As our European home base is emerging from the clutches of the pandemic (or at least its first wave), we hope that our readers, authors and their loved ones have weathered the storm in good health and high spirits.
We resume our standard format this quarter, but given the doom and gloom of recent months, we try to add a cheerful touch this time, with quite a few stories that strike a light-hearted cord. These are punctuated by three essays, each courting controversy in their own particular way; be it the relationship between faith and science fiction, the dearth of SFF translations from languages other than English, or a timely reflection on pandemics as depicted in the sci-phi canon.
During the spring, we had received a record number of submissions – a welcome development, which we, however, ascribe to the unfortunate circumstances of the global lockdown. Solitude is good for literature, it seems.
The rules of social distancing also meant that the crew availed themselves of the opportunity to spend more time with their families, while doing their day jobs (and reviewing submitted stories) confined to their library armchairs. Co-editor Ádám marvelled time and again at the manner in which the world that to him seemed to be closing in, was at the same time opening up for his little daughter, barely three years old, who is at the age when the mere shadow of a cloud on the balcony is ripe with speculative possibilities.
In a way, science fiction (and sci-phi in particular) is a genre that at its core sets out to inspire in readers that same inclination towards subliminal wonder, as if seeing a new phenomenon through the eyes of a child. May we never lose our ability to revel in this playfulness of the human mind!
ps: While most of the SPJ crew leads rather old-school, analogue lives, we are following the advice of a couple of kind readers to re-animate the Journal’s Twitter account from its long cryogenic slumber. If you wish to support our authors by sharing (re-tweeting?) their work, you may do so by following @sciphijournal (which we are told is not a hashtag, but an account handle, apparently).
As we enter the second year since the relaunch of SPJ and encourage our readership to retreat into cosy bubbles of isolation to avoid the looming spread of a ‘novel’ contagion*, it is sobering to contemplate that we are protagonists (or, at the very least, extras) in a major SF scenario.
At the time of writing, your co-editors are hunkering down to witness epic, planetary-scale medical speculative fiction unfolding in front of our eyes. Fortunately, for the time being, the events are mostly mediated by our screens, ensuring a distance akin to that of a reader to words on a page. Or to the dispassion wherewith an immortal being would regard the morbid curiosity of death (c.f. Brian Stableford’s now-classic “Mortimer Gray’s History of Death”).
Which brings us to our first departure from the usual mixture of speculative essays and challenging fiction. The Q1 issue of 2020 is made up entirely of short stories, all clustered around the theme of immortality, and various antitheses thereof, from legislating a timely death to erasing one’s memory from the bookshelves of history. These were selected from a rich spectrum of submissions, and we note with relief that more and more authors ‘get’ the conceptual narrative and world-building approaches to speculative fiction, and particularly the fictional non-fiction (FNF) subgenre we strive to cultivate.
The time of the fabled spring clean will be upon us soon, and fittingly our plans for 2020 include completing the process of making archived digital content from SPJ’s previous incarnations available, which had previously languished behind a subscription or paywall, and strive to clean up the tags and category markers across the site.
Coinciding with the 2020Q1 issue is an update of our FNF bibliography, which we intend to continue expanding, grateful as always for further recommendations. We might explore the possibility of another thematic issue later during the year (depending on our means), but also hope to continue our series of articles on speculative fiction in less well-known regional literary markets. If you speak a language that is, perhaps due to lack of exposure or translations into English, less accessible to the international public, and feel inclined to write about the state of SF in that milieu, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
Stay safe, memento mori.
* In reference to the virus carrying the ‘novel’ epithet, we wish to reiterate our long-held opposition to fat literature.
Alas, one cannot shake the feeling that it is not entirely appropriate for a publication dedicated to SF, a genre most commonly associated with the future, to avert its gaze towards the sentimentality of the path already travelled. Yet with the approach of the festive season, we permit ourselves this small indulgence.
Thus as we mark the relaunched Sci Phi Journal completing its first year, we wish to use this opportunity to thank you for your continued readership and the kind expressions of support we have received throughout 2019.
In this winter issue, we are delighted to once again offer you an unconventional selection of original fiction, essays as well as a translation of an obscure gem of contemporary European spec fic. What more, this edition accompanies an important step forward for the Journal, one that has been in preparation for quite some while.
The SPJ site is unveiling a major new feature as a culmination of several years of research work by co-editor Mariano: an extensive, living bibliography of our favourite stylistic sub-genre, Fictional Non-Fiction. In its present state, the index runs to a printed length of about 80 pages, and Mariano does not conceal his ambition to make it as complete as possible. For that, we invite your help to expand it by writing to us or posting suggestions in the comment section. We hope that with time the FNF List will grow to serve as a valuable resource for all scholars and readers interested in this rigorous, concept-driven mode of writing.
The entire SPJ team thank you for your companionship along the journey in 2019 and look forward to sailing forth into 2020 to bring you more cutting-edge philosophical speculation.
We wish all our readers, authors and contributors a merry Christmas and an auspicious start into 2020!
At the time of writing, Ádám of the SPJ editorial team is on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Yet the primary impressions his sojourn inspires belong not in the realm of theology, but world building. (Admittedly, the two are related.)
To an avid reader of the fantastic, even a cursory intercourse with the State of Israel reveals it as a prime example of applied utopian SF. Aside from its symbols and official historiography, consider the resurrection of arcane Hebrew as the vehicular language of a new society: t’is the stuff that compensatory alternate history is made of.
Take Theodor Herzl’s foundational novel Altneuland, published in 1902, which lays out plans for the future Jewish state, in the guise of programmatic fiction. The title of the book was translated into Hebrew as Tel Aviv. Now guess the name of the country’s largest city today…
Israel’s continued existence and demonstrations of might attest to the power of narratives in shaping social consent. (And yes, except for the man-versus-nature tales of the hard-SF tradition, it is a staple of drama that triumphs often come at someone else’s expense – this is no different in the geopolitics of the Middle East.)
