Reality Skimming

Interview with Djibril al-Ayad Publishing is the publisher of both The Future Fire magazine of social-political speculative fiction, and of two previous anthologies, Outlaw Bodies (2012, co-edited by Lori Selke) and We See a Different Frontier (2013, co-edited by Fabio Fernandes). Djibril al-Ayad, a historian and futurist, co-edited both volumes and has edited TFF since 2005. Djibril is in the process of fundraising for a special anthology of dis/ability-themed speculative fiction, Accessing the Future. The anthology is co-edited by Kathryn Allan and will be published by Publishing. Please support or pre-order by visiting:

Interview by Christel Bodenbender

Could you tell us about your inspiration for this anthology?

Directly, the suggestion came from Kathryn Allan, who is a scholar of feminist science fiction and edited a recent volume of academic essays on science fiction representing technology as a cure for disability. In the bigger picture, though, disability representation and activism fits very much in the narrative of recent titles from Publishing: in 2012 I co-edited Outlaw Bodies with Lori Selke, an anthology on queer, feminist, and body-positive science fiction, which included a couple of stories with disability themes (among other elements); last year Fabio Fernandes and I edited We See a Different Frontier, an anthology of colonialist speculative fiction, almost all of the stories in which were inter-sectional in some way—treating feminist, queer, race, disability, gender and/or class issues in addition to colonialism. We expect the stories in Accessing the Future to be equally inter-sectional.

Why dis-/abilities? What do you think you can contribute to this topic in addition to giving voice to groups underrepresented in mainstream culture?

Obviously, being a platform for underrepresented voices, including people with disabilities who write science fiction, is an important goal in itself. I think this anthology will also help to address issues of visibility; of definition, of the multiplicity of disabilities, both physical and mental, that exist; and of the fact that disability is almost entirely a social phenomenon. Many people with disabilities do not want to be “cured”, and certainly don’t want to become “normal” or for people like themselves to disappear. Rather they deserve to be treated as autonomous and human, allowed and enabled by society to live the lives they want to (as we all do). These are points it’s important to see in science fiction, as well as in politics. Accessibility is a basic human right, not a special treatment that is offered only when it’s convenient to the majority.

Science Fiction has been envisioning future technologies that became reality later. How far do you think this anthology can inspire solutions around accessibility in the present?

Actually I think it’s not so much technologies that we hope will be the solution to accessibility and respect for people with disabilities (although there could be stories that take it in that direction, I guess), so much as politics (or really only basic decency). Accessibility is about attitudes toward disability, toward humanity, and toward all marginalized people. Science fiction has a very respectable history of speculating about social and political developments rather than just about technological advances, so I think that’s the sort of inspiration we would hope to offer.

You have fund raised for anthologies, such as We See a Different Frontier, before. What have you learned from your past experiences and try to do different this time?

The main things we’ve learned from running crowd-funding campaigns before—and watching other friends and allies pulling off successful Kickstarter projects, for example—are basic things like the importance of lining up support and publicity beforehand. A six-week fundraiser campaign is hard work, and you can’t expect to be writing daily blog or Twitter updates, approaching new people for support, and commissioning work all at the same time as promoting the campaign every day; the more that is out of the way before you start raising money, the better chance you have. It’s also important to have realistic reward levels: $25 for the hard copy book level is about right—much higher and people don’t feel they’re getting what they’re paying for. Most important is setting a realistic target for the fundraiser: when raising money for an anthology, I think that you need to decide how much you want to pay for fiction, and double that amount (to account for crowd funding fees/taxes, honouring all those rewards, other costs of launching a publication, etc.).

What have you planned as part of the fund raising effort?

We hope to raise $7000 to pay all authors professional rates of 6¢/word (although we’ll go ahead with a semi-pro if we only make $4000), and have other stretch goals to aim for as well. As well as a series of guest posts and other promotional activities, we’re plugging the fundraiser at various events we or our friends are attending. Most supporters will contribute to the anthology’s budget by pre-ordering copies in e-book or hard copy format, but they can also make larger contributions in return for story critiques, bundles of limited edition titles donated by some of our allies (including some Okal Rel Saga signed first editions), and the opportunity to have a character named after you in a story by Lyda Morehouse, Steven Gould or Nisi Shawl.

How are you going to distribute the anthology?

The anthology will be distributed in trade paperback via Ingram (through a print-on-demand supplier), which means it will be available in print from all online retailers (Powells, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Foyles, etc.), and brick-and-mortar bookstores can also stock copies if they choose. The e-book will be distributed by the usual online suppliers (Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, etc.).

Considering you are working with a co-editor, can you elaborate more on how the collaboration process works for the anthology?

It’s a fairly equal collaboration, as far as editing goes (I’m also the publisher, which is a different question). We’ve co-written the pitch for the anthology, and we’re dividing the work of guest blogging and answering interviews. When it comes to reading the submitted stories, we’ll both read as many of the stories as possible, and certainly anything that we’re considering for inclusion will have to be read and approved by both of us. Otherwise there’s not much of a division of labour in the process; Kathryn and I have already worked together on The Future Fire, and we know we get on well and are pretty compatible in our political and reading tastes.

What's next for you after the anthology? How does it fit into your own body of work?

We’re still at the early stages of this anthology, so I’m trying not to think too hard about what’s next! In this time The Future Fire is still publishing short fiction, Fabio Fernandes and I are in discussion about what a second volume of We See a Different Frontier might look like, and there are still many social-political themes we care about that we might include in future projects. For the moment, though, we’re focusing on Accessing the Future, which you can support or pre-order by visiting:!

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