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[GUEST POST] Hayden Trenholm on Getting Strangers into Bed

Hayden Trenholm is a produced playwright and published author. His short fiction has appeared in On Spec, TransVersions, Tesseracts6, Neo-Opsis, Challenging Destiny, Talebones, Gaslight Grimoire and on CBC radio. His short fiction has been nominated for and won Aurora Awards. His novels include A Circle of Birds, Defining Diana, Steel Whispers, and Stealing Home. He edited the short fiction anthology Blood and Water, which won the Aurora Award in 2013 for Best Related Work. InDecember 2012, Hayden purchased Bundoran Press and became its managing editor. His latest anthology is Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction. Hayden lives with his wife and fellow writer, Elizabeth, in Ottawa where he provides policy advice to the Senator for the Northwest Territories.

Getting Strangers into Bed

by Hayden Trenholm, editor of Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction

Having spent a lifetime as a political activist (starting at age 14 and ranging from backroom organizer to candidate to public policy analyst) and half a lifetime as a science fiction writer, Strange Bedfellows: An Anthology of Political Science Fiction seemed like a natural next step. My first anthology, Blood and Water, was similarly themed around near-future resource conflicts and had met with good critical success – eventually winning the Prix Aurora Award for Canadian SF – so I felt prepared for a bigger stage.

To get to that stage, I needed to pay professional rates and open the anthology beyond Canada’s borders. After a successful Indiegogo campaign I was ready to open for submissions.

One of the big challenges stemmed directly from my own political involvement. I have strong and well-known political views: left-libertarian or a market socialist sums it up. I had no interest in publishing a book of left-wing political rants. The guidelines called for “well-written science fiction stories with strong plots and compelling, if not necessarily sympathetic, characters engaged in arguments with the world.” Most importantly, I affirmed our political neutrality. Any well-written science fiction story – no matter the political point of view – would be in the running.

Meeting that promise would be a challenge. To keep myself, and my pre-reader, Jonathon Olfert, honest, I developed an assessment prior to reading a single submission. Stories were given 0 to 4 points on each of five rubrics: quality of writing, plot, character, science fiction elements, and political elements.

To get 4 points on the political score: “The politics are central to the main conflict, either causing it or, better yet, resolving it. It is consistent with how people really act rather than how we might wish them to.” Stories that represented nothing more than ‘the ugly wish-fulfillment of a partisan’ garnered 0 points. Stories with no genuine political element or where it was simply tacked on also got 0 or 1 point. What surprised me is how many more stories received a score of 4 than a score of 0.

The hard part proved finding strong political stories that also merited the label science fiction. Of the over 270 stories (from more than 20 countries) received over the nearly six-month long submission period, more than 100 were given a rating of 12 points or less by my pre-reader – who himself was a published SF writer completing an MA in international politics. While many of the low ranked stories failed on several levels, some decent stories lacking any political element deserved a chance at another market. So rejection became a continuous process

Good stories were gradually supplanted by better ones. By the end of the submission period, I was down to roughly sixty possibilities. Politic perspectives varied though not as widely as I might have liked. There were few hard-right stories, often military rather than seriously political; debates aren’t gunfights in my view. There were even fewer on the far left – though that may have been my personal bias. Things have to be pretty extreme to be left of me.

There were a couple of stories that I knew I would buy as soon as I read them so I already had two in my pocket – one by Nebula-winner Eugie Foster that leads off the anthology and another by New York poet, F.F. White. I thought I might buy another 12 or 14 to bring the anthology up to the promised 84,000 words. In the end I bought 16 (for a post-edit total of 91,000 words) and could have easily bought another five if budget had allowed. The last few choices were made for the balance they gave to the anthology in terms of style and mood (pessimistic stories offset by humour and optimism). The last few rejections felt like abandoning kittens on the side of the road; I hope they all found good homes.

Though I had no pre-conceptions or quotas going in, I was pleased to discover that I had selected stories by writers in 7 countries. There was reasonable gender balance and, I think a range of stories from left to right reflecting both traditional societies and libertarian ones. The cover art from Dan O’Driscoll bears mentioning – I’d asked for something that played off old Soviet-style propaganda art and he more than delivered.

One thing I wanted to show with this anthology was that politics is far more than voting or parliamentary debates; politics imbues everything from personal identity to family and community and beyond, to the big ideas that let us live together or sometimes drive us apart. Only one of these stories has a politician as the main character; only a couple have them as secondary ones. Mostly this is an anthology about ‘citizens,’ faced with real problems, for whom politics is the only way out, or more hopefully, the only way in.

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