Speculative Fiction Studies

Some resources that may be especially of interest to academics studying speculative fiction. Feel free to suggest more.

Journals:

Other:

Iain M. Banks: Some critical resources

Elsewhere:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database.

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 […]

Whither the super-reader?

I’m still slowly working my way through Peter Barry’s Beginning Theory, and have reached postcolonial criticism. In true textbook fashion, each chapter includes a “STOP and THINK” section, and this one actually made me do both:

Postcolonial criticism draws attention to issues of cultural difference in literary texts and is one of several critical approaches we have considered which focus on specific issues, including issues of gender (feminist criticism), of class (Marxist criticism), and of sexual orientation (lesbian/gay criticism).

This raises the possibility of a kind of ‘super-reader’ able to respond equally and adequately to a text in all these ways. In practice, for most readers one of these issues tends to eclipse all the rest.
[…]
Should we, in general, try to become super-readers, with multiple layers of sympathy and awareness, or will trying to do so merely produce blandness and superficiality?

Obviously, it is impossible for anybody to answer this question for anybody else. My own feeling is that while an even spread of awareness across all these issues is theoretically possible, in practice aiming for this, merely in the interests of political correctness, is almost bound to produce superficiality. A genuine interest in one of these issues can really only arise from aspects of your own circumstance. These perspectives cannot be put on and off like a suit — they have to emerge and declare themselves with some urgency. (198-9)

Now, Barry’s bias shows through before he declares it — the very term “super-reader” carries connotations of the unattainable, even childish. And when he does declare his bias, he still loads his dice, with that clause about “merely in the interests of political correctness”: yes, obviously aiming to do something merely in the interests of political correctness is doomed to failure.

But leaving that aside, I’m still struck by a number of things. To start with: “for most readers one of these issues tends to eclipse all the rest”. I’m sceptical of that most (many, I could get behind; but I’m not sure about most), but more than that, this doesn’t seem to leave much room for the idea that a text might shape the way people who read it respond. Surely it is also the case that for most texts, one of these issues tends to eclipse all the rest, in either a positive or a negative way. There is a threshold, I think, beyond which reading a text from any particular perspective becomes an act of creation in itself, rather than a useful response to the text; where any given person draws that threshold will vary, but it seems an inevitable limitation of single-perspective criticism.

So I think that limitation has to be put on the other side of the scales to a super-reader’s presumed blandness and superficiality — except, I’m not sure what Barry actually means by those terms, here. The most sensible reading I can come up with is that it comes from what he discusses in his personal opinion paragraph, namely motivation: it’s impossible for anyone to truly care about all these different perspectives at the same time, says Barry, so attempts to accomodate them will of necessity be artificial. There is an extent to which I agree with this (or at least am anxious about it; see below), but I think I disagree with it much more. If nothing else, it’s a position that presumes these different perspectives are indeed separable, and it seems to me that’s only possible in an — pardon me — academic sense. In the real world, and by extension in sufficiently complex texts, they’re going to be interlinked. Parsing them separately has value, but taking that so far as to declare them islands seems damaging.

And then we come down to the nub of it, which is to say Barry’s argument for his position. “A genuine interest in one of these issues can really only arise from aspects of your own circumstance.” What is genuine, here? This gets personal: for each of the four perspectives Barry lists in his first paragraph, I fall at the “privilege” end of the spectrum (as, indeed, I do for just about any axis of privilege you care to define). That establishes the terms of my engagement with any of them and, clearly, those terms are never going to be the same as they are for individuals at the other ends. In a real sense, that’s going to limit the depth of my understanding. By the same token, however, the implication is that whenever I do try to adopt one of these perspectives, I will, precisely, be putting it on like a suit; and that my interest can never be “genuine”. Which rather leads you to wonder, why bother?

And the inevitable answer to that is, because I like to think I care. That no one of these critical perspectives seems to declare itself to me with particular urgency — or, put another way, that it costs me nothing to see them as all urgent — is certainly a luxury. I’d like to think it’s a luxury I can take advantage of, though. “Multiple layers of sympathy and awareness” doesn’t seem like a bad thing for me to aspire to, nor does it seem inherently unattainable (though a perfectly even spread of concern surely is). I’d go so far as to say, acknowledging this is as biased a way of putting it as “super-reader”, that to me, right now, it seems the responsible thing to do.

Socialism and Social Critique in Science Fiction

A little while ago, we were contacted by Socialism and Democracy about a potential ad swap to highlight their latest issue, which focuses on sf. It didn’t work out because of the timing of the print deadlines, but they very kindly sent me a complimentary copy. The introduction to the issue is available online:

This whole range of potentially subversive processes is grounded in the experience incisively identified by Darko Suvin, more than thirty years ago, as cognitive estrangement. Works conceived in this tradition are the ones in which we find promise. The character of such works, as Carl Freedman has written, “lies neither in chronology nor in technological hardware but in the cognitive presentation of alternatives to actuality and the status quo.” Insofar as we focus on this dimension of science fiction, we encounter a body of work with obvious relevance to the concerns of socialists. This link has been expressed historically in many ways. One striking instance of it, noted by Suvin, is the presence, at key points in Marx’s writings, of figures like vampires, monsters, sorcerers, and specters. The point here is perhaps that even in the most materialist of analyses, there needs to be a vocabulary to encompass the dimensions of behavior that appear, from one limited class-perspective or another, to be beyond the range of calculable human intervention. Beyond this, though, there is a long and proud tradition of consciously radical SF writing or storytelling, some of which is discussed and illustrated in articles in this collection.

And here’s the table of contents:

Issue #42 (Vol 20, No. 3)

  • Preface by the Editors
  • Science Fiction as Popular Culture: A Sense of Wonder by Yusuf Nuruddin
  • Introduction by Victor Wallis

Radical Readings

  • Steven Shaviro, Prophecies of the Present
  • Carl Freedman, Speculative Fiction and International Law: The Marxism of China Mieville
  • Lisa Yaszek, Afrofuturism, Science Fiction, and the History of the Future
  • Alcena Madeline Davis Rogan, Alienation, Estrangement, and the Politics of “Free Individuality” in Two Feminist Science Fictions: A Marxist Feminist Analysis
  • Dennis M. Lensing, The Fecund Androgyne: Gender and the Utopian/Dystopian Imagination of the 1970s
  • Jonathan Scott, Octavia Butler and the Base for American Socialism

Politics & Culture in the US

  • Yusuf Nuruddin, Ancient Black Astronauts and Extraterrestrial Jihads: Islamic Science Fiction as Urban Mythology
  • Marleen S. Barr, Science Fiction and the Cultural Logic of Early Post Postmodernism
  • Robert P. Horstemeier, Flying Saucers Are Real! The US Navy, Unidentified Flying Objects, and the National Security State

Technological Futures

  • Sherryl Vint and Mark Bould, All That Melts Into Air Is Solid: Rematerialising Capital in Cube and Videodrome
  • Michael G Bennett, The Adoxic Adventures of John Henry in the 21st Century

Reviews

  • Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions reviewed by Alcena Madeline Davis Rogan
  • Sheree Thomas, ed., Dark Matter I: A Century of Speculative
    Fiction from the African Diaspora
    ; Sheree Thomas, ed., Dark Matter: Reading the Bones; and Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, eds, So Long
    Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy
    reviewed by Yolanda Hood
  • Andrea L. Bell and Yolanda Molina-Gavilan, eds, Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain reviewed by Aaron Dziubinskyj

Some interesting-looking articles there.