Call for Papers: Masculinities and Science Fiction



Call for Papers: Masculinities and Science Fiction

Michael Pitts


In the introduction of Gender and Environment in Science Fiction (2018), Bridgitte Barclay and Christy
Tidwell note the suitability of sf texts for gender readings since such “texts often ask questions such
as where is nature, what is natural, and who is equated with nature” (ix). Sf calls into question traditional,
essentialist understandings of femininity and masculinity. Close analyses of gender in speculative
texts therefore illuminate how sf normalizes and in turn marginalizes divergent performances of
gender.

The intersection of masculinities and speculative fiction makes up an overlooked site at which
normative and alternative conceptions of gender may be analyzed. Since its inception, sf has played
host to the so-called crisis of masculinity. Fearing the loss of a mythologized, essentialized man,
adherents to traditional ideals of manhood have contributed speculative works that attempt to
stabilize essentialist, patriarchal views of manliness. A.E. van Vogt’s “The Changeling” (1944), E.E.
“Doc” Smith’s Lensman (1948-1954) novels, and Frank Robinson’s The Power (1956), for example,
vilify newly imagined forms of masculinity and frame patriarchal conceptions of manhood as both
natural and pivotal to the stability of society. Each narrative therefore contributes to the crisis within
sf concerning masculinity.

In contrast, other writers have contributed diverse works united by their socially-situated, radical
presentations of masculinity. Golden age texts such as Stanley G. Weinbaum’s The New Adam (1939)
and Jack Williamson’s Darker than You Think (1948) undermine the traits historically associated with
manliness. Carrying forward this project, contemporary novels such as Ursula Le Guin’s The
Dispossessed
(1974), Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (1976), Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood
(1987-1989) trilogy, and N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth (2015-2017) series reimagine masculinities in
radical and promising ways. Analyses of this historic and ongoing conflict of masculinities within sf
illuminate the ways the genre shapes and is in turn shaped by divergent understandings of gender.

This symposium seeks papers that discuss topics at the intersection of masculinity studies and
science fiction studies. It seeks to understand how masculinity, presented as divorced entirely from
or inextricably linked to biological sex, is negotiated in speculative fiction. According to influential
masculinity studies scholar Michael Kimmel, analyses of manliness should consider both those
masculinities idealized by a culture and the alternative versions with which they compete (4).
Accordingly, articles should seek to complicate the history of science fiction and illuminate conflicts
between its competing portrayals of masculinity. Papers may focus upon a single text and its
encoded messages regarding masculinity. Papers may also analyze historical trends within the genre
or compare multiple texts and their presentations of manliness. Moving beyond simple descriptions
of such presentations of gender, these papers should make novel arguments about the centrality of
divergent masculinities to science fiction and the manner by which they shape and are shaped by the
genre.

Submissions

SFRA Review seeks essays of c. 2,000–3,000 words for a special issue analyzing the intersection of
traditional and alternative masculinities and science fiction. Submissions may address, but are not
limited to, the following:

Eco-Masculinities
Race and Manhood
Female Masculinities
Afrofuturism and Conceptions of Manliness
Cyborg Masculinities
Manhood in Utopian and/or Dystopian Science Fiction
Cyberpunk Masculinities
Speculative Masculinities and Sexual Violence
The Super Men and other Golden Age Masculinities

Abstracts of c. 250 words and short author bios should be submitted by email to the symposium
editor Michael Pitts at mpitts@jcu.cz using the subject line “Masculinity and Science Fiction” by
June 1, 2022.

Abstracts should specify the text(s) the author wishes to write about and how they will approach
masculinity within the chosen text(s). Prospective authors are encouraged to reach out to Michael if
they wish to discuss their essay concept; however, a discussion does not mean automatic acceptance. Authors will be notified of acceptance (or rejection) by June 15, 2022.

Accepted drafts of 2,000–3,000 words will be due at the beginning of August and should be
prepared in MLA style with a Works Cited list in MLA 8th edition. A full project timeline is listed
below.

Timeline

June 1, 2022 = Abstracts due

June 15, 2022 = Authors Notified of Acceptance

August 1, 2022 = First Drafts Due

August 15, 2022 = First Draft Edits Returned

September 1, 2022 = Second Drafts Due

September 15, 2022 = Second Drafts Edits Returned

October 15, 2022 = Final Drafts Due

Early November = Publication of symposium in SFRA Review 52.4

The SF In Translation Universe #15



The SF In Translation Universe #15

Rachel Cordasco

Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! As often happens, we may not have a boatload of new SFT available this spring, but what is available packs a real punch. Especially exciting is the arrival from Aqueduct Press of the first work of Basque science fiction in English translation. From Japan we get two new works of horror fiction—one of which comes from the pen of internationally-acclaimed horror writer Koji Suzuki. Finally, we’re treated to one of German modernist author Peter Weiss’s works, thanks to New Directions.

One of the most interesting phenomena related to the upswing in SFT is that, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Sure, the usual source languages are well-represented each year (Spanish, Japanese, etc.), but along with them, over the past several years, have come Czech, Hebrew, Arabic, Hungarian, Galician, Korean, and others. Italian science fiction, for instance, has also made its way more often into English, despite the fact that the genre is still not overly popular in Italy and very little funding is available to bring Italian literature into English.

Basque can now be added to this list of source languages gaining attention through SFT. Thanks to Aqueduct Press, which published excellent feminist science fiction from Spanish authors Lola Robles and Sofia Rhei in 2016 and 2019, respectively, Anglophone readers can now get a taste of Basque author Mayi Pelot’s unique perspective on writing and the future. Considered one of the first writers to have crafted science fiction in Basque, Pelot (who died six years ago) co-founded a literary magazine, participated in a Basque-speaking radio station, and contributed to a French-Basque dictionary. Her collection Memories of Tomorrow (tr. Arrate Hidalgo, April)–written between 1982 and 1992—includes five short stories and one novella, all focused on the aftermath of an imagined third world war. Each story zeroes in on just one or two characters trying to scratch out a life after widespread destruction. In her foreword to the book, Hidalgo looks forward to readers appreciating “the lyrical possibilities of [Pelot’s] elliptical, synthetic style of writing.” Having sat on many an SFT panel with Hidalgo, I can say with confidence that she understands not just the mechanics of translation but also the complex issues surrounding it as a craft. It’s always been a pleasure for me to talk to Hidalgo about translation and many other subjects, and I want to congratulate her on bringing Pelot into English where more readers can enjoy her creative mind.

For those of you who are more into surreal horror fiction, April and May have you covered. It should come as no surprise that both of these books are from Japan, since that country has given us more horror fiction in recent years than almost any other (besides Spain and Sweden). First up is Masatugu Ono’s At the Edge of the Woods (April), translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, known to the SFT world for her Kobo Abe translations. In this unsettling story set in an unnamed country, a family has just moved into a new house in the woods. The ghostly coughing and laughing drive the pregnant mother back to their previous home, since she’s worried about the growing fear in the house causing another miscarriage. Thus her husband and young son are left to face the isolation in an area rumored to be haunted by fantastic creatures and warriors from ancient history. And yet, this disquiet seems downright cozy compared to the increasing violence and environmental catastrophe that the two watch on tv every night. Even the mail carrier brings bad news of the outside world. This swirling mix of myth, fantasy, horror, and the surreal make At the Edge of the Woods a book you’ll likely want to read on a bright summer’s day, surrounded by cheerful people and chirping birds, because, man, that sounds scary.

“Scary” is also something Koji Suzuki knows well, having written a tetralogy that blends horror and science fiction. The Ring books focus on a psychic virus that spreads through various media, including film, video, and television; some Anglophone readers will recognize this story because of its own jump from book to tv and film. In his latest book in English, The Shining Sea (tr. Brian Bergstrom, May), Suzuki weaves a story about a pregnant woman left behind by her lover, who went to sea on a tuna boat. Feeling desperately alone and hopeless, the woman had tried to drown herself but was ultimately rescued and now remembers almost nothing. Over the course of the book, Suzuki explores the intersection of human fate and the indifference of the universe, and how relationships are either strengthened or frayed by this reality.

You might be thinking “yes, well, these sound interesting but I’m more of a Modernism fan,” so you’ll be glad to hear that German modernist author, playwright, and filmmaker Peter Weiss is in English again with Conversation of the Three Wayfarers (tr. E. B. Garside, April). Redolent of Kafka, Music, and Gombrowicz, Conversation features Abel, Babel, and Cabel monologuing about a steeplechase that occurs on a floating pontoon. Though each narrator describes the incident from his own perspective, the lives of the three men start blending together until the question arises as to whether or not these men are really just one person.

In terms of short SFT so far, April brought us another story by Chinese writer Pan Haitian. Titled “Hanuman the Monkey King” (tr. Emily Jin, Clarkesworld Magazine), this story imagines the complicated interactions between humans and an alien species in a spaceport city.

The rest of the year promises some further exciting SFT, including Shimon Adaf’s Lost Detective trilogy and Lavie Tidhar’s anthology The Best of World SF 2 (which includes my translation from the Italian of Clelia Farris’s story “The Substance of Ideas”).

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and what you’re looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!


Call for Papers: Sexual Violence and Science Fiction



Call for Papers: Sexual Violence and Science Fiction

Adam McLain


In Redefining Rape (2013), feminist historian Estelle Freedman argues that history shows a war of words over how different groups defined sexual violence: “The history of repeated struggles over the meaning of sexual violence reveals that the way we understand rape helps determine who is entitled to sexual and political sovereignty” (11). She sees rape as a political tool used to gain power and subjugate and marginalize groups of people based on race, gender, class, and other sociological valences. Thus, in Freedman’s hermeneutic, sexual violence becomes historically contingent and unshackled from a consistent and determined definition.

Through cognitive estrangement, science fiction authors envision futures and reflect on contemporary issues. Sexual violence—or, at the very least, the act of sex itself—has been written into the lifeblood of science fictional texts from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) to Isaac Asimov’s Robots series (1950-1985) to K. M. Szpara’s Docile (2020). Freedman’s definitional unshackling allows scholars, authors, and thinkers of science fiction to examine and consider the sexual ethics, morals, legislations, and violence that are presented in science fiction media in a way that does not tie the creators to their own historical period nor unites them in a single definition of sexual violence. How, then, might the estranging and alternative nature of science fiction—its weirdness, its futurity, its otherworldliness—change or affect what audiences think about sexual violence? What transformations occur when an author or a creator considers the ethical, legal, or material characteristics of sexual activity in the future?

This symposium on sexual violence and science fiction seeks papers that discuss topics at the intersection of science fictional estrangement and sexual violence, an action that has real, material effects on the ways in which different sexualities, genders, races, bodies, and people interact with and are shaped by our contemporary world. Papers can, for example, position a single text (book, graphic novel, movie, tv series, etc.) of science fiction and look at its sexual activity, ethics, legislation, morals, justice, and/or violence to better understand how sex is promulgated, replicated, and/or subverted when authors use it in their work. Papers can also look at larger trends, movements throughout history, or comparatively between texts (even cross-media). Essays should not simply show how sex/sexual violence is represented in the text; they should mainly argue about what the estranged depiction means or what it does to and for the text and to and for the audience or receiver.

Submissions

SFRA Review seeks essays of c. 2,000–3,000 words for a special issue interrogating, analyzing, and critiquing the intersection of sexual violence and science fiction. Submissions can address, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Legal boundaries of sexual activity within a text’s imagined empire
  • Expanded or condensed sexual morals and ethics
  • The effect/affect of sex within a universe
  • The presentation and representation of sexual activity as dominant and/or subversive
  • The use of sex as a means to power, accomplishment, or reward
  • Types of bodies and their use in sex—for example, robots or alien bodies, gendered bodies, classed bodies, etc.
  • Sex between (or not between) alien species and the meaning of race and gender
  • Sex as work or tool and the politics of citizenship in outer space
  • Mandated or limited sexual activity, including eugenics, population control, multiple partnering, forced partnering, etc.
  • The utilization of the erotic
  • The broadening of sexual allowance and the use (or misuse) of sexual activity

Abstracts of c. 250 words and short author bios should be submitted by email to the symposium editor Adam McLain at adam.j.mclain@gmail.com using the subject line “Sexual Violence and Science Fiction” by March 1, 2022.

Abstracts should specify the text the author wishes to write about and how they will approach sexual activity within the chosen text. Prospective authors are encouraged to reach out to Adam if they wish to discuss their essay concept; however, a discussion does not mean automatic acceptance. Authors will be notified of acceptance (or rejection) by March 15, 2022.

Accepted drafts of 2,000–3,000 words will be due in mid-May and should be prepared in MLA style with a Works Cited in MLA 8th edition. A full project timeline is listed below.

Timeline

March 1, 2022 = Abstracts due

March 15, 2022 = Authors Notified of Acceptance

May 1, 2022 = First Drafts Due

May 15, 2022 = First Draft Edits Returned

June 1, 2022 = Second Drafts Due

June 15, 2022 = Second Drafts Edits Returned

July 15, 2022 = Final Drafts Due

Early August = Publication of symposium in SFRA Review 52.3

The SF In Translation Universe #14



The SF In Translation Universe #14

Rachel Cordasco

Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! I don’t know about you, but life’s been like a rollercoaster lately. Fortunately, though, I can now devote more time to SFT, and I have so many ideas for essays and books and so many things I want to read. I’ve figured out that I’ll need to live approximately 835 years, give or take, to read everything that looks interesting and that’s already been published, so one of you needs to start building that immortality machine.

