Monthly Archives: March 2009

Free Read, Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation”

Browse over to Night Shade Books’ download page here and download Ted Chiang’s Hugo-nominated short story, “Exhalation,” in your favorite format flavor.  There’s also some other great reading there including Walter Jon William’s “The Green Leopard Plague,” and Andy Duncan’s “Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse.”  Also, there are novels by Jon Armstrong and Richard Kadrey.  Run, don’t walk!

ICFA 2009, Wrap-Up

I wrote a lot on my experience at ICFA 2009 this year, and this post is a collection of the individual posts.  I hope that this record might help folks interested in the small slice of the conference that I experienced.  I’ve already talked with Ritch about organizing blogging coverage of SFRA in June–stay tuned.

ICFA 2009 Posts on Dynamicsubspace.net organized reverse chronologically:

ICFA 2009, To the Orlando Airport and Flight Back to Kent

This morning, I got an early start and hit the hotel Starbucks for coffee and their yummy banana nut bread.  While I was there, I spoke with Andy Duncan briefly before I returned to my room to pack and head off for the airport.

I had to wrap some of my books in newsprint to keep them safe from bumps and bruises in my carry on duffle bag.  Considering that I didn’t go to the awards dinner, I still made out with a great selection of bought and free books.  I purchased Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan’s So Long Been Dreaming anthology (signed by Hopkinson), New Dimensions 1 edited by Robert Silverberg, New Dimensions 2 edited by Robert Silverberg, and The Best SF Stories from New Worlds 6 edited by Michael Moorcock.  I received for free Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine (September 2007–includes Ted Chiang’s The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate), Brian Aldiss’ New Arrivals, Old Encounters, Suzy McKee Charnas’ Dorothea Dreams, and Philip K. Dick’s Voices From the Street.  I’m glad that ICFA has such a great book room, and I really appreciate the donated books for conference participants.  

While I waited outside for the airport shuttle, I met the SF author Terry Bisson.  We talked about teaching SF for awhile, and then we boarded the shuttle.  After settling in at the back of the bus, James Patrick Kelly joined us for the short jaunt to the airport.

Luckily, I had enough time to browse around the Kennedy Space Center gift shop where I picked up a NASA baseball hat and some t-shirts (I discovered when I got home that their sizes run large, so be warned).  While I was in line, Dewitt ambled in, and we talked awhile about the conference and the impending SFRA conference in June.  He and I both have to get our proposals to Lisa and Doug before the end of the month.  I don’t want to give away his paper idea, but I think it is brilliant for the theme and location of the conference.

I was able to use some miles to upgrade my seat from economy to First Class (making this my second foray into the airline class privileged section of the aircraft).  While sitting there and looking outside from my first row window seat, I jotted down these notes:

I’m sitting in First Class, seat 1F right now, writing my post in my Moleskin reporters pad.  Outside the Boeing 737-800 I see so much activity–the activity at all major airports.  The ground crew members are dutifully slinking along under the concrete magnified heat of the Spring Florida sun.  Even thought I’ve seen the magnificent work of the ground crew on many occasions, it never ceases to awe that they facilitate the safe and efficient travel of multitudes of people crapping to get from here to there.  I am thankful for the care of the airline ground crews as well as the professional and dedicated efforts of pilots, and stewards and stewardesses.  

During our initial climb, it is so quiet except for the constant high pitch drone of the engines behind me.  The jet engines sound like muffled remote controlled nitro-fueled cars.  Actually, it is an enjoyable sound.

I see that there is a nuclear power plant near the airport–that would make for a fun ICFA outing in the future.

During the flight back to Cleveland, I saw four nuclear power plants, the Golden Isles Speedway (a dirt race track between Brunswick and Hortense, Georgia), and a number of other airplanes above, below, and to the side of our path through the sky.  In fact, I probably took as many pictures of the ground from the plane as I took pictures at the conference.  Thankfully there were such clear skies.

Thinking back over the past few days, I can honestly say that I had a good time in Orlando.  Ritch was an excellent roommate, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to catch up with A.P., Gerard, Melissa, and everyone else.  All of the SFRA conference fliers, brochures, and bracelets were eagerly taken away, and all of The Postnational Fantasy CFPs were whisked away.  I am glad that I got to talk to so many folks about The Postnational Fantasy project, and get feedback on the publication process from others.  Of course, there are many things that were left undone, and folks that I would have liked to talk with, but the time compression built into a conference is the joy and bane of academic meetings.

