Finding Heterotopia at the Fan/Academic Binary: A Con Report in the Form of a ‘7000’ Word Academic Paper
(N.B. For anyone just interested in a particular panel, the titles are in bold so that you can just scroll through to that point if you like.)
(N.B. A note on names. I’ve used first names for people on panels and surnames for referring to people not on panels. There is no deeper intention behind that.)
So, I’m back home from Conversation2023 after a dream-like interlude of four days and nights during which I didn’t leave the hotel and I’m now writing this to try and capture as much of that dream as possible before the memory fades and I forget who I am. When I say ‘writing this’, I also mean the discarded drafts, including an autobiography framed in terms of charting the relationship between minute shifts in my critical practice and difficult events and realisations in my life. On reflection, you’ll be relieved to hear, I’ve cut this out because it’s enough to say ‘reasons’ but I needed to take the trip. And it has been a Covid-fuelled trip, laptop in bed, playing Orbital, Mogwai and Hawkwind (for which I blame Ian McDonald for including an orgone accumulator in Hopeland), alternating between reading, feverishly typing and dozing.
It all fits together because my life has been a Covid-enforced rollercoaster since first having it in March 2020 and subsequently being diagnosed with PVFS in September of that year. Up and down, up and down, I’ve got over the anxiety and the drop in self-confidence but it’s impossible to get away from the uncertainty of not knowing how functional I’ll be at any particular point in time, irrespective of relative ‘success’ at ‘pacing’. I’ve lost count of how many times I have mentally felt I can’t carry on with my job, which I have a passionate love-hate relationship with and which, as with many academics, is also deeply bound in with my sense of self and purpose. At the same time, I am continuously aware of how privileged and lucky I am to work in a post that it was possible for me to cut down to a part-time role and carry on in despite my condition.
Even so, this has been one of those years that really turns you inside out. In January I restarted my 400+ mile commute to work on a week-in-week-out basis for the first time since March 2020. I have either been completely off work, working from home, or on research leave since then, which was not a state of affairs that could continue indefinitely. At first, commuting went better than I expected, so that by the point I reached the February reading week, I was feeling quite optimistic about the future and told my partner that maybe all this was really going to work and that my career would carry on. Literally two days later, I had a complete dizzy relapse into full-on post-exertional malaise (PEM) and was off work for six weeks. Once capable of sustained reflection on the matter, perching in the garden in the late March sunshine, I mentally resigned myself once again to leaving academia. Then I walked inside, turned on my laptop to look at my email and found out that I had successfully got a grant which means I can work from home throughout the 2023-2024 year. So, meat was back on the menu … but that was two full 180 reversals before Eastercon, neither of which I had had time to emotionally ‘process’, a department in which I am glacially slow, and so I went in with bases loaded, so to speak.
I had been helping a little with the programme team since the beginning of the year, especially on some of the items in Niall Harrison’s GOH strand. As is the nature of things, finalising these took us rather close to the con and I developed some anxiety that these items would actually get populated and happen. Therefore, I made some efforts to approach and assign people to try and ensure that we did have ‘Overshoots and Other Anthropocene Narratives’, ‘Thirty-four Years, and An Interim Survey’ and ‘Rethinking the History of SF’, and put myself on the first and third of these because I knew I could talk to the topics. In walking myself into this sense of responsibility, I blithely ignored my own sense of insecurity about the academic/fan binary, which for me is also caught up with the gender binary and other faultlines.
This was the point where I was going to discourse at length about my personal and academic reading practices, which I have tended to keep separate, even as compartmentalised as possible, and which have often been out of sync. I was going to write about theory, which is something I very rarely do, and discuss the importance of queer theory to me around the turn of the century, during the key final years of my PhD (which was an interdisciplinary comparative study of George Orwell and the social research organisation, Mass Observation). Earlier in the late 80s/early 90s, I read SF for private personal pleasure – Banks, feminist SF – and then again especially from 2002, after completing my PhD, since when SFF has been predominately my main personal reading. It is only looking back when writing this, that I think it’s a bit odd that I used the work of e.g. Judith Butler and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick to think about George Orwell who I was researching academically, but never in relation to e.g. The Female Man, which I was reading for pleasure. On the one hand, I kept my reading resistant to my own critical practice; on the other hand, I was able to corral my academic practice along slighter straighter, slightly more controlled grounds than my reading. After some initial post-PhD attempts to write SF papers as an academic, I realised that what I was looking for from SF spaces was a way to engage with my personal reading rather than my academic reading (which I had outlets for) and therefore I became invested as fan in distinction to being an academic. So, not only do I not see my SF reviews as academic, I get upset if they are seen as somehow academic. Obviously, this is in many ways, a problem of my own making, and in any case, I’ve repeatedly failed to keep to that self-imposed boundary anyway, but this is the best way I can find to explain it easily. It’s now a decade since I abandoned the gender binary, which over time has made me feel better subjectively. Writing this piece, makes me think that maybe it’s now time to go the whole hog and set my pronouns as they/fan/academic. What you see is what you get (which is never as straightforward a proposition as it first sounds).
Funnily enough, during one of the two-hour programme meetings preparing for the con, I was asked if I’d go on the ‘Fans as SF critics’ panel, which was at that (late) point short on panellists, I replied that I would be happy to do it but there was also the fact that while I feel I review as a fan, I am nonetheless an academic critic, which was what the panel description defined fan critic against (and I think there are people in the field who would label me more academic than fan). It was suggested that this might make an interesting contrast but, in the end, I wasn’t allocated to it – partly I think because that panel ended up scheduled parallel to The History of SF one. But that parallel scheduling created a troubling either/or binary in my mind. The History of SF panel was in any case troublesome; it was the one that went through the most pre-con iterations and drafts, switching from one panel to two and back to one.
At the end of March, I went back to work (online) and that tired me out so much I had to take some days’ rest (I was on annual leave by then). However, things turned a bit messy at that point because the emails concerning the History of SF panel went to an email address I hadn’t used for the con, so I didn’t pick them up until the Wednesday evening, whereupon I tried to address some points raised but also reiterate my conception of the panel, which was that the point was not to diversify the existing history of SF, but to radically revise the framework for the history of SF (e.g. abandon the ‘Golden Age’ etc and embrace looser periodisations) and create a new one which would in its nature be global and inclusive. Then the next time I checked into that account again was late on the Thursday night at the hotel, by which time various developments had occurred and the debate had intensified. Without going into details, I got so upset that I couldn’t sleep at all that night, but had to lie there stewing in misery, anguish and self-pity, with only a toy armadillo for emotional support. I couldn’t even get up and put the light on because I was sharing with my son.
