SFRA Conference Report: Futures from the Margins

By Guangzhao Lyu 

Oslo, 2022, co-hosted by CoFutures

“Futures from the Margins”—the theme of this year’s annual conference of Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA)—reminds me immediately of Paul Kincaid’s review of The Cambridge History of Science Fiction (2019) co-edited by Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link, published in Extrapolation 61.1. Kincaid claims that this anthology challenges the American-centric history of sf and re-writes it with a hope of amplifying the previously repressed voices from the “unseen” worlds—voices from China, South and South-Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. “Such cultural differences give this sf a different feel from the Campbellian hard sf we are used to, but it is sf nonetheless” (217), and they all respond in various ways to the socio-political condition in the related countries, regions, and nations at a specific moment. 

No matter how global or how planetary sf appears, it is always anchored in the soil of particular places. Although the diversity of sf has been disguised under the ostensible universality formed pretty much in accord with the American tradition, localised interpretations are waiting to be discovered. “Once the will was there,” writes Kincaid, “it didn’t really take long to start unearthing them” (216). In line with Kincaid’s comments, I believe the conference “Futures from the Margins” also indicates such a will of unearthing, of amplifying the previously muffled voices, and—as demonstrated in the programme—of foregrounding the issues of those whose “stakes in the global order of envisioning futures are generally constrained due to the mechanics of our contemporary world” (CoFUTURES). 

Organised by the CoFUTURES project initiated by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay and held in the University of Oslo, “Futures from the Margins” attracted more than 200 presenters from thirty-four countries, featured six keynote addresses, forty panels and round-table discussions, three workshops and three arts events. As someone who can only participate remotely, I felt jealous of those privileged in-person attendees who were lucky enough to develop a fuller sense of the conference—I wished I could be there as well. Nonetheless, the conference was clearly a great success, and in-person attendees have praised the host committee’s generous hard work, and the friendly and exciting atmosphere they created. We were invited to explore a wide range of topics such as “what future would look like from the margins” and “how these futures from the margins speak truth over power in presents.” It even turned out that we were, in fact, not only talking about “margins” per se, because it is the margins that define the whole picture. According to Egyptian graphic novelist Ganzeer, one of the six keynote speakers: “Margins aren’t at the fringes of a page; they are most of the page.” This, perhaps, is the most eloquent manifesto during the five-day conference. I really hoped I could attend every single panel, but apparently, I was incapable (yet) of being at different places simultaneously like in the film Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), so I will try to outline the panels I did attend and send apologies to those whose presentations I missed. 

I still couldn’t believe it was me who had the honour to be the first speaker in one of the first group of parallel panels of the conference—“Spatial Futurisms in Sinophone Science Fiction”. I introduced Long Yi’s 2018 novel Earth Province and discussed how the politics of the “prosumer”—the “synergic implosion” of consumer and producer—remakes social subjects in the context of late capitalism in certain urban spaces. I argued that when the human body becomes a commodity in itself, consuming to survive becomes part of the “cost of production.” Therefore, they would turn into “prosumers,” as conceptualised by George Ritzer, highlighting a new dimension of capitalist exploitation most evident in the Internet industries and platform economies. Following my paper, Yen Ooi shared her research on two novellas written by Regina Kanyu Wang—“The Story of Dǎo” (2019) and “A Cyber-Cuscuta Manifesto” (2020). Based on the differentiation of “Tabula Rasa” and “Tabula Plena” theories (the “blank page” and the “full page”), Ooi pointed out that, especially in the domain of architecture and design, “Tabula Rasa” is now increasingly replaced by “Tabula Plena,” recognising the authenticity of space and environment and emphasising that human action should be “interactive” rather than “creative.” She believed such a conceptual transition may speak to the critique of anthropocentrism in Wang’s stories. 

