A digital illustration of an old dirty computer screen with a pac man style game on the screen.

Janelle Monáe’s ‘Dirty Computer – an emotion picture’

Cameron Perumal 

Edited by Veronica Vivi

Artwork by Maia Abayomi

‘Dirty Computer – an emotion picture’ is a narrative film accompanying Janelle Monáe’s 2018 album of the same name serving as a backdrop to (and catalyst for) its plot. It depicts the story of Jane 57821 – a femme-presenting, queer android – in a seemingly dystopian future. ‘Seemingly’ because the film almost scarily imitates an all too familiar contemporary political landscape and its relationship with the Other (including, as mentioned by Monáe in interviews, queerness, being minoritised, and the experience of being a Black woman). Jane 57821 is a queer android – inferred from her relationships with Zen and Ché (portrayed by Tessa Thompson and Jayson Aaron, respectively). Jane is also part of an underground resistance and is captured by the oppressive government, deemed a ‘dirty computer’ that needs to be cleaned, and has her memories deleted one by one – but not before the audience gets to relive each one. 

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More Than Just Blood: Bloodchild by Octavia E. Butler

Angie Spoto

Edited by Maria Elena Carpintero Torres-Quevedo

Illustration by Iara Silva https: https://www.instagram.com/iiaraz_/

I hadn’t felt my baby move yet and wasn’t sure I wanted to. I confessed this to a friend in a café, who, bringing his hands together in front of his chest and clawing his fingers, said, ‘Yeah, it might feel, you know, like Alien.’ And his hands exploded outward, raining imaginary blood across our lattes.

My friend touched on a fear of mine: that having a baby would be like hosting an alien creature in my body. A fear no doubt inspired by my consumption of science fiction. Immediately, the prospect of pregnancy makes me think of the 1979 movie Alien, which undeniably plays out humanity’s pregnancy fears in the form of chest-ripping, murderous alien children. There’s also the ‘mystical pregnancy trope’: women in science fiction media are regularly forcibly or accidentally impregnated by aliens (Sarkeesian). This trope appears in Stargate SG-1, the X-Files, and Torchwood among other television shows and films.

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Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Hannah Marcus

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Art by Figgy Guyver http://www.instagram.com/themineralfact/

The Barbican’s 2017 summer exhibition Into the Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction, was a little disappointing. Firstly, unless you already had previous knowledge of the shows, films and novels the exhibit was about, the opportunity for learning was limited. Rachel Cooke summed this up well in The Guardian: “this ambitious sci-fi exhibition is big on content, but where is the context?” This dovetails neatly into my second criticism; this exhibition was essentially aimed at men. Not only in the content, which was overwhelming produced by men and about men, but also in the specific kind of childhood it invoked. As a woman interested in science fiction both academically and personally, I was unsurprised, and frustrated, by how little effort was made to include and inform a wider audience.

Perhaps this is why, when browsing the bookshop afterwards, I was drawn to Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The tonal quality of the blurb of the Vintage Classics edition was both soothing and intriguing, clearly intended to resonate with the modern feminist:

When three American men discover a community of women, living in perfect isolation in the Amazon, they decide there simply must be men somewhere. How could these women survive without man’s knowledge, experience and strength, not to mention reproductive power? In fact, what they have found is a civilisation free from disease, poverty and the weight of tradition. All alone, the women have created a society of calm and prosperity, a feminist utopia that dares to threaten the very concept of male superiority.

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The Heat Death of the Universe by Pamela Zoline

Jossalyn Holbert

Edited by Jahna Hampshire

Art by Holly Summerson hollysummerson.wix.com/arts

Pamela Zoline’s “The Heat Death of the Universe” outlines a day in the life of Sarah Boyle, a married mother of an indeterminate number of children living in Alameda, California during the 1970’s. Her life consists of pink children’s bottoms fresh out of the tub, strawberry jam on a strawberry floor, cleaning her house and meticulously labelling the items within it as a means of creating some order in her cluttered space. Her home becomes an enclosed vacuum, a microcosm of the wider universe barreling quickly and unstoppably towards a state of complete chaos, entropy. Physics enters the story sideways and strangely, with the heat death of the universe occurring in Sarah Boyle’s very kitchen. She has no means to stop it, attempting every day to sweep, vacuum, dust, wipe down, and order every object before in her path – no small task given that there are 819 objects in the living room alone (4). Despite her efforts, entropy descends upon Sarah’s kitchen anyway. Throughout the text, Zoline combines a feminist critique of the heterosexual, nuclear family dynamic pervading life at the time with a metaphysical association of the home as a miniature universe. Sarah Boyle’s struggle is not only against the social norms that tie her to her kitchen, full of dripping strawberry ice cream and ‘wet jelly beans’ (8), but also the monumental, intangible, unconstrained laws of the universe. The only agency she has, then, comes with hastening the inevitable state of entropy so that it occurs all at once and by her own hands. In other words, Sarah Boyle trashes her kitchen.

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Sultana’s Dream and Padmarag (Essence of the Lotus) by Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain

Ibtisam Ahmed

Edited by Karl Egerton

Art by Priyanka Meenakshi https://www.priyankameenakshi.com/

Utopianism has been a part of Western academia since the work of Lyman Tower Sargent in the 1970s. Taking its etymological roots from Thomas More’s Utopia, it is an interdisciplinary subject that explores human hopes and imagination in radical ways. It aims to build a better tomorrow by criticising the past and the present. It has a broad emancipatory potential which draws in a wide range of scholarship. As an avowed utopianist, I am proud to have my work counted in this field. Yet utopianism is often lacking in racial and cultural diversity. This is a major failing in a field that is supposed to be about challenging oppressive norms.

One of the reasons for this is because of the sources in the canon. Although modern works include writers of colour such as Octavia Butler, there is an assumption that classical utopian literature is almost exclusively white and male. Yet this leaves out a diverse range of texts that imagine the scope of human hope in intersectional ways. An author whose work I feel challenges this white Eurocentrism is Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain. Known in Bangladesh as Begum Rokeya, her life is taught extensively in middle school but is surprisingly absent in later education. Having first studied her biography in History when I was in my early teens, I rediscovered her work in the course of researching my thesis.

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