Archipelacon Academic Track: Abstracts for the talks

 

Caroline Bassett
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies / Sussex University
Speculative Fiction and the Late Digital

The contemporary intersection between theory and praxis of techno-culture is articulated in speculative fiction/SF and associated writing that finds some of its force through genre-based claims of a relationship to ‘real science’ – which latter might inform or make more credible (‘more real’) the futures or presents it presents. But how can the fictional subjectivities developed in techno-cultural literatures of various kinds (which may or may not seek that kind of relation, or read cognitive estrangement in this way) be understood in relation to what is being termed the post-digital?

This is a present in which the digital increasingly does not indicate the future, but rather designates a contemporary form of life in which the future is, if not foreclosed, then no longer presumed to be re-opened through continuously disruptive digital technologies, in which technology, saturating and suturing life, operates rather than innovates and looks back, or delves jackdaw-like in the junk stores of the past, for nostalgic media-machines, that can materialize its disavowed fetish object, technology, as much as seeks to look forward?

Post digital thinking intersects uneasily with utopian/dystopian traditions within SF/Speculative fiction although it might be said to resonate a certain anti-computing current evident in relatively recent writings. This resonance/dissonance is explored in a paper that looks at the post-digital, not through works focusing on the retro-fantastic (i.e. steampunk as a successor to cyberpunk), but rather through a consideration of aspects of Eggers’ The Circle, Smythe’s The Explorer, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Mieville’s Embassytown. All are loosely speaking anti-computing, but non conform to the post digital injunction to set aside, not only technologically made futures, but the kinds of speculative questions that open the horizons of the present. In some sense or other all are writings that, if they are post-digital nonetheless retain an engagement with issues of technology and utopia/dystopia. They may in this sense be understood in terms of Late Digital.

 

Stefan Ekman
University of Gothenburg
Read the Map, Understand the World

What can we learn from a fantasy map? In my paper, I will discuss how a close-reading of a map from a children’s/YA fantasy novel can reveal not only the geographical structure of the fictive world, but also provide a broader understanding of how that world is constructed historically, politically, and ideologically. My primary case will be Ben McSweeney’s map in Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist. This is a map of an alternate North America in which the United States are replaced by the United Isles, a collection of some sixty islands. Taking as my point of departure Denis Wood’s observation that every map has an author, a subject, and a theme (Wood 1993), I will close-read the United Isles map and discuss what the map tells the reader about the literary world – indeed, how much can be said about Sanderson’s world already before the reading starts.

Any close-reading of fantasy maps requires that the interplay between text and map is taken into account. My examination of the United Isles map will treat the map as primary, referring to the text for confirmation, falsification, or rectification of the initial reading. To fully grasp said interplay, McSweeney’s map should be understood as a doceme (Lund 2007), a constituent part of the greater document, rather than as a paratext (Genette 1997) that provides a threshold between reader and secondary world.

The United Isles map is well suited for a discussion of historical and (post-)colonial  issues, and that theme will be delved into more thoroughly, demonstrating how such a theme can be encoded in maps. Contrast will be provided with superficially similar maps from other fantasy works. My aim is twofold: to demonstrate how a fantasy map can be read to provide insights into the world and the work; and to provide tools for such a reading.

 

Anna-Leena Harinen
University of Eastern Finland
The Adaptation of Characters in Game of Thrones: Tyrion and Jaime Lannister

In my doctoral thesis I am examining the adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (1996–) fantasy novel series into the HBO series Game of Thrones (2011–). In this paper I am concentrating on characters and their adaptation. I have chosen two focal characters for closer investigation: Tyrion Lannister and Jaime Lannister. Many fantasy novels rely greatly on characters, and A Song of Ice and Fire is not an exception. Martin has introduced tens or even hundreds of characters to his readers so far, and not nearly all of them are adapted to television. The Lannister brothers, nevertheless, are important characters both in the novels and in the TV series.

“Character” has been a much debated topic in the study of literature. In adaptation studies character has not been analyzed in such depth as for example the adaptation of story and events. This paper, however, emerges from a point of view that acknowledges the existence of such construction and the value of character as a subject of research. In the beginning of the paper I will clarify how I view the concept of character, and what kind of tools I will use in analyzing them. The paper’s main goal is to elaborate what aspects should be considered when adapting characters from one medium to another, and how the adaptors of A Song of Ice and Fire have dealt with these challenges. I aim to explore how characters are treated during an adaptation process, and what exactly gets adapted when adapting characters.

First, I am examining Tyrion’s character, and how “the novel Tyrion” differs from “the TV Tyrion”. In Tyrion’s case, the main emphasis is on the role of character focalization. The novels are narrated entirely from the different perspectives of various point of view characters, and here I aim to explore, how character focalization has been adapted from novel to television, and what kind of an effect it has on the construction of characters. After this, I will move on to the older brother Jaime. In his case, I will also examine the differences between the construction and portrayal of “the novel Jaime” and “the TV Jaime”. Jaime’s character goes through some major changes as the story goes on, and therefore readers have to modify their judgments concerning Jaime’s character. To analyze this development, I will seek help from James Phelan and his theory about mimetic, thematic and synthetic nature of characters.

 

Aleksi Kauppila
Independent scholar
Cynical Dystopia, Humanity and Utopia: Religion in The Year of the Flood

In analysing Margaret Atwood’s novel The Year of the Flood (2009), I am above all interested in its representation of religious faith in a dystopian society. The religious faith (including doubt) of the novel’s protagonists and the fictional sect “God’s Gardeners” is the thematic means by which a crucial, interesting conflict inherent in dystopian fiction is approached in Atwood’s novel.

The conflict I am referring to is the dynamic between dystopian pessimism in general and any possible optimistic or humane representation of human beings within a dystopia. The metanarrative of dystopian development, of a “fallen” humanity, constrains, to a certain extent, the possibilities of depicting humanity and human society, especially its positive aspects.  Consequently, the humane representation of characters and their survival strategies, for example, conflicts with the representation of society as a whole.

