Afrofuturism: A WorldCon Recap, and Some Thoughts

ConZealand Recapconzealand-logo

By Eugen Bacon

‘On Afrofuturism’ was an important topic at the virtual 2020 WorldCon in New Zealand. The conversation paid attention to the term generally applied to embrace literary works that use the frame of science fiction, fantasy or horror to re-imagine the past and present experiences of the African diaspora, and to explore what black futures could look like. 

On the panel were Suyi Davis Okungbowa—a renowned Nigerian author of fantasy, science fiction and horror inspired by his West-African origins, including David Mogo, God Hunter; Brandon O’Brien—a writer, performance poet and game designer from Trinidad and Tobago, also the editor of Fiyah Magazine; Ekpeki Oghenechovwe—a Nigerian writer with honourable mention (twice) by the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest, and an award-winning best story in the Nommo Awards for speculative fiction by Africans; myself; and skilfully moderated by Maquel A. Jacob—a multi-author and owner of MAJart Works—who propagated stimulating questions, many from the audience, across the panel. 

The introduction to the session stated: 

According to Yes! magazine, the concept of Afrofuturism may only go back to 1966, when the Black Panther first appeared in a Marvel comic and Lt. Uhura appeared first appeared on Star Trek.  The recent MCU movie, Black Panther, shone a bright light onto this subgenre. Our panel explores its origins, what it encompasses and what works they recommend for getting more familiar worth the subgenre.

I was enthralled to enter this hearty dialogue, taking in the divergent views on the term ‘Afrofuturism’ from my fellow panellists. Continue reading “Afrofuturism: A WorldCon Recap, and Some Thoughts”

2019 BSFA Award winners

Best Novel

  • WINNER: Children of Ruin, Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor)

  • The Green Man’s Foe, Juliet E. McKenna (Wizard’s Tower)

  • Atlas Alone, Emma Newman (Gollancz)

  • Fleet of Knives, Gareth L. Powell (Titan)

  • The Rosewater Insurrection, Tade Thompson (Orbit)

Best Shorter Fiction

  • WINNER: This is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Jo Fletcher)

  • To Be Taught, If Fortunate, Becky Chambers (Hodder & Stoughton)

  • “Jolene”, Fiona Moore (Interzone 9-10/19)

  • Ragged Alice, Gareth L. Powell (Tor.com Publishing)

  • The Survival of Molly Southbourne, Tade Thompson (Tor.com Publishing)

  • “For Your Own Good”, Ian Whates (Wourism and Other Stories)

Best Non-Fiction

  • WINNER: The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein, Farah Mendlesohn (Unbound)

  • Sideways in Time: Critical Essays on Alternate History Fiction, Glyn Morgan & C. Palmer-Patel (eds) (Liverpool University Press)

  • About Writing, Gareth L. Powell (Luna)

  • HG Wells: A Literary Life, Adam Roberts (Palgrave Macmillan)

  • “Away Day: Star Trek and the Utopia of Merit”, Jo Lindsay Walton (Big Echo)

Best Artwork

  • WINNER: Cover of Wourism and Other Stories by Ian Whates, Chris Baker (Luna)

  • Cover of Deeplight by Frances Hardinge, Aitch & Rachel Vale (Macmillan)

  • Cover of Fleet of Knives by Gareth L. Powell, Julia Lloyd (Titan)

  • Cover of The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson, Charlotte Stroomer (Orbit)

  • Cover of Interzone 11-12/19, Richard Wagner

The awards were voted on by members of BSFA and the British Annual Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon). Congratulations to all the winners and all the shortlistees.

The BSFA Awards were administered by Awards Administrator Clare Boothby, with help from Allen Stroud, Luke Nicklin, Karen Fishwick, and others.

Earlier / Elsewhere:

Science Fiction’s big digital pivot

Over the past month or so, the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) has been hosting a series of livestream readings from SFF authors in the UK and beyond. We’re calling them the Lockdown Solidarity Salons or, if you prefer, Very Extremely Casual Tales of Optimism and Resilience (VECTOR). Authors, you are all such charmers!

You can find out more about the series on the Facebook page or YouTube channel. We hope you’ll join us this Thursday (8.15pm UK time) for Chinelo Onwualu, Fiona Moore, and on later dates for Naomi Foyle, Lauren Beukes, Temi Oh, Ian R. MacLeod, and more. Here’s Adam Roberts:

See below for Foz Meadows, Stew Hotston, Valerie Valdes, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Malka Older, Tiffani Angus, Stephen Oram, Geoff Ryman, Wole Talabi, and Andrew Wallace. This Sunday, the BSFA will be holding our annual BSFA Awards ceremony (usually held at Eastercon, the UK’s annual national SF convention) on YouTube at 7pm BST.

And of course, we’re not the only ones.

Continue reading “Science Fiction’s big digital pivot”

Productive Futures: A report

Conference Report

Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction

12- 14 September 2019

Bloomsbury, London

By Jasmine Sharma 

“The history of science fiction (SF) is the history of unreal economics: from asteroid mining to interstellar trade, from the sex work of replicants to the domestic labour of housewives of galactic suburbia, from the abolition of money and property to techno- capitalist tragedies of the near future.”

