Political pragmatism and utopian anticipation: A review of Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Thomas Connolly reviews Aaron Bastani, Fully Automated Luxury Communism (London: Verso, 2019), x + 278 pp, ISBN 978-1-78663-262-3.

9781786632623The term “fully automated luxury communism” (or FALC) first began circulating among far-left internet commentators in the mid-2010s as a name given to one potential form of post-scarcity economy. Alongside a number of variations (such as “fully automated luxury gay space communism”, or FALGSC, which inflects the term with post-gender and post-sexuality connotations),

FALC gained wider recognition following a Guardian write-up in March 2015 that discussed the origins and significance of the term. Aaron Bastani—a British political commentator and co-founder of Novaro Media, an independent left-wing media outlet—was interviewed as part of that article, and has since become the key intellectual figure associated with FALC. The current work is Bastani’s attempt to unpack the meaning and implications of FALC.

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Reciprocal babymaking is the future: a review of Full Surrogacy Now

Katie Stone reviews Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (Verso, 2019).

Sophie Lewis’s Full Surrogacy Now is, like all good science fiction, “a book about an impossibility.”[1] But it is also a book that clearly demonstrates how the boundaries of possibility not only can, but must be contested. Lewis moves from a consideration of the impossible, yet actually existing, working conditions of professional surrogates to the similarly impossible premise under which all gestational labour is undertaken. In Lewis’ reading, the fact that “bearing an infant “for someone else” is always a fantasy, a shaky construction,” is not attributable to the uniquely fantastic conditions of commercial surrogacy, but rather to the fact that “infants don’t belong to anyone, ever” (19). In this way she articulates clearly that “surrogacy politics aren’t just a concern for an infinitesimal, niche sliver of the proletariat,” (56) any more than the anarchism of Anarres, or the lesbian feminism of Whileaway is ‘just’ a concern for the inhabitants of those imagined regions.[2]

This is a text which includes astute readings of prominent science-fictional texts, but it is also a striking example of the power of science-fictional thought. Here the strangeness of cyborgs and surrogates is explored, not to establish surrogacy as an embattled, economically-compromised alternative to ‘normal’ pregnancy, but rather as a way of reflecting on the compromising, violent realities of gestation as such. By asking over and over again—“why accept Nature as natural[?]” (7, emphasis in original)—Full Surrogacy Now proves itself the “disloyal, monstrous, chimerical daughter” (27) of Donna Haraway’s ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ (1985), and the tradition of feminist science fiction from which that seminal text was—and continues to be—partially, laboriously and reciprocally birthed.

The bulk of Lewis’ writing takes the form of an analysis of the material conditions of those gestational workers who are currently labouring within the commercial surrogacy industry. Lewis draws upon a long history of socialist feminist thought—Silvia Federici’s ‘Wages Against Housework’ (1974) is a particular influence—in order to reframe the discourse around pregnancy. Rather than positioning gestational work as an inviolable sphere determined by a naturalised biology, Lewis asks: “What if we really felt the politics of uterine work to be comparable to other labors[?]” (129). In this way her book makes a significant contribution to the pressing political project of advocating for the rights of those workers whose labour is so often delegitimised, exploited and criminalised. Full Surrogacy Now joins such texts as Juno Mac and Molly Smith’s Revolting Prostitutes (2018) in combating the white, liberal, trans-exclusionary, whorephobic, ‘feminist’ discourse which is currently dominating conversations around sex work and gestational labour. Lewis argues for the recognition of surrogacy as work, while simultaneously taking up a fundamentally anti-work position in which gestational labour’s “articulation as work in the first instance will be key to abolishing [it] (as work) in the long run” (42, emphasis in original).

The study which Lewis provides of the Akanksha Hospital, and in particular of the charismatic representative of neoliberalism Dr. Nayana Patel, is detailed, wide ranging and politically and theoretically rigorous. Lewis notes that

[…] most prominent white feminists, no matter how queer they are at home, no matter how critical of the family as the primary site of patriarchal and queerphobic abuse, are remarkably prone to forgetting this antipathy when it comes to legislating lives in sufficiently “other” (proletarian) neighborhoods. (41)

In contrast, her approach—where the lives of gestational workers from the Global South are centered—provides a welcome alternative to this ideologically driven amnesia. Even for those for whom commercial surrogacy is not (yet) a particular area of interest, Lewis’ determined focus on the material conditions of these particular labourers—in what might otherwise be a theory-dominated intervention into contemporary feminist discourse—should be noted. The emphasis which she places on the working conditions of surrogates themselves is of particular relevance to those SF critics who study so-called “pregnancy dystopias” (10), given that, as Lewis argues, “in order to paint the neat picture of surrogacy-as-dystopia that First World feminists so often seem to want to paint, actually existing gestational workers have to be ignored almost by definition” (16). By reintroducing the voices of those who are actively seeking out these supposedly-dystopic pregnancies into the conversation around dystopian pregnancy narratives, Lewis demonstrates that a queer, feminist, anti-capitalist critique of an industry in which “living humans have become the sexless “technology” component of the euphemism Assisted Reproductive Technology,” (24) need not take a Eurocentric perspective which erases the agency and desires of those same “living humans.”

The prime example of a pregnancy dystopia in which surrogacy is, traumatically, centered is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Lewis joins scholars such as Kate Meakin in critiquing “Atwood’s sterility apocalypse” (11) for its deification of white motherhood, its race-blindness and the “stylized pleasure” it takes in its “chastity cos-play” (13): something which has become increasingly prominent in the recent HBO adaptation of Atwood’s writing. As Lewis argues: “the pleasures of an extremist misogyny defined as womb-farming, risks concealing from us what are simply slower and less photogenic forms of violence, such as race, class, and binary gender itself” (14, emphasis in original). Lewis is not dismissive of those for whom, as she puts it, “a personal encounter with this particular text has been the moment of feminist coming-to-consciousness,” but nor is she willing to accept that the popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale in feminist circles ought to absolve it of all its many failings. In this she provides a model for those feminist SF critics who are hesitant about demanding a rigorously intersectional, trans-inclusive feminism from texts which are often hailed as feminist masterpieces simply because they champion the rights of (cis, straight, white) women.

Lewis also offers readings of Octavia Butler’s ‘Bloodchild’ (1984) and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976) as texts which engage in surrogacy as terrifying and alien (Butler) or a utopian alternative to the ‘problem’ of human gestation (Piercy). By returning frequently to these texts within, and as part of, her wider theorisation of surrogacy, Lewis joins the great tradition of feminist writers such as Haraway, Susan Stryker and adrienne maree brown who weave science fiction into their theoretical analyses—once again challenging the boundaries of possibility. However, as Lewis’ coverage of these texts is relatively brief, and her focus on surrogacy is specific, I feel that there is more room here for SF scholars to explore the implications of what Lewis calls “full surrogacy” (19, emphasis in original) within feminist SF: a field which is deeply invested in the ethical manipulation of reproductive technology, and thus in the fact that, as Lewis puts it, “we are the makers of one another” (19). In Piercy’s lactating fathers and Butler’s multi-generational, multi-species communities where, as in the contemporary commercial surrogacy industry, gestational labour is coercively but consensually entered into, I see more than the oscillation between “the alienated misery of the status quo [and] the silver absolutism of their techno-fix” (28). I see a gesture towards the “horizon of gestational communism,” (21) that Lewis locates in the science-fictional sculptures of artist Patricia Piccinini, to whose work I am very grateful to have been introduced. Lewis argues that the question to be gleaned from Piccinini’s sculptures is “not whether surrogates will intimately produce us one day,” but “rather, how we should respond to them and hold them—since they’re already here” (158, emphasis in original).

Patricia Piccinini, ‘Surrogate’

It is this utopian turn in her writing which, I argue, transforms Lewis’ work from insightful critique to transformative critical apparatus. This is not a book which is merely about impossibility; rather, it demands impossibility.[3] Moreover, this is not an impossibility which lies in a distant future, beyond the utopian horizon. As Lewis rightly notes: “Despite capitalism’s worldwide hegemony, many people on earth are putting something like “full surrogacy” into practice every day, cultivating non-oedipal kinship and sharing reciprocal mothering labors between many individuals and generations” (147). Reciprocal baby making is the stuff of impossibility. It is also happening right now. We can only hope that, as Sun Ra might put it, “when you’ve achieved one impossible the others/ Come together to be with their brother,” or, in this case, with their multiply-parented, surro-sibling.[4]

Katie Stone is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. Her thesis explores childhood and utopianism as imagined in science fiction. Katie is co-director of the London Science Fiction Research Community and co-founder of the research network ‘Utopian Acts’. She recently co-edited a special issue of Studies in Arts and Humanities Journal and she has written for Foundation, Fantastika and SFRA Review. She is on Twitter @cyborg_feminist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Sophie Lewis, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family (New York, NY: Verson, 2019) p. 19. All subsequent references are to this edition and are given within the text.

