Samantha Close: So, thank you all so much for coming. This is really interesting. So, we’ve talked a lot about what we may call it primary texts and primary authors and originators. But one of the things that’s always interested me a lot about the science fiction and fantasy genres is the fandoms and the way that readers become writers and start to interact. And there’s been a lot of conversation in fandom recently about, you know, issues of what does it mean if you take a character and change their race, what does it mean, you know, to reimagine worlds this way, why is this something that hasn’t been done. If we can imagine alien biology, why not a character of a different skin color? And so, I was wondering about the fandoms around these kinds of works.
Nalo: And what specifically about the fandoms are you wondering?
Sam: I guess, we talked a certain amount about this being kind of more underground and more, you know, artistically focused. And so, is that kind of more the mode of fandom where people are reading text and analyzing them or are people kind of transforming, is there interchange between the artists and with the writers and the readers?
Nalo: Some of them, some of them not. They’re not, as far as I have found a lot of people in fandom doing fan writing based in my work. I have found people doing illustrations. And that’s always cool to see how somebody else imagines your work. But it’s also a bit of a shock. What I like about fandom in the science fiction is the ways that it can — they don’t have to have breaks. So, saying earlier that they can imagine stories into places that we might feel we might not want to or might not be able to get published or — and when I first discovered what the term slash came from, which was a fan writing Kirk/Spock fiction where Kirk and Spock were lovers. It made so much sense, I almost stopped breathing. It was, oh my God, of course, I’ve never seen it that way. Of course, that’s what’s going on.
So, I value that. I have to say for myself there is also the reaction of often there isn’t the type of craft I would — that I prefer.
I like the energy of the discussion that happens because they don’t have to deal with the kinds of considerations a published author does. I remember when the last Bordertown anthology came out, it’s a shared world anthology. The world is established and writers are invited to write stories in it. The creative board of talents specifically says, you can write fan fiction, listen, I have no problem with that, you’re not allowed to publish it. And finding a fan discussion board where they’re saying, well, why not, what’s the difference. The writers we’ve invited are writing fan fiction. And they’re getting paid for it.
William: I think the indigenous film and literature sci-fi genre is already so marginal that there’s not a lot, I think, that might be categorized exactly as fan fiction. But I think going back to the idea of imagining and the image, there’s a lot of parody through art. So, if anyone knows Bunky Echo-Hawk, he’s an incredible artist and he’s got a lot of takes on Star Wars. He has this image of Yoda which is titled “If Yoda was an Indian he’d be chief.”
He also engages Darth Vader as Custer, and the mustache works right with his mask. The imperials are the Americans, are the Europeans. So, he plays on that imagery to take it one step further than metaphor. And Walking the Clouds is just great compendium of lots of indigenous science fiction literature. It’s not fan fiction, it’s the canon.
And then there are some things that are parodies, like we watched earlier, the Star Blaks which is from the show Black Comedy in Australia, which is a parody of Star Trek. I think you have more fandom when there is a center to be marginal from.
Muhammad: There’s a lot of re-imaging of familiar western sci-fi. Many things like that are going on in the Muslim world. So, one that I would highly recommend is — there’s a series of paintings by this Turkish artist, Murat Palta. He reimages a lot of western movies like Star Wars, Scarface, Inception, but done in the style of Persian or Ottoman miniature paintings. And those are really amazing. You should — I highly recommend checking them out.
And also in Turkey, I’m not sure if that was intentional, but Turkey — in the 1970s and 1980s, Turkey has this tradition of — reimaging is, I guess reimaging not necessarily the right word, but they re-made some of the western movies like Star Trek and Star Trek, and they have this quality of it’s so bad that it’s good. Those are really interesting to watch.
More recently, there’s a — they just came out just a few months ago. There’s a British-Pakistani artist who reimages Superman but the difference is that his pod lands in Pakistan instead of Kansas. And he actually takes, one could argue that Superman closer to his original looks as compared to what we have been seeing in Superman lately. So, for example, the one thing that — it becomes a political commentary on the Pakistani society as a whole.
So, one thing that Superman — this version of Superman does is that — he does not actively use violence, for example. But during the drone attacks on Afgan-Pakistani border, he actively destroys those bombs which are going to hit civilians, for example. So, it becomes interesting commentary in its own right.
Audience 2: Yeah. I had a question actually for William. And it kind of jumps off a little with Professor Jenkins’ asking regarding the colonizing of genres. And it has to do with whether you could talk a little bit about the circulation of skills like production skills in one of your book that you’re working. And I was wondering about kind of the emergence not only of stories or scripts for the films that people are making but whether they are also envisioning kind of aesthetically a different way of telling them or whether they’re kind of like quality and patterns and it’s like western aesthetics or — basically whether the idea of creating science fiction is also — does it come with kind of like a visual kind of reimagining also of how to tell the stories or is it just —
William: Yeah. It’s a good question. This gets into my dissertations, which followed the social life of film projects in indigenous organizations in Australia. There were two outlets, one outwardly focused on production values and end products, and one by, for, and about remote Aboriginal communities.
