Even the titles of the novels – TheQueue and Woman at Point Zero – reroute the thoughts towards recent emotionally exhausting lockdowns. They conjure interminable waiting, to the point of breakdown. In a way, this is precisely what these books describe. However, the denials of freedom to move, associate and connect are not caused by a global pandemic but by local patriarchal, totalitarian societies. The fictionalised/documentarian versions of Egypt spiritually and physically destroy the respective protagonists, Armani and Firdaus. Both women are driven to extreme forms of exile from their societies, Firdaus by accepting a death sentence, Armani by self-enforced mental alienation. Although all genders in these two novels suffer from oppression, women are subjected to specific forms of violence highlighted by the writers.
The sensitivity and detail in the portrayal of these forms of gendered violence is related to the fact that not only are respective authors both women, but they are both psychiatrists. Both writers are important figures in Egyptian society, renowned for their activism and respected as powerful intellectuals. The two authors have personally experienced state-inflicted violence for their resistance, their feminism, and their criticisms of other forms of oppression. Nawal El Saadawi was fired, exiled and threatened with imprisonment; Basma Abdel Aziz’s nickname is ‘the rebel’. Both novels portray an Egyptian society from a historical vantage point that are four decades apart (1975 and 2013). These have not been decades of ‘progress’: albeit fictionalised, oppression as presented by Basma Abdel Aziz in The Queue (2013) has become more suffocating and more all consuming.
Following the interest generated by the Tolkien and Diversity panel at Oxonmoot 2020, (hosted by Sultana Raza), another panel on Global Tolkien was proposed and accepted by the Tolkien Society for Oxonmoot 2021. The idea for this panel was formed because of a troubling trend among some SFF and Tolkien enthusiasts against diversity in fandoms and interpretations of SFF writers. Luckily, the Tolkien Society doesn’t seem to ascribe to this view, and has been encouraging further dialogue on this topic.
The panelists included Sultana Raza (also the Moderator), Ali Ghaderi (Iran), María FernandaChávez Guiñez (Chile), and Gözde Ersoy (Turkey). Gözde Ersoy (assistant-professor of English Literature at Muğla Sıtkı Koçman University, Turkey) also briefly presented a video of an online event she had organized with school children in Turkey, on the Tolkien Reading Day, where they’d read an excerpt from The Hobbit in Turkish.
The following roundtable was written after Oxonmoot was over, and is an approximation of some of the points discussed during the Global Tolkien panel, which was accompanied by comments in the chat from the lively audience. A hybrid event, the Global Tolkien panel took place via Zoom (with 300+ viewers), while the organizers and a few participants logged in from Oxford where they were attending Oxonmoot in person. While there was quite a bit of interaction amongst the panellists, it’s not possible to re-create it in this written format, as the texts were sent in by email. The following roundtable contains spoilers for all of Tolkien’s stories mentioned below. Disclaimer: The opinions presented in this roundtable are those of the speakers, and not necessarily of the Tolkien Society.
The abstract of Global Tolkien was sent to the panellists beforehand, in form of broad but poignant questions:
Why does Tolkien’s fiction have a global appeal? Why are people from all continents drawn to Tolkien’s stories? What does that tell us about common human values? Only works of depth and substance can garner such a massive following all over the world. Conversely, have the 6 Peter Jackson films, and various games drawn in fans who’re more interested in the action/adventure or violence, and war aspects of the films and games than in the core values embedded in the stories? Should we encourage diverse readings of Tolkien from different geographical locations? Can this coming together of readers from different countries foster an international fellowship, as outlined in his books? Or conversely, should his fans be confined to people of just one race or ethnicity? If the interpretations, readings, or ideas of POC readers are not acceptable by some fans, then should these POC readers be allowed to consume these books/films/games? Should POC fans be limited to being consumers, but not commentators or scholars of Tolkien? Is it even possible to limit POC fans from engaging with, and commenting upon Tolkien’s works? Due to the recent wave of cancel culture, to what extent can we re-read or re-contextualize Tolkien’s works to fit in with our fluctuating world view?
The second ever FiyahCon virtual convention took place between 16th and 19th September 2021, and featured over sixty different panels, presentations, workshops, write-ins and more. Hosted by FIYAH Literary Magazine, the convention excelled in its elevation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) voices from across the world of Speculative Fiction.
FiyahCon 2021 was a weekend of both educational and entertaining content, with sessions focused on the craft and commercialisation of BIPOC Speculative Fiction as well as its community, effect and its excellence. Sessions ran twenty-four hours a day throughout the weekend, making it easily accessible for international attendees and guests. I especially enjoyed the BonFIYAH sessions, formerly known as ‘FiyahCon Fringe’, which were free sessions geared towards timezones outside of the States.
