2021 Space Olympics: Towards a Science Fiction Dramaturgy

Sanja Vodovnik*


In August 2021, the International Space Station (ISS) hosted its first Space Olympics. Seven astronauts and cosmonauts from various spacefaring nations competed in four events: weightless sharpshooting, synchronized space swimming or space floating, no-handball and lack-of-floor routine. In this essay, I observe Space Olympics through the lens of science fiction performance to explore how science fiction can provide a dramaturgical model for configuring and understanding performative events that seek to (re)present scientific and technological discoveries hovering between the imaginative and real. To examine how science fiction can inform performance, I focus on two approaches included within a developing science fiction dramaturgical toolkit: neology and future history.

Keywords: science fiction performance, Space Olympics, dramaturgy, neology, future history

The 2021 Space Olympics, which took place at the International Space Station (ISS) in August 2021, were organized as a response to the regularly occurring Olympic Games. Video recordings of individual competitions were released by the European Space Agency (ESA) and published on Twitter by astronaut Thomas Pesquet. The Space Olympics differ from the Olympic Games in many ways, the most obvious of which is the zero-gravity environment that prompts the astronauts from different nationalities and two teams to modify the sports in which they compete.

Team Soyuz (Mark Vande Hei, Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov) and Team Dragon (Megan McArthur, Thomas Pesquet, Shane Kimbrough and Aki Hoshide) competed in no-handball, a version of hand-free handball in which the astronauts used their breath to get a ping pong ball into a goal, lack-of-floor routine, a gymnastics floor routine in zero gravity, weightless sharpshooting, shooting a rubber band into a target and synchronized space swimming or space floating, a synchronized group dance routine.

This event offers an opportunity to explore the influence of science fiction (hereafter SF) and science-fictional imaginary on the worlds we inhabit. In the essay, I observe Space Olympics through the lens of SF performance to explore how SF can provide a dramaturgical model for configuring and understanding performative events that seek to (re)present scientific and technological discoveries hovering between the imaginative and the real.

Space Olympics; International Space Station (ISS), Thomas Pesquet, (ESA), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Aki Hoshide (JAXA), Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA), August 2021, ESA/NASA.

Audio description: A group of astronauts in two rows, floating weightless inside the ISS. There are five men and one woman. Everyone is smiling. Top row is dressed in dark blue jumpsuits, bottom row in white, the person in the middle of the bottom row is wearing light blue. Overhead there are many different national flags. The flags are attached to strings

In 1986, Ursula Le Guin wrote that science fiction “is a strange realism” (170) precisely attuned to describing the strange realities in which we live. SF is indeed a strange realism that combines imaginative, emotional and factual modes of knowing and learning: it uses scientific ideas, scientific language and technological inventions to explore social, ideological, historical and cultural questions that have been or will have been pertinent in the reader’s world.

I use the abbreviation SF as a shorthand for the term “science fiction” but also labels such as sci-fi, speculative fiction, speculative fabulation and others (see Haraway 2) which signal how the meaning of the genre has changed in the past century.[1] As Csicsery-Ronay recognizes, SF has expanded beyond its literary generic signifier and

stimulated the development of science-fictional habits of mind, so that we no longer treat SF as purely a genre engine producing formulaic effects, but rather as a kind of awareness we might call science-fictionality, a mode of response that frames and tests experiences as if they were aspects of a work of science fiction.

The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction 2

This awareness works not only in producing fictional and fanciful worlds but also exerts tangible impact on our world. Additionally, Haraway’s uses of SF denote the “storytelling and fact telling; . . . the patterning of possible worlds and possible times, material-semiotic worlds, gone, here, and yet to come” (31). In a similar vein, the realms of science fiction and fact occasionally become blurry and give rise to material manifestations and performances of the science-fictional imaginary.

On the 50th anniversary of the Apollo Moon landing in 2019, Benson, for example, wrote that a series of science fiction stories and films have captured the audiences’ imagination and instilled the idea that traveling to the Moon is not only a feat of imagination but a possibility that could one day be realized. SF performances can serve as a type of embodied rehearsal, one that playfully explores the possibilities of future developments of current techno-scientific opportunities in the world.

