Archive for June, 2014

Full Blooded

June 30, 2014 - 4:26 pm No Comments

Full Blooded
Amanda Carlson
Orbit
Release date: 2010
322pp

Jessica McClain is the only female werewolf in an all-male werewolf race. Except for Jessica has never changed – it’s not supposed to happen. Yet one night she wakes up in body wrenching pain to find her body going through the change, so she tries to grab the serum left for her to halt the process by knocking her unconscious, the serum she wasn’t meant to need. Through mind-to-mind connection, Jessica is able to communicate with her twin brother Tyler and her Dad, which is quite handy considering she wakes up naked and injured unsure where she is after her first change. Her new found status as a full-blooded wolf was about to rock the supernatural status quo with major ramifications, particularly as her father Callum is Pack Alpha. She wakes up again after passing out to find herself back at the Compound she’d moved out of seven years before. In the real word she is now Molly Hannon, working with Nick as part of a detective business. The Compound has a number of ‘Essentials’; humans who know about the supernatural community but keep it quiet, doctors, nurses, lawyers and the like. It’s up to Callum to protect his daughter and keep her change a secret from the Pack. According to the Cain Myth, Jessica would bring the downfall of the Pack.
Carlson’s debut novel is a rollicking read, fast-paced and immense fun. Her authorial voice, especially as wolf and woman is very strong, the whole piece having been written in first person, or what C E Murphy has referred to as “first person snark”; an accurate description. Carlson mixes more supernatural stuff into the novel, with Jessica’s business partner Nick being a werefox and their secretary Marcy being a talented witch. The case she returns to work to also involves an imp that’s a little too friendly with the local females.
As Jessica struggles with her new status she finds her appetite and senses increased as well as her interior wolf battling her for control. It all makes for an interesting supernatural novel fraught with tension and laced with plenty of humour. A nice addition to the werewolf sub genre of modern Urban Fantasy.

Review — Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

June 15, 2014 - 5:19 pm No Comments

Stephen King
Hodder & Stoughton
405pp

Naughty Stephen King! Just eight pages into this book and I nearly missed my bus stop! Seriously, just eight pages in and I was engrossed.

King’s latest tome however is no horror. King has switched tactics and written a brand new, riveting thriller.

Meet Bill Hodges, retired cop and Brady Hartsfield ‘the one who got away’.

The novel starts in 2009, mid recession as Augie Odenkirk hopes to find a job at a local job fair, instead finding himself helping young Janice, also waiting in the job queue and her tiny baby. Yet amidst the tension building between desperate, hungry people, there is another tension slowly creeping through the crowd; something bad is coming. Something driving a Mercedes Benz.

He was going to buy Janice breakfast. It’s the last thought he ever has.

For retired detective Bill Hodges, life is a roller coaster of bad reality TV and staring at his gun, wondering whether it would be worth using it. Until he receives a letter through the post. A taunting, tease of a letter from the man known as The Mercedes Killer. And he is issuing Hodges a challenge. Unfortunately for Hodges it’s the most exciting thing to happen to him since his retirement.

The Mercedes Killer has given Hodges a reason to live again. But the killer is much closer than Hodges realises.

There is an incredible wry sense of humour to King’s writing, the narrative brimming with witty social observations and poignant political savvy. Hodges ‘voice’ is distinctive and strong, as his his characterisation. King’s use of dialogue is also bang on the money and grounds the story in a comfortable reality. There is no need for ‘he said’, ‘she said’, because characters are easily identifiable by tone of voice and colloquialisms. Throughout the novel we also see evidence of just how well read and aware Stephen King is, with references to Of Mice and Men, Nietzsche and Obama. As the narrative switches point of view from Hodges to Hartsfield we get inside the head of retired detective and killer and the novel becomes gripping. Seeing the world from Brady’s point of view is strangely compelling. A guilty pleasure even. Yet very disturbing. And as we learn more about Brady the narrative becomes very dark. Like watching one of those reality TV battles King refers to at the beginning of the book. King also makes a few existential nods to his own horror novels, such as Christine and IT, in the book as well. King has obviously researched police procedure very well and has really delved deep into the cop psyche with his portrayal of Hodges. Yes, there is some doubt about the extent to which Hodges goes to in his pursuit of Hartsfield, however, the eraser needs to ‘get’ that the chase is now Hodge’s entire reason for living. It’s a game of chess with death at stake. And the worm finally turns, you want to cheer. In the final third as we start to see a conclusion on the horizon the tension really rockets up. My only gripe is that a couple of instinctual connections Hodges makes to the case are a little weak; he just seems to jump to the right conclusion. Despite this minor issue, the book is truly great; great characters, a high level of tension, a dark thread throughout it and a doozy of an ending. Well done Mr King

BUY IT ON AMAZON

KnightWatch Press — Press Release, 6 June 2014

June 11, 2014 - 12:57 pm No Comments

Welcome to KnightWatch Press, the home of horror. We are a small independent horror publisher focusing on new and exciting horror fiction.

Our website launches July 14. There will be a gallery where you will see an array of wonderful covers designed by our artists with short bios and links to their websites. There will also be information about the services we offer including cover art/design, interior design, press releases, proof reading and editing. And don’t forget our store, where you’ll have access to all of our products from Amazon and the chance to order some exciting new titles

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Now I’ve got you excited I’d like to introduce one of our artists who has created two great cover images for our most recent releases, Rom Zom Com and Her Dark Voice.

Caroline O’Neal was born in Germany by a Greek mother and with an Australian father of Irish/Scottish origin.

She grew up in Geneva, has lived for 13 years in Copenhagen and she is now settled in Neu Ulm (Germany) since spring 2012.

Caroline is a self-taught Artist-Painter and Illustrator, with a fascination for the fantastic and the imaginary since childhood. Mucha, Schwabe, Klimt, Burne-Jones, Beardsley, Rackham, Brom, Dulac, Jim Fitzpatrick and Brian Froud are the artists she admires, amongst others Pre-Raphaelites, Symbolists, Art Nouveau and Dark Fantasy painters/illustrators. She describes her artwork as figurative, inspired by mythical characters (Greek mythology), fairy tales and various legends, with background of nature.
She has completed various illustrations for children’s books, clothing and games and also for SF-Horror-Fantasy magazines and books.

She has had a number of exhibitions presented in Europe during the mid and late 1990s, in Geneva, France and Denmark, the most recent being in March 2010 at the World Horror Convention Art Show in Brighton.

Caroline says her techniques are oil on canvas and drawing with black and colour inks, watercolour pencils & pastels on paper. Both techniques are sometimes supplemented with the addition of various metallic powders, glimmer, synthetic stones, shells, dried seaweed, tissue flowers, feathers, sand, gilt and so on.

