Side Effects

A Lifetime of Science Fiction

This season’s highlight on the Portuguese SF
This season’s highlight on the Portuguese SF must be the publication of what we hope is the first article by Nuno Fonseca for the World SF blog, thus kicking off the Portuguese-speaking contribution to the general debate on the legitimacy of an international SF.

The fundamental question that arises from Nuno’s take is that a (literary) criticism about the state of a World SF done on a full stomach is substantially different from a criticism that has to crawl into the other people’s bins and live on crumbs.

By criticism we refer to the set of international authors complaining that there are not enough women to write SF or enough people of colour or of alternative sexualities - arguments which, I confess, always leave a hint of defending a particular, very personal condition, more than reflecting a generalized condition of the genre as they purport to be. On the other hand, I do not belong to any of these alleged conditions of exclusion nor do I live in a country where conflicts of race are socially dominant, so my opinion may be unfair. But in essence, it’s not as if we were still living in the 1950s, as if we hadn’t already gotten rid of a set of damaging social and cultural prejudices (so much that someone holding prejudices becomes a target for prejudice) – and by ignoring this change, the exclusion argument risks becoming stale and repetitive.

Perhaps in the end the real issue is about wishing a shift on the themes addressed by SF - say, from a technological vision of the future into a mystical vision – that will make SF closer to the cultural heart of the complaining person. It is natural that, as an example, the perspective of the all-American-hero not only has little to say to an Eastern citizen but, to a large extent, will be seen as offensive in a region formerly colonized by the West.

And yet, as well Nuno points out, that complaint is still done on a full stomach, because one of the benefits of colonization has been the legacy of English – as was the Latin here in the Iberian Peninsula (yes, Western Europe was once a colonized place - by the Romans...). It’s a legacy that allows authors to express themselves more easily in the global lingua franca, that helps them read and be read and, of course, engage in a debate with a fair amount of easiness, without the hassle of translation.

Admittedly, those crumbs we receive are full of nutrients - after all, our country has equal access to all works published in the Anglophone world - and, thanks to technology, there is now a true democracy that allows anyone to engage in those global debates.

However, when it comes to fiction, it is impossible to reflect national concerns without the arduous process of writing, publishing and reviewing. Completing the circle, as I have had the opportunity to defend in other forums, is essential for the development of our genre – of any genre, really. If the situation of writing and publishing in Portugal is, as Nuno argues, a handicapped situation, I contend that the process of reviewing the published works is even more critical.

Most national works appear and disappear from the shelves without a minimal notice from readers. Apart from considerations that I might have as an author, I see dozens of historical novels by new authors (to take on a fast growing genre in Portugal) pass by the bookstores without learning anything about the quality or the themes these books discuss; I have no idea which centuries the authors tend to explore more and which is the level of their historical accuracy. Would I enjoy some of them? Do some of them present innovative literary approaches to the sanctity that we, as a nation, regard our History? Are some of them rebellious? There’s no hint on their covers – since a cover only intends to sell. Unfortunately the few existing literary magazines tend to be too anxious to please both reader and publishers and cautiously step away from any review that might be too “academic”.

On the other hand, addressing my concerns as a SF&F author and long-time fan, I know only too well the pattern of dropping a book on the market and see it quickly sink into the bottom of its murky waters. I can’t say I’ve only had bad experiences – the 2007 Portuguese and Brazilian anthology of original short-stories I've edited, Por Universos Nunca Dantes Navegados, for example, had an unusual, beneficial, series of online reviews. However, this is not a consistent and sustained situation, and it’s common that new publications will receive only a minimum set of reviews or even no comments at all. Just consider the number of online magazine editions that our country has had in the last few years against the number of short fiction blog entries about them…

Without this mirror that allows us to understand whether we are fat and ugly or whether we are in fact rising supermodels, it is difficult to prune the weeds and allow the genre to develop.

Comments may arise concerning the separation of paranormal romance and Tolkien-inspired heroic fantasy from the more generic definition of the genre. It's normal to make such comments, however I contend that this separation should exist and Nuno did well to evidence it. A bit like birds that move away from the nest - or rather like a spin-off from the original species - these literary movements have a big presence in the marketplace and enough followers and creators to make them autonomous and be appreciated outside the SF&F context.

