Architectural Responses in Alternative Realities: the Politics of Space through Fiction in Architectural Education

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Symposium: European SF and the Political

Architectural Responses in Alternative Realities: the Politics of Space through Fiction in Architectural Education

Phevos Kallitsis and Martin Andrews


In a remark in “Exegesis,” Philip K. Dick writes “[t]he core of my writing is not art but truth” and that his fiction writing is the creative attempt to describe what he discerned as the true reality, and that his fiction is “a creative way of handling analysis” (506). Based on this idea, this paper explores how science fiction can function alongside the various applications of storytelling in architecture, such as scenario-building to communicate design ideas (Thompson) or to allow non-specialists to express their spatial experiences through content analysis (Ro and Bermudez). In fact, Frascari argues that narrative in architecture is “a crucial condition for making sense of both the individual experience of architecture and social interactions that take place in it” (224). Frascari’s approach on storytelling seems to respond to a fundamental quest of architectural education to include the individual, the social and the political in the design process and ensure that architecture is not limited to self-referential projects (Noschis; Brown and Moreau-Yates).

CJ Lim (19) combines architectural visions with speculative scenarios, seeing the prophetic nature of SF works in an effort to explore the climate emergency. However in this paper we base our exploration more on the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s claim that science fiction has foreseen “every possible and impossible variation of future urban society” (160-61), not because of the writer’s prophetic skills, but as a tool to understand their contemporary society and politics. The paper aims to discuss the introduction of SF narratives within post-graduate studies in architecture, aiming to stimulate students’ analytical tools and creativity, while fostering the exploration of alternative ways of representation. We present links created between the possible futures for a city that the students create as part of their work and SF narratives in comics, films and books. The paper presents the way the students created amalgams of otherworld images with familiar worries and disquietudes (Sobchack 109) and how this exercise enhanced their learning experience. By examining the work they produced from their initial explorations until the final resolution of their architectural proposals, the paper aims to contribute to a fruitful discourse of enriching analytical and creative tools, which support understanding but also help students to position themselves in the world and the political situation.


Today in the UK, the most common way to become an architect consists of five years of studies split in two parts, 3 years of undergraduate studies and two years of postgraduate studies. Between the two parts, students work in architectural practices, which creates a big challenge upon their return for their postgraduate studies: the students come with more knowledge, but also trapped in practice routines, struggling to balance technical requirements and creative approaches. The structure of the Portsmouth School of Architecture consists of different design studios (groups) and each studio sets their own agenda in order to meet the learning outcomes required both by the curriculum and the professional bodies (RIBA and ARB). 

The learning outcomes of the first year design modules can be summarised into (1) research and analysis (manmade and natural environment, cultural, social and economic context), (2) exploration of different options in response to the research and observations, (3) technical, environmental and functional resolution in detail, and (4) representation of these ideas (communication). The technical nature of the requirements of the project, combined with the experience in architectural practice, was limiting the explorative nature of the students and we needed to introduce a process of re-learning and re-discovering of their own creativity. In addition, we have noticed that students needed to regain confidence in making independent decisions, experimenting and to be willing to take risks.


Within this context, in order to stimulate an alternative approach to analysis and understanding a place and push the students to escape pragmatic constraints and be visionary we examined the possibility of science fiction narratives as tools that will allow them to imagine their alternative realities. Students are required to explore the possibilities of existing sites and create proposals that respond to current issues. Student projects are speculative and in a way, the computer-generated images that they produce represent alternative realities for that place. However, these ideas will never become, they remain a fictional piece of architecture and an alternative reality for the specific site. The question then is, if these are imaginary alternatives that attempt to resolve today’s problems, may should we ask future architects to reflect on probable or improbable future problems. 

Borrowing from the Double Layered Asymmetrical model introduced by Goldschmidt (Salama 133-35), we divided the year in four interweaving parts. Part 1 consisted of group work on collecting and evaluating information about a given urban context (Liverpool, Newcastle, Belfast). The second part was a “What If…?” scenario where students had to take inspiration from SF texts (novels, films, comics) and apply these to the urban context they were working. Students were working on the first two parts in parallel, but the other two parts were revealed in stages. The third part required students to design a response to the scenario they have set-up on a city level, a strategy to survive the problems the scenario created and then to focus on a key building that they had to design in more detail. The final part, required from students to reflect on the probability of their scenario and reflect on what will be the function of the building in case the imaginative scenario does not work.

The fact the traditional stage of analysing the context was combined with the “What if…” scenario took the students outside of their usual routines. While there was a freedom in the scenario and their inspiration (natural disasters, scientific experiments that went wrong, zombies, animal attacks, asteroids, black holes, and dystopian post Brexit worlds), the students had to make the scenario site specific. The scenario had to be illustrated, enforcing students to situate their narratives within the specific city and to demonstrate their representation skills.  This way their observation about the city was not a passive recording but an active process, as they had to incorporate these into their narratives. The last part of the story always led to a narrative about people surviving, showing their understanding of the nature of the problem and exploring the concept of architecture as a shelter (Ellin). 

Once they had presented their disasters and dystopian visions, they would receive the third part of the assignment. Borrowing from Max Brooks’s World War Z, students had to work within a “tenth man scenario” (Brooks 34); in other words, a client (the council, an individual or a funding body) an architectural proposal which would ensure the safety of the citizens or some citizens in case of that unprecedented crisis. Once this part was completed, students had to explore the final stage of the project, which went back to reality and students had to rethink their designs to avoid a ‘White Elephant’ (Shariatmadari), a building that is costly to maintain but because the predicted attack is not occurring remains useless. Even in this case though, the building would need to be able to transform and retain its original function.


Students explored the imaginative through different mediums and a variety of representation techniques (hand drawings, physical and digital collages, sketch-up models), in order to present the experience of the destruction and survival of Liverpool-Birkenhead, Newcastle-Gateshead and East and West Belfast. The students adopted different points of view within these narratives, in some cases integrating themselves in these worlds and in others remaining a narrator. This type of narrative allowed students to “live” the dramatic implications of the disaster, but also to become part of the socio-political context of the different cities of investigation.

James Telotte (93) says that SF imagery becomes attractive to the spectator because  it takes familiar elements and places them in an unfamiliar setting and students followed a similar strategy. Since the projects had to link to specific cities, the students went into depth to make sure that the imaginary alternative was linked to key elements of the city.  to explore, identify and use the elements that constitute the image of the city according to Kevin Lynch landmarks, nodes, edges, districts, pathways in order to anchor the stories to the place. The Liverpool Guildhall, the Newcastle bridges, the river Lagan become elements of a wider narrative and are populated with activities. The analysis is not a collection of photos and statistics, but they become a vivid place where people run, gather, hide or try to define boundaries. In a similar way to SF films the students instinctively explored the  macro scale of the city down to the microscale of the human factor and discovered the links of the two. 

Beyond their understanding of the place, the change of scales shows how the SF narratives were an excellent tool for students to immerse themselves into the problem before imagining a solution. This was an alternative way of applying role playing in architecture, which, according to Anthony Jackson and Chris Vine, places the learners “within the dramatic fiction” and requires them to interact with the various issues and “make decisions in the midst of ‘crisis’” (6).  This immersion supports a thorough understanding of the problems they ‘experienced’ and helps define solutions that focus on the people that will use the buildings.

Another important outcome in the exercise is the way the SF narratives provided a safer environment to explore difficult political topics. For example, when working in Belfast, the speculative nature of the scenarios allowed students to approach the religious division of the city and explore the visible and invisible segregations. Furthermore, the scenarios questioned utopian architectural visions and generated discussions on authoritarianism, and architecture’s role of serving the ones in power. The speculative scenarios and the consideration of different characters in the narrative expanded the students’ perception of the way architecture affects everyday life. Close to JG Ballard’s position on science fiction, students were looking at their present, from Brexit and the social divisions because of the referendum, the tendency for fortification of cities, to the climate emergency and the need for alternative social structures, projecting their emotions into the future.

The visualisation of the crisis also becomes a medium of synthesising the brief for the architectural solution. The students understand that they are not just responding to a building typology—for example, a house, a hospital or a school—and that they need to escape the preconceptions linked to space and its use. They understand that they need to find solutions that not only protect people and communities from zombies and natural disasters. They create structures where people have to co-exist and they need to think of the possible tensions of enclosure, limited food supplies, and reduced energy sources. The understanding and the evaluation of the problems supports students in articulating a critical narrative for a given location and at the same time initiates a briefing process and determines functions.

The playful set-up of the scenario allowed many students to escape their preconception of what is a proper architectural drawing and project. The SF set up also initiated an exploration of new ways of representation, as they needed to escape traditional drawing techniques and create a spectacular, even if dystopian, new world, taking references from comics and movies. Furthermore, it provided the students with an opportunity to add to their final images the drama of the initial crisis. 

An important challenge and limitation in the process has been that students were not always open to the idea of stepping out of their routines, “squeezing the scenarios” within more traditional architectural means of representation. Despite the expected reluctance, even the weaker students produced their visually strongest work during this process. This was also evident at their comments for the evaluation of the module. This exercise has also been an opportunity for the tutors to discover an alternative way of approaching the topic, beyond our original conceptualisation. While in the beginning we saw this exercise as a warm-up, to help students to ease into the challenging years of operating in a post-graduate architectural environment, the realisation of the possibilities soon transformed the exercise as the spine of the project in our studio. In the second year, we expanded the part of the creation of the visual scenarios, requiring students to explore in detail their SF ideas.


SF narratives proved to be a valuable educational method to reintroduce students to exploration, speculation, discovery, and to them to explore their potential. Despite initially conceived as a warm-up tool and a confidence building operation, the narratives supported students in gaining a deeper understanding of the design process and the urban context that they were called to analyse and respond to. The students’ evaluation provided evidence that students enjoyed the “what if…?” scenarios and working within these playful approaches. 

This exercise had a dual effect. On one hand it looked relaxed and a warming up, on the other hand it was a step out of the comfort zone of students of architecture, who after three years in university and a year in practice realised that they could not go back to their usual working routines. Furthermore, the immersion into the narrative and the setup of these alternative worlds required from them the exploration of different scales at the same time. This also led to the use of alternative representation language early in the project and a greater attention to detail.

There are always limitations in these exercises, especially in the cases of weaker students who cannot see the value of the medium and they do not try to understand the process. While many of them found a way to create a narrative based on the resources provided, some remained reluctant to push the narrative to its limits and went back to default positions regarding architectural projects. However, looking back to the work of the past three years provides us with confidence that the students who engaged with the process, regardless of their representational skills, managed to infuse new ideas into their projects.

We are still investigating the idea of requesting a graphic novel as the final submission instead of an architectural portfolio, in order to release students from the anxiety of typical drawings. This educational activity shows that SF narratives and architecture can work together to communicate ideas about a place and trigger the imagination about the future of our urban society. SF alternatives of existing cities becomes a transformative tool that stimulates exploration and enhances the learning process, because it becomes a tool to understand the complex process of the production of space, the spatial inequalities and the exclusions created by architectural interventions, while re-discovering skills and re-learning the creative processes of architecture. Strong visuals combined with a contextualised narrative lead to a deeper understanding of the city and the human experience, demonstrating that cross-medial learning can lead in many cases to an architectural educational happy end, despite the dystopian futures that initiate these ideas every year.


Ballard, J.G. “Science Fiction Cannot Be Immune from Change.”  1969,

Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Duckworth, 2006. 

Brown, Robert, and Denitza Moreau-Yates. “Seeing the World through Another Person’s Eyes.” Changing Architectural Education: Towards a New Professionalism, edited by David Nicol and Simon Pilling, Spoon Press, 2000, pp. 49-57.

Dick, Philip K. The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. Edited by Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011.

Ellin, Nan. “Shelter from the Storm or Form Follows Fear and Vice Versa.” Architecture of Fear, edited by Nan Ellin, Architectural Press, 1997, pp. 13-47.

Frascari, Marco. “An Architectural Good-Life Can Be Built, Explained and Taught Only through Storytelling.” Reading Architecture and Culture. Researching Buildings, Spaces and Documents, edited by Adam Sharr,  Routledge, 2012, pp. 224-33.

Jackson, Anthony, and Chris Vine. “Introduction.”, Learning through Theatre: The Changing Face of Theatre in Education, edited by Anthony Jackson and Chris Vine, Routledge, 2013. 

Lefebvre, Henri. “The Right to the City.” Writings on Cities, edited by Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas, Blackwell, 1996, pp. 63-184. 

Lim, C.J. Inhabitable Infrastructures : Science Fiction or Urban Future? Taylor & Francis, 2017. 

Lynch, Kevin. The Image of the City. The MIT Press, 1960.

Noschis, Kaj. “Let’s Not Forget the User.” Architecture and Teaching: Epistemological Foundation, edited by Halina Dunin-Woyseth and Kaj Noschis, Comportements, 1997, pp. 103-10. 

Ro, Brandon, and Julio Bermudez. “Understanding Extraordinary Architectural Experiences through Content Analysis of Written Narratives.” Enquiry, vol. 12, no. 1, 2015, pp. 17-34.

Salama, Ashraf M. Spatial Design Education: New Directions for Pedagogy in Architecture and Beyond. Taylor & Francis, 2016. 

Shariatmadari, David. “The Greatest White Elephants.” The Guardian, 18 July 2013,

Sobchack, Vivian. Screening Space: The American Science Fiction Film. Rutgers UP, 2004. 

Telotte, J.P. “Human Artifice and the Science Fiction Film.” Film Quarterly, vol. 36, 1983, pp. 44-51. 

Thompson, James. Narratives of Architectural Education: From Student to Architect. Routledge, 2019.

Black Mirror Prosumers and the Contemporary Domain

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Symposium: European SF and the Political

Black Mirror Prosumers and the Contemporary Domain

Ashumi Shah

By virtue of its name alone, “speculative fiction” is fiction that invites speculation. Authors such as Vonnegut, Le Guin and Atwood among others have vocally expressed their discontent with their works being labelled as “science fiction,” which suggests genre-based limitations to the reading of the texts (Thomas 1-15). The term “speculative” is also the preferred choice for a significant number of individuals who engage with different media texts so as to emphasize their imaginative focus on current affairs. Speculative fiction involves a displacement of one’s assumptions about the world one lives in. This displacement, however, relies on an “anchor”: “Readers of any piece of fiction must find a touchstone, a place, person or emotion, where they can connect and engage in the story. . . . Fiction becomes a safer place for exploration and helps us resolve dissonance” (Thomas 39). The “anchor,” I propose, is the link between the reader’s reality and the speculative text that allows for cognitive estrangement, thereby enabling the reader to speculate about contemporary society. Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones’s techno-dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror invites speculation regarding the relationship between technology and society as each episode of the anthology series extrapolates familiar examples from current technological developments and presents the viewer with a society that shares aspects which the viewer may already be familiar with. For example, the episode “Hang the DJ” (Season 4 Episode 4) opens with one of the two protagonists getting information from “Coach,” a virtual assistant not unlike Apple’s Siri. As the episode progresses, the audience learns how the two protagonists attempt to rebel against the “dating program” that dictates the initiation and expiration of their relationship with each other. In this case, virtual assistants and online dating apps such as “Tinder” serve as the anchor, while it is the unexpectedness of how these technologies assume control in the episode that invite speculation concerning those very technologies. This invitation to speculate on how technological and scientific progress informs our view of society is characteristic of Black Mirror. The show tends to challenge preconceived notions about technology and society and serve as a mirror, as the title suggests, to illustrate the darker undertones of the relationship between the two. Black Mirror, therefore, can be identified as an exercise in speculative fiction, with those involved in the storytelling processes of the text presenting an idea that challenges the viewer’s reality or expectations and in turn forces speculation about the world around them.

In June 2020, published an article about an advertisement that had been put up in Madrid, Spain (Kelly). The ad features the Netflix logo as well as the title of the show Black Mirror in its original font along with the slogan, “6th Season. Live Now, everywhere” (Kelly). This advertisement arguably can be seen as a product of prosumption and meme culture along with the characteristic feature of speculative fiction to engage in a dialogue with the contemporary social and technological climate. In early 2020, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world experienced a global shutdown. Governments all over the world urged people to stay indoors and maintain distance from friends and family members as well as wear masks in case they venture out. Businesses were also compelled to close shops to contain the spread of the virus and restrictions were enforced on restaurants, cafes, places of worship among other places where people could gather in large numbers. Concerts and events such as Coachella and the San Diego Comic Con were cancelled, too. One could certainly argue that most of the world’s population was affected by the pandemic. The incredible spreading of the virus, which led to such drastic measures and restricted free movement among the masses, invited numerous analogies to the dystopian, if not outright apocalyptic scenarios that frequently feature as central themes in numerous works of speculative fiction. 

The curtailment of freedom prompted by the pandemic had been mirrored in many earlier episodes of Black Mirror. For example, in the episode “Nosedive” (Season 3 Episode 1), a “social credit system” serves as a gatekeeper concerning an individual’s socioeconomic status, barring them from certain events, opportunities or luxuries. The episode “San Junipero” (Season 3 Episode 4) also explores the theme of liberties being cut due to paralysis and death, as the episode details the simulation called San Junipero that is populated by the deceased who are “uploaded” to the simulation in the bodies of their younger selves, and who can be “visited” by the elderly. The episode “USS Callister” (Season 4 Episode 1) explores the theme of the clones of people being trapped in a simulation and their attempts to “escape” by breaching into the “real” world. Further episodes of the series also highlight limitations on one’s freedom and will as a result of technology, which constitutes an underlying theme in Black Mirror. It comes as no surprise, then, that some viewers of the show consider the impact of Covid-19 which resulted in a similar curtailment of liberties as a Black Mirror episode “gone meta.” The ad acknowledges this by claiming that Black Mirror is “live” all over the world. This sentiment is also resonated by Charlie Brooker, one of the executive producers and writers of the show, who claimed that the global scenario was too bleak for another season of Black Mirror and that he chose to focus on other projects because, “At the moment, I don’t know what stomach there would be for stories about societies falling apart” (Pearce). A shared meaning-making and interpretation process between the producers and consumers of media texts as reflected in how the two parties view the pandemic situation within the framework of Black Mirror thus constitutes a manifestation of the practice of prosumption.

In The International Encyclopedia of Media Effects, Gajjala et al. claim that prosumption is a result of activity on the part of media consumers who actively engage with media content and allow for the “disappearance” of the “distinction between making and using media” (1). Prosumption is reflected in participatory culture that involves co-creation and co-production “whereby people make their own media content, as engaged amateurs instead of paid professionals” (Gajjala et al. 1). It is these “DIY” (do-it-yourself) activities that distinguish prosumption because of their ability to disrupt “the usual power relations between makers and consumers, often conflating and democratizing them so that lines are blurred and domination is usurped . . . making more obvious the productive power of people who create while also consuming” (Gajjala et. al 1). Since the advent of Web 2.0, software and hardware tools enabled the appropriation and (re-)circulation of media content. Technology, especially Web 2.0 applications such as social networking platforms became embedded in our everyday lives, including through digital native celebrities and influencers as well as politics. Applications such as Twitter and Tumblr allowed the everyday person to engage with media celebrities that would otherwise be geographically, socially and economically removed from the viewer. Web 2.0 applications led to successful and failed political campaigning, exposure of scandals and scams, and are often used by powerful figures to communicate directly with their audiences. 

The Madrid Black Mirror poster employs the official Netflix logo and Black Mirror font to lend authenticity to this piece of fan art, leading to the question whether it was actually created by Netflix, which the company denied. Authenticity, however,  was not only achieved through the design of the poster, but also by the theme of the show being reflected in daily life. It enabled the reading of both, the show and the fan art, and its interpretation as mirroring “real life.” As is evident in nearly every Black Mirror episode, technology took up a significant place in global society at large as well as specific aspects of particular societies, cultures and subcultures. The reliance on technology for day-to-day functions, especially during the pandemic, which involved work-from-home, online classes for schools, universities and other institutions as well as a surge in online media consumption, highlight the relationship between society and technology that is at the heart of Black Mirror. Therefore, it indeed seemed like Black Mirror had gone live, everywhere. The “ad” also reflects the prosumption practice in that it asserts dominance over the media text by exercising creativity and engaging in a labour of love to create the poster. Furthermore, this appropriation involves a certain degree of deciphering the themes and the overall tone of the show to be able to express an interpretation of not only the show itself, but how it relates to real-life events.

The Web 2.0 applications that enabled media engagement, appropriation and community formation also served as breeding grounds for online meme culture. Tracing the origins of the term “meme” in Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene (1976), Shifman identifies the meme in the digital age as “the rapid propagation of images, videos, and catchphrases on the internet” (199). Shifman further highlights that “a meme succeeds when certain social, cultural, psychological, and technological conditions expedite its uptake” (199). While Black Mirror as a media text was popular enough to be appropriated in memes—whether in the form of GIFs, screenshots from the show with text, dialogue from the show transposed onto images that may be deemed humorous or relevant—its propagation as a meme when combined with current events, specifically in relation to the dystopian nature of the spread of the Covid-19 virus in early 2020 led to an explosion of memes circulating over the Internet, which constitutes a comment on or interpretation of both the media text and the state of society. A significant portion of memes concerning the Covid-19 pandemic parodied the seemingly “apocalyptic” circumstances, often lending them a sardonic tone. As a steadily growing number of memes synonymised the pandemic with an apocalypse or a dystopian future, the underlying meaning enabled the making of the abovementioned Black Mirror ad created by a fan. Fig. 1, for example, employs stills from an episode of Black Mirror and serves as the poster for an article titled “5 Signs That We Might Be Living In An Episode of Black Mirror” (Matthews). The article details the effects of the spread of the pandemic on daily life and how that is reflected as an episode of Black Mirror. The 5 titular signs include not being allowed to leave one’s home or having a limitation on the places one may visit; socialising is possible only online; politicians engaging in unconventional actions; disinfectants and toilet paper have become extremely desirable goods; and people are being reported for “not following public health protocol.” All of these signs from “real life” are mirrored in Black Mirror, and this kind of an interpretation of the contemporary situation enables viewers to make the comparison to the show.

5 Signs That We Might Living In An Episode of Black Mirror | by ...
Fig. 1. A meme related to the Covid-19 crisis with images from the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” (Matthews)

Media and technology play a crucial role in the rapid spread of information. Through the website of newspapers, news blogs and analytical organizations, one could track the swift spread of the Covid-19 virus all over the world, and how governments and the populace reacted to the crisis in different places. There were numerous reports of people stocking up their homes or garages with “emergency supplies” and buying “essentials” such as canned food and toilet paper in bulk as if they were indeed preparing for an apocalypse. As Web 2.0 applications facilitated the spread of both the pandemic and the “preppers,” there was a gradual rise in circulation of memes concerning both. Fans of Black Mirror also made the connection between technology’s hand in the panic caused by the pandemic and the underlying theme of the anthology series. Numerous episodes of the series—including “The National Anthem” (Season 1 Episode 1), “Be Right Back” (Season 2 Episode 1), “White Bear” (Season 2 Episode 2), “Nosedive” (Season 3 Episode 1), “Hated in the Nation” (Season 3 Episode 6) and “Smithereens” (Season 5 Episode 2) among others—highlight the role of social media in influencing public thought and set off a series of events that irrevocably change the lives of those involved. Owing to the importance of social media in these episodes, and its affordances that enable transmission of information and engagement in self-presentation that allows individuals to transform their social media presence into various forms of Bourdieusian capitals (such as earning fame, money, education, technical skills, etc.), the similarity between this underlying theme in the show and the “reality” of its viewers becomes apparent. Social media plays a crucial role in how a significant portion of the global population reacted to this pandemic, from hosting watch-parties and meetups on social media to sending memes and weblinks containing information to friends and family, to simply engaging in the process of physical social distancing while using the virtual platform to cope with these measures. In this context, social media can be identified as a reverse anchor, serving as a link that makes the real-life situation comparable to the fictional one in the show. By interpreting the relationship between the show and reality, fans engage in meaning-making processes of textual appropriation. Such appropriations of a text by fans can occur due to a number of reasons: as an assertion of their place in the fandom that highlights their affiliation to, for example, the fan fiction authors’ community or the fan artists’ community; as a collector of “special editions” or “Easter eggs” of a show; to showcase their ability to work with Web 2.0 applications and other software; or simply as a creative outlet for which they employ a media text of their choice. This appropriation, in turn, leads to a “bricolaged” project such as the fan-made ad in the sense of “the joining of separate media elements to form a different whole, a newly put together piece of media that orchestrates different meanings from those of the alleged original. It thus involves a notion of media users and audiences who actively make new meanings out of the different sources at hand” (Schmidt and De Kloet 1). The addition of the Netflix logo as well as the typography of the show added a certain “authenticity” to the ad, leading Metro to believe that it may have been created by Netflix. Apart from lending authenticity, however, it allowed for an understanding of the contemporary situation in relation to the text, illustrating the meaning-making process of presumption and bricolage.

The interpretive process, which leads to a particular expression on part of the media prosumer, along with the information that the audience retains not only from the text itself but also from its creators and producers—such as Charlie Brooker admitting to “reality” being too dystopian to create a new season of Black Mirror—contributes to the overall understanding that an individual may have of a text, i.e. a blend of not only the contents of the text and the message as conveyed by the producers, but also its “popular” interpretation among audiences. The involvement of all these various parties—the producer, the consumer, and the prosumer—lean into the various subcultures associated with media texts and the politics surrounding them, all of which invite further examination to theorize the cycle of media give-and-take between these parties.


Brooker, Charlie and Annabel Jones, showrunners. Black Mirror. Netflix, 2011–present.

Gajjala, Radhika, et al. “Prosumption.” The International Encyclopedia of Media Effects, Aug. 2017, pp. 1–8, doi:10.1002/9781118783764.wbieme0178.

Kelly, Emma. “Black Mirror Season 6 Reminds Us That We Are Basically Living in an Episode.” Metro, 6 June, 2020,

Matthews, Melissa A. “5 Signs That We Might Be Living in an Episode of Black Mirror.” life’s funny, 1 Apr. 2020,

Menadue, Christopher Benjamin, and Karen Diane Cheer. “Human Culture and Science Fiction: A Review of the Literature, 1980-2016.” SAGE Open, vol. 7, no. 3, 2017,

Pearce, Tilly, “Black Mirror Season 6 Future Looks Bleak as Charlie Brooker Says World Doesn’t Need Another Story on a Dystopia.” Metro, 4 May 2020,

Schmidt, Leonie and Jeroen De Kloet. “Bricolage: Role of Media.” The International Encyclopedia of Media Effects, Aug. 2017, pp. 1–9, doi:10.1002/9781118783764.wbieme0116.

Shifman, Limor. “Meme.” Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture, July 2016, pp. 197–206, doi: 10.2307/j.ctvct0023.22.

Thomas, P. L. Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction: Challenging Genres. Sense Publishers, 2013.

“Just as Orwell said”: The Emergence of a “Dystopian Framing” in French Conservative Media in the 2010s

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Symposium: European SF and the Political

“Just as Orwell said”: The Emergence of a “Dystopian Framing” in French Conservative Media in the 2010s

Olivesi Aurélie and Zoé Kergomard


In France, science fiction has long struggled to be recognized as a “serious” form of literature, and not just as a form of “paraliterature” (Langlet). Yet in recent years, we noticed a growing number of references to dystopian fiction in the French public sphere. Our aim in this paper is to understand the meanings and political implications of these increasingly frequent references to dystopian literature. 

First, a search of the keywords “dystopi*,” “Orwell*,” “novlangue” (the most common translation of Orwell’s “Newspeak”), “Big Brother” (generally used in English in French media), “Winston Smith,” and “Le meilleur des mondes” (the title of the French translation of Brave New World) in major French newspapers and news magazines confirmed our impression: the overall number of occurrences nearly doubled between 1999 and 2019, with a first peak in 2007, and a steady growth since 2012 (albeit with a slight decrease since 2019). These patterns correspond to political milestones (such as the 2007 and 2012 presidential elections) so that we wondered about the potential political significance of dystopian references in the French public sphere. Surely, the growing popularity of dystopia as a fictional genre in literature, television series and movies since the 2000s could in itself account for this growth. But the use of the words based on the root “dystopi*” (principally the noun “dystopie” [dystopia] and the adjective “dystopique”) has only increased very recently (since 2010 and more rapidly since 2016). Moreover, among the references to specific well-known dystopias, while those alluding to Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) have remained relatively stable, references to Orwell’s 1984 (1949) have increased the most (from 214 in 1999 to a peak of 504 in 2018, and 396 in 2019). No republication or film adaptation explains this surge in the popularity of 1984 over this time period. In addition, in comparison to Brave New World, allusions to 1984 involve a more varied network of references: the characters of Big Brother and Winston Smith are regularly mentioned in their own right. Above all, the concept of “Newspeak” has become central (with occurrences increasing by 665% between 1999 and 2017).


In order to better understand the meaning of these recurring references to Orwell, we began by exploring references to “Newspeak” in major French newspapers of different political orientations. While references to “Newspeak” remained relatively stable in left-wing media (L’Humanité, Libération), the growth from 2012-2013 onwards was driven by newspapers at the centre and towards the right side of the French political spectrum (L’Express, Le Figaro, Marianne, Le Point, Valeurs Actuelles). Moreover, an examination of the concrete uses of the word highlighted significant differences between left- and right-wing media. Left-wing media typically refers to “Newspeak” as part of a critique of capitalism (“Financial capitalism, as it is called in Newspeak, is only a stage of capitalism delivered to its own savagery, adapted to our time” [Anon.]) or corporate language (“the Newspeak of business schools feeds the abstraction of managerial discourse” [Giret]). As in other countries, left-wing political activists in France have also drawn on Orwell to condemn surveillance practices and infringements of privacy rights in the digital age (Krieg-Planque). Meanwhile, references to “Newspeak” in right-wing newspapers and news magazines are generally used as a synonym for “political correctness” (“And then, who knows why, but probably under the influence of a certain puritanism, Big Brother’s Newspeak, imagined by George Orwell in 1949, insidiously appeared not in 1984, but in 2014 [political correctness was perhaps only an ersatz version]” [Chiflet]),  “the current” (Fonton) or “dominant Newspeak” (“How could we not regularize illegal immigrants, who, by the magic of the dominant Newspeak, have become ‘sans-papiers [undocumented people]’ or, better still, ‘migrants’?” [Anon 2003]), a general “modern Newspeak” (“It’s entertaining to watch modern Newspeak being enriched with new concepts, day after day”) or “socialist Newspeak” when the socialist François Hollande was president. 

In these uses, the world depicted in 1984 does not only serve as a metaphor or a comparison. References to this well-known novel also act as a sort of lens, suggesting a perspective on the present as a dystopia, or a dystopia to come (using the “slippery slope” argument). In this sense, references to 1984, particularly through the neologism “Newspeak,” serve as powerful “framing devices” aimed at promoting a particular problem definition and formulating grievances (Entman; D’Angelo). We thus refer to their use in this way as an “Orwellian framing.” In this context, news articles condemned even small changes in the language of the French administration in the wake of same-sex marriage as “Newspeak.” In this Orwellian framing, the replacement of “father” and “mother” with “parent 1” and “parent 2” on administrative forms meant that the former categories would simply disappear not only from official language, but from “reality” (Vaquin. et al.). 


Orwell would have been puzzled to see how often his book was invoked in the context of tense debates over marriage equality legislation in France in 2012-2013, as we found out in the course of our attempts to reconstruct the genealogy of Orwellian references in the French public sphere. At the time, a social movement coalesced against this bill around the organization “La Manif pour Tous” (“Protest for all,” a reference to “Mariage pour Tous,” the slogan associated to the legalization of same-sex marriage), crystallizing both conservative opposition on issues of biopolitics (Béraud and Portier) and anti-elite and anti-media resentment. Within this heterogeneous movement, activists and intellectuals from conservative Catholic circles disseminated and thus helped to popularize dystopian references. Major conservative Catholic publishers such as TerraMare and websites such Le salon beige linked the reform to 1984—a book that had in their opinion become a “frightening reality” (Boucher). A part of the movement expressed intellectual ambitions, notably through the practice of reading texts at night-time “vigils,” including Orwell’s 1984 (Bourabaa), and frequently quoting figures from Aristotle to—again—Orwell (Tudy). Often, “Newspeak” acted as an autonomous reference in its own right, requiring no elaboration or explanation of 1984 to be understood. But the movement also used more precise and varied dystopian references, particularly Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In 2015, “Manif pour Tous” activists Eric Letty and Guillaume de Prémare published an account of the social movement entitled Resistance to the Best of Worlds (Résistance aux meilleurs des mondes), referring to the title of Brave New World’s French  translation, Le meilleur des mondes. With the legalization of same-sex marriage the movement dwindled, but references to 1984 continued to serve to crystallize multiple forms of opposition to the Socialist government, particularly around the politics of language. References now came not only from established intellectuals from the Catholic right, but also from broader political circles. In 2015, the philosophers François-Xavier Bellamy (who self-identifies as a Catholic conservative) and Michel Onfray (originally from the Left but now self-defining as a “popular sovereignist”) converged on a similar critique couched in terms of the “thought police,” a direct reference to Orwell (de Villers and Deveccio). Soon after, “sovereignist” essayist Natacha Polony founded an “Orwell committee” which vowed to combat “language manipulation,” which she presented as a present-day “soft totalitarianism.” In this instance, Orwell’s rights holders protested, and the committee was forced to change its name to “the Orwellians” (Durupt and Guiton).


The wide range of established actors actively promoting an “Orwellian framing” helps to understand its emergence in mainstream media throughout the 2010s. Not incidentally, many of the press outlets disseminating this Orwellian framing underwent a shift to the right at the same time, in line with structural changes in the French press under the pressure of digitalization. This is the case with the new editorial policy of the weekly Valeurs Actuelles since 2012, but also of Le Figaro which launched the polemical website FigaroVox in 2014. Both shared writers with the (originally centre-left but now) sovereigntist weekly Marianne, directed by Natacha Polony since 2018, as well as with the online-only right-wing outlet Atlantico (launched in 2011) and the magazine Causeur (launched online in 2007, and in a monthly paper version since 2008).

These recognized, professional, but increasingly right-leaning press titles were also frequently quoted by a series of conservative and radical right-wing news websites that had emerged since the 2000s, helping share this “Orwellian framing” across an ideological network that self-identified with the notion of “reinformation,” a keyword for a collective cultural struggle against mainstream media (Stephan and Vauchez). As in other countries, radical-right movements and parties had engaged in online activism from early on, beginning with the founding of by the Bloc Identitaire in 2005. The Front national (FN) was the first French political party to invest heavily in the use of online communication tools (Dézé), as it attempted to maintain its core political identity while pursuing its strategy of normalization (Hobeika and Villeneuve). Other websites were launched by activists who did not share this constraint, as they claimed independence from political parties. This was the case of Le salon beige (“The beige lounge/salon,” evoking a neutral space for discussion), which came to play a prominent role in the opposition to same-sex marriage. Founded in 2004 by Catholic activists in their thirties and forties, often from traditionalist circles, it became the forerunner of a network of Catholic blogs and webpages (Blanc). It has since been bought by the activist Guillaume Jourdain de Thieulloy, who owns a number of other websites that take a similar conservative Catholic, economically liberal line, e.g. Nouvelle de France and Riposte catholique. Outside the conservative Catholic milieu, there was also the well-known blog and, later, news website Fdesouche (short for “François Desouche”). Its title is based on a play on words with the older phrase “Français de souche,” an expression referring to having many generations of French ancestors, used by Jean-Marie Le Pen in particular to refer to an ethnically, a.k.a. white, French population. It was founded in 2006 by Pierre Sautarel, who worked closely with the Front national on communication in the late 2000s (Albertini and Doucet). Beyond their ideological differences (on economics and State secularism in particular), these websites are connected through their media practice: they relay articles from all kinds of media as well as opinion pieces and quickly began to relay articles from each other as well. Studies analysing their links to one another have shown how they merge around nodal points, each aggregating a sub-family of the radical right (Blanc; Froio). 

This online activism among radical right-wing political activists is, of course, not unique to France. But French activists have explicitly referred to the “metapolitical” strategy of “counter-cultural Gramscianism” developed by the Nouvelle Droite (New Right) at the end of the 1970s as a way to turn the left’s own weapons against it (Griffin; McCulloch). In fact, while many websites were launched by young activists and/or linked to new movements such as the Bloc identitaire (Identity Block), it was, in part, older actors who unified and connected them to one another around a common goal, by transmitting the strategies of the New Right and adapting them to the Internet age. In 2008, a key actor on the Nouvelle Droite, Jean-Yves Le Gallou, a senior civil servant and former executive of the Front national, launched a manifesto for a “technological Gramscianism,” which was widely distributed at the time on these emerging right-wing websites. In it, he urged readers to make use of new technologies to produce “re-information” that is “just,” “non-conformist,” and “pluralist,” in order to win “the battle of ideas” (Le Gallou). A foundation launched by Le Gallou and other activists in 2002, the Polemia Foundation, also played a pivotal role in the emerging radical right-wing online sphere, with a ceremony ironically celebrating mainstream media lies (Bobards d’Or, “Golden Fibs”) and the publication of pamphlets such as the Dictionary of Newspeak in 2009. All of these writings link the “counter-cultural” ambition to references to Orwell and particularly to “Newspeak.”

Activists such as Le Gallou who made their political debuts in the 1960s and 1970s had read 1984 first as an anti-communist pamphlet and redirected it against the French socialist actors and governments of the late 20th century. But these references quickly spread more widely in the so-called “reinfosphere,” extending beyond this initial reading in the process. Since its beginnings, the website Fdesouche has presented ironic thematic pages on language, including a page listing “Newspeak among us” with sourced examples “taken from the press or the media”: the comparison of these media terms with more common and stigmatizing expressions is intended to reveal a violent reality marked by inter-ethnic conflicts that the media seek to describe euphemistically, e.g., “Don’t say ‘average Frenchman attached to his culture,’ but ‘racist’ instead” (Fdesouche). The Dictionary of Newspeak, republished in 2015, also focused on words supposedly subverted by the Left: again in the context of same-sex marriage (“actors involved in the conception and education of children”), or when debunking what the authors saw as euphemisms for racialised groups: e.g., “Adverse events: Euphemism used by the RATP [Parisian Transport Authority] when supporters of the Algerian soccer team block bus traffic” (Le Gallou and Geoffroy). 

Right-wing Orwellian references can thus be traced back to an older Nouvelle droite strategy of debunking “political correctness” through language. The 2012-2013 social movement against same-sex marriage was key in spreading this framing of gender politics beyond Catholic and/or radical-right circles, from fringe radical-right websites to newspapers of the mainstream right and the centre. 

The use of this “Orwellian framing” in the context of new “cultural wars” served, explicitly and implicitly, as a unifying device for various movements opposing the socialist government in power until 2017, but also beyond. In the right-wing online media and the traditional conservative print press alike, references to “Orwell,” “1984,” or “Newspeak” are still used on the one hand to oppose any societal reforms shifting the balance of power between majority and minority groups, particularly along gender and race lines, and on the other hand, without reference to current news, as a kind of an ideological anchoring point, in a long term perspective. In the end, progressive movements are not the only ones able to recognize the disruptive power of dystopia to reframe the present (Harrison); right-wing movements can do the same, in order to hinder different kinds of social transformation. 


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The Problem with Prequels: Revising Canon is an Exercise in Authorial Control and Navigating Fandom Politics in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Symposium: European SF and the Political

The Problem with Prequels: Revising Canon is an Exercise in Authorial Control and Navigating Fandom Politics in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Samantha Lehman

The offer to reshape history is a tempting one; it appeals to our desire to fix and explain, which is exactly what modern prequels offer their fans. Readers well-acquainted with both J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy have, over the last four years, received prequels that seek to rationalize the darkness of both fictional worlds. Both prequels, the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (FBAWTFT) and The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, written by Rowling and Collins respectively, reshape the worlds their audiences have spent over a decade reading about and watching. Both main franchises for each author have resulted in major motion picture deals along with merchandise. While their prequels vary in their content, both prequels attempt to project their purposes as a means of revelation even though what readers actually get is revision.  Prequels are ostensibly meant to answer our unanswered questions, but instead they can cause problems, especially when they are written in an attempt to capture current political and social justice causes, which given the modern political climate, particularly in North America can easily fall into the realm of commodifying struggles rather than serving as a rallying cry. I will address the promises and problems with Collins and Rowling’s prequels by looking at adaptation theory and revisionist history, focusing specifically on how these works revise history within their own canon (and sometimes our own reality). I will also highlight how the release dates point for these works seek to capitalize upon a desire for escape from our fractured world, without actually making room for the reader or viewer to exert control over their experience. While I will make brief references to additional prequels, the main works I address are those of Rowling and Collins.

The premise of a prequel is to provide a reader more information, be it about characters or general worldbuilding. But, the promises of prequels are more of a problem than their basic intentions. Prequels, particularly modern ones like those written by Rowling and Collins, seem intent on providing context, but seemingly all of the wrong type of context. Each of these prequels is removed or distanced from their main franchises, with Collins’s happening 64 years before Katniss ever entered the arena and Rowling’s occurring in the early twentieth century, approximately 65 years before Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts. What is most interesting about the release of these two prequels is that they were both written after the conclusion of their main franchises (both in book and movie form). Instead of a sequel, Rowling and Collins both chose to write about a time before their characters occupied space in their fictional worlds; they chose the distance and I posit this is because they wanted a chance to stretch their creativity and embellish their canon. By declaring each work a prequel, the authors have a chance to change their canon, garner sympathy for unlikeable characters, and essentially, nudge your preconceived notions or disputations about their lore out the door because their prequels are canon now. Prequels seemingly hand back the control over characters and worlds to the authors that created them. Prequels situate themselves as ideal spaces for revision of the created spaces from a beloved and well-trafficked series. Rowling and Collins demonstrate an obvious intent to reconfigure or reinvent aspects of their canon, character backstories, and the like as their prequels unfold; these works appear to be as much for the authors as they are the fans.

While these stories and their contents do not map directly onto history as it unfolds in reality that does not mean that they are exempt from the ideas of historical revisionism. Within these works, authors rework their characters and their worlds, pushing and pulling established ideas apart in a seeming attempt to be both more palatable or relatable, and to shock and start conversations. Though the revisions of canon we see in these prequels do not fall explicitly within the boundaries of historical revisionism and the ideas of history as adaptation as presented by Laurence Raw and Defne Ersin Tutan, Tom Leitch, and Frans Weiser there is still room to discuss the act of revision in the sense of literary, not historical, canon. 

The line between adaptation and revision might seem blurry, but within the scope of my discussion the latter implies overwriting past canon, whereas the former implies a shift, but not necessarily the erasure implied by the latter. Hutcheon notes that “sequels and prequels are not really adaptations” (9), which situates these types of works as removed but not wholly separated from their points of contact within the space occupied by a major series. Rowling’s decision to create the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them world within the larger scope of the Harry Potter Universe she had already established likely corresponds to the desire Marjorie Garber points out as the motivation behind the creation of sequels, which is “the desire that [works] never come to a definitive end” (74). Though Garber specifically addresses sequels, the principle of the matter remains the same with prequels. Fans and creators always want more, although perhaps by now fans should know better than to actually make that type of request of a creator who might take that call to action as an excuse for a creative power trip or hold creations hostage until they see fit to release them. I will point out here how George R.R. Martin has released two prequels to his Game of Thrones series: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms and Fire & Blood and yet the next installment of his series, Winds of Winter has yet to appear. Still, the chance to know more and spend more time within a world fans know and love is a siren call them, and any author with a successful series can probably count on at least initial support from their main series fans upon the release of any additional content, be it a film adaptation, a prequel, a sequel, or a companion piece.

For her prequel, Rowling took the route of building off of a companion piece, namely the textbook, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which is for the Care of Magical Creatures class and assigned to students at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry in their first year (Philosopher’s 53). Instead of continuing to build within the world she had already created, she jumped with respect to time and location (the first film in the franchise takes place in New York City, although the subsequent films will and do feature various other locations in Europe and South America) (D’Alessandro). Rowling was apparently not finished with playing in the magical world and she used FBAWTFT to keep creating. Initially, this decision makes sense, both from a financial gain standpoint and from a creative perspective. If we believe Garber’s idea that subsequent installments of a series are what feed a fanbase by giving them a less than “definitive end” (Garber 74) then a new film and screenplay, plus the promise of a new franchise sounds like a solid idea. 

The promise of FBAWTFT was that it would be more mature, meaning it would hopefully resonate with the children who had grown up with the Harry Potter books and movies. It would grant those children, now turned teenagers and adults, a space more suited to their age group to indulge in their adoration for the Wizarding World. As Rowling began creating and writing for FBAWTFT she also began providing context that fans had never had access to before, which was wonderful in theory, until some of her context began to resonate negatively amongst fans, for good reason. On March 8th, 2016 Rowling published a brief history lesson about magic within America (“Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century”) on Pottermore, now known as the Wizarding World. On June 28th, 2016, a video (Pottermore) and the written origins of a new wizarding school based in the United States named Ilvermorny  (“Ilvermorny School”) also appeared. Rowling’s handling of brand new information for a part of her universe, that until that point, she had rarely mentioned, caused an uproar with regards to her cherry picking of traditional stories and lore from Indigenous People in the United States (for responses to Rowling see: Baldy, Keene, Lee, Lough, Reese). Her appropriations earned her ire from fans and scholars before the first FBAWTFT film even premiered. In an extremely half-hearted and under-researched attempt to balance out the lore of her new works by mentioning and appropriating mythologies, she crossed a line. Before and after this incident, Rowling showed herself to not be an ally to any member of the human race who does not conform to her standards of identity. What Rowling seemingly tried, and failed, to do was create or adapt, but instead she appropriated in the name of creativity and in the pattern of colonialism. In the wake of the justifiable outrage over her cultural appropriation, and her lack of response to or acknowledgment of the situation with her newly cemented lore, to took a few days for fans to notice that Rowling had also revealed a new term – ‘No-Maj’ as part of American wizarding society (“Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century”). The term itself makes semantic sense and is literal in a way that ‘Muggle,’ the Britishism for non-magic folk is not (Philosopher’s Stone 43). 

In the screenplay, and on screen in the film, the audience’s introduction to the term ‘No-Maj’ comes in the form of an confrontation between Newt Scamander, the author of the Fantastic Beasts textbook and Tina Goldstein, a demoted government servant for Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). Newt, a British wizard on a mission in New York City, has just inadvertently revealed magic to Jacob Kowalski, the main No-Maj character in the franchise, and unfortunately, also let him escape without modifying the man’s memory. Tina reprimands Newt for his handling of the situation and uses the term for the first time (Original Screenplay 33)Then, later on, after they locate Jacob together, Newt makes a speech about the absurdity of the American attitude toward non-magic people: “I do know a few things actually. I know you have rather backwards laws about relations with non-magic people. That you’re not meant to befriend them, that you can’t marry them, which is mildly absurd” (Original Screenplay 64). This exchange between Newt and Tina positions British wizards, who fans are likely most familiar with, as somewhat more accepting and less prejudiced, although the original Harry Potter series would beg to differ on that point. Rowling’s choice to highlight and emphasize this particular cultural difference speaks to a stereotypical assessment of the American mentality about anyone other than Americans (or, in this case, American wizards and witches). Is Rowling’s focus on the prejudices of her American Wizarding Society meant to deflect from the classism and eugenic leanings of her British characters? Though she might not be explicitly erasing canon here, because canon for Wizarding America did not exist prior to the release of the screenplay and the film apart from her smaller-scale stories, she is likely trying to lay the groundwork for the following films that circle around the Hilter-esque rise to power of the franchise’s main villain, Grindelwald. As the plots unfold in the films, as of 2020 only two have been released – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), it becomes clear that the fights between wizards are the ones that matter most on a global scale and the No-Majes are simply collateral damage. Within the space of these prequels, Rowling attempts to make her work more relatable by interjecting diversity (but without the research foundation or knowledge to back up her purported attempts at inclusivity) and by borrowing from history, then reshaping it to fit into the confines of her fictional world and attempting to explain it all away. As if the flick of a wand will or could solve the world’s problems. I posit that Rowling’s direction with the screenplay found motive in her desire to rewrite history; she wanted tragedy, terror, and horror – fantastic beasts and the exploration of her new magical world was never the goal with this franchise. She wanted to create something topical that fans could use to try and explain away the unbelievable times they have been living through over at least the past four years.  

The year of 2020 is not one wherein we should be playing host to fictional dictators and authoritarian leaders. Actually, I think we would do well to extend this sentiment back four years, to the day Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America in 2016. But 2020 is the year that Suzanne Collins released her prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. The actual Hunger Games themselves are an attempt to revise history within the world of Panem, because they are supposed to be what protects the Capitol’s citizens from encountering war ever again (Collins 14). Except, it doesn’t work, because people rebel and then a new world order comes to be in The Hunger Games trilogy. But, before all of that happens, Collins decided readers needed to have an inside look at one of the main trilogy side characters; apparently, she felt that the character who deserved more than a “definitive end” (Garber 74) is Coriolanus Snow, the villain of the later trilogy and a dictator in his own right. But why now? This novel seemingly sets out to prove to its readers that sympathy is due even to the most corrupt of characters. It’s true, we had little knowledge of Snow except for what Collins revealed in relation to Katniss and her participation in the Games or the rebellion. But why do we need to know more? And why now, when a man who believes his own lies and overinflates his self-importance occupies the Oval Office? We do not need Snow’s backstory; we’ve seen what the real-life Snow is doing to the United States, its enemies, and its allies. 

While the book is already signed on for film rights (Liptak), I find it an unnecessary addition to the franchise as a whole. It seeks to unnecessarily humanize a villain. It also attempts to garner sympathy for the creators of the Games – many of whom are pitched as pawns caught up in the pageantry, the duty, and the loyalty affiliated with the Games, rather than people who take pleasure in the death matches they orchestrate amongst their fellow human beings. Collins’s particular example of this put-upon, resigned attitude of being a pawn in a game larger than oneself is Dean Casca Highbottom, an administrator at the Academy Snow attends in the Capitol, who is credited with the creation of the Hunger Games (Collins 20). Highbottom admits in the final pages of the book that he never meant for his drunken outline of the Hunger Games to reach anyone’s ears except for his and his best friend’s, Crassus Snow, Coriolanus’s father: “The Hunger Games. The evilest impulse, cleverly packaged as a sporting event. An entertainment…The next morning, I awoke, horrified by what I’d made, meaning to rip it to shreds, but it was too late” (514). While Snow encounters moral and ethical dilemmas throughout this book, from his decision to help Lucy Gray survive by cheating in the Hunger Games (Collins 324-325) to his work as a Peacekeeper and eventual Capitol snitch (Collins 446-447), his actions, even when helpful to others are motivated by self-interest rather than a desire to do or be good. So, what exactly is Collins trying to fix with this prequel? apparently our perception and judgment of President Snow. It seems like Snow deserves more attention, even though he is exactly the type of main character we’re (not) crying out to better understand right now – as he is a white, educated, male, born into wealth (although his situation does rapidly turn into one of near absolute poverty). The assessment of the Games, from an insider perspective is intriguing to some extent but the single-mindedness of Snow’s character focuses more on himself than absolutely anything else. 

The world of the Hunger Games is not unlike our own, much like the Wizarding World, although we have yet to commence with government orchestrated battle royales and, to my knowledge, magic does not exist, so we are not subject to divisions between those that wield it and those that do not. However, we do have protests meant to protect the vulnerable and the oppressed that turn into battles for survival and we are subject to divisions of race, class, and religion that wear away at the fabric of our world on a daily basis. Humanity does not have the chance to rewrite its history; we do not have the luxury of a prequel, which means we must confront our past and then move forward – for better or for worse. If only Rowling and Collins had understood this about human nature too, perhaps their prequels, though still flawed, would have fit better into the worlds they wrote.


D’Alessandro, Anthony. “‘Fantastic Beasts 3′ Moving Forward With Spring 2020 Start, Jessica Williams’ ‘Lally’ Character To Play Pivotal Part In Brazil-Set Threequel.” Deadline, 4 Nov. 2019, Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.  

Baldy, Cutcha Risling. “This week in #SettlerNonsense: Fantastical Natives and where to find them or WHY JK ROWLING WHY?! WHYYYYYYYY?” Cutcha Risling Baldy, Ph.D., 10 Mar. 2016, Accessed 5 Aug. 2020. 

Collins, Suzanne. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Scholastic Press, 2020.

Garber, Marjorie. Quotation Marks. Routledge, 2003.

Hutcheon, Linda and Siobhan O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation: Second Edition. 2nd ed., Routledge, 2013. 

Keene, Adrienne. “’Magic in North America’: The Harry Potter franchise veers too close to home.” Native Appropriations, 7 Mar. 2016, Accessed 5 Aug. 2020. 

Lee, Paula Young. “Pottermore problems: Scholars and writers call foul on J.K. Rowling’s North American magic.” Salon, 1 July 2016, Accessed 5 Aug. 2020. 

Leitch, Thomas. “History as Adaptation.” The Politics of Adaptation: Media Convergence and Ideology, edited by Dan Hassler-Forest and Pascal Nicklas, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp. 7–20.

Liptak, Andrew. “Hunger Games Prequel The Ballad of the Songbirds and Snake is Getting a Film Adaptation.” Tor, 21 Apr. 2020, Accessed 12 Aug. 2020. 

Lough, Chris. “J.K. Rowling No: The Opportunism of ‘History of Magic in North America.’” Tor, 10 Mar. 2016, Accessed 5 Aug. 2020. 

Martin, George R. R. Fire & Blood. Bantam Books, 2020.

—.  A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Bantam Books, 2020

Pottermore. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – “Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” YouTube, Uploaded by Pottermore, 28 Jun. 2016, Accessed 12 Aug. 2020. 

 Raw, Laurence, and Defne Ersin Tutan, editors. The Adaptation of History: Essays on Ways of Telling the Past. McFarland, 2013.

Reese, Debbie. “Native People Respond to Rowling.” American Indians in Children’s Literature, 10 Mar, 2016, Accessed 5 Aug. 2020. 

Rowling, J.K. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2016. 

—. “Fourteenth Century – Seventeenth Century.” Wizarding World, 8 Mar. 2016, Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.  

—. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Raincoast Books, 2000.

—. “Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” Wizarding World, 28 Jun. 2016, Accessed 10 Aug. 2020.

Weiser, Frans. “Contextualizing History-as-Adaptation: An Interdisciplinary Comparison of Historical Revisionism.” Adaptation, vol. 12, no. 2, 2017, pp. 105-117.

Unheard Voices: The Time Travelling Woman as Writer of History

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Symposium: European SF and the Political

Unheard Voices: The Time Travelling Woman as Writer of History

Amanda Dillon

The intersection of science fiction and the political commonly occurs in the form of the alternate history or the far future dystopia: the Gileads, the Panems, the Burdekinian Reichs, the east-European inspired cities out of Miéville. But this is the science fiction politics of the outward, of the warning, of Kurt Vonnegut’s “coal-mine canaries” (266). This paper argues for a different sort of politics to be seen in science fiction: that of the inward, metatextual politicking of the historian. Three postulates recur within this piece: the act of writing is a political act, history is a political construct, and being a woman is also a political act. Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book (1992) and its time travelling history PhD student Kivrin Engle provide a clear argument about the gender politics of writing history, and the potential avenues that science fiction provides to undermine the traditionally male focus of history. 

Broadly speaking, women writing history is a very new phenomenon. Women being a central concern for historians—male or female—is also relatively recent, with the obvious exception of figures like Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. However, for decades the historiography in both cases presented these as important rulers in spite of their gender. Though this is improving, the gender politics of history writing continues to be a problem. As Joan Wallach Scott argues, “the subject of women has either been grafted on to other traditions or studies in isolation from them” (6): women historians were granted a room of their own, but then told to stay put. To write on women—or even just as a woman—is to invite criticism, particularly if this is to write in a field that is more typically about men: if there was ever proof that history has not managed to overcome the gender barrier, it is the reactions to Hallie Rubenhold’s book The Five (2019)—a title with the temerity to focus on the victims of Jack the Ripper rather than the murderer. 

The issue goes beyond—but also is intrinsically linked to—this issue of historical authorship. The very writing of history itself is only as good as its sources. Here I need to gloss a considerable amount of historical theory, but in brief: the decision of what to keep in an archive and what to lose, and what gets kept at all (due to archivist care or the ravages of time and bookworms) tends towards the male and powerful. We have relatively little in terms of women and the lower class for the majority of human history, whereas we have relatively large numbers of sources from powerful institutions like monarchies and churches in more document-poor periods—and this is all before we even get to the narrative construction issues noted in Hayden White’s Metahistory (1973). Obviously women, the poor, and people of colour were alive during this time and important historical actors, but most of what they left were entries in baptismal records, a couple of pots, and, if they were lucky, some gravestones. It is not an exaggeration to say that, at least in the pre-modern era, we have more ‘gaps’ in the archives than we do archive itself. It is in this gap that historical fiction can work as historiography—and in this gap in particular that women can make an intervention in the historical narrative through the use of fiction.

Diana Wallace argues in her book Female Gothic Histories (2013) that women have used historical fiction as a type of “historiography which can simultaneously reinsert them into history and symbolise their exclusion” (1). Indeed, the popularity of the historical mode for the woman novelist and short story writer seems a direct attempt to redress the (white, upper-class, straight) male focus of much history—and this is true from canon-approved authors like Elizabeth Gaskell to populist favourites like Diana Gabaldon to Regency romance writers like Tessa Dare and the mostly self-published Courtney Milan. Such writers are fiction’s antidote to the (thankfully no longer popular) “Great Man” theory of history, and instead provide myriad “what ifs” to the wealth of historical stories we may never know. It does not appear as a political act on the surface—the ripped bodices in Milan, Dare, and Gabaldon do not seem to obviously undermine any historical narratives—but the palimpsest of personal narratives (they are commonly first person testimonies) adds to a historical record in potentia. Meanwhile, time-travelling women like Willis’s Kivrin Engle—and Diana Gabaldon’s Claire Fraser, Kage Baker’s Mendoza, and Deborah Harkness’s Diana Bishop—become unmoored in time, simultaneously participant and observer but fully neither. Like their Gothic forebears (Punter and Byron 278-282), they sit between worlds. In time travel fiction, this takes on a further dimension: these women sit between times

Bizarrely, there is relatively little work on the topic in existence: most analyses of women’s historical fiction outside of that by Wallace looks at it in terms of its cross-modal connections—such as studies of the romance, the time travel narrative, or the woman’s novel more broadly, as in the case of Janice A. Radway’s Reading the Romance (1991) and Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s Writing Beyond the Ending (1985). David Wittenberg’s otherwise perceptive book on time travel also deals very briefly with this issue—but argues that “historicity per se” does not “tend to be immediately at stake” in these texts (26). And yet, surely the very fact a woman is reinscribing another woman into history is itself “historicity per se”—both in terms of subject and authorship. This is particularly the case when we consider questions of narrative voice in terms of gender: to give a woman a voice is to provide her with “power” (Lanser 3).  Indeed, such a tactic is inherently postmodern: 

Women’s marginal and excluded position has meant that they often understood that recorded ‘history’ is not straightforwardly ‘what happened in the past’ but has always been the result of selection, presentation, and even downright falsification based on particular ideologies and viewpoints. 

Wallace, Historical Novel 2-3

This is in effect Foucault and Lyotard in fancy dress: the breakdown of the historical record as the sole method of understanding the past. This approach means that historical novels written by women and based around the experience of female characters are ipso facto alternate histories of some sort—and this is where the writing of history and the science fiction text touch in a clear way. For the historical novel, Wallace calls this “the radical potential of the reconceptualization of history as plural and subjective” (Historical Novel 3); for science fiction, this is a “question[ing] of the nature of history and of causality” (Hellekson 4). What we see in women-authored and women-centred time travel fiction is a politicization of not only the historical novel, but of the writing of history itself. 

Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book provides a fascinating example of this, particularly given her main character’s status as woman historian. Her main character, Kivrin Engle, travels back in time to pre-plague-era Oxford to aid the completion of her doctoral thesis with some in-situ observations. The relatively routine journey to the past goes revealingly awry. Engle finds herself not in pre-plague-era Oxford, but instead that she and the plague arrive in Oxford simultaneously. Her carefully constructed clothes are entirely wrong and the version of English she was taught does not help her understand the “contemps,” rendering their speech a conlang until her interpreter adapts:

The interpreter is working now, more or less, and the contemps seem to understand what I’m saying. I can understand them, though their Middle English bears no resemblance to what Mr Latimer taught me. It’s full of inflections and has a much softer French sound. Mr Latimer wouldn’t even recognise his “When that Aprille with his shoures sote.” […]

The language isn’t the only thing off. My dress is all wrong, of too far a weave, and the blue is too bright dyed with woad or not. I haven’t seen any bright colours at all. I’m too tall, my teeth are too good and my hands are wrong, in spite of my muddy labours at the dig. They should not only have been dirtier, but I should have chilblains. Everyone’s hands, even the children’s, are chapped and bleeding. It is, after all, December.

162-163 [sic.]

Indeed, almost nothing resembles what she was led to expect: “Only the church looked the way it was supposed to” (172). This throw-away comment reveals the novel’s approach to the writing of history: the church, as the centre of information and education and an area with a considerable amount of surviving information for historians, carries with it a high level of accuracy. The quotidian, however, was often lost to disease and the ravages of time and illiteracy—but it is this area where Engle can work as a woman historian and not merely correct the historical record but add to it. This is underlined at the very end of the novel when Engle is rescued by male historians. Her male rescuers are incapable of seeing the subtle differences between the historical record and lived experience: “They said in the book it was like this […] Actually, I was afraid it might be a good deal worse. I mean, it doesn’t smell or anything” (562). For these men, their lived experience does not rewrite the historical record, while Engle’s clearly does. 

This ability directly links not only to Engle’s gender but also the concept of “slippage” that is so important in the novel. For the novel, slippage is “time’s way of protecting itself from continuum paradoxes,” and it “prevent[s] collisions or meetings or actions that would affect history” (29). In Engle’s case, however, slippage lands her directly in the path of the Black Death. Some of this is put down to incomplete record keeping in the period, making dates less concrete (6-7), but I would argue that what happens to Engle suggests that slippage in this case pointed her to a place and time that allows her to act as a voice for the voiceless in this village, completely decimated by the plague. Slippage does not therefore avoid a paradox so much as allow the completion of the historical record. 

Yet, for Engle, her time in the past is characterised by endless grief and a total lack of agency. Instead of the slippage fail-safe providing her with greater agency, she is actually constrained by her lack of knowledge of what she can and cannot do to impact the historical record. Robbed of agency through her lack of knowledge, Engle is meant to only be an observer and to tread as lightly as possible on the past. The climax of the novel leaves her entirely frozen due to her grief, her alienation, and her knowledge that even if she could use her agency, it would not matter at all in the end: everyone in this village will die of the Plague (314). Engle’s gender allows her to work in the unwritten parts of history—as her supervisors say, if she dies in the past, she will unlikely even be mentioned by name in the historical record (32)—and she is historically inert. As a time traveller, a historian, and a woman, Engle’s complete lack of agency is underlined three times, haunting the novel’s climax as she watches parish priest Father Roche dig his final grave, then lacing his bubo in a pointless attempt to save his life (550). 

Engle’s ability to impact history is not limited to saving lives, however. Engle goes back in time with a recorder to take notes with, and it is here where she really does create a ‘record of life’ (18)—and death—in this village. She begins to fill in the gaps in the historical record, for example, cataloguing the residents in Oxford who have fallen victim to the plague:

All the steward’s family have it. The youngest boy, Lefric, was the only one with a bubo, and I’ve brought him in here and lanced it. There’s nothing I can do for the others. […]


The steward’s baby is dead.

(break) […]

Ulf, the reeve, is dead.

Also Sibbe, daughter of the steward.

Joan, daughter of the steward. 

The cook (I don’t know her name).

Walthef, oldest son of the steward.


Over 50 per cent of the village has it.


This is a record of names, of positions, of people who would otherwise be lost to history, and there are several other similar lists in Engle’s record. She may be unable to help Father Roche or any of the other “contemps,” but she can ensure evidence of their existence remains. The final chunk of entries in her record emphasises not only the need for lived experience, but what her presence has provided here:

Tell Mr Latimer adjectival inflection was still prominent in 1348. And tell Mr Gilchrist he was wrong. The statistics weren’t exaggerated.


[…] I wanted to come, and if I hadn’t, they would have been all alone, and nobody would have ever known how frightened and brave and irreplaceable they were.


Engle’s record is a true “Domesday Book”—originally meant as a complete record of medieval life, which inevitably left quite a lot of information out if it did not directly relate to William the Conqueror’s taxation system (18). Engle does not provide a total corrective to this imperfect survey, but she goes some way towards making corrections, both in terms of the technical aspects of history and the everyday lives of people in the past.

Where Engle’s corrective—and Willis’s novel—differs from the multitude of historical fiction that provides nuance to the historical record in thinly documented areas, however, is precisely in her status as time traveller in a piece of science fiction. She does not merely observe: she records, and she brings back. This recentring of historical attention onto the quotidian and everyday is itself a political act, one that science fiction and time travel narratives are themselves particularly well suited to. Indeed, history itself is still particularly behind the times in terms of how it “accept[s] these feminist challenges” (Bucur 12), and it is no mistake that social history—history that covers those who traditional diplomatic and political historians tend to ignore—and women’s history “developed in tandem” (Scott 21). Science fiction texts like Willis’s make an intervention in these inherently politicised approaches to history by foregrounding the authorial voice of the woman historian and these lost or silenced histories simultaneously. Indeed, there seems to be a suggestion that only women can provide access to these histories because as women they work in the unseen parts of history to start with. The time travelling woman therefore has an extraordinary amount of agency in her ability to not necessarily impact the historical record, but to record it in the first place. As per Diana Wallace, historical fiction provides women with both “escape and political intervention” (Historical Novel 2)—but also a historiographical intervention when dealing with time travel. As a historian, Engle works within the historical “wiggle room” provided by the lack of existing documentation and provides not just new interpretations but new information, therefore allowing her to potentially change “the past” without actually impacting the future. 

Given that women so commonly are greeted with karmic punishment when attempting to change the past in women-authored time travel narratives (Claire Fraser’s miscarriage in Dragonfly in Amber; the repeated deaths of Mendoza’s lover in The Company series; amongst others), such agency should not be ignored in the context of time travel narratives centred on and authored by women. The very telling of these narratives, fictional or not, is itself a political act. Women had an impact on the past, whether or not it is mentioned in the historical record: “those absent from official accounts partook nonetheless in the making of history; those who are silent speak eloquently about the meanings of power and the uses of political activity” (Scott 24). Though Scott here is speaking particularly about women in the past, Willis’s novel seems to argue much the same is true for women historians—silencing women at either end of the historical record does not mean they did not exist nor that they had no impact on the past, either in its making or its telling. It is only through the very hypothetical structure of science fiction that Willis’s novel can make this argument, though: it simultaneously provides that potential hidden history as well as a method for its discovery. 

This suggests a number of broader considerations, particularly around the issue of the politics of women writing not just historical novels but time travel in particular. Despite it seeming as if women are suited for time travel for a number of ideological reasons, time travelling women authored by women are rare, even when the multitude of Outlander look-alikes are taken into account. The most famous are all centred around men: “By His Bootstraps,” “All You Zombies,” “The Sound of Thunder,” Back to the Future II (the female character is unconscious!), The Time Machine, and so on. Women-focused time travel narratives are therefore not just in dialogue with history, but with the science fiction megatext in multiple ways, though not all of these can be satisfactorily engaged with here and I have chosen to focus on questions of authority and agency. These texts provide one possible method of understanding the third wave feminist concept of the personal being political; these fictional women’s experiences are inherently political. They change the historical narrative without changing history itself (whatever that can come to mean): they rewrite the past to be more inclusive and complete. Time travel fiction does something uniquely political in this sense, in that such texts provide a voice where there may well be none, and they help refigure the writing of history as something that may not merely focus on women, but also be written by women. 

Works Cited

Baker, Kage. In the Garden of Iden. Tor, 1997.

Bucur, Maria. The Century of Women: How Women Have Transformed the World Since 1900. Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth Century Women Writers. Indiana University Press, 1985.

Gabaldon, Diana. Dragonfly in Amber. Arrow, 2012.

Harkness, Deborah, Shadow of Night. Headline, 2013.

Hellekson, Karen. The Alternate History: Refiguring Historical Time. The Kent State University Press, 2001.

Lanser, Susan Sniader. Fictions of Authority: Women Writers and Narrative Voice. Cornell University Press, 1992.

Punter, David and Glynnis Byron. The Gothic. Blackwell, 2004.

Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Culture. University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Rubenhold, Hallie. The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. Doubleday, 2019.

Scott, Joan Wallach. Gender and the Politics of History. Columbia University Press, 2018.

Vonnegut, Kurt. “Playboy Interview”, in Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (Opinions). Jonathan Cape, 1974, pp. 265-313.

Wallace, Diana. Feminist Gothic Histories: Gender, History and the Gothic. University of Wales Press, 2013.

—. The Woman’s Historical Novel: British Women Writers, 1900-2000. Palgrave, 2008.

White, Hayden. Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in 19th-Century Europe. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Willis, Connie. Doomsday Book. Gollancz, 2012.

Wittenberg, David, Time Travel: The Popular Philosophy of Narrative. Fordham University Press, 2013.

Introducing the Symposium on European Speculative Fiction and the Political

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Symposium: European SF and the Political

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.