Meet the Future: An Interview with Nichole Nomura

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 4

Features / Meet the Future

Meet the Future: An Interview with Nichole Nomura

Nichole Nomura
PhD Candidate, Stanford University

SFRA Review: Hi, Nichole, could you tell us a bit about yourself? As much (or as little) as you’d like!

Hello! I’m currently a PhD candidate at Stanford English, and I’ve just wrapped up my M.A. in Education from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education. I grew up in and did all my schooling in California, and somewhat stereotypically love the beach, the desert, swimming, and any form of being on the water (in all seasons). I collect (not hoard) books, tools, and blazers.

Review: How do you describe yourself professionally?

N: I work and teach in the digital humanities, education, and literary studies in order to study the way science fiction teaches and is taught. I’m a researcher in Stanford’s Literary Lab, a digital humanities (DH) research collective. Being a part of the Lab is such an incredible experience—I love the collaborative structure of project-based inquiry, the chance to explore questions outside my area of expertise, and the way DH methods estrange me from my own work and assumptions—it’s a science-fictional way to work on SF, but that’s not the only reason I use DH methods. DH’s ability to move to different scales is really useful when working on something as massive as science fiction or something as small as syntagmatic spaces between words. My research and teaching in the school of Education gives me the critical tools to see the lesson plans and curricula embedded in SF, and to analyze SF as embedded in lesson plans and curricula. The sociological methods I use, such as qualitative coding, come from my training in the Ed school, and help me approach questions that deal with real readers in ways that I choose for their respect and rigor. And literary studies, perhaps the most traditional home of the SF scholar, provides the theories that are at the core of my research and are the foundation of my personal reading habits and inclinations.

Review: Why does sf matter to you?

N: SF matters to me because people read it. People watch it. People write it and dress up in it and live in it. A lot of people. We would be fools not to study it.

That’s the short version of the manifesto. The longer version is built on a collection of anecdotes—students who have told me my class was the first one where they read books they liked; an engineering student who made his career decision as a kid watching Iron Man suit up for the first time; the way either Picard, Janeway, or Sisko seems to have a quote for any difficult occasion; or the time I watched a 6th -grader carefully hide a copy of The Hunger Games under his desk while we were watching a documentary. SF matters to me not only because people read it, but because people love it. These stories shape our lives because we choose to let them.

Review: What brought you to sf studies?

N: I got my first dose of SF theory in a creative writing class (specifically, for all you teachers out there, Langer’s “Case Studies in Reading 2: Key Theoretical and Critical Texts in Science Fiction Studies” from The Science Fiction Handbook), and while I had been exposed to some theory elsewhere in my undergraduate program, it had never clicked. For the first time, I understood what other people saw in theory. Somebody had tools for thinking about texts I cared about, in ways that changed how I thought about them—and I could use them as tools, choosing between them, refining them, setting them aside when they didn’t serve me anymore. The clichéd lightbulb turned on, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that it was the science fiction theory that excited me—there’s something special about it. I probably bored all my friends and professors with endless papers and discussion posts on cognitive estrangement, but they were supportive, excellent educators and collaborators who pushed me to read more, deeper, and better.

Review: What project(s) are you working on now, and how did you get there?What question(s) really drive your work?

N: I’m fascinated by the explicitly didactic—by the attempt to convey theoretical information directly in the context of a largely experiential narrative. Much of my work is driven by a desire to account for the giant lecture, the book within a book, or the equations that we commonly dismiss as sloppy worldbuilding or too heavy-handed. This interest in the explicitly didactic comes from a deeper pedagogical interest in what “theory” is and how we distribute it.

My dissertation examines the relationship between didacticism and science fiction. I argue that science fiction has an outsized pedagogical potential compared to that of traditional realist fiction, as a result of its more frequent movement between model and simulation and its investment in models as such. The model, in fiction, is a claim about how a system works—a theory of capitalism, family, physics, politics, biology, school, class, etc.—that the simulation then enacts over narrative time. Taking an interdisciplinary approach—combining traditional literary criticism, digital humanities methods, and qualitative social-science methods—the project seeks to understand how and what science fiction can and does teach.

