Imagine a plague that ravages the world and impairs the ability of humans to communicate with one another. What kind of society would we have? Who would take power and how would they hold it? What would the world be like for the powerless? How would children adapt and survive? In “Speech Sounds,” Octavia E. Butler invites us to consider these questions – and helps us look for rays of hope in even the bleakest of landscapes.
Octavia Butler (1947-2006), the daughter of a shoeshine man and a housemaid, went from a poor but proud childhood to becoming “the grand dame of science fiction.” Known for her physically and mentally tough black heroines, her work combines the dynamism of invented worlds with astute observations of race, gender, sexuality, and power.
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“Backbay Lounge” and “Magistar” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Special guest Carolyn Cohagan, author of the Time Zero trilogy and founder of the creative writing workshop Girls with Pens, joins Jacke for a discussion of her writing process, her origins in standup comedy and theater, and her early love for the fiction of Ray Bradbury (and her special appreciation for his short story “All Summer in a Day”).
Support the show at patreon.com/literature. Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to email@example.com.
“The year was 2081,” the story begins, “and everyone was finally equal.” In this episode of the History of Literature, Jacke and Mike take a look at Kurt Vonnegut’s classic short story, “Harrison Bergeron.” In this 1961 story, Vonnegut imagines a world of the perfectly average, where no one is allowed to be too great – until a hero named Harrison Bergeron comes along. Along the way, we discuss Vonnegut’s life and works, what we think the story means, and Mike’s own attempt to limit himself in order to better function in society. SPOILER ALERT: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS! This episode is completely self-contained. We read the short story, so there’s no need to run out and read it on your own first (unless you want to).
Okay, we’ll start with the one I like the most. Ray Bradbury, sci-fi legend, just looking like a classic fifties dad. Full of warmth, full of mirth.
Fast forward a couple of decades. The hair’s longer, the face a little older. But it’s still the same laugh. You get the sense he laughed like this many times in his life – always the same, always the same.
There’s something steady about this, right? Something reassuring. Maybe even something a little bland – as if he reached his limits as a laugher and could go no further. But that’s okay! He’s a successful author now! Why wouldn’t he be somewhat guarded? Be happy, be polite, give a nice chuckle, with a genuine twinkle in the eye. It’s enough! He’s giving all he can!
Wow. We all have it in us, people! Let it out sometimes!
Image Credits: Fantastical Andrew Fox; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images (ht today.com); Kimberly Butler
“This was a great little piece of political fiction…Wilson shows his writing chops – immersing us in a political world that doesn’t feel jargony, over-the-top, or formulaic.” – Nic Eaton, Radical Science Fiction
I was both pleased and intrigued when Nic over at Radical Science Fiction graciously offered to review my book The Race. Because although The Race is not science fiction, I’d like to think it shares a common set of themes with works in that genre.
Setting aside the horse race of an election, or the debates about this or that issue, what happens to the people involved? What’s universal about politics and politicians? What does a political campaign do to the people around it? What do a campaign and the politicians we elect (or not) say about our society? Or democracy? Or us?
Questions like these are why shows like Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica are so compelling. It’s not the space aliens or special effects (cool as they may be). It’s the investigation into the human condition.
This isn’t a new idea of course. I only point it out to show why it was unsurprising that Nic, a fan of that genre, zoomed straight to the heart of what I was trying to get at.
I was under the impression that I could walk into any news stand in New York and find a slew of oddly titled publications—something about ferrets or specially-authorized Bavarian buses—something effortlessly niche. But digging through piles of magazines in some of the city’s most well-equipped magazine purveyors, I mostly came across high art-ish titles that seemed too keenly aware of their presence in print.
Internet to the rescue! What I found most interesting, apart from the fact that there are human beings dedicated to putting out these things in print, is that each publication has sought (and found!) a different market, whether through a laser-like focus on a particular animal (Donkey Talk) or hobby (Miniature Railways), or by meeting the needs of individuals dealing with a distinct emotion (Grief Digest).
We’ve seen this in the literary world with our small press shout-outs, which appear to do best when they develop their own brand (like Kaya Press). Indie authors, too, can thrive by developing their own brand.
And is it too much for my dream bookstore owners to incorporate a selection of specialty magazines in their displays? I know they likely won’t sell many copies, but I can’t be alone in wanting to leaf through some of these, every now and then.