Tag Archives: competition

The President

Honourable Mention – Short Story – Judith Igelsböck

Monday 7am. The president is walking through the corridor on her way to the office as she witnesses how, in a nearby room, some of her closest colleagues are sitting in front of a screen, laughing their asses off. Are they laughing about me? she wonders. She recognizes her voice and also her image while silently approaching the screen. As her colleagues notice that she has entered the room, they quickly turn off the video and immediately start apologizing. 

Sorry, one of the colleagues says, we should not have even watched this. It is just yet another ‘deep fake’ somebody found yesterday. Don’t even think about it. Forget that it exists. You do not need to worry about that at all. 

But what is it about? the president asks. What is the fake me saying?

Nothing, a colleague replies. It is just pure crap.

Would you send me the link to this video or, even better, could you download it for me, please? the president insists, I need to attend a meeting now. 

Monday 9pm. The president returns home. She briefly lets her team know that she does not need anything anymore and takes a shower. She has cancelled her evening yoga session with her personal trainer. Better tomorrow. She picks up a beer from the fridge, lights a cigarette and jumps into her bed. Again, she skims through her mail. Nothing extremely urgent, she happily notices. She clicks on the email with the subject matter ‘Deep fake from the morning’. She knows that this is probably not a good idea, but she cannot leave it. Dear Marta, the email says, please find enclosed the link to the downloaded deep fake from the morning. I understand that you are curious, but I would not recommend watching it. It is not pornographic or anything but, still, we do not know who is behind it yet. It did not create much public attention, in any case. Nevertheless, you should better think of yourself and your actual life. We will take care of the rest. Have a nice evening, Mitzi.  

Now the president got even more curious. She picks up another small beer and starts watching the video on big screen in her bedroom. It is incredible, she notices. Of course, she would not have believed for a second that this was really her. But she is surprised that the video doesn’t give her the creeps at all. She is even intrigued. The video is a sort of dark comedy of her current presidency. Somebody has taken a lot of time and effort to deconstruct the politics she is pursuing. Who is behind this, she wonders? Who takes the time to create such content? Political opponents? Students in computer science? A frustrated citizen who spends the whole day in front of the TV? Activists? Is it just one person or a whole team? Is it a professional campaign against her or the past time of some wannabe politician? She has a hard time falling asleep. 

Tuesday 7:30am. The president is late for her meeting. Her assistant brings her an extra cup of coffee. Mitzi, the president asks, have you figured out who is behind this deep fake video? Are you still thinking about this? Mitzi replies, we are working on it. You do not need to worry about it at all. Hardly anybody seemed to be interested in the video. Deep fakes have become such a common thing. Nobody takes them seriously anymore. And all eyes are on the outbreak of the volcano. Speaking of which, the plan is that you will leave at 2pm to meet the local authorities. I will assemble a proper outfit for you and join you on the trip. I will provide you with an update of the latest developments later. Have a good morning.   

Tuesday 9:30pm. The president is in the car staring out of the window. She is tired from this trip and got a headache on the plane. She sends a message to the yoga teacher who is waiting for her: I’ll be there soon, sorry for the delay. 

The yoga makes her feel a little better. She closes her eyes to enjoy the final pose, Shavasana, and breathes deeply. The purpose of this exercise is not to think of anything, she knows. But the image of herself who is not herself does not move out of her head. 

Wednesday 7am. The president is on her way to the office. Skimming through her emails. Good news, Mitzi writes, we believe that we have an idea where the video is coming from. It just seems to be a ‘lay deep-faker’. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to find the person so fast. We will keep doing more research, but from what it seems, there is no reason to be worried, as we suspected. Happy to hear, the president replies, have you contacted the person? 

Wednesday 12am. The president is returning to the office from a reception in a nearby town. Her colleagues have picked up lunch for all. Regarding the deep-fake, Mitzi says, as she enters her office with an espresso and the idea to briefly go through the afternoon schedule with her, what do you mean by contacting the person? It is not really how we are working. We are trying to understand whether this was more of a joke or a sort of ‘attack.’ It has all the looks of being more of a project out of boredom or something of the like. Most probably, there is no reason to be worried. The president lowers the voice when she replies: Mitzi, do you have the contact information? I would really appreciate to be informed about all of the details, not only about what you think is relevant for me. Of course, Mitzi replies, I will send you all we have. 

