This post originally appeared on 80 Books Blog!
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
For many Americans, imagining a bright future has always been an act of resistance. A People’s Future of the United States presents twenty-five never-before-published stories by a diverse group of writers, featuring voices both new and well-established. These stories imagine their characters fighting everything from government surveillance, to corporate cities, to climate change disasters, to nuclear wars. But fear not: A People’s Future also invites readers into visionary futures in which the country is shaped by justice, equity, and joy.
Edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, this collection features a glittering landscape of moving, visionary stories written from the perspective of people of color, indigenous writers, women, queer & trans people, Muslims and other people whose lives are often at risk.
Contributors include: Violet Allen, Charlie Jane Anders, Ashok K. Banker, Tobias S. Buckell, Tananarive Due, Omar El Akkad, Jamie Ford, Maria Dahvana Headley, Hugh Howey, Lizz Huerta, Justina Ireland, N. K. Jemisin, Alice Sola Kim, Seanan McGuire, Sam J. Miller, Daniel José Older, Malka Older, Gabby Rivera, A. Merc Rustad, Kai Cheng Thom, Catherynne M. Valente, Daniel H. Wilson, G. Willow Wilson, and Charles Yu.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I loved this collection of 25 future stories! I have never felt so strongly about an anthology in my life. The theme is the future of the United States, based on Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States, so readers are immediately looking into the lives of marginalized people in the future of the U.S. It’s a masterwork of different perspectives, writing styles, and storytelling. LaValle’s introduction really sets up the scene for the rest of the book. How do you tell marginalized stories when the pervasive narrative right now is “Make America Great Again”? The stories felt that they were ripped straight from the headlines covering a wide range of current problems both regarding social justice and also climate.
Take for instance, “A History of Barbed Wire” by Daniel H. Wilson that imagines a world where the Cherokee people have created a community behind a wall and people are trying to get across because outside of the wall has been destroyed by climate change. Or in the story, “Rome” by G. Willow Wilson, where a group of students show up for their final exam, but have to take the test while fires rage outside of the building. The fires are not being fought by firemen because of lack of funding, and the fires are caused by climate change.
Other stories delve into climate change further, where the sun is put on trial in “The Sun in Exile” by Cathrynne M. Valente, or “The Bookstore at the End of America” by Charlie Jane Anders, where two warring factions of the U.S. fight over water supply, but a bookstore is the neutral ground for people to come. In “It Was Saturday Night, and I Guess that Makes It All Right” by Sam J. Miller, a gay man working for the government (one of the only jobs still available) to install tracking devices in areas that have been hurt by bad weather patterns.
Many of the stories felt that they were too real. Like “Our Aim is Not to Die” by A. Merc Rustad where everyone must be an ideal citizen and check in on social media or else the government will silence you, but it’s hard for the protagonist, who is a non-binary person to exist in this space. “What Maya Found There” by Daniel Jose Older, where a scientist returns to a friends place to get her notes, but the government tries to capture her. Or in “Riverbed” by Omar El Akkad, describing the aftermath of Muslim internment in the future U.S. Further, in “The Referendum” by Lesley Nneka Arimah, in a near future U.S. where gun laws have been reversed, a current referendum to reverse the 13th amendment is being debated, but the protagonist is part of the black resistance. Another story related to resistance, in “Calendar Girls” by Justina Ireland, a girl sells contraceptives on the street to make money when they are outlawed, but she gets recruited by an underground resistance group.
Moreover, stories such as “By His Bootstraps” by Ashok K. Banker are a bit more fantastical, but still have elements of truth, in this story the President orders a science experiment to take place to make America great (aka “white”), but it instead backfires and changes history so there are no white people, guns, or gender conformity. In “What You Sow” by Kai Cheng Thom, celestial beings with both breasts and penises (in addition to scales and wings), are able to help reduce symptoms of a sleeping sickness, but are feared for their abilities. And in the story “0.1” by Gabby Rivera, where the first baby born after a plague is created by non-binary parents.
There are plenty of stories in this anthology that don’t fit into neat categories, such as one of my favorites, N. K. Jemisin’s “Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death,” in which the future has dragons and the underground resistance has figured out a way to feed them with traditionally black foods, like collard greens and corn bread. Alice Sola Kim also had an interesting and fascinating take on the Me Too movement, where her story has the revolving plot point of the shitty media men list, and the main character is forced to relive the same week over and over again. Excellent story about immortality, a time loop, and relevant to today’s conversations.
There was so much packed into this book that I know I am not giving all the stories enough justice. I just wish that I could talk about each one because they all brought so much truth to the world. I know that this period of time and this presidency is terrifying, but seeing it in these imagined futures was startling and powerful. Well done all around, and I recommend this to everyone to read.
Just a quick disclaimer, I hope that I described every character accurately with regard to their identity, but if you find that I have made an error, please let me know so I can correct it.