It was clear from just the convention’s opening ceremony alone how much passion and dedication had gone into the impressive organisation of FiyahCon. Speculative writer and founding creator of FIYAH Literary Magazine L. D. Lewis served as this year’s Director, alongside Senior Programming Coordinator Brent Lambert and BonFIYAH Co-Directors Iori Kusano and Vida Cruz.
FiyahCon featured a wide range of speculative genres and topics, from BonFIYAH sessions on climate change in science fiction and fantasy, to panels on the non-western gothic, fan fiction and publishing strategies. ‘What does Justice look like?’ was a panel featuring speculative authors Cadwell Turnbull (The Lesson), Brittney Morris (SLAY) and Bethany C. Morrow (A Song Below Water). In the session, panellists considered representations of justice within both their own works and speculative fiction more generally. The panel featured important and nuanced discussions on topics such as law and order, policing, Black Lives Matter and how wider societal discourse is influenced through entertainment and literature.
Other notable FiyahCon sessions include the BonFiyah panel on ‘Power Dynamics and Worldbuilding’, in which Rivers Solomon (An Unkindness of Ghosts) considered how we might possibly remove the ‘poison of colonialism’ from our writing, and the Friday session on ‘Vampire Mythology from Around the World’, which saw panellists consider the Eurocentric tropes and conventions that shape the genre. The Saturday evening panel on ‘Palestinian Futurism’ was an especially humbling and powerful session that explored ideas of gaslighting, realism and using futurism as a way of breaking out of constricting and defensive narratives.
FiyahCon 2021 featured three guests of honour: Comic book creator Vita Ayala (New Mutants, The Wilds), Vlogger Njeri (ONYX Pages, SOULar Powered Afrofuturism Slow-Reading Group) and speculative writer Malka Older (Infomocracy, …and Other Disasters). The virtual convention also hosted the 2021 IGNYTE Awards ceremony, which saw Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun win the award for Best Adult Novel. Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation of the late Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower won Best Comics Team, whereas Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn walked away with the award for Best YA Novel.
The importance of community and empowerment was present throughout the convention, and FiyahCon’s utilisation of the Airmeet platform made interaction between panellists, guests and attendees easy and inclusive. The daily write-ins, breakout tables and office hours available provided FiyahCon with vital opportunities for socialization and networking that some virtual conventions often lack. One attendee even organised a collaborative reading list, comprised of all the works mentioned, celebrated and discussed. The two ‘Em-Dash’ writing game shows were also great fun, both for the participants and viewers alike. ‘Em-Dash’ challenged writers to create short pieces of flash fiction in three short rounds, including random scenarios, tropes and ingredients selected by the FiyahCon community.
FiyahCon 2021 was incredibly accessible, eye-opening and, above all, exciting. As a woman of colour, researcher and massive fan of Speculative Fiction, I have never attended anything like it. I was left feeling inspired and validated like never before, and truly appreciate the effort that the convention directors had put into making guests feel like they belong and matter within the world of speculative fiction. After two successful and invigorating conventions, it looks like FiyahCon is set to become an integral and trailblazing part of both the BIPOC and speculative community. I am incredibly grateful to the BSFA for giving me the opportunity to attend.
Africanfuturism, a term coined by writer Nnedi Okorafor, is used to describe science fiction created by Africans and those of the African diaspora. Afrofuturism, on the other hand, tends to define science fiction created by Black people predominantly in the U.S. – the key difference, Okorafor explains, is that ‘Africanfuturism is specifically and more directly rooted in African culture, history, mythology and point-of-view as it then branches into the Black Diaspora, and it does not privilege or center the West’ (Okorafor, 2019). While the practices of Africanfuturist and Afrofuturist visual artists differ greatly in their techniques and subject matter, there are common themes which run deeply through many works: hybridity, cultural tradition and history, trauma, and the possibilities of outer space. This article will showcase multiple contemporary Afrofuturist and Africanfuturist artists through the lens of these themes, exploring the ways their works resonate and diverge.
