Do Ancient Egyptians Dream of Electric Sheep? The Reception of Ancient Egypt in Science Fiction
University of Birmingham*
Date: 9 July 2021
Registration: estimated £10, £5 students/unwaged
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) – a milestone in the history of the science fiction genre – the eponymous scientist is horrified when the creature he has assembled from assorted body parts is successfully animated. ‘A mummy again endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch’, Frankenstein relates. This comparison – between a figure who represents the potential disastrous consequences of cutting-edge scientific enquiry and the bodies of the ancient Egyptian dead – is one that recurs later in the novel. Having dispatched his creator, the creature’s ‘vast hand’ is described as ‘in colour and apparent texture like that of a mummy’. Nearly two centuries later, Roland Emmerich’s Stargate (1994) also depicts ancient Egyptian bodies in settings infused with a futuristic aesthetic; alien entities acquire human forms in order to extend their lifespans, while sarcophagi are reimagined as regeneration chambers.
Science fiction has undeniably contributed to creating an image of ancient Egypt, and yet it is only starting to be addressed by Egyptological scholarship. Literature, theatre, film, television, comics, and video games all present images of Egypt that have had an enduring impact on perceptions of Egypt by the public. Nevertheless, and despite the involvement of experts in contributing to or shaping these cultural products – in Stargate’s case, in professional Egyptological consultation with regards to written and spoken Ancient Egyptian – the ways in which Egyptological scholarship informs science fiction in particular still remain to be explored. How might Egyptologists engage with this material beyond judging its historical authenticity? And to what extent can science fiction contribute to scholarly discussions of ancient Egypt?
The aim of this workshop is to explore the reception and reconstruction of Egypt in science fiction, fostering a dialogue among Egyptologists, cultural historians, literary scholars, and creative practitioners. The organisers are keen to receive abstracts from scholars coming from a variety of academic perspectives and diverse backgrounds, and who are interpreting science fiction in its broadest sense, including those informed by ancient Egyptian understandings of science.
The organisers seek proposals for 15-minute papers, which should be sent in the body of an email to Dr Leire Olabarria [L.Olabarria@bham.ac.uk] and Dr Eleanor Dobson [E.C.Dobson@bham.ac.uk] by 28 February 2021. Abstracts should be a maximum of 250 words and should be accompanied by a short biographical note.
Topics might include but are not limited to:
- The origins and historical development of SF’s fascination with Egypt
- Archaeology and out-of-place artefacts
- Time and space travel
- Parallel universes or alternate histories
- Dystopia, apocalypse or post-apocalypse
- The ethics of ‘ahistorical’ representation
*While we hope to be able to welcome delegates to Birmingham in person in July, the workshop may need to take place online (with no registration fee) if circumstances do not allow face to face meetings. We will keep participants informed with the most up-to-date information as we have it.