For more have a glance at Caroline’s web-site : www.carolineoneal.com

The two recent KnightWatch Press releases with cover art by Caroline O’Neal are:

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Her Dark Voice
This stunning collection of twelve short stories, SF, Fantasy and Horror all with a dark twist have been written by a selection of incredibly talented female authors and the proceeds go to the Breast Cancer Campaign charity. From angels, to demons who protect children, to witches, seriens and venomous mutations, this anthology is dark, funny, poignant and visionary. The talent assembled here includes Gaie Sebold, Liz Williams, Jaine Fenn, Jacey Bedford, Misa Buckley and many more. So take the plunge and step into this rich collection of stories and enjoy Her Dark Voice.

Edited by Theresa Derwin, with stories from Jacey Bedford, Misa Buckley, Jan Edwards, Rhiannon Mills, L F Robertson, Lynn M Cochrane, Lynda Collins, Jaine Fenn, Rebecca Fung, Gaie Sebold & Liz Williams

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Rom Zom Com

A collection of twelve lovingly crafted tales by a host of talented writers who blend the best of the zombie genre with a touch of romance and a few laughs. And you know what? Zombies need love too. In this collection of stories there’s romance, comedy and the creeping undead looking for love, looking for brains and going about their business while survivors figure out they’ve still got the urge. The opening story, Generation Z, has an offer that’s hard to refuse. In Fitting In you’ll find a tale of a being an outsider. In Nesting Instinct, love drives dangerous heroics while The Ardent Dead sees romance beyond the ages. One mother makes do in the story, Family Life, while Barney, a beloved cat, causes quite some trouble in another. Faye finds love in an unexpected place in Faye of the Dead and Lucinda discovers journals are not all they’re cracked up to be in Living Dead in Miami. How you deal with hungry relatives is the problem in Fifty Years going on Forever, and in Jenny a young man finds his heroism. In Sing For Your Life we find out just what gets the dead grooving while one of the most unpleasant of people gets to go on a Blind Date in the last tale. You’ll find yourself laughing, crying and screaming to the very last page.

Edited by Stewart Hotston with stories from Bear Weiter, Frank Dutkiewicz, Ted Wenskus, Anthony Ferguson, Christine Morgan, Mellissa Black, Holly Quinn, Nicholas Knight, Martin Hill Ortiz, Nick A Zaino III & David Williamson

Apologies to Caroline. The first edition of Rom Zom Com incorrectly showed the designer as the artist and did not credit Caroline’s wonderful cover image. If you bought one of those editions and would like an exchange, just drop me a line please at theresa.derwin@yahoo.co.uk

