One of the problems that science fiction has with audiences at large is presenting ideas that don’t naturally scare the bejesus out of people, what with all the post-apocalyptic dystopian alien-murdering futures that often appear. An author’s intentions can easily get swallowed up by public opinion, and a novel will sometimes come to mean something in the public eye that was never intentionally implied. I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case here, but the Saudi Arabian government recently went full-scale suppressive on author Ibraheem Abbas for his novel H W J N (English translation), demanding stores to rid themselves of the book, saying that it’s full of blasphemy and devil worshiping. Seems like the Bible had quite a bit of those two things as well; I wonder if you can still buy that old relic out there.
Representatives from the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (gasp!) raided bookshops last week where the novel, translated to English by Yasser Bahjatt, was sold. They demanded it be taken off the shelves, and at least one book store received an official letter from the government.
The handwritten letter stated, among other things: “We purchased one copy of the book to review and we have counted 73 copes of H W J N by Ibarheem Abbas at your shop. You are requested not to dispose of, sell, or return these books until further notice.” The bookshop owner was then asked to follow up on this ridiculousness in the following days.
The book tells the story of a romance that starts up between a human and a jinn, the mystical beings in Arabic lore that are sometimes evil, but sometimes purely spiritual. It has received pretty solid reviews and Bahjatt was in San Antonio a few months ago at the World Science Fiction Convention, selling copies and speaking at panels. Nobody appears to be upset about this beyond the Saudi government, but that’s no surprise I guess.
Abbas, a creative director and filmmaker, also co-founded the League of Arabig SciFiers (Yatakhayaloon) in order to bring likeminded fans together, and to encourage more Arabs to get into the sci-fi game. I love that kind of attitude, and I certainly hope this hasn’t caused too much distress in his life.
Banned science fiction is nothing new, as works from George Orwell and Robert Heinlein, to name a couple, have gotten people’s panties ruffled in the past. Even Lois Lowry’s The Giver has been put on the banned list from time to time.
To get a better idea of the story behind H W J N, check out the novel’s preview below, and let us know in the comments if you’ve had a chance to read it yet.