Ever since its founding, America has been a nation focused on the future, one of the world’s primary founts of innovation. Much of that innovation would never have come into being without the inspiration provided by science fiction.
The engineers who sent our astronauts to the moon and back, the scientists who manipulated the stuff of life to create the Green Revolution that has helped to feed billions around the globe, and the visionaries who are bringing us artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and autonomous vehicles – all were inspired to dream their dreams by their exposure to the dreams of the future provided by science fiction. Apart from fueling our dreams and aspirations, science fiction has also mapped the landscapes of our nightmares, providing maps of future wastelands and totalitarian milieus we must strive to avoid bringing into being.
Science fiction’s strength has always been its practitioners’ flexibility of thought. The genre has traditionally provided its creators virtually limitless freedom to extrapolate trends to sometimes ludicrous or horrifying lengths, and to imagine the social, environmental, and psychological changes that might come about when what is impossible today becomes tomorrow’s reality.
Yet science fiction and the indispensable freedom it provides to thinkers to “stress test” the future face an existential threat. Today’s Progressive ideologies of intersectionality and “wokeness,” with their accompanying prohibition against the “sin” of cultural appropriation, have done much to smother the freedom of thought and expression science fiction requires to thrive.
I believe one of the best ways to know a culture is to learn what it fears, hates, and forbids.
More than half a century ago, the New Wave group of young science fiction writers set out to remake science fiction in the image of the iconoclasm of the 1960s. One of the leaders of the American contingent of the New Wave, Harlan Ellison, published two ground-breaking anthologies of original stories. The titles of these anthologies sounded much like “Hazardous Imaginings” (trademark issues constrain me from mentioning their titles in this context).
Ellison sought submissions that couldn’t be printed in the science fiction magazines or anthologies of the day. He asked for taboo-shattering stories. And he got them! The 32 stories included tales that explored the ramifications of incest, homosexuality, bisexuality, cross-species sex, women’s liberation, sadism, graphic violence, blasphemies against widely held religious beliefs, an all-pervasive welfare state, the moral limitations of capitalism, and the pervasiveness of bigotry. Some of science fiction’s most illustrious writers submitted pieces, including Ray Bradbury, Damon Knight, Philip K. Dick, and Theodore Sturgeon, and several phenomenally talented newcomers, including Samuel Delany and Gene Wolfe, started their science fiction careers with their submissions to the two anthologies.
These two anthologies reflected rapidly changing artistic, cultural, and social mores in the U.S. and the Western world. Yet in the five decades since their publication, what was once taboo-breaking has become the common mental furniture of the science fiction field and much of the rest of the arts. What was once shunned by mainstream society is now celebrated by the mainstream, and those traditionalists who continue to express their disapproval are often castigated as bigots.
But this does not mean that new social prohibitions have not risen to take the place of old ones. What are TODAY’S taboos? What kinds of science fiction stories are verboten in today’s commercial publishing market? What sorts of tales meet with near-universal rejection in editorial offices, whether due to editors’ preconceptions, editors’ expectations of readers’ hazard zones, or the prohibitions laid down by the Profit and Loss committees employed as editorial commissars by all major publishing firms? How can these modern-day taboos be illuminated and explored using the unique extrapolative tools of science fiction?
These are the questions that HAZARDOUS IMAGININGS will seek to answer.
I’m Andrew Fox. I’m the author of the award-winning comic-horror novel, Fat White Vampire Blues (2003), and its sequel, Bride of the Fat White Vampire (2004). My third novel, The Good Humor Man, or, Calorie 3501 (2009), was selected by Booklist Magazine as one of the Ten Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels of the Year. I’m also a member of SIGMA, the science fiction think tank. I learned how to edit a story from being a part of George Alec Effinger’s writing workshop for fourteen years. My day job involves managing acquisitions of information systems for a large law enforcement agency.
Why do I want to get this anthology done? I love science fiction. I have loved the genre in all its forms since before I learned to read. I grew up on a steady diet of Robert Silverberg, Ursula K. Le Guin, Gene Wolfe, Vonda McIntyre, Anne McCaffrey, Barry N. Malzberg, and Harlan Ellison. Our society’s present-day drift towards censorship worries me enormously. This is not censorship by the government. Rather, it is the de-platforming of unpopular ideas by media companies, commercial publishing, and internet content/social media providers. It is the encouragement of self-censorship by shaming mobs who take advantage of the new communication platforms, hoping to bully writers and creators into conforming to the mobs’ political and social notions by inciting fears of ostracism that will demolish any hope writers may have of remaining commercially viable in their chosen field.
Science fiction is often called “speculative fiction.” Speculation and extrapolation – asking what if? and why? or how? – is the life’s blood of science fiction. Science fiction writers can’t wrap themselves in yellow CAUTION tape. They need to be free to follow their what ifs? wherever those speculative rabbit-holes may lead… even if they lead to dark, dank, unpleasant places.
How many readers in Mary Shelley’s day wanted to read a tale in which Man abrogated the creative power of God? The existence of such a tale was a scandal in some quarters.
How many readers in H. G. Wells’s day wanted to read a tale in which the center of the world-spanning British Empire was itself colonized by invaders from another planet? The existence of such a tale was a scandal in some quarters.
How many readers in Philip Jose Farmer’s day wanted to read a collection of tales in which human beings engaged in sexual relations, not merely with persons of a different race or religion, but with members of bizarre alien species that had evolved light years distant from Earth? The existence of such tales was a scandal in some quarters.
How many readers during the glory days of the Apollo Program wanted to read a tale by Barry N. Malzberg that predicted bureaucratic dysfunction and its associated pathologies would cripple the U.S. manned space program (and drive astronauts insane)? The existence of such tales was a scandal in some quarters.
