Small Thoughts: The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi by E.Lily Yu, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, May/June 2019

E. Lily Yu is a special type of author. She commonly transcends genres, breaks contemporary fictional forms, and brings a fairytale-eskness to her fiction that creates a sense of wonderment. The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi is not different.

While this newest story by Yu is quite firmly based in a technologically advanced future, it addresses a common and relevant issue of today (which all serious science fiction should do): What would people do if they were simply given enough to live?

I read this story on the heels of reading an interview with U.S. presidential hopeful, Andrew Yang. Yang has been making waves (maybe more like ripples) in the crowded Democratic field with his main issue platform: the “Freedom Dividend.” It sounds farcical to my ears, but the Freedom Dividend is a UBI, universal basic income. $1000 per month for every American is Yang’s platform. Why? Because of the GDP (gross domestic product) is not, Yang thinks, a fair reflection of a countries prosperity due to the fact that more and more products are made not by workers, but by machines.

ASF_MayJune2019_400x570Back to Yu’s story. In The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi there are two types of people: Doers and Don’ts. Doers do something Don’ts. . . don’t. But it’s more complicated than that. Doers are educated at a college level. They are skilled at. . . something. They produce something (in the case of this story, virtual reality design, art, and games). Don’ts on the other hand only play games. They apply themselves to things that are ALREADY created, like playing video games, watching movies, reading, etc. Jacob E. Mwangi is a Don’t. He gets his UBI from the Nairobi government and he spends it on rent, food, and playing VR games with his guild.

Everyone says Jacob has amazing potential. He’s intelligent, he could go to college–his sister even offers to send him someplace like China for his education. But being a Don’t is a source of pride for Jacob, and he’s not the only one. His game friends feel the same way. Doers are desperate, lame, and worse, self-important. What could they create that other people should be so excited about?

But when Jacob discovers a new indie game made by three women, he becomes inspired. He sees what they do well in terms of UX, but also what he might be able to improve on in the game. He thinks he could be an artist–but for that, he needs to go to school, get a portfolio together. Learn something.

The whole point of this story, I think, isn’t about VR or video games. It’s about UBI. It’s about how some people will, for a time, want nothing more than to play games, sit around, do nothing except enjoying themselves. But given time, people will begin to think, have ideas, want to act, create, produce. What will they produce? Who knows. But it’s going to be something that wasn’t produced beforehand because beforehand they didn’t have the time for such a passion project.

While Yu’s story paints a seemingly futuristic picture, it is a much more hopeful one than common science fiction. Similarly, Yang’s vision of a “Freedom Dividend” is also a hopeful concept that would let people devote more time and energy to their big ideas. While Yang is unlikely to win any nominations, he is polling at a high enough rate to conceivably be included in the first round of debates.

With hopeful stories like The Doing and Undoing of Jacob E. Mwangi, it is likely the idea of a UBI will become more commonplace in the years to come.

(Not sold on the Freedom Dividend? Find out how Yang expects to pay for this, by clicking here.

Snapshots by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Galaxy’s Edge, 2018

I have a ton of conflicted feelings about this piece.

It starts off with Cleavon in 1955 when he’s only ten years old. He’s at a funeral of a friend who was shot by a white man.

The second part takes place in 1975.

Then 1994.

And so on until it ends in 2025. Each section is another snapshot of Cleavon’s life and focuses on times of injustice, racial bias, and systemic racism. All these issues are worth writing about and must be addressed in realism as well as genre. But my conflicting feelings focus on the fact that this piece was written by a white person, imagining what the black American experience might be like. While I don’t think any writer should shy away from a topic due to fear, I do think it’s imperative for a writer who is not part of that culture/experience to represent it in a realistic manner. While Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a reputable author who has won a collection of awards, I think she took a risk on this piece. It’s not that she wrote a piece with a black main character, it’s that the subject matter is: what it’s like to be black in evolving (or devolving) the USA.

It’s a slippery slope and doesn’t know if she has the right to take space up that would be otherwise left to those who live this experience rather than imagine it.

For Love of The Game

This month is chalked full of amazing soccer games. My love of soccer is rivaled, perhaps, only by my lover of writing, and this month soccer may win out. Why? Because two huge international competitions are being held. First, and already in progress, is the Copa America Centenario, the 100th anniversary of the oldest international soccer tourny in the world. On June 10th the European Championship begins in France, which is also bound to be extraordinary.

The other day, however, I went to a game in Seattle. Now, Seattle Sounder fans are a bit notorious for being Seattle fans first and soccer fans second–sadly the attendance at this game showed the truth of this all too well. The match was between Haiti and Peru. Two teams that never make the big stage of the World Cup. Peru has potential, and they showed flashes of it against Haiti, but Haiti never makes the World Cup and typically is a completely overlooked country in much more than just soccer.

The stadium is a 67,000 pot, but only 20,000 people came for the game. This is a major international competition, and yes, these were B teams of the tournament. They don’t have the recognizable players like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico do, but a love for the game is supporting the games that are smaller–because the play can still be great, the game exciting. But Seattle fans are fans of themselves, it seems, not so much of the sport.

On the 14th Argentina and Bolivia will face off in Seattle, and I expect attendance to be much higher then. If Messi is likely to step onto the field, more people are likely to show up.

The European Championship, on the other hand, is stacked for some intriguing and exiting matches. Germany must be the clear favorite. Their dominance in the 2014 World Cup was incredible and amazing to witness. But Spain, France, Italy, Holland, and even England, can’t ever be ruled out. Then there are the dark horses, or sleepers. Wales has made the Euros for the first time (maybe ever, I’m not sure), as has Iceland–which I’m hoping show well for themselves as it’s one of my top destinations for future traveling. With so much soccer coming up I don’t know how I’ll get anything done at all this month.