Some Thoughts on the Venue for “The Next Big Dystopian Novel”

In a recent NPR interview, Margaret Atwood speculated that the next dystopian novel to capture our attention won’t be a novel as we think of them now:

Well, it won’t be a book, according to Atwood. “The question to be asked is, if somebody does write such a novel where will it be published?” she says. “I think we might go back to newspaper serials … Because events are evolving so fast it would almost take a serial form to keep up with them.”

I agree, but I wonder if this is a case in which we can look backward and forward at the same time.  That is, I do think publishing speculative fiction in widely-read periodicals (and on their corresponding websites) would be ideal to reach the broadest audience.  That said, what if we couple these venues with ones that are already in place that essentially do present serial speculative fiction?

If newspapers (and the like) drew on the editorial talent from weekly and monthly SF venues, not only would we be more likely to see the kinds of serials Atwood suggests, but also the SF the authors write and the editors foster would reach a larger audience.  I’ve heard a number of authors, editors, and publishers bemoan the fact that SF–a genre with great potential for social change–just doesn’t reach enough readers.  Perhaps this would be a way to make reaching more readers possible.

From Around the Web: 20 February 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

  • From still eating oranges, “The significance of plot without conflict“: ‘The necessity of conflict [in stories] is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general–arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity.”  This post is from a few years ago, but in a time when all is conflict, it seems, it’s an interesting way to look at narratives.
  • A poem from SF author Mary Anne Mohanraj:  “A Valentine for my Country, in the Time of Trump.
  • And an escape. One of the best snarky descriptions of the current US political situation would come from the BBC, wouldn’t it?  From last Friday’s News Quiz: “The wonky-wheeled shopping trolley full of flaming skulls that is the Trump administration.”  Indeed.

And We’re Back: Simplifying, Streamlining, and Sonnets

It’s been a long few weeks since I last posted, thanks to the round of viral crud that went around my house and the slog through the festival of pollen that is North Texas right now that preceded and followed.  It hit everyone, just about at the same time.  Seriously, even the possum that hangs around my patio seemed to be sniffling a bit….

Cedar Pollen

The culprit, or at least one of them….

Anyway, I received a good piece of advice during this time, when I didn’t seem to be able to focus on much of anything: focus on writing.  Though the giver of this advice meant that I should focus on the fiction I’ve been neglecting, I had to ask myself how I’m spending focus on the letters to elected folks.

I’d crafted–really crafted–some of these letters.  And given that I live in a red area of a red state, I’m crafting them for an audience who most likely won’t listen.  And given that the responses I’ve received haven’t always had much of anything to do with what I’d written about, I needed to switch tactics.

Postcards.  Printable postcards.  I can only fit so much onto them.  I have to keep the message simple and clear.  There’s a challenge to this, though, since my impulse is to provide all the reasons why I’m requesting the elected official support or oppose whatever measure or nominee the letter addresses.

So I’m trying to look at these postcards in the same way in which I look at formal poetry–sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, and the like.  Part of the challenge of writing in these forms is that one can’t expound at length on the poem’s subject.  And it’s easy to fail at linking together the parts of poem to make a coherent whole.  The challenge becomes both an intellectual and an aesthetic exercise: the logic of the poem must hang together, and the language of the poem must support that logic.  It’s easy to fail at writing poems that do both.

But when formal poems do work, they work on many levels.

From Around the Web: 6 February 2017

Links of interest from around the web:

  • SF author Kameron Hurley discusses feminist SF and space operas on the most recent episode of the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin responds to a letter to the editor to The Oregonian that compares the current US president’s administrations lies to science fiction: “[SF writers] make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are ‘alternative facts.'”
  • And on the topic of the current US presidential administration, check out Dr. Sarah’s post on Freethought Resistance, “Speak out NOW to stop Betsy DeVos“: “The good news is, you may actually be able to stop her nomination from going through.”

 

Q&A with Pantsuit Republic Podcast Producer

Pantsuit Republic, the Texas offshoot of the Pantsuit Nation movement, recently launched a podcast that covers not only politics in Texas but also the issues behind it. I spoke with Emily Dylla, coordinator and producer of the podcast, about the content and direction of the show.

Freethinking Ahead: There are so many media available for getting the word out to folks about politics and calls to action. Why did PSR choose to launch a podcast?

Emily Dylla: We thought it would contrast nicely with all the social media work that we do. Social media is so fast. It’s really up-to-the minute. And in a podcast, you might not be up-to-the-minute, but you can get into a lot more depth on subjects. So we decided to take an educational approach to what we wanted to do with the podcast. It’s really meant to go into any range of topics or issues that we feel are somehow relevant to PSR members and anyone else who tends to more of a progressive approach.

So we thought it would complement all the frantic activity that we do on Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

FTA: Something that feels a lot less ephemeral, right?

