Fantasy/SciFi

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is Barnes & Nobles’ most pre-ordered book

25 July 2016

From MarketWatch:

Book retailer Barnes & Noble Inc. said on Monday “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts I & II” is the company’s most pre-ordered book since its 2007 predecessor “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” book has been marketed as the eighth book in the beloved series, and is a play based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne.

Link to the rest at MarketWatch

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Sisters and Science Fiction

14 July 2016

From Library of America:

Many—perhaps most—readers have long associated Ursula K. Le Guin with the genres of speculative fiction. As a result, in the 1970s, when she began publishing various fictional excursions in an imaginary East European country, fans and critics assumed that the new stories were “Le Guin’s attempt to extend the range of her talents beyond the boundaries of fantasy and science fiction.” But, notes James W. Bittner, “If anything, the opposite is the case.”

In fact, many of Le Guin’s earliest works were set in Europe from the twelfth century through the twentieth. In an introduction written forthe first volume of the Library of America edition of her fiction, Le Guin writes, “Most of what I read drew me to write about Europe; but I knew it was foolhardy to write fiction set in Europe if I’d never been there. At last it occurred to me that I might get away with it by writing about a part of Europe where nobody had been but me.”

Thus was born the country of Orsinia. Her first published poem (1959) was “Folk Song from the Montayna Province.” Her first published short story, “An die Musik,” also set in Orsinia, appeared in the Western Humanities Review in 1961. But a decade earlier, in 1951, while in Paris with her brother Karl Kroeber, she had begun writing A Descendance, a novel set in Orsinia. She sent it to Alfred Knopf, who somewhat reluctantly but (in Le Guin’s reckoning) wisely rejected “the crazy damn thing.” After the story collection Orsinian Tales (a finalist for the National Book Award) appeared in 1976, Le Guin finished a second Orsinian novel on which she been working intermittently since 1952, and it was published at last as Malafrena.

When one of the Orsinian tales (“Brothers and Sisters”) was included in a special double issue of The Little Magazine in the spring of 1976, Kroeber, a literary scholar, was invited to contribute an introduction, which has been reprinted in the LOA edition and is presented here as our Story of the Week selection. Kroeber, who died in 2009 at the age of eighty-two, taught at Columbia University for nearly four decades, during which he published a dozen books on such varied topics as English Romantic poetry and American Indian literature (not to mention his 1988 monograph Romantic Fantasy and Science Fiction). His wide-ranging interests are very much on display in the piece he wrote to accompany his sister’s story. “He was very interested in soaking up as much as he could about new ways of thinking, new kinds of things to think about,” his colleague Jenny Davidson told the Columbia Spectator. “He wanted to know what people in their teens or twenties or thirties were reading and finding exciting, and then he would go and read those things.”

. . . .

“When the editors of The Little Magazine asked me for a fraternal comment on “Brothers and Sisters” they couldn’t understand how far beyond mere sibling rivalry they were pressing me to go. Since my father was a distinguished scientist, my first years in academia were dominated by a question to which the answer was, “Yes, he is my father.” Scarcely had he died than my mother became famous as an author, and I found myself saying, “Yes, she is my mother.” About the time mother turned from public acclaim to a new and exciting marriage, my sister won the National Book Award, and I found a third variant for my identifying phrase. I’m convinced that should my sister disappear (squashed by a malfunctioning UFO?) one of my children would instantly win a Nobel Prize, or kidnap F. Lee Bailey. My remarks, therefore, must be taken as those of a familial Birdboot.

I remark first that my sister’s writing has convinced me that (as I had long suspected) literary biography is useless for understanding literature. Boswell on Johnson and Bell on Woolf are delightful, but not helpful. I believe I know where both the general conceptions and many of the details in “Brothers and Sisters” originate. Every story of my sister’s is full of references to things and events and relationships I recognize. But to know these sources is to know nothing of significance about the stories as stories. Bad stories often are raw biography. Literary art consists in transforming one kind of reality, that of physical experience, into another kind of reality, that of literary experience. Imagining, the process of transforming, is illuminated dimly, if at all, only by the magic of criticism. Writers are often complex people and fascinating subjects for psychological analysis, but a writer is a person to whom writing happens. As Winnie the Pooh put it, “Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

Especially disadvantageous for biographers are people like my sister who never become writers but who always are writers. I can’t remember a time when my sister wasn’t writing. I doubt that she can. For such a person writing is a mode of being, like talking for most of us, and making melodies for Mozart. Interestingly, not all the best writers are born writers—Shakespeare may not have been: he seems to have begun lazily and quit early, though commendably active in his middle years. But for those who lisp in numbers, the lisp is the significant biographical fact pointing to the mysterious truth that writers in writing about nothing but their own experience produce works not much illuminated by their experience. Writing is like alchemy—only the process of transmutation matters.

