2020 so often feels so isolating, so directionless, full of dangers and impossibilities. When we have an infrequent spare moment, we all seek the most fragile of things: hope, justice, compassion—and sometimes to remember why we love the things we love.
In advance of Sirens at Home, as we contemplate gathering safely online rather than in person with the warmth of the Sirens community, we invited members of that community to write about what speculative fiction means to them. We think you’ll find their essays reassuring, a common touchstone that we all need when we’re adrift, and perhaps a welcome remembrance of something you love.
Today, we present an essay by Hallie Tibbetts.
What does speculative fiction mean to me?
I’m made of stories. I’m made of my biological family, our lines of history, of chemical and bone, and travels and languages and recipes. But the part of me I built is stories. Scraps of linen and copper wire, gears and old coins, sea glass and mirrors. There are all kinds of stories—the ones I’ve been told. Songs and theatre. Film. Striations in rock, rings in trees. The first speculative story I remember reading on my own lived in the children’s room, in the basement of the library, on the back wall. Near the fireplace. A spell: the alphabet backward. I practiced it over and over. Can still spit the letters back, backward. And I kept looking for more spells, whispered words in full dark and full moon, hoping for just a little magic.
But that’s not it.
I read for the what-ifs. Speculative fiction of its own sort. The expected what-if and the weird. Mystery. (who did it/were we ghosts the whole time) Memoir. (what is it like in your shoes/what if you were me) Poetry. (haiku/limerick) Romance. (what if we kissed/what if you had my secret baby) History. (what was it like to be alive/what stories have been lost) Fantasy. (what if there was magic/could I be so brave) Science fiction. (how do we find our stars so far, far away/will the aliens like us, be like us)
That’s not it either.
Every time I see a wave on the ocean, I’m amazed that I live in a world where I can perceive water, and devastated that I haven’t seen each wave that came before and won’t see each to come. I want to eat pastéis de nata in Portugal and snorkel in Vanuatu. I want to watch a zebra watch me. I want to weave a scarf of my own pattern. Hum all the songs. Breathe cold mountain air. Read all the books. There isn’t enough of me.
There isn’t enough time.
I want to see a mammoth cross the steppe. Come face to horn with a triceratops. Send my molecules between galaxies, faster than the speed of light. Learn to speak an alien language that I cannot yet perceive.
I want to crack lightning across the sky from my fingers. Call forth an army of beasts to right the world. Swing a sword, heal at a touch, scry the future. Whisper the alphabet backwards.
Time. I want more time. To live, and love, and be. Speculative fiction—the songs, the stories—let me walk up and down the threads of time and space, imagine myself bold, take my breath away.
To me, speculative fiction is the chance for me, a tiny speck in our universe, to be a million expansive worlds, full of light.
Full of magic.
Hallie Tibbetts works in children’s publishing, editing books for all ages. She has a love of adventure, travel, interesting food, and dinosaurs (preferably all at once). She is one of the founders of Narrate Conferences, the presenting organization behind Sirens, and has served in various roles, including conference chair and programming coordinator. On occasion, she tweets: @hallietibbetts