Please present yourself to our readers (information about yourself and your activity in SF)
My name is Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi and I am an Egyptian author, translator and literary critic; specialized in Fantasy, Science Fiction and Children’s Literature. I have five published novels to date, a young-adults fantasy Reem that was also published in English under the name Reem: Into the Unknown, and a post-apocalyptic SF novel Malaaz: The City of Resurrection, The Black Winter (prequel to Malaaz), A fantasy novel The Greek Papyrus: The Envoy of Morpheus, The Marooned Mirror a YA/Children Fantasy. I have translated many short stories, graphic novels, and novels, like The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen, The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood,“Gods of Pegana by Lord Dunsany, and various other works. I have also written many critical articles on various websites, both in Arabic and English, such as the ArabLit in English blog by Marcia Lynx Qualey. I have story translations and articles there.
A personal-professional photo of Ahmed Salah Al-Mahdi.
My ambition is to reach out to publishers abroad and translate my original works from Arabic to English and bring Arab fantasy and SF to an international audience.
The front cover of ‘Malaaz: The City of Resurrection’, the new edition published by Dar Al-Kinzey. The illustration is by Michał Klimczak, reproduced gratefully with his permission.
Please try to make a brief introduction on the Egyptian SF history.
SF began in Egypt with the novels of Nihad Sharif, who is considered the father of Egyptian and Arabic science fiction. His first novel was “Time Conqueror” about a scientist possessed with the idea of immortality that finds a way to freeze humans for many years. It was published in 1972 and was transformed into big screen movie in 1987 by the director Kamal El Sheikh. Nihad Sharif paved the way to the Egyptian science fiction authors that came after him, mainly Dr. Nabil Faruq and Dr. Raouf Wasfi. Both wrote for the Modern Arab Association in there Egyptian Pocket Novels (Rewayāt Masreyya Lel Gēb ). Dr. Raouf Wasfi wrote many science fiction novels including his main series Nova. He received a literary award from the Dickens Society for International Novels, where some of his best stories had been selected for presentation to the Society.
The dearly departed Nihad Sharif (1932-2011).
Dr. Nabil Faruq is best known for his two main series, Ragol Al Mostaheel (The Man of the Impossible), espionage novels about an Egyptian Central Intelligence agent named Adham Sabri, and Malaf Al Mostakbal (The Future File) a science fiction novel take place in the not so distant future. Starting December 28, 2000 as stated vaguely in the very first issue, The Death Ray that was published in 1984. In that era, a fictional Egyptian Scientific Intelligence Agency (ESIA) is protecting Egypt from numerous threats. The heroes of this series are Nour El Deen Mahmoud (Of Scientific Intelligence) and his scientific team, the first issues of the series focusing on the team solving mysteries requiring both policing and scientific skills, the mysteries concerning robots, artificial intelligence, cities under the ocean or on the moon, and many more. However, the series took a huge shift at the Issue #76: Invasion, in which the Earth is occupied by an alien warrior race from the planet Glorial. After the issue the series was expanded beyond the planet Earth and focused more on the planetary wars and dangers far beyond our galaxy, that’s why the fans of the series differentiate between the Pre-Invasion and Post-Invasion while discussing the series.
‘The Death Ray’, The Future File pocketbook series, published in 1984.
Which are the most popular SF magazines and fanzins (printed and online) in Egypt?
Sadly, there is no paper SF magazine in Egypt, but there are some electronic ones, like (Takhayyul – تخيُّل) means “Imagination” in Arabic. It is published by (Wells Publishing – منشورات ويلز) a publishing house in Egypt specialized in SF. It has original and translated short stories and critical articles for Cinema movies and TV series. It does not limit it to literature SF but also big and small screens.
Takhayyul, a publication issue dedicated to the ‘worlds of science fiction in literature and cinema’.
There is also ‘To the Furthest Extent’ (لأبعد مدى), which is dedicated to many genres – science fiction, fantasia and horror. They have youtube links and book reviews and are trying to fix the fap in news coverage of fantiastical fiction and fiction made by the youth in Egypt.
Which are the SF&F Clubs that have regular meetings?
There are many SF clubs or societies in Egypt; one of them is the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction (ESSF), a science fiction community which is located in Nasr City, Egypt. It was founded by Dr. Hosam Abd Al-Hamid El-Zembely in 2012, following the January 2011 revolution in Egypt. There is monthly meeting to discuss a SF novel and science itself. ESSF has published six short story anthologies in the Shams Al-Ghad (Sun of Tomorrow) series. The anthologies are all in Arabic but they each contain a short story translated into English. The anthologies also contain reviews and essays on particular works of science fiction and discussions of the state of the genre in Egypt and the Arab world.
Another one is Nihad Sharif Salon for Science Fiction, it’s organized by the family of the late author, they discuss SF novels, and there is yearly contest for the best SF Story-Novel.
