‘Is This Planet Earth?’ is an art exhibition that is intended not for humans but for aliens. They visit us in the future but arrive too late to see nature in reality. Life on earth – wiped out by global warming, mass-extinction and contamination – now exists only in the imaginations of artists.
Halina Dominska has created a large-scale silicone sculpture with hanging fronds or stamens. These ‘breathe’ as visitors approach, and ‘pant’ as we get closer. There’s a video by Helen Sear, of a hallucinatory pool of water, and at the same time a quivering, single-celled organism. It seems to want to pull you in…
Katherine Reekie has painted pictures of laboratory specimens: seaweeds that eyeball us; birds with insect limbs; children’s toys mixed up with animal and vegetable DNA. The final, mangled life forms on earth? Seán Vicary has animated some limpet shells, to make them dance. But what if their patterns and shapes have always, unknown to us, been a form of cryptic communication? Patrick Coyle will conduct a tour of a futuristic water-bottling plant, the ‘Wrecksome Flottlesam Statiom’: radioactivity has seeped into the water supply and pure water is a luxury item.
Salvatore Arancio presents us with mossy growth and fungal flesh, all of it exaggerated in scale and made in lushly coloured ceramic. Alfie Strong provides a pile of soft sculptures with photos of rocks with red shadows, navy-coloured water and wrong-looking plants. A soundtrack by Jason Singh features bird-song, croaking frogs, a babbling brook and more. But all these noises were actually made by Jason, a beatbox artist. Dan Hays has painted some dazzling, pixelated landscapes – they are highly technological and perhaps even cyborgian in feel.
The exhibition ‘Is This Planet Earth?’ is a work of science fiction. It pays homage to visionary sci-fi writers and filmmakers who conjured with apocalyptic landscapes and creatures (J.G. Ballard, John Wyndham, Douglas Trumbull, to name just a few). And it assumes, for a moment, sci-fi’s ecological mantel, challenging us to stop and think, as this planet’s supreme consumers and polluters.
Curator: Angela Kingston
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a few new projects, including Queer Muslim Futurism, which is about creating future queer landscapes through a Muslim lens. The narrative is about my drag character who, as a rebel leader, talks about contemporary politics in a future that signals a different dimension. This is a world in which the marginalized fights back. I create future guerrilla Muslim drag warriors on the front of resistance and blur the line between a revolutionary and a terrorist. The gaze of the Muslim male subject is queered, not in a docile way but to challenge the Western perspective of Muslim maleness. I’m doing films and performances in which gender and sexuality are undefined and identities are left unclear.
An interview with Larissa Sansour by Polina Levontin and Jo Lindsay Walton, plus a review of Larissa Sansour’s work.
TV in 2017 by Molly Cobb and So Mayer.
Film in 2017 by Nick Lowe, Andrew Wallace, Dilman Dila, Cheryl Morgan, Ali Baker, Paul March-Russell, Amy C. Chambers, Lyle Skains, Gary Couzens, and Dev Agarwal.
Ricardo Suazo reflects on SF inspired trends in fashion, and Martin McGrath takes a close look at three panels from Avengers #8.
Games and AR are covered by Erin Horáková, Susan Gray, and Jon Garrad.
With also have an extensive section on audio and podcasts in 2017 with Peter Morrison, Erin Roberts, Laura Pearlman, Victoria Hooper and Tony Jones.
And of course three Recurrent columns with Paul Kincaid, Andy Sawyer and Stephen Baxter, plus the Torque Control editorial by Jo Lindsay Walton.
This one’s a bumper issue — 80 pages! If you’re not a BSFA member yet, why not sign up now?
Poets are invited to send in up to 3 poems about the future, to be considered for an anthology launching in January 2019. The anthology will be edited by Suzannah Evans and Tom Sastry.
The guidelines explain: ‘A future poem could be a warning, a protest, a promise of salvation or a prediction of the end of the world. It could be a short history of everything or a snapshot from the 25th century kitchen sink.’
Suzannah Evans, editor, says: ‘I’d like to read poems that are: inventive, paranoid, animatronic, intergalactic, revolutionary and empathetic. There’s definitely room for darkness. I’ve got a lot of time for poems that seem silly but are deadly serious, and vice versa, and a special respect for poems which manage to be both at once.’
Tom Sastry, editor, adds: ‘I’m excited to read poems about imaginary catastrophes, dystopian nightmares and the glimpse our strangest fears give us into our craziest selves. I hope the call will attract funny poems, mythic poems, loud and quiet poems and poems in which ridiculous fears have real consequences.’