So little for biography, now less for genre, because my sister is not a “science fiction writer.” She is an imaginative author whose early work has followed the pattern of “science fiction,” the best (perhaps the only) mode open to an honest fantast unperturbed by the whims of the New York Literary Establishment. “Fantasy” derives from the Greek for “boaster,” it in turn deriving from a verb “to make visible.” Forms such as science fiction are a natural outlet for the “ostentatious,” that is, impudent, risk-taking writer. Critics, of course, prefer safe experimentalists. But the critical establishment’s power needn’t be overrated, since it is primarily negative. Occasionally it supports talent, seldom if ever does it permanently prevent a genuine artist from succeeding.

Link to the rest at Library of America and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

J. R. R. Tolkien and The Somme – July 1, 1916

1 July 2016

From The Weekly Standard:

At 7 a.m. on July 1, 1916, the British Army unleashed a hellish assault against German positions on the Western Front in France, along the River Somme. The roar was so loud that it was heard in London, nearly 200 miles away. The barrage—about 3,500 shells a minute—was designed to obliterate the deepest dugouts and severely compromise German artillery and machine-gun power. Crossing No Man’s Land, that dreadful death zone stretching between opposing enemy trenches, would be a song.

Thus, at 7:30 a.m., nearly a hundred thousand British troops—to the sound of whistles, drums, and bagpipes—climbed out of their trenches and attacked. Like other great battles, this one was supposed to break the back of the German Army and hasten the end of the war. But the Germans had endured the pounding and were waiting, guns poised, for the British infantry. “We didn’t have to aim,” said a German machine-gunner. “We just fired into them.” Before the day was over, 19,240 British soldiers lay dead, nearly twice that number wounded. Most were killed in the first hour of the attack, many within the first minutes.

July 1, 1916, marks the deadliest single day in British military history. Sir Frank Fox, a regimental historian, summarized the scene this way: “In that field of fire nothing could live.” The Battle of the Somme would rage on, inconclusively, until November 18, dragging over a million men into its vortex of suffering and death.

Twenty-four-year-old J. R. R. Tolkien, a second lieutenant in the British Expeditionary Force, was among their number—an experience that would shape the course of his life and literary career. Tolkien spent nearly four months in the trenches of the Somme valley, often under intense enemy fire. As he recalled years later: “One has indeed personally to come under the shadow of war to feel its full oppression.” A hundred years hence and the Somme offensive still casts its oppressive shadow across the landscape of the West. It symbolizes not only the human tragedy of an ill-conceived war but the fearsome cost of a mistaken idea: the notion of human perfectibility.

. . . .

By the start of the 20th century, attitudes about war and what it could accomplish were bound up with a singular, overarching idea: the myth of progress. Perhaps the most deeply held view in the years leading up to the First World War was that Western civilization was marching inexorably forward, that human nature was evolving and improving—that new vistas of political, cultural, and spiritual achievement were within reach.

Herbert Spencer, who converted Darwin’s theory of evolution into a social doctrine, had much to do with this. So did the success of the scientific and industrial revolutions. “Between 1900 and 1914, technological, social and political advances swept Europe and America on a scale unknown in any such previous timespan,” writes British historian Max Hastings, “the blink of an eye in human experience.”

Confidence in human progress led some to believe that, with the help of modern technologies, wars could be fought with minimal cost in life and treasure. Others argued that rational Europeans would soon dispense with war altogether.

. . . .

This “change of spirit” was heralded from virtually every sector of society. Scientists, educators, industrialists, salesmen, politicians, preachers—all agreed on the upward flight of humankind. Each breakthrough in medicine, science, and technology confirmed it. Every invention and innovation was offered up as evidence, from Marconi’s radio transmissions to the Maxim machine gun. Darwin’s theory about biological change had ripened into a social assumption—a dogma—about human improvement, even perfection.

