They’re fooled by history.
—Geoff Ryman, “O Happy Day!”
As I write this, we are two weeks past the US presidential election and three weeks away from the Electoral College, that unloved relic of America’s colonial past, meeting to elect Donald Trump as the next president. In the two weeks since the election, Trump has: appointed an openly anti-Semitic far-right propagandist as his Chief Strategist; picked fights with the crew of Hamilton and Saturday Night Live, demanding apologies and “equal time”; mooted as National Security Advisor a man who calls Islam “a vicious cancer”; nominated as attorney general a man who helped gut public education funding in Alabama; and just in the last day as I write has declared “the president can’t have a conflict of interest” while his children, who will be managing his businesses, sit in on his meetings with foreign heads of state.
Along the way, the volume of hate crimes reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center has increased by more than an order of magnitude. Swastikas are springing up in playgrounds and parks like poppies on a shelled field. Clean-cut neo-fascists are profiled in major newspapers and magazines as if they were prominent members of an eccentric but charming hobby. None of this is normal.
“I believe that man is good. I believe we stand at the dawn of a century that will be more peaceful and prosperous than any in history.”
—Kim Stanley Robinson, “A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations”
I am not of the camp who believes that science fiction and fantasy must necessarily serve a purpose, but I know that for as long as there has been work that we would now recognize as science fiction or proto-sf, it has been harnessed to pedagogic or didactic ends. Because of the birth of genre sf’s American birth in Hugo Gernsback’s empire of engineering hobbyist magazines, American sf has had a persistent fascination with technology, but even the Golden Age writers engaged with politics, loading the lessons of history onto spaceships and dressing up eccentric economic theories in silver jumpsuits.
A primary literary device of all of the separate, overlapping circles of speculative fiction—science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternate history—is exaggeration. This can be done through amplification (taking a thing that is present and expanding it), reification (making the abstract concrete), isolation (removing context to examine something more directly), or any of a host of other techniques. It’s a powerful tool, but it can mislead us. The forces that propel sf stories can lapse into the cartoonish, making it easy to believe its lessons only apply in exaggerated worlds.
“Nothing is always absolutely so.”
—Theodore Sturgeon, “The Claustrophile”
It is easy to foresee the Trump administration bringing an end to The American Century. He certainly has all the markings of an autocrat, from the unceasing focus on his own personal magnificence to his with-me-or-traitor rhetoric. He has surrounded himself with literal neofascists, including his oldest son. He extends near-total trust to his family while making it clear that anyone else is instantly disposable, no matter what servile extremes of personal loyalty they have demonstrated, as Chris Christie found out within days of the election.
It is possible that Trump will stop short of being a Mussolini or a Mugabe and will settle for being a Berlusconi or a Sese Seko, diverting the vast wealth of America into his family’s pockets and leaving a visibly degraded world in his wake—a ruin, but a hugely classy ruin, big-league, the greatest ruins you’ve ever seen. There’s nothing inherent in the American experiment to keep that from happening despite all our hopes; the Roman Republic lasted almost 500 years and phase flipped into empire in less than a generation.
This collapse will grind out vast amounts of misery along the way. It’s clear that tyrannies are inherently corrupt, because they remove any power to keep the rulers honest. But it’s less obvious that corrupt regimes also necessarily gravitate toward tyranny; allowing the people the freedom to complain about corruption will cost the rulers money.
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
—T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
It is not too late to fight. Stand up when you see corruption; strike back when you see violence. Fight it with political action; fight it with kindness and charity. Talk. Be a voice for better. Listen. Take inspiration from those who have fought before, those in fiction and those in fact. Write as well as you can, for your readers now and for the better futures you imagine, for the best future you can imagine.
Take the threat seriously, because the bright and shining tomorrow of spaceships and plenty has enemies. If you’re not working to make things better, you’re allowing things to get worse, and things can get vastly worse very quickly.
—Kevin J. Maroney
and the editors