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Author Topic: SF/F set in the Middle East  (Read 8260 times)

SF/F set in the Middle East
« on: April 05, 2014, 04:52:57 AM »
I hope you guys' patience doesn't run thin on this, but here's another diversity in settings thread. Time for the Middle East. Hey, did you guys know that some dude named Al-Qazwini wrote a future story from the perspective of an alien visiting Earth, titled Awaj bin Anfaq? In the thirteenth century? Yeah, me neither until fifteen minutes ago. Looking for an English translation. It may take a while, but if one exists, I will find it.

My list thus far:

Dreamblood series, N.K. Jemisin (Arabic diaspora -- Egypt)
Creatures of Light and Darkness, Robert Zelazny (Arabic diaspora -- Egypt)
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
The Harem of Aman Akbar, Elizabeth Scarborough
Between The Rivers, by Harry Turtledove
Three Princes, Ramona Wheeler (Arabic diaspora -- Egypt)
Arabian Nights and Days and The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, Naguib Mahfouz
A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Arabic diaspora -- Sudan)
Alif the Unseen, G. Willow Wilson

Any additions welcome.
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Offline Saraband

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #1 on: April 05, 2014, 12:47:30 PM »
I hope you guys' patience doesn't run thin on this, but here's another diversity in settings thread. Time for the Middle East.

Are you kidding? This is great, I love that you're doing it.

So, since I study medieval Islamic history in university, I've come across some works that have certain elements of Fantasy to them. These are the ones with English translations:

The Conference of the Birds, Farid ud-Din Attar (1177) - The birds of the world come to gather to choose a king, which should be the Simurgh (persian equivalent of the Phoenix). It is rich with Sufi symbolism, and it is not very long, making for enjoyable reading.
Theologus Autodidactus, Ibn al-Nafis (c. 1271) - The tale of a young man who is born in a cave on a desert island. He will be taken back to the 'civilized' world and face his own deep misunderstandings of what he sees. It is considered one of the first examples of Science Fiction, and it influenced important scientific discoveries.
Treaty on the Opinions of the Residents of the Ideal City, Al-Farabi (10th century) - Al-Farabi creates an utopian society and examines its problems. Unfortunately, I only found a french translation, but the work is fairly well-known, so I hope there's an English one somewhere.

Besides the aforementioned One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (if you want to read it, make sure it is a more recent translation than the classic of the 19th century, which is a highly censored and altered version of the source material), one of the greatest Fantasy works to this date, I don't know anything else that could be considered SF / Fantasy.
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Offline Saraband

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #2 on: April 05, 2014, 12:56:05 PM »
Oh, and The Steel Seraglio, by Mike Carey, was recently recommended to me by a user on Goodreads that is also a member of these Forums. The plot looks very interesting to me, and I think I'll get into it right after I'm done with the book I'm currently reading.

"The sultan Bokhari Al-Bokhari of Bessa has 365 concubines - until a violent coup puts the city in the hands of the religious zealot Hakkim Mehdad. Hakkim has no use for the pleasures of the flesh: he condemns the women first to exile - and then to death Cast into the desert, the concubines must rely on themselves and each other to escape from the new sultan's fanatical pursuit. But their goals go beyond mere survival: with the aid of the champions who emerge from among them, they intend to topple the usurper and retake Bessa from the repressive power that now controls it. The assassin, Zuleika, whose hands are weapons. The seer, Rem, whose tears are ink. The wise Gursoon, who was the dead sultan's canniest advisor. The camel-thief, Anwar Das, who offers his lying tongue to the concubines' cause. Together, they must forge the women of the harem into an army, a seraglio of steel, and use it to conquer a city. But even if they succeed, their troubles will just be beginning - because their most dangerous enemy is within their own number..."

Another book I've had recommended to me was The Manuscript found in Saragossa, by Jan Potocki. Although it takes place in Spain, the book is built in a similar manner to the Arabian Nights, and it features gypsies, christians, jews, muslims, djinns, swashbucklers, the Inquisition, ascetic kings, demons and mystics. It is certainly influenced by Middle Eastern / Islamic mythology, so it may be worth a look  ;)
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Offline TinyPterosaur

Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2014, 04:51:24 PM »
Wow these historical stories sound amazing! I don't have too much to contribute in this vein besides suggesting Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon , but I would like to ask what, if any, influence you feel like middle eastern fantasy has had on your own writings? My current MS in revision is based on far-future arabic speaking colonists, so I've loved altering the phonetics and imagining how the culture might change and adapt for a water world.

Love the theme of this thread!

Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2014, 11:32:05 PM »
Thanks y'all! I'm glad there's still interest.

MG, that book definitely counts. Stories set in the Arabic diaspora that heavily feature Middle Eastern culture and/or folklore all do.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #5 on: April 06, 2014, 12:35:41 AM »
There's also Mirage by Matt Ruff, which is an alternate history largely set in the Middle East in 2009, a world where the Arab League is the most powerful collection of nations on Earth and North America is a group of feuding 3rd world nations.
I will expand your TBR pile.

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #6 on: April 06, 2014, 05:29:40 AM »
Thanks for the rec, Elfy. Similarly, Ramona Wheeler's book The Three Princes, a debut novel that came out like two months ago and is in my TBR pile, is alternate history in which Julius Caesar never left Cleopatra in Egypt, and thus Egypt became the world's primary superpower and it was Middle Eastern rather than Roman culture that flourished worldwide.