The field of contingency studies in theatre offers additional insights into how performances provide a space for rehearsing futures, embodying thought experiments and expanding the imagined future possibilities (see for instance, Daniel Sack’s After Live and Irit Degani-Raz-s Theatrical Fictional Worlds, Counterfactuals and Scientific Thought Experiments). As Sack notes, a theatre performance “from its architectural support to its ceremonies of audience etiquette, comprises a technology devoted to the revelation of what is to come” (25).

While my paper does not provide a detailed discussion of how to apply the work already developed at the intersection of contingency and theatre studies, it provides a link to a potential future research node that would accommodate SF thinking, aesthetic expressions of science-fictionality, performance studies and contingency/potentiality, while maintaining focus on two dramaturgical tools, neology and future history, derived from SF practices and theoretical frameworks.

I contend that Space Olympics as an SF performance presents an embodied science fictional imaginary that introduces a future possibility and challenges the politics and material realities of modern Olympic Games. Like most SF performances, Space Olympics were propelled by a scientific potential, that is, life in zero gravity in outer space, to which they offer a playful and imaginative re-framing of political and material realities. These re-imaginings challenge the familiar frameworks of the Olympic Games and life at the ISS and contribute to the decentralization of Earth and the human in the SF imaginary.

The Space Olympics shed light on SF dramaturgies that are employed both within theatre and in extra-theatrical performance events, while also establishing connections between these different types of performances and the shared cultural imaginary. The SF dramaturgies at Space Olympics bring together text, with its semiotic and narrative particularities, visual images of human bodies and manmade objects moving in zero gravity, sounds, light and backgrounds that frame the event within its cramped and limited material space, reinforcing the imaginaries and vocabularies of a world saturated with technology and propelled by the experience of relentless, accelerating change.

To explore the dramaturgy of the Space Olympics I turn to the scholarship of Csicsery-Ronay and his description of key “mental schemes” (x) with which SF operates. Although he identifies seven different schemes, I focus only on two, neology and future history, and consider them as dramaturgical tools that provide insights into the ways that SF influences strange contemporary realities. This proposal echoes discussions that have surfaced in theatre, performance and cognition scholarship (see, for instance, The Routledge Companion to Theatre, Performance, and Cognitive Science) that examine how thinking embodies subjects with/in their environments. SF mental schemes can then be posited as crucial for navigating environments which are changing, technologically saturated, globally connected and digitally enhanced, thus providing a way for narrativizing and making meaning from the complexity of human-cultural-social-technological interactions.

Additionally, cognition studies in performance might further illuminate the relationship between the performance and the audience. SF performances rely on collaborative audiences with whom they build the imagined worlds: SF dramaturgy envisions an audience that does the work of filling in the gaps between the old and the new, the present and the envisioned future, an audience willing to become directly involved in building and experiencing the imagined worlds.

Neologies and future histories are not only narrative choices that SF as a generic category recognizes as part of its cannon but also mechanisms that allow SF to perform as a genre. They are dramaturgical tools that shape and position SF performances as part of the broader SF production and a speculative epistemic approach to knowledge about space. They organize the movements, space, time, texts and shared histories into a performance that contributes to the SF imaginary and, in turn, influences the scientific and technological imagination. Although many more tools and approaches have already been identified in SF scholarship, future history and neology provide interesting insights into how SF performance as a medium uses these tools to demonstrate their application to embodied experiences.

