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I am delighted to welcome Somaiya Daud today! Her YA science fiction novel, Mirage, centers on a young woman who is torn from her family and home moon because of her remarkable similarity to a princess in need of a body double. It’s one of my new favorite books; it’s powerful, emotionally intense, and character driven with beautiful writing and realistically drawn relationships. Mirage also introduced me to a new favorite main protagonist: Amani, whose empathy, bravery, and wisdom come to life through a phenomenal narrative voice that perfectly reflects her poetic soul. I just love Mirage, and I am excited to continue this story in Court of Lions (scheduled for release in 2020).

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Ideologies of Space

Why are they in space?

This is a question I receive often—most often in reviews that I shouldn’t be reading, but nevertheless, the question persists. It’s part of a constellation of questions that, at their root, share a common source. Why do they rely on the antiquated system of tribes? Why do they hold to old customs?

To me the root of these questions is a misunderstanding of the genre of futurisms often perpetrated by the genre itself. The future often presented to us is sleek and modern, presented as culturally neutral even as it embeds itself in the values and cultures of a specific class and culture. Everyone speaks English or is translated into English, everyone wears pantsuits or skirts, everyone’s hair is pressed or curled or cut into a particular bob. It’s rare that I see braids, dreads, jewelry, or culturally specific dress on anyone from Earth, and rarer still that those aliens who look human aren’t white.

I truly love fantasy—I think that is readily apparent in the world building of Mirage, in the clothes descriptions and the palace intrigue. But fantasy as a genre is about imagining our past. What are the myths and legends that we respond to on a bone-deep level? How do we imagine heroes of our past and how have they shaped us today? It’s about alternate histories and re-inscribing our pasts with new meanings. In the right hands it’s an important and interesting project, but not the one I wanted to take on.

If fantasy is about the past, then science fiction is about the future. And not just how technology will evolve, either. It is explicitly about who gets to exist into the future, how they get to exist and why. Many want to push forth the idea that modernity and following that futurity are culturally neutral terms, but here’s the truth: everyone’s going to the future. The question is how and what they’ll be allowed to take with them. Colonial ideologies and powers want a single, unified future presented as culturally neutral, but if we’re given a choice, if we’re handed the mic: do you really think we wouldn’t want to take our traditions and languages and family formations with us? Do you think we want to leave our scriptures and gods behind?

‘Why wasn’t this just a fantasy’ is just a different way of saying ‘why weren’t these characters and their traditions relegated to the past?’ It’s a way of saying, ‘I don’t want to imagine them in the future.’ It is necessary to imagine a future where people who look as I do, speak as I do, think as I do, are not only in the margins of a space epic, but in the center. Where not only are their clothes worn and their palaces occupied, but that they are worn and occupied by them. If science fiction is the genre of the future, then where are we and why aren’t we speaking our languages? Why don’t we get to wear our traditional dress, even as the ball gown and tuxedo manage to leap from genre to genre and time period to time period with little criticism?

Why are they in space?

Because I want them to be. Because our futures should be multiple, varied, and challenging. Because tribal family and nation formations exist the world over and persist into the future. Because old traditions are never old, they are made new year after year, decade after decade, by the people who care to preserve them. Because there is a latent violence in an imagined future with a single language, a single mode of dress, and no alternate ways of being.

Because we deserve to exist in every timeline: past, present, and future.

Somaiya Daud Somaiya Daud is the author of Mirage, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. A former bookseller in the children’s department at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., Somaiya is passionate about Arabic poetry and the cosmos. You can find her on Twitter at @SomaiyaDaud.