Yet each of these authors and their scandalous tales opened spaces for new viewpoints and fresh ways of thinking, pushing the great centuries-spanning conversation at the heart of science fiction forward.
I’ve lined up some contributors whose names are widely recognized in the science fiction field, including some who contributed or tried contributing to the original taboo-busting anthologies of a half-century ago.
Primarily, however, I’m looking for talented beginners – writers who stand at the start of their careers, or those whose work shows genuine literary skill but who have had a difficult time breaking into the shrinking and commercially conservative field of mainstream publishing. I’m also eager to feature strong work from those who have suffered “one-book-and-you’re-out” syndrome (those who’ve managed to get one book in print through a traditional publisher, but whose first-and-only book did not meet expectations, and therefore found themselves unable to follow up, since publishers no longer bother with gradually building up an author and his/her audience over time).
I intend to pay a professional rate, $.06 per word, for approximately 60,000 words of original fiction. To accommodate payments to contributors, book production costs, and fees paid to Freedomfy, I aim to raise $4,000.00.
Should I exceed that amount, I will increase the maximum size of the collection accordingly, accepting more story submissions. Each additional $500.00 raised allows me to pay for an additional 8,000 words, which could be two 4,000-word stories added or an additional 6,000-word story and a 2,000-word short-short. Any funds raised beyond $6,000.00 will be put towards the publication of a second volume (which’ll be titled AGAIN, HAZARDOUS IMAGININGS: MORE POLITICALLY INCORRECT SCIENCE FICTION – what else?).
Assuming I hit my mark, or close to it, I will issue a call for submissions. This will appear here on the Freedomfy site, on my personal blog site (https://fantasticalandrewfox.com), on the MonstraCity Press site (https://monstracitypress.com), and will be shared with the popular online compilations of open fiction markets. Here are my provisional guidelines:
● Stories can be up to 7,000 words, maximum.
● Stories cannot have been previously published (this is an ORIGINAL anthology).
● No simultaneous submissions (I don’t want to get all hot-and-bothered about your wonderful story, only to learn it’s been sold to Clarkesworld Magazine).
● I intend for this anthology to serve as a cultural snapshot in time. (I think the culture can benefit from a new dose of HAZARDOUS IMAGININGS every half-century or so.) With this in mind, shoot for the stars – submit your very best work, work you are proud of.
● I am looking for stories that, due to their content, viewpoint, and/or subject matter, have little or no chance of being published in the commercial market. Virtually none of the stories published five decades ago in either of Ellison’s ground-breaking anthologies would be considered shocking or disturbing to most of the readership today. Yesterday’s transgressions are today’s cultural virtues and/or commonplaces. What are TODAY’S taboos? How can they be illuminated and intelligently probed using the unique extrapolative tools of science fiction?
● No troll submissions! I am looking for stories of high literary merit. No stories that merely (or primarily) seek to shock, insult, or provoke will be accepted. The subject matter may be outrageous by the standards of today’s marketplace. But keep in mind, the more outrageous or disturbing the material, the more incisively it needs to be explored using the cognitive tools of science fiction. Your story may be humorous or satirical; the subject matter may greatly benefit from that approach. But your goals should be to induce your readers to care about your characters, their conflicts, and their predicaments, to leave your readers with something memorable to think about, and, last but not least, to entertain.
● Use of a pseudonym is acceptable. You have my word that I will not reveal your true identity if you do not wish it to be revealed, and I will be happy to disguise your PII (Personally Identifiable Information) in any story introductions.
● Please be aware that making a financial contribution to my Freedomfy campaign will not factor into my story selection decisions, if you intend to contribute both money and a story submission. Each story will be considered on its own merits.
I believe in this project. I think it is an important thing to do – important for science fiction, which I love, and important for the continued health of the free-speech culture we enjoy in the United States.
I believe in this project strongly enough that I’m willing to put my own money where my mouth (or touch typing) is. If I don’t reach my $4,000.00 goal through Freedomfy, HAZARDOUS IMAGININGS will still be published through MonstraCity Press. I’ll have to reduce the word rate I can offer, unfortunately, and I’ll probably have to limit the amount of fiction I’ll be able to pay for. But I can promise that HAZARDOUS IMAGININGS will see the light of day, regardless. If a lack of funds limits my ability to pay for original fiction, I will fill in the gaps with my own fiction contributions.
Science fiction will always make room, make room (h/t: Harry Harrison) for contrarians, for heretics, for the unfashionable and unpopular, for the ugly, for outcasts, for stubborn failures who won’t say die, for dreamers at the fringe. Without them, the centuries-long conversation at the heart of science fiction – Idea A being built upon by Idea B being refuted by Idea C that is then modified by Idea D – becomes a sterile echo chamber.
And should that happen, science fiction – written science fiction, the fecund seed from which all other modes of science fiction sprout – will ultimately suffer the sad fate of poetry. Like poetry, it will decline from a mass medium, one which once spoke to the minds and hearts of large audiences, to a withered stump, of interest only to a shrunken circle of its writers and practitioners and a few academics. Science fiction will then become an inward-looking, incestuous community, characterized by log-rolling, desperate status-seeking, ideological nepotism, obscurantism, and futility.
In this era of accelerating technological change and resultant social change, we need a healthy, vigorous, daring and courageous science fiction more than ever — a science fiction unhampered by self-censorship. To point out the possible perils up ahead. To point out future opportunities most of us may never otherwise have imagined. To get us to examine our thinking, to revisit our assumptions, to rearrange our mental furniture. To enable us to meet the onrushing future, not blindly, not with an anticipatory cringe or defensive cower, but with our eyes wide open… braced for the worst, but filled with reasoned hope for much, much better to come.
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