I supported this anthology through its IndieGogo campaign, because I support the idea of diverse voices in literature. I hope for the day where we can just have anthologies of science fiction that contain both able-bodied and disable-bodied characters throughout where the point is the character and their actions (this applies to gender, sexuality, colour, all the many ways in which people are diverse) but given that this is not yet that day, it’s great to see anthologies like this (and Twelfth Planet’s forthcoming Defying Doomsday) making the point that having spina bifida or being blind or autistic doesn’t prevent people from being, y’know, people. And therefore existing in the future.
Well, probably. One of the interesting questions raised in a few of these stories, and indeed by people in lots of contexts, is whether/how disability will exist in the future. Pregnant friends remind me of the testing that’s done to see whether the foetus is ‘normal’; there are implants and prosthetics… and many able-bodied/ perceived ‘normal’ people would see that doing away with disability (generally in the ‘fixing’ sense but I guess more sinisterly in the ‘getting rid of’ sense) is surely a good thing? Because ‘normal’. I’m not familiar with all the discussion around this, because I don’t inherently need to be, but I know that it’s an arena that needs to be seriously discussed. I think anthologies like this help to do that.
The stories here present people dealing with different sorts of disabilities – some physical, others mental, or emotional – and with different sorts of reactions: uncaring, wanting to ‘fix’, accepting. There are very different worlds, different points in the future, and different ways of dealing with the problems before the protagonists. In most cases the protag’s disability isn’t the point; it’s part of their character, of course, and sometimes it hinders them in their negotiating with the world, but there’s no fixation on the disability itself.
The very first story, by Nicolette Barischoff, sets this tone. Her main character has spina bifida; she’s deprived of her wheelchair amongst people who really don’t care. Margo gets on with dealing with this, because the situation she’s in is far more precarious than her lack of mobility. And, frankly, half the time she’s more handicapped by a bad attitude than missing spine (I liked this about her).
Samantha Rich’s story “Screens” is deeply disturbing – the idea of screens that show your biometrics, like depression or anxiety or pain or pleasure is horrifying, to me. And setting this in a school, where kids can use that information against each other… not nice. The ambivalence of the story, though, is spot on, since the argument from the pro-screen side is that it makes invisible disabilities visible. And I totally get that. Kate O’Connor’s story, “Better to have loved”, about negating grief is likewise horrific and yet understandable.
Another story I greatly enjoyed was AF Sanchez’s “Lyric”, where Lyric is an app that can help users with language – aimed at non-English speakers, it can also help those with language impairments. But that’s just a side issue for this story, written in the ever-creepy second person, which focusses on ‘you’ buying a pet that may, or may not, help with various disorders (sensory processing, language, gross motor skills).
There are other wonderful stories in this anthology; it’s well worth checking out if you’re interested in science fiction short stories. I’m a bit torn about whether to say the disabilities aspect is irrelevant, because on the one hand it is – this is just a good set of stories – but of course the fact that every character has some form of disability is of huge importance for the visibility of our diverse population. I think the anthology accomplishes both things.