Writers of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 anthology came to New York Comic Con to talk about the state of genre fiction today. Fans heard from Charlie Jane Anders, Maria Dahvana Headley, Matthew Kressel, and Carmen Maria Machado, along with guest editor N. K. Jemisin and series editor John Joseph Adams!
Jemisin apparently had to keep away from short fiction for a while before diving into the anthology selections, so that she could come into them blind when reading. Each author on the panel got the chance to talk about their fiction that was selected for the anthology and what inspired these particular stories.
At one point an audience member asked about Star Trek-esque stories, the escapist fare that show us a better future, and Jemisin had some thoughts to that effect:
“The expectation that fiction will [provide escapism] in times of strife is an expectation that I think is not fair to put on artists. Artists’ nature is that we process the world we live in; the world we live in doesn’t really permit escapism right now—or it does, but not for some people. The artists I wound up picking were artists who helped me process stuff, and that was a form of escapism.”
Want to hear more about the anthology? Check out the rest of the panel from our live-tweeting thread:
— Tor.com (@tordotcom) October 7, 2018
Knowing that she would be editing the anthology,
@nkjemisin spent the last year “avoiding short stories like the plague” so that she would be reading them as blind as possible.
Many of the stories involve revolt against tradition, against reader expectations, against the world entirely.
@nkjemisin clarifies that “I wasn’t so much drawn to stories like that as that was what the batch consisted of.” (1/2) @nkjemisin: “Of those 80 stories, there was a whole lot of stories involving setting shit on fire in various forms, and in allegorical form in some cases.” (2/2) @nkjemisin: “Short stories do tend to reflect the zeitgeist. And the short story writers of 2017 were sure feeling some fire.” @carmenmmachado‘s “The Resident” is the only story selected from a collection (Her Body and Other Parties). It follows a novelist to a rural artists residency that happens to be on the site of a childhood trauma. @charliejane: “I don’t think of it being a story about conversion therapy so much as literalizing this metaphor of deadnaming … almost like you’re invoking a dead self.” (1/2) @charliejane: “I wanted to give a wake-up call to people who … don’t really understand, people who maybe needed to have a little bit of awareness-raising about trans people and our need to be ourselves and be respected.” @MARIADAHVANA has *two* stories in this collection: “The Orange Tree” (“it is a patriarchy-smash story”) and “Black Powder” (from The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories)
What is it about SFF?
@JohnJosephAdams says the structure of the genres basically forces you to inhabit people who are not like yourself, whether they’re living in the future or a fantasy world, thanks to metaphor: “It has the most capacity to be empathy propaganda.” @carmenmmachado likes realism but points out that “with everything outside that category, you have more tools at your disposal.”
Case in point:
@nkjemisin wasn’t sure if the protagonist of “The Resident” were experiencing mental illness or if it were an actual ghost story–deliberate confusion on @carmenmmachado‘s part, esp since she was influenced by Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House.”
How does the current political climate affect everyone’s writing?
@nkjemisin points out that “speculative fiction allows you to see the seams and performativity of how our reality is constructed … [we] can’t help but reflect on how we got to this moment.” @carmenmmachado: “My anxiety level is at an 11, and so my writing reflects that even if I’m not explicitly writing about the moment we’re in.” (1/2)
“But obviously I’m thinking a lot about my body and the way my body is a pawn, and the way other people’s bodies are pawns, and the way the world’s sorta coming apart.” –
@carmenmmachado (2/2) @charliejane: “I’m happy to be working on a YA trilogy about queer people and POC saving the universe. I feel like that’s a thing that’s making me [feel] better to work on.”
Audience question about escapism in SFF–where are the Star Trek-esque stories?
“There is a place for straight-up escapism”
@nkjemisin says but points out that while Star Trek talks about this wonderful utopian future, they never discuss how they actually get there–making it less helpful for handling the stress of the here and now. (1/3) @nkjemisin: “The expectation that fiction will [provide escapism] in times of strife is an expectation that I think is not fair to put on artists.” (2/4)
“Artists’ nature is that we process the world we live in; the world we live in doesn’t really permit escapism right now—or it does, but not for some people.” (3/4)
@nkjemisin: “The artists I wound up picking were artists who helped me process stuff, and that was a form of escapism.” (4/4)
That’s it for the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers panel!
#NYCC2018 ICYMI we revealed the cover to @JohnJosephAdams and @victorlavalle‘s forthcoming anthology A People’s Future of the United States.