I got another interesting pairing of talks at Loncon 3 on Thursday. The first was on the representation of refugees in science-fiction, the second was called Vampires and National Identity. They don't seem obviously connected but it turned out the second talk offered solutions to the problems raised by the first.
panel talk on refugees featured writers with direct personal experience
of refugees in the real world. It digressed quite a lot on real refugee
experiences which was certainly useful, and the general agreement was
that not much was going to change in future worlds. Different transport
technologies and perhaps different planets... Here, as elsewhere in the
conference, we heard about the difficulties of representing a situation
in writing while holding on to another story thread. As Lauren Beukes
said, if she'd tried to represent the real nature of a refugee hostel,
"it would have taken over the whole book".
fantasy field, it's easier to use the paranormal as allegory and
metaphor for social and psychological situations. The speakers discussed
the idea that vampires, who occupy the border between living and dead,
can be used as a metaphor for social collapse and individual
dehumanisation, and as a xenophobic othering mechanism by host
populations. It's easy to imagine a similar narrative mechanism with
zombies where the differences between vampires and zombies map
relatively easily onto issues of socio-economic class and refugee agency
which got discussed in the SF talk.
This is when I
realized that the most creative suggestions from the SF talk used
technology to achieve a similar 'undead' state. The writers on the panel
proposed life on a time-share basis, with refugees forced into
artificial sleep for blocks of time, or alternatively, in retreat from
the physical world altogether into the virtual realms of the 'uploaded'.
Either approach seemed to express the 'dehumanised' status of refugees
who are reduced to an incomplete life, very often in terms of basic
needs, almost always in terms of cultural identity and social
All very interesting, though a talk I
intended on Friday offered some completely different options, which I'll
discuss in the next post.
The talks I attended were
Refugees Have More to Worry About Than Revenge with Jean Johnson, Dev
Agarwal, Erin Hunter, Lauren Beukes and Sean McLachlan and Vampires and
Identity with Nin Harris and Deborah Christie. Nin Harris based her talk
on the works of Alaya Dawn Johnson.