There have been academic conferences on science fiction in Sweden before, but this one was something I could realistically attend. Even if it meant I had to wake up 5.30 am to catch the 6.40 bus to the university city of Uppsala, circa 80 km north of Stockholm.
I arrived very tired and found a) there was indeed flooding from the Uppsala river Fyrisån (approx. 2 m above normal; a sight to see, but no danger) and b) it was difficult to find the venue. I trusted the homepage’s claim of “house 4”. Here and there and after a sightseeing in the Uppsala research vaults (including Svedberg labs for nuclear research) I was directed to another spot 1 km away.
30+ people had met up in the Betty Pettersson Hall, including at least four SF fans I knew (Tomas C., Johan A., Stefan I., Jerry M.) and several with foreign sounding names. Many of the lecturers where from Finland. I believe many in the audience were foreign students of the Uppsala University. The organisers were something called SALT (Studies in Arts, Languages and Theology) and basically they did a very good job.
Just one small thing. It is usual for conferences like these to have a WiFi guest account. I asked about it, but nothing happened. I suspected there may be problems with this, so I had my 3G modem with me – I had Internet connections but nobody else had (I also did a few tweets through @SFJournalen from the conference). Fix a WiFi guest account next time.
The programme was really packed, 11 speakers from 9 to 17. The subjects ranged from very interesting to, I’m afraid to say, the irrelevant.
For instance, I didn’t think the piece about South African Museums had very much to do with speculative fiction. It may be dandy for other meetings, but it was misplaced here. The “problem” may be that they, as they should, had a Call for Papers in advance and had to pick from what they got. (Knowing this, I could perhaps have sneaked in with my recent Harry Martinson research ? Next time perhaps.)
A short summary of most of the lectures coming up. These were now and then interrupted with coffee breaks and also a lunch on the house (I took the chicken salad, which was perfectly OK).
“Plenary lecture”, ie the Main One, was by US researcher Phillip Wegner who for some reason is very fond of Scottish science fiction and talked about Ken MacLeod and Iain Banks and alternate history. I sat and took notes all of the time on my laptop and one of the notes says how he stressed the thing called “enstrangement” with the example “I remember where I was when Stalin died in 1963”. A good lecture, and I also had some chats with Wegner in the breaks.
Second speaker was Jerry Määttä who talked about postapocalyptic “Monuments of our Ruined Age”. You should read his “Rocket Summer” (“Raketsommar”), his PhD thesis about how SF was received and slowly changed in the Swedish cultural world in the “long” 1950’s decade. This time he talked about the ruins left behind by faltering civilisations as expressed in science fiction. It was very good. (The speech, not the ideas of decline…)
Then came Tuomas Kuusniemi with “The Fractal Methaphor in Frank Herbert’s Dune” from the Oulo (Uleåborg) University (Finland) which may have been the most brilliant speech of the day. But I must say I had difficulties to understand the fine points. He talked about perceived time in “Dune” and how time in different scales resembled each other, just as graphics in different parts of the Mandelbrot set resemble each other in different scales. The Einstein of our conference. He must be on to something.
After Lunch we heard Markku Soikkeli from the Tampere (Tammerfors) University (Finland), talking about christianity and time travel. For example, “Behold the Man” by Michael Moorcook. How would religious doctrines change if we had time travel ? I never believed in time travel, but despite this it was rather interesting. A quote: “With time travel you can have both free will and determinism”.
Daniel Ogden then talked about “Disembodied Selves in William Gibson’s Neuromancer”. A point of criticism is that he spent most of the lecture going through the plot of Gibson ‘s novel (full of “humans” in different stages, from zero human to almost human). He seems to be an intelligent guy, but he should have taken the plot in 4-5 sentences and then said something *more*. (But I agree that radio show “Johnny Dollar” was “15 minutes of pure brilliance”. I have heard OTR episodes. Love’em.)