In the Literary Lab, I’ve been working on a project called “Novel Worldbuilding” with Mark Algee-Hewitt that investigates science-fictional worldbuilding using computational methods. We’re able to detect passages that grammatically resemble scientific writing, using methods developed for the Microgenres project, as well as compare the probabilities of syntagmatic word combinations in SF novels against “real-world” scientific discourses, like that found in Scientific American and medical journals. These two methods proxy very different kinds of worldbuilding—and so the project’s next steps are to explore the relationships between them, as well as their relationship to the relative prestige, award-status, and scientific domain of novels that use them.  

Review: What do you envision for the future of sf studies and sf scholars? What do you want to see us accomplish?

N: We’ve spent the last however-many years fighting for the legitimacy of our field—now that a moment has come where SF is no longer relegated to the corners of “nerdy” and “unacademic,” I hope we do not squander it. I hope we guard against gatekeeping of all kinds, both directed at us and facilitated by us.

The line between scholastic and artistic work has always been blurry in SF studies—I hope we can not only keep it blurry, but develop better protocols for working within and across that blurry space. This is a question our field has to come to terms with at a variety of scales, from the citational practices of our own work and teaching to the CFPs we produce and the people we choose to fund. Is “critical” a stance or form? Are you introducing works as “primary” or “secondary” sources? “Theory” or “fiction”? How can we strengthen the critical praxis of SF, across and within this boundary space? How can we train future practitioners that feel equally at ease in critical and creative spaces, and how do we institutionalize and support those interdisciplinary spaces? We’ve already started—I think it’s imperative that we continue, and then share our theories of how to work in the blurry space with our respective home disciplines.

Review: If you could write a dream book, or teach a dream course, what would it/they be?

N: I’m itching to spend time thinking and writing about the way we learn to craft and be crafty through fiction. Dystopian worlds with instructions for survival, Engineering debates in Star Trek, prepper novels with lists of supplies, fantasy swordsmiths and healers, and Little House on the Prairie. Too broad for a dissertation, but I’ve been working on it for fun whenever I find a wonderful example of it.

Although it doesn’t look like a traditional book project or course, I’ve been building a database of SF award winners that allows for digital humanities methods like text-mining to be analyzed alongside qualitative coding methods and metadata like award-status or the pronouns used on an author’s Wikipedia page. The database has been an ongoing project of its own—it definitely started as a part of my dissertation (I just wanted to answer one small question about “hard SF”!) but then quickly became, with the support of undergraduate research assistants in the Literary Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, a project that far exceeds the scope of my dissertation. I’m excited to get to dig into it once the dissertation is done—whether that’s in a (somewhat untraditional) classroom space, a lab space, or as part of a book project remains to be seen. Most likely—all three!

Review: Thank you, Nichole! Your labor and thoughts are valued and appreciated.

Meet the Future: An Interview with Julia Gatermann

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 2-3

Features / Meet the Future

Meet the Future: An Interview with Julia Gatermann

Julia Gatermann
PhD Candidate, Department of English and American Studies
Hamburg University / Germany
Research Assistant, SOCIUM Research Center for Inequality and Social Politics
University of Bremen / Germany

SFRA Review: Hi, Julia, could you tell us a bit about yourself? As much (or as little) as you’d like!

Julia: Hi! Thanks for inviting me—this is such an honor. I started as a PhD candidate last year at the department of English and American Studies at the University of Hamburg, Germany. I’m a meticulous writer of lists (anything, really: To Reads, To Dos, Pro-Cons…) because I like the way they structure my thoughts and give me the confidence to then (well, sometimes) just throw them to the wind and be present in the moment—because life (thankfully!!!) has a tendency of sneaking up and surprising you.

Review: How do you describe yourself professionally?

J: Looking at my research interests, they seem to be spread out unreasonably wide (something I find simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating): I’m writing my dissertation on sexual and gender fluidity (looking at contemporary films, novels, tv series, and so on) with a strong emphasis on intersectionality. I’m also employed at an interdisciplinary research project called “Fiction Meets Science II” with the subproject titled “Science in Postcolonial Speculative Fiction: Nature/Politics/Economies Reimagined” where we look at depictions of science, technology, and knowledge production from perspectives that challenge and decenter dominant Western discourse. While both areas—sexuality and gender as well as science and knowledge production—are each dauntingly vast and complex, the overlap between the two—and incidentally the aspect I’m interested in most—is the dynamics at work when you look at the margins instead of the center: the emergence of imaginary spaces that allow for a (re-)negotiation (be that of concepts, power relations, or identities) that becomes possible in the liminal spaces “in between”, resulting from the friction between center and periphery. These imaginary spaces are inherently utopian, I believe, since they, by their very nature, always already point towards the future and to the question “what if”? Which allows us to elegantly segue into the next question…

Review: Why does sf matter to you?

