Saturday, August 15, 2015

‘Accessing the Future,’ disability-themed SF

Book cover, Accessing the Future edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad. Image depicts a brown-skinned, brown-haired woman in a space suit floating weightless in space above a blue and white planet.
As a library professional, it matters to me that resources in the collection validate the experiences and reflect the diversity that exists among its readership. Science fiction, like other genres of storytelling, needs to advance this aim.

For this reason, Accessing the Future (, 2015), is a vitally important addition to the diverse library collection. Edited by Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad, Accessing the Future explores issues of disability, accommodation and accessibility through speculative fiction and art. Its contributors provide unique and valuable perspectives in which characters with disabilities navigate future societies.

Some of the stories seem a logical extension of concepts discussed today. A headline in my newsfeed introduced the notion of “complicated grief,” or “persistent complex bereavement.” As I understand it, persistent grief beyond six months may be viewed as disruptive or abnormal, based upon when and how “most people” cope in response to a loved one’s death.

A few days earlier I’d read “Better to Have Loved” by Kate O’Connor, which depicted a society in which the “expected” response to death was to simply take a pill, along with prescribed steps that include immediately disposing of all of the loved one’s possessions. The story focuses upon a recently-widowed woman as society pressures her to follow the dictated course of action in response to her wife’s death.

It seemed plausible that a society that medicalized “persistent” grief, might evolve to expect that grieving be done away with entirely.

Likewise the concept of “invisible” disabilities not always being accepted or validated — in my experience, because society demands “proof,” and only from an authoritative source.

What would happen if people’s neurological conditions were constantly displayed on “Screens” as writer Samantha Rich postulates? Suddenly, the “invisible” would become visible, and inescapably so. Would it eliminate barriers or prejudice or would it eliminate our privacy?

One of the most fascinating concepts in this book is “intersectionality,” the idea that a person who encounters barriers in one aspect of life may simultaneously enjoy privileges derived from being a member of the “dominant” race, social class or sexual orientation.

In “Pirate Songs” by Nicolette Barischoff, the ease with which a young woman has access to assistive technology seems directly related to her privileged place in society. Suddenly she finds herself in the company of people who exist on the fringes of society, where access to this technology — and even to daily sustenance — cannot be taken for granted.

Considered altogether, Accessing the Future contributes to an important dialogue, one in which people with disabilities occupy the place of honor.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinion expressed is my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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