I know this was a rambling post–thanks for bearing with me.  I’m ecstatic to be home with Yufang and Miao Miao.  There have been naps, playing, vegetarian dining, and World of Warcraft in the hours following Yufang picking me up from the airport this afternoon.  Tomorrow it’s back to work, but I’m going to hold on to ICFA’s fantasyland time just a little bit longer.

ICFA 2009, Flying Home

I’ve enjoyed my second ICFA, but it’s time to get back home to Yufang and to get back on track with work.  After a short flight, I should be back in Kent tomorrow afternoon.  I’ll write an ICFA wrap-up post after I’m back home and settled that contains links to all of my ICFA posts.

ICFA 2009, Final Session–East Meets West: Colonialisms, Cultures, and Identities

During the Saturday, 4:00pm-5:30pm session, the last presentations of the conference, I went to hear Janice M. Bogstad’s paper on Jules Verne and China, and introduce myself and The Postnational Fantasy:  Nationalism, Cosmopolitics, and Science Fiction project to the other two presenters:  Mayurika Chakravorty and Suparno Banerjee.  The attendence was light, but pretty good for the last session on the last day.  And, I can say that I’m glad that I made it to the panel to hear all the presenters’ interesting ideas.

Mayurika Chakravorty from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London read her essay, “The ‘Other’ Science:  A Study of Amitav Ghosh’s Calcutta Chromosome.”  In her paper, she talked about the theme of estrangement from others by technology, the subversion of colonial science, and the way in which the novel challenges the genre definition of SF. 

Janice M. Bogstad from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire presented her paper, “Colonialist/Postcolonial Perspectives in Jules Verne’s Tribulations D’un Chinois en Chine (and other works).”  This is her sixth paper in a series on the writing of China by SF authors.  She thinks of Verne’s work as “humanist vision in a racist and sexist time,” and a case of “colonialist and postcolonialist double vision.”  However, she admits that there is still much work and re-reading of Verne’s work to what extent and magnitude Verne apparently supports colonized peoples. 

Suparno Banerjee from Louisiana State University closed out the session with his reading of “Alternative Dystopias:  Science, Power, and Fundamentalism in Rimi Chatterjee’s Signal Red.”  Banerjee’s dissertation is on Indian Science Fiction (which I suspect will be something very publishable when he’s completed it), and his work on Chatterjee’s novel is very interesting in the ways SF is employed to critique the extrapolative growth of religious fundamentalism in India’s future.  Instead of oppression coming from without, oppression arrives from within by Hindu fundamentalists appropriating colonial/Western sciences for their own scientific narratives. 

ICFA 2009, When Time is Out of Joint: Alternative Times in Fantasy Panel

The first panel that I attended on Saturday morning was titled, “When Time is Out of Joint: Alternative Times in Fantasy,” and moderated by Elizabeth Whittingham.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation between the panelists during this session.  The discussion went vibrantly back and forth between panelists Brian Attebery, Aidan-Paul (A.P.) Canavan, John Clute, Guy Gavriel Kay, Maria Nikolajeva, and W.A. Senior.  Below is a summary of my notes on the panel exchanges.

Brian Attebery talked about, “the power of magical narrative to map different kinds of time on others.”  He outlined a number of these other kinds of time, of which “each is a universe of time, a chronotope.”  

Guy Gavriel Kay approached the topic from what he termed a utilitarian perspective of the author who uses time as one of many tools in the authorial toolbox for providing narrative solutions.  This raises the question–is the novelist avoiding the problem of explaining where did a character go from their normal or mundane place and time?

Maria Nikolajeva brought Fred Hoyle’s October the First is Too Late (1966) into the conversation, because the central musician and scientist characters, both friends, are presented with the same temporal choice, but each chooses to do something completely different with that temporal choice.