Lack-of-Floor Routine, Space Olympics; International Space Station (ISS), Thomas Pesquet, (ESA), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Aki Hoshide (JAXA), Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA), August 2021. Video credit: ESA/NASA

Furthermore, fruitful discussions on science in theatre have already touched on SF plays, themes and traditions. Science on Stage (Kirsten Shepherd-Barr), Science-Dramatic (Eva Sabine Zehelein), “‘The Acceptable Face of the Unintelligible’: Intermediality and the Science Play” (Mike Vanden Heuvel) or Identity, Culture, and the Science Performance (edited by Vivian Appler and Meredith Conti) are among the contributions which offer contextual insights into how science is presented on stage and in performance. However, as Heuvel asserts, theatre and performance as mediums shape how science is presented. Plays like Caryl Churchill’s A Number bring the focus on the interaction of sciences and technology within their social and cultural environments; environments that both give rise to new ideas and discoveries and are also, in turn, influenced by these same discoveries. They also introduce new words, names and alternative space-times in which these words are an everyday occurrence.These performances, Alex Mermikides notes, “variously disturb the performer-character dyad as the target of the audience’s subjective identification” (126), and “resist the Aristotelian format wherein the audience’s emotional engagement with a single protagonist is entrained to their conflict against internal and external forces, and to the resulting rising action” (126–27). This echoes Katalin Trencsényi’s account of heterarchical dramaturgies, in which the hero’s journey loses its central importance to open spaces for other subjects and phenomena that advance the story.

The dramaturgies of science theatre broaden the audience view of the individual located in the world with which the performer-character interacts. This world is both fictional and not fictional in its usual theatrical sense, in that it features real performers who are playing a character in a story. But it is also both fictional and non-fictional in the sense that the story usually contains elements of non-fictional scientific discourse, as well as plots and stories that have not actually happened. Importantly, however, their dramaturgy foregrounds the not-yet-articulated affects, effects and consequences of how science and technology interact with discursive, social and cultural spheres.

Much of this rings true for SF theatre as well; however, while combining and mixing fact and fiction, thinking about potential worlds and the consequences past and present human (in)actions on the future outcomes, SF also draws from and is integrated into the vast universe of the last hundred years of SF, sci-fi and other speculative genres. It not only considers current technologies and scientific questions but also expands its scope to speculate about the near and distant future of human thinking, creating and being. It speculates on the possible and the plausible but also on the pseudo-scientific, the borderline magical and fantastic. It considers not only the human perspective, but it also frequently explores the non-human and the post-human, the extra-terrestrial, the animal, the cyborg, the natural, the mechanical. It addresses individual perceptions and collective being, their systems and processes. Additionally, it seeps from theatrical practice into the extra-theatrical performance and blurs the lines between fictional worlds and lived experiences. This potentially links SF dramaturgy to what Peter Eckersall, Paul Monaghan and Melanie Beddie have identified as dramaturgy-as-ecology, or dramaturgy “as an ecological practice opening onto deterritorializing forms for connectivity” (20). Theatre and performance have only begun to discover the history and potential for further developing SF, including using its structures, concepts, metaphors and narrative approaches as dramaturgical tools and perspectives.

New Words, New Worlds

All four events documented by the crew at ISS were identified by neologisms that signify a newly emerging practice. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay describes SF neologies as “playful combinations of arbitrary poetic connotations and established techniques of making new words out of old ones” (The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction 20). The words used for sports featured at the Space Olympics, such as weightless sharpshooting, no-handball, synchronized space swimming, also called synchronised floating, and lack-of-floor routine are all similar to their respective original terms, and their extended meanings are easy to decipher. This is because the astronauts’ movements already signal the differences between the old and new worlds which the neologisms describe. In his lack-of-floor routine, Aki Hoshide starts with a flip over a space bicycle. He then performs several turns and somersaults in all directions. He is followed by Mark Vande Hei, who starts upside down from the perspective of the camera and uses his hands to spin around. He then performs several tumbles back and forth and ends up pushing himself towards the back. Neither touches a floor that a gymnast would recognize as a traditional competition space. Words like “floor,” “swimming” and “sharpshooting” remain in the description of the sport and the astronauts’ movements, along with neologies like “weightless sharpshooting” and “lack-of-floor,” provide a new point of reference. So, while space sports retain a close connection to sports featured at the Olympic Games, their names denote the new, modified versions of these sports that only make sense outside of the force of Earth’s gravity.

