Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature reviewed by Paul Graham Raven

Lisa Garforth, Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature (Polity Press, 2018)

One grows accustomed, as someone working on one facet of the challenge of climate change, to keeping an anxious and wary eye out for one’s opponents. 

I don’t mean climate change deniers—who it seems may always have been a lot rarer than their well-funded PR campaigns made them appear, and in any case were always fairly scarce in academia. We are now into a different and more difficult struggle, namely the struggle over what to do and how to do it. 

To put it another way, while there is broad unity on the challenge itself, there is prodigious disunity on the matter of the response. This has arguably been brewing for a while—ever since the splintering (around the time of the UN’s Brundtland report of 1987) of “sustainable development” (SD) into two conceptual camps, ‘strong’ and ‘weak.’ The camp that elected to hollow out the “sustainability” bit while firmly emphasising the “development” part, predictably enough, has proven far more popular with the worsted-clad elves of the policy machine and the Davosean clades of Business Thought Leadership. Strong SD demanded hard limits on development. Weak SD implied soft limits, so soft that they, along with the evacuated and increasingly unqualified concept of sustainability itself—“sustainable” for exactly how long, and with exactly what consequences, to exactly whose benefit, one might well ask—might be stretched like warm caramel in the hands of a dextrous accountant. (For a more thoroughgoing look at the Strong / Weak split, still very much a live conflict, this briefing paper toward the UN’s 2015 Global Sustainable Development Report sets it out fairly concisely from the perspective of the Strong camp).

We might see this as a struggle between two paradigms of response to anthropogenic climate change—though as with most such binaries, it’s probably better thought of as a spectrum strung out between two extreme positions that almost no one holds as such. Their difference might be illustrated by the current spat over carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Are CCS technologies a necessary and shovel-ready slab in the path to successful mitigation, or a vaporware accounting fudge from the business-as-usual (BAU) crowd that very deliberately leaves the door open for continued fossil fuel usage? From my phrasing, the reader may well be able to deduce which side of that particular fence I am positioned, though how far from the fence I’m stood is more a matter of perspective, as well as of time: the fence has moved many times. Indeed, if somewhat paradoxically, BAU seldom wears the same outfit twice, and corporations today are feverishly at work implementing their novel Net Zero strategies, no doubt innovating exciting new forms of heel-dragging, buck-passing, subterfuge, and slipshod dei ex machina as they go. For BAU has never really been a synonym for “do nothing”; doing nothing is anathema to the busyness of business. Rather, BAU refers to a tacit refusal to consider that the fundamental rules of the game are the problem, rather than the fouls of any particular player(s): new approaches to extraction and production in light of the reality of anthropogenic climate change are more than welcome, so long as opportunities for the accumulation of surplus value are left intact.

To reiterate: the struggle between two different paradigms of social and environmental transformation is an old one, with the role of CCS being only one of its latest battlefields. Yet though venerable, it is not timeless. The stakes have been ever-changing, as emissions pump out and temperatures rise. The upper hand has changed many times, and so too have the terms of engagement. And it is this dialectic of green hope that Garforth so thoroughly delineates in Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature in policy, in philosophy, in climate science, and in science fiction. 

It’s not a struggle unique to academia, by any means—and for all the accusations of tribalist spats within the ivory tower, I doubt it’s any worse in here than it is elsewhere (particularly given that the remunerative stakes are far higher outside). Besides, the obligatory interface of climate change academia with “policy”—which the more cynical among us might define as the escheresque process that has come to replace governance in the neoliberal era—means that many researchers are far closer to the political machinery than they might prefer, particularly the hard-science types (who are justifiably somewhat leery of being dragged out into the kangaroo court of public scrutiny, thanks to underhanded exploits such as Climategate, way back in 2009). As Bruno Latour has so elegantly argued, the sciences were somewhat themselves to blame for this, having enjoyed and profited from a closeness to policy during an earlier period when policymakers were glad to encourage a deliberately distorted perception of science as a process by which “truth” (and thus policy itself) might be rubberstamped with an inarguable sense of impartial authority. That relationship started to sour when scientific “truths” began to misalign with policy goals already chosen for other reasons. Climate change is perhaps the most significant and obvious arena in which this ugly public break-up played out.

Continue reading Green Utopias: Environmental Hope Before and After Nature reviewed by Paul Graham Raven”

Call for Submissions: Prediction, Innovation, & Futures

Vector and Focus invite proposals from academics of all disciplines, and from industry, policy, and practice backgrounds, on the theme of speculative fiction in relation to prediction, innovation, and futures. Please see here for the full call.

The principal output will be a special issue of Vector, guest edited by Stephen Oram, and relevant proposals will also be considered for publication in Focus (ed. Dev Agarwal), and/or for online publication. Prospective contributors are encouraged to move conversations forward; to challenge received wisdom; to historicise the use of speculative fiction within science communication, policy, foresight, innovation, education, and research contexts; and/or to reflect in detail on your own personal experiences of using speculative fiction. Contributions may take the form of:

  • articles of any length;
  • snapshots / key findings / lightning summaries of your research or activities;
  • methods and tools, and/or reports on their use;
  • interviews, roundtables;
  • other formats — be as innovative and imaginative as you like!

We especially welcome proposals from BIPOC contributors, and/or proposals which connect applied speculative fiction to themes of diversity, decoloniality, and social, environmental, and economic justice. Priority fields of interest include futures studies, innovation studies, Science and Technology Studies, applied ethics, and the history and philosophy of science. Topics might include prediction, modelling, decision analysis and decision support, hacking and makerspaces, speculative design, critical design including Critical Race Design, anthropological futures, design fiction, diegetic prototyping, strategic foresight, wargaming, anticipatory governance, predictive data analytics, algorithmic governmentality, speculative fiction as technology, speculative fiction and aspects of methodology such as reproducibility and validation, user stories as a form of speculative fiction,  science communication, protoscience, exploratory engineering, design futurescaping, experiential futures, serious gaming or participatory scenario workshopping, financial modelling and financial activism, creative disruptions, future fabbing, the use of speculative fiction to engage communities and stakeholders, the ethical obligations of the speculative fiction writer, the use of speculative fiction to facilitate interdisciplinary encounters, the use of speculative fiction to model risk and uncertainty, issues around speculative fiction and Intellectual Property, the sci-fi-industrial complex, Indigenous futurisms, energy futures, education futures, all kinds of futures, and the history and future of the future. 

Submission details

Please submit proposals by 5 September 2021 to vector.submissions@gmail.com. Very early proposals very welcome. A proposal should typically contain:

  • a 150-500 word proposal;
  • an estimated word count; and
  • some information about you, e.g. a 50-100 word bio or a CV.

We seek contributions that are carefully grounded in research, while also being clear, engaging, and suitable for a broad audience (including non-academics). Articles will be due by 1 February 2022.

Links

SFF and Justice

UPDATE: Deadline extended to July.

Vector and Focus invite submissions on the theme of SFF and Justice. The call is open to all, but we have an explicit preference for hearing from authors from BIPOC backgrounds and other historically marginalized voices. Please send your proposals to vector.submissions@gmail.com by 9 May 9 July. Vector will be publishing a special themed issue, with Stewart Hotston as guest editor. For more information see the Call for Submissions, and the supplementary list of suggestions and inspiration.

Iain M. Banks: Some critical resources

Elsewhere:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database.

An excerpt from ‘Forceful and Fuzzy Games in the Novels of Iain [M.] Banks’

By Jo Lindsay Walton. This is an excerpt from a chapter published in The Science Fiction of Iain M. Banks, eds Nick Hubble, Esther MacCallum-Stewart and Joseph Norman (Gylphi, 2018).

Introduction: What’s in a Game?

On an estate belonging to the Ancraime family, at the edges of Stonemouth, a Scottish coastal town, a group of boys gather to play paintball. They come from a range of economic backgrounds: Stonemouth is not large enough for the boys to be segregated according to class. The poorest member of the group is Wee Malky. As dusk draws in, the boys begin the last game of the day, a hunting scenario in which, in consequence of a “complicated arrangement of scoring across the various [earlier] skirmishes” (Banks 2012: 146), Wee Malky finds himself the quarry, and the rest of the group, hunters.

Eventually, “near the furthest western extent of the house gardens […] [on the edge of] the rest of the estate and the grouse moors and plantation forests beyond,” (ibid. 149), the scattered group begins to converge. Wee Malky is making a perilous crossing along the round-topped, weed-slicked stone of the top lip of a reservoir, which feeds various water features in the gardens. He has the undertow-prone, peaty reservoir water to one side, and the steep, slimy slope of the overflow, dotted with concrete pillars, on the other.

George Ancraime, “the older brother, nearly twenty at this point but with a mental age stuck at about five” (ibid. 142), suddenly appears near the bottom of the slope. He has been back to his parents’ mansion and retrieved a large antique sword, which he brandishes smilingly at Wee Malky. If Wee Malky can make it across, he wins the game. But if he loses his balance, he loses his life. 

