Advanced Topic Writing Seminar is a university level English course designed by Dr. Michael Clark and was first offered during the academic year of 2016-17. Structured on the Iowa Writers’ Workshop model, the course provides students passionate about creative writing with the chance to refine their creative writing skills and ultimately collaborate with their peers to write and publish a book. The first cohort of AT Writing Seminar published Beneath The Lion City: Irreal Stories of Singapore, an anthology of irreal fiction, and managed to sell out almost all of its copies. The profits made from its sales were utilized to fund the following year’s book project.
During the spring semester of the 2017-2018 school year, the second cohort of AT Writing Seminar, which consisted of twenty-four seniors and juniors of the Singapore American School, both wrote and published a book. After much blood, sweat, and tears, AT Writing Seminar 2017-18 published and proudly presented Present Tense Future: Dystopian Stories From A New Generation.
Present Tense Future is an anthology of short dystopian fiction. Dystopia is the antonym of utopia, a term coined by Sir Thomas More that means “the perfect place.” Dystopia then is “the bad place.” In his article What Is Dystopian Fiction and Why Is It Important To Our Generation?, Faisal Halabeya, a former student at SAS and co-writer of Present Tense Future, wrote: “Professor Masahiro Mori first introduced the concept of the “uncanny valley” in his studies of robotics. He found that when robots closely resembled humans, their appearance caused mirror neurons to fire and people to feel creeped out. Perhaps dystopia does the same for us, dangling our imagination on the frontier of the bizarre—a place we feel is foreign and yet at the same time seems familiar. It’s this interplay that makes the genre such a powerful one.” As writers, we delved into the social issues that render us powerless and we then created societies that would, as Halabeya put it, simultaneously feel foreign and familiar and ultimately leave readers feeling uncomfortable.
In Aidan Fry’s story, The Appointment, a teenager called Eric has an appointment for a diagnosis of any potential mental health issues. The society of Fry’s story isn’t all that different from ours, except its more paranoid about mental health issues, though most of that paranoia is unnecessary. Fry’s exaggerated society grants him the ability to satirize how over-concerned we are about mental health. His story feels both foreign and familiar, providing us with a story that is as uncomfortable as it is hilarious.
The dystopia of Aaron Graybill’s story, Living History, is a lot more intimate than Fry’s, producing an internal conflict for the protagonist. Graybill is fascinated by African culture and with Living History, he poses his reader with a dilemma between cultural heritage and economic development. Graybill’s protagonist, Ousmane, is struggling to determine whether it is in his best interest to either preserve his heritage at the cost of prosperity or to be prosperous at the cost of his heritage. It’s an issue writers of dystopian fiction haven’t explored much and that makes Graybill’s story, and therefore Present Tense Future as a whole, all the more special.
As for my own story, The Execution, I explore a dystopia in which governments have been increasingly aggressive towards immigrants due to their religion. Religious intolerance is a social issue that is close to me as I come from an interreligious background. My father is a Hindu while my mother is a Muslim, yet they’ve been happily married for the past 18 years. To see interreligious conflict, then, is disheartening as I feel that religion shouldn’t be a barrier to peaceful interaction. In exploring it through the story of an officer whose job it is to hunt immigrants, I think I’ve written a story that is terrifying, an emotion that reflects my experience with religious intolerance.
Present Tense Future encapsulates such concerns of twenty-four high school students. We tackled social issues that ranged from social media abuse to anti-intellectualism and sexual harassment to genetic modification. In crafting dystopian fiction, we’ve grown as writers. We’ve gained both a sense of how to write for a wide audience and a perspective of the publishing process. It has undoubtedly been a grueling process. However, because of it, I can proudly call myself a published author at the age of sixteen.
Present Tense Future is on sale at both Amazon and Lulu.com for US$15