In The Year of the Flood, I am interested in the treatment of this conflict, especially due to Atwood’s humane depiction of her protagonists. My focus is specifically on the theme of religion and the way in which it is represented in the novel, however. It seems to be an important survival strategy for the protagonists, and the way that religious homilies and hymns structure the entire novel underline its importance in the novel’s handling of dystopia. Religion supports and keeps together both the characters and the narrative form, and my aim is to examine the meaning of religion for each of these, as well as its coherence in view of the conflict I refer to above.

The coherence is questioned by the overall ambivalence of the sect in the novel. The sect is inherently contradictory (”primitive” yet reliant on technology) in its activities, which is introduced in the narrative over the course of the gradual realisations by the protagonists in their advancement in the sect’s (loose) hierarchy. The narration progresses in analepses, and the foundations and the operation of the sect, as well as its creed, are disclosed only gradually. As every new titled chapter begins with a homily or a sermon and an excerpt from the sect’s “oral hymnbook,” impressions of the religion change considerably as the novel progresses.

This formal structure, which gives weight to the uninterrupted and unfocalised ‘gospel’ of the sect, suggests for example something of the faith’s constancy, yet it is undermined by, among other things, the ending where the speaker of the sermons meets the “waterless flood” which he has awaited. The initial image of the naivety of its teachings is also on the one hand subverted by the disclosure of the sect’s scientific fluency, and nevertheless darkly accentuated by the sect’s awareness of the same “flood,” the manufactured pestilence – the thematic shadow of which is carried over from the novel Oryx and Crake (2003). It is this ambivalence on several levels that is the basis of my interest and critical focus in the novel.

 

Katja Kontturi
University of Jyväskylä
From Dream to Reality – Fantastic Narrative Methods in Don Rosa’s ”The Dream of a Lifetime”

In his essay “On Fairy-Stories”, J. R. R. Tolkien denied the concept of dream fantasy because it “breaks” the reader’s belief in the secondary world thus breaking the spell of fantasy (Tolkien 2002, 55). Especially in the children’s fantasy, dream has been used as a method of safely returning the protagonists home from their fantastic adventures. This was also noted by Maria Nikolajeva (1988, 81), who has been studied children’s fantasy literature.

This paper, intended to be developed to an full article, deals with dream fantasy presented in the comic “The Dream of a Lifetime” by American comic artist Don Rosa (1951- ). Rosa is a noted Disney artist who during his career (1987-2006) created a life story and background for Scrooge McDuck (The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck) and developed the narration of the Disney comics by combining different fantasy worlds with postmodern narrative methods including mixing historical facts and fiction.

Rosa uses the motif of dream in a quite different manner than in the traditional children’s fantasy tales. In Rosa’s comic, the Beagle Boys and Donald Duck enter the dream of Scrooge. Dream forms a separate fantasy world that is accessible by mind only with the help of a so-called brain-scanner by the inventor Gyro Gearloose. As Donald tries to get the Beagle Boys out of his uncle’s dream, Rosa takes the characters through Scrooge’s youth adventures which form the constantly and irrationally changing world of dreaming.

This paper studies the different comics’ narrative methods of Don Rosa and how these methods can be interpreted as depicting fantasy. Rosa uses the panel-to-panel transition described by comics researcher Scott McCloud (1993, 70) to show the readers the transitions between both the primary world and the secondary dream world as well as the transitions between the dreams. The difference between the primary and the secondary world becomes visible with the panel frame borders that Rosa draws wavy when the characters are in the dream world.

My aim is also to show how the world of dreaming is controlled by Scrooge, its creator. There are three different catalysts that change the nature of the dream thus changing the fantasy world altogether. These changes are shown with the help of panel-to-panel transitions. In addition, Scrooge’s presence nearby is vital for the dream world to keep intact. Whenever Donald or the Beagle Boys are left behind, the dream world starts to vanish: the white gutter is “eating” the panels and expanding the white area on the page. According to comics scholar Jan Baetens (1991), crossing the panel’s frames is the metalepsis of the comics. This has also been studied by Karin Kukkonen, who argues that crossing the panel frames can be regarded as crossing the story world’s borders (2011b, 214-216). Even though Don Rosa doesn’t really use metalepsis in its original form and crossing the narrative levels hierarchically, he uses the metaleptic methods to describe the fantastic events in his comics. “The Dream of a Lifetime” is a perfect example of a comic that exploits the metaleptic methods in comic narration.

 

Kaisa Kortekallio
University of Helsinki
The Adaptive Generation: Symbiotic Evolution and Communal Subjectivity in Greg Bear’s Darwin’s Children

Mutant narratives often speculate on individual and societal transformations by means of the “next generation” trope. More often than not, mutant figures are children or teenagers, rebelling against their parents. The mutant figure has inspired and fueled transgressive identity politics and contested normative humanism – as exemplified by the recent discussion around the X-Men film adaptations. But what happens when the teenage mutants grow up?

In this paper, I take up a narrative that tames the potentially transgressive mutant figure and integrates it into human society. In Greg Bear’s novels Darwin’s Radio (1999) and Darwin’s Children (2003), human society is disrupted by the activation of an endogenous retrovirus called SHEVA. The activation leads to a global pandemic of fatal illness and miscarriages, followed by the birth of a generation of genetically altered children. From an early age on, the “virus children” can communicate using a broad range of sounds, facial expressions and scents. In Darwin’s Children, these abilities give rise to a distinct Shevite culture, depicted as highly communal and nonviolent. Shevite groups develop collective forms of subjectivity, and create their own games and language. Despite their seemingly radical reconstruction of individual experience and social morality, the Shevites do not produce a significantly posthumanist model of either subjectivity or society.

Shevite subjectivity is constructed as both social and ecological. Bear’s novels utilize evolutionary theories that provide models for societal change in the novel. Lynn Margulis’ symbiogenetic theory of speciation and Stephen J. Gould’s punctuated equilibrium hypothesis are worked into an evolutionary narrative that enables radical ecological interaction without sacrificing the modern humanist episteme. The formation of individual perspectives within this system can be described both in terms of socialisation and of adaptation. In the fictional subjective experience of a Shevite teenager, this process means both coming to terms with her posthuman senses and accepting her status as a member of the panhuman family. In Darwin’s Children, the transformative potential of the “teenage mutant” trope is redirected to power up a conservative, soothingly humanist model of society.

