A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph AdamsA People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle & John Joseph AdamsIn reaction to the Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States as well as to the rhetoric spewed by his far-right supporters such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham, Victor LaValle & John Joseph Adams wrote to a diverse set of speculative fiction authors with this charge: “We are seeking stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice: narratives that release us from the chokehold of the history and mythology of the past… and writing that gives us new futures to believe in.”

The “mythology” they refer to is the history we learned in school which taught us about all the great white men who accomplished all the significant events in American history. This idea has been challenged in books such as Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which serves as a model for this story collection.

There is great diversity here both in the writers and their stories. As with most anthologies, the stories vary in purpose, tone, style, and their adherence to the editors’ charge. All are wonderfully written. They are:

Introduction by Victor LaValle — LaValle, a man whose mother is Ugandan and father is a Rush-Limbaugh loving Caucasian, explains his background and the purpose of this collection.

“The Bookstore at the End of America” by Charlie Jane Anders — Molly, a Christian, owns a bookstore that straddles the border between the United States and California, which has seceded. Molly lives out her faith, sheltering refugees and refusing to tolerate racism. When a war over water rights breaks out, Molly and her daughter attempt to restore peace in the bookstore. This was one of my favorite stories in the collection. I loved Anders’ bookstore and felt that her story provided the type of hopeful future the editors were asking for.

Charlie Jane Anders

“Our Aim Is Not to Die” by A. Merc Rustad — The government uses technology to closely monitor all aspects of citizens’ lives and any who do not act “normal” (white, straight, and neurotypical) are picked up and re-programmed. But a revolution is brewing… This story is a bit heavy-handed, but I wanted to see where it was going. A full-length novel would be interesting.

“The Wall” by Lizz Huerta — This one was a little hard to follow. A border wall (obviously inspired by Trump’s wall) is erected by an empire that also tries to control people with biological weapons. Fortunately, there are brujas on the other side of the wall and they are willing to help.

“Read After Burning” by Maria Dahvana Headley — In a far-future dystopia, paper is illegal and books are banned. A group of people who live underground secretly tattoo books on their skin to keep knowledge alive. This is a beautiful story about the power of books, especially speculative fiction.

“Chapter 5: Disruption and Continuity [excerpted]” by Malka Older — This is a near-future academic paper or bureaucratic report (including citations and redactions; who doesn’t love that?) describing the demise of the current political system in the United States. The paper details the importance of individual activists, technology, and social media in the rise of new forms of democracy and federalism. Some readers may find Malka Older’s choice to use an academic report to be dry, but I liked it.

Malka Older

“It Was Saturday Night, I Guess That Makes It All Right” by Sam J. Miller — Call me a prude (go ahead!) but this story about a horny gay man prowling the streets looking for oral sex was too graphic for me. It’s another tale (like Rustad’s above) about a possible future where technology is used to monitor and punish people who deviate from society’s accepted norms, and it’s frightening. Like Rustad’s story, I liked the way the characters turned the tables on their government and used technology to fight back.

“Attachment Disorder” by Tananarive Due — This is an impressive story by an author I had never heard of. It’s about a mother and daughter who are kept on a reservation for their own protection and must choose between freedom and safety. I felt the difficulty of this and other choices the mother had to make. I didn’t think this story fit the theme of the anthology very well, but I’m keeping my eyes open for more stories by Tananarive Due.

“By His Bootstraps” by Ashok K. Banker — The United States president, a McDonald’s-hamburger-and-diet-Coke-drinking buffoon who is (do I even need to say this?) obviously Donald Trump, comes up with a way to “make America great again.” It backfires. This story lacks subtlety, but it’s amusing and really hits the theme of the anthology.

Daniel José Older

Daniel José Older

“Riverbed” by Omar El Akkad — This was another story I really felt by an author I was unfamiliar with. A woman whose family was forced into a concentration camp by the U.S. president after a terrorist attack goes back to the camp 50 years later to collect her brother’s belongings before they go on public display. El Akkad really made me feel the plight of the unwelcome immigrant.

“What Maya Found There” by Daniel José Older – There’s been an executive order: all biomedical research now belongs to the U.S. president. Maya is a biomedical researcher who is worried about the president getting control of her work. She does not want him using it for his own benefit.