Which are the printing houses that publish mainly SF and Fantasy?
SF and Fantasy are new genres to the Egyptian market. Their popularity rocketed after some successful Fantasy and SF movies like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. Nahdit Masr the publishers who translated Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter into Arabic published many SF and Fantasy novels for Arab and Egyptian authors like The Dreams Maker by Moataz Hassanein a fantasy novel sets in a devastated world post apocalypse, with Magic and super powers. Another example is Ajwan by Noura Noman a SF series about Ajwan a nineteen-year-old girl, who witnesses the destruction of her planet and her people, in the same time there are many plants under attack by anonymous armed groups.
The cover of ‘The Dreams Maker’ by Moataz Hassanein.
Another publisher specialized in Fantasy and SF is a new one named Fantazians. they entered their third year but the managed to established many series in both genres like “Jika Minally” by Ahmed Khashaba a fantasy series about an ancient Egyptian wizardry school named ‘Eye of Horus’ and the young wizard Jika Minally who faces the evil of the Egyptian god Seth and the supremacy of Osiris house on the school.
And last but not least, there is Wells Publishing who is specialized Science fiction with both original and translated novels and short stories.
Which are the most popular SF&F conventions in Egypt? What are their main attractions?
There is none unfortunately.
Who are the main author names in today’s Egyptian SF&F?
There is Dr. Nabil Faruq with his series Malaf Al Mostakbal (The Future File) and he still publishes new novels every year. There is the recently passed away Dr. Ahmed Khalid Tawfik who wrote many Dystopian and post Apocalypse novels. His most famous dystopian novel is Utopia. The novel paints a grim futuristic image of Egyptian society in the year 2023, where the high class of the society lives in the gated city compound ‘Utopia’ that is located on the north coast of Egypt and guarded by American Marines, where they have all the luxuries from drugs to sex.
There is other famous novels in the Egyptian SF scene, like Mercury or Otared, a dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel by Mohamed Rabie that was published 2015 by Al Tanweer publishing house. It reached the short list of the 2016 Arab World Prize for Arabic Fiction, the Arabic version of the International Booker Prize for the novel. In this novel, the author tells the story of ‘Otared’, a police officer who witnessed the fall of police power during January 28, 2011, and the aftermath that followed that, in a grim dark future of Egypt, where there is no place for hope.
Another notable work in the Egyptian dystopia is The Queue or ‘Al-Taboor’ by Basma Abdel Aziz, that was published 2013 also by Al Tanweer publishing house. The story takes place in a nightmarish atmosphere about the control of authority represented by the “Gate”. It describes the life of citizens, where circumstances forced them to stand in front of The Gate in a long queue waiting for it to be opened for them to be able to obtain the necessary permits to pursue their life.
The novel reached the long list of the best literary translated work, BTBA, which is one of the three most important awards in the United States of America for translated works.
Give us some names of SF&F Egyptian graphic artists.
There are many talented SF and F Egyptian graphic artists in Egypt; the first that came to my mind is Mohamed Saad a Concept artist and modeler. He painted many fantasy paintings the most famous of this is his portraits for the Egyptian gods. He also painted many SF illustrations some of them are inspired by Warhammer 40K universe.
Egyptian Gods by Mohamed Saad.
Another talented artist is Omar Samy a Concept Artist who illustrated many paintings inspired by the Egyptian Mythology and the Arabic Folktales, and many dystopian and post-apocalyptic SF scenes.
Battle of Al-Qadisiyyah by Omar Samy.
There is also Mohamed Salah El Din an artist with a Comics-like style. He loves to paint famous Comics characters like Punisher and Hulk. But he has a lot of his original paintings, for comics, fantasy, and science fiction.
Punisher by Mohamed Salah El Din.
Last but not least is Mohammed Gamal Ahmed AKA Ghean, most of his illustrations are surreal dreamlike paintings, with angles and demons, and he is the one who painted the illustrations of my latest fantasy novel The Marooned Mirror which has many fantasy creatures.
The Black Winter a painting for my novel by Mohammed Gamal Ahmed AKA Ghean.
What makes Egyptian SF original?
Egyptian SF became popular after the Egyptian revolution of 2011 or rather the fall of it, that’s why many of the Egyptian new novels are Dystopian or Post-Apocalyptic with a distinctive Egyptian flavor, like the mentioned Otared and Al-Taboor. My own novels also fall under this category; Black Winter speaks about the nuclear winter of the third world war, and Egyptian society life in this new conditions. And Malaaz: City of Resurrection a novel is set in a future, post-war Egypt, after the collapse of the current civilization and the rise of another in the wake of the nuclear winter that happened in Black Winter. The Nile is yellowed, the sky is smogged, and the walled city of Malaaz, where a warrior class called the “Hunters” take advantage of civilians, is a rare place of safety.