SFS: What defines "World SF"? Does it mean that it was originally published in language other than English? Or that it comes from a land where English is not the primary language? What, in your opinion, is the best definition?
LT: It's a good question. I wish I had a good answer! Like all definitions, it can be quite hazy. To me, it's first of all the kind of SF written in languages other than English, but that doesn't take into account that small - but visible! - part of writers choosing to work in English despite it being their second - or even third! - language. And then, English has become such a universal language that in many places it has acquired its own regional flavor - take India or Malaysia or South Africa. And then, what about writers from one background living in another? Is Nnedi Okorafor an American writer or a Nigerian writer? Identities today can easily have two or three layers. You know, I have two different citizenships and a permanent residency somewhere else - I can vote in three countries! So what am I? Who am I? I try not to think about it before the morning coffee...
But I think there's a very serious question of how we depict different cultures. You know, what's the difference between Ian McDonald writing about India, and Vandana Singh writing about India?
... that Ian McDonald gets nominated for a Hugo?
Which I think sums it up, if a little crudely. Is it a question of who's the better writer? I think they're both very good writers. Or does it mean the English-language readership, the American and British and Australian readers prefer an India as viewed from outside, or from inside? There's a very interesting review on Strange Horizons that tries to deal with that question. The point where it becomes interesting is where it says, "Singh's stories were written initially for an American audience, and her stories cannot be painted wholly as a sort of primer for another type of science fiction. . . . This is Singh as teacher of two classrooms. It is here where Singh parts ways with Ian McDonald, a British writer whose novels are about, but not of, India."
You know, I'm hogging this question a little, but this makes me think of reading Philip K. Dick when I was younger. I read a lot of American SF, but I think my heart will always belong to PKD because he was the only one who put me in his books.
I grew up on a kibbutz in Israel. It's a sort of socialist cooperative. Or was when I was growing up. And you know - in the midst of all these American SF novels, with their bright American futures, there was PKD - and he had kibbutzim on Mars! That was me, up there! Not John W. Campbell Jr.'s superior white western Europeans, but people like me! There were Jews in space! Socialist Jews! Campbell wouldn't have liked that, maybe - but to me it was a revelation.
So what is World SF? And more importantly, what shape is it going to take in, say, the next two decades? That's the real interesting question. And that's something that has to be answered by both "sides" of it, the English writers and readers and the non-English writers and readers. But the future simply isn't American any more. The Asian space race is a reality, China and India are massive economic powers - the balance of power is shifting. It's going to be an interesting century to live in... - read the rest of the interview