What was the best sci-fi of 2021?

By Joseph Orosco (December 29, 2021)

The TrekWars@OSU collective (Dr. Randall Milstein, Dr. Joseph Orosco, and Dr. Jason Scully) gathered together again to discuss the best science fictions stories of 2021.  We chose to talk about those sci-fi narratives that most impacted us in some way, either by engaging in innovative storytelling or by engaging us in thinking about future possibilities in new ways.

Our choices for best science fiction for 2021 were:

Randy Milstein:  The Nevers, Season 1

Joseph Orosco:  The Expanse, Season 6 and Doja Cat, Planet Her

Jason Scully:  DC Legends of Tomorrow

We all agreed that the science fiction product that most underwhelmed us was :  Dune 2021.

Along the way, we noticed that the theme of rendering care to young people was a growing theme in a lot of science fiction stories this year.  We also discussed whether science fiction in the last thirty years has been hemmed in by a cyber punk aesthetic (blended with a neoliberal capitalist reality) that makes it very difficult to imagine, in Jason Scully’s words, a future of “exuberance”.

Let us know what you think.  Did we miss something you think helps us grow a radical imagination (quite frankly–there was a lot)?  (You can also watch our Best of Sci-Fi 2020 here.)

Kobe Bryant, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Kissenger

By Ted Levine (January 28, 2020)

I’m not a basketball fan, or a fan of any sport, and I don’t care very much about the lives of rich and famous people (except when I do). But the reflection below spoke to me about the complexity of feelings about people who have done some terrible things, but also some admirable things.

I think it’s somehow key to our survival as a species that we have the capacity to, not forgive exactly or necessarily, but to love people who are complex and have done some terrible things at one or more points in their lives.

It’s one of the most fascinating themes in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. In that series, there is a longevity treatment that allows people to live, and remain healthy and active, for several centuries. It’s not perfect though. Memories start to degrade. So people live out very different careers, and develop and grow into very different people than they were at one point (but not without some continuity), without really much remembering some of their past “lives.” And they can become lovable after having been terrible, and have no memory of the terrible things they did centuries before.

It’s a rich and fascinating thought experiment about human complexity, identity, redemption, restorative justice, forgiveness, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. Kissinger is still evil.

Handmaid’s Tale Inoculates Viewers from Responsibility for Real Atrocities

By Rachel Wagner (November 18, 2019)

The Haidmaid’s Tale television series producer Warren Littlefield says that Offred’s story “presents a chilling vision into an increasingly likely potential future.”

I suggest that this insistence on relevance is more indicative of a desire to *be* predictive, to believe that media like The Handmaid’s Tale can tell us something about the world and where it is headed—that order is possible. We want prediction. The more uncanny The Handmaid’s Tale seems, the easier it is to believe a television show will help us out of this mess. That it conveniently inoculates viewers from responsibility for the atrocities it references is part of its intense appeal.

The prophecy is parochial: it is for Americans, but only some Americans. It is about localized fear, not about heightening awareness about suffering around the world. It’s about how totalitarianism may come home to roost—not about the ways that Americans may have ignored it or allowed it to take root elsewhere. It’s about how painful it would *be* to become enslaved, not about the legacy of American slavery and its impact on people living right now. It’s about white guilt, but unattractively translated into a kind of performative ritual of vicarious suffering, made all the easier for being sanitized within the screen and only enacted in the safety of clumsily crafted red dresses that signal an incomplete kind of “wokeness.” It’s the “me” generation seeing the only way to process guilt as a spectacle of re-enactment without responsibility for owning the original cause or ongoing pain of the actual victims right around us.

The kind of thrill that Atwood and her crew experience when they see the show as “predictive” or “realistic” is that they have successfully translated some of the pain so many are experiencing in the world today into a more palatable format that exchanges responsibility for trauma into performed victimization and requires, as a result, only “resistance” without any of the complexities of shared blame.

Just Futures: Speculative Arts and Social Change Symposium

Just Futures: Speculative Arts and Social Change

November 22, 2019

Oregon State University

Corvallis, Oregon

Keynote Talk by Dr. Grace Dillion (Anishanaabe)–one of the leaders of Indigenous Futurism

The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures calls for abstracts for this multidisciplinary symposium that aims to bring together scholars, activists, and community members to consider the ways in which speculative arts can help us to diagnose social injustices in the present moment, and to imagine the ways we can catalyze solidarities to achieve more just futures.