In the same panel, I also enjoyed Mia Chen Ma’s reading of He Xi’s Six Realms of Existence (2002) based on Ulrich Beck’s “reflexive modernity” and Zygmunt Bauman’s “liquid modernity.” She claimed that this novel features a spatial division reflecting the power dynamic in different urban spaces and among various social classes, which indicates the institutional risks, and the uneven distribution of these risks, in the context of late capitalism. At the end of this panel, Frederike Schneider-Vielsäcker focused on Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing” (2014) and Chen Qiufan’s “The Fish of Lijiang” (2006) and examined the impact of China’s post-socialist, market-oriented transition on social subjects. She considered these stories Bakhtinian chronotopes—where time and space converge into one—which provides us with a textual reference to the developmental unevenness and stratification in contemporary China. 

The next panel I attended was themed “African SF: Alternate Futures,” where Magalí Armillas-Tiseyra discussed After the Flare (2017) by Deji Bryce Olukotun. Through her interrogation of colonialism and forced labour depicted in this novel, Armillas-Tiseyra revealed the transgressive power inherent in Afrofuturism as a potential way out of the historical exhaustion projected by capitalist realism, pointing out the possibility of a new order that may lead us to the “not-yet”. Ugandan writer Dilman Dila introduced a local political system based on his personal attachment to Ugandan villages, where the notions such as “leader” and “political centre” are largely absent, formulating a localised, decentralised mechanism different from the bureaucratic hierarchy evident in modern nation-states. He believed that it was in this decentred anarchy, rooted in the sense of place and post-colonial nationality, that we could build a post-capitalist social order. 

Michelle Louise Clarke directed our attention to the narrative of disease in Afrofuturism. With Ilze Hugo’s The Down Days (2020), Lauren Beukes’s Zoo City (2011) and Véronique Tadjo’s In the Company of Men (2017), Clarke argued that the power dynamic embedded in the temporality and spatiality of “future” is not natural, but constructed by people’s collective memory of the present. Following this, Joanna Woods also focused her presentation on temporality and spatiality, which she claimed to be the two most essential concepts of speculative fiction in Malawi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Drawing on her PhD thesis, Woods introduced the Nommo Award presented by The African Speculative Fiction Society since 2017 and elaborated on the Nommo’s influence on sf writing in related countries.

Leaving Africa, we entered the world of games. In the panel “Gamified Futures,” Felix Kawitzky as the first speaker discussed “world-building” in speculative board games, especially the utopian imagination of political and cultural alternatives, which can be divided into those set “in a universe almost the same as our own” and those “in a nearby parallel universe.” Paweł Frelik began with climate change, introducing the sense of colonialism in electronic games, in which the transformation of alien planets completed by the players reflects on the relationship between human beings and the Earth environment. Meanwhile, Frelik also reminded us that we need to be aware of the boundaries of interactivity in these games, since some contents are designed to be “touchable,” while others are not. And it is in such a duality between interactivity and non-interactivity that we could feel the sense of the Anthropocene unconscious. 

Brian Willems introduced the current AI star—GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3), an autoregressive language model to produce humanised text using deep learning. Using Eugene Lim’s 2021 novel Search History as an example, Willems focused on the interactivity between readers and the AI and argued that nowadays we are still evaluating and interpreting AI writing from a “human” perspective, which is essentially an anthropocentric paradigm of thinking. He claimed that only by abandoning such a mindset and writing with AI can we truly achieve human-AI intimacy. This leads nicely to another kind of interactivity brought forward by Tristan Sheridan, who examined reader subjectivity in interactive fictions. She argued that most interactive narratives, especially those told from a second-person perspective, do not leave enough space for reader subjectivity as they have claimed. The process of reading is more like following various instructions, which are all pre-determined by the author in a fixed narrative framework. 

