I’m on hiatus this summer while attending the Clarion West Writers Workshop. Back in the fall!Read More
A People’s Future of the United States, the speculative anthology edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, is an ambitious book. Arriving at a moment when the arc of history is being emphatically and deliberately bent away from justice, a moment when the future of everything, the United States included, feels uncertain, the collection dares to offer twenty-five imaginative answers to the question: What comes next?
The futures brought to life in these stories are diverse, often dark, and always fraught. The perspectives are diverse, too. Here, we offer a peek at a few that caught our editors’ imaginations.
C.S. Peterson: Time Loops and Anosognosia
In a time loop story, the protagonist becomes trapped in a loop of repeating time, where only they are aware of the repetition. It’s a familiar trope in speculative fiction, and it seems to be everywhere at the moment, thanks in no small part to Russian Doll and The Good Place on Netflix. Russian Doll, in particular, does a great job of explaining the conceit, likening the protagonist to a video game player stuck in a particularly difficult level of a game they cannot defeat. It is a Gordian Knot that cannot be worked, a karmic hell. As time loop protagonists endlessly repeat the same moments in time, they have ample opportunity to experiment with ethics, and to ponder the morality of immortality. Eventually, they begin to question if it is even possible for individuals to be reliable narrators of our own experience. (More often than not, the answer is no.) Usually in this trope, the protagonist needs to overcome some part of their ego and connect with others in relationship, develop compassion, deepen their understanding of love. That’s what breaks the loop: love.
In the classic time loop movie Groundhog Day, everything in the world, physical and temporal, revolves around the self-absorbed Bill Murray character until he develops compassion and learns to love unconditionally. Every other character in the story, including his love interest, is there solely to help him on his path to redemption. It is like every other hero’s journey, where mentors abound solely for the protagonist’s enlightenment: the wise old homeless black man; the magical Indian; the supremely competent woman who is waiting for the Chosen One to appear so she can be his second, yet when he does, he’s a diamond in the rough, and her life’s mission is to show him the way.
Not so in A People’s Future of the United States. In two brilliant stories, “The Synapse Will Free Us from Ourselves” and “Now Wait for This Week,” authors Violet Allen and Alice Sola Kim flip the time loop trope on its head. In both stories the protagonist lives through the time loop in support of an off-stage, centered, culturally dominant character. The protagonists are caught in the loop of a lie they believe to be truth. The sensation of bending one’s understanding of reality to a narrative told by another who lives outside of your experience is unbalancing. It literally de-centers these characters within themselves. They exhaust themselves trying to conform their experience to a reality that does not exist. You may say 2 + 2 = 4, but how can you be sure when every day someone tells you 2 + 2 =5?
In each story, cognitive dissonance is strained to the breaking point. Evidence from sense and reason, blocked by the conscious mind, surface in the subconscious, leading to a realization. In the end, reality shifts and the veil is torn away, creating a new narrative.
Lani Taylor put a restriction on this project: killing couldn’t be the solution to her characters’ conflicts. The result is a harrowing exploration of nightmares, both lived and dreamed.Read More
Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series continues with a story that asks, “What if life were fair?” It’s portal fantasy at its best: A door appears, a choice is made, you come back changed … if you come back at all.Read More
Jane Yolen’s novel-in-verse, Finding Baba Yaga, arrives just in time for the season of the witch.Read More
Yes, you can turn them into pigs, but there are so many other situations women find themselves in and such a variety of possible responses. Gods and Heroes, trigger warning: not all of them act like gentlemen.Read More
The best world-building is participatory, a collaboration between artist and audience. Artist Julie Buffalohead creates narrative images layered with personal meaning, both playful and serious. At the same time, she invites the viewer in, leaving of room for the mysterious.
Image: Julie Buffalohead (Ponca), A Little Medicine and Magic, 2018. Oil on canvas; 52 x 72 in. Courtesy of Julie Buffalohead and Bockley Gallery. Image courtesy of Julie Buffalohead and Bockley GalleryRead More
Melissa Albert’s debut novel cuts to the bone of European fairy tales to find the essence of nightmares: horrors that are both seductive and disturbing.Read More
Want to fit in a quick story when you have just a minute? Here are three goodies and links to more.Read More
Sam J. Miller’s new novel wrestles with catastrophes to come, and what kind of power might form out of the struggle.Read More
It’s a perfect world. Just a little bit too full of people.Read More
The final tale in Sarah Beth Durst’s The Queens of Renthia saga has more queens, more lands, more spirits, and answers to questions as large as the universe.Read More
Adeyemi's breakout debut features a richly drawn world inspired by West African traditions, compassionate social commentary, and a new take on magic.Read More
In Liani Taylor's lyrical and dark fantasy, killing your enemies doesn't solve anything and there are no easy answers.Read More
Wild, raging girls seem to be everywhere these days, from movies like Logan to books like The Girl with All the Gifts.Read More
What do Logan, the noir-Western superhero film featuring the classic brooding antihero of the X-Men, and Hillbilly Elegy, the memoir by J.D. Vance, have in common? Put on some Jonny Cash, pour yourself a bourbon and let's talk.Read More
A look back at Russell's The Sparrow - 20 years on. Excerpt reposted with kind permission from Fiction UnboundRead More
This week we learned the heartbreaking news that Ursula K. Le Guin has left us. Her writing was a revelation, and reading her books was the only thing that got me through adolescence in one piece. She may be gone, but her voice remains.Read More
Hartsuyker's adrenaline rush of a historical novel opens a window onto 9th century Norway during the youth of Harold I. For shear pathos, beauty and bluntly rendered brutality, Hartsuyker's writing is a boon to those needing and epic fix while waiting for the Game of Thrones finale.Read More
Short stories often get short shrift. Here are some links and reviews to whet your appetite.Read More