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.

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.

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.

May Reading Group Event: Parable of the Talents

Monday 29th of April from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm

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

This month we’ll be discussing Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents. This is the second in Butler’s Parable series but it can be read as a stand alone novel if you don’t feel you have the time for Parable of the Sower (but you should make time because it is phenomenal).

We’ll discuss the economics of community building, organised religion and scientific revolution before heading over the the Fitzroy Tavern for a couple of drinks/a chance to plot revolutions of our own.

Please note that the event will be taking place on the last Monday of April (29th April) and not the first Monday of May as would be our usual date.

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.

CN: This book contains scenes of torture and sexual violence.

Splintered Memories Conference Report

Audience and Participants of Splintered Memories, in the Keynes Library, the 29th March, holding Boycott Senate House leaflets.

Splintered Memories: Life in the Glasshouse was a one day single stream impromptu conference on the 29th of March, organised by the London Science Fiction Research Community, and held in the Keynes Library at Birkbeck, from 10.30am until 5pm. 

The content of the event cannot easily be separated from its genesis. Originally all the papers at Splintered Memories were to be given at Memories of the Future, a two day multi-stream conference held at Senate House on the 29-30th of March, on the topic of the relationship of memory to the future (or how cultural and social memory of the past produces the future). The speakers had been invited to participate on behalf of the Memories of the Future conference by the LSFRC organising committee and were due to speak at different times throughout the two day event. 

However, it came to our attention (the LSFRC organising committee) that there is an ongoing boycott of Senate House events called by the IWGB (the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain– the union who represents outsourced workers at Senate House), in support of the long campaign for outsourced workers to be employed directly by the University with full access to sick pay, holiday pay, and a fair wage. After communication with the organisers of Memories of the Future, we decided to pull out of the conference in order to respect the boycott and give our unequivocal support to the outsourced workers at Senate House. 

We swiftly organised a separate event, Splintered Memories, in part to honour the invite we had given to our speakers, and also to incorporate an institutional critique and a consideration of labour into the theme of memory and its relationship to the future. As one speaker, Amy Butt, aptly argued: What memories do particular institutions choose to project and what invisible labour is used in order to produce it? In addition, as IWGB legal case worker Jordi Lopez asked: What different futures could be built if we listened to the memories of struggle of those who reproduce institutional spaces?

The morning began with a panel titled ‘Science Fictional Consciousness: Transcendence, Imaginaries’. Llew Watkins opened with a paper exploring the notion of consciousness and memory in the Dzogchen Buddhist tradition, through an analysis of Final Fantasy VII (1997) and the 1983 French graphic novel, Samaris. Sasha Myserson followed with a paper on the protean music genre, Vaporwave, arguing that the music is not simply an ironic parody of 1990s nostalgia, but a mode through which capitalist desires might be redirected in a post-capitalist society. Finally, Rachel Claire Hill explored the use of Space Age utopianism by the New Space Industries in order to legitimise their projects centered on growth, profit, and the privatisation of space, whilst denuding the originals of their utopian content.  

We then broke for an hour lunch (food was not provided), and returned for the second panel ‘Science Fictional Remembering: Nostalgia, Ruins’. Asami Nakamura spoke of the function of nostalgia in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005), arguing that nostalgia is not redemptive in the novel but is used as a tool to naturalise social violence through mythologising memories. Next Dan Byrne-Smith explored the retro-futuristic adverts of the comic series Bitch Planet (2014-2017 by artist Kelly Sue DeConnick, and artist Valentine De Landro), showing how the speculative design of the work allowed for the emergence of the not-yet utopian impulse described by Ernst Bloch in The Principle of Hope (1954-1959). It should be noted that Dan’s piece was not so much spoken as performed, with the content of the presentation projected while Dan accompanied its movement on a synth and sound mixer. To finish Amy Butt spoke about the concept of maintenance in relation to the presentation of cultural artifacts in museums, through a number of sf novels including We (Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1924), The Drowned World (J.G. Ballard, 1962), The Time Machine (H.G. Wells, 1895), and The Wanderground (Sally Miller Gearhart, 1979). 

During the question and answer session at the end of the panel, around twenty people joined us, swelling the Keynes Library to capacity. The group was part of a number of people who were due to speak at the Memories of the Future event, but had refused to cross the picket line at Senate House. In the tea break Jordi Lopez, an IWBG legal case worker, spoke to the conference about the Boycott Senate House campaign, eloquently linking the theme of the conference to the long history and memory of struggle of precarious and migrant workers in the Bloomsbury area, and specifically at Senate House. The final panel was due to have a single person speaking, Kate Meakin, as the other speaker unfortunately had to pull out. However, the absence of a second speaker allowed us the opportunity to invite two of the academics who had boycotted the Memories of the Future to give their papers as well.

And so we began the final session of the day (‘Invaders Must Live: The Time(s) and Memory of Activism’) with a talk from Kate Meakin about the erasure of African American and Native American women in recent protests for reproductive rights that appropriated the handmaid costume from the Handmaid’s Tale (both the original novel by Margaret Atwood (1985) and the recent televisions series). Next Alice Atkinson Philips spoke about the appropriation of sculpture as memorial in two public sculptures in Australia (Der Rufer by Gerhard Marcks in Perth and Youngsters by Caroline Rothwell in Sydney), highlighting public art’s role as site of political conflict and meaning production. Finally, Sean Seeger spoke about the 2017 novel The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavich, arguing that the narrative critiques techno-capitalism from a complex ecological position that Seeger names Neo-Romanticism.

We were due to have a roundtable to finish but instead decided to invite all the participants and audience members to join a circle to discuss the day, with particular attention to university labour and memory. We spoke of the memory of precarity and punitive responses to labour movements in the Bloomsbury area, the increasingly fractured and precarious nature of contemporary academic jobs, and the links between intellectual critique and the application (or more often non-application) of those ideas and critiques to the institutions from which they are produced.

At five, the day ended, and we went together to the Fitzroy Tavern for a drink. I was personally greatly moved and encouraged by the day. I had thought that the conference would simply be a set of panels, transferred from one space to another. Instead, in a large part thanks to those academics who refused to cross the picket line and the self-consciousness of our speakers, the day became one of reflection, anger, and solidarity, finally breaking through the blindness of the academy to its own production, and hopefully the beginning of a new political consciousness and radicalism within the academic community.

April Reading Group Event: Children of Men

Monday 1 April 2019 from 6:00 pm to 8:30 pm

Birkbeck Cinema, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD

For the next installment of our reading group, we will be screening Children of Men (2006) at the Birkbeck Cinema. After the conclusion of the screening, we’ll head upstairs to Room 106 for roughly 45 minutes of informal discussion. And then after that we’ll go to the Fitzroy Tavern for some even more casual chats. All welcome! If you want to let us know you’re coming, you can visit our Facebook page, or our gath.io page for the event.

Life in the Glasshouse: Splintered Memories

Recently LSFRC successfully pitched a stream within the forthcoming “Memories of the Future” conference. However, the conference is set to take place in Senate House, which is under an ongoing boycott of academic events, in solidarity with the struggle of support staff there.

Labour in academia is under a lot of pressure from corporatist management, and we at LSFRC are opposed to any normalisation of precarity and exploitation — not just of scholars, but also of all other workers whose labour is utterly integral to academic spaces and institutions. As such, we stand in solidarity with the Senate House boycott and have decided to withdraw our involvement in “Memories of the Future”. We have given our delegates full, judgment-free autonomy in whether or not they choose to present at or attend any part of the event, but our stream as proposed will not be going ahead.

Instead, we have decided to host an event of our own, entitled “Life in the Glasshouse: Splintered Memories”. Although we have yet to finalise the schedule, we have Birkbeck’s Keynes Library booked from 10 am to 5 pm on Friday 29th March and proceedings will be in session for the majority, if not the entirety of that time frame. Entry will be entirely free, and we hope to be able to provide some snacks and refreshments for breaks. For more details visit our event page.

Event Description

How does science fiction (sf) remember different pasts and futures? To what extent are memories the ground of its speculations? In what ways does sf’s capacity to remember (and forget) intervene in the terrain of transcendence, activism, exploitation, nostalgia and more? How can science fiction help us remember (or unforget) the forms of work and labour which sustain the glasshouse of the academy and culture industry? And how might these threads converge or interrelate?

Abstracts for presentations can be found here. The event schedule is as follows:

10.00 Doors Open (hot drinks available throughout the day)

10.30 Panel 1: Science Fictional Consciousness: Transcendence, Imaginaries
Chair: Francis Gene-Rowe

Llew Watkins, “Mind Made World: Transcending Past and Future through experience of bardo”

Sasha Myerson, “Virtual Dreaming: Vaporwave and the Hypnagogic”

Rachel Claire Hill, “‘They Alone Shall Possess the Earth Who Live From The Powers of the Cosmos’: Utopian Rhetoric in NewSpace Industries”

12.00 Lunch Break (own arrangements)

13.00 Panel 2: Science Fictional Remembering: Nostalgia, Ruins
Chair: Katie Stone

Asami Nakamura, “Aestheticised Nostalgia in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go”

Dan Byrne-Smith, “Bitch Planet, Retro Adverts and Three-Dimensional Temporality”

Amy Butt, “The Reliquary in the Ruin: Museums in Science Fiction”

14.30 Break

14.45 Panel 3: Invaders Must Live: The Time(s) and Memory of Activism
Chair: Tom Dillon

Karolina Szpyrko, “Non-circulative memories and activist productivity: methodology for the Polish feminist movement”

Kate Meakin, “A white feminist dystopia: chrononormativity and historical amnesia in The Handmaid’s Tale protests”

15.45 Break

16.00 Roundtable: Science Fiction and Splintered Memories (of the Future).

Participants – Amy Butt, Katie Stone, Rhodri Davies, Aren Roukema. Moderated by Francis Gene-Rowe.

17.00 End (pub drinks)