Back from Cambridge

I just made it back from Cambridge and the SF and the Canon Conference at Anglia Ruskin University. I had a great time in Cambridge, and I’ve already planned out everything that I’m going to do there as soon as I can get back! One day is not enough to see everything.

I arrived in Cambridge on Thursday afternoon. Immediately, I began to figure some things out about this university town. First, there are nearly as many bicycles as there are people. In fact, I believe that I saw some bicycles perversely riding other bicycles in order to go about their bicycle affairs. Second, Cambridge is the de facto spring break location for French young people. I would need Vishnu’s fingers to count the number of French invaders that I encountered about the city. One observation that I made about the French young adults is that they are more rude and loud than British youth. Third and final characteristic of the people that I met in this town is that couples and groups of people maintain a constant and unbreakable SEP field. A SEP or Somebody Else’s Problem Field allows one to disregard and not consciously register external stimuli that is too much for their minds to deal with at that time, or as I append, stimuli that run counter to their inflated sense of self importance. There were numerous times that I would either stop dead still or barrel through a crowd on the narrow sidewalks, because those persons apparently expected me to walk in the busy streets (full of bicycle and motor congestion) or magically fly over them on a Nimbus 2000 (which unfortunately I left at home). In any event, I spread good cheer amongst these dimwits by glaring, telling them what I thought of their mothers, and using my psychokinetic powers to explode their heads.

With my rant out of the way, let’s go on to the good stuff…

On Thursday, I began exploring the city between the Travelodge and Anglia Ruskin University on East Road. Feeling a grumble in my tummy, I went to Chili’s for supper where I had a juicy burger, a Budweiser, and a slice of pecan pie. After dinner, I went for a stroll down some of the (well lit) side streets, and then headed back to the hotel after my hiking boots suffered a enigmatic malfunction.

Friday was my day to enjoy the city. It was overcast and cold, but I was able to see most of the colleges that make up Cambridge University. However, I didn’t actually go into all of the colleges, because they charge admission to let you walk around in certain areas. I did pay to go into Kings College, which was very impressive. The church and the grounds adjacent to the River Cam are amazing and very impressive to see in person. I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually attend school there or at one of the other colleges. I know that I would relish walking on the well manicured lawns that off limits to tourists, and I would be lost in the corridors of the buildings letting history osmotically permeate my body. I headed back to the hotel at sundown, because I was tired after all of the walking (I understand why there are so many bicycles in Cambridge now). I went back out that evening for a thin crust Dominos pizza (Americana–noticing a trend here?) and I checked my email at a cybercafe. Before going to sleep, I discovered an important piece of information about the hotel that their website didn’t indicate–there was a bumper car ride beneath my window. Luckily, I was so tired that I eventually drifted off to sleep.

Saturday–the big day! I got up bright and early and donned my J. Crew suit for the conference, and I walked the approximately two miles to Anglia Ruskin University. After navigating the labyrinthine halls of the main building, I found our room where Professor Brown was already setting everything up. Other conference members began showing up shortly thereafter. The only people that I already knew there were Andy and Sandor, but I quickly met many of the others. In the afternoon, I presented my paper on H.G. Wells’ “A Story of the Days to Come” and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Chris Beckett and others had some great comments on my paper that got the discussion going. I was very pleased with my presentation and the discussion that followed. Of the papers that I hadn’t heard prior to the conference, my favorites were Keverne Smith’s “The Tempest and Frankenstein: Forerunners of SF,” Genevieve Liveley’s “A Cyborg Geneaology: Science, Fiction, and the Classics,” and Michael Bywater’s “Zorking Hell: How the PC Made Hobbits of Us All.” Congratulations to Professor Sarah Annes Brown for hosting a superb conference!

After the conference, about ten of us adjourned to Cafe Adriatic, a local Italian restaurant for good food, fine wine, and lively talk. Lyndsey and I talked about Battlestar Galactica and Will Ferrell, Andy tried to exorcise my inner Darth Vader, and I overheard Tony Keen say something about Blake’s 7. Folks began leaving around 9:00pm, so Andy and I talked shop over bitters at The Cambridge Blue. When I eventually made it back to my room, I discovered that there was a bumper car ride directly beneath my window. I thought–huh. I was so tired that the screams, shouts, and collisions really didn’t hinder my ability to quickly attain unconsciousness.

All good things…On Sunday morning, I woke up at 8:00am, but I decided to drift in and out of sleep until about 9:00am. However, the fire alarm expedited my getting out of bed, dressed, and hobbling down the stairs with Coke in hand. I took a seat on the bumper car ride and waited for the alarm to go off. After twenty minutes, it ceased, so all of us waiting in the cold began to shuffle back inside. Unfortunately, we couldn’t go up the stairs, because there was a commotion making its way down the stairs. A cop had a black 30-something lady in an arm lock and she was yelling and cussing incoherences (though, I just finished reading Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, so I feel a bit of consternation about this). She was taken outside, and most of the guests stayed near a window downstairs or in the stairwell watching the drama unfold. I walked past them to go back to my room and get ready to catch the train back to Liverpool.

I dropped my keys off after a shower, and I walked to the train station. I considered hanging out there, but I decided to get a little more sightseeing in before I had to leave. I walked up to St. John’s College and took some pictures of the gondolas on the River Cam, and I walked down some unfamiliar streets. Feeling tourist satiated, I made my way back to the train station and I caught my train to Nuneaton, and then the next train to Liverpool. I arrived back in Liverpool after being on the rails for about four hours, and I walked up Edge Hill to Melville Grove.

I had a wonderful time at the SF and the Canon Conference, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Cambridge. There is a lot more that I’d like to see there, such as touring all of the Cambridge colleges and the Duxford Imperial War Museum (an enormous air power museum that has an impressive Cold War and American aircraft selection). Hopefully, I can make my way back there soon!

I have tons of pictures to upload to Flickr, but I need to clean them up first. I’ll let you know as soon as they’re available.

Off to Cambridge

I’ll be off for Cambridge tomorrow afternoon. I’m looking forward to the conference, and I’m glad that I am prepared for it despite suffering a debilitating bout with the flu over the past week.

While I was at the city centre today, I saw these nanotechnology cleaning wipes that are apropos to the topic of my SF and the Canon paper, “Projecting Victorians into the Future Through the Works of H.G. Wells and Steampunk.” The steampunk example that I’m using is Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, which is all about nanotechnology.

When I get back from Cambridge, I’ll turn my attention to the two twenty page papers that I need to write for my course modules and the dissertation presentation that I need to prepare for May.

I’ll fill you in on everything when I get back to Liverpool in a few days!

Subterranean Steampunk Blues

I have eleven days before I leave for Cambridge and the SF and the Canon Conference, but I’m having a devil of a time rewriting my Steampunk and H.G. Wells paper. I’m scrapping my original paper, which had an introductory tone, and writing a new version that looks more at the pastiche of H.G. Wells in particular steampunk works. I just returned from the Sydney Jones Library where I checked out Patrick Parrinder’s Shadows of the Future: H.G. Wells, Science Fiction, and Prophecy, which sounds like it has some useful material that I saw referenced in an article on Wells and language.

During the past week:

On Wednesday, we had a marathon day of class. It began in the morning with Le Guin’s three Hainish novels, and we concluded in the afternoon with Joanna Russ’ The Female Man. I think our discussion of the latter established that I’m the feminist of the group!

