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Exploring the Present and Future Through Science Fiction

By Ashley Duong

UC English professors Jonathan Alexander from UCI and Sherryl Vint from UC Riverside hosted a one-day symposium titled “Writing the Future” on May 31, co-hosted by The Office of the Campus Writing Coordinator, Illuminations, and Humanities Commons. The symposium was held on campus in Pacific Ballroom C and brought together panelists and speakers who have worked in various fields that require forethought of what the future may look like.

“We’re at a moment where people are wondering what the future holds in terms of the planet, the country and politics and I just felt it was the right moment to just have a day for everyone to talk about it,” Alexander said.

While the symposium primarily focused on the genre of science fiction writing and the role it plays in understanding the present, speakers who work in technology investment, virtual reality and informatics also provided perspective on how their fields impact the future and how the future impacts their fields.

The all-day symposium included two panels and four speakers, three of whom were published science fiction authors.  The first panel consisted of professors, Patrick Sharp, Christopher Fan and Bill Tomlinson, a UCI writer in residence, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, and a former science fiction publisher, Ashley Grayson. They discussed the longevity of capitalism, the role of technology and effects of climate change in terms of what the future possibly holds.

“It’s sort of the intersectional space where what we hope, think and fear of the future comes together,” said Tuhus-Dubrow.

The panel concluded with the question, “Where can we find hope for the future?” Ashley Grayson, a technology investor and former publisher suggested that people “stop listening to self-appointed experts” as many academic “experts” can be incorrect about their predictions of the future.

The symposium then moved on to a guest speaker, Nalo Hopkinson, an award-winning science fiction novelist. As a writer, she asserted that the science fiction genre was “not about predicting the future,” but rather is a dissection of “humanity and a look at the possibilities” through manipulating a narrative.

After a short lunch break,  accomplished virtual reality technologist, Tawny Schlieski, spoke on “Writing the Future through Virtual Realities.” She explained how virtual reality, as a new form of media, is a way to tell new stories, many of which often incorporate aspects of the science fiction genre.

Another group of panelists discussed the topic of “designing Futurity,” and writers Steve Barnes and Charles Yu also spoke on their experience writing science fiction and the power the genre holds.

Professor Alexander reiterated the relevance of science fiction, arguing that the genre is more intellectual than it seems.

“People often assume science fiction is just escapism, but it’s actually a way to think about the present and current circumstances through extrapolated information through writing the future,” said Alexander.

The event concluded with a short reception and the announcement of writing contest winners from a UC-wide contest conducted by the symposium.