Category Archives: SFF Genre

Stories Can Lead the Way: More Policy-Relevant SFF Is Needed

FutureShift has a blog post up entitled Missing from our Speculative Fiction: Government that Works. Below are the leading paragraphs.

Speculative fiction and political intrigue go hand in hand, yet we tend to see the same few stories about the same governments, over and over. In fantasy, you have your monarchies (benevolent or corrupt) or the occasional oligarchy, mostly based on hereditary power structures. This is your Game of Thrones territory. In science fiction, there’s only slightly more variety: oppressive dictatorships like Big Brother (our nightmare), or weak and corrupt democratic republics (our criticism of our present situation), or more rarely, various takes on socialism, ranging from deeply critical to cautiously optimistic.

Only rarely do we see other systems of government represented in our fiction, and it’s distressingly uncommon to see government working effectively for the common good — especially governments that resemble our U.S. system. In pop culture, democracies are corrupted by moneyed influences, elected officials are power-hungry, inept, or both, and government employees are bureaucratic drones who’ve had the joy sucked out of their lives by their dull work and sterile offices.

I sympathize, both with those crying out for new ideas to lead us in a positive direction, but also with the writers trying to do so — because this is a tall order. In effect, this is what I am trying to do in the as-yet untitled sequel to Red Soil Through Our Fingers: depict the messy process of throwing off old systems that no long work and replacing them with ones that do, all the while staving off attacks from everyone who has a stake in the outcome… which is basically everyone. Summary: it’s hard. I find myself spinning my wheels often.

The double whammy is that not only is the substance hard, but at the end of the day it’s also got to be a good story or people simply won’t read it. How do you make socio-economic systems and the politics of structural oppression both interesting and accessible in a world where the bottom line is that readers/viewers want to be entertained with escapism, spectacle, character and adventure? It’s certainly not impossible, and the bloggers at FutureShift do point out a few examples.But we need to acknowledge that the bulk of the genre is not explicitly thinking this way, and we will have to make stories that not only have policy-relevant substance, but ALSO appeal to the masses to actually prompt change.

SciFi Policy posted a list of policy-relevant SFF markets which I think is a great start. However, I note that very few of the markets listed actually focus on this kind of story. We need more than incidental inclusion. I think more paying markets — even a single anthology to start — that specialize in constructive, forward-looking, policy-relevant fiction without sacrificing character and story would be a huge boon to this effort.

The topic reminds me of a panel at the last Arisia: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? The link there is to my panel post-mortem on this blog.

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Panel Postmortem: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise?

This post is the first in what I intend to be several recaps of some of the most thought-provoking moments during this weekend’s Arisia science fiction and fantasy convention.

First of all, I have to thank Andrea Hairston. As a panelist and audience member, moderators have consistently been the most significant factor affecting the experience of con panel. Andrea was our fearless leader during this panel and I think we all owe her thanks for her energetic and positive management of the conversation.

Panel Description: Is Optimism Just Nostalgia in Disguise? – Marina 2, Literature, Sun 11:30 AM: We are hearing, after a long sojourn in dystopia and postapocalypse, that optimistic SF is making a comeback. Is it really the case or is the optimism of yesterday just another type of nostalgia? When climate change, postantibiotic medicine, and resource depletion are major factors in our lives (topics that are not always as well addressed in optimistic SF), is there a way to temper our optimism and inspire those who might be able to face these problems? Panelists: Andrea Hairston (mod), N.A. Ratnayake, Matthew Kressel, T.X. Watson, M.J. Cunniff

I was happy that the conversation could begin with every panelist answering the titular question in the negative: no, optimism is not just nostalgia in disguise. We had different perspectives as to why and how to move forward, but it was great to have that connecting thread. I won’t (and really can’t) give a transcript or summary of the conversation as it happened, but here are some of my key conclusions that I took away.

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t yet seen Star Wars: Rogue One, skip the section “Positive Stories in Negative Spaces.”]

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Space Opera!

A long, long time ago… in a galaxy far, far away… [cue amazing, soul-electrifying fanfare]

It is a period of civil war.

Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil GALACTIC EMPIRE.

During the battle rebel spies managed to steal the secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the secret plans that can save her people and restore peace to the galaxy…

I think I must have been about ten years old when I first saw those words scroll across a television screen. Oh boy, was it awesome.

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2014 Hugo Ballot

Three days ago, I submitted my votes for the 2014 Hugo Awards. If you’ve never voted for the Hugos before, I highly recommend it. For $40, you get:

  • nomination and final voting for the current year’s Hugo Awards
  • nomination for the following year’s Hugo awards
  • e-copies of all of the top five nominees in every category (some of the novel-length items are novella-length excerpts)

The Hugos are supposed to be a democratic representation of what the fans of the genre find compelling and worthy of praise. Say what you will about the state of the genre and how far we still need to go on many issues, but the Hugos are one way of making your voice heard. Don’t complain about what gets accolades if you don’t vote!

I didn’t submit votes for all categories, since I didn’t have time to read through everything. (You will recall, of course, that I was and still am working on finishing a novel draft this summer as well.) I also confess to voting for Best Novel based only on the first 1-2 chapters of each nominee. Here are my top ranked selections for each category that I actually submitted a vote:

  • Best Novel: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit US / Orbit UK)
  • Best Novella: “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • Best Novelette: “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com / Tor.com, 09-2013)
  • Best Short Story: “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013

I think the category in which I was most conflicted about my final vote was Best Novelette. Aliette de Bodard’s “The Waiting Stars” as well as Ted Chiang’s “The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling” were both lovely stories as well. I liked all three for different reasons. Kowal’s won out in the end I think because all else held equal, I think I’d rather promote a story about humanity looking outward into space again than anything else.

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Cli-Fi???

Can someone please explain to me what the HELL just happened? Twitter exchange on #clifi compiled below.

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“Accessing the Future” goes live on Indie GoGo

The publishers of We See a Different Frontier and Outlaw Bodies are putting together a new anthology that continues their social justice streak. The new anthology, Accessing the Future will explore “disability and intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender & sexuality”.

From their Indie GoGo page:

This anthology will call for and publish speculative fiction stories that interrogate issues of disability—along with the intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class—in both the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future. We want people of all abilities to see themselves, as they are now and as they want to be, in our collective human future.

[…]

Accessing the Future will be a collection of speculative fiction that places emphasis on the social, political, and material realms of being. We aren’t looking for stories of “cure,” that depict people with disabilities (or with other in/visible differences) as “extra special,” or that generally reproduce today’s dominant reductionist viewpoints of dis/ability as fixed and a problem to be solved. We want stories that place emphasis on intersectional narratives (rejection of, undoing, and speaking against ableist, heteronormative, racist, cissexist, and classist constructions) and that are informed by an understanding of dis/ability issues and politics at individual and institutional levels. We want to hear from writers that think critically about how prosthetic technologies, new virtual and physical environments, and genetic modifications will impact human bodies, our communities, and the planet.

I just became a backer this morning. If you’re interested in expanding the diversity of perspectives within science fiction, this is a great opportunity to get behind a project on the front lines of imagining a more socially-just humanity.

 

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Sandra McDonald on Gender, Colonialism, and Fleet

Sandra McDonald’s story Fleet appeared in the post-colonial anthology We See A Different Frontier (along with my short story Remembering Turinam). My story received an honorable mention in the recently released 31st edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction — Sandra’s went all the way and earned inclusion in its pages.

Congratulations Sandra! And I’m honored to have been included in the same anthology with you.

Recently, The Future Fire interviewed Sandra about gender, colonialism, and the story she wrote for We See a Different Frontier:

How we define, defend and debate gender in the U.S. is fascinating to me, and certainly there are clashes between cultures where gender is rigidly enforced vs where gender variety is protected.  For years now i’ve tried to explore those schisms and honor the men and women who live outside the boxes we try to stuff them in.

You can check out the whole interview on The Future Fire editor’s blog. There’s a smattering of some Buddhist perspective in there too.

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