Thursday, February 18, 2021

Author Roundtable: Recognise Fascism ed. Crystal Huff

Greetings, Nerds, and welcome to something a bit different! Today we're looking at the Recognise Fascism anthology, edited by Crystal Huff. Released in 2020, the anthology brings together 22 stories where "Across many worlds and many timelines, these stories depict the moments when people see the fascism in front of them for what it is, accept it as real, and make the choice to fight it."

Today I'm joined by Crystal and by many of the authors included in Recognise Fascism: Jaymee Goh, Nina Niskanen, Kiya Nicoll, Selene dePackh, Alexei Collier, Meridel Newton, Rodrigo Juri, Lauren Ring, Phoebe Barton, Justin Short, Brandon O'Brien, Leonardo Espinoza Benevides, Lucie Lukačovičová, Hal Y. Zhang and Laura Jane Swanson. Together, we discuss the stories, the inspiration behind them, and how the representation of fascism helps us to combat it in the real world. Enjoy!

NoaF: Tell us a little about yourself and why you joined this anthology.

Crystal M. Huff, standing next to a lamp post with a purple "I'm a Space Unicorn" t-shirt
Crystal Huff
Hi! I’m Crystal! I’m a nonbinary, queer, Jewish, white person in the USA. In 2018, I co-edited the micro-anthology Resist Fascism at Crossed Genres. The idea for this new book, Recognize Fascism (RF), really came out of that first anthology. I was thrilled and relieved when World Weaver Press (WWP) took on Recognize Fascism (and me) in the wake of CG closing down at the end of 2019. Sarena at WWP encouraged me to expand the anthology so that we could show readers a wider range of possibilities and nuances and worlds. I was really intimidated by also taking on the anthology as solo editor in this transition, which is why one of the themes of my introduction is fascism and impostor syndrome. *sweat emoji here* I’m really grateful to all the authors who worked with me on this collection! So, uh, that’s how I got here. ;) 

Jaymee: I’m a Malaysian-Chinese queer cis woman with too much education. Crystal invited me to submit to the anthology, and I had just returned to Malaysia after visa shenanigans made me leave the United States. My country had recently elected the Opposition Party for the first time in our entire electoral history, but I’d already seen cracks in their promises and this anthology gave me an opportunity to explore those ideas.

Nina: I’m a Finnish queer woman who works in technology by day, and sff by night. Like Jaymee, the biggest part of why I joined this anthology is definitely Crystal asking me to submit a story. But on the other hand, like many other places, Finland is also struggling with its own far-right rise, and I was glad of the opportunity to push back against it in my own small way.

Kiya: I stalk calls for submissions because they give me enough structure to actually write short stories. (Like sonnets: enough restriction to help with enough freedom to get somewhere.) When I saw this one, I was in the middle of wrestling with my emotions about being forced to come to terms with my identity by watching what the United States was doing to my trans siblings (and my disabled siblings, though that's less present in the story). I took that feeling of coercion and fear, the way it made the illusion I'd built of my life unsustainable, and wrote from that essentially as part of my coming-out process.

Selene dePackh

: I’m an autistic queer American crone watching the better parts of my country being subsumed by the worst of it. I’ve been an artist/illustrator most of my life, and only recently began writing for others as another way to communicate to the world. I came across the original Crossed Genres call for Recognize Fascism after I’d already submitted "In Her Eye’s Mind" to another SF publication. As soon as I saw the call, I pulled the story from consideration by the other publisher because the anthology seemed like such a perfect place for it. I’m grateful that my intuition was on target and the story was chosen for inclusion.

Crystal: Wow, Selene, I didn’t know that! With all this anthology went through, it must’ve seemed like such a risk for folks, but particularly people who pulled their stories from other submissions for Recognise Fascism. I feel so lucky to have seen this book through what was such a difficult process.

Selene: I think it struck a chord for a lot of us, Crystal. Recognise Fascism has such an urgent necessity, and I knew instinctively that’s where my piece belonged. The ordeal the collection survived, as guided by you, showed how vital it is.

Alexei: I'm Alexei, or Alex, and I’m a disabled and neurodivergent American cis man. Like Kiya, I stalk submission calls for inspiration. As it happened, Recognize Fascism clicked perfectly with a story I’d already written — first drafted about 10 years ago, I think as a kind of post-traumatic stress response to the G.W. Bush years and the threat of American Religious Right. The long road “Sacred Chords” took to publication was well worth it for this chance to contribute to such a worthy and relevant anthology.

Meridel: I've spent several years working on a series of connected stories about an interstellar war, inspired by the increasing jingoism and nationalism in the United States since 9/11. As a bi Jewish woman, I am very much alarmed by the swing to the hard right and the rise in populism here and around the world. When I saw the original submission call for this anthology, I actually had several possible stories that fit the theme already. 

Rodrigo Juri
Rodrigo: I'm Chilean, 49 years old. An agriculture engineer, economist and science teacher. Also, a husband, owner of 8 cats and I'm trying to be a SF writer. I live in a small town, at the beach, and life is quiet here, with colorful sunsets. I am not used to writing with explicit political intention, so this was a challenge for me. A challenge that I welcomed when I knew about this project.

Lauren: Hello, I’m Lauren! I’m a Jewish lesbian in the US, and fairly new to the SFF scene. 2020 was my first year of publications. Recognise Fascism was one of the very first calls for submissions I saw, and I was so drawn to the theme and the necessity of such an anthology in our times that I wrote a story just for the call! 

Phoebe: I'm a white queer trans woman in Canada. My earliest push to join this anthology was fear of missing out, honestly -- I first heard of the previous volume, Resist Fascism, the day before submissions closed and I wanted to avoid that this time, because writing against fascism is important! It feels to me that too many people don't take fascism seriously anymore, as if it's some historical artefact, when instead it's right here, right now in so many places.

Justin: Hi everyone!  I live in the U.S.  I remember seeing the Recognise Fascism submission call and just thinking it was such a cool idea for an anthology (a timely theme, too).  I had recently completed a story I thought fit the theme, so I sent it in, hoped for the best, and was pleasantly surprised when it was accepted.

Brandon O'Brien

Hello, all! I’m Brandon, he/him or they/them, and I’m a writer, poet, and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago. I had initially missed the first call for submissions for this collection, but then Crystal reached out to me and asked if I would be able to contribute something. It just so happened that I had been taking notes for a novel I was almost about to trunk, one that was also confronting the theme of how people see and respond to fascism. So I decided I’d write something in that same world from another character’s perspective, and that’s how ‘We All Know The Melody’ was written.

Leo: ¡Hola! Although I usually go simply by “Leo,” I do have one of those long Hispanic-customs names (here it goes, hold on tight, you can sing it): Leonardo Francisco Ignacio Espinoza Benavides (!). I am a Chilean medical doctor and a science fiction writer & editor. As opposed to my good friend Rodrigo who lives in a lovely coastal town, I spend my days in the ever-busy capital, Santiago. Besides the motivation I got from Crystal’s invitation to submit and Julie [Capell]'s enthusiasm to translate, I was also living through what has come to be known in Chile as “The Social Outbreak”: a series of massive protests starting in October 2019 to reshape our society, concluding with a referendum that began the legal process to change our current Constitution, which was established all the way back during Chile’s right-wing dictatorship. So… plenty of motivation all around!

Lucie: Ahoj 😊 I’m a Czech woman, writer, translator and creative writing teacher. I already gained some fame and success in my country but I’m relatively new to the anglophone SF scene. Crystal asked me for a story and I was very interested in the theme – and grateful for her trust and for giving me a chance to prove myself. Part of my family died in concentration camps during WWII, so the theme strikes a chord, although the majority of my texts aren't political.

Hal: I’m a writer, programmer, and immigrant to the US (she/her pronouns). When I saw the submission call, I knew immediately that Recognize Fascism would be the dream place for my strange story of the government replacing clocks with chickens. Crystal knows the odd journey, too long for this space, that this story has gone through, perhaps befitting its odd premise, but I’m very grateful that “Chicken Time” ended up here!

Laura Jane: Hi! I’m Laura Jane (she/her pronouns). I live in the Midwest in the United States, and I have a background in science, though in this case my story is fantasy. I was excited to see the call for submissions for Recognize Fascism, though I wasn’t sure my odd story would fit. It felt (and still feels) like such a vital issue right now.

NoaF: The stories in Recognise Fascism span all corners of genre and also draw on many different ways in which fascism can manifest. Can you tell me more about the inspirations for your story, or what you discovered while writing it?

Crystal: I just want to say, as editor, I look forward to hearing the answers to this! Several of us played a game in October about pretending authors knew the origins of each others’ stories (even though most of the authors in the anthology didn’t know the others beforehand), and I legit don’t remember anyone’s honest origin story as a result.

Kiya Nicoll
Kiya: A couple years ago I wound up accidentally researching the symbology and mythologies of the original fascists while I was digging into the sociocultural origins of something else, because it turns out that stewpot of influences produced a lot of offspring. One of the things in the fascist portion of the stew is the idea of perfect physicality: a "natural" physiology, a buff abled body, which is also male, straight, and racially aligned with the fascists. I had already written one (unpublished) story about Rory, a trans man in a cyberpunk universe, and writing his origin seemed the obvious thing to do for Recognise Fascism. Cyberpunk as a genre often has that intrinsic tension between wish-fulfilment body modification and fascistic body purity baked in, and I find that compelling and relevant as someone imperfectly abled and transmasculine/nonbinary.

Meridel: My story is actually my second attempt at a particular theme: how terrorism and war can impact the direction of someone's life. My first version was a bit of a failure, I'm afraid. It followed a character as she was drafted into a military, and my beta readers generally said that it felt like the prologue to a novel about her career as a fighter pilot. Not at all what I was going for! When I decided to try again, I focused on the uncertainty, loss, and anger I felt watching my country abandon peace and embrace a militaristic stance. It felt natural to include a budding queer romance as an anchor among the chaos for my characters.

Rodrigo: The inspiration for this story was another one that I wrote ten years ago ("Las Cloacas del Paraiso" [The Sewers of Paradise], Axxon, 2011). I felt that there was more to say about fascism as something that exists and grows in our own consciousness, because, of course, it is there, in our own primitive brain.

Lauren Ring
Lauren: My story was inspired by some iconography I saw of flowers with eyes, as well as my own persistent interest in and wariness of mass surveillance. Two different kinds of seeing are core to my story, the government seeing the citizens and the citizens seeing the government for the fascist regime it is. I wanted to approach recognizing fascism from a very Jewish perspective, which to me means: we can see the same things happening again that once happened to us, but we are often seen as paranoid for drawing that comparison. Of course, I also had to pull in some lesbian romance.

Nina: I’ve always loved musicals, so when I saw Cabaret as a teenager (thank you Finnish library system!), it had a tremendous impact on me. There’s this moment in it when the lead is having a nice moment in a cafe and a nazi youth stands up and starts singing Tomorrow Belongs to Me and it’s this slow build of more and more people joining in until by the end it’s this huge fervor of nationalistic emotion. In the beginning of 2016, Finland was going through its own moment that felt very similar to that. An author wrote an opinion piece that basically equated violent far-right extremists with people who unquestioningly accept refugees as the two extreme ends of a debate. The author called everyone who did not represent those two “extremes” people of sense. Our president shared this deeply flawed opinion piece with the words (rough translation) “let’s all be people of sense”. When I went to Clarion, Cory Doctorow encouraged me to not be afraid to use my anger in my writing. So when I started thinking about this story, I started there. "The Scale of Defiance" also started life as near-future science fiction and I wrote the first draft as such. That was a very different story, but also one that felt off. I was describing the feeling I was trying to convey to a writer friend of mine, C.J. Dugas, and talked about how even the beginning stages of fascism just make you feel so small and helpless and it finally clicked in place.

Jaymee: I struggled with the concept, because my way of coping with dark times is to imagine utopia. I’d already written a short story about overthrowing oppressors and the following trauma in the struggle to establish a utopia: “Eruption,” set in a floating city-state called New Demia. (Well, it’s not floating per se; it resembles a stalagnate. The city is built on the very top, with a tunnel system in its pillar.) Since I tend to re-visit settings, I thought about New Demia archaeologists researching Old Demia and what they would find. In her book Golden Gulag, Ruth Wilson-Gilmore defined racism as "the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death." No matter how much we try to bury the past, something will turn up, and “Scholar Miaka’s Summary” came out of contemplating the various ways the state creates or permits conditions that cause premature death, through direct physical violence, through psychological terror, through stripping people of the means to stand up for their own rights and dignity, recorded in disconnected moments across a lifetime.

Selene: with me, the inspiration was a personal thing. I kept dreaming about a friend from nearly fifty years ago, someone I’d had an instinctive and treasured bond with, but hadn’t been able to keep in my life, mostly through my own bumbling misunderstandings, something autistics are often good at. I later learned my friend had fallen into a bad place, and I was never able to find them again. Finally the dream/memories intersected with the intellectual concept of the Cloud State: the insurrectionary AIs that maintain the foundational principles of society against its unwritten codes. In the protective interaction of the marginalized main character with the painfully awkward but deeply principled Justice AI, I was able to create some kind of poignant, loving closure with my lost friend.

Alexei Collier
Alexei: Like Jaymee, during dark times my writing tends to retreat from the darkness, which is probably why I wrote “Sacred Chords" a couple of years after the G.W. Bush era. As best as I can recall a decade on, the initial inspiration came while listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” from the phrase “secret chord” in the first verse. Due to ADHD (without the H), my brain tends to make unusual jumps, and went from “secret chord” to “sacred chord” — likely influenced by the biblical references of the song — and I started pondering a society where certain chords were deemed sacred, and as a result others might be forbidden. I think that collided in my psyche with the endless wars and attacks on religious liberty of the prior years, and out came a story set in a militaristic theocracy that revered (and enforced) a strict set of musical forms called the Hallowed Sonata. I realized in revisions that the narrative was overly male-centered (taking place in an all-male prison) and thus lacked nuance, and I made sure to connect the protagonist’s story to the more marginalized voices of women.

Justin: This story changed a lot over time.  The first version was a silly tale of two astronauts trying to escape their world, and I was never quite satisfied with it.  At some point, it morphed into a story of injustice, music, and rebellion. I don’t remember exactly where the original idea came from, but I think it’s a safe bet to say I was influenced by Heinlein.

Phoebe: My story spent enough time in the rock tumbler that I don't remember many specific inspirations: it was a gradually-assembled work that eventually accreted around the idea of someone coming home after a long time away to find that they both had changed enough that they were incompatible. I do know that I was inspired by a book I read in high school about "weasel words," where the true meanings are sucked out and replaced with bland euphemisms, and how the way we talk about things can so easily change what "truth" is. It says a lot about a society when you call an offshore prison for asylum seekers a "Regional Processing Centre," for instance. That sort of linguistic manipulation is a core component of fascism, and I didn't want to overlook it. 

Brandon: Well, the catalyst for the story before this story was about rhetoric: about how we get people to believe things, or believe in things, and how language in its purest form is a tool to facilitate that level of manipulation. The homeless community in that world are essentially gifted with the knowledge of that fact, the knowledge that it is literally a form of magic to tell someone something and make them want to act on it, but that doesn’t stop other people from having that same power or being willing to use it - they just know how to call it by name. In that first novel, it was about violence - about how one constructs a coup, and how one attempts to rebel against it - and I only mention that because at the time of writing this, that concern has become a lot more… present for a lot of people. But none of that was in this story. This story was about what kind of violence comes first, the more core kind of issue with certain kinds of rhetoric - how it can inspire people to hurt their neighbours and cast out marginalised communities based on the lie of inferiority or national value, and how difficult it is to fight back against that kind of rhetoric, but how important it is to do so. 

