Farah Mendlesohn

From International to Intergalactic: Global Considerations from Speculative Academic Farah Mendlesohn 

“E-books are a total game-changer, and they’re a game-changer for minority languages as well. I’ve got friends who work in minority languages who’ve said it’s actually led to an explosion in local writings…So, people who live in countries that have thirty-five languages, you can’t produce the paperback, but you can produce the e-book cheaply.” 

In these three clips, Mary Anne Mohanraj and esteemed British academic Farah Mendlesohn discuss emerging aspects of the international speculative media world. Offering her thoughts on topics like the impact of world politics on speculative media or the effects of e-publishing on global literary markets, Farah brings a wealth of experience to bear on an increasingly relevant global perspective. There is plenty more of this enlightening discussion to explore in the full SLF interview, available here!  

Discussion Questions 

(1) Mendlesohn brings up “the tendency of most writers who wrote space opera in the 1950s and 60s not to speculate about the future of social relations,” a matter that is addressed further in the first video clip. Are there any global sociopolitical issues or underrepresented cultural topics that you think deserve more attention in contemporary speculative writing?  

(2) Every national and cultural identity can be said to add to the tapestry of what speculative media is, and the possibilities of what it can express. Can you think of a perspective or two that you have never seen represented in speculative media, which you feel might offer something new to the field? 

(3) In the third video clip, Mendlesohn discusses the rise of e-book publishing on international literary markets. What are some other ways that the internet has changed, or continues to influence, global literary culture?  

Writing Exercises 

(1) In the second clip, Mendlesohn’s thoughts about C.S. Lewis suggest that the world is full of settings and environments that inspire innovation in speculative writing. Take a few minutes to think of at least two interesting landscapes or environments relative to your personal experience (or your travel wishlist). Write a short statement for each that suggests how they might be made into a compelling setting for a piece of speculative fiction.  

(2) Keeping the first discussion question in mind, write a short scene (one half page to one page) that places an underrepresented social issue into a speculative context. Focus on a piece of descriptive world-building that gives some sense of the context and consequences of your issue within the world you place it in. Afterward, with a partner, in a group, or in written form by yourself, explain the relevance of your scene to the issue as it exists today. Does your scene imagine a solution or improvement? Does it envision a worst-case scenario? Why did you choose to treat it this way?  

(3) Both Mohanraj and Mendlesohn describe in some detail how their complex senses of national identity provide foundations for their worldviews and their writing. Considering this, write a half-page statement describing some of the details of your own national and/or cultural identity. How do you feel this shapes your approach to writing? Do you often consider certain themes? Does your writing make use of any particular elements? Do you think that your identity has any unintentional influence on aspects of your writing? If possible, share with your class or group to offer new perspectives!  

Additional Readings

Farah Jane Mendlesohn is an accomplished and influential British historian and  academic, and the author/editor of a long list of successful published works relative to  speculative literature, including Rhetorics of Fantasy (2009) and the Hugo Award winning Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2003). Her career has encompassed time as Head of the Department of English and Media at Anglia Ruskin University, President of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, and editor of the science fiction journal Foundation. In 2017, she published her first novel, Spring Flowering, and remains engaged with forthcoming work at her home in Staffordshire, England. Learn more about her work and keep up with her on her website or on Twitter!

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