If these sub-genres are intrinsically diversified in order to survive, only time will tell. The rule is the same for any species: only from continuous innovation and cross-pollination of issues and concerns will this sub-genres continue to hold the interest of their followers – since these followers will grow, will take on other, more adult, concerns, and will begin to depart from the original books, looking upon those as a fancy from their youth.

The sad truth is that a genre will not always grow at the same speed as its readers...

Full list of honorable mentions for Best Horror of the Year is now online
Rising from the ashes of dear departed Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, here's the full list of stories, for your perusal. In a not too distant future, we can only hope that just by typing the story title a link to the story itself (or to a shop that would provide it in ebook format) would be automatically generated, so that you didn't have to track down all the magazines one by one (oh, but the joy of chasing for old books and periodicals in dusty bookstores!...)

Brief comment on Portuguese SF
On the wake of a couple of posts on the subject of International Science Fiction (by International meaning non-US) over by the very informative blog SF Signal, Luis Rodrigues, of Fantastic Metropolis fame, has sent a brief but very enlightening comment (last item on the page) about the present status of the genre in Portugal. This, of course, will not sparkle your enthusiasm of what has been done in this country - nor will it steer you towards understanding whether there's such a thing as a Portuguese/Iberian SF - but it'll leave you informed, I hope.

For a full explanation of the Portuguese language status you should also read Jacques Bercia's report on Brazilian SF.

Gathering reports about what is happening in the genre all over the world is one of the few literary sports that the SF community likes to practice, but usually with little or no consequence. This time around I felt compelled to write down my feelings and opinions about the use and need of an International Science Fiction, and whether's we're not actually kindly fooling ourselves with such distinction, which I posted in my Portuguese blog. A couple of other Portuguese SF bloggers have followed me into the discussion, and I'll try to publish all of those here, in English, in the near future. You might be interested to join me.

What sets Portuguese SF apart
(This is a rough translation of an article about Portuguese SF that I published online 5 years ago. It was sparked by an email interview with a French journalist.)

Question: what do you think sets Portuguese Sf apart from other SF?

The theme that Portuguese science fiction most dwells upon must be History. If there is a thing that a Portuguese person knows about is its country's history. We perspire it so much as a culture that it's hard not to look upon it as a telling sign of the nation's current uneasiness with its international low-key status. It's just an opinion, of course, and as such, it should be supported by other evidence; but its existence does cause some attrition in the development of the culture: still in our modern days, it doesn't sound right in calling the ship's captain Felgueiras, and not John MacDonald.

Such uneasiness is heightened by this simple fact: Portuguese writers are not scientists by training, and much less by profession. The closest example must be that of a writer who used to be a MD (João Aniceto). Hard sf - being the speculative fiction that uses the tools of the hard sciences, mathematics, physics and such - is practically non-existent (I can't think of any book or story that uses a new and bold scientific idea as a plot device - you won't find a Greg Egan or any of the Killing B's so far).

Even Portuguese History as a plot device for speculative fiction - which usually means alternate history - is fairly recent. Some years ago, on the 20th-something anniversary of the 1974 revolution that overthrew the fascist regime, there were a couple of novels about what would have happened if the revolutionary forces hadn't come through. They were badly written and poor in their historical analysis, or heavy-handed in the presentation of the alternate facts. Nevertheless, someone had finally done it.

José Saramago would "almost" make its own (unwilling?) contribution to the AH canon, with his book, The History of the Siege of Lisbon. One of the stories in this novel is about the conquest of Lisbon by King Henriques from the Muslim hold, and what might have happened if the crusaders in his army, who in actual History were essential to the victory, had said no to him. The story is actually very interesting and the depiction of that kind of life very graphic... but Saramago doesn't carry his assumption to the end, he backs away from it, and instead we see that most of the crusaders (but not all) end up turning their minds and engaging into battle. So that all ends up happening as it did... not the best food-for-thought for the average sf reader...