Synchronized Space Swimming, Space Olympics; International Space Station (ISS), Thomas Pesquet, (ESA), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Aki Hoshide (JAXA), Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA), August 2021. Video credit: ESA/NASA

A neology, writes Csicsery-Ronay, is a “dialectical trope that implies a conception, at once aesthetic and cognitive, of the difference between the historically familiar and the as-yet imaginary designs and social relations that are supposedly just emerging” (13). In the case of Space Olympics, the neology also reorganizes the ways we perceive and understand movements of familiar objects and bodies. The lack-of-floor routine reminds the viewer that although directions like “up” and “down,” and, consequently, terms like floor and ceiling, might not make sense in a zero-gravity environment, movements of the astronaut could still be traced to something familiar. The movements are framed as part of a continuum of movement choreography, one that is based, however, on a new set of laws that govern bodies in space.

Dramaturgically, the neologism provides a tool and an architecture for staging a clash, often discussed in SF studies, between the known and the unknown, the strange and the familiar; this clash is essential for Darko Suvin’s notion of cognitive estrangement. The neologism works by offering a context that provides a linguistic, affective and experiential space for exploring how a particular sport, such as synchronized swimming, changes when transposed into an alternative environment. With a signifier like synchronized-space-swimming, one is alerted to new ways of moving the human body, new cultural expectations of what bodies can do, new aesthetic forms and their values in the context of sports and new ways of thinking about sports and events like the Olympic Games. In a public demonstration or a play, the neologism is shown as an embodied reality to which the words refer. The meaning of a word is reinforced through the astronaut’s embodied performance, the background projected in the video, the commentary and music overlaid on images of bouncing bodies as they try to use their breath instead of their hands to get the ping pong ball into a hatch. But the purpose of the Space Olympics is not only to document the possibility of space sports but also to suggest that such a sporting evolution is possible. By demonstrating that sports in zero gravity are not only possible but attested, the Space Olympics competition stimulates the imagination by showing specific movements that represent both an athletic and an artistic achievement.

The means by which Space Olympics performers relate to the audience is also influenced by the neologism. The audience is challenged to connect the new signifiers with familiar ideas and concepts while watching the performance. This pushes the boundaries of the known and questions that which is already labeled with certain terms to expand and accommodate new meanings and new conceptual backgrounds. The audiences are actively involved in tracing extrapolations of new names and filling in gaps in the history, process and development of the new sport. The name also signals a playful shift in the discipline as it undermines the expectations of contemporary gymnasts and more adequately describes the clumsy bouncing and floating astronauts sometimes perform for their Earth-bound audiences.

The audience is implicated in a certain “conspiracy of meaning” (Fensham 34) with the astronauts, a conspiracy that sets aside various doubts and malfunctions so that both groups can experience together a world envisioned by the neology. The neology helps to build and maintain these conspiracies by introducing new terminologies that cast aside doubts regarding the presented objects or phenomena, relegating much of the work of filling in the gaps between the old and the new, the present and the envisioned future, to the imagination of the audience; the audience is directly involved in building and experiencing the imagined worlds. The laughing astronauts tumbling in a zero-gravity laboratory provide a joyful link between the rigorous, demanding and competitive Olympic sports and astronaut training. They playfully reimagine zero gravity conditions, echoing the relations between SF story worlds and the process of their articulation in the reader’s mind.

