- Introduction to Focus:Speculative Fiction
There's something thrilling about stepping into a world that we at once recognize, and that is fantastically and superlatively new. Mary Shelly served this up to readers of Frankenstein (1823) and so too did Jules Verne with Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). Some of my fave authors of the twentieth century dished up wildly imaginative new storyworlds and ontologies: Ursula Le Guin, Edwin Abbott, Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Octavia Butler, Stanisław Lem, Samuel R. Delany, and Jaime and Beto Hernandez. The speculative reimagines yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The genre can wake us to old and new ways of existing in mind/body, socioeconomics, politics, and eco-geographics.
In the past decades there's been a pile-up of speculative fiction in the mainstream. But it's a brand whereby the creative counterfactual thinking used to distill and reconstruct from the building blocks of reality contemporary falls short of making new our potential as human beings to exist in truly different ways. It's usually a rather creatively lazy extrapolation of a rotted-to-the-core reality governed by global capitalism. Newly barbaric forms of death, disease, and tellurian destruction are the order of the day. Anglo-led militaristic brute force step in to bring temporary to calm. It leaves us lip-stuck with bitter tastes.
In fiction today we're seeing a number of extraordinary authors step to the challenge of the speculative. They build storyworlds that imagine anew the future and past. They create characters with entirely new affective and cognitive systems—and who shed conventional, straight-jackets of identity. They are the Stanslaw Lems (Solaris ) and Edwin Abbotts (Flatland ) of the twenty-first century. They are creators of the speculative hailing from those otherwise identified extra-terrestrial spaces. They are our creators of color. Carmen María Machado, Junot Díaz, Nalo Hopkins, Ted Chiang, Alexander Chee, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Hasanthika Sirisena, SL Huang, Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita, Charles Yu, and Yuri Herrera, Fernando A. Flores, and Zoraida Córdova—interviewed herein.
These new gen speculative creators of color build a whole range of storyworlds: from those filled with robots and high-tech, to those that reflect on new ways to relate to one another, to our communities, and to our planet; all while waking us to current toxic racist, masculinist, sexist, neoliberal practices. They choose to build storyworlds to revise yesterday, present an alternate present, or reimagine the future. For authors like African American N. K. Jemisin (Broken Earth trilogy), Waubgeshig Rice (Moon of the Crusted Snow ), William Alexander (Ambassador series), Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lighting ), and Malka Older (Infomocracy , Null States , and State Tectonics ), there needs to be a total reset for us to see critically our current destructive patterns: intersectional oppression and trauma. In their respective post-apocalyptic storyworlds, vitally reimagined indigenous (pre-Columbian and African) mythologies and affirmative intersectional identities can blossom anew.
Like Octavia Butler, today, too we see many creators of color reimagine the past in their exercise of the speculative. David Bowles world-builds a pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican world in Feathered
Serpent (2018). In her reconstructive past, Silvia Moreno-Garcia turns to Mayan mythology in Gods of Jade and Shadow (2019). And Nisi Shawl's reaches into the past to revision the origins of an Afrofuturism in Everfair (2016)—and along the journey readers see how old tech can be fashioned into new tech respectful of culture, tradition, and people. In the speculative creations of Carmen María Machado (Her Body and Other Parts ) and Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita's (Lunar Braceros 2125-2148 ) the authors world-build to celebrate new ways of existing outside of non-binary race, gender, and sexuality conventions.
As we face a reality that seems increasingly unbearable—climate change, border patrolling, children caged, families ripped apart—the space of the speculative seems more and more a place of reprieve. It's also more and more a space for us to see a way out of this quagmirical, gelatinous mess. As the...