Out there, just beyond the edges of the solar system, float worlds built of academic sci-fi discourse. But, unless you hang your hat inside a Georgian building with ivy scaling the walls, it’s possible you can’t spot them in the curled up softcovers you call a telescope. None of the big names in science fiction academic publishing — Science Fiction Studies, Foundation, Extrapolation — are open access. But the Journal of Science Fiction, a new academic publication hitched to the Museum of Science Fiction (coming to a Washington, D.C., near you) wants to change that.
Submitting to and reading the JoSF will be free, which sounds like a statement on the immorality of paywalled research, but isn’t. It’s simply a way to get people talking about academic science fiction criticism, as Monica Louzon, managing editor, and Heather McHale, University of Maryland Doctor Who scholar tell Inverse. The journal plans to launch with a first issue in January. The future of sci-fi criticism, you say? Well, let’s let Louzon and McHale speculate.
Why start a science fiction journal in 2016?
Monica Louzon: Partially it’s a promotion for the museum, I’ll be honest. But it’s also a way to show the museum is interested in furthering the discussion of science fiction, the impact it could have on society, and the ways that society is reflected in science fiction. Everything is intermingled: Not just American society, but societies from all over the world. Russian science fiction from the Cold War is super cool. A lot of great scholarship on feminism in science fiction is out there, too.
The biggest emphasis I would like to see is science fiction in the cultural context in which it was created. And letting people see that culture through science fiction, and learn about the world through science fiction. I want it to be stuff that surprises you or makes people ask questions.
Are there gaps in science fiction criticism that you would like to see the Journal of Science Fiction fill?
Heather McHale: The one thing I observe that is underexplored is interdisciplinary [analysis]. It might be really interesting scholarship about a TV show, a film, a comic. But I’m hoping at some point we get some submissions that tie these things together. I know there are scholars out there doing that, you just don’t get to see it as much. It would be really interesting to have some studies of the texts that exist in more than one medium. Stories where there are films and comics and books — [like] Doctor Who. I’m a Doctor Who person, but there are lots of them.
M: Solaris would be an example, too.
I would like to see more international science fiction, comparing science fiction from places outside the U.S. There’s a lot of American science fiction scholarship that focuses on American or British science fiction. There’s stuff like South American science fiction that’s explored a lot in Spanish — there’s some [scholarship] in English — but I feel like there could be more. In all the languages of the world, there’s science fiction somewhere. I’m fascinated by what different cultures have come up with.
H: It might be interesting, too, if we eventually get some material about the consumption of science fiction. There is so much scope for studying things like cosplay.
M: That would totally fit in well with science fiction as a goal. That’s a culture in it of itself. An article on cosplay is totally within our realm.
Why make the Journal of Science Fiction open access?
M: I liked the idea of not having to pay for science fiction articles. I read science fiction articles and studies through JSTOR when I was in college. That stuff is fascinating. But it really sucks as an undergrad when you can’t afford to continue reading those things. Or because you can’t afford a subscription to academic journals after you’ve gotten out of school and no longer have JSTOR access.
You’ll see great discussions on internet forums, people debating science fiction. And you wonder what could happen if people from this fandom started talking with people who were legit scholars of pop culture studies? Not to belittle fandom — there are plenty of nerdy scholars out there.
But science fiction is all about sharing ideas and speculating, so creating an open access journal where people can speculate more freely seemed natural. And to have it connected to the museum helps it look more legitimate, helps people get involved, and hopefully might help the museum get going faster. It’s one of those things where if people are interested in it, the better off everyone is.
H: I’m working on a book about Doctor Who, so I’ve been reading all of this stuff. I love it and I’m very interested in it, but I’m also aware there is a cultural division. I can go and read pretty much everything I want, because I have university access. But I want to know my audience can read those things, too, because my book is for a more general readership.
As you’re thinking about who might read the Journal of Science Fiction — because it’s open to anyone — will that inform how you present the articles in it?
H: We haven’t really talked about this, because we haven’t had enough submissions to say, “Here’s our editorial policy.” But I will say my vote is going to be that we encourage our authors to be as rigorous as possible, but without using a lot of jargon. We want to discourage a lot of unexplained theoretical terms and that sort of thing, even though we would want them to be as well-supported and well-researched as possible. I feel that the jargon is the thing that really makes it inaccessible to the lay reader. Lay readers are smart, they don’t need you to talk down to them, but they might not have the same training.
Who can write for the Journal of Science Fiction?
M: If you don’t have a Ph.D. — or even a Master’s degree or a college degree — but you’ve done your research and you think your work should be in an academic journal, it’s worth submitting. If you’ve done your research and it’s expressed well, it has just as good a chance as anyone with a Ph.D. submitting does.
H: I would add that the fact that it’s a new journal is a big benefit, because we don’t have a huge influx of submissions right now. That means for me, if I read something and it’s a brilliant argument — but maybe it needs to be better supported by research to make it academic — I have time to write to that writer and say, “I’m really interested in this piece, you’ve done some fantastic stuff, why don’t you do this, this, and this, and resubmit it to us?” Right now, the pipeline has a modest amount of material, so the editors have time to do that. Maybe three years from now we won’t have that kind of time. This is a great time to send something, and we can help shape it if it’s necessary.
You heard it from them, you Inverse speculators with firecracker ideas: Publishing guidelines are listed online, and you can drop a submission to the Journal of Science Fiction here. Just go easy on the Darth Jar Jar fan theories, tiger.