Urban Apocalypse and Renaissance – Conference Review

text by Eric R. Laursen (University of Utah)

The SFRA (Science Fiction Research Association) Conference was held in Detroit from June 28 through July 1 (see programme here).  The conference theme this year was Urban Apocalypse, Urban Renaissance: Landscapes in Science Fiction and Fantasy, an especially appropriate theme given its venue, next to the Renaissance Center in beautiful downtown Detroit.  For the first time, there was a panel devoted to Soviet science fiction.  Anindita Banerjee (Cornell University) delivered a paper entitled “Of Mothers among Other Things: Ethno-Racial Eruptions in Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.”  Richard Lee Pierre (University of Michigan) delivered a paper entitled “Familiar Foreign: Geographic and Linguistic Commons in A.N. Tolstoy’s Aelita.”  Eric Laursen (University of Utah) delivered “Energy Monsters & the Soviet Social Network: Ivan Efremov’s Andromeda Nebula.”  Sofya Khagi was scheduled to speak on Pelevin and the Strugatskys but unfortunately fell ill at the last moment.  There was a lively discussion following the panel, and participants hope to resurrect it next year, when SFRA will combine with the Eaton Conference in Riverside California, April 10-14, 2013 to hold a joint conference on science fiction in multiple media (see here).

Other highlights of the conference included an opening panel discussion with scholars Eric Rabkin, Melissa M. Littlefield, Steven Shaviro, and science fiction writers Saladin Ahmed, Minister Faust, Robert J. Sawyer, and Sarah Zettel.  There were lively debates about science fiction in the classroom and its current directions in American culture.  Featured authors were available to sign their most recent books throughout the conference and each of them read from their work at some point.  Panels devoted to scholarship on science fiction were spread over three days, with an awards banquet on the final day.  The Pilgrim Award was given to Pamela Sargent for life-time contributions to SF/F studies, especially her work in promoting female science fiction writers.  The Pioneer Award for outstanding essay-length work of the year was given to David M. Higgins: “Toward a Cosmopolitan Science Fiction” American Literature 83.2 (June 2011).  The Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service  was given to Arthur B. Evans.  One of the most touching moments of the 2012 SFRA Conference was a Memorial panel to Ray Bradbury held on the final day, when a series of documentary clips were shown of Bradbury discussing his work in a variety of offices over the course of his career.  Bradbury’s offices were like his mind, filled with wonderful, fantastic things–rockets and aliens, comic books and classics, toys and photographs.  The landscape changed, but over every desk he posted a sign giving valuable advice for any writer:  “Don’t Think!”

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