It’s a good time for speculative fiction in America. We’ve come a long way since the trashy dime novels and pulp magazines of the early 20th century, when sci-fi was the sole province of nerdy adolescent boys, and the guilty pleasure of the men they would become.
It is still the province of nerdy adolescent boys, but there is less guilt attached to the pleasure of adult fans in a world where Fahrenheit 451 is taught as literature in school, where Avatar is the highest grossing film of all time, where dragons and space ships alike take their place on the big screen or the bookstore windows day in and day out.
The “genres,” as we like to call the trifecta of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, have been recognized as sources of both wildly entertaining adventures and thought-provoking ideas. We live in a time when every millennial wishes she attended Hogwarts. At this point, those who look down their noses at witchcraft and wizardry are on the wrong side of history.
And it’s a good time for speculative fiction at Princeton. Many of the creative writing faculty – literary luminaries one and all – have dabbled in the non-realistic. From the near-future dystopic Baltimore of Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea to the otherworldly poems in Tracy K. Smith’s collection Life on Mars, from the elevator magic of Colson Whitehead’s debut novel The Intuitionist to the zombie apocalypse of his more recent Zone One, the authors of our university have shed any snobbish intellectual stigma surrounding the fantastical and the futuristic. There is a course offered next semester called Princeton Writes, designed to introduce students and community members to our home-grown heroes. I’d like to make the further point that Princeton writes weird shit, and that she is unashamed.
During the fall semester, resident grad students Jonathon Glassman and Geeta Persad hosted the Visions of the Future Film Series, screening weekly sci-fi movies in Wilson Black Box and inviting professors to lead conversations about the philosophical questions raised by the films. This Spring, over 400 students enrolled in professor Alfred Bendixen’s new Science Fiction class, and not only surveyed the genre’s history from Gulliver’s Travels through the Hunger Games, but also had the option of producing their own original science fiction as a graded assignment.
I was pleasantly surprised to open the fall 2014 issue of the Nassau Literary Review and discover Bamboo Neighborhood, a charming sci-fi tale by Will Lathrop ’17, reproduced here. Likewise, a nonfiction piece about dystopias and totalitarianism from the November 2014 issue of The Princeton Tory is reprinted in this magazine.
I’m still a bit shocked when I sit in the crowded Cap and Gown TV room on Sunday night to watch the latest Game of Thrones episode, as if all the cool college kids are actually fans of the fantasy novels I was reading in 2009, before I had anyone to talk about them with.
Given this climate, figments is overdue. It’s past time that Princeton had a genre publication that gathers the most imaginative stories that our students produce. And more than that, figments aims to create a community that celebrates these genres. We want to host movie screenings of our own, invite authors to campus to speak, including Princeton alumni who are publishing speculative fiction (there are several), have art contests, and even make trips to fan conventions.
We’ll need your support to make our dreams come true next school year. In the meantime, enjoy the impossible tales we’ve gathered for you, directly from the colorful minds of your classmates. For your reading pleasure, the figments of our imaginations.
Takim Williams ‘16
Keeper of Fears, Futures and Fantasies