The myth of King Sebastian (more on it here) is finally addressed by Maria Moura-Botto in O Regresso de D. Sebastião (The Return of King Sebastian). An interesting novel.

Alternate History written in Portuguese is usually best done by the Brazilian author Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro. "Ética da Traição" ("Ethics of Treason") - also published in France - is a novella from the Portuguese-Brazilian anthology of the 90's: O Atlântico Tem Duas Margens (The Atlantic Ocean Has Two Shores) that tells the story of a Brazil which has lost the War with Paraguay and has been split into two independent states, one of which, the Guarani Republic, became the largest country in South-America. Meanwhile, a Brazilian scientist has discovered a means to travel back in time and help in the defeat of Paraguay. That would place Brazil in the history path that ends up in our own present world, but the scientist doesn't go through with it - he understands that Brazilians would have a harsher, poorer way of life in this timeline. A very interesting, political, well-written story. And it's not the only one he has on alternate Brazils. (see also)

Going back to the statement about the absence of hard science in national sf, the lack of strong scientific plots doesn't mean that, even as laymen or researchers, the writers completely ignore science elements and ideas from their stories - most of them are borrowed from English-written sf, since its ideas have been sufficiently digested for an audience of non-scientists. Such is the case of nanotechnology, that João Barreiros uses in the short stories of his Toy Hunter collection, of Daniel Tércio (the novel Stone of Lucifer ), and even some of my own stories (just for reference).

Troubles with aliens
A disturbing video that takes place in Lisbon, Portugal. In it you can see the metal platform of the Tagus suspension bridge melting under an alien heat beam. The image doesn't let you see the beam or the ship hovering above the water but it's a daunting sight. After that, another ship started to blow up some small boats anchored on the river. The people were so shocked they didn't even react with panic or other signs of fear.

Saturday night, too many drinks on the side... even teenage aliens with wheels (or hoverdrives in this case) behave badly...

Of Eurocons and short stories and English...
This is the only (that I know of) full review of an anthology that should have received more attention (and also support in its making) that it did. The intention was good and the execution phenomenal, but as the editor points out not having had the support of English native professional translators or writers that would help streamline the final text did open the way for problems in the translation.

Anyway, Jonathan Cowie was kind enough to say the following of my collaboration:

Appendix to an Unknown Work by Luis Filipe Silva (Portugal). In the future fragmented records are discovered that suggests a past covert and coordinated attempt to takeover society might have taken place, but then again the 'records' could just be a fictional story? Actually I found this to be a very engaging tale once I had struggled through the translation.

Thanks for your comments and for not having given up :)

I went back to reading it and the translation is really below par - to be honest, the style in the original was purposefully dry and dense, that didn't help, I'm sure. I'll need to send it back to a proper English speaker and have a new go at it.

In a year that saw the edition of Jim Morrow's wonderful anthology, it was good to see that the Europeans can put together a similar project as well.
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Juno in June
In the end, Juno left me more with a sense of indifference, of not really caring about what was going to happen in the movie, than anything else. From all that I had read and watched about it, I had expected my reaction to be very different. Juno, the teenage single mother who let herself become pregnant the night she seduced the boy she secretly loved (and should we expect they were supposed to think of protection first?), for all her attitude and her young age, is always presented as a bright kid with a supporting family that we know will land on her feet at the end, so I've never felt her as being in danger, emotional or otherwise. Even Mark, the married 38-year-old guy who still wanted to be a rock star and get back to a younger time, and be able to engage in life story different from that of being a responsible, mature adult with a wife that doesn't understand him, even him could have been an entry point into the movie for me - but he wasn't. Surprisingly enough, it was the lost, wanting, sad look on Jennifer Gardner's face (in her best role so far, a kind of acting that I honestly didn't think she had in her) that made the movie real, it was her normal, uninteresting character that provided the movie balance to stay afloat. She never has any of the great lines that almost everyone else has and she's certainly portrayed as the person more at odds to what Juno (both protagonist and the movie) represents. Her bland, suffering "Vanessa" is lost in a sea of funny, emotionally balanced characters that don't judge Juno's choices and never tell her what to do (just like real life, right?), and as such, she is the closest thing to reality that this fairy tale story, so brilliantly hiding what it really is, has. It wasn't the great movie everyone said it would be, but it had some hilarious lines, good acting, and one of the best soundtracks of recent times. Can't beat that on a sunday afternoon.
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Not to be
Today begins the European convention, EUROCON, at Copenhagen, and sadly I won't be able to attend.

It's going to last until Sunday. Not only would that be a phenomenal opportunity to meet people from European sf and get to know that city, but I'm also particularly interest this year because I've submitted a story to the European contest (a maximum-2000 words ultra condensed short short, which surprisingly took me more time to write than a longer story usually does) and I'm supposed to have another story included in the convention anthology, Creatures of Glass and Light, representing Portuguese SF. Let's see how it goes (the competition is tough, and honestly what I'm really hoping is to have a chance to enter the "best of" contest anthology they said they might publish afterwards).

I'll leave you the cover for the latter. It has this year's Hugo winner for best novelette, "The Djinn's Wife".

I'll try to find a blog that covers the event live (oh, the wonders of internet).

Helpful advice for writers... or not
Thankfully I've never had this kind of experience. It's usually the "you might wanna make a story out of this" kind of well-meant helpfulness.

What about you? Any ghastly encounter with a connoisseur, agent, editor?

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That's one kind of it
British scientists are concerned about the use of vocal simulation tools for dangerous ends.

But if you go further ahead in that line of thought, mass induced hysteria through semiotics (probably helped by chemical agents in the water supply) can also have devastating results.

A decade ago I tackled the issue in a short piece I called "The Rodney King Global Mass Media Artwork" (you can read it here).  I found my inspiration in the early 90s LA upheavals, but didn't consider back then that it could be used as a global weapon.

That's a lesson every SF writer ends up learning: reality will catch up with you and bite you where it hurts...

C'est arrivé près de chez vous [Dream Bites Man]
If you live in Portugal, you might be interested to know that FICÇÕES CIENTÍFICAS E FANTÁSTICAS, a recently published anthology of short SF stories, will be distributed in the newsstands and sold along with the newspaper PÚBLICO on the 21st of September.

It displays 9 stories by different and well-known authors - Rui Zink, Luísa Costa Gomes, João Barreiros, David Soares, etc. - mostly original work (mine is).

My story in it is called A VIDA DA MINHA HISTÓRIA, that simply means The Life of My Story, and it's all about the power of dreams coming true and how that will change your life - for real, and not necessarily for better.

I call it a bedtime cautionary tale for grownups...

Well worth a look, if I may say so... :)


Publicación means Publication
And that's because we're talking about the fabulous Spanish fanzine Alfa Eridani, a professionally-designed, content-heavy free online ezine made by a number of volunteers that is helping Spanish Science Fiction & Fantasy move along difficult, non-commercial tracks. And that's because in its latest issue my flash fiction «Voluntad de No Querer» (Wanting Not to Want) has just been published - again, before it has been officially published in Portugal/Portuguese (though you can find an earlier version at my Fiction Notebook blog).

No English translation yet, I'm sorry to say - that's something I have to do as soon as I get some free time.


Life as a Zombie
A heartfelt and honest account. It take guts for this person to come out and show it, considering that he probably has no real guts left, poor man. It's all here...

By the way, should zombies have such great teeth?..


For readers of Portuguese, mainly

Almost two decades after its publication and of its absence from bookstores, I've finally decided (after following the debate in other blogs and seeing the response to the Technopeasant Day - google if you haven't heard about it) to scan the pages of my first book (I've written it all in a manual typewriter - yes, I'm that old and I was that young and energetic then), to make a PDF out of it and to place it in the web to be downloaded.

Results so far? Less than a week has gone by and after posting the news on half a dozen Portuguese websites I'm over 100 downloads - I'm now moving on to English and Spanish websites, trying to find readers of Portuguese or emigrants. I know from experience that Portugal is a kind of internet black hole. Most writers don't like it, are afraid of it, and for anybody working abroad it's very difficult to even order a Portuguese book, to know what's hot and what's not - we needed an Amazon, and even if we do have a Fnac, their online presence is not content oriented.

