Future Tense

The Year in Future Tense Fiction

Twelve stories by award-winning sci-fi writers.

A collage of art from the stories.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Laura Callaghan, Shyama Golden, Lisa Larson-Walker, and Doris Liou.

Over the past few years, Future Tense has occasionally published short science fiction, including a story from The Windup Girl author Paolo Bacigalupi on a murderous robot and one from Emily St. John Mandel, of Station Eleven fame, on time travel.

Our resolution for 2018 was to invest more in sci-fi. So each month this year, Future Tense Fiction has published a short story by an exciting author, paired with a response essay by an expert who examined the real-world questions it raised. Each quarter was organized around a theme, offering opportunities to see how three different writers approached similar topics.

The holidays offer a great excuse to curl up with the device of your choice and catch up on a little short science fiction. Below, you can find a description of each story we’ve published this year, plus its response essay. We’re going to keep Future Tense Fiction going in 2019, with a new story each month. The first theme of the year: identity.

You can find all of our stories on the Future Tense Fiction landing page, and sign up for the weekly Future Tense newsletter to get notified whenever we publish something new. And don’t forget to follow Future Tense on Twitter.



The Minnesota Diet,” by Charlie Jane Anders: A smart city faces unprecedented shortages after food-supply systems break down.

Response essay: “Can We Insulate Ourselves From Food Shortages?” by food systems and security researcher Christopher Wharton


Mother of Invention,” by Nnedi Okorafor: In a future Nigerian city battered by devastating pollen storms, a pregnant woman finds that her smart home is her only companion.

Response essay: “The Smart Home Dilemma,” by Internet of Things journalist Stacey Higginbotham


Domestic Violence,” by Madeline Ashby: In the hands of an abuser, a smart home can become a weapon.

Response essay: “The Complicated Relationship Between Abuse and Tech,” by Ian Harris, an expert on domestic violence and technology



No Me Dejas,” by Mark Oshiro: A young woman undergoes a procedure to receive her grandmother’s memories—but there are some she can’t prepare for.

Response essay: “Should You Download Someone Else’s Memories?” by Jenelle Salisbury and Susan Schneider, two philosophers who research memory


Safe Surrender,” by Meg Elison: A half-human, half-alien tries to find her true identity in a world where she’s treated with suspicion.

Response essay: “Oppression of the Future in ‘Safe Surrender,’ ” by Laura Moy, an expert on technology, the law, and bias


A Brief and Fearful Star,” by Carmen Maria Machado: A daughter experiences echoes of her mother’s memories as if they were her own.

Response essay: “Could the Experiences of Our Ancestors Be ‘Seared Into Our Cells’?” by science journalist Erika Hayasaki



The Starfish Girl,” by Maureen McHugh: A world-class gymnast awaits a ruling from the International Olympic Committee on whether a brand-new medical treatment she received after an injury actually constitutes an unfair enhancement.

Response essay: “How Should Officials Decide When Cutting-Edge Medical Interventions for Athletes Cross the Line?” by sports historian Victoria Jackson


When We Were Patched,” by Deji Bryce Olukotun: In a futuristic form of tennis, a human umpire and an A.I. officiant clash over accusations of bias.

Response essay: “Algorithms Could Create an Even Playing Field—if We Insist on It,” by Jeanna Matthews, an expert on algorithmic bias


Lions and Gazelles,” by Hannu Rajaniemi: At this elite race, enhancement isn’t against the rules—it’s a requirement.

Response essay: “Can You Replicate the Burning Desire to Win That Drives Superhuman Athletes?” by evolutionary biologist and author Rowan Hooper



Burned-Over Territory,” by Lee Konstantinou: In this future, everyone is eligible for universal basic income—but it’s not enough.

Response essay: “What Problem Is Universal Basic Income Really Trying to Solve?” by UBI advocate Sebastian Johnson


Overvalued,” by Mark Stasenko: What could go wrong when people are able to buy and sell shares in one another?

Response essay: “What’s Stopping Human Capital From Becoming a Security?” by investor and writer Zachary Karabell


When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis,” by Annalee Newitz: A biosurveillance robot finds an unlikely ally to help combat an outbreak.

Response essay: “No Robot Like Robot” by A.I. programmer Janelle Shane

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.