About a week or so ago, I found myself at the Accessing the Future Indiegogo Campaign Web site, reading about this speculative fiction anthology, which aims to “explor[e] disability & the intersectionality of race, class, gender & sexuality.” The campaign, which has currently raised 73 percent of its $4,000 goal, not only will publish an anthology that addresses this topic, but also wants to do so in a way that will fairly compensate all the contributors to the project. Both of these aspects I can very much get behind.
As part of the campaign, the publishers arranged a blog hop, with a certain set of questions that create a lens for bloggers and writers to turn on their own current works. I’ll admit, this was a little uncomfortable for me. I write a lot of action and adventure, with characters who look an awful lot like my abled self. But in the spirit of self-examination, and getting the word out about the project, I decided to participate. The first part of the blog hop is an interview with Djibril al-Ayad and Kathryn Allan, the co-editors. I’m going to step aside and let them tell you about the project, but before I do, I encourage you to visit the site and contribute. Not only is it an excellent project, but they have some great contributor rewards as well! And now, without further ado…
Infamous Scribbler: Please introduce yourselves and explain your involvement with the project.
Djibril al-Ayad: I am the publisher of The Future Fire magazine of social-political speculative fiction and a series of associated anthologies under the umbrella of Futurefire.net Publishing. My background is as a scholar studying history and academic technologies, and although there’s no direct connection between working with speculative fiction and deciphering ancient magical texts, I do feel a parallel in concerns about how the world and its truths are reflected in our more fantastickal representations of it. I am running the Accessing the Future fundraiser, and will co-edit the stories in the anthology with Kathryn.
Kathryn Allan: I split my time between running Academic Editing Canada (my editing & coaching business), and pursuing independent scholarship in science fiction and disability studies. I edited an academic collection of essays, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (2013, Palgrave Macmillan), am the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellow, and my writing appears in both scholarly and popular venues. I’ve been wanting to edit a disability-themed SF anthology for many years, and after getting to know Djibril through my involvement with The Future Fire (as Reader and Associate Editor), I knew I found my ideal co-editor and publisher. I pitched the anthology idea to him at the start of the year, and here we are now!
IS: How did the idea for this particular themed anthology come about?
DA: Both of the anthologies we’ve published over the last couple of years, We See a Different Frontier (postcolonial-themed stories) and Outlaw Bodies (for which Kathryn wrote a critical afterword) addressed a range of issues, including not only race, gender, sexuality and class, but also able-body privilege and disability. When Kathryn, who is a scholar of disability and science fiction, joined the TFF magazine editorial team, she immediately suggested that our next anthology should address this issue, and I jumped at the idea.
IS: On the crowdfunding page, you list several questions you hope stories will address. I would like to ask your personal perspectives on the last question—what do you think an accessible future looks like?
DA: The first thing it looks like is accepting. This is a social-SF question, rather than a techno-cyberpunk portrayal. By this I mean that an accessible future is one in which social attitudes strive to make more roles in society fully accessible (than one in which technology makes the “problem” of disability go away). As a result of these enlightened social attitudes, of course, technology might be deployed to make our world more accessible to people with a variety of abilities and needs.
KA: In my idealized vision of an accessible future, ALL people have equal access to employment opportunities, health care, community support, and whatever technological aides and devices they require to live as they want to live. An accessible future means respecting an individual’s right to present themselves as they desire—and for society to accept them as they are. This means we will need to do away with binary understandings of ability/disability, male/female, and so on. People exist on a spectrum of ability, gender, sexuality… I want the future to reflect that complex variety of experience and knowledge.
IS: Follow-Up—What might be our path from here to there?
DA: Same answer: accepting. We need to stop defining people with disabilities as less “normal” than able-bodied people; we need to stop measuring people’s worth by what we contribute to a capitalist society (we all have lives worth living in our own right!); we need to stop using economic austerity as an excuse to demonize and vilify people with disabilities as a drain on the system. I’m not saying SF will be the path to these changes, but we can certainly play our part by not contributing to the eugenicist, othering and fear-mongering instincts of popular scientists, entertainers and politicians in our society.
KA: What Djibril said. Plus, getting comfortable talking about disability, whether that involves visible physical disabilities or invisible mental health issues. It’s essential that people understand that we create disability as a society: our governments, medical institutions and social communities create barriers to access.
IS: To a spec fic fan (which I am) this seems like the perfect genre to engage this question. For those who might not be as familiar with spec fic, what elements of the genre in particular lend themselves to exploration of the theme?
DA: Well, on the one hand all fiction, regardless of genre, is the “literature of the imagination”; any fictional world is a consensual illusion filtered by the shared perceptual filters of the author and reader. And a lot of science fiction is more reactionary and establishment-reinforcing than “literary” novels. We can do beautiful things with speculative fiction; it’s a genre in which we’re allowed to dream, to show the world as it should be, to let story and metaphor blur into one another. But it doesn’t happen automatically, and we can’t afford to be cocky. (Just look at the criticisms of historical accuracy in fantasy faced by people who write women warriors and rulers and people of color in European history.)
But yes, ever since I started reading science fiction, I devoured stories like Le Guin’s Word for World is Forest and Left Hand of Darkness that were overtly political and gender bending; Moorcock’s bisexual assassin in the Jerry Cornelius series. I came across alien species with mores and behaviors very different from what we’re allowed to admit in ourselves. I visited utopian societies that eschewed nuclear families and binary genders. Safe in the realm of the unreal, I learned not to be afraid of people and communities that fell outside of the tyrannical norms we’re used to. I think that’s the magic that speculative fiction allows us to work with: not the unreal, but perhaps the unfamiliar.
KA: I’d also add that SF is an effective mirror of the society in which we live today. Because SF is set in the future (however far or near), writers can more easily criticize our politics and culture by imagining the potential consequences of our actions and attitudes today. SF acts as both an early warning system and as a test ground for new ideas.
IS: Once the crowdfunding campaign is concluded on 16 September, what are the next steps?
DA: Immediately the fundraiser is over, once we know how much money we have raised and how much we can therefore afford to pay for fiction (we’re aiming for $7000 which will allow us to pay 6¢/word, the generally accepted “professional” rate), we will open the anthology to submissions of short fiction. We want to make sure the CFS is as visible as possible, in literary as well as genre circles, especially outside of the community we already know about, so we’ll be pushing outside of our comfort zones there. We expect to be reading stories for 2-3 months, and hope to have a final table of contents by the end of the year.
IS: Are there stories you don’t want to necessarily see submitted? If so, what are you not looking for?
DA: Oh, absolutely! We obviously don’t want to see stories in which a poor, pitiful person with disabilities is miraculously “cured” by some combination of magical future technology, the benevolence of a rich and powerful individual/corporation/government, or personal willpower and genius. We don’t want to see stories where disability is made “not to matter” by the mortification of the flesh through cyberspace or transhumanism. We don’t want to see stories about freaks or crippled veterans or socially inept neuroatypical people who exist only to draw pity, to entertain, or to be an “inspiration” to assumed able-bodied readers.
Actually, beyond the obvious, it’s pretty hard to pin down the line between a good story about people with disability and a bad one. What will make the difference is sensitivity, awareness (or experience) of the issues and conditions, and of course the instinct of deeply intersectional thinking: the understanding that injustices and marginalizations such as sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism do not act in isolation, but in various combinations of exacerbation of one another. A story that handles disabilities issues and characters wonderfully, but in the process vilifies a specific culture or another marginalized social group, would not be welcome at all.
IS: Anything to add?
KA: We are also running a blog hop that anyone—writers and readers—can take part in. The goal is to get as many people engaging with the conversation about disability in SF as possible. Check out our home post here for details: http://djibrilalayad.blogspot.ca/2014/08/blog-hop-accessing-future-fiction.html
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IS Final note: Please head over to the campaign page and contribute before September 16! And if you can’t contribute, please click and share widely to spread the news. Thanks!