Productive Futures conference

By Jo Lindsay Walton

I’m just back from Productive Futures, a three-day conference organised by the LSFRC (London Science Fiction Research Community1) at Birkbeck University.

Productive Futures was definitely an academic conference rather than a fan convention, but it was an academic conference with several twists: there were plenty of engaging presentations by non-academics; there was a little table with freebies and merch; writing workshops from Verena Hermann and  Oliver Langmead + Thomas Moules; discussion with Jordi Lopez-Botey about the Senate House Boycott and his other work with the IWGB (a new kind of union representing traditionally non-unionised workers such as low paid migrant workers and workers in the “gig economy”); a panel of publishers and literary agents discussing both economics in SFF and the economics of SFF publishing which was a lot better than it sounds2; an associated not-really-part-of-the-conference-but-kind-of event at the Science Museum; Sinjin Li‘s conference booklet and ephemera that added up to an immersive work of art; a roundtable with two SFF author Guests of Honour, Aliette de Bodard and Zen Cho3; and probably more I’m forgetting. The excellent keynote lectures from Joan Haran and Caroline Edwards reinforced the inclusive, outward-facing, and politically engaged ethos.

The theme of the conference was economics and SFF (coincidentally also the theme of a recent Vector (#288)). From the intro to the conference booklet:

The history of Science Fiction is a history of unreal economics. Spanning asteroid mining and interstellar trade, robotic workforces and post-scarcity futures, SF offers ways of reimagining the economics of this and other worlds. Oscillating between the tragedies of neocolonial technocapitalism and the utopian futures made thinkable by a radical redistribution of resources, the novels, films, exhibitions and thought experiments that we will discuss across these three days establish SF as a genre which can and must be understood in economic terms.

So yeah, you might be forgiven for imagining economics just means money and trade, but the conference put paid (pun intended) to that notion: ecology and climate also became a huge theme over the three days; so did work, including unpaid forms of work; so did kinship and family, including polyamory and consensual nonmonogamy; so did infrastructure, including the digital infrastructure of the internet.

If you have a twinge of FOMO, there is some good news: LSFRC also stands for the Live-tweeting Shockingly Fast in Real-time Community. The absolute virtuosos of the art of conference live-tweeting are … well, you’ll see: check out the #unrealE hashtag, with a smattering of tweets under #productivefutures and #lsfrc2019.

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Conference organisers Katie, Francis, and Tom, with other vital agencies lurking in the assemblage

A few more things:

  • We don’t have a conference report lined up for Vector, but if anyone would like to write one, or just share less formal impressions and thoughts, Vector will be very happy to host.
  • The LSFRC is an organisation of SF scholars and fans, led by graduate students based at Birkbeck and Royal Holloway. The LSFRC organises conferences, events with guest speakers, film screenings, and a monthly reading group in London. The best place to keep track of them is Facebook, and they’re also on Twitter, and have a website. LSFRC was formed in 2014 by Rhodri Davies, Andrea Dietrich, and Aren Roukema, and the current directors are Rhodri Davies, Tom Dillon, Francis Gene-Rowe, Katie Stone, and (as of now!) Sasha Myerson. In a short time LSFRC have really established themselves as an amazing force in SFF studies in the UK and around the world. Productive Futures was a seriously international conference, with attendees from the US, China, India, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, as well as one or two remote presentations from folk who couldn’t be there in the flesh. The organisers also worked to make the conference accessible and inclusive — although there is always more than can be done — with essentially a “pay what you or your institution can afford” approach to attendance fees.
  • The LSFRC’s theme for this year was political economy. The theme for the coming year is borders.


Footnotes

(1) AKA the Large Science Fiction Community, apparently. Also Lustrous, Livid, Lionhearted, etc. I should probably also mention that I played a very minor role in organising the conference, which mostly consisted of emailing “Haven’t read this properly but I agree” from time to time, and on one occasion messing up the travel budgets while very merry on Rhodri Davies’ homebrew.

(2) I have been to some boring publishers’ panels, okay? This one was great: it was deftly moderated; most of the panellists arrived well-prepared; there was nimble hat-juggling as pretty much everyone spoke both as professionals and as fans of SFF; there was nuanced consideration of different kinds of publishing; there wasn’t the assumption you sometimes get that the audience is hungry for tips on “success,” or that commodified and commercially successful SFF is the SFF that really matters. For me, the only bum note was Jo Fletcher’s response to a question about the representation of working class voices in speculative fiction, which didn’t really address the specific question, and also definitely edged toward disheartening “I don’t see colour” territory. It was however good to hear from Jo about Hachette’s Changing the Story initiative, which is reflecting critically on the industry’s lack of diversity and creating concrete opportunities for BAME people and others. (Diversity, of course, isn’t yet decolonising, and diversity-oriented thinking can even sometimes impede decolonisation! But the tensions between diversity and decoloniality should be seen on a context-by-context basis, and my hunch is within contemporary publishing a focus on diversity is still extremely useful to the wider and deeper projects of decolonisation).

(3) The third Guest of Honour, Tade Thompson, had to drop out. Maybe next year?

“Maybe, just maybe, humanity is worth saving”: Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington interviewed

Image result for it takes death to reach a star

Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington are authors of It Takes Death to Reach a Star (2018) and In the Shadow of a Valiant Moon (2020) — fast-paced, action-packed, post-apocalyptic thrillers set in the 23rd century — as well as various solo works. It Takes Death to Reach a Star was a Dragon Award Finalist, a Cygnus Award First Place Ribbon recipient, an IPPY Award Winner, a New York Book Festival Sci-Fi Award Winner, and a Feathered Quill Gold Award Winner. Vector caught up with Stu and Gareth to ask them about their collaboration …

In the Shadow of a Valiant Moon is out early next year, is that right? Tell us a little bit about it. 

Gareth: Moon — as Stu and I refer to it — is the sequel to It Takes Death to Reach a Star. It’s set four years after the events in Star. Star was dark, but Moon is darker. Even the team at Boilermaker Entertainment — they’re the ones we’re working with to bring this series to the screen — commented on how much darker it is, compared with the first book. 

Stu: And yet, even with all the bleakness and despair, there is this central thread of hope. Just the flicker of an idea that maybe, just maybe, humanity is worth saving. 

Lads, why so bleak?

Continue reading ““Maybe, just maybe, humanity is worth saving”: Stu Jones and Gareth Worthington interviewed”

The Astounding Award

With admirable swiftness, what was the John C. Campbell Award for Best New Writer has been re-named The Astounding Award for Best New Writer.

Named for Campbell, whose writing and role as editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later renamed Analog Science Fiction and Fact) made him hugely influential in laying the groundwork for both the Golden Age of Science Fiction and beyond, the award has over the years recognized such nominees as George R.R. Martin, Bruce Sterling, Carl Sagan, and Lois McMaster Bujold, as well as award winners like Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, and John Scalzi.

However, Campbell’s provocative editorials and opinions on race, slavery, and other matters often reflected positions that went beyond just the mores of his time and are today at odds with modern values, including those held by the award’s many nominees, winners, and supporters.

The full statement can be found here. Jeannette Ng’s acceptance speech, which sparked the change, can be found here. It began something like this: Continue reading “The Astounding Award”

In Conversation: Passing the Baton of Egyptian Science Fiction, Post-Arab Spring 

Organized and translated by Emad El-Din Aysha. Emad comments:

This is a roundtable discussion among several members of لجمعية المصرية لأدب الخيال العلمي‎, the Egyptian Society for Science Fiction (ESSF). The ESSF was founded in 2012 shortly after the Egyptian January 2011 revolution. In that moment, a group of people who had largely lost hope of all change in Egyptian life—scientists, academics, artists, writers, poets—felt that everything had changed, and that they could now make a constructive contribution towards building the future. This conversation took place in late 2018, and was conducted predominantly in Arabic. Discussants were Manal Abd Al-Hamid, Ahmed Al-Mahdi, Emad El-Din Aysha, Hosam El-Zembely, Muhammad Naguib Matter, and Kadria Said.

Thank you all for participating. First off, how did you learn of the ESSF and the Shams Al-Ghad [‘Sun of Tomorrow’] series of anthologies?

Muhammad Naguib Matter: Via the internet! I saw an advert for an ESSF salon and I attended it, and since then I haven’t missed an event. For me, something like the ESSF, such a group, used to be pure fantasy. The literary scene here in Egypt is completely void of SF workshops. Yes, there are some cultural salons, like the one in Giza, dedicated to the memory of Nihad Sharif, the dearly departed pioneer of Egyptian science fiction. There’s also a salon for science fiction in Aswan, in southern Egypt. But these events are lacking: they essentially do one thing, which is to host big names in the world of literature to talk about their works. They leave no room at all to learn something. There are no workshops. So that’s what drew me straight away to the ESSF. It’s filling that gap.

Continue reading “In Conversation: Passing the Baton of Egyptian Science Fiction, Post-Arab Spring “

Focus

The BSFA is looking for a new team member to work on Focus, especially handling the layout. Someone with experience of InDesign or Publisher would be ideal, but we can help you to learn the ropes. It’s a great opportunity to gain some entry level editorial experience, and to be part of a future-facing fan association, encouraging and promoting SF in all its forms. For more information, contact Donna at chair@bsfa.co.uk.

Space Age: Mapping’s Intelligent Agents

Navigational chart from the Marshall Islands, made of wood, sennit fiber, and cowrie shells. [Wikimedia/UC Berkeley]

With the stakes so high, we need to keep asking critical questions about how machines conceptualize and operationalize space. How do they render our world measurable, navigable, usable, conservable? […] In a coming age of robot warfare and policing, we could see designers specializing in the creation of robot-illegible worlds rather than machine-readable ones […]

Shannon Mattern: ‘Mapping’s Intelligent Agents’ at Places.

Sputnik Award: The Final

By Jo Lindsay Walton.

Some time in early 2016, I and a few others decided to set up an award for speculative fiction, the Sputnik Awards. The idea was to do things a little differently, and to spark thinking about what literary awards can and should be. Or, um, shouldn’t be. Because we are so very scrupulous in our awarding, we are only now ready … almost ready! … to announce the winner. So without any further ado, here is some further ado, giving the story so far:

And the winner is …

Elsewhere:

Trivia:

The Sputnik Award 2016 was primarily a popular award (voted for by about 200 fans, mostly courtesy of File 770’s signal boost) with just a tincture of a juried award (I chose the shortlist, mostly guided by the shortlists of other then-major awards).

The name Sputnik, by the way, came courtesy of Ian Sales, although he had something a bit different in mind and is blameless in this affair. The notion that the Sputniks could do this genre-jump for its final showdown, from dungeoncrawl to duel, came from Zali Krishna and Christina Scholz. Christina happens to be published here this week: check out her article, “Superhero_ines: Rebooted Comics and Trans* Identity.”