Fabio Fernandes talks Outlaw Bodies

Tuesday, 06 November 2012 15:15

The Outlaw Bodies anthology, co-edited by Lori Selke and the Djibril al-Ayad (of The Future Fire), is now out and available for purchase (available at Lulu.com, Amazon.com, and Amazon.ca [kindle version only]). Please check it out and buy a copy!

I had the honour of writing the “Afterword” for the book, and I can assure you that every story in the collection is engaging, thoughtful, and a pleasure to read. I recently connected with writer Fabio Fernandes and asked him some questions about his short story,"The Remaker," as well as about his thoughts on the future of outlaw bodies.

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K: What does it mean to you to be an “outlaw body?” What is the future of the “outlaw body?”

F: I see an outlaw body as a body free of labels and/or judgments of society. An outlaw body can be something as radical as a modified body (from implants/piercings/tattoos to gender change) or a body that chooses its own way of living (from drug use to abortion - mind you, these examples do not entail anything necessarily extreme or bad). Basically, an outlaw body is a free body.

The future of an outlaw body is its assimilation into the main body of the society as a "normal" (in the Foucaultian sense of the word, for really there is no such things as “normal” and “abnormal,” those being labels used by the society/system/régime in order to exert control on the individuals), even mainstream thing. Among young people today (between 20-30 years old), tattoos and piercing have become quite common, and I wonder what will be an outlaw body twenty years from now.

K: Do you perceive a difference in the way North American SF approaches “outlaw bodies” from South American SF? Is the “centre” the same? Do those on the margins have commonality with one another?

F: Yes, I do perceive a difference. Regarding abortion, for instance, there is a plethora of cases in the US where legalized abortion clinics are attacked and its doctors harmed or even killed (ironically, by religious fanatics who call these doctors babykillers, but THEY can shoot and kill doctors). I never heard of such a thing happening in Latin America, at least in Brazil and Lat Am countries near us, like Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. There are protests, and abortion is criminalized, fully or partially, in some of these countries. But the outlawing boundaries seem to be more pliant, flexible, even tolerant.

The center seems to be almost the same, perhaps due to globalization, but even before (we should never underestimate the power of "normalization" – mediocrity thrives in the center, and there are mediocre people all over the world. Mediocrity abhors anything that is not deemed normal by the system.

K: Speaking of “the centre” and the “margin,” how do you feel about the term “non-Western SF”" As a commonly used phrase among North American SF reviewers, it clearly keeps authority, or the origin, of SF in the Western world. How do you approach such definitional genre terms? What are your preferences for describing your own writing/your position as a writer?

F: It's really curious, because I am a writer living in the Western world. As I wrote once in a guest post for Jeff VanderMeer, I even qualify as an American - though a South American citizen. But there seems to be a whole lot of issues regarding Latinos. I was recently at a Literature conference here in São Paulo and the keynote speaker was a Professor of Latin American Studies at an university in the USA Midwest. He was speaking of how we see ourselves when living in the US – we accept our position of immigrants and Latinos, but with a grain of salt, because we speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and this is still causes estrangement, both to Brazilians and also to Spanish Latinos. Most of the time Americans don't even know what to make of it. Living as we do in globalization times, I find it really curious that we still must have these labels. Of course there are lots of cultural differences between the SF made in the US and the SF made in the rest of the world, but, as you said (and I agree entirely), currently the Anglo-American sphere, represented by the UK and the US, sets the rules for science fiction. That’s okay to me, because pretty much the same happened to rock'n'roll decades ago...

