My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today, we welcome Djibril al-Ayad to talk about how the power of invisibility relates to Ten Years of The Future Fire.
If I were to choose my own superpower, it would probably be flight — not the most useful ability in this day and age, but I bet the most fun! Even in dreams I can only fly a few inches off the ground, and then only with increasing, agonising concentration after a few seconds. It enables me to cross a wide street while only stepping on the kerbs, but not much else. I guess we don’t get to choose our own superpower.
The power gifted to me by a bite from a radioactive chameleon, as fate would have it, was not even a cute spiralling tail, bug-catching long tongue or zygodactylous feet for tree-climbing (all of which would be potentially useful — and/or fun!) but the preternatural power to turn invisible in the wild. Simple invisibility itself would be more annoying than useful: people would keep bumping into you, buses wouldn’t stop, footballs and closing doors would be a daily hazard; but if you wanted to rob a bank or eavesdrop on a confidential conversation, people would still hear your footsteps and breathing, you’d still scuff up dust with your feet and give yourself away by bumping into a table edge and swearing like a captain.
No, the truly useful Invisible Man or Woman has to be able to sublimate themself entirely into the background, being present but unseen. So I also have to be silent, careful, not get in anyone’s way, and not set off proximity sensors or open automatic doors, not breathe down your neck or set off your sheldrake-spidey-sense by staring at the back of your head. I have to be able to get into the bank and make off with the loot without setting off any alarms or leaving any trace of myself on camera, fingerprints or DNA. Or, y’know, as I’m a superhero and not a villain, I spy on the bad guys to follow them to their dastardly secret base or something. Yeah, totally.
As well as making me an invaluable thief/spy/ninja, this invisibility power comes in very useful in my capacity as the editor of an SF/F zine, especially one which claims, as The Future Fire does, to promote underrepresented voices, minorities and the underprivileged in genre. The superhero must avoid being like those white cismale allies who loudly tout their feminist-friendliness, steal the words of silenced women for their own glory, “use their platform” to opine about racism and colonialism rather than signal boosting the many, articulate and well-researched voices of people living these worlds. This isn’t just about good social justice behaviour, though — it’s a core skill of a competent editor.
An editor doesn’t fly into a circle of writers in a fancy, eye-catching and bullet-proof spandex costume, snatch up all the best stories and loudly proclaim their own virtue in publishing them. An editor doesn’t smash through the walls to announce their own presence, or write their own name in the clouds with pyrokinetic fire, or tear the throats out of rival authors and publicists with their adamantium claws. An editor doesn’t even climb trees to a nice, high, visible spot and use their astonishingly prehensile tongue to snatch up little flash fiction pieces that might happen to buzz by. No, the good editor is invisible.
As an editor, my job is to publish the stories that I think are important, by the authors who have more to say on the subject than I do; it is also to make sure that their names are written up in blue fire, that their voices are amplified by the power of machine-mediated telepathy, and that they are properly paid for it. This is absolutely essential especially when the kind of stories I think are important are those that are too little heard or by authors from underrepresented groups, and I am from an overrepresented minority (the abled cis white male).
And so, now that we have published nearly 200 stories in the zine and our anthologies, our job as editors is to remain invisible, give these authors a boost so that they can fly, and make sure as many as possible of you, readers, notice they exist. We’ve been publishing this zine for ten years, and while we had a bit of attention at our birthday party (we’re not entirely invisible — we want to make sure you don’t forget to give us some of that raw chocolate cake!), let’s do what we do best and boost that signal, put our author friends where new readers and other editors can see them, and in the process sneak out with enough bullion from the bank to keep on paying them for the next ten years.
Our infallible plan, shared only through meaningful eyebrow twitches so the supervillains/security guards/fourth wall audience don’t see it coming, is to publish a print and e-book anthology showcasing some of the best stories of the last ten years, and representing themes and new material that we hope to see more of in the future. Fifteen full-length stories, and at least as many flash pieces, pseudo-nonfiction, poems, graphics and other Borgesian mischief! If you’d like to help us publish this, and pre-order a copy in the process (or pick up limited edition copies of the zine, story crits, custom illustration, or have an undead doll knitted in your image), please go look at igg.me/at/tffx and see if you can back the fundraiser. (Then tell all your friends about it. Share and like our FB posts and RT our tweets. Link to this blog post.)
Here’s how my invisibility superpower helps: you’re not giving me your money — I won’t see a penny of it — or glory. All of that goes to the lovely authors and fabulous artists who did all the work, have all the talent, and deserve all the recognition. It’s their voices that need to be heard; I’ll just stay out of the way.
Djibril al-Ayad is the nom de guerre of a French-born academic historian, who researches ancient texts, ritual cursing and open culture. He studies the afterlife of antiquity and the future of archaeology. Based in London meatspace, he travels along snapping synapses and burning fibre cables to work all over the world, and welcomes invitations to party, share, plot, indulge and include. He is the general editor of The Future Fire.