ED: Exactly. And it’s really nice because podcasts, for people with crazy schedules, like myself–I’m a graduate student, I work, I have a family, I’m an avid runner, so I’m running all over the place all the time–a podcast is really nice because you can listen to it while you drive to work, while you might be out on a bike ride or running, or cooking dinner in the evening. We thought it would to reach people that way as well.

FTA: What direction would you like to see the podcast take over the course of the 2017 Texas legislative session? And after?

ED: We’re still in the process of determining this, because we are just about to release our third episode this week. We are still finding our comfort zone and a format that we can fall into, but ultimately I’m hoping that the podcast will focus on the four core areas that PSR is interested in. This is women’s empowerment, that’s one. Health care is another. Social justice is a third, and fourth is political empowerment of Texans.

So we’ll certainly be following on the podcast what our teams who are specifically organized to address those core issues be following what they’re doing. They’re tracking legislation and organizing things, for instance, HB 948, that’s the abolition of abortion in Texas act, introduced by a representative from Tarrant County, Arlington. We’ll be checking in with those teams throughout the course of the legislative session.

But we’re also going to be focusing on more broad issues. With this third episode, we’re kicking off a series on reproductive health and reproductive rights in Texas. We start with abortion, since that’s what everyone thinks of, and we pay attention to that a little bit, and then we’ll expand or at least attempt to expand the conversation belong the abortion debate. Often times people end there, they get frustrated with the ideological clash and don’t see much point in having the debate. We’ll be talking about things like sex education, contraception access in Texas, and also topics that people don’t necessarily connect to reproductive rights so much, like livable wage, affordable child care, how reproductive health specifically concerns LGBTQ communities.

So we’ll be both focusing on the legislation specifically but also going off more into topics that we find interesting and hope our listeners will find interesting as well.

FTA: Personal narratives and statements are such a powerful way to show the day-to-day effects that politics has on the people’s lives. Can you talk a bit about including these as part of the podcast? And why you have the authors submit these in their own voices?

ED: We give people the option to do it in their own voices, and we also give them the option to remain anonymous, though no one has taken us up on that yet. We decided on the personal narratives as an homage to our organizational roots. Like so many groups, we spun off of Pantsuit Nation. On the day before the election on the PSN Facebook page, someone said we should have state groups, and all of a sudden, state chapters were popping up all over the nation. What eventually became PSR was started that day by Dona Kim Murphey. I was one of the first people, when she asked for volunteers for moderators, I thought, yeah, sure I can do that.

From the get go, PSN’s argument has been that there is great power in storytelling. Storytelling allows the listener a means by which he can come to understand another person’s perspective or situation in this rich and really effective way. So we thought that was important.

From the beginning, PSR has distinguished ourselves from PSN by being very politically active. A lot of the statewide groups are that way too. We’ve always agreed with Libby Chamberlain, the founder of PSN, about the effects storytelling can have. And we thought there was more political and social good that PSN and PSR and our local chapters can do. So when I started thinking about putting together this podcast, I wanted it to reflect the two sides of PSR: political action on one side and community building and solidarity building through storytelling on the other.

FTA: It also seems to foster an intersectionality. Was that also part of your aim?

ED: Absolutely. From the beginning our two major goals have been one, we’re going to be politically active in Texas–we want to focus on changing the social and poliitical landscape of the lone star state–and also we need to be explicitly intersectional in our approach. We can’t have this be another voice of white feminism. And that’s something that PSN came under fire for. But luckily Dona had already been very vocal in her leadership about making sure that PSR considers not just gender but race, ability or disability, language, all those kinds of things.

FTA: Which is especially salient in Texas, speaking of language, since most people don’t really think about that here.

ED: That was one of those things that we’ve been ranting about this evening. There are so many things to rage about but the whitehouse.gov page taking every single bilingual page down. About half the population in Texas is bilingual, so it’s ridiculous that they would do that.

FTA: This is why we all fight the good fight, right?

ED: Exactly.

FTA: What do you hope Texas listeners will get from the podcast?

E: Like I said before, the PSR podcast is meant first and foremost as an educational tool, so we have episodes planned on everything from the reproductive health and rights series I already talked about to dealing with online bullying and harassment to activism fatigue. We’ve got one planned on intersectional feminism, and we’re trying to frame all of these topics specifically to how they impact Texans.

And so my hope is that our listeners will learn a bit more about a subject with which they already might be a little familiar or a lot about something with which they never really engaged. So basically we want to provide education.

I’m an educator myself, and I’ve been a graduate student for a long time. And really enjoy the teaching process. The podcast is a really interesting medium through which one can at least attempt to teach subjects. So we’ll see how it goes.

FTA: Since many of FtB’s readers are outside Texas, what might listeners across the US get from your podcast, especially in light of the fact that so many state and local elections followed the national trend in 2016?