[2] See Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (London: Gollancz, 2002; first published 1974) and Joanna Russ, The Female Man (London: Gollancz, 2010; first published 1975).

[3] See Tom Moylan, Demand the Impossible: Science Fiction and the Utopian Imagination (York: Methuen, 1986)

[4] Sun Ra, ‘Reality has touched against myth’, Esquire (July, 1969) 53-141.

The Question of Ethics in Detroit: Become Human

By Molly Cobb

Image result for detroit game

Warning: The following includes some rather large plot spoilers!

One of the most interesting things about video games by developer Quantic Dream is the strong focus on decision-making. The ability to drastically alter the story being told just by making one choice over another can be almost overwhelming. Even what can appear to be minor choices can have long-term effects, ranging from relationships with other characters to determining who lives or dies. In Detroit: Become Human, the focus of this decision-making is on android sentience and, consequently, android rights. The game takes place in a future where androids are essentially household appliances. However, there are an increasing number of incidents of androids gaining sentience and revolting against their owners. The game follows three of these androids, with the decisions of the player determining the path each takes in the course of this revolt. Though it could be argued there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ options being given to the player per se, the choices that can be made do encourage exploration of human and android ethics and morals, as well as understanding of the growing relationship and tensions between humans and machines in our own contemporary society (and in the imagined future).

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Cheryl’s 2018 in Feminist Speculative Fiction

A Year In Feminist Speculative Fiction

By Cheryl Morgan

9780374208431 fcTop of the list for anyone’s feminist reading from 2018 must be Maria Dahvana Headley’s amazing re-telling of Beowulf, The Mere Wife. Set in contemporary America, with a gated community taking the place of Heorot Hall, and a policeman called Ben Wolfe in the title role, it uses the poem’s story to tackle a variety of issues. Chief among them is one of translation. Why is it that Beowulf is always described as a hero, whereas Grendel’s Mother is a hag or a wretch? In the original Anglo-Saxon, the same word is used to describe both of them. And why do white women vote for Trump? The book tackles both of those questions, and more. I expect to see it scooping awards.

Space OperaA personal favourite of mine, though possibly a little too off-the-wall for some tastes, is Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera. The usual pyrotechnic prose we have come to expect from Valente is augmented by delightful comedy and an all-encompassing queerness. Valente’s time in the UK as a student has helped her to set a book here without any of the embarrassing Theme Park Britain we sometimes see from American authors. Amidst the insanity of Brexit, it seems entirely appropriate that Earth’s admission to the Interstellar Community will depend on our performance in a galaxy-wide version of the Eurovision Song Contest. The Keshet, beings who look like overly excited red pandas, are now officially my favourite alien species.

European Travel for the Monstrous GentlewomanHumour also pervades the Athena Club novels of Theodora Goss. The second book in the series is European Travels for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. It takes our heroines from London to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to rescue a Miss Lucinda Van Helsing from an awful doom. They also discover that foreigners make remarkably good cake. Goss has assembled a fascinating team of characters, from the prim Mary Jekyll to the incorrigible Diana Hyde. I am particularly fond of Catherine Moreau who used to be a puma and who finds humans rather too complicated. Reading the Athena Club mysteries is very like reading Kim Newman’s books; I always come away convinced that I have missed half of the references to other stories that the author has sprinkled liberally throughout the text.

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Nick’s 2018 in SFF Cinema

By Nick Lowe, part of our ongoing look back at 2018.

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Del Toro with a Best Picture Oscar for The Shape of Water. Photo credit: Chris Pizzello

It’s been quite a wait, but the fiftieth anniversary of 2001 – an event exhilaratingly marked by the theatrically-released “unrestoration” and Michael Benson’s ample new making-of book – was also the year that finally saw an sf film take the Oscar for Best Picture. And as it turned out, The Shape of Water was about as 2018 as a film could get: an unrepentant genre nerd-out with a sincere and completely unapologetic passion for the history of sf cinema and its transgressive political power to represent transhuman desires, give voices to the silenced, and enlarge humanity by embracing monstrosity. The making of monsters was a preoccupation of films as different as Sorry to Bother You, Wildling, Smallfoot, The Titan, Overlord, and The Cured, while the unjust monstering of non-human others played out in films as different as Bumblebee, Rampage, Isle of Dogs, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Luis and the Aliens, with full-on alien romances in How to Talk to Girls at Parties and Russian extravaganza Attraction, and in the other direction Beethoven thwarting interstellar genocide in weirdo British two-hander Native.