Our understanding of speculative arts broadly encompasses the literature/film/television genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, and alternative histories. We seek the ways in which social justice and liberatory social change can be conceptualized through a variety of speculative lenses and themes including, but not limited to:

Major science fiction and fantasy franchises: Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Handmaid’s Tale, Stranger Things, etc

Superhero and Villain universes: Avengers, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, X-Men, etc.

Literary Icons: Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Kim Stanley Robinson, Samuel Delany, Phillip K. Dick, N.K. Jemisin, W.E.B. Du Bois, J.R.R. Tolkein, etc.

Video and Role Playing Games : Halo, World of Warcraft, Fortnite, Minecraft, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.

Comic Books and Anime.

Presentations may be paper presentations, workshops, or poetry/prose readings. They may address some of the following themes and problematics, but are not limited to them:

• Gender and Sexualities
• Intersectionality
• Colonialism
• Imperialism
• White Supremacy
• Ableism and Disability
• Resistance
• Alternatives to capitalism
• Models of friendship
• Human relationships with technology, artificial intelligence, robotics
• Genetic enhancement and transhumanism
• The role of the Environment/non-human animals/creatures
• Future ecological scenarios
• Alternatives paths of co-evolution
• Cross Species Relationships
• The role of women-femmes
• The role of people of color
• The role of children/young people
• Ambiguity around “good guys” and “bad guys” in social conflicts
• Family/found family/lineage/heritage
• Class hierarchies
• Immigration, citizenship, and belonging
• Cultural appropriation and Orientalism
• Heroism through necessity
• The significance of names/naming
• Religion/belief/ritual
• Icons/symbols
• Hope-Despair
• Utopia, dystopias, heterotopias

Please send an abstract for your presentation of no more than 300 words by September 27, 2019. Each presentation will have approximately 20 minutes.


The Death of Revolutionary Thought: What the Game of Thrones Finale Revealed About Ourselves

By Rocio Mercedes Alvarez (May 29, 2019)


Over a week has passed. The series is wrapped up and millions of Game of Thrones fans worldwide have either had their hearts broken or their decades-long theories confirmed. To say the final season was controversial is an understatement, especially if you followed the countless super-fans on a variety of social media platforms (Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and Westeros specific forums)—shout out to all the amazing Youtubers who got us “through the loooong night” that was the year and a half break between seasons 7 and 8.


If you followed these super-fans and “casual fans” throughout season 8, or read anything online about season 8, you’d note that much of the controversy was aimed at two specific individuals: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the show runners and creators of the hit HBO series (or “D&D”, as they are “affectionately” called by the fandom).


The fandom wasn’t necessarily angered by the “major beats” of the plot—which A Song of Ice and Fire creator George R.R. Martin confirmed[1] would most likely be analogous in the book series from which the show is adapted—but rather with the pacing of the story. Many felt the story was too rushed to make certain events believable (e.g. that Jon Snow and Daenerys had a meaningful love affair beyond a one “boat” stand and a magic dragon ride) or to evoke the right emotion when needed (e.g. the death of Daenerys at the hands of her “lover” Jon Snow). Given that it was revealed[2] that HBO would have thrown all the money in the world at Game of Thrones to avoid its hasty conclusion, and that D&D declined the offer, the criticism certainly seems warranted: it was their direction and their version of the story that made it to screen in these final three seasons. But I’m not here to add to that critique. What is far more fascinating is when the microscope is turned onto the fandom itself, and what it reveals about our own global society, its power structures, how they work and how we, its flesh and blood inhabitants, react to them.




Martin has often stated in various interviews that his series should not be read as an allegory to real world issues or crises, despite wonderful commentary and theories to the contrary (e.g. that the threat of the White Walkers can be viewed as our current threat of Climate Change or that the series offers an underlying anti-war sentiment, etc.). But does Martin get to choose how we—the viewers, the readers, the audience—interpret his work? This question could take us down a rabbit hole of debates within philosophy of art and aesthetic theory on whether the interpretation of art ought to consider the author/artist’s intentions for the work (intentionalism) or the work itself, independent of the author/artist’s intentions (anti-intentionalism). To be sure, it is an interesting question and debate, of which I would recommend anyone interested in it to investigate, but I’m not here to contribute to that either. If you must know, my stance lies somewhere in the middle.


Knowing what I know about Martin’s background, one would be hard pressed to separate his own political sentiments from the work. For those of you who don’t know, Martin certainly could be described as anti-war, being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, and he has stated that he could empathize with an exiled princess, growing up in obscurity and relative poverty where once his family had been influential and wealthy. But there are elements of his work (and by extension what we saw in the show), intentional or not, that ought to make us all who have enjoyed and continue to enjoy his work pause: an important depiction on the strategies of political change.