J: Pretty much all of my academic work at the moment is inflected by sf because I find it a good mode to think with. Similar to the conceptual friction that happens at the boundaries of two disparate cultures, for example, that allows for new imaginary spaces to emerge, sf deliberately strives to provoke cognitive estrangement that unsettles one’s familiar perspective. There are many aspects about sf that I’m in love with (and some of them are too embarrassingly cheesy to admit to publicly!), but what I think is probably sf’s most powerful capacity is how it opens our view—with a sometimes only ever so slight tilt of the angle—to aspects of our own culture that we previously might have overlooked or been blind to. Long held preconceptions and beliefs that are tightly woven into the fabric of our culture and thereby have become “white noise” to us, something we just take for granted and maybe even perceive as neutral facts of life, can be challenged in sf with a stunning ease—by just shifting the frame a bit. And this ease with which something so profound can be accomplished reveals just how brittle these values and beliefs really become when they remain unquestioned. Therefore, sf hands us powerful tools to both make visible new sides of what we thought we already knew well enough—our reality—and thereby also the power to reshape it by asking new questions—“what if…?” Sf, at its best, challenges its readers/viewers and keeps them on their toes.

Review: What brought you to sf studies?

J: I started to discover sf (as probably most of us) in my teens (if “the golden age of science fiction” is considered to be twelve, I was a bit of a late bloomer, though). In my family, education was always considered as something highly valued, yet not to be taken for granted (I am the first to have been to university). I owe my love for books to my mother who read to me tirelessly when I was little (I somewhat suspect I didn’t allow her to tire, as closure is still something I can’t go to sleep without!).

Yet when I started university, I always regarded anything “genre” as an illicit pleasure. In Germany, even more so than in Anglophone culture, we make a very palpable distinction between high and low brow culture when considering cultural artifacts, and the study of the latter was (sometimes still is) regarded as somewhat frivolous—and for someone very conscious about their class background this can become a very fraught thing. While the devaluation of pop culture had been contested for decades before I ever picked up my first sf novel, and the cultural climate at my university therefore thankfully was rather inclusive (every now and then there were seminars on detective fiction, for example), it was till my second to last semester that I encountered a loud and proud announcement of science fiction in the course catalog.

This seemed to me delightfully transgressive; the crowd this seminar drew was indeed one composed of people who also reveled in “out of the box” approaches and challenging conventional thinking, and I felt like I finally belonged! I immediately decided to write my master’s thesis on sf, went to my first academic conference (ICFA, closely followed by SFRA), spent a year researching my thesis at the Merrill Collection in Toronto, and was overwhelmed by the sense of community I encountered! Just starting out in academia, I felt seen and accepted, my opinions valued. I felt buoyed by the emotional support the academic sf community gave me in my endeavors and ambitions, making me almost giddy with happy optimism. When I returned back home to Germany, I longed to take this feeling of community and belonging with me, yearning for a similar network in the German context.

Therefore, when Lars Schmeink decided to organize an inaugural conference for the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (German association for research of the fantastic in the arts) in 2010, I did what I could to help build up this academic association and provide an organizational structure for a still growing band of likeminded academic SFF enthusiasts to rally around. I feel privileged that I’ve been allowed to serve on the board of the GfF for ten years!

While my love for sf has been longstanding, I believe it was really the open-mindedness, the combination of critical acuity and creative scholarship happening in the field, and, probably above anything else, the warmhearted inclusiveness and integrity of the people within sf that made me catch fire. I feel at home in sf and I couldn’t imagine my (academic and overall) life without it.

Review: What project(s) are you working on now, and how did you get there?What question(s) really drive your work?