The opening statement of the Call for Papers caught the attention of researchers, scholars, artists and authors engaged with the central theme of the conference: science fiction. The connection between science fiction and economics broadened the dynamics of multidisciplinary interaction, encouraging presentations not only from literary studies, but also from architecture, arts and aesthetics, cultural studies, film studies, law, history, politics and international relations, media studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, social anthropology and many more. 

Organized by the London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC), and held within the heart of the city, that is the School of Arts Building, Birkbeck, the conference witnessed an exciting exchange of ideas and an orientation to global participation. UK delegates were joined by those from other European countries like Denmark, Germany, Finland and Netherlands, from Canada and the USA, and finally from institutes as distant as The University of Wollongong, Australia, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and The Indian Institute of Technology, India. It was suggested at the end of the conference, only half-jokingly, that LSFRC now stood for Large Science Fiction Research Community.

Continue reading “Productive Futures: A report”

Worldcon 77: academic track report

Over at Fafnir, Jani Ylönen reports on the Worldcon 77 academic track in Dublin last year.

Although this Worldcon had about 5,500 paying members who divided their time between, on average, ten simultaneous program items, many sessions, especially the ones connected to Irish mythologies and history’s connection to SF, garnered enthusiastic interest. This provided a chance for academic fans and general fandom to interact and share their expertise. Most of the presenters also tailored their content to a larger audience […]

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.

Image
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?

Con Report: Octocon

Ian Moore reports back on Octocon, Ireland’s national science fiction convention, which this year ran in the Blanchardstown Crowne Plaza hotel from 19 to 20 October. This write-up originally appeared at Secret Panda.

I recently attended Octocon, the exciting Irish national science fiction convention. Octocon is the other extreme to huge conventions like Worldcon, being an intimate affair taking place over a weekend rather than a five-day event involving thousands of attendees. If you have been to more than one Octocon you will recognise a lot of the attendees and panellists, with there being considerably more overlap between these two categories than might be the case elsewhere. The programme is multi-tracked but not massively multi-tracked. So Octocon is basically a boutique convention and would suit people who like neither crowds nor a surfeit of choice in the programming.

Due to unpleasantness Octocon this year has moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, just beside the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The location suits it as Blanchardstown Shopping Centre is itself a strangely artificial place, like something out of a JG Ballard novel; in the near future, we will all live in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. The hotel meanwhile felt like a pretty swish spot, with well-appointed function rooms and a large open space that served as a light and airy dealers’ room. I don’t know what the two birds in the lobby made of the Octocon attendees but they probably see all sorts.

Day 1

A cat issue meant that I was late out on the Friday and missed the opening ceremony. I did however catch The Trance Mission Diaries, which was a performance piece by O.R. Melling with electronic music by Cha Krka. This was something of a work in progress as the goal is for it ultimately to include considerably more advanced elements like holograms and singing as well as the projected visuals and electronic music accompanying Melling’s narration. I enjoyed it but found the narrative difficult to follow, which I think was as much down to my own tiredness and it being the first thing I encountered at the con. Nevertheless, the narration and music worked well together and I look forward to seeing how this work develops.

Following that I attended a film-related panel featuring John Vaughan and Robert JE Simpson comparing and contrasting the 1960s gothic horror films of Hammer with the contemporary oeuvre of Blumhouse. The contention was that the business model of the two companies is similar: spewing out somewhat trashy films made on relatively modest budgets but hoping for at least some mainstream success, perhaps throwing in an occasional more serious film to gather some critical respectability. I was at something of a disadvantage here being almost entirely unfamiliar with the works of Blumhouse, and the big unanswered question for me was whether that studio has developed any kind of consistent aesthetic in the way that Hammer did. I was also left reeling by the panellists’ anti-Hereditary comments, which did remind me of some reviews that suggested it was a horror film for people who are not true horror fans.

For me Friday ended with a panel on how we as fans deal with things we like that have changed, particularly when the change moves things on from what we liked about them in the first place. This kind of thing is sometimes framed negatively (i.e. discussions of butt-hurt racists saying that they will never watch a Star Wars film again now that an Asian actor has appeared in one or people moaning about the Doctor becoming female). However, I think that there are times when fans are right to abandon a property (while obviously being wrong to harass persons involved in its production); e.g. two of the three Star Wars prequels were completely terrible and anyone who saw them and decided that they were done with Star Wars was making a reasonable decision, while no true Trek fan should waste their time with the recent Star Trek films. Also, people do just grow out of things sometimes.

