Today is the one-year anniversary of my novel Tropic of Kansas. I have been very fortunate in the reception the book has had, and am deeply appreciative of the support of readers, reviewers, colleagues, and the team at Harper who made it possible. The book’s recognition last month as a finalist for the 2018 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction novel was the culmination of an amazing year.
If you read the sampling of what folks have said about the book, you’ll find many crediting the author’s prescience, or remarking on the way the book seems ripped from the headlines. The truth is that I worked hard to set the book in a very different version of reality from the one we live in. It was essential to do that, I thought, to take the book where I wanted it to go. I wanted to imagine an America facing the kind of revolutionary unrest I saw people enduring in other parts of the world when I began writing the book in 2012, often as the consequence of our own actions. At the same time, I tried to ground it in realism—a speculative realism that puts a fun house mirror up to the world. So I focused on the parts of America I see out there that we have allowed to degenerate into what we used to call third world, threw in ideas like CEO presidents, corporate mercenaries, flying killer robots, ecological exhaustion, direct democracy, network politics, insurrection, and the possibility of Anthropocene renewal, and played with the mixing board. That my dystopian experiment resulted in a book whose scenes echo in the daily train wreck that is our newsfeed just proves the well-established truism of the Gomi-no-Sensei.
Tropic of Kansas is a dark book, as many remarked. It went to dark places in an effort to find its way to a more hopeful future. It didn’t get all the way to utopia, but you could see it from there, out there on the horizon. Tropic of Kansas did well enough that I get to write two more novels that explore similar territory, through the point of view of a lawyer in an America that is experiencing the end of the rule of law— “Better Call Saul meets Nineteen Eighty-Four.” I’m about to turn the first of those books in, which has been a lot of fun to work on. Part of the aspiration, in addition to telling an entertaining story, is to frame a window onto the possibility of American renewal, grounded in green thinking and emancipatory politics. I like to think that science fiction has a role to play in imagining better real tomorrows, especially if it works hard to tell the truth, and that if we do our jobs well we might even fashion a means to actually open a crack in that window.
I appreciate the opportunity, and the support of all of those who have given my work a shot.