Juxtaposing fantasy with the familiar

South African writers who dare to venture into the fantastical are accused of writing “untruths”, said Gwen Ansell, chairing “Science Fiction and Fantasy in the City” at the M&G Literary Festival.

Ansell and panellists Tom Learmont, Lauren Beukes, Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz put the spotlight on “speculative fiction”: an umbrella genre encompassing science fiction, horror, fantasy, the supernatural, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. South African Neill Blomkamp’s blockbuster movie, District 9, is a cinematic version.

Ansell suggested that such fiction could instil a sense of “wonder and hope” in young readers because it explored a world of endless possibilities. She called on local publishers to promote the genre because “children need to stop reading Charles Dickens”.

Lotz, author of Dead Lands (a young-adult horror novel about a zombie apocalypse in the mountainous suburbs of Cape Town) said South African fantasy is rooted in an awareness of sociopolitical issues. Not necessarily an attractive combination for those who read only “to escape”.

Greenberg agreed with Ansell that the most successful stories juxtapose fantasy and horror with familiar settings. “You don’t have to make up environments. There’s enough in South African cities to scare us,” he said.

New landscapes
Greenberg and Lotz co-authored the horror novel, The Mall, under the pseudonym SL Grey. “We took an existing city [Johannesburg] and created a new one beneath it, one that feeds off it like a tick,” said Lotz.

Beukes, author of Zoo City, which won the world’s premier science fiction prize — the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award — said overseas recognition was not enough. She called for greater local support for science fiction — not only from publishers, but from literary scholars, parents and readers.

Beukes celebrated the “subversive nature” of urban fantasy in South African literature. “It allows writers to critique and educate about the human condition in an interesting and creative way,” she said. Beukes compared this with other countries, where the genre tends to be more “conservative”, and full of “castles, kings and princesses” — references that are “removed” from South African children.

Ansell and her panel’s vigorous presentation of the merits of the genre proved to be a pre-emptive riposte to a later festival session in which literary scholar Leon de Kock derided speculative fiction as “a cute and fuzzy thing”.

Ansell hailed the influence of social media in making books more accessible to local readers. The new technology, she said, should challenge publishers to reduce the prices of books in stores.

For more coverage from the M&G LIterary Festival, see the special report.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Ayanda Sitole
Ayanda Sitole
Ayanda Sitole works from Johannesburg South Africa. Writer. Photographer. Proudly SA Ayanda Sitole has over 684 followers on Twitter.
Advertisting

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Stay at home, Cyril said. But what about the homeless?

In Tshwane, forcing homeless people off the street resulted in chaos and the abuse of a vulnerable population. In Durban, a smooth, well-planned operation fared far better

Press Releases

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders