r/fantasy Bingo 2016 · Review

[Review] Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad

accessing-the-future

Title: Accessing the Future: A Disability-Themed Anthology of Speculative Fiction

Editors: Kathryn Allan and Djibril al-Ayad

Published by: Futurefire.net Publishing

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Where I got the book: Public Library

I find short story collections are often hit and miss, particularly anthologies. There’s always a few stories or authors you don’t like or who don’t stand up as well as the rest. This is the first time I’ve ever read an anthology and loved every single story.

Disability is often a topic that’s hit and miss in fiction, most fiction in general but speculative fiction has its own particular tropes. In fantasy there’s the magical cure granted to take away an illness or disability or to heal them from a devastating battle wound. You may often see this with people being cured of blindness or deafness, or having limbs grown back after loosing them in battle or perhaps some kind of farming accident. In sci-fi the tropes centre around the mechanical body and how the future will free people from disability since we’ll all be robots anyways. These tropes are really a continuation of the medical model of disability, the belief that disability can be ‘cured’ by medicine and science and that disability is a burden blamed on the individual, rather than the society at large for its intolerance and unwillingness to change and accommodate.

Due to the broadness of the issue with topics of disability and chronic illness and how ubiquitous these tropes are in shared cultural knowledge, these depictions often go unchecked and unnoticed by most people, particularly able-bodied people. There’s no magic moment where you suddenly become enlightened about these tropes and the harm them propagate. I credit a really good panel discussion about disability and SFF at CAN-CON last year that I was lucky enough to attend that brought a lot of these issues to my consciousness. Depictions of disability are one of those topics I was familiar with but often don’t notice until it’s pointed out to me due to how normalized these negative depictions are. But that needs to change. To start I recommend checking out this awesome video about villains and deformity by Jen Campbell that goes into depth about the cultural history of these depictions and why they still exist.

So I was really excited when my library agreed to buy Accessing the Future. Elizabeth from books and pieces had read it and really enjoyed it, so I was eager to pick it up. It was one of the best reading decisions I ever made.

Although labelled as a disability-themed anthology of speculative fiction, Accessing the Future is primarily sci-fi. I unfortunately made the mistake of waiting too long to write a review so my memories on the details of every story are a bit hazy. But I always find reviewing short story collections a bit difficult because it’s hard to walk the line between giving away too much and too little. Accessing the Future has everything though. It has an incredibly wide range of stories and writing styles. There’s fast paced action with space truck rallies, only with robots, high stakes kidnapping and ransom and more. But there’s also a number of stories that have a slower, more introspective narrative and pacing that focus on characterization and relationships. Although I do enjoy a fast-paced robot truck rally now and then, my preference is primarily for stories with deeper characterization and that’s where I think this anthology really shines. I lost count how many times a story almost made me cry. I will definitely checking out the contributors other work in the future.

Another thing I love about this anthology is how Accessing the Future really digs into the breadth of experience regarding disability, including stories about physical disabilities, intellectual and learning disabilities as well as mental health. Characters with disabilities aren’t inspiration porn, or don’t magically save the day due to heightened senses that have developed due to their disability. From spina bifida, to chronic pain, to dyslexia, to visual impairment, and more, Accessing the Future beautifully explores disability and sci-fi, breaking and remaking tropes and conventions. This is a future I want to be a part of.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “[Review] Accessing the Future, edited by Kathryn Allan & Djibril al-Ayad

    1. There was one story which explored the character’s Chinese heritage that I can remember. Pretty sure there was a couple more but I can’t remember the details. There’s also a large number of stories that explore gender identity and sexual orientation as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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