Back to SFT. This year is starting off slowly but is rich in its SFT offerings. Case in point: French author Grégoire Courtois’s The Agents (tr. Rhonda Mullins), which came out in January. Described as “Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Tron, via The Office,” The Agents is indeed a bizarre dystopian story, with humans eating, sleeping, and “working” in highrise buildings that they can never leave (many have never been outside). Their bloody cubicle conflicts and distant machine masters seem to drain the agents’ humanity, until one small group of agents decides to try and take it back.

February offers us a new work in English by Dutch horror author Thomas Olde Heuvelt, of Hex fame. In Echo (tr. Moshe Gilula), Nick Grevers, a travel journalist and mountain climber, ventures into an uncharted area in the Swiss Alps with his climbing partner. Something grim and horrifying happens there, and when Gravers wakes up from a coma, he finds that not only was he badly injured and his partner is missing, but that something has invaded his soul—something terrible that he discovered on that lonely mountain peak.

Next, we have new Chinese and Japanese SFT in March, with an anthology edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang and a new novel by Yoko Tawada. The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation contains stories about dining out in the far reaches of the universe, finding immortality in the mountains, watching roses put on a performance of a Shakespeare play, and more. Published in English for the first time, these stories offer Anglophone readers a new window onto modern Chinese speculative fiction.

Tawada, who has brought us brilliant speculative fiction in both Japanese (The Emissary) and German (Memoirs of a Polar Bear), is out with Scattered All Over the Earth, (tr. Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani). Here, she imagines a Japan that has been figuratively (and in some ways literally) splintered and scattered across the globe. That nation, in the near-future, has vanished and its survivors are roaming climate refugees who search for others who can still remember how to speak Japanese. Roaming around Scandinavia and Western Europe, they encounter material pieces of their culture’s past and bond with one another. Compared to Alice in Wonderland and “a surreal Wind in the Willows,” Scattered is the first in an expected trilogy.

If you’re looking for short SFT published so far, look no further than Apex Magazine (Cristina Jurado’s “Lamia” and Yilin Fan’s “City Lights”), Clarkesworld (Gu Shi’s “No One at the Wild Dock”), and World Literature Today (Yuki Fuwa’s “Devour Me”).

The rest of the year promises some further wonderful SFT, including a trilogy by the one and only Shimon Adaf! Can you tell that I’m excited?

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and what you’re looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!


Hidden Stars: A Conversation on Black Indie Speculative Fiction



Hidden Stars: A Conversation on Black Indie Speculative Fiction

Jalondra A. Davis and LaRose Davis

Hidden Stars: Black Indie Speculative Fiction is a roundtable discussion with independent Black writers, creators, publishers, and organizers. This roundtable continues conversations within the 2021 SFRA conference regarding the need for more critical attention to the nontraditional publishing of BIPOC authors, with a focus on Black indie publishing in science fiction, speculative fiction, comics, fantasy, and horror. The conversation addresses themes and subgenres, institution building, and the relationship between the indie scene and mainstream.

The idea for this roundtable had its genesis at the 2021 SFRA Conference. Over the course of the conference, which included papers on Baldwin, Butler, and Okorafor, we realized that so many of the authors being studied were the same ones who have received critical attention in the genre for many years. In her keynote address, Joy Sanchez-Taylor illuminated one reason for the frequent repetition of the same coterie of black science fiction authors; namely the continued existence of roadblocks to traditional publication for Black authors in the genre. Even in overcoming the obstacles to publication, traditionally published black authors still face challenges with visibility in the spaces where speculative fiction is disseminated and discussed, including at fan conventions and academic conferences. As a result, the pool of available texts by Black authors might seem rather shallow.

Black speculative writing has not diminished as a result of these obstacles. Rather, a vibrant and innovative community of independent authors and presses exists that addresses the gap and meets the need of audiences (both Black and Non-black) that demand more representative speculative fiction canons. As an indie author who has been writing in the genre for over a decade, LaRose Davis (pen name L.M. Davis) asserted understandings of Black speculative production that rely solely on the work coming out of larger traditional publishers are incomplete, both in their definition of the scope of the offerings and their perceptions of how black speculative literature is innovating the genre. In order to fully understand the evolution of Black speculative production, the independent scene must be more completely engaged and studied.

Thus, “Hidden Stars” was born. LaRose (L.M.) Davis, independent author and scholar, and Jalondra A. Davis, black feminist writer and scholar of speculative fiction and culture, convened this roundtable with independent authors and publishers working throughout the genre, from comics to novels to film. Our intent was threefold: 1) we wanted to begin to document the decades-long project of creatives to build these independent spaces and networks; 2) to document the contributions and impacts of independent authors to the larger field, and 3) begin to assemble a resource guide by identifying and cataloguing some of the most innovative, independent authors writing right now.

What follows is the result of a wonderfully rich, two-hour conversation with some of the pillars of the independent scene. For the sake of brevity, we have trimmed the transcript, in places removing portions from individual responses, but in no way did we change the original meaning or intent of the speakers.   

Jalondra A. Davis: So I think where we want to start is if everyone can just tell us a little bit about yourself and your work in the Black speculative fiction community. 

Nicole Sconiers: My name’s Nicole Sconiers and thank you LaRose, LM, and Jalondra for inviting me to participate. It’s interesting because I didn’t always call myself a spec fiction/sci-fi writer. I guess I didn’t feel smart enough to be writing sci-fi, but I have since claimed that title. I’m the author of a collection of spec-fic stories called Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. And that’s how Jalondra and I met, because I was driving cross country to promote my stories in this huge van that was wrapped in the cover of my book. And just going around to different indie venues, spoken word places to talk about my stories, to read my stories. I’ve been published in Lightspeed, different sci-fi, spec fiction publications. I have a story out this week actually, in Speculative City. I’ve also directed a spec fiction short, that’s based on Escape from Beckyville. So I direct and I write spec-fic and sci-fi and horror. I was in Sycorax’s Daughters with Nicole. And also Black from the Future with Nicole, which is a collection of speculative fiction by Black women writers. So, I’m excited about this conversation and talking to you guys. Thank you. 

Jarvis Sheffield: Once again, my name is Jarvis Sheffield.  I am the creator of Black Science Fiction Society…It’s an online social network that’s created for black creators and this is our thirteenth year. I’m also the Coordinator of Tennessee State University’s media centers on both campuses. We also manage the creator space, actually the Makerspace called the Imagineering Lab, and I’m also the Director of Dragon Con’s diversity track. This is our fourth year.

Nicole Givens-Kurtz: I can go next. My name is Nicole Givens Kurtz. I am a science fiction, mystery writer. I write speculative mysteries basically. And I write weird westerns. I’m also the Science Fiction Geek Track Director for Multiverse as well as a programming…part of the programming community for Boskone. So, I do a lot of panels at science fiction conventions, and I am also a writer, but I am also running a very small press called Mocha Memoirs Press and we aim to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction. Our most recent anthology was called Slay:  The Stories of the Vampire Noir, which is an anthology of vampire and hunter story, slayer stories from the African diaspora. So, I do a little bit of everything [laughter] publishing, editing, writing, and programming for science fiction conventions as well.

Hannibal Tabu: Alright. Well, hi, my name is Hannibal Tabu. Thank you all for having me here. I am an award-winning journalist, novelist, and comic book writer. I’m the head comic book reviewer at BleedingCool.com. I worked for, I think it was, gosh, sixteen years, at Comic Book Resources before I moved on to that. I am the winner of the 2012 Top Cow Talent Hunt, the 2018-2019 Cultural Trailblazer Award from the city of Los Angeles. In this specifically Black speculative fiction space, I’ve been published in the Steam Funk and Cyber Funk anthologies from MV Media as well as their Black Superhero Anthology, Black Power.  I’ve written two novels, Far Away and The Crown Ascension. And I’ve completed a manuscript for a third called Rogue Nation, which I am now shopping out to agents and managers. I’m also the writer of Project Wildfire, which will be in comic bookstores this November. It just became available for pre-order yesterday, actually. And that will be coming to comic bookstores wherever you are. So, feel free to ask your local comic book retailer for Project Wildfire. I’m also the writer of Time Core for Wunderman Comics, which is like a time travel book and the upcoming supernatural western, War Medicine, which I’m getting art from issue number two from the artist now. I specialize in the comic book space.  I have a degree in creative writing from the University of Southern California. And I am not as awful as white people would have you think, just to some of them.

L.D. Lewis: I think I’m the last one. So I am L.D. Lewis, L. or LeKesha if you can spell it properly. If not, just go with L. I am one of the founders of Fiyah Literary Magazine for black speculative fiction. Been there about five years. Absolutely exhausting, but I love it. I directed this year’s Nebula conference. I’m the director of FiyahCon, and Nicole and Mocha Memoirs Press is actually paneling. I noticed that I’m kind of tangentially like a Jarvis, Jarvis, you won something at the Nebulas this year. You were one of the special award winners, honorees. And then I’m here with Nicole, and then LaRose will be editing an upcoming issue of Fireside Magazine of which I am publisher. So I have little connections with everyone. Most of my published short fiction is, let me see, Anathema, Fiyah, Fireside, Lightspeed, Neon Hemlock Press. I’ve been in a couple of anthologies, one of which is with Scholastic. I’m kind of all over the place. So, I also edit and write and publish and do event things. And then I also author studies like the, like Firesides. Fireside and Fiyah, they both put out iterations of black speculative fiction reports, which study experiences and output specifically regarding the presence of Black voices in short, genre fiction. The last one of those came out in 2018. We’ll be bringing it back this year. Looking forward to seeing how the market has improved, because it has ever so slightly. But I like to put numbers to the numerous complaints we have about the industry. So, that’s my whole thing.

LaRose: Okay. Great! So now we have our panelists. And I think actually, your introductions kind of transition into our next question, which is, how are you defining indie? 

Nicole G-K: So the question is, what does it mean to be independent? And what does independent mean? For me.

LaRose: I think it’s both, what does it mean to you? But then how does that look in the field? So, I don’t want to frame, but I may redirect after I hear your responses.

Nicole G-K: [Laughter]. Okay. So, for me, independent or indie is not having one of the major—as a writer, independent for me is self-publishing. Me guiding my own work, producing my own work or not using a traditional press, whether it’s a small press, a medium press, or one of the larger like Tor or Edge or someone framed in being my own publisher. I am independent of these other major publishers in producing my work. It could also mean to a certain degree, you’re unagented, right, and kind of operating on your own, solo, through the publishing streams. 

Hannibal: In the spirit of our people, I would “yes and” our sister’s response there and say in the comic book world it’s all those things plus more. In comic books, there are two major publishers. And those two major publishers have 70% of the market cornered. And everybody else who shows up is an afterthought, literally. No matter if they’re a large international publisher like Humanoids, where I did a graphic novel called MPLS Sound, or if they’re, you know, eight people in an office space in West LA, which is another publisher that I worked with. So, indie comes, in my mind, first of all, with, you’re walking into the market without a bankroll. You’re walking into the market without the machinery of a large company, promoting, producing, and verifying the quality of your work. 

And indie has a certain stigma from a consumer standpoint…, even if it’s something as big as The Walking Dead, which is an indie book that was independently produced and put out through Image Comics when Robert Kirkman had zero money or if it’s someone like myself on Second Side Publishing with Wildfire. All those are painted with a broad brush with the term indie.

For the creators, it is a mark of pride. It is you know, David versus Goliath. It is standing against an establishment that has denied and marginalized people who look like me, people who look like you for almost ever [laughter]. And we are more than proud to wear that title and claim it as we will build something on our own and something independent in the spirit of my other sister, Ava DuVernay.

Nicole S: To Hannibal’s point, there is this stigma of being considered an indie writer, because it’s like you weren’t good enough to have a mainstream publisher backing you. But when I first wrote Escape from Beckyville, I didn’t reach out to mainstream publishers. My goal was, I’m going to self-publish this, and I’m going to do all the legwork. I’m going to drive across the country. I’m going to talk to the indie bookstores. And I wouldn’t replace that experience, because a lot of those Black indie bookstores that I went to are no longer in existence, you know. So, it was great to be able to get out into the community to talk to people. I mean, they saw me coming basically in my little pink van. So, to just get out there and talk and say, hey, this what I’m doing, and I’m writing spec fiction. And they’re like, oh, they had never heard of spec fiction, some of the communities that I went to. So, to me, it was a give and take. They embraced me as an indie writer, and I was introducing them to a genre that they hadn’t heard of before. So, it was a fulfilling experience for me.

LaRose: And to your point—I’m just gonna interject here—the stigma is particularly around writing. Because I don’t think that you have that kind of stigma around other types of indie production, independent film….I think that people are more open to the idea and understand a pathway to success through film, for music, for musicians, as independent artists, as opposed to looking at writers and thinking you weren’t good enough. As opposed to, as Nicole said, making a deliberate choice to be independent… for a lot of the same reasons that other artists and others working in other mediums choose to be independent, a lot of which has to do with creative control.