Leonardo Espinoza Benavides

It was Friday afternoon, October 18th, when I got home from work. I remember entering my apartment, turning on the TV and —almost surreally— watched a whole building on fire in the middle of the city, while several Metro stations has begun burning as well. The Social Outbreak had begun, after a series of events that got the people of Chile out into the streets to demand a fairer society, for everyone and not just a few. That Friday lives in my memory. The next day, the President declared a State of Emergency and the Chilean Army was deployed to control the situation, alongside the institution of a military-controlled curfew. These were the kind of things our grandparents used to tell us, from those dark, old days, back in the 70s. Until that Friday in October, those old tales were no more than old memories, almost ethereal. Then, the ghosts woke up. New stories were to be written. New identities were to be shaped.

Lucie: My story is called “The Three Magi”, which was the code name of three resistance fighters in Prague during WWII. But I took direct inspiration for my story from elsewhere, actually from Poland. It’s our neighbouring country with a Slavic population and religious right-wing parties are on the rise there, making it seem as if the country was going to sink straight into the dark ages again. Therefore, my story shows the clero-fascist face of the problem, and you can expect some “real” magic-using magi.

Hal: While writing a fantasy story, I found out that roosters crow just about any time they like, not just the morning (this fact might be obvious to many people, but I’m a city person through and through). This seized my imagination as I then thought about a political satire in which clocks have been replaced with roosters in a ridiculously destabilizing and destructive act. The fantasy story is still a work-in-progress and might remain that way forever, but now I have “Chicken Time.”

Laura Jane: There’s a town in Virginia with a sign much like the one in my story, suggesting the existence of “old grouches.”  I started wondering how a town might select people for such a role, and the idea of electing them amused me.  It got more interesting when I considered the possibility that not everyone would want to run, and then I asked myself just why a town would need grouches, and who would benefit from that.

NoaF: I want to pick up on something a few of you touch on, in one way or another, in your responses: the idea that the pull to fascism is in some way an inevitable repeating factor in our histories, or otherwise “inherent” in human psychology. Is that something that others agree with? How do you address that within your stories?

Nina Niskanen

Nina: I don’t want to agree with it, because it feels like giving in to the fascists. Humanity's memory seems to be short where some things are considered and I feel like there are always assholes who will do anything for power and control. When I was a teenager way back in the 90's, one of the other horsegirls at the stable told us about a party that she attended where neo-nazis crashed and beat someone she knew because he wasn't Finnish. That was the first time I found out that the nazi ideology was alive and well in people whose parents hadn't been alive during the war. In my experience, fascists are always sort of there, under the surface, trying to grab for legitimacy. Fascist movements that are successful enough to rise to mainstream attention are very good at appealing to people’s fears.

They’re also very good at lying. Fundamentally, all fascist movements are based on lies, which always end up looking very comforting for the in-group they target. Often, it’s the same lie, just clad in slightly different clothing. But it always starts out with a lie that also tests boundaries. That boundary testing is what's happening in my story. The fascists are looking for legitimacy in a system that has a lot of alternatives. For me, this is where it's crucial to push back at their attempt at legitimacy through any means necessary: hold their feet to the fire for all the missteps and all the boundaries pushed. Because sometimes, those so-called "people of sense" need to be reminded that even though the fascist wears a suit, he's still a fascist. My characters do that through being visibly different, working to normalize the people the fascists want to demonize.

There's a video essay by Lindsay Ellis about Mel Brooks and why his comedy endures, and I think that goes to this same thing. Fascism, by its nature, projects itself as this Big Scary Unbeatable Thing, but ultimately it's always just a small number of people who will go to any lengths. And I think that part of fighting against them will always have to be disrupting their narrative; making the joy and love in marginalized communities visible and undeniable. Turning the marginalized people into protagonists and heroes, parts of a community that is the very antithesis of the Big Scary Unbeatable Thing.

Kiya:  Nnnh, I don’t think I agree with the question as phrased either.  But I do think that the component factors for fascism are out there, it’s a question of whether or not the combinatorics pull them together in the right (wrong) way.  There are always going to be people who have purity-oriented values; there are always going to be people who want to look to authorities; there’s always going to be variability in how open people are to people who are strange to them.  These aren’t intrinsically bad or intrinsically problems, but if they’re channeled by xenophobia, isolationism, and similar factors they can go septic, especially once, as Nina points out, there’s some person or organization seeding the kind of lies that grow into fascism.  The fascist vision of a perpetually threatened utopia for its in-crowd depends on being able to build a bubble of a distinct group and say “this is Us”.

Brandon: I think my issue with the question as phrased, as Nina and Kiya already touched on, is that there are things that aren’t fascism, or aren’t fascism yet, that I do think people are more prone to, that are fertile ground for certain kinds of harmful ideas. Wanting to feel safe, worries about being able to provide for loved ones, anxieties about being desirable or strong, anxieties that one’s place in the world is being diminished or that something catastrophic will change our way of life for the worse: those things come up in some people’s lives all the time, and by themselves are not necessarily hostile thoughts. But the lies that leaders of a certain type are prone to tell -- that people are trying to rob citizens of their opportunity to make a living, that people are predisposed to criminal activity, that ‘we’ are owed a certain kind of status or power or recognition and that ‘they’ are trying to rob ‘us’ of it -- are attempts to plant within those worries the seed that there is someone to blame, and if ‘we’ just destroy ‘them’, all ‘our’ problems will be answered.

Perhaps there is always someone willing to tell that lie, but there is a non-zero percentage of people there who either just bought into the lie, or stuck around because it was the new normal and they’re afraid of what happens when it falls apart. And the challenging part is often that, even though all of them are responsible, there is room to still ask if we can reach out to those other people, and unravel the lie for them before it becomes knotted, and how we do that. And whose responsibility it is to do that, as well? One of the big questions very early in my story is when the protagonist, a queer person of colour, is asked to their face, “do you really want to risk your own life trying to reason with people who want to hurt you?”, and there isn’t a pretty answer to that. 

