A Conversation on Farsi Speculative Fiction: Authors, Publishers, Comicbook Creators and Arab Outsiders

A Conversation on Farsi Speculative Fiction: Authors, Publishers, Comicbook Creators and Arab Outsiders
Spread the love

Organized by Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD |
Emad comments:

This is a roundtable discussion among several key players in the world of Iranian science fiction, with some participation from the parallel world of Arabic SF.
This conversation was conducted in English via internet communication. Discussants were Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi, Farzad Khalilyan, Sima Siahposh, Zoha Kazemi, Behzad Ghadimi, Armina Salemi, and Emad El-Din Aysha. Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi is the owner of Ahang-e-Ghalam Publishing House, a premier publisher of science fiction in Iran. Farzad Khalilyan and Sima Siahposh are members of the Speculative Fiction Group (گروه ادبیات گمانه‌زن), formerly Fantasy Academy, and from the younger generation of writers. Zoha Kazemi is an internationally recognised author of fantasy and feminist fiction and Iran’s top published SF novelist. Behzad Ghadimi is one of Iran’s top horror and fantasy writers and an expert on the literary scene and also a proud member of the Speculative Fiction Group. Armina Salemi is an ambitious fantasy and SF author eager to push genre bounds and keen on cultivating a fan base among the YA audience and to reach international audiences. Emad El-Din Aysha, an academic originally, is now an SF author and researcher and an active member of the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction (ESSF).

Thank you all for participating. For starters, why don’t you all explain the meanings of your names in Farsi to the benefit of our English, and Arabic, readers.

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
My first name means mubarak (blessed) and happy, while the first part of my last name means a person who knows a lot which is actually driven from Arabic. The last part of my name means generous.
Farzad Khalilyan:
My name? Well it has two parts. Far and Zad. Zad means birth. Far is some kind of blessing which is given by Ahuramazda, the old god of Zoroastrianism and Mitraism religion. Ahuramazda god of all good things, and Ahriman who created all evil. Then Farzad means blessed by birth or from birth.
My surname is also of two, Khalil and An. For sure you know Khalil in Arabic means friend. And An in Farsi here means ‘related to’. So Khalilyan it means related to Khalil or house of Khalil relatives. The name of my great grandfather was Khalil Haj Mirza and this is how my surname happened.

Sima Siahposh:
My Full name is “Sima Taghavi”. Sima in Farsi means Face and Countenance. I rather use my nickname, Siahposh… people have no idea how much powerful is our name. Some Witches or Wizards might use our name for some cruel magic so I think it would be better to use nicknames instead!
Zoha Kazemi:
Zoha comes from Quran. It means dawn or the moment of sunrise. It’s an Islamic name that became popular amongst Iran’s elite after the Islamic revolution.
Behzad Ghadimi:
My first name is Behzad, which means a person with an honest nature and also it is the name of several mythological and historical characters. My last name Ghadimi means someone old! Which is always a subject of humour by my fellow and friends!

Armina Salemi:
Greetings, everyone! It’s nice to be a part of this roundtable.
There’s actually an interesting story about my name (you should’ve known better to ask a writer to tell you about their name). So, in Farsi, sometimes, by adding an “A” at the end of a masculine name, we make it feminine. The masculine form of my name, Armina, is a name of a Persian commander who has never lost a battle. As a result, the name acquired its meaning: A man all whose dreams come true. Hence, the meaning of my name: A girl all whose dreams come true.
About my last name. I do know there are differences between different Arabic languages, but I think you might all have part of my last name “Salem” which means healthy. I mean in my language it’s what it means. Then, as with most last names in Farsi, an “I” is added to the end of the name and makes it “Salemi”.

I suppose I should chip in at this point. Emad El-Din means pillar of religion and is a reference to prayer. We say in Arabic that prayer is the pillar or religion (alsalatu emad u-din, الصلاة عماد الدين). Aysha, interestingly enough, is a woman’s name. My great great grandfather was a man, named Muhammad, but he died young and his wife Aysha never married again, so when people asked ‘whose kids are these’ they would be answered ‘Aysha’s children’!

What drew you personally to SFF, and when in your lives and careers?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
My first encounter with the genre goes back to my childhood when first I watched cartoons based on Jules Verne’s stories. The idea of knowing the unknown made me to follow other writers such as Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. I continued to read science fiction whenever I had the chance. When I had the opportunity to publish the genre I took it without hesitation. Now the books we published are widely the basis of the academic studies of Iranian science fiction which is a great honor for us.

MARKET STRATEGY: Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi’s tangerine bookstore caters to the young and older generation of authors and readers in Iran.

Farzad Khalilyan:
There were many things but mostly the things that drew me to sci- fi were in my life as a teenager with the young adult novels like Artemis Fowl or Unfortunate Events, with the jrpg games I played, and with the collection of old golden age sci -fi novels that my parents stored and forgot in their store room and finally the anime I watched as a boy, mostly from German channels and I didn’t understand a word from their stories. But as a kid it wasn’t important for me. The things I didn’t understand I imagine it because the pictures were enough. I think there was the main point which I think with myself I can make stories too. Years later they translated one of these anime. To be precise it was Digimon. I was disappointed because I preferred my own version of the story.

Sima Siahposh:
When I just a kid, I believed that I am not an Earthling, but an Alien from the planet Venus. Therefore, every night I stared at the sky, to an imaginary place that I believed was my planet`s place. Sometimes, I begged to my Alien Family to come and rescuing me from this boring primitive planet, but obviously, no one came. Unfortunately, I’ve grown up and found that no one will come…because I’m here for a reason, definitely I’m on some mission right? First, I have to finish it then they will come after me!

I began to read whatever book we had; my own, my Father Industrial books, Quran, My Mom`s Ideological books and many more that were not even suitable for my age. Luckily, we had a very small library in our school but full of useless, cheap and childish Romantic books. I had no choice but to read them. One day – one magical day indeed! – I found a jewel…well, half of the jewel in fact because half of the book was missin… and that jewel was “The Foundation of Asimov”.

It took me some years to find the complete version. Even after all these years I still remember how much I enjoyed the book, and how much I wished to live on Trantor, or to meet the R. Daneel Olivawor, Harry Seldon. After that, I kept reading more and more SF books from C. Clark, John Christopher, Stanisław Lem, Bradbury, Heinlein and and many more.

A small extra question to Sima. The present day world is especially boring. I had the same sentiments exactly when I was growing up. The future is a refuge but so is the past, science fiction and history. Would you say that the study of the past is a popular and important theme in Iranian SF? (My story with SF began with Asimov’s foundation trilogy as well!)

Sima Siahposh:
I believe that whoever try to writes in genre had to have enough information about the History, national and International. Because many ideas created based on what happened in the past and how its effects the future, or if it never happened at all…so yes, they had too. I saw in a few works that Authors using Historical references but mostly it`s based on their fantasy and that they believes that might happen in the future…or, what they wish to happen!

Zoha Kazemi:
I was always a sci-fi fan since my childhood. I read as many sci-fi books as I could find in my teenage years and I loved watching sci-fi movies. For my MA thesis I chose a topic on science fiction to learn more about the genre theoretically. I started writing professionally around the time I finished my MA about 12 years ago. At the time, we had no modern science fiction novels and no one seemed to be interested in the genre. In a way, I had no predecessors that wrote sci-fi that I could look up to and learn from, or ask for help and guidance. The safest way to write and get published was to write literary fiction. I wrote and published four literary novels and a flash fiction collection before I realized I wanted to give it a try and write an Iranian sci-fi novel. It was a difficult decision and a huge turning point in my career. I wrote my novel “Pine Dead” about eight years ago. It is a dystopian sci-fi novel about a virus pandemic, a situation similar to what we later experienced in the Covid-19 pandemic. The book was well received by sci-fi fans in Iran and was acknowledged in the Noofe award, the following year. I continued writing in speculative fiction and since then I have published 6 more books in this genre for adults such as the Noofe winner “Death Industry”, the best seller “The Juliet Syndrome”, the noofe winner “Rain Born” and my latest book “Time Rider”. Rain Born was published in English in London on Jan 2020. I have also written a three-volume novel for young adults tilted “The World of Lollipop People”. I have two more novels under publication.

Behzad Ghadimi:
I personally started reading science fiction by the works of Asimov and Jules Verne. It started at the same time I learnt to read. The speculation about real everyday life, the possibility that life may not be bounded by our boring perception of it, is really what makes me interested in the whole genre of speculative fiction.

Armina Salemi:
I have to answer separately for Fantasy and Science Fiction. For the latter, the genre in which I have more tendency to write, the answer is the very nature of this genre. You see, its name is “Science” Fiction, which means it has its roots in science. It says: “It is possible. It might happen. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, or ten years from now. But eventually, it’s just science. It CAN happen.” This is how it gives genuine hope. Or genuine warnings. You know it’s not just a bedtime story. It has the power of science behind it.
But Fantasy, I believe all human beings long toward fantasy. Everyone dreams. Everyone creates their own world in their head, their own rules. When I started writing, about 15 years ago, I started writing science fiction books, because I wanted to give that genuine hope. But ever since I started reading on my own, I’ve been drawn to the world of Fantasy, because who doesn’t want to read about dragons from time to time?
And to be honest, I never trusted myself enough to create a world out of nothing, like a Fantasy author. I always needed science to back me up. Just recently, maybe from two years ago, I thought: “Doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect. Write it for your own sake, for the girl who wants to read about dragons and flying whales.” And started writing fantasy books too!

How old is science fiction in contemporary Iranian literature? In Egypt, and Egypt is the pioneer of Arabic SF, the genre only goes back to the 1950s thanks to Tawfik Al-Haim (1898-1987) and Yousif Ezz Al-Din Issa (1914-1999). And even then it was mostly in the form of radio plays and novellas. Is this the case with Iranian SF?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
In 1934 Mr. Sanatizade published a novel named Rostam in the 22nd century which was the first science fiction novel in Iran. Later on genre mostly consisted of translations from European countries’ literature rather than being created. Fortunately in the past two decades we witnessed more authors interested in writing the genre. Still this genre in Iran is not as popular as other genres and mostly is classified as children literature. But with more literary groups and more prizes dedicating themselves to the genre it starts to become more known by the readers. In the recent years many theses were written about Iranian science fiction and usually they are working in the field of Comparative Literature. One of the most popular authors studied in universities is Iraj Fazel Bakhsheshi, my brother.

Farzad Khalilyan:
More or less Iranian sf begins with novels like “Order of Madmen” and “Rustam in the 22th Century” by Abdolhossein Sanatizadeh and also some short stories by Sadeq Hedayat like S.G.L.L in the 1920s and 1930s. Hedayat also wrote the first Iranian zombie story by the name of “Throne of Abunasr” however he mostly known for his surreal works like “Blind Owl”.
Then it continued as novels, short stories and other forms time to time but it was never been a major part of Iranian literature. Nowadays there is more sf story and novels but I think we still have a long way to go.

Sima Siahposh:
Our SF is still a toddler, but hopefully it`ll grow up very soon because unlike most of Adults, young people are very interested in this genre and fortunately, some Iranian Authors are actually writing in this genre. But Still, there is a long way to go, but I`m hopeful!

Zoha Kazemi:
Iranian modern fiction movement started just in the 1940s. Speculative fiction, the genre in which I have written most of my novels, is even more recent. Speculative fiction in Iran was founded around a decade ago when a new generation of writers started publishing their books in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, for example, Behzad Ghadimy who is a well-known writer of horror and fantasy started publishing his books around seven years ago. But before speculative fiction became popular, we had fantasy authors that wrote for children and young adults, like Arman Arian who has written historical fantasy novels mainly for young adults. This has caused a big misunderstanding! Most readers in Iran think that speculative fiction is only suitable for young adults and they don’t take genre fiction seriously. Some other readers believe speculative fiction to be escape literature with no literary value. We had a difficult path to prove that speculative fiction can have literary worth and can address adult audience. Right now, I can say we are close to this goal as the number of speculative fiction fans has grown and speculative fiction books sell more than literary fiction.

Behzad Ghadimi:
We have had some experimental work in speculative and science fiction before. A trace of it can be found in the flourishing of modern Farsi literature around the 1900s, for example, in Sadeq Hedayat’s works. However, the serious approach to genre fiction, by authors who are aware of the genre motif and, more importantly, would like to write genre fiction consciously, can only be traced back to the early years of 21st century. Those days, I was one of the pioneers of the genre of fiction writing, and we were publishing online in different magazines and websites.

Dear Mrs Armina Salemi, is fantasy as old or older in Iranian literature? Also, the popularity and acceptability of SF has no doubt varied in Iranian history. What about fantasy?

Armina Salemi:
That question has a funny answer: Yes, and No. At least to my knowledge it’s yes and no.
You might already have heard of Hakim Abul-Qâsem Ferdowsi Tusi, a very famous poet (940) whose infamous work is called “Shahnameh” (Book of Kings). As far as I know, Shahnameh is the eldest fantasy book in Iranian literature, and one of the world’s longest epic poems created by one single poet. And back then there wasn’t really any distinction between different genres, which is why even though there are science-fiction poems in the book, probably Hakim himself didn’t consider his work as Science-Fantasy fiction. But there are some specific stories, for example, stories of how a certain king tries to fly, which I believe makes this book the oldest SFF book. In conclusion, you can say that it is actually the fantasy genre that gave birth to science fiction in our literature.

About popularity, I think we, Arabs and Iranians, have this one thing in common and it’s that we are people who breathe stories. We passed down stories from generation to generation, to warn our children, to nurture them, and educate them. I know that maybe more adult audiences nowadays find these stories for children, but I believe deep down, we can’t help it. It is in our blood. You can’t save your history without telling stories and at this point, with thousands of years behind our nations, you can hardly tell the difference between history and fantasy.
This is why I think even though there hasn’t been much of any SFF story for several years, even though the mainstream looks down on it, it is our root and we, eventually, get back to it. It’s like a phoenix and our phoenix seems to be rising in recent years.

