In recent months the science fiction world has grown increasingly political, with dozens of writers contributing stories to anthologies such as Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against and If This Goes On. Another prominent example is A People’s Future of the United States, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams.
“I wanted to use my position as an editor to try to help magnify the voices of the people that we invited to participate in this anthology,” Adams says in Episode 354 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “To sort of shout back at the Trump administration, and also to try to imagine some new futures that might help us figure out how to get back to normal from here.”
The book draws inspiration (and its title) from Howard Zinn‘s counterculture classic A People’s History of the United States, and like that earlier work, A People’s Future of the United States tries to present a wide variety of marginalized perspectives. Science fiction author Sam J. Miller, who contributed a story to the anthology, was strongly influenced by Zinn.
“I’m a big fan of that book,” he says. “This whole idea of de-centering how we imagine history, and realizing that Columbus’ crew and the folks who got exterminated by the conquistadors are significantly more interesting and more important to understanding the story than Columbus himself.”
Another contributor to the anthology, Caribbean-born science fiction author Tobias S. Buckell, feels that many people grew complacent during the Obama years, which allowed ugly rhetoric to proliferate. “As someone who puts diverse characters in my books—and is diverse himself—that background noise has always been a part of my career that I’ve had to deal with,” he says. “In 2013 everyone felt that I was being a little bit worked up, and now it seems like a great deal of the rest of the world has kind of caught up.”
But despite all the serious themes in the book, contributor Malka Older, author of Infomocracy, emphasizes that good science fiction should be entertaining as well as thoughtful.
“I do book talks all the time where I’m like, ‘Here’s my really super-wonky system of governance and information management in the future, and also there are chase scenes and katanas,'” she says.
Listen to the complete interview with John Joseph Adams, Sam J. Miller, Tobias S. Buckell, and Malka Older in Episode 354 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Tobias S. Buckell on metaphors:
“Nora K. Jemisin was just saying on Twitter the other day that in science fiction we have this venerable tradition of using metaphor to dig at some of these problems—like race and power and structure and history—and that it’s been a mistake, because in the past we would always use the metaphor assuming that our fellow readers and fans of the genre were following along, getting the metaphor, and it turns out that they weren’t. In other words, you needed to be way more in-your-face and say, ‘This is what I’m trying to say.’ Because they were looking at a metaphor of an alien that is powerless and out on the fringes of society—and that that society was being racist toward, and things like that—and then when they were done with that story they’d say, ‘That poor alien,’ and they’d never make the implicit connection.”
Sam J. Miller on sex and political resistance:
“It’s easy to think of sex as something that is secret, and circumscribed, and it’s something you do in the privacy of your own bedroom—or wherever—and it isn’t for anybody to talk about or know about. In many cases it’s a form of escapism, especially for queer people, who many times are living in one of many closets—whether they’re completely out, or they’re partially out, or they’re out in some aspects of their life. Sex has always been something that happened at rest stops, and public bathrooms, and malls, and abandoned buildings, and piers, and those sites where queer folks would gather for illegal or dangerous or secret sex would also be potentially grounds for coming together, and community, and building, and power, and resistance.”
Malka Older on social media:
“There’s a huge amount of segregation in this country, and that’s an education issue too, and that is a very political issue, in terms of how people are able to think outside of what they’ve been told. And I think actually social media is a huge opportunity for us, because we have so much choice of who we listen to, and there are people different from us right there, and all it takes is a click—and sometimes it takes a couple of clicks, if you need to get through a couple of people to find someone outside of your circle—but it’s much more flexible than television was in the early days, even books in the early days, or radio. We have an amazing opportunity there, but it’s a matter of people taking that opportunity, and really using it.”
John Joseph Adams on polarization:
“I was speaking [at UCF], and we were talking about The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, and diversity, and how do we ensure that there’s diversity in the book when the guest editor reads things anonymously, and one of the people that was there wrote an angry letter to the professors who invited me there saying that ‘white men can’t get published,’ obviously, and that that’s what I was saying, is that we won’t publish white men. And I was literally sitting next to a white man that I had published, who was one of the professors. … We were doing an event together, so there was one right there. But I feel like so many people have just learned what they’ve learned and they’re never going to change, even to the extent that they just hear what they want to hear. Because I certainly never said I wouldn’t publish white men.”