Star_Trek_William_ShatnerThe changing canon panel also had me thinking about how much a thing has to change before it is no longer the same thing. The panel discussed whether the character of Iron Fist should have been portrayed by a white or Asian character in the recent adaptation of the comics (in which Iron Fist is white but playing a character that in our enlightened times might perhaps be more appropriately presented as Asian). I have no familiarity with Mr Iron Fist but I was reminded of the periodic discussion of whether James Bond could be played by a black or female actor; my own view on this matter is that in this case such changes would so far deviate from the core of the character as to essentially make it an entirely different one with the same name (though I must add that I do not give a shit about James Bond and his misogynist antics and would be happy for the character to be played by Leslie Jones, edgily re-imagined as an American ophthalmologist).

For me though the most fascinating thing that came out of the canon panel was C.E. Murphy mentioning the Kirk-Drift theory, this being the idea that the popular conception of original series Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk as an alpha male dipshit shagger is essentially a mass delusion. Further investigation brought me subsequently to Erin Horáková’s development of this idea and its consequences in a piece she wrote for Strange Horizons, which I encourage all readers to investigate.

Day 2

octocon-pandas
New friends

Saturday morning saw me first of all working on the Octocon reception desk, where we dealt with registering convention attendees as they arrived. If you arrived at Octocon on Saturday morning then maybe mine was the friendly face that greeted you (or the surly jobsworth who couldn’t find your reservation). I made friends with some pandas who had come to the convention to examine Octocon’s Hugo trophy.

Shady customers

The morning also saw me make my debut as an Octocon panellist. As part of my efforts to promote the World Science Fiction Convention that is coming to Dublin next year I took part in a panel intended to drum up enthusiasm for volunteering at Worldcon. It turned out we were rather talking to the converted as almost everyone present was already volunteering for Worldcon, but this did allow us to gang up on the others. If anyone reading this is not a Worldcon volunteer then I encourage you to get involved, as volunteering is fun, a way of meeting people, a way of giving something back to science fiction and a way of seeing the inside of what will be the biggest science fiction event to ever come to Ireland.

More time on the reception desk and then my own interest in lunch meant that the next event I attended was the guest of honour interview by Octocon chair Janet O’Sullivan with Pat Cadigan, an American science fiction writer who now lives in England. I was not previously familiar with her work (which is more a reflection on me than on her as I am a slow reader and am unfamiliar with most writers). I found the interview fascinating, as any question would set Cadigan off on a stream of anecdote that would lead very far from the initial starting point. I particularly liked her favourable recollection of Robert Heinlein, someone who now is perhaps unfairly and simplistically pigeon-holed as a right-wing ultra, but whom she recalls as a very generous character. I was also touched by the particularly star-struck question from a member of the audience and Cadigan’s gracious response.

Cadigan also mentioned having previously attended some class of event called a relaxacon. I don’t know what these are but I want to go to one.

Not the Monster panel

As you know, this is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and with it the birth of science fiction. Octocon had an entire programming strand engaging with Frankenstein’s legacy and I now found myself attending a panel discussion on the Monster’s perspective. This got a bit “could it be that we are the real monster?” but I was struck by the discussion of consent issues (e.g. Frankenstein’s Monster badgering him to create a Lady Monster for him, taking for granted that she will want to be his mate). More general discussion of how a simple shift of perspective can make monsters appear like victims led to an interesting recollection by one panellist of a story they read once about people in the remote past fighting Trolls, where the reader realises that the Trolls are the last Neanderthals being hunted to extinction; it occurs to me now that another work of this kind is I Am Legend, the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, where the book ends with the protagonist’s realisation that he is a monster to the vampiric new humans (I wish I had thought of this at the panel and established my remembering-things-about-books-I-have-read credentials by mentioning it). I was also reminded of various works in 2000 AD by Pat Mills, where his writing was very evocative of the non-human mindset of dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures.

Of the panellists’ own works, Sarah Maria Griffin’s take on Frankenstein, in which a brainy teenage girl attempts to build herself a boyfriend, sounds like it might have a Christmas present date with my niece.

The last programme item I made it to on the Saturday was the Vault of Horror. This is always a highlight of Octocon but it is also an event that is hard to describe in a way that does not make it sound a bit rubbish if you have never experienced it. The Vault sees John Vaughan playing snippets from a terrible film and drawing attention to the film’s awfulness. He does this in a way that is actually funny rather than being some smug guy making fun of other people’s attempts at making films. This year he reported that he has almost run out of terrible films but then he had found a terrible Gerard Butler vehicle called Geostorm with which to delight us. He also provided us with the sad news that due to a progressive illness he will not be in a position to continue serving up the Vault indefinitely into the future, but he will next year be bringing the Vault to Worldcon and presenting one of the most terrible of the films with which he has previously charmed Octocon. Are you coming to Worldcon? Then you will come to the Vault, you will.

I sadly ate so much food for dinner at this point (a recurring theme for me at Science Fiction conventions) that I was too disgustingly full to enjoy the Monsters Ball and left early, thinking that next year is definitely the one where I find some kind of easy cosplay outfit to wear.

Octocon day 3 report coming soon.

Putting the ‘Irish’ into An Irish Worldcon panel image source (@jc_ie on Twitter)

See also:

Image sources: