Tag Archives: karen lord

Interviewing Karen Lord for Literatura Fantastica RBA

ProgramacionliteraturafantasticaRBARecently, I reviewed Karen Lord‘s highly enjoyable novel Redemption in Indigo, a rural fantasy that successfully mixing a modern sensibility and a tradition arising from oral narrative. Next week the spanish edition of her The Best of All Possible Worlds will be published, a very interesting science fiction novel that will soon be reviewed here at the Ilium’s Library. It’s a very different novel from Redemption in Indigo, a science fiction story exploring issues such as the formation of social networks and the interaction between cultures in a universe filled with life and mistery. I have been given the opportunity of interviewing Karen Lord for the Literatura Fantastica RBA imprint’s blog, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, so I’m really happy to share the english version of the interview with all the international readers here at this internet thingy.

You can find the spanish version of the interview at the Literatura Fantastica RBA blog. There, you will also find the first chapter of the Spanish edition of the novel .

Ladies and gentlement, behold… Karen Lord!

Karen Lord, photo, 2012Your novel has been published in a moment in which science fiction is increasingly paying attention to the work of writers with origins other than the United States and England. What are your views on this apparent trend to make of science fiction (and fantastic literature as a whole) a more internationally inclusive genre?

It benefits everyone. Readers in the US and the UK are not monocultural. Global literature and art is built from sharing, borrowing and blending the experiences of many. Science fiction is supposed to take us to the farthest reaches of the universe, to the end (and sometimes the beginning) of time. How authentic can all that invented diversity be if we can’t even acknowledge the diversity on our own planet?

On a related note, how does your Caribbean origin influence your novel, both in terms of content and of narrative approach?

I may be too close to my own work to answer that accurately, but I believe the style of my writing, and possibly even the structure of my novels, has been influenced by an oral tradition and also by that peculiar kind of British English that you unconsciously absorb from theology, politics and comedy. The Caribbean region is a place of many nations and peoples, and that too has enriched the content of my stories.

Redemption in Indigo was very well received both by readers and critics, and it is a very different book than The Best of Possible Worlds. What did you learn writing it and what new grounds did you set to explore with The Best of Possible Worlds?

untitledThe best thing I learned from Redemption in Indigo is that a complex narrative can be organic, that you can grow a story rather than plan a story, that pruning (editing) and grafting (rewriting) are key skills that make the final result so much more than a wild thing or a lifeless construct.

I used The Best of All Possible Worlds to experiment with a voice that was informal and occasionally unreliable rather than the voice of a trained storyteller who knows everything and withholds intentionally. Because the narrator doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t know or is forced to guess from other clues. I played with non-linear plots, connected mini-arcs, and most of all pacing – finding that balance between the highly dramatic and the reassuringly domestic, and sometimes purposely mixing the two in order to unsettle the reader.

This novel has been compared with the Ekumen books by Ursula K. Le Guin and it certainly seems to share several themes with them. Where do you see your science fiction in relation with the work of Le Guin or other science fiction writers more interested in the anthropological sciences than in the physical ones?

I am still in the process of understanding my work in the context of the genre, and I think that a critic or academic would answer this better than I could. Some believe that because the physical sciences are called ‘hard science’ that means the ‘soft sciences’ – anthropology, sociology, psychology – cannot produce hard SF. But, in my opinion, anthropological knowledge is what makes a created world, fantasy or science-based, feel real. I suspect that writers who like worldbuilding tend to write SF based on anthropology, whether or not they also include a physical science component. It’s just another kind of thought experiment, but with people and societies as the key variables.

The Best of Possible Worlds is delivered almost through a series of vignettes. This gives a feeling of a “fragmented” world, almost a fantasy land (it even has fairies!) in which races exist with almost no knowledge of each other. It certainly is an intriguing setting and I have the feeling (though I might be wrong) that you have just begun to tap its potential. Could you describe this world to our readers?

untitledCygnus Beta is a a frontier planet populated by refugees and pioneers. There are big urban centres with the latest in galactic tech and small rural settlements that preserve the old ways. Its peoples create and maintain community with a balance of assimilation, adaptation, preservation and participation.

But let me give a little background. I live on a small island, and I once thought that people who lived on continents with boundaries beyond the horizon were naturally immune to both the joys and sorrows of insularity. After I’d travelled around for a bit, I realised that whatever the size of the city, the country or the continent, there are some people who will create a village for themselves defined by boundaries of class, religion, ethnicity or any combination of factors, and they will stay in that village of a few thousand people. Some villages overlap geographically but the human networks rarely connect.

The Sadiri are like that. They travel throughout the galaxy, but they carry their village with them. They never really mix because they’re convinced of their superiority and self-sufficiency. It was interesting to take that kind of society and put it through a series of ‘what ifs’ by looking at the encounter between present-day Sadiri and the descendants of previous Sadiri migrants to Cygnus Beta. Few things challenge the identity as much as people who you expect to be like you, but aren’t. They meet people who look like pure Sadiri but prove to be genetically varied and lack telepathic abilities. They find others who have the mental abilities but frame it in a different morality. They find a group who share the same the genetic heritage but have completely discarded the cultural heritage. This kind of drift and variation is common in Cygnus Beta, but for the Sadiri it is a new experience.

