Nerd of the Week
Meet Brooke, a Speculative Fiction Nerd
Interview by Terra Olsen
You’re a nerd for speculative fiction. Can you explain to our readers what exactly is speculative fiction and how it inspires the nerd in you?
It’s a pretty contentious term, speculative fiction. I like it because it encompasses a broad range of storytelling modes, but that breadth is also a downside. Other similar (but distinct) terms that often get lumped together with spec-fic: fabulism, fantastic fiction, science fiction and fantasy (SF&F), and magical realism. There are offshoot subcategories and umbrella terms, some of which (like pulp and cyperpunk) have been around for years; others of which (like Bizarro, mythpunk, liminal or interstitial fiction, and the New Weird) have only recently come into vogue. I prefer a definition rooted in the devices typically used by a given form, which is what “speculative” tries to do: it foregrounds that this is the literature of speculation, writing that extrapolates a given observed phenomenon into some imagined future. Most speculative fiction speculates on either 1) a possible future (where it looks more like SF) and/or 2) possible new ways of seeing and interpreting the world (and this flavor looks more like fantasy).
How did you discover speculative fiction?
Like many kids, I devoured children’s literature when I was little, and most of the devices of spec-fic can be found in those classics: Alice in Wonderland, the Oz books, the Black Cauldron series, The Dark Is Rising. I mostly stopped reading speculative fiction in college, partly because it was viewed as “unserious” by the academy and I knew I wanted to pursue academia, but also because I’d become frustrated by the strong undercurrent of unconscious misogyny in too many of the SF/fantasy novels I read. For a long time I mostly read memoir, but I never stopped loving spec-fic. During that time, the genre broadened enormously. Feminist spec-fic writers of the ‘70s like Ursula LeGuin and Joanna Russ opened the door, but in the past decade or so a whole generation of young feminist writers have walked through it: Cat Valente, Kat Howard, Theodora Goss, Karen Joy Fowler, Kelly Link, etc. Suddenly there were slews of authors whose work I was excited to read.
How has speculative fiction impacted your life?
In 2011 I was admitted into a speculative-fiction writing boot camp called Clarion, out in California. I got to work with several of my idols (John Kessel, Kij Johnson) and also met my boyfriend (a fellow writer) James, who also nerds out on this stuff. After that I got much more serious about reading widely in the genre, writing daily, and submitting work for publication. To date I’ve had six stories picked up by speculative fiction venues. It’s pretty quickly gone from being a much-beloved secret hobby to the thing I care most about in the world. I’ve also gotten a bit braver about openly stating the things I love and damn the torpedoes.
Where do you want to take your passion for speculative fiction in the future?
Well, both creative writing and academia are difficult career tracks (not news, I know), and anything resembling genre fiction gets a pretty bad rap in academic circles. In my dream world where everything is perfect and kittens with butterfly wings rain from the sky, I’d find a way to bring elements of speculative fiction into my nonfiction work. Then I’d come up with an intellectual framework justifying why scholars ought to reconsider their knee-jerk rejection of speculative fiction. Then someone would give a job that let me write and teach this stuff. Then I’d cure cancer and end world hunger.
What advice would you give to others interested in exploring speculative fiction?
And here’s the link to Clarion, which has a phenomenal instructor lineup this year.
If you’re interested in mythpunk and/or feminist spec-fic authors specifically, I’d recommend
Catherynne Valente, Nnedi Okorafor, and Karin Tidbeck to start (though there are dozens more I could include).
Also, there’s a vibrant fan community associated with speculative fiction. Many authors blog and interact with fans through that medium (heavy-hitters include John Scalzi’s Whatever and Cat Valente’s Rules for Anchorites), and the large presence of spec-fic authors on Twitter means fans can witness (and often participate in) incisive conversations about the future of the form. There’s also the convention scene: I attended the World Science Fiction convention in Chicago last year and had a splendid time. This year’s WorldCon will be held in San Antonio.
Favorite piece of speculative fiction?
My usual answer is Watership Down, but I’ve been reading more short stories than novels this past year, and also everyone’s heard of Watership Down; I’d rather promote something you might not have heard of. So, my favorite short story at this precise second is Helena Bell’s “Variations on Bluebeard and Dalton’s Law along the Event Horizon” (http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/bell_01_13/). It’s spec-fic (and I’d argue it’s subgenre: mythpunk), a retelling of Bluebeard that reduces it to its structural bones, which are made visible against a backdrop of scientific speculation. I just adore Bell’s work.
Brooke Wonders writes speculative fiction that thinks it’s true and memoir that thinks it’s fabulism. Her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Daily Science Fiction and Brevity: A Journal of Concise Nonfiction, and she blogs at girlwonders.com.
Do you know a self-proclaimed nerd we should interview? If so, please contact Terra at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about them.