Come to think of it, dear Mrs Kazemi, given that you also a distinguished fantasy and romance author, how do Iranians define science fiction? Do they draw a distinction between it with fairy tales, magic realism and surrealism? Are critics any different than readers?

Zoha Kazemi:
I’m not really a romance writer but I do have love stories in my dystopias! I believe a good fiction should always have some sort of romance to sweeten the story. As I said before, the Iranian readers came to know sci-fi through the translation of the best classic books in this genre like Clarke and Asimov. Therefore, their expectations of sci-fi is close to the world-building and themes of these writers. They mostly perceive anything that comes with technology and scientific facts as science fiction. If such technical elements are absent or replaced by magic, they classify it as fantasy. Both genres are not fully established here and I had a long journey to introduce a new form of soft science fiction and dystopia which is closer to the Iranian experience. At first, they thought the technical base of the sci-fi was too soft and certainly did not satisfy the fans of Heinlein or military sci-fi or space opera lovers. But eventually, as the books were read and talked about, the readers became familiar with the Iranian dystopia that I depicted. Now, they know what to expect from me and how this sci-fi can reflect their concerns as an Iranian and a middle-eastern.

As for surrealism and magic realism, Iran’s fiction is quite rich in both. Since the start of fiction writing in Iran, many great Iranian writers have been writing in both forms. They are usually referred to as literary fiction and the readers have a general expectation when reading them such as a complex language, the stream of consciousness narration, a sort of vague and thin story with many internal monologues etc. But when they approach fantasy or sci-fi, they expect a consistent and thrilling plot with exciting characters and different world settings. I believe the genres are easily distinguishable by both readers and critics. However, the speculative fiction critics (very few) are fully familiar with the critical and theoretical framework of other genres but literary critics in Iran are mostly unfamiliar with genre elements and theoretical aspects of it, and they usually avoid talking about speculative fiction.

Do you personally like to splice elements of fantasy, myths and legends into your works of SF?

Zoha Kazemi:
In my sci-fi books I usually have my own world-building but I do have some references to ancient Iranian myths. Although I haven’t written a science fantasy yet and usually I avoid mixing science fiction with fantasy elements.
As for my fantasy novels, I try to bring in as many myths and legends as possible. For example, my latest novel “The Mehrzan Gate” which is a YA fantasy-thriller (it’s under publication) I have a whole zoo full of mythical creatures like Simorgh, Chamroosh and griffins! These mythical creatures are derived from an ancient Zarathustrian book named Bondahesh and in my novel they might appear in the sky over cities and villages if my protagonists don’t stop them in time!

The same question applies to you, Mr Ghadimi? Do you personally make a sharp distinction between horror, fantasy and sci-fi? What advantages do you feel that fantasy and horror give you compared to science fiction?

Behzad Ghadimi:

My works all fall under horror, dark fantasy, or weird fiction. There have been serious attempts, specifically amongst the writers and fans of the speculative fiction genre, to study the literary theory behind speculative fiction more deeply. Although none of the major works has been translated to Farsi, we started to learn Tzvetan Todorov’s theory in his magnificent book “The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre”, or the work of Lin Carter “Imaginary Worlds: The Art of Fantasy”. My colleague writers and I attempted to produce a manifesto to define the boundary of speculative fiction regarding other modern styles of fiction writing, such as surrealism and magic realism. Unfortunately, critics are still obsessed with mainstream literary works, and there have been very few serious attempts toward speculative fiction by critics and academics scholars so far. But the community of speculative fiction, including fans, writers, and publishers, do have a deep understanding of its definition and literary theory. To me, an element of the impossible imaginative situation manifested in the world -building different from the everyday experienced world is the most necessary part for a fiction to be considered speculative fiction. However, this is not enough. There should be a conscious attempt from the author to make and express logical and consistent law that governs this new fantasy world. Here comes the difference between speculative fiction and other styles, such as surrealism and magic realism. In science fiction, specifically, the logical law is driven by extending the most recent scientific advancement findings. However, horror fiction is looking from another perspective, the perspective of scepticism. In horror fiction, we start with the general assumption that everything is normal, following everyday life. Therefore, it is safe! Then the story comes to the point that shakes this assumption, hence our untouched safe temple of understanding. I was always obsessed with the concept of doubt, obsessed with the quote of René Descartes: “I think therefore I am” a sceptical point of view. I like to shake those faithful readers’ minds. To me, horror is the strongest means.

And please fill us in on the details of the horror and fantasy market in Iran? They are thriving over here in Egypt, I can guarantee you, although science fiction is slowly gaining ground. Are there any fantasy and horror productions on television and cinema in Iran?

Behzad Ghadimi:

Market attention has risen significantly in the past decade, the reason being the legend of a few early publishers who made a fortune out of speculative fictions books. The taste of the new generation of the audience has changed noticeably. From the years 2010 to 2020, young adult novelists and speculative fiction writers flourished due to this market demand. In terms of visual art, specifically cinema, a fantasy film requires a high-quality CGI which at the moment only the government-funded project can achieve in Iran, says movies like “The Kingdom of Solomon”. But the stories of horror movies are somehow different. Horror movies do not require a jaw-drawing budget nor that much CGI. Instead, a deeply terrifying storyline with a new and original monster will do the job. Hence, there haves been some good horror movies made in Iran or by Iranian directors with stories rooted in Iranian folklore. I can name “Skin”, which Sima and I went toand see together with a couple of other friends. It was a hit in the Iranian cinema market. TV directors, although usually founded by the government, produced some influential horror series. I can name “She was an aAngel”, which has a religious theme talking about Satan giving a casual visit to a family living in Tehran.

What role has translation and access to sci-fi classics from Europe played in this earlier genesis of Farsi SF? What kind of SF do Iranians read in general, whether imported or local?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
As I mentioned earlier the genre was introduced to Iranian readers through classics and I believe still European writers are more popular than Iranians in the genre. The problem is that as most of the technologies are imported to Iran it is more plausible to the reader to read about science fiction stories that are happening outside of Iran if the stories are about advanced technologies of the future. But when it comes to travelling to the past, when science fiction is mingled with history it is more close to home for Iranian readers as the culture and history of Iran is mysterious and fascinating. There should be a balance between the two way of presenting science fiction to readers to write the stories that are local but also plausible. In the books we publish the writer usually tries to not use the local names so the reader is not confined to believe that the story has happened in Iran. It gives the stories a universal taste while make it easier to be translated and publish outside Iran, but also it has some elements that working toward localization of the genre while exporting cultures. Of course it will take time for the Iranian reader who is used to reading translations for a long time to be totally ready for a local science fiction story and accept it but this transformation is happening now.
Farzad Khalilyan:
It played an important role but if you want the truth the main role belongs to the net. Of course sf translation was always there. From jJules vVerne and H.G. Wells to golden age sci -fi or even more modern books. And there were many stories written influenced by this translation. I even remember a time in theI 2000s whenich many people wanted to write their own book. They are influenced by all the young adults which were translated and were as popular those days.
But the real thing which gathered those people and let them form their own circles was the net.
The net let them access to the books which they never dreamt about. T it they discovered new sf books and translated new writers. Then they wrote their own stories which before that no publisher dared to publish it.