Speaking of untapped potential: Is there any chance of you writing about Naraldi previous adventures? That would really be something to behold. Or more broadly: are you planning to revisit this universe?

I have thought about writing short stories based on Naraldi’s travels, but that might be a bit too much like Doctor Who meets Quantum Leap. Don’t worry, though – I’m working on the sequel to Best right now and we will definitely be exploring the galaxy.

I can’t help to think that the approach to love and the search for life partners depicted in the novel is somewhat cold. Granted, the Sadiri have an enormous “esprit de corps” and they are under extreme circumstances, but even for other Cygnian societies the search for partners seem to be… too checklist-based. Would you like to comment on that?

That’s a very good observation about the Sadiri. My reasoning is that the two elder species of humanity, Sadiri and Ntshune, use their superior brain power in two quite different areas. The Sadiri excel at law, mathematics, physics and philosophy, which can be solitary and theoretical pursuits. Even their work as judges and diplomats puts them in social situations where they are expected to stand a little apart from the rest of the crowd. Their social skills are rather basic, and that is why their family networks are so structured and planned, including the simplification of mate selection.

The Ntshune, on the other hand, are highly social. They understand complex, organic systems. They have complicated family networks and several variants of marriage and adoption. They can remember and recognise more names, faces and histories than any of the other human species. They are known for their expertise in sociology, anthropology and network AI. Their modes of mate selection would be quite different from the Sadiri approach.

El mejor de los mundos posiblesOne of the more intriguing issues in the setting of the novel is the relation between the four main races depicted, particularly regarding the standing of Earth (Terra) among the other races. Some hints are given that the Sadiri have visited Earth in the past and that some Earthlings may have abandoned Earth. In fact, even though references to art from Terra are plentiful, I’m not sure that the story is set in so far a future. I would very much like to know more of this, if it’s something you are willing to disclose.

 

I’d rather not reveal the time in which the book is set, at least not yet, but I will say that the evidence is contradictory because some Cygnians come from different times and parallel Earths. However, with respect to the rest of the galaxy, Terra is very much the junior sibling.

Recently, several writers have suggested that science fiction may be “exhausted”, that it has ceased to be socially relevant. Do you thing this is the case?

That’s a very broad statement. I might be able to make that criticism of some science fiction, but I have also seen works that are very relevant. Part of the problem is lack of agreement on the definition of science fiction. Some might argue that the works I find relevant are literary rather than SF.

Where do you see science fiction literature going in the coming years?

I don’t know, and that’s as it should be. You would have to be a dual-prophet, predicting not only how the literature will evolve, but also how science will develop.

Can you tell us what are your next literary projects?

I’ve already mentioned the sequel for The Best of All Possible Worlds. There is also a sequel to Redemption in Indigo and a handful of short stories, some related to Cygnus Beta.

Are there any words that you would like to address to your Spanish readers?

My apologies for naming my main character Delarua and not de la Rúa! Her heritage does include Spanish ancestry but that was generations ago and names change. Her family’s homestead is in Montserrat, which was inspired by Monserrate (Bogotá, Colombia) and Montserrat (the island in the West Indies).

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Redemption in Indigo, by Karen Lord

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.)

‘I am a storyteller. I travel to collect stories, and I return to tell the stories of one place to the people of another. That is the important part of the trade. You must never tell people their own stories. They have no interest in them, or they think they can tell them better themselves. Give them a stranger’s life and then they’re content.

Redemption in Indigo Sometimes, some books take us back to that territory of the Realm of imagination where our love for fiction was born. We may have preserved some hold on it through our whole life, but I reckon that we tend to impede the accesss to that Realm with no end of obstacles named sophistication, cynicism, realism, avant-gardism, postmodernism, conventionalism, deconstructivism o whatever your favourite group of -isms might be. Far be it from me to deny the virtue in any of those resources when adequately used, and indeed I’m among the firsts to joyously raise my little finger whent the breakthrough writer of the day manages to surprise me with his or her last rethorical pirouette. But when a writer is able to manage that same level of surprise using the exact opposite mechanism, writing a seemingly straightforward -never less than elegant- text, so firmly grounded in the tradition of oral storytelling, as this Redemption in Indigo written by Karen Lord, both my pleasure and my admiration skyrocket.