Emos de Medeiros is a Beninese-French artist currently living and working between Benin and France. Medeiros practises a concept he calls ‘contexture’: ‘a fusion of the digital and the material, of the tangible and the intangible, exploring hybridizations, interconnections and circulations of forms, technologies, traditions, myths and merchandises’ (Kikk Festival, 2019). Hybridity is alive throughout Medeiros’s work and is one of his central philosophies. In 2014, Medeiros’s performative installation Kaleta/Kaleta synthesised installation with performance, incorporating music, videos processed and recombined in real-time, photography and a performative video installation that encouraged public participation. Kaleta/Kaleta was hybrid not only in its medium, but also its subject matter. The work depicted the Beninese cultural tradition ‘Kaleta,’ which is a combination of music, dance and performance, itself a ‘unique mix of Brazilian carnival, American Halloween, and Beninese mask tradition.’ By reimagining this tradition through the use of digital technology, Medeiros explains, he sought to form ‘a synthesis between memory and vision, past and future, conservation and creation.’
The Vodun religion in Benin associates cowry shells with exploration, as well as protection, prosperity and fertility. In Vodunaut, the helmets are combined with video works presented on smartphones, merging the organic with the inorganic, the symbolic and spiritual with the digital and scientific. Through these objects, Medeiros points to an alternative future where Yoruba spirituality is situated in outer space, and in doing so his work ‘encompasses transcultural spaces and the questioning of traditional notions of origin, locus or identity and their mutations through non-linear narratives’ (Now Look Here, 2020).
Explorations of hybridity and tradition can also be found in the work of Jacque Njeri. Jacque Njeri’s visual artwork focuses on feminism, culture and empowerment ‘through projected extra-terrestrial realities.’ In her project The Stamp Series, Njeri redesigns selected stamps, combining local culture with space exploration and science fictional elements. Her MaaSci series of digital artworks puts the Maasai tribe, inhabitants of Kenya and Tanzania, into visceral imaginative scenes in space. Njeri’s Maasai science fiction imagines a universe where the Maasai people explore the stars. In MaaSci, the culture of the Maasai is made inseparable from space exploration. The MaaSci series put Njeri in the global spotlight and her work has since been exhibited in Kenya and the 2018 Other Futures Festival in Amsterdam.
Hod Lipson is a professor of Engineering and Data Science at Columbia University in New York. With Melba Kurman he is co-author the award-winning Fabricated: The New World of 3D printing and Driverless: Intelligent cars and the road ahead. His often provocative work on self-aware and self-replicating robots has been influential across academia, industry, policy, and public discourse more generally (including this very popular TED talk), and his interests also encompass pioneering in the fields of open-source 3D printing, electronics 3D printing, bio-printing and food printing. Hod directs the Creative Machines Lab at Columbia, where they “build robots that do what you’d least expect robots to do.”
Fiona Moore is a writer and academic whose work, mostly involving self-driving cars and intelligent technology, has appeared in Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, Interzone and many other publications, with reprints in Forever Magazine and two consecutive editions of The Best of British SF. Her story “Jolene” was shortlisted for the 2019 BSFA Award for Shorter Fiction. Her publications include one novel, Driving Ambition, numerous articles and guidebooks on cult television, guidebooks to Blake’s Seven, The Prisoner, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who, three stage plays and four audio plays. When not writing, she is a Professor of Business Anthropology at Royal Holloway, University of London.
You are a celebrated figure in the world of artificial intelligence research. Can you tell me how you came to be interested in, and working in, this area?
Thanks. To me, issues like self-awareness, creativity, and sentience are the essence of being human, and understanding them is one of life’s big mysteries – on par with questions like the origin of life and of the universe. There are also many practical reasons to understand and replicate such abilities (like making autonomous machines more resilient to failure). I think that we roboticists are perhaps not unlike ancient alchemists, trying to breathe life into matter. That’s what brings me to this challenge.
My own interest in AI is, in part, as an anthropologist, looking at culture. To what extent will AI “learn” culture, at least initially, from humans, and to what extent do you see them as capable of developing culture on their own?
Yes, AIs learn culture (for better and worse) from humans and from a human-controlled world; but as AIs become more autonomous, they will gather their own data, and develop their own norms, perspectives, and biases.
Do you see this already happening? If so, what do AI cultures look like at present?
AIs today are still like children, and their cultures are heavily controlled by us humans– their “parents.” For example, AIs that generate music are influenced by existing human music genres; AI’s that generate human portraits are influenced by images of humans they find on the web – disproportionately favouring certain aesthetics, genders, and ethnicities, etc. AIs that generate text are influenced by prose that they are trained on, and so forth.
I have not seen AIs that have full autonomy on the data they consume, but this will eventually happen as artificial intelligence becomes more physically autonomous and can collect its own data. But again, we humans are also increasingly subjected to an information diet that is prescribed by the culture we live in, and we have to make a conscious effort to rise above our culture or go against it.