In the first keynote speech, Norwegian poet and novelist Sigbjørn Skåden talked about his Sami identity. He introduced the cultural and ethnic history of the Sami and the impact of three major colonial powers—Russia, the Dano-Norwegian Realm, and the Swedish Empire. As a result, the traditional hunting culture was gradually marginalised, the old religious system replaced by new religions. The indigenous Sami language, therefore, has also faded from mainstream society, with only around 10 percent of the Sami population still able to speak this ancient language. Skåden then discussed the impact of climate change on the landscape of the Nordic region, which is a central element of Sami identity and therefore has a profound impact on Sami culture. From here, he turned to his recent novel The Birds (Fugl, 2019), pointing out its recreation of history and the Sami’s interaction with nature, animals and geography. The novel portrays an alien colony, and the people who travel there find that the natural environment seems very different from what they were used to before. In interacting with it, the protagonist is acutely aware of the intricate connections between the environment and human culture. For Skåden, The Birds may not be traditional science fiction, but its imagery of ecological futurism helps us to understand the importance of landscape and nature in Sami culture.

As the beginning of Day 2, in a panel themed “Future Studies,” Kania Greer shared with us her experiences during the DragonCon in 2019 from the perspective of education, discussing how to enhance students’ interests in scientific studies with the depiction of scientists and technological innovation in popular culture, films, novels and comics. Meanwhile, Paul Graham Raven introduced the Climaginarian Projects he has been working on, including The Rough Planet Guide to Notterdam 2045, Rogue Planet Guide to Skåne 2050, Museum of Carbon Ruins, LU@375 (a special edition of Lund University Magazine imagining the university’s 375th birthday in 2041), and Memories from the Transition (Malmo Soundwalk). He believed, drawing upon Ruth Levitas’s Utopia as Method (2013) and Phillip E. Wagner’s Invoking Hope: Theory and Utopia in Dark Times (2020), that these projects may chime with people’s desire for utopia, a hope for a reality that has not been realised yet. Raven also offered some cautions, drawing on experience, about the use of science fiction within policy and corporate futures contexts. Although definitely worth doing, these exercises are not always transformative. One of his finishing provocations was that it may often be the process of dreaming itself, rather than the specific content of dreams, in which the greatest utopian potential lies. 

After Raven’s utopian projects, I attended one of the most impressive panels throughout the conference—one that focused on European imaginaries. The first speaker Miriam Elin Jones examined the marginal languages and cultural diversity in sf through Welsh writer Owain Owain’s dystopian novel The Last Day (Y Dydd Olaf, 1976). She began by introducing the novel’s unique narrative framework made of letters and archives, through which readers are gradually able to realise the author’s dark, unsettling imagination of the late twentieth century, and to develop a sense of Welsh nationalism and local culture. By emphasising the marginal position of the Welsh language and culture within the constructed totality of “Great Britain,” Jones encouraged us to value the literary connection to “place” and to recreate the rich cultural content of linguistic diversity. Joining the discussion of marginality, Lars Schmeink investigated the portrayal of marginalised communities in contemporary German sf works, starting with a brief overview of German sf. He highlighted the “progressive turn” in recent decades through several representative works of “Progressive Fantastic,” such as James Sullivan’s The City of Symbionts (Die Stadt der Symbionten, 2019), Judith C. Vogt and Christian Vogt’s Waste Land (2019) and Ace in Space (2021). Emrah Atasoy discussed utopianism and world-building in contemporary Turkish sf, as well as Turkish writers’ interrogation of Anthropocentrism. Based on the concept “critical dystopia,” Atasoy argued that, in recent years, Turkish literature has seen the emergence of a number of sf writers who have used “utopia” as a motif, and among them Ayşe Kulin, author of Captured Sun (Tutsak Güneş, 2015), appears as one of the most influential. Through his close reading of this novel, Atasoy highlighted the depiction of eco-futurism and the utopian vision that emerges from Turkish utopianism.

