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Interview with Alison Sperling - Part 1

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Thank you Alison for this interview about you and your work!

I (Wolf) contacted Alison Sperling because of her contribution in Plants in Science Fiction - Speculative Vegetation which now is a finalist for a nonfiction locus award!

Wolf/Otherland:
You contributed to the recent book, Plants in Science Fiction - Speculative Vegetation, which is a rather specialist subject, but so to the point, because plants play a huge role in science fiction in general. Before we go into detail about the book, please tell us something about you, the work you do and your relationship with Science Fiction.

Alison Sperling:
Thanks so much for inviting me to talk with you by opening up this conversation, and I’m so happy you and the Otherland readers expressed interest in the plants in SF collection. The editors put together a terrific book and I’m really happy for the chance to talk about it.

A bit about myself though first, sure. I’m from Oakland, California and I’ve been living in Berlin since 2018. I came for a postdoctoral research position at the ICI Institute for Cultural Inquiry Berlin, and now I have another postdoc position working in feminist science and technology studies (STS) at the Technische Universität Berlin at the ZIFG (Interdisciplinary Centre for Women’s and Gender Studies).

I guess my interest in science fiction was an interest of mine for a long time, though I didn’t really realize it as a scholarly pursuit until halfway through my Ph.D., maybe around 2014 or so (my dissertation/first book manuscript is about “Weird” fiction, and opens with a chapter on H.P. Lovecraft).

I remember as a kid being allowed to stay up late to watch Star Trek with my dad, and devouring huge SF novels at a really young age inspired by my mom’s book club meetings. I definitely didn’t understand science fiction as a genre or mode in my youth, but it totally makes sense that it’s so appealing to imaginative young people, and it has been fun to find my love of SF again in adulthood.

"SF in literature, TV, film, and other visual arts and performance"

Now, science fictional culture, and especially feminist and ecologically-bent SF have totally taken over both my personal and scholarly interests. I say “the science fictional” because I work with SF in literature, TV, film, and other visual arts and performance, which are all such important cultural realms in which science fictions and speculation can help imagine and bring into being better futures, or at least reject certain looming and catastrophic ecological futures (some of which have already come to pass).

SF sometimes does this looking backward, meaning that speculation about better futures also requires deep examinations of the past. So the temporality of SF is always interesting and can work quite differently in different geographic and cultural traditions of SF.

I guess, in short, my investment in SF is also an investment in imaginative work as doing real work in the world, something pretty unsurprising to say from the perspective of a cultural and literary theorist, but likely resonates with SF and fantasy fans who might be reading this, I’m sure...

Read on Part 2

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