So why not, thought I, get into the spirit of things and make myself googlebe? Whenever I try to read a story or get to know a non-English-language author, I never find anything. Italians, Spanish, French - their material is unavailable, out of print, difficult to reach. I'm not talking about full length novels - just short stories. Just snippets to make yourselves known.

So here it is, along with a small flash presentation. It's in Portuguese, though. Not that difficult a language to learn, I've been told... (hint, hint :)

Jeff VanderMeer in Europe
Jeff VanderMeer's place in the web has gone through a change, and has now become one of the best examples of what an author website should be: beautiful, easy-to-read and very personal (a trio that don't always hang out together in this virtual landscape). Jeff is a very entrepeneurial person, energetic, full of projects, and widely creative. I had the pleasure of meeting him and his wife Ann last year in Portugal, on occasion of their travel through Europe and the publication in Portuguese of «The Transformation of Martin Lake», a story set in Ambergris, the exquisite city that has been haunting most of his latest fiction. I urge you to read him, if you haven't done it yet. Ambergris is a very different place from what you've experienced, not quite surreal but also not quite absolute, like something you might be familiar to you but in which you don't feel entirely at ease because of all the bizarre happenings taking place, all of which make sense in the mindscape of the city; it's perhaps an Aleph (a place made of other places, a canvas for stories that is always shifting and making the stories change as they're told), or it might just be the land that stands before your eyes in that second when the dream ends and just before you fully wake up. In any case, please do step in and read CITY OF SAINTS & MADMEN.

Jeff also has some interesting opinions on his experience of Europe and its several local science fiction markets, in an article published in Locus early this year that he has just now made available online. This is what he had to say about Portugal:

Take, for example, the Portuguese market for genre fiction, which is tiny-a print run of 1,500 would be average. We were, half jokingly, half seriously, introduced to Portugal’s “SF writers” (João Barreiros and Luís Filipe Silva) and “only Horror writer” (the incomparable David Soares, who also creates graphic novels). Half-jokingly in that these writers represented perhaps the majority of successfully published homegrown Portuguese SF and horror writers (many more are struggling to achieve publication).

In Portugal, the terms “Science Fiction” and “Fantasy” are often seen as a detriment to sales, and the most common result is the attempt to disguise SF/F as something else-and then compare it to Borges, who is wildly popular in Portugal. This is certainly the tact taken with my own collection from Livros de Areia, one of the smaller presses (despite having published Eduardo Galeano, Jerzy Kosinski, and other well-known writers).

Problems of publishing genre in Portugal also include the sudden collapse of the SF/F infrastructure in Portugal about a decade ago and, at least according to some writers I talked to, that only three decades have passed since the overthrow of an authoritarian dictatorship in a military coup (not to mention, an educational system that is still in severe disarray).

This sense of history still impinging on the literature of the present became a recurring theme, especially in places like the Czech Republic, Romania, and Germany. Events like the fall of Communism might seem as if they happened long ago, but it has only been a generation or so, and that’s not long enough for the wounds to have healed or some societies to have completely recovered from the harm done to them.

However, there’s a difference between a lack of institutional support and the full-on passion and effort of individuals, and there are many committed people in the current SF/F scene. In addition to the efforts of Joao Seixas and Pedro Marques from Livros, Luís Corte Real’s commitment to his publishing house Saída de Emergência has resulted in several exciting projects, like the translation of Alan Moore’s novel into Portuguese. Another activist in the scene is the translator and editor Luis Rodrigues, the man largely responsible for the dialogue between Portuguese SF/F and the English-speaking world through his Fantastic Metropolis website and corresponding anthology, Breaking Windows.

Rodrigues bemoans what he calls a vicious cycle: “Everything is done on the cheap, due to the flimsiness of the market and also because most publishers don’t take SF/F seriously enough themselves. So they take the cheapest books and translators they can find (usually translation students or people with no training at all), which only keeps readers from investing in Portuguese genre editions. Things are either done for the love and with some sacrifice, or done poorly, and you can’t reach critical mass with bad books or butchered classics….We have a long, long road ahead of us.”

This may be true, but my perception of the Portuguese SF/F scene was rather less jaded: I saw many pragmatic people working very hard for the fiction they love to read and write.

The World is at an End - first report

    This will be the first of my postings regarding this awful day. A lot has happened since daybreak, and a lot is going to happen, I'm sure, before this day is done. It's getting harder to get into the internet or make phone calls. Communications are breaking up all the time. I just wanted to assure everybody that knows me that I'm ok, so far. I'm home, they haven't got into my neighborhood yet. New developments have been reveled, most of them very surprising.

    I admit that at first I didn't link the growing noise of honking and shouting with any bizarre incident, even though it is a city holiday and the streets were supposedly quiet this early in the morning. I didn't want anything to disturb our breakfast with the nice but distant German representatives, not only for my sake but largely because our continuing dead-end attempts on getting the business out of the ground was starting to affect my business associate very noticeably. I admit I was ready to go back to the employment websites and look for something else, but he won't accept failure and that's why he was behaving like a drowning man in high seas. He even held the senior German's arm when the man tried to get up and find out why everybody in the bar had moved to the windows and were gazing in disbelief. I told my friend to take it easy, but he just stood up and went to the waiter to get another espresso. I realized then that the noise hadn't subsided, in fact it was increasing. And everybody was making comments in several languages that expressed chock and surprise. I managed to get into a spot besides my clients-to-be.

    The panoramic bar at the top of the Sheraton Hotel provides a wonderful view of Lisbon. From this high place one can see the hill of Amoreiras, the central Park, the street towards Rato, the beginning of the Avenue of Liberdade, the Marquês roundabout, and a whole sea of rooftops and structures, as far as the eye can see. The high buildings hide most of the streets at ground level, which in another day wouldn't matter, because the eye is supposed to gaze into the horizon. I don't know if the place is still open or what its new function will be, since it's now at the heart of the occupied zone, it now belongs to them. It has always been for me a place to relax, seduce, do business, and in the end, a symbol of the passing from the old to the new world. Because that's where I saw them for the first time.

    I thought they were protesters. Or some publicity stunt. Or some event on occasion of the City Festival. Or supporters of some politician for the upcoming elections. Or soccer fans. Or all of those things happening at once on account of some unique coincidence of schedules. But it was stranger than that. They were coming down the Park and the streets at a slow and unsteady pacing, as if they had trouble walking straight. Heads were tilted to the side, the arms and legs moved in jolts. But they were so many that they seemed to flow like a river. They marched into the roads without stopping, forcing the traffic to halt and cars sometimes to crash into another. I saw some of them being hit by a blue Mercedes. I saw the driver step out of the car and bend over the victims. I saw him become surrounded by others, all of a sudden, who dropped him into the ground and were upon him mercilessly. I saw his arms go up asking for help. I saw most people frozen in place, watching them, screaming with all their might, silent because of the distance. I saw some of this bystanders get attacked as well. I saw a couple of young men run with sticks or poles in their hands and try to help the fallen man. I saw how easily they also fell under the growing attack. Even though they walked slowly, those things moved quite fast when preying. They did that to a group that hadn't run, to a girl at the roundabout, to the newspaper street vendors.

    There so many of those things attacking each person that I couldn't understand what was happening, even if I knew it wasn't a good thing. But the sheer horror made me keep looking, as if not knowing the outcome made it worse. Finally a group broke apart, the assaulters taking things in their arms and by their mouths that I simply couldn't, wanted not, name.

    Somebody else at the bar said it for all of us: They ate him!

    And the room was dead silent.

    Is this for fucking real?, asked the younger German. My partner, taking the cue, started to explain that it was probably some movie shooting sequence, or some street performance, and that we had go get back to the negotiations. But the lift beeped, then, and a British lady came forth, waving her hands in the air and running towards a man in the other side of the bar, possibly her husband. She was shrieking and shaking like nobody I had ever seen outside of theater.

    It was awful, James. It was so awful! They were coming after me! They killed a child! I ran here but they're coming, they're coming!