Around the mid-point of season 8, fans became increasingly more disgruntled with the direction of the story (episode 3 “The Long Night” and episode 4 “The Last of the Starks”). A lot of it had to do with the still-opaque conclusion of the White Walker storyline, and then the “beginning” of “Daenerys’ turn” towards the “dark-side”. Admittedly, that fourth episode hurt. Our favorite characters had just come together to defeat the Night King, his generals of White Walkers, and the Army of the Dead only to slide back into their old, toxic habits—I’m looking at you Jaime and Sansa! Up to that point most of us believed that these wonderfully rich characters had carved a new life for themselves and shedde the past attitudes and motivations that often got them in trouble, for the common good. We were wrong.


It is also around this time that more criticism was hitting the internet, ranging from how D&D were trash for not giving viewers sufficient insight into the White Walkers and their motivations to intersectional critiques about Daenerys as a female leader with tinges of entitlement, white privilege and white savior troupes. What many fans have enjoyed about the series is its realism at the heart of its more fantastical elements. Why should we expect to get any kind of resolution from death? Death comes, often with no reason or explanation, no matter how many times we try to convince ourselves that “everything happens for a reason”—reminding me of Jaqen H’ghar’s poignant line to Arya in the House of Black and White: “Does death only come for the wicked?” No. And why would we critique the patriarchal attitudes toward Dany as “The Mad Queen” within the context of the story, which tells us over and over again that the majority of Westerosi society is patriarchal. Did we forget Cersei’s storyline? Critics seemed to also forget that whatever entitlement Dany had as the sole surviving member of House Targaryen ended with the annihilation of her house approximately fifteen years before the start of the current story. The power she gained throughout the story was from her own efforts, beginning with the birth of her dragons. As for the racial critiques, we ought to remember that Dany’s family are foreigners to Westeros as well. The Valyrian people are eastern, and according to some super-fans[3] perhaps descendants of the even further east and older societies of Yi-Ti and the Great Empire of the Dawn. Dany shouldn’t be seen as an outsider to the inhabitants of Essos. She is one of them—perhaps an albino—but she is the blood of Old Valyria. Furthermore, when has anyone’s flexing of white privilege or white savior troupe ever asked the people “Do you want to be free?” She demonstrated her power in “culturally relevant” ways. The Unsullied, the former slaves of Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, and the Dothraki chose, in their freedom, to support her agenda of “breaking the wheel” in the societies they found themselves in. Not particularly keen on nor convinced by these shallow commentaries, I began to embrace the dystopian future ahead.




Taking a cue from Derrick Bell’s concept of racial realism and the permanence of racism, I began to look differently at the events unfolding in Westeros.


On Bell’s view there is a permanence to the institution of racism in the United States that no amount of legislative, legal, or social reform will do away with. As I understand Bell, the sooner we understand that fact (i.e., the permanence of racism), the sooner we can develop better strategies for living in a society that maintains and perpetuates racism on a permanent basis. Am I saying that Westeros has a problem with racism like the U.S.? Absolutely not, though they certainly have their fair share of xenophobia (just ask Gilly, Tormund, Wun Wun, Daenerys, Missandei, Grey Worm or Qhono). What I’m saying is that Westeros, and perhaps the entire Ice and Fire world has a permanence of oppressive oligarchical rule, whether seen through the noble houses of Westeros, or the nobility of enslavers in Slaver’s Bay. Sure there are the Nine Free Cities in Essos, but their oligarchies resemble our own with powerful capitalist merchants, financial and religious institutions. Still, for the most part, Westeros and Essos have a permanence of oligarchical rule. By the end of the fourth episode I was convinced that Martin and/or D&D had read some of Bell’s work as the story looked like it was leading to the return of a permanent state of oligarchy. Then episode 5 “The Bells” happened (perhaps aptly titled?). Daenerys torched King’s Landing, along with most of its occupants, and for that week, between “The Bells” and the season/series finale, “The Iron Throne,” I thought, “She’s going to do it! She’s going to break the motherfucking wheel!”