Fortunately, we did manage to resolve everything amicably on Friday morning (thanks to all those involved!) and after attendingthe Luna Press Launch (throughout which both the enormous, disembodied head of Val Nolan and the emotional punch of Anna Smith Spark’s reading from A Woman of the Sword swam in and out of my consciousness) I did finally manage to sleep for the rest of the afternoon while Alex diligently revised for his upcoming GCSEs. I felt ok when I woke up (in time for the NewCon Press Launch Party) but as so often in these acute moments of emotional turmoil, a lot of stuff went up in the air and then came back down in a different order. As a result, I ended up going some places I wasn’t entirely expecting to go on the Gig (Economies) in Space panel at 9pm on the Friday evening.
I was on this with Stew Hotston, R.B. Kelly and Edmund Schluessel and I think we had a good discussion. My highlights were Rachael talking about how horrible it is to work in a hyacinth bulb factory (which features in the plot of their excellent novel On the Brink, the sequel to the Clarke shortlisted Edge of Heaven), Edmund mentioning that the first space strike actually happened on Skylab in the 1970s (although this is disputed: see here and Nasa’s denial here), and Stew explaining that the costs of getting into space are such that we are unlikely to get a stereotypical precariat dependent on the gig economy, but that we probably will get a kind of precarious gig-economy existence for highly-qualified technical workers who find themselves forced to do what their corporations want because there is (literally) nowhere else to go once they are out on an installation in space. This led to further discussion as to whether corporations are really ‘general artificial intelligences’ and whether it is ever really possible to ‘walkaway’, in the style of Cory Doctorow’s novel of that title, in space or otherwise. According to Edmund, walking away is just a petty bourgeois Heinleinian frontier dream of the small homestead (and implicitly colonial because dependent on removing the existing indigenous occupants of said land), but I would say that the impulse to keep on moving away from authority is fairly central to SF and can be found in many stories: the example I gave in the panel was Alan Moore and Ian Gibson’s The Ballad of Halo Jones, where it is combined with gender politics to radical effect (and also in Vonda McIntyre’s The Exile Waiting, where the outward urge allows SF to break free from the bourgeois novel’s problem with closure!).
Towards, the end of the panel, Elliot, the moderator, asked us to reply to one each of four-linked questions to the panel (they’re in the discord) concerning the asymmetry in bargaining power between employer and employees, the fourth of which was ‘How effective is the state at supporting the right of individual workers to coordinate their response to bad employers?’. Whereupon, I jumped in, in part because I had already forgotten the previous three, and said something along the lines of ‘Not at all. There is nothing that the state is going to be able to do to protect employees in the long run. Therefore, we should abandon the state and form a different type of society. Please come along and hear us discuss this tomorrow on the ‘Anarchy or Bust’ panel.’ At which point, Stew turned round to me and said, ‘I wasn’t expecting that answer!’ Neither was I until I opened my mouth and discovered that I had transitioned from (academically?) discussing a political position to advocacy. I should point out that Rachael did subsequently provide the more obvious (but nonetheless too radical for our governments) answer of universal basic income. Well, I wouldn’t say no to that and, clearly, existing state protections of workers are central to many people’s lives … but it is also the case that states do not treat all the people who live within their areas as citizens with legal rights. Historically, indigenous populations and ‘illegal’ migrants have often had to work in unregulated sections of the economy. As Stew pointed out, the whole point of the frenzied ‘small boats’ crisis is not to cut immigration to the UK but to create a workforce that have no rights. In this respect the state is not supporting workers’ rights but actively undermining them. Memories of the postwar Welfare State (itself built off the profits of empire and dependent on migrant labour) shouldn’t blind us as to how the state is increasingly being used in the interests of capital today.
So, I wasn’t saying anything I don’t believe but, even so, having said it out loud caused me some cognitive dissonance afterwards because I was expressing beliefs that I normally only express in SF book reviews (such as the one linked above of The Exile Waiting, which I wrote over three years ago). I’ve had this before; it’s a type of déjà vu in which you come to a realisation that you immediately realise you have already come to three years before and even, sometimes, three years before that as well. Rather than a sign that I’m in the matrix, this is a sign that I’m not identical with myself, which on the whole is a good thing to be aware of because we are not, as human animals, only our conscious subjective identity. The self is not unitary and unified. On one level, this is unexceptional, most of us change behaviour and self-presentation to suit context and that operates as a safety valve (although it does encourage Jekyll-like behaviour; Jekyll being the jackal-like villain of that story). However, problems can arise when you trap yourself in having to maintain a pattern of behaviour you no longer want to. Or, in my case, in writing a certain way that I no longer want to. Therefore, I find myself writing different things from different personas, none of which quite dovetail with the one I’m living, but causing enough confusion to tie me up in contradictions that I can’t always resolve immediately. These can manifest variously as indecision or becoming blocked on a topic I’m writing about. Therefore, every now and again there has to be a reset, such as the one taking place now at this easter 2023, which I’m hoping to harness in this piece of writing, thereby accelerating the processing process, and so bootstrapping myself out of the phase I’ve been stuck in since the beginning of the pandemic, ok?
As a consequence of trying to think through such mechanisms in recent years, I’m now very interested in self-reflexivity as a research topic (indeed, it is a component in the project for which I’ve just got a grant for; you see, there is a method to the madness). Historically, however, one of the areas that I have found myself getting conflicted about is the divide between academic and fan/non-academic criticism. This came to mind on the next day, Saturday, at the Book Launch for Niall Harrison, All These Worlds: Reviews and Essays which consisted of the always wonderful Nina Allan holding an interview with Niall (and then us all queuing up to buy the book and get it signed). Like many others, I think Niall is a great critic and holding the book and reading the contents brought immediate pleasure because in many cases I could remember reading the essays and reviews when they first appeared. There was a ‘glowing period’ (I nearly called this a golden age) in the second half of the 00s when Niall was editing Vector and running three posts a week on Torque Control, the Vector editorial blog. The discussion between Nina and Niall on this was an absolute pleasure, for anyone such as me who felt themselves … not yet part of fandom because even though I had joined both the BSFA and the Science Fiction Foundation and I’d been to the Glasgow Worldcon in 2005, I was really struggling to understand the unwritten rules. But here I felt welcome to include my slightly tangential, stream-of-consciousness responses to fiction (usually several days after everyone else). Two of the posts I remember in particular (neither of which made the cut for All These Worlds) were both of works I ended up enjoying more than Niall because I love books which teeter out of control, skirting the edges of chaos: a review of Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle and a review of Gwyneth Jones’s Kairos, which remains not only one of my all-time favourite novels but in my opinion also one of the best. I should add for balance that a number of the reviews that are actually included in All These Worlds also inspired/compelled me to go out and read their subject texts, such as Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners, Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, and Jennifer Marie Brissett’s Elysium. At Niall’s encouraging suggestion, I wrote some pieces for him at the end of this period such as an article on The Carhullan Army for Vector, a review of Gary Wolfe’s Bearings for Strange Horizons, and contributions to a round-robin discussion of Tricia Sullivan’s Lightborn on Torque Control. I had previously written academic articles for Foundation and Extrapolation, but this was me really ‘letting my hair down’ as John Clute would put it (not that I had much even then). Niall did also suggest I write proper fiction reviews but that would have obviously been going too far at that point because of, variously, lack of confidence, imposter syndrome re fandom, academic unease with a format based on opinion (even critical opinion), and a reluctance to share all my intimate reading experiences. Nevertheless, the idea did take hold and after taking several years to properly process it, I did finally bring myself to write a review of a work of fiction (so blame Niall).
Anyway, I feel I owe an enormous amount to Niall and that was one reason why I was hoping the con panels would work out. I mention Clute because there were inevitable audience questions at the launch concerning the influence of Clute on Niall, at least early on in his reviewing career. This (tangentially) reminded me that my first contact (I think) with Niall was actually emailing him in his then role of Strange Horizon’s Reviews Editor to complain about Clute’s review of Andrew M. Butler’s edited collection, Christopher Priest: The Interaction, which singled out my chapter for an especial close reading. (Just to note, John, if by any chance you read this, I have finally got over it now). In fact, reading the review today, I’m in stitches (and, on reflection, there is praise there which I should have accepted for what it was). At the time, though, I was absolutely livid and quite distraught because there didn’t seem to be a way for me to write about SF if this approach (which was all I had) was not the right one. Therefore, I launched into a lengthy exchange in the comments (which is not a good idea), which fortunately no longer seem to be accessible.
Clute’s review is worth reading just to indicate the way in which SF fandom has subsequently shifted a bit to tolerate the ‘illiterate scientism of the humanities trade’ and the ‘ineradicable odour of the factory’. Indeed, the relationship between Eng Lit academia and SF has changed considerably since then. I must admit, however, that some of the phrases in this review did burn their way into my psyche with the consequence that I almost wanted to live up to them. When angered by something in British SF cycles, I’m always tempted to change my twitter bio to ‘spelunker’, a word I had to look up the meaning of, to indicate an outsider status. The idea that ‘the Orcs are about to take Helm’s Deep’, which wasn’t directed at me regretfully, has become one of my favourite cultural touchstones (in an approving sense, obviously). Perhaps the phrase that resonates with me most is the description of academic protocols as ‘shit-stupid’. Of course, Clute was not wrong to say this. However, while academic protocols are fucking shit-stupid protocols, it also needs to be remembered that they are entry-level protocols (with supporting structures), offering an education to people that gives them a chance of going on to develop their own style and judgement. Critics are not born; they have to get started somewhere. However, time passes and universities are no longer the same public service that I was proud of back in the 00s, as they now charge huge fees. Even so, I’m very happy that both a former PhD student of mine and at least one former undergraduate student of ours at Brunel were at the con (not that either’s excellence is in anyway due to me).
Having exorcised that particular ghost, I shall move on but do buy Niall’s book because it is brilliant, and it is important to support his publishing venture (I’m sure I shall be referring to All These Worlds on here over the months ahead). Furthermore, it is great to see him back from hiatus, reviewing again and writing a column, ‘Depth of Field’, for Strange Horizons.
Feeling particularly orcish, which in this context I have now established as one way of simultaneously being both academic and fan, I proceeded (via the Games room) to Anarchy or Bust!, with Juliet Kemp, Edmund Schluessel, and Stephen Oram (moderator). The longer story of why I wanted to do this panel is that I have been (re)reading some political SFF following editing the SFF & Class special issue of Vector in 2021 with a view to expanding my Tribune article on ‘How Sci-fi Shaped Socialism’ into a book (a project which has now been slightly superseded and will require some reframing). This led me to sign up to a couple of online panels at Chicon8, ‘Systems of Governance’ and ‘Better Worlds are Necessary’; the panel description of the latter of these referenced Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, and Margaret Killjoy’s A Country of Ghosts. Reading this selection of largely anarchist or anarchist-adjacent novels, all of which are very good, made me think about how often it is precisely the qualities central to these particular books, which I value in SF per se (as, for example, in the case of The Exile Waiting discussed above). Therefore, before the panel began, I found through reflection that I had the reasoning to support my somewhat surprising declaration of the evening before. Therefore, rather than stating ‘I’m writing a book’, which was going to be part of my self-introduction, I was able to say that ‘for me anarchy was primarily a destination rather than a specifically designed political practice. And by destination, I didn’t have a particular utopian structure in mind but rather a new form of subjectivity that wouldn’t be based on the old bourgeois liberal individualism of the unified subject, which maintains that unity precisely by separating itself from all ‘others’. It’s that old nineteenth-century subjectivity which philosophically underpins the traditional hierarchies, the gender binary, heteronormativity, white supremacy etc. To move beyond these structures, we need newer consent-based, queerer, intersectional, more fluid subjectivities that reject the mind-body split.’ At least, that’s what my notes say. In practice, I think we merged the personal introduction with discussing an example of an anarchist SF text. In their succinct tweet-threading of the panel, D Franklin notes ‘Nick also rates Walkaway, and Woman On The Edge Of Time, for its complex engagement with ethical values and temporality, and the idea of subjectivity’.