Of the books in my list upthread, the only two I have read are Mahfouz' Arabian Nights and Days and Jemisin's The Killing Moon. The former I read as a teenager and probably wouldn't appreciate as much as I would now, but I remember it being entertaining but not engrossing. (Mahfouz is, as far as I can recall, one of only two African writers to win the Nobel prize for literature.) Jemisin's book however, which I read in February, is the best secondary world fantasy I've read in almost ten years. Very highly recommended, y'all.

I'm also really looking forward to checking out Sofia Samatar; she's being nominated for a lot of awards these days.

ETA: I just realized that "diaspora" is a five dollar word that is probably heard very infrequently outside of certain university humanities departments, so to clarify (at the risk of sounding pedantic; forgive me):

The greater diaspora of a region is wherever the population and/or culture have spread beyond the original borders.

So in this case, for the Middle East, the diaspora would include parts of Africa (particularly north Africa but also a few parts south of the Sahara), Spain, the former Ottoman Empire, and even certain neighborhoods in, say, London or NYC.

Mileage may vary on this, but for my purposes, the cultural borders are far more important than the geographic ones, so Middle Eastern stories that may lie outside the geographic region are just as valid as those in the Arabian desert. KWIM?

(Side note -- I don't know why it's "Arabic diaspora." Do the Persians get no love? But that's the phrase commonly used so that's what I'm going with.)
« Last Edit: April 06, 2014, 05:42:59 AM by FeminineFantastique »
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Offline Saraband

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #7 on: April 06, 2014, 02:29:03 PM »
The greater diaspora of a region is wherever the population and/or culture have spread beyond the original borders.

So in this case, for the Middle East, the diaspora would include parts of Africa (particularly north Africa but also a few parts south of the Sahara), Spain, the former Ottoman Empire, and even certain neighborhoods in, say, London or NYC.

With this in mind, I remembered The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. Haven't read it yet, but heard good things about it. It draws on both Islamic and Jewish mythologies, which is great.

"Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world.

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice."
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Offline Francis Knight

Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #8 on: April 06, 2014, 06:41:16 PM »
City of Silk and Steel by the Carey family

I cannot recc this highly enough

ETA Lol, have literally just noticed that it's already been recced under its other name (Steel Seraglio). These 4am starts are doing my brain no good!

« Last Edit: April 07, 2014, 09:49:26 PM by Francis Knight »
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Offline AshKB

Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #9 on: April 07, 2014, 12:40:33 AM »
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson is more of an Alternate History, but it IS amazing, and each time the characters are reincarnated, they are somewhere different. The conceit of the book is that the Black Death wiped Europe's population pretty much off the map, so in that absence, Islam (and China) rise to prominence.

And seconding Arabian Nights as a rec. That is most certainly fantasy, although good translations are hard to find and highly varied (I still need to get my hands on the one with the threesome).
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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #10 on: April 08, 2014, 01:14:10 AM »
S'ok, Francis. Drink more coffee. Or less. :P

Thanks so much for the help, y'all.
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Online Eclipse

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #11 on: June 12, 2014, 06:08:55 PM »
Hi I've came across this

The Immortals of Meluha (Shiva Trilogy #1) by Amish Tripathi

Does this count? if not just ignore me, I've added it to my ever growing  tbr pile looks interesting  :)
« Last Edit: June 12, 2014, 06:34:12 PM by Eclipse »
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Offline magisensei

Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #12 on: June 12, 2014, 08:40:49 PM »
For a setting in the Middle East or a Middle Eastern like setting - how about "The Parched Sea" - it is one of the books in the forgotten realms world in the Harper series. 

Also Peter Brett's Demon Wars series - while not exactly Middle Eastern - the self proclaimed deliverer Jardir and his nation - appears to be based on Middle East nations at some point in history - ie desert nations.   

There is also Howard Andrew Jones' Dabir and Asim series. 

The manga "Magi" is also set in the Middle East's ancient past. 

Judith Tarr's Alamut series - is partially set in the Middle East world

Any historical fiction that has a theme of the crusades would most likely have at least a part of the setting in the Middle Eastern world. 

There is also Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody mystery series set in Egypt. 
« Last Edit: June 12, 2014, 08:51:44 PM by magisensei »

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #13 on: February 23, 2015, 05:32:18 PM »
Just brought The City of Silk and Steel by M.R Carey,Linda Carey and Louise Carey or is it called The Steel Seraglio   :D

I've read a few of M.R Carey UF Felix Castor novels and enjoyed them so its about time I started to read this novel from my TBR pile  :)
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

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Re: SF/F set in the Middle East
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2015, 05:19:21 PM »
Just brought The City of Silk and Steel by M.R Carey,Linda Carey and Louise Carey or is it called The Steel Seraglio   :D

I've read a few of M.R Carey UF Felix Castor novels and enjoyed them so its about time I started to read this novel from my TBR pile  :)

Finished The City of Silk and Steel fantastic novel off to read his other novel The Girl with All the Gifts  already made a dent into it  :)
According to some,* heroic deaths are admirable things

* Generally those who don't have to do it.Politicians and writers spring to mind

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