Astrogator's Logs

New Words, New Worlds
Artist, Heather Oliver             

Byzantium in Speculative Fiction

Science fiction and fantasy have borrowed liberally from just about every mythology and history — but among the most conspicuous elisions is Byzantium (a lacuna that reflects a similar erasure in first-world history, though for somewhat different reasons).  The attempts to portray Byzantium in SFF can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and most are best passed over in silence.

On August 4-6, there will be a conference at Uppsala University titled “Reception Histories of the Future: Byzantinisms, Speculative Fiction and the Literary Heritage of Medieval Empire” organized by Dr. AnnaLinden Weller that will attempt to address this wrinkle (you can see the program here).

Dr. Weller invited me to contribute, so I’ll be giving a talk by proxy that is a variation on my thoughts of the Akrítai and their unsung songs — with a brief sidebar about the millennia-long (and also fashionably erased) history of Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Black Sea.  I’ll leave this entry open for comments, questions, etc. from anyone who attends my talk (or is interested in aspects of this matter).  After the conference is over, I will mount the Powerpoint presentation here if it’s feasible, or post a download link.

Relevant related posts:

Being Part of One’s Furniture; or, Appropriate Away!

Who Will Be Companions to Female Kings?

Caesars and Caesar Salads

Yes, Virginia, Romioí are Eastern European

If I Forget Thee, O My Grandmother’s Lost Home

Mediterranean Diasporans: Dúrin’s Folk

Image: A Byzantine wandering singer, the equivalent of a troubadour (6th century mosaic, Constantinople).

5 Responses to “Byzantium in Speculative Fiction”

  1. […] fashionably erased) history of Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Black Sea.  You can find out more at this link, where I’ll be discussing comments, questions, and where I will eventually post my entire […]

  2. Merrian says:

    I seem to remember a book by Susan Schwartz pubbed in late 90’s that is Byzantium based. Did you ever come across that? Google found it; ‘Shards of Empire’

  3. Athena says:

    I haven’t read that one; I’ll check it out (hope springs eternal).

  4. Zarpaulus says:

    Closest thing I can recall to an allusion to Byzantium in any spec fic was in the “Dark Ages of Space” rpg Fading Suns, where it was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire equivalent.

    A lot of writers seem to have this idea that speculative fiction settings need to have war and strife, either in the form of an invading evil empire or a weak central government that can’t stop petty lords from fighting each other. What’s wrong with a story set in a stable society? There’s been plenty of contemporary and historical fiction in those sorts of settings.

  5. Athena says:

    I agree; I think the injunction of “Conflict!11!” comes from Hackery 101 workshops.