High on my list of upcoming-things-I’m-excited-about is a new anthology from The Future Fire called “Accessing the Future” – a collection of stories that “interrogate issues of disability—along with the intersecting nodes of race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and class—in both the imagined physical and virtual spaces of the future”. My short story “Millie“, which explores issues around disability and impairment, choice and bodies, was published in a previous TFF anthology (Outlaw Bodies), so I’m very happy to see them continue along these lines. If you can, please check out their Indiegogo campaign and pre-order or otherwise support this project (there are some great books, critiques and other rewards up there).
I’m currently making the final amendments (or, frankly, avoiding making the final amendments) to an MA thesis on portrayals of all-blind societies in speculative fiction. Through the two years of writing it, and other thinking about and researching disability in sf, there was one question I struggled to quite answer: why speculative fiction?
I had some answers, of course. I could talk about the importance of representation in every genre, or about the potential to explore technology not (yet) possible in our own world – assistive technology, genetic modifications, cyborgs. But, though true, they weren’t quite what I wanted to say.
I wrote a story: “Blueprints” (published in Crossed Genres’ Fat Girl in a Strange Land) which describes exclusion from a new world on the grounds of non-normative bodies, and ends with some signs that, on however small a scale, those excluded are starting to build a society which better accommodates them. The first chapter of my thesis focuses on H.G. Wells’ The Country of the Blind, a short story which describes a lost traveler finding himself in an isolated valley whose inhabitants have been universally blind for generations. The valley’s inhabitants have generally been interpreted as a repressive, ignorant society, for whom free-thinking is a threat. More recently, though, it’s started to be interpreted as an exploration of disability as socially constructed, describing a society of blind people who have had the chance to build their world to the point where it is not at all disabling to them (though it arguably is to the sighted traveler).
The most important answer to why speculative fiction? for me, I realised, is all about societies and construction of new worlds. The social model of disability implies the possibility (however theoretical) of other worlds, and invites us to imagine them on a small or a large level. If we say: imagine yourself (or someone else) on an individual level without your impairment, you can imagine that in the world you know. You can imagine walking or hearing or not freaking out in airports (why yes, it has been one of those days) and you may find it easier or harder, but you don’t need to change genre to imagine that. But to imagine a society that no longer disables you… you’re going to need to go further than that, perhaps into the future, or an alternate version of the past, or to another world entirely. As I wrote:
Explanations of the social model of disability imply extrapolations from our own world and the creation of new ones. The idea that disability is socially constructed allows the potential for societies to construct it differently, or not at all. Speculative fiction can take these from the hypothetical to the concrete, exploring the details of what such societies could look like.
I’m not going to argue that speculative fiction is the only genre (or collection of genres) to allow this, but it’s certainly uniquely placed to. Nor do I believe that fiction, as we generally use the term, is the only way of imagining other societies. But I do believe that in order to understand our own society, and to change it (because I never set my sights low) we need to be able to conceive of something different. And I think that works like what Accessing the Future has the potential to be (here’s that Indiegogo link again) will be are a key part in that.