Wednesday 5pm. Two more events. The president thinks about how much she would love to cancel and just take two days off. Today she is not in the mood at all. She knows that it looks unprofessional but she is checking the inbox while waiting for her turn to speak. Mitzi has sent a 10-page report containing all of the information they have found on the alleged deep-faker, including three email addresses and a telephone number. Deep Fake: Confidential and unconfirmed, it says in the subject matter. She is surprised to learn that apparently a 56 years old woman has published the video. She has been working as a mathematics teacher for the last 30 years, has two kids who are both studying at different universities, and divorced from her husband 6 years ago. She is living in the countryside, more than 1000 kilometres away from here. She has an absolutely clean slate. The president knows that this is what Mitzi wanted to avoid, when she chooses one of her non-official email addresses that she has kept for newsletters from online-shops and other kind of spam and starts typing: Dear ‘Ms. President’, I have watched this recent video of yours (or should I say of mine) in which you criticize my work. I was wondering whether you could also impersonate the president you would wish for? What is it that you would like me to do? Is there the possibility of producing a constructive deep-fake?
If yes, I would like to get in conversation.
Kind regards, The President. 

Thursday 5:15am. The president wakes up before the alarm rings. She has a bad feeling. What was she doing? Why would she get in contact with a person who is deep-faking her? She has no idea about her intentions and also not whether it was really her or not. She checks the mail. No reply. She has a hard time going back to sleep and finally decides to take a shower and start the day early. 

Thursday 9pm. Still no reply. Maybe there won’t be any, the president thinks. She meets with a friend in her favourite bar. They are sitting in a booth that allows them to watch other guests, while they cannot be seen. The president loves listening to her friend’s stories. She lives the life of a 20-year-old student, always dating three people at the same time. Together they are usually debating about who she should meet again and who maybe not. When was the last date I had? the president wonders. Must be more than two years ago. And it was such a disaster, she remembers.   

Friday 7am. The president wakes up with a slight headache. She cancels the first meeting and takes a stroll with her dog in the nearby woods. She is not happy that upon return she immediately checks the mail. Nothing. She is looking in the spam folder. And there it is: ‘Happy to talk’, it says. The reply came from another email address, none of the ones mentioned in the report. There is an invitation to a video-call. Subject matter: ‘President meets President.’ The president can feel her heart beating fast. Time: Saturday October 30, 2021 08:00 PM Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna. She decides to ignore the mail for now and jumps into the shower. 

Friday 10pm. The email kept distracting her during the whole day. What should she do? Can she join such a meeting? Is it going to be a trap? Would that cost her the presidency in the end? Is she going to get known for being the most stupid president ever – inviting her enemies? Should she involve Mitzi? She has not taken any action throughout the whole day and now –sitting on the couch with a beer and a pizza– she is staring at the email. And then she suddenly replies: Great. Let’s talk! See you tomorrow. And to her own surprise she presses the send button. 

Saturday 9am. The president has slept wonderfully. She feels revived and for the first time in a while, full of power. Of course, she also has to attend a few events today, but this will be done in a couple of hours. A funeral, an opening of a festival, and a birthday celebration. She takes the dog outside. It is a beautifully sunny day. 

Saturday 7:45pm. The president cools her nerves with a strong drink. Just do not join the call, she tells herself. She does not remember when was the last time she was that nervous. Why not, she now hears herself thinking, what can go wrong? What else is there to do this evening? She imagines the meeting being aired live in one of these horrifying private television channels, or going viral on diverse social media. But then, curiosity prevails. At exactly 8pm she joins the meeting. And as soon as the connection is established, she looks into her own face. Good evening, the fake her says in her voice. Good evening, she replies…

The short story ‘The President’ is inspired by a homonymous and semi-documentary novel written by Clemens Berger (2020) in which the author takes us to the moment in Jay Immer’s life in which he (with immigrant parents and having worked as policeman his entire life) is hired as body-double for then president Ronald Reagan. While at first Jay Immer enjoys the excitement and privilege that comes with this position, he continuously finds himself parting away from Reagan’s political agenda, specifically with regards to labour rights and environmental sustainability. Gradually, Jay Immer turns from being a dutiful impersonator into an ‘evil twin.’ 

In the short story, ‘The President’ gets transferred into an imaginary present-day nation in Europe. It is playing with the very same issues, namely: impersonators and doubles, yet in the ‘digital age’. While the ‘original’ novel narrates from a body-double going rogue, in the digital version of ‘The President’ what is usually considered to be a variety of an ‘evil twin’ of unclear intentions and origins (the deep fake) turns out to be a potential ‘twin stranger’, creating the possibility for a lonely president to reconnect with the world. 

