Escape Velocity

So, this happened.

Just had the pleasure of participating in the Museum of Science Fiction‘s second annual Escape Velocity conference in Washington, DC! The idea is this: take STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and bring it to the people via science fiction! The result is a smart & savvy crowd including scientists, educators, SF writers, makers, cosplayers, scholars, and all manner of other geekouts. The conference had a Literary Track for the first time this year thanks to Aisha Matthews.

Matthews, a doctoral candidate and one of the editors of the MOSF Journal of Science Fiction, brought together a diverse set of academics and practitioners to talk shop about all aspects of SF in written form. She has been a professional event planner, and it shows. I wish I had 10% of the planning skills! Matthews invited me to contribute to two sessions: SF Criticism and Afrofuturism. I’m going to recap some of the highlights here, along with photos of some of the swag.

LaToya Peterson, The Future Is A Mirror, RiRi Williams
LaToya Peterson schooling us on SF AI machine learning
Patrick Sharp talking history of SF
Tiny General Organa meeting Mega Man next to a Tesla

On the SF Criticism panel, I got to conversate with Patrick Sharp and Anastasia Klimchynskaya, with Aisha Matthews as moderator. She provided the most effective synopsis of Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction that I’ve ever seen! We had a great discussion of the theory’s impact and what we retain from it. For my part, even though Suvin is overly formalistic and he valorizes hard SF over the broader viability of speculative fiction in the ways that a structuralist and political economic approach permits, he comes up with a comprehensive theory of literary representation in which genre fiction is at the center, rather than on the periphery. That’s a cool point of departure, and it’s more than your high modernist literary esthetes will do. We then had some solid back and forth over the question of whether to define SF at all (no) and other critics’ contributions to the theorization of the genre: John Rieder, Carl Freedman, Donna Haraway, and Istvan Csiscery-Ronay, plus De Witt Kilgore and… me?!

I’d add Samuel Delany & Joanna Russ to the mix, for sure. But more importantly, our conversation covered the bases better than most, I have to say. I was tweeting up a storm in the midst of things


It’s incredible to work with such awesome thinkers whose perspectives really illuminate the purpose of criticism. One thing I said was that fans are really responsible for so much of the criticism that matters, when it comes to SF, which is why I devoted major attention to fan fiction in the book. And just recently, Steph Burt published a review of Francesca Coppa’s Fanfiction Reader in The New Yorker! We made it!

I saw & tweeted other panels, and I saw more fun stuff between panels. The atmosphere was not nearly as manic as New York Comicon, which is the biggest spectacle I’ve seen, but it was a wonderful mix of culture workers of all stripes: original artwork, cosplay-repair-for-hire, citizen science groups, beans, greens, potatoes, tomatoes… you name it!

3D printed and otherwise fabricated replica props! who ya gonna call?! Tri-state Ghostbusters! The Indies is a rad animated film in the works from Blue Geek Music issa Klingon! UNIVERSAL TRANSLATOR!!! Cylon! ISSA TRAP! I got a card game. Its teachable. Fuck yeah, science! These guys, amirite? Isolinear chips! The gangs all here

I bracketed De Witt’s name above because we finally met in person at the conference. He was a co-panelist on the Afrofuturism discussion! Present & accounted for, to my delight, were author/futurist Thaddeus Howze, scholar/educators Melanie MarottaKristen Lillvis, and author/editor Sheree Renee Thomas, y’all. Y’all.


L-R: Aisha Matthews, andré carrington, Kristen Lillvis, De Witt Kilgore, Sheree Thomas, Melanie Marotta, Thaddeus Howze
photo by Patrick Sharp

Imma call this picture The Next Supper.

It was ? So much so that I created a Twitter moment! Check this out.

That’s all, for now. ‘Til then: see you in the future!