Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fábio Fernandes - a Dive into Worldbuilding hangout summary

It was fabulous to talk to Fábio Fernandes, who joined us all the way from Saõ Paulo, Brazil, by the magic of modern technology! He kindly taught us how to pronounce the name of his city, so definitely check out the video for that, if you've been curious.

Fábio is very active in science fiction. He started by telling us of his editing work with Future Fire Magazine and with the Postcolonialist anthology We See a Different Frontier. He's been working trying to increase the visibility of new science fiction authors from other countries, and spoke highly of Lavie Tidhar and Aliette de Bodard. He also attended Clarion West. His work has appeared in Perihelion SF and other venues.

He has been writing in English for the last 10 years, but in Portuguese for the last 30 years! He wants to show the English language audience that there is more out there, and more in the world. He's been in anthologies since 1996, and in 2000 published a short story collection, and in 2009 his first novel. Four years ago, he says, he stopped writing in Portuguese.

He says writing in two or more languages "calls you to do a rewiring in your mind."

He says that in Portuguese, science fictional subjects get treated differently. In Brazil, there is not so much hard SF. He enjoys the work of Alastair Reynolds and Kim Stanley Robinson.  He says, "you check what is being written now in English to keep up." Brazil is very strong in Urban Fantasy, not Magic Realism as he finds many people often expect. 95% of the market there is only in Portuguese.

He works in a hard science fiction world, set about 2000 years in the far future. Many of his stories are parallel in this same universe, and he is working on a novel called Obliterati. He explores the world and problem-solves through telling stories. Humankind in his universe once colonized several stars, but then an invisible enemy appeared and destroyed most planets. The stories occur about 20 years after this destruction, when humans are living inside asteroids, in miners' communities and outposts.

Humanity has no organized military forces in this universe, because he says you don't take these things for granted. There are researchers and scientists trying to make a living. The humans were not anticipating aliens. Humans found they needed a surveillance mechanism, so they created cyborgs called "kinocchio." The word comes from "kino," movie, and "occhio," eye, in Italian. The cyborgs move among humans, recording events, solving disputes and problem-solving without a military. They serve as arbiters, and are featured in the story Mycelium. Their alien enemy is attracted to, and traces them via electronics, so they develop biotech instead, a form of fungally-transmitted telepathy.

He told us about a story called "Nine Paths to Destruction" which is the last in the series and told from the first-person point of view of a Buddhist monk.

The human population in his universe comes largely from Southeast Asia, India, Brazil, and Africa. He asks, "How can they thrive in space?" and tries to build things in without being "fanatic about them." This includes religion. He told us about a character named Jorgenson, the first transwoman to be Pope. She comes to this position because she is trying to revive the Catholic church in space after its destruction, giving people a way to survive spiritually as well as physically.

Fábio says, "I'm trying to create a universe where people can be the most human they want to be." He doesn't want to see any more Captain Kirk figures in science fiction. He told us that he really likes The Expanse and had to be careful not to overlap with it.

We also spoke about language. Fábio says, "I'm also a language geek," which of course made me smile! He's studied Latin, Greek, and Japanese, and likes to read books in other languages including Italian, French, and German.

In his Obliterati universe, he wanted an organic evolution of language. He looked at languages like Catalán and the Caribbean Papiamentu for inspiration. Catalán, he says, is like a mix of new Romance languages and old Latin. He is planning to go to Barcelona in November to learn more of the language, which has fascinated him since he was a teen. He told us Papiamentu came from Curaçao and Suriname, the former Dutch colonies in the Caribbean. It uses a mix of Portuguese and Spanish sounds. To him it sounds like "Papu"= "chat" plus "-mento"= formal, making it a sort of "formal chat." He says it is so close to his native language that it is hard to speak. This makes sense, because it's easy when two languages are so similar to slip back into an earlier learned pattern.

He is creating a language for the Obliterati universe that combines a lot of different Earth languages including indigenous ones. One language he's mixing in is Yoruba, because a number of Yoruba speakers went to Brazil, and lots of words from that language got mixed in locally. The language he's creating is called "Mistureba," a Brazilian Portuguese for "a mixup of things" that he said wouldn't be comprehended in Portugal.

He told us that he got along fine linguistically when he visited Portugal. Apparently the Brazilian telenovela shows are popular enough there that people have started comprehending more words from Brazilian Portuguese!

I spoke briefly about pidgin and creole languages for reference, since the languages he's working with here are creole languages. A pidgin is a collection of words that becomes the lingua franca in a place where a lot of different people come together speaking mutually unintelligible languages. They gradually come to a tacit agreement about which words are most useful and comprehensible to all, and use those, but it doesn't have a strong grammatical structure. A creole language develops when a second generation is born to a group speaking a pidgin language. The children learn the pidgin natively, and their natural language systems create a more fully realized grammar for the language, turning it into a creole.

Fábio remarked that in TV and literature colony planets seem always to have everyone speaking the same language. If you are working with non-English languages, it becomes a conundrum for you to write a story for the benefit of the reader, because you have to write it in English.

He says he is amazed that people can handle orcs and elves but not blacks or female protagonists. It's a similar problem with languages. People can speak many languages - hundreds, in fact.

He told us he really liked Jack Vance's The Languages of Pao, and also Dune by Frank Herbert for how they worked with language.

He wants to provide this new language, Mistureba, through hints in his stories. Some characters in the novel, Obliterati, speak only Mistureba.

This was a fascinating discussion and ended too soon! I hope you will take advantage and check out the video.

Fábio, thank you so much for joining us! I'm really glad our technology allowed us to connect successfully. Today we meet at 10am Pacific to discuss Worldbuilding Under the Radar. I hope to see many of you there!


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