See, Daenerys was the only true revolutionary leader of the series. Cersei told us as much back in season 7, episode 3 “The Queen’s Justice”. In her pursuit of a successful alliance between herself and the Iron Bank, Cersei said, “From what I gather, she [Daenerys] considers herself more of a revolutionary than a monarch. In your experience how do bankers usually fair with revolutionaries? The Lannisters owe the Iron Bank quite a lot of money, but Lannisters always pay their debts. Do former slaves, or Dothrakis, or dragons?” Daenerys’ revolutionary tactics in Essos were palatable to viewers and readers because they targeted oligarchs that we didn’t have much sympathy for. No one’s going to shed a tear for sadistic “noble” enslavers or a group of Khals and their blood riders who just threatened to rape her to death. Most fans only started to question Daenerys’ tactics when she turned, or threatened to turn, them on the oligarchs that we had sympathy for, and the people who keep them in power. (Much can be said about this subjective characteristic, but I’ll set that aside for the moment.)


For many fans, Daenerys’ targeting of innocent people in King’s Landing was unforgivable, both for her character and D&D. They speculated that Dany would have to die for her crime and complained that D&D had not provided enough character development that could sufficiently convince us that Daenerys—The Breaker of Chains and all that—could be capable of mass murder. I beg to differ. In a short scene between Daenerys and Tyrion just before her destruction of King’s Landing, Daenerys herself explains why the people are not innocent, effectively maintaining character continuity.


Tyrion: The people who live there, they’re not your enemies. They’re innocents, like the one’s you liberated in Meereen.


Daenerys: In Meereen the slaves turned on the masters and liberated the city themselves the moment I arrived.


Tyrion: They’re afraid. Anyone who resists Cersei will see his family butchered. You can’t expect them to be heroes. They’re hostages.


Daenerys: They are. In a tyrant’s grip. Whose fault is that? Mine?


Tyrion: What does it matter whose fault it is? Thousands of children will die if the city burns!


Daenerys: Your sister knows how to use her enemies weaknesses against them. That’s what she thinks our mercy is: weakness.


Tyrion: I beg you, my Queen—


Daenerys: But she’s wrong. Mercy is our strength. Our mercy towards future generations who will never again be held hostage by a tyrant.


In other words, the “innocent” people of King’s Landing were her enemies, and she explicitly states here, and in the finale, that her calculated actions and future actions would be for the betterment of future generations. As Dany said, she would do whatever was necessary to ensure future generations didn’t have to live under tyrants. Given Tyrion’s horrendous strategy to date that arguably led to the loss of two of her dragon-children, nearly all of her true allies, as well as the growing betrayal and second-guessing of her remaining supposed allies, few options were left to make her agenda a reality.


Tyrion’s appeal to her by attempting to equate the liberation of King’s Landing with Meereen was quickly shot down, and it should be obvious to us too, that those two situations are vastly different. The people of King’s Landing did nothing to liberate themselves from Cersei’s power and cruelty. Cersei didn’t lift a finger to stop the murder of Robert’s bastards, let the people starve, empowered the Faith Militant, blew up the Sept of Balor and they did nothing. Fast forward to Dany’s arrival in Westeros, the people either knew or should have known that she would have their backs in a rebellion against Cersei, and again they did nothing—actually they continued to support Cersei and look to her for protection. Tyrion says they were scared, and therefore can’t be expected to be “hereos”—sure, tell that to the slaves of Yunkai and Meereen! Varys, on numerous occasions has said that “men decide where power resides” so how could we fault Dany for viewing the people of King’s Landing as enemies? The people of King’s Landing are not innocent. The people of King’s Landing are complacent. Have they been manipulated into this complacency? Possibly. But that doesn’t absolve them from the complacency.



Still the majority of fans viewed Daenerys’ actions as morally wrong, unforgivable, irrational, and “dark” because, I suspect, they cling to a particular conception of innocence. In many ways this situation is reminiscent of America’s inability to reckon with its historical and present day racism and exploitation. When we think about contemporary arguments against reparations for slavery or indigenous genocide, the go to response is “I had nothing to do with that…I am innocent”. But many of these “innocents” fail to observe the historical and contemporary impact of those policies and how they have, and continue to unfairly benefit from them in a structural sense. Like the population of King’s Landing, the vast majority of Americans not only don’t give a damn about “the games the high lords play,” but they are truly apathetic towards radical revolution and an overthrow of those systems and institutions that envelop them with the warm blanket of complacency, settling for the illusion of “gradual change”. For Dany, and anyone who is anti-racist, anti-war, anti-capitalism, and against the oligarchies and complacency that keeps those oligarchs and the institutions that maintain and perpetuate such systems, there is no innocence when it comes to explicit or implicit support of rotten systems and institutions… you are the enemy.


