Future Perfect – takeaways from a fascinating event on sci-fi and policy

On Friday, I joined Data & Society’s Future Perfect conference, which aimed to explore “the use, significance, and discontents of speculative design, narrative, and world-building in technology, policy, and culture.”

This seemingly broad and ambitious agenda took shape through several fascinating presentations and conversations with writers, academics, critics, technologists, and academics.

For my part, I spoke about the apparent contradictions I encountered when writing my new novel After the Flare (Unnamed Press, September 2017) in a country where nomads and space technology co-exist. I also delved into how my work as a digital rights activist at Access Now informed the technology and questions I pose in the thriller, which is mostly set in the U.S. and Nigeria.

Here are some takeaways from the conference, in random order:

  • Ada Cable, a trans scholar, spotlighted several pioneering trans creators of games and narratives. She argued that trans people, by their experience, can break boundaries into new realms of thought and creativity, particularly with respect to the body. Nonetheless, she observed that trans people are often paid to explain their work to non-trans audiences, but are rarely paid to present to trans audiences. I think this criticism applies to African literature and Africa-based science fiction as well.
  • Joanna Radin presented a fascinating paper about how Michael Crichton’s influence on science and technology is under appreciated, not just within fiction but upon the development of science. I nodded throughout her talk as a Crichton fan — I wrote an extensive essay that was published in The New York Review of Science Fiction entitled How to Create Your Own Jurassic Park.
  • Farai Chideya discussed her explorations at Harvard and MIT Media Lab on how speculative fiction informs science policy in the Trump era.
  • Jillian Crandall analyzed the architectures of the video game Horizon Zero Dawn, featuring a matriarchal society thriving in a planet infested by A.I. robots. The game visually depicts a computer virus as a red, ropy infestation. (In After the Flare, I visualize a zero day attack through the use of a biomimetic machine.)
  • Alexander Huggins presented a very interesting analysis of the musician Brian Eno and Muzak, noting how music can shape our experience of physical environments. (Again, music plays a big role in After the Flare, with a lead character who is a vibroacoustic engineer.)
  • Ava Kofman gave a thoughtful analysis of the films Robocop and Minority Report, and explored how these seemingly dystopian films have actually inspired the Taser company in the design of its offices and also its stun-gun and wearable body camera technologies used by police.

There were many more compelling conversations and presentations, so this is just a small sampling. You can watch the video of the conference here. Kate Ray also posted this excellent Tweet that compiles the books, games, and movies discussed throughout the day. (Click through to Twitter to read the full list of recommendations, since she replied to her own Tweet to compile the list.)

Thanks to Data & Society, and particularly Ingrid Burrington (author of Networks of New York), who hosted and curated this enriching, diverse event.

Featured image by Mac Rebisz http://maciejrebisz.com/.

New! Pre-order my novel After the Flare

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I’m thrilled to announce that my new novel, After the Flare, is available for pre-Order on Amazon from Unnamed Press.

Order it on Amazon | Order it on Indiebound

From the cover:

A catastrophic solar flare reshapes our world order as we know it – in an instant, electricity grids are crippled, followed by devastating cyberattacks that paralyze all communication. Kwesi Bracket is an industrial engineer who works for NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, running space-walk simulations for astronauts. When the flare hits, his life quickly disintegrates – he loses his job and his wife leaves him, forcing him to take care of his daughter by himself. Meanwhile, America slowly descends into chaos as people turn inward to protect themselves.

Bracket soon discovers that Nigeria operates the only functioning space program in the world, which is recruiting scientists to launch a daring rescue mission to save a famous astronaut stranded aboard the International Space Station. With Europe, Asia, and the U.S. knocked off-line, and thousands of dead satellites about to plummet to Earth, Bracket heads to Kano in Northeastern Nigeria. But what he finds there is anything but normal. In the aftermath of the flare, the country has been flooded with advanced biohacking technologies, and the scramble for space supremacy has attracted dangerous peoples from all over Africa. What’s more: the militant Islamic group Boko Haram is slowly encroaching on the spaceport, leaving a trail of destruction, while a group of nomads has discovered an ancient technology more powerful than anything he’s ever imagined.

With the clock ticking down, Bracket – helped by a brilliant scientist from India and an eccentric lunar geologist – must confront the looming threats to the spaceport in order to launch a harrowing rescue mission into space. In this sequel to Nigerians in Space, Deji Bryce Olukotun poses deep questions about technology, international ambition, identity, and space exploration in the 21st century.

Pre-orders make a huge impact on sales and reviews. By buying After the Flare in advance, you’re voting for a different kind of literature and sci-fi — one that I hope you’ll find entertaining and challenging.

Order it on Amazon | Order it on Indiebound