Writing digital twin fiction –such as the short story ‘The President’– is part of an ongoing project1 that revolves around the metaphor of the ‘digital twin’: a current hyped-up expression of intelligent digital representation and simulation. By now, digital twins have mostly been deployed in industrial production (e.g., for predictive maintenance) and urban development (e.g., for the simulation of future mobility solutions), but digital twins are also imagined to be useful as medical applications, as for instance in preventive tele-care (see e.g., Apte & Spanes 2021, Bruynseels et al. 2018, Lattanzi et al. 2021). In the promissory discourse, the digital twin gets depicted as an intelligent replica of a ‘real world’ entity, which –due to continuous technological advancement and increasing availability of ‘real-time’ data– continuously progresses with the ‘original’. 

The social sciences have highlighted in various ways, however, that digital worlds are not solely representational spaces but integral parts of our reality – with performative, and accordingly, transformational powers. Despite the reductionist deployment of the metaphor of the digital twin, the project does not argue for dismissing it all along. In contrast, it seeks to explore potential ways of dealing with digital representation and data ‘about us’ and ‘our worlds’ through the metaphor of the twin. Concretely, the discourse on digital twins is confronted with a variety of twin types and twin-relations human twin studies and twin fiction have been generating (such as the twin stranger, the evil twin, the parasitical twin, see e.g., Sullivan 2004, Viney 2021). Narrating digital twin relations creatively gives space to those facets the promoters of digital twin technologies implicitly capitalize on (such as our fascination with twins) or those dimensions that tend to get silenced (such as matters of ownership, algorithmic injustice, privacy, transparency, or artificial unintelligence, see e.g., Broussard 2018, Katsh & Rabinovich-Einy 2017). 

To give an example: Following the logics of Shakespeare’s ‘Comedy of Errors’, a consumer of a medical digital twin application for preventive care could be fed with somebody else’s data, which in turn could positively or negatively influence on her well-being. In another story, the very same application could suddenly be unavailable due to the bankruptcy of the software company, leaving our protagonist with the feeling of having left a part of her body, and confronting her with the challenge of either needing to redevelop a sense for her body or finding a way to recreate the digital twin in some way (just like in the heart-breaking graphic novel ‘The Phantom Twin’ by Brown 2020). 

Fiction allows the exploration of a multiplicity of possible digital twin relations without the need of having to think too much about technical accuracy or the question of whether a digital twin technology is or will be existing in this exact way or not. At the same time, writing digital twin fiction opens up for a critical expansion of the current digital twin discourse, which is presenting the digital twin as ‘ready-to-use’, fully unproblematic, and politically neutral ‘product.’ Parting away from that narrow vision, digital twin fiction seeks to encourage a critical yet techno-optimistic engagement with emerging technologies, and wanting to share the impression that –just like human twin relations– digital twin relations can be manifold and that we have a stake in defining and shaping what they will become.


1  https://www.mcts.tum.de/en/research/der-digitale-zwilling-viel-mehr-als-ein-abbild/



Apte, P. P., & Spanos, C. J. (2021). The Digital Twin Opportunity. MIT Sloan Management Review. 63(1), 15-17. 

Berger, C. (2020). Der Präsident. Salzburg: Residenz Verlag. 

Broussard, M. (2018). Artificial unintelligence: How computers misunderstand the world. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Brown, L. (2020). Phantom Twin. New York City: First Second. 

Bruynseels, K., Santoni de Sio, F., & van den Hoven, J. (2018). Digital twins in health care: ethical implications of an emerging engineering paradigm. Frontiers in genetics, 9(31).

Hacking, I. (1983). Representing and intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Katsh, M. E., & Rabinovich-Einy, O. (2017). Digital justice: technology and the internet of disputes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lattanzi, L., Raffaeli, R., Peruzzini, M., & Pellicciari, M. (2021). Digital twin for smart manufacturing: a review of concepts towards a practical industrial implementation.  International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 34(6), 1-31. 

Sullivan, B. (2004). Your evil twin: Behind the identity theft epidemic. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Viney, W. (2021). Twins: Superstitions and Marvels, Fantasies and Experiments. London: Reaktion Books.


