Science fiction is full of dystopian scenarios—but those are only on the page. When it comes to the writers producing sci-fi and fantasy, the future is anything but bleak. Those authors are focusing on a more progressive future.
“If your literature of choice is reading about something thats beyond your conception, youre already interested in looking beyond your immediate surroundings and thinking bigger thoughts,” writer Lara Elena Donnelly says in Episode 242 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Donnelly, whose anti-fascist adventure novel Amberlough hits bookstores this month, is just one of a new generation of young sci-fi and fantasy writers weaving forward-looking ideals into their work. Another is Seth Dickinson, whose first novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, is a lesbian love story set against the backdrop of anti-colonial revolution. Dickinson says his views on gender and feminism were strongly influenced by the female classmates he met at the Alpha Young Writers Workshop.
“I thought I was a smart guy and I knew lots of things, and I didnt have to have them explained to me,” he says. “But then after 10 years I was like, ‘Actually I didn’t know shit, so thanks for putting up with me.’”
As the editor of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, John Joseph Adams has published the work of many promising young writers, including Alyssa Wong and Rich Larson. One new writer hes particularly excited about is Joseph Allen Hill, whose recent story “The Venus Effect” features an author who cant seem to stop his black protagonists from being killed by the police.
“It was probably the most important story we published all year,” says Adams.
Author Haris Durrani was attending Columbia University when the Associated Press uncovered NYPD surveillance of Muslim students. In response, Durrani organized the Muslim Protagonist Literary Symposium, which aims to combat prejudice through greater representation of Muslim characters in fiction.
“Change ultimately comes from the heart,” says Durrani. “And stories are the sharpest path to the heart.”
Listen to our complete interview with Lara Elena Donnelly, Seth Dickinson, John Joseph Adams, and Haris Durrani in Episode 242 of Geeks Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Seth Dickinson on learning to write:
“One of the really big challenges of starting out as a writer is that once you get really serious about it, your ability to criticize writing is going to develop a lot faster than your own skill, and it creates this weird optical illusion—it’s like when youre riding in a car on the highway, and youre going a little faster than the guy next to you, and it kind of seems like hes sliding backward. You feel like your writing is actually getting worse the more you practice, and youll look back fondly on this time when writing was easy and fun, and now its so hard because youre thinking about sentence construction and all this stuff. And you have to know that thats an illusion. Its created by the fact that youre so much better at tearing your own writing down than you were a year ago.”
Haris Durrani on diversity:
“Initially I was very colonized, probably, so my protagonists were mainly white men. That was sort of how that curriculum had formed me. But as I matured, I would have Dominican protagonists, Muslim protagonists, Pakistani protagonists—or all three combined. I remember in college I had written a far future story where everyone from this one planet were all Dominican Muslims, and the critiques from my workshop group were like, ‘That doesn’t make sense. How could that happen?’ My professor though was very good, he was kind of like, ‘Guys, who is the author of this work? Dont you think it came from somewhere? Dont you think that in the future things could be different?’”
Lara Elena Donnelly on female characters:
“One of the critiques I got back from a girl I had been at Alpha with said, ‘There’s only one woman in this story, and she’s a heroin-addicted stripper who’s in the background of one scene and doesnt talk.’ I was really, really upset when I got this critique, because I was like, ‘Well it’s a story about two gay men. What do you think I need female characters for?’ But several years later, as I was drafting the novel, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, probably I need some female characters who aren’t weird heroin-addicted strippers.’ … As I was drafting the novel I found myself making these choices that I would have to consciously question as I was writing. I would write a sentence that said, ‘The man on the corner did so-and-so,’ and I would be like, ‘Why is it a man on the corner?’ … I’ve had a womans experience living in this world, so why was I automatically defaulting to men?’”
Haris Durrani on Muslim characters:
“One of my favorite portrayals of Muslims in film is The Raid. It’s an Indonesian action movie. What we always see in whatever stories we’re reading or whatever we see on screen, the more ‘Muslim’ a character gets, the more likely they are to be a terrorist or something like that. You rarely see a protagonist who’s a hero who prays or does something stereotypically Muslim. And I think what’s so interesting about that film, The Raid, is the first five minutes is just this guy praying. And if you were watching some typical Hollywood fare, youd be like, ‘OK, this guys going to be the terrorist. Theyre setting up the antagonist for the rest of the movie.’ And then you figure out that actually this is the hero, hes a police officer, and he ends up beating the shit out of a whole building of mobsters for the rest of the film.’”