Farewell, Mike

I think the last time I saw Michael Levy was at Worldcon in 2014 — on one of dozens of walks along the centre of the Excel between the hotel and the programming. He was in an electric wheelchair, which threw me a little, but I’d gathered he’d not been well.

We picked up the conversation that we’d had over the years, on either side of the Atlantic, from emails, from social media, and he seemed much more interested in how I was getting on. I suspect we ran into each other again, in more or less the same place, always between events.

I suspect the last time I had contact was an email, gently chivvying me for my tardiness, my lateness in some editorial duties. It is a sign of his gentleness that I applied my own guilt rather than he made me feel guilty — I fgind myself wanting to live up to his standards. He was going into hospital, for an operation, he would be out in a few days, then there seemed to be a delay in his release, and the next I heard he was in a hospice.

I can’t now remember if he was at the Liverpool conference in 2001 — but thinking about it I must have already met him at the SFRA conference in Schenectady in May 2001.

I was well out of my comfort zone and travelling abroad for the first time alone — my first time in America. Pretty well everyone was welcoming — I met or remet the many of the editors of Science Fiction Studies, for example — but I know that Mike put me at my ease. This was as well, because I was co-organising the SFRA conference the following year with Farah Mendlesohn at New Lanark Mills.

Do what you want, he said, you have a free hand.

Well, if I’m being honest, it wasn’t as free as that implied. It wasn’t quite “Tiggers like everything in the world except hunney and haycorns and thistles”, but it turned out there were some SFRA rituals that needed observing.

Mike was unruffled, endlessly patient, and guided us through the minefield. We pulled the conference off.

mikelWhat was clear from this and later encounters is that he had a good word for everyone, and I suspect everyone had a good word for him. If, say, I’d had a bumpy experience with someone, he would listen, be sympathetic, offer counsel, smooth things over. And I tell you, the few people he was less than impressed with… you’d be hardpressed not to agree.

I’d also met Javier Martinez at the 2001 SFRA, and somewhere along the line he stepped in to rescue Extrapolation, and roped in Mike, Sherryl Vint and myself to help out.

Well, two out of three good choices ain’t bad.

And then work and family got in the way for Javier and Mike stepped in to be Managing Editor. We joined up with Liverpool University Press and found a firmer foundation to stand up. Other great academics joined us after Sherryl moved on, filling her shoes, and always there’s been a sense of who will fit in, who can we work with, who will improve the journal?

As someone who is on both sides of the editorial process, I know how bruising submitting an article can be — for example, when there is a needlessly brutal reader’s report. Mike was skilled at dealing with these, at responding to potential writers. On the very rare occasions that we had to deal with a prickly author, he got us through it. I think I was only edited by him once — a piece for The Lion and the Unicorn, a venture outside my comfort zone, but he got me through the process. I’ve lost track of details, but there would have been changes needed, there would have been editorial queries, but Mike left no scars.

Mike was a friend, a confidante, a colleague, a mentor, a scholar, a painstaking and painless editor and — this should not be a surprise but it is still striking — I see that the responses on Facebook to the news that he was dying reveals that he was this and more to lots of other people I already respect as well as people I must get to work with.

I hope he knew that — although in truth I wonder if that would have embarrassed him. I will miss the laughter and his wisdom and the sense of mattering.

And now I’d better get on with copyediting a submission.

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Attack of the Spinning Plates

Deadlines have been circulating in the manner of sharks:

  • article on A Scanner Darkly — I have put this to one side whilst I focus on other work
  • book proposal for Sekrit TTTTTTTT project – why is this stalled?
  • revise bounced book manuscript – – why is this stalled?
  • three book reviews — two complete, one almost
  • turn EX_MACHINA, War of the Worlds and The War in the Air papers into articles
  • Chapter needing copyedit
  • continue beer research

I’ve also edited several articles by others. March was productive at its end.

What I Did on My Holidays

For about a month now I’ve been told that I can put my feet up now.

Yes, the teaching is over, but then there’s the marking to be done and then there’s all the bits and pieces that got lost in transit because essays can be handed in all kinds of places now and every time you think it’s over there’s another one beneath.

And then there’s internal boards and external boards and reviews and overviews and forward planning and archiving and interviews and supervising …

… there’s the catching up with work and thus …

… well, I want to do something but I can only find two days in the next fortnight where I can do this.

There’s the research.

There’s a pile of reading to be done (remembers something else) and before the end of July I need to write four pieces:

  • conference paper on Ex_Machina
  • writing up of the conference paper on Quest for Love
  • conference paper on the 2005 film adaptation of The War of the Worlds (probably not the one you are thinking of)
  • chapter on Star Trek movies

That’s in order of how much prep I’ve already done, but on the other hand that’s about eight films to rewatch and mull over for the last one.

I can probably hide from Quest for Love, but I applied for QR funding for that one and — well other bits of research got in the way to use that do I feel duty bound to finish before the end of the academic year.

And meanwhile I’ve been given some money to employ a research assistant on the beer stuff and I really have to visit an archive with him before he can go much further. And there’s only two days I can do that in the next fortnight. And of course there’s things I need to read to know where to send him next.

Watch the plates.

Watch them spin.

Shit Academics Say

Having finished all three lectures for Monday by close of play Thursday, I can take the weekend off.

Well, I have a meeting on Saturday, which doesn’t count.

 I can take the weekend off.

There are the portfolios that need marking, and I can get a few done on the train. But apart from that  I can take the weekend off.