Sima Siahposh:
Due to the International Sanction, we do not have access to many original books. There is no literal bookshop like other countries, which we might buy whatever we wants and the choices are very limited,. Only some very well known fantasy books like LOTR, GOT, Harry Potter, some Classic literature and such are available. Once a year, we have an International Book fair in Spring which is the only opportunity for us to find some Original books with less price. SF genre, sadly, in the majority opinion is just a Luxury genre. Or something for kids and younger people, or as such believe like other books, absolute waste of time and money!
My people – those who read – mostly prefer to read Classic, poem, Persian mythology, romance or whatever they might use or learn something from. Sadly, most of our people do not read a single book a year at all and believe that spending money for books, is just wasting money and time. Some Translators nowadays are only translating SF books, modern and classic. It`s a very good things that publishers are more interested than before, but still, not enough.

We have the same problem in Egypt with the Cairo International Book Fair, the only way to showcase your book to the readers and critics. The only difference is that imported books are terribly expensive. Is the paper used for books in Iran imported?

Sima Siahposh:
For a while, I used to work at a Commercial Company, the main field of our activity was Importing Paper from China, India and South Korea. Most of our customers were newspaper & publishers so I think yes, most of our papers are imported, that’s why Books are expensive in Iran as well as your country.

Zoha Kazemi:
We owe so much to translation! The best speculative fiction books have always been translated and published in Iran. For example, most of the classic sci-fi books written by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick and other well-known sci-fi writes are available and have been in Iran’s market for over thirty years. Young adult speculative fiction is even more up to date! We already have the translation of V. E Schwab’s latest novel “Gallant” in our book stores, only a few weeks after it was released. Harry Potter is still a best seller here.

To answer the second part of your question, I must say speculative fiction has always been available and favourable. The readers in Iran are used to reading the “best” sci-fi books that have already proven to be successful all around the world. When we started publishing Iranian speculative fiction we had a difficult task of proving ourselves to the audience who is used to reading the best books in the world. It was an unfair competition since we had just started and we were stablishing the genre, trying to localize it. It did take some time for the Iranian readers to trust this new genre and after a decade, I can confidently say that the Iranian audience prefers Iranian sci-fi to the translations. My novel “The Juliet Syndrome” is the best seller in Baazh Publications and it sells more than the translations of famous authors like Leigh Bardugo. We have earned the readers’ trust and now they are hoping to read more Iranian speculative fiction. It is understandable as the Iranian readers sympathise more with the characters and has a deeper connection with the settings and the themes reflect the matters that are driven from Iranian people.

Behzad Ghadimi:
We were introduced to the genre by the translation of Dr Tolkien’s works, especially “Lord of The Rings,” which was followed by the magnificent movie by Peter Jackson. Then came Mrs Rolling with her “Harry Potter” series. Then I would say the rocket was launched, and a generation of all new audience with a strong demand for all speculative fiction. Science fiction and horror have had a bit of an older history amongst the audience; “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its book by Clarke is the one to name also his “Rama” series (ask Zoha, she has named her bookstore after this series!). Horror, with “Exorcist” and “Shining”, already had a strong ground in the market. I would say both translations and movie adaptations did the trick in Iran. However, the demand for Sci-Fi and horror fiction that has a touch of locality and Mmiddle eEastern culture has grown in the past few years. I can see it with the number of publishers approaching me and from the feedback of readers.

Armina Salemi:
I’d like to turn this question into two separate ones and answer each. About the role of having access to sci-fi classics from Europe in Farsi SF, I might address some of Sadegh Hedayat’s (1903-1951) works. He’s not necessarily known for his work in SFF, but he is one of the few people who published a short story or two in the SF genre, before Iran’s Islamic Revolution. When you look into his background, you see he was amongst the selected students who traveled to Europe to continue their studies. This is how he got to know the genre, how he came up with his own stories and somehow introduced the genre (or at least tried to) to the Iranians. I cannot say that afterward and thanks to him, SF flourished in Iran. But he played his role, and Europe made its influence through people like Hedayat.

But on the role of translation, sure it sparked the interest and formed the initial community. However, once a translation is not, how can I put it, a clean translation, it would cause so many issues by making the wrong influence. If you do not translate the words such as Blade Runner, Dragon-born, etc., names that actually have meanings and there is a purpose behind them, it creates this expectation that Sci-fi is only sci-fi where there are foreign words in the story. The idea is formed, the tastes are already created, the expectations are set, and it is way too difficult for an Iranian writer to fight them and come up with their own Farsi terminology.
In conclusion, of course, we owe the initial translators a lot. They basically brought this genre once again back to life. But right now, we are fighting a battle that I wish we could have avoided.

What age groups make up the readership of SF in Iran? Is the readership gendered in any way, more popular among boys than girls or the other way around?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
The genre is accepted mostly as a genre for teenagers and children but we have older readers joining the club. There is no specified gender classification.
Farzad Khalilyan:
There is no statistic about it and it is hardly guessable. Some of them, I can’t talk about because of apparent reasons. But about other reasons, part of Iranian sf literature is underground. Even us, we doesn’t have a full grasp about how much it has spread.
And beside this. The book selling system in Iiran is a corrupted, unfunctional and laszy one. But the situation is more complicated thamt I can explain here but in short it isn’t very reliable and it is even more unreliable when we want to know about our target readers. Are there more teenager readers or adult ones? Are there more boys or girls?
The simple answer is nobody knows. It is like walking in the dark. I hope someday we can answer this question less vaguely.

Sima Siahposh:
Can’t say for sure, but I think mostly Young Adults. Most of people believe that this genre, which has some violation, is only suitable for boys. In addition, the girls shall read only fairy tales or something without any or less violation. I myself am a Lovecraftian, and many believes that I completely lost my mind and very into imagination worlds…some even said that I’m still just a child and needs to grow up!

Zoha Kazemi:
As I said before, young adult readers respond best to speculative fiction. But we do have serious adult fans and readers as well. I haven’t noticed much gender division. I have seen people from many different age groups, genders and different religious tendencies that read my books and I’m happy for the diversity of the readers we have here.

Behzad Ghadimi:
I would say it is mainly people 12 years old to 30 years old (so in that account, I am an old veteran like what my surname suggests), and I would say all genders, including boys, girls and others, are enjoying the speculative fiction equally.

Armina Salemi:
Well, to be honest, we assume that we’re the centre of the universe wherever we’re standing, and the fact is nothing but what we see. So, I can say for myself, that my readers tend to be mostly young adults, with a ratio of 4:6 of boys to girls. The fact is that I mostly write for young audiences, seems like I can relate to them better. Maybe that is why I feel that younger people appreciate SFF more than adults, who might find it childish.

Are comic books and graphic novels popular in Iran? Do you have sci-fi superheroes like Superman, Spiderman and the X-Men?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
Comic books are popular between younger readers. We have some semi superheroes but not the ones with advanced machines. They are more mysterious and practising witchery. So not like X-Men or Superman.