CITY OF PALACES — by Dev Agarwal

June 11, 2014 - 12:27 pm No Comments

CITY OF PALACES

By Dev Agarwal

We’d just made our Last Big Score — a deal with Chowringhee Lal, the money man on Sudder Street. In return he sent his boys for us. I knew they were Lal’s when I saw Sulaman. Sulaman was Lal’s chief bullyboy, a sixteen stone Muslim with rotten, splayed teeth. When Amvir saw Sulaman he knocked those teeth from his mouth. Sixteen stone, but no brains.
We skipped out then, up Calcutta’s Canal East Road to the Syambazar Crossing. At the noisy, flowing junction we were temporarily safe, shoved and surrounded by throngs of dark Calcuttans.
“What’s occurin’, ‘Arry?” Amvir asked, cracking the knuckles in his sore fist.
“Good question. I know who to ask, too.”
Amvir grinned at me with uneven, crowded teeth. “Chowrie Lal…”
Sulaman had come with a pistol. But he hadn’t used it.
“I want a gun. A big one.”
Amvir nodded. “Got just the thing.”
“And get the money too. Get all the money. I think we have to move.”
Lal seemed to want us face-down in the river Hooghly. An unacceptable proposal. We weren’t either of us eighteen-year old Tommies, fresh out to India. Amvir was born here, and he was ex-Army with an accent to match, blended from two years in London’s Eastend. And I’m anything but fresh. I’m salty and jaded on spicy liquor and Sudder Street ladies who don’t know the word “no.”
So I sent Amvir to get the money and to bring a car over to Big Joes’ as soon as it got dark. Then I took a peddle rickshaw to Joes’. Killing time, I went the long way round, past the Jain temples on Chandra Road and under bridges laden with buses and horse-drawn carts. Turning west, the city grew ugly, blighted with the dull brown stations of the British Imperial railway. My rickshaw slowed to a crawl, clotted among the businessmen and beggars spewing from the station’s mouths. Every fragment of colonial life occupied that street. Chaingangs of deserters from Fort William tore at the black earth, watched over by Marines in the smart uniforms of the American colonies. That could be me, I thought with amusement, watching both sets of sweating, sunburnt men.
Secreted throughout the city other men would be watching too. French and German agents riddled Calcutta. You saw them pestering diplomats and haggling for information in Calcutta’s punchhouses and taverns. Fat-faced men in grubby white suits, they were ever hopeful of snatching away Britain’s hold on India.
They should give it up. Britain dominated this century: we won the Great War in 1919 and every fight since. Sixty years later and the Empire grasped Calcutta as securely as it did the Americas or Australia. To get the British out would take more than fat spies and deals with dodgy criminals like me and Lal.
But Lal always stayed in favour with the European powers.
Chowringhee Lal styled himself “just as wide and prosperous as Chowringhee Road,” and was one of Calcutta’s smarter babus. He ran guns and smuggled opium. He controlled brothels and obeyed no religion and kept no family. He owned a hundred street kids and used them to beg and pass information up and down the Hooghly.
Now he tried to kill us. But we’d see about that.
I paid my rickshaw off early and strolled to Big Joes’, looking like just another Westerner: a railway manager or office clerk after a Sudder Street prostitute.
Big Joes’ occupied a cramped cellar with broken ceiling fans and bad, brown lighting. Its sweatbox heat was packed with professional beggars and girls working the foreign businessmen from White Town and Fort William. The Sikh assassins and European ship-jumpers eyed me as I passed. I watched them dismiss me as harmless, with my waxed moustaches and a brown parcel under my arm. Perhaps I carried brasswork from Jadu Babu’s bazaar or silks from Kalighat Market. They might want to rip me off later, but now all they wanted was beer and young girls.
Behind the tavern lay a crumbled backlot and an industrial canal ringed with vendors’ fires that flickered in the summer wind. With the place still quiet, I sat with a stainless steel plate of rice, naan bread and a Tiger beer. I set my brown paper parcel on the iron chair beside me and sat back to wait for Lal. The industrial air of Calcutta, fuelling the Empire, settled on my cotton sleeves and khaki trousers with its sooty fingers.
Before I finished my beer, Lal arrived — a vision in scuffed white. As long as a King sat in England there’d be a skittle-shaped Chowringhee Lal going fat in Calcutta. He wobbled over the rough ground, his oddly dainty feet evading spatters of cow shit and spilled oil.
He had brought a new boy with him. A very squat Sikh with a turban and full beard.
“Mr Lal.” I put the parcel on my knee. “How’s Sulaman’s jaw?”
“Horry,” he said, mangling my name in reply. “Sulaman no longer work for me.” His voice was devoid of nuance.
“No?” I said. “Me neither.” When I ripped the paper of my parcel I tripped the breech bolt on the nine millimetre Uziel SMG. Its barrel peered over the table, cut to an ugly two inches.
Lal bobbed to a stop. Dust and insects descended onto his white caftan.
“You’re about to lose your entire leg,” I told him. “You have a lot to explain — who’s paying you to kill us?”
“So impatient for bad news.” His voice began to crack. Lal looked dissolute, his eager slyness gone completely. He raised a trembling, beringed finger at me. “You bring violence on me? You, who is so frightened you come with Uziel?” His eyes were wet pinpricks, sad and aged above his shiny lips. I’d never seen him this way before. He thrived off British India, off dealing and swindling. But now his face was deep with lines and his loose fat shone brightly. A well of pain and pity hovered over him tonight.
“Give it up, Horry. Pray they are quick with you.” He glanced to his boy — perhaps in deference. “Singh knows.”
“Well, I’m glad somebody bloody does. But keep going, Chowringhee. You still haven’t got to the part about why your boys tried to rip me off.”
He shook his head. “I would not kill you. You were to save me. But it is got too late.”
“Why? You finally sell the wrong body?”
His damp mouth flashed wetly as he shook his head again. “It is not business. I am chosen. The Thugs want me for Kali.” Almost in tears, he stood lost in hunch-shouldered despair. “They want us both, Horry. Both.”
Now I understood — and wished that I didn’t. He want to sell me in his place to the Thugs. My stomach turned in a sickening, vertiginous swerve. My heart pounded with fear and it seemed that all of Calcutta threatened to descend on me. The Thugee cult ran everywhere, in the corners and alleys of every city in India. Far more than criminals, they were a religion.
I had an ugly, vivid idea of what a Thug would do. A strangling if I was lucky; if not, then I’d end up like one of old Jack Ripper’s whores after a hard night’s work. I shook so hard the Uziel almost chewed Lal’s head off. Every knot and bone in my body locked with cramp.
Singh stared at me with eyes the colour and texture of wet mud, watching like I was a boot-black from under Howrah Bridge. His mouth twitched, perhaps about to speak for the first time — then he flew at me in a blur of speed and pain.
A rush of air tore at my ear and I bounced off the table, hard. Rice and beer splashed over me, and my temple ground into the scorching metal of an oil lamp till I screamed and twisted my head away.
“He is Kali,” Lal said. His lip trembled over his bad red teeth.
Fingers on my wrist pliered the bones till my hand sprang open. The Uziel tumbled away in a spasm so intense I choked on my scream. My thoughts spun round and round. Amvir would come. He’d come soon and we could escape together.
With the abruptness of a blown-out gaslamp, the skewer of pain vanished. The Thug faced Big Joes’. His impassive eyes scanned the globes of shadows and haloes of insects that clouded each blazing light. He stood patiently, palms folded on his thighs, the picture of the polite babu servant.
Even as I wondered what he searched for I heard an engine grumble, then brake sharply. Amvir had arrived. The Thug, Singh, spoke to Lal in Punjabi. His voice scraped over vocal chords that had been broken long ago.
A searchlight flipped on and we were swallowed by its huge yellow glare. Metallic parts ratcheted as it swivelled and an officer’s Sandhurst accent barked, “You, by the canal!”
Running feet punctuated the hot air, Indian soldiers in hobnailed boots. A winged insect with too many legs tumbled by as if propelled on the brilliant glare of light. As I followed its spiral flight I found that Singh had vanished. But where? The search beam lit the waste ground in a harsh moonscape of angles of light and shadow right up to the canal. Even without cover, Singh had slipped away like an opium phantom.
Lal began to blubber.
Before I could reconsider, I hauled the Uziel up, left-handed, and dug the slender trigger deep into the wood grip. The gun thundered, spouting white fire. A vendor’s barbecue exploded into the air like a Catherine Wheel, scattering soldiers. The Uziel’s clatter tore at my ears. Its steel hammers filled my head and glass shattered beneath its howl till the searchlight winked off. I ran backwards into the cheerless gloom between abandoned food stalls, oil drums and brambles till the land fell away and I tumbled into the canal.
*
Above the canal the soldiers closed in, cautious after meeting the Uziel. I cradled the black gun, fumbling sticky insulation tape off its spare magazine. My right wrist turned clumsy with pain.
“Nice one, ‘Arry,” someone said, sniggering. Amvir strolled along the near bank, swinging his muscle-fat arms. “Way you was waggin’ that Uziel about, you was in danger of deafenin’ some of those lads.” As usual his accent was straight off a building site in Stepney. But my ears rang so hard I could barely hear him.
I slumped, weak and tired. My mouth tasted of acid.
Ammie crouched beside me. He didn’t mention the vomit pooled in the brambles.
“You were supposed to be here ten minutes ago.”
“I saw this lot show up. Wonder who their squad leader is then?” His sun-bleached cotton jacket rode off his huge shoulders. He bulged with muscle in his long khaki shorts and vest.
I slapped the magazine home, my wrist twinging. “Right. Let’s clear off.” When I shook canal water from my hair my skull buzzed from the oil-lamp burn.
“We’ll ‘ave to walk it. The army sealed the bloody road up.” He stood, his jacket slipping off eighteen-inch biceps livid with bright tattoos.
“Have you got our money safe at least?”
“Calm down. It’s ‘ere. It’s ‘ere.” He slapped a fat leather satchel resting on his hip. It held everything, every scrap in rupees, pounds and sovereigns.
He stepped past me. “Better find Lal,” he said. “You know ‘e’s only got the fuckin’ Kali onto us?”
“I’ve heard it mentioned.” Glancing round all I saw were logs bobbing into the canal and white squares of sliced bread mulching on the bank. A dog’s carcass washed towards us in a parody of paddling. I tripped after Amvir’s rolling gait, cursing as my grazed knees stung.
Beside us on the canal’s surface lay the wavery reflection of a lime Ganesh from a shop front. The god’s elephant trunk rippled with a current that gave him age-lines in a ghostly shimmer. As with Singh, natural laws could not quite hold him.
“‘Arry. ‘Bout Lal…” Amvir said. I glanced up but couldn’t see anything until the shape of a wooden pier, dark and ill-defined, grew in clarity against the night’s greater dark. Lal’s eyes stared at me — eyes that would never appraise and calculate my worth again. The irresistible pressure of the blue cloth knotted to his neck had forced his tongue out like old leather. All of it hung at ankle level in his upside-down body, suspended from a sodden cross-piece of wood.
Ammie said, “Don’t think we ‘ave to worry ’bout Lal no more.”
*
It was a ritual Thugee slaying in Kali’s honour.
Everyone knew Kali as the most formidable of Siva’s wives. We pulled Lal down and I pictured her in her necklaces of white skulls and severed hands, sated for now. She was worshipped everywhere, but her heart was at Kalighat, in Calcutta. Kalikata, the House of Kali.
I wondered if the Thug had prayed as he went about his work, whispering guttural Punjabi, in awe of his own might as Kali’s essence possessed him and Lal’s eyes rolled whitely in his skull.
Sometimes I wanted to hate this country. I wished to be one with the rest of my generation, oblivious to Calcutta’s richness, unable to distinguish detail in its writhing wog mess. But whenever I tried to hate Calcutta, my passion for her hit twice as strong. She swelled with a thousand sensations, a thousand promises of ecstasy and fantasy fulfilled. They caressed me with their dizzying languor while we jumped between shadows from the canal to the city.
*
I needed rain. Just a spasm would do to wash off my sweat. I struggled with the heat from Amvir’s cotton jacket, but I wore it to hide the bulky Uziel. We walked down an alley full of rusted bicycles and mysterious coiled hoops. I scratched and scratched at my hand where I’d held Lal as Amvir stripped him from the pier’s framework.
“The Thugs do that to Lal?” I imagined a horde of them, inhumanly silent and identical to Mr Singh.
“One of ’em.” Amvir rubbed his sweaty armpit restlessly. His tattooed panther slid about on his arm. “Singh. Workin’ alone.”
“How do you know that?”
“You’d work with him, would ya?”
Horns blared nearby, a rickshaw buzzed past, its motor insect-high. We were close to the vardaan bazaar, all-night, pastel-bright and crowded with hawkers, beggars and baton-swinging police.
“They took a boy from my village in Kashmir ‘fore I signed up. They killed ‘is parents to make ‘im mean. Give ‘im magic.”
I wondered whether to laugh. “Let’s just get out of here.”
“I seen ’em on the Khyber, an’ in Libya.” He angled to an open drainpipe, letting the run-off wash the glossy ringlets in his hair. He looked at me. “You don’t ‘ave to stick around, ‘Arry. You can make Delhi in twenty-four hours by train.”
“I live here. No one’s driving me out.” My English self-regard steeled me. “But we can’t deal with Kali. We can’t buy them off.”
Ammie nodded. His brown eyes were an untroubled depth, fatal to any woman, black or white. “I ain’t gonna deal with Singh. I’m gonna ‘it ‘im so ‘ard.”
“But first, you’re going to get tooled up. You got any mates you can draft in? We’ve done the army a lot of favours. We’re entitled.”
He scuffed the gutter by a sleeping boy. “There is this one fella. ‘E’s not exactly a mate…”
*
We waited for them in the room’s only chairs. The one for him had a cushioned back and armrests. I draped a thigh over the arm and set the Uziel out in plain sight. The other chair was hers, appropriately small and in disrepair. She waited patiently all week for Lieutenant Harper-Borne’s Friday night visits. Tonight she waited with us, silent and afraid.
At ten past eight he strolled in.
“‘Ello sir,” Amvir said, his hands open and unthreatening. The Lieutenant glanced at Ammie, his long nose swinging like a sail. He didn’t have Amvir’s size, but he was still a toughnut, an officer who led from the front. We’d see what that would get us.
He looked at me and snorted. “Harry Lyle.” Lot of breeding in that nose.
“Can you ‘elp us, sir? We’ll give you good stuff,” Ammie said.
“Turn yourself in, Munasinga.” His face cut my way again. “Both of you.”
Now that he spoke I knew him too. “He’s already helped us,” I told Ammie. “At Big Joes’, right?”
“You, by the canal!”
Harper-Borne stared at me. He brushed the sneer on his nose with a coarsened palm and the light glittered down his gold wristwatch. The girl cowered behind him. She looked small and very pretty, literally a girl, playing dress-up in a grown woman’s red sari.
“As for you, Lyle, you should know better. We’re doing a job in India. Your obligation lies with the British race.”
“Ta very much.” I cracked wise, unable to deal with him. I was British and they were abandoning me.
Amvir towered off his chair, knocking it aside. “Right. I gave you five years, you stuckup English wanker.”
The Lieutenant’s neck swelled with blood. “You’re lucky we’re inside, babu!”
“We don’t ‘ave to be!” Amvir reddened too, huge with anger.
I leaned between them and tapped the Lieutenant on the chest with the Uziel. “We’ll be off unless you do want us inside with you?”
He flinched, his eyes fixing irresistibly to the Uziel’s mouth.
I slapped Ammie’s chest with my sore hand, feeling lock-solid muscle loosen. He broke his glare, body loosening more. “Wot? Am I the white man’s burden?”
“Na,” I drawled, matching accents. “You ain’t white man’s nothin’.”
“Christ. I’m actin’ like a fuckin’ babu,” he said and we walked back into the city.
*
Calcutta sprawled across the northeast of India on the tributaries of the Holy Ganges. Sweating and hazy with summer and the smoke of a thousand chimneys, she fuelled British shipping to Singapore, Hong Kong and beyond.
She had been British long before my birth. I was born in Cornwall among the teeming thousands eager to swap sterile, corseted England for India. We craved the rich tastes of Sudder Street and Native town. In the end that taste — with ten times the aroma of late-night Soho or a dirty weekend in Brighton — overpowered me.
You could escape England and its Victorian-made stagnancy by coming to India. But you still had to escape the English once you got here. You did that by going down to the Howrah Bridge.
The bridge sat on a row of pontoons laid side-by-side across the Hooghly. Their design hadn’t changed in the hundred years since they were built in 1874. The pontoons swayed on the holy river, a British stamp of authority over Calcuttan faith. The girders had grown old with the city, blackening with traffic fumes and blued with elegantly squared Hindustani graffiti: Vote Janta Party. British out of India.
“We’re goin’ to see the brown boys. Y’can be an honorary babu, mate.” Amvir slapped a mosquito off his bulging calf and spread river mud from his white ankle sock to the proud dragon tattooed there.
“Why’re we here?”
“‘Cause those slags in White Town won’t ‘elp.” He tightened with instant anger.
“And a pile of scavengers can?’
