Report from the 2013 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy

By Derek Newman-Stille

The term “Academic Conference” often intimidates the general public. To many people “Academic” has come to be synonymous with “inaccessible language”, “boring discourse”, and “pomposity”, but the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy’s real potency is the focus of the conference on accessibility to an interested public. Organiser Allan Weiss wants the conference to be open to the pubic and the conference’s position in the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy means that it is in a more public space. The conference brings researchers, authors, and fans together in discussions about Canadian SF.

As you have probably noticed from my posts, I really enjoy opportunities to bridge the gap between people engaging with Canadian SF in different ways. The ACCSSF conference is all about bridging the gap between those interested in Canadian SF and inviting everyone into the discussion.

Speakers engaged in discourse about the richness complexity of Canadian SF and perspectives on Canadian SF. From genre questions to French Canadian science fiction metal music, from place and identity to mythic themes, this conference raised questions and excited attendees to incredible discussions. As often happens at academic conferences, some of the richest places for examining ideas happened between sessions around the tea pot and after sessions at dinner and the pub. It is exciting and heartening to know that there are so many people excited about Canadian SF and interested in looking beyond the surface of their favorite novels.

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Abstract – Speculating Diversity: Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Use of Speculative Fiction to Disrupt Singular Interpretations of Place

A few readers have expressed some interest in my academic work researching Canadian Speculative Fiction. I have sent out versions of my abstracts for upcoming conferences to people directly, but I thought it may be worthwhile for me to post them on Speculating Canada so that people can see them.

For those of you who are not from academic backgrounds, abstracts are sort of like teasers for a paper that you are going to present at a conference. They give the reader a general idea of what the paper will be about so that they can determine if they would like to attend your conference paper or not.

The abstract below is for a paper I will be presenting at the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy on June 7th in Toronto. You can explore the conference at http://www.yorku.ca/accsff/Introduction.html and determine if you would like to attend. I highly recommend it since it is of interest to academics as well as accessible for the general public.

Speculating Diversity: Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl In The Ring and the Use of Speculative Fiction to Disrupt Singular Interpretations of Place

By Derek Newman-Stille

In Brown Girl In The Ring, Nalo Hopkinson uses speculative fiction to suggest an alternative reading of the space of Toronto. In order to assert a form of belonging in a space that traditionally denies racialised and ethnic others, Hopkinson rewrites the Toronto landscape of the future. Denied a past in Canada because of the erasure of blackness from the Canadian landscape, she instead writes diversity into the Canadian future. Hopkinson uses the speculative fiction medium to take an iconic image of the Canadian cityscape, the CN Tower, and transform it through a Caribbean-inspired vodoun ritual into the world tree and pillar of the vodoun temple. Toronto becomes temporarily a space where the Loa (vodoun spirits) walk the landscape.

She transforms the Canadian landscape by disrupting notions of the set role that artifacts and architecture are constructed to represent and by suggesting another dialogic possibility. She reconfigures aspects of the traditional Canadian landscape into a traditional Caribbean landscape, marking the space as multivalent and subject to multiple interpretive frameworks. She illustrates that meanings are not static, but constantly shifting, being reinterpreted and reconfigured by new people with new ideologies and new systems of meaning. The CN Tower in Hopkinson’s proposed future Toronto is not a static thing, but is rather transformative, changing with the populations that shift in Canada. The landscape and its meanings are constantly shifting as our social and political landscapes shift and things that are traditionally Canadian, like the CN Tower are able to shift as Canada’s traditions and ideologies shift to include a more diverse group of Canadians with more diverse readings of the features of heritage.

Hopkinson sets her Toronto in the slight future, creating a city that has been ghettoised and cordoned off by the Canadian state. It has been designated an unsafe space and becomes a place where racialised people are trapped. Hopkinson plays with ideas of invisibility of difference by having her characters literally become invisible through Caribbean magic. She seems to be suggesting in her narrative that the only place that Canadian racial geographies can be transformed is in a science fictional reality.

Literature has the ability to create diverse spaces even when it seems as though it is impossible to transform the physical landscape. Speculative fiction can propose an alternative reading to the landscape and allow a space for diversity. For New Canadians, literature and the arts can become a space where the Canadian landscape can be transformed into an inclusive space that challenges dominant narratives of belonging and suggests an alternative reading of the world and its spaces. The meaning of objects can shift in the consciousness of diasporic people as they assert their own identities and prevent their erasure from the Canadian landscape. Hopkinson uses literature as a space for the assertion of the idea of home for people in diaspora.

Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy – June 7-8

As many of you who have been following Speculating Canada know, I like to support research in Canadian Science Fiction, particularly when it is directed toward public access and public discussions. I have given papers at the Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (ACCSFF) for the past few years and have enjoyed it both for the amazing quality of the papers given, but also for the public focus and dedication to making the conference accessible to the public. I hope many of you who are in the Toronto area or able to travel to the Toronto area will join me there for exciting discussions about Canadian Spec Fic.

I have included a forwarded message from ACCSFF for those who are interested:

“The 2013 Academic Conference on Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy will be held June 7-8, 2013, at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. Author Keynote Address speaker will be Tanya Huff, author of numerous novels including the Blood series of dark-fantasy mysteries; our Scholar Guest Speaker will be Robert Runte, one of the pioneers in the study of Canadian SF

For information on how to register, please visit their website at http://www.yorku.ca/accsff and go to the Events page”