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This year’s annual LSFRC conference is “Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction.” The call for papers can be found here, and the latest news about the event can be found here.

Call for Papers: Stage the Future III

James Nasmyth, 1874.

LSFRC is proud to announce the first of what we hope will be many associated events, “Stage the Future III: Third International Academic Conference on Science Fiction Theatre.” The conference will take place on 6-7th December 2019 in the Omnibus Theatre, London, and forms a part of “Talos III: Science Fiction Theatre Festival of London” (more on Talos III can be found here). Cyborphic, the theatre company producing the festival and the conference , is also asking for production proposals for “Talos III,” and we warmly encourage artists and writers to consider submitting proposals to one or both events. We at LSFRC are delighted to be able to assist in the organising of the first London-based installment of the groundbreaking “Stage the Future” conference series, and are particularly excited about the possibilities of engagement with a wider audience that the event offers. If you have any idea for an academic or para-academic event you would like to organise in association with LSFRC, please do not hesitate to get in touch by email.

Call for Papers

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Louise LePage, Lecturer in Theatre (University of York)

Following two successful conferences in the UK, at Royal Holloway, University of London and in Arizona, at Arizona State University, in 2014 and 2015 respectively, Stage the Future returns to the UK for its third conference on science fiction theatre on 6-7 December 2019. We welcome papers, panels, and performances that examine and explore the unique attributes live performance offers to science fiction and those that science fiction offers to live performance.

Science fiction and its related genres, fantasy and horror frequent contemporary stages and every year there seem to be more and more artistic productions of AI Theatre, cyborgs in theatre, VR and AR technologies on stage. The Internet Science Fiction Theatre Database lists several recent examples, and major UK theatre festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe and Vault Festival host several plays with sf elements, while genre-specific festival such as the Talos Sci-Fi theatre festival and the London Horror Festival also promote speculative fiction on stage.

In fact the conference is taking place in the same week as the third Talos: Science Fiction Theatre Festival of London (2-9 December 2019), so participants will have many opportunities to watch and discuss sci-fi performances during that week.

In addition to science fiction theatre, we welcome papers on sci-fi performance more broadly (sci-fi dance, immersive shows, VR theatre, AI theatre) and genre theatre more broadly (Afrofuturist performances, horror theatre, fantasy theatre.)

The conference welcomes proposals for papers, presentations, and performances from any discipline and theoretical perspective. Please send a title and a 200-300 word abstract (as a Word document) for a 15 minute paper or a reading / performance, along with your name, affiliation and 100 word biography to stagethefuture@gmail.com by 31 August 2019, specifying in the subject title of your email what you are proposing. Topics might include but are not limited to:

Post-Apocalyptic Theatre, Utopian Theatre, Dystopian Theatre
Afrofuturist Theatre, Queer Science Fiction
Cyberpunk Theatre, Steampunk Theatre (and other -punk dramas)
Political Science Fiction Theatre, Time Travel, Alternate History
Non-human and post-human characters, androids, metahumans
Space Opera and Science Fiction Opera
Ecological Science Fiction
Science Fiction and Dance
Theatrical Adaptations of Science Fiction
Contemporary Fantasy Theatre, Horror Theatre, Weird Theatre

The conference is organised by Dr Christos Callow Jr, Lecturer, University of Derby; Marita Arvaniti, PhD Candidate, University of Glasgow; the theatre company Cyborphic and the London Science Fiction Research Community.

@chriscallowjr
@excaliburedpan
@cyborphic
@talosfest
@LSFRC_
@stagethefuture

The Strange Ecologies of Science Fiction Film

Illustration of Nudibranchs by Kumataro Ito (ca. 1908).

As part of the CHASE-funded “Organic Systems: Science Fiction and Ecology Today” workshop series, LSFRC directors Katie Stone and Francis Gene-Rowe participated in a panel called “SF and Ecology on Screen.” The panel, which took place on May 23rd, was recorded and has since been uploaded as a podcast and can be found here. The first 30 minutes of the recording consist of an excellent talk given by Professor Sean Cubitt of Goldsmiths, after which Katie and Francis presented a dialogue/paper entitled “The Strange Ecologies of Science Fiction Film.” The slides which accompanied their section of the panel can be found here. The remaining sessions of the “Organic Systems” programme are set to take place on Thursday 4th July (in Birkbeck) and Thursday 12th September (in the Science Museum). LSFRC’s own “Productive Futures” conference will be scheduled in such a way as to allow delegates to attend the afternoon sessions on the 12th.

Reading Group Report for Herland

Image used to accompany a 2016 BBC Radio 4 broadcast on Herland.

On the 1st July, the LSFRC reading group convened to discuss Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short novel Herland (1915).

The book follows a sociology student,  Vandyck (Van) Jennings, and his two friends, Terry Nicholson and Jeff Margrave, on an expedition to investigate rumours of a country solely populated by women in uncharted south american territory. After reaching this nation (called Herland), they are taken into compassionate captivity and receive education from their hosts, in the process coming to understand (to varying extents) the shortcomings of their own society and patriarchy-imposed gender roles.