Wednesday evening, Linda and I went to a public debate over the question, “Is God a Delusion?” It is best summed up as a surreal experience. Let me begin by describing the David Lynch inspired panel. The moderator looked like Jack Nance from Eraserhead. Dr. Mike Begon, Professor of Ecology, looked like Special Agent Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) from Twin Peaks, and Dr. William Lane Craig, Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California, looked just like Leland Palmer from Twin Peaks. It was very weird hearing these guys talk and react to what each other were saying, but it was interesting seeing how the two structured the arguments. I was let down that Craig aligned his argument that God is not a delusion by connecting it to “historical facts” related to Jesus. Begon did an admiral job by not letting Craig’s snide remarks get to him, and he had a well prepared case based around the difference between axioms and assertions. This was the first debate I’ve attended, and I’m already chomping at the bit for more!

I met with David Seed on Thursday morning to discuss my PhD Dissertation Proposal to the School of English at the University of Liverpool, which is tentatively titled, “Cyborgs and the Reconfiguration of the Technologized Other During the Global War on Terrorism.” We had a very good discussion and he suggested some works that I had not yet considered. Also, he was very positive about my topic and the questions that I want to investigate. He pointed out that it’s new ground and that I should go for it before someone else does!

On Friday, Sunshine, Philippa, and I went to the Unity Theatre to see Hazmat and Me. It wasn’t the comedy that it was billed as, but it was a Cold War cattle-prod of technocratic guilt and redemption through confrontation of one’s suppressed memories. I thoroughly enjoyed the piece, but I can understand why it wasn’t for everyone. Afterwards, the chitchat over wine was a less jarring, but equally rewarding experience.

If you haven’t already checked it out, you should listen to Dylan Hears a Who–a collection of Dr. Seuss rhymes sung in the style of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

I’m going to call my folks and then get back to work on my paper. Later tonight, Ardy and I are going to attempt to fry some unidentified vegetables to go with spaghetti. If I don’t post any more updates, you’ll know that the results were disastrous!

Steampunk Presentation

On Valentine’s Day, I presented my paper, “Projecting Victorians into the Future Through the Works of H.G. Wells and Steampunk” at the weekly Faculty and Postgraduate School of English Seminar. I think that there was a pretty good turn out with folks peppering Lecture Theatre Two in the Rendall Building. My presentation was only twenty minutes long, because I had edited the paper down to ten pages (from twelve). I spent the last week working on this so that it would be the appropriate length for the SF and the Canon Conference in Cambridge. I shouldn’t have done this, because the Q&A session didn’t run very long. This was due in part to my not knowing everything there is to know in relation to steampunk. Also, I should have structured my handout differently, because I was asked more questions about the titles on the handout (most of which I haven’t read) instead of the titles that I talked about in my paper–Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, Wells’ “A Story of the Days to Come,” and Chiang’s “Seventy-Two Letters.” Everyone told me that it was a good presentation, but I feel that I didn’t deliver as much as I should have. I suppose I’m my own worst critic, but I think that’s the way it should be. Thanks again to everyone for coming out and I hope that you enjoyed the chocolates and talk. Pictures from the presentation are here.

I called my folks the other day to ask them to ship my J.Crew suit to me, because I don’t have any good presentation clothes. I wore my GAP shirt and sports jacket from my very first presentation at Georgia Tech’s Monstrous Bodies Symposium. My shirt was like a balloon since I’ve lost so much weight!

After the presentation, Jonathan, AP, Andy, Christian, Ardy, and I walked over to the Cambridge for a pint. Jonathan hooked me up with some Fosters. I found out some more about the PhD program here at Liverpool from Jonathan, and we all had a lively discussion about comics, books, and films.

For Valentine’s Day, Sunshine organized an outing to FACT for a one night screening of Casablanca. Christian, Ardy, Jean, “Him,” and I met Sunshine outside her university tele-annoying job around 7:45pm, and then we all walked down to FACT. After we got there, I went to the bar and got a White Russian, and then we went into the movie after Phill got there. It was great seeing Bogart, Bergman, and Rains on the big screen.

Today, I met Meghmala for coffee and a lively discussion about science fiction and astrophysics. I messaged her awhile back on facebook after seeing that she’s a fan of Asimov. I think that we had a good conversation, and I certainly enjoyed hearing about her program and coursework. If I had it to do all over, I think astrophysics would be a good path to take.