Meridel Newton
Meridel: I think fascism develops as a response to fear. There are of course other possible responses, both on an individual level and on a societal level, but fascism often seems like the easy choice to the frightened and insecure mind. Fascism is what happens when a group that expects to be in control sees their power slipping away, fears losing their position of dominance, and chooses to double down on their control rather than examine and address their fear. The increased control can manifest in a number of familiar mechanisms: militarism, oppression of minorities, toxic masculinity and the worship of those who embody it. Nina touched on some of what I would consider to be other, healthier responses: joy, love, and community. Reinforcing security and stability on a micro level provides defenses against the turn to fascism on a macro level.

Rodrigo: OK. We are members of the animal kingdom, vertebrates, mammals and primates. The result of four billion years of natural selection. And, as Darwin explained, nature is a war of survival and reproduction. In order to be successful, in survival and reproduction, animals need to kill, and need to impose themselves over others, usually, by force. I am not saying anything that you don't know, of course. Alpha behavior, the desire to follow the leader, the belonging and the group identity, everything is a legacy of our evolution. The seeds of fascism are there. Intelligence, civilization, society, is our commitment in order to leave behind that legacy. It was a good thing in the wilderness, but not anymore. In my view, to reject fascism is almost the same as to reject our instincts of supremacy, of being alpha. You might realise by now that I am a biology teacher, I guess. 

Nina: I’m not sure I completely agree with that, Rodrigo.  Society and co-operation are built into our very evolution. All our closest ancestors are social creatures, with a pronounced instinct for fairness that goes even further back than the great apes. If you remove any of the great apes from their groups or force them into new ones, they will either get depressed or they will form new societal bonds. None of us great apes may be able to produce vitamin C (I'm sure Rodrigo knows this, but everyone else, look it up, all the other species can and I will die mad about it) in our bodies but societies and co-operation are definitely built in. But, unfortunately, so are some of the other things as well. 

Rodrigo: Of course. Our evolutionary heritage has also those elements that you mention. I just focused on the traits that could be related to a fascist behavior, but clearly, the things are far more complicated. In example, as mammals we have a strong altruistic tendency.

Phoebe Barton

Phoebe: I don't think there's anything inevitable about fascism. It's a self-destructive and utterly poisonous manifestation of the all-too-common human drive toward authoritarianism, but it's not like it's the lowest energy state that everything will eventually roll toward. Sure, everything humans make is artificial, but fascism is particularly artificial. In its requirement for constant enemies, constant competition, it breaks quickly. That's one reason I set my story in a space habitat, which also requires constant maintenance to survive -- because when a thing is bottled and concentrated, its vile elements are even easier to see.

Alexei: I agree with those who’ve said fascism is an extreme and toxic response to specific types of widespread fears in a society, rather than anything inevitable. Fascism is a potential risk we face by living in a state-level society, an emergent property of certain human behaviors to be sure, but not something “inherent” to humans. We tend to think of human history as the just last 5-to-10 thousand years, but humans were around for hundreds of thousands of years before anything even resembling a nation state emerged, and it’s possible that one day humanity will move beyond nation states and thus beyond the potential threat of fascism, perhaps to face new societal ills and risks we can only try to imagine. I think Ursula Le Guin’s words about capitalism apply to fascism as well: “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Leo: I believe we are still a young civilization. Many more mistakes are yet to come. The Neolithic Revolution happened only 12,000 years ago — just a blink away in terms of cosmic time. We humans have done and continue doing unforgivable things. The Good struggles to shift the balance towards hope, life, love. I’m an optimistic pessimist: I believe we are far away from leaving violence behind, but as long as Art finds a way… we shall be granted transcendental meaning to our existence. As a famous Latin American song says: “(¡Vamos caminando!) Yo canto porque se escucha” / “(We are walking!) I sing because it is heard”.

Justin: I’m torn on this question.  I don’t want to believe that fascism is inevitable, but until humanity as a whole learns to recognize its own worst impulses and reject these impulses as unhealthy, I feel that it’s an ever-present threat.  It’s not an overnight fix by any means.  I believe education and empathy are the keys to preventing the rise of fascism.  With these two things, we can reject leaders who promote dangerous ideologies and demonize others.  Without education and empathy, it’s too easy for unscrupulous leaders to play off our fears and prejudices and use them to justify unspeakable crimes.

Lucie: I agree with Meridel (and the others) – good soil for fascism to grow on is fear. Fear of “otherness”, the feeling that the world is changing in a way the person in question doesn’t understand and doesn’t like; such a person then feels threatened even by other people’s absolutely private issues (like gender, sexual orientation or woman’s right to make decisions about her own body). This fear arises always when societies develop and circumstances change. But I don’t want to believe that fascism is the inevitable outcome. I hope that with proper education, empathy and reason there is a chance that we won’t have to fight it again and again and again. Anything else would be a very depressing prospect.

Hal: Really enjoying everyone’s thoughtful responses. I’d just add that in my story, near the end, there are people who just want things to “go back to normal,” whatever that means, and those who stay their ground and fight. People are complex and varied, and no matter how terrible things might be, there are always people who stay and fight.