Now at this point you may be thinking, “But the children! What about the children?? Surely they’re innocent in all of this.” Are they? Consider for a moment that since the Civil Rights Movement it has been argued, by many a conservative, liberal and those in between, that our society is post-racial. Let’s not just flat out laugh at this preposterous statement, but take it as a serious position. How then do we explain the continuation of racism in our current society, young and old? Furthermore, let’s not pretend that the American empire has not and does not continue to systematically murder, enslave (or comply with or abet the murder and enslavement of) other people’s children and innocents. How disgusting are we as a culture to be morally offended at the actions in a fictional drama yet have nothing to say in the real world, about real systems, real institutions and real people? Like King’s Landing, the American empire is crumbling all around us yet we continue to bury our heads in the sand, clinging to the absurd notion that if we just keep our heads down and proclaim our innocence, we’ll be safe.


In discussing this piece with my mom she rightfully questioned, “Well, what makes Dany’s actions different from regime change?” I think this can be addressed by recognizing different forms of regime change. Cersei effected regime change in King’s Landing, but it was selfishly motivated to increase her own power and authority at little cost to herself. You can argue, “But she lost Jaime and their three incest-born children.” True, though it is often theorized, more so in the books than the series, that Cersei’s seemingly unconditional love for Jaime and her children are actually rooted in her own narcissism and the proximity to power that she gains from them—and let’s not forget, Jaime went back to her! On the other hand, Daenerys’ desire for regime change was mostly rooted in her own experiences of exile, abuse, and enslavement and not wanting to see others treated similarly. Yes, she had a sense of entitlement, mainly through the education of her abusive brother, but also because she believed it was her destiny to use her power in the liberation of oppressed peoples. She was their Queen not by right of inheritance, but because as Missandei stated, “She’s the Queen we chose”. In this context, her slaughter of King’s Landing was a mercy—a mercy to those unwilling to liberate themselves, and a mercy to future generations. Daenerys was a revolutionary, and just like our real world revolutionaries, she was shamefully portrayed (for us and the characters) as a Hitler-esque fascist, assassinated, and her movement neutralized by the FBI and CIA of Westeros, the noble houses.



Within the past few days popular philosopher, Slavoj Zizek writing for The Independent,[4] and Matthew Yglesias writing for Vox,[5] have offered similar points of critique—Zizek on Dany’s role as a revolutionary and our aversion to such agents of change and Yglesias on the supposed innocence of King’s Landing. Zizek and Yglesias are certainly on the right track, but for whatever reason, do not take us far enough in what these critiques can reveal about ourselves, our own global society, its power structures, how they work and how we react to them.


Fan reaction to Daenerys’ final story arc reveals that many of us fail to see the nuance in strategies for real change. In fact, what is revealed is that our society is so entrenched in neoliberal ideology that we cheer for revolutionary change when it comes at no cost to ourselves and what or whom we hold dear, but as soon as revolutionary change gets too close we recoil, drudging out all the moral and social scientific arguments we’ve been taught by our neoliberal institutions. The kind of exceptionalism arguments that tout Just War Theory principles when aggression is leveled at those we’ve defined as “innocent”, but fly by the wayside when directed at those whom we feel less connected with. The kind of arguments that claim certain timeframes and goal posts need to be met so that we can have gradual change. The kind of arguments that suggest there is a right way and a wrong way to approach social change. What the final season of Game of Thrones has revealed is the death of revolutionary thought and the complacency of a decaying empire stubbornly and oppressively trying to retain its power. And, if there was ever a time where the world needed truly revolutionary thought it is now.



[1] http://georgerrmartin.com/notablog/2019/05/20/an-ending/

[2] https://ew.com/tv/2019/04/09/game-of-thrones-season-8-showrunners-interview/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfDBq1c7LdA

[4] https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/game-thrones-season-8-finale-bran-daenerys-cersei-jon-snow-zizek-revolution-a8923371.html?fbclid=IwAR2sUSwKSOk54CdOKjNBbsUXxCPbP7ewUcjaFFzWC1i6E9Fof9tbZS1XZBk

[5] https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/5/26/18637091/game-of-thrones-targaryen-restoration-daenerys?fbclid=IwAR30AK7TOZ5c_BwvpI0IRIeGnFXVVaxEP5-YpHdM4wDi32tYspeoyOon7rk

MLK, Jr. Was a Sci-Fi Geek (and It Shaped His Idea of Justice, Too)

By Joseph Orosco (January 22, 2019)

By now, a lot of people have heard the story of how Star Trek was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s favorite TV show.