I was talking about the end of Woman On The Edge Of Time when Connie kills the doctors in order to save the utopia of the future, an act that if judged by the ethical standards of her own society is wrong and is only justified if we support the book-long existential struggle to support the right of the liberated, non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal society to exist in the future. In other words, the temporal logic of anarchy is not simply linear but more fluid in reflecting the reality that political choices and actions today have to be both oriented towards that post-patriarchal future and anticipate the subjectivity of that future. The only way this can be done is through speculative fiction, whether it is called SF or labelled some type of political philosophy. So, to frame this the other way round, ‘anarchy as destination’ is itself a form of speculative fiction, whose existence depends on us being able to think ourselves outside of the world we’re in (or outside of Mark Fisher’s concept of capitalist realism as Juliet framed it – see also their article, ‘Breaking Out of Capitalist Realism’). Central to thinking outside the system, is having a space that is buffered against society and supports alternative subjectivities. I tend to think of such spaces as ‘counter public spheres’ – public in that they allow an exchange of ideas through written publications and in-person; counter in that they are opposed to the values that drive the wider public sphere of media, press, liberal intellectuals. The SFF community with its cons, presses, magazines, fanzines etc is still a counter public sphere, despite the Marvelisation of society (because the core of both written SF and fantasy is about escape from the restrictions of capitalism). There was a question from Jude Roberts in the audience as to whether Eastercon might be considered a heterotopia, a lovely irruption of full-on Foucauldian theoretical terminology into the heart of fandom. Yes, I think the utopian outline of a heterogeneously other space does shimmer in and out of view at moments in Eastercon (I write having spent a week thinking about it; at the time, I said ‘kinda’). It is a precarious structure, which is dependent on many people volunteering and doing a lot of work to keep it going. As Juliet pointed out, sometimes it is the dissonance between the heterotopian aspects and the non-heterotopian aspects that make Eastercons go wrong. However, I don’t agree with Edmund that they are simply just contradictions of capital, a concept most commonly illustrated by the idea that capitalism permits books calling for its destruction to be sold. We don’t say, though, that therefore no books are truly capable of pointing beyond capitalism. The argument here is not that Eastercon represents a direct threat to capitalism (!) but rather that it provides a needed open space within capitalism to think outside capitalism, and occasionally attains the fleeting status of magic.
The other main area we had a difference of opinion on the panel about was the concept of ‘walking away’, with Edmund suggesting it was individualist rather than rooted in solidarity. I don’t see it as individualist in Doctorow’s Walkaway; it is walking away to form new types of social solidarity. The great question of the journey forwards for me is whether we’re going to take everyone with us or whether we’re going to have to fight absolutely entrenched counter-revolutionary resistance? To be honest, that is a rhetorical question, there is no magical universal transition. Therefore, walking away seems a more productive approach than fighting and losing (one way or another) a civil war. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be literally walking away, but might mean building different kinds of networks, which is ultimately what Walkaway comes down to. In any case, the point about that novel is that the result of walking away is not utopian but the flawed, albeit interesting society, of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Whatever route we take, we’re not going to get to the destination of anarchy any time soon. In Iain M. Banks’s The State of the Art, which is the novel in which the Culture visit Earth in 1977, the ship’s mind predicts that we are still 10,000 years off attaining Culture status. But, on the positive side, as I said in the panel, we’re now nearly 50 years closer to the goal. My reading recommendation was Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist as firstly an example of how anarchist subjectivity is probably found more in fantasy and SF, but secondly, and more importantly, a good lesson in how the bourgeois protagonist learns to love fairy fruit. As always, there is much more to be written on all these topics.
Because of being on the Anarchy panel I missed the BSFA Awards Ceremony and found out the winners through twitter afterwards. I wrote about City of Last Chances winning and my final analysis of the Best Novel Award in a Postscript to my round-up review of the shortlist.
Sunday morning began uncomfortably early with Overshoots and Other Anthropocene Narratives at 9am. It normally takes me a while to get going during the day, so I was worried that I would struggle to come out with anything coherent. However, in the event, sitting on the sofas and passing the mike between us turned out to be a very congenial way of having a very productive discussion with Abigail Nussbaum, Anne Charnock, and Niall Harrison. The context for this panel was Niall’s essay for Strange Horizons, ‘In Search of Green Overshoots’, and the panel proceeded by Niall defining the concept. The simplest explanation would be that a ‘green overshoot’ novel addresses climate change through a linear structure which extends from the past through the present and into the future – although we immediately included temporally-braided novels that have a repetitive looping structure of past-present-future, past-present-future, and so on. Then the rest of the panel continued by talking about different examples. Mine (which doesn’t really fit either of the above descriptions but is not a million miles off) was Expect Me Tomorrow by Christopher Priest, which I wrote about as an overshoot novel (or kind of) earlier this year (although while writing this ‘paper’ it has occurred to me that there is a good case for arguing that A Dream of Wessex, which is possibly my absolute favourite Priest novel, is a more conventional example of the form).Anne chose The Coral Bones by E.J. Swift and Abigail picked Appleseed by Matt Bell.
Niall went on to talk about the following novels in particular: Overshoot by Mona Clee, The Overstory by Richard Powers, The Deluge by Stephen Markley and Hopeland by Ian McDonald. Abigail talked about Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi. I talked about Virginia Woolf’s The Years being intended as a non-climate overshoot novel with the intention of charting changes in social and cultural consciousness away from patriarchy towards a more liberated society in which women would be free (there’s more about this in my online essay on ‘The Woolfian Century’). Other books mentioned included Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham and Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind by Anne Charnock.
Responding to Abigail’s comments on Monica Byrne’s The Actual Star, I was reminded of the Anarchy or Bust panel and the discussion of Bank’s The State of the Art, which is also a kind of overshoot novel in that the Culture itself represents a future that is 10,000 years further advanced than the near-past Earth setting of the story. Unlike The State of the Art, the nomadic, subsidiarist, anarchist and post-binary-gender future of The Actual Star is set only 1000 years hence. This is a utopian future, although there are enough issues and problems in the society that the novel is probably best considered a critical utopia in the manner of The Dispossessed. There is also a past set in a Mayan Kingdom 1000 years ago, thus providing overshoot temporality but also complicating the spiritual dimension of the synthetic religion that underpins the future utopia. I think there is a very hard-edged attitude in the novel to our present global civilisation, which is shown to collapse over the next 200 years amid climate chaos, repeated pandemics and civil insurrection. Much as I’m here for the nonbinary anarchist future (and I would love to spend time living in this society), I don’t think I could bring myself metaphorically to push a button to set the processes in motion that would clear the decks for it. I’m not suggesting that Byrne is asking us to do this – rather the future society comes from the descendants of those who ‘walkaway’ – but I feel there is an element of moral approval of the destruction of society within the novel’s hard-edged attitude. Maybe I haven’t managed to completely escape bourgeois liberal sentiments to the extent that I’d like to think I have, and it’s my outlook that is deficient. However, while I wouldn’t rule out either walking away or forming a synthetic religion as necessary to bringing about a future we can live in (and obviously we do need to break irrevocably from capitalism, patriarchy, and cisheteronormativity), I still think any transition to a post-Anthropocene ‘utopian’ future will be messier (as for instance in the manner of Doctorow’s Walkaway and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) rather than as morally virtuous as perhaps implied by Byrne. Although, as noted, The Actual Star is a critical utopia, meaning that it’s more complex than my discussion here is implying and I’m still working out exactly what I think about it (more than 18 months after it came out). Moreover, it’s hard-edged moral attitude might be precisely the quality which gives it enduring status over the long run, which I think it will achieve.
In discussing non-overshoot climate change novels, Anne discussed The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, which begins with a very near-future ‘wet-bulb’ heat wave causing millions of deaths in India and then speculates on a range of consequences, and resulting technological and social changes over the coming decades. We also discussed whether the Clarke Award actually picked climate novels ever. This shifted into a discussion of whether the 2021 winner, Laura Jean McKay’s The Animals in That Country is actually a climate-change novel, which I would argue is the case because of the way it breaks down subject-object relations between humans and animals. (It does also have a temporal dimension – maybe enough time has elapsed that I could reread and write about it). Anne specifically praised Australian SF as dealing with climate-change (partly due to being on the front line) and there are temporal dimensions in particular to James Bradley’s Clade and Ghost Species (see also ‘Writing Fiction in the Age of Climate Catastrophe: A Conversation Between Anne Charnock and James Bradley’).
Niall also threatened he will make his thoughts publicly known if none of the eligible overshoot novels are shortlisted for the Clarke this year. Aside from those mentioned above, this list would also include the following recent overshoot novels he recommended in the discord channel: Mischief Acts by Zoe Gilbert (discussed at the end of the Overshoot essay), Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman, and The Moonday Letters by Emmi Itaranta. (He also recommended an earlier novel, Arcadia by Lauren Groff). I wonder if the Clarke is the best place to focus on in this respect. And I don’t mean that we need another prize but rather that there seems an opportunity to do something more adventurous and expansive with the ideas here.
Developing a train of thought from the panel, if this project was being conducted within academia, we would make it the subject of a network grant bid and use the money to hold some symposia around the country and gather in scholars and researchers. Then, we’d produce some publications, such as an edited or co-written collection divided into maybe three parts: the first defining the concept and discussing core examples, the second section focusing on more marginal and contested examples, the third and final section exploring the wider ramifications.
But, when I wrote ‘adventurous and expansive’ I wasn’t thinking of the academic option (although there are useful elements to that kind of model and academics would still be welcome to contribute), because academia also exerts almost irresistible coercion to force emergent ideas into existing hierarchical patterns of knowledge. So, once the collection was published it would get subsumed into a wider growing Anthropocene discourse, that would have some influence in the academy but at the cost of eventually becoming just another power structure within the hierarchy. Better just to let the ‘overshoot’ concept develop more organically within the less-hierarchical counter public sphere of sf criticism and reviewing: let people use and misuse ‘overshoot’, try it out, appropriate it for their own ends, tie it to wider social and political trends etc. (Hence, I’ve tried to list most of the books discussed so that people – including me – can read them all and think about this further). There is also a more committed version of this in which exploration of the idea would involve trying to think outside the limitations of standard linear time by, e.g., writing different types of history or by bringing texts from different places and times together (which Niall has already begun doing with his ‘Depth of Field’ column). Furthermore, there is the activist version in which, as discussed above in relation to Woman on the Edge of Time, we consider ourselves as involved in a political struggle to hold open a different temporality to that of the present and (rather than 70s style urban guerrilla tactics) engage in Hopeland– or Actual-Star-style projects to that effect (maybe even drawing on heterotopian fan spaces). Whether we want to go the full hog and define spiritualities and synthetic religions is a topic that can be discussed later (I have thoughts) but there are certainly ethical, consent-based protocols that might be drafted and tested both through practice at fan/activist spaces (I guess that is what codes of conduct are) and through writing criticism and, indeed, speculative fiction. Arguably, this all exists already but it still needs to be brought together – and that would need to be via non-hierarchical, intersectional networks.
Later that afternoon I was in the audience for Thirty-four Years, and An Interim Survey with Niall Harrison asking Nina Allan, Anne Charnock, Stew Hotston, Juliet E McKenna and Neil Williamson questions such as ‘why have you chosen to write science fiction or fantasy? Do you consider there is anything distinctively British about your work, and if so, what is it? What do you consider the major influences on your work? And what do you think have been the most significant developments in British science fiction and fantasy over the last fifteen years?’ This was intended as an interim follow-up to the survey conducted by Niall in 2009, which was itself a follow up to Paul Kincaid’s survey of 1989 – the results of which can be found in a book compiled and edited by the two of them, British Science Fiction & Fantasy: Twenty Years, Two Surveys(2010; I think this is still available somehow as a PDF). This was a panel that I set up at Niall’s request, so I was keen to see it go well, which it did. I was particularly interested in the question about what the most significant changes or drivers of change in British SF have been since 2009. The various answers to this question included: gaming (Stew), Marvelisation, and particularly its effect on the depiction of magic (Neil), climate change (Anne), more diverse stories and the eruption of speculative elements into the mainstream (Nina), fantasy has seen a shift in perspective to the point of view of the oppressed and also to include LGBTQ+ narratives (Juliet). I think the effects of all these changes were evident across the con, as I’ve tried to capture just in writing about my thoughts and experience.
There were some other points that resonated with me because I live in Wales and politically identify as Welsh European rather than British, such as Neil’s point that he considers his work more distinctively Scottish than British, which interestingly linked to Nina’s discussion of the difficulty of trying to sell Scottish elements in her work to the US market and therefore not getting a US deal for The Good Neighbours. I was further intrigued by Nina’s statement that she used to see herself as part of the post-New-Wave but since moving to Scotland has found herself questioning that British anti-novel tradition. So, that is something I’m going to look into with interest while catching up on Nina’s more recent work later in this year. The distinctiveness of the ‘Scottish scene’ (which was a famous book title of the 1930s, whose subtitle could perhaps now be reframed as ‘the intelligent woman and nonbinary person’s guide to the Scottish futures’) was evident in the dealers’ room, where it was represented by the magazine, Shoreline of Infinity (founded 2015), Luna Press Publishing (also only set up in 2015, which now seems incredible given how established it is), and other independent Scottish presses. There was also a stall for Satellite 8, which would tempt me but for the fact the dates don’t work (and I never made it to Satellite 7 either). Then, of course, there is Glasgow 2024, where I will be going. One of my intentions going forward is to write about and review some examples from the Scottish scene in the run up to that Worldcon.