Laura Jane: I have to echo what others have said, that I don’t want to believe that fascism is inevitable.  I want to believe that humans can be better than that.  And I agree that fear creates a fertile environment for fascism to develop.  Another factor I think about is scarcity, or the perception of scarcity--when people feel that there aren’t enough resources to go around, they’re more likely to try to control the resources they value.  Oddly, I think the perception of scarcity might be more dangerous than true scarcity, especially when the people in power can find a group they can easily blame for it.

Jaymee Goh
Jaymee: This question makes me think of Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, which proposed that the fatal flaw of humanity is that it is intrinsically given to hierarchy, and that impulse to either follow or lead can end up in very bad places, given the range of human impulses there are. I don’t believe that fascism is inevitable, just as I don’t believe abusive behaviour is inevitable, nor even cruelty. But I do believe that the capability for such is within us, and so, too, our capability to accept these vagaries as a part of our lives. I know I am capable of great cruelty and violence, and I know that were I to have simply accepted my tendency towards cruelty and violence as an unquestioned given, I may very well be swept up in any movements that would allow me to express those parts of myself. But I also know that I am capable of kindness and tenderness, and I believe everyone is also capable of such. “Scholar Miaka” has grown up in a society which carefully attends to the question: how can we recognise these tendencies to cruelty and violence? Because recognising them is the first step to curbing them. 

Crystal: Wow, Jaymee, I need to reread Lilith’s Brood. Thank you. That series is my favorite of Butler’s work, but it’s been too long.

I want to talk a little about my personal attempts to resist fascism, too. I don’t know enough about human nature as a whole, or social impulses toward evil. I do know about myself and the communities I’m personally a part of.

Something that I’ve found to be of great value is having touchstone points in my calendar year during which I do some kind of self-assessment. The biggest is Yom Kippur, one of the most important days in the Jewish year. Every fall, I spend hours reciting the prayer Ashamnu, which involves everyone at the service, as a community, taking responsibility for basically every bad action we can think of. It’s ritualized and formulaic, and sometimes it’s really hard. We have been rageful, we have been insensitive, we have acted out of contempt — these are things we say out loud, over and over, every year. I beat my chest while doing so, as is common in this service. 

It always, always causes me to reflect on which parts of the prayer are harder to say. It’s collective acknowledgement that we create a world in which we humans do these things, and sometimes we individuals have done them. Have I betrayed someone’s trust? Have I acted out of fear instead of love? Have I been quiet when I should have spoken out? The time surrounding Yom Kippur is a period of deep introspection, and often people (including myself) take the opportunity to offer overdue apologies and make amends when we find ourselves to be wanting.

Jews as a whole haven’t avoided the urge to fascism or authoritarianism — an obvious example is treatment of Palestinians in Israel, but there are many others. Jews as individuals have often avoided becoming fascists, however, and I think the Ashamnu is a part of why. I think a component of not becoming a fascist is assessing (and reassessing) oneself as an individual and as part of a group. 

NoaF: Thanks for sharing such a thoughtful, introspective set of answers on that question (also I didn’t know that other animals can produce Vitamin C and now I, too, will die mad about it). Your ideas bring me back to the core of the anthology, which is that recognition of fascism, or the seeds of fascism, in the world around us and what we do. What do you hope a reader will take out of your story, or the anthology as a whole, in response to that question?

Nina: For my part, I think the biggest strength of this anthology is that there are so many different views of what fascism might look like in a particular setting or environment. For me, the strength of science fiction and fantasy have always been that it allows you to explore what it means to be a human in a setting that is just unfamiliar enough to get through your defences and, hopefully, make it easier to see the same structures at work in your own life. That’s my hope for my story and for the anthology as a whole. On the surface, fascism wears different clothes every time it raises its head. Trumpism is different from nazism, which is different from the South African Greyshirts, which is different from Lapuan liike. Denying connections to past fascist movements seems to be one of the strategies that fascist movements use to curry mainstream acceptance. Even when the name of your movement is literally the same as the name of the previous movement, which is a thing that’s happening in Finland right now. I’m hoping that this anthology and my story will help more people recognize fascism wherever they come across it, remember where it leads and work to stop it. 

Meridel: In my story, we see the moment when Casey understands what’s happening, and chooses to fight back by doubling down on everything the governmental agent seems to find objectionable about them. While their later acts of resistance are bigger and more visible, it is that quiet moment in the recruitment office, that crystallization of the current moment, that is the real turning point for Casey. I think that’s what I would like for people to take away from my story, and from the anthology in general: choosing to be who you are, messy and inconvenient and hard to define as any individual is, can be one of the strongest forms of resistance. Visibility is undeniability, and pride in your individuality is one of the strongest bulwarks against the forces that would break you down. Fascism seeks to remake the world in its singular image, but nonconformity is resistance; diversity is resistance; art is resistance.

Kiya: Thank you, Meridel, you gave me the thought I needed to get my brain in order.  I’ll admit right out I wrote “The Company Store” very much from a place of fear, and of not knowing what happens next, or what to do about anything.  But the thing that gives Rory a future is his decision to choose honesty over conformity, to be, as you said, messy and inconvenient.  And it has risks, and he’s scared, but as soon as he decides to take those risks, he’s not alone anymore.  He found other messy, inconvenient people and he knows they’ll be there for him.  Fascism is isolating of anyone who doesn’t fit its in-crowd mold and tries to keep people afraid of deviation; authenticity brings genuine community.

