Editor's note: palestine, filastin, and palestinian are used in lowercase here to indicate experiences beyond a nationstate, birth certificate, citizenship, or passport.
The title of this essay is borrowed from a poem by Fargo Tbakhi, “PALESTINE IS A FUTURISM,” which appears in this issue. I hail the sweetness and threat so neatly folded into that offering, a stuffed fig. As we make passage through the portal of this second year of pandemic, the whole future appears as embattled as palestine and as dearly in need of liberation, and we who make liberation dreams for the future, wherever we are, may find ourselves struggling with the thickness of a filastin in the dreaming.
Why are we publishing a palestinian speculative issue?
I blame Gautam, and I thank him. I’d DM’d him last year about a casual comment made about palestine in the team Slack, and a few weeks later he was recommending that I edit a special. Take from that whatever lesson you want about speaking up in the workplace. Strange Horizons had published a roundtable review of Iraq+100 and an Arabic language special, but not a lot else. Gautam has a lovely practice of citing Darwish and Kanafani when talking about other literature, and his nonfiction bylines account for about half of all mentions of palestinian writers in Strange Horizons. They do not account for the majority of the mentions of palestine or palestinians as a topic: if you search the archive, you’ll find that, prior to this issue, most mentions of palestine or palestinians were made by non-palestinians talking about palestine but not about palestinians or palestinian writers.
Faced with this gap in the archive, I felt clear about possible interventions. We would invite writing from palestinians, in all our variousness, from all over the world. We would flag an expansive welcome to identities marginalized within palestinian communities. I knew I wanted to work with a co-editor who had lived in geographical Palestine and had connections with authors there who were writing in Arabic. I was thrilled when Basma Ghalayini, editor of Palestine+100, agreed to join, and my only regret is that I wish we had more time together. It was important to me to offer English and Arabic translations of every story and poem, and I wanted the translators to be native or heritage speakers of shami/levantine Arabic and preferably palestinian (translations were delayed, but are on the way in the coming weeks). I trusted that an issue created by and for palestinians would also be an issue with the most to offer to global audiences.
Gautam’s invitation, and encouragement from Vanessa and Vajra, arrived in the summer of 2020--during my early months as an editor at Strange Horizons, in the early months of a pandemic, and at the same time as global uprisings to defend Black lives and defund the police. I was excited and cautious and warned the team that Palestine might be a risky topic to propose during a fundraiser. That will remain among my favorite experiences of being wrong. Readers and fans of Strange Horizons blew through that stretch goal so fast that we scrambled to find new ones. My heart sang.
I knew we wouldn’t be able to publish every story and voice we might want to invite, but I wanted this issue to be an opening invitation, an opportunity to introduce and gather people, for us to find each other and hold up mirrors. I wanted work that might surprise and delight palestinian readers first, in palestine and beyond, and trouble a flattened or limited notion of palestinian experience. What I didn’t want was a narrow curation that would reproduce the same narratives that have come to be expected or demanded of palestinians. I was gratified when one writer was astonished that we had enough stories to consider for a palestinian issue that we wouldn’t automatically publish every one. Indeed, let us be astonished at our abundance and creative audacity.
At the start of this project, I said it would mean more to me if we published a palestinian writer with thoughts on, say, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine than if we ran a non-palestinian writer reviewing a palestinian novel. I hope we’ve delivered on that possibility with at least a crack in the door, an invitation to come through the portal together. I hope more palestinian (and Arab and AfroArab and Muslim and Kurd and and and) writers will feel encouraged to share their work with publications like Strange Horizons and Samovar in the future. I hope you bother all those other magazines, too, and get your work published. Sophia Azeb responded to this call for stories with the opinion that “all palestinian writing is speculative,” and I hope more writers will embrace the speculative registers in their work.
Folks who know publishing can guess that we declined so many amazing stories. I hope other magazines will pick those stories up when writers send them. We'd originally planned to include reprints from anthologies that excited us, but there was just too much new fiction we wanted. I send thanks to A.J. Odasso for publishing more poetry than would usually appear in a special issue and gifting us with both astonishing range and some truly landmark pieces. If we'd had more time and a bigger budget or even an anthology, we could easily have chosen three times as many original stories to feature. On that note: keep a lookout for Fargo Tbakhi returning with "Balfour in the Desert" in the May 17 issue!
If anyone’s game, I would still read the hell out of a palestinian take on Deep Space Nine.
Let's get into the issue!