I’m currently reading Murray Constantine’s (Katharine Burdekin) Swastika Night for Utopias and Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine for reworking my steampunk paper.

H.G. Wells Is Not a Glass House

I’m busy working my way through H.G. Wells’ doorstop-worthy tome, Shape of Things to Come. Therefore, this will be a short update.

On Friday, Jean, Sunshine, Ardy, and I walked down Smithdown Road and over a bit to Sefton Park. I got a lot of cool pictures (see above) that are available online here.

My weekend was filled with class work, and the beginning of this week is more of the same. Also, I finished my book review of John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream, and I emailed that to Ed at the SFRA Review. Hopefully I won’t need to do any revisions!

I devised a new burritos recipe that I tried out at Ardy’s on Sunday. I made the burrito mix more like chili by adding a can of crushed tomatoes and a can of kidney beans. It turned out very well, but I have some further ideas for the next batch.

Once I get caught up, I want to read some stories in the books that David Seed gave me today. He had four stacks of books on a filing cabinet and he told Sunshine, Christian, and I to take what we wanted–the more the better. I filled my satchel, and the others grabbed a few too.

I need some sleep, but I have too much reading to do. Back to it!

Expectational Headaches

Yesterday was a full day. It began with our meeting Andy at 11:00am for our Le Guin Special Authors class. We continued our discussion on Le Guin’s Earthsea sequence. Next week, we’ll meet with David Seed for our Le Guin class and we’ll be discussing The Dispossessed and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Also during class, Andy handed back our final Genre Definitions papers. I received a 72 on mine, which is a distinction score, but it wasn’t as high as I had hoped. I put a lot of time and effort into that paper, because it will be the one that I’m delivering here at the Faculty/Postgraduate Lecture Series and the SF and the Canon Conference at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. I’ve looked over the notes, and I’m going to work on it some before the first presentation on 14 February.

After class, Jean and I walked over to the jobs listings board at the Career Centre. From there, I went to a presentation on AHRC funding, but I later found out that I’m ineligible for that award.

These things put me into a right foul mood and I still had one more appointment for the day. Sunshine and I walked over to Andy Sawyer’s lecture on “Ursula Le Guin and the Pastoral Mode.” It was an interesting paper, particularly since I don’t know much about the pastoral beyond what I’ve learned from Leo Marx and Sharona Ben-Tov.

When I got back to my place from the lecture, I saw that I had an email from the English Graduate Admissions Secretary at the University of Kansas. She informed me that they had not yet received my transcript from Liverpool or my recommendation letter from Professor Knoespel. I called Professor Knoespel and left a message with Mrs. Jackson to have him fax a copy of the letter to KU. Then, I tried to access my transcript online, but SPIDER was broken. More to come below…

After all of that, I finished reading my current book review assignment, John Scalzi’s The Android’s Dream. It’s an enjoyable read, but it’s far from serious. Also, I hate the cover for the book and the title. First, the cover: it features a blue sky with two dimensional sheep with a droid that looks a lot like a Battle Droid from Star Wars lying down with a thought bubble erupting from his cranium towards the foremost sheep. Considering the subject, it would have been far more appropriate to use a photograph or painting based on Tori Amos’ cover for her “In the Springtime of His Voodoo” single, which shows her chest up wearing a sheep costume. The title: yes, it’s cute that he’s tipping his hat to Philip K. Dick, but there aren’t any androids in the story and the sheep aren’t electric.

Today, I’ve been nursing a headache all day long. It seems to have subsided since I ate supper, but there’s still a bit of a dull pain. This wasn’t helped by further problems with KU.

After getting up, I was able to bring up my transcript on SPIDER and print it out. Then, I asked Mrs. Rees in the English Department office to fax it for me, which she did (they are so awesome over there). At that point, I thought I was done.

