Isobel Blackthorn: From vampires to sorcery and beyond: Representing the occult in fiction

“The occult features in character, device and trope in a vast array of speculative fiction, from vampires, ghosts and other supernatural entities to magicians and witches making potions and casting spells. Along with a plethora of psychic phenomenon including clairvoyance, telekinesis and astral travel, the scope is limitless. What entices is often little understood, the mystique and allure hinging on mystery and ignorance. Since fiction is composed to entertain more than educate, perhaps it doesn’t matter that the occult is little understood.
There are two kinds of writers drawn to the occult: those as charmed as their readers and largely ignorant of that which they meddle, and another kind, perhaps harder to identify, who are either scholars or practitioners of the occult, or both. The first group, by far the larger, are entertainers, the latter seek to inform or even manipulate their readers. This talk discusses the way the occult has been used by authors from Bram Stoker to Elizabeth Kosova and Eleanor Catton, from Anne Rice to Ellen Datlow, and from occultist Dion Fortune to J. K. Rowling.”

Melissa Ferguson: De-extinction (bringing extinct species back to life through cloning)

Harvard geneticist George Church has claimed it could soon be possible to bring back extinct species such as Neandertals, woolly mammoths or Tasmanian tigers via cloning. Before him Michael Crichton brought back (fictional) dinosaurs in his Jurassic Park books. As science advances and powerful techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 become commonplace will de-extinction become a possibility in the real world? And how exactly would scientists produce living, breathing creatures from scraps of ancient DNA?

Claire Fitzpatrick: Body horror, and the aspects of the body in speculative fiction.

I will focus on the works of Clive Barker and the idea of metaphors in body horror. (Briefly discussing metaphors in other horror tropes), especially reluctant metamorphosis – the excessive physical transformation, eruption, or rebellion of the human body against itself. Body horror is often a metaphor for actual life transformations. For example, the inevitable process of ageings a form of body horror. If we live long enough we all become monsters. Our hair falls out, our skin changes, and we become a burden and sometimes even a threat to those who love us. In addition, physical horror of deformed and dysfunctional materiality is related to another bodily fear upon which David Cronenberg consistently plays on in The Fly and elsewhere: the loss of bodily integrity (such as wholeness, oneness, unity). How does Clive Barker use metaphor in his body horror fiction?

Tansy Rayner Roberts: Ancient Roman Celebrities in Xena: Warrior Princess

Xena: Warrior Princess was a glorious mash-up of the modern and the ancient, mixing sources wildly and following the creative philosophy of “anything BC is good.” How did they do with the Romans? Dr Tansy looks at what happened when key Ancient Roman ‘celebrity’ historical characters crossed paths with the warrior princess. What did they get right, wrong and OMG nooo with Julius Caesar, Brutus, Pompey, Octavian, Livia and Caligula?

Rachel Le Rossignol: Playing with Tricksters

Tricksters can be found in mythology, folk tales and fiction throughout history, and across many cultures. From Dionysus in Ancient Greece to Kitsune, the fox spirit in Japanese legend, to Puck, Monkey, Loki and River Song, tricksters have a habit of turning up and turning things around in the most unexpected of ways. What are some of the features of trickster characters and why do we find them so endlessly fascinating? For writers, what do tricksters add to stories? Rachel Nightingale will explore the history of tricksters in storytelling and the different facets of their ever-changeable personalities. She will also talk about what it was like trying to keep her own trickster character, Harlequin, under control in her fantasy series, the Tales of Tarya.

Laura E. Goodin: Allowed to be a Hero: Disruptive Diversity in Victorian Genre Fiction

The current expansion of diversity in the depiction of heroes in speculative works has been widely hailed as a welcome relief from centuries of young, fit, white, male protagonists with unambiguous morals. However, this is not a recent innovation; rather, it is a continuation of a tradition of subversion and critique that stretches back at least to the beginnings of genre fiction as a form of popular culture. This presentation examines genre fiction from the 19th century and earlier, finding examples of diversity in protagonists’ gender, race, class, religion, moral outlook, and position within (or outside) accepted societal norms. It asserts that as participants in this tradition of critique and disruption, today’s writers of speculative works have not only the option, but perhaps even the obligation, to continue exploring and expanding the idea of who is allowed to be a hero.

Rivqa Rafael: Abandoned wenches and rebellious hussies: convict women in Van Diemen’s Land

In the Australian education system and more broadly, the history of male convicts dominates the discourse around transportation of criminals to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Little is generally known of the thousands of women who were transported to Australia during the era. In this presentation, I will attempt to shed some light onto their lives, focusing on the female factories and the assignment system in use in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). I will outline the crimes for which women were transported, what their sea voyages and arrivals were like, before examining the work women did in and out of the factories. Some were horribly mistreated; rape was common, whereas survival sex work led all female convicts to be perceived as prostitutes. Pregnancies were punished with internment in the factories, the resulting children were placed in orphanages at young ages. Some women kept their heads down and gained a ticket of leave as soon as possible; others were recalcitrant and seemed to prefer life inside the factory to outside (and each other to men). I will also aim to contextualise these histories within the history of prison reformation, different attitudes to morality among different social classes, and colonisation.

Emilie Collyer: The Speculative Stage

How do speculative genres translate to works of drama? Theatre is a much more raw and exposing form than literature or film, with precarious factors like the presence of live humans both on and off the stage. In this era of digital saturation what are the possibilities and pitfalls of writing sci-fi, fantasy, horror and other speculative forms for theatre? What unique qualities and experiences can live performance provide when it comes to exploring the impossible, the imagined and the fantastical?

Gillian Polack: Cultural conjugation

How we accept invisible cultural rules and forget work we love. How grammar can help us understand this. This talk is based on Gillian’s research into our cultural fabric. She is currently using fiction to decode culture and to map it. Since the subjects of her mapping include gender, ethnicity and age, her research shows how novels and other narratives can unintentionally support bigotry and prejudice.

Jason Nahrung: The Future, In Pieces: how Australian SF writers use mosaic fiction to tackle climate change

Concern over manmade climate change is a burgeoning area of literature and literature studies, with an increasing cannon of climate fiction spanning genres as it attempts to grapple with the subject. However, the sheer size, in time and space, and complexity of anthropogenic climate change challenges the reach of the formal novel. A study of three Australian works of science fiction – Clade (James Bradley, 2015), Nightsiders (Sue Isle, 2011) and Things We Didn’t See Coming (Steven Amsterdam, 2009 ) – reveals the advantages of one approach: the mosaic, or composite novel. The form’s structure of strongly linked but autonomous short stories offers thematic resonance and narrative opportunities, as these case studies show.

George Ivanoff: Kids’ Stuff – The complexities of creating a genre children’s book series

Children’s author George Ivanoff found success with his best-selling You Choose series. His new series OTHER WORLDS is also off to a flying start. In this presentation, George will talk about the creation of these two series of books. How and why did he create them? What are the challenges in writing an on-going genre series for kids? And why did these books succeed, while his previous efforts did not manage to find a wide audience?

Tiara: These Ain’t Your Bog-Standard White Dude Magicians Folks!

The world of stage magic is dominated by straight cis abled-bodied White men and magic is often considered a “boys’ club”. However, there are so many magicians from diverse and marginalised backgrounds – women, people of colour, queer and trans people, disabled people, and so on – that have broken barriers in stage magic and created work that expands our ideas around magic. This Deep Dive will present a highlight reel of these magicians – showcasing their work and the ways they have survived and triumphed in stage magic (Some of the material may have representations of violence, horror, or bigotry; warnings will be provided as needed.)

Tehani Croft: Terms & Conditions: Awards and their value

With a wide range of literary awards open each year throughout Australia and overseas, how do writers, readers and publishers engage with awards with confidence in their validity? Tehani Croft will provide an overview of a range of literary awards (juried and peer voted) that Australian creators should be aware of for their practice. Examination will take place on the topic of why awards matter (and why they don’t…), with some insights offered into the purpose and authority of various awards, particularly in Australia but with mention of major genre awards internationally. Finally, the real value of being a finalist or winner of some of the major prizes will be discussed.

Likhain: An Inheritance of Chains: Facing Empires in Science Fiction and Fantasy as a Postcolonial Reader

Empires are hugely common in fantasy and science fiction, whether as backdrop, antagonist, quest object, or theme. This can make reading speculative fiction a painfully fraught experience for people who continue to deal with the legacy of colonialism and imperialism. As a product of a history brutally shaped by empire, how does one confront it in one’s reading? I speak about my experiences as a postcolonial reader immersed in stories centred on various forms of empire, and discuss approaches that resonate with my two driving forces as a postcolonial writer and reader; and gleanings from books has proved useful in my continuing efforts to integrate resistance into all aspects of my engagement with speculative fiction.

Mai Su: The Three World Problem

Alice in wonderland, Wizard of Oz, Narnia. Portal fantasies offer us escape from dreary old Earth to another world where we matter, where we are heroes, where we can have adventure. In general, portal fantasies involves either going home or finding home, though there is also a less explored third type of plot wherein two worlds threaten to collide in catastrophic ways. Regardless of the trappings, the protagonist is often someone who is alienated on Earth but is special elsewhere, and the core conceit is maturation through the long journey home. In many ways, portal fantasies portray and magnify the experience of immigrants and diasporans with its description of wonder and excitement at a new world. It also taps into to our longing for security, comfort, love, and, above all else, a place to belong. That said, there are places where portal fantasies fall short. Where the plot is a poorly disguised white saviour trope. Where the foreign land is a place you must escape from or go towards, but never both. This deep dive aims to explore all of these issues from the point of view of a reader and of an immigrant.

Naja Later: Why do we need monsters?

This Deep Dive discusses why monsters recur in our cultural narratives. From big bad wolves to aliens, monsters, monsters have always helped us explore what lies beyond our boundaries. Some monsters show us what—and who—we repress in society. Some expose monstrous qualities in our social systems. As we explore the history of famous monsters and their roles in different narratives, we find cultural allegories that show us how our values surrounding inclusion and exclusion change.

Bismuth Hoban: The Klingon Forehead and the Wireframe: notions of essential humanity and desire in SFF

SFF media has produced a number of methods of visually presenting the non-human Other: rubber foreheads, mo-cap suits for a full CGI makeover, puppet-like props, and full-body prosthetics. These methods are often discussed in the context of how believable or realistic they are – both in technical terms, and in how lilkely it is that aliens and monsters could or should look anything like us. In this Deep Dive, Bis will explore how and why we imagine aliens and monsters both as visually similar to and visually distinct from us, and how the trends of what we imagine tie in to broader notions of what we deem the ‘essential’ qualities of humanity and the conditions for being desirable. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why Klingon designs keep getting more detailed, or why so many people were disappointed when the Beast turned back into a human, this is the rambling journey through symbolic difference and desire you’ve been waiting for!

Cat Sparks: From Ecocatastrophe to Anthropocene fiction: full circle or new terrain?

Ecological crisis has been a common literary theme in many cultures. Science Fiction, born of technological modernity, is imbued with ecological awareness and excels at imagining catastrophic environmental destruction, often dealing with grand perspectives — impacts of events affecting the planet as a whole. Anthropocene fiction is the literature of our planet in transformation, drawing from traditions of pastoral, realist, apocalyptic and dystopian literature to highlight the hard-impacting physical, economic and interpersonal realities of climate change, encouraging us to understand it as an existential threat that we have brought upon ourselves. Ecocatastrophe science fiction of the 60s and 70s is imbued with clarity: it functions with mechanical intent, a literary physics of caution. To date most climate fiction is also classifiable as science fiction but this is changing. My presentation examines the intersection of ecocatastrophe science fiction and contemporary anthropocene fiction, concluding that while both literatures share key foundational elements, climate fiction is developing into a genre of its own as our lives become progressively more science fictional.