Farzad Khalilyan:
It depends on how you define popular. If you mean the general populace know what a comic is or read comic books, the answer is simply no, but the comic books between Iranians has a wide spread fan base across the country or even outside the country. It isn’t a huge fan base but it is an active one.
And about a sci -fi superhero, there were some scattered tries and mostly online, but the only successful one I remember is “Ilia” written by Amin Tavakoly and drawn by Hamid Sohrabi. So for 4 issues of it published it has a good story and art.

But beside the superhero genre there are other comic books. They are not much but I hope we have more of them in the future.

Sima Siahposh:
We do not have such Superheroes – sure, you can count Rostam as a superhero! – but yes, Comic Books, Graphic Novels and Manga is very popular. Still, we cannot buy Original comics from DC or Marvel, mostly we download them, or if lucky, some relatives or friends living abroad might buy some as a souvenir! Original books/Comic are expensive and rare here. Or we download them.
Zoha Kazemi:
Of course, DC and Marvel are very popular in here. But Iranian comic books are one step behind speculative fiction. We do have lots of translations but I have only seen very few comic books that were published within the last five years. One of the most successful comics published around two years ago is the comic “Marz” written by Sadaf Faghihi and Mahour Pourghadim. This comic book won a major prize in Iran last year. Moreover, we have so many comic fans that want to see how their cultural background and their modern life can be reflected in an Iranian comic that they can sympathise with. I hope our comic writers produce more great works for the ever-growing comic fans and to have Iranian super heroes!

Behzad Ghadimi:
I will leave it for Mahour and Farzad to answer. They would have a lot to say about it.

Armina Salemi:
I cannot provide super specific details on this topic as I am a mere novelist (and not even a comic script writer) but as a keen reader, I’ve been coming across nice works in recent years. As far as I know, we don’t have sci-fi superheroes right now, but come back and ask us in a couple of years. I’m certain that the answer will be different!

What kind of problems does science fiction face in Iran? Do these problems extend to sci-fi associations and non-governmental organisations like the Speculative Fiction Group?

I can guarantee you we face many a hurdle here in Egypt, at the level of the critics, readers and forming organisations. Bureaucracy alone is a hurdle.

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
As a publisher for getting the permissions to publish science fiction I do not have any problems in governmental part. The problem mostly is the fact that books are pretty expensive nowadays in Iran and as the genre is not very popular selling the books is a challenge. Maybe if there are more groups like the Speculative Fiction Group created then by reaching more readers we can sell books and as the result publish more.

Farzad Khalilyan:
There are many obstacles. fFirst of all, readers here don’t trust Iranian writers and this lack of trust is based on very good reasons. The quality of Iranian works even in mainstream literature rarely can satisfy an Iranian normal reader especially compared to foreign works. Why it happened to Iranian literature is a long story which I prefer not to bore you with it. Long story short, it isn’t possible to have a decent community of readers whom if they don’t trust writers enough to buy their books
And about the other problems, there is a long list. Censorship, the publishers whom remained in last century and don’t know how to sell a book, the diminishing number of book stores across the country, the disappearing of the sites whom reviewed books compared to the last decade. I don’t want to bore you. The list iIs very very long and these are only a small part of it.

Sima Siahposh:
First of all, many people believe that it`s childish, why would someone read something that is not real? Why would someone spend money on something childish and unreal? And more important than that, why would someone buy a book and waste their money at all?!
There are just a few active groups here but the main problem is that people are not reading and won`t encourage their children to do such.

Zoha Kazemi:
We don’t have any formal sci-fi associations in Iran. I only know three groups that are active in sci-fi. One of them is a website named Dystopian that publishes stories and book/movie/game reviews online. It’s an active and productive group. Another one is Sefeed. As far as I know they used to have a fan club before, called Fantasy Academy but I haven’t seen any recent activity there. Another group is Afsaneha that holds the biggest speculative writing contest. Right now, I am the lead-referee for Afsaneha’s sixth contest which will come to end in a few months’ time. I have also started a bookshop in Tehran which is specialized in speculative fiction. Rama bookstore is now more than two years old. Rama was established with the aim to create a center for writers, translators, and fans. We hold many fun and interactive events such as book signings, story reading and writing workshops in my bookshop. Now Rama is more than a bookstore; it is a unique community center in Iran that creates hope for all creative and unrecognized minds.

We do not have any support from the government. Anything we do is self-funded. Until the Noofe award, we didn’t have any prizes in Iran that accepted speculative fiction. Noofe awards is also a private award founded by Sefeed website. The number of professional speculative writers is very few and we do not have any critics. Most of the reviews are written by fans and peer authors or translators. But we need our work to be theoretically criticized and academically reviewed.

But our most important problem is representation. We can’t present and publish our works outside of Iran. We don’t have active agents to present our books and since our books need to be translated from Farsi, it makes it very difficult for international publishers to become interested in translating and publishing Iranian fiction. We have other issues like copyright problems and sanctions that make any financial transaction extremely difficult and international publishers find it hard to work with us. The government only supports and presents the books that reflect their ideology and speculative fiction tends to shift away from such ideologies and religious dogmatism.

The other main problem is adaptation. The entertainment industry especially the independent producers in Iran are many steps behind the published books. Our film producers do not have the means, the technology and the budget to adapt a sci-fi novel or a work of fantasy. Adaptations help the books find more readers and become popular. I hope that one day our producers and directors turn to our fiction for great stories. Or that big producers like Netflix show some interest to Iran’s literature.

The other problem that we have is the censorship in Iran. It is not limited to books or a certain genre. It makes writing harder and puts a lot of pressure on the writers. But this is a long matter that requires a different interview.

Behzad Ghadimi:
Living in Iran, with a strictly religious constitution law, you will face fantasy and horror in real life! Yes, there were some troubles, first of all, censorship which goes too far. As a writer, you are not sure what you have put on the paper, is going to pass from censorship, and it is a source of stress to your mind. My friends and I were running “Speculative Fiction Group” from 2000 to around 2012, and several times we were asked about what our political view is. However, we were not political in any sense, just a group of literature-obsessed nerds! So, there were some troubles, but I should say, sometimes we received supports as well. I do not say the government is completely opposing tohe speculative fiction in its whole. In recent years, the governmentally funded publishers have started to publish books in speculative fictions, for the good market that was originally made by authors and fans.

But government is not the only source of trouble, the mainstream genre snobs are the other part. Their mockery of the works produced in the field of speculative fiction, calling everything a “yellow book”, excluding all the speculative fiction from the literary awards without even reading them, ignoring the hard and quality works of authors who are devotedly writing genre fictions, these are few to name.
At the end of the day though, we have fantastic audience and fans. Their supports are overwhelming and keep us pushing forward.

Armina Salemi:
Well, you said it all yourself: Bureaucracy kills. But we face an even bigger issue: the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. Before being published, any publisher would send the book to this ministry, and they censor the book as they see fit. It is not necessarily religious censorship, but in so many cases a political one too. For example, take my latest book which has been sent there three times already. They were cutting off the parts I was talking about a revolution and martyrs. The dialogue, in an imaginary land six centuries from now, goes like this:
“Don’t turn them into the holy martyrs that they have never been.”

