Texas Book Festival: Nicky Drayden and Chris Brown

The Austin authors explore new frontiers in science fiction

All science fiction is really about the present.
Austin-based science fiction authors Chris Brown and Nicky Drayden will both tell you that.

Chris Brown (l) and Nicky Drayden

It’s not just spaceships and aliens and robots – though there are plenty of those, too. The great challenge of imagining the future exposes what we believe, hope, and fear for today’s world, the one we have no choice but to live in.

Brown and Drayden will appear together (along with non-Texas writer Jen Julian) on a panel at the Texas Book Festival called “Transmissions From the Multiverse: Science Fiction in Several Styles.” They’ll discuss their different approaches to science fiction and what’s possible within the genre.

They’re two writers whose careers began in earnest in the last five years but who have been working and cheering each other on for a lot longer than that. “We’ve known each other for a long, long time to begin with, and we were both publishing short stories for a while,” Drayden says.

After years of slowly working their way up, they each landed their first book deal within two weeks of each other – and with the same editor no less, at Harper Voyager.

“Austin is really a great place for writers of fantastic fiction and has this really strong community of writers who are active in workshops like Turkey City and Slugtribe,” says Brown. “There’s a social community around that.”

Together, Brown and Drayden serve as pretty decent endpoints if you’re looking for a spectrum of what science fiction can encompass today. Drayden’s first two books are set in a South Africa with an alternate history. They include characters with supernatural powers and, in Prey of Gods, some advanced robots. Her latest book Escaping Exodus features characters on a living generation starship whose resources are being mined to the point of destruction.

Brown’s two books explore a near-future dystopia in which the United States is reaping the consequences of decades of destructive behavior. “Nicky probably gets more fantasy readers than I do,” Brown says. “Her work straddles both science fiction and fantasy in a way that’s totally unique. There are very few writers who can pull that off. I’m kind of straddling science fiction and thrillers. My new book doesn’t even say science fiction on the spine.”

“There’s an alternate history overlap,” Drayden adds.

Finding the ways in which they each use the conventions of science fiction to address contemporary issues isn’t hard. “I like allegories and metaphor,” Drayden says. “Escaping Exodus takes place in deep space on an alien ship but it is very much human earth problems that they are dealing with.”

In Brown’s book Rule of Capture, an attorney seeks justice when the rule of law has been all but suspended in a Houston that’s half-ruined from pollution and frequent hurricanes. “In my work,” he says, “the aspiration is to use the tools of speculative fiction to tell truths about the real world that so-called realism cannot. You can play a lot with time and the depiction of what the so-called real world is.”

As for what else science fiction has come to include? Both Brown and Drayden note the recent push in the science fiction genre to include a more diverse range of voices. Says Drayden, “I think publishing has changed… Allowing people to tell their stories and focusing on getting the stories out there and seeing the value of them has changed. I think those stories have always been out there, but keeping people out of the genre has been an issue. I’m excited because we’re getting to see a lot of different voices, a lot of people taking the genre in different directions … It’s good to know you can walk into your local bookstore and you have something that will speak to you no matter who you are.”

I think science fiction has always provided a uniquely welcoming home for voices and people who feel like outsiders to the mainstream, both as readers and writers,” Brown says, though he also notes that science fiction has suffered from a “sameness of perspective” in the past.

Drayden and Brown are part of a group of Austin writers working to expand the pipeline of writers entering the genre. They’ve worked with local independent booksellers to secure scholarships for writers of color to attend local workshops like ArmadilloCon, and they are in the process of securing nonprofit status to support the effort.

Whatever their efforts on and off the page to redefine the genre and push at what’s possible, the goal is still to tell a good science fiction story.

“Entertainment for me is the number one priority,” Drayden says.

“If you want to reach people through storytelling,” says Brown, “then entertaining them and grabbing their attention and holding on and not letting them go is the most effective way to get through.”

Nicky Drayden (Escaping Exodus) and Chris Brown (Rule of Capture) will appear in the Texas Book Festival session “Transmissions From the Multiverse: Science Fiction in Several Styles” Sat., Oct. 26, 2:30pm, in Capitol Extension Room 1.016. For more information, visit www.texasbookfestival.org.

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Texas Book Festival 2019, science fiction, Nicky Drayden, Chris Brown, Turkey City, Slugtribe, Armadillocon, The Prey of Gods

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