The submissions guidelines are available on the publisher’s website: https://theemmapress.com/about/submissions/
In the essay ‘Journey to the West’ published in SFMagazine [click on the link to download the issue] Head Of Zeus publisher Nicolas Cheetham points out that Chinese genre fiction arrived on Western markets only in the last couple of years – it was not until 2015 that a Hugo award was won by a work that has been translated from the Chinese (or any other language). At the same time, he asserts that SF is the most universal of the literary genres, quoting Liu Cixin:
SF is the most global, the most universal storytelling vessel, with the capability to be understood by all cultures. SF novels are concerned with problems faced by all of humanity. Crises in SF usually threaten humanity as a whole. It is a unique and treasurable trait inherent in the genre – that the human race is perceived as a single entity, undivided.
Why then is genre fiction lagging behind literary fiction in achieving a globalised presence? In tracing the history of Weltliteratur, n+1 contends that ‘certain texts have always circulated among geographically broad but socioeconomically thin strata’. Is a taste for globalism something that is more characteristic of the literary fiction readership rather than those who read genre fiction? Although genre boundaries between literary fiction and SF have become more permeable and fuzzier than in the past, is SF fandom demographically different from the consumers of literary fiction, or at the very least, less globalised?
Nicolas Cheetham mentions several pre-conditions for Chinese SF entrance to the West: an emergence of local fandom, revival of local critical SF journals, and the establishment of a financially successful local publishing industry. All of these of course did not emerge independently from the economic growth in China, a society that in recent decades started investing heavily in science and technology research, transforming itself into a world leader in tackling global crises such as a climate change. Looking to other global regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, would the same pre-conditions apply? Namely, would the local fandom, criticism traditions and publishing houses need to reach a critical mass before we can expect to read a greater offering of African SF in the West, in translation or otherwise? Recently established organisations such as the African Speculative Fiction Society, as well as a myriad of new journals that publish African SF and criticism, such as Omenana, BrittlePaper, Chimurenga, Saraba and Jalada, augurs well for African SF. Hopefully, pioneering publishers like the Head Of Zeus will be bringing more of World SF to UK markets – Nicholas Cheetham is certainly interested in science fiction writers from various countries in Africa. Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and SA are among the most prolific in terms of SF, for more information see Geoff Ryman’s brilliant series of interviews with 100 African writers of science fiction and fantasy.
But who should define the global limits of the genre, especially when the power to impose a definition is centred in the Global North? The definition of the sf genre varies across time and cultures; various writers (e.g. Dilman Dilla, Nisi Shawl, Nnedi Okorafor) report contesting the definition of SF with the Western publishing and film industry whenever spirits or other traditional beliefs are in the fabric of the narrative.
In the Head Of Zeus SFMagazine, Nicolas Cheetham raises an important question ‘What is Chinese SF?’ and shows the pitfalls of essentialising – how does a publisher balance the reader’s expectations of ‘pleasingly exotic colour’ with the needs of the writers to be free from having to ‘perform otherness’ in order to get a publishing deal in the West?
Readers in the West are limited (as far as having access to a wider range of voices) by the lack of diversity within the publishing industry, editors and critics, and creative writing programs. This problem is particularly urgent in SF, since the genre is concerned with the imaginaries of humanity’s future. Missing African writers is an especially regrettable situation since the future of humanity depends very much on what will happen on the continent which is projected to contain 40% of the global population by 2100.
For a broader discussion of World sf, visit the World SF Blog.
By Stephen Oram
The digital world is a personality playground that offers us an unprecedented ability to curate and create a public persona — but what does this ability mean for the future of personhood? As the digital world expands around us and the Internet of Things combines the physical and virtual do we have a moral obligation to represent ourselves with truth and integrity in the digital realm, or should we view it as an opportunity to explore new and radical ontologies?
Join us for an evening that incorporates original reading, performance and live art as Virtual Futures continues its mission to reassert the significance of science fiction as a tool for navigating the increasing technologization of society and culture.
Keynote Presentation by Laurie Penny, Writer
Laurie Penny is an award-winning journalist, essayist, public speaker, writer, activist, internet nanocelebrity and author of six books, including Unspeakable Things (Bloomsbury 2014), Everything Belongs To The Future (Tor, 2016) and Bitch Doctrine (Bloomsbury, 2017). Laurie writes essays, columns, features and gonzo journalism about politics, social justice, pop culture, feminism, technology and mental health. When she gets time, she also writes creepy political science fiction.