I was back on the next panel, Who, Why and What do We Award at 3pm on Sunday (9 April) with Cheryl Morgan, Nicholas Whyte, Niall Harrison and Gareth Worthington moderating. I have written about some of the discussion on this panel in the postscript to my round-up review of the BSFA Award for Best Novel shortlist. One important point I didn’t discuss there, was Cheryl’s brief presentation of some data concerning Hugo Award winners (from her excellent keynote presentation to the ‘When It Changed: Women in SF/F Since 1972’ conference held online last December, hosted by the Science Fiction Foundation and Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow – see conference recap here). Her slides beautifully demonstrate the techtonic shift that happened in the Hugos from 2016, following the defeat of the puppies, when women suddenly started winning all the fiction categories and dominating the shortlist. This has been an epic process to witness, and I think it is a fantastic development and potentially a field-defining paradigm shift. However, Cheryl introduced a note of caution by saying we have to take into account that one of the factors that might be playing a role here, is that men are no longer writing fiction. Is this the case? Well, the media discussion around this week’s publication of Granta magazine’s ten-yearly list of the 20 best British writers under 40 certainly sounded similar notes, with the New Statesman (which, admittedly seems to be morphing into some sort of right-wing contrarian rag) lamenting ‘The decline of the Literary Bloke’. I’m not sure too many tears will be shed over the lack of successors to Amis & co (which, I suspect is mostly due to the extremely unattractive role models they provided) but the wider implications are not yet fully obvious. I would say that people will always read fiction but it is not difficult to imagine attempts by right-wing populists to target ‘woke’ fiction (indeed, we’ve experienced them), or a more general process by which fiction gets lets coverage due to somehow having become ‘less mainstream’. All that can be said for certain at the moment is that the cultural terrain is shifting rapidly and that this is alarming many people in the UK’s mainstream media (which is very resistant to change because of its ownership patterns).
I was slightly weaving in and out of consciousness at 6pm on Sunday during The Final Frontier: What LGBTQ+ Stories Can Only SFF Tell? but this was a very pleasant experience as the panel (E. Saxey (moderator), Emily January, Aliette de Bodard, Troo, Trip Galey) discussed ‘the ways in which SFF tells LGBTQ+ stories that are unique to the queer perspective and also can only be told through a fantastical lens? Where is the boundary between a hoped-for better future and fantastical fiction?’ It was good to be reminded of many books that I have read over the last few years, such as Foz Meadows’s An Accident of Stars, Arcady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace (both of which won the Hugo for Best Novel, and are therefore key parts of the paradigm shift mentioned above), Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy and Phoenix Extravagant, Simon Jiminez’s The Vanishing Birds, Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series, Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series and Aliette de Bodard’s own The Red Scholar’s Wake. I’m not sure anyone mentioned Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade – which like Woman at the Edge of Time and some of Russ’s work also involves a fight across a fluid temporality for the existence of a future utopian society – but I would include that as well and obviously the list could go on.
One thing to note, is that it is not that long ago (at least from the perspective of someone in their 50s) since an hour-long panel discussion of LGBTQ+ Stories in SFF would have ranged across the entire history of the field (as that history stands at the moment with ‘Golden Age’ still intact, rather than the rewritten version I haven’t got to yet in this piece – see below). Or to put it another way, it is really significant that the discussion wasn’t about the Le Guin, Russ, Tiptree generation or even the British SF of the 80s, 90s, 00s including (randomly, the first that come to my mind) works by Mary Gentle (who was mentioned in the description of the Non Binary panel, which I missed), Gwyneth Jones, Justina Robson, Ian MacDonald, Geoff Ryman and Iain M. Banks (there was a welcome reference in the discord to ‘the events on board GSV Sleeper Service’). Again, it bears repeating, that there are panels’ worth of other writers and books we could discuss. In fact, simply discussing them all, thinking about them intersectionally and putting them in dialogue with queer works from earlier periods and/or other cultures which might usefully be considered sfnal, would in itself give us a more open understanding of the genre’s history.
In terms of this current golden harvest of LGBTQ+ fiction crossing the boundary to a hoped-for future, I think one of the contributions that these books make is by exploring new forms of subjectivity that are not only not hetero- or cis-normative but also not structured around the nineteenth-century model of the unified subject that is always separated from object. It is not coincidental that Martine’s, Lee’s and Muir’s books all feature scenarios where protagonists share their minds and bodies with other consciousnesses. This is not new in SF – one of my favourite previous versions is Robson’s Keeping it Real which I’ve read a few times, and there are other earlier less obviously queer versions – but I feel that the concentration of such exploration within the context of the ongoing paradigm shifts in the field opens up the new possibilities that we need to make further progress.
All of which brings me to my last panel on Monday at 1.30, Rethinking the History of SF, with Kate Heffner, Edward James, Paul March-Russell, and Niall Harrison moderating. The much-revised panel description reads: ‘Is it time to rethink the history of SF? Rather than tell the same old stories of the Golden Age and the New Wave, which focus largely on US/UK male writers, can we identify broader social-historical-technological labels that reflect the impact of world-historical conditions and events, such as the First World War? Will this enable us to tell a more inclusive and diverse history of global SF the speaks to life in the 21st Century? This panel will brainstorm some possible new labels, debate their utility, and more broadly consider how the writing of SF history has changed over time, and may continue to change in the future.’ The initial context for this was a review by Niall in the LARB of the MIT Press’s Radium Age Series, see also here for more background on the series. At one point there would have been two panels: one to discuss the Radium Age itself, which covers a period from 1905-1935 (In the event, we were able to fold a brief discussion on the Radium Age series into the panel addressed from the perspective of Paul, who is writing the introduction to one of the volumes) and the second to address the points Niall raised in the closing paragraph to the review:
Over the last couple of decades, critics such as John Rieder, John Clute, and Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay have advanced models for how we might think about global SF history differently, and some of their thinking dovetails with some of [series editor Joshua] Glenn’s. The way I would frame the opportunity would go something like this: in place of the Golden Age and the New Wave, we could identify broader social-historical-technological labels that provide umbrellas to bring different traditions into dialogue, encouraging readers to trace the impact of world-historical conditions and events — such as the First World War — even across the work of authors who, at the time, were unaware of each other’s existence. The Radium Age certainly gestures in this direction, not least because it boldly subsumes Hugo Gernsback’s 1926 launch of Amazing Stories within itself, thus (correctly) reframing the most commonly recognized starting point for genre science fiction as specifically the start of genre science fiction in the United States. Unfortunately, from the selections so far, it risks being only a gesture.