“They know stuff your mob don’t.”
“My mob?”
In the dim light he picked over his words. “I don’t think you’d get it. There’s a charm you can use on the Thugs. Zoroastrian stuff — Tiger balm. Silver.” He fell silent.
We walked on, negotiating the mud slope to the river. Summer floods had swamped the banks so many times they were only fit for scrap iron, rotten wood and outcast untouchables. The police came here occasionally to toss street children into the river. As we approached the bridge, we came to rows of footfires burning in the mud — cooking fires and ghats for the night’s meal or the cremation of loved ones — and I saw a figure watching us. A child, I thought, he stood so short. But he was wide-shouldered and stumpy, a five foot adult. His eyes were big as saucers and spaced like a rabbit’s on the sides of his face.
Amvir called a cheerful greeting and splashed through the river shallows. Brown swirls of Hooghly water stuck my shoes to my feet.
Twenty or so larger figures, street toughs and hard-bitten whores, spread out to the lee of the bridge. They wore rags and filthy saris, but were posed almost formally, like a Durbar ceremony to welcome the Viceroy. Resisting my fear, I kept my hand clear of the Uziel, and gripped the money satchel instead.
Amvir shook hands with the short man, their palms flowed over each other in a street dealer’s flourish. “Billy Fish. This is my mate ‘Arry.”
“Fish?” I asked.
Billy Fish didn’t bow his head, or clasp his palms for the traditional greeting of nemestagi. But then I wasn’t a tourist. He peered through the light of oily campfires and the ghats rising above us with slow-witted concentration.
Then his eyes snapped into focus. “At Big Joes’. With Lal.”
“Spot of bother, Bill,” Ammie said. “Things got a bit sticky. Lal’s dead.”
Fish stared at the Uziel bulging my borrowed jacket open. “Army will come. Then what happen?”
“Don’t worry ’bout the army. We’ll be gone soon. ‘Ave to take care of sommin’ first though.”
Fish’s forehead knotted. Perhaps with the effort of holding his glaze of stupidity in place. Hidden intelligence flashed within the bland egg of his face. “You are not running from the soldiers. Who then? Put me picture-wise.”
“Bloke called Singh,” Amvir hedged. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his khaki shorts, a familiar give-away when he felt awkward. Billy Fish switched to Punjabi, his tone interrogational and fluid.
“Thugee,” I said.
Amvir winced.
Fish cocked his head. “Kali?” The rest of his hardened, scruffy tribe grew alert. Knives and steel pipes glinted among them.
“Do not like Kali. They hunt us.”
“‘E’s mine, Bill. I wanna ‘urt ‘im.” Amvir spat his name. “Mr Singh.”
“What if you do not?”
Ammie flashed him a smile of crowded teeth. Eyes scrunching, he slapped Fish’s shoulder. “That’s what we come ’bout. Need a little ‘elp. Needa bit of magic. Know what I mean?”
“What in this for us?” Fish asked.
I stepped forward, sinking in the mud. “I’m sure we can come to some arrangement.” I kept the satchel hidden for now.
Fish carefully slipped his intelligence back under his trough-eyed stupidity. His head began to nod.
*
The Hooghly churned restlessly, rolling and yawing beside us. Its hot spatter smeared my cheek, rich and smothering. Above Howrah Bridge the sky at this hour between midnight and dawn turned so blue and luminous that I could pick out clotheslines above Strand Road. It was magically lit, perhaps just for my eyes, and I could almost believe Amvir and his unshakable faith in magic.
He surprised me. The Indians I knew scrubbed and scraped their culture away, becoming doggie-loyal to us. Babus, we called them. Mysticism repulsed them, made the English laugh. But I lived among the Indians because I feared being English — either as a straight-out loser, doing hard labour in the Wheel Jane penal tin mine back home; or even harder time, bank clerk or accountant, too stiff and chickenhearted to free myself. I ran away to India and found a million Indians begging to swap with me.
But there was one Indian who was no one’s babu. He patiently stepped through cows’ holy piss and the clutter of traffic on Strand Road. I knew he would come. Wherever we ran, he would be there: a magician, hunting us for his goddess.
We waited for him, the sticky Hooghly drying on me with the hot promise of a morning as moist and fevered as the secret part of a woman.
*
“You have not drunk.” Billy Fish flipped a hip flask into my gut, bullet smooth silver. I traced its engraving with a grimy finger. By Royal Appointment to H.M. King. Either ripped off some fat White Town resident or salvaged from the Hooghly.
I walked behind Fish while he spoke in loud spurts of Punjabi to Amvir, who nodded in agreement.
I sucked on the flask, whisky kissing fire into me. The purity of the malt almost shocked me, it was so silky smooth. The bridge dwellers were good scroungers; they stole only the best. We stood on wood boards sunk into the mud between their jury-rigged shacks and the first ribbon of cantilever arcing over the pontoons. The sky pulsed as it often does and without warning rain fell lightly from the darkening heavens.
“Mud. I need it to be muddy,” Ammie said. I limped after them, hearing the last exchange fragment into English. They added slang and the King’s English as it came more conveniently to them.
“Blessing,” Billy Fish said to Amvir. What did that mean? This town wasn’t for English blessings. She had a thousand religions jumbled within her walls. Every taste, every sensation, Calcutta satisfied them all. The Raj made her in its image — her workers were fawning wogs, her managers whites only and her ports flowed with opium by the chestfull. Tommies poured from her punch houses and brothels, duelling and brawling. But Thugs still walked her streets and owned the night, and the fabric of the city was a weave of ten thousand Indian threads.
The rain surged, a drum beat on the bridge’s cantilevers. It curtained from the sky across Calcutta. Night still cloaked the city, but Calcutta remained awake, restless. To the east, past the English outposts of Fort William and Maidan Station, Lieutenant Harper-Borne would be finishing with his woman-child, forgetting about us already, lost between her exotic thighs. Further east still, between Chowringhee Road and School Street, the Sikh and Hindu police would be interrogating Big Joes” regulars, looking for someone to hang for Lal’s murder. They would keep well away from Mr Singh. Kali’s sword dripped with his sacrifice, her eternal life secured for another thousand years. Tonight Mr Singh would honour her twice more if he could.
We’d managed to line up against them all. How could Calcutta ever be the same for us?
The burned flesh on my temple ached. The Uziel’s strap dragged my shoulder. I tried to dream myself into another part of Empire: New York Colony, Cairo, even London, whoring, drinking and dealing. But I couldn’t make it real. I was too scared. The Thug flowered in my mind, a dark bloom made from the murder of his own parents. Maybe Lal had been right: I showed my fear with my overreactions. But with a Thug on your back fear was the only sane choice.
Fish and Amvir stood on the centre of a pontoon above the slopping sea of mud. Rags of jute — Calcutta’s chief rope-making material — shimmered and hissed through the rain. Flotsam drifted by, junk even Fish’s crowd didn’t want, travelling from homes and gutters in Chandanagar and Calcutta and out into the Indian Ocean.
They drew up silently on the wood boards beside the river, the Howrah bridge dwellers. Urchins, bully-boys, and prostitutes grouped like a bus queue on the split-open yellow heartwood. I caught a girl staring at me through the folds of rain. She looked stunningly attractive beneath her layered filth and sun-reddened, knotted hair. Her brilliant smile threw her dark face into stark contrast. But in smiling, so open and genuine, she became Harper-Borne’s girl, forced into premature womanhood.
In response I drew the Uziel to me — because I was as white as him and we had made India what it was. I stood in a thicket of thieves and fighters and I was scared.
On the bridge, Billy Fish had something in his hand — a small brown pouch, its material venous and petal-fragile. When he passed it to Amvir he bowed reverently, protective of his offering in the growing downpour. It was the blessed charm. I didn’t really understand. I never had done since I’d come to Calcutta and now I grew too tired to try.
But I realised what had tired me. Pushed here, pushed there, I spent my whole life nudged and bent by those around me. Never in control, I was always reacting, and always wrong. Now I was sick of it.
I took a long drink from the silver flask to drown that thought. I felt immediately conspicuous. No one else had moved. When I looked up I found him: up there on the first pontoon of the bridge, above the wet lights of the city. Singh’s eyes found me and my temple throbbed. The burn stretched my scalp.
Fish backed away from the pontoon, the tension charging between Singh and Amvir.