Ingeborg Löfgren’s speech “Cavell and Asimov” belonged to those that appeared to me as a bit obscure. She talked about Asimov’s “The Bicentennial Man” in relation to the philosopher Stanley Cavell. It had to do with what it is to be a human. Robots are becoming increasingly popular. The Swedish national TV (SVT) has recently had a minor success with the series “Real people”, sold to half a dozen countries (and a second season coming up next autumn).
Leila Soikkonen then talked about C. L. Moore. I think Ms Moore is a very good writer (later married to Henry Kuttner, and the couple produced even better work together) and worth being reminded of. She spent too much time going through the plots of the stories, but long live C. L. Moore !
Katja Kontruri, of Jyväskylä University (Finland), could perhaps alas be accused of being irrelevant, talking about the Donald Duck universe and Don Rosa. However, I like Donald Duck and Gyro Gearloose is as much science fiction you could ask for. I liked her lecture especíally because it gave me my only question from the floor – and the last one of the conference ! I had sat silent during the whole day because others had had the questions I had had on the tip of my tongue or I was too stupid to understand what to ask. But I had actually met Don Rosa, when he in 1998 held a speech at the Royal Library in Stockholm. And I asked about why he in the mid nougthies decided to give up the Donald Duck business. The answer was that he was mistreated by Disney, they wanted too much control over Donald Duck & Co.
After the conference many went to a dinner in one of the student clubs of Uppsala. I had an offer of a car ride back to Stockholm from Tomas Cronholm, which I used. To sum it up, I think it was a very good thing to organise this conference, even if – say – a couple of the lectures should belong to other conferences. But it shows that what’s called speculative fiction (or science fiction, for me) is getting more and more appreciated in academic circles.
The flood was haunting Uppsala this day. And we see signs of the science fiction flood coming…
© Ahrvid Engholm
“Time & Space in Speculative Fiction” SALT (Studies in Arts, Languages and Theology) Symposium, Uppsala University, Sweden
The aim of the symposium is to examine time and space in, and from the perspective of, speculative fiction. Wider than a specific genre, we understand speculative fiction to be a loosely defined mode of imagination and experimentation with (alternate) times and spaces.
Chair : Maud M. L. Eriksen (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Co-Chair : Britt-Inger Johansson (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Tuesday, 23rd April, 2013
09:00-10:15 Plenary lecture: Philip Wegner (USA), “Detonating New Shockwaves of Possibility: Alternate Histories and the Geopolitical Aesthetics of Ken MacLeod and Iain M. Banks”.
10:30-11:00 Määttä, Jerry (Sweden), “Monuments to Our Ruined Age: The Rhetoric of Ruins in Post-Apocalyptic Narratives”.
11:00-11:30 Coffee Break
11:30-12:00 Kuusniemi, Tuomas (Finland), “The Time of Tale: Time as Fractal Metaphor in Frank Herbert’s Dune
12:00-12:30 Soikkeli, Markku (Finland), “Time-Travel-Stories And Christian Chronology”
13:15-13:45 Ogden, Daniel (UK), “Disembodied Selves in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984)”
13:45-14:15 Löfgren, Ingeborg (Sweden), “Cavell and Asimov – The Real and the Imagined Human in Philosophy and Literature”.
14:15-14:45 Soikkonen, Leila (Finland), “Confrontations between masculine and feminine in C.L. Moore’s speculative fiction”.
14:45-15:15 Lindström, Ingrid (Sweden), “Samtida spansk litteratur” (Contemporary Spanish Literature”)
15:15-15:30 Coffee Break
15:30-16:00 Pranskevičiūtė, Rasa (Lithuania), “Time and Space Alternatives in Nature-based Spirituality Movements: the Case of Vissarionites and Anastasians”
16:00-16:30 Rodéhn, Cecilia (South Africa), “Capturing time – Museum collections and social transformations”.
16:30-17:00 Kontturi, Katja (Finland), “I can’t seem to change history ! I can only help it happen!”: Problems of magical time travel in Don Rosa’s “Of Ducks and Dimes and Destinies”
Moderator: Maud Eriksen