RECEPTION HISTORIES OF THE FUTURE: a conference on Byzantinisms, speculative fiction, and the literary heritage of medieval empire
August 4th-6th, 2017
The study of Classical reception in modern speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) is an old and broad field, with roots in both the academy and the popular press. However, much as Classics is often reluctant to look beyond the temporal borders of the antique world and venture into its medieval Greek imperial successor, the consideration of classical reception in speculative fiction has mostly neglected the significant impact of Byzantium and other post-Roman imperial formations and their literatures on modern SFF. However, many of the central thematic tenets of the literary heritage of medieval empire – including but not limited to decadence, the post-Roman world, the problem of defining barbarian and citizen, and the use of 'Byzantine' settings and symbology as codes for the foreign or exotic – have had deep effects on the development of science fiction and fantasy in the 20th and 21st centuries.
This conference aims to bring together some of the most innovative modern writers of speculative fiction with scholars working at the cutting edge of Byzantine reception studies for a two-day discussion of Byzantinism, decadence, empire, and storytelling. The conference will therefore collapse the distance between practitioners and critics, and bring reception studies into a direct dialogue with one of today's most vibrant genres of popular fiction. Planned activities include public events at local bookstores, presentations of scholarly papers, and group panel discussions between writers and scholars. A post-conference publication will include both essays, academic articles, and commissioned fiction.
Details of the Conference
The conference is organized by AnnaLinden Weller, a postdoctoral researcher in Byzantine Studies, who writes speculative fiction under the pen name Arkady Martine. It is supported by the "Text and Narrative in Byzantium" project (principal investigator: Professor Ingela Nilsson) within the Department of Linguistics and Philology at Uppsala University. The conference will bring together scholars working on the reception of Byzantium, scholars working on classical reception in speculative fiction, and active writers producing speculative fiction in order to broaden and deepen the consideration of how medieval literatures and Byzantinism have far-reaching impact on the popular imagination. Since speculative fiction is a crucial mode of popular cultural expression of life in the modern and technological world, exploring the significant reception of medieval literatures – a 'non-technological' and foreign/distant subject in comparison – within it is of real interest to both the scholarly community and the general public.
There has been substantial recent scholarly interest in the reception of classics (and Classics) in speculative fiction. This interest has come both from the academy (volumes like Rogers, Brett M. and Benjamin Eldon Stevens, eds. 2015. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press., and Bost-Fiévet, Mélanie and Sandra Provini, eds. 2014. L’Antiquité dans l’imaginaire contemporain: Fantasy, science-fiction, fantastique. Paris: Classiques Garnier) and from the popular SF press (i.e. Liz Gloyn's "In a Galaxy Far Far Away: On Classical Reception and Science Fiction" in the SF magazine Strange Horizons, available at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2015/20150427/1gloynb-a.shtml). However, very little work has been done to explore the equally prevalent reception of postclassical Greco-Roman subjects and themes in speculative fiction. This conference aims to bring scholars, writers, and the general public together to investigate medieval imperial receptions – and concepts of Byzantinism – which are deeply embedded in speculative fiction. Recent work on Byzantine reception has examined Byzantinism in contemporary film and art, and explored the reception of Byzantium in Enlightenment and fin-de-siècle literature, but has not addressed the presence of post-Roman themes and ideas in speculative fiction. This conference's three days of discussion and the subsequent publication of a volume of essays from international scholars and commissioned fiction from leading writers in the speculative fiction genre will contribute to the closure of these gaps.
The thematic elements of post-Roman imperial formations and the literatures which they produced – including but not limited to decadence, the post-Roman world, the problem of defining barbarian and citizen, and the use of 'Byzantine' settings and symbology as codes for the foreign or exotic – are of substantial importance to writers of speculative fiction. Byzantium has been an explicit setting in several significant novels (Turtledove's Videssos cycle, Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic) and many of its central thematic tenets -- an empire gone decadent, the permeability of frontiers, the creation of an imperial ideology and the survival of that ideology – appear in others: perhaps most intriguingly in Ann Leckie's recent Hugo and Nebula-award-winning Imperial Radch books, which, while not being specifically Roman or Byzantine, can be interpreted usefully by being viewed through a Byzantine lens. These and other questions of the reception of post-Roman concepts and literatures are what this conference is meant to engage with.
A major aim of this conference is to bring writers and academics – practitioners and analysts – together in innovative ways. While portions of the conference will allow academics to present prepared papers in the traditional format of a short lecture on recent or ongoing with a subsequent question period, the majority of the panels will be themed discussions in which a group of panelists have a public conversation on a pre-arranged topic, guided by a moderator. This method of discussion comes from the world of speculative fiction conferences and produces a focused, vibrant, and wide-ranging exploration of the subject. It is also widely accessible to a popular audience, even when the discussants are specialists. An entire day of the conference will be reserved for this format. Additionally, since there is substantial public engagement with speculative fiction topics -- as well as significant public interest in Byzantium – this conference will open up the group panels to the general public on that day, bringing both Byzantium and speculative fiction to the Scandinavian audience in a direct and engaging manner. The public, creative professionals, and academics will all be able to share in the investigation of the effects of Byzantinism on popular culture.
The volume that results from this conference will include both academic articles written by leading reception history scholars, critical essays on Byzantium and medieval empire written by members of the speculative fiction community, and new speculative fiction on Byzantine themes commissioned especially for this project from award-winning and bestselling authors.
Call for Papers (Academic Track)
Please submit an abstract of approximately 300 words which describes research which responds to or contributes to the discussion of Byzantine and post-Roman reception in speculative fiction, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternately or additionally, suggest topics for group panel discussions which you would be interested in participating in, alongside writers and other creative professionals.
Call for Interest & Panel Topics (Creative Track)
If you are a speculative fiction writer or industry professional who would like to participate in the conference, write to email@example.com with your contact details, professional experience, and ideas for panels.
This conference conveniently takes place the weekend before WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland – Sweden is quite close to Finland! Come early, start talking about speculative fiction before WorldCon even begins.