South African writer Lauren Beukes has curated a speculative fiction anthology titled Upshot. Picture: Supplied
South African writer Lauren Beukes has curated a speculative fiction anthology titled Upshot. Picture: Supplied

Speculative fiction anthology talks to our financial future

By Amber Court Time of article published Jan 31, 2021

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Cape Town - A new speculative fiction anthology, Upshot, explores fascinating finance stories of algorithm-controlled lives to impossible retirement choices where people are forced to retire at 80, but live to 125.

The anthology was curated by internationally-acclaimed South African author Lauren Beukes, who compared the book to the British anthology Netflix series, Black Mirror, that explores how technology could backfire.

Beukes said she enjoyed working with some of her favourite writers imagining possible financial futures. These included Tade Thompson, Mohale Mashigo, Charlie Human, Angela Makholwa, Bongani Kona and Sam Beckbessinger.

Picture: Supplied

The book idea came from her brother, Mike Beukes. “It is about universal basic income, or what happens if you can't save, how you deal with debt and how you prepare for your children's education,” she said.

In the story Blow Up Your Life by Bongani Kona, the main character, Evelyn, was in debt and had to prove herself on a game show, where her personal life story unfolded in front of an audience.

“You have to go on a crazy game show to pay off your debt and prove your humanity or worth to society. These are realistic things that we could confront in the future,” Beukes warned.

The aim of the anthology was to find ways of engaging people about financial concepts in an interesting and entertaining way.

“I don't know about you, but I find finance very boring. Wild and speculative fiction was their aim,” she added.

She said that looking at how technology was evolving, we need to make decisions about money, retirement and planning for the future.

In the story According To Plan by Sam Beckbessinger, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) bot tells the main character, Christine, how she should live her life according to collected data.

“The AI bot told this woman what to do in her life, and it’s like, we crunched the data and you should be planning to buy a house and have babies. The young woman indicated that she did not care what the data said,” she explained.

Other stories included are about the blue and green economy, which are environmental investment stories.

With a knack for pandemic novels, Beukes released Afterland last year, which American horror author Stephen King described as “splendid”.

After five years of working on the pandemic-themed Afterland, when the coronavirus hit, she was very anxious straight away. “I think that a lot of people have been put under a lot of pressure. Creatively and personally I know a lot of people struggled to work during this time,” said Beukes.

She added that by engaging the chosen topics in the anthology through stories, we can prepare for real life things that might happen to us in future.

Beukes is working on a new book and TV show; she wants to travel again and can’t wait to get a Covid-19 vaccine. “I am interested in looking after myself and my family. Covid-19 has taught me the value of community,” she added.

Contributing writer Beckbessinger wrote two stories for the anthology, Undercurrency and According to Plan.

Undercurrency is about the emerging ocean economy, and some of my anxieties around sustainable investing and large-scale aquaculture,” said Beckbessinger.

“It's also a pretty raunchy love story about a woman who simultaneously falls in love with kelp forests and a hot scientist named Jorge,” she added.

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