Revisiting Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World

On 9/11, The New Yorker published Joshua Rothman’s review of the anthology In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World. It’s an interesting and worthwhile read, but I don’t agree with much of it. I find it strange that the review scarcely mentions civil/human rights and does not address religious groups (Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus) or immigrant/ethnic/racial groups affected by the aftermath. Then again, I took a scan of the table of contents of the book — it seems mostly devoid of POC writers and the mentioned religious groups (although please correct me if I am wrong). That doesn’t absolve Rothman but points to the broader characterization of the post-9/11 era as flowing from a “nodal point” “outside of culture” in William Gibson’s words. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Both the review and the anthology seem to fetishize the shock of the tragic events more than their traumatic cultural and political realities. K. Tempest Bradford, one of the authors in the anthology, posted a decent response at io9.

In 2012, I published a piece in The New York Review of Science Fiction entitled “The Failure of Post-9/11 Science Fiction.” I use Gibson’s ideas about 9/11 and his novel Pattern Recognition, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Matt Ruff’s The Mirage as a frame to talk about 9/11, politics, culture, and Islamophobia in speculative fiction before and after 2001. I no longer agree with all of my claims; I wrote the article a few years ago. But I hope it is worthwhile. Many of the problems I point out in the article persist in Rothman’s piece and, it seems, in the anthology he’s writing about.

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