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GFF Conference "Speculative Fiction and Ethics"

(Sept. 23-25, 2021)

The annual conference of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung e.V. (GFF) was jointly organized by a group of scholars from the University of Cologne and the University of Bamberg:

  • JProf. Dr. Judith Rauscher (U of Cologne)
  • Mareike Spychala (U of Bamberg)
  • Sara Tewelde-Negassi (U of Cologne)
  • Lorena Bickert (U of Bamberg)

You can find a PDF of the detailed conference program here.

Special Events

All three special events of the conference were open to the interested public. We thank our five speakers, the conference participants, and the nearly 80 registered guests who attended one or several of the special events.

Keynote Lecture by Prof. Dr. Ingo Cornils (U of Leeds, UK): "Dark Mirrors: German Science Fiction in the 21 Century" (Thursday, September 23, 6 p.m., Zoom)

Abstract: German SF in the 21st century tends to see the dystopian form as the ideal vehicle to explore the social and psychological consequences of scientific and technological progress. There is no point in denying that the ‘dystopian turn’ reflects the mood of our time, and that the first two decades of the new millennium have given rise to fears and misgivings about increasingly porous boundaries, conceptual paradigm shifts, and persistent global challenges that make our scientific and technological advances feel hollow. At the same time, one may wonder whether the endless depiction of depressing futures in recent SF may not in fact yield diminishing returns in terms of the intended warning function and instead convince its audiences to give up hope altogether. In my keynote lecture I will look at recent German SF novels (Thomas von Steinaecker’s Die Verteidigung des Paradieses and Sibylle Berg’s GRM: Brainfuck), to analyze how they establish their dystopian world­view. But I will also be looking at the green shoots of positive visions (Tom Hillenbrand’s Qube, Andreas Brandhorst’s Die Eskalation, Judith and Christian Vogt’s Wasteland, and Andreas Eschbach’s Eines Menschen Flügel). These give us glimpses of “concrete utopias” even as they contemplate the destructive impact of human activity on our planet. I argue that these latter works demonstrate a radical rethinking of the purpose of writing SF in the 21st century, offering a “progressive fantastic”, and a new hope.

Photo of Ingo Cornils smiling in front of a wall that says: "Eat, drink, and be happy!"
(c) Ingo Cornils

Prof. Dr. Ingo Cornils is professor of German Literature and Culture of the 20th/21st Century at the University of Leeds (UK). In his research, he focuses on utopian thought Science Fiction, th German Student Movement ('1968'), German Romanticism, German Current Affairs, and "Zukunftsbewältigung." Prof. Cornils is a long-standing member of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (GfF) and the author of Beyond Tomorrow: German Science Fiction and Utopian Thought in the 20th and 21st Century (2020). Find more information on his work on his personal website.

Author Reading by Sofia Samatar (James Madison U, USA): "Fairy Tales for Robots" (Friday, September 24, 6 p.m., Zoom)

This event is organized with the support of Amerikahaus NRW e.V.

Author photo of Sofia Samatar, wearing a black shirt and standing with her arms crossed
(c) Sofia Samatar

Sofia Samatar is the author of the novels A Stranger in Olondria and The Winged Historiesthe short story collection, Tender, and Monster Portraitsa collaboration with her brother, the artist Del Samatar. Her work has won several awards, including the World Fantasy Award. She is a long-standing member of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA) and she teaches African literature, Arabic literature, and speculative fiction at James Madison University. During this event, she will read from her story "Fairy Tales for Robots" and discuss questions of ethics in Fantasy and Science Fiction, focusing on the way old stories can illuminate current concerns. What do the magical beings and animated dolls of fairy tales share with robots? How might fairytale depictions of nonhumans comment on artificial intelligence? Where do the oldest stories gesture toward issues that haunt technological societies, such as racialized and gender-based violence, economic injustice, and environmental degradation? And what explains the powerful attraction in tales of the non-quite-human, both in the past and today?

Panel-Diskussion: "Queere Fantastik: Gegenwart und Zukunft" (Samstag, 25. September, 17 Uhr, Zoom)

In dieser Panel-Diskussion kamen drei zeitgenössische Autor*innen der deutschen Science Fiction und Fantasy-Literatur zur Geschichte, aktuellen Situation, und zu Entwicklungen in der queeren deutschen Science Fiction und Fantasy Literatur zu Wort. An der Diskussionsrunde nahmen teil:

Conference Program

You can find a PDF of the detailed conference program here.

DAY 1: SEP 23, 2021 (Donnerstag/Thursday)

9:00-09:30 Begrüßung/ Welcome
09:30-11:00 Panel I: Menschlichkeit und Verantwortung (Dt.) Panel II: Gender and Race in Speculative Fiction (Engl.)
11:00-11:30 Coffee Break/ Kaffeepause
11.30-12:30 Panel III:  Kantian Speculations (Engl.) Panel IV: Kontrafaktik in der Fantastik (Dt.)
12:30-13:30 Mittagspause/ Lunch Break
13:30-15:00 Panel V: Verantwortung und Nicht-Menschlichkeit (Dt.) Panel VI: Queer Speculations I - Corporeality (Engl.)
15:00-15:30 Coffee Break/ Kaffeepause
15:30-17:00 Panel VII: Imagining Corporeal Ethics and Social Justice (Engl.) Panel VIII: Political Possibilities (Engl.)
17:00-18:00 Spazierpause/ Walking Break
18:00-19:00 Keynote by Prof. Dr. Ingo Cornils: "Dark Mirrors: German Science Fiction in the 21 Century" (Engl.)