J: As mentioned above, the two projects I’m working on at the moment are my dissertation on representations of sexual and gender fluidity in contemporary American culture and the interdiscplinary research project with “Fiction Meets Science” on representations of science, technology and knowledge production in postcolonial speculative novels. Here, I’m looking at how author’s from the Global South or of a hybrid cultural background challenge and destabilize such notion as the supremacy of Western science in their novels, and debunk the fallacy of perceiving it as something neutral and free of any “cultural baggage”. Sf, through extrapolation, can expose problematic developments that, in mainstream society might long have become normalized, and critically question the power relations and dynamics of a capitalist economy that often harnesses scientific research for profit oriented gains, pushing for advancements while downplaying potential risks, for example.

Against the dystopian backdrop of climate change, global pandemics, war and overwhelming inequality, Western science (entangled in capitalist interests) doesn’t only seem to lack the answers but often seems to be at the heart of these problems. And while the present moment long seems to have caught up with sf, creating a strange sense of “double vision”, an inherent sense of futurity in our here and now, I nevertheless believe that sf’s capacity of extrapolation and estrangement can help us process these problematic developments as it affords us with the required conceptual distance to our own reality—it makes us take a step back—to take a good look at it.

I’m interested in how postcolonial sf (and I won’t go into the problematic history of the term here) explores questions such as how non-Western knowledge traditions might hold solutions to these problems, how a Western binary thinking in terms of a nature-culture-opposition might be broken up in favor of more fluid and interconnected understandings of the two, or how different science traditions might work hand in hand to come to creative responses to complex problems. I’m just thrilled to hear how new voices, especially those voices who previously had been silenced, contribute to the discussion, trouble and upend preconceptions and change the dialogue—even the way how we ask questions.    

Review: What do you envision for the future of sf studies and sf scholars? What do you want to see us accomplish?

J: This, I guess, is also what I hope for the future of sf studies and scholars within the field. Sf is full of diverse and brilliant voices, upending what we thought we knew, challenging us to become better thinkers. Likewise, I want to see more scholars succeeding in academia that belong to groups that previously have largely been underrepresented, marginalized, even silenced—people who can challenge white, male, Western, able-bodied, hetero, cis-normativity, take the discourse to new places and ask new questions. These strange and difficult times have shown us that “business as usual” is no longer sustainable, that closing our eyes in front of the obvious no longer is an option. We are in desperate need of change—in the face of an intricately interwoven and incomprehensibly complex global system of . . . everything . . . this is a staggering challenge. We need out of the box thinking, we need new perspectives and angles to look from, we need new ways to cooperate and collaborate, to communicate with each other across the divides of our subjective experiences. And, above all else—we need a huge portion of utopian thinking! These times seem to require sf scholarship more than ever—and the more diverse the voices within it, the better our chances to radically change our world for the better.

Review: If you could write a dream book, or teach a dream course, what would it/they be?

J: The dream book would be my dissertation. I’m interested in how expressions of non-normative sexual and gender identity are being transported and translated in contemporary culture, thereby counteracting cultural erasure and giving visibility to marginalized groups as well as breaking up preconceptions and unsettling binary thinking. Core to my work is an intersectional approach; my theoretical foundation is informed by a variety of discourses, be that critical posthumanism, postcolonial theory, posthumanist feminism, queer theory and critical race studies. I look through an sf lens at my work, firmly believing that the affordances of sf, especially estrangement and extrapolation, allow us to inspect and explore the here and now from new angles and make it possible to perceive from these perspectives what we otherwise might have missed due to our cultural blind spots that derive from an overfamiliarity with the cultural tapestry of our reality. I’m interested in novels, films and tv series that negotiate the experiences of marginal subject positions and embodiment in complex ways that decenter normative thinking, Larissa Lai’s The Tiger Flu, for example, or Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

In terms of a dream course, I get to teach a seminar on intersectionality next semester, using Janelle Monáe’s emotion picture Dirty Computer as an example and spring board to dive into the vital importance of (self-)representation, cultural memory, and the political, utopian force of Afrofuturism.

Review: Thank you, Julia! Your labor and thoughts are valued and appreciated.

Meet the Future: An Interview with Sarah Lohmann

SFRA Review, vol. 50, no. 1

Features / Meet the Future

Meet the Future: An Interview with Sarah Lohmann

Sarah Lohmann
PhD Candidate, Department of English Studies
Durham University, UK

SFRA Review: Hi, Sarah, could you tell us a bit about yourself? As much (or as little) as you’d like!

Sarah: Hello! I’m a final-year PhD student at Durham University in North-East England, and I’ve just submitted my doctoral thesis entitled “The Edge of Time: The Critical Dynamics of Structural Chronotopes in the Utopian Novel,” which I completed under the supervision of Professors Patricia Waugh and Simon James. I’ll be defending my thesis in a viva in April, and then I’ll be applying for academic jobs far and wide, particularly within the fields of contemporary British and American literature, speculative fiction (especially sf), women’s writing, and anything related to utopianism.

I’m originally from Munich, Germany (with a bilingual German/American upbringing), and after graduating from a German high school, I moved to Scotland to study English literature and philosophy at the University of St Andrews. After that, I completed an English literature MLitt degree in ‘Women, Writing and Gender’ as well as an MLitt in analytic philosophy, both also at St Andrews, before moving to Durham to start my PhD. My current research is still informed to a large extent by my interest in philosophy, particularly with regard to moral philosophy and epistemology, and I would like to continue incorporating interdisciplinary approaches in my work in the future.

My PhD thesis, in fact, is fundamentally interdisciplinary in that it employs both ethics and systems theory in suggesting that examples of utopian fiction are best understood as science-fictional thought experiments whose success is determined by their dynamic structures. I argue that these structures, which I present as Bakhtinian chronotopes due to their reliance on spatiotemporal placement and movement, are in turn either functionally closed, homeostatic systems, as described in the work of Walter Cannon on homeostasis and Humberto Maturana and Francesca Varela on autopoiesis, or open systems that can be read as examples of complex adaptive systems as described by complexity theorists such as Ilya Prigogine and Paul Cilliers. Ultimately, I suggest that the utopianism of several of the novels that Tom Moylan terms ‘critical utopias’ – Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Ursula K Le Guin’s The Dispossessed – can therefore be understood as inherently dynamic and thus sustainable: both the utopian societies described as well as the novels’ fragmented, cross-temporal narrative structures can be seen as complex systems that are self-organising and self-optimising in a sustainable manner predicated on the non-hierarchical nature and inherent dynamism of complexity. Moreover, I argue that it is these underlying complex mechanisms that render these novels truly critical of their ‘zero worlds’ in Moylan’s terms, in that their open networks connect utopia and zero world in a transformative relationship of cognitive estrangement. By contrast, I suggest, examples of traditional utopian literature such as Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia and fin-de-siècle novels such as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, William Morris’s News from Nowhere and H. G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia ultimately undermine the dynamic potential of their own utopian systems through homeostatic closure, reliant on forced equilibrium – this, in turn, creates the utopian presentism and social stasis that has historically been associated to the genre. The ethics-related element of my thesis, then, is that I identify a certain ‘ethics of complexity’ in the critical utopias, linking the inherent features of complex systems with the feminist equity-based functioning of their societies, and contrasting this with attempts at utilitarianism or virtue ethics within the aforementioned traditional utopias, which I believe to be hindered through their homeostatic functioning.

In general, I am fascinated by the dynamic networks and organic or coercive forces that underlie all relationships, human and non-human, and of the value that lies in recognising these networks and enabling them to function in ways that allow for the organic flourishing of all participants. In fact, my final thesis chapter explores what happens when supposedly inclusive complex networks are once more imbalanced through inadvertent bias and exclusion, using the examples of Naomi Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman and Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean; this once more highlights the intricate workings of self-organising systems as well as the ease through which their balance can be upset.

As per the prompt, I think I would therefore say that a secret of the universe that I’ve discovered for myself (not uncovered, sadly!) is that we are only at the very beginning of understanding the myriad ways in which we are all integrated into the constantly shifting and evolving connections between us and our human and non-human environment – one might even say that it is nonsensical to speak of individuals or even humans in general as being in any meaningful way distinct within these networks. In my future work, I would love to explore these dynamic connections further and investigate what they mean for human behaviour and social planning in the Anthropocene, as well as tracking the various ways in which they have been interpreted in literature, both speculative and traditional.

Finally, an interesting fact about me is thus perhaps that this research focus has also changed the ways in which I move through the world – I try to tread as lightly as possible and live respectfully alongside my human and non-human neighbours, which has so far informed everything from my plant-based diet to my interest in sustainable housing and green politics in general, particularly in response to the climate crisis. 

Review: How do you describe yourself professionally?

S: I am a researcher at heart, driven by curiosity and the joy of discovering new patterns and connections in my research, but I also love teaching: I enjoy creating an intellectual atmosphere in which students have the support and freedom to explore their own ideas among their peers and feel excited about pursuing further research. Having previously worked to become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA), I am therefore currently completing the final stage of this programme at my university to attain the full PGCAP (Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice), a certificate in education at university level that will allow me to feel confident in my future teaching of both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

In the next few years, I hope to have the opportunity to conduct both research and teaching across a broad range of eras and genres and with interdisciplinary components. My thesis research has taken me from antiquity to the present day, while my university teaching so far has mainly focused on the history of the novel from Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders up to graphic novels such as Alan Moore’s Watchmen; this work has allowed me to come up with various ideas for future research and teaching across historical stages and disciplines that I would love the chance to develop further at some point.

Review: Why does sf matter to you?

S: Sf forms the backbone of my academic interests because of its inherent suitability for social critique through cognitive estrangement; in my opinion, no other genre is capable of holding up a mirror to our world in quite the same way, and with the same formalised imaginative rigour. Moreover, sf’s generic tropes such as time travel, alternate realities and far-future settings allow for a particularly extensive development of nova that can allow us to reimagine or extrapolate on so many aspects of our current existence – the possibilities are endless! In particular, I enjoy utopian, dystopian and post-apocalyptic sf because of its large-scale capacity for social restructuring, especially in terms of social roles related to marginalised identities, but I also appreciate the more subtle estranging capacity of sf mechanisms applied to more straightforwardly mimetic fiction.

I believe that especially in the current age of rapid environmental change and technological development, sf is an institutionally under-appreciated genre despite its astonishing critical potential, and I would love to see more extensive engagement with sf studies in university departments as well as a greater appreciation of the genre in culture-focused media.

Review: What brought you to sf studies?

S: I had hardly read any sf growing up, but an undergraduate module on the topic at the University of St Andrews piqued my interest – it ended up being a fascinating course, brilliantly taught by Dr Jim Byatt, which put me on track to what will most likely be a life-long interest in the genre! As an undergraduate student undertaking a joint degree in English literature and philosophy, I had a fair amount of freedom in choosing modules in both disciplines, and I’m so glad that I ended up picking this particular one: after completing my undergraduate degree, I went on to write my first master’s dissertation on feminist utopias and four-dimensionality from an sf perspective, and this later fed into my PhD on structural chronotopes in the utopian novel, again grounded in sf theory. Although I do look forward to expanding my academic repertoire, as mentioned above, I know that I will always value and return to the imaginative potential that is unique to sf, and I hope to encourage any interested students to do the same.

Review: What project(s) are you working on now, and how did you get there? What question(s) really drive your work?

S: At the moment, I am beginning to prepare for my viva, as well as continuing on with my tutorial teaching, completing my PGCAP, and starting to apply for academic positions elsewhere.

In addition, I am always on the lookout for interesting conferences and projects – over the course of my PhD, I presented my work at many national and international conferences, particularly within the fields of sf and utopian studies, and I am very grateful to have become a part of a wonderful academic community in doing so. I am also always keen to take part in any promising cross-university and/or interdisciplinary projects that relate to sf or utopia: over the past few years, I have been lucky enough to participate in several interesting projects, including co-hosting the podcast ‘Exploring Utopian York’ with Dr Adam Stock, being interviewed for Paul Walker-Emig’s podcast Utopian Horizons, running two interdisciplinary seminar series at Durham University (which featured influential sf scholar Mark Bould, among others), giving a keynote speech on feminist utopias for an MA graduate conference at Teesside University, and serving as Project Officer for an exhibition on time travel and narrative (‘Time Machines’) at Palace Green Library in Durham. I would be very happy to contribute to similar interesting projects in the future, and to collaborate with people in various fields.