Singh raised his palm to the thick canister of his throat. His hand twisted clockwise, then with an odd reverse loop his Thugee scarf unfurled. A coin glinted in one corner of the blue silk. He stepped out with an oily suppleness that perfectly matched the soft sway of the pontoon.
Amvir came through the shroud of rain and ramrodded a two-by-four into his ear. The blow ran through the tattoos on Amvir’s arms and the panther hissed in delight.
The board broke apart, fissuring in jagged halves on Singh’s head. The crowd came apart with it, bellowing a melange of market calls and football chants. But the Thug didn’t move beneath the blow. Amvir’s eyes went huge with surprise, then he nailed Singh’s jaw with a right. The crack of meat and bone knocked loose a deluge of memory: Amvir in Delhi, two years ago when I first found him. A clay boxing ring crowded by regiments of twenty-one year old Brits, their gaze following like glue as Ammie’s apple-red glove hooked out clean and smooth. Before us, for a night, Kipling’s Tommy Atkins turned real and triumphant and Indian in an explosive birth of cartilage and blood.
But Amvir was slower now, a clumsy brawler. And the Thug was a magician, consecrated by Kali.
Singh pivoted, snapping his weighted scarf through the black rain. The coin flashed in an oily blur in the jute fire light. The flames caught the details of an ugly finger-thick scar notched in his neck. Then I saw only pieces as my mind buzzed with adrenaline. Ammie struck again and again, pounding Singh’s body and sucking huge breaths into his lungs. A loose cantilever rattled above them and then Singh turned almost transparent, gliding inside Amvir’s next haymaker.
He shot Amvir into the pontoon’s overhead strut. Singh dented Ammie’s head on the ribbed metal before drawing him back, slack and loose-limbed. Then he embroidered a figure-eight in the air — a nifty silken swirl and the garrotte snapped tight around Ammie’s neck. He flipped Amvir in a pendulum swing, dangling him over the pontoon’s rounded side.
The crowd fell silent.
Amvir arched in Singh’s grip, his face red as Indian spice.
“The gun,” Billy Fish said into my ear. “You must shoot both them.”
I fitted the Uziel’s hatched wood into my palm, pressuring my injured wrist, and put the gun on the crowd. Billy Fish stared at me and his face became carefully stupid again.
Above the shallows, Ammie’s ankles flexed once. He stopped fighting and his face swelled like a ripe, gaseous fruit. I moved mechanically, turning the Uziel round, because if Amvir died then so did the Thug — my hate flashed so hot and sudden it incinerated my fear.
But Amvir had only stopped fighting to push at the barriers of his own muscle. He reached overhead and gave Singh’s mouth a gentle slap. He plastered a brown mess to Singh’s dark lips and ground it in as if squeezing oranges — forcing Tiger balm, holy cow manure and Zoroastrian silver deep into the Thug’s mouth.
Singh reared back, his spine locking in an agonised curve like a coat hanger. His cough ground so long and wrecking it must have torn all the way from his testicles. The crowd screamed Amvir’s name again, stamping their feet and making enough noise to wake all of Calcutta from their beds.
I staggered beneath their proud, raucous bellow — when I looked up I saw that Singh too had felt their assault — his head filled with the thunderclap of emotion and excitement. It scorched away his composure.
Amvir flexed like a cobra, luxuriating in his own brawn. With a sure grip, he yanked Singh into the river. The splash was lost beneath another roar of the crowd, but the double-slap of their bodies in Hooghly mud smacked fat and clear, piercing the night with its perfect sound.
Ammie made sure he landed on top. Still slow as ever, and beer-gutted and too long out of the ring, but hip-deep in Hooghly mud slow was all there was. They slogged together in the dark rain beyond the ring of torches, making great sucking sounds like a vendor at Big Joe’s spooning creamy kulfi from a tub.
Ammie jabbed at the Thug’s eyes, blacking and bleeding them as Singh fended him off weakly. Amvir’s beauty hook-off-the-jab brought a nod from a street tough and gasps from the children. Singh’s face looked raw. In the moonlight his blood looked quite black. I had expected to find amazement there as the unstoppable weight of fists rained on him, but something else appeared in his face. A new sensation burned through his devotions and penitent killings: excitement, he was finally about to lose.
The rain thinned and I saw Amvir’s fist hit solid as a Cornish miner’s hammer. Singh staggered. His turban askew and spitting up the Zoroastrian charm, he slouched, his knees wobbling together for support. His fists rose but his head hung. Singh’s strength vanished, only the gestures of defiance remained.
Ammie squelched over to him, his clenched fist a huge slab of granite for the broken man. Through the drizzle, his hand flowed, flowering into an open palm that shoved Singh’s chest and put him flat. The Thug sprawled into the mud’s embrace, defeated, dirty, and jeered at. What must have hurt most was that as he lay there he was released from Kali and unable to hide his relief.
The crowd screamed and stamped on the loose wood in a thunder to rival the Massacre at Cawnpore.
*
We dressed Ammie in his frayed cotton jacket and unwound the Thuggee scarf that clenched his throat like a tie. The red-haired girl snatched the coin as a battle souvenir and ran giggling into the crowd.
I wanted to go. Delhi in twenty-four hours. As Amvir laid a heavy arm on my shoulders, bathing me in sweat and mud, I knew he was ready too.
We were led away from the shadow of Howrah and the husk of the defeated Thug. Fish’s tribe ignored Singh; he was just another outcast now. In time he could join them, a nimble pickpocket or obedient bully-boy.
We climbed the narrow lane up to Strand Road Its washing lines were banners, flapping in Ammie’s honour. The rain had gone and dawn lit the horizon, a thin bronzing above the Grand Trunk Road that promised by morning to burn the city with its heat.
I never heard engines and there were no searchlights this time. They came down either end of the Strand with full barrelled Enfield rifles and heavy Maxim machine guns. A wide-shouldered silhouette detached from the Sikh soldiers and approached us, pointing a huge Webley revolver. Its lanyard curved in a perfect bowstring from his belt to the pistol’s butt.
“That’s far enough.” Harper-Borne stepped into the light. “There are rooms waiting in Fort William for you both.”
Fish’s youths were silent. Harper-Borne smirked until he saw the rising sunlight shine off oiled knives, then over elderly .303 bolt-action rifles and even the oiled discus-shape of an ancient Lewis gun’s magazine. The Lieutenant froze in place.
Fish stepped up with a knife and slashed the heavy Webley from its lanyard.
“Nice watch,” I pointed out and it went in an instant.
“You won’t get far, Lyle. No one in India will stand the sight of you.” Helpless, Harper-Borne began shouting.
“Who said we’re stayin’, ‘Arper?” Amvir called to him. I turned and heaved the Uziel to Fish in a low throw.
He caught the gun close to his body. “Want trade?” he asked.
“It’s yours.” I put the satchel of money in my hand and started walking. Ammie fell in beside me, matching my stride. This time we were leaving more than Harper-Borne behind. I knew if my feet faltered I’d never make it out of India at all.
Fish began laughing, cutting Harper-Borne’s pockets open as his bully-boys held the soldiers down. By the time we left Strand Road they’d even taken their uniforms. Within the hour they’d be on the backs of crippled beggars to ply their trade with.
*
Calcutta’s night hung black as velvet, soft like a Sudder Street woman and heavy as her demurest glance. This place is humid too. But when it rains it never dries out. We spend our days and our money in the terraced bars of Medan, Sumatra.
Amvir’s grown his hair out into a long ponytail and I’ve shaved those ridiculous handlebar moustaches off.
I made my big score. I should be happy. Perhaps in time I will be. I don’t deal, I’m not running, and we’re settled. It will be a long time, if ever, before we can go back to Calcutta. But in the meantime there’s the clubs and bars ringing Bootha Street and the opulent Hotel De Boer in Dutchtown. Or a new city whenever we want one. Even London if we’re ever mad enough to go.
Ammie’s getting religious. Zoroastrian magic may have saved both our lives, though already I’m not sure. What really did happen that night? Maybe I’ll try religion too, when the pain of separation from the City of Palaces grows too strong. But for now, I’ll stay in my fine timber Batak house, perched on its stilts, sipping lassi and idly watching Holland’s tough Ambonese troops as they square-bash and march. They’re not a patch on Calcutta’s resident Gurkhas.
Calcutta was my home and now I’m exiled. But here I’m free of the British Empire, free of its bullying and my fear of becoming part of it. I’ve laid my burden down.
When I go back to Calcutta I won’t be bearing it again.