“My dear friend, as chess requires sacrifices, a revolution needs martyrs.”
The book went back and forth so many times and whatever changes I tried to make were not approved and I had to cut the dialogue out. In my idea, SFF is a statement that the author makes. You cannot put a knife under their throat and make them write what you want or what you believe. This is not how writing works. When we try to write it so that it wouldn’t get censored, it’s like flying with your wings cut off. It is heartbreaking when we write books that we know could never be published in our own country just because there are queer representations or controversial political views. This censorship, I believe, is the biggest hurdle when you are writing in a genre whose initial duty is to speak up, represent, and challenge the traditions and common beliefs.

 

LEAP OF FAITH: Armina Salemi with her substantive book series, bridging the gap between fantasy and science fiction, Arabs and Iranians.

A related question for Mr Behzad Ghadimi. Are there horror and fantasy comics in Iran and do they face any specific problems not faced by other comic genres?

Behzad Ghadimi:

There are indeed. The work of Mahour and Sadaf was one of the best hits, and I know few other comics published with a horror theme. Specific problem? Let me think… oh yes, you are not allowed to be too scary, you are not allowed to be talking about any religious matter, you better to be off from political conflict; the story should have a happy ending with ethical values. These are a few on top of the usual problems for an artist, which are finding a good publisher, promoting the work after publishing, receiving fierce feedback from the main genre critics, etc.

How do you promote SF in Iran and try and captivate young readers, and writers? One tactic we’ve used to some effect here at the ESSF is writing workshops. What has been your experience?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
We usually held gathering for book signing or round tables with critics and fans promoting our book also gathering for the fans to meet their favourite author and ask their questions. The Internet also is a very useful asset for us as through channels and groups we communicate with readers

Farzad Khalilyan:
To tell the truth, sadly, we have very limited options. Oral advertisement, telegram channels and groups, social accounts, forums and fan circles and sometimes social events and social gatherings. They aren’t much but Ii think we will have more of them in future.
And yes we have workshops here too. But I think it doesn’t suffice for promotion of sff works for long term. There are many sff circles which formed around thiese workshops. They are necessary but there are things beside that must be done to make the impact of this workshops last.

Sima Siahposh:
We do have a few here, like Literary Award of Nofe, which is held annually by Sefid online magazine, Afsaneha, Arda and some sparse Workshops by some Authors.

Zoha Kazemi:
We do have workshops here as well. I personally hold a speculative writing workshop in Rama Bookstore. Also, we hold a contest for novice writers in Rama. There are other story writing contests as I mentioned before like Afsaneha. These workshops help with the training of new writers and the contests provide an opportunity for the new writers to test their abilities and to be noticed. Many of the contest winners are offered publication by speculative publishers like Baazh and Peydayesh publishers.

Behzad Ghadimi:
Social media is one of the strongest tools I used to promote the speculative genre. Also, gathering in clubs and bookstores. Organizing sci-fi events is another way. Zoha is currently running a writing workshop as well, which has been influential.

Armina Salemi:
In terms of captivating young readers, I think one thing that is underestimated in most cases, is the power of fandom. When you are writing for young readers, you have to understand and feel them to some extent. You have to be as excited, so they’d be returning that enthusiasm to you. At the very first stages of a book being published, some readers reach out with fan art and fan fiction. Depending on how well you respond to them, they keep going and build a fandom. And once it’s there, you have the biggest support you could ever ask for. You captivated the readers you needed. Or at least it was my experience with my first book and the fandom it has.

Also, it might be because my publisher spoiled me, but I think the publisher can do a lot to captivate the readers. In my case, once my book hit the shelves, they first arranged an online Q&A. Then, they formed a group for us, me as the writer and all the readers, to read the book together. They also designed challenges for the time we’d been reading the book together like drawing an art, making a video clip, or “imagine where the Island could be and talk about it” sort of things. It definitely did miracles in forming the fandom about which I’ve been talking.

For bringing other writers into the realm, especially young ones, I believe the best thing we can do is to write in our own style with our own unique voice. When a reader who has something to say sees that, they’d think oh so there are is more than one way to dive into SFF. When my first book was published, The Call of Colors, I had so many people contacting me and telling me: “I didn’t know we could publish a book like that”, just because they’ve never read an Iranian author writing and publishing in Farsi, whose book happens elsewhere, or has characters from a foreign country. They thought publishers would not publish a book like that unless it is a fantasy book in an imaginary land. It is true, both my publishers were skeptical when they first heard my books happen all around the world, but once the execution is right, they have no reason to reject a book solely because it has non-Iranian characters.

One other thing that I’ve done, is that I talk about my creative process a lot. I’ve made some videos and put them on my Instagram and tell anyone who has questions about both writing and publishing. To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s helped or not, but it was what I think I would know a couple of years from now.

Is Arabic science fiction well known in Iran? Have you all heard of Nabil Farouk and Ahmed Khaled Tawfik and their famous pocketbook series? Tawfik in particular became internationally recognised for his novel Utopia (2008).
Have any of you heard of the latest Egyptians dystopian novels, Otared (2013) by Mohammed Rabie’s and The Queue (2014) by Basma Abdel-Aziz?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
Unfortunately in the book market they are not known.

Farzad Khalilyan:
I am ashamed to say that they aren’t. In Iran we know and read some of the Egyptian mainstream writers works like Najib Mahfoouz. But none of the Egyptian works were translated to Farsi and I think it is kind of our loss. I hope some publisher in Iran begins to work on them and translate them very soon. I am personally very eager to read them.

Sima Siahposh:
Actually the first time that I’ve heard about you and found that there are Arabic SF fans out there I was truly shocked, even after that I`ve found some Lovecraftian in Saudi Arabia and I was like OH MY AZATHOTH HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?!

Sadly, I`ve never heard of any of the mentioned Writers. Arabic literature in Iran is mostly religious – many of us learned Arabic at school but mostly we forgot, because there were nothing in Arabic but religious related.

Zoha Kazemi:
The answer is unfortunately negativize. The only book I heard about is Otared. I have also read a book titled the Qwaed Jartain by Amro Abdul Hamed. I am very interested to read Arab sci-fi books but they have to be translated into Farsi.

Behzad Ghadimi:
I know Towfik and loved his “Ma Wara al Tabia”[paranormal] series. But I do not think it is translated into Farsi. However, Arabic novels (not specifically speculative fiction) have been well accepted in the Iranian market. The last hit I recall was “The Bookseller’s Murder” by‌ Saad Mohammed Raheem. I also enjoyed “Throne of the Crescent Moon” by Saladin Ahmed. Although the book is in English, the touch of Middle Eastern culture was quite nice. I do not believe it is translated into Farsi.

