To Boldly Go…

There is a moment in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Nicholas Meyer, 1991) when the Klingon Chancellor Gorkon toasts “The undiscovered country—the future.” Captain kirk later repeats the chancellor’s words, firstly to Gorkon’s daughter—“Your father called the future the undiscovered country”—and then in the film’s closing voiceover:

    This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man—where no one—has gone before.

While Spock notes that Gorkon has quoted Hamlet he does not note that he has misinterpreted the line.

I’d never really thought of writing about the Star Trek franchise — there’s too much it to get on top of, but I did write about the first film in Solar Flares.

But Simon Bacon invited me to write for his collection, To Boldly Go: Essays on Gender and Identity in the Star Trek Universe, co-edited with Nadine Farghaly, and the ghears began grinding.

I remember shouting at the screen for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country that the Hamlet was being mangled, and that the undiscovered country was death rather than the future.

When I read Emmanuel Levinas, during the PhD, I’d read and stored his ideas on patriarchy, filiality, the future and death, and this returned to mind. I’d also been reading Robin Wood and Andrew Britton on 1980s sf movies — for two other projects — and this joined the dots.

How does the avidly liberal and feminist Star Trek represented fatherhood in the future — and how does that relate to death?

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The Two Faces of the Spinning Plates

So we come to the end of a challenging year — leaving aside reviews, I’ve published chapters on British sf short stories, Adam Roberts and YA gay fantastic fiction, all of which have been in the pipeline for ages. I’ve submitted two survey chapters and one on Star Trek, two of which seem to be MIA, one of which is awaiting galleys. Was there more? I forget. Ah, a chapter on Wyndham.

My energy level is zilch.

I gave two keynotes, one in Dublin, one in Lisbon, and papers in Woking, Canterbury and Liverpool. Again, there may have been more. A poster session on drinking in Bristol.

I’d been in Dublin in the previous October, so the return visit was rather sooner than the twenty year gap since my earlier trip. Meanwhile for the first time I visited Amsterdam (which is promising but knee events conspired), Den Bosch (nice town), Bergen (a lovely town), Paris (which is a shit hole*), Dijon (more than just mustard), Lisbon (which I saw little of) and Uxbridge.

I saw more fantastic exhibitions than I wrote about — David Jones, Caravaggio, Paul Nash, Wifredo Lam, Georgia O’Keeffe, Nickolas Astrup, Hieronymus Bosch, James Ensor, Christopher Wood, Julia Margaret Cameron, Francis Bacon, Maria Lessnig, Vincent Van Gogh, and so on.

The good news is that ideas for articles continue to form — I want to write something about Passengers, but that must wait.

Energy-wise I’m grinding to a halt though. Too many late nights. I bruised my foot in last year’s visit to Dublin, so was limping more or less up to Christmas. Then this year I had bursts of gout and pulled my right knee in Dijon. This had more or less cleared up before I went up north before Christmas but, after a recurrence of almost gout — the left knee decided to stiffen up. I gave peas a chance, as well as broad beans.

But I am stupid so I have a new year resolution to get out of bed when I wake up rather than losing too many mornings to the doze. I’ve renewed my Curzon membership, so I will see at least one film a week, and along with various forthcoming comedy gigs, I’ve booked a concert for the first time in years. There’s also two plays I want to see at the National.

2017 sees trips to Liverpool, Birmingham and Helsinki, and I’m tempted by Brussels for Ensor (and of course Magritte). I was thinking of going to Vienna for a Bosch exhibition, but there’s no mention of it in their website and I think survival should kick in. If I can get back to Bergen I will, and maybe finally do Oslo, and I’ve yet to book for Edinburgh.

  • article on A Scanner Darkly — 23 January
  • book proposal for Sekrit TTTTTTTT project – asap
  • revise bounced book manuscript – asap – this has travelled miles and miles
  • three book reviews
  • turn EX_MACHINA, War of the Worlds and The War in the Air papers into articles
  • Chapter on Star Wars — 22 February 2016 — I’ve started watching films and assembling reading, and I need to find some comic books I have somewhere, which were lost when I cleared the back bedroom
  • continue beer research

* Paris is the closest I’ve come to getting mugged — someone bumped into the back of me and the person I fell against seemed to be reaching in my pocket. Station signage is appalling, and as far as I can see Metro maps are on the inside of the barriers rather than also being outside.

Conference 2016 Messengers from the Stars – Episode IV

Science Fiction and Fantasy International Conference

Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon

http://messengersfromthestars.letras.ulisboa.pt/

CALL FOR PAPERS

Science Fiction and Fantasy objects are a permanent part of today’s cultural industry.  From the margins to mainstream culture, their ubiquity demands critical debate beyond the preconception of pop culture made for mass entertainment. The University of Lisbon Centre for English Studies (ULICES) invites you to take part in the 4th International Conference Messengers From the Stars: On Science Fiction and Fantasy to be held at the School for Arts and Humanities, University of Lisbon, November 16-18, 2016. We welcome papers of about 20 minutes (maximum) and also joint proposals for thematic panels consisting of 3 or 4 participants. Postgraduate and undergraduate students are also welcomed to participate.

Topics may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Comic Books/Graphic Novels
  • Fan Fiction/Fandom
  • Fantasy and Children’s Literature
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction on Screen (Cinema, TV, Web, etc.)
  • Fantasy and the Gothic
  • Imagination and Fantasy
  • Journey
  • Music and Science Fiction
  • Place and Non-place
  • Science and Fiction
  • Utopias/Dystopias
  • Videogames

Confirmed keynote speakers:

Andrew M Butler – School of Media, Art and Design (Canterbury, UK)

Katherine Fowkes – High Point University (NC, USA)

Deadlines:

Individual papers, as well as thematic panel proposals, should have 250 words maximum and be sent to mensageirosdasestrelas@gmail.com along with a short biographical note (100 words maximum) by May 31, 2016.

Notification of acceptance will be sent by June 30, 2016.

Working Languages: Portuguese and English

Registration:

Early bird registration:  July 1st – September 15th

70 € / Students: 30 €

Late bird registration: September 16th –October 31st

80 € / Students: 40 €

Note:

  1. Only after proof of payment is registration effectively considered.
  2. Participants are responsible for their own travelling arrangements and accommodation.
  3. Undergraduate and post-graduate students must send proof of student status with their registration.

 

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.

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

Shameless!

While I’m at it, perhaps I should nod to

  • the review article* I did for LARB of … I forget which Simon Ings novel it was … Painkillers (2000): Finding the Plot: On Simon Ings and the British Boom
  • the review of David Brittain’s Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds (2014) for Science Fiction Studies 42(1) 2015.

* I was sent one of his books (although not the one I was asked to review). Fortunately I had most of the back catalogue, but I paid good money to write the review…