John Clute problematized the conversation by reminding us that humans have difficulty imagining what time really is, and as a result, we haphazardly play with representations of time.  He went on to talk about the centrality of anxiety to our human understanding of time.  He said that SF is “time as anxiety toward the future,” horror is “anxiety toward something that may come true,” and fantasy is “time of the narrative would be rediscovered.”  

W. A. Senior brought the conversation back to what Guy Gavriel Kay said about the toolbox, or what Senior thinks of as the common library.  He mapped time into three elements:  1) time as plot and plot device, 2) time as restorative (time out before the next stage of a character’s journey), and 3) fantasy is the restoration and the discovery of truth, or the place “outside of time,” allows for restoration of the world (e.g., the first Narnia book).  

A.P., following after everyone else, interestingly used select quotes to frame the narrative uses of time that Brian initially alluded to.  He began by reading from a fortune cookie, “The best prophet of the future is the past.”  Others included, “his face was ravaged by time” (time as process, body as record), “how long will this panel last,” and “how long is this guy’s paper going to run on?”  He then segued into the core idea from his previous presentation that there is a conflict between irrational fantasyland time and rational time of the here-and-now.  

John Clute followed A.P.’s statement by commenting that it is an ethnocentric version of time that A.P. terms rational time.  Additionally, the lack of change in fantasy stories in David Edding’s The Belgariad has some historical grounding in paleolithic cave paintings that reveal little change terms of a magnitude of thousands of years.  Also, there are those who deliberately refuse the history of the 20th century (e.g., Holocaust deniers).

Guy Gavriel Kay then engaged Clute’s formulation of time with anxiety by saying that we try to alleviate anxiety by exerting control.  So, fantasy writing is the exertion of control over time/anxiety.  Fantasy writing tries to ameliorate or assuage that anxiety in fantasy writing.  Also, the mythic world may intrude on the rational world (e.g., Grendel in Beowulf), which reverses the assumed function of fantasy to push back against time anxiety.  Another example of this is the loss of the mythic (e.g., the elves leave humanity in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), which may generate anxiety.

Brian then added that the reader has control over what he or she reads.  He went on to say that the act of reading causes a confrontation between the time we are living and the time we encounter in texts.

John Clute brought things back around by offering that the fantastic has the potential to create solace or some kind of truth.

Guy Gavriel Kay shifted to the idea of temporality of the book artifact by commenting on what he called “the hunger for the classic.”  Book covers (and other artifacts) are often labeled as “an instant classic.”  However, something must have been around awhile to be truly considered classic, and as he said, “fame doesn’t work that fast except on Twitter.”

John Clute commented on the intensification of narratives that have moved away from the either/or moral or truth formulation into a spectrum.  He finds this shift to have led to crisis in the fantastic.

W.A. Senior, returning to the idea of other media, said that time is a very significant reason why book to film translations have problems.  The flow and representation of time in books versus movies is not directly correlated.

A.P. got into the fray returning to the idea of book covers by talking about the datedness of covers while the text within the story may not be so dating.

Guy Gavriel Kay mentioned that at a recent Harvard conference there was a session on “How to Grab Your Reader at ‘Hello.’”  He takes issue with this, because he feels that you need to engage in world building initially in order to fully develop the narrative to come (e.g., Tolkien’s first 125 pages in The Lord of the Rings).  He identifies a tension in culture between the instant now and “fantasy’s benign congress.”

Brian rejoined the commentary by asking can realistic literature really allow a reader to feel the sacred-private time (which Maria mentioned earlier).  Brian gave the anecdote of his Friday routine–office-bound and computer-based work until he leaves for the Music Building where he teaches cello lessons and enters his own sacred-private time.  He doesn’t believe that the affect of that time is translatable into text beyond mere observation–removing the context strips the affective experience.  Also, he said that he thinks of books as musical scores–each time you read something it is new.

A.P. asked the panel about their thoughts on whether different cultures perceive the passage of time differently or the same way?  Do older cultures that live in their own history (he mentioned globs of history strewn all about in Ireland and England) perceive it differently than say Americans?  I would add to this how does time figure into the postcolonial experience?

Maria Nikolajeva stated emphatically that time is cultural.

From the audience, Elizabeth Hoiem asked the panel about the relationship of time and memory.  What can we make of the phrase, “the United States of Amnesia?”  She went on to describe David Hume’s grappling with the understanding of time and presence through the act of writing a letter and receiving a response.  How do we know that the letter received really came from who we believe it came from?  How do we make sense of the deferment of time in letter conversations?

John Clute, taking up the term ‘amnesia,’ said that memory enables our stories, but that we inhabit an irony of sorts, because those things are divested of malice.  Furthermore, he refered to earlier work of his in which he uses the cenotaph as an emblem for describing the way in which the world is a series of monuments.

Closing quote:  John Clute stated that, “we have to cheat to understand anything.”

ICFA 2009, Teaching Fantasy and Science Fiction: Audience, Approaches, and Challenges

I overlooked my notes on this panel discussion from Friday, but luckily they found and here is the lowdown from The Teaching Fantasy and Science Fiction panel, moderated by Sydney Duncan.  It brought together some very different approaches in higher education through the work of F. Brett Cox, Andy Duncan, Amy Branam, and Jim Casey.  Below, I engage each professor’s use of SF in their classes, how they engage theory, and their use of SF definitions in the classroom.

F. Brett Cox carries a 4/4 load at Norwich University and incorporates some SF into his classes such as Harlan Ellison’s “Repent Harlequin, Said the Tick Tock Man,” Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Star,” and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “Those Who Walk Away from Omelas.”  Also, he teaches special topics classes on SF identities, gothic literature, and SF.  Regarding a question about theory in the classroom, he doesn’t have his students read hard theory, but he does incorporate the terminology and theoretical ideas into his class in order to help his students make sense of their readings.  As far as SF definitions are concerned, he prefers to use Samuel R. Delany’s concept of describing the function of SF rather than setting a definition prone to exceptions and dissolution.

Andy Duncan now teaches with a 4/4 load at Frostberg State University in Maryland, which has no SF offerings.  However, he maintains a connection to his previous institution, the University of Alabama where he used to teach SF live, but now offers it as an online course with video presentations and blogging.  In this course, he and his students cover about a book a week.  Concerning the theory question he said, “if I knew more theory, I would use it.”  His classes are primarily composed of majors other than English, so merely writing about books is a novelty for them.  He does bring in Rationalizing Genius, Rhetorics of Fantasy, and the Cambridge Companion of SF.  Rationalizing Genius in particular colors his own readings and the way he guides his discussions on the works his students read.  Andy does a fun exercise with his students on the definition of SF.  Early in the class, he has them write on:  1) what experience with SF and fantasy have you had, 2) how do you define SF and fantasy, and 3) list examples of each.  After this writing exercise, he maps their responses on a continuum on the board, which generates discussion in the classroom. 

Amy Branam incorporates SF and fantasy into her women’s literature classes through the more broadly based category of magical realism.  In particular, she uses Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary for women’s literature, and Anne Rice’s Exit to Eden in her pornography unit.  Another work in her classes is Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.  Since she is coming from a women’s studies background, theory is integral to her courses.  In fact, on the first day she runs through the “feminist lexicon” on a Powerpoint presentation, and her students’ first reading is “The Politics of the Novel.”  Instead of teaching her students’ definitions, she teaches them deconstruction.  Also, genre definitions aren’t necessary for her women’s study course.

Jim Casey teaches at a small, private college that features free ice cream truck service and valet parking for students–his is obviously a very special place of higher education.  He doesn’t specifically teach an SF course, but introduces his students to genre fiction after having them read “canonical” works.  It is only later or outside of class that his students discover that they were reading genre fiction.  Throughout his courses, he teaches them the theoretical vocabulary for joining scholarly conversations and to more critically engage the works that they read.  Also, his students do have to read theory for their final papers.  He noted that his students want definitions in the same way that they want to know how to take a test–just tell us the answer.  So, he prefaces definitions with, “Everything that I’m about to tell you is a lie.”  His meaning is that his students will learn exceptions and arguments with the things that he is going to present them with in class.  He likes challenging his students to learn definitions and then to bust them up. 

The panel rounded out with a discussion of hiring and tenure.  One thing that I learned was that you need to consider where you’re applying for jobs, because some institutions will only consider your publishing and presenting in your major field for tenure consideration, anything else is disregarded.