ED: One of the things I think people can get is that the podcast highlights the work that PSR does as well as our local chapters. We have between 35 and 40 local chapters across Texas that are affiliated–we all work together. PSR has already served as the inspiration for a lot of these Pantsuit Nation derived organizations, because of those two things I mentioned earlier: our commitment to political activism number one, and our commitment to inclusivity and intersectionality.

We talk about ourselves as being not non-partisan but post-partisan, we’re trying to get that term to take off. We’re trying to foster an environment that doesn’t look at political affiliation. We have a lot of Democrats, but we also have independents–I’m one of them–we have Republicans, we have third-party members. So we just tried to focus on issues that are important to all of these people. Because there are Republicans out there who are pro-choice and don’t want to see people have their access to voting cut off. So that’s one of the things that I hope the podcast offers, models for effective engagement in both political activism and intersectionality. I think even more than that, the podcast offers a perspective of Texas.

FTA: Ah, yes, outside all the lovely stereotypes everybody has.

ED: Exactly. I don’t think Texas has quite as crazy a reputation as Florida, but this is a really conservative state. There’s definitely a reputation that we do have, but when you get down into it, there are a lot of progressives who live here. And not just in the big cities. I’m out on a dig, and I talked to multiple guys, and they’re actually really liberal. They’re like, “Yeah, women should be able to choose.” That’s so awesome. So there are a lot of progressives people out here, and our numbers are increasing all the time.

If our podcast can do anything to temper our state’s reputation, that would be awesome. This includes our reputation among Republicans. A lot of them don’t know what’s up with their party and feel like they don’t belong there anymore.

More information about the podcast is available at the Pantsuit Republic website: http://pantsuitrepublic.com/ 

The podcast is available on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/pantsuit-republic/id1196901541?mt=2 

Recommended Reading: Nature Futures

Recommended reading, or in this case, listening.  Nature posts a new science fiction flash story each week in, and last week’s, S. L. Huang’s “The last robot,” is well worth reading. Also check out “The story behind the story: The last robot.” The podcast version is available on iTunes here.

And in the archives, since it’s feeling relevant these days, I also recommend Marissa Lingen’s “The most important thing.”

Fundraiser for DFW Detained

The attorneys who assisted the travelers detained by Trump’s “Travel Ban” at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport are asking for help in maintaining a space to continue their work.  From the DFW Detained GoFundMe page:

These funds will be used to secure meeting space at DFW International Airport and puchase necessary supplies. NOT ONE DOLLAR of the money raised will be used to compensate the attorneys involved, who are donating their time and talents to this humanitarian effort.  Any funds which are leftover after our work concludes will be donated to ACLU.

Chip in if you can.  And if you know of similar calls for funds from around the nation, feel free to post in the comments.

From Around the Web: 30 January 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

  • Another link to The Coode Street Podcast: Episode 297: Politics and science fiction.  Of note is the discussion on the state of political science fiction, especially given that George Orwell’s 1984 and Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here are selling quite well here in the US.
  • An opinion piece in The Daily Texan, out of the University of Texas at Austin: “National political coverage obscures local threats.”  A reminder from the author that we should keep our eyes on local politics as well as national politics.
  • I’ve mostly written letters to my elected officials–I saw somewhere that this is the most effective method for reaching their staff, though I can’t recall where I saw that now–but I have made a good number of calls as well.  Greta Christina’s post, “Calling Your Elected Officials: Breaking it Down and Making it Easier,” shows us how to take some of the stress out of making those calls.  Putting my elected officials’ numbers in my phone today….

Whose Voice of America?

Though Trump’s recent executive orders speak loudly about his dangerous priorities, he may literally speak to the world through the federally-funded international broadcaster Voice of America (in more than just the usual 140 characters he’s used to communicating in).  From Politico:

President Donald Trump on Monday dispatched two aides to scope out the studios of Voice of America, heightening concerns among some longtime staffers that Trump may quickly put his stamp on the broadcasting arm that has long pushed U.S. democratic ideals across the world.

In an article from last December, NPR reported on recent changes to the governing structure of Voice of America, and the fact that VoA can aim its broadcasts into the US:

For decades, the international U.S. broadcasters were not allowed to present their programs to the United States, but that ban was lifted in 2013, accentuating the concerns of what a Trump administration might bring.

Though the director of VoA told Politco that the broadcaster isn’t “being manipulated by Trump,” Talking Points Memo notes:

Trump’s decision to dispatch aides to the Broadcasting Board of Governors also comes after Voice of America came under fire for tweets about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s Saturday press conference during which he made false claims about the size of inauguration crowds.

The outlet initially published tweets quoting Spicer’s claims about crowd size without any context, prompting swift backlash. Voice of America then deleted one of the tweets and ran a story fact-checking Spicer’s claims.

And MSNBC reminds us about Bush’s use of VoA and asks: “Now, it’s a brand new Republican administration, led by someone with a keen interest in media. What could possibly go wrong?”