 

Elise Kraatila
University of Tampere
A Fantastic Journey to Another Realities: Travelling Between Worlds as a Metaphor for Reading in The Unwritten Comic Series

In Mike Carey and Peter Gross’s comic series The Unwritten, the storyworld as a whole appears as collage of worlds of well-known works of fiction, such as Our Mutual Friend and Moby Dick, wherein those different fictional worlds take a form of distinct physical spaces. The protagonist Tommy Taylor travels into these worlds of fiction, through all kinds of magical portals and gadgets, mingles with famous literary characters and tries to figure out the relation between those fictional worlds and the one he himself sees as the reality. The comic series is thoroughly metafictional, full of intertextual references to classics of world literature as well as popular genre fiction, and it creates a fascinating master narrative of world as a combination of myriad stories.

In this paper I deal with Tom’s travels into aforementioned intertextual worlds of fiction as a concretization of the popular metaphor of reading as a journey into different realities. Using tropes and narrative devices typical for so called portal fantasy, The Unwritten presents works of fiction as material spaces, where the protagonist can literally step into – at the same time, however, maintaining that those material worlds are very much fictional creations, which Tom Taylor approaches from the position of a reader of fiction. Tom’s adventures in the worlds of fiction thus combine the material and metaphorical aspects of travelling across the boundaries between worlds. This sort of amalgamation of literal and figurative aspects of meaning in a narrative brings forth thematic questions about the relation between worlds and narratives, the nature of reality and storytelling as meaning-making, in a way that may well be a peculiar, even unique, quality of fantasy fiction.

The storyworlds of fiction presented as material spaces, as well as explicitly artificial constructions and products of storytelling, also create a strong link between contemporary fantasy fiction and the recently discussed poetics of fiction beyond postmodernism, wherein the themes of storytelling and world-constructing are dominant ones. This so called “narrative turn” in contemporary fiction is so far usually discussed in the context of stories which put an emphasis on the subjectivity of their characters – the material, concrete world constructions of fantasy fiction may, in my view, offer an important new point of view into the discussion about contemporary storytelling and its world-creating practices.

 

Jari Käkelä
University of Helsinki
From Multivac to Galaxia: Themes of Guardianship in Asimov’s Future History

This presentation examines how Asimov’s 1950s “Multivac” short stories develop the concept of guardianship of all humanity from his earlier Foundation and Robot stories – and how Asimov’s 1980s works can be seen as a reiteration of these ideas.

Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy reflects the spirit of the 1940s Golden Age as it proposes to solve the cycles of decline and fall of human civilization by a grand narrative of social engineering and guardianship. His early robot stories, on the other hand, draw their plotlines from the conflicts between the ultimately rational robots and their often faulty human users, but they also show the initially crude robots evolve into sophisticated guardians of the immediately present humans and beyond. Asimov’s 1980s novels connect these two fictional worlds and develop into an interconnected vision of Galaxia, a collective consciousness which encompasses all humanity and ensures both the survival of humankind as species while maximising the happiness of individual humans.

During the years 1955–1977, Asimov wrote a number of stories featuring Multivac, a fictional supercomputer which gradually evolves into a sentient being. While Asimov’s 1980s novels are sometimes seen as a change of course, this presentation argues that the developments in these novels are foreshadowed already in his 1950s Multivac stories. Lesser known than the Robot and Foundation series and not explicitly connected in terms of plot, these stories nevertheless employ similar themes and offer a bridge from Asimov’s early science fiction to the final iterations of the Robot-Foundation fictional world in his 1980s novels.

Regardless of being too much based on down-to-earth American pragmatism and engineering to openly seek for a utopia, many of Asimov’s stories still seek for “a better way of doing this” – as his mentor and Astounding Science Fiction magazine editor John W. Campbell saw the role of science fiction in the 1950s. While much of the Foundation series presents guardianship as something that must be employed behind the scenes and without the knowledge of the general public, Asimov’s 1980s novels signify a move toward a more open guardianship where individuals would come to understand that they are a part of a greater whole. As this presentation argues, already Asimov’s 1950s Multivac stories experiment with this idea of an open guardianship.

This paper forms a part of my PhD project in which I argue that the themes of guardianship, frontier expansionism and a sensibility to the workings of history are closely connected in Asimov’s work and that they are also symptomatic of the larger development of American science fiction from the 1930s to the 1950s.

 

Sanna Lehtonen
University of Jyväskylä
Child of Light Saved Me From Depression and Suicide”: Discourses of Childhood in Reviews of a Fairy-Tale Video Game

This paper investigates discourses of childhood and the ways in which writers position themselves towards those discourses in online reviews of the fairy-tale video game Child of Light (Ubisoft, 2014). Child of Light is a critically-acclaimed, well-selling indie video game building on a fairly conventional fairy-tale narrative about a young red-headed princess Aurora battling against the evil and darkness with a group of friends. The focus here is on discourses of childhood in the game reviews written mostly by adult male critics; not the audience that the family game is mainly marketed at. By drawing on the notion of intersectionality (e.g. Halberstam 2005, McCall 2005) and applying methods of feminist sociolinguistics and narrative analysis (Bucholtz 1999, Page 2012) childhood, here especially girlhood, and the reviewers’ positions towards discourses of childhood will be examined as shifting discursive constructs that are negotiated in relation to both hegemonic discourses of childhood and gender – circulating in and around fairy tales as a genre – as well as in relation to the norms of gaming industry and other reviewers. The data set consists of reviews published online in major English-language gaming journals and sites in 2014. I will argue that a fairy-tale narrative about a young girl’s coming-of-age seems to have a significant appeal among adult male gamers, some admiring the creative aspects of the artwork and story while others even finding therapeutic uses for the game. While this might seem unexpected – as a whole bulk of literacy and media studies indicate, boys and men in general are not particularly interested in stories featuring girls or women or in media franchise marketed at girls and women – I will suggest that these kind of responses seem to be part of a larger cultural phenomenon (including fan groups such as otakus and bronies) where it has become acceptable for (young) men to enjoy, appreciate and relate to fantastic/fairy-tale narratives featuring female heroes, marketed at young women.

