Science Fiction & Fantasy
In the book, a Caltech intern, in the year 2066, detects signs
Beyond One Thousand
of alien intelligence. The novel, which PW’s starred review
called “thoroughly absorbing,” bridges the gap between
space adventure and near-future SF. And with recent real-
world developments like the discovery of potentially life-
supporting water on Mars, that distance may not be as wide as
once thought. —M.M.J.
and One Nights
Genre fiction is gaining ground in the
Middle East—and, slowly, the books are
For a clue as to where science fiction and fantasy might be headed next, look to the Middle East, a region whose genre fic- tion seems poised for a breakthrough in the West.
Earlier this year, John Siciliano,
executive editor at Penguin Classics and
senior editor at Penguin Books,
acquired Frankenstein in Baghdad by
Iraqi author Ahmed Saadawi. Translated by Jonathan Wright
and due to publish in spring 2016, it tells the story of What’s-Its-Name, a monster sewn together from the body parts of
bomb victims. The novel won the 2014 International Prize for
Arabic Fiction; Hassan Blasim, author of The Corpse Exhibition
(Penguin)—one of PW’s Top 10 Books of 2014—said that the
title was his favorite of last year.
“The metaphor of Frankenstein’s monster is a powerful one
for war-torn Iraq,” Siciliano says. “Saadawi’s novel has a direct,
arresting style that feels urgent and modern, and it signals an
exciting new direction for Arabic fiction.”
The writing from post-invasion Iraq has evolved to tackle the
subject of violence in unexpected ways. Ra Page, founding
editor of the U.K.’s Comma Press, says, “Once the politics of
the situation was put to one side, great prose writing started
to emerge again. It was fragmented, hyperreal—you could
almost say postmodern—in its style.”
Comma commissioned Hassan Blasim to edit an SF collection
called Iraq + 100, inviting authors to imagine Baghdad in 2103.
So far, the anthology is scheduled for U.K. release only, in spring
2016, but Page reports interest from U.S. publishers as well.
All but one of the stories in Iraq + 100 are in Arabic, but full
English translations of Arabic science fiction are becoming
available. Yatakhayaloon, a small Saudi Arabian publisher, pub-
lished English translations of Ibraheem Abbas’s HWJN (2013)
and Somewhere! (2014); both books are available in the U.S.
Speculative fiction has been gaining acceptance across the Arab
world. In 2013, the U.A.E. Board on Books for Young People
focused on science fiction in its annual Books Made in U.A.E.
conference. This year, Ahmed Al Hammadi’s SF novel The Last
Day won the government-sponsored Emirates Book Award, and
the Qatar Ministry of Culture opened its second-annual Katara
literary prize to science fiction and fantasy submissions.
As is typically the case for works in translation, however,
Arabic speculative fiction has had a more difficult time breaking
through in the United States. The subgenre reached a milestone
in 2011 with the U.S. publication of Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s
Utopia (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation),
a dystopian novel set in Egypt in 2023.
Originally released in 2008, it was the
first of the prolific genre author’s works
to be translated into English. The novel,
in which an affluent teen seeks to claim
a human trophy from a nearby shanty-
town, is a dark criticism of class dis-
parity. At the July 2015 Shubbak
Festival of contemporary Arab culture in
London, Towfik said, “Science fiction is a safe way to express
opinions, escape censorship, and say what you want.”
Speculative fiction has also been finding an audience among
a younger Middle Eastern audience. “The popularity of American
science fiction films in the Arab world has really helped perforate
cultural barriers,” says Thalia Suzuma, head of English-language
publishing at Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing.
Noura al Noman’s young adult SF novels, Ajwan and its
sequel, Mandan, were published in 2013 and 2015 by Egyptian
publisher Nahdet Misr. Ajwan won the Etisalat Award for
Arabic Children’s Literature in 2013, and al Noman, who is also
a translator, is seeking a U.S. publisher for English-language
Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation will be delving into speculative fiction for YA readers. Hala Saadani, head of children’s and
YA titles, promises “two upcoming fantasy titles that are very
much grounded in the Arabian Gulf.” These novels will appear
in spring 2016 and early 2017 and, like other works from the
publisher, will have Arabic and English-language editions. ■
Sarah Cypher is a writer and editor in Oakland, Calif.
By Sarah Cypher
For a sampling of forthcoming titles in ongoing series,
go to publishersweekly.com/sff1516.
The Arabic edition of
Frankenstein in Baghdad (2013)