    That did it, of course. Everybody was moving towards the door a second later, or trying to get down the stairs. The staff tried to calm them down, but even they were shit-scared and were not going to be able to convince anybody otherwise. My friend was of course only troubled by the prospect of another contract down the drain. He didn't run to the exit. The last I saw him (before he called me an hour ago) he was pouring a glass of whiskey for himself in the empty bar stool.

    I was going down the stairs in a hurried but careful pace (it's over 30 floors to get to the ground) when my cell rang.
    It was Mariana. She seemed anguished. My heart stopped.

    Are you ok, darling? Are you ok? Are you ok?, I could say nothing else.

    Have you heard the news? Do you know what's happening?

    I figured then that no, I had no idea what was really happening.

    Are we at war?, I chanced. Are we being invaded?

    Luís, they're saying in the tv that it's the dead.

    Which dead? When?

    The dead people. All the dead people. I don't know anything else. But they're coming back to life. Baby, we are being attacked by zombies. And it's happening all over the world!

    Someone's knocking at my door now. It must be my business associate, he said he wanted to see me. He had some good news about this. I hope so. We have to fight back. I have to go now but I'll be back with more info. I've tried to look up other bloggers in Portugal but there are no others, so far. Read this, and [info]thisand this, stories of survival. They might help you.

This surely merited an earlier posting but duty took hold of me and only now am I able to let you know about a recent web publication of one of my short stories («Apêndice para Obra Desconhecida», a Ballardian take on the power of global communications) in Axxón, an Argentinian e-zine of old that has already brought to light a lot of international authors. It's obviously in Spanish (Castillian), so if you read the language you can find it here. A Portuguese version is also available (though only until publication in a print zine) here. And finally a plain translation in English can be found here at Myspace (in four parts). Will we ever achieve the instantaneous translator that might preclude us from rewriting the same stuff in several languages?...

Of first chapters and impressions...

As I was recently being chided by a friend for having had written on my Portuguese blog that a professional reader (by which I mean someone who has devoted most of his reading life to the understanding of the structure of books and to actual reading them, in both quantity and diversity) would get the overall meaning and purpose of a general novel nowadays after a glimpse over the first few chapters (my friend had understandably some examples of when that wasn't so, to which I could add some other examples of mine; however, I do believe the argument still stands - It is true for me everyday, and, according to the continuously softer challenges that US commercial science fiction has been providing us with, I fear that it won't end soon) - by which I don't mean that the book shouldn't be read through, for some writers still deliver very good surprises and anyway most of the times you just do it for the fun -, I tried to apply my sensibility to the next unopened novel my eager fingers would fetch from my library.

Well, that happens to be Old Man's War, by John Scalzi, a hot new writer on the go, who I've been following though his blog and that now is one of the heads of the Ficklets initiative, a collective writing experience that I'd like to import into Portuguese but as a stand-alone website (their sign-up method requires giving your data away to AOL and honestly that company gives me the creeps). I think I could say without much afterthought that I've been slowly drawn to read Scalzi mainly because of his net presence (but not only, and that is a major distinction: the author was published by Tor and reviewed by a professional magazine like Locus with lots of appraisal, so he has been on my want-to-read for sometime now). I then got my hands on that novel. It's interesting that I didn't go first to the free novel he posted in his website...

The first chapter sets the mood dead-on, telling us about a military force off-Earth that recruits senior people as soldiers (or other, it isn't yet quite clear) and offers body rejuvenation in return. The procedure is kept a secret from the people of Earth, and I suppose most of the details about the war and its why's are also very untrue. The old man of the title and that is also the narrator (first person, illusion of intimacy) opens the story with his saying goodbye to his dead wife and than going to join the army (senior citizens that accept the offer - it's only open for 30 days after the 65th birthday, and they have to apply ten years before - are not allowed to come back to Earth).