Or so it seemed to Tolkien and to his Oxford friend, C. S. Lewis, also a war veteran. “I grew up believing in this Myth and I have felt—I still feel—its almost perfect grandeur,” Lewis confessed. “It is one of the most moving and satisfying world dramas which have ever been imagined.” Importantly, the triumph of science and technology left no meaningful role for faith. Science, not religion, was driving human achievement. “Man was responsible for his own earthly destiny,” writes historian Richard Tarnas in The Passion of the Western Mind. “His own wits and will could change his world. Science gave man a new faith—not only in scientific knowledge, but in himself.”

. . . .

Tolkien served as a battalion signals officer with the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers until trench fever took him out of the war. It was during this period that he laid the foundation for his mythology about an epic struggle for Middle-earth. Writing from his hospital bed, Tolkien produced a series of stories (later published as The Book of Lost Tales), which would inform his major works: The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings. Each involves a violent contest between good and evil—and in each there are hints of the horrors of the Somme.

In The Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth is threatened by Sauron, the dark lord of Mordor, who seeks to possess the Ring of Power. The story centers on Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, hobbits from the Shire, and their quest to destroy the ring and save Middle-earth. As they approach Mordor, they encounter a brooding and lifeless wasteland. “The gasping pits and poisonous mounds grew hideously clear,” Tolkien wrote. “The sun was up, walking among clouds and long flags of smoke, but even the sunlight was defiled.” Passing through the marshes, Sam catches his foot and falls on his knees, “so that his face was brought close to the surface of the dark mire.” Looking intently into the muck, he is startled. “There are dead things,” he exclaims, “dead faces in the water!”

Historian Sir Martin Gilbert, author of a definitive account of the Somme offensive, interviewed Tolkien in the 1960s about his life as a soldier. He notes that Tolkien’s description of the dead marshes matches precisely the macabre experience of soldiers at the Somme: “Many soldiers on the Somme had been confronted by corpses, often decaying in the mud, that had lain undisturbed, except by bombardment, for days, weeks and even months.” In a letter to L. W. Forster written on December 31, 1960, Tolkien confirmed the connection: “The Dead Marshes and the approaches to Morannon [Mordor] owe something to Northern France after the Battle of the Somme.”

Although Tolkien never intended to write a trench memoir, we may suspect that memories of combat informed his description of the “Siege of Gondor” in The Lord of the Rings:

Yet their Captain cared not greatly what they did or how many might be slain: their purpose was only to test the strength of the defense and to keep the men of Gondor busy in many places. All before the walls on either side of the Gate the ground was choked with wreck and with bodies of the slain; yet still driven as by a madness more and more came up.

. . . .

Like no previous war, the Great War assaulted the concepts of heroism, valor, and virtue. The helplessness of the individual soldier, ravaged by the instruments of modernity, was a recurring motif in the postwar period. Tolkien rebelled against this outlook. As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, he was at home in the worlds of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Tolkien sought to retrieve something of the medieval Christian tradition, the story of the great and noble quest.

Herein lies the signal achievement of his epic trilogy. In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien recovers the mythic concept of the heroic struggle against evil—and reinvents it for the modern mind. “To say that in it heroic romance, gorgeous, eloquent, and unashamed, has suddenly returned at a period almost pathological in its anti-romanticism is inadequate,” wrote C. S. Lewis in an early review. “Nothing quite like it was ever done before.”

How did he accomplish it? Although Tolkien’s work appears to lack a religious framework—there are no prayers or deities—its characters are conscious of a universal Moral Law to which they must give account. “How shall a man judge what to do in such times,” asks Éomer. “As he ever has judged,” replies Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them.” Lewis declared this to be “the basis of the whole Tolkienian world.”

In the conflict between Mordor and Middle-earth, every soul is tested. Every creature must choose sides in a titanic struggle between darkness and light; moral indifference is never an option. In Tolkien’s vision, heroic sacrifice for a just cause—even against terrible odds—carries its own transcendent meaning.

The vital thing is to remain faithful to the quest, regardless of the costs and perils. Frodo’s mission is to carry the Ring of Power to the fires of Mount Doom and destroy it—before it can destroy him. “I am not made for perilous quests,” Frodo exclaims. “Why was I chosen?” Replies Gandalf: “You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom, at any rate. But you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.”

