An Armed Society Is a Dystopian Society
Jeffrey Ford’s short story “Blood Drive” imagines a world in which all high school seniors and teachers are required to carry guns. The story originally appeared in After, an anthology of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, and was recently reprinted in Ford’s new collection A Natural History of Hell. The story was inspired by recent stories about college students being encouraged to carry guns on campus, a development Ford finds worrying.
“I was a college teacher for a long time, and I knew the level of maturity of certain students that I had,” Ford says in Episode 212 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And also, you’ve got a nice mix of nutjobs in there too.”
“Blood Drive” explores the tragedy that unfolds when everyday pressures boil over into a shootout that exterminates most of the senior class. Some reviewers found the premise far-fetched, but Ford has already seen a similar scenario play out at a local supermarket that encourages open carry.
“They had an incident already where this guy shot up the chicken aisle there,” he says. “Imagine going to the grocery store to pick up some spaghetti and falling into a hail of bullets. It’s the last thing you expect.”
Robert Heinlein believed that “an armed society is a polite society,” but Ford thinks a world in which everyone carries guns to the supermarket is far more likely to resemble something out of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
“That’s probably pretty close to what it was like in those days, out West,” Ford says. “Life was cheap. It was too easy to just blow somebody away.”
He hopes that future generations will live in a world where gun violence has become so uncommon that readers will be baffled by the satire in “Blood Drive.”
“I’d like to see the day where that story, nobody understands what the hell’s going on in it,” Ford says. “Like, it’s so passé and useless that it would never be reprinted again. I would love to see that day. But it’s not today, you know what I mean?”
Listen to our complete interview with Jeffrey Ford in Episode 212 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Jeffrey Ford on changing markets:
“When you’re writing and you’re publishing a lot of stuff, and you’re in the middle of it, what happens is, eventually the field changes, and you have to keep up with it. It changes around you, and it’s not—for you—what it used to be. That happens, I think eventually, to everyone. … In the horror field, when Stephen King hit big, I know guys who told me about that, they said that if you wrote anything that seemed like horror, you could get it published. I mean, it was just huge. … But [the field] moved on. … A lot of those guys were left high and dry, because that was their bread and butter, that was what they did. And then when the time moves on it gets sad for them, because it’s not the same anymore.”
Jeffrey Ford on writers of the past:
“You talk to me about Asimov, Heinlein, these guys that everybody gets down on their knees to, I wouldn’t give you a red cent for either one of them. I think their writing is boring. … Anybody who tells you that if you want to be a writer of fantasy & science fiction, or weird [fiction], or whatever it is, that you’ve got to go and read the genre, I say bullshit to that. I say read what you like to read, read what interests you, what gets you excited. … I think people should have a healthy disrespect for the past. … There’s something about the genre that’s self-congratulatory about history and paying homage to writers of the past. I think it’s way too overplayed, especially in science fiction.”
Jeffrey Ford on becoming an sf writer:
“I was doing what I thought were kind of odd stories, and I sent them to literary magazines, and I published some in there, and I sent some of the stories to small genre press magazines. And what I found was that the genre magazines were far more willing to take a chance on something different than the literary magazines were, and that’s one of the things that drew me to that. … The first book I really published—through Avon—was The Physiognomy, which was published as a literary novel, but it was only reviewed by genre reviewers. So then I became a genre writer overnight, and I discovered what the difference was—about $5,000 in the advance! So that’s basically how I came to it.”
Jeffrey Ford on humor:
“One of the problems I have with some of the writing I see today is, with a lot of the horror writing—not the really good guys—but a lot of the horror writing is just grim beyond grim. Because I think those people think that unrelentingly grim stuff is profound. The problem is that it’s not profound, because it’s not really like life. Life isn’t that unrelentingly grim constantly. I know in bad times and sad times I can always find the laugh somewhere, in something, and I think most people do. So you have to get humor in there to get the fully three-dimensional rounded world that we live in. Humor is very helpful, especially writing horror stories, or fantasy and science fiction kind of stuff.”