So, can I predict what the novel is going to be? Well, I guess that we're going to find out or to walk through:
- the medical procedure and a plot/subplot to make it widely available to everybody
- the quirks of being over 60 years old in a rejuvenated body (though the body still looks 60, which is an interesting departure from other works of the kind - Sterling's Holy Fire comes to mind, just to name a major work) and initiating a new life
- issues of yielding power and control over to the military in such a latter stage of life

The depiction of the Old Man leaving his wife is actually very strong and well written - we're not talking Henry James material, but it is very professional and sentimental, and even heartfelt in some sentences, which make it a very strong opening. I can't help but fear (sensing, perhaps wrongly, that such strength happens because we're dealing with mainstream lit-space here, actual personal feelings that author tapped into) that the journey ahead is going to be more straightforward, too plotted, less intense, too much of head and too little of heart... I'll post about it when I hit the next stop.

Don't stand too close to the Sun
Is Spook Country the return of the web's prodigal son? The man that was bound to be the über-blogger, the true cibervisioner, he who has lighted the final pathway and shown us, in true color and high resolution, the connected future that was lying on the other side of the fence, has been very quiet. In a medium where shouting seems to be the norm, it's the old cyberpunks we miss, and apart from Sterling, hardly any of them sat on the virtual horse and rode it to town. Lewis Shiner? John Shirley? Pat Cadigan? Tom Maddox? William Gibson? Does over-exposure induce skin lesions? Was that what happened to most of them, some shying from writing altogether or stepping into other (legitimately) literary shores? Should we question whether cyberpunk was really a spinoff literary movement of science fiction? Or did we see another kind of beast undertake a chameleon walk and stand very close to an established genre, so close that even itself didn't realize they weren't the same creature? Because if cyberpunk provided food and sustenance to another decade and a half of SF ideas, until finally found its way into film and the country of Megabucksland, it never lost the look of a group with Patron Saints and Followers (however untrue and unfair that look was). And if Bruce walked on to become a true Speaker for the Cybervision, William sort of fade in, into a kind of superdense argument on the nature of patterns and information. In the end, maybe it was really never about the future, or a far future for that matter, and what seemed to be hard science was mostly hard tech and shiny surfaces and the quest for a simpler user interface - not bad, never bad, just different. A new take on the nearest of futures. A new perspective on the present. But writing about the present makes the ideas grow old too suddenly, kind of like newspaper articles and blog entries. If you ride the front wave you're living for that second of glory, that ephemeral beautiful performance, before it all crashes down on you. Then you get out of the revolution, find a job, pay a mortgage, write about Galactic Empires, Star Wars spin-offs, and become an author for rent. Is it a lesson? Is it what's going to happen in a couple of years to Doctorrow and Edelman and Stross? So far, they seem to have read the warning signs and are riding along, strong as ever. And yet, none of them has the Gibson touch for the language, that charisma of strong openings and simple, undeniable truths that you can also find in John Harrison, for instance. For years I hoped that William tried his hand on mainstream, just to watch the performance of language without the blinding chromium surfaces. It seems that it's finally coming, next August. Not mainstream as you and me would expect, but one that wears real Gibsonian outfits, a look on a world beyond our present - not a tale of the future, instead of an eternal present, preserved in amber.

Sand-writing is un-art?
And yet I know that I'm writing in the sand, committing words to nothing that will be washed away by a stronger tide. This is hardly a work of art, as Bruce has pointed out, and honestly (but still not having had enough time to really think it through), I can agree with that. But not to make art takes time and effort and spirit, almost as much as making it, or trying to. So, and this being my first post in the English version of my web journal (am I suddenly trying to avoid the word "blog"?), I'm filled with a kind of guilt, of having come to the party bearing a cheap gift from a Chinese store. Because all I'm offering is again the sin of linking, of just web surfing, with hardly depicts me, and never will (I won't let it, anyway). The trick I guess, is to point the reader to a richer experience, to journals of real content. And as synchronicity would have it (but maybe it's just another side effect of extreme web living), I find a similar complaint in a very interesting blog, that redeems itself by offering content. Since this is my first appearance, though, shouldn't I be showing something else? Manners dictate that I should present myself, after all. But if I do that, I'll just be linking again, and this time not very truthfully (or is it over-revealing and I try to tone it down?). A hint? 28 years old was a long time ago...