Reality Skimming

Interview with Kathryn Allan

Kathryn Allan is an independent scholar of feminist SF, cyberpunk, and disability studies, and is the inaugural Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellow (2013-14). She is editor of Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (2013, Palgrave MacMillan), an Associate Editor and Reader of The Future Fire, and her writing appears in both academic and popular venues. Kathryn is co-editing a special anthology of dis/ability-themed speculative fiction, Accessing the Future, which will be published by Publishing. Please support or pre-order by visiting:

Interview by Christel Bodenbender

From your previous work, we can see dis/abilities is a topic you have a keen interest in. What attracts you to this topic?

I came to science fiction later in life than most hardcore fans when I was in the second year of my PhD studies (at 25 years old). As I was discovering SF, I was also going through a major health crisis. I was acutely unwell for a whole year (and have been living with chronic illness since). Being ill impacted the ways in which I was reading the SF I was attracted to, namely cyberpunk and feminist SF. I changed my thesis topic to investigate the relationship between technology and the vulnerable human body. I’m really interested in questions of access to technology: who gets to use new technologies and to what ends? People with disabilities, whether they have visible or invisible disabilities, are often not present in SF stories in realistic ways. I’m curious to know what other ways we can talk about the body and technology that problematizes the dominant constructions of embodiment (of being a body that thinks, feels, suffers, aspires, etc.). There are many ways to be a body in this world; I want to see SF that reflects that variety.

Why do you think people will invest in this project?

My hope is that we are able to attract not only like-minded people to back Accessing the Future, but also people who haven’t before thought about disability in their own work or in the stories that they read. I think many of the people who have already backed the campaign are aware of the lack of realistic representations of disability in SF and they want to see stories that reflect their lives and those of the people they know and love. The Future Fire (TFF), headed by my co-editor Djibril al-Ayad, is dedicated to intersectionality and raising the visibility of marginalized voices. With two previous anthologies, Outlaw Bodies (coedited by Djibril and Lori Selke) and We See a Different Frontier (coedited by Djibril and Fabio Fernandes), I think that TFF has established itself as a respected publisher of diverse SF, and that definitely helps attract more people to invest in Accessing the Future.

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?

I definitely believe that SF is a testing ground of both viable technologies and viable futures. By this I mean: SF writers not only imagine novel technologies, but they also express the types of futures that are the most frightening or most ideal for our society today. If someone imagines a future without disability, for example, then what message does that give to people with disabilities today? Not a good one. If SF writers imagine futures that include people with disabilities—as three-dimensional characters who aren’t in the story to be “cured” or to be inspirational for the able-bodied—then that works towards making an accessible present a reality as well. I don’t think it’s just about envisioning future technologies that matters; it’s more important that we think about the people who use and who are impacted by new technology. Our hope is that Accessing the Future will be one more part of the ongoing conversation about our collective human future that includes all people of all abilities.

How many individual stories are you planning to include?

We are aiming for around a dozen stories but it really depends on the success of our crowdfunding campaign. Our minimum goal is $4000, which means that we can publish a semi-pro anthology with approximately 10-12 stories paid at a rate of $0.03/word. Our ultimate goal, however, is to reach $7000 (or more!) so that we can raise the pay rate to the level of $0.06/word and publish and market a full, professional anthology. This money would cover the cost of paying around $300 for each of 12 stories.

What are your favorite kinds of stories to write?

I am not a fiction writer (not yet anyways) but I am strongly drawn to socially conscious SF. I love reading the original cyberpunk novels and the feminist SF of the early 1970s and 1980s, and then trying to find recent novels that combine the elements of both. While I may not write SF stories, I do spend a lot of time writing about SF stories in terms of how they represent disability, gender, race, class, and so on. In everything I produce, I try to work with an intersectional framework—this has meant that my writing of late is pushing against traditional structures of scholarly production (which is fine by me—I’m an independent scholar after all). My critical interpretation pieces are becoming too personal for academic publications, and my personal essays are becoming more like fictional stories. I like exploring the interstitial space between distinct identities and ideas.

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

There’s so much I want to do! My other big project is writing a survey book on disability representation in SF literature. I want to start with the so-called “Golden Age” of SF and trace the ways in which disability is taken up (or erased) into the present day. I’ve been trying to read widely in preparation for this book, and it’s going to take quite a while longer before I’m ready to start writing it. A section of the project will include the research I did as part of my Le Guin Feminist Science Fiction Fellowship—just dealing with that research alone (I have over 700 personal letters to go through from the archives of Le Guin, Joanna Russ, Sally Miller Gearhart, Suzette Haden Elgin) will take at least half a year. All of my research interests right now involve bringing together science fiction studies and disability studies. In terms of my non-scholarly aspirations, I hope to continue to participate in fandom as a blogger, critic, and editor—I’ve made so many amazing contacts through running the Accessing the Future campaign and have been blown away by the level of support we’ve received. I’m excited for what comes next.

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