Academic journals seldom make an impression on Finnish mainstream media, but the Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research (or, NJSFFR for ‟short”) made an exception this fall. The news of the its founding, and that of the FINFAR Society of scifi and fantasy scholars, was circulated by several Finnish news sites, and bloggers home and abroad spread the word soon after.
Despite the somewhat recent announcement, the journal is no maiden voyage for Nordic scifi and fantasy research. Jyrki Korpua, one of the three editors of the journal, notes that even if the research tradition has been around for a while, it has, until now, been organized only in an unofficial capacity. He goes on to say that the field is both active and produces high-quality research, but that the Nordic dimension has so far been lacking. Articles have been dispersed in different journals with no guarantee that colleagues with similar interests in Europe have access to them.
Merja Polvinen, chair of the NJSFFR advisory board and post-doc researcher at the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies, echoes Korpua's sentiments. According to her, the international attention that the quality of scifi and fantasy research in the Nordic countries has gained made the time right for a distinctly Nordic, peer-reviewed journal – and one that is managed according to open access principles as well.
It is clear that science fiction and fantasy are part of the cultural mainstream, as evidenced by every other blockbuster movie, but their research has so far been mostly an American phenomenon, says Polvinen. Apart from that, NJSFFR's European competitors are journals like Foundation, published in the UK by the Science Fiction Foundation. In comparison to the new prospect from the north, their approach seems limited: Foundation focuses solely on scifi literature, leaving out fantasy and non-literary forms of the speculative. Polvinen notes that the Nordic academic system is generally more open to new ideas and avenues of research than its Anglo-American counterpart, which is also reflected in the wide scope that NJSFFR aims for.
The FINFAR Society press release defines science fiction and fantasy research as being broad-based and multidisciplinary, resonating with global trends to a similar direction. Games, movies, comics, literature, and associated phenomena like fandom all find their home in the new journal – and do so in all the Nordic languages as well as in English. Merja Polvinen sees this as opening a unique chance for scholars working with national canons of speculative fiction, the avenues of publication of which have been restricted at best as they have had a hard time finding a home in traditional publications of literary research.
Traditionally, Finnish science fiction and fantasy scholars have met in the FINFAR seminar, namesake of the new society, organized during the Finncon convention for the last 15 years. For the past few years, the organizers have bounced around the idea that FINFAR might be an useful channel to get funding for young scholars interested in speculative fiction. Still, it was not until Finncon last summer that Merja Polvinen got an excited call from Irma Hirsjärvi, currently a researcher at the University of Tampere, proclaiming that after-party-goers had ended up on founding a journal. The time for bubbling under came to an abrupt end.
NJSFFR's first issue will be out in early 2014, but so far the journal is not open for submissions. The first articles have been commissioned from participants of the latest FINFAR seminar, which, according to Polvinen, is a strategic move: ‟The first issue is the proper launch, a 'see-the-cool-stuff-we've-got' and then more of the same in the future.” She hopes for high quality articles right from the start to shed the often heard doubts that e-journals cannot contain quality research – a misconception harbored by slow-evolving academia.
There are four NJSFFR issues in the pipeline for 2014 and a name contest for a less unwieldy title ended in late November, the results of which have not surfaced so far. Without a doubt, the more momentum created during its first year, the easier the journal's establishment as one of the crown jewels of the humanities in Nordic countries, as well as an important contribution to the field globally.
PS. At the end of her interview with BTSB, Dr. Polvinen wanted to promote the advanced option course in science fiction and fantasy literature at the University of Helsinki Department of Modern Languages, starting in January 2014. Said endorsement alas gets published only after course registration has closed, but fret not! If you missed the course this time, BTSB correspondence with Dr. Polvinen indicates that you might want to keep an eye on the site right here.