However, as Cervera observes in Hadfield’s performance of Space Oddity at the ISS in 2013, the Space Olympics similarly reproduce the legacies entailed in the Olympic Games. The astronauts compete in two teams, Team Soyuz and Team Dragon, representing nation states depicted by the clearly visible flags on their suits; these include the major spacefaring countries, such as Russia, U.S.A., France and Japan. The description of the video on the ESA website mentions the “parallels between being an astronaut and an athlete,” noting that both require extraordinary mental and physical training, as well as a team that stands behind the individuals representing countries at the Olympics and at the ISS. The parallels extend beyond the elitism of the profession, which requires substantial public funding and may also lead to environmental damage. As Jules Boykoff notes, the Olympic Games are a “largely clandestine, elite-driven process with significant impact on host cities, and all of it coming with an exorbitant price tag” (1). Space Olympics, arguably, are an even more rarified achievement, with significant resources spent to send a small group of people to space. For most of the past 60 years of space exploration, this group has consisted primarily of science educated white men with military background, which undoubtedly colours what humanity has learned so far about space travel. The Space Olympics also signal the desire to maintain connection to the Earth, human ideologies and politics. In the Olympics Games, this includes both nationalism and individualism, as well as meritocracy, all bound by connections to mythologized Greco-Roman history and traditions.

Temporal Warp

Such a blend of new and old, a staple in SF, requires history to come to terms with what might one day exist; it includes neologisms and their contextualization in future histories. Csicsery-Ronay argues that neologisms “are chronoclastic. They embody cultural collisions between the usage of words familiar in the present . . . and the imaginary, altered linguistic future asserted by the neology” (The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction 19). This leads us to another approach in the SF dramaturgy toolkit, which is the performance of future and imaginary events as if they have already occurred. Together, they help build new worlds that often arise as a result of introducing what Suvin in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, inspired by Marc Bloch, calls a novum: a new thing, phenomenon or invention that fundamentally changes the landscape of the story, expands imaginary possibilities and sets up conditions for new experiences (63–64). To be considered a new invention, a novum requires an understanding of time as the past, present and future. According to Csicsery-Ronay, the new is only to be understood as new once it has been contrasted with the old and placed within the past time, in which the new now becomes obsolete (55). This particular approach allows the audience to shift temporarily between their experiences in the past and present and the presented vision of the future, embodied in the performance.

No-Handball, Space Olympics; International Space Station (ISS), Thomas Pesquet, (ESA), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Aki Hoshide (JAXA), Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA), August 2021. Video credit: ESA/NASA

The transposition of Space Olympics rests on a shared history of the Olympic Games which connects the audience and the astronaut-performers. This event, which is culturally, politically and economically significant, has occurred every two years since the Modern Olympics were first resurrected in 1896 from the ancient Greek origin. This first resurrection has already been involved in placing the future in close contact with its historical counterpart. A comparison of the Space Olympics to both the ancient Greek Olympics and the contemporary twentieth- and twenty-first-century Olympics shows how the event has evolved. It originated as a part of a festival circuit that included not only athletic events but also entertainment and celebrations (Young 20–24). The Olympics have been transposed to a competitive sporting event and, finally, to a playful challenge of the laws of physics, marking a historical development over almost three millennia in which the Olympics are a recurring event.

This frame that juxtaposes the “megahistories of the human species as a single great collective actor and the personal histories of protagonists in a critical moment of that covering megahistory” (Csicsery-Ronay 82) is a dramaturgical tool that shifts perspective. Rather than a single entertaining performance involving seven people aboard the ISS, Space Olympics become a part of a continuous history of the Olympic Games and human techno-social development. This history is, however, only part of the future possibility of developing the Olympics and exists as an experiential insight into the imaginary of Space Sports more broadly.

A similar dramaturgical approach is often used by companies and individuals to introduce a new technological invention. Events like the famous unveiling of the personal computer by Steve Jobs in 1988 not only contextualize the technological or scientific achievement but also introduce an experience of future reality. This is much like the Space Olympics, an endeavour creatively planned and performed (Rosental 24) for the pleasure of the audience and interest of the performers. Although the astronaut crew did not hire George Coates or set their performance in the San Francisco Symphony Hall as Jobs did (ibid.), they transformed the floating research station into a stadium that provided the scenery for their performance. The Olympics of the future are, even more than the contemporary Olympics, enmeshed in modern day political and technological development. Much like the contemporary Olympics, the ISS seeks to maintain the image of the opposite: an apolitical, research and achievement driven tradition that contrasts the general history of humankind with the individual triumph of the astronaut.

