Thank you for checking out my newsletter! You can read the archives and subscribe. I have three brand new books: my young adult space fantasy Victories Greater Than Death came out in April. And Never Say You Can’t Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories just came out -- it’s a writing-advice manual for the scary moment we’re living through. And in November, I’m publishing Even Greater Mistakes, my first full-length short story collection, including tales that won the Hugo, Sturgeon and Locus Awards. Also, check out the podcast I co-host, Our Opinions Are Correct.
A couple of years ago I was at a bookstore, reading from a new anthology called A People's Future of the United States. During the Q&A, an audience member asked me and the other contributor who was present, Gabby Rivera, if we thought there was any chance the United States could remain a unified country into the next few generations—because Gabby and I had both written stories set in a future where the United States had fractured into two or more countries. Gabby and I looked at each other and, almost in unison, said "No."
We're not alone in feeling this way. A while back, the economist Noah Smith wrote that it no longer seems far-fetched to wonder if the United States would still be a unified country in 2026, when we are supposed to celebrate our 250th birthday as a nation. And I constantly hear people worrying about the possibility of a new civil war, or some other sundering.
It's almost impossible right now to imagine a United States that stays united well into the 21st century, which poses a bit of a challenge for those of us who imagine the future for a living. I increasingly feel as though the United States, as presently constitute, contains too many contradictions and messes to survive long-term. We haven't faced up to the evils of our past, and we're trying to use radically broken systems (the electoral college, the Senate, etc.) to address our most pressing future problems.
My story in People's Future, "The Bookstore at the End of America," takes place in a future United States that has split into two countries, with the border at the Rocky Mountains: one liberal if a bit cyberpunky, and the other ultra-conservative. A bookstore called the First and Last Page operates on the exact border between the two Americas, with two separate front doors. The bookseller, Molly, tries to cater to both Californians and Americans, because she hopes the love of books will still bring us together --- but she learns the hard way that our stories are part of what keep us apart.
In fact, speculative fiction lately is full of divided future and alternate versions of the USA. Most recently, James DeMonaco announced the sixth movie in his highly successful Purge series would take place in a future "remapped" United States. Misha Green, showrunner of Lovecraft Country, explained what would have happened if her show had scored a second season, complete with a map of a drastically altered U.S. (including a region full of zombies.) Novelist Lucinda Roy just released The Freedom Race, set in a future America that has divided into several countries, following a civil war referred to as the Sequel. There are a dozen other recent examples I could name, including TV shows like Revolution, The Man in the High Castle, and Motherland: Fort Salem (pictured above).
And while I've been seeing fantastical maps of the Disunited States everywhere, online pundits keep posting maps of the Confederacy and the Union circa 1861, and contrasting them with maps showing things like rates of covid vaccination per state. Or states that have failed to expand Medicaid, or other measures of poverty and mortality. The message is clear: our past divisions haven't gone away, and we have failed to learn from, or resolve, the crimes of our ancestors.
Speculative fiction writers tend to look at trends and ask, "What if this goes on?" And it doesn't take much of a futurist to imagine how the United States could crack like an egg. Accelerating climate change will bring more natural disasters and worse disruptions, and an economy that's designed to funnel wealth to the very top will leave ordinary people stranded. Our minority-rule political system, engineered to tilt the playing field towards a rural minority, will break down even worse than it already has. And the cruel wave of authoritarianism will continue to crest. You can see all the dominoes lined up, already quivering a bit.
The attempted coup on January 6th only left me further convinced that this cannot actually go on.
When we imagine our nation fracturing into disparate parts, we are conjuring up our greatest fear. But every nightmare contains a sliver of wish-fulfillment. I think a lot of us are tired of holding up the weight of the American mythos, like a rusty old anchor made out of false promises. We're all working so hard to participate in a system that doesn't want us, and to honor a legend that's so clearly at odds with reality. It would be a huge relief to stop holding these broken pieces together.
I try to inject hope into my visions of the future, and it's no different in the stories I've written about futures in which the United States splinters. I can't help hoping that a breakup could be semi-amicable, no matter how far-fetched that might seem right. But also, I try to envision how we could build better and fairer structures afterwards. Maybe we could fashion the wreckage of the U.S.A. into a country where we actually treat everyone as equals, where we build sustainably. In one of my stories, the U.S. has been ravaged by climate change and other crises, but small communities in places like Olympia and the San Francisco Archipelago are rebuilding and believing in a whole new future. It's easier to imagine something good coming out of the wreckage of America than it is to imagine us fixing the country we have now.
But most of all? I consider writing about the Divided States of America to be a hopeful act no matter what -- because we can't begin to cope with our dysfunction until we confront where it's leading us. Facing up to the prospect of a "remapped" America is a good first step toward imagining how we could deal with our past, and unpacking all of that baggage that we're carrying around. Ironically, we can't hope to stay a united nation until we've started being honest about all the reasons why we might go our separate ways.
Update: Removed paragraph about Roger Williams that I decided was poorly thought out.
I'm probably the last one to discover the incredible #AfroCubanFunk music of Cimafunk, whose debut album Terapia came out in 2017. It's an incredible blend of Latin, funk and other sounds, with lyrics in both English and Spanish, and it's all I can listen to lately. His second album, El Alimento, comes out in a few days, and I'm freaking out with excitement. The first two singles have featured epic collaborations with George Clinton and Lupe Fiasco -- which, full disclosure, is how he got on my radar. This is the most addictively danceable and soul-enhancing music I've heard in ages, and it's been giving me so much life.
I'm going to be at New York Comic Con IN PERSON on Saturday, doing a panel with the amazing Tochi Onyebuchi. Yes, I am a bit scared tbh. But I am excited to get to hang out with Tochi and hopefully other cool people in person. (If you're reading this and you're going to be there, please stay masked the whole time!). We're going to be talking about science fiction and the future and stuff.
Also, see above --- I have a short story collection coming out on Nov. 16 called Even Greater Mistakes, and I really believe it's my best writing ever. I picked from a couple hundred short stories and focused on the ones that I felt were the biggest swings as well as the ones that still move me personally the most. I feel like this book, more than any other, really represents me and speaks to the whole range of my weird obsessions and all the different styles and modes I've written in. There's gonzo comedy, heartfelt romance, serious political explorations, and everything in between. If you'd like to give this book as a gift, you probably need to pre-order it now. (Here's the link to Bookshop.org!)