English-language speculative fiction has historically been the preserve of a few: a few people, a few regions, and a few themes. This is now changing. While there has always existed a tradition of "writing back" against the dominant discourse, the last few years have seen a particularly strong churn and displacement of what constitutes SFF, who gets to write it, and for whom.
The process of democratising and making SFF more egalitarian is an ongoing one. In particular, it is important to identify the different axes around which the genre has, hitherto, been exclusionary. At Strange Horizons, we identified geography as a specific site of exclusion: publishing remains concentrated in the United States and the United Kingdom; writing workshops such as Odyssey and Clarion West, which serve not just as forums for writers to develop and hone their skills, but also as nodes where communities and solidarities can form, are located in the United States; events such as WorldCon (which, whether we like it or not, continue to perform gatekeeping functions, especially in terms of setting the "canon") circulate between the United States, the United Kingdom, and (occasionally) Europe and Australia/New Zealand. Geography, thus, constructs an in/out binary in ways similar to other axes of privilege.
This means, of course, that we need to do better. From early 2017, Strange Horizons has collaborated with Geoff Ryman to edit and publish 100 African Writers of SFF, a series of interviews with young SFF writers on the African continent. As part of the series (which has, so far, run into fifteen issues), we have published interviews with writers and editors, across cities and countries: Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, and Malawi, to name just a few - and there will be more to come.
On a similar note, Strange Horizons' international special issues—that have been running since 2017—attempt to engage with speculative fiction from different regions, on its own terms: that is, we attempt to provide a platform to writers and editors who live and work in those regions, a platform where they can teach us about the speculative fiction that they and their colleagues are creating. The non-fiction component of these special issues can take the form of round-tables, articles, or interviews. In January 2017, we hosted a round-table on Indigenous Futurisms, moderated by Rebecca Roanhorse. The participants spoke about decolonisation, indigenous science, and hope. Later that year, we hosted a second round-table, this time using the then-published book of short SFF, Iraq+100, to engage in a conversation about speculative fiction writing in the Arab world. Participants included contributors to Iraq+100, as well as the editor of the well-respected ArabLit blog; and the discussion ranged across the pasts, presents, and futures of Arab SFF. A third round-table that year took us to the Antipodes, to talk about Australian speculative fiction: themes included writing from the margins, ensuring diversity both within and across regions, and battling stereotypes.
In 2018, we traveled to India. Our conversation about Indian speculative fiction with contemporary writers, as well as the editor of the Indian SFF magazine, The Mithila Review, revolved around the role of mythology and epic in framing Indian SFF, the genre's engagement with issues such as caste and colonialism, and SFF in translation.
2019 saw us try a different format: the "state of play" article. As part of our Nigerian SFF special issue, we published an essay by Mazi Nwonwu that located contemporary Nigerian SFF in its broader context: a recent spate of magazines and anthologies, of writers, and of writing festivals, that provided the necessary infrastructure for the genre to flourish. We repeated this format later that year in our Brazilian special issue: Jana Bianchi wrote an article on the state of play in contemporary Brazilian SFF: she placed Brazilian SFF in a long history of speculative writing, and introduced us to its contemporary practitioners, working across forms.
Needless to say, this is just the beginning: in the immediate future, we have a Palestinian special issue and a Southeast Asian special issue lined up for next year, and there will be more to come. For speculative fiction to become a truly inclusive and egalitarian space, every axis of exclusion must be interrogated, and every potential drawbridge turned into a gateway. Our international issues are, we hope, a small step in that direction.
You must log in to post a comment.