The Gulliver Travel Research Grant is now accepting applications

The Speculative Literature Foundation awards an annual travel grant of $800 to writers who need to travel for research. This grant can be used to “cover airfare, lodging, and/or other travel expenses” and make it possible for a writer to experience the geography and culture of a place they’re writing about first-hand. From the SLF website:

“Our travel grants will be awarded by a committee of SLF staff members on the basis of interest and merit. Factors considered will include:

  • a one-page written description of the project in question, including details on the travel location and an estimated completion date (no more than 500 words)
  • a writing sample in the proposed genre (up to 10 pages of poetry, 10 pages of drama, or 5000 words of fiction or creative nonfiction); please note that the writing sample must be a solo work (work completed only by the applicant).
  • a bibliography of previously-published work by the author (no more than one page, typed); applicants need not have previous publications to apply.

If awarded the grant, the recipient agrees to write a brief report of their research experience (500-1000 words) for our files, and for possible public dissemination on our website. PLEASE NOTE: This grant, as with all SLF grants, is intended to help writers working with speculative literature.”

Overall, the application process is simple:

  • Send the three items listed above to our travel grant administrator as attached .doc files, to Include a brief cover letter with your name and contact info (e-mail, phone in case of emergency). If you have questions, direct them to that same address.
  • You may apply for travel to take place at any point in the following year (from October to the following October).
  • Travel may take place from any country to any country, or internally within a country; the grants are unrestricted. Funds will be disbursed in U.S. currency (but can be sent through PayPal if that is more convenient for international recipients).
  • Travel grant applications will be considered from July 1st to September 30th, annually. Applications received outside that period will be discarded unread.
  • The grant recipient will be announced by November 15th, annually. All applicants will be notified of the status of their application by that date.

Learn more here. Let me know if you have questions which aren’t answered by the site, and I’ll do my best to help you sort it out.

I’m pleased to be assisting The Gulliver Travel Research Grant as a juror this year. I’ve worked with their Grants Administrator, Malon Edwards, before (he wrote “In the Marrow” which I published at Lakeside Circus) and you know I love speculative literature in general. Malon tells me that “the Travel Grant is the one that we get the least amount of applications for”. I think we can change that.


Chinoiserie is just another way that racism sells fiction.

I saw a comment on a Facebook thread which asked, “why do we have so many Japanese and Chinese science-fiction protagonists and authors featured, and fewer Indian ones?”

My response, built off my many years studying the history of art, and speculative fiction, along with my experience in the industry as a writer and publisher, and conversations I’ve had with many, many, authors and readers:

Because Chinese/Japanese authors and stories fall into the currently acceptable version of the same recurring Chinoiserie* that Western audiences have been buying since the 1600s. It’s Orientalism, really; the idea that certain kinds of Asian culture/fiction or writers of specific Asian descent share an aesthetic which is more “delicate”, more “refined”, more “exotic”, than Western styles but not too much so. We’re allowing an archetype (of that highly educated, polite, non-politcal, poetic, Asian, the one who would have counted up on your gold on his abacus or played soft music for you while another one poured a perfect cup of tea) to be bought, promoted, and win awards because it makes us (the Western, white, “us”) feel more diverse, while still not being threatened. Some Koreans or Singaporeans are okay, depending on the tale. That’s why only a certain kind of story is being bought by most publishers right now. The other type of Asians, the ones writing about the culture and stories of people from the Philippines, Vietnam, India (especially outside the cities), Laos, and so on — well, that feels too “tribal” to most Westerners. Too “other”. Too much like Mexican or African stories, and so it doesn’t get published.

Look at the award lists for the Hugo, Nebula, Andre Norton, Campbell, or even the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards… where Asians are nominated or win, what percentage are Chinese/Japanese? Can you think of an author of Asian descent who’s won a major SFF award who wasn’t Chinese or Japanese? (The few Asian authors we’ve lauded, that I can think of, are either Korean, which most Westerners think of as China-lite, or are women, because we expect them to be more delicate, more respectful, more graceful, more Oriental, and so, more acceptable.)

The long-form winner of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Award was translated from Chinese in 2013. And 2012. Including it’s inaugural year, 2011, no Asian work was even on the long list that wasn’t Chinese or Japanese. No Asian author has won, or made the shortlist for, the Best Novel Hugo, but we’ve recognized white authors writing about China: McHugh’s China Mountain Zhang, Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt, for example.

Look at the sort of stories we read, buy, and will only accept from even authors who aren’t of Chinese or Japanese descent: retold Chinese myths, dragon/carp/phoenix tales, Emperors, concubines and geisha, martial artists… We buy imagery that includes tea ceremonies and lotuses, cherry blossoms and samurai swords, jade, silk, kimono, brush-painted letters, origami, rice paper screens. Set it in the future, set it in space, retell it in the Singularity, sure, but it’s got to hold on to that classic Chinese sensibility. (Firefly, anyone?)