 

Olli Lönnberg
University of Turku
– – Nice round-up dog. Very affectionate. I keep his bark button switched off”: The Human and the Non-Human in The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

This research takes a look at a novel by the British author Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods (2007). The novel is a four part story of a repeating world: the sections are unconnected in time and space, but they have a strong thematic and textual connection. The main themes of the novel include the relations between the human and the non-human and the ecological destruction brought forth by the human disregard. In the first section of the books the destruction comes in the form of a human caused climate change. The human race has an option to save itself by evacuating to the habitable planet called Planet Blue, but the attempt to modify the ecosystem of the planet more hospitable for human life goes terribly wrong. The second section is situated on Easter Island that is becoming rapidly inhabitable due to massive overuse of the limited resources. In the third and fourth sections the destruction has already happened in the form of a nuclear war.

The events in the novel are analyzed from the perspective of the ecocriticism and the posthuman studies. The human subjects that do not identify as a part of nature and have no connection with the non-human animals are on the center stage in the worlds depicted by the novel. In my research I’m analyzing the effects of this kind of an anthropocentric world view. I’m using the ideas of Félix Guattari presented in his essay “Les Trois écologies” (1989) and developed further by Jane Bennett on Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. I’m also taking a look at the few human-animal relations in the book from the perspective of companion species presented by Donna Haraway The Companion Species Manifesto.

In my research I’m outlining the idea that the antropocentric world view is in the center of the apocalypses brought forth in all three worlds depicted in the novel. I’m formulating an idea that even though we as a human species are becoming more and more technological beings in both bodily and cognitive sense, we cannot – and must not – separate ourselves from the non-human animals and view ourselves as solely cultural beings with the nature around us as passive “environment”. I’m also sketching a view that non-human animals around us are vital for our thinking: the situation where there is no real inter-species communication, only our own reflections in robotic reprentations of the non-human animals, we are falling short in our attempts to understand ourselves and the world around us.

 

Farah Mendlesohn
Anglia Ruskin University
Experiment, Emergence and Development of the Science Fiction and Fantastical Short Story.

This paper will argue that while the science fiction plot is a fragile thing, frequently reliant on other genres, there are very distinct sf story structures which emerge rather early in the form; and that the history of the sf and fantastical short story is one of experiment with form ever bit as much as it is a history of experiment with idea.

The paper will consider short stories from before the magazines through the hack work of the 1930s, the formal innovation of the New Wave and New Weird movements, and into the present.

 

Cheryl Morgan
Independent scholar
Hell Is Other People: Gender Issues and Reader Response in Neil Gaiman’s “A Game of You”

The fifth collection of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series comprises the story, “A Game of You”, which features one of the first prominent trans characters in mainstream comics. The book uses fantasy themes to examine how trans people are treated by society and to speculate on their true nature.

Gaiman had several trans friends at the time he wrote it, some of whom advised on the characterisation. Some of the issues addressed in it are still very relevant today, such as the recent cases of Jennifer Gable and Leelah Alcorn. Gaiman has been vocal in his support for trans rights in person and on social media. Nevertheless, reaction to the book by the trans community has in many cases been extremely negative. The book is cited as proof that, whatever he might say in public, Gaiman is actually deeply transphobic.

In this paper I intend to look at the following:

  1. How the book is read by older trans people, particularly those who know Gaiman;
  2. How the book is being reader by (mostly younger) trans people who find it transphobic;
  3. How issues of historical context and reader identification with characters have informed these readings.

I will be presenting my own reading of the book, and analysis various online critiques of it. I also intend to talk to Gaiman himself, and to Roz Kaveney who is one of the people who advised him on writing it (and is listed in the acknowledgements in the afterword).

For historical context I will refer to personal experience and my own work on the representation of trans characters in mainstream comics.

Finally I intend to look at how reader response to a work can be critically coloured by that reader’s choice of character to identify with, in particular when that character and the reader share specific and unusual life experiences.

 

Jerry Määttä
Uppsala University
The Future in Ruins: The Uses of Derelict Buildings and Monuments in Post-Apocalyptic Science Fiction

Science fiction has an uncanny ability to stress the fact that our fluid present is incessantly and inevitably congealing into the history of the future. Nowhere, perhaps, is this as evident as in its depictions of derelict buildings and ruined cityscapes, where both famous monuments and ordinary buildings, once full of life, have been abandoned and left to their own fate.

Scenes of overgrown ruins have, of course, been popular long before science fiction emerged as a genre of its own, and were especially admired during the Romantic period, where they not only functioned as social markers of a family’s rich and long heritage (and were cherished to the point that many families chose to erect new ruins in their gardens!), but also acted as reminders of the passing time and the ultimate futility of all human endeavours.

In post-apocalyptic science fiction, however, ruined buildings often serve a slightly different purpose, as the ruins depicted are often of the very symbols of our modern age, from famous skyscrapers, bridges, statues and monuments to modern apartment buildings and infrastructure. Depictions of buildings that have fallen into disrepair – be it due to abandonment, fire, floods, the onset of nature or even nuclear warfare – have long been a staple of post-apocalyptic narratives. These recurring scenes, often taking place in (once) important cities, usually rely on a paradoxical lure, oscillating between melancholy meditations on the transience of all things and taking a relish in the slow decay and deterioration of the last traces of contemporary Western civilisation.

The aim of this paper is to discuss the use of ruins in a handful of modern British and American post-apocalyptic disaster narratives (in film and literature), ranging from John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951), J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962), and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), with its film adaptation (2009). From questions such as what function they serve in these narratives to how they are described, this paper delves into the ruins of the future in order to examine their purpose in our recent past. Are these imaginary ruins just used for illustrating, and perhaps even indulging in, the inevitable decay of everything we usually take for granted, or are there in fact major variations in the functions and depictions of our ruined futures, depending on, for instance, the contemporary contexts and plots of the various stories in which they figure? What features of the ruins are usually focussed on in their depictions, and are they really only a means for melancholy contemplation – or might there be examples where ruins are used to highlight the possibilities of the future?

 

Billy O’Shea
Independent scholar
The Journey North: The Significance of the Nordic Lands in English-language Science Fiction and Fantasy

I will hold a short talk on the symbolic significance of the Nordic countries in English-language fantastic literature, and explore the idea of how the north, in the Anglo-Saxon imagination, can be seen as a place of danger and even evil, but also as one that is full of magic. This ties in with the idea of borderlands where the rules of reality break down.

