Torque Control

Telling the Acrobats which way to Jump: Irrigation Gaming and Utopian Thinking

Maurits W. Ertsen

“I mean I can book the acts, but I can’t tell the acrobats which way to jump!”

James George Hacker (portrayed by Paul Eddington)—Yes Minister, Series 2, Episode 2: ‘Official Secrets

Utopia and Irrigation

This is an article about The Irrigation Management Game (IMG), reflecting on my own use of the game in educational settings, and drawing some links with utopian and dystopian thought. The relationship between water and human wellbeing has been extensively studied and debated. Perhaps the most famous overarching theory is that of Karl Wittfogel. Wittfogel argued that certain climates imply certain forms of irrigation, which in turn imply certain political and social institutions.[1] In particular, Wittfogel thought that ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, Hellenistic Greece, Imperial Rome, the Abbasid Caliphate, Imperial China, the Moghul Empire, and Incan Peru, were all ‘hydraulic societies,’ whose despotic character arose from the need to manage complex irrigation infrastructures. Although Wittfogel’s environmental determinism has since been discredited, his work remains a great reminder that water management is seldom simply a set of technical problems. Instead, water management is intimately linked with power, labor, knowledge, discipline, control, and utopian and dystopian possibilities. Anyone who has read George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World—or is a fan of Michel Foucault—will surely recognize such themes.[2] Irrigation is one of many domains where governments have attempted to improve collective welfare without undue interference in individual freedoms.

Irrigation was on many development agendas, in states as diverse as the Neo-Assyrian empire[3], colonial states in the 19th and 20th centuries[4] and modern settings[5]. In these developmental settings, irrigation—including its aspects of control—was often associated with utopian futures, at least within state propaganda and planning discourse. In colonial Africa, for example, European powers imposed irrigation regimes on communities they treated as ‘historyless’, while perceiving themselves as creating an ideal, rational order.[6] After the Second World War, with many colonized countries gaining independence, irrigation systems that had been constructed and/or planned became part of post-colonial international development.[7] Former colonial experts became international experts, and new experts were trained within irrigation approaches developed in colonial times.

In the first decades of post-WWII development, the main focus was on building new and rehabilitating existing irrigation infrastructure. From the 1970s onwards, more attention was paid to issues of managing these infrastructures—including relationships between managers, farmers, and other water users. These discussions intensified in the 1980s, if only because results lagged behind the expectations (sometimes too optimistic—utopian!—expectations) of governments and engineers. New methods of design and management began to emerge, and slowly began to adopt more participatory processes, to accommodate stakeholders’ knowledge and wishes. The main topic of this article, the Irrigation Management Game (IMG), is a result of these intensified efforts.

The IMG was initially developed to support discussions among irrigation managers on farmer strategies and water delivery problems, especially in the larger systems in South and South-East Asia.[8] After positioning the IMG within a gaming context, I will examine how the game reflects the realities that I study—both in practical and theoretical terms. I will conclude by suggesting that the IMG allows us to explore how utopia and dystopia are in the making, and not fixed in advance by a given environmental setting and management system. Especially in irrigation, I will suggest, the margin between utopia and dystopia can be thin.

Continue reading “Telling the Acrobats which way to Jump: Irrigation Gaming and Utopian Thinking”

The Rules of Utopia: The Procedural Rhetoric of The Book of Cairn

By Tyler Brunette

In ‘Back to the Future: Wells, Sociology, Utopia, and Method,’ Ruth Levitas argues:

[…] we would be better served both as sociologists and as citizens by a more utopian method, one which embraces the Imaginary Reconstruction of Society (IROS) as an active device in reflexive and collective deliberations about possible and desirable futures.[1]

Few activities dovetail better with Levitas’ proposal, one of collective deliberation and active imagination, than tabletop roleplaying. Indeed, both utopianism and tabletop roleplaying are often derided by their detractors as mere frivolity, and unworthy of serious consideration. However, as an interactive medium based on cooperative imagination of the possible, tabletop roleplaying games (TTRPGs) offer a unique opportunity for analysis of the practice of the IROS.

Cover of The Book of Cairn. A hooded anthropomorphic mouse gazes over the hilt of a sword, which they are holding by the top of the blade.