The essay ends with an allusion to Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, every Marxist’s favourite angel thanks to Walter Benjamin, but in this context dismisses it in favour of an angel every bit as cool from Albrecht Durer’s Melencolia 1 – she is soooooooo bored and really pissed off and her dog is kinda funny looking.
Callisto – first performed in Edinburgh Fringe 2016, is now playing at London’s Arcola theatre until the 23rd of December. This brilliant and imaginative play packs in so much humour alongside the tragic, the absurd, and the science-fictional, that it is simply unmissable!
London, 1680. Photo: Lidia Crisafulli
The play consists of four love stories set in 1680, 1936, 1978-9, and 2223. The stories talk to each, the text demanding their simultaneous presence on stage at several crucial moments in the play. These instances are key to some of the thematic threads that span the epic, knitting it together. Each viewer might perceive their own connections, beyond the obvious commonality that is part of the title: each story involves a love affair between people of the same sex. The complexity and the wit of the play are dazzling. There are stories within stories. In 1680s London, Arabella Hunt is an opera star, and we first encounter her rehearsing the lines from Cleopatra:
[…] and all the world,
is if it were the business of mankind to part us,
is armed against my love: even you yourself
join with the rest; you, you are armed against me
This sentiment echoes through time, the world is armed against homosexual love even when we are on the moon in 2223, albeit this time through its absence – Cal and Lorn are all that is left of homo sapiens, and only one of them is biologically human. Cal is an android that Lorn built, an android those very conscious existence depends on convincing Lorn that he loves him. With humanity having driven itself to extinction, Lorn is afraid of hope, and hence of love.
Post-Cyber Feminist International, Glitch@Night BBZ London (Photo: Mark Blower)
‘A particularly gendered set of obstacles emerges from the contemporary ubiquity and commodification of the digital sphere. From sexual harassment and privacy to issues surrounding divisions of labour, the progress of gender justice has in some ways failed to keep pace with the dizzying velocity of digital developments. At the same time, new networked technologies have come to dominate the horizons of critical discourse, pushing older and more quotidian devices to the margins of cultural visibility. And yet, these domesticated technologies (from the Hoovers to HRT) continue to exert a shaping influence on many people’s everyday lives. It is critical that feminists find new ways of interrogating technologies in order to forge a radical gender politics fit for an era in which the analogue and the digital are inexorably intertwined’ [ICA]
Black Feminism and Post-Cyber Feminism (Photo: Mark Blower)
Post-Cyber Feminist Internationaltook place at the ICA between 15-19 Nov 2017, and consisted of a series of events, exhibitions and workshops dedicated to exploring how radical gender politics can shape our technological future. Visual artists, musicians, writers and theorists came together to find new ways of engaging with race, class, gender and to discuss their work-in-progress. Post-Cyber Feminist International showcased interrelated constituents such as sonic feminisms, Black feminism and glitch feminism, celebrating the 20th anniversary of The First Cyberfeminist International (1997). Continue reading “Post-Cyber Feminist International”→
Jeremy Shaw’s Liminalscan be seen at The Store Studios 180 The Strand, until 10th of December 2017. It is the first off-site exhibition by Berlin based KÖNIG Galerie and forms part of their recent expansion to London.
Liminals, a work of Vancouver-born artist Jeremy Shaw, takes the form of a fictional documentary made not more than a couple of decades into our future. From the narration, we reconstruct some of its historical context, although the focus of the documentary is on ‘periphery altruist cultures’. The Liminals are one such sub-cultural group, who are observed by the posited filmmakers with a detached fascination (and a style) reminiscent of the early 20th century ethnographies.
It is far from clear who is the intended audience, because humanity’s days, the documentary reveals, are numbered. Technology is to blame, specifically, choosing to let computation replace ritual. Kieslowski’s warning in the first episode of Decalogue against elevating computers above faith has clearly gone unheeded, and in 2024 all spiritual experiences are replaced by VR via a technological innovation called ‘The Unit’. ‘The Singularity Disaster’ follows in 2033, and soon after ‘The Announcement’ of ‘the countdown to extinction’ is made.
Amongst the general apathy that ensues, radical groups emerge, as they always do – observes the film’s narrator – during the Millenarian periods of history. The most radical of these groups believe that a possible salvation lies in the ideas of ‘pre-Unit’ science fiction writer Samuel Delany, specifically the paraspace:
a specific paraspace could serve as a transitory zone for humanity – an intermediate area between the physical and the virtual where a generative incubation period towards our next phase in evolution could take place. They refer to this paraspace as The Liminal.
The documentary is an exposition of the methods by which The Liminals are trying to reach that paraspace.