The videos, published both on Pesquet’s Twitter account and on the ESA website and YouTube account, are narrated and commented on by the astronauts themselves. Although this was the first and perhaps only time when astronauts at the ISS engaged with Space Olympics, the event was narrated similarly to the framing of the Olympic Games by sports commentators. Because those who participate in the Olympic Games are among the very best athletes, their performances typically feature innovative routines and new movements, particularly in those sports with a degree of creative composition, such as gymnastics, figure skating or synchronized swimming. The commentators of the Space Olympics use this trope of identifying the innovative movements, shifting the temporal framework of the event. One commentor suggests, for example, that the Soyuz team finished with finesse by presenting a well-executed salute and bodily engagement, as compared to gymnasts who finish their routines with a salute in more traditional settings. This frames the radically new possibilities of movement as a novelty in a gymnastic routine, as opposed to a new kind of movement of the human body more generally. However, the finishing poses in the lack-of-floor routine in the Space Olympics and the floor routine at the Olympic Games can only be compared in the context of a temporal continuation of the Olympic event.  

The movements of the teams in the synchronized space swimming event are not only rehearsed but draw from their Earth-based Olympic disciplines; the team members dance to music, tumble and touch hands, imitating movements from the Olympic synchronized swimming events. Two pairs of astronauts in dark blue jumpsuits stand in two rows and perform a dance routine to music under conditions of weightlessness. The back row moves to the left while the front row moves to the right, performing several turns around their vertical axis on a spot. They extend their hands one after the other and simulate diving underwater. The front row moves backwards while the back row floats forward above the two front row astronauts. All four astronauts touch their feet in the centre and wave at each other, and they then perform very slow synchronous somersaults. They finish standing with their hands stretched above their heads. The sharpshooters, though they are using elastic bands aimed at a board, imitate the focus, bodily position and concentration of the shooting disciplines at the Olympics. In the lack-of-floor routines, participants similarly perform cartwheels, summersaults and dance to music, but they take advantage of the lack of gravity to utilize aerial spins and twists, thus showcasing the astronauts’ spectacular and inventive athletic abilities.

The framing of the Space Olympics reflects the values of a world in which an analogous event was already available and common. It parallels the Olympic Games, as the participants are also extraordinary athletes whose abilities have been carefully cultivated and maintained for years. Neither the Olympics nor the Space Olympics are available or accessible to the majority of the human population; however, by simulating the performances of Olympic athletes in zero gravity, Space Olympics suggests that this event, like the Olympic Games, not only has a great potential for the future but also plays a role in invoking a shared history. This historical perspective allows for a deeper understanding of past athletic rivalry between Russia and the U.S.A,, for example, when the teams compete in synchronized space swimming.

Space Olympics; International Space Station (ISS), Thomas Pesquet, (ESA), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Aki Hoshide (JAXA), Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos) and Mark Vande Hei (NASA), August 2021. Video credit: ESA/NASA

Outlining two approaches for developing SF dramaturgies, I have argued that neologies and narrative perspectives of future histories help destabilize contemporary time-space reference and encourage the audience to bridge the gaps between what is presently possible and what may be possible in the future. While neologies seek to establish a distance between what is already known and what is merely speculated, future historical perspectives aim to merge the speculative with the attested. Together, the two speak to the multitude of postmodern possibilities that have replaced the modern striving for progress. However, in addition to exploring new ways of moving and enacting Olympic Games, the Space Olympics also highlight the spatial and economic politics of both Olympics. On one hand, the new astronauts are limited by the inadequate space available at the ISS for performances. They remind us that, outside of this special setting that sustains life in the vacuum of space, there is at present no possibility for humans to live anywhere but on Earth. On the other hand, they draw attention to the fact that both the Olympic Games and the ISS are a mere dream for an average human being.

