With questionable facts circulating on social networks, a biblical barrage of natural disasters rampaging across the globe, and politics adopting the sensational tone of reality TV, writers of speculative fiction may find their imaginations outpaced.
“Right now, the idea of truth is gone—that’s the most terrifying thing,” says Tom Sweterlitsch, whose second work of science fiction with Putnam, The Gone World, pubs in February. His 2014 debut, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, imagined a future in which a former beauty queen is in her fourth term as U.S. president and journalism has been reduced to expletive-laden headlines with pornographic images.
“It’s not even that there’s fake news out there: it’s that people know it’s fake and willingly accept it,” Sweterlitsch says, expressing concern that reality has already eclipsed his darkest predictions.
He’s not alone in seeing the current situation as something straight out of cautionary speculative fiction. “We’re living in a badly written dystopic novel,” says Vandana Singh, whose first collection to publish in North America, Ambiguity Machines, will be out in February from Small Beer Press. The writer, who grew up in New Delhi and now lives outside of Boston, calls herself “a card-carrying alien” and is among those troubled by the increasing boldness of hate groups and rising anti-immigrant sentiment.
Singh is also a theoretical physicist, and her science background informs her fiction. Stories in her forthcoming collection engage with contemporary dilemmas including climate change and drilling for oil in fragile ecosystems, but it’s not all doom and gloom: in “Indra’s Net,” for instance, a crusading scientist transforms a slum into an ecologically sound community.
“Last November, I noticed that my friends who were into speculative fiction were the fastest to recover, to come to terms with the reality of things and start considering next steps,” Singh says. “That’s one of the gifts of science fiction—to imagine situations that include worst-case scenarios, and to run what-if experiments within them.”
This season’s forthcoming titles are no exception, offering new perspectives in challenging times.
Divergent Realities: Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017–2018
Speculative fiction writers are challenging the rules not only of reality, but of the genre itself.
Horror Bleeds into Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017–2018
Forthcoming books plumb the depth of our nightmares: the aftermath of natural disasters, the bloody toll of war, and other dark chapters of history.
Future Shocks: Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017–2018
A look at new titles that explore how our lives might change for the better—or for much, much worse.
Genre Mashups: Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017–2018
Several forthcoming SFF books sample liberally from different corners of the literary universe.