Here again Tolkien’s experience at the Somme worked on his imagination. Where did Tolkien get the idea for his hobbits? From being in close company with the ordinary English soldier and witnessing his loyalty and determination under fire. War correspondent Philip Gibbs, a critic of the military leadership, confessed his astonishment at the discipline and valor of the British Expeditionary Force, praising “individual courage beyond the natural laws of human nature as I thought I knew them once.” Tolkien explained that he made his hobbits small in size to reflect the hidden virtues of his fellow soldiers. “My ‘Sam Gamgee’ is indeed a reflection of the English soldier, of the privates and batmen I knew in the 1914 war,” he wrote, “and recognized as so far superior to myself.”

Link to the rest at The Weekly Standard

Why kids may learn more from tales of fantasy than realism

29 June 2016

From Aeon:

Children have a lot of learning to do. Arguably, this is the purpose of childhood: to provide children with protected time so that they can focus on learning how to communicate, how the world around them works, what values their culture finds important, and so on. Given the massive amount of information that children need to absorb, it would seem prudent for them to spend as much of this protected time as possible engaged in the serious study of real-world issues and problems.

Yet anyone who has spent time around young children knows that they hardly look like a set of serious, focused scholars. Instead, children spend a lot of their time singing songs, running around, and making a mess – that is, playing. Not only do they take great joy in uncovering the structure of reality through their exploratory play, children (like many adults) also tend to be deeply attracted to unrealistic games and stories. They pretend to have magical, superhero powers, and imagine interactions with impossible beings such as mermaids and dragons.

For a long time, both parents and researchers assumed that these flights of fancy were, at best, harmless episodes of fun – perhaps necessary to let off a little steam now and then, but with no real purpose. At worst, some have argued that these were dangerous distractions from the important task of understanding the real world, or manifestations of an unhealthy confusion about the barrier between reality and fiction. But new work in developmental science shows that not only are children perfectly capable of separating reality from fiction, but also that an attraction to fantastical scenarios might actually be helpful to their learning.

. . . .

A large body of literature in psychology has shown that the more similar the learning context is to the context where the information is eventually going to be applied, the better. This strongly suggests that the realistic books should have helped children learn the meanings of words better and report them more accurately on the post-test. But our study showed exactly the opposite: the fantasy books, the ones that were less similar to reality, allowed children to learn more.

In more recent work, our lab has been replicating the effect. One ongoing study is finding that children learn new facts about animals better from fantastical stories than from realistic ones. Other researchers, using a variety of methods and measures, have shown that representations of seemingly impossible events can help children’s learning. For example, infants are more prepared to accept new information when they are surprised, thus violating their assumptions about the physical world.

What can be going on? Perhaps children are more engaged and attentive when they see events that challenge their understanding of how reality works. After all, the events in these fantastical stories aren’t things that children can see every day. So they might pay more attention, leading them to learn more.

A different, and richer, possibility is that there’s something about fantastical contexts that is particularly helpful for learning. From this perspective, fantastical fiction might do something more than hold children’s interest better than realistic fiction. Rather, immersion in a scenario where they need to think about impossible events might engage children’s deeper processing, precisely because they can’t treat these scenarios as they would every other scenario that they encounter in reality.

Link to the rest at Aeon

Lois McMaster Bujold Answers Three Questions about Self-Publishing

26 June 2016

From Eight Ladies Writing:

Today, we welcome to the blog Lois McMaster Bujold, whose new e-novella, “Penric and the Shaman” came out yesterday, June 24, 2016.

. . . .

MD: You have a long history of publishing. You were writing and assembling a fanzine with friends back in the 60s, you wrote short stories that were published in established magazines like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, then your novels were published by the well-known SF publisher, Baen Books, and two of your fantasy series were published by HarperCollins’ Eos Books (now rebranded as HarperVoyager)—(HarperCollins is one of the Big Five publishing houses). So, in some respects, you are returning to your roots with self-publishing the novellas, “Penric’s Demon” (July 6, 2015) and now “Penric and the Shaman”. Why?

. . . .

