The man-free world of “A Bad Day in Utopia” is such an orderly place, and its protagonist’s day-to-day life so ordinary and familiar, at least to me, as someone who’s worked at a video game company in a large American city. It reminded me how I always found the premise of stories like Y: The Last Man a little dubious—a world that collapses into immediate and violent disarray with the sudden loss of its men. Of course, the transition here happens under very different circumstances, and a few generations before the story’s present. Were you imagining and writing this setting with the intention of being in conversation with other single-gender-world stories?
I’ve read Y: The Last Man, but to be honest, that story didn’t have much of an effect on me. A story that very much did have an effect on me, however, is The Left Hand Of Darkness. Discovering Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing was a revelation for me—the idea that science fiction could be purely anthropological. Before she died, my number one dream was to get to meet her someday. I had this secret fantasy that I would get invited to her house, and she and I would sit on her porch together, and we would just look at the grass and the sky and talk for a while. I used to daydream about it at random moments, washing the dishes or sweeping the floor. Anyway, I never got to have that conversation with her, so it would mean a lot to me if this story was somehow in conversation with The Left Hand Of Darkness. (In terms of word count, it’d be a conversation in which Ursula was doing most of the talking, but that’s how I’d always hoped it would go.)
Your other recent story here in Lightspeed, “Life Sentence,” dealt with forced memory erasure, rather than imprisonment, as a form of criminal justice. The solution that “Bad Day” posits to the everyday and extraordinary horrors of patriarchal society seems another sort of erasure, and in both cases an attempt by the state for a sort of neatness, an all-or-nothing corralling of the problem rather than a more restorative approach. But of course, when it comes to the sort of history of oppression touched on at the story’s end, can any sort of reconciliation restore a justice that wasn’t in place to begin with? The narrative sympathizes with Rex in his isolation and his desperation, but ultimately doesn’t argue with the narrator’s reasoning or her decision. Do you?
I have a logical mind, almost robotically so. I like data. I like statistics. Here are some numbers courtesy of the FBI: In the United States, approximately eight out of ten violent crimes are committed by men. Eight out of ten burglaries. Eight out of ten robberies. Eight out of ten arsons. Eight out of ten physical assaults. Nine out of ten murders. Ninety-seven out of one hundred rapes. Ninety-seven out of one hundred—and those, of course, are only the rapes that are reported. I wish we could say, “It’s just cultural,” but the numbers appear to be relatively consistent across the globe. Worldwide, male Homo sapiens are catastrophically more prone to committing acts of violence than female Homo sapiens. Given that, I have to admit that the decision does seem logical to me—wouldn’t humanity be far better off if every person on this planet was a woman?
Why did this story happen for you at this particular moment in history? Is gender something that you’ve tried to interrogate previously in your work?
I first tried to write a version of this story in 2011; that version was very long and very terrible and had absolutely nothing in common with this one except that it was set in a society where men were kept in cages. I set the idea aside for seven years, and then seven years later I read something astonishing. In 2015, the Chinese Academy of Sciences achieved an incredible scientific milestone: For the first time ever, scientists there managed to create artificial sperm. The scientists had taken stem cells from mice and turned the stem cells into viable sperm and then used the artificial sperm to fertilize mouse eggs, thereby creating new mice. In 2018, only three years later, scientists at the University of Cambridge claimed to be already halfway to achieving the same feat with human cells. I can’t possibly express how much that this news excited me—that humanity might soon develop a technology that would render men reproductively obsolete. Combined with the ability to preselect the gender of a baby, humanity could gradually phase men out entirely by creating only women for future generations. I was thrilled. A society composed entirely of women wouldn’t be a true utopia, of course; like any human society, there would still be crime and conflict and inequality. Still, given those numbers on violent offenders, I have to imagine that a society composed entirely of women would seem awfully utopian compared to the society we live in today. I’ll admit, though, that since writing the story, I’ve had conversations about the idea with a range of people—male and female, young and old, gay and straight, liberal and conservative—and ultimately every person has had more or less the same response: “Well, sure, some men are bad, maybe even most men, but I wouldn’t want to get rid of all of them.” I haven’t yet managed to convince a single person. I’m hopeful, however, that future generations of humanity—perhaps the humans of the twenty-fourth century?—will approach the matter more logically, and will just phase men out.
Who are the women whose writing you’re loving right now, and/or whom you feel are doing important work in feminist fiction?
Along with Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the stories of C Pam Zhang, Alice Sola Kim, Emily St. John Mandel, and Tillie Walden, On A Sunbeam especially. In film, Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch, Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid, and Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen. Heidi Schreck’s play What the Constitution Means to Me. Natasha Khan, also known as Bat For Lashes, is another storyteller whose work fascinates me, especially the elaborate mythology behind Lost Girls. I should also say that a book that had a tremendous effect on me—the first book that ever made me cry—is Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. For me personally, that may be the most important book ever written.
Recently you let us know about the many exciting projects you have in the pipeline. Is there anything you can tell us about the graphic novel, new prose novel, or television pilot that you’ve been working on?
Those projects, no updates. But I’m tremendously happy to tell you that I’m developing a screen adaptation of “A Bad Day In Utopia” with the great Christina Hodson, screenwriter for Birds Of Prey and The Flash. So with any luck, I’ll be spending more time in the matriarchy soon.
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