I was given a heads-up on this by unusualmusic over at the Racebending blog, and was so wowed by what I saw that I want to share. With everybody.

I blog a lot about how frustrated I am by the lack of social realism in SFF. If even half the energy SFF creators expended on getting the science right could be put into getting the people right, I think the genre would be taken more seriously — both by those who are already fans and by those who scorn us. But leaving aside what greater social realism might do for SFF’s cred (and my sales, as an SFF writer), there’s the fact that IMO it simply makes for better art.

Case in point: Futurestates TV. Futurestates is basically a series of potential TV series pilots done by independent filmmakers grouped around a single theme: what will America’s future look like? The results have been by turns funny, poignant, and in a few cases horrifying. But they’ve also been consistently plausible from a people standpoint. These are futures in which people of color, the poor, the queer, the disabled, etc., have not been conveniently wiped out by aliens. Futures in which the social problems of American society have not been handwaved away — though in many cases, thanks to our failure to deal with those problems now, they’ve gotten worse.

I’m working my way through all of them, but this one is currently my favorite: “Remigration”, by Barry Jenkins.

I would love to see this get turned into a series. It’s clear that (spoiler)

this family will choose to stay in the Remigration program; they don’t really have a choice, given their child’s health. But I suspect — as, clearly, Kaya does — that the rosy picture they’ve been painted of life as San Francisco’s newly-indentured servants is going to show its ugly side pretty quickly. I get the feeling this director has enough grasp of the issues and nuances to do a good job of showing all that.

Anyway, check it out!

12 thoughts on “Futurestates”

  1. Ooh, cool, that looks like a very interesting project indeed! I’ll definitely check it out.

    With regards to people-oriented SFF, I think part of the problem is that when people *do* write it they don’t seem to realise that they’re writing SFF (perhaps because of said people-orientation). A case in point is ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’: to a SFF fan it’s quite clearly SFF and it even inspired an episode of Doctor Who, but it’s never marketed as such to the general reading public. I don’t know if it ever occurred to Niffenegger that she was writing SFF, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it didn’t.

    Which creates a circular problem, of course: the SFF that *is* more focussed on the humanity of its characters often doesn’t get published as SFF, leading SFF fans to pass it over and enabling SFF detractors to continue to point fingers at the genre.

    (I’m with you 100% on it making for better art. But then, I’m a fan of yours, so I would be, wouldn’t I? ;) )

  2. Spouse and I have been watching BBC’s SURVIVORS (we’ve seen the first 6 eps). The main character is a woman in her 40s, not posed or played as a sexbomb (although she is a mother, but I’m all right with that). The cast is more diverse than is typical for a US show — this is not surprising as it is UK tv — and it passes the Bechdel Test. We are liking it a lot.

  3. I just wrote you a long letter going on about how much I appreciate the handling of anti-patriarchy and anti-racism in THTK as well as, you know, the AMAZING crafting of the novel, then I googled your name to find an email address and couldn’t.
    Anyway I finished THTK today and am now a massive fangirl. Please write as many things as possible.

  4. Charamei,

    I think there are plenty of examples of writers doing good people-oriented SFF within the genre, actually — but unless they cross over into the mainstream, they don’t seem to get much respect for it. Certainly not from genre fans. And I agree, part of the problem is that a lot of people seem to think “character-focused” =/= SFF — even though our best SFF (looking at what’s actually won Hugos and Nebulas) has always been character-focused. I don’t understand this.

  5. Stephen and Kate,

    Yes, very much TV I would watch. Take a look at unusualmusic’s recommendation list, in the linked post; she’s seen more of them than I have. I also really like “Beholder” and “That Which Once Was” — the latter is a major tearjerker, though, warning.

  6. Katherine,

    Got your letter! Sorry, just haven’t had enough time to respond this weekend. But thanks very much!

  7. I wonder how much of this double problem, of not a lot of “people-oriented SF” and the problem of crossover has to do with what Ursula Le Guin noted in her review of Embassytown, that SF in particular is often more about intellectual stuff than psychological, and less interested in social realism as a result. There’s something in that formulation that I keep picking at, that may be linked to Suvin’s sf novum and also to what a lot of readers and writers engage the SF genre for. With fantasy I think it is somewhat different: the intellectual is often supplanted with the ideational more generally over the psychological. Thus, the secondary world often matters as much or more than the characters and even the story, often obtains the bulk of the interesting imaginary aspects.

    Not sure, really. Chew chew chew.

    This pilot is very good; a bit compressed for my tastes, as I would like to see more character elements and get a deeper feel for the world being presented. But I would watch this, just to see what the series could do, and what issues it can bring up, and if it can bring them up in a way that gets people to discuss them.

  8. John,

    My bias is showing; I’m boggling that you’ve separated “intellectual” from “psychological”. But that’s the result of my training; in undergrad I was in a very experimental/behavior-psych-focused program, and in grad my program was educational — education theory is very mechanistic these days, focused on cycles and stages and rubrics. Psychology is as much a science to me as any other; it might use qualitative measurement as much as quantitative, but it’s still all about measurable, repeatable, eventually-predictable results. So I’m always a little surprised to realize that’s not how laypeople see it.

    What also surprises me is the avoidance of holistic thinking — the persistent tendency to separate things in this way rather tha consider the intersections and interactions in toto. Science never develops in a vacuum. Technology catches on or fails based on how people use it, not based on how well it works. I think this is why so many of the old SF classics wildly overestimate the pace of change in human society; they all seemed to think we’d be in flying cars by now, but they forgot to factor in the retardant effects of fear and greed. (I’m not sure we’d be in flying cars even without that… but we might be in electric ones, at least.) So to me, science fiction which ignores or downplays social realism is bad science fiction, or bad futurism, and this has been proven again and again by the sheer volume of failed predictions. And given how persnickety so many skiffistas are about their futurism, I would think more of them would care.

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