“The Referendum” by Lesley Nneka Arimah — The Civil Rights Act has been overturned and black people are slowly losing some of their rights, including the right to own guns. They prepare to resist. Arimah vividly portrays the slippery slope of losing freedoms. I loved her style and will be looking for more of her work. In the audiobook edition I listened to, the narrator of this story (I’m not certain who she is) does a fabulous job.

“Calendar Girls” by Justina Ireland — Birth control and abortions are illegal and a senator wants to lower the legal age for a girl to marry to twelve years old. When his own daughter gets pregnant, he hatches a plot to save himself the embarrassment. It backfires. This story seemed more unlikely than the others, and a little too obvious, but I like Ireland’s heroine.

“The Synapse Will Free Us from Ourselves” by Violet Allen — I loved this story about a young man who works for a tech company that uses virtual reality to try to “fix” homosexuals. It’s complex, clever, twisty, and quite amusing.

Omar El Akkad

“O.1” by Gabby Rivera — After a plague that killed 40% of the U.S. population, caused mass infertility, and changed the reproductive process, Orion, a non-binary person, is going to have the first baby born in 10 years. This baby is the hope of all humanity and the whole world is watching, but Orion and their partner feel smothered. This story is less believable than most of the others, but it better fits the hopeful theme of the anthology.

“The Blindfold” by Tobias S. Buckell — Research shows that white people have an unfair advantage in the justice system. To combat the racism, courts have begun to randomize the reported race of defendants. One defendant’s mother pays a hacker to make sure her son is listed as white in the court documents. Then it’s discovered that Russian hackers are meddling and this leads to an ethical dilemma. The problems of racism in the judicial system and Russian meddling are current problems that need to be solved, making this story feel especially believable and relevant.

“No Algorithms in the World” by Hugh Howey — After automation and the implementation of a basic income, work is no longer necessary. One older man can’t stand the idea that people are not working for a living, while his son sees things very differently.

“Esperanto” by Jamie Ford — After being maimed by an explosion at Google, a programmer enters Esperanto, a virtual reality where citizens are given an attractive but racially-homogenized avatar. Everyone looks the same and everyone gets along. Then, for an hour, they get a glimpse of reality. This is a touching story about the beauty of diversity.

“ROME” by G. Willow Wilson — I think I missed the point of this story about college students taking an English language exam in Seattle while the city burns around them because (presumably conservative) voters didn’t want to pay taxes. This is a little over the top. I’ve never heard of a conservative who objected to paying taxes for security services such as firefighting and law enforcement. Something more subtle would have worked better here.

N.K. Jemisin

“Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death” by N.K. Jemisin — I knew I was going to like this story when I read the title. To cleanse the country, the government has trained dragons to eat dark-skinned people. That’s a shockingly horrible premise, but Jemisin treats it with humor by having her resistance ply the dragons with tasty Southern food such as cornbread and collard greens.

“Good News Bad News” by Charles Yu — This is a collection of articles from a future newspaper and they’re hilarious. Here are a few of the headlines: Amazongoogleface announces intent to acquire Disneyapplesoft. Racist robots recalled by manufacturer. I think “Good News Bad News“ was my favorite story in the collection.

“What You Sow” by Kai Cheng Thom — A Celestial named Yun provides her therapeutic ichor to the Sleepless who visit her clinic. Her work is physically draining and, when she gets home, the Sleepless man she lives with is also demanding. Yun’s co-worker, also a Celestial, has just been approved for cosmetic surgery that will make her fit in better with the humans they live among. I’m not really sure, but I think this story is about feminism and women claiming their power. I didn’t think it fit the anthology very well.

“A History of Barbed Wire” by Daniel H. Wilson — Here’s another story with a Wall. The Cherokee nation has been cut off from the rest of the country with a wall but it turns out that there are more people trying to illegally cross into the Cherokee side than out of it. It’s a lot nicer in there.

Victor LaValle

“The Sun in Exile” by Catherynne M. Valente — As the world continues to get hotter and hotter, an egotistical and charismatic king has convinced his people that the sun has abandoned them and that they’re really living in an ice age. This story is brutally satirical.