Jarvis: Right. I think I’m really simple in most things. Operating outside the mainstream primarily is my definition of being independent. Primarily having complete ownership of your creative work, which gives you the opportunity to have creative control over your characters…. I’ve seen other comic book creators that have submitted their work to major corporations—Nickelodeon, Disney, things of that nature—and it’s like, oh okay, that’s great, that’s really… oh, we really like what you’re, what you’re doing, but we’re going to…can you change this character to a white character? You know what I’m saying? And so, that’s value in itself. Also, I’ve seen a lot of times people want to have that recognition or verification from the mainstream to feel as though their work or what they’re doing is culturally significant. I’m kind of the opposite.

Nicole G-K: So, one of the things I think is super important about being an independent author is not…is that, what Jarvis said which in that creative control, but it also puts you right in what Nicole said, right, lock in step with your people, with your readers, you’re a lot more connected. Because you have to go out and work for them, you have to go find them, you have to go out there and make connections with them. And so, that is and to our point, we talked about Black Science Fiction Society, The State of Black Science Fiction. Prior to the rise of social media, which is when I first got my first novel contract was in 1998… I felt completely disconnected, right, because I would go to cons with my one little book.  And that’s what they tell you, right, go to science fiction conventions, you wrote a sci-fi book.  And I would go to my vendor table with my one little book. 

And first of all, people were like, who is that? And then I was the only one in that space [chuckle] with my one little book. And people were very much, who published it? That’s number one. Oh, you’re not published by Baen. You’re not published by, you know, the larger people. So, you’re not really a writer.  But you’re buying all the books with the white guy next to me who self-published all his UFO books. Got it. [Laughter]. So, okay. And two…I actually made a point of having a Black woman on the cover, because growing up I didn’t see that a lot. I didn’t see it…unless it was like an urban contemporary story, right. The Women of Brewster Place or Terry McMillan. Some of those more contemporary stories had Black women on the cover, but not always. And so, I was really hungry as an adult to see myself reflected on covers, and a darker me, right. Like me. [Laughter]. Not, not the racially ambiguous female on my cover. So, I made a point of doing that. But it was really difficult.  That was because I was able to as an indie author, right or with a small press to demand that. And it wasn’t a risk for the press, because everything was a risk. Cause everything was e-book, right. This is like 2000, super long ago. But people looked at that, and they would pick it up and say, “you know, I don’t think I can identify with this.” “I don’t know if this book is for me.” But you can identify with a shapeshifting tiger. But you can’t identify with another human being who’s going through, right, trials in a speculative setting. So, being independent allows you to find, to root out those people and actually find those who are actually just as hungry and just as interested in Black speculative fiction as you are, as a fan, as a writer.

LaRose: So, the reason we asked this question is we wanted to get everybody kind of on the same page in terms of what we’re discussing, and what the sort of scope is of what we’re calling the indie community. And so some people mentioned small presses. But Nicole, in your initial response, you were saying that you think for writers, it is independence from all presses. It’s completely guiding the process yourself. So, just in terms of the rest of the conversation, this is the scope. So, we can think about maybe small presses, we can think about self-publishing, completely guiding every part of the process. What it means to have no budget, right, in terms of what you’re creating, even if you’re creating through a small press. So, that can be the scope of what we’re thinking about as we answer the other questions. Jalondra?

Jalondra: So, we wanted to ask, what are some of the most exciting developments that people see happening right now in the indie community? And this can include things you’re doing, things you’re seeing of other authors, things that are happening in presses, with institutions, with specific works, collections…

Nicole S: Can I talk about something that’s… a little subversive in spec fiction and sci-fi is, I’m seeing a trend toward joy. Like I’m seeing these calls for, publications having calls out for, we want stories about joy. Khadijah Queen, and I think it’s Kiini Salaam, are working on an anthology about the POC gaze and utopias from a Black perspective or a POC perspective. I think it’s Escape Pod has a call for their next issue is on joy. Apparition Lit has a call out for wonder. And I think that living in a pandemic in the country is so much, you know, turmoil, tumult, and divided. People want, not Pollyanna-ish stories, but more affirming stories of the future. And so, and that was and that was subversive for me, because all my stories are dark. I don’t think I’ve ever written a happy ending. So, I’m like, joy, I don’t think I can do that [laughter]. But now it’s, it’s got me thinking like, how can I include more uplifting elements in my writing?

Jalondra: Yes, that is so real Nicole, I’ve been noticing that too. And I think that my dissertation project, and even writing that I’ve done has tended towards… I don’t like to use dark, but you know, just unsettling. That was one of the things I wrote about your collection. It’s very unsettling. So I understand the turn towards joy. It’s really interesting, and it’s really complex. 

Hannibal: Well, I’ve specifically made a move towards joy myself. Choosing it in both my personal life and in the fiction that I’m writing. I was talking to my creative partner Quinn McGowan about the character Will Watson from Project Wildfire, and our goal with him was to present the inherent goodness that is installed into Black, most Black people in the south, from values, from aunties, from relatives, from being cared for by community. And from that set of values that comes up outside of what is traditionally thought of as a southern idea, which comes across very white, very racist, very exclusionary.

He’s a superhero, but literally the first time he meets any conflict, he tries to talk, every time. It rarely ends up with him being able to do that, but he at least tries every time. And as a self-described horrible person, I always say when I’m writing Will, I think what would I do, and I do something completely unlike that. [Laughter]. And that’s come across with the project. And I’m hoping when it comes to stores in November that people will really be able to latch on to it. 

In the fantasy space, my friend Sebastian Jones is working very hard with HBO Max on his show, Asunda which is going to be set in his fictional universe that he’s been working on for, since before I met him, 30 years ago [chuckle]. And to see that come to fruition from a guy who was just making his own little Dungeon and Dragons characters to seeing it realized with contracts at HBO Max is very gratifying. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a sister named C. Spike Trotman.…she posted the other day that she’s about to launch her thirtieth Kickstarter. She has made literally more than two million dollars kickstarting projects, speculative fiction, Black specific fiction, very, very niche cast material, and she has created an industry of her own, a lane of her own that nobody else is in and that she dominates.…Now there’s a lot of notice from bigger publishers for smaller writers, I see Brandon Thomas writing a lot more stuff at DC Comics, which is great to see after he did Miranda Mercury, which is like a love letter to Black women in science fiction, or after he did Excellence, which is a very strong family drama based in magic that he did for Image Comics. So  there’s a lot of great things happening. As for myself, I’m doing this speculative fiction story called False Flag, which is like GI Joe meets wrestling, but in a world of superheroes. It’s super evil. It’s so the worst. And I’m doing it for free on operative.net. I’m doing that with illustration from Demar Douglas, and I’m really enjoying finding these spaces of joy under this cloud of doom. That’s where a lot of these stories happen. That Will Watson shines, because there needs to be light. That these stories are presenting, you know, finding your sliver of happiness, even when everything else is going wrong. Oh, I’m sorry, I almost missed Tee Franklin, who wrote the very brilliant Bingo Love graphic novel for Image Comics. She’s also getting some more notice. I hear she’s writing television now, which I’m enormously happy to hear. So, there’s a lot of great movement from people who were not in the mainstream, being able to take mainstream money and then bring it home to the family, which I really appreciate.

LaRose:  I feel like L.D., Fiyah, you all had a call for joy, last year. That you all actually had been thinking about in 2019, or something before, I feel like I remember Davaun saying that this was the moment for it. But you had already determined that was going to be a topic in 2019.

L.D. Lewis: Yes.

LaRose: So maybe you talk a little bit about that. But I think it gets to another point that we’re trying to make about how what’s happening on the indie scene sort of anticipates or not even anticipates, but drives kind of what happens in the larger sphere.

L.D. Lewis: Let me see, so we settle on themes for issues the summer prior to the publication year. So, our Joy issue was our October issue last year. And it was really well received. But the reason we did it was because you know, state of the world type stuff. But also because the bulk of our submissions normally are based in trauma. And we publish exclusively Black writers… and it’s to the point where acquiring editors kind of need a break from those sort of heavy topics. So, the core of the theme was to give our readers a bit of a break there. And it just turned out to be timely. I mean, we do that work to kind of anticipate where there’s shortages.

Fiyah became a thing, it was born out of a void in the industry. There was a lack of Black voices.  We were like, okay, well, here’s a publication, it’s all entirely Black voices. And so, there was a dearth of Black joy on the scene. And so that’s what we’re doing. So next year, it’ll probably be more Black horror, or we’ll get into some punk themes or whatever. But I think that across the board, especially at Fireside as well, we receive a lot of narratives that are rooted in trauma. So, I think that the joy theme was sort of to dare us to tell stories outside of that home zone, that sort of finding joy in dark places, or just not having the dark places at all. We’re so used to kind of pigeonholing ourselves in that way. 

Jarvis: Alright, I’m excited about three specific things. I believe that creators have to hit the industry on both the independent front and the mainstream front, to hit, to push on all of those. And I’m excited about the individuals that Hannibal mentioned, in addition to Sebastian, Brandon Easton, Kevin Grevioux, LaSean Thomas have been making a lot of waves in terms of mainstream. But then on the other side, I’m excited about the explosion,…with the Black sci-fi creatives, and I’ve seen from when I first started, of maybe a dozen people that I would buy stuff from and share with my friends to hundreds now, and that’s comics, that’s books, that’s e-books, independent movies, and shorts. So, now we have a plethora of things to read and enjoy and share with other people. And then lastly, I’m a big fan of the events. Some of the people here I met at events. So, I’m excited that I started off going to maybe two or three events a year and before, pre-COVID, I was up to like fifteen events a year.  I was at everything. [Laughter]. If it was a Black event, I was there…But events, like The Black Age of Comics, which was really the first one that started almost thirty years ago in Chicago, and it kind of spread and became…some other people picked up the mantle and started the East Coast Black Age of Comics. The Motor City Black Age of Comics. The Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo, Onyx Con, and the African Street Festival here in Nashville….And so, I really enjoy going to those events. And it’s a real community when you go there.

LaRose: I was going to follow up with Jarvis to talk about actually Cons and events. I’ve been going to Dragon Con, I think my first time was maybe in 2011. So minus a pandemic, 10 years. [Laughter]. And I have noticed and I kind of want to think about that a little bit, how our presence in those spaces is changing the field…I remember one of the first panels we had for the State of Black Sci-fi, there was even this sort of conversation about whether we call ourselves science fiction and fantasy authors, right. And it was this back and forth between, well, no, I don’t write that, I write weird stories. I don’t know if I want to embrace that label because of how so often that label pushes us out. So, now in the last ten years, in terms of my experience—and Jarvis can speak more to this, but it sounds to me like he was saying a similar sort of thing—I have seen us more in these spaces, cosplaying, on panels, doing those sorts of things. And can we talk a little bit about how we think that might also be impacting our presence in the space, as writers and as creators, as opposed to just as participants and consumers? 

Hannibal: …for me, you know, because I’ve been going to like San Diego Comic Con since ’99, but going to something like Black Speculative Arts Movement or Black Comix Day in San Diego—which is run by Keithan Jones—to  go to those places, is a much different, much warmer environment.

For a Black creative at San Diego Comic Con or Wonder Con, you’re in there, your eyes are going left and right, you’re looking for opportunities, you’re looking for vulnerabilities, you’re looking for a place to make yourself welcome, because the energy isn’t always there.  When you’re at, you know, Black Comix Day, everybody loves you. Everybody’s happy to see you. Everybody’s happy to be there. There’s a shift that is happening from our presence.  We’re showing up, and we are, we’re building up certain people. We’re building up your N.K. Jemisins. We’re building up, as you said, your Brandon Eastons, who also wrote on the Netflix series, the Transformers series…So, seeing us…if we elevate our people, then other people are forced to accept them. But it is a community effort. It is a work of banding together in that regard. And it cannot work if, as the old folks used to say, a rising tide raises all boats and we all got to put something in the water.

LaRose: I just want to take a minute to underscore, because I think that’s a really important point Hannibal, about our presence shows that there is an audience, which is what drives mainstream or traditional interest in our work. And I think, we can also then look back at the Black Science Fiction Society and the State of Black Sci-Fi as these massive online communities that also show mainstream publishers, you got, 20,000 people in the State of Black Sci-Fi, who probably would be interested in this work by this Black author. Milton is not here, he has talked about that in the past. That was one of his interests in creating that community, was just to show the audience existed.

Nicole S: I have to shout out Rasheedah Phillips, who is one of the originators from the State of Black Sci-Fi, she has this amazing event in Philly, the Afrofuturist Affair, and she’s always been such a strong advocate for her fellow writers, creating this safe space for Black writers of sci-fi and spec fiction to come in, read their work, barter with other writers, bring their products to sell. She has an immersive experience this month. I think it’s called the Black Quantum, Black Quantum Futurism that’s taking place at the Hatfield House, which is this historic house here in Philadelphia. And it’s going to be like time capsules and time travel and just bringing Black people in to see what Black people, what our future could look like. Like can you imagine the possibilities of a Black future and also bringing in people to read their work, to get on the mic to talk about what they’re doing. So, Rasheedah has always been super supportive. 

Nicole G-K: So, I have noticed that at Boskone a few years ago, there was the State of Black Sci-fi meetup. But when I was at Worldcon in Dublin, there was a specific Black sci-fi writer meetup as well, that was just us. And it literally said in the program, if you’re not Black, do not attend. Because it was just a safe space in a much larger area. And as Hannibal mentioned it may not always be inviting or warm to us to be able to find others to network, to vibe as Nicole was saying in those spaces. But I also know that from working with programming for a couple of different conventions, that the goal has shifted towards being more inclusive beyond just having a diversity panel, right. Because we are fans of science fiction and fantasy. I can speak to more than just diversity in spec. And so, I know that from programming from Multiverse in particular, as well as Boskone and ConGregate, they were definitely working towards having panels that were inclusive of different people across the board for every panel, not just that corner here, let’s have a diversity panel. And I think Jarvis’s track at Dragon Con just demonstrates and kind of amplifies at such a large, it’s like the largest con, sci-fi con in the United States after Worldcon, that’s not a comic con, that’s Dragon. Here we are…it’s even worth noting that having a track devoted to Black and people of color speculative fiction tells the other readers, right, in other fandom and other participants, this is something you might…this is not a small thing. This is actually a bigger thing.  It’s something that you may want to give your attention to or notice. And even at Worldcon in Dublin, they had highlighted a section in their dealer’s room, a large section that was just devoted to Brazilian science fiction art. 

Jarvis: Oh, I just wanted to piggyback. Thank you for mentioning the diversity track at Dragon Con, I think that track is the first track at any major event. Cause in the past, you had your Black panel, and then everybody goes home and goes back to normal, and before the Diversity Track. And with the Diversity Track, we have a whole week of stuff all day, all day long. So, it’s not going back to okay, we’re gonna just do a Black panel and send everybody home again.

L.D. Lewis: So, FiyahCon, which was… which I started yesterday, last year with Brent Lambert, who’s the Social Media Manager over at Fiyah, it is dedicated specifically to centering black, indigenous, and people of color and their experiences and contributions to spec lit. And we are Hugo nominated now for it…because we set that as our focus, it allowed us to do, beyond 101 programming. So, there are no diversity panels. It’s just all of these people from all of these different backgrounds who are able to actually talk craft, without having to properly orient people as to what Afrofuturism is, you know, for the eleventy-billionth time. And it was super well received. We had like eleven, twelve hundred attendants, something like that. Twelve hundred attendants last year. This year, we are at about eight hundred so far. And we’ve added an additional day of programming and it’s really robust and really interesting conversations. Even as different organizations are doing like year-round kinds of panels and things, we were able to still find conversations that haven’t been had yet. So I got the Nebula conference gig off of having directed FiyahCon and I was able to diversify some of that programming, some of the social spaces there as well. And it’s… it’s been really interesting to see how well it’s been received. It’s been interesting to see how a lot of Con runners from predominantly white teams are trying to poach my team members to try and get them to contribute something organically to their space. And I’m like, well, why do you have, you know, a white person who only has white friends trying to diversify their programming, maybe they’re not the person for that job just because they want it. And so, that’s a class I had to teach at Clarion West to just kind of like, these are pretty basic questions you should be asking yourself when staffing your events. 

Jalondra: So, I just want to follow up. I’m so glad that you are talking about the importance of institution building. How Black people build institutions and build spaces and build community. And that’s actually the thing that carries up and supports artists and builds audiences and cultivates new talent. Because when I was in a creative writing program, I wasn’t connected to any of these communities. And I was really pushed to do realist fiction. I think about how transformative it would have been to be connected to these communities. One of the things I find myself within the academy frustrated about, is I feel like with Afrofuturism and all of this excitement—and there’s a lot of white people doing Afrofuturism work, right—I  feel like there is kind of a narrative that the white people did it first and then the Black people, then Octavia Butler, and Samuel Delaney came… I feel like there’s a little bit of this linear narrative, because the only space being looked at is that…mainstream science fiction institution, you know what I mean?  Like, because the only site being looked at is these particular publications, these particular venues, these particular associations, they’re only seeing the people who…. somehow managed to be included within those spaces and not seeing all of this other stuff that’s happening. 

Nicole G-K:  So, we’re just not going to talk about like, “The Comet,” right.  Like, W.E.B. DuBois, right, “The Comet.”  It’s the first…for me, I feel like.

LaRose:  Well, yes. 

Nicole G-K:  The first like, like…the first science did it first.

LaRose:  Pauline Hopkins serialized the novel.

Jalondra:  Pauline Hopkins, yes.

LaRose:  Called Of One Blood in the 1800s.  [1]

Jalondra:  Yes. Yes.

LaRose:  You know, and within academia, obviously, where white people, and I, you know, we’re not even going to call it mainstream or whatever, just white people ignore again, the sites of, the places and spaces that Black folks are using to get these stories out. And just because you ignore it, just cause you kind of decide that it’s not worth talking about, or that you’re not aware of it, that doesn’t mean that it’s not there and hasn’t been happening.

Jalondra: And I mean, I do see people talk about  those older texts… Within the institution, Black people have done that genealogical work of saying, like, oh, DuBois, Pauline Hopkins, all of that.…but then I still don’t really see critical engagement of those works. Still not the engagement of how Black people are engaging with these themes of utopia, time travel, body transformation.

Nicole G-K:  Gender. Yep.

Jalondra: Like what Black people are doing in these conversations. That’s kind of what I’m doing now with the mermaids project. Like, it’s not just this thing over here, like, look at this cool example of Black people being mermaids. It’s like, no, Black people are transforming what the mermaid means. Black creators are advancing and creating and innovating certain concepts, but still not really getting engaged through those concepts, because it’s still being engaged as, look at this cool example of Black people also doing this, you know what I mean?

Nicole G-K: Like it’s an anomaly.  

Jalondra:  Yes.

Nicole G-K: We’re looked at as anomalies versus being…a living, breathing entity, right….and again it goes back to the idea that there could be only one. That’s why when you see examples of list of “Black Authors You Should Be Reading,” it’s the same five authors over and over again, because there’s this concept that… and they’re only looking at this very narrow—it’s like they’re looking at Florida, instead of looking at the whole United States.  They’re only looking at this one area, when it’s a much, much larger canvas to be observed. Wait a minute, this isn’t just this one small [chuckle] state, it’s a whole country.

LaRose:  But also… it’s a question of even having the tools, right?

Nicole G-K:  Right.

LaRose: To understand what they’re encountering.  And a lot of times, you know, in the year of our Lord 2021… white academics specifically are still not being trained to even have that nuanced conversation Jalondra that you pointed to about how Black folks are not just taking sort of Eurocentric or mermaid mythologies that come out of a European history and lineage, but they’re adding to it. They’re bringing things that are coming out of African traditions, they’re bringing things that come out of Caribbean mythologies. And that quite honestly, those things have been present… were present in these communities prior to contact… So it’s not we’re taking the notion of mermaid and kind of flipping it—though, that’s sometimes what’s happening—but we’re also… we’ve always had this idea of this water creature, right, that gels in some ways with European mermaid mythologies, but it’s completely different in other ways… because they don’t have the tools necessarily to do a complex, thoughtful reading of what is distinctive… about the way that that figure appears in Black texts in sort of African diasporic texts.

Jalondra: I think that that leads well into the subgenres question. What subgenres that were or are being incubated in the indie community have crossed into the mainstream?

Hannibal: Well, I can think of one from the comics books sphere that there’s a very common element that happens with Black creators where we’ll look at something and say, that doesn’t make any sense. That’s stupid. It’s got to be fixed.

Nicole G-K: To piggyback on Hannibal’s point, the demand often comes from us.  If you look at Black Twitter, or social media, we are a loud voice. Those shows that don’t have us in the writing room, they don’t do well. The chorus that arises from Black Twitter and from Black social media around things, wait a minute, no, that’s racist, or no, that’s not us, or no, that doesn’t flow, or who’s in your writing room, has kind of forced the hand for major studios to rethink how they present things, and who is in that writing room. Which is why we’re getting a lot more diverse talent in the room. But I think that conversation of, if you look at Lovecraft Country, what Misha Green was able to do with Mark Ruff’s text blew it out the water. Just, I mean, her, just from her experience, episode seven, Name Yourself: Who Am I, right?… the whole love letter to Black women and speculative fiction. That whole episode was phenomenal. And it was so well received. If you look at Lovecraft Country, it had like 12 or 15 Emmy nominations.  It’s stuff that we’ve been doing forever, right. Black horror, Black sci-fi, but because it’s been elevated to such a state, more people are gonna do it now, right, cause it’s popular. Because it’s successful. It’s been proven that there actually is a chorus or an audience for that. And that’s the note for indie, right. We do things. And it has a small blip of popularity amongst us in our niche. And then someone else says, “hey, what’s this ripple over here.” And they take it, and they amplify it, which is what Hannibal was saying. And now suddenly, it’s popular. And you’ll see more opportunities grow from that. But as LaRose said earlier, it does tend to ebb and flow. I remember in the early ‘90s, when Waiting to Exhale came out, and there was like a gazillion other authors who were writing similar girlfriend books, and it was like, oh my gosh, we’ve arrived. We’ve arrived. And you can’t even name five of ‘em now. You can’t find three of ‘em on a shelf. And so, [chuckle] it does tend to ebb and flow. But one of the things that is consistent is Black independent authors and Black independent publishers continuing to produce work that reflects the needs and wants of our communities.

Jalondra: Yes, I want to follow what you just said Nicole about Black audiences and social media. I think there’s a way in which I see independent writers, because they’re in control of the process, because they’re not at the behest of the schedule of a press and trying to find an agent they are responding more immediately, being a part of these conversations. That’s something that I wrote about Escape from Beckyville is that there are these conversations that black women were already having about the Psychology Today article that said Black women were ugly, and the film The Help, that the stories were directly engaged with. And I think that’s really powerful, because it provides a window into this work for Black people that’s not only through the window of science fiction. Like people who weren’t already fans come into a lot of this work in different ways.

LaRose: Does anybody have any other thoughts on things that are happening right now that you’re seeing in the indie world, that we’re going to see in like two years in the mainstream? Or that we potentially will see, as long as this interest in representing us actually persists? Which, who knows when it will ebb again? But what’s happening now? What do you think is poised to break through into more mainstream spaces? And I think we have to think about that language as well, because it continues to be problematic.

Hannibal: I would keep an eye on LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a science fiction comic that she did with one of the smaller publishers, not one of the big two. And it posited the idea of plant consciousnesses and human consciousnesses living side by side in the societal thing. The development of the idea was really deep, and I just, I was reading it like, yeah, I can see this in the movie, this could check out. So, whether she does it or someone tries to steal it, I don’t know. But I would not be surprised to see some elements of LaGuardia on your screen within the next few years.

Jarvis: I’m going to piggyback off of Hannibal. You’re going to continue to see more independent work making its way to mainstream like William Hayashi’s Discovery. Where it centers around Black people who have been living on the dark side of the moon before Neil Armstrong. There’s been like a Jack and Jill type of recruiting that’s been done with the geniuses and people of that nature. A Black ilk, they’ve created their own society, and have been in hiding and they get discovered. That has already, from what I understand, been picked up by, I think Netflix. 

Nicole G-K: That’s right. Yep.

Jarvis: Yvette Kendall has a series called God Maps, where they explore where the soul actually goes after you die. These scientists have created this technology to… at the moment of death, it kind of tags the soul as it leaves the body, and they’ve been tracking it. And she has had her stuff picked up, and is in the process of development. So, you’re going to see a lot of cherry picking of successful work. Sort of like the entertainment industry. I was privileged to be in the room with… I can’t think of his name right now. Record executive. He came to Tennessee State University years ago, and I taped his speech. And he was basically telling us like, how do we get on. People were trying to give him tapes and DVDs of their work and stuff, and he’s like, that’s not how it works. We pick up people that already have a buzz, that they’ve proven that they have an audience. And if you can have an audience in your region, or state or whatever, we pick those people and then work with them. So, you’ll see a lot of cherry picking like that happen. Which can be a good or a bad thing.

LaRose: And are there genres? I think about for instance, steamfunk, as something that we definitely saw going very strong in the indie community and P. Djèlí Clark with A Dead Djinn in CairoandThe Black God’s Drum.

Nicole G-K:  The Black God’s Drum. Yeah. I love that book.

LaRose:  Where we’re starting to see more steamfunk and Nisi Shawl had a steampunk novel. And we’re starting to see that more in the mainstream. But we definitely saw that in indie writers before it had that kind of crossover. I think a lot of that is coming out of Tor right now. So, are there other genres right now that we haven’t seen in the mainstream, but that we’re seeing in the indie community that you think we’re going to see in the mainstream later? Because we want to talk about it right now, so we can point back to it in two years and be like, look. We said it. They said it. Now respect their authority. 

Nicole G-K: So, I write futuristic noir, which is basically cyberpunk slash futuristic noir. They’re all mysteries set in the future, with a PI, think Blade Runner, but with a Black female lead. And I used to be the only Black woman who did that. But I’m starting to see a growing number of Black women authors writing mystery speculative noir. I’m very happy about that because I was the only one for a very long time. But I definitely see that they’re not tagging it as futuristic noir, it’s either cyberpunk, or they’re just tagging it a regular science fiction story. But at its origins, it’s a mystery in a speculative setting. I think that genre is going to tend to grow because people love mysteries. There is a rise of people who are watching true crime as they go to bed at night, or just to calm down. People who like a good mystery, but are kind of sick of the ordinary settings, are turning to that genre.

