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.

On the Chin… But Be Prepared to be Patronised

With submission for publication comes the possibility of rejection — and you learn to live with it.

Sometimes you get an explanation — “we wanted to balance the pre- and post twentieth century material” is one I recall from 1999 — and sometimes you don’t. You rewrite and submit elsewhere.

Take it on the chin.

Oddly — and this might sound like a brag — I’m been commissioned more than I’ve cold submitted. If someone asks me to write something, I will ponder whether I want to be in the venue, and more to the point work out if I’ve something to say.

I’m sufficiently instinctive that I often get this feeling that X and Y are connected — say that Mary Douglas’s Purity and Danger might be useful for thinking through The Sparrow. At that point, I hadn’t actually read Purity and Danger. It can be a high wire act — and it makes writing abstracts hard before there’s a chapter, although you don’t want to write something that’s going to be rejected.

So, there was a call for contributions, and I sat on it overnight, and applied the tests, and sent an abstract. Meanwhile, I was already thinking there would be other venues I could submit it to, but having written the damn thing.

Ten minutes ago I was rejected.

The editors were apologetic — lots of strong contributions — some hard decisions — consider the overall shape of the volume — it is with immense regret — and…

Well, whatever. That’s the job. You try not to publish rubbish, although that arguably rubs out most of my output…

And then:

“we want to persuade you to develop the proposed chapter into an academic article that will be well-suited to be submitted to any number of peer-review academic journals.”

OK.

I guess they were trying to be helpful. Maybe to soften the blow. Perhaps it was a standard rejection email sent to all.

But.

I’m certainly acquainted with these peer-reviewed journals of what they speak. I even had a list in my head of who to try first, if it was rejected. I co-edit a peer-reviewed journal — but it would be Bad Form to submit there.

Somehow, I think a simple no thanks would not have left me feeling … a little patronised and certainly amused.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid…

“Sleeping/Waking: Politicizing the Sublime in Science Fiction Film Special Effects” in Sean Redmond and Leon Marvell, Endangering Science Fiction Film (New York and London: Routledge, 2016).

There is a moment in Andrew Ross’s account of sf when he cautions against a history of the genre that is ‘overlaid by prejudices against the North American vulgarization of the high-minded and a socially critical European SF created by respectable intellectuals’ (1991: 104). Sf as a genre is the product of an industrialized age – either a loosely defined branch of fiction produced within the niche market of magazines or the streamlined mechanism of the Hollywood system. The industrial revolution transformed Europe and parts of North America from rural to largely urban societies and workers changed from being laborers, artisans and craftspeople to an alienated workforce undertaking regulated shifts. Popular culture, itself a product and representation of mass industry, occupies an ambiguous position that serves to make industrial society bearable, whether through providing a sense of escapism and relief (albeit a catharsis that risks perpetuating the power structure) or allowing the envisaging of alternatives (that might challenge these structures). One pleasure associated with popular culture is the experience of spectacle and the sublime. These can have a transformative effect upon the individual, whether it creates contentment with the system or provokes a more dangerous, revolutionary response. In this chapter I will link various notions of the sublime as evoked by special effects to sf as ‘cognitive estrangement’ (Suvin 1979) and note some of the political implications of such effects. I will focus on films such as They Live (John Carpenter, 1988), Monsters (Gareth Edwards, 2009), Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón, 2013), Ender’s Game (Gavin Hood, 2013), 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968), Avatar (James Cameron, 2009), and Moon (Duncan Jones, 2009). This discussion will not assume a North American/European binary to the genre, although it largely focuses on Hollywood films.

Routledge webpage