Augmented reality: spec fic from my Hasidic childhood

At Continuum 13, I was on a panel about speculative fiction from our childhoods. We were each asked to speak for a few minutes, so I thought I’d reproduce my talk here (I went a little off-script, but this is the guts of it). It was pretty personal and fun to write, and it seemed to be well received.

I could talk about my memories of my dad reading us The Hobbit, and how proud I was when I read Lord of the Rings all by myself. I could talk about Star Wars, and how I wrote Princess Leia fanfiction before I knew that was a thing. But really, ours was a pretty typical geeky household in a lot of ways. Magic swords and spaceships were normal for us. So instead, I’d like to focus on the context in which our geekdom occurred.

Unlike most, if not all, of you, I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home — specifically, a Lubavitch Hasidic household, and I went to an all-girls’ school of the same denomination. For many people outside that world, their perception is of a closed community involving men in black coats and subservient women.

The truth, as always, is a bit more complicated than that. If I had to summarise the driving force of my upbringing, it wouldn’t be isolation, even though that was a factor. My school offered a comprehensive secular education and encouraged university studies, and my parents never censored our reading (although they limited our access to TV and cinema).

No, the focus of Hasidism is not isolation. It’s a deeply spiritual belief system that seeks holiness in all things. To make the world better by uplifting the mundane into the sacred. It’s what my sister describes as an “augmented reality” — a lens that allows you to see a “spark of Godliness” in everything, if you hold the secret combinations of words and actions to unlock them. Continue reading

It? Is? June?

The passage of time never fails to take me by surprise. So here we are, it’s June, and I’m announcing my next big thing: Mother of Invention: a speculative fiction anthology of diverse, challenging stories about gender and artificial intelligence. I’ll be co-editing this Twelfth Planet Press anthology with Tansy Rayner Roberts. We’ve just launched a Kickstarter to fund the project, so please check out the goodies we have on offer and tell your friends.

In other news, I’m very excited to announce that my Far-North Queensland guerrilla scientist story, “Trivalent”, is forthcoming in Ticonderoga Publications’ Ecopunk anthology. I’m really proud of this story, and I’m in excellent company in this table of contents.

Also from Ticonderoga, my Tasmanian Jewish-ish steampunk “Beyond the Factory Wall” is reprinted in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015. Available soon.

I’ve also got con adventures aplenty this year. I live-tweeted (of course) GX Australia — my first gaming/pop culture convention. Next, I’ll be at Continuum in Melbourne, where I’ll be on a couple of panels and will be passing the ‘best new talent’ baton at the Ditmar Awards. After that, there’s the NSW Writers’ Centre Speculative Fiction Festival here in Sydney, WorldCon in Helsinki, Conflux (Canberra) if I can manage it, and last but not least, GenreCon in Brisbane.

Challenging normative ideas

This interview was originally published at News & Press from The Future Fire.

Chinelo Onwualu is a writer, editor and journalist living in Abuja, Nigeria. She is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion West Writers Workshop, which she attended as the recipient of the Octavia E. Butler Scholarship. She is editor and co-founder of Omenana, a magazine of African speculative fiction. Her writing has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Brittle Paper, Ideomancer, AfroSF: African Science Fiction by African Writers, and Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond. Follow her on Twitter or check out her website. She spoke to Rivqa Rafael about her writing and editing, and about African speculative fiction.

RR: (As far as I’m aware) you’re the editor of two ambitious speculative fiction magazines. First, I’ll ask about the more established one, Omenana. I love your two-pronged mission here, showcasing African speculative fiction and challenging “normative ideas” – not to mention the gorgeous art and stories. What can you tell us about the magazine and its growth over the years?
CO: Well, the magazine was actually the brainchild of my co-founder Mazi Nwonwu. He’d been thinking of creating a platform for the kinds of speculative fiction that he and a lot of people he knew were writing, but which just weren’t getting any attention from the arbiters of mainstream “African” fiction, a lot of whom are in the US or the UK. I’d expressed an interest in starting some sort of platform as well, so he reached out to me.

It’s been so much fun working on Omenana. I’ve read so much more African sci-fi, fantasy and horror in the past two years and I don’t think I’d have had the opportunity otherwise. The first couple of issues we had to solicit for stories, but by the end of the first year we were getting quite a number of submissions. This last issue we received nearly 50! I had no idea that so many writers were doing such amazing things with the genre.

Every month it’s a bit of a scramble, especially around our art. Plus, we became a paying platform last year – just when the Nigerian economy went into recession and our currency lost more than twice its value – and that hasn’t been easy either because we run it out of our pockets. We’ll be crowdfunding later this year to raise money to keep the whole thing going – so look out for that.

Despite it all, the African speculative fiction continues to grow – even beyond the magazine. Last year, a bunch of us writers, artists and filmmakers formally organised the African Speculative Fiction Society. We’ll be awarding our first prize for novels and short fiction, the Nommos, this year. Members are currently in the nominating process.

As for the magazine, we’re looking to expand our online presence and create more of a hub for African speculative fiction, with news, podcasts, and forums for discussion. Mainstream African stories have always had a speculative element to them, but to see how the boundaries of what is speculative are being pushed has been such an honour to witness, you know? Continue reading

Ends and beginnings, 2016 edition

Author with awardIn the spirit of recounting the good things that happened to me in this global annus horribilis, here’s my year in review. In (mostly) chronological order…

My writing year kicked off in earnest (I’m sure I wrote stuff before then, but I can’t be sure) in March, when I attended Contact. Held in Brisbane over the Easter long weekend, this was the 55th Australian National Science Fiction Convention and I enjoyed it heartily.

It featured the first Aurealis Awards that I was involved with (as judge for SF short story category) and much live-tweeting by me. I also won a Ditmar Award for Best New Talent, which was surprising and inspiring to my work since. (Except for the part where I dropped my pin on the floor of the stage, but I am at peace with my clumsiness.) To the Australian speculative fiction community, thank you for welcoming me and honouring me.

Continue reading