my essay response to “The Widening Gyre”

I have an essay in the latest issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone called “We Have Never Been Postmodern: ‘Walking Stick Fires’ and the Knowability of Science Fiction”, a response to Paul Kincaid’s essay “The Widening Gyre” (which you should read), if nothing else than a starting point for the ongoing, rolling conversation that it has engendered. I used it as an opportunity to talk about the creation of my story “Walking Stick Fires” (which Kincaid talks about in his essay) and link it up to larger questions of “exhaustion” and what our futures “should” look like in our written works.

A selection:

As for the contention that, in stories such as mine, the future is incomprehensible: as the saying goes, I consider this a feature, not a bug.

At one point Kincaid discusses “the trope in which neither author nor reader is expected to fully comprehend the future being presented.” That is, at least for me, not a trope. A “trope” is a poetic device; for me the incomprehensibility of the future is an epistemological premise that I present to the reader.

Kincaid thinks that, in some science fiction, “things are so different that there is no connection with the experiences and perceptions of our present.” This might be the fundamental disconnect I see in Kincaid’s argument. For if future is unknowable, then the work of fiction has to dwell either in the past or the present. He doesn’t allow the possibility of a “connection” with the present unless—to reiterate once more—there is a certain typology of genre at work: one invested in careful extrapolation and a certainty about one’s findings. But it’s this very uncertainty of typology that I found worth exploring in “Walking Stick Fires.” And the bored imperialist assumptions of its protagonists, who have little interest in the actual goings-on of the resident populace (mostly forced to live in tunnels underground), was the central point of unspooling for the narrative, as they lurched from one misadventure to another. The speculative aspects of the story include aliens, yes, but also Toby Keith, Camaros, and kickboxing. Every choice of story has trade-offs and sacrifices, and yields different rewards. Most stories are just as much about what is not included in them as what is. If I was writing a more “careful” story, I would not have been able to include, well, Toby Keith, Camaros, and kickboxing. And those “deep fried” elements were what the story needed for me.

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