In this article, I analyze one such game: SoulJAR Games’ The Book of Cairn (Cairn). While at first glance, Cairn appears to be little more than yet another ‘fantasy heartbreaker,’ I argue that Cairn’s combination of unique rules and use of a pastoralist utopian setting function as a method of critique, of both contemporary social conditions, and of the themes embraced by the TTRPG industry more broadly.[2] Specifically, I argue, two interlocking rhetorics are built into the rules of Cairn, producing through play of the game both a sense of what would be necessary to maintain (albeit imperfectly and abstractly) a small pastoralist utopian society, and also an enactment of those activities around the gaming table. Before turning to my analysis of Cairn and the implications of its rules, I first address the theoretical underpinnings of my approach. After my analysis, I conclude by discussing the limits of Cairn’s IROS.

Continue reading “The Rules of Utopia: The Procedural Rhetoric of The Book of Cairn

G(r)eek Theatre: Reflections on Cyborphic & Greek Science Fiction Theatre

Christos Callow Jr

This article is a brief introduction to science fiction theatre by Greek artists based in Greece and the UK. I’m happy to have been asked to also discuss the theatre company I co-founded, Cyborphic, as the main case study. One would hope that science fiction theatre hardly requires an introduction: the genre has been on stage for at least a hundred and one years, since Karel Čapek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which premiered in 1921 in Hradec Králové. However, science fiction theatre has been present as a largely invisible and underexplored category. In the 20th century, it not only included stage adaptations of Mary Shelley’s and H.G. Wells’s novels, or musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors or the Rocky Horror Show; it also included plays by Samuel Beckett, Caryl Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Alan Ayckbourn, and Vladimir Mayakovsky. A foundational text by Ralph Willingham, Science Fiction and the Theatre (1993), remains one of the few studies that demonstrate the strength of the science fictional imagination in 20th century theatre.

The genre has proliferated in the 21st century, most notably in experimental and fringe productions. More and more artists and theatre companies appear happy to label their work ‘science fiction theatre,’ marking a change from the last century, in which dystopian and post-apocalyptic settings such as that of Beckett’s Endgame, or devices such as time travel or alternate history, could often appear on stage without terms like “sci-fi” appearing anywhere in the accompanying marketing. Notable exceptions to this included the Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool (founded in 1976), and Ray Bradbury’s theatrical adventures in Los Angeles, where he led the Pandemonium Theatre Company and adapted several of his well-known science fiction stories for the stage.

More recently, Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, a crime/science fiction thriller set in a virtual realm, had its world premiere in California in 2013. Plays by Alistair McDowall, such as Pomona (2014), X (2016), and The Glow (2022), featured genre elements, from Lovecraftian horror to science fiction and the supernatural, and have been staged in the National Theatre and the Royal Court. Jordan Harrison’s Marjorie Prime was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, later adapted into a 2017 film. The first theatre festival to focus on science fiction was Sci-Fest LA in 2014; it included theatrical adaptations of works by Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker. California seems to be particularly friendly to the genre, as does New York, where the Untitled Theater Company #61 has staged new science fiction plays by Edward Einhorn and his adaptations of Ursula K. Le Guin’s and Philip K Dick’s work. Also in New York, Mac Rogers has presented his Honeycomb Trilogy (2012), a trilogy of science fiction plays based on R.U.R. Meanwhile, in the UK, science fiction plays and performances have been populating fringe festivals such as the Edinburgh Fringe, Vault Festival and others — including the Talos Science Fiction Theatre Festival since 2015. On that note, and to begin discussing where contemporary Greek theatre-making fits into this world, I will next reflect on a company and a festival dedicated to science fiction on stage.

I. On Cyborphic — or do Orphics dream of Cyber sheep?

Cyborphic is a London-based Greek and Science Fiction theatre company, founded in 2017, producing ancient and contemporary Greek theatre. The company is run by playwright and lecturer Dr Christos Callow Jr. and dramaturg and classicist Dr Andriana Domouzi. Its projects have included a reconstruction of Euripides’ fragmentary tragedy Melanippe Wise, and the solo performances Mayuri and Posthuman Meditation. Cyborphic has also run the TalosScience Fiction Theatre Festival of London (which predates the company, being founded in 2015). The festival has featured contemporary science fiction plays, including work by Greek theatremakers, such as Superhero by Andreas Flourakis. Cyborphic also organised the Performing Greece conferences on contemporary Greek theatre (including papers on Greek science fiction theatre) and the latest Stage the Future conference on science fiction theatre. The company runs a small network for science fiction theatre artists and academics, SF Theatre Network, and organised a network of Greek artists in London. 

