Welcome to September’s #SciFi Women Interviews feature! I am delighted to have Sarah Hashmi with us today. I met her during my first year at the University of Texas at Dallas. We bonded over cats and Science Fiction and I just had to invite her to be part of this series. I am glad she accepted!
Sarah Hashmi is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Dallas pursuing a degree in literature and a certificate in Holocaust studies. She is an avid fan of anything fantastical, because reality is just too boring for her. She knows way too much about made-up universes, and never grew out of playing make believe. She runs her own role play forum with a group of dedicated writing friends, and has been avidly involved in fan forums for the past ten years. She loves all sorts of RPG games, be it computer based or table-top, and is the most dramatic game maker there ever was. Her dream is to become an eccentric professor and publish her own series of books someday.
NG: How were you first introduced to Science Fiction?
HASHMI: My parents. My mother used to tell me (and still does) that she wanted to be a theoretical physicist. She wasn’t an academic person growing up, but she was always gifted at intuitively connecting the dots and asking the “what if” questions. My father was always imaginative, and would go on for hours about possibilities of time travel and multiple dimensions. Neither of them believe in a finite world, but both are very rational and mathematic in their way of thinking. I remember the Alien series, Star Trek, Star Wars, and Jurassic Park being a huge part of my childhood growing up. I stole my father’s copy of Stephen Hawking’s Universe when I was around nine because I wanted to understand how time worked and what black holes were. Like them, I liked the idea that there were questions that didn’t have proven answers yet. Some of my best childhood memories were my parents making up theories about the way the universe worked. In a way, that was a huge stepping stone for me into the genre.
NG: What place does Science Fiction have in your life?
HASHMI: Sci-fi reminds me that the universe is a complex reality with more questions than answers. Like my parents, the idea that the question of the universe having a simplistic answer (like 42) is too restrictive for my comfort. I write a lot within the sci-fi/fantasy genre, mostly for my own amusement, and I like to think of ways to frame current sociological issues in a sci-fi or fantasy setting to communicate universal issues less directly.
NG: Does Science Fiction influence your research and/or writing?
HASHMI: Old philosophies in a science-fiction setting creates a new sociological framework, and allows me to re-examine the philosophies from alternative perspectives. It’s almost like cultivating a three-dimensional understanding of an idea. I have a hard time stopping at just theory, so I like to see theories applied in the fictional world, and science-fiction is usually my go-to genre whether or not I realize it. I honestly don’t always have science-fiction in mind when I set out to research something or apply a concept, but invariably I find my way inside the genre without meaning to; I end up dreaming up sci-fi worlds inspired by current world events, universal understandings, or philosophies and theories I come across while researching. Currently, I am working on an idea for a sci-fi novel, but the details are a secret!
NG: What are your top 3 Science Fiction movies, books, and TV shows?
HASHMI: Probably Blade Runner, Inception, and the first Jurassic Park film. I can’t really choose a favorite movie though; there are just too many. My all-time favorite sci-fi book is The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick. It’s a kid’s dystopian novel, but I picked it up when I was around ten or eleven, and it moved me so much that I still have my original copy even though it’s falling apart, and it still makes me cry. It was my first concrete exposure to the sci-fi literary genre. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Farenheit 451 are two of my other favorites, though I really want to sneak Ender’s Game in there too. And the His Dark Materials series, which is just as much sci-fi as it is fantasy. As for TV shows, The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and Stranger Things currently.
NG: What is your opinion on Science Fiction’s versatile nature and ties to other genres such as Horror or Fantasy?
HASHMI: I think that all three genres are similar in that they create worlds where the impossible is possible. I think that blending the genres with science-fiction produces works that are much more thought-provoking. The novella I Am Legend or the film Donnie Darko, for example, blend horror and science-fiction, and the possibility of true horror as opposed to supernatural makes it more appealing. The Star Wars or Hunger Games franchises blend science-fiction and fantasy elements to produce unforgettable worlds where fans can disappear and become a part of, or discover truths about humanity within.
NG: Do you believe Science Fiction is a genre welcoming to women?
HASHMI: I think so, especially lately, though I still feel that the sexual objectification of women remains an issue in some places. In the Wolverine film series for example, you have a tremendously powerful female character (Jean), but then she’s stunted by her reliance on Logan and her later depiction as little more than a sex object. But then you also have films like Wonder Woman and Alien which I found more empowering, and they are decades apart from each other. I feel that society is still debating the role of women in the world, and each director or writer contributes to that understanding.
NG: What are your favorite Science Fiction female characters?
HASHMI: This might be cliché, but I love Katniss Everdeen. I was pretty young when the series came out and I really identified with her character. I loved that she was the star, but not overpowered. She had flaws and was believable. She could be beautiful and strong. And within the same series, Johanna Mason is a close second, especially Jena Malone’s portrayal, because she was sassy and tough. And I have to put Dana Scully, Sarah Manning and Ellen Ripley on my top favorite list as well.
NG: What Science Fiction authors have been particularly inspiring to you?
HASHMI: Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Michael Crichton, and Scott Westerfield.
NG: What do you think of the intersection of Science Fiction and spirituality?
HASHMI: I think it depends on the work you’re examining. I’m a spiritual person, but I like works that question truths and morals. I find that many sci-fi pieces incorporate a lot of religious or spiritual allusions, and that makes them deeper and more universally relevant. The genre itself opens up a world that is not necessarily in the control of human beings; it reminds us that we’re not necessarily the biggest players in the universe. We are subjected to the whims of more powerful forces, be it deity or nature.
NG: What are some Science Fiction projects you are most looking forward to?
HASHMI: Other than the book idea that I’m working on, which might turn into a short story, I haven’t decided, I’m also lucky to TA for a Humanities class that utilizes mostly Science Fiction. I get to study and teach works by Bradbury and Dick among others. And I’ll get to watch Blade Runner for the umpteenth time! Hopefully just before the remake comes out.
NG: Thank you so much for being with us today, Sarah!