Image result for a quiet place
A Quiet Place

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Gary’s 2018 Picks in SFF Movies and TV

As part of our 2018 Round-Up, Gary Couzens takes a look at some screen highlights.

As with last year, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review of the SF and fantasy films of 2018,  but a highlighting of some titles worth seeking out, leaving out the obvious ones. Everything here, however, received a commercial release or a festival premiere in the the UK in 2018.

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Ali’s 2018 Pick: The Tea Master and the Detective

Aliette de Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective (Subterranean Press)

Reviewed by Ali Baker as part of our 2018 Round-Up.

Image result for tea master and the detectiveI have admired Aliette de Bodard’s writing since I was given a copy of Servant of the Underworld close to nine years ago. That novel and its sequels are fantasy mysteries featuring Aztec high priest of the dead Acatl, as he solves crimes that affect the balance between the mortal realm and the supernatural realm. De Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series is urban Gothic fantasy set in Paris after a magical war. Both of these series feature both full-length novels and shorter works. Her Xuya fiction, however, is all shorter works, including The Tea Master and the Detective, a stand-alone novella set in a far future world (Xuya) where China and Vietnam are global powers.

This novella is an ideal starting point for new readers, as it does not need a great deal of knowledge about the Xuya universe. It is another mystery story, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is the scholar and scientist Long Chau, and Watson is the sentient mindship The Shadow’s Child. Like Watson, The Shadow’s Child is a military veteran, surviving the aftermath of a harrowing conflict. She barely makes a living blending brews to help people cope with the pain of existing in deep space. Into her shop comes Long Chau with a proposition: she needs to collect a corpse floating in space, for research purposes. Reluctantly The Shadow’s Child agrees to help Long Chau — after all, the rent is due — and the two travel to deep space, both facing their traumatic pasts.

De Bodard’s worldbuilding is beautifully rendered, from the ingredients of the brews that The Shadow’s Child creates to the technology of the Xuya universe. This novella is a wonderful jumping off point for readers new to De Bodard’s science fiction, who have some treasures ahead.

Ali Baker is a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of East London and a researcher in children’s fantasy literature. She is the Programme Chair of Eastercon 2019, Ytterbiumcon.

Maureen’s 2018 Round-Up

Maureen Kincaid Speller for our 2018 Round-Up feature.

In 2018 I forgot for a while how to read fiction. Or, to be more precise, I forgot how to find pleasure in reading fiction. For someone whose daily existence has been defined by the written word since she was five, this was devastating, to put it mildly. While I carried on trying to read, it was as though my brain could no longer accept the existence of fiction in a world that was on a daily basis so bizarre no editor would believe it. Eventually, and I know I’m not the only person who did this, I settled for reading non-fiction and biding my time until the desire to read fiction returned of its own accord. Which, eventually, it did.

I’m not here to offer a redemptive story about the novel that saved me, because there was no one novel. Instead, I want to talk a little about what I learned from my year of not quite reading. I am, I discovered, done with genteel dystopias. I keep seeing them described as ‘feminist dystopias’, perhaps because they’re mostly written by women, but I find very little about them that is ‘feminist’ in the ways I understand the word, and too often the dystopic element is a performative means to an entirely different, generally stylistic end. In the past, I never really thought of myself as needing plot, but it turns out that fine writing – oh-so-very-fine writing, in some instances – is not sufficient in and of itself if the plot is practically invisible.

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Dev’s Best of 2018

By Dev Agarwal, part of our ongoing look back at 2018.

2018 feels like it was almost too busy to keep on top of, both inside and outside of the genre.  I’m far from the only commentator to say I’ve got sensory overload as we limp into 2019. My reading often lags behind the current zeitgeist but last year I caught a number of new books, or book-length projects, of genre note.

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Andrew’s 2018 Pick: 2001: An Odyssey in Words

As part of our 2018 round-up, Andrew Wallace embarks on an odyssey of words …

An Alien Optic

2001: An Odyssey in Words, ed. Ian Whates & Tom Hunter (NewCon Press 2018)

2001: An Odyssey in Words was published to commemorate the centenary of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s birth. It includes new stories and features of exactly 2001 words by twenty-seven leading SF writers, all winners or shortlistees of the Clarke Award. At a scant 2001 words, the easy gag would be to say if you don’t like the piece you’re reading, there will be another one along soon. But really, this is an extraordinary collection, and there isn’t a duff piece in the lot.

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