Books

Speculation and Responsibility in 'A People's Future of the United States'

Speculative futures should go beyond merely reflecting the fears peddled by news and social media. Anthology A People's Future of the United States at times pushes those boundaries.

A People's Future of the United States: A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers
Victor LaValle; John Joseph Adams (co-editors)

One World / Random House

Feb 2019

Other

If you're wondering how the future could get worse because of the current US administration, the 25 speculative works in this new anthology provide some plausible scenarios.

In 1980, when Howard Zinn's seminal work of non-fiction, A People's History of the United States (Harper & Row, HarperCollins) was published, it was intended to be different from the traditional "fundamental nationalist glorification of country." Reviewing it in the New York Times, ("Majority Report; Majority Authors' Queries", 2 Mar 1980) Eric Foner said Zinn's work presented the "...less dramatic but more typical lives — people struggling to survive with dignity in difficult circumstances — receive little attention." Zinn's main goal was to show how classism, sexism, and racism have historically created oppressive conditions for ethnic minorities, women, workers, homosexuals, and immigrants through their own voices and stories.

With this collection the co-editors, Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, have aimed to do something similar. However, while these 25 stories are also about marginalized people, they depict fictional futures derived from the socio-political problems of the United States today; more specifically, the conflicts that have been boiling over during the Trump presidency.

In his introduction, LaValle tells a personal story about how his father and step-brother believe in an America that is under threat from minorities and how that made him, as a person from an ethnic minority group, feel. He goes on to say:

... this book is inspired by the countless generations of offspring who lost the right to forge futures of their own making.

Zinn had already written about our past, so my co-editor, John Joseph Adams, and I decided to ask a gang of incredible writers to imagine the years, decades, even the centuries, to come. And to have tales told by those, and/or about those, who history often sees fit to forget.

Together, these futures show aspects of dystopia and utopia, oppression and resistance, despair and hope, fight and flight, fragility and resilience, enemies external and internal, personal struggled and social movements — in short, all the mess and the magic that has always made up human existence. Mostly, they show us what we, the people of the United States, could become if we continue down certain extreme and damaging trajectories. At the same time, they also make us question who we are as a people today and how we're responsible for such possible futures.

A diverse (in terms of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity) and talented group of emerging and established writers has been assembled here, including N. K. Jemisin, Omar El Akkad, Lesley Nneka Arimah and Daniel José Older. Although every story doesn't land with the same impact, each one challenges our notions of the often-idealized American past, present, and future. No matter what the struggle or hardship, almost every character resists in his or her own way.

Several stories share certain world-building tropes (e.g., robots, fictional/alien creatures, time travel, artificial intelligence, biohacking, etc.) and themes (e.g., gender fluidity, California set apart both ideologically and geographically from the rest of the United States, literary censorship, state-controlled reproductive rights, and more), giving the anthology more coherence and synergy.

Some of the most striking stories involve border control as their key plot points: Charlie Jane Anders' "The Bookstore At the End of America"; Lizz Huerta's "The Wall"; and Justina Ireland's "Calendar Girls".

Sexual and gender identity issues are explored in stories like Sam Miller's "It Was Saturday Night, I Guess That Makes It All Right"; A. Merc Rustad's "Our Aim Is Not to Die"; and Ashok K. Banker's "By His Bootstraps" (which also features a fictionalized President Trump.)

There are some stories where the writers seem to have pulled their punches and missed important opportunities to push readers further out of our comfort zones. Alice Sola Kim's "Now Wait for This Week" and Hugh Howey's "No Algorithms in the World" are two of a few such stories that, given their individual premises, could have been edgier while staying true to their near-future projections.

Speculative futures are mostly extended metaphors for psychological and political realities that already exist. However, they need to go beyond merely reflecting the fears peddled by news and social media on a near-daily basis. Such stories also ought to do more than provide escapist, extrapolative thought experimentation. They should make us ponder, question, and debate our humanity, values, illusions, taboos, and technologies. They should make us realize how much our behaviors and actions today can have far-reaching consequences for future generations. It is fair to say that each story here rises well to the latter challenge.

Given the wide range of themes and narrative styles, A People's Future of the United States is clearly aimed at and should appeal to more than the usual fans of speculative or science fiction. Regardless of where a reader stands with their own projections of where we're all headed, they will likely agree with the resounding notion here that our world will get worse before we can make it through to the other side. So, as the characters demonstrate in many ways here, we must resist, persist, and never give up hoping and working for that better future for everyone. This has always been our individual and collective responsibility, irrespective of our tribal affiliations and loyalties.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.