It was, according to Nichelle Nichols, the only program he allowed his children to watch because it portrayed African Americans living in a future where they were treated equally and with dignity and respect. He believed that this representation was an important image for young Black people to see and he urged Nichols not to leave the show. (She stayed and her role had tremendous impact—it encouraged Whoopie Goldberg to seek her role as Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and inspired Mae Jemison to become the first African American female astronaut. Soniqua Martin Green has recently said that Nichols motivated her as the star of the most recent Star Trek series Discovery).

It’s interesting to speculate how Star Trek might have influenced King’s thinking. Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) premiered in September 1966. This was after the two big legislative victories of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was also a year after Watts burned and the same year race riots broke out in Cleveland and Omaha. King had moved to Illinois at this point to extend his organizing into urban issues in the North, including unemployment, housing discrimination, and poverty. He had started to think about the effects of the Vietnam War and how it robbed people of life and the means the sustain themselves. It was a particularly difficult time for him politically, emotionally, and spiritually. How did a science fiction story about human beings living in the 23rd Century–in which war, hunger, racism, and poverty had been overcome–affect his sense of hope for the future and what was possible for humanity?

It’s not a far fetched idea to think Star Trek touched King’s imagination. We know that he was a fan of speculative fiction from his earliest days—and we know that his wife Coretta was partly responsible for stoking his creativity along this path.

When they were first dating in 1952, Coretta gave King a copy of Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel, Looking Backward. She instructed him that she wanted him to read it and return to tell her his thoughts about it. Bellamy’s book, written in the 19th century, imagines what a socialist United States would look like in the year 2000 (free medical care and unemployment benefits for everyone!).

In an amazing and touching note, the 23-year old King writes to his future wife and tells her how much he enjoyed the book—so much so that he admits he wants his future ministerial work to be guided by the kind of vision of progress hinted at in it—a world free of war, with a better distribution of wealth and resources, and solidarity instead of racism. He admits that he agrees with Bellamy that capitalism has no future for humanity but he worries what revolutionary socialism can justify in terms of violence. For the next sixteen years, he would reflect and refine his thinking on these subjects, leading him to not only imagine the Promised Land, but also to the devise the organizational strategies and policies—the Poor People’s Campaign, universal basic income, demilitarization—to try and get there.

Walidah Imarisha and adrienne maree brown have given us this notion of visionary fiction in their collection of stories Octavia’s Brood:

Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always bending toward justice…Once the imagination is unshackled, liberation is limitless. (p. 4)

I would argue that some of King’s works, such as the “I have a dream” speech and his idea of the Beloved Community are verging on visionary literature in this sense.  As the King Center puts it:

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.  In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it.  Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice will be replaced by an all inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.  In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power.  Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred.  Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.

All in all, King’s vision of the future for humanity is a clear example of the power of utopian speculative fiction, and Star Trek, in particular, to nourish an imagination in the pursuit of justice.


Science Fiction Can Tell Us What We Need to Know About Space Force

By Joseph Orosco (November 2, 2018)

Mark Bould shows us that if you know the science fiction of alien invasion you can pretty much analyze the reasoning behind Trump’s proposal for Space Force:

“Vice President Mike Pence’s August 9 Space Force press junket made clear that this great big bullying blustering pussy-grab for space, this effort to Make America Great Again and recover all that was lost to the perfidy of previous administrations is about just one thing: occupying the high ground. Getting out of the gravity well so as to be able to rain down shit on anyone who gets out of line. It is just a tired reboot of the old imperial fantasy of control from above. It can be traced through nineteenth-century science fiction about airborne anarchists and dirigible dictators, and through Winston Churchill’s bombing of Iraqi Kurds; it can be seen in the fruity fascist overtones of the Wings Over the World global law enforcers in Things to Come (1936), and in the Strategic Defense Initiative first advocated by sundry SF writers and then by Ronald Reagan; and it can be seen in the murderous drone program overseen by Bush, Jr., Obama, and Trump.”

You can read more here.

Dreaming New Futures: Walidah Imarisha @ Radical Imagination Conference

Walidah Imarisha was one of the keynote speakers at the first Opening Space for the Radical Imagination Conference at Oregon State from April 6-8, 2018. Walidah Imarisha is co-editor of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS) book, co-published with AK Press, Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements and author of IAS/AK Press book Angels with Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption.

Her talk was entitled:  Dreaming New Futures:  Science Fiction and Social Change.

Using Visionary Science Fiction to Teach Community Organizing

By Joseph Orosco (March 20, 2018)

Every year, I teach a class which is an introduction to the discipline of peace studies. About five years ago, after teaching a successful seminar on community organizing and praxis with Anarres Project co-founder, Tony Vogt, I started to include theories of community organizing into the class. We start the term by looking at a variety of global issues—violence against women, global poverty, environmental degradation, war—and then go into how to organize ordinary people into agents that can shift power relationships to make social change.

