The conference is free and open to all. If you wish to attend the morning sessions, please register within June 7 by sending an e-mail to Beate Trandem - firstname.lastname@example.org.
No registration is required for the evening sessions.
Thursday June 9
Morning session venue: Blindern, Georg Sverdrup's building, seminar room 2 (3rd floor)
09.45 Welcome & introduction: Helge Jordheim (University of Oslo)
Lecture Session 1 Convenor: Helge Jordheim
10.00 Andy Sawyer (University of Liverpool): 'Do you know, I’ve never understood the idea of setting fiction in the future.' : How and why we imagine a future world.
11.00 Paul March-Russell (University of Kent): M-Theory in the Novels of Justina Robson
Lecture Session 2 Convenor: Paul March-Russell
13.00 Suchitra Mathur (Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur): Indian Science Fiction: Trends and Possibilities
Paper Session 1 Chair: Suchitra Mathur
14.00 Adam Dodd (University of Oslo): The Fabrication of the Insect World
14.20 Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay (University of Oslo): Postcolonial fixes for the colonial hangover
15.00 End of morning session
Evening session venue: Litteraturhuset, Nedjma (3rd floor)
Friday June 10
Morning session venue: Blindern, Georg Sverdrup's building, seminar room 3 (3rd floor)
Lecture Session 3 Convenor: Andy Sawyer
10.00 Debraj Mookerjee (University of Delhi): The Frontier Myth in American Self-fashioning – Star Trek, a case study
11.00 Helge Jordheim (University of Oslo): The Fontenellian Moment – Towards A Comparative Semantics of Other Worlds, And This
Paper Session 2 Chair: Farah Mendlesohn
12.00 Hallvard Haug (Birkbeck, University of London): Narrative black holes: The technological singularity as unconstrained world-building
12.20 Margarida McMurry (University of Oslo): The role of Story in structuring Discworld
Lecture Session 4 Convenor: Debraj Mookerjee
14.00 Farah Mendlesohn (University of Middlesex): 'You got your realistically complex human beings in my xtian cons white male power fantasy! THE SKY IS FALLING!' (@nkjemisin:21/02/2011) Or why ethical and political considerations are central to good world building, not optional add ons.
15.00 Vote of thanks by Helge Jordheim
15.05 End of morning session
Evening session venue: Litteraturhuset, Nedjma (3rd floor)
Paul Andrew March-Russell: M-Theory in the Novels of Justina Robson
This paper looks at the science of M-Theory and its deployment in the science fiction of Justina Robson. M-Theory, the conception of the Universe as a membrane - as one of an infinity of thin, interlacing tissues, has received recent popularity (cf. Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku). The initial is often (mistakenly) taken to stand for 'multiverse', an earlier concept both in science - the 'Many Worlds' theory - and science fiction: Murray Leinster's 'Sidewise in Time' (1934) comfortably prefiguring Michael Moorcock's reinvention of the multiverse during the 1960s. M-Theory, which largely emerged from the work of superstring theorists such as Ed Witten, is effectively summarised in Robson's "Natural History" (2003). Here, the main plot device of advanced technology composed from human DNA is only the bridge towards the denouement - the absorption of humanity into evolved consciousnesses from higher dimensions. The failure of the Forged's revolution against humanity stems from their own anthropocentrism. Instead of exploring M-Theory itself, Robson uses it as a catalyst for her own anti-anthropocentric critique. In populating her higher dimensions with evolved beings, Robson not only evokes satirical texts such as Edwin Abbott's "Flatland" (1880) but also the cosmic history of Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker" (1937). In her most recent sequence of novels, the science content is even more tenuous - a Quantum Bomb that shatters the space-time continuum - but, again, Robson's invocation of M-Theory allows her to criticise the anthropocentrism of her human characters as her cyborg heroine moves through various layers of fantastical universe. Robson's fiction, then, provides an excellent case study in the relationship of science to science fiction: in an author's invocation of scientific theory and the uses to which it is put.
Suchitra Mathur: Indian Science Fiction: Trends and Possibilities
In this lecture, I propose to outline the contours of Indian science fiction with special focus on Indian science fiction written in English. Beginning with an historical sketch, which will necessarily entail some debate regarding the definition of ‘science fiction’ as a genre, I will first focus on the SF output in various Indian regional languages, especially Hindi, Bengali and Marathi – the three languages that appear to have the longest and most prolific science fiction traditions in India. Here I will draw on the work of selected SF writers who have had an enduring influence on Indian science fiction, such as Arvind Mishra (Hindi), Satyajit Ray (Bengali) and Jayant Narlikar (Marathi). During this overview, I will also attempt to trace the development of SF as a genre in India both in terms of its historical antecedents within literary traditions (both Indian and Western) as well as its intersections with the rise of modern science as a dominant discourse in India. The latter began during the colonial period – an historical circumstance that has had a profound impact on the nature and role of science in India (both before and after it gained political independence in 1947), and by extension, in Indian science fiction. One of the most enabling theoretical frameworks to grapple with the complexities of Indian science fiction, therefore, is Postcolonial Studies; consequently, in the latter half of my lecture, I will use this theoretical framework to present my analysis of Indian English science fiction.