Hannibal: I was just going to piggyback on what Nicole was saying, because earlier this year, I was in two anthologies, from Milton Davis, of course, Cyberfunk! and Noir is the New Black from Fair Square Comics, where I was writing, as she said, a mystery of sorts in a futuristic setting. I definitely think that’s the aesthetic, because when costume designers and production designers look at things, the lines and the aesthetics of that being applied to black aesthetic are very visually appealing. A lot of people have learned from the way that Issa Rae used lighting in Insecure to light dark-skinned people. They are like, oh, we can do this now. We’ve learned something we can steal. So, I definitely think that will definitely be a factor. I’ve always seen ironically, that Milton is ahead of the curve, because he was the one who did the steamfunk anthology. I was in that.

Nicole G-K:  He was. Yep.

Hannibal:  He had Cyberfunk!  His new plan, I believe he talked about, is doing spyfunk.

Nicole G-K:  Spyfunk.  Yep.

Hannibal: Which is a black spy thing, because they won’t make Idris Elba, James Bond.  They’re like, okay, suckers, we can do it ourselves.

Nicole G-K:  We got it!

Hannibal:  And off we go. So if you see Will Smith popping back into, you know, the spy thing in a few years, that’s probably why.

Nicole G-K: I’m also in Cyberfunk! And actually Milton and I had long conversations about…I’m a huge cyberpunk fan, obviously. I’m a big Philip K. Dick fan. And so, one of the things that we actually talked about a lot with the Cyberfunk! anthology is, where do we want it to go? Because cyberfunk by its definition is high tech, low life, which is really depressing. But he was like, I don’t want to do the same stuff that cyberpunk has done before hence Cyberfunk! And it’s a very different anthology as Hannibal can probably attest. These are not your ordinary cyberpunk stories. They have elements of hope. They have elements of other things that aren’t oriented in trauma. They don’t all have to have a murder, or some horrific thing that happens, or discussions on what it means to be human. It’s just how do I exist in this space and find joy? I love the idea of cyberfunk, I hope it catches on. I hope it grows. I expect that it will, because it’s a very unique twist on cyberpunk. Milton’s diesel funk is ahead of the curve as well. With futuristic noir, the noir anthology that Hannibal was talking about as well. We write those things. If you think about the Sherlock Holmes comic that was written, set in Harlem, Watson and Holmes. I mean, we’re just always ahead of the curve with these types of things. Even though they may not be labeled as such, they’re definitely part of a growing trend of, here’s what we do that’s awesome. And how we make twists and turns and transform things. That’s kind of just… that’s the beauty of who we are. We take what is on the table or something and then we reconstruct the table to fit our needs. 

Hannibal: That’s a hip-hop aesthetic. Everything that you’re talking about is hip-hop, or jazz, or blues, or griot. I mean, that’s, that’s the black aesthetic inside and out all day.

Jalondra: Speaking of cyberfunk as a movement towards hope, one of the things I’ve been noticing at academic conferences lately are critiques of dystopia. And trying to talk about hope more in the midst of these kinds of genres. One of the things I would like to see is for the Black writers that are doing this to be centered, or at least factored in and read in the context of that conversation. Not read after the fact like, oh look, they’re doing it too, but like, oh, no, this is actually a driving factor, not just an afterthought.

Nicole G-K: And that’s the thing though with indie. That’s why we ask people to read indie, because they are at the forefront of the next large movement. By the time it’s mainstream, it’s already been active in indie circles for a while, right?

LaRose: I’m going to tell the story about my series. I truly believe that one of the problems that I had when I was shopping my series in 2010, that people didn’t know what to do with something that wasn’t about Black trauma. I really think that was one of the massive things that I encountered. But now Black people are saying… we’re tired, our experiences are more than our trauma. We are more than our trauma. Our experiences are more than trauma. And we want to see that reflected in books as well.

Jarvis: One theme that has been emerging is the strong Black female lead. I want to see that continue to thrive. That’s been in the independent world for as long as people been writing. But stuff like Lovecraft Country, Discovery, Sleepy Hollow, and anything that Janelle Monáe is in. Those are strong Black female leads that have been coming to the forefront.

Nicole S: The flip side of what Jarvis was saying about the strong Black woman lead is the woman who’s dealing with trauma. And I’m seeing more writers talking about their struggles with PTSD ,with trauma. Zin E. Rocklyn talks about writing as a woman who has suffered PTSD and writes about trauma in her work. And I love Sumiko Saulson, her book Solitude.

Nicole G-K: Yes, Sumiko. We publish her.

Nicole S: Yes. She’s awesome. In her book Solitude, she talks about just having this radical self-acceptance, and how mental health challenges are stigmatized in the Black community, and how it is transgressive to talk about being a woman who suffers from a mental illness. One of her characters is a woman who is housebound and an empowered character. So I am seeing more women speaking out about their own trauma, their own PTSD, their own feeling othered whether it’s in their community or in their own skin, and how they transcribe that into their work.

Nicole G-K: In my Fawn & Briscoe series, the protagonist Fawn actually has PTSD from the job that she actually does as a detective. It’s in this futuristic setting, of course, but it kind of enables her ability to do some of the work she needs to do. And it’s dealing with that because I think especially after the year we just all collectively had–

Nicole S:  Yeah.

Nicole G-K:  There’s definitely a lot of residual mental health that we need to look at. But I also think to Jarvis’s point, a strong Black female lead, it depends on who’s writing the character. I go back to this again and again, who is in your writing room? Because sometimes… it’s a Black female lead, and it’s not authentic. It’s not… it’s kind of destructive in how she’s depicted. So, it’s really important, I know “I’m rooting for everybody Black!” but I need to see who’s writing that character. Because Misha Green writing a character is very different from J.J. Abrams writing a Black female lead. And so, I need to know who’s behind that work, because that’s very important in how that character shows up in the movie, or film, or TV show.

LaRose: I think that that’s an important point, because a lot of what you all have been talking about as to how these ideas are moving out of the indie space into the mainstream is through film. So, now we’re talking about a whole other sort of apparatus that we have to think about, because it’s not just that you’re dealing with publishers and trying to make sure that the resulting book stays true to your vision, but also that now we’re talking about where we have writers’ rooms, and where they may option the rights to your story, but then you don’t know who is writing the story, who is translating your character, and whether or not that person has the insight to be able to authentically translate that character, especially if you as the writer are not involved in that process. I know N.K. Jemisin, a couple of her things have been pulled for adaptation, and I know that with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I think that’s the one she’s actually adapting herself. But yeah, that becomes a massive factor. Because what gets lost? What gets flattened out? What gets jettisoned? Because people don’t understand the significance of it in the first place. Because there are not enough people reflecting, who are connected to those identities in the writers’ room.

Hannibal: Real quickly. Could I just tell a real quick story. One of my friends, Lamont Magee, was one of the writers on Black Lightning. And when they were doing the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, there was a moment when Black Lightning walks into the room with Diggle and Lamont spent three weeks arguing with people and producers and writers that when they walked in the room the dude gave him a head nod.  Gave him the nod.

Nicole G-K:  The head nod.

Hannibal: The head nod. What’s up.

Nicole G-K: The head nod. [Laughter].

Hannibal:  He was like, you have no idea how hard I fought for that. And the importance of it, that it would be on screen. That it would be recognized. Because it was important that when these two Black men in a space with mostly white people walk in, there was that moment of recognition.

Nicole G-K:  The head nod. Oh my god. Yes.

Hannibal:  And I was like, yeah, that’s what’s up. That’s why we got to be in the room.  Exactly what you’re saying.

Nicole G-K: And Black Twitter erupted. I cannot tell you how many people tagged me and did you see that head nod? Did you see it? Yasss! Oh my god, it was perfect. Okay.  I’ll calm down now.

Hannibal: [Laughter].

Jalondra: Do you all in your platforms and your work, intentionally seek to move the genre or genres or in new directions? And if so, how?

Jarvis: With all of my platforms and the little writing that I actually do, I think it’s important that we are socially responsible and put images and themes out there that we want to see repeated. Not just, okay, I’m gonna go with what’s going on right now. And not just copy what somebody else is doing. We see that in all the little inventions that you’ve seen on Star Trek our whole life, whether it’s the cell phone, or the tablet, or the flat screen TV. And so, just like people see those inventions on sci-fi, and okay, well they figure out how to make that a reality. We need to put the images out there that we want to see in the future. So, other people can figure out, okay, how can we move this, move our country and our world toward that reality?

Hannibal:  I totally agree with what Jarvis is saying. And I’m gonna piggyback on that.  One of my elders in the Los Angeles poet community is this sister named V. Kali. When she first met me, I’d been writing all these break-up poems and that kind of stuff. And she was like, “have you ever thought about writing what you want to happen, and not what did happen?” And it changed my entire perspective on things. And I really, I really looked at that as science fiction being tomorrow’s science fact, in the way that Jarvis was saying. And really thought about what we’re doing as writers, we are creating these myths, we’re creating these paradigms, we’re creating these ideas that will then influence the actual lives of actual people. And that’s very important in the work that I’m doing, because I got two kids, that they always see me, to quote another one of my poetic mentors, Michael Datcher, that my Black man life lives up to my Black man rhetoric. That the work that they see me put out is work that verifies them, that lifts them up, that shows them in a light of possibility and what can be. So, yeah that’s super important to me. I’m writing a superhero book called Project Wildfire. It has a very aspirational element, even though most of the people in the book are awful, horrible liars, doing terrible, terrible things, and smashing up stuff. But there has to be a light in all of that. And that light has to shine.

Nicole S: I’ve been more intentional in my writing about writing older Black women characters as the main characters, because I think a lot of sci-fi and spec fiction leans toward younger characters. And I’m guilty of that in my own work, like, okay, she’s got to be 25 to 30. And as I’m getting older, I want to see middle-aged women not just seen as the elder, but in their full humanity, like being on a dating app or something. Just saying that older Black women exist and not just to save the world, as Whoopi Goldberg said. But they exist to, you know, do things in their community and be these complex characters. So that’s what I’m working on and being intentional about.

L.D. Lewis: I do something similar. My novella A Ruin of Shadows from 2018, the protagonist is in her late 50s. And then it still got shelved somehow as YA, but that’s another conversation entirely. All of my short stories have so far been kind of just personal experiments. So, that one came about… well, I don’t know how to write fight scenes, and it turns out that I do them really well. And it became a thing. And my short Moses ended up reprinted at Lightspeed, long listed in one of the “best of” anthologies, I don’t remember which one it was. That one was centering an addict, but who had super powers. So, trying to balance those two things. Because I had never seen an addict portrayed in a speculative literature setting. So, I don’t know about trying to push things forward, but I’m just trying to fill gaps in the stories that I’m seeing.

Nicole G-K: So, I write mysteries, as I mentioned before, but one of the things I do write also are weird westerns. I may be the only Black woman writing weird Western fiction set in the 1900s New Mexico Territory. I love westerns… but there’s a gap there, right? It’s a gap with westerns. They’re usually depicted as, with the exception of Maurice Broaddus’ Buffalo Soldiers and a few others, they’re often depicted as, white folks in the West. And they negate the stories of Native people there. They negate the story of the Chinese immigrants who are building the railroad. They negate the former slaves that escaped to that area. They negate all the people of color in those spaces. Like L.D., I love westerns, but I saw a gap. And so, I wrote stories—and of course, they’re speculative because I’m a nerd—about experiences in New Mexico. I lived in New Mexico for six years, which actually helped feed the magical quality of those stories. And I center Black women in almost all of those stories, because those stories don’t get told. I did a lot of research, a lot of writing. I don’t know if it pushes anything forward, but it definitely adds other stories or additional voices to the weird western genre, which is almost exclusively white male. Because I like those stories… first and foremost, the writer pleases the writer. But also, I didn’t see those stories, I thought those stories should be added and told. Secondly, I write speculative mysteries. Again, you don’t often see Black female protagonist PI stories set in the future. And so, my Cybil Lewis series, my Kingdom of Aves series, which is speculative fantasy, mystery fantasy, and then my Fawn & Briscoe series, they all star Black women detectives, doing what you normally see white male detectives doing in those spaces. I write those stories because I like them. And the repeated thing I tell people is that Black folks aren’t a monolith. We all have very different interests and things that we love. And so, the stories that I write are the things that I love. I love mysteries. I love spec. I love fantasy. I love westerns. Does that help another reader who’s like, “oh, you know, I like mysteries, I like mysteries in the future, but I never see this character.” I hope so. Growing up I didn’t see a lot of the things I love reflected as Black women doing it. My goal with the work that I produce, is that it finds a reader who feels validated and seen by reading, you know, Cybil investigating a crime or Prentiss using her Hawk abilities and her magic. So that’s my goal as a writer. Our mission is to amplify marginalized voices in speculative fiction over at Mocha Memoirs Press. And so, the stories that we tend to pick, not always, but most of the time, are those that are kind of hard to fit. Sometimes they’re mash-ups. Sometimes they’re just a little odd and outside of what the mainstream would like, either the voice it’s being told in, or the subject matter. And so, we try to produce works that fall into those cracks that don’t often get heard or seen or read or accepted. 

LaRose: So, I think that a lot of us who write are writing in some ways to what we wish we would have seen, or what we wish we could see now or what we wish we would have seen as kids. When I started writing and decided to self-publish, it was because you weren’t seeing hardly any—I guess they might have been out there; if they were I don’t know what they were—stories of Black boys in fantasy worlds. And you still barely see that. But the landscape has definitely changed since my first novel became available in 2010. And I wrote it because I had a cousin who loved fantasy. And I’m like, he should be able to read about people who look like him. And when I couldn’t think of a book to buy and couldn’t find any books to buy, that’s when I started writing. And the other thing that was always on my agenda was, again, that notion that we’re not a monolith. And so much of what you see, particularly written about Black children, is Black children engaged in these really serious adult issues, right. I mean, obviously, a lot of times to have a book and to have conflict, it’s not “my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is missing” for a teenager. That’s not the conflict. But… Black children don’t always have to be the next Civil Rights hero. They don’t have to be facing down the police. We can tell stories about other kinds of conflict for Black children. And particularly when that’s something that we see all the time, Black kids need escape, you know. Like, this is on the news all the time. This is happening in the streets. And yes, it is important to talk about that. And it’s important to give them books that help them think through those experiences, but it’s also important to give them places that say, you can have other kinds of possibilities for your life. And so, for me, when I started writing my Shifters Novel series, I wanted to start from a space where these Black children were empowered. And the world that matters is not this world. It’s a whole other dimension that I created, where everybody is like these Black children. And that was purposeful. Sometimes let kids breathe different air. And again, those books are really important. I’m not saying that they’re not important, I’m just saying kids deserve other stories as well.

Jalondra: I think it speaks to balance and variety. We need to have range and encompass and bigness to the art. And I think what tends to get the attention and the support tends to be that that coheres most with what is already familiar. So, my critique wouldn’t necessarily be of the author, but of the larger context for what is getting emphasized versus what we don’t see. Like, what’s the larger context for that? And how do we keep creating? I think this kind of institution building that all of you’ve been involved with is really key to how you create a larger canvas, you know, so that everyone can find what resonates with them.

Hannibal: I was just going to say real quickly, that one of the things that motivates me in my writing was growing up watching the Flintstones and the Jetsons and saying, there’s no place for me in the future or the past. So, I was like, yeah, I can fix that. I can, I can do something about that. I got these right here. And I started writing. And later on, I heard the story of Martin Luther King encouraging Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek. So yeah, I just think it’s really important that we just keep pushing the discussion and making the work for ourselves, because we have to be the first audience. And we have to satisfy the reader that we are before we can satisfy anybody else.

NOTES

[1] Hopkins serialized Of One Blood in The Colored American Magazine between 1902 and 1903.

REFERENCED AND SUGGESTED RESOURCES

Addison, Linda D., Brooks, Kinitra & Morris, Susana. Sycorax’s Daughters. Cedar Grove Books, 2017.

Allen, Stephanie Andrea  &, Cherelle, Lauren. Black From the Future: A Collection of Black Speculative Writing. BLF Press, 2019.

Bollers, Karl, Perlow, Brandon, & Mendoza, Paul. Watson and Holmes: A Study in Black. New Paradigm Studios, 2013.

Broaddus, Maurice. Buffalo Soldiers.Tor.com, 2017.

Clark, P. Djèlí. A Dead Djinn in Cairo. Tor Books, 2016.

—. The Black God’s Drum. Tor.com, 2018.

Davis, L. M. Interlopers. Lyndberry Press, 2010.

—. Posers.Lyndberry Press, 2012.

—. Skinless. Lyndberry Press, 2013.

—. Forgers.Lyndberry Press, 2020.

Davis, Milton. The City: A Cyberfunk Anthology. MV Media LLC, 2015.

—. Steamfunk! MV Media LLC, 2013.

Davis, Milton & Thomas, Sheree R. Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020.

Givens-Kurtz, Nicole. Cybil Lewis series. Amazon Digital Services, LLC 2008-2018.

—. Fawn & Briscoe series. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020.

—. Kingdom of Aves series. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2020-2021.

—. Sisters of the Wild Sage. Mocha Memoirs Press, 2019.

Harris, T.C. Noir is the New Black. FairSquare Comics, 2021.

Kendall, Yvette. God Maps. Stravard Lux Publishing House Incorporated, 2019.

Lewis, L.D. A Ruin of Shadows. Dancing Star Press, 2018.

—. “Moses.” In Anathema: Spec from the Margins. Issue 7, April 2019.

Okorafor, Nnedi. La Guardia. Dark Horse Books, 2019.

Saulson, Sumiko. Solitude. Lulu.com, 2012.

Sconiers, Nicole. Escape from Beckyville: Tales of Race, Hair and Rage. Spring Lane Publishing 2011.

—. ”70 Decibels.” In Speculative City. Issue 12: Sound. Summer 2021.

Tabu, Hannibal. The Crown Ascension. Telepoetics Incorporated, 2005.

—. Project Wildfire.Second Sight Publishing, 2021.

, with Illidge, Joseph Phillip & Laxton, Meredith. MPLS Sound. Humanoids Inc., 2021.

AUTHORS

Linda Addison: https://lindaaddisonwriter.com/

Maurice Broaddus: http://mauricebroaddus.com/

L. M. Davis: https://www.lmdaviswrites.com/books

Tee Franklin: http://teefranklin.com/

Tenea D. Johnson: https://www.teneadjohnson.com/

Sebastian Jones: https://www.strangercomics.com/

Kai Leakes: https://kwhp5f.wixsite.com/kai-leakes

L.P. Kindred: https://twitter.com/LPKindred?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

Victor Lavalle: http://www.victorlavalle.com/

L. D. Lewis: https://ldlewiswrites.com/

Alicia McCalla: https://aliciamccalla.com/

Rasheedah Phillips: https://www.blackquantumfuturism.com/product-page/recurrenceplot

Christopher Priest: https://lamerciepark.com/

Zin E. Rocklyn: https://www.terizin.com/

Sumiko Saulson: https://sumikosaulson.com/

Nicole Sconiers; http://nicolesconiers.com/

Hannibal Tabu: http://www.hannibaltabu.com/411/

Brandon Thomas: https://twitter.com/bwrites247?lang=en C. Spike Trotman: https://ironcircus.com

EVENTS

African Street Festival: https://www.aacanashville.com/african-street-festival

Afrofuturist Affair: https://www.afrofuturistaffair.com/

Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo: https://www.atlantascifiexpo.com/

Black Comix Days: https://www.kid-comics.com/blackcom-xday.html

Black Quantum Futurism: https://www.blackquantumfuturism.com/

Black Speculative Arts Movement: https://www.bsam-art.com/

Blacktasticon: https://www.instagram.com/blacktasticon/?hl=en

FiyahCon: https://theconvention.fiyahlitmag.com/

OnyxCon: http://www.onyxcon.com/

PRESSES AND PUBLISHERS

Anathema: Spec from the Margins: http://www.anathemamag.com/about-anathema

BLF Press: https://www.blfpress.com/

Cedar Grove Books: (http://cedargrovebooks.com/)

Mocha Memoirs Press: https://mochamemoirspress.com/

MVMedia: https://www.mvmediaatl.com/

Neon Hemlock Press: https://www.neonhemlock.com/books

Obsidian Sky Books: https://obsidianskybooks.com/

Speculative City: https://speculativecity.com/

WEBSITES

Black Sci-Fi: https://blacksci-fi.com/

Black Science Fiction Society: https://blacksciencefictionsociety.com/

Onyx Pages: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_reNHCI5mUeKGbvkN2_bTA

Sistah SciFi: https://sistahscifi.com/

Operative.net: http://operative.net/

Jalondra A. Davis is a Black feminist cultural critic and University of California Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Diego. Her work has been published in the Museum of Science Fiction’s Journal of Science Fiction, anthologies The Politics of Ugliness and Challenging Misrepresentations of Black Womanhood, and is forthcoming in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts and the Routledge Handbook to Alternative Futurisms. Her new book project in progress, Sea People: Mermaids and the Black Atlantic focuses on aquatic mythologies in African diasporic literature, art, and performance. She is also the author of a novel entitled Butterfly Jar.

As L. M. Davis, LaRose Davis is a YA/MG author who writes about shapeshifters, aliens, immortals, and witches. L. M. Davis is author of Interlopers: A Shifters Novel, Posers: A Shifters Novel, Forgers: A Shifters Novel, and skinless: A Novel in III Parts. Additionally, Davis is a scholar of African American and Native American literatures and cultures, with particular interest in the speculative production of these communities. Finally, she has worked as a background actor on a variety of SFF projects including “Black Panther,” “Raising Dion,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” and “Lovecraft Country.” She has recently written and directed her first speculative short film, titled “Fevered Dreams.”


The SF In Translation Universe #13



The SF In Translation Universe #13

Rachel Cordasco

Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! Fall in Wisconsin is my favorite time of year: it’s chilly but not cold, pumpkins are everywhere, and I get to wear my favorite sweaters again. What better time, then, to curl up and read some of these figuratively chilling works of SFT about reeducation facilities, curses, and bizarre new species? And though I’ve only found five works of SFT that come out between October and December this year, these books are worth savoring, preferably while drinking hot chocolate as a cat purrs on your lap.

Speaking of reeducation facilities: Czech author Petra Hůlová’s novel The Movement (tr. Alex Zucker) imagines what could happen if basic human attraction was eliminated and replaced by a more cerebral appreciation not dependent upon physical characteristics. Those men who resist this change and continue to be attracted to women’s bodies, rather than their brains, are sent to an Institute to learn the “correct” way of finding a mate. Here, Hůlová asks readers to consider just what it would take for an ideology to suppress one of our basic human instincts.

With Life Sciences (tr Laura Vergnaud), French author Joy Sorman takes on the limitations of modern medical science. When Ninon, descended from generations of women afflicted with strange and inexplicable diseases, begins experiencing one of her own, the doctors and scientists whom she consults are unable to help her. Even the most sophisticated tests can’t provide any answers. A meditation on the often inscrutable nature of our own bodies, Life Sciences invites us to think more broadly about our embodied experiences.

Un-su Kim’s The Cabinet (tr. Sean Lin Halbert) explores this theme of human embodiment via characters who also experience strange symptoms, though these people may be the harbingers of an entire new species. Each of them has a file housed in Cabinet 13, overseen by the harried and overworked Mr. Kong. This theme of species transition and the future of the human race makes me think of Dempow Torishima’s wildly unique work of body horror, Sisyphean. Humorous and weird, The Cabinet highlights the unexpected that lies at the heart of each person’s seemingly mundane life.

Like The Cabinet, Djuna’s collection Everything Good Dies Here (tr. Adrian Theiret) adds to the ever-growing corpus of Korean speculative fiction in English translation. Djuna’s work has appeared in English before: her “Squaredance” and “Trans-Pacific Express” were featured in Acta Koreana in 2015, while “The Second Nanny” appeared in Clarkesworld four years after that. Everything Good includes the six stories that make up her “Linker Universe,” in which a mutating virus alters its host’s genetic structure and merges it with its environment. Zombies, vampires, and more combine in this book to produce a dizzying yet enticing reading experience.

Finally, we have Sinopticon (ed. and tr. Xueting Christine Ni), an anthology of thirteen never-before translated stories showcasing the richness and variety of turn-of-the-century Chinese science fiction. With fiction by Jiang Bo, Regina Kanyu Wang, Anna Wu, and others, readers will be inspired to check out previous similar anthologies (Invisible Planets, Broken Stars, and The Reincarnated Giant) for more by these creative and innovative writers.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and what you’re looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!


Chinese Science Fiction Studies in Japan



Chinese Science Fiction Studies in Japan

Noriko Yamamoto
Translated by Jin Zhao

1

In Japan, the study of Chinese science fiction started quite late, and only one outstanding academic book, Chinese Science and Fantasy Literature Museum (2001), written by Takeda Masaya and Hayashi Hisayuki, has previously been published. Since then, no book has been published, including translations, that surpasses this masterpiece. This means that if a Japanese person wants to learn about Chinese science fiction, they would have no other options but to read this book. It is fair to say that for a long time, Japan’s understanding of Chinese science fiction has been extremely limited and outdated. Admittedly, the Chinese Science Fiction Research Association, with Hayashi Hisayuki as its president, has persistently introduced and translated Chinese science fiction works into Japanese over the years, but the fact is that as it is only a doujinshi [1] (同人誌), its influence is inevitably modest. Its activities are well known to a small group of fans and enthusiasts, yet remain completely unknown to most.

2

In 2007, the situation began to change. At the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, a number of guests from the Chinese science fiction community came to Japan and had a series of discussions with Japanese science fiction writers and editors. It was this meeting that prompted Hayakawa Publishing’s S-F Magazine to publish a special issue of Chinese science fiction the year following (S-F Magazine September 2008 Issue), in which works by major writers such as Liu Cixin, Han Song, and Jiang Bo were published, along with a column by Yao Haijun. This was the first time that an entire issue was exclusively dedicated to Chinese science fiction, which was a huge step forward. However, although this special issue successfully introduced Chinese science fiction to the Japanese science fiction community, the reality is that to most Japanese people, Chinese science fiction is still little known and inaccessible, and as a result, hardly attractive.

The situation suddenly changed with the appearance of Chinese-American science fiction writer and translator, Ken Liu, whose The Paper Menagerie (2015) became a huge success as soon as it was released in April 2015. This book was so well-received in Japan that even people who don’t normally read science fiction started to read it. As a result, Chinese science fiction came under the spotlight for the first time since its brief popularity in 2007. Readers eagerly looked forward to reading Ken Liu’s translations, firmly believing that as long as they were translated by Ken Liu, they would be interesting. Since then, a series of works such as Chen Qiufan’s The Year of The Rat and Han Song’s Security Check have been translated into Japanese through Ken Liu’s initial English translations and subsequently introduced in S-F Magazine. The point, however, is that these works were not translated from Chinese into Japanese, but from their English versions into Japanese. Admittedly, Ken Liu’s English translations are excellent, but the question that inevitably sprang up in the reader’s mind was, “Why not just translate these works directly from Chinese into Japanese?” However, the sad fact is that at the time Chinese science fiction was not yet acknowledged by the Japanese market, and it was still a product that had to be tagged with Ken Liu’s name before it could be approved.

It was not until 2019, when Hayakawa Publishing published Liu Cixin’sThe Three-Body Problem, that we could be rescued from this embarrassing situation in any real sense. Upon its release, the book immediately became a bestseller, with sales of over 100,000 copies, an unprecedented figure for foreign science fiction publications in Japan. The book has a huge readership, and many businessmen in particular are keen to read The Three-Body Problem. It is safe to say that The Three-Body Problem fever has already evolved into a social phenomenon in Japan.

It was also thanks to The Three-Body Problem that Chinese science fiction began to be translated directly from Chinese into Japanese, changing the old tradition wherein Chinese science fiction had to be translated into Japanese via English. A new model of translation has gradually taken shape. With this model, editors will read the English translations to get a good understanding of the stories, but in the meantime people who are proficient in Chinese will preview the relevant works. They will then recommend those works that are suitable for translation, offering suggestions and consulting with editors over details. In the subsequent years, a series of Chinese science fiction works have been translated and published, including The Ladder of Time: Selected Works of Modern Chinese Science Fiction (2020 ); the second book in Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy, The Dark Forest (2020); Chen Qiufan’s The Waste Tide (2020) (translated from its English version into Japanese); and Hao Jinfang’s The Other Shore of Man (2021). In May 2021, the third book in The Three-Body Problem trilogy, Death’s End, will be released as well. With many more works scheduled to be published in the coming years, it is expected that there will be many more opportunities for Japanese readers to read Chinese science fiction in Japanese.

3

Thus, under such a situation, how should we study Chinese science fiction in Japan? First, there are virtually no universities or institutions in Japan that specialize in the study of science fiction in general, let alone Chinese science fiction. Certainly, we do have distinguished scholars such as Professor Tatsumi Takayuki at Keio University, who enjoys a high reputation not only in science fiction, but also in American literature. Arguably, his accomplishment in science fiction studies is entirely outside of his high professional competence. However, when we look at the current situation of science fiction studies in Japanese universities as a whole, we find that science fiction studies are not yet well-organized, and there is not even a professional academic group devoted to their study. The truth is that, in Japan, science fiction studies can only be done through the efforts of some individual professors. As a result, the first thing to do when you try to study science fiction is to look for a competent teacher. Moreover, since American and English science fiction is the predominant genre of science fiction nowadays, we are thus faced with the dilemma that we find neither teachers nor majors when we try to study Chinese science fiction in a symposium or a university graduate school. Actually, until very recently, it was practically impossible to study science fiction on a professional level other than to study under the tutelage of Professor Takeda Masaya at Hokkaido University. Fortunately, thanks to the translation boom of Chinese science fiction, many Japanese scholars of Chinese literature have finally begun to draw attention to Chinese science fiction, among whom are professors specializing in pure literature [2] (純文学). Some of them have begun to read science fiction, and many others project to write theses on science fiction as their subject. Hence, it is our expectation that in the forthcoming years, we will see a field dedicated to the study of Chinese science fiction taking shape and taking root in Japan.

NOTES

[1] Doujinshi (同人誌) is a Japanese term for self-published print works, such as magazines, manga, and novels. Being part of a wider category of doujin (self-published) works, doujinshi are usually derivative of existing works, and are often created by amateurs, although some professional artists are also involved in order to publish material outside the regular industry.

[2] Pure literature (純文学) is a term in Japanese literature that refers to novels that place more emphasis on artistry than entertainment, as opposed to popular novels.

Noriko Yamamoto, known by her pen name Tōya Tachihara, is a Japanese scholar, translator, novelist, and associate professor of literature at Hokusei Gakuen University. She is the translator and editor of the Japanese edition of The Three-Body Problem series. In 2020, she was awarded the Nihon SF Taisho Award for her contribution to translation and introduction of Chinese science fiction works.

Jin Zhao is a science fiction enthusiast, science fiction scholar, science fiction translator, and science fiction writer. For many years, she has devoted herself to the comparative study of Chinese and Japanese literature and culture and the study of science fiction literature. Currently, she is working on a dissertation devoted to the study of Japanese science fiction culture.


The Science Fiction Foundation at Fifty



The Science Fiction Foundation at 50

Paul March-Russell


On 26 June, at our joint AGM with the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA), the SFF celebrated its 50th anniversary with two events: a panel chaired by Maureen Speller, with Roz Kaveney, Farah Mendlesohn, Andy Sawyer and Graham Sleight, and a conversation between myself and John Clute (the latter is available here). Much genial and insightful talk ensued, and yet—what exactly is the Science Fiction Foundation?

As Clute acknowledges, for much of its life, certainly up until the move of the SFF Collection to the University of Liverpool in the early 1990s, the SFF existed as a nebulous entity without legal status. We are now a registered charity and are reliant, for all our activities, upon the support of our members and the generosity of private donors. Our aims remain the same as stated in the first issue of Foundation in 1972: to provide research facilities for anyone wishing to study science fiction; to investigate and promote the usefulness of science fiction in education; to disseminate information about science fiction; and to promote a discriminating understanding of the nature of science fiction. Sounds clear enough, and yet…

Long before para-academia was even a thing, the SFF was a para-academic research center-cum-network. The story of its survival, and even more than that, its growth, is not only a victory against the odds but also a tale of how independent research, carried out by full-time academics, postgraduate students, non-affiliated scholars and out-and-out fans, can flourish within the margins of academia.

The origins of the SFF are unclear, even to those who were around at the time. Its prime instigator was George Hay, SF writer and editor, environmental campaigner and self-styled ‘futures consultant’, a man who, as a teenager, had feasted upon the works of John W. Campbell, and believed that SF offered a blueprint for not only how the world might be but how it should be. As reported to Andrew Darlington, Hay created his ‘think-tank’, the Science Fiction Foundation, in October 1970 with a view to re-educating the planet with the values of SF. I say ‘created’ but actually it was more like a feat of magical thinking. At this stage, the SFF was no more than a speech-act ventriloquized by Hay in performance with a few, notable friends: James Blish, John Brunner and Ken Bulmer.

The formal establishment of the SFF occurred in early 1971. According to Charles Barren, the first editor of Foundation, Hay persuaded George Brosan, an SF fan and the first director of the North East London Polytechnic (NELP), to establish the SFF as ‘a semi-autonomous unit’ within the Faculty of Arts. A public meeting was held, where Brosan stood aside, and Barren became the first Chair of the SFF. And here the first fault-line appeared. Whereas Hay was driven by a desire to save the world from itself via SF, Barren had the rather more limited desire of establishing SF as serious literature for writers and critics alike. The flagship of the SFF would be the journal, Foundation, and its engine, the SFF Library, initially created by donations from the BSFA. Much myth-making ensued. Hay painted a picture of Foundation as being edited and largely written by himself, a samizdat publication knocked-out on the polytechnic’s photocopiers. Barren recalls that Foundation was actually published by a small science press, and that it was he, not Hay, who conceived it as a mixture of academic and literary journal. The snag, as Barren later conceded, was that hopes of selling up to 5000 copies via high-street retailers were drastically misplaced. Furthermore, like other areas of academic publishing, contributors were not paid. Nonetheless, Foundation did manage to attract a Nebula-nominated short story from James M. Tiptree and a poem by Marilyn Hacker. When the SFF Administrator, Peter Nicholls, assumed editorship of the journal in 1974, in what amounted to a coup, both the fiction and the poetry were dropped (with occasional exceptions, most notably, the all-fiction Foundation 100).

From the contrasting perspectives of Barren and Hay, Nicholls’s ascendancy marked the growing academic dominance of the SFF. This is not how Nicholls saw it. The SFF had been formally launched in May 1971; Nicholls joined as Administrator in October, on loan from NELP, where he had been employed as a lecturer. Although physically situated in the polytechnic, the SFF was not fully part of it: its Management Committee was divided between NELP staff and Hay’s more revolutionary faction. (The SFF’s original patron was Arthur C. Clarke, later to be joined by Ursula Le Guin. Its current patrons are Neil Gaiman, Nalo Hopkinson and Prof David Southwood.) The idea of the SFF appealed to NELP because of its interdisciplinarity: it chimed with values which, in the early 1970s, distinguished the polytechnics from the older universities. However, although SF was taught as part of the University of London’s Extra-Mural Studies, it did not become part of the official undergraduate provision at NELP. With few UK scholars working in SF, Nicholls became the genre’s academic face: much of his time as Administrator and journal editor was spent writing for newspapers, appearing on TV, and organizing events at the National Film Theatre and the I.C.A. He was supported by professional writers such as Christopher Priest and Ian Watson: although, in 1975, Nicholls wrote a jeremiad attacking the New Wave, he was necessarily reliant upon writers and critics associated with New Worlds. In 1977, as his own position at NELP became economically precarious and The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction was contracted for publication, Nicholls left both UK academia and the SFF. He later declared that Foundation is ‘not an academic journal, for there is no academic infrastructure to support it’. If SF is often regarded as para-literature, then presumably, Foundation is para-literary criticism, somewhere between a prozine and an academic title. (Later editors may have revised that opinion.)

Malcolm Edwards, Nicholls’s successor as Administrator, stepped-up to become journal editor but left in 1980. His successor was David Pringle, but now there was no paid Administrator: Barren, Ian MacPherson, Ted Chapman and, most importantly, John Radford all took on unpaid duties. The only paid member of the SFF, and that part-time, was Joyce Day, who fronted the SFF Collection now held at NELP’s Barking campus—the largest, publicly available SF library in the UK with some 20,000 titles. There was, therefore, a massive discrepancy between the size of the SFF’s assets and its dwindling infrastructure. Yet, despite this, the platform that Nicholls had established with the journal was successively built upon by Edwards, Pringle and, from 1986, Edward James. The SFF therefore became identified with Foundation and the Collection—membership of the SFF, though, has always been more than just subscription to the journal.

An appointed Council lent the SFF the appearance of an infrastructure, but in the late 1980s, the Friends of Foundation was formed to protect it. In 1991, when NELP became the University of East London, it removed its remaining support from the journal and the Collection. The following year, the Council took up the University of Liverpool’s offer to re-house the Collection and, in 1993, Andy Sawyer was appointed as both Librarian and Administrator. On 26 January 1995, a charter was signed between the University and John Clute, representing the Friends of Foundation, ensuring the safekeeping of the Collection at Liverpool. Three years later, the Friends were dissolved and reformed as the Science Fiction Foundation, a registered charity with a Committee and Trustees. Only in 1998, therefore, did the SFF become a legal entity, some 27 (or maybe 28) years after it was willed into being.

And yet…

Although, since the mid-1990s, there has been a veritable renaissance with conferences, academic tracks, book publications (in addition to the journal), the annual George Hay Lecture, the SFF Masterclass, Science for Fiction, and a doubling in size of the Collection, the SFF remains something of a phantom. It has no office, no building, and it would be going too far to claim the Sydney Jones Library, which houses the Collection, as its own. The Committee meets twice a year, in addition to the AGM, but currently dispersed and online, from the comfort of their own homes. In other words, legal entity though it now is, the SFF retains its alluring, mysterious, para-academical status. It may be the closest thing to Bohemia that an academic can get.

At the same time, there has been a fluorescence in the UK of younger academic networks, propelled by tech-savvy and socially aware postgraduates. These include Current Research for Speculative Fiction (CRSF) based at the University of Liverpool, the Fantastika conferences and online journal initially founded at Lancaster University, and the London Science Fiction Research Community based in or around Birkbeck College, London. Sometimes these networks, most notably CRSF, overlap with the SFF but mostly they have emerged alongside it. In addition, there are now research centers and research clusters at Anglia Ruskin, Brunel, Glasgow and Liverpool. Although these developments bear witness to the SFF as a pathfinder, it can also become overlooked. It’s hard to contemplate a time when the SFF might disappear: its material assets, most notably the Collection, are vast, and Liverpool continues to commit itself via the outreach and MA degree now led by Phoenix Alexander and Will Slocombe. Yet, at some point, the SFF will have to merge with these networks since these younger academics constitute the future of SF studies in the UK.