**

authpicdev

Bio:

Dev Agarwal is a science fiction and fantasy writer. He also is an editor for Ireland’s science fiction magazine, Albedo One. His fiction has appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and America. Dev’s latest story is ‘Blight’ in Looking Landwards, published by Newcon Press. Come and say hello in between panels, if you’re at Loncon.

On Race and SF — by Dev Agarwal

June 11, 2014 - 12:23 pm No Comments

As a teenager, looking to widen my science fiction reading, my friend Vic led me from our suburb into London, where he’d discovered Forbidden Planet. It was in the Planet that I found Barnes’ novel Streetlethal, the story of Aubry Knight. The cover inaccurately describes Knight as “A Road Warrior in the LA of the Future,” referencing Mad Max, and depicts him as a muscular, semi-naked white man, who looks vaguely like Lee Majors as Steve Austin (really).

In the US some years later, I came across Steven Barnes 1989 novel, Gorgon Child, the sequel to Streetlethal. This time the cover had two characters on the front. A tough looking man, in sunglasses and a lithe, beautiful woman (we’ll leave gender politics for another time). I knew Aubry Knight (the Steve Austin look-alike from the first novel) wasn’t the lithe, beautiful woman. What came as a huge surprise was that Aubry Knight was now black. Or, more significantly, had always been black.

Rereading Streetlethal, I struggled to find any references to Knight as black or African American. Numerous other characters are described by their race, using terms like Caucasian, Asian, Latino, etc. There are references to Knight’s body, his musculature in particular, as he’s a fighter, but no references that he’s black. “His dark, scarred face,” is on page 1, and perhaps this was meant to indicate that Barnes’ protagonist was black, though presumably Barclay Shaw, who painted the cover art, assumed he was white, as did I.

I do not, of course, criticize Steven Barnes, who is himself black, and has written about race and racial politics. He gave me a lot of reading pleasure in those books and he presumably had a clear vision of Aubry Knight as a black man when he wrote them. But perhaps he couldn’t say it explicitly. Knight’s ethnicity exists in negative. Barnes remains true to it by not writing anything that indicates that Knight is of any other race. Knight is a stealth minority character. This is an example of the challenge that a black writer can face, trying to write what he wants to write and how his vision can be reinterpreted by cover artists and readers.

That was some years ago, in the 1980s, and the story of Aubry Knight actually shows that representation has evolved. Knight after all exists, even if misrepresented, or camouflaged. Going back two decades, Samuel R Delany once submitted his novel Nova to Analog Magazine. John W. Campbell, Jr rejected it, Delany recounts, “with a phone call to my agent explaining that he didn’t feel his readership would be able to relate to a black main character.”

Aubry Knight made it into print, which is a step forward. However, even in the twenty first century, we’ve still got a long way to go. As recently as 2009, the protagonist of Justine Larbalastier’s Liar was whitewashed on the original US cover, although the protagonist even describes herself as black in the text. Echoing this experience, in 2004 Ursula LeGuin said, “Even when [my characters] aren’t white in the text, they are white on the cover.”

Who’s responsible for the continued prevalence of a homogonised and simplistic point of view? Publishers are perhaps afraid that books picturing non-white characters won’t sell, despite the fact that they frequently do. Barnes’ UK readers didn’t know that they were asked to relate to a black character but they did, thus confirming that a black character’s motivations and needs are indivisible from his white counterparts.

I had my own experience with what might be called “cultural default settings” while attending a writers’ workshop in the US. I submitted a story, “James,” that was mostly well received, but also surprisingly divisive.  The protagonist, James, is trapped in poverty, joblessness and poor housing. He’s drawn into crime by his brother, Andy. At one point Andy refers to James as “bro”.

The first person to comment in the workshop said: “Brace yourself, I’m going to be mean.  You have chosen the single most clichéd idea in fiction.  A black man in the ghetto turning to crime.”

In that group, the writer didn’t comment until the end of the discussion, and there were 18 more comments to go. However, I interrupted by reflex to say, “James is not black.”