I will focus especially on the aspect of the hero’s journey that takes him or her into the realm of the ice worlds.

I will illustrate this with special reference to the works The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin and Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, with brief mention of works by other science fiction and fantasy writers of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

 

Emil Hjörvar Petersen
Independent scholar
A Hope for Healing: The Fantastic and the Mythic in the Post-Apocalyptic

A maze of dilapidated houses, dangers lurking around every corner, tribal civilizations, crumbled technology, famine, rationing, scavenging, polluted water — this is what we think of when we hear about the post-apocalyptic; concepts that usually describe hopelessness. However, many of the stories that are considered post-apocalyptic are not about a vain struggle in a hopeless world. The stories often take place after the end, the worst has already happened, and, usually, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The post-apocalyptic is about new beginnings and in many of the stories the hope is connected to fantastical and mythic symbolism and references. Even the concept of the apocalypse itself is a myth. It has become “part of a mythology about endings that hovers in the cultural background and is just as real and influential as our myths of origins” (Elizabeth K. Rosen, 2008, p. 7).

In his essay, “On Fairy-Stories”, Tolkien stresses the endings in fairy-stories/fantasy, describing aspects of the endings as a eucatastrophe, i.e. a good catastrophe or a sudden joyous turn: an event that happens in a fantasy at a point when everything looks lost, but with sudden turn for the better (p. 68-69). For instance, in The Lord of the Rings, the Ring is destroyed just when Aragorn’s army is to be overwhelmed, and in The Hobbit, the giant eagles join the final battle. The effect of the eucatastrophe is joy or consolation, as long as it denies a universal defeat. It extends hope, and it is not only the joy of a happy ending, but of an ending that snatches triumph from the jaws of defeat.

This is not the case with post-apocalyptic stories. In them, the narrative is working its way through constant dyscatastrophes. Tolkien says that dyscatastrophe is always a possible result of the course of events in fantasy, and without out that possibility, there can be no eucatastrophe. Brian Attebery underlines this: “much fantasy does not have what we would call a ʽhappy endingʼ. Indeed, the fantasist often seems to start with the idea of such a resolution and then to qualify it, finding every hidden cost in the victory” (1992, p. 15). In the post-apocalyptic that cost has become meaningless, since so much has been lost. There can be no eucatastrophe, there can only be a new hope after a series of dyscatastrophes. The catastrophes set a new paradigm, putting struggle and misery in new contexts, making it a part of the journey toward the light. The healing, “what occurs after the worst has been experienced and defeated” (John Clute, 1999, p. 458) is what is sought after. The hope for that healing is what drives the narrative.

This paper focuses on post-apocalyptic narratives — in literature and other media — that are considered fantastic, and proposes that the fantastical and mythical elements that appear, whether they are prominent or part of an underlying symbolism, are strongly connected to the main trajectory of many of the narratives: a hope for healing.

 

Merja Polvinen
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
Metaphor and Cognition in Catherynne M. Valente’s “Silently and Very Fast”

In her essay “Why Robots Go Astray” Lisa Zunshine (2008) suggests that behind the perennial attraction of stories about rebellious robots lies a system of cognitive categorisation that is natural to humans, but which is bent and tickled by the idea of a robot. Because robots fall in between the categories of human (conscious, willful) and tool (built by humans and worked by humans), Zunshine suggests, these stories “tease in particularly felicitous ways our evolved cognitive adaptations for categorization” (53). Zunshine’s presentation of such cognitive categories assumes a degree of universality that should certainly be questioned, but her attempt at finding a way to talk about the uncanny objects of SF through the language of cognitive science and the philosophy of mind is an intriguing opening gambit in a burgeoning discussion between cognitive literary studies and SF scholarship.

This paper continues that discussion by presenting an analysis of the trope of the rebellious robot in Catherynne Valente’s story “Silently and Very Fast” (2011). Valente’s novella exemplifies the way SF can—in the process of constructing an imagined world—first render explicit and then query a cognitive or narrative commonplace. In this particular case that commonplace is—reflexively—the very existence of (and querying of) cognitive commonplaces in human thought and imagination.

On the basis of this analysis of Valente’s story, and in dialogue with Seo-Young Chu’s recent work on science-fictional representation, I examine the role of metaphorical and allegorical representation in SF, and try to clarify the relationship between Chu’s views and the current thinking about metaphor, allegory and the imagination in the cognitive sciences. What does it mean to say that the root of SF is “literalized figure of speech”? How does that help us in further discussing the specific features of the SF genre?

 

Juha Raipola
University of Tampere
”You are not in a place; the place is in you”: Insects as Uncanny Agencies in Leena Krohn’s Tainaron

Consisting of 30 letters sent from a city of insects, Leena Krohn’s Tainaron: Mail from Another City (1985, English translation 2004) is a dark fantasy novella with philosophical overtones. My presentation focuses upon the strange, partly anthropomorphized insect characters of the novella. While the characters and the landscape of the fantastical city are largely imbued with symbolic significance, the insects of Tainaron are actually not as fantastical as might be expected: in fact, they are mostly based on actually existing insect species. In my presentation, I argue that the insects, presented in the novella as both terrifying and fascinating in their local customs, are also representations of actual nonhuman agents and agencies of the natural world. As nonhuman and non-personal agents, the insect characters are uncanny figures associated with questions of life, death and perpetual change.

In Greek mythology, the city of Tainaron is known as the entrance to the underworld. With mythological and literary allusions, Tainaron constructs a philosophical framework through which the mysterious events of the insect city are to be observed. In this context, the insects are to be seen as agents change. Of all the living things, insects are often seen as the most alien in their habits and their physical appearances. As Petra Rehling (2013) argues, part of our ambivalent feelings toward insects can be explained by our strange relationship with the “insect world”: after our death, our bodies will become part of the insects’ alien geographies. In my presentation, I aim to portray Tainaron as a travelogue into this alien landscape, where the boundaries between natural and artificial, wild and cultivated and other animals and us are ultimately transcended.

