I fear some speculative fiction writers have lost faith in their work. When history is being written, your work can feel unimportant.
But your work redeems itself.
I have always felt an impulse to justify speculative fiction. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, speculative fiction was not the sexy juggernaut that it is now. We take the way the internet unites us for granted. There was no social media displaying people in cosplay. It was easy to feel isolated.
I had the feeling that my love of speculative fiction was not just a luxurious pastime, but a waste of time. The word “real” got thrown around a lot. As in: I only read about things that are real, or Your aliens and spaceships have nothing to do with reality.
So when I talked politics, I never talked spec-fic. I just talked about history, news, and philosophy. The time I spent reading and watching speculative fiction did not seem justifiable. Honestly, I shared the sentiments of spec-fic’s detractors: Speculative fiction was not to be taken seriously.
This is why I always found myself a bit ashamed of what I read and wrote. I didn’t share my stories as freely as I share them now. I did not want to be seen as silly or childish.
But then, I saw Benny Russell in the middle of the office at Incredible Tales. He was on the cusp of a breakdown.
“You can pulp a story, but you cannot destroy an idea! Don’t you understand, that’s ancient knowledge. You cannot destroy an idea! That future, I created it, and it’s real! Don’t you understand? It is REAL! I created it and IT’S REAL!” (“Far Beyond The Stars.” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, season 6, episode 13, Paramount, 11Feb. 1998. Netflix.)
Benny had a vision of a future where a Black man, just like him, is the Captain of a space station called Deep Space Nine. The publisher tells him that his story will not run because no one will believe in a Black captain.
In the pilot for the original Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry was told that his first officer could not be a woman. No one would believe that a woman would be left in charge of a ship. Thirty years later, Eileen Collins commanded NASA’s Columbia space shuttle.
Writers of speculative fiction have always imagined better worlds. Even when they had to challenge their own ideas about what could be. Asimov’s Susan Calvin was not only a sought-after robopsychologist but the leading authority in her field. Her character was introduced in 1940 when women were not even hired to work factory jobs, and their college degrees were seen, primarily, as ornamental.
This is where speculative fiction redeems itself. It imagines, plays, and alters the reality in which we live.
In these times, this type of dreaming is necessary work.
We need to recognize the reality that we live in is composed of dreams. We should spend time composing the biography of that future. Trust. It helps with the hopelessness.
In the last year, I have become convinced that the police force, as we know it, is an artifact of a past devoted to protecting the rich and the oppression of all others. I think we should abolish the police force. My son was the first to talk to me about abolition, and like so many others, I dismissed it as extreme and irresponsible. The murder of LaQuan McDonald changed my mind.
After spending a lot of time in arguments and exhibiting facts and plans, I came to a realization. Part of the reason that we have such a hard time envisioning a world without police officers is that the police force has been part of the story about civilization. Police officers are often the heroes of those stories. They exist in the near and far future. Caves of Steel, Minority Report, or Almost Human are all stories about the future where the Police are here to save us. The policing is very familiar to what we have today. The best cops are the ones that circumvent the rules and do what they have to do to catch the bad guy. Even our superhero stories are built upon the assumption that the police force is not as effective as it could be because they do not “punch hard enough.” Crooked cops are the exception and sometimes the best cops. The story is being written this way when the reality, for so many people around the world, is that the police force is the foot on the neck of the oppressed.
But what if we told a different story about law enforcement?
It is easy.
We imagined rockets to the moon. And we made it to the moon. We wrote stories about automatic cars. Now cars can drive themselves. Artificial Intelligence, cell phones, smart watches, video calls, flying suits, and airplanes were all made from the ether of imagination and sparked a reality. Why not peace officers?
Recently, I started to write a story about a crime. The hero of my story is a cop. They are not a conventional cop. This protagonist is my vision of what a functional and helpful peace officer looks like. I got rid of all the cliches we rely on when we think about these stories. I am reimagining the weapons, transportation, structure, and even the uniform the officer wears. This will be a tense story. There will be serious danger. The peace officer will triumph. The community will be protected. I am dreaming reality.
This is why speculative fiction is not a waste of time. Speculative fiction is a prime forum for reimagining our future. Science fiction can make the world we want to live in. All we have to do is imagine it, write it, get people to read our ideas.
After his breakdown, Benny is being taken away in an ambulance. There is a preacher in the back of the ambulance with him. Looking at Benny as if he were a treasure, he says,
“You are the dreamer and the dream.”
So are we.
As I sit in front of my computer, a fully literate descendant of enslaved Africans, an educated Black man who has made his dreams his work, a man who has the privilege of time to write these words down, I realize that I am my ancestors’ wildest dream. And yet, none of this is enough. I am aware that I am still not free. I see that others are not free. There are still realities to be synthesized.
So I sit, and I begin the way all revolutions have begun.
I am the dreamer. I write the future.
Aurelius Raines II writes and lives in Chicago with his wife, Pam, and his two sons. He likes to write about things that aren’t happening, in hopes that they will… or won’t. His short stories and essays have been included in the anthologies Dead Inside: Poetry and Essays about Zombies, Black Power: A Superhero Anthology as well as Apparition Literary Magazine, Fiyah Magazine and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler, which was the winner of the Locus Award in Non-FIction. In his spare time, he teaches Physics to high-schoolers by showing them how to use science to survive the end of civilization.