Alexei: As Nina pointed out, one of the most powerful things about speculative fiction is its ability to come at a subject sideways, to “talk about something without really talking about it,” allowing authors to explore real-world issues from a slight remove, which is often easier for readers to accept and digest. I think this anthology is an ideal vehicle for that. For my own story, I’m not sure I can summarize what I want readers to take away from it. I keep trying, but nothing sounds right. I’m not even sure I’m the best person to ask. “Death of the author” and all that.

Phoebe: If anyone takes away anything from my “A Brilliant Light, An Unreachable Dawn,” I hope it's reinforcement that fascism is founded on obfuscation and lies. The idea of Callisto's "pan-Jovian co-prosperous amity" philosophy came directly from the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere -- that is, highfalutin language to conceal the brutal truth of the Japanese Empire during the Second World War. "Regional Processing Centre" is exactly what Australia calls its offshore detention camps today. People need to learn to pull those curtain words aside and comprehend the real meaning behind them, and that's what I tried to show here.

Lucie Lukačovičová
Lucie: I hope that my story will convey the knowledge that oppressive ideologies can be recognized even by those seemingly (or truly) privileged and endorsed by them. The problem is naturally harder to spot if you are in the group which seems chosen to get all the advantages. This single fact doesn’t automatically make you an evil person. You’ll just have a longer way to perceive that something went wrong. As for the anthology as a whole – I love the different angels of view and the diverse approaches. I hope that for every reader there will be a voice they can relate to.

Jaymee: Like Alexei, I hesitate to state what I want readers to take away from it, because it feels a bit like a shutdown, but also because my story is written at so far a remove from the actual moment: it’s a series of memories, from hundreds of years ago, and those memories have also degraded. As it has been recorded down in text, away from the first filter of memory, it suffers even more distance. I know when I wrote it, I was thinking about memory, about how being in the moment can dole out trauma, about how chance and coincidence unearths a moment of witnessing, about how memories are transmitted, and why we would want to transmit something so painful and traumatic through the ages, even as we dream of creating a better world. 

Brandon: The thing I hope readers get the most from my story is that speaking up isn’t some bigger or more powerful person’s business--it’s all of our business collectively to reject the small moments that build up into full-blown catastrophe. Every small injustice, whether it is by the system or by those who benefit from it, is a stone upon which fascism can be built, and when we dash away those stones before they take shape, we are saving each other and ourselves from violence. Often it’s as little as standing there and saying aloud that you will not stand for it. And when your peers tell you that the risk is too great or the reward too small to speak up yourself, remind them that those proportions change when we speak out in numbers.

Leo: I get the same hesitation Jaymee and Alexei mentioned. It’s not easy to materialize what I want the reader to specifically take out. What comes to mind is the hope of sharing a feeling, a moment, an abstract idea somehow trying to find a shape of its own. There are human experiences forever to remain a little bit abstract, a little bit incomprehensible. And that’s when literature —and other forms of art— come to play their role.

Hal Y. Zhang
Hal: “Chicken Time” is clearly a ridiculous premise…or is it? Fundamental parts of human society, such as units of measurement, have been wielded throughout history as tools of populace control. I hope readers find that kernel of an idea worth chewing over out from all the scenarios of absurdity and dark humor in the story (we all need some laughter in trying times).

Crystal: As the editor of this book, I put a lot of thought and work and angst into trying to make sure that each story showed an unique facet of fascism, told in a different way. It was also my first solo editing project, so I probably overworked you authors in my zeal to try to show this breadth without letting any one author take the show or shoulder the heaviest burden. I know I’m not supposed to read the reviews, but what I take from the reviews I’ve seen is that everyone has a different favorite story, and each story is someone’s favorite. I think that’s because there’s something for everyone, but also there’s something in each story that can make you feel uncomfortable. It just depends on where you’re coming from, what you haven’t yet thought to recognize as fascism or proto-fascism, that may cause different readers to sit and think about it. That “sit and think” time is what I hope the readers get from this collection.

Laura Jane: My story started as a bit of a joke, but it didn’t stay that way, and in a way that’s what I hope people think about.  So often, things seem light and funny until suddenly they’re not.  Suddenly they’re dangerous, and only in retrospect do people see what was happening.  And I hope my story and this anthology remind people to watch for that.

Justin: I hope readers will leave with a sense of optimism.  I hope the collection is a reminder that no matter how difficult things are, there are always people who want better for the world and who will do the right thing, no matter what the cost.

Rodrigo: Sometimes fascism is easily recognizable. Sometimes not. You see the flags, the uniforms, the fanatics, the dogmatic speeches, and you say, yeah, those guys are fascists. And probably you are right. But fascism also could be growing in the dark corners of your own home. And in yourself, myself, in my own decisions and behavior. In my view, my main character becomes a kind of fascist even he doesn't know, even if he could have some reasons for that. Favorable conditions for fascism are everywhere, not just in the governmental offices or extremist movements.

NoaF: Does anyone have any final thoughts they’d like to share?

Nina: *ahem* I apologize in advance, but I’ve been listening to a lot of hair metal lately; “Don’t stop believing!” (Edited to add: For the record, I wrote this before the orange menace used it in his send-off.)

Lucie: That's great, Nina! Well, by coincidence I've also been listening to music just this moment; namely to Miracle of Sound: “They painted masterworks and set them all alight – the scars of persecution always harden into spite...“

Jaymee: Aw, with all that music, I can’t help but think of the little ditty that goes, “If you’re a Nazi and you’re fired, that’s your fault! <CLAP CLAP>” Anyway, I do hope the anthology empowers people to seize that gut feeling in them that says “this asshole is a Nazi” rather than reason it away with a “nah, I’m just overreacting,” and thus follow up with the actions that best suit the circumstances at the moment, though I would never discourage anyone from punching a fuckin’ fascist in the face if they can help it. 

