Tag: global science fiction

Doing Things with SF and Speculation

Doing Things with SF and Speculation

There is a perception that SF is about predicting the future. While that may be the case for some SF, far more common is SF that deals with trends, and buried in those trends, possibilities, while other SF is more in the nature of what-ifs and general speculation. SF thus may or may not be technological, although to maintain a semblance of difference from garden-variety fantasy it often has the veneer of the technoscientific as a distinguishing feature. I have discussed SF previously as a composite of technological futurism, epistemological futurism, and conditions of possibility, in other words that takes the future as a starting point for thinking about possible presents, but that description works only for a certain kind of SF, as all descriptions do. More specifically, that description of SF works for the kind of SF that I find interesting as a researcher, as this kind of SF helps me think through certain problems and questions I am dealing with.

This kind of SF has been seen as useful by any number of organizations, including think tanks and governments, who think that SF provides particularly fertile grounds for speculating about future societies and technologies. Both NASA and ESA have had numerous projects drawing upon SF.[1] Just a few months ago, newspapers widely reported the French Government recruiting SF writers for assistance in military strategy (the truth is a little more complex than that, but not by much).[2] There are any number of websites out there which focus on what SF got right and what it didn’t (or hasn’t yet) when it came to predictions about future technologies.[3] Within natural science domains, SF often turns up as a general thinking tool, allowing the kind of gee-whiz excitement about possible technologies and ideas that may or may not be feasible. In many cases, people and organizations also actively work towards making such ideas real, or at least exploring the possibilities of translating some ideas into reality.[4] A whole bunch of innovations literature has used SF to think with possibilities in technoscientific development. University centers such as the Arthur C Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego,[5] and the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University[6] have done an incredible job thinking with the science and science fiction model, dealing with a wide variety of imaginative responses to global problems such as climate change. Such responses have also spawned new tools and methodologies such as prototype fiction, coined by Intel’s Brian David Johnson, which encourage prototyping both ideas and effects of SFnal technologies that are within the realm of possibility.

Yet, when talking about SF, three main problems remain. First, how does one create a process for such speculative thinking that can be used by people with SF or non-SF interests, such that speculation itself is seen generally as a positive activity: an essential part of rather than dissociated from reality. This is not a problem unique to SF, it is a problem for other speculative genres such as fantasy or fairytale and folklore. But the problem is particularly acute when discussing SF, since folklore and fairytale at least have a certain cultural claim which SF lacks in most parts of the world. Second, how do we encourage speculation that is geared towards more positive possibilities. Much speculation today is dystopic, which is unsurprising given the state of the world, where climate change, demographic change, and technological change cause numerous anxieties about the future. but one of the advantages of speculation is that it can help us think past those mental and social blocks. As Samuel Delany put it in his Paris Review interview, “Science fiction isn’t just thinking about the world out there. It’s also thinking about how that world might be—a particularly important exercise for those who are oppressed, because if they’re going to change the world we live in, they—and all of us—have to be able to think about a world that works differently.”[7] Third, how do we ensure that those who most need it to think of possibilities use such tools and strategies effectively: the marginalized, the oppressed, and the suffering. By effective, I mean to say that these speculations are seen, heard, and taken seriously, and such speculations are not co-opted into technocratic or technofascistic views or co-opted into top-down managerial visions.

There are no easy answers to these, but luckily I can at least work on some of these problems in the next years. I also intend to investigate strategies used by others to address these same problems, and explore if some of these strategies can be scaled up or distributed when talking about the globe.

 


 

[1] For instance, check out this cool project Innovative Technologies from Science Fiction for Space Applications, edited by David Raitt (https://www.esa.int/esapub/br/br176/br176.pdf)

[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-49044892

[3] Perhaps the most comprehensive source of such hits and misses is the technovelgy database: http://technovelgy.com/

[4] NANORA, the EU Nano Regions Alliance that focuses on nanotechnology, has done cool things with nanotech ideas in science fiction literature. http://www.nanora.eu/nano-dimension-science-fiction

[5] http://imagination.ucsd.edu/index.html

[6] https://csi.asu.edu/

[7] Delany, Samuel R. “The Art of Fiction No. 210.” Interview by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah. The Paris Review, Issue 197, Summer 2011. https://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/6088/samuel-r-delany-the-art-of-fiction-no-210-samuel-r-delany.

The “Origins” of the CoFutures project

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 crises 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! 🖖


http://annsomerville.net/a-themed-summary-of-racefail-09-in-large-friendly-letters-for-those-who-think-race-discussions-are-hard/
2 Rieder, John. Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction. Wesleyan UP, 2008.
https://www.vox.com/2014/9/6/6111065/gamergate-explained-everybody-fighting
https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/04/the-culture-wars-come-to-sci-fi/390012/
http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/articles/recentering-science-fiction-and-the-fantastic-what-would-a-non-anglocentric-understanding-of-science-fiction-and-fantasy-look-like/
https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/15037/1/al-qadiri-al-maria-on-gulf-futurism
7 Dillon, Grace. Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction.  Arizona UP, 2012
https://vimeo.com/179509486
http://yudhanjaya.com/2019/05/the-ricepunk-manifesto/
10 https://www.sfintranslation.com/
Science Fictionality and Speculative Futures / Workshop

Science Fictionality and Speculative Futures / Workshop

Title: Science Fictionality and Speculative Futures / CoF Workshop

Instructor Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Location MMAG Art Foundation / Amman

Date 19-26 August 2019.

Objective The objective of the workshop is to discuss ways of working with the speculative imaginary and speculative futures with artist residents. A secondary objective is to introduce some thematic concerns related to The Kalpana collective’s ongoing project Speculation: Desert / Maps and Prototypes of Science Fictional Presences and discuss the desert imaginary in speculative fiction.

Structure The workshop unfolds as five half day (3 hours each; total 15 hours) thematically structured sessions. On the final day (3 hours) participants will be developing extended new speculations. On all days, participants will also be invited to play specially selected boardgames in the evenings that will push them to think with speculative futures.

The sessions are arranged as follows:

Day 0 / Introduction / General introduction to the course, participant backgrounds, and workshop expectations.

Day 1 / Speculating / The first introduces the theme of speculation, and what role speculation can play in imagining alternative and more egalitarian futures. Through a series of readings and viewings of classic and contemporary speculative texts, our goal will be to explore, identify and find reasons for why we might wish to think with a genre such as speculative/science fiction for our creative practices.

Day 2 / Prototyping / The second shows different contemporary strategies of prototyping futures, and building a toolkit to work with the speculative for arts and research.

Day 3 / Imagining / The third takes us through several works and manifestos that can serve as cues for our creative practices.

Day 4 / Building / To make is to know, so the fourth session will be used to develop and critique several starting speculative scripts, or incorporate speculative themes in existing projects.

***

Workshop participants are expected to have gone through the assigned materials before the workshop starts. During the workshop, participants are invited to comment on one or more of these materials, discuss the themes, what worked for them and what did not, and how these ideas connect to other things they have read or worked with.

Syllabus

Day 1 / Speculating; or why to do what is to be done

Margaret Atwood. 2009. “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet.” The Guardian. 26 September 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/sep/26/margaret-atwood-mini-science-fiction

Ursula LeGuin. 1973 (1991). “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (Variations on a theme by William James).” Utopian Studies 2 (1/2):1-5. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20719019

N. K. Jemisin. 2018. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight.” How Long Till Black Future Month? Orbit.

J. G. Ballard. 1962. “Which Way to Inner Space?” New Worlds Science Fiction 118 (5/1962): 2-3 & 116-118.

Vandana Singh. 2008. “A Speculative Manifesto.” The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories. Zubaan Books.

Stanislaw Lem. 1981. “Metafantasia: The Possibilities of Science Fiction (Metafantasia: Les possibilités de la science-fiction)”. Translated by Etelka de Laczay and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay. Science Fiction Studies 8(1): 54-71. https://www.jstor.org/stable/4239383

Historical Turns // Ken Liu. 2011 (2016). “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.” The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Head of Zeus. https://kenliu.name/binary/liu_the_man_who_ended_history.pdf

Historical Turns // Larissa Sansour and Søren Lind. 2015. In the Future They Ate From the Finest Porcelain. Film.

Historical Turns // Vandana Singh. 2015 (2018). “Ambiguity Machines: An Examination.” Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories. Small Beer Press.

Day 2 / Prototyping; or how to think up what to do

Bruce Sterling. 2009. “Design Fiction.” Interactions May-June 2009: 21-24. http://interactions.acm.org/archive/view/may-june-2009/cover-storydesign-fiction1

Brian David Johnson. 2011. Science Fiction Prototyping. Morgan & Claypool Publishers. Extract.

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby. 2013. Speculative Everything: Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming. The MIT Press. Extract.

Stuart Candy & Kelly Kornet. 2017. “A Field Guide to Ethnographic Experiential Futures.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317837102_A_Field_Guide_to_Ethnographic_Experiential_Futures

Stuart Candy & Kelly Kornet. 2019. “Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures” Journal of Futures Studies 23(3): 3–22. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331857932_Turning_Foresight_Inside_Out_An_Introduction_to_Ethnographic_Experiential_Futures

Rebecca Onion. 2008. “Reclaiming the Machine: An Introductory Look at Steampunk in Everyday Practice.” Neo-Victorian Studies 1(1): 138-163. http://www.rebeccaonion.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/OnionSteampunk.pdf

Desert Discussions // Anonymous. 2011. Desert. Armin Press. Extract. http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/anonymous-desert

Desert Discussions // Corey S. Pressman. 2018. “Divided Light.” The Weight of Light: A Collection of Solar Futures. Edited by Joey Eschrich and Clark A. Miller. 141-155. https://csi.asu.edu/books/weight/

Desert Discussions // Paolo Soleri. 1969 (2006). Arcology: The City in the Image of Man. Cosanti Press. Extract. https://www.organism.earth/library/document/76

Day 3 / Imagining; or how to do what is to be done

Samuel Delany. 1978 (2009). “About 5750 Words.” The Jewel Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction. Wesleyan University Press. 1-15.

Geoff Ryman. 2004 (2006). “The Mundane Manifesto.” New York Review of Science Fiction 226 (June 2006): 4–5. https://sfgenics.wordpress.com/2013/07/04/geoff-ryman-et-al-the-mundane-manifesto/

Martine Syms. 2013. “The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto.” Rhizome 17 December 2013. https://rhizome.org/editorial/2013/dec/17/mundane-afrofuturist-manifesto/

Ursula LeGuin. 1977 (1982). “Do-it-yourself Cosmology.” The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. Berkeley Books. 118-122.

Futures and Futuring // John Akomfrah. 1996. The Last Angel of History. Film.

Futures and Futuring // Wanuri Kahiu. 2009. Pumzi. Film.

Futures and Futuring // Biju Vishwanath. 2014. Shadow Tree. Film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1WOWbgi-wU

Futures and Futuring // Jason Wishnow. 2014. The Sandstorm. Film. https://vimeo.com/104436803

Day 4 / Building; or verum ipsum factum

Participants will be introduced to the primary elements of story and plot development, and then encouraged to produce a new work of flash fiction.

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Extra Text
Cape Town, South Africa