The “Origins” of the CoFutures project
CoFutures originates in the different strands of engagement with future fictions and science fiction that have emerged in the last couple of decades. These new future fictions are a response to the predominantly Anglophone, predominantly ethnic white, imaginaries of the future that have been common in future oriented fictions and science fiction. This limitation in the availability of possible futures can be seen in the works that are available internationally, in the more prominently highlighted non-fiction narratives about the future (including scenario, policy, and strategy documents), the theorizations of the future, and theories and criticism of future fictions more broadly. If postcolonial studies eroded the general sense of certainty about the qualities of canonical Euro-American literature, then it failed to go past its implicit valorizations of alternate canons based on the works produced in these formerly colonized locations. Genres such as science fiction, or fantasy, broadly, had to fight out their own battle on a pop cultural battlefield, on separate terms from the postcolonial battlefield. The postcolonial struggle was the academe reasserting its rights to determine what was to be studied and what qualified as high literature; the pop-cultural struggle was about the everyday, the fandoms, the communities: it was about the people who had grown up reading other people’s visions of the future over and again and wanted to see themselves in the futures they read.
One such battle was the Racefail ’091 which among other things highlighted the poor representation of POC voices in fandom communities, including producers, consumers, and critics. For me, sitting in India far from these debates, trying to write up a PhD proposal on studying Bangla science fiction or kalpavigyan written in the colonial period, postcolonial theory was one of the key entry points in the discussion, as it is for most Indians studying EngLit. While I had been planning my PhD project since 2006 on the same subject, it was really John Rieder’s already classic study Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction2 that gave me the perspective I was looking for. Rieder’s fantastic work did not include the colonized parts of the world, certainly not India, but it did make me wonder why that was so, given that the Indian history of future histories begins in the colonial period as well, and for much of the same reasons as highlighted by Rieder, only sometimes in the reverse. I learnt about Racefail in 2010, after I moved to Norway for my PhD, but I spent the next few years buried in archives and lit-crit. But fandom environments, including in Norway. were rapidly transforming in those years. By 2013-14, there were full blown crises, with Gamergate3 and Puppygate4 in the gaming industry and the SFF fandom communities respectively. What I call my first CoFutures essay (“Recentering Science Fiction And The Fantastic: What Would a Non-Anglocentric Understanding of Science Fiction and Fantasy Look Like?”, published in Strange Horizons in September 2013)5 came at the end of my PhD, just when these crises were completely taking over fandom discussions.
With the crises we have clarity, new assertions, and strength. Cixin Liu’s Hugo for The Three Body Problem in 2015, and N. K. Jemisin’s consecutive victories are the most easily visible signs of this strength. The process of naming that marks the edges of a new aesthetic formation has also already begun. New histories and new excavations of the past show the global origins of future fictions, while new strategies are being carved for the future from the problems of the present. This trend began with Afrofuturism to a large extent, but the work of a whole generation of scholars has highlighted the scope of the phenomena from one corner of the globe to the other, but especially in the context of the global South from South America to South East Asia. Creators have brought forth new strategies and coined new terms to represent different experiences of the future, such as in the Middle East with Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria’s chrome-pastiche Gulf-futurism,6 or the possibilities for the future offered in Grace Dillon’s Indigenous futurism.7 There are other labels floating about in the recent years. Some of these are geographically inflected while others thematically oriented, such as Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism8 and Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s Ricepunk.9 These changes also highlighted the strong Anglocentric (and to a certain extent Francocentric) biases of the producers and consumers when it came to recognizing future fictions in other languages and other geographical regions, for instance even within Europe, such as Eastern and Northern Europe. Rachel S. Cordasco’s brilliant project Speculative Fiction in Translation has done much to raise general awareness of these fictions from everywhere around the world, in many different languages.10
Not all developments have been positive, and I plan to discuss some of these in more detail at a later time.
CoFutures is the result of all these discussions. It is as much about the personal journey as an Indian working on things far away from home and about the different experiences that have shaped my own work, as it is about global fandom and academic debates on gender, ethnicity, Anglocentrism, translation, and other related topics. In the next few years, the project hopes to bring in numerous academics and creators, from writers to artists to games designers, to discuss better ways for envisioning the future. CoFutures is not a solo project. It is a community project: community is where it comes from, to which it contributes, to which it seeks to give back. This was the reason I wore my shiny Star Trek TNG combadge even to the ERC interview in Brussels, taking the risk that they wouldn’t fund me because of my refusal to dress “properly” for the interview. But perhaps they saw it for what it is: that CoFutures is about the community, the fandom, many possible futures, and more than anything else, hope. LLAP! ?