As postcolonial science studies has shown, modern science is a colonial science both historically, in terms of its origin, and politically, in terms of its methodology and purpose. As such, it is deeply imbricated in the processes of imperial expansion. And science fiction, as a genre rooted in modern science, is thus implicitly complicit in colonial ideology insofar as it accepts the fundamental premises of modern science unquestioningly. Read against this background, Indian science fiction, especially contemporary Indian English science fiction, assumes significance as an exemplar of postcolonial science fiction, of a kind of science fiction that often challenges accepted parameters of this genre by boldly going where no Western science fiction has gone before. Starting with Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s “Sultana’s Dream” (1905), one of the earliest Indian works of SF in English, and coming to contemporary works by Amitav Ghosh, Kunal Basu, and Manjula Padmanabhan, Indian English science fiction has, I would claim, effectively bridged the ‘gap’ between ‘genre’ and ‘mainstream’ literature by using science fiction as a medium to engage with science not just as technology, but as a philosophy, as a discourse that fundamentally structures who we are and how we function in this world. In the process, these writers take science fiction beyond its recognisable tropes to explore exciting new vistas of possibilities. It is with this enabling and empowering speculative potential of Indian science fiction that I would like to conclude my lecture.
Andy Sawyer: 'Do you know, I’ve never understood the idea of setting fiction in the future.' : how and why we imagine a future world.
Science fiction operates by taking us into one (or more, depending on the complexity of the text) of a series of possible imaginary worlds: the future; the alien world; the virtual world; the parallel world. Here, I want to consider how one imaginary world: the “future” is constructed; and that (as the – genuine! – comment to me cited above suggests) those of us experienced in science fiction may perhaps overlook some of the problems it implies.
As a realm of literary exploration, the future is rarely entered before the late 18th century, and it is not, perhaps, until the apocalyptic “Last Man” fantasies of the Romantic poets collide with the more political speculations which fed into and drew upon the French Revolution, and possibilities arising from technological change that we get, in Western culture, the potential vocabulary for modern science fiction. There are numerous devices early writers use to bring us into the future; dream, a text “from” the future”, or time travel. The idea of a “realistic” story set in the future, told entirely from the viewpoint of characters in that future, is a remarkably late development. I want to raise some questions about this development by considering early stories where writers are trying to construct an idea of the future without the guiding example of something called “science fiction” (and in some way, therefore constructing it). I will end by contrasting a modern story where the idea of setting it in the future and giving the reader a sense of that future is not problematic at all, because we now have been "trained" to see stories in the future as something perfectly normal.
Farah Mendlesohn: 'You got your realistically complex human beings in my xtian cons white male power fantasy! THE SKY IS FALLING!' (@nkjemisin:21/02/2011) Or why ethical and political considerations are central to good world building, not optional add ons.
This talk will discuss the legacy of "worldbuilding" as a conceit in the craft of science fiction: what it means, what it has been understood to mean, and the ways in which the rhetorical and practical assumptions built up within the literary community have created political consequences and political arguments.
This paper seeks to examine the idea of the American frontier, its absorption into the domain of the popular (as a myth that is densely populated by representations for one or the other purpose), and its especial appropriation within the terrain of Sci-Fi, with an analysis of, and theorizing thereof, the original 1960s Star Trek series. It will be argued that the Star Trek series of the 1960s attempts to configure an alternate reality to a contemporary America that was falling apart at the seams, with deep divisions running all the way through society. The socio-political reality that this rift was born of directly challenged the very idea the nation was founded on, and generated widespread anxiety about the American Dream.
It is at this historical moment that the idea of the Frontier is recovered from the depths of dominant American consciousness and reinvigorated through popular culture to serve as a countervailing possibility to the malaise society presented. The world of the Star Trek series carefully attempts to create an alternative reality by recasting the existing ideology of power and its manifestation through the missions of the starship ‘Enterprise’, led by Captain James Kirk. In doing so, it also creates a system of social practices that posits an ideal borrowed heavily from the myth of the Frontier.
It is the intention of this presentation to critique the appropriation of the Frontier myth by the popular domain, especially science fiction. The ideological function that any reparative representation attempts thorough utopian diversion requires us to be vigilant. In the contemporary world of globalised mass cultural products, it is necessary to inaugurate academic enquiries into specific instances of the appropriation of national myths and their reification as popular cultural products. The paper will conclude by attempting to theorise this transference in the context of Star Trek.