The second keynote of the conference featured Argentinian writer Laura Ponce. From her own experience of growing up in Moreno, she revealed the tension between centrality and marginality, highlighting the nationalism and local culture of Argentina as a post-colonial country. She claimed that, just as what Mark Fisher had proposed in Ghosts of my life (2014), the “ghosts” of imperialism can still be seen in Buenos Aires, and that these ghosts have always haunted the local political and economic context. She then described the neo-colonialism under the leadership of the United States since the 1970s, pointing out the involvement of world capital in the local environment and culture of Argentina in the context of globalisation. It is in the context of this neo-colonialism that Argentina, as a “periphery” of the world, has never given up the struggle against hegemony and the reconstruction of the world order. She then introduced the indigenous languages of Latin America and the variants of Spanish, which formulate a linguistic diversity where we can see a futurism and utopianism different from the European and North American perspectives, a kind of “lingua franca” that belongs exclusively to the margins of the world. In her view, the term “science fiction” is itself a product of the West, and the sf works available to Latin American readers are mediated through the Western market, resulting in a sf totality that overrides the linguistic diversity of Latin America, and in which the local culture, the local imagination of the future, is forced to lose its voice. While most of the CoFutures conference was conducted in English, Ponce delivered her keynote address in Spanish, with an English translation projected. 

Following Laura Ponce’s Argentinian insights, I moved onto an equally fascinating panel focusing on Brazilian sf films. Carolina Oliveira discussed the issues concerning race, gender and class through Unliveable (Inabitavel, 2020) directed by Enock Carvalho Matheus Farias and Purple Dictatorship (Ditadura Roxa, 2020) by Matheus Moura. With Patricia Hill Collins’s theory of “outsider within,” Oliveira claimed that it is on the basis of their marginalised identities that the black women in the films are able to find a place for themselves in society, and that their black female identities become symbols on which the protagonists rely for their survival. Alfredo Suppia presented a video paper on the environmental degradation caused by the massive deforestation in Brazil in recent decades. He offered a detailed analysis on various Brazilian speculative films, including Brasil Ano 2000 (1969), Abrigo Nuclear (1981), Oceano Atlantis (1989), and Rio 2096 (2013), highlighting the concerns about desertification, nuclear radiation, global warming, and rising sea levels in Brazilian cinema. Also in this panel, Matheus Schlittler discussed the dystopian narrative and social scarcity in a video game Frostpunk (2018) produced by 11 bit studios. He argued that video games are an important part of sf culture and that their unique world-building mechanisms are informed by a number of typical paradigms, including cyberpunk, steampunk, utopia, dystopia, etc. The retro-futuristic narrative of Frostpunk needs to be understood in a similar way, in that the scarcity in the game’s setting can be seen in part as a result of the way capitalism works, and players are required to build the “last of the worlds,” which also reflects a utopian imagination.

The next panel features “urban futures,” beginning with Aishwarya Subramanian’s introduction of urban space in Delhi, India. Based on a discussion on Vandana Singh’s novelettes “Delhi” (2004), “Indra’s Web” (2011), and her recent anthology Utopias of the Third Kind (2022), Subramanian investigated the complex relationships of utopia and colonialism, and the difficulties of women finding a place in the public space of India’s big cities. And from India, we were moving to Atlanta, Georgia, along with Doug Davis’s presentation on Michael Bishop. In his works such as Catacomb Years (1979), a collapsing America isolates itself from the rest of the world and becomes a classic piece of “Dome City” narrative, which draws inspiration from urban renewal projects in Atlanta in mid-twentieth century. From Atlanta, Sara Martin led us to Barcelona, introducing a shared world anthology by nine authors—Barcelona in 2059 (2021)—featuring a utopian artificial island called Nova Icària, built as the site of a posthuman experiment that has brought about far-reaching technological and social revolutions. Mark Soderstrom offered a wide-ranging account, that went beyond particular cities to discuss cosmopolitanism, urban politics and hybridity in contemporary speculative fiction and films in general. He mentioned N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became (2020), Tade Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy (2017-2019), and a number of films or TV series such as Sense8 (2015), Blade Runner (1982), and The Shining (1980), all of them demonstrating Stuart Hall’s well-known statement: “the future belongs to the impure.”