As the objects which were originally prized made their way, as descriptions or depictions of those objects, into art and literature, that commodity fetishism eventually (and now) implied cultural and historical significance into the imagined lives of those objects — and by extension, those people. After all, Chinoiserie was about collecting the “curios” of a place when importing the people (as servants, slaves, exotic mistresses) wasn’t always affordable.

I’m not saying that those authors don’t deserve to be recognized. Of course they do. It’s so rare we give out the big SFF awards to anyone who isn’t white that pretty much every one else is a victory for diversity. Yay! But let’s not kid ourselves that we’re truly celebrating the range of humanity.

I can’t blame the Asian authors, who try to write other things and get told it won’t sell, or who submit other types of stories only to have them rejected in favor of the “popular” tropes. I can blame the readers who don’t look for anything more, or worse, don’t realize their error when they assume this is what all Asian fiction must be like. I can blame the publishers who profit off racism by catering to this illusion.

But instead of looking for who to blame, I’d ask you to seek out those who’re getting it right by writing and publishing more than the expected/accept tropes. Find stories about American-born Asians who’re struggling with the disconnect between their middle-class life here, and their grandfather’s upbringing in a jungle. Find stories about Mongolian settlers raising lizard-horse hybrids on a faraway planet, or Cambodian techs programming a new utopia. Seek out Sri Lankan authors, and Filipinos, and Laotian. (Start here. Or here. Or here. Or here.)

They’re out there, and they’re amazing.

* Not sure what Chinoiserie is? It’s defined as “a style in art (as in decoration) reflecting Chinese qualities or motifs; also :  an object or decoration in this style” and “reflecting fanciful and poetic notions of China”. This is a Google image search on the term; here’s the Getty’s 2004 exhibit “Imaging the Orient“. Read “Chinoiserie is Clearly French for ‘Hella Tacky’“, this post about Anna May Wong/Chinoiserie in 1920’s Film, “Imperial Glaze on China“, for a quick perspective. For a longer read, check out Ma, Sheng-mei, Deathly embrace: Orientalism and the Asian American identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

“A key point: chinoiserie as not just a european appropriation and adulteration of chinese imagery and artistry, but also a form that is produced by chinese people/chinese-americans to appeal to and satisfy the palates of whites. chinoiserie also relies on stereotyping china and on racializing art forms.” – notes in a diasporic tongue

We Have Always Dreamed In Poetry – Part 3 (Colonialism, Romantics, and into the 20th century)

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Wrapping up our brief overview of the history of speculative poetry, this post will take us into the 20th century. Beginning in the mid 1400s, the Age of Colonialism (also called the Age of Discovery, generally by the people doing the discovering and not by the people who were perfectly happy not having been “discovered” yet) is an important moment in the history of poetry because it marks the collection of “native” works along with the creation of pro-European propaganda about those works. It also coincides with the development of the printing press, and the broader circulation of literature and literacy in general.

Portuguese, Spanish, and eventually British invaders, settlers, and missionaries* traveled the world, planting their flags. The idea of courtly love – where a virtuous, charming, and heroic man completes quests in order to win the heart of the beautiful but disdainful woman – spreads throughout Europe, screwing up relationships for centuries to come. Troubadours write and sometimes sing these poems for wealthy patrons, so popular that poets couldn’t keep up with demand, making poetry profitable for a large number of people for the first time in recorded history. The Italian (Petrarchan) sonnet, invented in the 13th century, grows more popular and is brought over to England by the 16th, just in time for Sir Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare to fall in love with it and make it their own. In the midst of all this… the perfect example of colonialist speculative verse is collected and popularized: the Arthurian legends.

Sir Thomas Malory started Morte d’Arthur while in prison in 1450 and finished it somewhere around 1470. The book contains some 13th century French stories, at least one Middle English tale, plus original writing by Malory. William Caxton introduced printing to England in 1475, and in 1485 printed  Morte d’Arthur, which saw several reprintings – and changed every single time. The basics stayed the same: Arthur is the lost son of a great king, conceived and hidden through magic, rises up, unites and conquers, has mythic adventures, fucks his sister, tries to have his son killed but instead creates a nemesis, loses his wife to his best friend, and retires to Avalon when he’s near unto death. It’s recently become popular with American white supremacists**, who see a glorious, Jesus-like white man who ruled over all and brought prosperity to the land, but even in contemporary times it was used in Britain for the same purpose. The Welsh Annales Cambriae claims that in 516 Arthur was victorious in battle because he carried the True Cross for three days and three nights on his shoulders (though later works argue that it was a chip of the cross he wore in an amulet), making the British people the new Chosen of God. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 1136 The History of the Kings of Britain paints Arthur as a man filled with so much goodness everyone just knew he was the right and true leader, but who also took over Ireland and Iceland so brutally*** that other kingdoms offered to surrender if he would only promise not to treat them the same way. This makes Arthur certain he should rule the world, so he conquers all of Europe and was about to conquer the Romans before Mordred tried to seize his throne.