 

Hanna-Riikka Roine
University of Tampere
Beyond the Frames of the Mundane: Making Sense of Identity in Contemporary Sf

My paper is connected to two broad topics in fiction studies: firstly, narrative and other modes of knowledge, and secondly, the poetics and aesthetics of science fiction. According to Jerome S. Bruner’s argument (1986), narrative is that mode of thought by which we make sense of people, their doings, and their interactions. In contrast with narrative are “paradigmatic” modes that are directed towards explaining the workings of the physical world. Bruner’s argument has carried a lot of weight with narratology, where it has been used together with the approaches conflating engagement with works of fiction with the reception of narrative (e.g. Herman 2009; the concept of storyworld).

As a result, engagement with works such as novels, films and television series and making sense of people and their interactions is equated. It has been stated, for example, that the “function of fiction” is abstraction and simulation of social experience (Mar & Oatley 2008) and that fiction is fundamentally about “autonomous intentional agents and their interactions” (Palmer 2004). The studies building on the theory of mind have argued that even media as different from each other as reality shows and novels both build their appeal around our ability, need, and desire to read minds in social contexts (Zunshine 2012).

In my opinion, concentrating solely on the narrative mode of thought does not present us a complete picture of the appeal of sf which, as Farah Mendlesohn (2003) has argued, is typically about our relationship to the world and the universe instead of the intricacies of inter-human relationships (and, one could add, of inner-human happenings). Ignoring other modes of knowledge and sense- making not only oversimplifies the workings of narrative in relation to other modes, but can, at its worst, lead to the categorisation of sf as weak or low genre of fiction, not capable of addressing any “meaningful” issues.

The key point of my paper is to look at the various modes through the question of how sf puts together larger, general theories and models with the specific, individual characters, sequences of events and locations. I argue that this combination is often used as a generic way of moving beyond the boundaries of the actual and the mundane. In this, I make use of Brian McHale’s (2010) suggestion of what is valuable in sf: the trying out or trying on of the idea in a “scale-model world”, the way sf builds a world to house its “what if”. My case studies represent contemporary sf  and its various ways of addressing the question of identity in relation to other modes and frames than the ones offered by narrative and inter-human, social interaction.

When it comes to different modes of thought and knowledge, sf is interesting as it can concretise and therefore reveal some aspects of these processes by literalising various metaphors or figures of speech, for example. My approach aims not only at surveying the (transmedial) strategies of engaging the user’s imagination to move beyond the mundane, but also at contributing to a fuller understanding of the appeal of fiction.

 

Anders Sandberg
Oxford University
Neural Chernobyl or Eternal Sunshine? Cognitive Enhancement in Science Fiction, Transhumanism and Bioethics

The idea that our minds can be improved using technological means has been discussed in fiction since at least H.G. Wells “The Food of the Gods” 1904, and as a real biomedical possibility at least since Lashley’s demonstration of memory enhancement in rodents using caffeine and strychnine in 1917. The debate about cognitive enhancement in bioethics picked up in the 1990s, influenced both by advances in neuroscience and the rising prominence of transhumanism. This paper seeks to track how fiction has contributed to the professional and public bioethics debate.

Surveying the literature shows a number of recurring themes. In stories where cognitive enhancement is the main plot point its negative or unexpected effects are usually the focus, often more due to the needs for drama than a reasoned skepticism against enhancement. In Daniel Keyes’ locus classicus “Flowers for Algernon” the aim is more to examine the social setting and alienation of the protagonist than enhancement per se. Many critical stories satirize the drives for enhancement, whether peer pressure, competition or perfectionism. A few stories directly questions the benefit of intelligence itself, such as Greg Egan’s short story “Eugene”, Vladlen Bakhnov’s “The Pill” or Lars Gustafsson’s “Det Sällsamma Djuret från Norr”; this links to the important bioethical question of what the instrumental value of cognition is. Being able to solve problems well might not be desirable if the ultimate problems are not worth solving.

Fewer enhancement-centered stories take the transformative power of intelligence truly seriously. This of course poses serious problems for the unenhanced writer; Vernor Vinge may be the clearest exponent of alternative ways around this problem. Writing about societies with numerous enhanced people rather than individual geniuses multiplies the basic writing problem tremendously: very few novels attempt to examine overall smarter worlds, despite their likelihood if cognitive enhancement becomes practical. Intelligence is often seen as a factor for the distribution of power, such as in Nancy Kress’ beggars trilogy or Ted Chiang’s “Understand”

Surveying the philosophical literature finds relatively few overt sf references, but plenty of thought experiments that are clearly based on a general shared fictional understanding. For instance, Derek Parfit’s seminal thought experiments on personal identity draws on an assumed familiarity with Star Trek transporter technology. Numerous bioethical papers involve standard perfect enhancers with no side effects but various levels of price and accessibility, using science fiction as an intuition pump to enliven thought experiments. However, motivating much of the bioethical discussion are popular concerns about the impact of enhancement on equality, parenthood, competition, the human condition and transhumanism – concerns that are clearly driven by the understanding visualized in fiction and vice versa.

In general, science fiction gives surprisingly little direct input to bioethics, but acts as a motivation for investigating the social and moral impact of cognitive enhancement. It is also a clear motivator and mode of expression for transhumanists and engineers who develop or argue for the technologies: it helps create an image of the future as not just a possibility but as a reality.

 

Esko Suoranta
Independent scholar
Protean Humanity in William Gibson’s The Peripheral

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, Victor Frankenstein is on an ill-fated quest to strip nature of its secrets. He views the mystery of life as the most fascinating problem a scientist can tackle and ultimately succeeds in bringing life to a

Creature whose capabilities are beyond his wildest dreams. Frankenstein is faced by a new reality that is both tremendum et fascinans — both frightening and fascinating to borrow Rudolf Otto’s phrase — as he realizes the repercussions of his success. To make a blatant simplification, Frankenstein is a story of the dangers of renegotiating the borders of life itself.

In my paper, I look into the protean nature of humanity, or posthumanity, in the two futures of William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral (2014). I argue that tremendum et fascinans experienced by Victor Frankenstein is not felt by Gibson’s characters, even if their worlds are inhabited by creatures akin to Victor’s — an artifical step or two ahead of the standard evolutionary curve. For them, technology has transformed what it is to be human in the first place, rendering the traditional limits of life and humanity obsolete.

The multitude of posthuman beings in the novel, from AIs to international celebrities passing through solid matter, represents different visions of what humanity may become should developments of our present day run their course as Gibson envisions. His two timelines also display how everyday existence and experience are redefined by technology, how the mundane is but a step away from being almost alien, made anew by human endeavor. This can be seen throughout the novel, for example, in the propensity of bodyintegrated communications and surveillance technology as well as the importance of different types of telepresence.

In my analysis I employ Paul Youngquist’s theory of cyberfiction, Tom Henthorne’s overview into Gibson’s themes and motifs, as well as views into posthumanity and technology by Scott Bukatman, John Christie, William S. Haney II, N. Katherine Hayles, and Lisa Yaszek.

 

Audrey Taylor
Anglia Ruskin University
The Chronotope and Genre Fiction

In this paper I intend to argue that Bakhtin’s theory of the chronotope is a useful way to examine genre literature. Bakhtin has been used a great deal in mimetic literary criticism, but less so in genre criticism. I think his theory of the chronotope (that every type of book has a time/place specific to it) may be usefully broadened to include genre literature. Focusing on fantasy literature, I will argue that there is a chronotope of the past. Briefly mentioning other disciplines (science fiction, I argue, has a grammar of the future), I will seek to begin to estimate whether this might be a useful distinction as well as a basis for beginning to examine time and place in fantasy texts. Using critics like Tom Shippey for science fiction, and Brian Attebery for fantasy, I intend to examine a few works of (arguably) fantasy like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Rhiannon Lassiter’s Ghost of a Chance in order to begin to discern whether the chronotope might be a useful genre distinction, as well as a helpful general theory for examining genre texts.

 

Emilia Uusitalo
University of Helsinki
What Does a Name Do in Literature?

I am working on my master’s thesis at the University of Helsinki in the department of Finnish, Finno-Ugric and Scandinavian languages and literature. My plan is to graduate this spring so I will be presenting my results while attending the seminar in hopes of finding ways to further my research in the future.  My research is based on the field of onomastic and it includes three Finnish fantasy series for young adults (Ilkka Auer’s “Lumen ja jään maa”, Anu Holopainen’s “Syysmaa” and Helena Waris’ “Pohjankontu”) as research objects. My main focus is in the function of the names used in these series, as literary characters and places are rarely named without a purpose. I am interested in analysing what other functions these literary names carry beyond identifying the character or the place.

I have divided the functions into three categories: names as world builders, names as a part of the interpretation of the novel and names as a part of the genre as a whole. There are more precise functions within these categories. For example, localising and describing function are part of the world building category. One name can have several functions in the text and some functions might work for more than one category, but I have divided the functions based on their main purpose in the texts.

Since all these novels are set in secondary worlds, names hold an important role in introducing a world unknown to the reader. It is possible to portray different national identities with different type of names, enabling the reader to recognise different national groups by their names. Individual characters or places can be described by their names or sobriquets. A name functions both as a part of the world or character building and as a part of the interpretation.

My main method on the functions of the names is based on characterisations introduced in the work of Ainiala, Saarelma and Sjöblom. Previous research considering name functions in Finnish onomastic field exists but none (including my main theoretical source) concentrates solely on functions.  In addition I am using Yvonne Bertills’s work on literary names in children’s literature as one of my primary theoretical sources.

 

Essi Varis
University of Jyväskylä
The Monster Analogy: Defining Fictional Characters across Media

All fictional characters are Frankenstein’s monsters: not human beings, but collections of mismatched bits and pieces stitched together to resemble human beings. This simple fact is, however, chronically forgotten, which is reflected in the near-complete lack of character research as well as in the familiar way both casual media consumers and academics talk about characters. On one level, sane adults should always be aware of the fictionality of fictional characters. Yet, the language they use when talking about characters tends to obscure this awareness. In my presentation, I demonstrate how Frankenstein’s monster is an excellent tool for finding the tricky theoretical questions hidden behind the oft-cited “obviousness” and illusory humanity of fictional characters.

The Frankenstein myth has been used to exemplify a host of (post)modern problems from genetic engineering and artificial intelligence to fear of otherness and workings of intertextuality. In the midst of all these associations, it is easy to forget that Frankenstein’s monster is also a poignant prototype of its own species; it is a fictional character and it is a fictional character in exceptionally explicit ways. Like Frankenstein’s monster, fictional characters in general are rarely independent, organic wholes. Rather, they made of polyphonic, often multimedial fragments of texts that sometimes fit together quite poorly. Like Frankenstein’s monster, characters are usually created “unnaturally”, by a lone genius. Like Frankenstein’s monster, characters are quick to escape the control of these genius creators, as they venture into the world of real people, who, in turn, are eager to interpret the character-monster from their own perspective. If these interpretations cumulate into something monstrous, the characters easily outgrow their makers. Especially today, in our very interconnected and commercial media environment, many a character develops into an international multimillion dollar brand that continues to inspire fan clubs when its considerably more mortal creator has been long forgotten. As a result, like Frankenstein’s monster, many other characters also become cultural icons, symbols of specific facets of human condition – much in the same way Frankenstein’s monster can be considered a symbol of characterness.

Drawing the analogy between the markedly “made” being of Frankenstein’s monster and fictional characters in general reminds us of the “made”, representational essence of fiction, even those parts of fiction that seem familiar, natural or even human. This does not severe the traditional analogy between characters and real people – or the monster and Frankenstein – but it is a necessary addition if we are to see characters’ dual nature; like Frankenstein’s monster, other fictional characters also reside in the space between human and inhuman, familiar and unfamiliar, “real” and representational. These all-important dichotomies seem to tangle as real people and characters alike are absorbed more and more deeply into more and more convergent and powerful media worlds. A clearer concept of character just might help in detangling these concepts again.

 

Essi Vatilo
University of Tampere
Cultivating Catastrophe: Artificial Intelligence and Social Criticism in Caprica and Battlestar Galactica

Artificial intelligence has many roles in science fiction: It reflects the creator’s responsibility and the pitfalls of playing God. It is also the other to humanity, both the mirror that reveals who we are and the monster that threatens our existence. The reimagined Battlestar Galactica universe explores all these aspects of artificial intelligence, but a wider social context can also be seen in the impact that the virtual world and the Cylons have on the fabric of society. So the question is not just “Who are we?” but also “How do we want to live?”

