Future Alternative Past: a stroll through a columnists memory

Every month, Nisi Shawl presents us with news and updates from her perch overlooking the world of science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. You can also look through the archives of the column.

Sometimes we look forward by looking back

Editor's note: Nisi Shawl is taking a well-deserved vacation in August, so we're presenting this look back at the past twenty-one months of her look into SFFH. We feel so lucky to have such an astute observer, and participator, of SFFH culture leading our wrap-up. She'll be back on the second Thursday in September with a new column. If you really need more Nisi, in the meantime, you may consider picking up her novel Everfair (Paul Constant's review is here).

Nisi started in November of 2016 — a blessedly positive event in a season of frustration and outrage — writing about the importance of conventions in SFFH. Her second column looked at year-end best-of lists, and then she kicked off 2017 asking a question pertinent on everybody's mind: utopia or a dystopia?

Interviewers sometimes ask me which mode of science fiction is easier to write: Utopia or dystopia? Look around you, I answer. Dystopian fiction is basically mimetic (realistic) fiction. It’s way, way too sodding easy to depict a scenario so ubiquitous; I choose to get my jollies envisioning the Utopian coolness that could be.

She wrote about love (desire, eroticism, and simple pleasures), and she wrote about learning to write. She wrote about older pieces of SF holding up to modern scrutiny, and about the environment. She wrote about immortality, and how sub-genres of SF make claims to "literary" legitimacy.

In another of her writers' workshop columns, she wrote about conflict vs. tension:

Something’s got to happen. Who wants to read about happy characters dwelling contentedly in the land of status quo with no worries, no desires, no agendas? Paying customers prefer action. We authors love our characters (who are often facets of our own selves), but in pursuit of stories others will read we torture and provoke them, prod them, plumb their depths.

She covered (snort) that thing by which we all judge books.

She talked about body image and fat-positivity, and fatphobia, in the genre, and followed that column up by looking at the lush, verdant, and sometimes disgusting, visage of food in space. What we wear in the future has been the topic of books she's covered, as has music. And of course, how our favorite characters learn — think more Isle of Roke than Hogwarts.

If you don't have a familiar, you may have a plain-old animal (this column includes a picture of Nisi's cat, Minnie, and apparently those sorts of things are popular on the internet), and if you are a cat and snort some catnip, you might like the topic of her column about drugs.

She talked about sports, and just last month, the end of the world.

One of her most powerful columns, published last May, talked candidly about inclusion:

I hate “diversity.” Diversity is a white person word. A male, cis, het, able-bodied word. A word that presumes its own characteristics are the world’s default settings even as it seeks to leaven them with “otherness.” That arrogant lack of awareness is why I prefer to talk about inclusiveness in SFFH. Inclusiveness means including in what you’re doing those whose traits differ from the dominant paradigm, not just sprinkling them on top. Inclusiveness allows for the possibility that those included have some say in the matter of where and when they’re included, and how, and whether they’ll want to reciprocate. It de-centers and de-privileges the unmarked state.

We recommend spending some time looking back — of course, in every column are reviews of books you may have missed the first time around. One of the greatest gifts of a columnist is seeing the world through their eyes, and there is no better guide to the world of SFFH than a voracious reader like Nisi. Enjoy this look back — it should be plenty to hold you over until September, but it's okay if not; it would be great if you miss her this month and can't wait for her return. We feel the same way.