The Power of Science Fiction

By Donna McCormack

Speculative and science fiction are filled with monsters. The latter range from delightful though intimidating seapersons from Nalo Hopkinson’s The New Moon’s Arms, in Larissa Lai’s Salt Fish Girl and in the amazing collection edited by Nisi Shawl New Suns to more uncertain monstrous manifestations in Hiromi Goto’s Hopeful Monsters, sessing in NK Jemisin’s trilogy and the delightfully sensuous vampiric Gilda from Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories. Many members of the Monster Network are fascinated by monsters and have a long-standing engagement with and passions for SF. So, we decided to do a podcast on it. 

We were due to meet in my kitchen in London prior to giving a keynote at a monster event at Roehampton University. Some couldn’t make the meeting because bodies and schedules get in the way, while others bumped into each unexpectedly and then as we came together in this kitchen we agreed we’d go ahead with the plan to talk about SF. Despite the cosy setting, the house kept interrupting the conversation as the electricity had short-circuited and we were awaiting an electrician, which resulted in the smoke alarm’s constant, slow beep… beep… beep… Sometimes a house wants to have its own say even if we maybe cannot adequately account for its form of communication. 

Ingvil Hellstrand has been working on and enjoying SF for more years than she wants me to reveal! Line Henriksen has been working with creepy pastas – digital SF – in her PhD which she is currently transforming into what is sure to be an amazingly disturbing and exciting monograph. And, me, I have lived and worked with ghosts, the border between the sensible and insensible, for as long as I can remember. I am fascinated by that which comes back to haunt us, especially through viscera. We wanted to talk about what we enjoy, what brings us pleasure, as well as that which disturbs us, makes us question what we assumed we knew as accepted knowledge, and that which helps us learn over and over again. 

If many imagine that SF is about the future, we never got round to talking about the future, mainly because one of the Monster Network members rang the door bell, interrupting our attempt to step into the future, to articulate what the future might mean to and in SF. We made no attempt to resume our discussion, but instead leave that open to listeners or to anyone who may want to enter into dialogue with us in the future on the future. 

We do talk about the past, about the role of the past in SF and questioned this assumption that because something looks more technologically advanced than today’s society that it must therefore be in the future. Indeed, we talked about how these re-imaginings help us rethink the past, rethink how time itself moves, and therefore what the present might be and become. We delved into time, discussing temporality and the issues around linearity and undoing such understandings, without lapsing into a hierarchy of any time. We also grapple with the apocalypse with mentions of what some of us see as exciting X-Men and also more recent reincarnations of the apocalypse, such as Rebecca Roanhorse’s duology (or will she publish a third one!?), which reinforces questions we might want to ask about whose apocalypse, which histories and who will survive what. 

Most of all, we discussed a broad range of texts, a field of research, that could be defined as SF because we all are in many ways immersed in the genre as it grows, changes and as older texts emerge as central to our thinking forcing us to rethink our canons.  

The Monster Network has been and continues to work on how to reimagine methods of analysing texts, including the textual of our existing worlds, and SF is one way in which we enjoy and critically engage such thinking. We hope you’ll enjoy the podcast! 



Monster Talks 6: The Power of Speculative Fiction


The monstrous and the wondrous often co-exist in speculative fiction and science fiction  – related genres and storytelling practices that allow for imagining otherwise. Working with the speculative, then, raises questions of what and how to imagine, and how things can be told, and from which location or position. What happens if stories are told from a non-human perspective, or from a different timeline? What kinds of monsters are invoked, and what is their significance? Whose world is at stake in the apocalypse? How might speculative and science fiction differ as the mainstream is increasingly challenged and exciting writing emerges from Black, Indigenous and people of colour authors? In this podcast we discuss the power of speculative and science fiction, and what it offers to our thinking. In conversation: Dr Donna McCormack (University of Surrey), Dr Line Henriksen (IT University of Copenhagen), Dr Ingvil Hellstrand (University of Stavanger) and the Unruly Fire Alarm, all members of the Monster Network.

Monster Talks is a podcast series that explores the figure of the monster and the concept of the monstrous as important thinking tools for addressing dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion, discrimination and violence. The podcast is made possible by the support of Nordic Culture Point and produced by The Monster Network in collaboration with Network for Gender Studies at UiS. All episodes are available from the podcast’s website at UiS.

Artwork by Joanne Teresa Taylor, NettOp, University of Stavanger.