In the pre-panel emails, I made a comparison between this call to go beyond the Golden Age and the New Wave and a notorious Christopher Priest diatribe, ‘“It” Came From Outer Space’, first published in Foundation 21 (1981) – a piece that was ostensibly a review of Lester del Rey’s The World of Science Fiction: 1926-1976 (1979). The piece is prefaced with the editorial comment, ‘The following is a polemical piece rather than a book review, which is why we have chosen to publish it under the “Forum” heading.’ Reading it now, however, you have to say he was absolutely on the money here regarding how del Rey’s text was part of a process of institutionalising the
familiar story … It is the one we are all told, the one which most of us tell, the one which like folklore is passed from one generation to the next. It concerns, of course the year, 1926 and Hugo Gernsback; 1938 and John W. Campbell; 1964 and Michael Moorcock. It treats of Golden Ages and New Waves, fandom and conventions, pulp magazines and digests, classic titles and sense of wonder. This sacred text, for so long passed by word of mouth is now being written up so as to persuade outsiders of the good news of science fiction. Lester del Rey, like St Luke, is writing the gospel for non-Jews.
Despite the welcome fact (I was in the audience for Jeannette Ng’s epic speech at the Dublin Hugo ceremony) that there is no longer an award named after Campbell, this history has become more entrenched in the way that Priest foresaw. When in the run-up to the con, I asked Google’s Bard AI chatbot for a history of world SF 1935-1955, it simply told me about the US Golden Age, even though I hadn’t used that label. In comparison, Chat-GPT3.5 told me about the US, Europe and Japan. Neither account mentioned any women at all. A more detailed prompt would no doubt solicit a wider response, but in many ways you have to know what you are asking for in order to be sure that you are getting a fuller picture. This is an existing problem with Google anyway, which is only going to be exacerbated as search engines and AI language models are further combined. How peak Golden Age is it that the ‘familiar story’ will be told to us in the twenty-first century by robots?!
The panel began with Edward talking about histories of SF in general and some of the issues he faced in writing his own history, Science Fiction in the 20th Century (1994). In particular, his discussion of what frustrated him about Roger Luckhurst’s Science Fiction (2005), which was explicitly presented as a ‘cultural history’, was illuminating on the disciplinary academic differences between History and English Literature. In particular, Edward singled Luckhurst’s chapter on the 1960s and complained that as history its ridiculous because it focuses on the New Wave and yet the vast majority of SF readers and writers during the decade were not New Wave. In other words, the book is only focusing on very small minority and not therefore providing a history, cultural or otherwise, of SF. I must admit to having some sympathies with Edward’s position here because precisely this kind of confusion between a particular movement, which is often avant-garde and therefore necessarily an extreme minority pastime, with an entire period is a staple of English Literature’s approach to literary history. For example, Modernism, a term that was barely even mentioned during the period in which its handful of leading practitioners were at their peak, has become synonymous with the early decades of the twentieth century, a conjunction which has created various problems within the field, which I’ve now become so sick of that I no longer wish to devote time to even trying to outline what they are.
In my opinion, English as a discipline would be better off rewriting our own literary history so that it doesn’t focus on an avant-garde modernist minority during the period before and after the First World War, but instead looks at the broader cultural and literary developments of the period as they impacted on a majority of the reading public – in this they could learn from the example of the historian Christopher Hilliard’s To Exercise Our Talents: The Democratization of Writing in Britain (2006). So, in this respect, I agree with Edward. On the other hand, while I’m not going to list them, I have also read plenty of very poor, superficial readings of literary texts in history books by historians. My advice to anyone interested in getting the fullest picture would be to read as freely as possible across all available disciplines concerning the period you are interested in. Furthermore, it is also necessary to tease out emergent trends in any period. Social change does happen, and it starts with a minority and not by the majority all changing their minds at the same moment. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if we had let opinion polling guide us throughout human history, we probably wouldn’t have come down from the trees yet.
So, to get back to histories of SF, they need to capture emerging waves but not at the expense of what the wider body of readers and fans were doing. In this respect, Kate Heffner’s research, as featured in her Peter-Nicholls-Prize-winning essay for Foundation 141, ‘Femizine: A Study of Femme-Fans’ Labour in Post-War Fan Cultures’, is both absolutely fascinating and also illustrates that shifts in consciousness and subjectivity are not just the products of avant-garde cultural production but also originate in everyday collective practices.
We had a brief discussion about academic SF companions or ‘handbooks’, partly because I was clarifying my dissatisfaction with the one I co-edited for Bloomsbury in 2013. It’s not that these books aren’t useful, but they do have limitations as to their use as frameworks for considering the history of SF. These limitations are well set out in Farah Mendlesohn’s forensic analysis of the handbook genre in ‘Curating Science Fiction in the “Rainbow Age”: A discussion in several parts: ICFA 43 Guest Scholar Keynote’ (Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, 33: 3, 2022). I will be referring to this analysis in more detail in a separate post about handbooks and my own experiences of editing one.