The criticism juddered to a halt.  My fellow workshopper said, “What?”

“He’s not black.”

Rallying, he said, “It doesn’t say he’s not black.”

Puzzled by this logic, I said, “It doesn’t say he is.”

It’s possible that this exchange could have stretched into infinity, both statements true, echoing off each other forever. However, the fact that James was white proved too much for this particular workshopper and the discussion rolled on past him. The group then discussed whether there were “tells” in the story that indicated that James was black, centring on the overt one, the use of the word, “bro.” What wasn’t discussed was the implicit and more awkward point: whether criminality and poverty equal “black”. The subtext is, of course, that if you write about a character like Aubry Knight and you never overtly describe him as black or African-American, then the “cultural default setting” kicks in and he becomes white, like the majority. But if you’re writing crime, then the default setting flips. The protagonist is not like majority. James turned to crime, so he must be black. That’s what they do.

On discovering that Aubry Knight was black, I had to adjust my frame of reference to continue reading Gorgon Child. Something the readers of “James” also struggled to do. That didn’t seem significant at the time, but looking back, a lot of readers might not make that transition, even today. The links in the process of publishing, from the writer’s initial break through, to the editing and cover art and marketing of his or her work, can all disrupt what writers say and what they write about.

This was all some time ago, and the territory of SF changes as it and the wider culture we sit in evolves. The politician Stephanie Bannister made global headlines when she unwisely informed Australia that “I’m not opposed to Islam as a country.” Any discussion of race and representation must look at how the Muslim world in depicted, both in and outside of the genre. The Muslim world has always held an interest for the genre, both in generating its own SF (from Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain’s “Sultana’s Dream,” to the prolific Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia). However, the Muslim world is more represented in the genre as characters rather than writers and here we can see a cultural shift.

Jitterbug (1984) by Mike McQuay is a visceral, well-realised SF dystopia. It also features three specific Muslim tropes. Faisel ibn Al Sa’ud is the leader of a deeply nefarious corporation that has enslaved the planet and is busy destroying country-sized swathes of it. Faisel’s sister in law, Nura, is mostly a helpless object, held prisoner, and his brother, Abdullah, is the noble savage who eschews all modern civilization. All three of them are archetypical Muslims, none of them fully rounded. The more essential and dynamic characters are all American. But we’ve moved on past this, in our genre, at least. Muslims have evolved from clichés or “moving wallpaper” to characters integral to the plot in series like Deep Space Nine and Lost, with Alexander Siddig’s and Naveen Andrews’ characters. Mainstream culture appears to be moving more slowly, where the post 9/11 experience has thrown up endless Arab terrorists in mainstream culture (as in 24 and Homeland).

The genre looks better, more embracing and experimental. Works such as Throne of the Crescent Moon (2012) by Saladin Ahmed rebalances the perspective. This Locus award-winning fantasy novel, could not be further from Jitterbug (and perhaps the mainstream) in its relationship to the Muslim world.

Books like Thrown perhaps reflect that we are already living in the SF future. This is a world that could not be credibly conceived of fifty years ago, or even twenty. A black president, for example, existed in cinema as far back as 1933, (in Rufus Jones for President, featuring a seven-year-old Sammy Davis, Jr) but only as fantasy. Yet, here we are, living what might be called the mundane SF present of a black presidency. The significance of Obama’s story — particularly in winning a second term — may be due to the change in US demographics. Romney’s campaign was based on a Republican strategy of drawing on “angry white men.” This strategy failed in 2012 because they were not, as Republican Lindsey Graham observed, producing enough angry white men to beat Obama. And every month since the election in 2012, fifty thousand Hispanics become eligible to vote. This creates an unstoppable demographic shift in America’s politics, economics and culture. Many of these people will also be consuming fiction, watching movies and TV. These are the people who will read science fiction in future, and if they’re reading it, that means there will be more of it and increasingly more diverse characters and cultures represented in it.

Some people are terrified by this change. In our genre, we’re already thinking about the future. We are always the cutting edge of culture and we have long understood the attraction of the alien as a character — or the attraction of exploring a landscape that is not our own. We also often see the opportunities of wider markets with more diversity of writers and readers. This offers an increase in the breadth of characters and types of stories that demographic change can bring. When minority voices cease to be in the minority, they have the socioeconomic might to challenge the orthodoxy. This change is good for all of us, making our genre stronger, deeper and more varied.

Footnotes

1 Ahmed Khaled Towfik is interviewed by Cheryl Morgan in Locus (available online).

2 Thanks to the author Kari Sperring for her work in organising the panel, Why is the future drawn so white? at Eastercon 2013 and bringing together a number of us to discuss these issues.

3 For examples of accessible fiction that explores the themes of race and identity, in our genre, the touchstones must be Samuel R Delany and Octavia Butler. Any of Butler’s books consider the wide complex relationships between cultures and people who look and act differently to each other. She extrapolates from there to a discussion around what it means to be alien. In a rich field, Kindred (1979) and Bloodchild and Other Stories (1996) stand out. Similarly with Delany, my personal favourites are Dhalgren (1975) and The Einstein Intersection (1967).

4 Outside the genre, I’d like to mention a fun example of a film that slyly explores diversity. This is the film 48 Hours. This film is the cop buddy movie that not only launched Eddie Murphy’s career, but the “career” of the cop buddy movie itself. The film came out in 1982 and the strength of the format can be seen in numerous black cop/white cop pairings ever since (this year’s 2 Guns, is just the most recent). What’s noticeable about 48 Hours is, as John Patterson in The Guardian remarks, the Nolte and Murphy characters have a “mutual racial antagonism (that) seems shockingly forthright today”. Firstly, there is an obvious power imbalance, the white cop holds the black criminal in handcuffs, then endlessly insults him, racially abuses him and even beats him up. The film travels the familiar path of redemption through violence, but the cop buddy format now glosses over any debate around inequality, or even diversity. There is no real distinction between the cops anymore as the two characters homogenise until there is no discrimination to address. 48 Hours is far more honest and also, Walter Hill and his writing team appear to be having fun with the edges of a wider debate. The film references a bank robbing gang that has dissolved. They are never seen together, but their members include, whites, blacks, Asians and Native Americans in a subtle reference to diversity. And how many cop movies can say that there’s a discussion about the difference between types of Indians? James Remar’s character says, “No, not with a turban. You know, a squaw.” Thus referencing two ethnic minorities, and in the middle of an action movie.

*

Bio:
authpicdev

Dev Agarwal is a science fiction and fantasy writer. He also is an editor for Ireland’s science fiction magazine, Albedo One. His fiction has appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and America. Dev’s latest story is ‘Blight’ in Looking Landwards, published by Newcon Press. Come and say hello in between panels, if you’re at Loncon.