And I’m going to see a comedian Sunday night, which might feed into research. But that doesn’t count.

And I’m so close to the library, I might as well look for the other book I wanted yesterday.  I can take the weekend off apart from that.

And I want to read the book I did take out.

But apart from that, I can take the weekend off.

The Ghost of Academia Future Perfect Subjunctive

So another year over, and what have we done…

In the published corner:

  • ‘Disfigured Myth: The Destruction of London in Postmillennial SF Film’, Foundation, 122 (2015): 122-32.

  • ‘Sleeping/Waking: Politicizing the Sublime in Science Fiction Film Special Effects’. Endangering Science Fiction Film. Edited by Sean Redmond and Leon Marvell, New York and London: Routledge, 2016: 117-31.

  • ‘Human Subjects/Alien Objects? Abjection and the Constructions of Race and Racism in District 9’, Alien Imaginations: Science Fiction and Tales of Transnationalism. Edited by Ulrike Küchler, Silja Maehl and, Graeme Stout, New York: Bloomsbury, 2015: 95-112.
  • ‘Iain M./ Banks’, Twenty-First Century British Writers (Dictionary of Literary Biography). Edited by Tom Ue, Chicago?: Gale, 2015.

Somewhere out there — and I don’t like to talk about work in progress before the ink is dry — are chapters on Adam Roberts, British sf short stories, queer YA sf and perhaps one I forget — editorial work on someone.

I am about to put to bed an article on The Clarke Award and a chapter on a period of sf.

Downsides — the article proposal turned down (but there was some small compensation in that the editor reassured me that I might be able to place it elsewhere, may be in a peer-reviewed venue) and the chapter rejected after much time but short shrift (it may well be crap, but it was not a well-handled project).

To do in 2016:


  • I failed to convert one conference paper into a chapter and probably have missed the boat on that book, but it can feed into another commission I have;
  • to convert the paper on Quest for Love into a chapter;
  • to convert the paper on Mieville I gave at a conference into a chapter (I seem to have fallen off a mailing list there);
  • to return to a book that was bounced and needs work;
  • to produce a book proposal that I’ve been pondering for too many years;
  • to sort out two book proposals for projects that came up some years ago and stalled;
  • beer and brewing and drinking research. I need to be priming the pump.

And I need to do some writing on sf film — maybe go back to the Moon paper and the keynote for the CRSF.

Have I missed anything any of you have asked me to do?

Clearly this is too much for a year. We’ll see.

I See Dead London

“Disfigured Myth: The Destruction of London in Postmillennial SF Film”, Foundation 122, pp. 122-32.

There is a moment in Rob Bowman’s Reign of Fire (2002) when the hero, Quinn Abercromby (Christian Bale), climbs a wall from a river and gazes across at a semi-destroyed Palace of Westminster and says, ‘Well, this town’s gone to Hell.’ It is not the only landmark to have survived several decades of destruction: Tower Bridge has also made it through. This article explores the symbolism and meaning of such landmarks, drawing upon the ideas of Charles Peirce, Roland Barthes and Sigmund Freud, within a number of recent British science fiction films: Reign of Fire, 28 Days Later (2002) and its 2007 sequel, and Children of Men (2006). To already indicate the instability of a British identity that these films work to prop up, only 28 Days Later is a fully British production whereas the others are co-productions. The director of Reign of Fire is American, of 28 Weeks Later Spanish, and of Children of Men Mexican, but they all feature a British-born star (although the protagonist of 28 Days Later is Irish-born).

This is a version of the paper “London Death Drives” I gave at the Worldcon in August 2014, fleshed out and theory-enriched. It strikes me that there are a couple more films that could also be included here (I watched Doomsday (2008) and Flood, but neither quite fitted in the word count) and I’m sure I’ll return to British sf film soon.

May be we are set in our ways — I note here I am still in the Freudian paradigm with the uncanny and the death instinct — but note also the importance of Tom Shippey’s chapter, “The Fall of America in Science Fiction”, in Tom Shippey, ed. Fictional Space, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell for The English Association, 1990), pp. 104–32. That Shippey collection was some of the first serious sf criticism I read and it influences me more than I usuallly realise.

Labour Exchange

Academia depends an awful lot on goodwill. All those evenings and weekends and forty plus hour weeks. No, we don’t get long holidays.

I got an email out of the blue:

I wonder if you would be interested in evaluating an essay “Stuff and More Stuff in Someone and Somewhere Else” (abstract appended below), which has been submitted for possible publication in Stuff Studies.

Yes, sure, I do this kind of thing three or four times a year, and I’m reading stuff for Extrapolation, of course. I can be a little slow at it, I confess.

The email continues:

Unfortunately, we cannot offer payment or sample issues.

How vulgar! Of course, this is unpaid labour, it’s community service, it’s evidence of esteem. There’s a paying it forward … X reviews for journal editor Y who reviews for journal editor Z… It gets tricky when you approach an Independent Scholar who doesn’t have the same set of reasons for wanting to bank prestige. I can remember having a long phone conversation with someone who I asked to peer review who had left academia (or was forced out), who was upset for some reason. Fair enough, they’re free to say no. It’s part of the job if you’re in the job.

The only people who make money from journals are those who publish them.

The email concluded:

Part of our purpose in asking for your assistance is to draw your attention to Stuff Studies as a possible forum for your own scholarship.

This is kind of interesting… a salespitch? a sincere invitation? It just feels rather odd.