Photo: João Paulo Serafim

Messengers From The Stars – No. 6 (2022)


CO-EDITOR: João Félix

In the wake of a global pandemic that so drastically impacted the lives of all human beings today, the subject matter of dystopian and apocalyptic visions was suddenly flung into the realm of the uncertain present. The trope of the contagion in literature and the arts, however, is far-reaching and with a well-established tradition that is closely related to that of historical plagues. Whether by placing its characters in lockdown following the Black Death as in Boccaccio’s Decameron or speculating on the impending threat of a SARS outbreak in a globalized world as in Soderbergh’s Contagion, the concept of a globally-impacting health threat is as present in fiction as any other human experience. What has perhaps shifted, however, has been our personal involvement with the actual circumstances of such an event. Speculative fiction, it seems, can now be taken in as a mode of comparison to our present concerns more so than some fancy of the imagination.

The pandemic has also changed our perception of time itself. Among its less noticed consequences has been a shift in how we experience both the present and the future. The master-narratives of the last century, whether utopian or dystopian, had already collapsed before the pandemic struck. But the tedium of lockdowns, coupled with the crippling uncertainty about the ending of COVID (has it really ended? When? How?), has contributed to our collective inability to imagine a genuinely new and different future. What has been called “presentism” – the sense of being stuck in the endless “now” – is a disease of the historical imagination that follows in the footsteps of the actual disease that impacted countries and communities around the world. Looking back at pandemic narratives of the past enables us to recover some of the lost sense of history. In light of this, it is only natural to revisit some of these narratives and consider how they measure up not only with a post-pandemic world, but with our own concepts of what a pandemic actually entails.

Such is Kristine Larsen’s proposal in “Arda Re-made: Finding Meaning in a Pandemic Through the Works of Tolkien, Sapkowski, and Straczynski” by comparatively analyzing the American TV series Babylon 5, the Witcher Saga and The Lord of the Rings to effectively connect their respective use of the pandemic trope and reflect on how some of the emergent topics in the COVID-19 pandemic had already been addressed by these works.

In a parallel vein to this discussion, in “Social Stratification in Comics: Representations of Status and Class to the Growth of Genre” Stephen Poon explores how comics consistently tap into perceived cultural values that are aligned with elements of social stratification. The author proposes that the present uniquity of the comic book morality play not only reflects our own general sensibilities, but it may also be seen as an active means of helping audiences define class, justice and other wide-ranging values.

Likewise, Midia Mohammadi’s essay “Ecocritical Approach toward Ustopias: Divergent Attitudes towards Scientific Advancement in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun and Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven” borrows Margaret Atwood’s term to ecocritically compare these two novels and offer that the anxieties pertaining to the collapse of civilization also carry an element of hope in them, which are intrinsically linked with each other.

Still, it becomes eerily timely to consider Jarrel De Matas’ analysis of Katie M. Flynn’s The Companions (2020) in his essay “Companion Possibilities and Problems: Techno-Viral Reconfigurations of the Post/Human and Society in The Companions”. Here, the author points out that Flynn’s work is a thoroughly grounded piece that explores posthumanism and the all too real consequences of a pandemic, some of which actually ended up happening as the novel was being published.

Finally, Sonia Malik’s “It’s not Just the Virus: Unfurling Layers of Identity, Power and Emotion Beneath/Beyond the Plot in the Movie Containment (2015)” revisits the British film to discuss what isn’t there – the gaps and silences representing the unknown in a pandemic situation. It also raises thoughtful questions pertaining to the role of government in such an event, the power dynamics between it and its citizens and, ultimately, the lines often drawn between “us” and “them”.

In the Review section, Ambika Raja proposes a project titled The Pandemic: Stories of COVID-19 (2020), a graphic novel developed by the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative and BOOM Charlotte, an art-led initiative in Charlotte, USA. In an attempt to cater to the immediate needs of Charlotte residents during the Coronavirus pandemic, the graphic novel collects seven short stories on how the COVID-19 has affected everyone in different ways.

As a creative contribution to this issue, the short film written by Vítor Carvalho and directed by Francisco Mota, Maria Penedo, Vítor Carvalho titled A Arca (2020) offers a compelling speculation on what a dystopian future following the COVID-19 pandemic could be. The short film is linked below and will be made available online.