Liza Callinicos as Mayuri

Of these projects, the most ambitious is Melanippe Wise. The completed text included Domouzi’s translation of the play’s surviving fragments and is based on Domouzi’s doctoral research into Euripides’ two lost Melanippe tragedies, Melanippe Wise (c.418-411 BC) and Melanippe Captive (c. 413-412 BC). It was first presented at the Hope Theatre in London in November 2019, funded by the Institute of Classical Studies and the University of Derby. The process for researching and reconstructing the play was explored in a workshop series titled “Lost Greek Tragedy: Staging the Fragmented and the Fantastic” (Domouzi 2020), and will be further explored in a chapter of Domouzi’s forthcoming edited volume Tragedy Resurrected. Reconstructing, Adapting and Staging Lost Greek Tragedy, to be published by De Gruyter.

Finally, Cyborphic aims to bring interdisciplinary research to theatre-making. Cyborphic’s website features an online database of 21st century science fiction theatre plays and performances, chronicling more than 100 plays with sci-fi elements, including Afrofuturist, contemporary fantasy, horror, and others. Currently, Cyborphic are planning Talos V, and a full production of Melanippe Wise.

II. On Greek Science Fiction Theatre; Live or Leave your Myth in Greece

If we’re happy to consider proto-science fiction when discussing the underexplored Greek science fiction theatre, one may start as early as the fragmentary play Daedalus by Sophocles (likely a satyr drama) where the fragments “160 and 161 testify that the play contained something about Talos” (Sophocles, 1996), the artificial man of bronze. If we were to maintain this flexible approach to genre, we could consider several Greek adaptations of classical Greek drama that have used science fictional, futuristic and/or dystopian elements across the 20th century. One of the most interesting such texts is Medea by Vasilis Ziogas, written in 1995, which features a chorus of metahumans in addition to three goddesses, and blends ideas from Greek philosophy, Christianity and astronomy along with a posthuman take on Medea. The play is unpublished but there’s a copy in the library of the Department of Theatre Studies of the University of Athens. The following quote demonstrates well the style and attitude of the play: 

And you Metahumans, that the wisdom you achieved while you were living, rewarded you with the fourth level of galactic life. It is not Jason that elevated himself to the meadow of the fourth dimension, but it was me who descended to meet him. (Ziogas, cited in Domouzi, 2016)

What is of particular interest here — and this is an important theme that science fiction and ancient Greek theatre share — is the struggle of the individual with the cosmos, a struggle which takes mythical proportions. Domouzi argues that at the heart of the play is “the dual substance of Medea,” who is presented here as “some kind of human goddess,” and that the “meaning of the universe and the purpose of existence are central to the text, positioning the characters and the myth against a cosmic problem” (Domouzi, 2016).

Besides such adaptations of classical Greek plays, there have been in Greece — as is the case everywhere — several theatrical adaptations of science fiction films and novels, including quite a few takes on Clockwork Orange as well as We ; an adaptation of The Man from Earth was at Theatre Alkmini from 2013 to 2014, and theatre director Katerina Evangelatos had presented a new adaptation of 1984 in 2016.

But what of Greek science fiction on stage? The first co-production of the Greek National Theatre with the Greek National Opera, Galaxy, also premiered in 2016. The show combined ambitious visual effects, dance and performance, and explored, among other things, cosmic topics from the Big Bang to hopes of alien life elsewhere in the universe. Other examples include another production at Alkmini, Mars 1, by the theatre company “θεατρικό σωματίδιο πΟδήλατρΟν” (which might best be translated to “theatrical particle bIcycle”) and the dystopian drama 3% by Vily Sotiropoulou — set in 2040 — which first ran from 2016 -2017, and was presented again in early 2021. Even its pre-pandemic edition featured Skype connections with actors based in other countries. There was also Mission to Planet Earth by Sakis Serefas, produced by the National Theatre of Northern Greece in 2010 and concerning two alien beings that visit Earth. Home Greco by Vaggelis Alexandris and Odysseas Androutsos, which ran from December 2018 to March 2019 at Theatre Stathmos, was an intergalactic sci-fi comedy exploring the history of Greece through aliens. Another surreal but sf-relevant play is Blood Enemies by Arkas, published in 2007 and performed in 2008 at Neos Kosmos Theatre in Athens; the play features anthropomorphised organs in the body of a dying alcoholic shortly after an accident — the dialogue between the Small Intestine and the Colon is meant to be both funny and existential, as they’re stuck in a Beckettian scenario, with no luck being transplanted and thus surviving in another body, unlike other organs.

It is safe to assume that if Greek science fiction theatre is influenced by anything, it’d primarily be the Theatre of the Absurd and subsequently Science Fiction Cinema and Literature, rather than the lesser known tradition of science fiction on stage, such as in American or British theatre. I doubt that Alistair McDowall or Anne Washburn are well-known in Greek or Greek-Cypriot theatre; however there was a staging of Caryl Churchill’s A Number in Athens at 2005 and a staged reading of a Jennifer Haley’s The Nether directed by Evita Ioannou in October 2020 in Lefkosia, Cyprus.

Many of the performances mentioned above rely more heavily on surreal and absurdist elements than science fiction; what is exciting from an interdisciplinary perspective is how Greek theatre aesthetics can influence the exploration of science fiction in Greece, Cyprus and European theatre more broadly. Some of these plays explore what it means to be Greek, or to exist in modern Greece, from an alien or dystopian perspective. But what of Greeks abroad? 

When it comes to thinking about science fiction theatre and performance of the Greek diaspora, especially in the UK, identity issues related to immigration and isolation may be more dominant, alongside general concerns about the state of the world and/or of the planet.

An Ice Thing to Say by London-based Vertebra Theatre and directed by Mayra Stergiou, has involved several Greek artists in its production and has participated at several festivals (in London, Melbourne, Reykjavik, Stockholm and elsewhere), having had both digital versions for online events (that blended live and recorded performance) and live, in-person shows. The performance, blending elements of physical theatre and ice installation, explores the encounter between a human being and a polar bear, and engages with issues of the Anthropocene Era and anthropocentrism. It also featured in one of the Talos theatre festivals (at the Cockpit Theatre in November 2020) alongside another theatre project by Greek creatives, Genome Theatre’s Genesis 37, an immersive performance that involved audience participation both in-venue and online (via Zoom and thanks to a projector and live-streaming from a camera-person on stage), in a feminist story exploring the ethics of cloning.

My own science fiction play, Mayuri; or, The New Human, was performed as part of the Kensington + Chelsea Festival and online for Edinburgh Fringe in August 2021, and explored issues of robotics, posthumanism and immigration. I’d rather not talk about it in my own words here; but according to Geraint D’Arcy in a lovely review in Foundation 140 (Winter 2021 issue), the play is centred “on the triumph and anguish of abandoning the body in favour of a technological and philosophical unknown.”

III. A Conclusion; or, perhaps, a Cliffhanger

One of the challenges of science fiction theatre-making is the creation of work that succeeds both as theatre and as science fiction. Willingham noted that most of the science fiction plays he catalogued in Science Fiction and the Theatre “are the work not of science fiction writers, but of independent dramatists schooled in the old playwriting formulas” (Willingham, 1994, 3). The ideal perhaps here is that, as the cultures of science fiction and theatre continue to explore each other, we have in the 21st Century more plays that build on both traditions. My hope for the future of Greek science fiction theatre is that it engages with both the more-developed science fiction theatre traditions beyond Greece, and with contemporary science fiction literature by Greek writers — rather than operating in a vacuum or reacting mainly to classic dystopian texts. Another hope is that it interacts more with the speculative fiction — and proto-sci-fi themes — of Greek myth and classical theatre.

In any case, I hope that this article has demonstrated that — for better or worse — Greek science fiction theatre exists, and that it has a growing (and perhaps a glowing) presence.

Bibliography

D’Arcy, G, 2021, “Review of Mayuri, or the New Human,” Foundation, vol. 140, no. 50.3, pp.130-132.

Domouzi, A, 2016, “The Metahuman in Modern Greek Theatre: science fiction motifs in Medea by Vasilis Ziogas.” Performing Greece II: Conference on Contemporary Greek Theatre, 3 December, London.

Domouzi, A. (2020) “New life for lost Greek drama: reflections on reconstructing and staging Euripides’ Melanippe Wise.” Institute of Classical Studies blog. July 2020. Available from: ics.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2020/07/09/new-life-for-lost-greek-drama-reflections-on-reconstructing-and-staging-euripides-melanippe-wise. Last accessed 2 February 2022.

Sophocles (1996). Fragments. Edited by Hugh Lloyd-Jones. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. P.64

Willingham, R. (1994). Science Fiction and the Theatre. London: Greenwood Press.

Christos Callow Jr is a Greek British Playwright and Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Derby. He has founded the Talos: Science Fiction Theatre Festival and has written several science fiction plays which have been presented at Being Human Festival 2021, Kensington + Chelsea Festival and Edinburgh Fringe.

Post-it Utopia: The Promises and Pitfalls of Arium’s Lean Worldbuilding

By Nicholas L. Stefanski 

Arium: Create

The worldbuilding TTRPG Arium: Create by Adept Icarus promises a utopian procedure for creating gameworlds that are generative, safe, and liberating environments for roleplayers, an undertaking animated by recent debates over the prevalence of harmful, stereotypical, or simply repetitive tropes throughout the TTRPG industry. While the shift away from these problematic tropes is admirable and perhaps overdue within the industry, Arium’s approach to addressing this issue is also notable for its enthusiastic endorsement of creativity techniques stemming from the world of corporate management and innovation consulting. Specifically, Arium’s Lean Worldbuilding approach shares many commonalities with the Lean management philosophy that emerged in the 1990s, largely inspired by Toyota’s operating model. Both Arium’s Lean, and Lean as it is now understood in business, are associated with the pervasive use of Post-it notes for ideation and collaboration.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

This article explores how Arium’s utopian solutionism and endorsement of a signature technique of post-Fordist management presents both pitfalls and opportunities for inventive, utopian roleplay. Beginning in the critical mode, I suggest that by adopting techniques that reduce the art of imaginative worldbuilding to a ritualized formula, Arium: Create risks building worlds that are creative merely for the sake of creativity, and consensual mainly in their appeal to the lowest common denominator. Inspired by Adorno and Horkheimer’s critiques of jazz and the culture industry, and following Eitan Wilf’s ethnography of Post-its and critiques of the innovation and creativity industry, the first movement of the article asks whether such strategies of routinized, commodified creativity can only ever produce the ‘freedom to choose what is always the same.’[i] Nevertheless, while this danger should not be ignored, I argue that it would be wrong to dismiss Arium or to label it as utopian in only the pejorative sense. Taking cues from theorists responding to Adorno’s pessimistic stance toward popular culture, notably Adorno’s Frankfurt School colleague and interlocutor Walter Benjamin, the second movement of the article suggests that despite its embrace of corporate solutionism, Arium’s collaborative worldbuilding contains a generative kernel, revealing an additional movement in the dialectic between oppressive technologies of control and the utopian impulse.

Continue reading “Post-it Utopia: The Promises and Pitfalls of Arium’s Lean Worldbuilding”

Mikhail Karikis: Activism and audiotopia

Phoenix Alexander interviews Mikhail Karikis

All images are part of No Ordinary Protest project, with permission from Mikhail Karikis.

Please briefly introduce yourself.

I am a Greek-born artist based in London and Lisbon. I work mostly in moving image, sound and performance. I develop projects through collaborations with individuals, collectivities and communities that are often located beyond the circles of contemporary art. In recent years, I have been working extensively with children, teenagers, young adults and people with disabilities. 

Since the early stages of my practice, the politics and materiality of the voice have been key concerns, while at the same time engaging with themes that give voice to different ways humans relate to the environment. There has been an instinctive journey that I began with films exploring voicing conditions of labour in the context of extractivist practices. This moved forward by looking at models of sustainability and eco-feminism, and more recently eco-activism and emerging forms of labour that service nature. 

I would say that my works prompt an activist imaginary and rouse the potential to imagine possible audiotopias (i.e. speculative places invoked through sound) and desired futures. I employ listening as an artistic strategy to help determine the content of my projects with the aim to highlight alternative modes of human action and solidarity, and to nurture critical attention and tenderness.

To what extent do you consider your work and practice to be ‘science fictional,’ if at all? Do you actively think about genre in your work, or do the labels come after the fact? (Surrealism, social realism, performance etc.)

I find science fiction and fantasy literature inspiring, but I do not think of my own artistic work through the lens of a specific genre. Perhaps where some science fiction literature and my art practice align is the way I employ my work to imagine and propose different worlds. I often start projects by embedding myself in different community contexts, and as such, social realism is always my starting point. Reflection, imagination and fantasy play an important role as I develop the themes and the projects mature and take shape. A decade ago and after I’d spent several years producing work that was furious and acutely critical, I took the decision to go further and invest my energy and imagination to proposing ‘better’ alternatives. My use of the word ‘better’ here implies a world with social and environmental justice, egalitarianism and practices of care. 