“Harmony” by Seanan McGuire — A queer couple lives in a community that prides itself on being tolerant of all types of families, but the couple knows they don’t really fit in. They hatch a plan to buy a ghost town and create an entirely new kind of community.

“Now Wait for This Week” by Alice Sola Kim — Like Groundhog Day, Bonnie keeps living the same week over and over. This amusing #MeToo inspired story is confusing at first, but once I figured out what was going on, I really loved it. Alice Sola Kim’s choice to tell the story from Bonnie’s friend’s point of view was brilliant.

So, those are the stories in A People’s Future of the United States. They vary widely but there are also a lot of similarities between them. Donald Trump and his wall, executive orders, intolerance, and science denial are all over this book.

However, I suspect that some of these stories were not written specifically for this anthology’s charge, but were pulled out of a desk drawer and polished up for the occasion. All were excellently written, but not all fit the theme very well. The stories in A People’s Future of the United States are well-crafted and worth reading, but I have to admit to being disappointed that most of them did not deliver what was promised: “stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice… and writing that gives us new futures to believe in.” Most of these stories took place in possible future dystopias, not utopias. Though some of these ended with a message of hope, it was only the briefest of glimmers and most of this hope had to do with people challenging and resisting the terrible society they lived in. In other words, most of these stories are disheartening and pessimistic rather than hopeful. They don’t give me “new futures to believe in.” (Other stories, though, hit the mark and I mentioned those in my descriptions above.)

The audiobook version of A People’s Future of the United States is brilliant. Published by Random House Audio, it’s 15 hours long. There are many narrators involved and they’re all superb. I recommend this version.

Published in February 2019.What if America’s founding ideals finally became reality? A future of peace, justice, and love comes to life in original speculative stories that challenge oppression and embrace inclusiveness–from N. K. Jemisin, Charles Yu, Jamie Ford, and more. For many Americans, imagining a bright future has always been an act of resistance. A People’s Future of the United States presents twenty-five never-before-published stories by a diverse group of writers, featuring voices both new and well-established. These stories imagine their characters fighting everything from government surveillance, to corporate cities, to climate change disasters, to nuclear wars. But fear not: A People’s Future also invites readers into visionary futures in which the country is shaped by justice, equity, and joy. Edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, this collection features a glittering landscape of moving, visionary stories written from the perspective of people of color, indigenous writers, women, queer & trans people, Muslims and other people whose lives are often at risk. Contributors include: Violet Allen, Charlie Jane Anders, Ashok K. Banker, Tobias S. Buckell, Tananarive Due, Omar El Akkad, Jamie Ford, Maria Dahvana Headley, Hugh Howey, Lizz Huerta, Justina Ireland, N. K. Jemisin, Alice Sola Kim, Seanan McGuire, Sam J. Miller, Daniel José Older, Malka Older, Gabby Rivera, A. Merc Rustad, Kai Cheng Thom, Catherynne M. Valente, Daniel H. Wilson, G. Willow Wilson, and Charles Yu.

SHARE:  Facebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail  FOLLOW:  Facebooktwitterrsstumblr
If you plan to buy this book, you can support FanLit by clicking on the book cover above and buying it (and anything else) at Amazon. It costs you nothing extra, but Amazon pays us a small referral fee. Click any book cover or this link. We use this income to keep the site running. It pays for website hosting, postage for giveaways, and bookmarks and t-shirts. Thank you!

KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

View all posts by

3 comments

  1. I really enjoyed Zinn’s book, and I like a lot of the authors featured in this anthology, so you know what that means — someone’s making a purchase ASAP! I’m glad you liked this one, Kat, and I really appreciate you covering your reaction to each story.

  2. Zinn’s book is great.

    I have been looking at this anthology, and your enthusiasm for so many stories in it has tipped the scales. I think that your suspicion about many writers polished up a story they already had is correct; many of these sound more “topical” that “optimistic, but I’d read it just for the Jemisin story of feeding the dragons cornbread. And Anders’s story sounds wonderful.

    • “Topical” rather than “optimistic” is a good description. They ARE on topic but missed what I took to be the charge (and the reason I wanted to read the book): they were supposed to be hopeful.

Review this book and/or Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *