From the President

SFRA Review, vol. 53, no. 4

From the President

From the President

Hugh O’Connell

It’s hard to believe that I’m writing my first SFRA President’s column. I attended my first SFRA conference in 2015 at Stony Brook. It alternately seems like yesterday and a lifetime ago. It was a career-changing experience; the people I met there became mentors, collaborators, and friends, and I finally understood what others meant when they talked about their “academic communities.” Over the last couple of years, the SFRA’s executive board have been making changes both large and small to make sure that this sort of experience is the norm for all our members. I’m looking forward to serving as President and continuing this work with them.

Speaking of service, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to our outgoing E-Board members: Sean Guynes, Keren Omry, and Gerry Canavan. Along with serving as Secretary from 2020-2022, Sean was editor of the SFRA Review from 2018-21 and helped institute many of its innovative transformations. Keren has served in a great number of roles, most recently as Immediate Past President, providing institutional memory, continuity, and advise to the Executive Board, and before that as President, and before that cycling through just about every award committee. Seriously, many, many thanks, Keren! Finally, I want to acknowledge our outgoing President, Gerry Canavan, who had the unenviable task of steering the SFRA through one of its most tumultuous periods: dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, cancelled conferences, and the move to online and hybrid conferences, alongside all the other usual tasks. Before he escapes entirely, he’ll be serving as the Immediate Past President for the next three years (just when he thought he was out… we pull him back in!).

Keeping the ball rolling, I’d like to thank our continuing E-Board members, Ida Yoshinaga (VP), Tim Murphy (Treasurer), Thomas Connolly (Webmaster), and Aisha Matthews (Conference Committee), as well as welcome our incoming members, Sarah Lohmann (Secretary), and our first ever At-Large members, Helane Androne and Gabriela Alejandra Lee. And for those out there who would like to get more involved with the SFRA and add their names to this illustrious list of volunteers, watch out for a forthcoming call for the new Outreach officer position.

Looking ahead, we’re all very excited for the upcoming “Disrupted Imaginations” joint SFRA and German Association for Research in the Fantastic (GfF) conference in Dresden, Germany (August 15-19, 2023). The CFP is currently circulating and can be found on the SFRA website. This is a great opportunity for the SFRA to continue building upon its international outreach efforts and to forge greater ties with the GfF. As a reminder, SFRA members are eligible to apply for travel grants of up to $500.

Finally, we know that there have been a couple of issues with the new website. We are working on getting these resolved, and we thank you for your patience as we continue down the WordPress rabbit hole. In the meantime, if you encounter any problems, please continue to reach out to us.

From the Vice President

SFRA Review, vol. 53, no. 4

From the Vice President

From the Vice President

Ida Yoshinaga

The committee to select our Support a New Scholar Award for 2023-2024, including past winner Guangzhao Lyu, former SFRA President Keren Omry, and myself, was delighted by the quality of submissions received for the Track A (graduate student) category by the November 1, 2022, deadline.

Compared to earlier in the award’s history, we believe that recent efforts we’ve made to internationalize and diversify the Science Fiction Research Association are showing in the remarkable quality, range, and multifaceted nature of the applicants. Immaterial labor in our field is also transforming, as the academic job market grows more competitive and casualized…thus generating new breeds of scholars marked by versatility, heightened inter-disciplinarity, and multiple skill sets ranging from creative (print-literary) writing to translation to digital and interactive arts.

Thus we chose to award not one, but three, new scholars this time around—and the SFRA Executive Committee agreed. While the whole cohort of applicants were extremely exciting, we found the following selectees especially impressive.

First, we were floored by the application of University of Warwick Ph.D. student Nora Castle, whose leadership in the urgent, pandemic-era-salient field of food futures, whose strong publication record as author/co-author and editor/co-editor of several upcoming food-and-environmental-humanities collections, which are evolving this growing discourse forward, and whose recent service to the SFRA, as well as sustained participation in networks of interesting new SFF scholars, showcased Castle as what we’d consider a promising “traditional,” albeit clearly interdisciplinary and visionary, scholar.

Second, representing the increasingly popular, multiple-career pathway–especially among BIPOC, female, non-Western, and/or LGBTQIA+ researchers–we were amazed by the substantial global-SF contributions of University of California, Riverside, Ph.D. student Yilun Fan, who in addition to presenting at many scholarly meetings and producing numerous academic articles and essays on Chinese and comparative (i.e., Latinx and Chinese) speculative fiction, also has published several of her own award-winning creative works and her English-to-Chinese translations of leading SFF scholars’ articles so as to bring Western genre theory (such as Mark Bould’s analysis of Afrofuturism) to global reading audiences.

Finally, as a futuristic signal of where SF studies may be heading in terms of its application to digital-media platforms and Suvinian theory-in-practice, we were moved by the innovative hybrid scholarship-blended-with-creative work of Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. student Terra Mae Gasque, whose digital gaming research and design/coding practice explores the intersection of queerness, cognition, and player failure. Gasque has written for SFRA Review and attended our annual meeting, as well as published in SF scholarly collections; her dissertation develops, discusses, and

creates a virtual-reality game aimed at rethinking the very foundations of digital ludic design through embedding queer failure into its ethical inquiries.

The selectees represent the next generation of SF thinkers who embrace–to adapt a phrase from one applicant–SF as a mode. They’ve moved us away from mid-twentieth-century escapist notions of the genre as a U.S. pulp-literary hobby and towards global, multidimensional, active SF expression through practice and production.

Congratulations, Nora, Yilun, and Terra!

Ida Yoshinaga, VP

From the Editor

SFRA Review, vol. 53, no. 4

From the SFRA Review

Winter 2023

Ian Campbell
Editor, SFRA Review

I was going to use ChatGPT to write this letter and see whether anyone could tell, but it seemed unethical, and at any rate the site is down. But we should all be very, very worried about the advent of nearly-human-quality AI, whether it be in visual art or text. I have many friends who are professional illustrators: all of them are very worried about how AI is essentially going to price them out of their careers, at least once it manages to get human hands right.

The nature of higher education is going to change profoundly over the next few years: ChatGPT writes plausible-sounding garbage, but so do most students, even many who are actually trying. More elite institutions will find ways to ensure that students’ writing is their own, while cash-strapped state institutions and the small colleges soon to be entirely wiped out by the demographic crash that is the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis will bow to the perceived inevitable and continue to credential students for fear of losing still more funding.

SF gives us plenty of examples with which to frame these developments: if you’re reading this journal, you’ve no doubt already thought of several examples. AI in SF is often transcendent, often malevolent, sometimes benevolent as in the Culture novels. Yet I cannot think of a widely-known example where AI is quite so banal as in our world today. Our AI is neither transcendent nor benevolent it’s something like a wage slave like nearly all of us, played off against human workers for an ever-shrinking slice of pie while the rest is fed to Wall Street. You may expect all those outsourced customer-service jobs to be done by AI any moment now. We can all hope that AI will acquire sentience, if only in that it might go on strike.

This issue of the SFRA Review contains a number of papers from the London SF Research Conference, plus a paper relating to our symposium on masculinity, in addition to our usual palette of reviews of non-fiction, fiction and media. We also have two calls for papers: one for a symposium here on adaptations of SF, and another that is my personal CFP for an edited volume. If you are working on an edited volume about SF and you want to publish it here, we will be happy to do so: please just contact us.

Call for Papers: Science Fiction in Translation, vol. 2

Call for Papers: Science Fiction in Translation, vol. 2

Ian Campbell

This edited volume is under consideration to be published by Palgrave Macmillan as part of its Studies in Global Science Fiction series. It is intended to build upon Science Fiction in Translation, published by Palgrave in 2021: to engage with works of SF in a similar manner as the essays in that volume do. Potential contributors are encouraged to peruse that volume and its introduction before submitting their proposed essays. That first volume was recently longlisted for the annual non-fiction award by the British Science Fiction Association; this is a clear indication that there is a need and desire for further exploration of SF in translation.

Potential contributors should be aware that the primary concern of this volume is to deepen the level of engagement with the theory and practice of translation. In selecting contributions, priority will be given to chapters that go into depth on the work of influential theorists, the stated practices of the translator(s) and how these theories are exemplified and/or deconstructed by the published translation. We are interested in chapters on SF in translation to and from any language; in the event that we are forced to reject submissions due to volume, priority will be given to languages and cultures less well represented in the first volume. We are also enthusiastic about papers by graduate students, early-career scholars, alt-ac scholars and others not traditionally widely represented in edited volumes by major publishers. This in no way means that papers by experienced experts in a given subfield will not be accepted.

This volume is intended to explore SF in translation, in both senses of the phrase: the translation of works of SF from one language to another, and the translation of SF tropes into cultures outside the metropolitan West. In recent decades, scholars of SF have seen near-exponential growth both in the production of SF in regions and languages where it hitherto had little or no presence, and also in the translation of works of SF from other languages into English. This volume will focus on the process of translation and its implications. What is the state of translation into English, and how representative is the body of translated work of SF from the source language/culture? What social, political and economic choices are made in choosing a work to translate? What linguistic and cultural choices are made in translating the work? How are the tropes of SF, whether they be (e.g.) subgenres such as space opera, the extrapolation of technological progress or sociopolitical critiques such as cognitive estrangement, portrayed in a work of SF from a culture where advanced science and technology are (or were) foreign imports? To what extent does the choice of works or tropes reflect or reify a statement or critique? To what extent does the process of translation (mis)represent the culture or language whence it comes? To what extent does SF manifest differently in other cultures or languages, and to what extent does translating the text into English elide or conceal these differences? What happens when works of SF originally published in English are translated into other cultures or languages? How do the terms, tropes and functions of SF manifest in those cultures and languages and how are they altered by the process of translation?

Since antiquity, ideas of what constitutes “good” translation have oscillated between literal fidelity to the source text and a focus on rendering its sense and style into the target language, with the latter approach usually dominant. Cicero said in 46 BCE that he translated Greek into Latin “as an orator”, expressing figures of thought in language that conforms to his readers’ usage; St. Jerome, four centuries later, translated the Septuagint “not word for word, but sense for sense”. For Walter Benjamin, a hundred years ago, translation has a quasi-mystical effect: it gives to a work an “afterlife” by expanding its reach in time and space. He also argues that the task of the translator is to release in their own language that “pure language which is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work” when re-creating the work anew in the target language.

Scholars of the then-new discipline of translation studies began to develop more complex and rigorous theories of translation in the second half of the twentieth century. In the same period, philosophers and literary theorists deconstructed the hierarchical separation of referent and sign; the sort of transcendence Benjamin seeks has become next to impossible. Translation studies examines the sociocultural factors that exist in parallel with language: dialect, voice, metaphor, cognition, as well as visual and ideological phenomena are now perceived as integral to the process of translating from one language to another. Contemporary theories and practices of translation, at least in the West, generally also address the ideological and economic conditions that pertain to the selection and promotion of work for translation: texts given an “afterlife” in English may not fully represent texts from the source language and culture. These developments are paralleled by the increasing application of cultural materialism, feminist and gender studies theory and postcolonial theory to translation and translation studies. Cicero’s conception of a fluent translation that sounds as if it were written in the target language is a matter of contention for twenty-first century theorists, with some arguing that such a paradigm inevitably domesticates texts and minimizes cultural differences. This is especially true for translations of literature, given the outsized role of literature in defining and reifying culture.

It should be clearly noted that this volume will have an inclusive perspective on “translation”: it would be within its purview to submit a paper that discusses works of (e.g.) subsaharan African SF originally published in English and the representativeness of these works of SF in their original culture. Such analysis would be especially valuable if the work discussed was subsequently republished for an Anglo-American audience. Papers discussing similar phenomena in (e.g.) works published in French in former French colonies will also be welcomed, as would papers on works on SF from an Indigenous culture, even were the works originally published in English.

Abstracts submitted in response to this call for papers should address at least one of the following: 1) the translation of works of Anglo-American SF into the target language and culture; 2) the manifestation of the tropes of SF in works composed in the target language and culture; 3) the translation of works of SF from the target language and culture into English for a primarily Anglo-American audience. How does the sort of translation St. Jerome or Cicero would approve of make fundamental changes in a work, and what are the effects of these changes? Alternatively, what are the effects of an English translation that retains (some of) the foreignness of the source text? How do tropes of SF manifest in the target culture and language, and what are the effects of this?

Each paper is required to provide a brief overview of what has been translated from the work’s source language/culture into English and to evaluate the representativeness of this body of work. It is important for scholars who do not speak the source language to understand the extent to which the selection of works translated into English represents SF from that language/culture. Information on sf translated from other languages into the work’s source language, if it is other than English, would also be of interest.

The ideal paper will do all or most of the following:

  • examine at least one work available in English or in English translation
  • include scholarship in the original language on the work and/or on SF: what do scholars in the source language/culture think of SF or of the work’s place in local discourse?
  • relate the work to another text from that language or culture, whether available in English translation or not
  • engage with theories of translation studies
  • engage with the approach the translators take in their own writings about translation
  • perform a close reading of its primary text, involving its original language, in such a manner as to make clear to those who do not know that language how the source text differs from its English translation
  • use this close reading as support for an argument on how the translated text (mis)represents the source text or the culture whence it comes
  • address the question of power or authority that results from the choice of the work(s) as worthy of translation

These characteristics should serve as guidelines, not demands. Finished chapters should be from 7,000-10,000 words in length, including notes and bibliography. Please avoid discursive footnotes. Please use endnotes rather than footnotes; please do not use the word processor’s feature that automatically creates notes; rather, manually make footnote numbers into superscripts and add the notes at the end of the document. Please refer to this page for submission guidelines, including formatting (scroll down to #5 under Manuscript Guidelines).

Please submit a short CV, a chapter abstract of no more than 300 words, and a one-paragraph bio to Ian Campbell ( no later than 01 April 2023. Finished chapters will be due no earlier than 01 August 2023; the volume will be published in early 2024.

Call for Papers: Adaptations in SF

Call for Papers: Adaptations in SF

The Editorial Collective

Adaptations have taken over movie theaters and streaming services in recent years: The Wandering Earth and The Peripheral were based on bestselling books, and more recently, The Last of Us was first a video game. The SFRA Review is interested in short papers addressing SF adaptations in all its manifestations: literature, film, other media, games. Questions for discussion might include:

  • Why are adaptations so prevalent in today’s media landscape?
  • What makes an adaptation good or bad?
  • How has digital media altered the production and reception of adaptations? What is the relation of adaptations to other forms of transmedia?
  • How can they give us a different perspective on the present, or subvert the source’s original message? What are the ethical implications of adapting older works?
  • How have adaptations changed over the years?
  • What is being adapted? What does this choice say about canonical—or previously under-recognized—texts?

Papers should be from 3000-5000 words in length, with references in MLA style and few if any discursive footnotes. Our Style Guide should be consulted and adhered to for all submissions. All contents of SFRA Review are published open access under a CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license. Authors retain copyright and may reuse their work as they see fit. Images should be at least 2000 pixels wide; given that this is literary analysis, the exceptions to copyright for fair use will apply. Please send email to Andrea Blatz ( with the subject line SFRA Adaptations and a brief description of your paper by 1 March 2022. Any other queries should be sent to this address, as well, with the same subject line. Complete drafts are due 15 May 2023. Edits will be due 1 July 2023. Papers will be published in the Summer 2023 issue (53.3) on 01 August 2023.

We sincerely hope that you will be interested in what we feel is an important aspect of SF in these current times and encourage you to submit.

Exploring Dalit-Futurism in Caste-Flavored Techno-Scientific Worlds

Exploring Dalit-Futurism in Caste-Flavored Techno-Scientific Worlds

Priteegandha Naik

This paper introduces Dalit futurism as a methodological framework to analyze the concept of caste in English-language Indian science fiction. I use the novel Chosen Spirits (2020) by Samit Basu to demonstrate its potential to speculate about different avatars of caste against a technoscientific culture. In the Indian subcontinent, the dominant groups tend to imply that caste is an “ancient” category which does not have any contemporary relevance. However, caste continues to determine different aspects of life for all individuals, depending upon one’s caste location (high or low). Dalit futurism provides a vocabulary to engage this ancient phenomenon with modern, exaggerated versions of reality, and explore this interaction to uncover various nodes of intersection. Taking the international audience into consideration, I think it is important to explain the significance of the caste system, a discriminatory system, on which Dalit futurism is premised and the resistance mounted by the anti-caste movement. In this paper, I begin by briefly explaining the characteristics, history, and contemporary effects of the caste system and the anti-caste movement. I then discuss the concept of Dalit futurism and its foundation in order to demonstrate its potential to analyze the novel.   

The Caste System and Modes of Resistance 

The caste system is a centuries-old system of stratification, mandated by Hindu religious scriptures, that dominates the Indian subcontinent. It divides the population into four varnas. [1] The first three groups are referred to as Savarnas or the upper castes: the Brahmins, associated with learning and other intellectual activities; the Kshatriyas, the warrior caste, and the Vaishyas, the merchant caste. On the other hand, the Shudras and Avarnas (referred to as Dalits and Tribals, are outside the caste social order), are associated with manual labor; they are considered to be the lowest in the hierarchy and have to face Untouchability. [2] B. R. Ambedkar, one of the most formidable critics of the caste system, has insightfully stated that it does not just divide labor but also divides laborers as it associates each occupation with a pure or impure status (Ambedkar 14). This status is ascribed at birth and cannot be changed. The caste system has created an unequal society that privileges and discriminates individuals on the basis of their caste membership. Thus, unlike economic classes which allow mobility, caste is a rigid system that has created historical advantages for the Savarnas and historical disadvantages for the Dalits who have difficulty accessing education, employment, and several other aspects of social and cultural life because of their status as “Untouchables.” In addition, it prescribes endogamy and hereditary occupation, thereby impeding social interaction, exchange of ideas and opinions, and social networks. 

However, this system has been actively resisted by several anti-caste visionaries who have fashioned alternate modes of thought at different points of time. For instance, Gail Omvedt pitches the thoughts and ideas of anti-caste intellectuals during the Bhakti movement, especially Ravidas, a Shudra saint, as one of the earliest articulations of utopia in the Indian subcontinent (18). Ravidas’s utopia opposed caste divisions and advocated for an equal and casteless society, built on “companionship” and free movement (107). [3] Omvedt contends that these visions of an ideal tomorrow were in stark opposition to the dystopian visions embodied in Kaliyuga, [4] espoused by Hindu Brahmin saints and scriptures. Since then, activists like Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Periyar, Ambedkar, and several others have tried to steadily establish a foundation for the growth of an anti-caste movement that challenges the dominance and supremacy of caste ideologies. Their ideology resists caste discrimination by uncovering how caste disadvantages Dalits, Adivasis, and all other marginalized sections and posits an alternate system that privileges equality and social justice.

Over time, the anti-caste movement was promulgated by writers, activists, and scholars through literature, poetry, art, music, theater, and the online avenues to highlight their perspectives and culture, thereby privileging an alternate mode of imagining their community. For instance, in literature, writers and activists used the autobiographical mode to discuss the impact of life not just on themselves but also on their community. Autobiographies like The Outcaste by Sharankumar Limbale, The Kaleidoscope of my Life by Shantabai Kamble, When I Hid my Caste by Baburao Bagul, connect their plight with the societal treatment of their community. In recent times, authors like Suraj Yengde and Yashica Dutt have used the mode to discuss the contemporary avatars of caste through their books Caste Matters and Coming Out as a Dalit respectively. Artists like Arivu, Mahi Ghane, and Sumit Samos are using hip-hop to resist caste structures. The digital medium has also added another dimension to the Dalit movement by making protest sites virtual. 

Dalit Futurism

Dalit futurism is a contemporary of these efforts. I conceptualize it as a contemporary of other Indigenous Futurisms, such as Chicano futurism, Adivasi Futurism, Subaltern Futurisms, etc. It is an analytical framework that explores the representation of caste and gender in Indian science fiction in English. It is an interdisciplinary project that draws from Dalit studies, science fiction studies, and science and technology studies. I argue that the government’s belief in technology as the solution for all issues fails to consider the inherent inequalities associated with their adoption. Thus, my project builds on extant scholarship that highlights how engineers, developers, and multi-national corporations embed their biases and prejudices in the design, development, and deployment of technology (Boeri 113; Toyama). This is visible in Indian matrimonial apps and websites, the lack of effective engineering solutions to eradicate manual scavenging, e-governance services for identity cards that do not account for landless and paperless Dalit communities, and online regulations that do not recognize caste-based hate speech (De’ 46; Pradhan and Mittal 275). As the twenty-first century rides on the back of new and emerging technologies, I suggest that it is important to understand and explore how caste interacts with technology and the emerging technoscientific culture.

I propose this investigation through Indian science fiction on caste. I theorize Dalit futurism as a methodological tool that enables the exploration of caste futures in alternate technoscientific worlds. It upholds Ambedkarism, [7] which resists caste discrimination by uncovering how caste influences different aspects of social, cultural, and political reality. It recognizes the potential in SF to defamiliarize the familiar and thereby provide freedom to its writers to explore different features of caste. As a result, it can disrupt, question, and challenge various notions about the caste system. Moreover, this defamiliarizing technique enables the genre to link past, present, and future on a single platform illustrating the contemporary avatars of caste. It uses the concepts of cognitive estrangement, the novum, and the mega-text to analyze how caste mutates in these science-fictional worlds and how our science-fictional and cultural vocabulary helps readers to comprehend the defamiliarized fictional environment (Naik 18). Dalit futurism destabilizes the boundaries between science fiction and Dalit studies to create an interdisciplinary space. It allows a simultaneous movement between the fictional and the real world. The fictional engagement with caste-flavored technologies encourages us to think about our reality. 

Dalit Futurism as a Methodological Tool

To illustrate this phenomenon, I analyze Chosen Spirits (2020) by Samit Basu, a dark, dystopian novel set in 2050s India. Basu extrapolates and exaggerates the events that led up to the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 [6]—both the protest and the government crackdown. The fictional world is replete with imaginary technologies that are embedded with caste biases and attitudes. These function as novums that are introduced into the market by Savarna businessmen who wish to maintain their status quo. 

Here, Dalit futurism enables me to analyze how caste is deployed in two major ways: firstly, by the amplification of the neoliberal economy that effectively sheaths caste ideologies; secondly, how this facade is maintained through the media discourse and challenged by the marginalized through the same platform. This hegemony is ensured by controlling the public discourse through the FlowVerse, a 24/7 live platform that is the major source of news and entertainment and can be compared to an amalgamation of social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. 

Basu parodies the caste-corporate entities by exaggerating the social capital and networks cultivated by the Savarnas, i.e., Banias by creating the fictional “access-caste Brahmin,” a group that has been able to convert their social capital and networks to cultivate “one-degree relationships with real power” (Basu 68). This element signals the Brahmin-Bania nexus, first explained by Ambedkar, as a symbiotic relationship between the educated Madras Brahmins who were reporters and journalists, and the Banias, who provided financial support to the newspaper organizations. By pointing out the importance of historical advantages accrued by Brahmins, Ambedkar illustrates how the community has been able to re-adapt and re-fashion itself into advantageous positions, even as it acted internally, in isolation. Fuller and Narsimha’s study on Tamil Brahmins interprets this general prosperity as an art of power cultivated through accumulated social and cultural capital, which allowed them to adapt their professions and perceive upcoming opportunities while withdrawing from extremely competitive ones (27). In the novel, the success of Chopra as an access-caste Brahmin makes caste visible in political and economic governance. His investment in the development of an app to sell the lower castes, immigrants, and climate-change refugees; the antagonist Rohit’s belief in the contemporary manifestation of caste-ascribed occupations, and the hindered access to the market experienced by Dalit-run businesses all explain how caste blocks Dalit entry. 

These social inequalities are orchestrated and maintained through media organizations that operate on the FlowVerse. The FlowVerse hosts multiple FlowStars simultaneously and engineers multiple realities, a hyperbolized version of our contemporary reality wherein AI algorithms on social media craft an exclusive “feed” that is in tune with an individual’s tastes, preferences, and attitudes. Initially, the FlowVerse was being used by the marginalized to highlight their opinions, but over time was seized by caste-corporate entities. This is analogous to the Indian social reality which was reflected in the abysmal coverage of COVID-19, incidents of caste atrocities, and lopsided coverage that ignored Dalit issues or misrepresented them—indicating how news reportage has been compromised due to the nexus (Abhishek; Menon). The near-complete blackout of Dalit issues reflects the caste-prone mindset of the mainstream media, also a result of lack of effective representation as regular studies have revealed the lack of Dalits, Bahujan, and Adivasis in newsrooms (Who Tells Our Stories 1, 6). This state of affairs helps to contextualize Ambedkar’s warning about the Brahmin-Bania nexus in news organizations as the latter would be swayed by profit, not well-being. 

However, there is a secret underground movement brought together by Dalit artists and other marginalized folks that challenges the establishment. The most prominent activists in this fictional world are E-Klav and Desibryde, multi-media artists who subvert and challenge dominant narratives through Ambedkar’s ideas. E- Klav and Desibryde reject the holiness and reverence accorded to Hindu gods and goddesses and instead privilege the ideals espoused in the Indian constitution. E-Klav and Desibryde’s protests are a reflection of the Ambedkarite ideology, which promotes modern, secular attitudes.

I suggest that the performances enacted by these activists must not be considered solitary activities but efforts to build a counter-culture that foregrounds Ambedkar thought: “Educate. Agitate. Organize.” By visibly inserting Ambedkarite ideology in their protest, E-Klav and Desibryde locate oppression in caste-flavored neoliberalism. Thus, E-Klav and Desibryde’s protests are reminiscent of the multi-modal strategies utilized by Dalit activists like Thenmozhi Soundarajan, Anurag Minus Verma, Meena Kandasamy, @anti-casteCat, and others, who use an eclectic array of styles to present the Dalit perspective and challenge the neglect accorded by the mainstream media, by asserting their presence. These artists intervene in the perception of a single reality and highlight how caste privilege creates a reality that erases the struggles of the marginalized from their “feed.” This assertion amidst their mainstream negation is a powerful manner of resistance. 


[1] Varnas is a Sanskrit word that refers to social groups.

[2] Untouchability was a ritual practice prescribed by the caste system wherein the touch of the Shudras and Avarnas was considered to be “polluting.” Thus, these social groups were excluded from public spaces and institutions.

[3] This is in stark contrast to the restrictions imposed on the Shudras and Avarnas that prevented them from accessing public spaces (roads, markets, etc).

[4] Hinduism believes in four yugas, i.e., different periods of time. The world began with the age of Gods and has slowly deteriorated to Kaliyuga, the contemporary period which is ruled by greed, sins, and vices. Brahmanical saints envisioned Kaliyuga as dystopic precisely because of the breakdown of the caste system and the admixture of different castes. This “deterioration” of the social order is considered to be apocalyptic enough to lead to the end of the world.

[5] Ambedkarism is an anti-caste philosophy that is largely attributed to the ideas and thoughts of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, but like all movements has grown and expanded in scope and reach.

[6] The Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, is an Indian law that enables persecuted religious minorities like the Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, Parsis, Buddhists, and Jains from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh to gain Indian Citizenship. The Act led to widespread protests across the country and was heavily criticized for using religion as an eligibility criterion. The brutal government crackdown on these protests drew global attention. See “The Citizenship Amendment Act was the straw that broke the camel’s back” by Guarav Lele on the news portal, Newslaundry.


Abhishek, Aman. “How the Modi Government Manufactured Public Opinion during the Migrant Crisis.” The Wire, 25 June 2020,

Ambedkar, B. R. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches. Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, 2014.

Basu, Samit. Chosen Spirits. Simon & Schuster India, 2020.

Boeri, Natascia. “Technology and society as embedded: an alternative framework for information and communication technology and development.” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 38, no. 1, 2016, pp. 107–118.

De’, Rahul. “Caste Structures and E-Governance in a Developing Country.” Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics). 5693 LNCS. 2009, pp. 40–53.

Fuller, Christopher John, and Haripriya Narasimhan. Tamil Brahmans: The Making of a Middle-Class-Caste. U of Chicago P, 2021.

Lele, Gaurav. “The Citizenship Amendment Act Was the Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back.” Newslaundry, 22 Aug. 2020,, Accessed 14 Jan. 2023. 

Menon, Shivani. “Hathras: The Curious Case of Media Spectacle and Mockery of Gbv  Journalism.” Feminism In India, 2 Nov. 2020,

Naik, Priteegandha. “The Science-Fictionalisation of Globalisation and Image Advertising in Harvest by Manjula Padmanabhan,” Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and  Fantasy Research, Volume vol. 7, no. 1, 2020, pp.14–26.

Omvedt, Gail. Seeking Begumpura: The Social Visions of Anticaste Intellectuals. Navayana, 2008. 

Oxfam India and Newslaundry. Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of  Marginalised Caste Groups in Indian Newsrooms, 2019.

Pradhan, S. and A. Mittal. “Ethical, Health and Technical Concerns Surrounding Manual Scavenging in Urban India.” Journal of Public Health, vol. 28, 2020, pp. 271–276.

Toyama, Kentaro. “Can technology end poverty.” Boston Review, vol. 36, no. 5, 2010. pp 12–29.

Priteegandha Naik has submitted her thesis on Dalit-futurism which discussed Dalit studies, science fiction studies, and science and technology studies. She is currently working as a research associate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. 

Extractive Practices Depicted in Adrish Bardhan’s Science Fiction

Extractive Practices Depicted in Adrish Bardhan’s Science Fiction

Monali Chatterjee

The imagination of human beings, beyond all existing wonders of science and technology, often fuels the creation of scientific inventions and interventions. One of the best manifestations of such imagination is science fiction in literature. Science fiction in films is sometimes restrained or modified by production constraints. But the world of imagination in literature is unlimited for both the writer and the reader. It is for this reason that the genre of science fiction is one of the most popular genres of the postmodern era. Although science fiction originated in the West, (Roberts 24) it has travelled beyond the borders of western countries as a highly sought-after and successful genre. Some of the most lauded authors of sci-fi in India are Satyajit Ray (1921-1992), Adrish Bardhan (1932-2019), and Anish Deb (1951-2021).

As a highly acclaimed writer of both crime and science fiction, a translator, and an editor, Adrish Bardhan is an immortal name in the world of science fiction among the readers of Bengali literature. He graduated in science from Calcutta University. His ingenious science fiction immediately captured the interest of young adults and adult readers alike. The main character in his science fiction, Professor Natboltu Chakra, is a dedicated and celebrated researcher who garnered overwhelming approbation among Bardhan’s readers. Apart from translating crime and detective fiction into Bengali and other stories, he has also edited a couple of science fiction magazines, Ascharya and Fantastic. Starting in 1963, Ascharya became the first science fiction magazine in India. 

As one of the pioneers of science fiction in a regional language in India, Adrish Bardhan’s stories have been immensely popular. His corpus of stories “distinguishes its fictional worlds to one degree or another from the world in which we actually live: a fiction of the imagination rather than observed reality, a fantastic literature” (Roberts 1). Much of his science fiction, without being pedantic, subtly conveys serious messages, hoping to encourage lay readers to become environmentally cognizant and socially responsible citizens through its subtle didacticism. As a postmodernist genre, science fiction is often a hard-hitting literary channel through which a futuristic depiction of the predicament of humans. This is typically characteristic of Adrish Bardhan’s literature.

These tales are erected upon flawlessly conceivable scientific elucidations of unusual manifestations or incidences and significantly concern human existence, like the mutations of hormones or organisms, an erratic android robot, and “dark energy” or “the talking tree” warning about the inevitable catastrophe of the irreversible destruction of the world. This paper explores how such innovative representation and techno-cultural advances demonstrate the concept of extraction in varying degrees and dimensions. Through this research, an attempt has been made to examine Bardhan’s use of coherently integrated science fiction and fantasy in some selected stories by proposing revolutionary resolutions for climatic changes, natural calamities, global terrorism, and extractive practices. Bardhan’s narratives conform to a “branch of fantastic, or non-realist, fiction in which difference is located within a materialist, scientific discourse, whether or not the science invoked is strictly consonant with science as it is understood today” (Roberts 2). The criterion for selecting these stories is the projection of science fiction through the lens of extractive practices that dominates much of the neo-liberalist economy in the present day.

The notion of extraction involves the coerced removal of resources, objects, or individuals from their current habitat to another space. This coercion may involve the violence of invasion, burglary, or parasitic infestation of another organism, individual, or space. Extraction also refers to the fortification of a certain structure or system by bringing resources from another place. This may lead to the imperialist displacement of entire communities and civilizations, thereby commodifying the resources of the victims.

Bardhan’s stories concerning such extractive practices can be classified into three categories for the purpose of this research: attempts of extraction, extraction of resources, and global extraction. However, every story that is discussed in this paper does not always befit a single category. The analysis of these selected science fiction stories by Adrish Bardhan is based on an English translation, originally written in Bengali. Sci-fi is a “cultural wallpaper” (Aldiss and Wigmore 14) and some of the Bengali diction has been retained in the analysis to preserve the authenticity of the research. Most of the stories are narrated by the character of Dinanath Nath as witnessed by him or told to him by Prof. Natboltu Chakra.

Attempts of extraction in Bardhan’s tales expose the vanity of human greed and ambition. The stories that are elucidated below depict failed attempts of extraction. A perfect balance of science and fantasy comes to the rescue and prevents this extraction. The story “Maron Machine” (“Death Machine”) demonstrates the sudden disappearance of rockets launched in space by various wealthy and ambitious nations. These rockets vanish into thin air, causing nations to indict one another with allegations of theft and deceit. Astronauts had previously reported seeing a planet-like puckered sphere, or a “death machine,” before they disappeared into this “black hole.” It is only when Prof. Natboltu confronts this machine through an expedition in a one-man spaceship that he learns that the world of machines in this spherical space-ship wishes to take over the entire Universe by killing all forms of life, including humans on Earth. It is only through immense persuasion that the professor establishes that humans and machines can coexist without making one feel inferior to the other, and he miraculously leaves with a cancer-destroying virus. Here, Prof. Natboltu uses extraction to his advantage. The story demonstrates a failed attempt at aliens’ extraction of the human race. Stableford points out that “Such accounts of ominous cosmic encounters often found abundant dramatic fuel in analogies drawn between physics and psychology” (65).

A more pronounced degree of attempted extraction is visible in the story “Molecule Manush” (“Molecule Man”). Pitambar, a well-equipped excavator, consults Prof. Natboltu and successfully excavates the hidden treasures of King Jaidev of Jaigarh Fort of Kashmir from clues that he forcibly extracts from its neighbouring tribal communities. The clues indicate that out of the four secret stone rooms under a stone slab, three are stuffed with gold jewellery and sovereigns, which Pitambar greedily extracts out of the cavity (Bardhan 421). The warning in the clues indicated that the fourth room should not be opened. However, Pitambar’s avarice prompts him to force open this cubicle, which contains King Jaidev’s tomb in a glass box. Suddenly, the corpse inside vanishes and all the extracted gold splashes and sinks into River Iravati, on the edge of which this secret vault existed. Pitambar mournfully relates this failed attempt to Prof. Natboltu in a very different voice, which later turns out to be that of the deceased King Jaidev.

King Jaidev had been hibernating in his tomb, through his capacity to change the structure of molecules within himself (gifted by this courtier scientist) and can assume the appearance of anyone he chooses. Since Pitambar comes to extract his treasures, he changes the molecular structure of the vaults and the gold appears to sink in the river, but is actually restored back to its vaults. King Jaidev parasitically invades Pitambar’s body by making changes to the molecular structure and assumes his appearance. Having reported about this extraction to the professor, King Jaidev likely moves into the body of some other powerful person in order to extract wealth and power from another place. While Pitambar’s extraction fails, King Jaidev’s extraction through molecular changes triumphs at the end of the story. This echoes the notion that “Values and beliefs, understanding and interpretations change with time and place but they take hold of the human imagination at a deep level” (Nichols viii).

The extraction of resources belonging to humans by external forces or aliens is vividly depicted in Bardhan’s stories. In the story “Android Atanko” (“Android Terror”), a human-looking Android tears apart a nine-year-old tribal girl after kidnapping her to see how her body was different from its own synthetic fibres. This is an unusual extraction of a human by an android machine. This android is not an operating system in a computer or a robot but, rather, a synthesised human manufactured in a laboratory. It reads the mind of a man and assists him in pilfering a lump sum of money from an ATM, claiming that the programme of morality or ethics has not been installed into his system. On learning this from the TV news, the creator, Dr. Mathamota (translates as Dr. Fathead) of this android machine, with Prof. Natboltu’s assistance rescinds the powers of the android to save the world from further damage. In this respect, the story recalls Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

Extraction can also be a silent pursuit instead of a violent one. This is best illustrated in the story “Sona” (“Gold”). Instead of a single case of extraction, a series of extractive practices are conducted by aliens to secure gold from traditional sources that humans have accumulated for the last ten centuries and which are a form of a national legacy for each country from which it has been stolen. Two aliens receive shelter on the deserted island of Andaman with Prof. Natboltu’s help from the government of India. However, after some time, they send a swarm of insects loudly buzzing into a luxurious resort in Japan and cart away its prized gold bathtub despite strict surveillance. The locust-like swarm of insects dissolves statues of gold weighing hundreds of tons from a pharaoh’s tomb in Egypt, Ghengis Khan’s gold coins from Iran, Baron Rez’s gold from the Middle Ages, the gold of the religious crusaders of the 13th century in Paris, Khan Batu’s two golden horses from the Sahara desert, gold burgled from the temples of the Inca civilization by Spanish and Portuguese looters that had been drowned in the stormy seas, a large golden statue from Bangkok, Thailand, and vast reserves of gold from Fort Knox in the US. When Prof. Natboltu confronts the spike-headed aliens with charges of burglary, they admit that they need gold for survival just like humans require iron for their blood. Prof. Natboltu also detects that the culprits had extracted the idea of getting a species of insects to be able to coat itself with gold from the researchers of France and Germany so that the precious metal could be pilfered from anywhere in broad daylight.

These extractive practices demonstrate the subtle and dormant but immoral inclinations that sometimes take control of trespassing humans in the world. D’Ammassa is convinced that “it is extremely unlikely that humans would be able to live on alien worlds, even with compatible atmospheres, because the biochemistry of the local plants and animals would almost certainly not provide us with viable sources of food” (313). Therefore, Bardhan brings the aliens to the Earth to project his sarcasm about human avarice.

“Kaalo Chaakti” (“Black Diskette”) is a spine-chilling tale of a ruthless, rapid extraction of human bodies by a virus that pervades the world. It depicts all the forms of extraction mentioned above. In a lonely place, a medical student, Nikhil, finds a black diskette measuring an inch and half in diameter that suddenly pricks him with its unnoticeable barb. By the time Nikhil reaches his classroom with his roommate, Abhay, he is seized with a violent flu and is rushed to the hospital. The contents of his pocket are emptied into a drawer of the cabinet of the hospital ward. When no one is around, the black diskette emits light and a ray penetrates Nikhil’s eye and changes him forever.

Nikhil returns to the university campus hostel where he stays with Abhay, feeling fit and healthy, but Abhay notices drastic mutations in Nikhil’s body and personality. His eyes become listless and emit light in the dark. At 2:10 am one morning, Nikhil shows Abhay what appears to be a meteor shower in the dark sky. Nikhil does not seem to know how he knew about the meteor shower of Pleiades (Kritika constellation). This is a subtle extraction by a virus through the black diskette that inhibits his body and mind. Nikhil gets in touch with others who have been infected in a similar way and secretly disposes off the corpse of Natowar, a hospital ward-attendant whose case was under scrutiny because of his mysterious death by the diskette. This infection spreads in a police station and, at 2:30 am one morning, Abhay finds Nikhil in a secret meeting with thirty other such infected persons.

Abhay finds Nikhil downloading software, meeting Nitu Bose (in the same city), a software titan and Nikhil’s continuous efforts in spreading the virus. By this time, the mutating virus has infected not only the people of the city, but also spread throughout the world. People infected with the virus would buy the diskettes from infected shopkeepers for infecting their own children. People who were in power in various countries are also infected. Those infected exhort the others to join the community of the infected “superhumans.” Nitu Bose writes to the UN to get infected by the virus or be prepared for war. Abhay extracts a yellow fluid from the barb of the black diskette and consults Prof. Natboltu. The UN sends military arrangements through an aeroplane to the city of the university where Nikhil studies. A diskette flies past and the plane vanishes into thin air. This implies that the diskette is capable of creating a mini black hole, which is a lethal form of extraction. Instead of being governed by an individual’s own brain, a mutated person is governed by a super brain that exists in the Milky Way.

Apart from the diskette and the meteor showers, the extractors are not visible to humans. Prof. Natboltu realises that the black diskette releases “prion” proteins into the human body, which activates a dormant lethal virus that is present in the DNA of human genes. By spreading a special kind of laughing gas using missiles all over the world (with the help of his millionaire friend and missile owner, P. G. Putatundo) and dousing the diskettes into liquid oxygen, the effect of the mutation-causing virus is finally dispelled and the human beings are liberated from the deadly virus. About sixty per cent of the total population of the world had been infected by this virus. Most of these humans die and the rest are morphed back to their original human form. The Earth becomes much lighter with the decrease in population. This helps the governments to curb poverty and unemployment.

Global-level extraction is evident in those of Bardhan’s stories in which non-humans urgently point out important messages to human beings. The subtly didactic stories remind   the readers how human beings have been extracting precious resources from the planet without being concerned about its consequences and the possible extinction of the entire human race. Under the influence of neo-liberalism, humans have been extracting a far greater quantity of natural resources and non-renewable energy in order to commodify them in the international market. The human extraction of natural resources leads to the extinction of both.

The ultimate form of human extraction by humans in the form of war, terrorism and all forms of actions that threaten world peace is poignantly depicted in the story “Dark Energy.” In order to put an end to the violent atrocities, the “quintessence” (as expounded by Aristotle) or “Dark Energy” shows Dinanath Nath around the war-smitten and terror-stricken nations of the world. “Dark Energy” depicts the reification of scientific fantasies into reality by a sudden bombardment of all the defence systems of countries that are governed by the hegemony of terrorism and tyranny. Dark Energy—represented by a very heavy marble—turns out to be a wondrous antidote to world terrorism and anarchy. However, it shows how this extraction could be avoided if human beings value world peace.

The warning against human extraction of natural resources is firmly reinstated in the story “Gaachh” (“Tree”). Prof. Natboltu finds a square stone and is hypnotically drawn to Easter Island on the Pacific Ocean. A large ancient tree on its neighbouring island, Motu Nui, communicates to the professor through its cells about the perilous consequences of climatic changes due to the continual human extraction of natural resources and deforestation. Bardhan suggests a production-oriented economy instead of an “extractive economy” (Hecht 257).

Prof. Natboltu is an unbiased scientist who has taken upon himself the task of restoring world peace and stopping any form of forcible or unethical extraction. He ensures that poetic justice is present and retribution is meted out to those who deserve it. In most of these stories, the extraction is stopped or prevented in order to bring about poetic justice in the interest of humans and the survival of the planet. Bardhan’s style of depicting sci-fi vs reality rises beyond binary aspects like nature vs technology, history vs global progress, and human beings vs nature. Extractive activities have been part of human existence since the inception of humans on the planet. Bardhan’s science fiction proposes simple solutions that may require the vast majority to think alike, towards the conservation of natural and ecological resources in order to minimise the effects of climate change. The hope that the urgent messages against extraction in Bardhan’s stories may reach a wide audience convinces Bardhan’s readers (most notably, through the story “String Bhoot”) that the science of the past may become outdated, but the science fiction of today becomes the science of the future (Bardhan 658).


Aldiss, Brian. W. and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. Gollancz, 1986.

Bardhan, Adrish. Professor Natboltu Chakra Sangraha. Ananda Publishers, n.d.

D’Ammassa, Don. Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction. Facts on File Library on World Literature, 2005.

Hecht, Susanna. “Extraction, Gender and Neoliberalism in the Western Amazon.” Nature, Raw Materials, and Political Economy: Research in Rural Sociology and Development, vol. 10, 2005, 253–285.

Nichols, Bill. “Foreword.” Cognitive Theory and Documentary Film, edited byCatalin Brylla and Mette Kramer.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, v-x.

Roberts, Adam. Science Fiction: The Critical Idiom. Routledge, 2000.

—. The History of Science Fiction. Second Edition. Palgrave, 2006.

Stableford, Brian. Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Routledge, 2006.

Why Women Can’t Be Space Marines…or Priests: Warhammer 40K and Catholic Theology

Why Women Can’t Be Space Marines…or Priests: Warhammer 40K and Catholic Theology

Jess Flarity

Warhammer 40,000 (henceforth, 40k) is the world’s most popular miniature war game (“Top Five”, Harrop 3) while the Jesuits are the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church ( Both institutions are founded on principles featuring women’s exclusion: women cannot serve as Jesuit priests nor become “Space Marines,” a kind of warrior-priest in 40k’s science fictional far future (the year 40,000). The Catholic priesthood officially became male-only in the late 4th century, at the Council of Laodicea near the end of the Perso-Roman War (New Advent, Cannon 11), while 40k’s fan base has remained overwhelmingly male since it debuted in 1987 (Harrop: 1 in 36 players are women; 7% of site users are female-identifying respondents). This essay analyzes the Church’s public response to women-as-priests by Catholic leaders, such as Jesuit Superior-General Arturo Sosa, Pope Francis, and Pope John Paul II, then draws comparisons to the response of women as Space Marines by the creators and fans of 40k; the two communities have striking similarities. This would not be surprising to German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who stated in his treatise on the intersection between secular and religious communities, An Awareness of What is Missing: “Secularization functions less as a filter separating out the contents of traditions than as a transformer which redirects the flow of tradition” (18). The goal of this essay is to bridge what Habermas calls the “cleavage between secular knowledge and revealed knowledge” (17) and provide a clear breakdown for a devout Jesuit priest or a fanatical 40k player on how their organization directly supports the oppression of women. My intention is to create communicative action in the Habermasian sense and redirect the flow of a harmful tradition: the exclusion of women from what should obviously be gender-neutral spaces.

40k and the lore surrounding the game is a particularly useful comparison to Catholicism because of how quickly it grew from being a niche hobby into something like its own religion. What started as a tabletop battle system has transformed over three decades into a multimedia platform that publishes novels, video games, and a variety of other content all marketed towards its predominantly male audience; its parent company, Games Workshop, now has market capital of more than a billion British pounds (Hern). Violent games and the surrounding “geek culture” have been overwhelmingly masculine since their development in the 1970’s, as the Atarigame console and pen-and-paper games like Dungeons and Dragons were developed and tested almost exclusively by men. While this “default maleness” in geekdom has slowly shifted to be more welcoming to women in recent years, incidents such as 2014’s Gamergate and the Sad/Rabid Puppies controversy at Worldcon continue to prove how reluctant these conservative cultures are to accepting women as full members of their communities.

While 40k players tend to be middle-class, white “geeks” between the ages of 15 and 40 (Hern), Jesuit priests are a diverse congregation known around the world for their academic contributions and their commitment to helping impoverished communities. This is despite the fact that the Order’s modern vow of chastity is based on Saint Augustine’s incredibly biased theological writings equating a woman’s sexuality with sin (Torjesen 223), creating a dynamic that psychologist and laicized Catholic priest Eugene Kennedy calls, “[a] signature [that] has been branded so deeply into the ecclesiastical organizational tree that it seems as natural to those who tend it as the grain of the wood itself” (174). As of August 2022, Pope Francis continues to block any attempts allowing priests to marry, or for women to be elevated into the lesser role of a church deacon, even though he stated in 2018’s Synod for the Amazon, “Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community” (Chapter V, 99).

In a similar tactic to skirt accusations of misogyny, the newest Eighth and Ninth editions of 40k feature female characters as centerpieces in Games Workshop’s promotional materials (“Warhammer-Community”), and the previously sexualized models in the armies called the Sisters of Battle (space nuns) and the Dark Eldar (space elves) have been “toned down” since their original creation, possibly in response to related feminist backlash against the game in the early 2010’s. Despite the increase of women’s roles in media portrayals, the various factions of the male-only Space Marines continue to dominate in popularity among casual and tournament players, comprising over 50% of all the armies fielded in 2019, while the Sisters of Battle were less than 2% of all the armies fielded ( In addition, Space Marine characters serve by far as the most common protagonists for the game’s supplementary materials, such as the hundreds of in-universe novels, as well as in related movies and video games (Black Library).

The fact that Space Marines can only be men is echoed throughout the ranks of every Catholic priesthood, but this essay will focus specifically on the Jesuits, as the Order’s reputation of being the most “liberal” wing of the Church was first recognized in the secular American consciousness during the 1960’s (McDonough: “Metamorphoses” 329), suggesting that individual Jesuit priests may secretly be in favor of ordaining women in spite of their current leader, Arturo Sosa, stating in 2017 that women’s full inclusion into the priesthood “has not yet arrived” (“Stirring the Waters”). In contrast to Sosa, feminist scholar and practicing Catholic Tina Beattie positions female priests as a modern necessity in the introduction of New Catholic Feminism:

…until women are recognized as full and equal participants in the life of faith, until we are acknowledged as persons graced with the image of God, capable of representing Christ to the world as fully and effectively as men do, the Church herself will continue to be a spiritual desert where men’s fears and fantasies lead them to refuse the grace that female sacramentality might bring to Catholic liturgical and institutional life (2).

Beattie’s idea that men’s “fears and fantasies” control their views of women is a critical building block in the philosophical parallels between 40k’s history and Jesuit theology. Strict adherence to holy scripture/game lore is necessary for maintaining the identity of a priest/player, and unfortunately, blaming women’s biology, specifically its reproductive or sexual power, serves as a scapegoat for these individuals having to reflect on their institution’s own problematic teachings.

Fictional Game Lore Functions as Religious Doctrine

When Catholic priests and 40k players follow a “divine” canon, it relieves them of personal responsibility regarding their beliefs and actions related to these beliefs. This technique is a very common one in conservative circles, and was used to negate any chance of women Catholic priests by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 apostolic letter, Ordinatio sacerdotalis:

I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful…The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary…received neither the mission proper to the apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the nonadmission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as a discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the Wisdom of the Lord of the Universe.

This statement leads devoted Catholics to absolve John Paul II of any moral failure related to the ostracization of women because it is the Church which “has no authority”—and his repeated message of obedience or faith to a mysterious “plan” further reinforces his helplessness as an individual. This type of cognitive bias serves as not just one, but two of the central pillars of Jesuit vows to obedience ( Another trait visible in the Pope’s statement will feature as a motif in this essay, and that is the role of paying “lip service” to women while also treating them unequally, as this kind of “cheap talk” does not require communicative action in the Habermasian sense (Risse). John Paul II states that “nonadmission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean women are of lesser dignity” or “be construed as discrimination,” but nearly all feminist scholars as well as many female Catholics are clear in their disagreement with this position. Pope Francis has continued the tradition of mitigating the potentiality of female priests as recently as 2020, stating in the Querida Amazonia Apostolic Exhortation:

[Involving women in the Church] summons us to broaden our vision, lest we restrict our understanding of the Church to her functional structures. Such a reductionism would lead us to believe that women would be granted a greater status and participation in the Church only if they were admitted to Holy Orders. But that approach would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective (100, emphasis mine).

According to Pope Francis, the clericalization of women into advanced leadership roles within the Church will somehow “subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective,” though he provides no evidence to support his reasoning as to why, and he goes on to state:

In a synodal Church, those women…should have access to positions…that do not entail Holy Orders and that can better signify the role that is theirs…This would also allow women to have a real and effective impact on the organization, the most important decisions and the direction of communities, while continuing to do so in a way that reflects their womanhood (103, emphasis mine).

Pope Francis establishes that “appropriate” gender roles are the true foundation of Catholicism, and his command that women should serve in a way that “reflects their womanhood” is a familiar conclusion the Church has been claiming for over a thousand years. Academic researcher Peter McDonough criticized this viewpoint in 1990:

In a patriarchy, the institutional consequences of [reforms] in what might seem to be merely symbolic quandaries about the role of women are potentially very great. The connections between gender inequality, psychosexual identity, and organizational authority are—or once were—extraordinarily tight in Catholicism. Change in this area, which poses a crisis of individual and corporate identity and purpose, is centered on the working out and sustenance of a male role and personality in opposition to women (“Metamorphoses” 334).

A devoted 40k player undergoes an identical form of disassociation regarding the role of women as Space Marines; this person is heavily invested in the “world” of the game, as they have developed a kind of mental landscape out of the myriad of details regarding the different armies and alien races across a ten-thousand-year timeline that also includes many lengthy characterizations of the universe’s key human figures. In this fictional universe, the God-Emperor of Mankind is the most important character, similar to how Jesus or God plays a central role in the life of a Jesuit—when John Paul II uses terminology such as “the Lord of the Universe,” it is not difficult to see the connection between the two different mindsets. In fact, the origin story of 40k’s God-Emperor and the creation of the Space Marines from his own genetic material was intended to be a satire of religion and was partially inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost (McAuley 192).

The ever-expanding 40k lore is known within the community as the “fluff.” While some players pay minimal attention to the fluff and instead focus on the tabletop, skirmish-based combat of the game or the hobby of painting its miniature models, other players become monk-like chroniclers of this information, with some even contributing their own material to the canon, establishing a greater ethos in their “faith” in a process not unlike being formally accepted as a priest. As of June 2020, there were over three hundred books set in the 40k universe published under Games Workshop’s literary imprint, the Black Library; some of these stories began as fan fictions which won a sponsored competition (Walliss 129). As one player stated in Walliss’ 2012 study on gender in 40k fanfiction: “the existing fluff is a kind of Bible of sorts…the established fluff is law, and breaking that is to commit some unwritten crime” (123). A central pillar of this “40k Bible” is that Space Marines can only be male, according to the original lore by Rick Priestly, and this outlook is still quietly supported by Games Workshop. A lengthy article on the game’s official website contains many explanations and diagrams regarding the pseudo-scientific enhancements a Space Marine must undergo to become an immortal, godlike super-soldier, and one section states, “…only a small proportion of people can become Space Marines. They must be male because zygotes are keyed to male hormones and tissue types, hence the need for tissue compatibility tests and psychological screening” (“Rites of Initiation”, emphasis mine).

This innocuous detail supports the baseline of a misogynistic worldview in the fictional far-future of 40k: because the vast majority of its players are male, many don’t even recognize how this element effectively denies a woman a sense of normality in the game’s hierarchy, where the Space Marines, like bishops or cardinals in the Church, are at the very top of the organization’s bureaucratic power structure. This is in part due to an internet phenomenon known as Poe’s law. First recognized in response to a Creationism forum in 2005, Poe’s law states: “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article” (Ellis). Poe’s law functions as a philosophical shield for a 40k player who can point to the game’s hypermasculinity and hyperbolic levels of violence as a parody of the space opera genre, allowing them to safely assert that its feudal, “grimdark” setting should not be taken seriously, thereby inoculating its lore, and their personal beliefs, against all arguments regarding gender politics. This is in direct opposition to one of the game’s primary creators, Rick Priestly, who stated in an interview in 2015:

To me the background to 40k was always intended to be ironic…There’s no guarantee that the Emperor is anything other than a corpse with a residual mental ability to direct spacecraft. It’s got some parallels with religious beliefs and principles, and I think a lot of that got missed and overwritten (Duffy).

Many modern 40k fans and writers have fallen into the trap of Poe’s law and are unable to discern the satirical elements of the game from the parts they actively enjoy: the actual misogyny is indistinguishable from the ironic misogyny. One of many, many examples of this fractured mental state is in the 2006 novel focusing on the Sisters of Battle, titled Faith & Fire, by James Swallow. Throughout the book, male characters often muse about what it would be like to “bed” one of the Sisters, and the women are referred to constantly as “church bitches,” “wenches,” “harlots,” and “whores” throughout the text. But this one book is just the tip of a misogynist iceberg; these books inhabit shelf space at your local library and used book stores around the world, with some even appearing on the New York Times bestseller list (Harrop 4). Nearly every book is by a male author, and they are so riddled with casual sexism that the mindset of these super-fans lies in the same state Kennedy writes about Catholic priests, with “the signature branded so deeply into the ecclesiastical organizational tree that it seems as natural to those who tend it as the grain of the wood itself.” Priestly recently spoke against this trend in another interview in 2019:

…in the ‘history’ of the Imperium I always imagined there were a number of eras during which human space was divided or where societies diverged and different moral or ethical values prevailed—however—[Games Workshop] always tended towards ‘Waagh the Emperor’—for such is the nature of the business—so the portrayal of the Imperium as one, simple idea became the things that it was possible to promulgate through the business as a whole…I always thought of the Imperium as a vast self-serving bureaucracy in which no-one really knew what they were doing but they continue [to] do it out of a sense of tradition and routine—so status and power become bound up with all kinds of half-baked assumptions, received wisdom and superstition. Much like the real world really (BaronBifford).

Unfortunately, the tradition of excluding women in 40k has become “bound up” as Priestly says, with “status and power and half-baked assumptions,” but this is also an accurate portrayal of the Catholic church when addressing issues related to feminism. Tina Beattie notes the Church’s bias in her response to a 2003 letter to the public from Pope John Paul II:

Instead of seeking a balanced engagement that would acknowledge affinities as well as dissonances between Catholicism and feminism, the letter sets the (male) authority of the Catholic hierarchy over and against feminism, in such a way that all feminists are discredited and the Church’s expertise in humanity is confidently asserted (New Catholic Feminism 18).

Many 40k fans response to feminist arguments like this one in the exact same way as Catholic leaders: they assert their ethos as players/priests and cite examples of lore/doctrine as “proof” that the sexism was already there all along. What’s worse is that while these arguments are circulating, a vast amount of mental inertia accumulates as a form of religious interpretation; in over three decades of 40k’s existence, Games Workshop has slowly grown and adapted to this audience as a source of income. The company determines what remains in the canon, and radical adjustments to the lore would turn away the “hardcore” players, who are their best customers. Thus, the only hope of changing the rule of “male hormones and tissue types” for Space Marines lies in lobbying 40k’s core audience to ask for this change—the male fans—making the task appear impossible. Brunkhorst notes this obstacle in her summary of Habermas’ philosophy: “[Habermas] has never abandoned the Marxist thesis that the economic forces that determine social action have become autonomous and therefore represent a problem…” (30).

Much like other geek-identified spaces, such as Magic: The Gathering and online video games, the road to equality begins with convincing a single, biased individual to self-reflect and choose to change his thinking or behavior regarding his own sexism (Muñoz-Guerado and Triviño-Cabrera 195). But this is an incredibly difficult proposition for a population who use their identities as geeks as a form of escapism: their loyalty to the game supersedes their loyalty to any moral arguments surrounding gender equality, which many fans with traditionally conservative beliefs may actively fight against anyways. McDonough puts the Jesuits in a similar position in his book Passionate Uncertainty, which analyzes the worldviews of American priests, stating, “The Jesuits are in a bind. They cannot go back, insofar as that course would entail a return to clerical dominance in an age of lay ascendancy. But they cannot move forward without placing their clerical identity at risk” (2). Likewise, the majority of 40k fans are trapped in a cycle of moral limbo regarding the more problematic aspects of their fictional universe, and it is often easier for individuals to convince themselves that it is all “just a game” and return to a state of sublime indifference as they paint the imaginary boltguns of their immortal, eight-foot tall warrior-priests…who can only be men.

The Problem of Women’s Bodies

Perhaps what is most surprising about 40k pre-2017 was its total erasure of empowered female characters across the in-game universe, as succinctly pointed out by Muñoz-Guerado and Triviño-Cabrera (198-205). Their essay proves that it doesn’t matter which army a player chooses across the dozens of different factions and species available in the game: women are inevitably silenced, invisible, deceitful, or cruel, and when they are present, such as in the Sisters of Battle or with the elf-like Eldar, they are always subjected to the male gaze (200). But a striking example of Games Workshop shifting into post-sexism, defined by Lorente as needing to create its own aesthetics to break away from its previously stale, virile image, is with the Repentia, a squad of Sisters of Battle who have failed in their oaths to the Emperor and given up one of their “senses,” transforming them into zealous warriors. The older, pre-2017 Repentia models featured women wearing scraps of clothing, exposing oversized breasts ubiquitous in female characters throughout fantasy and science fiction settings, but in the newer, version eight models, these women are more realistically muscular and they now wear modest shorts and tank tops (“Warhammer-Community”). But nothing else about the lore surrounding this squadron has changed—these women are still whipped into a frenzy with a literal whip as punishment for their “loss of purity,” which is an echo of Christianity’s obsession with virginity and a nod to the Inquisition’s practice of flagellation. Making any alterations to the lore surrounding the Repentia would be considered heretical by most players, as adhering to the game’s “grimdark” tone makes it so that the universe is in a process of endless war: every character (male, female, or alien) is effectively dehumanized as a form of necrocapitalism, or the subjugation of life to the power of death by political and economic forces (Banerjee 1). Changing the rules or backstory of even a single problematic squad, such as the Repentia, is an impossibility because of the multiple novels, tactical books, and physical models that are already in the hands and minds of players, reinforcing the unit’s existence as a “fact.”

But despite having many instances of sexualized female characters in 40k’s models, art, and story descriptions, most lore contrasts any imagery of a woman’s body with a strong de-emphasis on romantic or consensual relationships; these are stories about brothers-in-arms going to battle, even if the characters are women (The Black Library). The “eye candy” is for the player only, as Space Marines are entirely asexual, evidenced by Dembski-Bowden when he writesupon the mindset of a new soldier,“Sexuality is a forgotten concept, alien to his mind, merely one of ten thousand humanities his consciousness has discarded” (9). In accordance with the fluff, 40k remains a tabletop war game that, like the Space Marine character, has no need for sexuality, and is powered by what Wallis calls, “a universe of testosterone-fueled conflict with little or no room for the emotional complexities or morally grey areas that characterize everyday life” (130). Because of this purposeful choice in tone by both fans and Games Workshop, a woman in this universe, the same as a man or an alien, exists only as an object that produces or absorbs violent acts. This leaves no space for empathy, confirming what J.J. Bola writes in Mask Off: Masculinity Redefined:

The effect of [violent games] is not only that extreme violence is normalized, and a social talking point for boys and men, but these games also constantly reinforce the idea of an ‘Other’; an enemy. Many boys grow up thinking that there is always someone to fight against, inculcating a kill or be killed mentality… (55).

For many 40k fans, the Beauvoirian idea of the feminine Other becomes synonymous with the enemy Other, as the nearly all-male fanbase engages in conversation with itself about the game. Some psychologists, such as Donald Meltzer, might compare this behavior with that of an individual trapped in a level of pseudo-maturity that results in masturbatory behavior; or sociologist Michael Messner could assert this is another form of “soft essentialism” which creates a naturalized version of men who society dictates can’t control their actions, as both these comparisons have been drawn from academics analyzing a variety of gaming and “men’s rights” communities on the internet (Ging). In either case, voluntarily celibate priests or involuntarily celibate players may manifest a subconscious fear and hatred of women as the source of their sexual frustration. Beattie draws this conclusion:

While celibacy can be a beautiful vocation and an inspiring witness to faith, it can also be a form of gynophobia if it leads men to form closed communities as a way of avoiding contact with women. Gynophobia infects church teaching with an impetus to dominate women through various tactics of sexual and reproductive control and priestly exclusion (“Empire of Misogyny?”).

In contrast to Games Workshop’s shift into post-sexism, the Catholic church refuses to budge even remotely on their position regarding women’s bodies as representations of sin and sexuality, having lapsed since the 1960’s into what one Jesuit has called “pelvic theology” (McDonough, Passionate Uncertainty 1). The current doctrine of Catholic beliefs in this area is still influenced primarily by the conclusions made by St. Augustine in the early 400’s, as his teachings became the Church’s main structuring device since Pope Pius XI in 1930, even though many references regarding marriage and sexuality existed before him (Clark 1-2). According to Augustine, the root of evil lies in the emotion of sexual passion, a necessity required to stimulate an erection, which results in a pleasure that is not on the account of God, and because of this, the only way to entirely avoid sin is to refrain from marriage and become celibate (On Marriage 1.19, 1.27). Because a woman’s sexuality—the sensory experience of her body by a man—is what triggers this “blush of shame” (Chapter 7), her uncontrollable physicality is what separates her from the purity of the priesthood and God. Thus, the requirement of celibacy in the Jesuit priesthood is inextricably linked to both a woman’s physical body and her ability to become ordained in their Order, creating a similar philosophical conclusion to the impossibility of female Space Marines in 40k. The Catholic church and Games Workshop teach that a woman has the wrong “tissues,” and this mantra remains a cornerstone of these biased institutions. A final warning about the lengths the Catholic church is willing to take against women comes from Beattie, who has been erased in the real world by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. She spoke out against the hypocrisy being perpetuated by Pope Francis, stating in 2018:

Yet far from offering a genuine model of equality in difference, [Catholic] theology of the body is ridden with sexual stereotypes and essentialisms that are largely motivated by a resistance to feminism, women’s ordination, homosexuality, abortion, contraception and, more recently, what is usually referred to in magisterial documents as “gender ideology” (“Empire of Misogyny?”).

Her arguments here were partially in response to having speaking engagements at both churches and Catholic universities cancelled, the modern-day equivalent of being branded as a heretic.

Inequality is Equality: Sisters of Battle and Nunneries

The most common argument against female Space Marines or female Catholic priests is that women already have their place within their respective institutions: in secular, working positions and nunneries for the Church, and as Sisters of Battle or in minor roles of other armies in 40k. The fact that priests/players have difficulty fathoming how weak these female organizations are when compared to their powerful, male-only counterparts is due in part to what social philosopher Zygmunt Bauman has termed “liquid modernity,” which emphasizes globalization and individualization as the major factors that have shaped our modern world, resulting in a depersonalized sociality. Sociology scholar Ross Abbinnett meshes liquid modernity with the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, stating that the proximity of close relationships, such as the “brothers-in-arms” mentality of priests/players, creates an ethical bond where the principles of justice do not apply to the strange Other (107), and draws this conclusion:

This then is the mechanism of destitution that is implicit in liquid modernity: the constant re-creation of vast tracts of waste humanity who are deprived of means of securing a place in the productive networks of global capitalism…if one falls below, or never acquires, a given level of social and economic capital, one is permanently cut adrift from all but the most basic necessities of life (114-115).

Abbinnett is referring here to poverty-stricken populations who are kept in the cycle of endless need, but this lesser social status parallels the position imposed on nunneries and the Sisters of Battle. By never being allowed an equal foothold within their institutions, they are limited to the “basic necessities” of their status, which translates to fewer model options and less powerful units in 40k, and women serving only as workers in Catholicism, i.e., having subservient roles that do not participate in the higher echelons of the Church’s decision-making hierarchy; examples of this include the appointment of an all-male Catholic Council for the Economy in 2014 (Zagano), and the more obvious fact that all of the voting members at the 2019 Amazon synod were men despite Pope Francis declaring earlier that year that women “should be fully included in decision-making processes” (Viggo Wexler) as yet another example of his “cheap talk” that fails in the Habermasian sense.

Games Workshop has majorly mitigated the Sisters of Battle since their inception, resulting in the army having only expensive, metal models for over twenty years, as well as a lack of flexibility in customization of their units, and a higher “point-per-unit” cost on their current models. Even though Gav Thorpe wrote the original Sisters of Battle codex in 1997, the models were only available as pewter figurines, by far the most expensive method of production (Floyd), meaning that a playable “army” of Sisters could cost a player well over a thousand dollars. This created a chicken-and-egg problem: because the Sisters had such a high price point, they sold poorly, and because nobody bought them, there was no incentive to produce plastic models. As a macabre example from my own experience with 40k, one of my fellow players bought a few Sisters models only because he thought they made exquisite corpses—he would mutilate their bodies and place them under the feet of his mighty Chaos Marines.

Even though Games Workshop finally committed to the promise of selling cheaper, plastic units for the Sisters in 2019, this army is still more costly by a wide margin than a Space Marine army of equivalent point value. As a comparison, creating a 650 point “field” for both armies using the official website, the Sisters cost $415 (U.S.), while the Space Marine army of equivalent points is only $185 (“Warhammer-Community”, prices in June 2020). In addition to this “pink tax” where the Sisters are more than twice as expensive, there are only about thirty different models for sale in their army, while the variety of Space Marine units is in the hundreds. Also, even though this army is the Sisters of Battle, five of their available units are still male models, and the masculine presence in this supposedly all-women organization breaks the common fan argument of “there can’t be female Space Marines because there are no Brothers of Battle.” In contrast, the only female unit that can be included in a Space Marine army is from the Emperor’s elite assassins, a woman whose shape-shifting capabilities only function because the drugs are “compatible with her gender,” reinforcing the woman-as-betrayer trope that is so frustratingly common throughout 40k (Muñoz-Guerado and Triviño-Cabrera 202).

This game-based data shows a measurable, mathematical way of tracking how the Sisters of Battle are at best, a third-rate competitor to the Space Marines, but correlating data from the Catholic church regarding various female-only groups of nuns and male-only groups like the Jesuits is more of a challenge. According to a survey in 2014, the number of the Catholic sisters in the U.S. has fallen from 180,000 in 1965 to about 50,000, whereas the total number of priests has dropped comparatively less, from 58,000 to 38,000 during the same time period (Lipka); the percentage of male priests has dropped by 34%, while the nuns have dropped by over twice that, at 72%. While the reasons for this discrepancy are multifarious, the main culprit appears to be tied to the secular women’s rights movement: in 2012, an all-women Catholic organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), 80% of whom are Catholic nuns, was investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith—the same Church branch which has branded Beattie as a dissenter—and many of the letters exchanged between these two factions were kept from the eyes of the public (NCR Staff).

 Leaders in the LCWR have made their voices heard regardless of any sanctions the organization received: these women are simply demanding equality in the Church, yet are continually told to “rediscover their identity” by conservatives (Fiedler), causing many women to simply abandon traditional Catholicism in favor of more progressive interpretations of the doctrine. One such group is the Roman Catholic Women Priests, who reject the penalty of excommunication imposed on them by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in 2008, and identify as “loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit’s call to change an unjust law that discriminates against women” (Roman Catholic Women Priests). Unlike 40k, where there are so few female players that their voices go unheard, Catholic women are loudly proclaiming and making statements in the public sphere regarding the unjust practices of the Church, who continue to engage in cheap talk in response to them—the only strategy that has proven effective in creating change, regrettably, is for women to leave their own Faith.

The Jesuits often contradict themselves on the issue of women’s ordination. Norbert Brieskorn, a Jesuit and Professor of Social and Legal Philosophy in Munich, responded to Habermas’ initial argument in An Awareness, stating, “The protection of human rights and the freedom of the religious communities to organize themselves must be guaranteed no less than the limitations placed on religious communities by generally valid laws” (35). Brieskorn believes that a religion, in this case Catholicism, should be allowed to organize itself however it wants, with an all-male voting leadership, for example, in response to the limitations placed on the religion by “generally valid laws,” which intersects meaningfully with the German Constitution, which was changed in 1994 to read: “Men and women shall have equal rights. The state shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist” (Article 3). Brieskorn, like the majority of Catholic priests, has decided that this particular portion of the German Constitution is one of the “not generally valid laws,” and therefore believes the Church does not need to follow a State document and take the necessary steps to eliminate the sexist disadvantages in his own Order. He defends his position thusly: “There cannot be a state Church. Reason does not presume to act as a judge concerning truths of faith and it does not require that religion should be truncated into socially useful morality” (35, emphasis mine). One of these “truths of faith” in the view of a male priest like Brieskorn is that women cannot be ordained, so the rules of the State do not apply, and thus their religion cannot be “truncated into socially useful morality,” despite the Church’s continued claims of serving as a moral authority on many social issues. Feminist theorists are exasperated by this type of reasoning, as it sets up what Beattie calls “draping [the implications of dominating women] in the romantic language of maternal nature and ‘feminine genius’” (“Empire of Misogyny?”).

An example of this “draping” is when Arturo Sosa, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, argues that the Jesuits are making movements in the direction of equality, even though his rhetoric falls into the same lip service category as the statements made by Pope Francis. He made many compliments to the “feminine genius” at the Vatican in 2017, ironically concluding with, “We can listen carefully to the experience of women in the public sphere, hear how they work together, and be inspired by their courage. These are stories of doing the impossible” (“Stirring the Waters”). To be clear, this is the message women are getting from the Catholic World Church: We will listen to you, and then change nothing.

In 2017, as a way of maintaining his liberal persona, Pope Francis created a “Study Commission on the Women’s Diaconate” to explore the history and role of women in the Church structure, and to many of the Faithful, the act of making this commission looked like an extended hand to build communicative power with women in the Habermasian fashion. But members of the academic and secular community now see this motion as a massive failure: the commission finished its research in 2019 and not only did the review board advise the Pope that women can’t be priests, even the matter of making them deacons, a lesser role that still has little power in the Church hierarchy, was questioned—and yet another commission has been formed to look into that matter (Winfield). Again, because of the rapid pace people live under during “liquid modernity,” Pope Francis and his successors only need to keep making commissions where the board members draw disapproving or mixed conclusions, and then the argument for making women priests, or even deacons, can be suspended indefinitely.

Conclusion: No Girls Allowed?

If Arturo Sosa truly wants to make a difference in the lives of women, he must follow his own advice and do more than just listen—he should reach out to the Women’s Ordination Campaign (WOW). Founded in 1996, WOW has meticulously documented all the ecclesiological arguments necessary to ordain Catholic women priests and has support from individual Jesuits, though usually posthumously or on their deathbeds (Sagado). With the combined efforts of WOW, the LCWR, Roman Catholic Women Priests, and other like-minded organizations, the Jesuits have the unique opportunity to blaze a new path by being the first Order in the history of the Church to ordain women. But Sosa, like all the other male-only priests, possibly fears repudiation at the hand of Pope Francis, who upholds traditional doctrine and has excommunicated both male priests who support the ordination of women and also women who try and become priests, as well as any advocates for other hardline topics such as gay rights or the right to an abortion (Dias and Gorny). Likewise, Games Workshop fears the loss of their hardcore male fanbase if they are too openly “woke” in regards to female Space Marines.

Patriarchal institutions stay in power because of the collective like-mindedness of their male populations while also keeping access to resources restricted to the men in their leadership roles. By comparing the beliefs and behavior patterns of members of the Jesuit faithful to the nonreligious members of the 40k gaming community, this essay implores both priests and players around the world to undertake action on the personal level and begin lobbying their institutions to stop the cheap talk regarding the subjection of women. As Habermas states near the end of An Awareness:

Violations of universally accepted norms of justice can be more easily established, and denounced with good reasons, than can pathological distortions of forms of life…I suspect that nothing will change in the parameters of public discourse and in the decisions of the politically empowered actors without the emergence of a social movement which fosters a complete shift in political mentality (73-74).

The lack of gender equality in 40k and Catholicism is a pathological distortion that people everywhere should no longer abide. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in 1825, “He who begins loving Christianity better than truth will proceed by loving his own sect better than Christianity, and end in loving himself better than all” (Dupre 173). Whether these men read the Bible or a Space Marine codex, pray to Jesus while kneeling behind a pew or to the Chaos Blood Gods when rolling attack dice in a Games Workshop store, Catholic or secular, their sexist beliefs remain the same. It’s past time we made the change: we need Jesuit women and female Space Marines, not 40,000 years in the future, but today.

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The SF in Translation Universe #16

The SF in Translation Universe #16

Rachel Cordasco

It’s definitely been a year, and there’s a lot to catch up on here in the SFT Universe. Let’s hope that 2023 brings us all peace, joy, and a lot more SFT! For this column, I’d like to do something different—instead of highlighting current and upcoming SFT in roughly chronological order, I intend to tell you about everything SFT (that I know of, of course!) that’s come out between June and December of 2022. Furthermore, I will present the texts according to their format (anthologies, novels, etc.), since that order helps us see some interesting patterns in SFT from this past year. Let’s do this thing!

Anthologies consistently make up the smallest percentage of SFT each year, but during the last half of 2022, we had five (!) anthologies. Perhaps this means that readers are demanding more varied stories from a diverse array of authors, and from many different places. Thanks to the untiring editor and author Francesco Verso, Anglophone readers can get their hands on two very different and important anthologies: Kalicalypse: Subcontinental Science Fiction (co-edited with Tarun K. Saint and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay, Future Fiction) and Freetaly: Italian Science Fiction (Future Fiction). I include Kalicalypse here, despite the fact that most of the stories were originally written in English, because the anthology is a dual-language edition (English and Italian) and two of the stories were translated from the Bengali. These excellent texts come from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India. Freetaly is a landmark book in the SFT world because it is the first collection of Italian science fiction published in English. Among the many talented authors included are Linda De Santi, Alessandro Vietti, Verso himself, Clelia Farris, and Nicoletta Vallorani (whose story “The Catalog of Virgins” was translated by yours truly and originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine).

Anthologies of Chinese and Kurdish speculative fiction are also out now from Clarkesworld Books and Comma Press, respectively. New Voices in Chinese Science Fiction continues Neil Clarke’s efforts to make Chinese SFT mainstream in the Anglosphere. The stories included have never before been published in English. Comma Press’s Kurdistan +100: Stories from a Future State is the publisher’s latest collection of stories from countries where authors have been asked to imagine their collective future. Here, Kurdish writers are asked to create worlds located in 2046—a century after the short-lived independent Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. This anthology won the PEN Translates Award for 2021.

Last, but certainly not least, is the massive and fascinating Best of World SF 2 (Head of Zeus), edited by powerhouse author, editor, and translator Lavie Tidhar. This anthology follows his five-volume Apex Book of World SF series and the Best of World SF volume, and includes stories from Bolivia, Mexico, the Czech Republic, Italy, and everywhere in between. Readers will recognize names like Clelia Farris, Julie Novakova, Bo-Young Kim, K. A. Teryna, and many more. And did I mention that this book is really big? The more wonderful things to read, my dear!

If you’re more of a novel kind of reader, you’re in luck. 2022 brought us not only the latest Fresán book but new texts by Fresán’s fellow Argentine author César Aira, Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and (squeals excitedly) a trilogy by Israeli writer Shimon Adaf. Fresán’s The Remembered Part (tr. Will Vanderhyden, Open Letter) brings to a close a monumental trilogy about literary creation, narration, metatextuality, and memory. If you haven’t read Fresán, that’s something you need to rectify right now. And speaking of metatextuality…Aira’s The Famous Magician (tr. Chris Andrews, New Directions) also concerns itself with the writer’s craft, though here it is mixed up with a (potential) magician and the protagonist-writer’s uncertainty about whether or not his publisher and even his wife are also magicians.

Those looking for epic fantasy should look no further than Book 3 of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Hussite Trilogy, Light Perpetual (tr. David French, Orbit). Here the protagonist Reynevan must continue to run from his enemies (both human and mystical) and exchange his tools of healing and peace for those of a dangerous spy. Shimon Adaf’s sprawling and multilayered Lost Detective Trilogy (tr. Yardenne Greenspan, Picador) similarly employs magic, but also other subgenres: detective, murdery mystery, and science fiction to tell a complicated yet electric story. While it begins with the mysterious murder of troubled rock singer Dalia Shushan, it very quickly dives into Israeli society and politics, the perpetual ghost of the Holocaust, and a horrifying experiment that opened doors to another world. If you’ve never read Adaf, you should—you’ll thank me (my email address is below).

The collections from the second half of 2022 are as diverse as they are alluring. From the Japanese we get 3 Streets by Yoko Tawada (tr. Margaret Mitsutani, New Directions), where ghosts freely mingle with humans in health food stores and on the street; from Uruguay, we have Horacio Quiroga’s Beyond (tr. Elisa Taber, Sublunary Editions), with stories that hover between two worlds: the living and dead, the sane and insane, and civilization and nature. Swedish author Anders Fager brings us Swedish Cults (tr. Henning Koch and Ian Lemke, Valancourt Books), where the dark and monstrous emerge (bloody sacrifices in the woods, mysterious illnesses, and more). The disturbing and mysterious likewise make Samanta Schweblin’s Seven Empty Houses a collection you won’t be able to put down (tr. Megan McDowell, Riverhead). Here characters are filled with dread because of houses, relationships, and their own histories. Schweblin’s gift for writing stories that settle deep in your mind and refuse to leave is on full display in Seven Empty Houses.

So while we may have been busy and stressed in 2022, at least we could put our hands on great SFT! Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and what you’re looking forward to: Until next time in the SFT Universe!

Masculinity in Dystopian Science Fiction: Masculinity Construction in the Context of Gender Roles in R.U.R.

Masculinity in Dystopian Science Fiction: Masculinity Construction in the Context of Gender Roles in R.U.R.

Meltem Dağcı

Although it is known that the gender gap between professions continues both in the world and in the slowdown of developments in the field of artificial intelligence, algorithmic technologies have brought the relationship between robotics, gender, artificial intelligence, and professions to the forefront. In this context, some studies have investigated whether there is a gender-based difference in social life in terms of accepting and adopting the existence of robots. Due to the developments in artificial intelligence systems, artificial intelligence engineers have technologies that can produce robots or load different algorithms on the robot. The most difficult thing in the field of artificial intelligence is to prevent gender inequality in the field and to work so that artificial intelligence does not turn into a technology that develops under the patriarchal mentality. In this context, there are some studies investigating whether there is a gender-based difference in social life in accepting and adopting the existence of robots.

By analyzing Karel Čapek’s male robots in the play R.U.R. (1920) and their performance of masculinity, this paper illuminates how, according to the text, the concepts of masculinity can also be transferred through machines. The human creation project of the positivist old Rossum and the industrial knowledge and capitalist leanings of the young Rossum reinforce the purpose of the fiction. An analogy with God can be made for the idea of a human creation project. The human-robot duo is also suitable for this situation. He wants the real person to reflect himself with the artificial person. We see the purpose of being God through our belief that he will see man as imperfect and incomplete and create something better. Rossum’s robots are intelligent and skilled mechanical workers who initially serve the “human master.” It may be ideal for production, but it lacks human sensibilities, emotions, and reproduction. Čapek wants us to see the insatiable appetite of capitalism (Turan, 1-2). The idea of being a god is the product of a traditional masculine mentality, and as you can see, the idea of being a god in R.U.R. was again put forward by a man.

Rossum’s aim is to eliminate inequality between people by integrating robots into the system. Thus, the class difference that exists between humans will be between humans and robots. While all humanity lives in prosperity, robots who feel nothing endure hardship. It allows us to understand whether there is a perceptual, behavioral, or intellectual difference between male and female robots (Showkat 2018; Yan 2014; Hung 2012; Kuo vd. 2009; Nomura vd. 2006).

There are five central characters in R.U.R.: Marius, Sulla, Radius, Primus, and Helena. As can be understood from the character structure, there are two female robots. These two female robots, Sulla and Helena, are labed robotka by Čapek to symbolize femininity. It will be seen that most of the robots and executive robots in R.U.R. are male. Among this branch of characters are ten male robots.

The masculine gaze has also infiltrated the way females see, judge, and evaluate themselves. Women are forced to be drawn to the images produced by the masculine gaze; they are conditioned to fill this masculine frame. It is the pressure to conform or simply accept the patriarchal viewpoint, to be accepted and approved by it, or to tolerate being seen as such. It also shapes the way women think and know about their own bodies, abilities, and place in the world. The dialogue between Helen and Domin in R.U.R. is a testament to that. Domin insists on a situation involving Helena’s body, forcing her into a situation in which she is not comfortable. The male robot persistently touches the female robot’s private areas and body. It is not possible for Helena to consent and approve this situation because she is disturbed by the unnecessary insistence and behavior of the male robot. She does not want it to come close to her body. It is seen that Helena cannot clearly express the discomfort inflicted upon her body. Based on Helena’s reaction, Domin diverts the conversation to another area with a different question. Thus, Domin speaks in a traditionally masculine manner, imposing his opinion on the other side. The dialogue representing the masculine mentality is as follows:

Domin: Thank you. Would you do me the favor of lowering your veil?
Helen: Of course. You want to see my face. . .
Domin: Sir?
Helena: Could you please let go of my hand?
Domin: (dropping) I’m so sorry. I forgot.
Helena: (drops her veil) You want to know if I’m a spy. How careful are you here?
Domin: (looking at her with deep interest) Hmmm, of course! We. . .we are! (Čapek 26)

While the traditionally masculine view encourages women to devalue themselves and to respect men, patriarchy, and the values ​​they reinforce, it prevents women from becoming stronger, getting out from under the power and control of the masculine view, and gaining the ability to defend themselves. So, living under the male gaze involves the power of looking, which determines how men look at women, how women look at themselves, and how they look at other women. Seeing and judging themselves and other women from this perspective is extremely hurtful, worthless, and destructive as women try to affirm and establish their own values ​​within this perspective (Arslan). In the syntax between male and female robots in dialogues and daily conversations, it is seen that the male robots speak with a dominant, masculine mentality. This shows that in terms of the concept of gender in society, we can encounter a strong, invincible, authoritarian, and masculine language in the world of men. The dismantling of patriarchal masculinity first begins in language. Avoiding sexist expressions in daily speech and language use ensures gender equality. The development process in language is positively reflected in the expressions of men towards women.

Journalist and writer Zehra Çelenk expresses the following about masculinity, arrogance, and the borderline: the fact that writing is an act of “drawing a boundary, forming a framework” is remarkable in itself. Used as the broader, plural meaning of “border,” “owner” becomes a representation of many things that surround the world when taken to mean “border is honor.”

Helena: Can we go to the factory now?
Domin: Yes. Twenty-two I guess?
Helena: What is twenty-two?
Domin: Your age.
Helena: Twenty-One. Why do you want to know?
Domin: Because. . . well . . .(enthusiastic) You’re going to be here a long time, aren’t you? (Čapek 26)

Boundaries regulating relations between individuals and countries are not only the subject of politics and diplomacy, but appear also in many fields, from those concerning human rights to gender. The binary and sequential dialog show that the male robot has exceeded its communication limits (Çelenk).  

It is noteworthy that the male robot enters the field and boundaries of the female robot without knowing its place in the drama and asks certain questions in a cynical masculine style. The age-related conversation continues as the male robot infers about the length of stay of the female robot in the factory:

Helena: But for God’s sake! I don’t want.
Domin: (putting both hands on her shoulders) One minute left! Now you either look me in the eye and reject me sternly and then I leave you or . . .
Helena: You’re such a bully!
Domin: It’s okay. Every man should be a little bit of a bully. It’s part of being a man. (Čapek 50)

The woman is so educated and prepared, but she begins to perceive herself as an object. Her self-perception as an object and the excessive socialization of women means that she deeply realizes that the driving force of the social order is the traditionally masculine mind, desires, and tendencies (Işıklı 20). We see the domination of the female body and the effects of traditionally masculine behavior/words upon the female body.

In the play, Domin makes comments about Sulla’s body. He deduces from her body that she is a robot, has no emotions, and has features like human skin. He warns Sulla to rotate her body back and forth during the presentation. Thus, it ignores the privacy of the female robot. As can be understood from Domin’s explanations here, a physiological distinction has been made over the female robot, even if it is the robot in question because the probability of a female robot behaving this way and expressing it verbally is very low. For this reason, discrimination in terms of work/duty load is also made between robots. In the case of job sharing, the body structures of female robots are taken into consideration. In this sense, the problem of gender inequality arises when it comes to female robots that are left in the background. We understand this situation from the dialogue between them:

Helena: (sits down) Where are you from?
Sulla: I’m from here. Factory.
Helena: Oh, so you were born here.
Sulla: Yes, I was made here.
Helena: (surprised) How so?
Domin: (laughing) Sulla is not a human, Miss Gloryova; she is a robot.
Helena: Oh, forgive me, please.
Domin: (puts his hand on Sulla’s shoulder) Sulla doesn’t get angry; he has no feelings. Look, Miss Gloryova, touch his face; look at the leather we made; examine it, please.
Helena: Oh, no, no.
Domin: It’s just like human skin. Sulla even has facial hair that you can see in a blonde. Sure, his eyes are a little small, but look at that hair. Turn around, Sulla.
Helena: Enough! (Čapek 32)

The concept of gender is used to explain the genetic differences of the individual, to emphasize the biological aspect of being a man and a woman, and to explain the physiological differences between men and women. The term was first coined by Robert Stoller, a professor of psychiatry working on transgender studies in 1968 and later developed by British sociologist, feminist, and writer Ann Oakley to describe gender and social roles and norms through genders. In addition to the feminist movement, the field of sociology, emphasizes gender more and a gender-gender distinction is made with the effect of studies that observe the “relationships” between the sexes by some authors. “Gender is a mechanism by which masculine and feminine concepts are generated and naturalized,” posits Judith Butler (75). As can be understood from the definition, with the concept of gender, a number of roles are assigned to women and men in society. These roles involve societal expectations that limit the activities that men and women can do (Kalan 77). As Butler points out, the concepts of masculine and feminine give roles to both men and women in society. Domin is a male robot who uses these roles well. He pressures and imposes sanctions on Helena to have a say over the woman’s body. This speech, which narrows Helena’s fields of activity, raises the expectations of women. Talking and reflecting gender norms through the physical structure of women leads to gender inequality.

Elements such as beauty, attractiveness, and seduction imposed on the female body cause women to be seen as sexual objects and cause more harm to women. Most of the time, only women are thought of as sexual beings, as if there is no sexuality between two individuals, male and female. A woman is under heavy burdens due to the norms of beauty and youth and the sexualized display of the body imposed upon her (Bilgin 21).  

In Domin’s speech, we see efforts to ignore, restrict, and reduce the presence of women in the private/public space. There is a traditionally masculine mentality that puts female robots in the production mold and sees them only as tools in terms of reproduction.

Helena: Are you mad at me?
Domin: God, no! We. . . I just thought we should talk about other things. We’re just a handful of people here surrounded by hundreds of thousands of robots and no women. And all we talk about all day is production rates. It’s like a curse on us, Miss Gloryova. (Čapek 37)
Helena: Maybe it’s a silly question, but why are you building female robots… I mean…
Domin: Gender doesn’t mean anything to them, does it?
Helen: Yes.
Domin: It’s a supply and demand issue. You see, maids, clerks, secretaries… People are used to women working in these jobs.
Helena: But…but…Tell me, male and female robots are mutual…so nothing?
Domin: They’re completely unrelated. There is nothing about emotional attraction between them.Helena: Oh, that’s so scary! (Čapek 48)

Rossum’s Robots are intelligent and skilled mechanical workers who initially serve the “human master.” It may be ideal for production, but it lacks human sensibilities, emotions, and reproduction. The idea of being a god is the product of a patriarchal mentality, and as you can see, the idea of being a god in R.U.R was again put forward by a man.

In conclusion, Karel Čapek shows that in the modern age, the unimaginable mechanization is over-glorified and the spiritual aspects of people can be deformed. The emergence of artificial intelligence in R.U.R. and the fact that the machine completes the tasks that humans cannot achieve does not eliminate the patriarchal, masculine mentality. As can be seen in the text, traditional masculinity and gender roles have been implemented through robots. Thus, the pay emphasizes how the concept of gender serves the capitalist system together with gender inequality, gender-based consumers, and the roles/duties given to robots.


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After graduating from Ondokuz Mayıs University Computer Programming, Meltem Dağcı graduated from Anadolu University, Department of Turkish Language and Literature. Her stories, book articles and interviews have been published in various magazines and newspapers. She has been on the team of the Edebiyat Nöbeti Magazine for eight years. She has been continuing her conversations with the Writer’s Room in Edebiyat Haber for three years.