The community organizing authors we’ve looked at include Saul Alinsky, Francis Fox Piven, Kathe Sarachild, and Staughton Lynd. But this year, I added a new component. I incorporated the work of Walidah Imarisha, Morrigan Phillips, and adrienne maree brown; more specifically, I had my students think about organizing through visionary science fiction.

For several years now, since the publication of Octavia’s Brood, Imarisha, Phillips, and Brown have been utilizing a workshop to teach people organizing skills that relies on people’s love and fascination with fantasy and science fiction worlds. The workshops involve asking people to visit their favorite universes and investigate the power relationships within them. Once the forces of oppression are revealed, then the participants are asked to imagine what steps the most marginalized members of that universe can do to liberate themselves.

I wanted my students to experience this form of envisioning liberation, but I’m not trained in this facilitation. I also wasn’t completely sure my students were all that nerdy and have their favorite fandom.

But that’s when I found FutureStates.

FutureStates was a television series that ran on public television from about 2011 to 2014. It highlighted new and emerging filmmakers who would engage with future trends in technology and social issues. Most of the episodes are about 15-20 minutes long and they vary in quality—the production values were usually low, but some of the story telling is superb. Most importantly, unlike more current series that deal with tech trends, such as Black Mirror, Future States deals with explicit social justice issues, such as racism, sexism, discrimination, etc.

So I modified the Octavia’s Brood model slighty.

I had all my students watch an episode of Future States entitled “White”. It takes place in the near future, in which global warming has increased and summer temperatures in the US are excessive. In the show, rich white individuals are purchasing melanin from brown and black individuals in order to protect themselves from the sun. Poor folk of color bleach their bodies as some might sell blood plasma today.


Then I had my students analyze the episode in the following ways:

  1. They had to identify the groups or individuals who seemed to be in control or have power in this world and explain what kind of power they wielded. We had used Steven Lukes’ theory of the three faces of power as a basis: coercion, agenda setting power, and preference setting power.
  2. They had to identity the groups or individuals who seemed to be oppressed by the exercise of power and explain what kind of oppression was present. We had studied several theories of oppression, including Paulo Freire, Martin Buber, Phillip Hallie, and Iris Marion Young.
  3. They then had to imagine what kind of liberatory strategy the oppressed ought to take to free themselves from the oppression. Since it was a class emphasizing nonviolence, we didn’t talk about armed struggle as an option; instead I asked them to think about what kind of community organizing model might work in the situation: Alinksy style organization building, disruption theory, consciousness-raising, or accompaniment.


I think this experiment with visionary science fiction was successful. Students were emotionally impacted by the episodes of Future States we viewed together and their analyses of “White” were incisive and imaginative. Several of them suggested creating a supply crisis, through Fox Piven’s notion of disruption, to highlight the unfairness of having to objectify one’s body in this particular way. A few noticed how the episode seemed to speak to issues of cultural appropriation and exploitation today.

I would love to continue this experiment using Future States and would welcome any comments or thoughts or discussion of how people have used visionary science fiction/fantasy to imagine liberation.  What has worked or not, in your experience?


Why Can’t We Punch Death Eaters?

By Phoenix Calida (January 5, 2018)

Things I don’t understand-

#TheResistance on twitter.

I just watched a member of the “resistance” with 20k followers and a Princess Leia avatar say that we can’t condone violence or property damage.

Like did you even watch the movies??

I’ve seen various Harry Potter nerds call themselves Dumbledore’s army and compare the mangerine to Voldemort. But then also say punching nazis is bad.

Do you understand the role Voldemort played in the series?? Why can’t we punch death eaters?

I’ve seen “resistance” members using names & Walking dead background images… but be mad that antifa exists and Redneck Revolt has guns.

They have groups dedicated to the Hunger games, Star Trek, Star Wars, Divergent; all kinds of movies, books, comics where the good character literally has to fight the bad character to stop a war, save the world, save their family…

And so many of these folks insist we need to do everything without any violence or property damage. We can’t punch nazis. We can’t break windows. We can’t physically fight.

So, 1. That’s not how it works. You can’t debate genocide over a cup of tea and unradicalize the alt Reich.

2. It’s weird af y’all pick these characters who literally fought against evil and sometimes died in the process. Why pick a character who is willing to be in the streets fighting if you aren’t?

3. If your movement is too shook to punch nazis or the alt Reich, tf are you actually resisting? It’s not fascism, cult45, or the haircrow.


