Monday, October 19, 2009

Feminization of Science Fiction and Fantasy?

by Sylvie Bérard

I just came across this link, that made me jump: The Feminization of Science Fictiom (and Fantasy). According to Whiskey, author of the article, women have been changing science fiction to a point that it has become almost unrecognizable and, well, it is not that it is bad science fiction per se but... and blahblahblah... (*sigh*). Maybe the author just wanted to be polemical, but he is also being very misogynistic in his text.

I do not have time to respond right now and not even to summarize the article, but I wanted to share this enlightening piece of prose, and my perplexity (to say the least), with you.

Oh, and those of you who are on Facebook can go read Bitch Magazine's reaction to it:
The Spearhead on Sci-Fi: NO GIRLS ALLOWED!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Polymorph perversity (call for papers) (in French)

by Sylvie Bérard

Below, please find a call for papers for a session that I will be chairing at the CIEF (Conseil international d'études francophones) conference in June 2010. It is in French, but the topic (polymorph perversity in science fiction) is so close to what we are discussing here that I thought I might as well give it a try for the few fluent French readers following this blog.

Here is how it goes.


Voici un appel à communications pour un atelier que j'organise dans le cadre du congrès du CIEF à Montréal (juin 2010). Si la chose vous intéresse, communiquez avec moi (sberard[at]trentu[dot]ca) et je vous donnerai plus de détails. Date limite: 25 octobre 2009. Et surtout, n'hésitez pas à faire suivre l'appel!

«Perversité polymorphe de la science-fiction québécoise»
À la lecture des récits de science-fiction québécoise, on ne peut qu’être saisi par le nombre et la diversité des représentations du sexe et de la sexualité. Métamorphoses sexuelles (Vonarburg), hermaphrodisme (Rochon), sexualité trouble frôlant la pédophilie (Sernine), etc., font de ces oeuvres de véritables récits de la perversité polymorphe ! On peut se rappeler alors les propos de Susan Sontag (1991) qui associe l’espace-temps science-fictionnel à celui de la pornographie. Cette session tentera donc de mettre en perspective ces différentes représentations sexuelles. Les questions qui seront abordées pourront inclure, par exemple, en rapport avec la SF québécoise : le questionnement sexuel comme topos science-fictionnel ; sexualité et espace-temps en SF ; pornographie et science-fiction ; particularités sexuelles de la SF québécoise par rapport au genre en général.

Pour de plus amples renseignements:

Pour vous appâter... voici moi-même, fort bien entourée, au congrès du CIEF de 2005*.


* From left to right: Francine Pelletier (Québec SF writer), Sylvie Bérard, Robert Laliberté (director of the International Association for Québec Studies), Élisabeth Vonarburg (Québec SF writer), Claude Janelle (Québec SF and Fantasy specialist).

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to dream science fiction

by Sylvie Bérard

At the end of July, while everybody was heading to Montreal for Worldcon,
I was leaving in the opposite direction, heading to Cerisy-la-Salle, France, for a ten-day conference on science fiction under the theme "Comment rêver la science-fiction à présent" ["Contemporary science fiction dreams of tomorrows" or, literally, "How to dream science fiction at present"].

The organisers Danièle André (Université Pasquale Paoli, Corte), Daniel Tron (Université de Poitiers), and Aurélie Villers (Université de Nice), wanted to check whether SF had a future or was slowly dying. Science fiction had been the source of most twentieth century myths, it had offered a remarkable base for representation of contemporary society and helped us understand the complexity our own world, but was it still relevant in those times when reality was constantly competing with the most unbelievable scientific hypotheses, when even science seemed to have trouble renewing itself? Forty or so scholars met to reflect on the serious matter of the future of science fiction, to produce a "state of the question" of contemporary SF and to address a series of sub-questions: could SF keep surfing forever on the same old myths in new, futuristic contexts? could it regenerate itself in new supports and/or in cultural contexts other than those where it had flourished during its first century of existence? hadn't the hybridation process with other genres transformed it already, and if so, in which way? where do the new models could come from? and was hybridation a sign of renewal or, on the contrary, of a profound crisis?