Here's a preview of the fiction in this issue:
Expect Nadia Shammas' “The Center of the Universe” to be like a Black Mirror episode but more satisfying. Explore how, in a storyline that centers whiteness, we exist only in the moments when we are serving those in power or performing our pain in a way that disturbs them. This is perhaps some of the horror that Fargo Tbakhi is inviting in the roundtable publishing later this week!
Karim Kattan’s “Native Country” takes us through a journey home, through love and longing for homeland and tradition and lineage even as we reject some of its most painful prices. Don’t miss featured art from Aya Ghanameh, and wonder at what Noor does with that pink potion and what happens to the woman with alligator eyes.
As the Palestinian Authority prepares for a possible election in May, Abdulla Moaswes' “A Day in the Life of Anmar 20X1” offers a satirical tale of a future (s)elected official who has his own innovative way of dealing with borders, settlements, and a partition wall.
“Wills,” flash fiction from Wadih Haddad, gives a glimpse of a writer working in a palestinian surrealist register, an aesthetic that was one of the great surprises of reading for this issue. This flash piece features images with the weight of poetry, painting, or avant garde film--both fantastically non-linear and completely legible as emotion and symbol. Here is the immobilizing experience of witnessing violence, the violent interruption of life, desire and disappearance. Haddad’s story appears in both the Arabic original and English translation by Basma Ghalayini.
A few words for the poems chosen by editors Romie Stott and A.J. Odasso:
Fargo Tbakhi's poem is an epic spanning multiple formats. Once you’ve read the piece in this issue, check out the performance of another section in the reading for Mizna's Trans + Queer issue.
Iman Alzaghari offers the contradiction of trees that we inherited but do not have or have access to anymore, the trees that now root and bloom in us.
Nada Almosa makes a dazzling lexical intervention on behalf of the rainbow children of Arabic language lineages. This one is for everyone who has tried to find a gender neutral declination of habibi/ti. What words do we use for each other in a home-tongue so structured around a gendered binary for pronouns, objects, animals, nouns, and even verbs? Almosa elaborates on several queerings of Arabic to give us the words, their context, and the stories we may have/not written yet but might, and now that we do have them? The girl in high school wasn't wrong.
Layla Azmi Goushey’s poem unfolds further upon repeated readings. Take your time with this one that bridges generations between parent and child, connects imperial war-making to settler-colonial independence celebrations the world over. Are those stars or fireworks or drones? Goushey, herself a scholar of the palestinian speculative, effectively gives us the compressed experiences of sweetness, exile, and violence.
leena aboutaleb, one of the contributors for Lifta Volumes, gives poetic testimony that people in palestine do indeed fuck, whatever outsiders, parents, or politicians may deny--however our piercing intimacies are themselves pierced by occupation and reframed by others as a commodified revolution.
Finally, Najah Hussein Musa lays a prayer over a city and reminds us that we “too, can keep cities alive/ If [we] write about them.”
If you want more after reading the poetry, fiction, reviews, and roundtable in this issue, here are some selected further readings:
Further readings on the palestinian speculative at Strange Horizons:
- Fargo Tbakhi fiction, "12 Worlds Interrupted by the Drone"
- Ibtizam Azem interview, "The Lost and Disappeared Voice"
- Jamil Nasir article, "Transformed Minds"
- Apex World SF review featuring Jamil Nasir, "Universal Language"
- Mazen Maarouf review, "Jokes for the Gunmen"
- Rasha Abdulhadi poem, "Advice on Love from an Astronaut with a Failing Memory"
- Rasha Abdulhadi in conversation with A.J. Odasso, "Tearing Down the Tower"
Selected readings on the palestinian speculative and short fiction in the field:
- Lifta Volumes: Future Palestine: https://liftavolumes.com/
- Palestine +100: https://commapress.co.uk/books/palestine-100
- Reworlding Ramallah: https://disarmingdesign.com/product/reworlding-ramallah-short-science-fiction-stories-from-palestine/
- Book of Gaza: https://commapress.co.uk/books/the-book-of-gaza
- Gaza Writes Back: https://justworldbooks.com/books-by-title/gaza-writes-back/
- Mizna journal: especially the issues on Palestine, Surviving, Queer & Trans, Environment, and Eating the Other: https://mizna.org/product-category/journals/
- Faisal Daraj on the palestinian short story: https://www.paljourneys.org/en/timeline/highlight/10518/palestinian-short-story