This also applies to publications, of course, an area that I will be able to spend more time focusing on now that I have submitted my thesis: so far, I have begun with a published book review (of Patrick B Sharp’s brilliant Darwinian Feminism and Early Science Fiction: Angels, Amazons and Women), and I am looking forward to the publication of my first book chapter, entitled ‘“What isn’t living dies”: Utopia as Living Organism in Joanna Russ’s The Female Man and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time’, which is forthcoming as part of an edited collection in honour of Lucy Sargisson on the occasion of her retirement (edited by Lyman Tower Sargent and Raffaella Baccolini).

I have touched above on the questions that really drive my work: an interest in deeply interconnected human and non-human networks and relationships, as well as the dynamic forces that drive them; I would here add to this the more philosophical consideration of how exactly we try to find meaning in a rapidly shifting world in which subjective experiences of reality have become radically divergent, and how literature and especially sf can provide us with unique tools to work through these questions and experiences and explore them in countless thought-provoking ways.

Review: What do you envision for the future of sf studies and sf scholars? What do you want to see us accomplish?

S: As mentioned above, I would love for sf studies to gain more academic clout within university departments, but I would also like to see more collaboration across disciplines that touch in various ways on human experience and cross-temporal and spatial possibilities within this world and others. Ultimately, I see the future of academia as lying in collaboration and mutual support driven by specific research questions and areas of interest, and ideally as less tied to traditional disciplines and vocation-led curricula. Of course, this vision is somewhat utopian, but as a utopian studies scholar, I do always stress the positive potential of utopian thought to create tangible change in the real world!

Review: If you could write a dream book, or teach a dream course, what would it/they be?

S: At the moment, my dream book would be based on my thesis, described above – in part, the dream would lie in properly including several utopian texts that I did not have the space to discuss at length in my thesis, particularly those from more distant historical periods in which sf and utopia were approached very differently to today, as I would love to do them justice and explore their unique employment of structural dynamic chronotopes.

Moreover, regarding my dream course, I am in fact currently designing a university module as part of my PGCAP certification that could be taught at either undergraduate or master’s level, and that I imagine would be quite rewarding to teach. Also loosely based on my thesis, this course examines women’s utopian writing through the ages while also expanding on this focus and using it as a ‘threshold concept’ (Schwartzman 2010) to discuss larger questions surrounding the canonisation of literature, genre conventions and academic gate-keeping with regard to sf, utopian literature and women’s writing in particular. It thereby challenges students to develop independent critical approaches to the study of genre, historical source material and literature in general; the ultimate aim of the course is to use women’s utopian writing and genre/canonisation as springboards for a ‘pedagogy of uncertainty’ (Shulman 2005) to help prepare students for critical and unbiased participation in a wide range of intellectual environments, giving them the tools to question received knowledge and together build better intellectual paradigms. Although the design of this particular course is intended as an intellectual exercise for my PGCAP degree, I could certainly imagine teaching this or a similar module as part of an undergraduate or master’s curriculum at some point in the future. Indeed, I would particularly enjoy preparing and teaching any course that would allow me to relate the critical potential of speculative fiction, and sf or utopian literature in particular, to other literary genres, and to encourage students to critically engage with the various ways of seeing and relating to the world that characterise and sometimes cross-fertilise these approaches. However, for the time being I would be grateful for the chance to teach anything that is loosely related to sf, utopia or speculative fiction in general – in addition to my teaching on the history of the novel, I have in the past few years had the chance to design and teach a short sf course as part of a ‘Supported Progression’ summer school for promising Year 12 students in the North East (who are applying for undergraduate study at Durham), and I would love to expand on this material, for example.

Whatever may come, however, I hope that I will be able to stay involved with the academic networks surrounding sf and utopian studies, as I have found a real home within these communities over the years. In fact, I have recently attained British citizenship (alongside my German and American nationalities) in part so that I may have a better chance of remaining part of these networks, and possibly also work at a university in either the UK or the US in the future, despite the horrible uncertainties of Brexit and US politics. In any case, I refuse to give up hope that things will eventually turn out all right, even if they are looking somewhat bleak at the moment – again, this must be the optimism of a utopian studies scholar!

Review: Thank you, Sarah! Your labor and thoughts are valued and appreciated.