An interview with Faycel Lahmeur, by: Darius Hupov
I have the pleasure to have an interview with Faycel Lahmeur, who is a popular algerian SF writer and fandom activist. Enjoy!
Faycel, please present yourself to our readers
Faycel Lahmeur: I’m a scifi writer also interested in poetry and philosophy. I began my scifi career early in my life (during my college days) and was merely the only one daring to practice the « weird » kind of writing known by the unlucky two letters :(SF).
Almost thirty years ago, when I read the novel “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley, I was very excited. I said this is exactly what I want from life, from writing and from science fiction, which had accompanied my reading beginnings in a very strange way. Two of my early teachers accidentally put in my hands two decisive books ; the French language teacher gave me the novel „The Last Palace” by Jacques Vance, and the Arabic language teacher loaned me „The World of Tomorrow” by Tawfiq al-Hakim (an Arabic scifi pioneer)… and for i dont know what reason my father offered me Stevenson’s „Doctor Jeckyll and mister Hyde”
This reading package would make one believe for a while that there is nothing in the books except science fiction … a path that will be fueled by my great meeting with the book of Aldous Huxley.
It is capital and decisive to remember that during the hard years of Algeria’s nineties ;some literary friends and I wrote plenty of texts related to scifi inorder to domesticate algerian reader with this unfamiliar kind of writing.
Almost no one was listening to us, but we were seriously listening to ourselves, and that was enough! (according to what things are looking like today).
Please try to make a brief introduction on the Algerian SF history.
Faycel Lahmeur:The very first sci-fi stories written in Algeria were Safia Kettou’s in the 1960’s. later, she published an interesting book of short stories untitled « the violet planet » in 1983. On the back cover « scifi » was clearly mentioned by the publisher, and that was the first time such a thing happened in our country. However, there is a great book published before that period that might be related to scifi i mean Mohamed Dib’s « who remembers the sea ? » (1962) even if the writer meant mainly to write a symbolic political satire under the cover of a dystopia, and never mentioned scifi in his writings nor in his several interviews.
The real beginning of algerian scifi as an assumed genre will wait until 1996 with the lucky publication of the periodic I created and directed under the title; «A cultural world », a periodic containing a permanent three pages rubrique untitled « science fiction spaces ».
After that, the important year is 2002, in which have been published the two first ever arabic books to contain the brave mention SF on the cover (one of the two was my collection of political scifi stories untitled « outside chronicles »). Since that, things has deeply changed, especially after the internet big bang!
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzins (printed and online) in Algeria?
Faycel Lahmeur:For unknown reasons there are no specialized magazines in Algeria Scifi public is part of literature one, in fact, that’s why. There are no clear limits between main stream reader and scifi ones, consequently ; Fandom as known everywhere doesn’t exist in algeria, or , sould i say ; is yet in gestation, profiting from the large expression possibilities and the easy wide audience internet can provide.
Nevetheless, I must re-mention my own experience of publishing between 1996 and 1998 the submentioned weekly cultural newspaper : « alaalam athakafi » (A cultural world), wich used to contain a three pages rubrique called « scifi spaces »… these pages gathered a multitude of scifi texts, stories, reviews, critiques, commentaries, translations,… and … my very early utopia « the perfect planet » which was published as a very popular Feuilleton on these astounding weekly pages.
Actually, one of the most important magazine treating with scifi is the cultural newspaper « almuthakkaf » (the intellectual), even if its publishing is not regular at all.
Do you have SF&F Clubs that have regular meetings?
Faycel Lahmeur:Unfortunately, algerian scifi community isnt organized, and even if writers are present enough in the scene, the reality is that there is no good organization. Meetings exist, but it is always on margin of main stream literature conventions or happenings. I must underline that plenty of groups are being formed on the social network. Groups of readers, writers, reviewers, etc etc and even meetings are now organized on the network. On zoom, googlemeet and so on.
Do you have local or national SF&F associations?
Faycel Lahmeur:In fact, we have only one SF&F club existing against hell and high water ( algerian scifi club) without special ambitions, nothing more than meeting from time to other as friends and scifi fans. The same way we used to be and behave for 25 ans. On another side, our effort is based on the promotion of this particular genre.
Two of these brave guys are the writer and publisher Mohamed Dadi Addoun, who owns “Lillaalamin ltd. Publishing”, and the up-cited Nabil Dadoua ( also a great publisher: “Alalmaya publishing”).
Are there any printing houses specialized in SF&F? If not, which ones are publishing this type of literature?
Faycel Lahmeur:Right now we have only two publishing houses especialiwed in scifi ; one belongs to a scifi writer, and the second has published half a dowen of scifi books because another very active scifi writer works as its editing consultant. The first is « Lilaalamin books », the second is « Almuthakkaf publisher ».
A few years ago there was another famous publisher who is also a well-known scifi writer ; i mean Mr. Nabil Dadoua ; who is my long path partner ; he has published some books of scifi ; three of his own books and one of mine.
Except these three cases, there are no especialized publishers in algeria, certainly because the field is not yet well seated, and things are not yet organized enough, nevertheless, everything is appearently moving towards a better situation.
There are also some old big publishers, for whom scifi is just one of the possible issues generally recognized as a classical publishing thema among a lot of others. In fact they do not focus on scifi even if they publish a lot of scifi books of great interest. The most famous and also the biggest one is Enag edition.
Print runs are moving in general between 500 and 1500 for the lucky cases (similarly for french language and arab language books).
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in Algeria? What are their main attractions?
Faycel Lahmeur:There no scifi conventions in algeria. But i should precise that scifi, speculative fiction and fantasy are always present in the issues of general literature or novels conventions, meetings or other happenings like that (especially the ones organized by universities or research centers). I think the reason is that algerian ( and perhaps arabic) scifi public has emerged from books belonging to the main stream and not from the scifi fandom. Scifi in our local vision still remains a variation on the main stream. A writing just like the other writings.
Who are the main author names in today’s Algerian SF&F?
Faycel Lahmeur:the best known authors (for having written several scifi books) are certainly: nabil dadoua- habib mounsi- takieddine bouskine- Anouar Rahmani- Abderazak Touahria- riadh Hadir- ahmed Gasmia- cherif Arbouz-
other well known writers having producted books of scifi ( it is a list of main stream famous writers having made a foray into this wonderful area): wacini laredj- Boualem Sensal- rabia djelti- hajer bali- jilali beskri- djilali Khellas- Adlene Meddi- and several others
Anyway, it is not an exhaustive list.
Give us some names of SF&F Algerian graphic artists.
Faycel Lahmeur:They are not well known in spite of their good work. I ll mention three graphic artists i have worked with. Nabil Dadoua, Abderazzak Touahria. And also Djilali Beskri who is a huge artist (all are also well known as good scifi writers). The actual graphist i am working with is a young talented begginner named : Takieddine Benderdoukh.
What makes Algerian SF original?
Faycel Lahmeur: This is a complicated question so far. Without looking pretentious, i ll say that it is a well-written/philosophical/serious/up dated scifi. The fact is that it is surprising to find such a recent scifi era (and area) with some very good books. With active science fiction writing, counting numerous newcomers and a growing fandom and faithful writers community. Another item is yet to underline : arab culture- as well as latin one (since algeria has a great latin history, and let ‘s remeber that the great latin writers saint Augustine and Appolius Di Madaure both are Algerian) provide us an interesting philosophical background that could give us great scifi features. Appolius’ « the golden Ass » can easily be linked to some scifi famous themes ( such as metamorphosis).
Arab culture ( and even the holy Coran) contains plenty of scifi contexts in its marvelous stories (even without any exhaustive research i can mention time travel, time paradox, intellectual parallax, super powers, aliens, space travel, parallel worlds)… and all this makes writing about such themes, schemes or motives easy and acceptable since acceptability has always been the greatest of all problems in the astounding field of scifi.