The weird, the wacky, the underappreciated: A new look at science fiction and fantasy

The weird, the wacky, the underappreciated: A new look at science fiction and fantasy


 Article from the Washington Post's Online Book Review Section, with a shout out to Kuzhali Manickavel

The weird, the wacky, the underappreciated: A new look at science fiction and fantasy

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Lavie Tidhar 

Posted on October 8, 2019

Even 10 years ago, the fields of science fiction and fantasy were still overwhelmingly American and white. And, if you grew up speaking Spanish in Mexico City, (as I, Silvia, did), or Hebrew on a small kibbutz in Israel (as I, Lavie, did), it meant that the world of science fiction, filtered through translation, was as remote and alien as the other side of the moon. The very idea we could be writing novels like these seemed, well, fantastical.

Yet, somehow, here we are. The past decade has seen the science-fiction world change as more international voices enthusiastically jumped into the fray. Now, wonderful writers including Malaysian Zen Cho can write smart, funny fantasies such as “Sorcerer to the Crown”; after years of struggle, Nigerian Tade Thompson’s ambitious Africa-set novel, “Rosewater,” was published to wide acclaim and recently won the prestigious Arthur C. Clarke Award; and Chinese author Liu Cixin’s “The Three-Body Problem,” translated by Ken Liu, has become a bestseller and even has a recommendation from former president Barack Obama.

In our new column, we hope to highlight some of the fresh, exciting, weird and wacky science fiction and fantasy from around the world and also look back at some underappreciated gems from the past.

Lavie: “Lion City,” by Ng Yi-Sheng. It’s published by a Singaporean press, Epigram, but available in e-book. It’s a short-story collection of decidedly fantastical, and decidedly Singaporean, tales. It very much skews to the literary side — think Aimee Bender (who incidentally wrote what I think is a great zombie story, “Among Us”) or Etgar Keret and you’ll come close. My favorite story here might be “No Man Is,” about a boy who goes into the sea one day and decides to become an island. What happens next are increasingly fantastical and funny adventures.


Also, I just have to give a shout-out to Kuzhali Manickavel, a wonderful Indian writer of short fiction in English. Her two collections, “Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings” and “Things We Found During the Autopsy” should be on everyone’s shelf. I mean, just look at those titles!

My recommendation is “Tears of the Trufflepig,” by Fernando A. Flores, a near-future, dystopian novel. It’s the kind of book that gets labeled as surrealist by literary readers who have never read science fiction and that is, at the same time, in danger of never being found by genre readers because it doesn’t come from a genre imprint.

 (MCD x FSG Originals)
(MCD x FSG Originals)

It’s definitely genre, though, because the world here is a future in which narcos are cloning extinct species, such as dodos, and there’s not one, but three walls between Mexico and the United States. But it’s also a hard-boiled novel: Drugs are legal, so business centers on selling illegal “filtered” animals or shrunken human heads. It feels a bit like the classics of the novela negra of Latin America — think Paco Ignacio Taibo II or Rafael Bernal — were fused with a Philip K. Dick book. It’s darkly funny at times, to boot.

Silvia: Yup, Taibo was a favorite of mine growing up. In “Tears of the Trufflepig,” Flores really captures the essence of living at the border. He’s a Mexican-born writer who lives in Texas. I think he inhabits the liminal space many of the writers we’ve mentioned are writing in. This is a nascent, evolving, truly global kind of science fiction — and it’s exciting to wonder what we’ll find next.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels “Gods of Jade and Shadow” and “Signal to Noise.” Lavie Tidhar is the author of several novels, including “The Violent Century,” “A Man Lies Dreaming,” “Central Station” and “Unholy Land.”