Sarah Jones Does Science Fiction

Sarah JonesI had the good fortune to see the incredible Sarah Jones give a workshop reading of her new one-woman show Sell/Buy/Date at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco last month.

I had wanted to see her in performance for years and she lived up to my expectations. Her gift for creating – and performing – a variety of characters from many walks of life is as good as rumored.

And to make this even more fun for me, her new show is science fiction. That is, she sets it in a future world in which a professor is playing recordings – ones that include emotional responses – of people affected in some way by sex work over several decades beginning in 2016.

I love the way science fictional tools and tropes are being used by artists who are not usually seen as part of the SF world. It’s fantastic that someone like Jones gets the value in using a future setting to shed light on current events.

I’ve been thrilled to see more fantasy and SF in literature as well. I came to the genre because I was bored out of my mind by stories about editorial assistants having affairs with older married editors and books steeped in the angst of unfulfilled middle-class suburbanites. I always thought those authors took “write what you know” far too literally.

As I said in my recent essay on Strange Horizons, “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is Twenty-Nine,”  what ties science fiction together and makes it worth reading are the ideas. That includes both the speculation about the future — whether we’re talking new technologies, space exploration, environmental crises, or social changes – and the use of those tropes to look at our present.

An idea-driven story doesn’t have to be science fiction, of course, but a look at how science fiction stories are written and constructed will help an author write a story that incorporates serious concepts even if it’s set in the present day.

The presence of science fiction (and fantasy) in literary fiction is still controversial. Some authors still shy away from the label. And some science fiction fans (and authors) still make fun of writers from outside the genre for not knowing all the rules.

A lot of that tension comes from the fact that science fiction writers still don’t get no respect. Or at least, not enough respect.

But I’m one of those people who believes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and these days a lot of literary fiction is imitating science fiction. A few writers – Michael Chabon and Karen Russell in particular – get away with writing fantastical stories and acknowledging their SF/F pedigree without losing their literary standing. I hope that will start more of a trend.

It was great to see Sarah Jones use SF tools to put together a thought-provoking performance. I don’t want to tell you much about the story because what I saw was the early, workshop version of the play.

I’m sure she will be performing the finished Buy/Sell/Date in theaters in the near future. If you like good acting and provocative ideas – science fictional or otherwise – I strongly recommend that you catch one of her shows.



Sarah Jones Does Science Fiction — 2 Comments

  1. I never heard of Sarah Jones before this, but I will watch out for her. It also sounds like she might be someone who would be interested in a Tiptree Award fellowship or, if it’s too small for her, she might know some newer artists who would be appropriate. If you have a way to reach her, you might send her the link.

    • I’m on her email list, so I’ll see if I can find a way to let her know about it. I think she’s reasonably well-established these days, but you never know about artists.