In the wake of 2016 election speculative fiction classics began to top best-seller lists. 1984, Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, not to mention The Handmaid’s Tale, and The Man in the High Castle, which were both adapted and translated into binge-worthy small screen cinema. All of the authoritarian fears once embedded in high class science fiction, often reserved for high school English teachers, was suddenly very real.
The what if of the past had become the truth of the present. Big Brother is watching, but from both a corporate, and military server There are fringe groups seeking to overthrow the Constitution in the name of God, and they’ve got their man in the White House. There’s no need to burn books when the masses don’t read them, and instead Americans can watch four screens, and keep our ear buds plugged in so the world can’t get in and disturb our customized realit
Speculative fiction (and its nonfiction cousin, true crime) explore the grand question: “what if?” Noted author Stephen King often said “what if?” is the primary philosophical question driving artists across genres in America. And spec fic is big business, mind you. Games, movies, web-series, not to mention books, novellas, and even poetry. The market is thirsty for new work that dares to think big. Science fiction and fantasy markets are interested in reading fiction that deals with climate change (either head-on, or in some world building way), and the influence of authoritarian powers upon technology. The market has become more than just pulpy sci-fi, or sword and sorcery, it’s highbrow and brainy, and takes itself seriously (but thankfully not too seriously).
And speculative fiction is a lot of fun to write, too. Not to mention read. Comic books, pulp novels, and B movies not only fill our escapist bellies with sweets, they often get people talking about important issues. It’s not just the classics that warn or teach; consider Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage, a Netflix series, which dared to put a bulletproof African American superhero in a hoodie as he tried to save Harlem from drug dealers and crooked politicians. With a simple costume decision, Marvel Comics gets viewers thinking and talking about social issues that cause young African American males to be shot five more time than white counterparts. Viewers and readers who had no exposure to the 1970s superhero, who did not wear a hoodie- were presented with a character that not only was a bad-ass, but one who represented the challenges, and the hope for equity under the law. And it wasn’t by accident that Luke Cage changed hoodies nearly every episode because they were riddled with bullets, that motif is central to the heart of the character and what he represents.
This issue of the Broadkill Review will feature prose that falls loosely under the umbrella of speculative fiction. These stories dare to look at the world in a different way.
Franetta McMillian’s speculative fiction shimmers; McMillian’s stories are a kind of glamor, or magic. She’s crafted a complex world in her Crescent Series, where complex environmental problems, class stratification, voudon, and high tech gear mix. “The Girl Who Spoke in Pictures” is set in that world, and centers on a young girl who struggles to communicate. “Amira’s Head” is a deliciously odd tale about maternal love with plenty of surrealism to boot.
Industry wise, nothing has been better for books than Young Adult Fiction, which is almost driven entirely by speculative fiction serial novels. Christopher Weston delivers a sci-fi coming of age story set in far in the future where you can almost see the ghost of old New England towns, and commercial fishing hubs. In “Ordovicia” the dominant culture controls the poor by cutting off the thumbs of the males. Weston’s smart young female protagonist is recruited for her brains, and leaves her family to learn the ways of the Avan culture, and though it may sound far out, Weston’s story is really a good old fashioned coming of age tale.
One of the hallmarks of speculative fiction is the character study. Poe’s haunted and fragile narrators have created a whole subgenre in horror and science fiction writing: short stories that stare at the darkness of the human character. Sir Conan Doyle, HP Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz, among others have all written stories and novels that study the psychic fall of man. Gene Turchin’s “Crazy Henry” takes a deeper look at the local peckerwood wing-nut, living up in the mountains all by himself.
Jax Miller’s true crime story, ”By the Dawn’s Early Light” is not fiction, but is speculative creative nonfiction, so to speak. True Crime, and Real Life mysteries occupy a popular niche in the book world, and Miller’s excerpt is in the vein of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
The most ambitious writing you will encounter in this issue belongs to Steven Leech. You may have read Steven’s historical fiction and his historical literary essays...but they are nothing in comparison to the gonzo, language bending, trip that is Raw Suck. Like Anthony Burgess ground breaking novel, A Clockwork Orange, or David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Leech requires that you learn a new dialect while reading his tale of a dystopian America. It’s gloriously strange, like new food, or like learning a new game to play. Raw Suck requires you to engage in words, and in the manner of how words are spoken. It’s dense, it’s challenging, and it’s a linguistic acrobatic feat.
We will feature speculative fiction in next year’s September/October issue as well, after all fall is the perfect time to escape into an alternate world. Send them through our submittable manager, but make sure you tell us in your cover letter that you wish to have your work considered for the speculative fiction issue.
Linda Blaskey, of course, has curated excellent poetry for you to discover, and we have our usual rogue’s gallery of reviewers and essayists for you to read. Stay safe and warm this fall, and take care of each other.