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A Future Jozi – Three Science Fiction Authors Launch Their Books by Candlelight at Wolves

A Future Jozi

The setting for last Wednesday evening’s science fiction book launch in Illovo came straight from a dystopian novel, with candlelight casting dancing shadows on the walls.



But the Wordsmack publishing team and the folk at Wolves would not allow loadshedding to darken their spirits, and Abi Godsell, Mico Pisanti and Jason Werbeloff introduced their books to the gathering crowd.

A Future JoziPisanti’s new book, The Folds: Krokodil, is set in 2030, and he said of it: “Think of the worst-case scenario and hope like hell it doesn’t come true. 2030 is not that far off …”

Werbeloff’s book, Hedon, is also set in the near future, but imagines a world where happiness is compulsory.

All three books are based in Johannesburg – or, in the case of Hedon, in an alternative city with problems symbolically aligned to those in South Africa. Louise Cosgrave, who runs Wordsmack with Leani le Roux, asked: “Is there still an audience for books set in Joburg?”

Werbeloff said that South Africa has an “amazing market” for books, and Pisanti agreed: “It’s a growing industry and Joburg is never dull, it tweaks the imagination. Joburg is a new city, we’re all a forward-facing bunch.”

Godsell, author of Idea War and a town planning student at the Wits University, said that Joburg’s future is everybody’s story: “As writers and readers we need to tell publishers about the stories we want to hear and the people we want to hear about. Wordsmack is poised at the brink of something very exciting.”

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After the launch Books LIVE asked each author five questions about their books:
1. In a nutshell, what is Hedon about?

Jason Werbeloff: In 2051, the Bhutanese Empire rules post-apocalyptic Shangri with iron-fisted Buddhist compassion. Happiness is compulsory, but making everyone happy isn’t easy in an overpopulated world. Breeders are ghettoed, homosexuality is mandatory, and Shangrians’ happiness levels are strictly monitored by hedometers implanted in their heads. Become depressed, or feel too happy without helping others feel the same, and The Tax Man will get angry. Very angry.

The lovechild of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale, Hedon is gritty satire on a dystopia drunk with bigotry and positive thinking.
2. Why did you use the specific space (Joburg) and time as a setting for your story?

Although Hedon isn’t set in Johannesburg, I use the fictional country of Shangri to illustrate many of the challenges that we face in Joburg and in South Africa. The story is full of wanton violence, and the oppression of a majority group – in Hedon the group is heterosexuals; in South Africa, it’s people of colour. These issues plague South Africa, even 20 years after the exit of the apartheid government.

3. This “compulsory happiness” factor sounds legit cool and not too far off. What made you think of it?

My experience living in South Africa today is that I’m surrounded by a ubiquitous gathering of people and media outlets that promote positive thinking. I find it nauseating, and I wanted to write about why I experience it this way. More than that though, I believe positive thinking is dangerous, and damaging. It encourages us to think that we are responsible for everything that happens to us, including the traumas some people face. This leads to victim-blaming, something that I explore in Hedon.

4. Who are your favourite authors or what are your favourite books?

While writing Hedon, I was inspired by two of my favorite novels – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I love the way Huxley is able to create an emotionally gripping dystopia, and how Atwood manages to make us despise gender inequality. In Hedon I tried to combine the ethos of these books, but in a new setting.

5. What do you think about the future of science fiction in SA? Are we going to take the world by storm?

We have superbly talented South African sci-fi writers. Unfortunately, though, we don’t have a good consumer-base. My experience is that it is much more difficult to sell a novel in South Africa than it is to sell in the United States and Europe. Johannesburg in particular offers an incredibly fast-paced lifestyle, and this isn’t conducive to giving readers time to read. South African authors may take the world by storm, but they’ll probably do so without the knowledge of the South African public.

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1. In a nutshell, what is Idea War about?