There probably were fewer Klingons and 3D models over there than there were in Montreal, and the panels and paper had their dark, pessimistic moments, but overall the conference was a blast. The questions were many; approaches were pluridisciplinary and not only limited to the (French) written word. Scholars came not only from France, but from the US, Canada, UK and Spain. Papers pertained to fields such as arts and media studies, language and literature studies, hard and social sciences, communication, history, psychology, philosophy, etc. SF works included literature, cinema, graphic novels, animés, mangas and visual arts. The format was also different from most North-American conferences, as it was based on forty-minute papers followed by a twenty-minute discussion, which left plenty of time to satisfactorily deploy a topic, and to discuss it thoroughly. The conference also included performances, round tables, public readings of works of fiction, and film showings. The fact that most participants lived in the castle for the whole duration of the conference and so could meet between the papers and other activities, helped make this conference a real ten-day science fiction-based utopia.

I have been told that it has now become a tradition: the last ten days of July at the Centre culturel international de Cerisy-la-Salle a
re now dedicated to the "littératures de l'imaginaire" ["literatures of the imaginary"]. Well, that's probably not the last ten-day stay that I spend secluded in that Normandy castle, discussing outlandish matters...

PS: To take into account the core topic of this blog, I should add that the future of SF didn't seem very queer, at least based on this conference, as only a few of the papers actually covered queer topics: Margaret Galvan's paper on women only utopian science fiction and Anne Kustritz's paper on postmodern eugenism. But this is French academy, and gender studies are not as common as they are in the anglosaxon world--and it is significant that the two scholars I mentioned are from the US. Even the paper I presented at Cerisy was not really about queer or gender matters (although it is a bit unavoidable when talking about that author), as my paper was about dream as a SF topos in Élisabeth Vonarburg's fiction.

For a complete list of the papers that were presented. check the conference website (in French).
For an excellent (also in French) review of the conference, check this website.

Oh, and for your information, next year's conference will be on the Western, if you so feel inclined.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer of the Caricature?

It will take a moment to explain what this has to do with sexuality and science fiction, but I've been struck by the extent to which new work in sf and fantasy media looks like caricature. First there was the strange caricature that is the new 'original' Star Trek film. I've no problem with using an alternative universe to get away from some of the canonical details of the original show. My problem comes when things like characterization become something sufficiently different from the original as to look like ... yes, a caricature. It's not even smart enough to be satire, which might have been more interesting.

Take the character of James Kirk, for example. On the original show, yes, he was a womanizer. The dead girlfriend of the week was an absolute cliche. But his attitude towards women, while still sexist (we're talking the 60s after all) was considerably less obnoxious and generally down market than this new Kirk. What's with the totally sexist come-ons to Uhura? Of course, that's a rhetorical question. Like Star Trek: Enterprise this new film is being made by people whose ideologies are light years removed from Gene Rodenberry's. Even Enterprise's credits were regressive and sexist. Instead of leading the pack, this film gives us a deeply conservative view of gender and sex. Uhura's completely inexplicable passion for Spock is a good example; even more so, his apparent -- but also entirely unexplained -- return of her affections. Is it so important to heterosexualize these characters that they must be rendered into mere caricatures of themselves?

Here's another example. The tv show Merlin is such an appalling caricature of anything to do with the legend of King Arthur that it's unrecognizable. Why even bother to use these names? We have fifth century characters (who may or may not have had any historical reality) transplanted to something that looks vaguely like the 12th century (judging by the use of stirrups and the type of armour and weapons). But then, even that has to be fudged because, apparently, we would be unable to admire our male heroes if they were not wearing pants. Merlin looks like he's wearing jeans under his tunic, as does Arthur. I guess real men don't wear skirts.

Sad, sad, sad. The Merlin thing could have been quite a fun show if they'd simply set it in a fantasy universe and not stolen names associated with a long tradition of myth and legend. And the Star Trek could have been great if the characters had been treated with respect and not played for cheap (and heterosexist) laughs.


Wendy Gay Pearson

Monday, June 15, 2009


Ok, I've worn out all the familiar choices. I need new reading recommendations. Any suggestions for good queer, lgbt, trans, genderfuck and so on sf books? Or almost sf books? I'm not averse to slipstream, magic realism or even full on fantasy, so long as it's well written.

Wendy Gay Pearson

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Not a top 10, but yet a list

More than 12 years ago, for my Ph.D. dissertation in semiotics, I built my own list of women's queer SF. Not really a top 10, but a list of 9 narratives based on what I had read back then, and what I thought would be a representative selection. More specifically, I was working on narratives (novels and short stories) written by women and featuring a sexualised encounter between a human character (a character living in a world based on two genetically dominant genders, male and female) and a character not pertaining to such a system (a mutant, an alien, etc.). I had chosen to focus on the period I defined as "between the New Wave and the Cyberpunk", so that explains why I had to omit too ancient or too recent yet relevant texts. Submitting my dissertation in a French (Québec) university, I also thought important to include fictions originally published in French.

Anyway, here is my list:
  • Octavia Butler, "Bloodchild"
  • Pat Cadigan, "Pretty Boy Crossover"
  • Jaygee Carr, Leviathan's Deep
  • Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Christine Renard, "Les Narcisses poussent le soir" ["Narcissuses grow at night" (my translation)]
  • Esther Rochon, Coquillage [The Shell]
  • Joanna Russ, "What did you do during the revolution, Grandma?"
  • James Tiptree, Jr, "Your Haploid Heart"
  • Élisabeth Vonarburg, "Dans la fosse" ["In the Pit"]
I'm not sure if my list would be the same if I was writing the same dissertation today, but those sure were great and rich narratives.

The dissertation (in French) Je pense or je suis: Discours et identité dans la SF côté femmes: Entre la New Wave et le cyberpunk [I Think or I Am: Discourse and Identity in SF on the Women's Side: Between the New Wave and the Cyberpunk] is available through the Université du Québec à Montreal library.

Sylvie Berard

Friday, April 17, 2009

queer movie medievalisms

Anyone know anything about this book??

Nicola Griffith

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We've been Amazon Ranked ... and then some!

With all the buzz about Amazon sales rankings being removed from lesbian and gay books in the name of avoiding "adult" content, I thought I had better check out QU. Typed in "queer universes" in the search box and got 5 pages of results with the word "universe" in their title -- but none with the word "queer." No QU. Disturbing. Typed in my own name, wondering whether I would have personally been Amazon Ranked because of my middle name (what would that do to Gay Talese, I wonder?). Got some of my essays (nice that can make a profit out of selling my work, but doesn't have to pay me royalties), but, again, no QU. Typed in Veronica's name. Ditto. No QU anywhere.

Then I tried a few keywords, like "sexuality and science fiction." Still no QU. Finally I went to, where -- at least for the moment -- a title search on Queer Universes still actually produces a result. I then copied the ISBN into Bingo! There's our book. From that page all the links worked -- I could get to my own name, to Veronia's and Joan's, and back to the book. Closed the browser, re-opened it and tried the search under "queer universes" again. Disturbingly, no book.

So clearly this is not just about ranking. It's about making actual books disappear. As an academic book -- a category that many folks consider dry by definition -- I don't really think it could be condemned for "adult" content. What gives the lie to this, in any case, is that Amazon has left up the links and rankings for dildoes, vibrators, anal plugs, as well as for straight sex manuals, such as The Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex.

I think a strongly worded email is on its way, not to mention a head's up to both Liverpool University Press and to the University of Chicago Press, which is QU's distributor in the US.

By the way, the ranking on has disappeared, but at least the book still exists. All things considered, I'm with Nicola on this. It's despicable beyond belief.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What about film?

It's easy to make a list of queer sf. Of course, there'll be some variation, depending on how the list-maker defines both 'queer' and 'sf'.... Erm, that is, so long as we're talking about novels and short stories. What about film, though?

Is sf cinema behind the times, off in another universe, or so heteronormative (sorry, I mean that it's stuck thinking about things only from the perspective of a very cliched version of heterosexuality) as to be almost impervious to queer readings?

Not that there aren't some exceptions. Jackie Stacey has a great article on queer kinship in Gattaca, Roz Kaveney reads Independence Day's main theme as anxiety about male bonding leading to homosexual panic, Vivian Sobchak has done some work on the creepy representation of sexuality in AI, Mark Bould and Greg Tuck have looked at sexuality in Japanese sf films. The fact that I can list individual pieces of criticism off the top of my head is an indication of its dearth. SF cinema just doesn't seem very queer, so most of the critical options revolve, one way or another, around unpacking the heterosexism and/or homophobia and/or gender normativity (women must be girls and men must be manly), which while useful can get a bit tedious after a while.

So, here's a question. If you had to write about sf film from a queer perspective (any sort of queer perspective) what would you pick and where would your critical stance take you?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Top Ten Queer SF Novels

Ok, some caveats. First of all, my list only includes books written in English. I expect Sylvie may have quite a few suggestions for French-language sf. Then again, I'm interpreting sf quite broadly -- but only so broadly as to encompass works which would qualify (or have qualified) for the Tiptree Award.

Anyway, here's my top ten -- but I might change my mind at any minute:

1. Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (I admit this may seem an odd choice, but I love this book)
2. Joanna Russ, The Female Man
3. Nicola Griffith, Ammonite
4. Hiromi Goto, The Kappa Child
5. Geoff Ryman, The Child Garden
6. Eleanor Arnason, Ring of Swords
7. Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang
8. Melissa Scott, Trouble and Her Friends
9. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
10. Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber

Actually, there were so many entries that I might have chosen that this list, like all such, is really quite arbitrary. It was hard to leave off Kelley Eskridge's Solitaire and Candas Jane Dorsey's Paradigm of Earth. I could also easily have added more books by given authors -- lots of Delany, Ryman's Air, Griffith's Slow River, Scott's Shadow Man, and so on. And lets not even get started on novellas and short stories.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Queer Universes Wordle

I saw this on Nicola's blog and thought it was cool, so I made one for the first three pages of the introduction. The larger the word, the more often it occurs in the text.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What I am up to...

In her last post, Wendy asked : “What about the rest of you?”

Well, the rest of me is waiting for the release of Of Wind and Sand, the (forever delayed) English version of my novel Terre des Autres. It was supposed to be released in the fall, then winter, and now Edge’s website says April. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Meanwhile, if you check the Edge link below, you’ll be able to read the first chapter (really, the prologue) of the novel.

best part of me is on sabbatical this year, which means that I’m writing. Fiction, theory, and a textbook. And reading. And pondering. And working late at night!

In the last months of 2008, I prepared a French version of the research on which I had based my paper published in
Queer Universes. It’s not really a translation, more of an updated version of a work in progress. The French title is “Sexualité, échange de pouvoir et science-fiction: Une étude SMiotique de quelques textes de science-fiction québécoise” “Sexuality, power exchange and science fiction: An SMiotic study of a few pieces of québec science fiction”] and the article has been published in Voix plurielles.

I have also been writing fiction, and my novel
Sagapolis (working title) has been sent to the publisher a few weeks ago. They have just told me they were finished reading it (yep, they are quick!), but they have not commented it yet. Wish me good luck!

Right now, my main concern is the paper that I will be presenting this summer at the Colloque de Cerisy (France) on science fiction. The theme of the conference is
Comment rêver la science-fiction à présent? [How to dream science fiction today?], and my paper (of course, I should say), will be on Élisabeth Vonarburg’s fiction.

And that’s all for now, folks.

Terre des Autres on Alire’s website:

Of Wind and Sand on Edge’s website:

“Sexualité, échange de pouvoir et science-fiction : Une étude SMiotique de quelques textes de science-fiction québécoise” in Voix plurielles :

The Cerisy conference Comment rêver la science-fiction à présent?:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

So, What's Everyone Up To?

I'll start by answering my own question. I've got an article on Samuel R.Delany's Triton coming out in the sexuality issue of Science Fiction Studies in November. It's called "Born to be Bron: Destiny and Destinerrance in Samuel Delany's Triton" and it takes a bit of a different direction from Guy's marvellous essay on Triton in QU. What I'm looking at mostly is Derrida's concept of destinerrance, which is a French language pun on destination and errancy -- a way of pointing out that even when your journey gets derailed, it sometimes gets you where you're going, but getting where you're going may also turn out to be mistake or derailment in its own right.

It wasn't until I started writing this that I realized how chock full Triton is of failures of transmission and journeys going awry. There's something very queer about that; it's hard not to read it as a commentary on the idea that being gay is a result of something going wrong, of not reaching the right destination, and so on. And since evolutionary biology seems to be becoming -- or to have become -- the dominant discourse these days, is it possible to think of queerness as a proper variation, rather than a failure to reach the right destination? A matter of genetic diversity, rather than a genetic flaw?

Anyway, that's what I'm up to -- besides plotting the start of The Book, which has the tentative title of A Queer History of SF. What about the rest of you?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Get the best price!

Looking around the internet, I see the price of Queer Universes varies quite a bit from online booksellers. In the US, the distributor for LUP is Chicago University Press, which has the book listed at $85.00 US. has it at the same price, but is selling it for $68.01 Cdn -- at the current exchange rate, that would be $52.84 US (plus shipping and handling). That's a pretty nice deal! At the moment, only the hardcover edition is available, so if you want to read the book and can't afford it, urge your local library to purchase a copy.

By the way, there are a few listed in second hand bookstores online and through re-sellers, but only one of these seemed to be genuinely used. And most copies had an asking price of over $100 US -- how does that work?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Welcome to the blog for Queer Universes: Sexualities in Science Fiction. The first anthology of this century to deal with questions of sexuality in science fiction, Queer Universes was published in May, 2008, by Liverpool University Press.

While there has been plenty of discussion about issues of gender in science fiction, as well as about feminist sf, the idea of thinking about how sf reflects both historical and contemporary attitudes towards sexuality is a relatively new phenomenon. Queer Universes provides a spectrum of viewpoints on the topic of sexuality and science fiction.

Science fiction cannot help reflecting on questions of sexuality. It's so deeply embedded in our lives -- even if we can imagine cultures where sexuality, reproduction, gender, family and so on operate quite differently -- that even the most chaste of sf has to make certain assumptions about how sexuality works. The base assumption, often, is that sexuality will be exactly the same in the future as it was at the time the writer invented her or his characters and set them loose in the universe. But that's only one potential scenario, and many other writers, from Robert A. Heinlein, with his line marriages and other alternative family arrangements, to Joanna Russ, with her woman-only planet of Whileaway, have found plenty of possibilities to explore in their work. Sometimes that work is about those contemporary and important questions around sexuality, gender, race and so on; sometimes sexuality is simply background information -- but even there it can be an important part of an sf story's "cognitive estrangement," to quote Darko Suvin.


Part One: Queering the Scene

1. Introduction: Queer Universes
Wendy Gay Pearson, Veronica Hollinger, and Joan Gordon

2. Alien Cryptographies: The View from Queer
Wendy Gay Pearson

3. War Machine, Time Machine
Nicola Griffith and Kelley Eskridge

Part Two: Un/Doing History

4. Sextrapolation in New Wave Science Fiction
Rob Latham

5. Towards a Queer Genealogy of SF
Wendy Gay Pearson

6. Sexuality and the Statistical Imaginary in Samuel R. Delany’s Trouble on Triton
Guy Davidson

7. Stray Penetration and Heteronormative Systems Crash: Queering Gibson
Graham J. Murphy

Part Three: Disordering Desires

8. ‘Something Like a Fiction’: Speculative Intersections of Sexuality and Technology
Veronica Hollinger

9. ‘And How Many Souls Do You Have?’: Technologies of Perverse Desire and
Queer Sex in Science Fiction Erotica
Patricia Melzer

10. BDSMSF(QF): Sadomasochistic Readings of Québécois Women’s Science
Sylvie Bérard

Part Four: Embodying New Worlds

11. ‘Happy That It’s Here’: An Interview with Nalo Hopkinson
Nancy Johnston

12. Queer Nature: Close Encounters with the Alien in Eco/feminist Science Fiction
Helen Merrick

13. Queering the Coming Race?: A Utopian Historical Imperative
DeWitt Douglas Kilgore