Nisi Shawl brought her Retro-Afrofuturist Steampunk novel set in the Belgian Congo to Austin’s own Malvern Books last Friday night and it was fantastic! Every copy of Everfair was snapped up, and it was standing room only for Nisi’s engaging reading. She even got us to sing a bit. If you don’t believe me you can see it for yourself.
After the reading she sat down with Fantastical Fictions host, Christopher Brown, to discuss how this book came about. It all started when she was asked to be on a panel about steampunk, a sub genre she didn’t particularly enjoy. Instead of saying no, she asked herself, why do I hate steampunk? Her answer was because it supported colonialism. Then she thought, it doesn’t have to be this way and set out to write a steampunk utopia set in King Leopold II’s Congo. Now that’s the kind of bravery that generates great writing. Instead of saying no thank you to a discussion about a subgenre she disliked, she interrogated her own opinions and came up with something completely original.
Exploring other worlds, other voices and visions of reality is the heart of speculative fiction. Exploration is exhilarating and dangerous and sometimes frightening. Exploration inevitably leads to contact and raises questions about how we treat the Other, how we see the Other, and, of course, how we see ourselves. Brave writing requires brave readers who must be willing to question their own opinions and biases. For both readers and writers who can do this, the rewards are great.
When Brown asked her why a utopia (they both agreed, and I do too, that utopias are much more difficult to write than dystopias)? Shawl dropped some real wisdom:
“The world that we live in is based, in part, on the world we think we live in, and so if I can change how people think about the world — If I can change the world they think they live in, then they can take it to the next step.”
You can read a more about the book and Shawl process in her essay, Representing My Equals.
In other news, if you’re looking for something to do this Thursday, I’ll be among some great local writers opining about one of my favorite topics: the current state of speculative fiction!
Join the Writers’ League of Texas on BookPeople‘s third floor at 7:00 p.m. for this conversation with four science fiction/fantasy writers: P.J. Hoover, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Adam Soto, and Rebecca Schwarz.
“We’ve all heard the statement, “It’s like something out of science fiction.” Changes in politics and technology often seem to resemble the invented worlds of writers like Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin. But those novelists’ most famous books were written more than 40 years ago. What stories is this prescient genre creating today? What worlds do writers invent when reality seems so fantastic?”