Introducing the Symposium on European Speculative Fiction and the Political
Sabrina Mittermeier and Ashumi Shah
Author Ian McEwan’s recent claims that Science Fiction is not political enough are not only elitist, but also could not be farther from the truth. After all, any Speculative Fiction has always been political in that they make it possible for us to imagine alternatives to the lives we live – whether it is the warnings of dystopian works such as George Orwell’s 1984 or more recently, Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and its adaptation into a TV series that have resonated at times of #metoo and Trump. Alternate histories such as Man in the High Castle continue to keep audiences similarly engaged, while Harry Potter’s allegory on fascism has served as inspiration for political protest against right-wing voices, particularly for the millennial generation that has grown up with it. Star Trek’s humanist utopia is still going strong after 50 years, and one of its most recent installments, Star Trek: Discovery may in many ways be its most political yet – particularly given the controversies its spiked for its strive for diversity, bringing to the forefront larger issues surrounding certain sections of SF fans that want to claim the genre(s) as mere escapism without political ideology.
SF has also been used for political (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) or religious (scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s works or Tim La Haye’s Left Behind series) propaganda, further showing the cultural capital of speculative fiction. Jurassic Park has warned us of the ills of consumerism driving science, Tolkien’s works are not just ecocritical but also anti-fascist, and Doctor Who’s titular character continues to not only fight the Daleks, a thinly-veiled Nazi allegory, but has also recently visited Rosa Parks. Additionally, the recent surge in Climate Fiction, a genre originally advanced by hard SF writers, has built up optimism about the ability of popular culture to not only portray but also ignite eco-political engagement.
Based on the annual conference of the German Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (GFF) that had to move online due between May and September 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have compiled a selection of papers that all deal with European-based SF and its global political implications in a variety of ways. Amanda Dillon discusses the feminist implications of time travelling narratives and how science fiction can empower women to write themselves back into a history they have been erased from. Samantha Lehman deals with prequels and what revisions of canon can mean for the politics of established fandoms of franchises such as the Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Aurélie Olivesi and Zoé Kergomard study the current French media landscape and the instrumentalization of George Orwell’s 1984 by actors across the political spectrum. Ashumi Shah reflects on Black Mirror in times of Covid-19 and finally, Phevos Kallitsis and Martin Andrews present a case study of how Science Fiction can help students of architecture envision spaces. We hope that these varied papers showcase the continued cultural and political relevance of Speculative Fiction particularly in times of right-wing resurgence in many European countries, the US and beyond.