Redemption in Indigo is a short novel that reminds me, in several ways, of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens in reverse. The novel depicts a world bursting with djombi -more or less benign or malignant spirits of shifting loyalties- whose eternal lives are devoted to help (or to pester) humans. We will follow one of these djombi whose faith in the human kind has withered in his dealing swith Paama, a coraugeous woman who has confronted tradition in order to flee a husband ruled by gluttony. While this is not an indulging novel, it has an undisguised positive attitude and a willingness to convey a moral, though who is the character in the story to whom the lesson is addressed is a curious choice (hence my mention to a reversed “A Christmas Carol”). My guess is that the tone of this story will remind most readers of some well-known fables read in some form or other. The narrative voice of Lord perfectly matches this approach and one of her achievements is to endow her invented world with a complexity that doesn’t condone the folklore character from which some of the uniqueness of the text derives, perhaps (I wouldn’t dare to be categorical about that) arising from the Caribbean origin of Karen Lord. And, as so often happens in the movies, once the credits are complete a little epilogue is found both surprising and enticing, that leaves us asking for more, more, more!

Redemption in Indigo What will you find in Redemption in Indigo? Magical objects, spirits disguised as animals, three (as custom has it) elderly priestesses that in my european tradition would be either good witches or goodfairies, Chaos sticks, ghosts, exotic landscapes, instant teleportation, time travel! What you will realy find is a magnificent tale that will help you remember why imagination is important. Karen Lord writes in a style both straightforward and elegant, chosing a very personal narrative voice that addresses the reader breaking the fourth wall whenever she deems it necessary. I have some minor issues with a character whose appearances throughout the story seem a little bit discordant to me, but I blame my limitations rather than the text itself. Overall, this is a really impressive debut, owing in no small part to its simplicity. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in fantastic literature.

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Redemption in Indigo, de Karen Lord

‘I am a storyteller. I travel to collect stories, and I return to tell the stories of one place to the people of another. That is the important part of the trade. You must never tell people their own stories. They have no interest in them, or they think they can tell them better themselves. Give them a stranger’s life and then they’re content.

Redemption in IndigoAlgunos libros nos llevan de regreso a ese territorio de la imaginación en el que nació nuestro amor por la ficción. Aunque podamos no abandonarlo nunca del todo, a veces la intuición me sugiere que tendemos a obstaculizar el acceso a ese reino mediante un sinfín de obstáculos que llamamos sofisticación, cinismo, realismo, vanguardismo, postmodernismo, convencionalismo, deconstructivismo o vuestro grupo favorito de -ismos. No seré yo quien discuta la virtud de cualquiera de estas herramientas cuando su uso es adecuado y soy el primero en alzar el meñique con gozo cuando el autor revelación de turno me sorprende con su última pirueta retórica, pero cuando un escritor (o, en este caso, escritora) consigue sorprenderme utilizando el recurso inverso, con un texto que aparenta ser sencillo y nunca es menos que elegante, que bebe tan directamente de la tradición oral, como el Redemption in Indigo escrito por Karen Lord, mi placer y mi admiración se multiplican.

Redemption in Indigo es una novela breve que, en muchos sentidos, me hace pensar en un reflejo inverso del “Un Cuento de Navidad” de Charles Dickens. La novela propone un mundo repleto de djombi, espíritus más o menos benignos o malévolos de lealtades cambiantes que pasan la eternidad ayudando o perjudicando a los humanos, y nos explica la relación entre un poderoso djombi que ha perdido la fe en la especie humana y Paama, una valerosa mujer que se ha visto obligada a enfrentarse a la tradición para alejarse de un marido cuya vida está completamente dominada por la gula. Aunque no se trata de una novela complaciente, el tono de la historia tiende sin disimulo a lo positivo y su voluntad de transmitir una enseñanza moral es evidente, aunque quién es el destinatario de esa enseñanza no deja de ser curioso (de ahí mi referencia a “Un Cuento de Navidad”). En este sentido recuerda a numerosas fábulas o cuentos que en una forma u otra todos conoceremos y la voz narrativa de Lord se adapta perfectamente a este formato. Uno de los logros de la autora es saber dotar de complejidad su mundo inventado sin renunciar al tono de folklore que le da su carácter especial, atribuible tal vez (no me atrevería a ser categórico al respecto) al origen caribeño de Karen Lord. Y, como sucede tan a menudo en el cine, después de los títulos de crédito hay una pequeña escena que deja con la boca abierta y con ganas de más, más, ¡más!

Redemption in Indigo¿Que encontraréis en Redemption in Indigo? objetos mágicos, espiritus disfrazados de animales, tres (como manda la costumbre) viejas sacerdotisas que en la tradición europea serían brujas buenas o hadas, varitas del caos, fantasmas, exotismo, cambios de lugar instantáneos, ¡viajes en el tiempo! Lo que de verdad encontraréis es un magnífico cuento que os ayudará a recordar porqué era importante eso de la imaginación. Karen Lord tiene un estilo sencillo pero elegante y adopta la voz de un narrador muy personal que interpela al lector atravesando la cuarta pared siempre que le resulta conveniente. Hay un par de detalles muy menores que me despistan, no acabo de verlos claro, un personaje que aparece en dos momentos de una forma un tanto inconexa, pero lo atribuyo más a mis limitaciones que a un problema del texto. En conjunto me parece un debut realmente impresionante, en buena parte gracias a su sencillez. Muy recomendado para cualquiera interesado en la literatura de fantasía.

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