I entered self-publishing piecemeal and cautiously. In late 2010, my agent had been learning about the then-new Amazon and other e-publishing programs that wanted to work with established agents, and I had a backlist book, The Spirit Ring, the rights of which were free of all entanglements. Because I had no intention of writing frontlist sequels to it, it was pretty much unsalable to regular publishers. I also had a career in Britain which was dead in the water, permanently stalled. (Long story there.) We decided to use The Spirit Ring to experiment with this new e-market, since any income would be better than the nothing it was then earning. So I did a new edit (very kludgily, as I’d never had to pay attention to such things as my own under-formatting before—I have since learned-by-doing how to do it better), my agent’s resident art- and e-wizard did the e-vendor-formatting and cover, my agent did the vendor-page copy, and we put it up to see what would happen. All very home-baked.

Its first month in the Kindle store, it earned about $230, which was as much or more as it had been making in six months as a weak backlist paperback. It continued to earn a couple hundred a month for the next few months, and my agent expanded us into the iBooks store and Nook, and they paid some more. In the spring of 2011, Amazon expanded us into the UK e-market, and a bit more came in.

And about this point, I woke up big-time and began looking around for more of my backlist that had e-rights free.

Which was not much, but I did have some novellas that had free rights as singletons. So we got those up and stood back to see how it went. It went well, the prior indie e-sales failed to fall off, and it then occurred to me that while most of my e-rights to my backlist were tied up with my American publishers, this was not so with my late UK publishers. I’d never sold The Hallowed Hunt there so we tried that next on Amazon UK. The Sharing Knife tetralogy had also never sold in the UK, so that went up early, too, by which point we were all getting the hang of this. My agent also got some dead UK rights reverted to us. I spent a good part of early 2011, when I was stalled out on the novel-in-progress by reason of story-line problems and medical distractions, editing my old Vorkosigan-series titles for British and World e-placement, through the new country-specific Amazons and iBooks; one by one, we put up all the available titles.

So that when the really big (and hard and scary) decision came around at the beginning of 2012, when a large chunk of my Baen backlist came up for license renewal, I had accumulated a year and a half of my own data and experience with which to make it a rational one. I did not renew my e-rights with Baen, but instead kept them and put the old e-books up as indie titles. (Baen retains paper rights, as they can handle those better than we can. They may also sell my old titles in their own e-book store, and of course they have regular publisher-rights on my newer titles.) The results have been astonishing, not only because I am now getting e-checks every month that are enough to live on and then some, but because my own financial analysis proved dead accurate.

. . . .

So anyway, last year after I’d finished Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, and thought, “Gee, I’d really like to try indie e-pubbing an original work, not just a backlist reprint, and see what happens,” I wasn’t flying wholly blind. And I had this idea for a character, and I didn’t want to plunge into another novel-length work, but I love novellas. They are long enough for character development, but lack the miserable middle that is such a grind at novel-length. Or at least the middle murk doesn’t last as long. Hence “Penric’s Demon”, which has done very well for me so far.

MD: And so far, how do you like self-publishing? What was the most pleasant surprise? And the worst?

LMB: I really like self-e-pubbing for the artistic freedom, including that of length, the absolute lack of deadlines, contracts, or the need to please other people—or worse, my horror that my work might let them down by not doing well enough to justify their investment in it and me. Also, no book tours, nor any more energy spent on PR than I care to invest. There is very little between me and the reader.

Link to the rest at Eight Ladies Writing and thanks to Krista for the tip.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

25 June 2016

Harry Potter and the secret of the magic money tree

14 June 2016

From The Daily Mail:

Oh dear. The owl has been sacked already. On the first night of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, a live owl escaped backstage and flew through the auditorium of the Palace Theatre in London, ending up in a corner of the dress circle, right next to me.

It was quite possibly a barn owl but, unable to see its Equity card, I wasn’t sure. As owl minders thundered around in a bid to recapture the bird, it just sat there, blinking — well — owlishly.

. . . .

After seven epic novels, eight epic films (the last book so very epic it had to be done in two instalments), three supplementary booklets, two new films based on one of those booklets, a website called Pottermore with more than 20,000 words of additional material, plus a Potter encyclopaedia in progress, one might have imagined that J. K. Rowling would have laid down her quill and congratulated herself on a good job well done.

After all, in Harry Potter she has created one of the most successful and much-loved characters of all time, not to mention one of the most successful film franchises ever, having taken more than £4 billion globally.

