau designs were Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome in 1883,” says Paul Greenhalgh, director of the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich and an expert on Art Nouveau. Beardsley had been inspired by the eclectic aesthetic of the department store Liberty, which combined Arts and Crafts furniture with Japanese and Indian imports.”

There’s an oriental element in Art Nouveau, and Alan Lee mentioned in the DVD extras that his design of Elvish architecture and interiors (such as Rivendell in the films) was influenced by Art Nouveau. The delicate trellis-work found in Mughal buildings, might have been appreciated by the Elves too. There are massive forts in various parts of India, including the famous Mughal Red Fort in Delhi, or many forts in Rajasthan, the ruins of which remind us of somewhat similarly huge structures in Middle-earth.

The Mughals designed beautiful gardens too (some of which still exist), which might have appealed to nature-loving Elves as well. Additionally, the fabrics (whether delicate silks, or heavily embossed taffetas, or richly embroidered organzas) for the LOTR films were imported from India, so that’s another connection to my country of origin. Some of these (regional) fabric designs and techniques have been used for centuries in India.

[Here is a slideshow with examples of architecture Sultana discusses above.]

María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez (MFCG): When I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I felt more familiar and comfortable with Hobbits than with Men, (I’m using the capital letter “M” like Tolkien to refer to humanity). One of the main reasons was their political system, they had a mayor, and no king or queen, no Medieval type of architecture and customs. In Chile, there has never been a king, not even among the indigenous peoples, (if I am allowed to call the culturally diverse group that way, who lived here before the Spaniards came). It made sense to me that the Hobbits didn’t care about kings or queens, but rather, voted for their mayor and were just interested in their own local affairs.

Another reason is that even though Chile has big cities, if you ask any Chilean what they like most about our country, we will say it’s our landscapes and nature. Also, hobbits are different, depending on their geographical regions. People from Hobbiton differ from Bucklanders, in that they have dissimilar traditions and ways of living. Chile is a long country with a diverse geography, from deserts, to channels, to islands, and people don’t talk and live the same way. We are united in a way, of course, but local traditions associated with each geographical area are unique and special, not homogeneous.

Shareef Kitabi: I agree with most of what Sultana said about India above. Another aspect that I’d like to mention is the music of the 2006 LOTR musical. I’ve seen some short videos on YouTube. I’d say the music of the well-known Indian composer, A. R. Rahman fitted very well into Middle-earth, though they were obviously Indian tunes, played on instruments familiar to us. So, I’d say this is another connection between our culture, and Tolkien’s sub-created worlds.

Also, I’ve travelled a lot for my work. When I visited the Great Wall of China, for example, I could easily imagine similar mammoth ruins existing in Middle-earth too, though there’s no mention of a specific great wall. For example, when I was in Mongolia, the flat, sweeping steppes reminded me of the great plains of Rohan. In an article2 that I came across a theory has been put forward by Iranian scholar, Mohammad Reza Kamali that Prof. Tolkien may have been inspired by some regions in the Indian sub-continent such as mountains in Pakistan, the river Indus, or the Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat, and may have included them in his map of Middle-earth. I’m inclined to agree with this theory.

(5) What’s the glue that binds so many fans, readers, viewers, scholars together from all over the world?

Sultana Raza: I’m think that believe that most of humanity shares the same values, which are also present in Tolkien’s works. It’s assumed that Tolkien was inspired to write the LOTR saga after he witnessed horrific events in the First World War. Most people in the world don’t want wars, would like to preserve nature, and live in peace, rather like hobbits. His novels are quite inspiring as well, for we don’t know what we can achieve or accomplish once we set our mind to it. One of the enduring popularity of hobbits, specially Frodo and Sam is that it’s easier for most folk to identify with their struggles than with the powerful Elves. Characters such as Aragorn and Gandalf can be inspirational too. For a lot of women, the actions, and decisions of Galadriel and Lúthien tend to be quite admirable.