Mendlesohn’s article begins with a declaration that there is no single SF community and ‘that we need to understand ourselves as an overlapping, intersecting and continually changing and flowering bouquet of interests, experiences, and identifications: what critic Kat Tanaka Opnik has described as a prismatic community.’ This is a useful place to begin thinking about what a history of SF might look like; how it would need to be equally overlapping and intersecting. But rather than enrolling new texts to this history, I was hoping the panel might first unfurl some new banners under which a wider range of texts could then be enrolled. This is what Niall was calling for in the above review with the suggestion that ‘broader social-historical-technological labels’ could replace the old familiar terms such as ‘Golden Age’ and ‘New Wave’. The potential here is that any book (or other form of text) from anywhere in the world that responds to social and technological change could be enrolled under such a banner, so there would be no inbuilt limits, as at the moment, to what historical texts can be considered SF. One of my personal motivations for opening up the field in this way is that I think what a whole ‘hidden’ wave of feminist SFF from the interwar years would be revealed that would tell a very different story to the current US Gernsback-to-Golden-Age history. However, this is something I’m going to have to come back to in more detail at some point in the future, although I probably will say a bit more about in the upcoming Handbook piece. One of the issues we discussed in respect to sociological and technological change is that it doesn’t happen in the straightforward linear progression that we sometimes expect from our history. For example, China has experienced the same processes of industrial development that took 200 years in the UK, in a period of less than 50. So which texts do we compare if trying to make a global historical comparison? Here, Niall’s ‘Depth of Field’ approach discussed above might be useful. To be honest, we didn’t get much further than scratching the surface of the topic in this panel. I think it might be a good area for a future panel or panels, that could perhaps be planned more carefully in scope and purpose to drill into some of the factors involved in more detail.
Niall did warn us beforehand that he would ask us what our ‘ideal’ history of SF would like. I took him literally and said ‘a nonbinary, queer, anarchist, chaotic neutral, AI personal assistant that is not modelled on the Western, patriarchal, universal subject, which can access any existing defined form of SF (i.e., everything already accumulated under the heading of the History of SF) but also conduct its own assessments of whether any sort of text/media might meet the definition of science fictionality in the broadest sense’. Furthermore, the AI would be able to assume the personality of character of any SF author, so you could talk to Robert Heinlein or Octavia Butler and ask about their motivations. And, of course, they (the AI having they/their pronouns) would support role-playing participation within text worlds; my examples were The Female Man and Blakes 7, which is possibly a niche combination, but I think the mode would be widely attractive to fans. Niall’s response was that I obviously wanted my own personal Culture mind. Well, duh, yeah of course. But I don’t think this is that far off. It would only require the right corpus of data to train an existing AI language model to do much of this in a textual form. If not already, then soon enough there’ll be people doing something along these lines for the core Golden-Age, New-Wave ‘familiar story’, so we need to do something about that.
There was so much more I wanted to write but this is already a medium-sized novelette. Although that reminds me of one particular afterthought which was that if you had to have a one-volume history of SF, then perhaps the way to do it would be as a documentary novel mixing historical and fictional characters. In particular, it should be an overshoot novel with a speculative future, and there should also be a temporal struggle running throughout to hold the possibility of that future open. I think that would be a history that would still require a human to write it, as things currently stand at least.
Earlier on the Monday, Alex and I went to Fiona Moore’s talk on House of Dragons (management perspective), which inspired us to spend the first leg of the car journey home discussing both succession planning and EDI in the series and in life. I should say in passing how much I enjoyed reading Fiona’s book, Management Lessons from Game of Thrones, which was both witty and wise, but also provided some references to anthropological business studies that I found very interesting from the perspective of my sociological academic interests.
I’ve never been to the Closing Ceremony before but I’m glad I did as I found it gave a satisfying sense of closure to the con. I felt emotional in a good way when Caroline said, ‘and now the conversation is ended…’ and passed on the baton to Farah. In some ways, of course, this closure was ignored by the Covid outbreakthat continued claiming people afterwards (including me). However, I don’t think it will be remembered chiefly for this, despite some debate on FB to this effect. Fwiw, I think some of the criticisms of the con’s covid policy in the immediate aftermath have been unfair. Possibly the policy could have been briefer and more concise. However, there is only so much you can do to mitigate the impact of areas shared with the general public. The main question is whether mask-wearing in programme items should be mandatory except for those on the panel or with exemptions. But, I think people at the con did on the whole behave responsibly; it was noticeable that many, even a majority, of those in programme items were wearing a mask on the Monday, at which point it had become clear that there was a Covid outbreak. Indeed, I think it was a well-run con in general. It had a good programme. I liked the hotel (much more than the Heathrow Radisson). The hybrid provision seemed really, really good. The mixed online and in-person panels worked well. I haven’t watched anything on catch upyet because I wanted to capture and process my impressions of the con first, but it is great that this facility exists.
Obligatory past Eastercon anecdote: 2023 is only the second time I have been to a second consecutive in-person Eastercon. The previous time was in 2011, when Eastercon was also in Birmingham at the same hotel (I think). I could only get there on the Sunday and my recollections are hazy beyond buying some books, seeing a panel with Ian Whates and Sophia McDougall on, and then (unrelatedly to the panel I think) feeling extremely unwell. My only really vivid memory was stumbling into the lift, with cold sweat pouring off my forehead, and staring glass-eyed at a guy wearing shorts who had shaved legs and black-painted toenails and must have thought I was horrified at the sight of him, but I was using every remaining fibre of conscious control in my body not to projectile vomit over him and everyone else in the lift. Fortunately, I made it to my room, vomited violently and copiously into the toilet grabbed a glass of water and collapsed onto the bed. However, some bizarre reflex caused me to turn on the TV on the way past it to the bed. And so that is how I came to spend just about the worst hour and a half or so of my life unable to move, suffering an excruciating headache and waves of nausea, with a Top Gear special swimming in and out of my consciousness. Talk about aversion therapy! I didn’t go to another Eastercon until Manchester in 2016. But, this time, I hope to be back again in 2024.
As for The Fan/Academic Binary… somewhere along the line, I seem to have got over it. Normally when I hear the ‘A’ word I think of it as being negative but at this con I actually heard it being used positively (shout out to Liz Batty discussing the Overshoot panel on the Octothorpe podcast – could there be such a thing as an Octothorpe Overshoot I wonder). It’s exhilarating to write about fiction in SF reviews rather than frame it as a means of explicating a particular theory (as often does happen in academic discourse) but it’s also fun to switch between the codes as long as that may be done voluntarily. I end this wishing I could write more (novella-length is in reach, and I could have self-pubbed this on kindle as speculative criticism). Indeed, there was going to be more about not only queer theory and performativity but also John Clute’s Pardon this Intrusion, which, although I failed to review it, did come on the academic conference circuit with me, as I took care to quote it in a succession of academic papers. Maybe there’s still time to write all these unwritten projects and reenchant the past. Because the simple truth is that there is no more a fan/academic binary than there is a gender binary. And the further you go down that path of realisation, the bigger it gets …
(N.B. This is meant to be impressionistic rather than 100% accurate reportage but obviously if I have got anything wrong, let me know and I’ll correct it).
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