Abi Godsell: Idea War is a narrative exploration of different ways of looking at power, politics and national identity. It uses the journey of the the 16-year-old protagonist, Callie Baxter, to unpack some of our own prejudices and blindness through the ways she interacts and is forced to change her interaction with the Chinese Custodial Authority members who have put her city (Johannesburg) under military occupation, forcing it to secede from South Africa and become its own Sovereign City-State, and who she has dedicated her life to fighting against.

2. Why did you use the specific space (Joburg) and time as a setting for your story?

I love this city that I live in, and for me, working in spaces I know, can visit and map, helps me extrapolate and chunky and believable (I hope! I’m kinda biased in that regard) futures. I also wanted to write a book for the people who live in this city, and want to see their street/school/building/favorite park in print (albeit in a junk-punk, dystopian light).

3. How did you come up with Idea War? What inspires you?

Getting around the city and seeing the amazing places and spaces here. Talking to people here. As a writer, I feel spoiled for material just from the place I live.

4. Tell me about the artwork for your book, how did you and the artists come up with the graphics?

That was all the artists involved. Almost. So there are three main pieces of art associated with the book: Covers, prints and the future Joburg map. The covers were jointly organised by Wordsmack and Louisa Pieters from Fool Moon Design. We wanted to emphasise the setting yet keep all of the main characters off the cover, so that people could freely imagine them in the way that they chose.

The prints were commissioned from Greg Nel, a freelance graphic artist and illustrator. Basically I gave him the text to work with and he developed an image he felt was strong from it.

Finally, the map was made by me, drawing lines on Google Earth (not at random, taking some cues from my current urban and regional planning studies) and sending those through to Louisa to make look as lovely as it does.

5. What do you think about the future of science fiction in SA? Are we going to take the world by storm?

It’s very bright. We have a voice here, a rawness, a diversity, that international readers are beginning to crave. Definitely!


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1. In a nutshell, what is The Folds: Krokodil about?

Mico Pisanti: Krokodil is episode two in a longer series called The Folds. It follows from Episode 1: Miss Universe and precedes Episode 3: Blink. In a nutshell it’s set two years from now, and it shows how a dangerous street drug – the Russian “krokodil” (which exists) is enhanced by a shadowy character known as Guillotine. “Krokodil” becomes a world epidemic which in turn starts a world war – a chemical war.

It also deals with small beginnings which butterfly effect into huge world events – and how the word terrorist can be misused or wrongfully used to fit a darker agenda. Plus there is an intriguing lethal whisper from the future towards the end, and a hint on what The Folds could be.

Oh, and it’s seen through your eyes.

2. Why did you use the specific space (Joburg) and time as a setting for your story?

Quite simply I used Joburg because it’s the city I was born in and it’s the city I know. But added onto that Joburg is an exciting, frustrating, wonderful, energy driven, take-no-prisoners kind of city. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to see how a city like that becomes central to world events and how it copes collectively and geographically in a world war situation?

3. How did you come up with the story for The Folds series? Where do you find inspiration?

This is usually the trickiest question of all as creativity and inspiration are very difficult to quantify.

All I can say is, it started with an image of a world filled with crippled, broken, half humans confined to a venue and forced to look at beautiful beauty pageant contestants. I wondered what kind of world that is? And who are these people? Why are they in this situation? The story grew from that scenario.

4. Who are your favourite authors or what are your favourite books?

Hilary Mantel, Cormac MacCarthy, Brett Easton Ellis, Tana French, Stephen King, John Connolly, Philip K Dick, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, JK Rowling, George R R Martin, Tolkien … There are so many. These are the greats that live in my heart.

5. What do you think about the future of science fiction in SA? Are we going to take the world by storm?

I think the “future” of science fiction is here now. There has been a groundswell of speculative fiction over the past 10 years or so. And I think we are very privileged to be on the crest of that wave in many respects.

Are we going to take the world by storm? Why not? South Africa has always been a fertile ground for great writers and world class authors. Perhaps the time of science fiction and speculative fiction has come. But no matter how good the stories and the writing – support and readership is key.


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Annetjie van Wynegaard (@Annetjievw) live tweeted from the dark using #livebooks:



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Posted by Books LIVE on Tuesday, 31 March 2015


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