The British spent several hundred years trying to get back this Arthurian empire, even though it never existed in the first place.  Continue reading

We Have Always Dreamed In Poetry – Part 2 (after the Roman Empire and into European Colonialism)

Read “Part 1 (beginning of recorded history through those dramatic Romans)” here.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, poetry didn’t die. In the almost-thousand years between when Odoacer deposed the Emperor Romulus and the Portuguese conquest of Ceuta, poetry flourished all over the world. Much of the extant Latin-language work is ecclesiastical, with occasional references to “pagan” gods and goddesses. The 5th century poet Coluthus, who lived in Lycopolis/Asyut in the Egyptian Thebaid, left behind a Greek-language poem in 394 hexameters called The Rape of Helen, which tells the story of Helen and Paris prior to their arrival in Troy. It’s got nymphs and goddesses and spite, and because the author was a most likely a Christian and believed this story to be a “myth” his poem falls squarely into the realm of speculative fiction. Dracontius of Carthage, another Christian poet, also wrote poetry about “the rape of Helen” (a popular subject), Medea, Hylas, and other Greek mythic staples.

Around the same time we get the Silappatikaram, one of the Great Epics of Tamil literature. This poem begins with a precis telling the reader what is about to happen, and then unfolds the tale in three chapters. It introduces the intermingling of poetry with prose, a form not seen in previous Tamil works, and is also credited with introducing folk songs into literature. It’s the story of a wronged woman who’s husband – a guy with maybe not the best judgement or luck – gets beheaded when he’s accused of stealing the Queen’s bracelet (in order to restart his life in a new town after his “inappropriate relationship with a dancer”). The wife proves her husband’s innocence and then IGNITES THE CITY with, essentially, the glorious power of her rightness.

You can read it and more here.

In the 6th century, pre-Islamic poetry hits the big time, but was largely concerned with biographies, inter-tribal disputes, and the occasional zoological description.* In that sense, it is very similar to Greek and Roman classical poetry in subject, though with a dearth of “mythic” fiction which may be attributed to destruction by later religions or governments. Example: during this century, Musaeus Grammaticus wrote 340 hexameter line  on the story of Hero and Leander (the one where the boy from the wrong side of the straights convinces the girl to have sex with him because “the Goddess Venus would want it that way”), later considered “the most beautiful of the age”. He’s also said to have written a cute little version of “Alpheus and Arethusa”, a classic of the Greek “chase+rape=love poem” oeuvre, so there’s that. Oh, and Procopius of Caesarea, principal Western historian of the 6th century, wrote Secret History, which says – in part – that Emperor Justinian was actually a headless monster who phased in and out of reality late at night.

We also get the rise of the Welsh bardic tradition, collected in later centuries as the Book of Taliesin (named for the earliest identified Welsh poet, whose work is included). Mixed in with elegies and Christian hymns are prophecies about the future and several poems about magic. Battling trees, evil witches, princes under a curse, hounds of hell – all the good stuff. We even get the introduction of Cerridwen, the Middle Welsh aspect of Homer’s Circe. Continue reading

We Have Always Dreamed In Poetry – Part 1 (beginning of recorded history through those dramatic Romans)

Last time, I talked about the earliest recorded speculative fiction poem. Before the end of the month, I want to talk about  where poetry has ended up, and where it’s going. To get there, we need to have at least a basic idea of what poetry has explored between 2000 BCE and the early 20th century. 4000 years of poetry in a singe blog post?

Actually, we need to start farther back. And, this is going to take more than one post.

Speculative fiction – the stories we tell which have not happened in our reality and contain some element of fantasy – has always been a part of our recorded literature. From the very beginning, we imagined, and then expressed those visions. But it is important to be aware that Western culture prejudices the reader to think of stories of certain gods and epic events as “myth”, while simultaneously promoting certain other gods and epic events as “gospel”. If we want to look at all of these stories as fiction, then it could be said the earliest fantasies in literature were created by Enheduanna, an Akkadian princess who served as High Priestess of moon god Nanna during the third millennium BCE. She lived in the Sumerian city-state of Ur, is one of the earliest women known from historical record, and is the earliest known author and poet.

Except – Enheduanna wrote hymns to her god. She exalted her worship in poetry and song. True, her work was revered. Copied and saved by kings, remembered, and revised 4500 years later*. It was beautiful, but to her and many of the people who came after, it wasn’t fiction. We cannot include it in this discussion without dismissing her beliefs, so we’ll mention her as a forerunner to SFF poetry in that she was an early creator of poetry, but we need to come forward in time a little to find what we’re looking for.

Around 2000 BCE, we find the oldest known love poem, a Sumerian tablet recording a “risque ballad” where a priestess asks her king to take her to bed, and then compliments him afterward. It’s possible that this was actually a performance piece instead of a personal note, and scholars have argued that the people represent gods, are taking part in seasonal fertility/agriculture rituals, and so on. Since it’s either romantic or religious (or both) it’s like the hymns of Ur: we can see the beauty in this work but can’t consider it fiction.

“Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” is different because it is a narrator’s account of one person telling another person a story, and the storyteller recalls an event which could not have happened** in order to deliver a moral lesson.*** At most, it’s a parable or metaphor, but contemporary people seemed to have considered it entertainment (therefore, fiction) so it’s safe for us to do so as well. Continue reading