Humanities Institute hosts science fiction symposium


Science fiction fans had the opportunity to address the author-editor power couple Jeff and Ann Vandermeer at this year’s Science Fiction Symposium at USF.

Known as the “Masters of the Weird,” the Vandermeers are best known for their work with the steampunk genre of science fiction, a genre that features steam-powered machinery at the dawn of industrialization. Jeff, whose upcoming book, “Annihilation,” was recently optioned by Paramount Pictures, and Ann have edited together multiple steampunk anthologies including “The Steampunk Bible.”

“It’s kind of hard to not be associated with the steampunk genre and culture when you have literally ‘wrote the bible’ on it,” Jeff said. “But I think the reason I’ve done such a good job in compiling these anthologies is because I am not immersed or a part of the subculture.”

The steampunk icons read excerpts from a collection of Jeff’s stories and addressed the crowd of students and amateur writers on Ann’s experiences as a part of the editing and publishing industry on Tuesday afternoon.

The panel session took place Wednesday afternoon, entitled “Science Fiction, Gender, and the ‘Other,’” centered on gender roles and feminist theory in the genre of science fiction. Ann recently finalized a new anthology of specular feminist fiction that is scheduled to be available in 2015

Rick Wilber, a professor in the School of Mass Communications, moderated the discussion, and panel members included the Vandermeers, anthropology professor Nancy White and women’s and gender studies professor Ednie Garrison.

Wilber, a friend and colleague of the Vandermeer’s, partnered with the Humanities Institute to bring the Science Fiction Symposium to USF.

“I thought it was important to bring this experience to USF students because it’s good for students to see that this is a lively field,” Wilber said. “(Science fiction is) fun to read, and it also prompts very interesting discussion.”

The Vandermeers began working on projects together in 2007, but each had made a name in the literary world prior to meeting each other.

Previously, Jeff made a name for himself in the field, editing multiple magazines and websites such as, his project when he met Ann in 2003.

Ann never writes, she said, and prefers the publishing and editing side of the book industry.

“I knew from a very young age that I didn’t have enough talent to be a writer,” she said. “I think the best thing I ever wrote was a story I wrote when I was eight…but I still enjoyed literature and had this passion for it so I moved in to the editorial side.”

For the Vandermeers, science fiction is not about the genre and subculture as it is about the message of its author.

“When people think of steampunk, they think of top-hats and pocket watches, but that’s really not what it is about,” Ann said. “Steampunk is a medium that authors use to look at the good ol’ days and say ‘Maybe those days weren’t so good,’ and take a look at where we went wrong and what we can do to improve.”

Students who attended the panel discussion on Wednesday were surprised at the intricacies of the genre.

Threnody Garron, a sophomore majoring in studio art, said she found solace in being around like-minded individuals.

“I enjoy learning and talking about feminist approaches and I like science fiction so I thought a discussion with both of those things put together was awesome,” Garron said. “I also really liked the fact that people in the science fiction community are so liberal minded and listening to the discussion made me feel like I’m not alone.”