“The Inheritors” (1942), by the Futurians John B. Michel and Robert A.W. Lowndes, and the Climate Discussion 

By Andreya S. Seiffert

Abstract: This article discusses the novelette “The Inheritors” by John B. Michel and Robert A.W. Lowndes, first published in the October 1942 issue of the pulp magazine Future Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Lowndes. The article shows the story’s pioneering approach to discussing environmental issues long before this theme appeared frequently in science fiction. The hypothesis defended in this article is that this pioneering was only possible because Michel and Lowndes were part of The Futurian Society of New York. The group was a creative force that operated in the early 1940s and brought a new perspective to science fiction at the time, with the climatic discussion of “The Inheritors” being part of it.

This is the cover of the issue where the novelette was published.

Introduction 

As I write this article, the news I’m hearing this week is quite worrying: flooding in Nigeria, fires in Greece, record deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, which may now be generating more greenhouse gases than it is absorbing. A UN report reinforces what many have long known: humans are the cause of climate change, which is expected to intensify in the coming years.

Climate is a concern for many current science fiction authors, especially in the subgenre known as climate fiction or cli-fi. The purpose of this article is to show how a 1942 novelette, written by Futurians John B. Michel and Robert A.W. Lowndes, anticipated this concern and brought this discussion to science fiction at the time.

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FiyahCon 2021 report by Riziki Millanzi

Convention art by Cyan Daly

The second ever FiyahCon virtual convention took place between 16th and 19th September 2021, and featured over sixty different panels, presentations, workshops, write-ins and more. Hosted by FIYAH Literary Magazine, the convention excelled in its elevation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) voices from across the world of Speculative Fiction.

FiyahCon 2021 was a weekend of both educational and entertaining content, with sessions focused on the craft and commercialisation of BIPOC Speculative Fiction as well as its community, effect and its excellence. Sessions ran twenty-four hours a day throughout the weekend, making it easily accessible for international attendees and guests. I especially enjoyed the BonFIYAH sessions, formerly known as ‘FiyahCon Fringe’, which were free sessions geared towards timezones outside of the States.

It was clear from just the convention’s opening ceremony alone how much passion and dedication had gone into the impressive organisation of FiyahCon. Speculative writer and founding creator of FIYAH Literary Magazine L. D. Lewis served as this year’s Director, alongside Senior Programming Coordinator Brent Lambert and BonFIYAH Co-Directors Iori Kusano and Vida Cruz.

FiyahCon featured a wide range of speculative genres and topics, from BonFIYAH sessions on climate change in science fiction and fantasy, to panels on the non-western gothic, fan fiction and publishing strategies. ‘What does Justice look like?’ was a panel featuring speculative authors Cadwell Turnbull (The Lesson), Brittney Morris (SLAY) and Bethany C. Morrow (A Song Below Water). In the session, panellists considered representations of justice within both their own works and speculative fiction more generally. The panel featured important and nuanced discussions on topics such as law and order, policing, Black Lives Matter and how wider societal discourse is influenced through entertainment and literature.

Screenshot of the ‘What does justice look like?’ panel (by Riziki Millanzi)

Other notable FiyahCon sessions include the BonFiyah panel on ‘Power Dynamics and Worldbuilding’, in which Rivers Solomon (An Unkindness of Ghosts) considered how we might possibly remove the ‘poison of colonialism’ from our writing, and the Friday session on ‘Vampire Mythology from Around the World’, which saw panellists consider the Eurocentric tropes and conventions that shape the genre. The Saturday evening panel on ‘Palestinian Futurism’ was an especially humbling and powerful session that explored ideas of gaslighting, realism and using futurism as a way of breaking out of constricting and defensive narratives.

FiyahCon 2021 featured three guests of honour: Comic book creator Vita Ayala (New Mutants, The Wilds), Vlogger Njeri (ONYX Pages, SOULar Powered Afrofuturism Slow-Reading Group) and speculative writer Malka Older (Infomocracy, …and Other Disasters). The virtual convention also hosted the 2021 IGNYTE Awards ceremony, which saw Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun win the award for Best Adult Novel. Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation of the late Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower won Best Comics Team, whereas Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn walked away with the award for Best YA Novel.

The importance of community and empowerment was present throughout the convention, and FiyahCon’s utilisation of the Airmeet platform made interaction between panellists, guests and attendees easy and inclusive. The daily write-ins, breakout tables and office hours available provided FiyahCon with vital opportunities for socialization and networking that some virtual conventions often lack. One attendee even organised a collaborative reading list, comprised of all the works mentioned, celebrated and discussed. The two ‘Em-Dash’ writing game shows were also great fun, both for the participants and viewers alike. ‘Em-Dash’ challenged writers to create short pieces of flash fiction in three short rounds, including random scenarios, tropes and ingredients selected by the FiyahCon community.

FiyahCon 2021 was incredibly accessible, eye-opening and, above all, exciting. As a woman of colour, researcher and massive fan of Speculative Fiction, I have never attended anything like it. I was left feeling inspired and validated like never before, and truly appreciate the effort that the convention directors had put into making guests feel like they belong and matter within the world of speculative fiction. After two successful and invigorating conventions, it looks like FiyahCon is set to become an integral and trailblazing part of both the BIPOC and speculative community. I am incredibly grateful to the BSFA for giving me the opportunity to attend.