DAY 2: SEP 24, 2021 (Freitag/Friday)

10:00-10:30 Begrüßung/ Welcome
10:30-12:00 Panel IX: Fantastische Geschichte(n) (Dt.) Panel X: Beyond Good and Evil in the Fantastic (Engl.)
12:00-13:30 Mittagspause/ Lunch Break
13:30-15:00 Panel XI: Speculative Environments (Engl.) Panel XII: Fantastik in Romanischer Literatur (Dt.)
15:00-15:30 Kaffeepause/ Coffee Break
15:30-17:00 Panel XIII: Queer Speculations II - Transgressions (Engl.) Panel XIV: Imagining Otherness in Speculative Fiction (Engl.)
17:00-18:00 Spazierpause/ Walking Break
18:00-19:00 Author Reading by American Fantasy Writer Sofia Samatar: “Fairy Tales for Robots” (Engl.)

DAY 3: SEP 25, 2021 (Samstag/Saturday)

09:00-09:30 Begrüßung/ Welcome
09:30-11:00 Panel XV: Brave New Worlds (Engl.) Panel XVI: Fantastic Temporalities (Engl.)
11:00-11:30 Kaffeepause/ Coffee Break
11.30-13:00 Panel XVII: Ethik und Außerirdisches Leben (Dt.) Panel XVIII: Posthumanism and Afropessimisim in Black SF (Engl.)
13:00-14:00 Mittagspause/ Lunch Break
14:00-16:00 GFF Mitgliederversammlung/ GFF General Meeting
16:00-17:00 Spazierpause/ Walking Break
17:00-18:30 Panel Diskussion: Queere Fantastik (Dt.)
18:30-19:00 Verabschiedung/ Wrap Up

GFF Conference 2021: "Speculative Fiction and Ethics"

Ever since Ursula K. Le Guin republished her SF classic The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) with an introduction in 1979, her emphasis on the descriptive, not extrapolative or even prophetic nature of speculative fiction has become an oft-repeated dictum. Speculative literature, according to Le Guin, does not describe what will be. Nor does it describe what is. Rather, it sets up “a thought experiment” that not only asks the question of who we are—whether as individuals, society, or humanity in general—but first and foremost who we could be, who we want to be, and in which ways our answers to these questions shape our everyday actions and decisions. These questions are also ones central to the field of philosophy and especially ethics as one of its sub-disciplines. In the academic field of “literature and ethics,” literary studies and ethics come together to examine, according to Michael Eskin, how texts and the narratives they contain interrogate “the moral potential” (560) of humans in society. For the 12thAnnual Meeting of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (Association for Research in the Fantastic; GFF), we are looking for contributions that analyze how speculative literature and other speculative media interrogate and speak to personal, social, and political ethics; question the existence of universal moral values; and shed light on the specific contexts in and conditions under which individuals, groups,or societies act and make decisions.

Whether in classic speculative literature such as H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1897), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915), J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings 81954), or Michael Ende’s The NeverEnding Story (1979); in Star Trek episodes such as “The Measure of a Man” (TNG, 1989) and “Death Wish” (VOY, 1996), or films such as Guillermo del Toro’s El laberinto del fauno (2006), and Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous (2015); whether in Comics like Enki Bilal’s Le sommeil du monster (1998) and video games such as The Last of Us (2013), or in contemporary novels such as Cornelia Funke’s Ink Heart (2003), Analee Newitz’s Autonomous (2018), or N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became (2020), questions of ethics are key. The same holds true for countless other narratives that fall under the rubric of the fantastic.

We invite contributions about all forms and genres of the fantastic and their engagements with questions of ethics, whether they focus on literature, comics, film, TV, music, video games, or live-action roleplay. In the open track, any paper dealing with the fantastic can be submitted. We especially welcome contributions on topics such as:

  • Questions of and thought experiments concerning ethics and the fantastic
  • Gender, race, class, sexuality as well as ecology and ethics in the fantastic, also from a transnational perspective
  • Ethics and emotions as well as morality and affect in the fantastic
  • Posthuman, queer, anti-racist, and de-colonial interventions and questions of ethics in speculative literature and speculative media
  • Representations of alternative familial, communal, societal, and political structures and questions of ethics in the fantastic
  • Representations of violence, war, sickness, death, or dying and ethics in the fantastic
  • Interrogations of the ethical dimensions of technologization and scientific progress in speculative fiction and speculative media
  • Discussions of the ethical dimensions of the production, distribution, and consumption of speculative literature and speculative media