Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lao American Speculative Literature and Speculative Japan

A number of my friends and colleagues are currently passing through Japan this season to study or vacation. That seems a good impetus to present one of the interesting notes I'd come across while I was considering directions for Lao American speculative literature.

Lao American speculative literature would include poetry, theater, short stories, and novels in horror, science fiction, fantasy, and arguably, taken far enough, the western and mysteries. At the moment, there's not a lot of it.

From what I've seen in the community we're probably a good decade or more away from seeing speculative novels from Lao in America. Most of the writers I've come across who are taking their work seriously or at least semi-seriously are working in short forms, and most are grounding their work in realism and creative non-fiction, particularly memoirs.

Still, given the intense interest many Lao, particularly youth, have for science fiction and fantasy,  it is only a matter of time before we see works from our community emerge.

Kurodahan Press is a great publisher who's brought some amazing translations from Japan into print, including Speculative Japan, edited by Gene van Troyer and Grania Davis, gathering 15 outstanding short stories by Japanese writers from across a significant range of time.

What I found particularly useful were remarks from the introduction citing Yamano Koichi's sense of three major phases of the genre's development in Japan.

"The Pre-Fabricated House Phase (or "infiltration and diffusion"): Japanese SF writers who made their debuts in the early 1950s and were deeply influenced by traditional Western definitions of SF. Instead of creating their own worlds, they immersed themselves in and emulated the translated major works of Anglo American authors like Asimov, Heinlein, Brown, and Bradbury. Somewhat like living in a "ready-built" home, the SF genre in Japan thus grew into Japanese culture regardless of whether there was a place for it."

When Lao American writers take on the Lovecraft mythos, zombies, or other ghost stories, which seem to be among the most popular subjects, it would appear we're still well within this phase. Yamano believed the second phase Japanese writers would move into is the Remodeling the Ready-Built Home Phase (or "adaptation and acquisition").  Yamano felt that the writers sought to expand the world-view of Japanese science fiction to include "socio-polical and multi-temporal themes, evolutionary and information theory, and new (and sometimes quite existential) patterns of reader-text interaction. But in so doing, the often distanced themselves from traditional Japanese cultural perspectives, foregrounding a Western-style "rationalistic" and objectively macroscopic world-view."

But could Lao American writers jump ahead to Yamano's third phase, Putting Up A New House ( or "creative departure"). It's here that Yamano contends Japanese science fiction had found it's own original voice that eschewed Anglo-American models and presented work informed by their own traditional and contemporary culture and worldviews. And, could a writer be a part of at least these two, if not all three phases?

And I suppose, maintaining Yamano's house metaphor, can we get into houses before someone forecloses on the whole kit and kaboodle?

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