Disabling the Future
A review of Accessing the Future (Ed. Kathryn Allan and Djibril Al-Ayad, Future Fire, 2015)
By Derek Newman-Stille
I have to admit that I was hesitant to review Accessing the Future because I wrote the afterward for it and I felt as though it would seem self-serving to review it, but as a disability scholar and a speculative fiction fan who is disabled, I felt that this book needed to be reviewed… well, that and IT IS A REALLY FANTASTIC BOOK. There is nothing so pleasing as finding a collection where every story is appealing. When I read the collection, I kept waiting with worry for the one story that would disappoint me… but it never arrived. I was incredibly pleased that every story in the collection spoke to me, entertained me, and interrogated the notion of disability in a powerful way.
As a disability scholar, I always fear that people will write “inspiration porn”. For those of you who are not in disability scholarship, we use the term “inspiration porn” to refer to media that use disabled people to make able-bodied people feel better, often by talking about how inspirational we disabled people are. This is, of course, infantalising and insulting to disabled people. I was incredibly pleased when none of the stories in Accessing the Future was “inspiration porn”. I should have known that the brilliant Kathryn Allan and Djibril Al-Ayad would make sure that the collection was free of this trope of disability, but it has gotten to the point where when I see disability in any title, I respond with some hesitation, always worried that I am about to be inundated with problematic tropes about disability. Not only does Accessing the Future represent stories that avoid this trope, the collection features stories that actively resist tropes and present disabled characters as complex and complete… as actual people instead of symbols of something that author is trying to represent. And isn’t it about time we are treated as real people instead of someone’s dream about what we should be or what they imagine us to be?
The link between disability and futurity featured right in the title of the collection may not seem as incredibly significant as it is until one thinks about the way disability is generally represented in science fiction – generally absent from it or only represented temporarily until the disability can be “cured” in a marvel of medical science. It is incredibly empowering to read a collection of stories in which disability is presented as HAVING a future, in which we aren’t erased, but are instead fully present in our future and still able to exist in the future of our world.
Accessing the Future does what I believe the best speculative fiction can do – it imagines new possibilities and new ways of exploring our world. Accessing the Future plays with the notion of disability itself and what it means to be disabled and interact with the world through the lens of disability. It opens questions rather than trying to give readers answers and it empowers the reader to think about what disability means and what disability may be like in the future. Allan and Al-Ayad invite us to question what we think we know and, in that process of asking questions about disability, to discover that disability is a slippery, uncertain, changeable idea and that disability, like any identity, is written onto our world. The writers whose stories are featured in Accessing the Future give readers the gift of question, critique, and speculation. These stories are inquiries that are sent out into the world to find new insights and new imaginative possibilities for how we live with disability and how we imagine ourselves into the future.
To find out more about Accessing the Future, visit http://press.futurefire.net/p/accessing-future.html