. . . .

 More than 450 million copies of Harry Potter books have been sold around the world, while the Harry Potter theme parks in Hollywood and Florida are packed every day.

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail and thanks to Toni for the tip.

Read science fiction – Our global crisis simulator

5 June 2016

From TeleRead:

At the Brain Bar Budapest futurological congress in Budapest, Etienne Augé, Senior Lecturer at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication at the University of Rotterdam, and Founder Director of CHIFT (Community for Histories of the Future), spoke on “Why do we need science fiction? Recipes for crisis management.” Augé is one of the best exponents of a Three Days of the Condor-style think tank approach to science fiction, where the genre serves as a reservoir of scenarios for actual real-world crisis management. So if you want to know how to save the world, get reading, people.

Running through examples including 1984, Farenheit 451, Soylent Green, and Gattaca, Augé outlines how “we study what science fiction can tell us about crisis in the past or the future … What we do is study science fiction to see what extent we can predict the future.” And he makes a case for science fiction as a discipline that exists both to actual invent the future, and also “to prevent things … to warn us against possible forms of the future … not to predict, but to invent, and prevent.” Instancing H.G. Wells, who actually forecast the widespread use of submarines, but who also cautioned that “my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea,” he touches on Orwell’s prediction of a society “observing each other constantly” over social media, and Bradbury’s prognostication of a world that burns books because “books do not make people happy, they make people think.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead

The Chinese Government is Setting Up Its Own Major Science Fiction Award

5 June 2016

From io9:

[D]uring the latest national congress of the China Association for Science and Technology, chairman Han Qide announced that the country would be setting up a program to promote science fiction and fantasy, including the creation of a new major award.

Throughout much of its genre’s history, China’s science fiction has had a legacy of usefulness, often promoted to educate readers in concepts relating to science and technology. This new award will be accompanied by an “international sci-fi festival” and other initiatives to promote the creation of new stories.

In the last couple of decades, China has enjoyed an unprecedented boom when it comes to science fiction. Since the 1990s, dozens of authors have broken out and written a number of high profile books, creating a viable community. Every year, Chinese science fiction magazine Science Fiction World issues its own major award, the Galaxy.

Link to the rest at io9

Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

31 May 2016
Comments Off on Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel

From The New York Times:

Basma Abdel Aziz was walking in downtown Cairo one morning when she saw a long line of people standing in front of a closed government building.

Returning hours later, Ms. Abdel Aziz, a psychiatrist who counsels torture victims, passed the same people still waiting listlessly — a young woman and an elderly man, a mother holding her baby. The building remained closed.

When she got home, she immediately started writing about the people in line and didn’t stop for 11 hours. The story became her surreal debut novel, “The Queue,” which takes place after a failed revolution in an unnamed Middle Eastern city. The narrative unfolds over 140 days, as civilians are forced to wait in an endless line to petition a shadowy authority called The Gate for basic services.

“Fiction gave me a very wide space to say what I wanted to say about totalitarian authority,” Ms. Abdel Aziz said in a recent interview.

“The Queue,” which was just published in English by Melville House, has drawn comparisons to Western classics like George Orwell’s “1984” and “The Trial” by Franz Kafka. It represents a new wave of dystopian and surrealist fiction from Middle Eastern writers who are grappling with the chaotic aftermath and stinging disappointments of the Arab Spring.

. . . .

Science fiction and surrealism have long provided an escape valve for writers living under oppressive regimes. In Latin America, decades of fascism and civil war helped inspire masterpieces of magical realism from authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende. In Russia, the postmodern novelist Vladimir Sorokin has published disturbing and controversial futuristic novels that surreptitiously skewer the country’s repressive government.

Dystopian themes are not entirely new in Arabic fiction. But they have become much more prominent in recent years, publishers and translators say. The genre has proliferated in part because it captures the sense of despair that many writers say they feel in the face of cyclical violence and repression. At the same time, futuristic settings may give writers some measure of cover to explore charged political ideas without being labeled dissidents.

“These futuristic stories are all about lost utopia,” said Layla al-Zubaidi, co-editor of a collection of post-Arab Spring writing titled “Diaries of an Unfinished Revolution.” “People really could imagine a better future, and now it’s almost worse than it was before.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Terrence and others for the tip.

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