Tag Archives: Small Beer Press

Why Not Fantasy?: An Interview With Sofia Samatar


Interview by Cassidy Foust

Recently, at WisCon 40 (a feminist sci-fi and fantasy convention in Madison, Wisconsin), we had the opportunity to sit down with the phenomenal Sofia Samatar. In addition to being a WisCon Guest of Honor, Sofia Samatar is the author of The Winged Histories and the World Fantasy Award-winning A Stranger in Olondria (both from Small Beer Press). Sofia Samatar talks the power of fantasy, rewriting tradition, and putting yourself out there in this interview.

 CBSD: So why sci-fi/fantasy?

SS: I have asked this question a lot. I’ve tried to find various answers to it, and none of them have been satisfactory. In fact, I did a whole dissertation on fantasy in the work of Taib Saleh, who’s a Sudanese novelist, trying to see if I can get closer to that question, “why fantasy?” One way of answering the question might be “why not fantasy?” Fantasy is older than realism, has a much longer history in oral traditions. “Why realism?” might be the actual question we should ask people. But that’s not entirely satisfactory to me. You could also say, well, I’m this person from a mixed background, you know, Somali and Swiss-German Mennonite, that you don’t see a lot of, and that it maybe encourages me to imagine other ways of being. That’s another way of answering, and that also doesn’t satisfy me. So none of the answers are good enough.

CBSD: That’s an answer in and of itself. One goal you’ve talked about, specifically in The Winged Histories is to counteract the conventional war-mongering of fantasy that isn’t really questioned. Do you see sci-fi and fantasy moving in this direction?

SS: I think that there is a strong feminist tradition in fantasy and sci-fi, and there are a lot of women in the genre who have been questioning that war-mongering for a long time. They don’t tend to be as highly popular as the ones that are not trying to think about war in ways that challenge its primacy and challenge  its necessity. The stories that challenge that narrative tend not to get as much attention. They might be there, and I might not know.winged histories

CBSD: How did you start working with Small Beer Press?

SS: When first I decided I wanted to start getting A Stranger in Olondria published, I started looking for an agent.  And I kept trying for five years, and I couldn’t get one. I just wasn’t really that aware of the independent press world. . . [but] I loved the kind of books that Small Beer did, and I knew that our sensibilities were really similar.  And so, at WisCon, I went to the Small Beer table in the dealers room and I spoke to Gavin Grant and I said, “Hey, I wrote this novel!” And he didn’t look thrilled.  I think that’s probably not the only time he’s heard that! But he said, “Send me three chapters,” so I did, and then it went on from there. They were the first publisher that I talked to, because they were at the top of my list, and it worked out, and it has been great. They’re amazing.

CBSD: Can you give us any sneak-peeks into what you’re working on now?

SS: Sure! I’m working on a very different kind of book now. It is a hybrid text combining fiction, history, and memoir, based on a historical event: the migration of Mennonites from southern Russia to what is now Uzbekistan in the 1880s. So, a little different, but still sort-of fantastical. It’s many of the same preoccupations of A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Histories – about migration and borders and history and memory, but this time looking at them in a more recognizable world.

The Winged Histories is available now from City Lights Books. Find out where to purchase this, A Stranger in Olondria, and other titles here on the Consortium website.

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Bookslinger Update: “The Wolfman of Alcatraz”

The Bookslinger app has been updated with a new story!

9781618730732The story this week is from Howard Waldrop’s Horse of a Different Color, published by Small Beer Press. Waldrop’s stories are keys to the secrets of the stories behind the stories . . . or perhaps the stories between the stories everyone else knows. From “The Wolfman of Alcatraz” to a horrifying Hansel and Gretel, from “The Bravest Girl I Ever Knew” to the sixth Marx brother’s story of a vaudeville act tracking down the Holy Grail, this new collection is a wunderkammer of strangeness.

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Bookslinger Update: “Up the Fire Road”

The Bookslinger app has been updated with a new story!

9781618730756This week’s story comes from Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn, published by Small Beer Press. Stories from Eileen Gunn are always a cause for celebration. Where will she lead us? “Up the Fire Road” to a slightly alternate world. Into steampunk’s heart. Never where we might expect. Trains that go to unexpected places. A Steampunk Quartet. Stories that shake the tree. Stories that question normal practices.

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Bookslinger Update: “The Ugly Chickens”

The Bookslinger app has been updated with a new story!

9781618730794This week’s story comes from Things Will Never Be the Same by Howard Waldrop, published by Small Beer Press. Sixteen of the best short stories from the one and only culture mashup genius brain of Howard Waldrop.

This book has one problem:it’s not nearly long enough. Sure, it’s chock full of great stories by the best short fiction writer of his generation, modern classics like “The Ugly Chickens” and “Flying Saucer Rock n Roll” and “Heart of Whitenesse” and many more. Think of it as the best tasting menu in literature. Try this, then go get more.

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Bookslinger Update: “A Dozen Tough Jobs”

The Bookslinger App has been updated!

9781618730800This week’s short story comes from Other Worlds, Better Lives by Howard Waldrop, published by Small Beer Press. Seven novellas that cover ground the way that only Waldrop can featuring Wagner, Fats Waller, Picasso, Thomas Wolfe, and more. Explore this second retrospective volume of Waldrop’s work which collects seven of his best novellas and adds new author afterwords to each and you’ll agree that no one else can be quite as weird, quite as excellent.

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Bookslinger Update: “Understand”

The Bookslinger app has been updated with a new story!

This week’s story is from Stories of Your Life: and Others by Ted Chiang, published by Small Beer Press. Combining the precision and scientific curiosity of Kim Stanley Robinson with Lorrie Moore’s cool, clear love of language and narrative intricacy, this award-winning collection offers readers the dual delights of the very, very strange and the heartbreakingly familiar. Stories of Your Life and Others presents characters who must confront sudden change—the inevitable rise of automatons or the appearance of aliens—while striving to maintain some sense of normalcy. With sharp intelligence and humor, Chiang examines what it means to be alive in a world marked by uncertainty and constant change, and also by beauty and wonder.

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Bookslinger Update: “The Specialist’s Hat”

The Bookslinger app has been updated with a new story!

This week’s story is from Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, published by Small Beer Press. The eleven stories in Kelly Link’s debut collection are funny, spooky, and smart. They all have happy endings. They were all especially written for you. A Best of the Year pick from Salon.com, Locus, The Village Voice, and San Francisco Chronicle. Includes Nebula, World Fantasy, and Tiptree award-winning stories.

“An alchemical mix of Borges, Raymond Chandler and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”—Salon.com (Best of the Year)

“My favorite fantasy writer.”—Alan Cheuse, All Things Considered

“Kelly Link is probably the best short story writer currently out there, in any genre or none. She puts one word after another and makes real magic with them-funny, moving, tender, brave and dangerous. She is unique, and should be declared a national treasure, and possibly surrounded at all times by a cordon of armed marines.”

—Neil Gaiman

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