The scene, a suitably cruel allegory of class violence, is in many ways typical of how games often appear in Banks’s fiction. It raises the question of what makes a game a game, and at what point it stops being a game. Game studies theorists Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, after a survey of existing definitions, define a game as “a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome” (Salen and Zimmerman 2003: 96). Another good starting point is the philosopher Bernard Suits’s succinct formulation: playing a game is “a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles” (Suits 2005 [1978]: 55). […] Banks’s games resist both definitions. There is a sustained interest in Banks’s work in involuntary games, necessary games, games-within-games, games that burst their boundaries, games that overcome their players, games with hidden purposes, fragmentary games, games that arise spontaneously, games whose rules change, and games whose outcomes are nebulous and defy calculation. More generally, there is a fascination in Banks’s writing with ludic affordance: the capacity of any situation to absorb and be transformed by play.

Continue reading “An excerpt from ‘Forceful and Fuzzy Games in the Novels of Iain [M.] Banks’”

Intimate Earthquakes: An interview with Sensory Cartographies

This interview originally appeared in Vector 292.

We’re lucky to be talking today to Jonathan Reus and Sissel Marie Tonn, whose collaborative work appears under the name Sensory Cartographies. Their work includes, among other things,  the creation of wearable technologies that explore the nature of sensation and attention. […] So like many great collaborations, there’s quite an interdisciplinary aspect to Sensory Cartographies, is that right?

Sissel: Yes, we both have our different backgrounds. Jon really comes from a music and performance background, as well as instrument building and media archaeology. And my background is more in visual arts and arts research.

So tell us how Sensory Cartographies came to be.

Sissel: It started in 2016, when we got an opportunity to do a residency together in Madeira. Sensory Cartographies really grew out of that residency. I’d been to Madeira before in 2013, and started this drawing project, to do with Madeira’s position in the Age of Exploration, which you could really call the Age of Colonization. 

Continue reading “Intimate Earthquakes: An interview with Sensory Cartographies”

Fission

The BSFA publishes Vector (the critical journal), Focus (the magazine for writers), and The BSFA Review (reviews of the latest SFF). This year we’ll also launching something new: Fission, an anthology of original SFF.

Submit your short stories of up to 3,000 words to Allen Stroud at chair@bsfa.co.uk. This submission window closes 15 February 2021. The anthology will focus on science fiction; other than that, there are no particular constraints as to theme or style, so go wild!

Fission is something of an experiment: let’s see where it leads. The plan is to publish on an annual basis. Fission will also be a collaboration with Celsius 232: it will bring work of Spanish SFF writers to an Anglophone audience, and one story from the Fission anthology will be chosen to be translated into Spanish and published in Celsius.

Multiple submissions and simultaneous submissions are just fine, but please mention it in your email.

You don’t need to be a member of the BSFA to submit a story.

Submissions of reprints are also welcome.

Fission is not currently a paying market.

Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020 by M. John Harrison

Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, by M. John Harrison (Comma Press, 2020) 

Reviewed by Gwilym Eades

Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020 (Comma Press)

Reading a book by Harrison is invariably, and this despite the highly variable nature of his output (horror, sci-fi, fantasy), like wandering through a landscape with no map. Or, if there is a map, it’s an Escher-like one, the circular waterfall endlessly recycling back into itself, ever elegant, and fringed with weird and wonderful vegetation and architecture. Or map-like objects; or symbols; or systems that constantly jump out of themselves and elude their own logic; or elude their own ‘logics,’ for they are multiple, ever-multiplying. 

A face is a map, a photograph part of an array in a system of objects that becomes a map; bodies ‘map’ into each other desultorily and then with vigour. If there is a philosophy that inheres in this remarkably coherent body of work, represented in Settling the World through a selection of short stories (at least one of which is derived from a larger work, namely Viriconium), perhaps it’s most closely allied with the base materialism of Bataille, and all that flows from that kind of commitment to constant and unrelenting transgression of limits of all kinds: transgression of boundaries between genres; of body/bodies, in collision; of thought itself. 

Surprising (to me) are the affiliations I see here with H.G. Wells’s haunted short stories, a continuity I had not expected to find between ‘original’ scientific romance (pre-pulp/Golden Age) and New Wave fantastics. This affiliation with Wells makes apparent just how English a writer Harrison is, evidenced by a constant nostalgia for summers past, evoked in their residual dusts in grey drizzling winters; it makes apparent too a certain London-centrism, especially in “The Incalling”, where Eastern (European) mysticism and magic become autochthonised to the Lower Camden/King’s Cross borderlands. Wells’s “The Door in the Wall” transmogrifies here into a mirror in a pub (“A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium”). Everywhere, people are dying in different ways, fading into beautiful negatives of themselves next to weed-filled lots itemised, named and outlined in descriptive passages of luminous beauty, always-already faded photographs torn from magazines and books, bodies fetishized, traded, stacked and torn, thrown together and consulted in every conceivable way. Books cause madness, yet we are in one, therefore we are insane, like various friends of these protagonists: cultists, geniuses, climbers, the self-deluded.

In some mystic, agnostic equation, there is a link between degradation and the fantastic: here is the grim, dark, sea of the possible. No Marxian dialectic could hold for long the degraded landscape of particulars, the sea of shards waiting to cut the feet of the inevitable transgressor: the system-builders’ blood flows freely in such a sacrificial setting. The pre-injured, inured, will survive these cuttings, arranged like mocking, flowering, mirror-shards for the sick, the becoming-sick, and the sickness unto death that ends many a tale told here. These are simple observations of the overlays that hold sway across the maps that comprise Settling the World.

The sun looks down on all things equally, unblinking, and knows it will die; it, and all things, therefore, become negatives of themselves in time and thought. This is the overarching cognitive estrangement operating, at work, labouring behind the scenes, behind the clouds of these stories. The various novums that crop up, when they do, are all variations layered into the soil of that master-estrangement of being from itself and others. We behold the community of those without community; they are abject who inhabit these stories. The Climber himself is the one who holds the only possible hope: that of moving beyond himself to become one with the landscape. There is no novum there, in the climbing, it knows only itself, being and becoming on ice and rock (though “The Ice Monkey” too, ends in death and disfigurement).

“Cicisbeo,” a story about a husband, Tim, who spends a very long time converting a loft, could have been written by Philip Roth or Tom Waits: but that unlikely combination is all Harrison. It is also very late-style Harrison, and we see the evolution of his style through this selection. There is a maturity, but also a self-conscious concern and critique of the idea itself and its implications for expectations of the bourgeois male. The homeless, the hopeless, are still there, even centre stage, but the ability to keep at arm’s length comes to the fore. The surrealism of tunnels in the sky is long-lasting and that image will not soon fade like a sunset behind the air traffic circling Heathrow.

Continue reading “Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020 by M. John Harrison”

Vector in 2020

Vector continues to publish a broad range of SFF criticism, as well as interviews, reports, and reviews, including both scholarly and fan writing. This year we again published two bumper issues of Vector, #291 (unthemed) and #292 (SFF and contemporary art).

This year, in collaboration with Fanac, we also made sixty years of back issues available digitally. You can explore the archives here (see also this earlier note). Going forward, Vector is likely to be publishing more themed and guest-edited issues, including #293, a special on Chinese SFF guest-edited by Yen Ooi and Regina Kanyu Wang.

The BSFA also continues to publish Focus (for SFF writers, ed. Dev Agarwal) and The BSFA Review (a digital SFF reviews zine, ed. Sue Oke), and has announced a new annual fiction publication, Fission, will be launched in 2021.

We also ran the 2020 Solidarity Salon series, with readings from a variety of wonderful authors, all available here. We don’t currently have firm plans in place for something similar in 2021, although it does seem likely we’ll continue to be doing more things online, so we very much welcome feedback, ideas, and possibilities for collaborations.

The BSFA also adopted a new constitution at our 2020 AGM, and is preparing for a new website launch in (probably early-ish) 2021.

If you’re not currently a member of the BSFA, please consider joining!

In previous years we’ve often done some kind of “Best SFF of the Year” type feature. We won’t be doing that this year exactly, but do check out …

Where do I send my story? Resources for SFF writers

Wondering where to send your latest short SFF masterpiece?

Ralan.com is a fantastic resource. Don’t be misled by that gorgeous 90s decor: it’s regularly and reliably updated (never change, Ralan!).

Locus is also a great source of industry news, and contains a lot of reviews of short SFF that might give you ideas of where to explore further. Locus also does a regular year-in-review of major SFF magazines.

Submission Grinder is a sort of crowdsourced tool where writers can collectively keep track of publication response times. Duotrope is the other big market listing / submission tracker.

This Facebook group is devoted to posting calls for submissions.

You might also be interested in the Science Fiction Writers’ Association’s list of “qualifying markets”. There’s a note that this list is slated to change in format soon. Qualifying markets must have circulations of 1000+ and pay 8c/word, and meet some other criteria.

And for just a few quick ideas, here’s a recent-ish listicle by Annie Neugebauer, ‘20 Places to Submit Your Speculative Short Stories.’

For the more academic side of things, the LSFRC (London Science Fiction Research Community) are currently doing an excellent job of scooping up relevant Calls for Papers, notices of conferences, etc.: the LSFRC Facebook group is the best place to follow them. And of course there is the ever-effervescent Science Fiction Research Association (founded way back in 1970).