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.

 

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28 Dogs Later

“Dogs are not an alibi for other themes [… C]ontrary to lots of dangerous and unethical projection in the Western world that make domestic canines into furry children, dogs are not about oneself. Indeed, that is the beauty of dogs.”

pumpkin
Fehér isten (White God (Kornél Mundruczó, 2014))

I was thrown at first by the nature of the dogastrophe. If we are indeed post-adogalypse, would the headlights on the abandoned car still be on? Would the traffic lights still work?

But still, a pleasingly deserted town, a girl (Zsófia Psotta) cycling in a blue hoodie on the motorway and then a pack of mixed breed dogs chasing her through the streets towards and beyond Aldi.

Flashback.

Dániel (Sándor Zsótér), a former professor (of what?) is inspecting an abattoir (gruesome) and then takes on his daughter (the girl, Lili) and her dog Hagen (Luke and Body, effortlessly doubling) as his ex-wife and her mother heads to Sydney for a conference. Dogs aren’t welcome in the apartment and the dogcatcher (Robert Helpmann Gergely Bánki) soon turns up. The conductor of the orchestra Lili plays in is even less sympathetic. Before you know it, Hagen is abandoned by the roadside. Whilst Lili does search for Hagen, she mainly descends into sex (ish) and drugs and rock’n’roll (or house stuff). Hagen has to avoid the dogcatcher and certain death, but falls instead into the murky world of dog fights and training for them (stop humming the Rocky theme at the back) and is renamed Max. And just when you think he’s hit rock bottom, there is dogalution.

Mad Max: Furry Road.

Oh, please yourselves.

I think I could have lived without the human sections — not that Psotta, Zsótér and others don’t put in fine performances, but it was largely handheld in a shakycam. It veered between the dystopian and the soapian. Ah, but the dog narrative — more Steadicam — did hold my interest, and I presume that soon there will be an American remake with Russell Crowe as Hagen:

My name is Maximus Dogious Magyarus, commander of the Hounds of the North, General of the Canine Packs and loyal servant to the TRUE owner, Lili. Son to a neutered Alsatian, husband to a murdered pooch. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.

Hagen, it turns out, is a legendary Burgundian hero, who shows up in Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, and his Tannhäuser becomes a plot point late on. Redemption through love.

Or games of fetch.

Inevitably there is the whiff of allegory and mettaffa — Mundruczó has spoken about the backlash against immigrants, there’s an anti-gypsy/Romany thread running through and the dog shelter with chimneys had a prisoner of war/concentration camp vibe. I had a sense of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson, 1972), although as with that mythos you worry about the political implications of arguing that gorillas “are” Blacks and so forth.

I suspect, however, there is at the end a sense that Donna Haraway would be a way to unlock this film — a sense of not quite supplication, but mutual supplication. It’s not a comfortable film to watch — although the cast outacted Channing Tatum — and I confess I am ambivalent about dogs. I could have done without being handed a certain flier: nighttime

“We Has Found the Enemy and They Is Us”

From “’We Has Found the Enemy and They Is Us’: Virtual War and Empathy in Four Children’s Science Fiction Novels’, The Lion and the Unicorn (2004), 28(2): pp. 171-185

[This article in part draws on the ideas of Emmanuel Levinas, who argues that the self has to respond to the other’s right to be and to aid the other, even at expense to the self. This philosopher was central to my PhD. The other three novels were Gillian Rubinstein’s Space Demons (1986), Robert Westall’s Gulf (1992) and Gloria
Skurzynski’s
Virtual War (1997)]

There is a moment in Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind (first published 1992) when the hero Johnny Maxwell watches some television: “There was a film on the News showing some missiles streaking over some city. It was quite good” (22). By comments in subsequent chapters it becomes clear that the military action being shown is the Gulf War of 1991, a war which Jean Baudrillard has argued did not take place, and which for the children who are central to Only You Can Save Mankind has taken on the shape of a video game; indeed, they hear that the bombers have grown up playing such games:

“There was a man on the box saying that the bomb-aimers were so good because they all grew up playing computer games,” said Wobbler.
“See?” said Johnny. “That’s what I mean. Games look real. Real things look like games.” (116)

The virtual Gulf War is counterpointed with the computer game Only
You Can Save Mankind, which Johnny has started playing and indeed
entered into.

Continue reading →

Terry Pratchett (1948–2015)

It must have been somewhere around 1984 or 1985, and it must have been in Kevin’s bedroom, one lunch time or after school, that there was an advert in a computer magazine for The Colour of Magic (1983). Maybe it was a bit later and it was The Light Fantastic (1985). At some point I bought both — I suspect at a long-lost sf and gaming shop in the Broadmarsh Centre — and read and enjoyed, although I preferred the novel to what was effectively a few novellas. I bought each paperback as it came out and, in 1989 in Leeds at a convention, had the slightly embarrassing experience of queueing up to get an already-signed copy of Mort (1987) signed by Pratchett. I had found copies of The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981) in the local library and read them — indeed I bought the latter when the library sold it.

At some point in the early 1990s I went to a conference on Mikhail Bakhtin in Sheffield, and sat there wondering why no one was talking about Pratchett and Death. Eventually, this turned into an article for Foundation (“Terry Pratchett and the Comedic Bildungsroman” (1996)), which I was never quite sure whether was a parody of an academic or serious. As if there’s a difference. In time, Farah Mendlesohn, Edward James and I edited a collection of essays on Pratchett for FoundationGuilty of Literature (2001), which was nominated for a best-related book Hugo, and when I started writing books for Pocket Essentials it was one of the ideas I pitched. That was a fun summer or autumn, reading the novels one by one, made weirder by receiving a missive from Colin Smythe.

It had come to someone’s attention that I was writing a biography of Pratchett and people were somewhat aghast that I hadn’t spoken to anyone more than remotely connected to Pratchett. I pointed out that this was a work of criticism — which wasn’t actually reassuring to all parties, but it was hoped that it would be better than the one that three people had edited a couple of years earlier. Coughs quietly. And indeed, I was led to believe that a biography might not be objected to — although I presumed that most of it would be about someone sat at a keyboard. I was invited to visit Colin Smythe and picked up from the station by a large expensive car, and was lent a copy of the book that was going to come out just as we went to press.

At that point I had OD’ed on the novels. At some point I wrote a piece on Only You Can Save Mankind (1992) in relation to other virtual reality war novels — “’We Has Found the Enemy and They Is Us’: Virtual War and Empathy in Four Children’s Science Fiction Novels” (The Lion and the Unicorn (2004) 28(2)) — and I was commissioned to edited a book on Pratchett for Greenwood Press, An Unofficial Companion to the Novels of Terry Pratchett (2008), which damn near killed me. Certainly I could have done without an all-night proof read of the galleys putting right the errors introduced into the manuscript. And I learned — as I had with the Pocket Essentials — that some of Pratchett’s readers don’t like anything other than absolute praise. OK, sobeit: He was the finest comic writer of the last thirty years. But sometimes he nodded.

This is going to go on, but here are two parts of the intro to the Greenwood volume. I’m not sure I ever read Making Money, but I will and no doubt will be lured back to read him. Just because you love a writer’s work, doesn’t mean that it can’t be criticised. Continue reading →