Despite the absence of several regulars, attendance was good and enjoyable and productive conversation ensued. With Tom Dillon and Katie Stone unable to attend, Francis Gene-Rowe put together the following report, divided into loosely themed sections:

Context

  • The text engages with and is informed by contemporary theories of evolution and species development, as well as Eugenicist thinking. While largely Darwinist in its outlook, Herland also draws upon early 20th century mutationism in order to explain how Herlanders are more varied in their characteristics than might be expected, given their parthenogenetic heritage.
  • While the Eugenicist aspects of the text feed into several of its problems (see below), it is worth being aware that eugenics was a framework widely adopted and thought through across the political spectrum, by both progressives on the left and individuals on the far right. While Gilman herself was in many respects highly progressive for her time, her views were more racist than those of some of her eugenics-embracing contemporaries.
  • In terms of the text itself, in addition to the underlying premise behind Herland as a society, species development-related content arises in how the Herlanders have selectively bred their cats to be quiet and to leave birds unmolested, as well as in the frequent analogies drawn between Herlander society and species such as ants and bees.
  • The text also appears to draw upon contemporary anthropological theorising of matriarchy, whereby the pre-historic default social model was matriarchal, such that the society of Herland presents a return to something natural. The concept of originary matriarchy (associated with earth mother worship) later superseded by heliocentric patriarchy continued to have currency well into the post-war era and still has its proponents today.
  • Child raising and pedagogy is a key theme in the text and was an area receiving great attention in the early twentieth century. In addition to Gilman’s references to Montessori education, members of the reading group referenced The Dalton Plan and Anna Freud’s work as either contemporary or near-contemporary instances of this attention to raising and educating children.
  • When considering Herland’s influences on subsequent writing, it is worth noting that it was not published in book form until 1979, and was little known after Gilman’s death until its rediscovery. With that said, it was preceded by other feminist utopian texts from the late 19th century and early 20th century, including Mizora (1890) and New Amazonia (1889), some of which will have been known to and influential upon later writers.

Problems

  • As can often be the case with older texts, when read by a 21st century reader Herland proves to be problematic in several ways. Perhaps the most immediately evident of these is the racism of the text, which characterises indigenous peoples as “savages” and emphases the fact that the Herlanders are aryan (white), despite the fact that they live in the tropics. Whilst these perceptions are related via the perspective of the text’s unenlightened male characters, Gilman expressed deeply problematic views of race in other writings, mostly notably “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem” (1908).
  • Later on in the text, abortion and infanticide are conflated with each other, with the implication being that abortion is infanticide. Herlander society privileges motherhood over any other practice, value or virtue, and whilst it is made clear that motherhood is collective and not exclusively related in biological maternity, the biological framework of reproduction remains prominent. Gilman’s concept of Herlander culture doesn’t allow for either individuals not wanting to have children (the suggestion being that Herlanders have to deliberately resist their natural desire for procreation so as to maintain a stable population) or those who may struggle to have them. Herland is certainly not a trans-inclusive nation, although the Jungle 2 Jungle project (a currently active community seeking to create a Herland-like society) is trans-inclusive.
  • There also seems to be an attitude of being able to approach children as blank slates for education (as in some of Robert Heinlein’s work some decades later), although it appears that Gilman was aware of this as a potential problem arising in Montessori and similar approaches, criticising such views in a later essay.

Satire and Humour

  • While Herland is clearly written with a political-ethical agenda, there was some uncertainty as to what extent it is intended to be satirically comedic, as opposed to more earnestly didactic. The characterisation of the male characters (Terry in particular) in the earlier chapters came across as downright parodic to some reading group members, although it was observed that Gilman may have intended for them to serve as focal points for an instructive satire that would not necessarily be amusing to a contemporary reader.
  • A useful comparison was drawn to Gulliver’s Travels, in the sense that we are given a viewpoint character that is ignorant to the point of naivety. Given the utopianist agenda of the text, Van and his fellows’ often silly opinions and actions can operate as heuristics for the reader. Van in particular comes across as a character that is intended to be a lens through which both education and critique can ensue; he is continually positioned in a middle ground between Jeff and Terry, the overlap in their Venn diagram. At the same time, there is also a sense that Van is intellectually superior to Jeff and Terry, as he puts more stock in reason than they do. This intersects with the valorisation of reason in the text (see below).
  • Amongst the jokes and gags shared in the session were the trenchant observation that Herland is literally a nanny state, as well as the image of Terry becoming a men’s rights activist upon his return to patriarchal civilisation.

