Four years ago I served as a civilian specialist in Afghanistan and that country came close to my heart. Therefore it gladdens me to read how people there create clever ways of improving their lives, like novel use of cellphone technology. Read more about it here >>>
”It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”
This is an interesting article about various hi-tech software that analyse the in’s and out’s of contemporary low-intensity wars (link >>>). Worth reading for those that follow the tumultuous developments in Afghanistan, Syria and Central Africa.
There are moments when darkness falls upon you, when you walk figuratively through the desolate land of shadows. Cancer, betrayal, poverty, death of a loved one — such events shatter lives in our tranquil part of the world, where people generally do not have to face the community-wrecking miseries of war, plague, floods or famine. The grim shadow is therefore often an individual experience: walking one step at a time through your personal Mordor while people around do not share the suffering, maybe they don’t even see it.
Former US Navy officer James Stockdale described his coping strategy during his period as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam 1965-73.
I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade. [...] This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
This philosophy of duality has become known as the Stockdale Paradox.
Karin Boye (1900-41), an extraordinary Swedish poet, put her thoughts on this type of issue into words in the concluding eight lines of a poem called Jul 1939 (Christmas 1939).* This is a good English rendition:
The empty winter skies
have smothered every cry.
But the souls listen endlessly,
the dead and we.
In some corner hidden away
by a world to destruction worn,
there is a child being born,
a promised child on straw and hay.
*I guess Ms Boye wrote the poem in early 1940 and it evokes the mood of that winter when foul darkness descended upon Europe. My father was 12 at that time and I wonder what he felt deep inside during those Christmas days, a boy old enough to understand what was about to happen to the world. Nowadays, when he is old, he does not want to talk much about such matters. And memories of things 70+ years in the past are flimsy.
I haven’t been blogging much recently because my mind has preoccupied with the on-going novel project. Its Swedish name is Ökenvandring (the Desert Wandering), but I might have to change that title. It is simply not enough desert in the story. The novel belongs to the same alternate Earth as Iskriget, a dieselretro vision of a different 1940 in which the republican rebels in northwest Europe fight against the oppressive Habsburg empire.
Iskriget sent the protagonists across the ice-covered southern continent of Alba. This novel takes the reader to the hot and arid continent of Magalhana, the stage for the two concluding short-stories in Iskriget. (Both short-stories are actually prequels that take place several years before the rebellion.) Afghanistan and India have been some of my sources of inspiration — two countries in which I have lived — but Alba and Magalhana are fictional testing grounds where the protagonists face social, natural and moral challenges.
One recurring underlying theme in my stories is Cain’s question in Genesis: ”Am I my brother’s keeper?” The scarred and reclusive marshal in The Road has to respond to it and the consequences get more far-reaching than anyone would imagine. The world forces everyone to choose — taking the narrow path may cost the wanderer much trouble, but out of those hardships comes inner growth, too. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: ”The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”
When I worked in Kabul in 2008, I watched the movie The Journey of August King* on a satellite channel. North Carolina 1815, a widowed white farmer helps a runaway slave woman. The consequences are harsh, because that state’s law shows little mercy for such behavior. But what is morally right and what is legal may differ significantly. At the movie’s end, Mr King, simultaneously facing one victory and one defeat, concludes: ”I have never felt so proud before in my life.”
*The movie is well worth watching, being unsentimental and understated.
Frida Rosesund har frågat 18 svenska fantastikförfattare om hur de jobbar. Här är svaren >>>
Today I was interviewed by a college student writing an academic paper on how people feel and react when they come home from peace-keeping or peace-enforcing operations in faraway lands. Her interviews covered the Congo campaign 50 years ago, the Middle East ceasefire monitoring 40 years ago, the Balkan wars 20 years ago and the ongoing Afghanistan struggles. Quite ambitious.
I was happy to explain my experiences of doing civilian service in Afghanistan, from which I returned three years ago, and how I afterward readjusted to a mundane life in Sweden. When the interview was over and I had put down the phone, I realized that JRR Tolkien had written a sentence in The Fellowship of the Ring that summarized most of my thoughts on the matter:
”All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Andreas Sölvebring har intervjuat mig om mina romaner. Länk >>>
Yesterday evening, I was invited to the monthly meeting of Forodrim (the Stockholm Tolkien Society) to speak of my books. I was one of the two main attractions, the other being a well-known filksong bard. It was the first time that I was asked to speak in public about being an author and about the in’s and out’s of my two books.
Fortunately, I have no problems with standing on a stage so I (hopefully) entertained the audience (about 40 people) for half an hour with my memories of getting hooked on science fiction at age 8 and a quick explanation how coming from a clan of engineers and Jules Verne & Heinlein have influenced my manner of writing SF and fantasy. I tell stories of resourceful women and men solving complex problems with their sharp minds and clever use of technology.
In the case of fantasy, I do not play in the pseudo-medieval field. My fantasy stories instead operate in some sort of pre-steampunk environment with e.g. alchemy as a substitute for technology.
I also spoke of how my personal experience of two wars — Bosnia and Afghanistan — have propelled me into writing novels. In 1993 I worked as a civilian in the Swedish logistic tail for our blue berets serving in Bosnia and in 2008-09 I served as a civilian expert in Kabul. I was profoundly affected twice and writing about what I heard and saw through the lens of fantastic fiction has been both challenging and rewarding.
I also added my 5 cents to why steampunk never has been a genre of significant interest in Sweden. Our concept of the late 19th century deals with farming (Raskens), poverty (Fogelström’s Staden books), and large-scale emigration to the United States. Steampunk was created by Americans who had read a lot of Dickens. It will not resonate well with the Swedish psyche, because we would have a hard time associating that era with the relevant phenomena of steampunk.
On the other hand, I claimed, dieselpunk/dieselretro works much better among Swedes. Its era was filled with rapid development, a mix of optimism (things are getting better) & fear (totalitarian movements threatening our liberty), and the Bauhaus aesthetics (we call it ”funkis”, short for funktionalism, and it has been extremely important for our architecture and interior decorating). Therefore it is easier for me to create enjoyable diesel visions of alternate worlds.
The audience were also happy to buy a lot of my books afterward. So it was a most enjoyable evening for everyone. I will be happy to appear at similar events in other places in the future. And I got at least two preliminary invitations straight away.