We’ve been busy! We’ve launched our fabulous new science-into-fiction anthology, Beta-Life. Check out the gorgeous cover. There’s something uncanny about the idea of ‘artificial life’ and this image captures that, as well as the buzz of scientific endeavour as we get nearer to recreating ourselves in new forms.
Beta-Life is full of the imagined future of AI. Organically grown skyscrapers, a man who mines data in a way you will never have imagined, a government-arranged riot, a nano-engineered feast. Read it, the stories are brilliant, and the scientific afterwords are fascinating mini-essays, glimpses of what might really be possible. The fiction and the science are often astoundingly close.
We’ve been to Ilkley and Lancaster to talk about The Book of Gaza- very sadly without our writer friends from the Strip. The war blocked us this time but we will try again next year. In true Gazan fashion, however, we made the best of it and were able to show the audience a video of Mona Abu Sharekh reading her story, and a wonderful actor, Grazyna Monvid, read out loud Nayrouz Qarmout’s for us.
Last month Banned Books Week was celebrated. We’re familiar with censorship here at Comma. Some of Hassan Blasim’s work is banned in parts of the Middle East. A few of us had a look at a list of banned books online and chose our favourites…
Christine Gilmore- Arabic Editor
My choice would have to be The Canterbury Tales. Banned in twentieth-century America under the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act (The so-called Cornstock Law) of 1873 which prohibited the sending or receiving of works containing “obscene”, “filthy” or “inappropriate” material, reading the Canterbury Tales as a 20 year old undergraduate for the first time made me aware that in many ways recent history, and indeed my own era, was vastly more conservative than the mores of centuries gone by, and that the swinging sixties probably had nothing on the going’s-on of a troupe of 14th century pilgrims…
Jim Hinks- Digital Editor
I’ve chosen ‘The Lottery’, a 1948 short story by Shirley Jackson, which was banned in South Africa during apartheid. It remains shocking because the antagonists – people like you and me, the story suggests – acquiesce to cruelty and injustice so long as they’re not the victims. It’s about the psychology of divide and rule, and you can see why the Apartheid State banned it. It’s also an impressive technical feat. Few stories retain their structural integrity, their vividness, once their allegorical intention becomes evident – as the reader awakens to political subtext, their attention is diverted to a real-world analogue, whereupon the characters begin to evaporate from the page, like the photo of Marty’s siblings in Back to the Future. Not in ‘The Lottery’. Jackson focuses your attention on the here and now, right to the horrific conclusion. Then you’re left with a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, and the question: ‘What did that mean?’ In the UK, in 2014, the victims are different (scroungers? immigrants?), and we’re still being encouraged to pick up stones.
Sarah Hunt-Engagement Manager
I’ve gone for The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Of the Great Depression, Steinbeck apparently said ‘I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this’. No wonder then, that this book was banned in Kern County, California where Big Farming held enough political capital to have it banished from libraries and schools.
The book is exhausting. Any hope you have for the Joads on their biblical pilgrimage towards work and dignity is cudgelled in to submission by the time they reach California- made all the more bleak knowing that this was an unforgivably common-place experience for over a million working-class Americans in the 1930s. Hope lies outside the book in people like Gretchen Knief, a Kern County librarian who famously risked her job by campaigning against its censorship. In so doing she contributed towards the creation of the Library Bill of Rights- legislation which aims to protect the American library as a space of intellectual freedom. Big Farming in the US, however, still commands immense influence at state and federal level- some things haven’t changed at all.