If American democracy continues to decline, and if the gap between the richest and poorest continues to widen, and if climate change continues to accelerate, and if we keep indulging our tendency to trade liberty for the appearance of safety and temporary convenience in every facet of our lives—then what will happen to Little League Baseball?
That's the question Gish Jen asks in her latest work of all-American fiction, The Resisters. For the first time in her writing career, which launched in 1991 with the publication of the critically acclaimed novel Typical American, Jen is writing not about the country's past or present but rather about its near future, a pretty plausible dystopian place called AutoAmerica.
In this country, a brutal immigration policy has booted all immigrants and runaway automation has wiped out most of the workforce, splitting citizens into two groups. The Surplus, who are mostly brown and non-Christian, and live on houseboats (thanks, climate change) under heavy surveillance, while the Netted enjoy good jobs on dry land.
At the center of the story is a family who is fighting to save some semblance of the American dream. Grant, a former teacher, and Eleanor, a former lawyer and activist, have a kid named Gwen, who was born with a golden arm. As the family works to support Gwen's future, they face a hostile government looking to capitalize on their kid's talents—and not necessarily for the good. It's rare to get orange slices and the police state into one thrilling narrative package, but Jen has done it.
But why baseball? In an interview, Jen said she wrote about the sport because it contains so many democratic ideals. "The idea that everyone should have a chance at bat, a level playing field, a fair set of rules, and that working for the benefit of all benefits the individual—that's all part of it," she said.
At her Hugo House lecture, she'll argue, in part, that fiction allows us to imagine our future with more emotional clarity than other genres. "If you really want to get at what life is going to be like in the future, you can get out your measuring stick and say we can have this much less ice all you want, but when it comes to actually depicting what life could look like and feel like—that's our job as fiction writers," she said.