Armina Salemi:
Well, Arabic science fiction is sure known to me and people who are active in this realm. I, for one, do know that Egypt is a pioneer in terms of Arabic science fiction and have read a lot about Mustafa Mahmoud or Tawfik al-Hakim. All the names you’re mentioning are known to me, because it’s my job to know. You can’t join the competition not knowing who’s leading and what’s happening in other countries!
Having that said, to be honest, I think even though Arabic science fiction is fascinating, it is not known enough in my country and that’s a shame. That would be another thing that could help captivate young readers and writers: showing different voices, and different cultures that are key players. I have nothing against western science fiction, but I think it would be nice if more people knew that science fiction could happen in places other than the US.

E.g., In my other book, The Final Quartet, my characters visit Mayotte, in East Africa! (It was so difficult to do the research, though.)

Dear Mrs Armina, on the topic of series and pulp sci-fi, series are a ‘classic’ way of promoting SF and fantasy and even horror and action in literature, e.g. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. They’re also an invaluable tool for world-building and exploring themes. Are Iranian authors doing this themselves, at home and abroad? I ask because of your YA sci-fi novel series The Final Quartet. (There’s also the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi. You can find it here in Egypt, even in translation!)

Armina Salemi:

Yes. Definitely. At least it is what I do, and I know a couple of other fellow SF writers who do the same. I already have two series, one that you know of which is a duology, and the other, a trilogy, which hasn’t been published yet (The Design Agency). As you mentioned, writing a series helps you expand your world beyond what you might be able to in a standalone. In my second series, I have four different regions, four different governments and political systems, and so many different religions and cultures. (I’d like to have you know that there are only four official languages left in the world in this series and the southern block speaks Egyptian Arabic!). There has been no way for me that I’d tell all my story without boring my readers out of their minds with info-dumps. I also care about my characters’ backstories and arcs and a series help me develop and establish that to the best of my abilities. You want your reader to care about your creations as much as you care about them and I think the only way for this to happen, is to let your reader spend a long time with them.

However, it is true that writing a series is tricky and challenging from time to time. There’s pressure about what if I can’t deliver and disappoint my readers. What if I can’t maintain the voice and style throughout the way? What if I can’t wrap it in a perfect way and all of it goes to waste? You would be stressing about keeping your world fresh and entertaining, having a story to tell about your characters for a longer time. It is not a type of anxiety that you want to face, and I understand why most people might prefer standalones. They are safer, especially when you are a new writer. Readers don’t always risk buying a book in a series that they don’t know if the writer is committed enough to finish it, or when the writer is going to finish it. If they don’t know you, they might be stuck with an incomplete series they don’t like.
In general, yes, I love series. I know that there are people who do. But I know that it might not be for everyone.

Talking to female SF authors in Egypt, some say they have faced problems as women and others say they have not. What is the situation in Iran?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
I can’t comment on this question because regretfully I have not heard of any female science fiction writer.

Sima Siahposh:
We both are living in some Traditional countries, the beliefs of our families are mostly the same. In their opinion, like the rest of our society, SF and such are for boys, and girls, must read soft literature, like romance, poem and such…or not reading at all and only study to find some good job later and marry someone. So when someone like me, interested in Lovecraft or SF comes out and writes something, or work on these genres, they think something is wrong with us. Like, we have some emotional problems or like my family, think that I`m trying to attract attentions because I am not successful on social relations and many such. Therefore, I understand them completely and wish them luck, because we really need it!

Zoha Kazemi:
As a woman in Iran we face so many discriminations on daily basis. But as a woman writer I have never felt such a problem in my career. Around 30 percent of writers in Iran are woman. Publishers appreciate the works of women authors and readers want good books, not caring about the author’s gender. I don’t believe I was ever treated differently by publishers and readers because of my gender.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Zoha Kazemi at her own pioneering bookstore, Rama, weathering the storms of Covid and censorship alike.

Armina Salemi:
Well, even though I publish my books in Iran, I haven’t been living there in the past couple of years. So, basically, if people go out of their way to contact me, it’s mostly to say nice things and appreciate the work. However, I do know that when you are a female writer, especially when your name shouts out “female”, some people automatically assume that your books are girly (what does that even mean?) or you are writing romance or at the very least romance is entangled in your book.

There is this hidden discrimination that women cannot write hard science fiction or dark ones. There’s this expression in my language, “A manly brain”, that people use when they want to compliment you about your intelligence or knowledge. Apparently, I mean you could tell from the name, women don’t have that “manly brain” so most of them are not capable of writing hard dark science fiction. It makes our job somehow difficult, especially when, in my own case, we don’t necessarily implement a romance theme in our books. Well, there’s also this saying that once you’re a woman, you need to work twice as hard to earn your place.

We would love your comments too Mr Farzad?

Farzad Khalilyan:
I wish I can comment on this matter but I can’t.
But as a reader, I never found any distinguished differences between men or women writers in Iran.

Same for your Mr Ghadimi?
I do not think my feedback would be as legitimate as those of our female authors. But I know there are specific problems that a female author would face if she wanted to publish in Iran. The male voice still is dominating in the Persian literature, this goes worse among publishers. However, I see that there are talented female authors especially in the field of speculative fiction emerging and some haves already established their voice and position in the market.

Mrs Armina, is there any difference when it comes to female participation between science fiction and fantasy? Are more men involved in SF, for instance? Is the readership between fantasy and SF any different also when it comes to gender?

Armina Salemi:

Are we talking about the readers or writers? In terms of readers, I think it’s difficult to generally comment on all the sub-genres of the two genres. I would say yes, there are more female participants in the fantasy genre than in the SF. However, it is not the case when we get to sub-genres like epic fantasy. It’s a complicated question to comment on.

However, in terms of writers, surprisingly enough, the answer is pretty much obvious: female writers are ruling the SF realm, while male writers dominate the Fantasy genre. In other genres, such as Horror or thriller, there is a fifty-fifty participation (again, in terms of writers). But for some reason, SF and Fantasy have picked their own kings and queens.

You’re into cyberpunk, Farzad. Is that subgenre more popular among men than women in Iran, in point of fact? Does the same go for Steampunk? And what draws you personally to these subgenres?
Farzad Khalilyan: And into other punk subgenres too. Is it more popular between men or women? I think it will remain to be seen.

And to tell the truth I love steampunk even more than cyberpunk.
But what draw me to these subgenres? I think it is because of where I live. I think a good sf story like any other kind of the good literature is a mirror of us and the age we live in. We can’t have same approach as golden age sf writers. They were a mirror of their own time too. The shadow of the Cold War, the beginning of the age of exploration, the technological advancement. Well we in 21th century in a Middle Eastern country live in a completely different world. Our problems are different. We can’t write about a super scientist in a super lab who has a huge scientific breakthrough and our readers believe it without the right context. And I think these subgenres give us options and material to imagine different worlds. The worlds hidden beneath our worlds. The worlds that tell us more truth about us than the world we see. It is what drew me personally to these subgenres.

Finally, what would you advise to improve the lot of science fiction in Iran? And what kind of cooperative efforts do you envision between Iranian authors and publishers, and their counterparts in the Arab world?

Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi:
Creating more conferences on the genre and trying to circulate it between readers is a necessity as it is still young. It needs more advertising and if the attention it got from the academic society continues it will help the genre a lot. The relation between authors and publishers between two cultures needs lots of work as for both countries publishing outside their boarders is a challenge translation from one side and the costs of publishing from the other side is making any joint effort a very hard task to do. So maybe it is better to collaborate on the same language if an author can create his/her work in English then it will be much easier to translate and it will definitely cost less of course it will bring with itself new challenges. Also being published online would be a very great solution because the sites that now are selling different publishers books in Iran make the books available worldwide and within a reasonable price range. It will eliminate the cost of shipping but it depends on how e-books are received in the country.

Farzad Khalilyan:
We can do many things. Probably not now and not instantly. But we can help each other slowly. We can translate each other’s books. We can talk and share about what we know and about our methods so we can find our unique voices and improve our stories. We can collaborate in organizing online or even offline events. The possibilities are endless. Of course many of these things aren’t possible for this instant. But for now this is important to maintain this connection and develop it so we can extend the reach of our sf literature.

And about us in Iran, I think we must read more and write more. There is a harsh and hard path and what happens next is unpredictable. In this situation, to my fellow writers in Iran, I can only give a viable advice, let’s endure this path and let’s survive.

Sima Siahposh:
People must learn to read. To enjoy what they read and they should only for the sole purpose of learning something from the book, but read them to enjoy! They have to learn that imagination is not childish or silly; they have to learn that writers and translators are not some bunch of idle rich people that loves to waste their life on something silly. Both sides must learn to respect each other, to respect their readers, to be humble… and I think we all must learn and begin to read Arabian literature, obviously something not religious!

Zoha Kazemi:
I think we should focus first on translation and publication of books in both Arab countries and Iran. We need to become familiar with the works published in Arabic and Persian and to attract more readers on both communities.

An interview such as this, is a favourable solution and I hope that Iran readers become interested in Iranian sci-fi. I appreciate this opportunity.
Another suggestion I have is to hold events such as conferences, seminars and book readings with the authors in the middle east countries. For example, I would love to attend an event where an Egyptian author talks about his/her book. But I’m not sure this is easily achievable due to political complications in here. Although with the help of the internet we may be able to hold online seminars to introduce both Iranian and Arab authors and their works.

Behzad Ghadimi:
The interaction between authors and audience can be a point to be improved. The years of Covid did not help at all. The sci-fi writing is still in its young age in Iran and we have a lot to learn. So improving the quality of the work by knowing the speculative fiction genre and its motives are also important.
On to the second part of the question, I think there are lots of opportunities for collaboration between Arabic writers and Farsi writers. Having some fiction translated to Arabic/Farsi is a good start. I imagine an award for Middle-Eastern writers or speculative fiction that occurs in the middle-east would be super helpful. Events and gathering ceremonies is another point of collaboration.

Armina Salemi:
I’d like to think that SFF is about diversity, as well. I, for one, am trying to tell my readers that you are not odd, you have your own place in the world, within my books. You have your own people. There are people who are speaking your language. There are other worlds that you might belong to.
And if we do make it a more diverse realm, say, translate books that have been neglected, and exchange culture and ideas, we open new doors to our people. SFF is about showing all these amazing worlds to people, expanding their horizons, and for that, we need to make other voices to be heard. Translations, collaborations, and even roundtables! This is what we can do to make people know of all the wonders that SFF has to offer.

Bio Statements:
Farkhondeh Fazel Bakhsheshi, owner of Ahang-e-Ghalam Publishing House, is an English literature critic and one of the leading publishers of science fiction in Iran. She is an author of fiction herself and her essays on different approaches to literature have been published in conferences and journals. Currently she is studying a PhD in English Literature.

Farzad Khalilyan, a young writer, a critic and most important of all a fan of speculative fiction with a number of short stories to his name. He has also written about speculative fiction in Shegeftzar, Fantasy Comic, 3feed, Dystopian and some other sites and magazines.

Sima Siahposh, or Sima Taghavi (Siahposh) is a Lovecraftian. She’s an Iranian Translator, a book worm & an amateur Author that trying her best. She lives with her Bunny, Mynah, Atlantic Canary and a one eyed Cockatiel. She loves Horror Books, Thriller, Fantasy, SF, History and Grimoire.

Zoha Kazemi, an Iranian speculative fiction writer; born in Tehran and currently living there. She began writing and publishing stories around twelve years ago, in Farsi and English, with 13 published novels, a short story collection, and a flash fiction collection in Iran. ‘Rain Born’ and ‘Year of the Tree’ are also available in English. Zoha won the Noofe award for the best speculative novel of the year in Iran, two times in a row for her dystopian novel Death Industry and the post-apocalyptic ‘Rain Born’. Her first sci-fi novel ‘Pine Dead’ was acknowledged in the first Noofe award. Other dystopian novels include ‘Humanoid’, and ‘The Juliet Syndrome’ which is a best seller in Iran. She has a three-volume novel for young adults called ‘The World of Lollipop People’ and a fantasy novel titled ‘The Covering Dust’. Her latest published book is a short story collection ‘Time Rider’ with nine speculative stories. Two more speculative novels arte under publication, one for adult readers and a thriller-fantasy for YA named ‘The Mehrzan Gate’. Zoha Kazemi also owns a bookshop in Tehran named “Rama” which specializes in speculative fiction.

Behzad Ghadimi, born in 1983 Tehran, Iran, has a PhD in civil engineering and is living as a civil engineer in Perth, Australia. In his other part of the life, Behzad is a horror fiction writer in Iran. Behzad has been an active writers from 2000 and he has already published four books in Farsi since. Behzad also works towards promoting speculative fiction among Iranian readers. He has had many TV appearances, newspaper articles and magazine articles. Behzad’s books have won the “Speculative Fiction Awards” and have been nominated by Noofe Academy for thein “Noofe Award”.

Armina Salemi, is a young science fiction writer and the author of ‘The Final Quartet’ series in the Science-Fantasy genre. She is mostly known for her young adult multicultural works. Even though she was nominated for awards like the ‘Annual Young Creators National Award’ and her books have been acclaimed by many critics, she takes the most pride in the strong fanbase of her works and how young adult audiences connect with her, finding a home in her stories. Her traumatic past and eventful life resulted in her characters and stories helping people to overcome their own struggles, letting them know that they are not alone. She hopes that one day, just like her characters that are from all around the world, she could connect to readers from all around the world.

Emad El-Din Aysha, with a PhD in International Studies from the University of Sheffield, took up writing science fiction in 2015 and is now a member of the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction and the Egyptian Writers’ Union. He is also a freelance translator and journalist and has one (Arabic) sci-fi anthology to his name and one non-fiction book, ‘Arab and Muslim Science Fiction: Critical Essays‘ (McFarland, 2022). He divides his time between his (many) work duties and promoting Arabic science fiction at international for a like Discon III, FUTURE·CON 2021, “Muslim Futurism: Definitions, Explorations, and Future Directions”, RACS (Religion and Astrobiology in Culture and Society) Network, BaltimoreCon 56 convention, Chicon 8: The 80th World Science Fiction Convention, RAWIFest and FiyahCon2020.

Islam News