Kiya: Okay, I can’t resist this trend, which is 100% predictable of me, really, given that I am a seething mass of earworms rubberbanded together with flesh (just like Rory). “We are more than we’re made to be / We got more than meets the eye / When we stand strong together, you and me / We can save the world.”  It's from “Blaseball the Musical: The Deaths of Sebastian Telephone,” one of my current loops.

Meridel: Maybe we need to bring back some more 80s bands, because the first song I came up with was “Land of Confusion” by Genesis: “This is the world we live in / And these are the hands we’re given / Use them and let’s start trying / To make it a place worth living in.” It may be painfully earnest, but I’d argue that painfully earnest is what we need to fight the ironically hateful. 

Brandon: Can I just say that I delight in this music talk? This is something I also think is important in these times: finding joy, finding a place to dance to something or rock out to an inspiring jam. And to use that art, that song, that dance, as the tentpole of our resistance. If you’re reading this, this is also a moment to plant that kind of joy. Keep spreading those earworms, folks, let’s give this revolution a rhythm! 

Crystal: There is a LOT of music woven into this anthology, so I’m not surprised we’ve become a jam session at the end of this chat.  I do have a sobering final thought, though, that I am not sure how to fit into the rest of this conversation. Potentially, I am the party-killer, here.

2020 was the first time I saw a piece of Nazi paraphernalia in someone’s house, on display. I never in my life would’ve expected it, and the resulting conversations I had with a couple of friends were some of the least comfortable conversations I’ve had all year. I was prepared to see white supremacist iconography at protests and counter-protests during the Trump administration. I could name half a dozen places I wouldn’t be surprised to see swastikas. A friend’s house, though? That shocked me.

It made me realize, however, that there is a really good Jewish saying for this moment, from Pirkei Avot (“The Ethics of Our Parents”): “You are not required to finish the work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” That’s the energy I’m taking into 2021. I may not see the last tile laid or patch painted, but I continue to lend my hammer and some nails to this project, as long as I can.

Phoebe: I have a sticker on my computer tower that says “FASCISM SHALL BE DESTROYED.” What we have to remember is that destruction is not one-and-done. There will always be cowards and powermongers attracted to fascism’s brutality. To echo what Crystal said, it’ll always be on us to do the work to keep it destroyed, to keep grinding its bricks into dust.

Leo: They covered the graffiti of “Octobers/October”… The one that said: “Santiago será la tumba del fascismo / Santiago will be the tomb of fascism”. I'm not sure what to feel: is it a good or a bad sign? Guess I’ll just choose an 80s song to allow for an ambiguous ending. I’ll go with, hmm, “Sube a nacer conmigo, hermano” (the live version where the mics had some issues but the public sang most of the song out loud; a karaoke with the band itself, ha!). Through art: recognize and resist.

Selene: I’m still processing what’s happened here in the US in the last couple of weeks, The best response I’ve come up with is this:

The T*mp era began with a pickup truck with a couple of guys inside driving through my diverse adopted city neighborhood yelling abuse, throwing a paper cup of coffee at a pair of trans friends at a bus stop. They screamed "Things are gonna be different around here now."

It's ending with the violation of the city where I was born and grew up. DC is always in flux- the neighborhoods change, the bridges and highways expand and unfurl in ways that make it unrecognizable outside its core whenever I go back- but it was that heart, that center, that was befouled by the same toxicity that drenched my friends in cold, stale coffee four years ago.

That foulness has always been here, but it's been fed and nurtured and allowed to metastasize so well these last few years that it will take the rest of my life and beyond to excise it. Ignorance and unreason thrive when they are the foundation of a validated self-interest.

My mind is still stunned and awkward as an emerging insect, but the need for internal silence is lifting enough to begin the work again. There will always be a need.

Laura Jane Swanson
Laura Jane: I’m also still feeling overwhelmed by the recent events here in the United States, and I’m not sure what to say about it all. But it’s more clear than ever that these stories matter.

Alexei: Given my story, I would be remiss not to return to the topic of music. Some years back, a Jewish friend of mine stumbled upon the existence of “Neo-Nazi punk rock,” and noted the ignorant hypocrisy and irony of white supremacists expressing their racist rhetoric through rock, an art form invented by people they hate, with clear roots stretching back to Africa. (I would also point out the further irony that punk rock has traditionally been as anti-authoritarian as music can get.)

But that’s what fascists do: they misappropriate symbols and cultural practices, and try to exert control over art, suppressing or destroying it, or twisting it to their own ends. And they add injury to insult, starting with defamation and scapegoating of marginalized people, and then moving to do them physical and cultural harm. These are the sort of behaviors we need to recognize, and push back against, and I believe this anthology can help in that struggle. What better way to fight the abuse and suppression of art than with art?

Rodrigo: I don’t use to write fiction with an explicit political purpose. When I write something about politics, I use clear words, so nobody could miss what I really mean. And I have strong political opinions. But when I write fiction, and science fiction in particular, I feel like when I was a child and my dad told me stories to go to sleep. Just beautiful stories for sleeping: old Greek myths were his favorites. So, this was a kind of challenge for me. And a writer must welcome challenges. For sure I have a lot to learn but thank you, reader, for the challenge and the opportunity.

NoaF: Thank you all for the earworms, for your thoughts, and for this amazing anthology!