Economy and Work

  • The reading group discussed the ways in which Herland does and doesn’t portray different forms of work, as well as its vagueness on the specifics of how Herland’s economy operates. At several points in the text Van flags up the fact that he isn’t going to explain Herland’s economy (for a variety of reasons), which indicates a deliberate decision on Gilman’s part. Aside from Herland and The Yellow Wallpaper, perhaps Gilman’s most famous piece of writing is Women and Economics – A Study of the Economic Relation Between Men and Women as a Factor in Social Evolution (1898), in which she outlines forms of work and labour that tend to be disregarded in traditional (typically male-authored) economic studies. Van’s restraint in describing the economics of Herland may in part be a function of his own ignorance, but it also serves to de-emphasise normative expectations of what is or isn’t work. Something similar can be seen in how the men try and fail to provide a logical explanation of wifely housework to their prospective Herlander wives.
  • With this said, Gilman’s approach does create a slight vacuum in the worldbuilding of Herland. Ellador, Alima and Celis are foresters (and the men ultimately learn to work as their assistants) whose work takes them across the land, and we also encounter teachers and priestess/therapist figures. However, builders and farmers are conspicuous by their absence, despite the highly built and cultivated nature of Herland as a nation. This may well be a function of what Van and his friends take an interest in/are exposed to, but it also suggests that Gilman is less interested in exploring manual labour than in showing us a world that feels detached from patriarchal economic models.
  • One framing suggested was that Herland operates on an economy of ethics, following a slightly modified version of the old communist adage: “from each according to their ability and desire to work in a particular way, to each according to their needs as they see them.”

Knowledge and Herland Society

  • Herlander theatre is supposedly dull due to a lack of violence, culture and fear. This perception on the part of the men may well indicate a lack of imagination on their part (as, for instance, Beckettian drama would be perfectly viable in Herland). Ultimately, Herland is not a text much concerned with aesthetics, although the contrast drawn between Herlander and the men’s names does emphasise the superiority of Herlander names.
  • To follow up on this, there was some discussion as to what extent Herland is a boring place. Sexuality appears to be altogether absent and the underlying tone of Herlander society appears to be relentlessly polite and calm. One participant questioned to what extent a monoculture was in operation, which raised the consideration of how a woman outsider would be received in Herland, and what her experience might be like. With this said, gameplaying is referenced several times in the text, giving the impression that Herlanders draw upon ideas of play throughout their lives. Humour also seems to be present in Herland, and Ellador, Alina and Celis are entirely capable of finding the men risible when they encounter them.
  • Knowledge is a prominent theme in Herland, as Gilman sets a lot of stock by scientific reason. Herlanders are shown to be consistently rational and even minded, whilst it’s the men who come across as personal, irrational and so on (characteristics that they consider typical of women in their own homeland). At the same time, the Herlanders possess much more emotional intelligence than Van and company. The men’s ignorance and lack of self-awareness is epitomised by the fact that the Herlanders construct highly accurate spider diagrams of unspoken facts about the outside world, based on points of hesitation and omission in their conversations with the men.
  • Whilst Herland can be considered a separatist feminist text, the nation of Herland is not presented as separatist so much as a natural development following the natural and human events which led to its isolation and to all its men dying. In that sense, it resembles Joanna Russ’s Whileaway more than Ursula Le Guin’s Anarres. The comparisons to animal species further reinforce the sense that Herland, and the methodical rationality of its inhabitants, is a product of natural law more than any historical or human contingency.

Comparisons and References

  • The BBC Four series “Victorian Sensations” (currently available on iPlayer) was recommended as companion viewing, particularly the second episode, which is entitled “Decadence and Degeneration.”
  • Parallels between Herland and wellbeing economics/economics of happiness were drawn, with a specific reference to Richard Layard’s Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (2005).
  • Herland’s convenient Californian climate and other Californian characteristics suggests parallels with Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1975).
  • John Wyndham’s novella “Consider her Ways” (1956) was mentioned as a more instrumentalist envisioning of a Herland-type society, with stronger parallels between its society and ant species behaviour.

July Reading Group Event: Herland

Monday 1st of July from 7 till 8.30pm

Room 106, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

In July’s session of our reading group we will be discussing Herland (1915) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. We will attempt to link the book to this year’s theme of economics in science fiction. There should be a lot of interesting material to discuss; such as the economics of the all woman utopia (production, division of labour etc); their models of reproduction and maintenance; as well as the racist and essentialist overtones of the society depicted.

After, we will move to the Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street for further discussion. All are welcome.  Please get in touch if you have any questions about the event (our email is lsfrcmail@gmail.com). If you want to let us know you’re coming, you can visit our Facebook page, or our gath.io page for the event.

Reading Group Report for Brightness Falls From The Air

Cover art by Les Edwards for the UK Sphere edition of Brightness Falls from the Air

On Monday 3rd of June, the LSFRC reading group met at Birkbeck to discuss James Tiptree Jr.’s novel Brightness Falls from the Air (1985).

The novel follows a large cast of characters on a single night, who have travelled to the far reaches of the galaxy in order to witness the passing of a stellar phenomena, only visible from the planet Damiem. Many characters hold secret motives or undisclosed pasts, and their presence is complicated by the existence on the planet of the indigenous population, the Dameii, who have been brutally treated by previous human colonisers. As the night plays out the motives and dark pasts are revealed with explosive consequences.

I was not in fact present for the discussion (though I very much enjoyed reading the book). However I have been able to piece together the mysterious events of the reading group through the discovery of fragments from Katie Stone’s and Francis Gene-Rowe’s diaries:

Gender

The group began with a discussion of Tiptree’s pronouns. James Tiptree Jr. was the writing pseudonym of Alice Sheldon, and for many years readers assumed Tiptree was a man, and Tiptree did not correct them. It was suggested that the name Tiptree was both taken on as a professional name to distinguish from Sheldon’s other work (she worked for a time at the CIA, though before she took on the Tiptree writing name), as well as an exploration of her/their/his complex gender identity; i.e. the Tiptree name may have been an exploration of what would now be called transmasculinity.

Capitalism

It was suggested that the exploded star might be the spreading of capitalism. After the star has passed, the indigenous population (the Dameii) ask to be allowed to access to markets in order to sell their product, ‘Stars Tears’. Stars Tears is a liquor distilled from the naturally occurring nectar produced by the body of the Dameii, whose taste is particularly intense for humans, and whose potency can be increased via extraction of the liquid while the Dameii are in distress. Stars Tears was described by the group as the perfect commodity and there was discussion of the implications of the violent extraction process. Beauty itself becomes a commodity in the novel. Prince-Prince Pao ‘buys’ one of the characters, Stareem Fada (known as Star), to be part of his hareem.

Labour

There are many different forms of Labour in the novel. The Gridworld actors (Snake Smith, Eleganza (Bridey McBannion), Hannibal Ek, and Star) produce pornography; Ser Xe Vovoka is apparently a light-sculptor; Dr. Ochter, Dr. Hiner, and Mordecai Yule, are on the surface all academics, but actually criminals. Tiptree sympathetically portrays sex workers, though is critical of the Gridworld economic system which produces the pornography as it does not treat its workers well. The Federation (the interstellar alliance of planets in the galaxy), does not officially approve of Gridworld (Snake and Ek are not allowed to join the military because of their profession), but Gridworld is none the less an integral part of the wider economy of the Federation. There are a number of Doctors, or dabblers in medicine. Although Bram is the Doctor of the outpost of Damiem, the previous supervisor of the planet, Pace, becomes a doctor, and Zannez (the leader of the Gridworld troupe) performs doctorhood. It was suggested that medicine was not treated as a fetishised profession like in many novels but labour like any other work.

Colonialism

The Federation is sketched quite hazily. However, it does become apparent that the Federation, like with the Federation in the Star Trek franchise, considers itself to be a force for good. They even appear to have a similar concept to Star Trek’s Prime Directive, (i.e. a rule for non-interference in the affairs of indigenous populations). Illegal activities take place on the fringe of the Federation, such as the crimes against the Dameii people and the Gridworld exploitation. However, the treatment of the Dameii by the Federation either aims for their assimilation or to hold them in a reservation as ‘noble savages’, both of which are colonial behaviours.

Childhood

Tiptree represents the image of the child in a complex manner. Cory commits a war crime as a child, while Prince (12 years old) seems almost entirely adult and is involved in procuring/buying a concubine for himself. It was suggested that Tiptree takes seriously the idea of childhood autonomy and resists the image of children as innocents, in need of saving from an Other. The Dameii are in a sense an image of the childish/innocent noble savage – a prelapsarian race, in need of protection. However, as with the child characters, Tiptree gives the Dameii autonomy over their existence (albeit by their choosing to enter into capitalist relations).

Kinship

There are many kinship and relationship models in the novel; the romantic/parental relationship between Linnix and Bram; the working relationship between Kip and Cory which is also a sexual relationship; the friendship/work/love relationship between the Gridworlders; Prince-Prince Pao’s socialisation amongst adults; the intimacy of the Lady Pardalianches and her sister; the social organisation of the Dameii. Someone pointed out the kinky power-dynamics in many of these roles, power dynamics which cross age, social status, and dis/ability.

Form

The novel takes the form of a detective novel. A series of characters from across class/gender/race, are brought together to be witness to, and take part in a crime. The form allows an examination of power dynamics from a cross-section of society. However, the whole novel is strangely paced, with a long set-up of conversations, an hundred page cinematic action sequence, and a large amount of resolution at the end. The time eddies which are produced by the passing star, threatens to create alternative narrative lines, which nevertheless do not fully materialise.

June Reading Group Event: Brightness Falls from the Air

Cover art by Les Edwards for the UK Sphere edition of Brightness Falls from the Air

Monday 3rd of June from 7:00 pm till 8:30 pm.

Room 106, 43 Gordon Square, LONDON, WC1H 0PD

In June’s reading group event we will be discussing James Tiptree Jr.’s novel Brightness Falls from the Air (1985), hopefully linking it to our overall theme of the year of economics in science fiction. Afterwards we will be heading over to the Fitzroy Tavern for a couple of drinks and chat.

All are welcome and please get in touch if you have any questions about the event (our email is lsfrcmail@gmail.com). If you want to let us know you’re coming, you can visit our Facebook page, or our gath.io page for the event.

Reading Group Report for The Parable of the Talents

In our latest reading group meeting, held on the 29th April at Gordon Square, Birkbeck, we discussed The Parable of the Talents (1998) by Octavia Butler. 

The novel continues the story of Lauren Oya Olamina’s struggle, begun in The Parable of the Sower (1993), to survive the slide of the U.S. into racism and instability, through the propagation of her space oriented religion called Earthseed. The novel takes the form of curated excerpts from Lauren’s diaries presented and glossed by her estranged daughter Larkin, covering Lauren’s experience of setting up the commune of Acorn and the subsequent trials and tribulations which follow. 

The discussion was wide ranging and highly engaging. We even managed to spend a good deal of time discussing our theme of the year of economics and labour in science fiction.  

Below is a run-down of some of the topics that were discussed: 

The Family 

There was quite a disagreement about whether Lauren’s daughter Larkin was right to be so angry at her mother considering Lauren’s traumatic experiences. Larkin seems to feel that Lauren’s religion is another form of child who is preferred over Larkin. The Acorn community is one based on a wider kinship structure than the nuclear family. It appears at time that Lauren’s friends such as Zahra and Harry are closer to her than her own husband Bankole or her daughter. At the same time, though there are queer kinship structures, the basic unit for the community is one of a small family working within a larger community.  Also, despite the positive inclusion of queer characters within the Acorn community, it was felt that many of the queer characters had negative representation; the torture of Allie and her partner by the Christian Americans seemed gratuitous; Marcus is presented as an asexual and self-hating queer man; while sex-work is always connected with slavery and male homosexuality is often connected with paedophilia.

Religion 

Earthseed is both similar and an inverse of Christian America, the organization based on evangelical Christianity which gains power in Butler’s future U.S. Both demand full commitment, dignity and purpose through labour, and stable family structures. However Earthseed’s scripture is almost the opposite of Christianity. It is short, aphoristic, non-narrative, which appears at times (someone in the group pointed out) to be like the text of greeting card, as compared with the classic Christian mode of the sermon, often strongly narrative based and emotive. This is reflected in the structure of the groups. Christian America, and indeed many major religions use big narrative structures of redemption, heaven and eternal life in order to maintain small micro level structures such as the family and gender relations (for example). Earthseed in contrast uses everyday useful sayings that might aid on the micro level, to build into an alternative non-hierarchical community.  

Colonialism 

Earthseed is in many ways comparable to the colonial project. Unity through turning towards an ‘empty’ outside (Earthseed preaches that the final aim of the religion is to colonise space). However, this seems to be at odds with the generally anti-colonial message of the novel. It was pointed out that this tension is explored through the naming of the first Earthseed ship into space the Christopher Columbus—Lauren is not happy with the name because of its colonial connotations and yet agrees to it so that the ship will be allowed to take-off.  

Economics 

It was also pointed out that the spread of religion and of colonialism came under the guise of trade. Colonialism, Capitalism, and the dominance of Christianity develop hand in hand. Earthseed in many ways does not do much to transform the economic system but instead seems to work with in it. Later in the novel, as it comes to a close, Earthseed becomes quite wealthy and it is not clear where the money is coming from. Lauren does talks and gains donations from the wealthy. It appears to use neoliberal structures to spread the gospel rather than questioning the system, which has led to such destitution and misery in the first place. The imperfect system is used in order to reach goal of getting in to space. This is at odds with the ethos of the Acorn commune in which alternative forms of social organization is put before the goal of space colonization. We discussed the politics of finance for space projects: where does the money come from? Is it public or private money? Lauren is vague on these points. This may be deliberate or it may be that there was not enough space in the novel to fill in these gaps. I was reminded of Rachel Hill’s research into the politics of contemporary privatsed space initiatives, which use Utopian imagery to justify privatisation of the space industry.  

Labour 

Both Earthseed and Christian America valorise labour. At Acorn all members work hard and are expected to work hard, and when Christian America turn Acorn into a reeducation camp they also stress labour as a virtue. Both preach labour as a means of salvation—for Christian America for the heavenly salvation, and Earthseed for getting into space. However, Christian America are shown to be hypocrites, using religious doctrine to oversee and legitimise slavery just as the religious rhetoric of work in the past was used to legitimise slavery. For Earthseed, the labour is always put to good use for the good of the community. I suggested that there was a connection with the title of the novel, The Parable of the Talents, in that for Earthseed and for Lauren, value is created through work—investing and spreading the word of religion. However, it was suggested that in fact the burying of the talent is a form of labour as well, and that the Talents story is as much a move away from Old Testament emphasis on The Law and material goods/works towards love. A comparison was made between the labour in the novel and Octavia Butler’s own struggle to complete the novel, caused by a medically induced writer’s block. 

Disability/Empathy 

We had a long and fruitful discussion about the exploration of empathy in the novel. Lauren is a Sharer; a person who has the ability to feel the pain and pleasure of others, caused by the parent of the individual using/abusing a particular drug. This was described as a classic Butler move by one of the participants of the reading group. She takes a relatively simple attribute and exaggerates it. The attribute becomes both a super-power and a disability. It was pointed out that in Butler’s work these ability/disability paradigms are usually genetically inherited; for instance the inheritable disease in her short story ‘The Evening, The Morning and The Night’ (1987) and Cancer in the Xenogenesis Trilogy (1987-89). It is fitting that the disease of the Sharer should be caused by the parent attempting to work harder via drugs (the drug which causes the genetic condition is a concentration drug). 

Trauma 

Empathy in the novel exaggerates the trauma of the text, which in turn is a trauma of African American experience in the past and present projected by Butler into the near future—i.e. the ongoing legacy of slavery. The scarcity of the description of violence was praised as successfully addressing both the impossibility of representing trauma as well as reflecting Lauren’s own need to avoid such descriptions so that she would not relive the experiences (an exploration in many ways of PTSD). A comparison was made between the narrative technique in trauma fiction (such as Primo Levi and Toni Morrison) and Science Fiction. What is not described suggests a reality, which is beyond description. The absence is then filled in by the reader causing an empathetic relation to the text.  

Simulation 

The virtual reality technology of the Dreammask, which attempts to indoctrinate users into empathising with the suffering of Christ, was contrasted to the true empathy of Lauren and Sharers who actually do suffer like those that they see suffering. Someone suggested that it was similar in that respect to the religion of Mercerism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), in that followers must use the empathy box in order to actually feel the death and sacrifice of Mercer. Empathy in that sense becomes a power relation. The way in which Butler sees the bigoted and corrupt decline of President Jarett, was contrasted with Baudrillard’s reading of the Watergate scandal. Baudrilliard argues that contrary to media representation, Watergate only reinforced government power and corruption, as it suggested that it was an aberration rather than the proper functioning of a system, which is corrupt in itself. 

Utopia/Dystopia 

We ended with a discussion of the particular entanglement of optimism and pessimism, in Butler’s work. Butler never allows either a fully utopian or dystopian mode to dominate the other, rather staying with the trouble to produce a militant call to work through suffering and trauma towards a better world. There was then a shout out for the work of adrienne moree brown who edited Octavia’s Brood (2015)—an anthology of original fiction by activists inspired by Butler and also her podcast with autumn brown ‘How to survive the end of the world.’ 

Poster for Productive Futures

We can now release the poster for our call for papers for the 2019 LSFRC three day conference, Productive Futures, held from the 12th to the 14th of September at Birkbeck , designed by Sinjin Li.

Sinjin Li have this to say about their design:

“The CfP poster takes the form of an official pamphlet, issued by non-Terran authorities who are keen to encourage a receptive atmosphere with regard to entering interplanetary trade relations with Earth. With communication being an essential component of such exchanges, the pamphlet is intended to decode humans via a well-intentioned explanation of their key sensory receptors.”

Please enjoy, share, and circulate to all human and non-human entities. For details see the bottom of the poster or visit our CfP post.

Call for papers: Productive Futures

Productive Futures: The Political Economy of Science Fiction

Bloomsbury, London, 12-14 September

Keynote speakers: Dr. Caroline Edwards, Dr. Joan Haran

Guests of honour: Aliette de Bodard, Zen Cho, Tade Thompson

The history of science fiction (SF) is a history of unreal economics: from asteroid mining to interstellar trade, from robotic workforces to utopian communes, from the abolition of money and property to techno-capitalist tragedies of the near future.

The London Science Fiction Research Community (LSFRC) invites abstracts of 300 words, plus 50 word bios, addressing economic themes in SF, and/or exploring how SF can help to widen and evolve our sense of the economic. Please submit to lsfrcmail@gmail.com by 31st May 2019.

As the global economy is transformed by AI and automation, the economic themes of SF grow considerably more visible in everyday political discourse. Although capitalist liberal democracy continues to present itself as only reasonable option for ordering complex modern societies, SF offers a rich alternative tradition in which core capitalist institutions – money, finance, market, state, class, law, family – are fantastically permutated or abolished altogether. And, while mainstream economics tends to frame technological innovation as unproblematic progress – driving productivity, growth, and prosperity – SF has a much more critical and flexible understanding of how technology relates to everyday economic life.

Economics often likes to believe that it is about everything and anything. What do we spend our days doing? What gets made, and how? Who gets to own, use, and consume resources? Who works, and how, and why? Why are some things valued more than others? The reality is, the models of mainstream economics are established on a set of exclusions. Intricate social and cultural institutions are swept to one side, as though they either don’t matter, or are so natural and immutable that they can be taken for granted. Socially reproductive labour and affective labour is obscured, as are the histories of colonial war and appropriation on which most modern wealth is founded. Any understanding of economic systems as structured around the intricate network of intersecting, generative identities of the people whose labour, and frequently whose bodies, constitute it, is dispensed with. Instead we are presented with Homo economicus, the egoist agent pursuing its (frequently his) fixed set of interests. And the complex ecological connectivity of the more-than-human world is reduced to ‘natural capital,’ merely another input into the production process.

But many SF works – from Samuel Delany’s Triton, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Pamela Zoline’s ‘The Heat Death of the Universe’, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, Octavia Butler’s Parables series, to Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 – radically challenge the narrowness of these visions. Such works reconnect flows of commodities and financial value not only with the wider world, but with networks of possible worlds. In the sex-work of replicants, the criminal ventures of digital cowboys, the domestic labour of the housewives of galactic suburbia, the life-cycles of titanic sandworms with magic spice in their bellies, SF reimagines what is meant by ‘economics.’ These networks – of workers, waged and unwaged, of the objects they produce, consume and are in many instances comprised of, and of the various financial and material systems they occupy – provide the field in which the economics of SF are negotiated. This is a field in which the legacies of slavery, the continued machinations of empire and the commodification of bodies is laid bare and recast in the hopes of imagining economic systems whose material, embodied reality would not be predicated on alienation and exploitation but on the production of new and better futures.

For our 2019 conference, LSFRC invites papers exploring the economic dimensions of SF. We understand ‘economics’ broadly: themes may include labour, finance, production, reproduction, distribution, exchange, value, automation, AI, blockchain and smart contracts, algorithmic governance, platform capitalism, platform co-operativism, migration, remittances, demographic transformation, degrowth and postgrowth, wellbeing economics, reparations, gifts, mutual aid, reciprocity, utopia and other -topias, totality, antiwork and postwork, scarcity and postscarcity, posthuman economics, the demise or evolution of the corporation, the demise or evolution of the nation state, and more. Our understanding of SF is likewise broad, and we welcome proposals considering SF across all media.

Suggested Critical Sources

  1. Silvia Federici, Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women (2018)
  2. Primavera De Filippi and Aaron Wright, Blockchain and the Law: The Rule of Code (2018)
  3. Cheryl McEwan, Postcolonialism, Decoloniality, and Development (2018)
  4. Will Davies (ed.), Economic Science Fictions (2018)
  5. Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics (2017)
  6. Manu Saadia, Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek (2016)
  7. Peter Frase, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism (2016)
  8. McKenzie Wark, Molecular Red: Theory for Anthropocene (2015)
  9. Nigel Dodd, The Social Life of Money (2014)
  10. Kathi Weeks, The Problem With Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries (2011)
  11. Viviana Zelizer, Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy (2010)
  12. Erik Olin Wright, The Real Utopias series (1991-2009)
  13. Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism (2003)
  14. Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun (1998) and “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism” (2003)
  15. Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons (1990)

These are just a few ideas, and we welcome diverse theoretical approaches, including those grounded in science fiction studies; utopia studies; future studies; new economic criticism and the economic humanities; Marxist literary theory; gender studies and queer theory; digital, ecological, energy, and health humanities; and in political science, economics, sociology, and the social sciences generally. We encourage submissions from collaborators across disciplines and/or institutions. Contributors may also be interested in exploring related conferences and symposiums such as SFRA: The Future of Labor (Milwaukee, July 2018), and From Economic Science Fictions to Labour as Commons (Middlesex, June 2019).

Suggested Topics

Ideas for topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Solarpunk
  • Tales of near future precarity (‘kitchen sink dystopia,’ ‘science friction’ etc.)
  • Reproductive labour in SF: domestic automation, galactic surburbia, sex work in space
  • Automation, immaterial labour, and the space where SF becomes reality
  • The commodified body in neo-slave narratives and/or cyberpunk futures in SF film and TV
  • Science fictional reimaginings / abolitions of money, finance, market, state, class, law, family, etc.
  • Hopeful, apocalyptic, and mixed visions of climate change: geo-engineering, carbon capture, resilience
  • Space tinker, space tailor, space soldier, space spy: how does SF reimagine the division of labour?
  • Sustainable villainy: representing antagonism and conflict in a future where co-operation is everything
  • Xenofeminism
  • Giftedness and indebtedness in SF
  • The invisible hand and the great clomping foot: worldbuilding and economics
  • The economics of SF’s own cultural production; the economics of fandom
  • Science-fictional treatments of scarcity and post-scarcity
  • Diverse imperialisms: (neo)colonialism, appropriation, hegemony
  • The abolition of money, post-money societies, democratization of money, alternatives to money
  • SF and the planned economy (centrally planned and/or decentralised, human and/or AI)
  • Speculative economics: economics based on counterfactual and/or impossible premises
  • Warring non-states: libertarianism vs. anarchism in SF
  • New Economic Criticism (Shell, Goux etc.) and the linguistic economies of SF
  • Speculative fiction, speculative finance: the SF of stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, derivatives … and futures
  • Speculative fiction, speculative finance, speculative realism: does recent new materialist / speculative realist / posthumanist theory require us to rethink the existence of economic ‘systems’ and ‘structures’?
  • The economics of the everyday: how do things like finance, value, exchange, production, labour, infrastructure, demographic transformation, appear in the everyday lives of SF characters?
  • SF and queer and crip domesticities
  • The economics of food in SF
  • Petroculture SF
  • Economic aporia and lacunae in SF
  • The future of redistributive justice, and the redistributive justice of the future (“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”)
  • Data and value
  • Reparations, and reparative humanism / reparative post-humanism
  • The economics of the post-human; post-human economic agency
  • The economics of the non-human / more-than-human; non-human / more-than-human agency
  • “Fan-tax-tika”: taxation and fiscal policy in science fiction
  • Niche work if you can get it: SF and professionalism
  • SF and game theory / reverse game theory
  • Where do economics and utopia meet? How might SF contribute to the ongoing evolution of economics? And what might creators of SF, as custodians of radical visions of social organisation, learn from economics?

Submissions

LSFRC invites papers of 15-20 minutes addressing economic themes in SF. Please submit abstracts of 300 words, plus 50 word bios, to lsfrcmail@gmail.com by 31st May 2019. We also welcome proposals for panels, workshops, and unusual and/or innovative formats of all kinds, as well as any informal queries.

Productive Futures will be held in London, 12-14 September 2019. LSFRC hopes to be able to offer financial assistance to the unwaged and those undergoing financial hardship.

Organic Systems: Science Fiction and Ecology Today

Birkbeck and Goldsmiths, University of London

This series of four CHASE training events will explore the relation between science fiction (SF) and ecology as the nexus of an emergent set of interdisciplinary research interests. Much recent research and theory has pointed to the complementary nature of these two prominent areas of contemporary thought, often highlighting the creative and critical power of the science-fictional imagination for addressing ecological questions and concerns that are necessarily difficult to think within established epistemological frameworks – by virtue of their novelty, futurity and scales. These same factors mean that, despite a growing body of relevant work emerging in particular in critical science fiction studies and what have been called environmental humanities and posthumanities, there remains a shortage of obvious methodological resources and training for research students working at or wanting to engage in this area of crossover.

The title draws on the work already done by the London Science Fiction Research Community, who have also played an important role in advising on this new series of CHASE workshops.

Each event will comprise (1) a dedicated training session for PGR students, which will include practical components (e.g. on accessing archives, applying for fellowships, or discussion of the experience of research and issues arising from it), (2) a roundtable event with expert speakers on a particular theme, and (3) a semi-formal reception to promote the formation of collaborations and networks.

The programme is intended for doctoral students, and priority will be given to those studying at institutions that are members of the CHASE consortium. If space allows, then other scholars and members of the public will also be welcome. CHASE students can register to reserve places once registration goes live on the CHASE website.

Dates (all 2019), themes and venues for the four sessions are as follows.

1. Thursday 2nd May: SF and Critical Ecologies (Goldsmiths)

2-3:30: PhD Training session (Laurie Grove Baths Council Room): ‘Fantastic Literature in the Archive’.

4-5:30: Panel (Deptford Town Hall 109): ‘Planetary Resources: The Value of SF for Critical Ecological Thinking’.

5:45: Reception

2. Thursday 23rd May: SF and Ecology on Screen (Birkbeck)

2-3: PhD Training session (BBK Cinema): ‘Fellowships in Fantastic Fiction’.

3:30-5: Panel (BBK Cinema): ‘SF and Ecology on Screen’.

5-6: Reception outside BBK Cinema.

6-9: Screening of Solaris (1972, dir. Andrei Tarkovsky) in Clore Lecture Theatre, Birkbeck, introduced by London Science Fiction Research Community.

3. Thursday 4th July:   Ecologies of Gender (Birkbeck)

2-3:30: PhD Training session (Keynes Library, Birkbeck): ‘Public Engagement: Communicating SF Research to the General Public’.

4-5:30: Panel (Keynes Library, Birkbeck): ‘SF, Ecology and Gender’.

5:45: Reception (106, 43 Gordon Square).

4. Thursday 12th September: Science Fiction/Fiction Science (Science Museum)

11-12: PhD Training Session: ‘An Introduction to the Science Museum Archive’.

12-1: Time to explore Science Museum.

1-2: Lunch.

2-3:30: Panel: ‘SF, Science and Environment’.

3:45-5: Beyond Gender: Approaches to Science, from a feminist PGR collective.

5-6:30: Reception.