And so, there’s a long answer. But to quickly answer, when people are making sci-fi films, they’re high budget productions. They usually come out of a Sundance or an imagineNATIVE initiative. But these are unsual and sleek productions. And so it’s not necessarily that people are making anything they want. It has to be discernibly science fiction, perhaps as utopian, dystopian, alien—recognizably in that genre even if it’s radically departing from it as well. So, in the sort of world of indigenous media, these are anomalies in that they’re highly funded and that’s a reason that most of them are very short.
These programs have been very successful in general. People who made these shorts tend to go on to make features, and not necessarily more sci-fi films. At the very least it’s a great career launch pad because people love sci-fi. And I think that they end up having the more freedom after they do these projects to make other media. I can’t think of anyone whose career hasn’t been significantly furthered after producing one of these sci-fi films.
Audience 3: I’m a film director. I just finished a feature-length animated film called Birds Like Us. And it’s inspired by a 11th century Persian poet Farid al-Din Mohammad ‘Attar — and the book that it’s based on is called Conference of the Birds. And I come from Bosnia, from Sarajevo. And I’m raised as a Muslim. I was also growing up in a multicultural society, multi-religious place. I actually had been exposed to all kinds of religions. And my actually first comic books was a comic version of The Bible.
And for me, growing up in a religious environment, I always have felt that the ultimate science fiction actually comes from the holy books where you have a creature who is reaching out to you and saying here I am, your all-seeing, omnipotent creator of everything, every living thing and you can be like me and this is how. And then, in these books, there are set examples of King Solomon who ruled everywhere and there are — where I’m going with this, there is so much of inspiring fiction, and beyond physical evidence of ideas in the holy books, in religious writings.
But somehow we have the communities, the human mankind actually colonized the race color that — and created actually these smaller parts while the higher idea is actually a very inspiring and moving form from — between asking yourself what is actually science fiction and what’s the difference between the fiction, science fiction and the fantasy and all that. Well, it’s purpose is to inspire and move forward and explain, provide a better living inside of your senses, with your perception of the world.
And do you think that your role as writers and contributors to this vision, is it possible to set yourself free from the boundaries of being Islamic science fiction or Jamaican or native Aboriginal or — can you maybe, I don’t know —
Nalo: I do have an answer and that’s that it does — whatever we identify — whatever particular cultural, ethnic or racial version of science which we’re interested in has no boundaries. It’s talking to things that we all care about. So, I don’t feel like I’m boundaried. I mean, I can write whatever I want and do. But I think it’s not as boundaried as you’re fearing that there’s — I want so — Sherman Alexie was at a literary event and somebody in the audience asked him if he ever felt limited. The wrong thing to ask Sherman Alexie. He blasted her. But his basic answer was any great story you can imagine is happening in my community, I can write it.
And that’s been useful for me to think about. So, no, I don’t feel that there is a boundary. I feel that there is this particular set of interest in philosophies and aesthetics, but it’s all over.
Muhammad: Right. And then to that I’ll add that — continuing on same line of thought that there are certain modes of thoughts, philosophies, aspirations, fears that all human cultures and religions throughout space and time that they share. It’s just that in the concept one must include who indigenous people, are Muslims, are Christians, are atheists. It’s through their life experiences, their histories that that’s the metaphors that they use on their cultures to describe those ideas. So, that’s not necessarily the limiting factor. It just shows where they come from.
So, just may we take the example of Farid al-Din ‘Attar’s Conference of the Birds. Although at one level it’s the cultural product of newly Islamized Persia, and the method to express was using metaphors. But that’s a product of its times but at the same time, it also speaks to universal human feelings of, for example, longing for the divine, for example, which regardless of whatever culture we are in, we can share and appreciate.
William: I think that radical assumptions provides a good definition for science fiction in this realm. I’m thinking of my own family not that many generations back, subjected to genocide in German gas chambers—radical assumptions are sometimes as simple as making it to the next year. It’s very relative and science fiction helps you define what radical is by giving the filmmaker the power to normalize things strategically.
But also, driving from the airport and seeing those Hollywood signs was exciting to me. It made me think about how there’s all of this money in Hollywood. There’s endless money and more that I can imagine. And while I like being on production teams with large projects, the biggest film anyone I ever worked on had a $100,000 budget, and that’s just a rounding error in Hollywood.
Yet, despite the endless money in Hollywood, somehow that can’t find a good script. They’re making the same movie a thousand times, with some notable exceptions. But in Aboriginal communities like the one I was working in, there are endless incredible stories to tell, though there’s very little funding.
It’s interesting just how different what the limited resource is in different places. And I think in a lot of Indigenous communities around the world, people have such complicated histories, and very difficult but incredible lives that it is no surprising just how many stories there are to tell. The problem is that there are not enough hours in the day because there’s so much. And while at the genre level there are sybolic boundaries, when people are making things on the ground, I don’t think that many worry about those boundaries and just follow the story.
Nalo: One more thing to add to that in that as somebody creating it, one of the things that science fiction fantasy teach you is if that place that you’re thinking you don’t dare to go, that’s where you should be going. So, if you think there’s a boundary there, what happens if you break it? And see what happens.
Henry: That’s a perfect note to end this session on. So, go on and break some boundaries.