“Futures from the Margins”—the theme of this year’s annual conference of Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA)—reminds me immediately of Paul Kincaid’s review of The Cambridge History of Science Fiction (2019) co-edited by Gerry Canavan and Eric Carl Link, published in Extrapolation 61.1. Kincaid claims that this anthology challenges the American-centric history of sf and re-writes it with a hope of amplifying the previously repressed voices from the “unseen” worlds—voices from China, South and South-Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Latin America, and Africa. “Such cultural differences give this sf a different feel from the Campbellian hard sf we are used to, but it is sf nonetheless” (217), and they all respond in various ways to the socio-political condition in the related countries, regions, and nations at a specific moment.
No matter how global or how planetary sf appears, it is always anchored in the soil of particular places. Although the diversity of sf has been disguised under the ostensible universality formed pretty much in accord with the American tradition, localised interpretations are waiting to be discovered. “Once the will was there,” writes Kincaid, “it didn’t really take long to start unearthing them” (216). In line with Kincaid’s comments, I believe the conference “Futures from the Margins” also indicates such a will of unearthing, of amplifying the previously muffled voices, and—as demonstrated in the programme—of foregrounding the issues of those whose “stakes in the global order of envisioning futures are generally constrained due to the mechanics of our contemporary world” (CoFUTURES).
The second ever FiyahCon virtual convention took place between 16th and 19th September 2021, and featured over sixty different panels, presentations, workshops, write-ins and more. Hosted by FIYAH Literary Magazine, the convention excelled in its elevation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) voices from across the world of Speculative Fiction.
FiyahCon 2021 was a weekend of both educational and entertaining content, with sessions focused on the craft and commercialisation of BIPOC Speculative Fiction as well as its community, effect and its excellence. Sessions ran twenty-four hours a day throughout the weekend, making it easily accessible for international attendees and guests. I especially enjoyed the BonFIYAH sessions, formerly known as ‘FiyahCon Fringe’, which were free sessions geared towards timezones outside of the States.
It was clear from just the convention’s opening ceremony alone how much passion and dedication had gone into the impressive organisation of FiyahCon. Speculative writer and founding creator of FIYAH Literary Magazine L. D. Lewis served as this year’s Director, alongside Senior Programming Coordinator Brent Lambert and BonFIYAH Co-Directors Iori Kusano and Vida Cruz.
FiyahCon featured a wide range of speculative genres and topics, from BonFIYAH sessions on climate change in science fiction and fantasy, to panels on the non-western gothic, fan fiction and publishing strategies. ‘What does Justice look like?’ was a panel featuring speculative authors Cadwell Turnbull (The Lesson), Brittney Morris (SLAY) and Bethany C. Morrow (A Song Below Water). In the session, panellists considered representations of justice within both their own works and speculative fiction more generally. The panel featured important and nuanced discussions on topics such as law and order, policing, Black Lives Matter and how wider societal discourse is influenced through entertainment and literature.
Other notable FiyahCon sessions include the BonFiyah panel on ‘Power Dynamics and Worldbuilding’, in which Rivers Solomon (An Unkindness of Ghosts) considered how we might possibly remove the ‘poison of colonialism’ from our writing, and the Friday session on ‘Vampire Mythology from Around the World’, which saw panellists consider the Eurocentric tropes and conventions that shape the genre. The Saturday evening panel on ‘Palestinian Futurism’ was an especially humbling and powerful session that explored ideas of gaslighting, realism and using futurism as a way of breaking out of constricting and defensive narratives.
FiyahCon 2021 featured three guests of honour: Comic book creator Vita Ayala (New Mutants, The Wilds), Vlogger Njeri (ONYX Pages, SOULar Powered Afrofuturism Slow-Reading Group) and speculative writer Malka Older (Infomocracy, …and Other Disasters). The virtual convention also hosted the 2021 IGNYTE Awards ceremony, which saw Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun win the award for Best Adult Novel. Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ graphic novel adaptation of the late Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower won Best Comics Team, whereas Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn walked away with the award for Best YA Novel.
The importance of community and empowerment was present throughout the convention, and FiyahCon’s utilisation of the Airmeet platform made interaction between panellists, guests and attendees easy and inclusive. The daily write-ins, breakout tables and office hours available provided FiyahCon with vital opportunities for socialization and networking that some virtual conventions often lack. One attendee even organised a collaborative reading list, comprised of all the works mentioned, celebrated and discussed. The two ‘Em-Dash’ writing game shows were also great fun, both for the participants and viewers alike. ‘Em-Dash’ challenged writers to create short pieces of flash fiction in three short rounds, including random scenarios, tropes and ingredients selected by the FiyahCon community.
FiyahCon 2021 was incredibly accessible, eye-opening and, above all, exciting. As a woman of colour, researcher and massive fan of Speculative Fiction, I have never attended anything like it. I was left feeling inspired and validated like never before, and truly appreciate the effort that the convention directors had put into making guests feel like they belong and matter within the world of speculative fiction. After two successful and invigorating conventions, it looks like FiyahCon is set to become an integral and trailblazing part of both the BIPOC and speculative community. I am incredibly grateful to the BSFA for giving me the opportunity to attend.
Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction
12- 14 September 2019
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.