Tolkien’s world is so vast that readers from all continents can easily find various elements to attract and hold them in it, whether it’s the character, story lines, places, or cultures. Since it’s fantasy, it’s easier for us to slip into it, and to lose ourselves in the story.

María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez (MFCG): One of the things that binds so many fans are the emotions that Tolkien’s works produce. If they were plain and dull, I don’t believe many people would be moved and attached to them. I know Tolkien wasn’t a big fan of Shakespeare, but Shakespeare’s works remain popular because of the intense emotions they produce. Now, to be honest, I am not a big fan of Shakespeare either. For this reason, emotions can’t be the only element that help to bind people from all over the world who enjoy Tolkien’s works. Possibly, another factor, as my grandmother noticed, is that in his works there are different cultures, races, and characters, but to succeed in their mission, they must overcome their differences, and co-operate together. It’s a work of art that shows that it doesn’t matter where you’re from, as you’re likely to find your own place in Middle-earth or Valinor wherever you might belong. Additionally, I think this is also because Tolkien’s works present some universal values and motifs which are transversal and can be found all over the world.

Shareef Kitabi: I think the readers/audience form a sort of fellowship, even if we come from many different regions. The Fellowship in LOTR showed how we can complement each other to achieve our goals. I tend to do that in the teams I manage for international projects. I often have to meet colleagues or future business partners from many countries, and we have to get along together to accomplish our objectives. Just like the Fellowship in Tolkien’s books. There are many principles in his novels that can be applied in real life too. I suppose a love of his stories, and the characters bind us together.


Note to Prospective Contributors: In case you’re familiar with non-European cultures/regions and would like to contribute to a similar Roundtable, feel free to contact Sultana via: https://www.facebook.com/sultana.raza.7 or https://twitter.com/Sultana_Tara1

About Sultana Raza: An independent scholar, Sultana Raza has presented papers related to Romanticism (Keats) and Fantasy (Tolkien) in international conferences. Her creative non-fiction has appeared in Literary Yard, Litro, Literary Ladies Guide, impspired.

Of Indian origin, her poems have appeared in 100+ journals, with SFF work in Entropy, Columbia Journal, Star*line, Bewildering Stories, spillwords, Unlikely Stories Mark V, The Peacock Journal, Antipodean SF, Galaxy#2, and impspired. Forthcoming: poemsin theMusing on Muses Anthology (Birgid’s Gate Press) in 2022. Her fiction received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train Review, and has been published in Coldnoon Journal, Knot Magazine, and Entropy. She’s read her fiction/poems in Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, England, Ireland, the USA, and at WorldCon 2018, and CoNZealand 2019.  Tolkienists | Sultana Raza  

Sultana Raza

About María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez: María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez inherited her first Tolkien’s books from her grandmother. She has studied English Literature and Linguistics, and a Minor in Art History at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She wrote her thesis on gender studies in Tolkien’s works, focussing on feminism. She promotes her love for literature, art and nature in her blog: Books from Fangorn. https://booksfromfangorn.com/about/

María Fernanda Chávez Guiñez

About Shareef Kitabi (a pseudonym): He grew up in India where he obtained an MBA, and later settled in Singapore. He’s a senior manager in the corporate world. He likes to read/watch films/TV series in his spare time. (Note: he didn’t participate in the Global Tolkien Discussion Group at Oxonmoot 2021).

Notes:

1Excerpted from the article: What Art Nouveau can teach us about national identity by Catherine Pond, published on 31st May 2018https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180525-what-art-nouveau-can-teach-us-about-national-identity

2Source: https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/tolkien-map/

Relevant links:

  1. The photos of Mughal arts and architecture in the link below give a sense of their refinement. Would the Elves have found some of their artefacts, clothes, and jewelry to be appealing to their tastes? –https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/the-arts-of-the-mughal-empire
  2. Global Tolkien – A Roundtable (vector-bsfa.com)
  3. Sultana Raza – ‘Projecting Indian Myths, Culture and History onto Tolkien’s Worlds’ – YouTube

New Publisher and Other Changes Herald Encyclopedia of Science Fiction’s Fourth Edition

“Today the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction moved house,” said co-editor David Langford. A new publisher and web server are part of the October 6 release of its Fourth Edition. However, their familiar domain sf-encyclopedia.com is unchanged, and the Encyclopedia (SFE) remains free online for all users.