Sounds plays a central role in much of your work. Can you say a little bit more about how you see the relationship between the sonic and visual aspects of a new project?

I am currently developing a project which explores our relationship to weather phenomena. I am approaching it from three sonic perspectives: folk songs that call out to the elements, capture and transmit traditional knowledge about seasonal change and meteorology; a second angle is that of music instruments that imitate the sounds of weather and bring the environment into the concert hall through sound, like, for example, wind machines and thunder sheets; and a third perspective is the acoustics of resistance generated through eco-activism and protest. I am working with folk singers, professional experimental musicians and young school children on this project to bring together these three different forms of auditory culture that are testimony to our profound connection and entanglement with the weather. As is common in my work, the performance of these different forms of sound will determine the visual dimension of the project. Be it on a macroscopic or microscopic dimension, all my films capture acts of communal sound-making, resonance and vibration, and document the power sound has to set into motion the material universe, activate our sentiments and mobilise political thinking and action. 

Are there any works of science or speculative fiction (in any medium!) that have particularly inspired you?

Every child and teenager should read The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes for its environmental focus, for empowering children heroes with activist ecological thinking and rebelling against adults, and for the central role listening and noise play in the story as superpowers that activate empathy toward more than human beings. The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin is a book everyone ought to read for its acute reflections on capitalism, gender politics and anarcho-communism. 

Yesterday’s Technological Tomorrows?

By Paul Kincaid

A review of Futures of the Past: An Anthology of Science Fiction Stories from the 19th and Early 20th Centuries, with Critical Essays, edited by Ivy Roberts. McFarland, 2020, 196pp. 978-1-4766-7810-8.

For a literature supposedly intent upon the new, the inventive, the futuristic, science fiction seems inordinately interested in its own past. I am as guilty as anyone of this, which may be why I notice the phenomenon so much. But the question is: what are we looking for in the past, and (a very different question) what are we finding? Generally, the past is assumed to hold the key to where we are now and what we might become. That, however, is far from always being the case. The history of science fiction is extraordinarily full of false trails, dead ends, U-turns, twists, side tracks, abrupt changes of direction, and so on. Somehow, where we are today emerged out of the mess of what we once were, but in retrospect the route is neither clear nor consistent. Simply diving willy-nilly into the science fiction of days gone by, shining a light at random onto a story over here, a novel over there, offers no clue as to how or even if those writings are connected. And it offers even less of a clue about the evolution of what came after.

That, in a nutshell, is my problem with this latest selection of hoary tales from the dusty and neglected by-ways of science fiction’s infancy. Or rather, since the various contributors seem wedded to Gary Westfahl’s bizarre argument that true science fiction only came into being with the launch of Amazing Stories, this is science fiction from before there was science fiction. There are seven stories and three novel extracts gathered here, the earliest of which was written in 1826 (though not published until 1863), and the most recent published in 1923. Ten pieces of writing drawn from near enough a century of science fiction, each accompanied by an introduction (to call them “critical essays” as the subtitle does is, to my mind, to over-inflate their role); there should be enough here to forge a narrative, give us a perspective from which to consider where we come from and where we might be going.

Continue reading “Yesterday’s Technological Tomorrows?”

“Gypsy in Space”: A Note on the Representation of the Roma in Contemporary Hungarian SF Short Stories

By Áron Domokos

The representation of marginalized communities is extensively explored in both academic SF studies, and popular discourse around SF, particularly since the second half of the 1960s. Themes such as to what extent and by what means the living conditions, adversities, modes of resistances, worldviews, etc. of such communities are represented in SF narratives, as well as the role that individuals identifying themselves as community members play in the production/consumption/reception of SF, have been investigated by practitioners of quantitative and qualitative research. To date, however, there appear to be no studies that address the representation of the Roma in contemporary Hungarian SF speculative fiction. The present paper aims to do the following: (1) to introduce contemporary Hungarian SF short fiction and its readership; (2) to briefly explore the politics of “integration” and “reverse integration” as a means to contextualize the Roma within contemporary Hungarian society; (3) to give an outline of those “semiotic” means by which Roma characters in the short stories under scrutiny are identified; (4) to characterize the particular Roma representations from “invisibility” through “genocide” to “social mobility” that are present in the narratives in question. The texts used for my investigation are the relevant pieces of those submitted in 2014-2018 as candidates for the Péter Zsoldos Award, a national annual prize awarded for the best (published) Hungarian SF novel and short story.

  • Review: This article underwent one anonymous peer review and editorial review from three editors.
  • License: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.
  • Citation: Domokos, Áron. 2022. “Gypsy in Space”: A Note on the Representation of the Roma in Contemporary Hungarian SF Short Stories. Vector. 28 May 2022. 
  • Keywords: Roma; Hungarian SF; representation
  • DOI: Forthcoming

Gypsy in Space”: A Note on the Representation of the Roma in Contemporary Hungarian SF Short Stories

Together and apart: that is the definition of fraternity. The one we love is another. But the one we love is as close to us as we are to ourselves. So what is needed is not to see the Roma as only a ‘problem’ – and especially not as a ‘problem’ of the white majority – but to act according to the well-known rules of human love, which as a sentiment is not so simple (I have also described it as a contradiction), but in my humble view it is the only right one.

(Tamás 2017)

“Well, white folks ain’t planning for us to be here.”

I want to begin by mentioning that it is comparatively easy to notice the lack of Black representation in mainstream American SF up to the 1970s. Observing that there was not a single Black character in the now legendary 1976 dystopian film Logan’s Run, stand-up comedian Richard Pryor commented: Well, white folks ain’t planning for us to be here. That’s why we got to make movies” (Pryor 1976). As for the Roma,1 science fiction literature in English and other languages since the 19th century had very few Romani characters, and even fewer narratives were written by Romani authors. Let us now take a closer look at the Hungarian-language SF scene.

My study considers nearly 300 pieces of short fiction shortlisted for the 2014-2018 Péter Zsoldos SF Award, and takes a brief look at works in other media. I am going (1) to place the discourses on the representation of the Roma in a social-philosophical framework; (2) to problematize the issue of Roma representation and its “semiotic” aspect; and, in light of this, (3) to classify different ways in which Romani people are represented in contemporary Hungarian SF.

Continue reading ““Gypsy in Space”: A Note on the Representation of the Roma in Contemporary Hungarian SF Short Stories”

Everybody makes monsters: An interview with Kim Newman

Kim Newman is the author of Anno Dracula (1992), a novel set in an alternate Victorian London where Dracula has become the Prince Consort and vampires have emerged as the new ruling class. Since then he has written many more books in the series. Anno Dracula is being reissued by Titan Books in October 2022 as a deluxe signed hardcover edition with an introduction by Neil Gaiman and a new short story by the author. Under the name Jack Yeovil, Newman has also published books which helped to build Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy and Dark Futures universes. In addition to writing fiction, Newman is a major critic of horror cinema whose work can be found in Nightmare Movies (1985) and his Sight & Sound columns. He also served as the executive producer of Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor (2021).

Updates about Newman’s work can be found at his website and on Twitter @annodracula. We are delighted to have Kim back to chat to Vector, as Jordan S. Carroll asks him about Anno Dracula, shared world writing, film criticism, as well as Kim’s latest novel, Something More Than Night (2021), a horror-detective mystery set in Hollywood during the 1930s and starring Boris Karloff and Raymond Chandler

How did you get started writing?

I hate defaulting to other people’s quotes, but somebody asked George Bernard Shaw that question, and he said he couldn’t remember — because writing was like the taste of the water in his mouth. It was something he’d always done.

I mean, I wrote from childhood. I’m not quite sure at what point that went from writing stories for my own purposes to writing for an audience. I think I always wanted to communicate. It took me a while to consider that this might also be a way of making a living. But as a teenager, I wrote plays and comedy sketches with my friends at school. I wrote novels, or rather novel length manuscripts, in my teens.

The useful thing about starting early is you get a lot of the embarrassing stuff out of the way early on when nobody can see it. Now, you just put your stuff online free for people to read, but it is there forever. It comes back to haunt people. I’m not even sure if I have copies of the stuff I wrote as a kid. I think if I do, it’s in a trunk somewhere very deep.

What drew you to horror in particular?

I started out being interested in monsters, I suppose. I was one of those kids who liked monster movies. I liked the effect of horror, I read a lot of it. But I read a lot of general stuff as well. I’m interested in genre, but I’m not necessarily somebody who wants to be confined by it. I don’t self-identify as a horror writer, or a science fiction writer, a crime writer, a mystery writer. I’ve done all of those things. But I do recognize that I operate best in that kind of arena.

When you tag yourself as a horror writer, that comes with an obligation to be frightening, in the same way that picking comedy comes with an obligation to be amusing. And I think some of my stuff is scary. Certainly other readers have reported that. But I think for a lot of my writing, being frightening is not its primary purpose. I’m interested in exploring other things. I tend to write more about what makes me angry than what makes me frightened. Although obviously there’s an overlap.

So what is it that makes you angry?

The world! And what’s more, I have not calmed down with age. Having written a series of books about what happens when really truly terrible evil people come to power … well, the last ten years have just made me think I overestimated people.

How would you describe your writing process?

Continue reading “Everybody makes monsters: An interview with Kim Newman”

From Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi to The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

Merit Ariane Stephanos 

Even the titles of the novels – The Queue and Woman at Point Zero – reroute  the thoughts towards recent emotionally exhausting lockdowns. They conjure interminable waiting, to the point of breakdown.  In a way, this is precisely what these books describe. However, the denials of freedom to move, associate and connect are not caused by a global pandemic but by local patriarchal, totalitarian societies. The fictionalised/documentarian versions of Egypt spiritually and physically destroy the respective protagonists, Armani and Firdaus. Both women are driven to extreme forms of exile from their societies, Firdaus by accepting a death sentence, Armani by self-enforced mental alienation. Although all genders in these two novels suffer from oppression, women are subjected to specific forms of violence highlighted by the writers. 

The sensitivity and detail in the portrayal of these forms of gendered violence is related to the fact that not only are respective authors both women, but they are both psychiatrists. Both writers are important figures in Egyptian society, renowned for their activism and respected as powerful intellectuals. The two authors have personally experienced state-inflicted violence for their resistance, their feminism, and their criticisms of other forms of oppression. Nawal El Saadawi was fired, exiled and threatened with imprisonment; Basma Abdel Aziz’s nickname is ‘the rebel’. Both novels portray an Egyptian society from a historical vantage point that are four decades apart (1975 and 2013). These have not been decades of ‘progress’: albeit fictionalised, oppression as presented by Basma Abdel Aziz in The Queue (2013) has become more suffocating and more all consuming.

Continue reading “From Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi to The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz”

Contemporary Greek Speculative Fiction: A Roundtable

With Natalia Theodoridou, Eugenia Triantafyllou, Eleanna Castroianni and George Cotronis

By Phoenix Alexander 

Hi everyone. Let’s start by introducing ourselves to readers / each other!

ET: Hello! I am Eugenia Triantafyllou, a writer and artist currently based in Athens. My fiction has appeared in places like Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex and has been nominated for Ignyte and Nebula awards.I am also a Clarion West 2019 alumna. My preferred genres are dark fantasy and horror, although I do like to mix genres and switch it up a lot. 

Twitter: @FoxesandRoses

eugeniatriantafyllou.com

NT: Hi! I am a speculative fiction writer and game designer. Originally from Thessaloniki, Greece, with roots in Russia, Georgia, and Turkey. I now split my time between Greece and the UK. I’ve published over 100 short stories in places like Clarkesworld, F&SF, Kenyon Review, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nightmare, among others, and have three games/interactive novels out by Choice of Games. If you want a taste of my work, I’d recommend starting with “Ribbons” in Uncanny Magazine, “The Birding: a Fairy Tale” in Strange Horizons (which won the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction), or my Nebula-nominated game, Rent-a-Vice. My work is queer and dark, and I tend to overstep genre boundaries. 

Twitter: @natalia_theodor

natalia-theodoridou.com

EC: Hi, I’m Eleanna, a writer and poet with work in Clarkesworld Magazine, Strange Horizons, Fireside, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and elsewhere. My usual setting is literary science fiction or fantasy where the repercussions of war and oppression feature prominently. I draw a lot from my background as a human geographer and, in particular, from Anthropocene humanities and landscapes of de-industrialization and decay. I am also heavily inspired by contemporary Greek history with its share of complex politics and violence, by the pagan darkness of folk traditions, and by the fragility and cruelty of childhood.

Twitter: @nomadological

eleannacastroianni.wordpress.com

GC: Hello! I’m George Cotronis and I’m a writer and illustrator from Greece by way of Sweden, where I was born. I’ve created book covers for authors like Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn and Harry Connolly. When I’m not illustrating, I write short stories. I’ve sold a handful of stories mostly to anthologies like Lost Signals, Robots & Artificial Intelligence and places like Pantheon Magazine and Tales to Terrify. 

Twitter: @ravenkult

cotronis.com

Continue reading “Contemporary Greek Speculative Fiction: A Roundtable”