My new novel may need justifying. Half of it is narrated by Sofia, a 17-year-old girl born in Cairo; I’m a 47-year-old man who has never lived outside the UK. More to the point, the story opens with Sofia arriving in Syria to join Islamic State – a long way from any experience of my own. Privately, I have been asked what gives me the right to tell this story. With the book newly out, I expect to have to answer this publicly. It’s a good question.
Science fiction’s anti-Semitism problem (Washington Post)
Like many other gamers, last week I fired up “No Man’s Sky” again. It is a massively popular and hugely ambitious science-fiction game. In it, you explore a vast galaxy, discover new planets and species, and uncover the mysteries of the universe. Along the way, you encounter three sentient alien species: the scientific Korvax, the martial Vy’keen and the greedy Gek.
The Gek are, in essence, space Jews.
They are a species of short, hooknosed humanoid creatures with shrill voices — and sometimes hats and glasses. And where the Korvax are logical robots and the Vy’keen are proud warriors, the Gek are scheming capitalists.
The act of writing novels is relatively new in Iraq — the country’s first modern novel, Jalal Khalid by Mahmoud Ahmed al-Sayed, was published in 1928. The act of writing crime fiction is even more recent: Shimon notes that Baghdad Noir is the first such collection that he’s aware of, and also says “In the Arab world we are not fully accustomed to the concept of commissioning stories around a specific theme or of a specific length — then working with the author on revisions.” He continues, drily: “… which posed some challenges.”
But the divide between fanfiction and original writing holds strong. It’s assumed that if people write fanfiction, it’s because they can’t produce their own. At best, it functions as training wheels, preparing a writer to commit to a real book. When they don’t – as in the famous case of Fifty Shades, which one plagiarism checker found had an 89% similarity rate with James’s original Twilight fanfiction – they are ridiculed. A real author, the logic goes, having moved on to writing their own books, doesn’t look back.
Publishing industry consolidation could be a reason behind shrinking author incomes, as Mary Rasenberger, executive director of The Authors Guild, argued in a 2016 article on The Billfold. “As publishers feel increased pressure to meet the bottom line, authors’ advances are often the one negotiable line item in the budget,” she said.