The Utopiyin Imagination: Moving Forward Toward a Better World with Ursula Le Guin

By Joseph Orosco (July 12, 2017)

Espen Hammer argues in the New York Times that we need to revive the utopian imagination in this era, fascinated by dystopian themes:

“There are reasons, however, to think that a fully modern society cannot do without a utopian consciousness. To be modern is to be oriented toward the future. It is to be open to change even radical change, when called for. With its willingness to ride roughshod over all established certainties and ways of life, classical utopianism was too grandiose, too rationalist and ultimately too cold. We need the ability to look beyond the present. But we also need More’s insistence on playfulness. Once utopias are embodied in ideologies, they become dangerous and even deadly. So why not think of them as thought experiments? They point us in a certain direction. They may even provide some kind of purpose to our strivings as citizens and political beings”.

Hammer offers some categories of utopia as a way to understand how this kind of imagination has operated in the past and what is no longer a viable way to envision alternative futures.

The first is the Utopia of Desire (a world in which all needs and desires are fulfilled). Hammer thinks that in our world of endless consumer consumption this kind of vision is not particularly motivating. The next is the Utopia of Technology ( a world in which technology provides the means to solve all of humanity’s pressing problems). This kind of utopia is not inspiring any longer in a world that recognizes the dangers of technological innovation, such as nuclear destruction. Finally, there is the Utopia of Justice (a world in which all social injustice is removed). Hammer thinks that no one can be convinced of this kind of vision in the aftermath of a totalitarian 20th century.

In the end, Hammer argues that the only kind of utopian vision that can really capture our imagination and move us to act is a Utopia of Nature:

“In my view, only one candidate is today left standing. That candidate is nature and the relation we have to it. More’s island was an earthly paradise of plenty. No amount of human intervention would ever exhaust its resources. We know better. As the climate is rapidly changing and the species extinction rate reaches unprecedented levels, we desperately need to conceive of alternative ways of inhabiting the planet.”

(Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent novels that envision how humanity might flourish in a world forever changed by climate change seem to be along the lines of what Hammer might be calling for.)

But there is something especially fatalistic in Hammer’s discussion about the dimensions of the utopian imagination today. No doubt we have to think about alternative ways of living with nature. But Hammer accepts the myth of scarcity—we have to learn how to do things differently now because there is just not enough to go around. At least from a social ecologist standpoint, this is a flawed assumption. It’s not that nature is limited, it’s that some have more than is fair because of an economic system, global capitalism, that privileges hierarchy and domination. An ecological society can only be built, Murray Bookchin reminds us, by re-imagining political and economic structures:

“Social ecology is based on the conviction that nearly all of our present ecological problems originate in deep-seated social problems. It follows, from this view, that these ecological problems cannot be understood, let alone solved, without a careful understanding of our existing society and the irrationalities that dominate it. To make this point more concrete: economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts, among many others, lie at the core of the most serious ecological dislocations we face today—apart, to be sure, from those that are produced by natural catastrophes”

In other words, what we still need (and perhaps more than ever) are Utopias of Justice that involve deep and nuanced conceptions of justice. But how can we resuscitate this tradition of utopian thinking?

Here, it might be more useful to think along the with Ursula Le Guin in terms of Utopiyin and Utopiyang. The Yin-Yang dynamic is something that has influenced her work for years. She understands it this way: “Yang is male, bright, dry, hard, active, penetrating. Yin is female, dark, wet, easy, receptive, containing. Yang is control, yin acceptance. They are great and equal powers; neither can exist alone, and each is always in process of becoming the other.”

Le Guin thinks our dystopian era has focused mostly on picturing Yang worlds in which Yin is severely restricted or even eliminated: she has Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty Four in mind. Yin dystopias are represented our fascination with the zombie apocalypse or Octavia Butler’s Parable trilogy: “popular visions of social breakdown, total loss of control—chaos and old night”.

Thus, what Hammer seems to object to in rejecting the Utopia of Justice and Technology are actually Yang tinged visions that emphasize control over institutions and machinery eventually seeping into political control of some over the many.

Le Guin seems to tell us that what we need is a radical utopian imagination that provokes us to think of a just world in Yin terms—a Utopiyin:

“My guess is that the kind of thinking we are, at last, beginning to do about how to change the goals of human domination and unlimited growth to those of human adaptability and long term survival is a shift from yang to yin, and so involves acceptance of impermanence and imperfection, a patience with uncertainty and the makeshift, a friendship with water, darkness, and the earth”.

Any suggestions of works that operate in a Utopiyin imagination?