When the Third (and first online) Edition was unveiled in October 2011, it was done in coordination with Orion/Gollancz, who launched the online SFE simultaneously with their SF Gateway ebook operation and arranged for many links between the sites. SFE acknowledges their invaluable support from 2011 to 2021, during which period the SFE has more than doubled in size.

But the expiration of their Orion/Gollancz contract on September 29 has led to an amicable parting of the ways. SFE is now jointly published by the holding company SFE Ltd, based in London, and Ansible Editions, based in Reading, Berkshire. The announcement of the transition to a Fourth Edition recognizes not only this internal change but also the introduction of several improvements not previously possible for them. To users, the most obvious will be the addition of foregrounded graphic content, with a relevant cover image (if one exists in the SFE Gallery) displayed in every entry. Improvements, some more visible than others, have been made to site navigation, in hopes of making them more intuitive to use. The SFE will continue to evolve along these lines.

The work of SFE’s publishers and editors over the past 45 years has also been commemorated as part of the announcement. The editors note that during that time the textual autonomy of SFE has been strictly honored. Thanks are given to Hugh Elwes, John Jarrold, Colin Murray, Tim Holman, Malcolm Edwards, Darren Nash and Marcus Gipps.

The first edition of SFE appeared in 1979 with Peter Nicholls – the founder – as editor and John Clute as associate editor; the publishers were Granada (UK) and Doubleday (USA). The second edition of 1993, jointly edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, was published by Orbit (UK) and St Martin’s Press (USA); this was slightly expanded as a 1995 CD-ROM from Grolier. The third edition launched by Gollancz in 2011 was edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls until his lamented death in 2018, and Graham Sleight. All three editions won Hugos and other awards.

The SFE’s Third Edition launched in October 2011 with 12,230 entries totaling 3,222,920 words with 113,492 internal hyperlinks. Today there are 18,834 entries, 6,362,055 words and 226,451 links.

[Based on a press release.]

Anniversary: A Game of Thrones (Novel)

By Cat Eldridge: Twenty-five years ago this week, George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones was published. It’s the first novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. It was published simultaneously by Bantam Spectra (US) and Voyager Books (UK). 

The novel won the Locus Award and was nominated for both the Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards, but was only on the long list for the Hugos. It was a preliminary nominee for the BFA August Derleth Fantasy Award. A Game of Thrones has received critical acclaim with several reviewers comparing it to A Wheel of Time for its epic sweep. 

The “Blood of the Dragon” novella taken from the Daenerys Targaryen chapters from A Game of Thrones would win a Hugo Award for Best Novella at LoneStarCon 2. 

Martin, of course, would go onto to write A Clash of Kings in 1998 and A Storm of Swords in 2000. Then, in November 2005, A Feast for Crows, and in 2011, A Dance with Dragons. A Storm of Swords would finish second to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Millennium Philcon. A Feast for Crows was a Hugo finalist at L.A.con IV, the year Robert Wilson’s Spin won. A Dance with Dragons was nominated at Chicon 7, which was the year that Jo Walton’s Among Others won. Finally Fire and Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones (A Targaryen History) was on the long list for Best Novel at Dublin 2019.

As you know, it became a HBO series which deviated from the storyline of the series. At Chicon 7, the first season won the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. At LoneStarCon 3 the next year, the “Blackwater” episode from season two would win a Hugo as well.

Two prequel series, Bloodmoon and House of Dragons are currently approved at HBO.