There are many more approaches to explore from the SF dramaturgical toolbox to explain how we might imagine future developments in the world, how we could use them to imagine better alternatives and utopian futures and how these ideas might question established ways of knowing and being. As Csicsery-Ronay observes:

it is from the thesaurus of SF images that we draw many of our metaphors and models for understanding our technologized world, and it is as SF that many of our impressions of technology aided desire and technology riven anxiety are processed back into works of the imagination. It is impossible to map the extent to which the perception of contemporary reality requires and encourages science-fictional orientations.


The Space Olympics and SF performances, more generally, explore not only mental schematics but also lived experiences, recorded and transmitted to the gravity bound Earth. In this exercise of creative worldbuilding, SF performances provide an arena for envisioning and rehearsing different worlds, different futures and different ways of knowing and understanding the spaces we hope to inhabit. In this sense, SF dramaturgies embody the element that Cochrane and Trencsényi identify in their foreword to the New Dramaturgy: they are “postmimetic, they embrace interculturalism and they are process-conscious” (xii).SF performances stand at the intersections of many worlds, theories, identities, industries, audiences and aesthetics, and their dramaturgical toolkit reflects this.

Further investigations of SF performances can and should find a close link to other distinct performative engagements that draw together science facts, new technological advancements and the SF imaginary, and aim to entertain an audience and demonstrate the potential of developing science and technology: science theatre, briefly discussed at the beginning of this paper, public presentations of scientific discoveries and technological inventions, such as public autopsies made famous in Rembrandt’s 1632 painting The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp  (see, for example, Bob Baljet or Maaike Bleeker), Michael Faraday’s famous Christmas lectures from 1827 to 1869 (see, for example, Boon Leong Lan and Jeanette BS Lim), contemporary televised science series like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and extra-theatrical performances like Chris Hadfield’s performance of Bowie’s Space Oddity aboard the ISS. Connections to each of these and the processes and contributions to SF performance merit further attention.

Furthermore, as noted in the beginning, the intersection between contingency studies, potentiality and SF performances warrants further discussion that could align the various studies of the means to unravel futures. Similarly, studies in cognition and the connections between imaginary explorations and embodied performance, between the imagined worlds and world-building in the thoughts of the audience, might provide interesting insights into what SF performances offer in terms of its medium-specific science-fictionality. SF performances combine elements from all of these and then take on a shape of their own. In each case, the objectives of the performance are both to entertain and to educate, to provide a spectacle, to introduce new insights and to question the established frameworks that determine what is possible. This is an SF legacy of its own, a legacy that, starting with its name, seeks to blend two seemingly unrelated ways of knowing and learning about the world, that of science and that of fiction, that of fact and that of storytelling, that of the known and tested and that of the hypothesized and experimental.

Note: Images or videos released by ESA under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO) Licence


[1] Since the earliest days of pulp magazines at the beginning of the twentieth century, SF writers and scholars have been self-reflective about what is meant by writing science-fictionally. These discussions form an integral part of the genre, producing genre-bending literature and consistently challenging its readers. Instead of checking off different elements deemed science-fictional, I see SF as a particular “mode of awareness about the world” (Csicser-Ronay, “Postmodernism’s SF” 308), a discursive mode that much like a Deleuze-Guattarian rhizome has no beginning or end but is always a middle. As John Rieder (Science Fiction and the Mass-Cultural Genre System) notes, “SF is historical and mutable; SF has no essence, no single unifying characteristic, and no point of origin; SF is not a set of texts, but rather a way of using texts and of drawing relationships among them; SF’s identity is a differentially articulated position in a historical and mutable field of genres; attribution of the identity of SF to a text constitutes an active intervention in its distribution and repetition” (16).


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*Sanja Vodovnik is a graduate of the University of Toronto. Her work focuses on science fiction in theatrical and extra-theatrical performance spaces and investigates the roles that science fiction plays in contemporary technologically saturated worlds. She is particularly interested in events that contribute to the production of SF experiences such as immersive theme parks, world fairs and online fan communities.

Copyright © 2022 Sanja Vodovnik
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