In Caprica, the presence of advanced information technology changes social structures, and therefore human life, even before the Cylons emerge. People embrace the escape into V-world, and as such it could be argued that society at large is complicit in creating the circumstances that enable the birth of AI. Both the possibility of this happening and its effects on society are the sum of a multitude of unrelated factors. Therefore, the full impact of AI is inherently unpredictable, and as it turns out, it is only a short step from holobands to fully fledged Cylons and an all out war. Meanwhile society is presented as passive in relation to the possible consequences that advanced technology might have. It is only in hindsight that people realise that something went wrong and even then it is difficult to know what to do about it and whose job it is to do it.

But why are people so ill-equipped to tackle the ethical questions involved? Why do people refuse to acknowledge that they are on a dangerous path? And why do they still shirk from the fact after the Cylon attack? Jean-Pierre Dupuy argues that traditional ethics is simply not up to the task of guiding us through such ethical dilemmas. This is in large part due to the uncertainty of outcomes, but the uncertainty is also what makes it more difficult to act when you cannot be sure which action leads to what outcome. The problem is that even participation counts as action. N. Kathrine Hayles says we are co-evolving with technology, and so are the people of the Twelve Colonies. There seems to be three choices involved: let the stream of development carry us, try to suppress it or make real choices about the directions we are taking. These stages are present in the television shows: first unthinking participation in the pleasures of new technology, then the suppression of Cylons and any related research and technology, and finally in the face of extinction making actual choices.

In the real world the speed of development obscures interactions and cumulative effects and makes it difficult to discern the key causes and points of no return. Dealing with these questions in the world of fiction allows the connections to be made clear. Although the big picture needs to be simplified in order to become understandable, this also reveals the underlying causes and society’s inability to react to them.

 

Nicholas Wanberg
Independent scholar
Concerning Races: Establishing Genre Conventions for the Potrayal of Intelligent Non-Humans in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium

Genres are inherently ideological, reproducing by their very conventions the structures of power which are used to uphold them. The premises and conventions of genres will restrict writers with regard to the types of things they can say, as well as the manner in which they can say them, so the way any particular group or individual is represented within a genre may often be a result of the inherited tradition of the genre itself rather than the actions or choices of any particular author. This is as true for literary genres as it is for other types. This paper examines the way in which J. R. R. Tolkien’s Legendarium, which established many of the precedents for the representation of certain types of intelligent non-humans (such as dwarves, elves and so forth) in the high fantasy genre, produced conventions that racialized these types of creatures and did so within the framework of contemporary racial notions. This should be distinguished from the use of parallels to contemporary portrayals of supposed human race groups, as well as from the presence of positive or negative portrayals of certain features associated with said groups (such as skin tone). These approaches, while interesting in their own right, have been the focus of a great deal of past scholarship, and they have largely been marked as offensive by changing social standards, while the strict racialization of intelligent non-humans more generally, distinct from clear parallels to real life cases of discrimination, has become mainstream. In particular, this paper examines ideas about racial determinism, miscegenation and spiritual-material hierarchies, which are strongly represented in the characterization of these groups within the works. It should be noted that this attempt to draw direct parallels to such portrayals and contemporary racial beliefs has already been attempted very recently by Dimitra Fimi, to great effect, and no attempt will be made to reproduce that work. Fimi’s work, however, neglected a great deal of material that was contemporary to Tolkien’s writing (likely on the natural assumption that since Tolkien was so vocal against the Nazi project, no parallels could be found there), thereby missing out on many reflections of beliefs specific to the interwar period, which omission necessarily requires updating some of the drawn conclusions. Scholars working in this field have not yet taken into account the establishing of this portrayal as a standard genre convention. While the way in which subsequent presentations of these creatures have been racialized has continued to evolve with changing ideas about race, their racialization has nonetheless become an accepted norm, such that it becomes difficult even to talk about “elves” in the traditional sense, without falling back on racial notions.

 

Mia Åkerfelt
Åbo Akademi University
Encounters with the Unknown: Extra-Terrestrial Architecture in Sci-Fi Movies 1902-2014

Since A Trip to the Moon premiered in 1902, moviemakers have showed their visions of extra-terrestrial worlds to their audiences. Architecture representing other worlds occurs frequently in sci-fi movies, and has been discussed from several perspectives in research. The sci-fi architecture has mainly been examined with focus on the existing buildings used as backdrops, how the buildings relate to certain architectural theorists’ productions or how concepts as the city or home have been presented. However, the depiction of the buildings in extra-terrestrial societies and what these representations can tell us of our own society has not been examined to a greater extent. In this case, the field of history of architecture and its methods for analysing built environments can contribute to the knowledge of what the alien architecture is intended to communicate to the spectator during certain periods of time.

The aim of this paper is to examine what the depiction of architecture on other planets in sci-fi movies can tell of contemporary ideas of the alien. Central question are what the architecture communicates, how the understanding of this differs between the set designers and the audience and how this duality contributes to the understanding of the unknown. The survey is based on roughly 150 sci-fi movies from between 1902 to 2014, in which there are scenes taking place on inhabited planets. The architecture is examined by architectural analysis in order to identify styles and references to historical or contemporary architectural expressions. The results are further analysed in relation to meanings and ideology in architecture and the ways they have been perceived by professionals and the general public. The relation between the sci-fi architecture, the professionals, the audiences and the western history of ideas is understood by using theories on performativity, movie- and social history.

It is possible to distinguish four main periods in the architectural history of the sci-fi movie. These have a clear connection to changes in the history of ideas and their expression in architecture. Until the 1950s, the unknown is represented by the artistic tradition begun during the renaissance, in which the aesthetics of the antiquities are used when depicting deities or the unknown. This was replaced by modernist aesthetics, which was highly admired by architects but disliked by the public. In the late 1970s, when the modernist movement deteriorated, the same happened to the sci-fi architecture which focused on decaying societies and ruins. At the moment, the latest change brings highly technological, neo-modernist architecture mixed with ornamentation from older architectural styles to the set design. The result show that the alien architecture in sci-fi movies mainly represents perceptions of the unknown in the contemporary society, instead of functioning as innovative visions of what other worlds look like. In using architectural expressions which the audience can connect to a collective understanding of the unknown, moviemakers project the fears of their time in order to create alien or even hostile environments.