...but since its inception in the 50s, Brazil also started to present a strong contribution to the scene, which slowly thrived and finally florished in the early 1980s, with a particular rhythm that can be recognized as rock, but has characteristics of Brazilian folk and the Jamaican ska, among others. The same thing can be said about Brazilian SF. During decades we emulated Anglo-American SF, but during the last 20 years or so we slowly emerged as a country that can produce good SF, using the same tropes SF in every corner of the world uses, but giving it a special flavor. I have a sort of schizophrenic approach regarding this: usually I write SF that takes place in Brazil in Portuguese, and when I write in English I use to write about more global themes and scenarios, or even off-Earth. I still find it hard to write in English things that are very Brazilian in essence; I don't want to be labeled as an “exotic” writer, so that's still a thing I must come to terms with.

K: When it comes to keeping up with the pace of technological change – as “The Remaker” partly addresses – how do you see privilege (class/nationality/gender/etc.) come into play?

F: I tried to portray a near future society which everything is subdued a bit – that is, the presence of IAs is as normal a thing as the use of iPhones, because these so-called artificial intelligences are mostly glorified errand boys with voices, so nobody gives a damn if they are really aware or not, as long as they do what their masters paid the corporations that created them to do. A similar thing happens with trans- and metagenders in this story. In fact, São Paulo is one of the most GLBT-friendly cities in the world (our Gay Pride parade is one of the biggest of all, if not the biggest), and there is more acceptance of trans individuals right now than ever in our history, so it’s not a far-fetched thing to extrapolate that a bit to 2026 and think our society will be really accepting and proud of diversity, in class, nationality (we're also receiving a lot of immigrants from Bolivia, Portugal, Haiti and a few from France, Spain and the USA, by the way) and gender.

K: Cyberpunk is clearly one of your generic inspirations in “The Remaker” – what draws/drew you to the subgenre? Many argue that cyberpunk is long-dead, but your story, in my opinion is an example of a current take on the subgenre. How would you classify (post)cyberpunk today?

F: I’ve been considered a steampunk author of late (see The Steampunk Bible, for instance, and a small participation in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Steampunk II), but I was a cyberpunk writer in Brazil since I first read Neuromancer in 1989. So, even though I'm writing in a lot of different subgenres now (I'm just finishing a space opera novella, and I edited a New Weird anthology in Brazil, which has also a story of mine in it), I was always a punk by heart, and a cyberpunk by gut and gusto. I believe we can’t afford not to be post-cyberpunks today, given the current economic situation in the world. Social unrest continues, economic crises abound, and even countries like Brazil, which are far better now than when the Cyberpunk Movement was active, still suffer from a series of maladies (problems in healthcare, education, and drug dealing, to name a few) which should give us enough reasons to think twice before abandoning cyberpunk scenarios and motifs.

K: Lastly, “The Remaker” deals with issues of ownership and authority over creative works. What kind of future do your foresee for copyrights over creative works? Is this an area where science fiction writers can lead the way (I'm thinking of writers like Cory Doctorow)? By opening up creative works for further engagement by others, do we also open up a more inclusive space for marginalized/outlaw bodies to make their own mark? What is your take on the future of copyright?

F: I fervently hope that copyright as we know it today will be dead sometime in the next two or three decades. I don't think Cory Doctorow is making any less money that he would make if he had chosen the traditional copyright path. Besides, a very important thing writers should not forget is that writing is just part of the process. I recommend the beautiful documentary José e Pilar, about the last years of José Saramago. The documentary was as much focused on his relationship with his wife, journalist and translator Pilar del Río, as it is in all his travels to participate in conventions, literary fairs and lectures. This is an important part of the writer’s work, and it probably (I'm thinking now in the lesser known writers, who don't make much money with the royalties of their books) is her/his main source of income. Writers are like musicians: first you create, then you go meet your audience, not only to do book signings, but also to talk to them, about literature, about your work, about whatever the writer feels comfortable to talk about. And earn money with it. I believe this process should be honed so the writer can make more money with this post-writing work, in the very least.

K: Thank you for considering these questions Fabio. Your answers are enlightening and show a hope for the future of outlaw bodies – wherever they may reside. I appreciate your time and effort!

F: Thank you, Kathryn! I loved the questions!


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