cupidsbow (cupidsbow) wrote,

Swancon Academic Stream

Here are my notes on several papers from the Academic Stream and some other thinky panels.

"Applied SF: Using SF in the Real World" by Karl Schroeder
This was a discussion of foresight analysis and how it differs from the kind of extrapolation we do in SF. To simplify: in SF, the author tends to choose one major idea and then extrapolate a future (or past in Alt History) from it, and sometimes handwaves away pesky competing pressures in the real world in order to do so. Foresight analysis is extrapolating several different futures by considering the best and worst case scenarios arising from several different social or technological drivers.

This is the framework Karl uses:

  1. Brainstorm the drivers in the field you're looking at, with a group of stakeholders to help you (policy makers, historians, scientists, activists, industry experts, floor staff, corporate lawyers etc).

  2. Decide on a short list of the most important driving factors in that field. In the table below I've used two, but you can expand it out to more.

  3. Divide the driving factors up into every combination of best and worst case scenarios. If it helps, think of these two factors as something like 1) anti-pollution laws, and 2) the issue of developing countries minimising their green efforts.

    Factor 1 strong; Factor 2 weak Factor 1 strong; Factor 2 strong
    Factor 1 weak; Factor 2 weakFactor 1 weak; Factor 2 strong

  4. Split your stakeholders into as many teams as you have scenarios, and get them to brainstorm the future that would arise with those driving factors in that combination. You need a mix of policy makers, idealists, industry experts, workers etc in each group for this to work.

    Note: This process can't predict the Black Swan factor. The fascinating example Karl gave was, "Cure for aging". It can't be reasonably predicted given current science, but would change everything.

  5. Once the future has been defined, the team backcasts: if the world looks like this in 20 years, then what are the key milestones that must happen to reach it? Create a speculative timeline.

  6. The foresight analyst then looks over the timelines and informs policy makers etc about what signals to look out for, and what those milestone are likely to lead to.

  7. This means policy makers, investors etc can make decisions about the future which aren't entirely arbitrary.

    The panel then turned into a general discussion. One person in the audience said there was a website which showed trends in development in different countries, but I went and googled it and couldn't find it. It was called something like PathFinderWorld or PathMinderWorld. Anyone know of it?

All up, I found this fascinating. I can easily see running this as a workshop in the future, and I think it would be a heap of fun.

"Out of Egypt: The Palimpsest of Speculative and Other Fiction(s) in Carole McDonnell's Wind Follower" by Sylvia Kelso.

This was an interesting paper looking at the layers of meaning in McDonnell's text, and the way those meanings intersect with genre, history, ideology, and sexualities. I wish I could write more about it, but I had real trouble following it. Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because Sylvia is a very fast speaker; ironically, I found her paper rather like a palimpsest of itself -- many fascinating traces of meaning overlaying each other so quickly I couldn't really catch more than fragments of them. I'll be very interested to read this as a published paper. Oh, wait... it's just occurred to me that maybe she did that on purpose, given the paper's theme? Fascinating.

"The Racial 'Other' in Science Fiction" by Kandace Horton. A new researcher, who gave a competent and interesting paper. It covered the basic ground of the topic well, but didn't go anywhere startlingly new. Someone to watch our for at future cons.

"Proto-Fandom in Western Australia: Fandom Before Swancon 1" by Grant Stone, was presented in Grant's inimitable style. The ephemeral fanwork traces of the 50s -- primarily in fanzines -- are so tantalising, and give a glimpse into a whole other world. It turns out WA was a hotbed of SF activity right from the start of fandom. Cool.

"Stargate SG1: Two True Pairings" by Brita Hansen, was an absolutely fascinating quantitative analysis of the holdings in the main SG1 fanfiction archives: Area 52 and Heliopolis. The paper went on to do a case study of stories, comparing the way slash authors and het authors write about the same themes. To wildly simplify, slash tends to be more morally complex (which doesn't mean it's *better*, just that it doesn't follow the archetypical romance arc as unproblematically, and includes more shades of grey). I cannot wait to read the paper for this one! It was really good stuff.