The last panel on Day 2 began with John Rieder’s powerful claim: “Science fiction is about truth, and truth matters.” He discussed the portrayal of social movements and social dysfunctions in speculative visual fictions—especially Minsoo Kang’s “The Virtue of Unfaithful Translation” (2020) and Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s This Is How You Lose the Time War (2019)—and analysed the involvement of political power in the realm of history, communication, and personal emotion. Following Rieder, Daniel Conway discussed the notion of “Amor fate” in the film Arrival (2016). He noticed that although human beings may have evolved in a certain way through an alien language, this “evolutionary” opportunity is apparently not available to all, which becomes a privilege of particular social groups, thus creating a separation between “higher” and ordinary human beings. Those who can see the future, in a way, become alienated, transformed from human to the “Other.” Built upon this point, Iuliia Ibragimova adopted a rather different way of perceiving “otherness.” Using Aliette De Bodard’s Universe of Xuya series (2007-present) as an example, she discussed the revolutionary values of life in social resistance movements based on the concept of “Assemblage” proposed by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1980). In the Xuya series, the Vietnamese empire, with Confucianism as its basic ideology, leaps to the centre of the world, and thus the “family” becomes the most basic political unit of the empire in the story. For Ibragimova, however, the top-down political hierarchy of the empire can only be changed through a process of Deleuzian deterritorialisation.

At the start of Day 3, Giuseppe Porcaro and Laura Horn discussed the representation of European futures from a sociological and political perspective. They believed that sf could be seen as a viable methodology, using imaginative narrative as an important platform for constructing new political frameworks. In this way, they introduced the sense of supra-nationality in works such as The Expanse (2015-2022), Star Trek (since 1966), Ministry for the Future (2020), and the inherent heterogeneity of the European Union in the Fractured Europe sequence (2014-2018). Next up was Jerry Määttä, who focused on the politics and poetics in contemporary Swedish speculative fiction. Through analysing the elements of class, gender, religion, welfare system, nationalism, globalisation, ecology and sustainability, Määttä shared his detailed close reading of Johannes Anyuru’s De kommer att drunkna i sina mödrars tårar (They Will Drown in Their Mothers Tears, 2017) and Camilla Sten’s En Annan Gryning (Another Dawn, 2015). 

Anastasia Klimchynskaya, winner of this year’s “Support a New Scholar” grant sponsored by SFRA, took us back into history. Starting with nineteenth-century speculative narratives, especially Jules Verne’s Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, 1870) and H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), she discussed the representation of industrialisation and modernity, as well as the resulting futuristic imaginaries and cultural paradigms, inviting us to pay more attention to the marginal spaces and cultures under the disguise of totality in the name of science and rationality. We then moved to nineteenth-century Russia with Stephen Bruce. With Jan Tadeusz Bulharyn’s Plausible Fantasies (1824) and Vladimir Odoevsky’s The Year 4338 (1835), Bruce demonstrated the social and political concerns in both novels and interrogated the technologies and futuristic imaginations concerning new means of transportation such as an air balloon. He believed that these imaginations could lead to an alternative map of geopolitics, indicating the two authors’ different perceptions of empire, class, and power.

During the third keynote address, Indian writer Indrapramit Das shared his recent novelette “A Necessary Being” collected in Make Shift: Dispatches from the Post-Pandemic Future (2021) edited by Gideon Lichfield, discussing the impact of the pandemic on individuals, countries, nations, and regional politics. A detailed summary of the story is provided in Ksenia Shcherbino’s book review of Make Shift, published on Vector’s website in April 2022, which I quote below: 

Family relationships are in the centre of Indrapramit Das’s “A Necessary Being,” a beautiful and sad story about bonding and parting. Our ruined world is being slowly tended back to life by giant omnipotent robots, doing all the menial tasks to make the planet livable again. They are operated by people who inhabit their mechanical bodies and give up on all human connection. But one day one of the operators rescues a little girl. She has nowhere to go, so he adopts her and lets her live with him inside the machine and pilot it. Together they become “heart” and “soul” of the robot. But is this life too much or not enough for a human child? The fragile ecosystem of father-daughter relationship unfurls against the background of the recovering world, and raises questions about gratitude, loyalty and our future survival.

After Das’s keynote, we followed Joan Gordon to indigenous territories in Australia. Reiterating the conference’s focus on “margins,” she discussed the vibrant cultures of indigenous people in Australia through Tracy Sorensen’s 2018 novel The Lucky Galah, which is set in a fictional town in West Australia in 1969 and features a galah who can receive signals from satellite dishes. Drawing on her own concept of the “amborg gaze” and the Deleuzian “becoming,” Gordon argued that the novel reflects the interplay between Aboriginal and colonial cultures, and between human beings and animals in the era of posthumanism. And then, we travelled north to Okinawa with Kenrick Hajime-Yoshida. With the film Miracle City Koza (2022) directed by Kazuhiro Hirai, he introduced the unique maritime culture embedded in Okinawan masculinity under the double colonisation of Japanese and American culture.

He noticed the connection between body and island space in the dance “Happy Happy Kachashi,” emphasising its significance in the local cultural norms. In the next talk, Vector co-editor Jo Lindsay Walton invited us to another island in the Pacific—the island of Yap (Federated States of Micronesia), introducing an indigenous economic system in which stone money played an important role. Rejecting the way Yap has been analysed by Western economists, such as Gregory N. Mankiw, Walton pointed out the importance of non-Western, non-capitalist societies in transcending the end-of-history discourse and formulating a post-capitalist alternative. 

During another panel on Afrofuturism (apart from the one I attended on Day 1), Dan Hassler-Forest introduced his recent monograph Janelle Monáe’s Queer Afrofuturism (2022), where he examined the black utopia in Monáe’s 2018 album Dirty Computer. Treating us to clips from the videos, and conducting close readings that highlighted queer and Afrofuturist themes Hassler-Forest explored how unique lyrics, music, dance and visuals combined to challenge perceptions of masculinity and feminity, the real and the unreal, and the possible and the impossible. Julia Gatermann discussed the Afrofuturist portrayal of “trans-corporeality” in N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (2015-2017). Drawing on Jane Bennett’s “vital materialism” and Rosi Braidotti’s posthumanism, Gatermann argued that the subjectivity of the characters in the novels is not “fixed” or “territorialised.” Instead, it is a post-humanist, nomadic subjectivity, constructed through the process of merging and becoming. Also focusing on the Broken Earth trilogy, Helane Androne emphasised the apocalyptic settings in the novels as a response to the feminist movements in the US. She introduced the five keywords in Chela Sandoval’s Methodology of the Oppressed (2000)—that is “Semiology, Mythology, Meta-ideologizing, Democratics, and Differential Movement”—and connected these concepts to Jemisin’s novels to interrogate her depiction of social resistance. 

The fourth keynote address, marking the end of Day 3, was delivered by Nigerian writer and editor Chinelo Onwualu. Onwualu gave a powerful and optimistic address, which encompassed both personal and planetary themes. She focused on the current climate debate and argued that while we are studying and perceiving climate change from a pessimistic perspective, we also need to develop a mindset of “climate optimism.” In her view, although we are now confronted with a variety of worldwide injustices, and the environment we live in is characterised by violence, oppression and discrimination, we must not let these wounds cause us to lose hope for the future. On the contrary, it is this utopian vision of the future that gives us the impulse to make a difference. She said with great passion: “Enough with these dystopian narratives. Instead, let’s not be afraid to contemplate utopias right here on earth. Let’s think like children.”

Day 4 opens with Egyptian artist Ganzeer’s keynote address, where he introduced his comic novel The Solar Grid (since 2016) after his provocative claim: “Margins aren’t at the fringes of a page – they are (most of) the page”—which I have quoted earlier in this report. Drawing on the classic sf motif “Mars,” The Solar Grid depicts a Mars-Earth dialectic to explore social issues such as immigration, population, class and energy. The Solar Grid has a deliberately provocative premise, imagining a dystopia that has a form of clean renewable energy at its centre. Ganzeer then gave us a fascinating tour of the diverse visual styles The Solar Grid offers, and explored the reasoning behind their use.He shared a debate with his editor about the storyline and the style of graphic presentation, and highlighted his inspirations from traditional sf works, Japanese manga, and many other sources. A generous man as he is, Ganzeer also showed us some of the pictures and script content that have not yet been released. In these subsequent chapters, Ganzeer will revisit the connection between theology and reality from the perspective of “speculative theology,” which, in his view, is the unique narrative potential of sf alone.

In the following roundtable discussion, Avery Delany, Cristina Diamant, and Mia Chen Ma from the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) shared the call for papers of LSFRC’s 2022 conference themed on “Extractionism.” With adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017) and Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019), Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius (2018), and Rivers Solomon’s The Deep (2019), they interrogated the sense of marginality with neoliberal capitalism and reiterated J. G. Ballard’s claim that “periphery is where the future reveals itself.” This, they believed, is the key to an alternative future where we can hear the voices that have never been heard before. 

In one of the last panels, Cody Brown introduced Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren (1974) from an Afrofuturist perspective, emphasising the novel’s historical and academic significance through his discussion of race, climate, and social movements. He argued that the novel critiques the oppression of marginalised groups by neoliberal capitalism and thus reconstructs the possibilities for them to imagine their future. At the same time, Delany has also explored the power dynamic and interactions between different social groups. For Brown, “choice” is the basis of individual subjectivity, and the different understandings of choice may suggest the formation of new subjects. Isiah Lavender III began by returning to Fredric Jameson’s proposal of utopian “desire,” pointing out the important role of utopian and sf imaginaries in post-capitalism. Using Derrick Bell’s novelette “The Space Traders” (1992) as an example, he discussed the depiction of “whiteness” in Afrofuturist narratives and offered the concept of the “Noirum” based on critical race theory and Darko Suvin’s concept of novum, in this way revealing the systematic discrimination in the US both historically and in the present.

The conference concluded with Chinese scholar DAI Jinhua’s pre-recorded keynote speech. Drawing on Jack Ma’s book Weilai yilai (The Future has Arrived, 2017), Dai presented China’s repositioning within the world’s economic and political networks in the context of the “rise of China.” But meanwhile, she also pointed out that, to a certain extent, Chinese people still maintain a national identity that has been in place since 1919, namely that China is behind the world and that China is outside the world. Since the end of the twentieth century, China’s significant economic development has formed a new identity, but people have not yet constructed a new logic in the “future has arrived” context. On the basis of such a duality, Dai introduced the “Sang culture” (culture of demotivation) that has become popular in recent years. People have bid farewell to the revolutionary discourse, but they are then forced to live in a problematic reality. 

From the perspective of the pandemic, Dai saw the rise of right-wing populism and the closure of geographical boundaries. With this in mind, she introduced a special sub-genre of Chinese online literature called “danmei”—that is romantic fictions featuring love affairs between male characters primarily but not exclusively for the entertainment of female readers—particularly Yishisizhou’s Xiao mogu (Little Mushroom, 2020), Tang Jiuqing’s Xianshi shoulie (Time-limited Hunting, 2021), and Wu Zhe’s Rongcheng (Melting City, 2021), summarising the common setting of all three novels: a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everyone in these novels endeavours to stop the arrival of their doomsday, but they are also aware that such attempts are ultimately useless. Finally, Dai referred to the film Interstellar (2014) directed by Christopher Nolan and raised a question for us all to consider: when we look at the future, do we see our civilisation as the coexistence of various social communities, or as the continuation of a species?

Guangzhao Lyu (He/Him) holds a doctorate degree in Comparative Literature from University College London (UCL). He is the co-founder of London Chinese SF Group (LCSFG), and has served as a co-director of London SF Research Community (LSFRC) until 2021. He is the awardee of the “Support a New Scholar” grant (2021-2022) sponsored by Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA). His recent articles have been published in SFRA Review, Vector, Science Fiction Studies, Extrapolation, Utopian Studies, and Comparative Critical Studies.

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