Authors & Contributors
Britta Schulte is a PhD student by day and a science-fiction writer at night. She thinks about the technologies we have, those we are likely to get and those we might not want. She publishes on wattpad.com as well as in zines online and in print.
Stephen Oram writes science fiction. He’s been a hippie-punk, religious-squatter and a bureaucrat-anarchist; he thrives on contradictions. He has two published novels, Quantum Confessions and Fluence and is in several anthologies. His recent collection, Eating Robots and Other Stories, was described by the Morning Star as one of the top radical works of fiction in 2017.
Virtual Futures’ Near-Future Fictions was born after a salon event sometime in early 2017. Although Virtual Futures has embraced science-fiction since its inception, with Pat Cadigan, Alan Moore, Gwyneth Jones, Hari Kunzru and most recently Geoff Ryman all having graced its stage in its near-twenty-five years of existence, this represents the first time that fiction has been the central focus.
The inspiration came from a desire to provide a creative counterbalance to the theoretical and technical discussions of Virtual Futures’ salon events. Our first movement toward this creative fusion was inviting Stephen Oram to be our Author in Residence for a year; presenting a theme-inspired story before audience questions at expert panels discussing near-future issues such as Neurostimulation or Prosthetic Envy. The synthesis was a success. Stephen’s stories grew ever more stimulating, we thought we heard whisperings of something a little larger in the audience’s applause and Stephen has since become the lead-curator of Near-Future Fictions.
The aim of these live reading events are: to assert the significance of fiction as a valid means of navigating the changes instigated by emerging technologies; to find new sci-fi talent in and outside London, with a stress on diverse authors who are atypical of the scene; and to offer science fiction fans speculation on the future in a venue that reflects the vibrancy of the authors and their stories.
By Dev Agarwal
Westworld landed on TV in 2017 and set genre cognoscenti’s tongues wagging. The consensus is that in ten episodes it has sealed its place in our current Golden Age of Television, and surpassed the original film from which it jumps off.
The current HBO-produced series had a long gestation period. It began with the original film by Michael Crichton in 1973, followed by fits and starts that may be better forgotten – the misfiring 1976 sequel Futureworld, plus a TV series, Beyond Westworld, that appeared in 1980 and was quickly cancelled – and the long haul of dormancy for the concept until 2016, when the first season of the contemporary reboot appeared. Season two is awaited this spring.
Overall, the 1973 Westworld was more a monster chase movie than a meditation on what it means to be human – the central theme of the current re-incarnation of the story. The Westworld reboot series so far has focused on just one park, the West, largely ignoring the film’s orgiastic Romanworld and castle-based Medievalworld (albeit there have been some allusions to samurais). However, fans of the original film should find that the rebooted series remains faithful to the original concept.
In both incarnations, 70s film and modern TV series, Westworld is squarely a science fiction idea (our genre gave the film nominations for the Hugo and Nebula). It’s hard SF in that technology is central to the premise: advanced AIs engage with people as “hosts” in a theme park. But it’s certainly also soft SF, in that the drama unfolds by exploring the social implications of technological change rather than by examining how the science works. Continue reading “Westworld Then and Now”
Three photographs have been shortlisted for 2017’s Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize, hosted by the National Portrait Gallery in London. But there is something out of the ordinary about one of this year’s contenders for the prize. One of the portraits – by the Finnish artist Maija Tammi – is not of a human, but a female android.
The android in the photograph is Erica, described by her creator, Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, as “the most beautiful and intelligent” robot in the world. The hardware beneath her silicone skin helps her achieve facial and mouth movements, but these can be rather unnatural, out of sync with her synthesised voice. She is cognitively sophisticated, though still unable to work out answers to complex questions from first principles, and she cannot move her arms and legs.
If this seems like something out of science fiction, you’re not far off. One of Ishiguro’s first female robots was named Repliee Q1 and he himself has said that the name derives from the French for “replicate” and from the “replicants” in Blade Runner: science fiction and robotics have always been entwined. Indeed, in a documentary made by the Guardian about Erica, Ishiguro reveals that he wanted to be an oil painter and insists on the similarities between his work and artistic creation.
It is difficult not to see here a masculine Pygmalionesque desire to create the perfect artificial woman. “Ishiguro-sensei is my father and he understands me entirely,” Erica pronounces in the documentary. Her vaunted autonomy seems more like a projection on the part on the roboticists who programme her thoughts, but also occasionally anthropomorphise her: the scientist who introduces himself as Erica’s “architect” also thinks that she is “really excited to interact with people”.