The Future Fire launched an intriguing anthology this autumn: We See A Different Frontier. A collection of speculative stories about colonialism and cultural imperialism, but seen from the colonized and suppressed, voices rarely heard in these genres. Today I’m very honored to introduce one of the authors in this anthology: N.A. Ratnayake.
Nalin has written the short story “Remembering Turinam,” a complex story which spoke to me on many levels. It is a sad story about a meeting between a young man and his grandfather. Also, the idea of language as a tool in colonization is strong in the story, something I believe to be very true. One thing is a dominant military force, but the silent conquer through education, language, culture, is perhaps even more brutal. Like the editors Fabio Fernandes and Djibril al-Ayad write in the introduction in the anthology: «That suppression of culture and especially language are common tactics in the repression of a people, and as effective as violence itself.” I really liked how Nalin weaved the plot around this.
The story gives much food for thoughts and pondering, which I love. I’m so happy Nalin took the time to answer some of my questions.
What is your story about?
“Remembering Turinam” is about a scholar, Salai, who journeys to the deathbed of his grandfather in the hopes of resolving some inner conflicts about his identity, society, and culture. More deeply, it is a story about a young man wrestling with some fundamental questions that we all face at an individual level: Who am I? Who are my people? Where do I belong?
Ultimately, we have to answer these questions ourselves, I think. But the world is full of people who are trying to tell us what the answers should be. Sometimes, the “persuasion” is by physically violent means, as when a people are forcibly displaced or eliminated. I think that in the majority of cases, the violence is much more subtle and psychological, but no less violent.
In “Remembering Turinam,” the conquering Rytari have, over two generations, changed what the colonized Turians value and how they conceive of themselves though a sustained campaign of linguistic deculturalization. The cultural and intellectual gulf between Salai and Grandfather represents how successful this kind of cultural imperialism can be. The Turians have been divided and conquered more by identity than by force.
If we look around our own world, it is not hard to see. Everything from the “English only” movement in American public schools to the Chinese suppression of Tibetan culture fits this pattern. If you cannot tell your own story in your own way, someone else will tell it for you in their own way, and you might not like it. Worse, you might not even realize that they are replacing who you are with who they think you are.
What inspired you to write this story?
I heard about We See a Different Frontier through social media and my routine puttering on the internet for science fiction-y things. Around the time that I found the call for submissions on Djibril’s blog, I was actually studying social justice issues through a masters program in education here in Boston. As an urban public school teacher, I was particularly focused on how deculturalization can be both intentionally and implicitly embedded in how a society educates its children, particular children of minority cultures. The ideas clicked and I started writing!
What’s your relationship to the speculative genres, especially science fiction?
I have been reading and writing science fiction since I was a teenager. As a former engineer, I’m particularly partial to hard science fiction and spaceflight, so “Remembering Turinam” is a bit of a departure from my usual settings. The character themes are the same though: identity, humanity, the effect of social orders on individuals, etc.
As a reader, I want it all. I want diligently researched hard science fiction that inspires and has deep characters who wrestle with important social issues and is also really well written and makes me think about what it means to be human. As a writer, I struggle to do even one of those things well, because, well, it’s hard.
I’m glad to see markets like We See a Different Frontier out there that are providing avenues for diverse writers to express themselves to a genre that has traditionally not included them in meaningful ways. I think science fiction has an important role to play in inspiring us to look at ourselves, our humanity, and where we are going. But as a genre we have to take advantage of a wide range of perspectives on the past, present, and future.
The challenges we face as a species right now, both social and technological, are staggering. We need everyone, every kind of person and perspective that we can get working on the questions we have to think about as human beings: What are we now? What could we be if we tried? How will we get there? The answers to those questions do not belong to one sub group of people, they must belong to all people.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m the American-born child of immigrants from Sri Lanka. I value my cultural heritage and family’s history. But I also barely understand or speak Sinhala, the language of my parents, and in everything from clothing to mannerisms I’m a tourist when I visit my extended family. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that I have to untangle some of the same issues that Salai faces in the story. It’s on me to define what my own identity means.
I am formerly an aerospace research engineer, now working as a physics teacher in an urban public school. “Remembering Turinam” was the first story of mine accepted for professional publication, and I am honored to be included in this anthology next to so many great writers.
If you want to know more about Nalin, he’s on Twitter (@QuantumCowboy), and has a website: http://www.naratnayake.com
Read more about The Future Fire here: http://futurefire.net
and the anthology We See a Different Frontier here: http://djibrilalayad.blogspot.co.uk/p/we-see-different-frontier.html
The book contains stories by Joyce Chng, Ernest Hogan, Rahul Kanakia, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Sandra McDonald, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gabriel Murray, Shweta Narayan, Dinesh Rao, N.A. Ratnayake, Sofia Samatar, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Lavie Tidhar and J.Y. Yang. Aliette de Bodard has written a preface, and Ekaterina Sedia a critical afterword. The gorgeous cover art is by artist Carmen Moran.