Jeffrey Ford is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl in the Glass, and The Shadow Year, and his short fiction has been published in four collections: The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace. He has won the World Fantasy Award, the Nebula Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Gran Prix de l’Imaginare. Formerly a college teacher in New Jersey, Jeff now lives in Ohio with his wife and two sons, and writes full-time. You can learn more about his work at www.well-builtcity.com.
SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with several authors involved in the new anthology, After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and featuring stories asking: If the melt-down, flood, plague, the third World War, new Ice Age, Rapture, alien invasion, clamp-down, meteor, or something else entirely hit today, what would tomorrow look like? Some of the biggest names in YA and adult literature answer that very question in this short story anthology, each story exploring the lives of teen protagonists raised in catastrophe’s wake—whether set in the days after the change, or decades far in the future.
CHARLES TAN: How would you define Dyslit or what are its essential characteristics?
JEFFREY FORD: Dystopias germinate from some deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. In some ways they’re like desert island stories, because often the protagonist is castaway in a society she has essential, fundamental differences with. Conflict ensues. There’s survival in a harsh environment and a certain loneliness, even though there are occasionally compatriots. Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s oneself against the world, whether the character is out to restore the past or change the future. It also strikes me that as much as they might seem prophetic in hindsight, effective dystopias are always about the time they are written in. I always see people writing that Orwell’s 1984 was a warning to the future. The hell with the future, he was writing about the moment, using another place and time ( a fantasy — like most utopias) to discuss the here and now. It just so happens he picked a theme that continues to resonate — the manipulation of information as a tool of power for creating or maintaining a hierarchy. The politics of class, race, gender figure prominently in dystopias. Absurdity is the humor of this form. Dystopias offer the prospect of new beginnings.
CT: What’s the appeal of Dyslit for you? Why is it important, especially for YA readers?
JF: Dyslit per say doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, but there are individual stories or books found under that heading that I like. It all depends on the characters and the story and the way it’s told. As for the importance of Dyslit for YA readers, let’s hope it gives them a healthy disrespect for the abuses of power and a literature of adventure and absurdity.
CT: As someone not from the US, “Blood Drive” to me seems like a combination of two stereotypes about US high schools. What made you combine the elements of gun shootings with high school drama?
JF: The story came about as a result of a conversation I was having with a class I was teaching. Every week they had to bring in a controversial current event, either an article from a newspaper or something printed off one of the online news sites. We’d spend the first 20 minutes of a 3 hour class b.s.ing about the news of the day. One day a student brought in an article about how there was legislation submitted to the Houses of both Texas and Arizona to allow college students to carry guns on campus. That class I was teaching was at a community college. We discussed what it might be like if everyone at the school was packing heat. Then the discussion came down to, “What if someone in that class at that moment drew a gun and everybody was armed? What would the upshot be?” As one kid put it, “Not everybody’s gonna be a great shot.” A Spaghetti Western sensibility pervaded the conversation after that.
CT: What were the challenges in writing “Blood Drive”?
JF: I don’t recall any specific difficulties with it. It was one of those rare stories that almost writes itself. Writing it was a good time.
Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, and Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009. His fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Philippine Speculative Fiction and the anthology The Dragon and the Stars (ed. by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi).