Reading Parable of the Sower Online in a Pandemic: Collectively Imagining Different Futures with Octavia E. Butler’s Speculative Fiction

Miranda Jeanne Marie Iossifidis


This short piece explores the social and situated practices of collectively negotiating speculative fiction over video conferencing software across different time zones. It builds on recent calls for a reinvigorated cultural sociology of reading that is attentive to how ‘the very exposure through fictional texts to the plurality of the human condition, its vulnerability and its strengths, opens up for readers the possibility of conceiving and making sense of change in themselves and their situation’ (Thumala Olave, 2018: 449). Through an attentiveness to the knowledge production of readers, it is a modest addition to recent work which seeks to explore the relationship between speculative climate fiction and political change (Milkoreit 2016; Schneider-Mayerson, 2018; Harris, 2020; Yazell 2020). In exploring how readers seek out and engage with utopian and critically dystopian fictions that nourish the capacity for individual and collective resistance and struggle, this piece - and the wider project it is part of - seeks to ground some of the claims made by science fiction scholars, about the radical potential of sf (see Moylan, 2000, Jameson, 2005) by attending qualitatively to ordinary reading practices. I cautiously suggest that this creative, collaborative, caring sf reading practice constitutes a form of ambiguously hopeful sustenance. It builds on recent research with online sf reading communities which is interested in how reading and discussing speculative fiction online is generative for collectively negotiating radically altered presents and futures (see Chambers and Garforth, forthcoming; author 2018 a, b and author and Garforth, forthcoming).


speculative fiction; reading; online reading groups

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