Then there was the plenary session I mentioned in my general post: "I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff: The Future of Science Fiction Fandom". In short, the chair had picked panelist who disagreed, and we duly did. :) I said the future of fandom was Web 2.0 and multiplicity, and Nico said that fandom's heyday was over because the focus wasn't on the Literature anymore. Ken Macleod contributed a diagram which melded the two schools of thought, and here's my attempt at reproducing it.

To explain (if I remember correctly -- I stupidly didn't write it down): Look at the little asteroid first. Traditional literary SF fandom is at the hub, but is also very small. Next layer is made up of the people who read some SF, but also engage with other types of SF-related work -- fanzines, essays, manga, histories, slipstream, etc, plus those who go to lit-focused cons. And after that are people who probably don't identify as "fans" -- they read SF, but not exclusively, and don't do any fanac. This little asteroid of traditional fandom now intersects with the gas giant that is media fandom. Of course, the gas giant will have it's own internal rings too (LJ, fanfiction writers, vidders, media-cons, and the various fandoms: anime, bandom, Staw Wars, etc etc.).

The schema isn't perfect, because real people don't necessarily stay in place: I began in the centre of the asteroid and steadily moved out towards the gas giant, but I haven't stopped engaging with any of those earlier interests. I like the schema as a kind of shorthand, though. Thanks, Ken.

And that was Saturday (apart from my paper, which I'll post about later).

"Locating SF: Its Time and Relative Dimensions in Space" by Andrew Milner. Of all the papers I saw, this was the star. Have an abstract:
Despite appearances, this paper is not about Dr Who. Rather it asks three main questions: 1) what was science fiction? ie. its relative dimensions; 2) when was science fiction? ie. its time; and 3) where was science fiction? ie. its space.

Is that not the most laudably concise abstract you've ever seen? Well, the whole paper was equally to the point and interesting.

Andrew started by talking about the influence of Darko Suvin, whose definition of SF is still commonly used in teaching. You can find his definitions here, but the most important bit is "estrangement and cognition" which are incredibly helpful tools when helping new students find ways of engaging critically with SF texts. However, what Andrew then did was look at when these ideas were articulated and what effect they had: they were part of a deliberate strategy to make SF acceptable to the academy. As such, academics in the field owe them a debt. But then Andrew asks the next question: are they good definitions for the genre (as opposed to the legitimacy of its study) and the answer he comes to is, no.

This answer is founded primarily on the work of two others:

  • Raymond Williams' Marxism and Literature, Marxist Introductions Series, London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Franco Moretti's An Atlas of the European Novel 1800-1900, London & New York, Verso, 1998.

I haven't read either of these, but they both sound like perfect matches for two papers on genre and copyright that I'm working on at the moment. Talk about synchronicity. But as I haven't read them, I can only give the sketchiest outline of the points Andrew was making.

Basically, Williams' work takes a different approach to genre classification than Suvin's, and one that actually works better in terms of the texts it includes and excludes. For a start, Williams doesn't have the same obsession with legitimacy, and hence the utopia. Additionally, one of Williams' ideas is "the structure of feeling" which, if I'm understanding correctly, is something like the zeitgeist... the way we interact with texts during the age in which they're made, and which plays a big part in the mutation of generic forms.

Andrew went on to point out that Moretti uses a quantitative and historical analysis of SF to demonstrate that it began and was most influential in France and England. Following on from that, the American take on the genre must be the novum, the new moment and/or form. So you can see, even in this sketchy outline, how the work of Williams and Moretti are complimentary: they are both talking about how SF changes over time.

I note that both Williams and Moretti are Marxist scholars, and that's a field I'm woefully under-read in, so I think I need to do some more work in this area.

Anyway, I can't do justice to Andrew's paper -- it was vibrant and thoughtful and chock to the brim with interesting ideas about the history of SF theory. Keep your eyes open for this paper; it's going to be worth your time.

It was a fabulous Academic Stream, and all the co-ordinators should be very pleased with how it turned out. *applauds*
Tags: acafandom, fandom, ideas, lectures, swancon
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