Published in 1686, Bernhard de Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes was a tremendous success, appearing in 33 French editions in Fontenelle’s lifetime as well as a large number of translations, to English, German, Danish and Swedish. On the basis of these various editions, translations, remediations and reactions this paper wants to explore how a new semantics of worlds emerges across Western Europe, which implies not only a relativization of earth as one of an infinite number of inhabited planets, but also a relativization of man as one of an infinite number of intelligent species inhabiting these planets. In response to these processes of secularization and relativization a new concept of the world takes shape, in different ways in different languages, drawing on various semantic traditions and with a wide range of implications. In the course of the paper I will also raise the question to what extent this Fontenellian concept of the world, in its different linguistic and semiotic manifestations, which was at the same time anthropological and cosmological, became obsolete in the course of the 18th century and was replaced by a purely philosophical concept (Kant), on the one hand, and a purely astronomical (Bode), on the other.
Insects became subjects of dedicated study in Europe in the final quarter of the sixteenth century. Since this time, the field now known as entomology has developed a powerful set of representational conventions, literary and graphical, with which to formulate and communicate knowledge about insects, their habits, and their habitats. Central to modern understandings of insects is the term “insect world” – a curious hybrid of fantasy, science and fiction that ensures an ‘otherworldly’ status for insects in general. One of the earliest appearances of this term is found in Dru Drury’s Illustrations of Natural History (1770), and it reappears in a number of other texts in the late eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, with its surge in popular natural history and amateur microscopy, the term was appearing in countless books, increasingly illustrated with detailed plates, encouraging readers to embark on educational and edifying journeys into the strange, alien world of the insect.
In this paper, I trace the origins and effects of this enduring metaphor which, despite its ubiquity in scientific and popular discourse, has thus far been subject to very little critical scrutiny. I argue that “the insect world” must be understood as a metaphor, rather than as a clearly delineated ‘other’ space framed by spatio-temporal parameters. The employment and popularization of the term is explained in relation to its cultural context, and through reference to a number of entomological texts (scientific and popular) produced since the late eighteenth century. I doing so, I provide an overview of the term’s cultural history, its rhetorical functions, and conclude by suggesting some approaches to evaluating its importance as an arbiter of human-insect relations.
In 1993, computer scientist and science fiction writer Vernor Vinge he proposed that the rise of artificial intelligence would result in a change on such scale as to be comparable to the rise of life on Earth in the paper “The coming technological singularity.” Memorably, the abstract for the paper opens with the following: “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.”
One of the main aspects of the singularity is supposedly that, following its arrival, “all bets are off.” It takes its name from the event horizon of a black hole, where the laws of physics as we know them are no longer predictable. Vinge’s original paper set the conditions for the event coming to pass—an inevitability, in the techno-progressivist view—and equally, his proposals for what might happen following it have greatly shaped both ‘scientific’ and fictional accounts of it alike.
In this paper I will propose, however, that even though the singularity is presented as a viable, even inevitable event of the real world, it is actually a solution to a perceived problem with sf itself as a genre. Vinge laments the reduced ability he and his peers have had in later years in writing sf that seems plausible—the good ideas have either been used up or are too implausible to be considered ‘proper’ sf anymore. The solution is the singularity, which, as the telos of technological progressivism, has a narrative structure that opens up for new arenas of speculation in fiction and potentially legitimises even the wildest ideas. As such, the conditions for world-building in a strict sciencefictional setting is opened up completely. Similarly, the singularity provides both a vehicle and a legitimacy for futurist speculations; it is notably used by Ray Kurzweil to support his transhumanist ideology in The Singularity is Near.
In the paper, I will look at singularity-themed or related fiction, such as Greg Bear’s Blood Music, Vinge’s own A Fire Upon the Deep, Charles Stross’ Accelerando and possibly others.
Many fantasy alternative worlds are based on fairy-tale type of worlds. Alternative worlds usually have a well known foundation for them, common to our own reality and/or experience. Terry Pratchett's Discworld, which is also based on a fairy-tale type reality, differs from others in particular because it clearly states Story has its own role in the world-building structure and logic. In this paper I will explore how narrative is used in Pratchett to structure the Discworld, to make sense of experiences and characters and ultimately to understand Roundworld - supposedly our own world.
In this paper I examine the role of colonialism in science fiction world-building. I will focus on Hemendrakumar Roy’s Amaanushik Maanush (Overman/Inhuman Man), in particular on Roy’s creative utilization of the tropes of adventure fiction written during the colonial period in articulating a post-colonial and perhaps post national ethos.