Ask three Israelis and they’ll have four opinions. Yet in spite of ‘sinat chinam’, the eternal curse of discord, this heterodox society that oftentimes intimates a Mediterranean re-imagining of Blade Runner, where college girls in army uniform carrying assault rifles mingle with Haredim and rainbow warriors at retrofuturist malls, has nonetheless managed to forge a sense of identity and purpose.
It even has its own hermetic SF scene in Hebrew, though some gems slipping under the radar may be stumbled across in English, such as It Could Have Been. Safra’s wish-fulfilment fantasy reads like a guided tour of a Jerusalem that is proudly the largest city in the world, where the Second Temple still stands. This 2015 graphic novel is predicated on an alternate history timeline, wherein literally every character we encounter holds fast to a dress code associated with Orthodox Judaism and Israel’s capital is the envy of the globe. No doubt it has the potential to appeal to some readers and upset others. As good speculative fiction should.
So beware, narratives are powerful. Be mindful of what you write. It might spark a cult, inspire riots or, heaven forfend, cause offence. (If so, we’ll publish it.)
In this spirit, the editors wish you an enjoyable read of our autumn crop of world building, speculative philosophy and exotic SF!
Some of us like to read our dose of speculative fiction and articles on trusty old paper.
For your convenience, here you can download the 2019 summer issue of Sci Phi Journal in its entirety, formatted as a user-friendly PDF – ready for printing or viewing via e-reader.
the SPJ crew
One of the parables attributed to Christ tells of the evolutionary trials of seeds that fall unto various kinds of soil, particularly with reference to their subsequent growth prospects.
Now cyberspace certainly is a difficult terrain with plenty of rocky patches, so we at SPJ are well pleased that this summer issue of the relaunched journal augurs a bountiful harvest, with fresh fiction and essays from both established and new authors. We continue our series on rarely explored regional SF, this time with an expedition into Chilean dystopia. We also publish our first annotated translation: a seminal piece of early fictional non-fiction, brought to you in conjunction with our sister journal Hélice, where you will find a different(!) translation of the same work.
We were overwhelmed by the amount of stories submitted to us for publication in the spring issue, and by the number of visitors to the site. We are gradually making available the entire treasure trove of past SPJ stories (incl. those previously restricted to subscribers) and bring you new content with each quarterly issue. The comment sections remain fairly quiet, though, so don’t be shy, please share your thoughts with our authors. Feedback (even, or particularly, critical) helps us, authors and editors alike, hone our craft.
We plan ambitious initiatives for the near future, most importantly a comprehensive, ‘living’ bibliography of virtually the entire modern corpus of speculative, fictional non-fiction, as a permanent feature to be hosted on our site. Our next call for submissions is not far off either (1-31 July). In August, we’ll be represented at both the WorldCon in Dublin and TitanCon in Belfast (you may recognise Mariano and me by our SPJ T-shirts).
With these ongoing efforts we hope to ensure that the seeds planted by the founders of SPJ will continue to fall unto fertile ground and bear sparks of literary joy for many a friend of spec fic.
Some of us like to read our dose of speculative fiction and articles on trusty old paper.
For your convenience, here you can download the first issue of Sci Phi Journal in 2019 in its entirety, ready formatted as a reader-friendly PDF e-zine with a printer-friendly layout.
The Sci Phi Journal crew
by Ádám Gerencsér
Online publishing is a fractured landscape. There is a large volume of content vying for the attention of a relatively narrow readership. So why another journal?
In his post ‘So Long, and Thanks for the Philosophy’, the previous editor, Ray Blank, who had steered the Sci Phi Journal through the turbulent year of 2017, announced that it would be discontinued.
It so happened that I stumbled upon SPJ the very day Ray published that post. Looking for a venue that carried ‘my kind’ of SF, I realised that, while there are many sites, they all feature similar content. If you compare the submission guidelines of most SF mags, you’ll see a tendency to gravitate towards popular criteria that resemble contemporary literature at large. I was particularly aggrieved by the ubiquitous demand for the C-word: stories must be ‘character-driven’.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that tales concerned primarily with the goings-on of imaginary people have their place and are likely what the majority of readers have come to expect, particularly now that narrative tastes are shaped by television and online media. But writing, especially short fiction, can do so much more.
Thus sprung the wish to resurrect SPJ in order to provide a home for philosophical, conceptual and idea-driven speculation. I’m most fortunate that on this quest I can count on formidable allies such as Mariano Rodriguez Martín, editor of the speculative fiction journal Hélice and prolific scholar of the genre’s history, along a small but plucky band of enthusiastic (foolhardy?) volunteers.
Over the coming months, we intend to add additional sections to the journal, reminiscent of ‘pinned posts’ or wiki articles, on topics that broadly correlate with serious philosophical speculation. For instance, we plan to build a comprehensive bibliography of ‘artefacts’ (the above-mentioned fictional non-fiction) and will invite readers to flag up any titles we might have missed.
We have few illusions, for we are pragmatic idealists. This site exists as a labour of love and generates no form of income. But if we can gradually gather a core of readers and writers who are ‘into’ this niche and wish to engage in an exchange of ideas and inspiration through stories, articles and frank discussion in the comment sections, it will have already been worth it. For in the cacophony of the world, we will have found each other.
P.S.: Our heartfelt thanks go out to the crew who made this first edition possible (you may read more about them in the About section of the website) and the authors of fiction and articles who had so generously contributed original work to support the journal’s revival. You are awesome!