The other transformative factor is that of digitality. As the events of 2020/21 have shown, we can now pursue several of our educational activities online. For example, this year’s Hay Lecture, given by the forensic archaeologist Kirsty Squires, was presented virtually while the next SFF Masterclass is earmarked for online delivery. We are gradually constructing an online archive for the journal, and at some point, we may have to consider whether Foundation will continue as a print and/or e-journal. (Past and present issues are already available electronically via EBSCO and ProQuest.) I certainly hope that when we next consider holding a conference, we will do so digitally—the SFF has already sponsored online events such as last October’s Riddley Walker Day. How we interact with our members will also change through the prism of digitality: the journal’s Facebook group currently has 847 members and, as I often remark, if each of those followers became actual members of the SFF, our fortunes would be dramatically enriched.

Which brings me to my final note. As Farah Mendlesohn observed at the anniversary panel, the UK’s university sector is going through severe changes with wide-scale job losses and departmental closures. The bankruptcy and merger of whole universities is on the immediate horizon. Due to its para-academic status, the SFF is not only placed to weather these storms but it can also provide shelter. Annual membership remains low, from £15 for a student to £25 for a salaried individual to £50 for a university. In the coming years, there are likely to be more independent scholars as universities contract. Foundation has repeatedly shunned the likes of Elsevier to remain as open and as accessible to as many scholars as possible. I hope that you will consider joining the SFF for the greater good of the academic community, whether affiliated to an institution or not.

FURTHER READING

Barren, Charles. 1990. ‘Guest Editorial: Foundation in Retrospect’. Foundation 50: 4-9.

Darlington, Andrew. 2012. ‘SF Interview: George Hay – By Space Possessed’. Eight Miles Higher, 29 October. http://andrewdarlington.blogspot.com/2012/10/sf-interview-george-hay-by-space.html (accessed 8 July 2021).

Nicholls, Peter. 1990. ‘Foundation Garments, or the Administrator’s New Clothes: An Unreliable Memoir’. Foundation 50 (1990): 10-27.

Nicholls, Peter, John Clute and Andy Sawyer. 2016. ‘Science Fiction Foundation’. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute and David Langford. http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/science_fiction_foundation (accessed 8 July 2021).

The SF in Translation Universe #12


SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 3

Features / SFT Universe


The SF in Translation Universe #12

Rachel Cordasco


Welcome back to the SF in Translation Universe! It’s been quite a summer (here in America), with people slowly emerging from their homes, blinking in the sunlight, visiting friends, going out to dinner, and sending their kids to camp. Contrast this with publishing during these warmer months, when books seem to slow to a trickle. And yet, and yet, we still have some fantastic new SFT to discuss! Because SFT never quits.

Of the five works of SFT that I’ll discuss in this issue’s column, four are out in English in July, with the fifth coming out in September (I’m looking askance at you, August!). Three are collections, translated from the Korean, Spanish, and Polish. July 15 brings us Korean author Bora Chung’s Cursed Bunny (tr. Anton Hur), which includes quite the mix of genres—magical realism, horror, and science fiction. Chung’s stories here defy genres and also readers’ assumptions about patriarchy and capitalism. The first story in this collection, “The Head,” first appeared in Samovar Magazine in 2019. It’s one of those deliciously-disturbing stories that sticks in your brain.

Of Claudio Ulloa Donoso’s Little Bird, translator Lily Meyer says “there may be no way to tell which stories in Pajarito are fiction, but there’s also no need. Each one has the immediacy of a diary entry and the floating nausea of a sleepless night.” This quote and an accompanying excerpt from the collection are available on Electric Lit (https://electricliterature.com/the-successful-candidate-will-not-have-a-dead-bird-in-her-pocket-claudia-ulloa-donoso/). Like Cursed Bunny, Little Bird refuses to fit neatly into generic constraints, though the latter focuses more on pushing the boundary between reality and fantasy. One character turns fireflies into men, another vacations in her cat’s stomach. Sounds like my kind of book!

And then there’s Stanislaw Lem’s The Truth and Other Stories (tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones), which represents the most recent Lem published by MIT Press (from which an essay collection is due out later this year). Only three of the stories in this volume have been translated into English before, offering readers a banquet of new science fiction from one of the genre’s masters. Darkly funny, as many Lem stories are, these portraits of mad scientists, artificial life forms, and more will surely enthrall both new readers and Lem-loyalists.

The two novels out this summer/early fall include a Chinese story about strange creatures who live alongside humans but remain almost invisible and a work of Swedish horror about an epidemic of suicide. Yan Ge’s Strange Beasts of China (tr. Jeremy Tiang), set in a fictional Chinese city, tells the story of an amateur cryptozoologist’s attempt to learn more about the city’s fabled beasts. Their greenish skin, birthmarks, and other characteristics make them stand out from the human residents, but they’ve figured out how to blend in…until this cryptozoologists starts looking a little deeper.

Finally, it should come as no surprise that the work of Swedish horror I mentioned is the brainchild of John Ajvide Lindqvist—he of the popular Let the Right One In and Little Star. Known as Sweden’s Stephen King, Lindqvist has a gift for turning a simple horror story into a larger meditation on human psychology. In I Am the Tiger (tr. Marlaine Delargy), a journalist tries to understand the rash of suicides plaguing Sweden’s underworld and what connection the  drug-dealer named “X” has to do with it. When the journalist’s young nephew gets pulled into the maelstrom, this search for truth becomes more immediate.

And what of short fiction? The July issue of Clarkesworld brings us St. Petersburg-native Leonid Kaganov’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” (tr. Alex Shvartsman), an engaging time-travel story about hope and resignation.

Thanks for reading, and I’d love to hear what you’re reading now and what you’re looking forward to: rachel@sfintranslation.com.

Until next time in the SFT Universe!

SFRA Country Report: Germany



SFRA Country Report: Germany

Julia Gatermann and Lars Schmeink


Coming home from the first international academic conferences we ever attended, incidentally the ICFA, the SFRA, and the Utopian Studies conference—admittedly quite a few years back—we both agreed that science fiction people shared an incredibly warm and welcoming attitude that made it easy to catch fire. Engaged discussions over coffee about books, films, and games, which we all felt passionate about, helped to easily connect and make national and cultural borders seem meaningless. Nevertheless, SF scholarship is also a field where difference is crucial and, at its best, is celebrated as it adds depth and can yield the most productive results—both in the texts we engage with, as well as in our interpersonal, institutional, and academic contexts. SF fascinates us because it can come in so many different shapes and forms. Therefore, we were delighted to read the wonderful country reports from England and India and the last issues of SFRA Review, which gave us some insights into engagements with sf from (to us) largely new perspectives. We would like to contribute to this exchange and present to the members of the SFRA, a status report on how research in SF is faring in Germany.

The Science Fiction Club Germany (SFCD), a fan-organization, is arguably one of the oldest institutions of sf engagement in Germany. While it was already inaugurated in 1955, it took until the 1980s to bring enough public attention to the field to establish several national awards recognizing the growing interest in science fiction (and the fantastic more generally). In 1980, the Kurd Laßwitz Preis (named after the German ‘father’ of SF) was established, followed by the Phantastik-Preis (granted by the city of Wetzlar) in 1983 and the Science Fiction Award (granted by the SFCD) in 1985, and finally in 2012 the Seraph Award presented at the Leipzig book fair.

Leipzig has become the central public trade fair for the fantastic, connecting literary publishing with comics and cosplay and becoming a hub for fan engagement, while the Frankfurt book fair’s bigger and more established venue rather caters to the economic (and decidedly more mainstream and highbrow) side of the literary market. In addition, several larger commercial and a whole slew of smaller conventions keep fantasy and SF fans busy during the year, highlights being the German Comic Cons (currently in four different cities), MagicCon (since 2017, larger in scope but following in venue for Tolkien-based RingCon), and the science-fiction themed FedCon.

Research in science fiction—mainly conducted by SF enthusiasts—has been developing since the late 1970s, but due to historically rather rigid and conservative structures at universities and a strong focus on canon in the fields of literary and cultural studies (for the most part in German or English studies), this engagement has, for a long time, mostly taken place outside of academia. It fell to individuals and small institutions to begin early forays into the field. Academic interest in SF and fantasy slowly began to manifest with Suhrkamp (a well-regarded publishing house) producing a book series of collected essays from both national and international authors (among them Roger Caillois, Louis Vax, and Edmund Wilson) on theoretical aspects of the fantastic: Phaïcon: Almanach der phantastischen Literatur, published in five volumes between 1974 and 1982. But a uniquely German research tradition was first institutionalized with the inauguration of the Phantastische Bibliothek Wetzlar, a research library, which began its collection and research work in 1987 and can be credited with establishing the first German-language book series [1] on research in the fantastic during the 1990s.

It took until 2010, though, to firmly anchor the fantastic as a field of university-based academic research in Germany. The Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (GFF, Association for Research in the Fantastic) was inaugurated in the fall of 2010 during a conference at the University of Hamburg and has since provided a research network for more than 120 members, establishing an annual international conference in varying locations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Its next annual event will take place as an online conference, hosted by the Universities of Cologne and Bamberg under the title “Speculative Fiction and Ethics” from 23 to 25 September. [2] It might be appropriate to mention here that the GFF does offer small stipends for international students to attend the conference.  

Overall, it can be said that, over the last decade, research in SF and the fantastic has become a much more respected and recognized field at German universities and has found its way into curricula. Even at conferences with a more general scope, papers on science fictional topics are no longer a rarity (one example would be the annual conference of the German Association for Anglophone Postcolonial Studies [GAPS] that hosted four distinct panels dedicated to SF). And as a productive perspective to contribute to diversified interdisciplinary research, the importance of SF has been recognized as well, with ´third-party funded research projects such as Fiction Meets Science, which has dedicated a subproject to representation of science in postcolonial SF (that one of the authors of this text works for). 

In terms of German-language academic journals on research in the fantastic, the Zeitschrift für Fantastikforschung (ZFF), established by the GFF, has the honor to be the first of its kind. Since 2011, the journal has published peer-reviewed original articles, German translations of key texts from other languages, introductions to international fantastic literatures, and much more twice per year. In 2019, the ZFF has become the first German-language journal to move to the open-access platform Open Library of the Humanities [3], establishing new and very successful formats, such as a collection of shorter essays under the rubric “Forum”, which initiates academic debates around new aspects of the fantastic and thus serves as an ideal spark for longer research endeavors, or unusual interviews on the fantastic, i.e. currently an interview with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis about his book Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present (2020).    

As for science fiction production from Germany, there is a large field of creatives in SF covering a large range of areas, styles, and genres—ranging from the famous pulp series Perry Rhodan (established in 1961 and still going strong, putting out a weekly space opera) to high literary endeavors that somewhat shy away from identifying with the genre (historically, SF was stigmatized with a low-brow reputation). Examples are Juli Zeh’s Corpus Delicti (2009, The Method) or Christian Kracht’s Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und im Schatten (2008, not translated into English, but meaning: “I’ll be here in sunshine and in shadow”). One important issue for international audiences is the limited availability of translations of and English-language scholarship on German SF. Some (subjectively) selected texts of SF since the 2000s, which have been available in English translation, include Frank Schätzing’s SF-thriller The Swarm (2004), Dietmar Dath’s posthumanist philosophical novel Abolition of Species (2013), and Marc-Uwe Kling’s recent social media satire QualityLand (2017). But if German SF has ever made a big international splash in recent years, then it is probably due to the Netflix series Dark (2017–20) by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese. The show plays with well-established SF tropes of time travel but connects it with the 1980s nostalgia of Stranger Things and a very distinctly German sense of Heimat (home) and Spießigkeit (roughly translates to narrow-mindedness). It is international in its scope and yet can immediately be recognized as distinctly German—a mixture that is typical of much German SF.

All in all, Germany has a vibrant SF community, both in- and outside of academia, striving to diversify and connect with international perspectives. This feature helps us learn more about SF in other countries, and we are delighted at this opportunity to introduce our own community you. We hope that we can further develop and foster exchange and connections beyond our own contexts.




[1] Schriftenreihe und Materialien der Phantastischen Bibliothek Wetzlar, edited by Thomas Le Blanc – https://www.phantastik.eu/images/Publikationskataloge/KatalogSchriftenMaterialien.pdf

[2] Extending a warm invitation, please do attend: https://fantastikforschung.de/jahrestagung/jahrestagung-koeln-bamberg-2021/

[3] https://zff.openlibhums.org/


Julia Gatermann is currently writing her dissertation with the working title “The Future is Female: Non-Normative Embodiment as a Site of Resistance in Contemporary North-American Cultural Production.” She works as a researcher at the University of Bremen for the interdisciplinary research project “Fiction Meets Science II” with the subproject “Science in Postcolonial Speculative Fiction: Nature/Politics/Economies Reimagined.” She is a founding member of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung and has served on its executive board for ten years. 

Lars Schmeink is Vice President’s Research Fellow at the Europa-University of Flensburg and project lead of the “Science Fiction” subproject in the “FutureWork” research network. He is a founding member of the Gesellschaft für Fantastik–forschung and has served as president of its executive board until 2019. He is the author of Biopunk Dystopias (2016), and the co-editor of Cyberpunk and Visual Culture (2018), The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture (2020), New Perspectives in Contemporary German Science Fiction (2021) and Fifty Key Figures in Cyberpunk Culture (2022).