A few years ago, my friend Lonny and I convened a bunch of media scholars who are interested in science fiction for a formal discussion at the National Communication Association conference. The conversation spilled over from conference to cocktails, and further. We had so much fun, we did it again the following year.
Our specific focus was on what Lonny and I call "futuretypes" — those narrative tropes like interstellar travel, black holes, material replication and AI that appear, over and over and over again, from book to movie to game to comic and so forth. Why, we wondered, do we keep telling ourselves the same stories over and over again, and what do the stories mean to us? How can they help us better understand the political and cultural dynamics of our present-day society, and in what ways might they illuminate, and even shape, the paths we take in the future?
We decided we'd take these fruitful and fascinating conversations and publish them as an academic journal section — but not in the form of standard academic articles. Instead, we'd try to preserve the dialogical nature of our conversations with a new format based on short, punchy "provocations" and responses to those provocations.
Nine of us in all — mostly the crew from the original NCA panels — contributed provocations to the project, each discussing a different futuretype from a pre-defined list. Then, each of us responded to at least two other people's provocations. The result was an exciting, diverse, complex web of interrelated textual conversations, and those conversations have now been published in the International Journal of Communication, one of my favorite academic journals. It also happens to be Creative-Commons licensed and freely accessible to the public.
Below is the official announcement for the journal section, including direct links to each of the provocations. I'm really proud of how it all came out. Please, take a look!
Humans have been imagining the future since the distant past. From ancient calendars and pyramids to modern blockbuster films and video games, the artifacts we build and the stories we tell reveal our aspirations and our fears about the world to come. Yet it is also a truism that stories about the future, whether utopian or dystopian, surreal or banal, also tell us a lot about the world we live in today. Ironically, speculative fiction allows many writers and readers to inhabit a form of honesty and clarity about the human condition that is often lacking in more “realistic” contemporary fiction, and even from much journalism and documentary.
This IJoC Special Forum Section on Imagining Futuretypes takes a close, critical look at several of the most dominant themes in speculative fiction, using these well-worn tropes as a starting point for understanding how we reflect and reproduce our contemporary world via the conceit of the imagined future. By examining narrative concepts such as machine consciousness, alien life forms, interstellar travel and material replication, we have much to learn about contemporary visions of race, class, gender, sexuality, and identity. By understanding these imagined futures, we are also afforded a glimpse at our possible actual futures, which are manifested in part through the popularization of these futuretypes, and through our internalization of their logics. In short, they help to extend our vocabulary about the future, ultimately shaping what we will do, think, and build. In this respect, they amount to a form of science fiction capital, their power stemming from the implicit, explicit, and contested aspirations they give voice to.
Guest-edited by Lonny J Avi Brooks and Aram Sinnreich this Special Forum Section of 11 papers grew out of a series of programmed and impromptu conversations between a diverse range of scholars at the National Communication Association annual conferences in 2013 and 2014. It features an editorial introduction, nine “provocations” (most of which include video clips), each by a contributing scholar, and followed by several short response pieces by other contributors. Additionally, the Special Section includes a commentary by futurist McKenzie Wark, tying together many of the dominant themes across our conversations.
We invite you to read this new Special Forum Section that published November 5, 2016 at http://ijoc.org. To direct access any of these essays, ctrl+click the respective article title below.
- A Seat at the Nerd Table — Introduction
Aram Sinnreich, Lonny J Avi Brooks
- Everybody and Nobody: Visions of Individualism and Collectivity in the Age of AI
Aram Sinnreich, Jessa Lingel, Gideon Lichfield, Adam Richard Rottinghaus, Lonny J Avi Brooks
- Black Holes as Metaphysical Silence
Jessa Lingel, Daniel Sutko, Gideon Lichfield, Aram Sinnreich
- The Aliens Are Us:
The Limitations That The Nature of Fiction Imposes on Science Fiction about Aliens
Gideon Lichfield, Aubrie Adams, Lonny J Avi Brooks
- The End of Material Scarcity: Dystopia and Immanent Critique of Capitalism
Adam Richard Rottinghaus, Roseann Pluretti, Daniel Sutko
- The Medium is the Message of the Future: Tyranny of Media in Organizing Our Imaginary
Daniel Sutko, Jessa Lingel, Aubrie Adams, Adam Richard Rottinghaus
- Narratives on Extending and Transcending Mortality: An Essay on Implications for the Future
Aubrie Adams, Adam Richard Rottinghaus, Ryan Wallace
- Toward an “Other” Dimension: An Essay on Transcendence of Gender and Sexuality
Roseann Pluretti, Jessa Lingel, Aram Sinnreich
- Future Im/Perfect:
Defining Success and Problematics in Science Fiction Expressions of Racial Identity
Ryan Wallace, Roseann Pluretti, Gideon Lichfield, Aubrie Adams
- Afro-Futuretyping Generation Starships and New Earths 05015 C.E.
Lonny J Avi Brooks, Daniel Sutko, Aram Sinnreich, Ryan Wallace
- Imagining and Reimagining the Future—Commentary