Winner – Short Story – Steven Gonzalez Monserrate

Silence. Every morning I wake to silence. Sometimes at dawn, I go out to greet it, to look up at the sun-drenched sky, tinged red with the blood of what calamity claimed. Above, the canvas of the heavens is parched, naked. I hear nothing but wind as it combs through the desert, longing to remember the songs of skylarks. There isn’t even a whisper of birds anymore. This world is quiet. Empty. Like the blank, barren sky, bereft of those formless flocks of white that now only live in memory. But this is our reality now, our penance for not heeding Nature’s signals, or the warnings of indigenous shamans or the politically incompetent outrage of scientists who tried to stop it. They cried out in terror, their voices tapering as they echoed in the nothingness that is this wilderness after clouds. For the clouds have gone the way of the skylark; extinct. They are but dreams now, for those of us left who remember how to dream of them, for those us fortunate enough to be born before they departed.

Some of us tried to stop them from leaving. Perhaps we were naive. Perhaps we were vain. But we believed we understood them. Their signs. The clues they left behind for us hidden in choreographies of vapor. I still remember what it was like to see them teeming in puffy flocks, their great sails thick enough to cast shadows on the mortals below. The children always shudder when I tell them of cloud shadows by the hearth fires in the dead of night. They want to hear Uncle Nimbus tell them about the clouds that were. So I tell them my story. I recount the wonder of a world of clouds as they stare at me, eager to absorb every detail, some of them turning their gaze to the curling smoke from the red blaze, the closest thing to clouds they might ever see.

I never begin the story the same way. Perhaps I am in denial that the past is immutable, that what I did or failed to do is irrelevant in the face of the simple fact that cloudkind is extinct. Perhaps I feel remorse for these children, the only ones left standing who can judge me for my actions. Whatever the reason, the last time I started my story, I began the story in the days of my youth. There I was, eyes twinkling with promise and wonder, a freshly minted Dr. Esteban Bisumn, computational meterologist, a student of the skies and the hidden calculus of their ever-shifting constellations. It was the year that the cumulus cloud was declared an endangered species. I was admitted to a global team of researchers in those last hours of civilization, when the United Nations Parliament invested heavily in attempting to reverse the slow burning of our world. While most of the research teams were devoted to developing geo-engineering fixes to undo the catastrophe of global heating (terraforming algorithms, atmospheric chemistry modifications, etc.), we were part of a limited research group charged with the welfare of clouds. 

Why clouds? Why not devote my efforts and skillset to stopping global heating? Well, it turns out, clouds were something of an enigma. They eluded our climate models and terraforming algorithms. They seemed to defy our predictive capabilities, and we couldn’t understand why. Careful study of cloud morphology and behaviors revealed that something profound was missing from our understanding of their shifting nature.. No matter how we refined our calculations or how much additional data we collected to feed our algorithms and expand our databases, the enigma persisted. Clouds, those ever-shifting dreams of vapor, appeared to defy conventional scientific wisdom and the laws of Nature that were said to govern all things. Clouds exceeded. They exceeded our epistemologies, or lexicon of ideas about the natural world. So rather than continue to capture them in the language of science, of albedo effects and water cycles, we took a different, more controversial approach.

Following the counsel of indigenous communities in the Amazon, the Malay peninsula, and the Caribbean, we started to take seriously the possibility that clouds were…alive. Cloud sapience might be the only explanation for the persistent deviations we were observing in cloud behavior. This led us to our second conclusion; if clouds were indeed intelligent as the Zuni and Yanomami nations had long suggested, then perhaps the clouds were capable of communication. Perhaps we could send a message, no – a plea – for the clouds to stay rather than depart. Over the years, there were weeks when our errand felt hopeless. And then there were days filled with the wonder and joy of discovery as we inched closer and closer to the day of first contact. The sky was bright and blue in the morning when we gathered on the rooftop of our meteorological station at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where an unusual cloud convergence was occurring. There I stood with my collaborators, a motley crew of scientists and humanists now dubbed Anthronephologists. Today was the day we would activate our machine, the nephosemiosis engine, the culmination of tedious years of meticulous research, cataloging the various behaviors, patterns, and species of cloud as they manifested in all corners of the globe. Using the finest cloud of computers that MIT could conjure, we excavated nephosemes, the secret language of the heavens. Puffy patterns of inchoate moisture that were units of meaning. In those phase-changing molecular arrays of noble gasses and vapors, we found ideas and words; Flying elephants. The faces of the Gods. Pillows. Continents – whatever shapes human eyes imposed upon the fickle geometries as they waltzed and deliquesced in our bright skies. But the signals were now clear. Computation clarified the mist. The dense tangle of ether could now be deciphered. With our rosetta stone in hand, a message could finally be crafted and sent back. To communicate with the clouds, we had to fashion some of our own.

The wind picked up as we primed the machine. Dr. Rydra Usratt, veteran expert on hydrology, helped me initiate the calibration sequence, her long black hair flapping in the wind.

“What do you think they’ll say?” She said, nearly shouting to be heard above the crosswinds.

Dr. Marina Suculum, a former Anthropologist from Brazil broke in with an answer of her own, “This isn’t first contact, remember? The Yanomani have been in communication with them for thousands of years.”

“True,” I said, “but this time is different. We have science on our side..”

“I hope so, “ Marina said warily, her dark eyes narrowing.

“Well, here goes,” Rydra said through clenched teeth, “initiate calibration.”

I glance at the infrared scanner to verify proper condensation, “Nephosemese are cued up properly.”

“All looks good here,” Rydra says, her face brightening, “condensation underway.”

The message had been pre-written. After hours of debate and deliberation, the team agreed upon a message that was as direct as possible. After all, our linguistic facility with the Cloud language was at best provisional, at worst theoretical. The simpler the message, the better.

“Here goes!” I shouted, giddily. Marina and I stepped back from the steaming apparatus as it churned and belched vapors. Like a balloon unfurling, a long tunnel of buoyant plastichrome heaved upward into the troposphere. We watched as white steam billowed and crystallized in the shaft, bobbing as it sailed toward the firmament nearly 5 kilometers above them.

Rydra studied the sky, watching closely as the clotted bales of cloud subtly parted.

Was their message already being interpreted? How fast or how slow would they take to respond? We were riveted to the sky, our curiosity and urgency bursting from our pores. If clouds were endangered species, then perhaps this machine might be the key to their salvation, if not the preservation of their memory, their culture, their histories. In that moment we felt like the Anthropologists of old, the last hope for documenting cultures and languages that were swiftly vanishing.

How might they reply to our message? We had puzzled over hypothetical replies and mapped potential conversations on chalkboards and whiteboards and virtual breakout rooms. But some of us feared that all of our scenario modeling might turn out to be futile. If clouds were alive, how could we possibly anticipate their reply? They were so unlike us in so many ways and yet like them we are mostly water. We hoped our hydraulic kinship would be enough to bridge our differences. 

Why are you leaving?

The message was simple, perhaps too simple, but it was a step toward negotiation, dialogue, or diplomacy with a great empyrean civilization. All possibilities were too exciting. Perhaps the thrill of discovery and the wonder our subjects inspired had clouded our judgment. For hours, we gaped up at the void, watching in terror as the bilious tendrils of the cloud convergence dissipated, revealing the blank, azure canvas of sky, like seafoam dissolving into a hungry surf.  We stared and waited and stared and waited.

“Maybe we miscalibrated,” Rydra proposed, after a long silence. Hope was a desperate, crazed glimmer in her eyes. But I recognized her fear, her denial, because I felt it too.

“We failed,” Dr. Marina said, after another hour, throwing up her arms. “Science can’t save them, or us it seems.”

Failure was hard to accept. We had simulated this precise moment countless times. We had mapped and anticipated every possible outcome and scenario. We knew the clouds. We could understand them. Our machine was perfect. Everything worked on paper, in theory, but how, why, was it failing?

“I don’t understand, all the diagnostics indicate that everything is functioning properly,” Rydra frowned, puzzling over the data streams on the console.

“There is one possibility,” I said slowly, my throat parched, “one scenario we never considered in our naivety.”

Marina rest her hands on our shoulders. Of course, somehow she already knew what we failed to consider, what we refused to believe.

“They hear us,” Marina gestured to the sky, “but they refuse to listen.”

I nodded, numb and in a delirium of exhaustion and frustration, “They refuse to listen, just as we refused to listen to them until it was too late.”

“They have no reply,” Rydra said, choked with emotion, “maybe we’re unworthy.”

Marina turned to her colleagues, “or maybe we are not even at the cusp of understanding their complexity, their brilliance.”

I stood there with them, defeated. I stood there and wept. I wept for our hubris. I wept for the future, for a world without clouds, and I wept knowing that such a wonder might forever elude human comprehension. Or maybe as Marina said, perhaps the select few scientists who burned the world with one hand and proposed to fix it with the other were unworthy of communication. Perhaps, the indigenous elders had been right all along.

And so, shortly after our failed attempt at contact, the clouds vanished and the world was forever deprived of their pearlescent beauty. For years, I tinkered with computers, trying to understand where went wrong. But no matter how I shifted the variables or refined the data, I always reached the same conclusion. The clouds ignored us. They heard but did not reply. And now, years after the Cloud of computer networks have evaporated, I can no longer torture myself with answering the unanswerable. 

Instead, I try to be useful. I wander the yesterlakes and arid wrecklands in search of dew. I etch my maths on paper, trying to pinpoint where moisture might fall, so that our roving band of survivors, my new family, can survive. At night, I tell stories of rain and thunder and clouds that were alive to youngsters so that they might rekindle them in their dreams. I tell them of the bone-white cumulus, of the undulating gray nimbus, and the gossamer strands of cirrus that once painted the oceanic void above us. I tell stories so that posterity will remember the lesson we failed to learn, so that if the clouds ever return we are ready to hear them, we are ready to listen, and then perhaps, one day, they might be inclined to listen to us.

Dam Visions

Honourable Mention – Flash Fiction – Kathrin Eitel

What Kasio saw was impressive. Ngo had become really adept at visualizing stories and songs she had recorded that were full of hopes and fears for the future. He put in his VR contact lenses and clicked through different characters. In each scenario, he saw the dam he had built to keep the floods away from the city.

There was a little boy with green eyes that reminded him of a lagoon. He showed him his family, and the hand-woven fishing baskets that were empty and remained so. As the boy grew older, he moved across the dam to the city. Uprooted from his traditions and the footsteps he once should have followed, he stumbled through the noisy life of the big city, which crushed him with a hiss. When he returned to his village one day, he found nothing left but the bamboo poles of his parents’ house and the old altar, on the sides of which the remains of the once engraved fishes were still visible. Their gods and mediators.

Kasio shivered as he took off his lenses. 

It was known to them that the fish population would be drastically reduced by the construction of the dam since the natural waterways would be blocked by it. They had also already developed solutions. But they had not considered that whole customs and identities could be disconnected. At least, it had not been so apparent to him.

“Alright”, he said to Ngo. “I want to know what you propose.”

Sobriety in a time of planetary crisis

Winner – Flash Fiction – Stephanie Lavau

I’m regretting the metallic puffer jacket. Futuristic fashion of the 1990s; nostalgic fashion in the 2020s; innov-chic now, in the 2050s. A sheen of retro-futuro-techno-optimism, worn to mask my true self. It shimmers under the streetlights as I approach the building, illuminating my shame. 

Inside, I follow a sign to the appointed room. Self-conscious, I take an empty seat and cast a quick glance around at those already in the circle. Recognition. The dark rings under the eyes. The hands that tremble, as if unable to contain a message. AA: a fellowship of people who have lost control. 

A newcomer, I’m invited to introduce myself, my vice and my misfortune. Scientist that I am, I follow the formula. “Hello, my name is Stephanie, and I’m an…” Awkward pause at the moment of truth. Truth, a fickle companion in this time of planetary crisis. “I’m an academic. I’ve lost control of my thinking.” Academic. The word brims with rebuke.

Sympathetic nods as my dreadful secrets tumble out. “It takes me weeks to develop an idea. I can’t meet my performance targets of posts and likes. I’m scared I’m going to lose my job as a thought leader.” More nodding as I stream on. “I ask peers to review my thinking before I post. I crave evidence.” Deep breath. “I know my job is optimism-isation, but I just want to be sober.” I lower my eyes in shame and rub my elbows nervously, longing for leather patches on corduroy.

Poetical Science (for Ada Lovelace)

Winner – Poetry – Eva Hilberg


To think that form makes the poem

Is like

Thinking that science is about numbers

Is like

Looking at a machine and seeing pegs

Is like

Seeing an equation and reading only letters

Is like

Thinking a computer to be an oversized calculator 

Is like

Looking at the history of computing as an exercise of accountancy 

Is like

Calling invention a feat of engineering

Is like

Saying Charles Babbage without saying Ada Lovelace 

Is like

Thinking ideas will leap from any pen

Is like

Thinking that programming is not writing

Is like

Thinking that words and numbers are so very different 

Is like

Inventing an analytical engine to do sums

Is like

Saying Lovelace without saying Byron

Is like

Thinking creativity comes from order

Is like

Thinking genius is about recall

Is like

Thinking truth the result of arithmetic

Is like

Thinking you have to know where you are going to make a start

First-ever poetry, flash fiction and short story competition… introducing the winners

Methods, forms and norms

Techno-science fictional

Gazing at the stars


We had the honour and pleasure of being entrusted with organising a sub-plenary session for the 2022 EASST Conference. The official title of the session was ‘Techno-science fictional futures: Methods, forms, norms’, but this can also be formulated as a haiku (see above). The aim of the sub-plenary was to stimulate the individual and collective imagination of STS scholars through paying attention to and engaging with poetic, literary, and artistic renderings of techno-scientific futures. Our invited guests – Katja Mayer (University of Vienna), Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos (University of Westminster) and Laura Watts (University of Edinburgh) – certainly succeeded in realising that aim with their spectacular performances.

We know that scientific and speculative fictions (SSF) are a source of visions and imaginaries for scientists, engineers and others. Many STS students are avid readers and watchers of science fiction. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as SSF is a way of imagining other worlds, of representing alternative engagements with technoscience, and of expressing different ontological orderings. All of these are matters of concern for the STS community. SSF, especially when written as creative non-fiction, can also be a method and device for STS scholars to engage with interlocutors during fieldwork and with wider audiences, including people in their roles as citizens, workers, patients, artists or policy makers. (See, for example, Maguire, Watts & Ross Winthereik, 2021; Shaviro, 2021; Woolgar, Vogel, Moats & Helgesson, 2021.)

EASST members are very creative, so as part of the session, we also decided to hold a competition, inviting those planning to attend the conference to send us their poems, flash fictions and short stories. It was a real joy to read the material that people submitted. Those who did emphasised the pleasure they had in this creative writing and in participating in this experimental competition. This was all very gratifying for us as organisers, but it was also rather worrying because it raises questions about the state of academic publishing. Luckily, STS journals and book publishers are more tolerant than much of academia. However, there is evidence that articles in the leading STS journals have become more homogenous in form (including length, numbers of references) over the past years, perhaps due to the rise of quantified assessment practices (Kaltenbrunner, Birch, van Leeuwen & Amuchastegui, 2022). STS has had its more adventurous moments such as when it experimented with the literary turn, radical reflexivity and experimenting with form (see, for example, Ashmore, 1989; Mol, 2003; Rappert, 2009; Woolgar, 1988). 

The sub-plenary and the competition were ways to celebrate the creativity of our community and its desire to communicate, and to remind ourselves that writing poetry and short stories, as fiction or creative non-fiction, always helps us to write better traditional academic texts and to think otherwise. Other forms of writing and representation open up new possibilities for research, representation, collaboration, and maybe even better worlds. 

We are very grateful to the EASST Council for supporting this experiment, and hope they will find ways to continue to support similar initiatives in the future. We are also grateful to Andreas, Katja and Laura for helping us to judge the entries and declare the winners. Bristol University Press, Goldsmiths Press and Mattering Press generously provided some of their own creative books as prizes. Most of all, we would like to thank everyone who participated for their boldness and creativity. 

It is our pleasure to present the full texts of the winning entries and the honourable mentions in this issue of EASST Review. We hope you enjoy reading them.





Ashmore, Malcolm (1989) The Reflexive Thesis. Wrighting Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. University of Chicago Press.

Kaltenbrunner, Wolfgang, Kean Birch, Thed van Leeuwen, and Maria Amuchastegu (2022, 28 July) Changing Publication Practices and the Typification of the Journal Article in Science and Technology Studies. Social Studies of Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/03063127221110623.

Maguire, James, Watts, Laura & Ross Winthereik, Brit (eds) (2021) Energy Worlds in Experiment. Mattering Press. 

Mol, Annemarie (2003) The Body Multiple. Ontology in Medical Practice. Duke University Press.

Rappert, Brian (2009) Experimental Secrets. International Security, Codes, and the Future of Research. University Press of America.

Shaviro, Steven (2021) Extreme Fabulations. Science Fictions of Life. Goldsmiths Press.

Woolgar, Steve, Vogel, Else, Moats, David & Helgesson, Claes-Fredrik (eds) (2021) The Imposter as Social Theory. Thinking with Gatecrashers, Cheats and Charlatans. Bristol University Press.

Woolgar, Steve, ed. (1988) Knowledge and Reflexivity. SAGE.