Unfortunately, I received another email from KU saying that they needed my grades and an description of the program. I emailed Andy, and he said that he would take care of it. He emailed them, but after the secretary spoke with the graduate director, they required an official document with my grades thus far. This could be a problem, because Liverpool doesn’t report grades right away for MA students. Andy had already left for the day before we were cc’ed on the last email from KU. Hopefully we can get this resolved tomorrow.

Tonight, I’ve been working on my book review of Scalzi’s book.

Tomorrow, I might go to Sefton Park for a walk with Jean and Sunshine.

Some good news: I got a better URL for my flickr photostream.

Special Collections and Archives

After today’s genre definitions seminar, we all headed to the Sydney Jones Library to look through some books that the library was selling. I scored several SF collections, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, William Gibson’s Burning Chrome, and Roger Zelazny’s The Dream Master. Pictured above are Sandor (visiting scholar), Sunshine (MA in SF), Mr. Andy Sawyer, and Christian (MA in SF). Behind them are the special collection stacks.

Christian invited me over to his place for dinner as long as I agreed to peel potatoes. I thought about this for a moment, until I realized that this would mean I could have a real home cooked meal. I told him that I would gladly be on potato duty. His place is about a twenty-five minute walk through the rougher side of Liverpool. On the way there, I passed an Aldi and an ASDA, which is “part of the Wal-Mart family.” He lives in a very nice flat with two girls. I met one of them, Andrea. She’s from Germany, and very cute. I hope that I get to talk to her again in the near future. For dinner, we baked potato wedges, peppers, carrots, and onions. It was a very tasty and filling meal!

After dinner, we took the bus back towards the university so that we could meet Sunshine and Sandor outside the Liverpool Community College. We were meeting up so that we could go see Little Miss Sunshine at the FACT movie theater. I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It’s definitely in the vein of a Wes Anderson character study, but it also had a circuitous story to tell. I definitely recommend it!

I’ve been making plans to go to London during Thanksgiving. I’ll finalize those plans once I know what my schedule looks like with the research skills module in place. As it stands now, I should have my two core modules on Mondays.

Doctor Who Exhibit

Sunshine, Christian, and I went to Spaceport, which is a space museum across the River Mersey at the Seacombe stop via the Mersey Ferry. Today was the opening day of their Doctor Who exhibit. It was packed with eager fans to check out props, costumes, and video of the popular British sci-fi television show.

We all met up outside the Sydney Jones Library and then proceeded to walk through the city to Pier Head. The ferry ride over to Spaceport is a fun experience in itself. And, as you might have heard, the song, “Ferry Across the Mersey,” when the boat pulls away from port.

We primarily went to check out the Doctor Who exhibit, but we took our time going through the space museum exhibits. It has a lot of hands-on stuff for adults and kids to experiment with and learn a little bit about how our great Universe works.

I was able to take a lot of photos, but unfortunately, my camera’s battery died before I was able to snap a shot of the most popular exhibit: a live action, killing, and maiming Dalek! Yes, it was spouting off about exterminating this and killing the doctor that. Also, it would have been nearly impossible to get a good photo of the Dalek, because the kids loved it and were hanging all over the exhibit!

After making our way through the museum, we went in search of food in Wirral. Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything in the direction that we walked, but a kind gentleman pointed us back to the museum area and a place called the Seacombe Cafe. We all had fish, chips, and peas. It was a good lunch!

On the way back to the dormitories, we were going to stop for coffee from Starbucks, but the queue was enormous. Instead, we settled on milkshakes from a place akin to Johnny Rockets back home. While there, I discovered that Sunshine has a bit more mischief in her than I had first thought!

I almost forgot! Last night, I went out to the first social gathering of the Liverpool Anime Society. It’s a club on campus that has social events and film screenings of Japanese animation. I heard about the organization during the activities fair held for international students. I met some cool folks last night such as Laura, Rebecca, Kevin, Nick, and Simon. I met a lot more people than that, but my memory is poorly suited to remembering names. I know everyone’s faces so I’ll recognize them when we have our first screening next Friday night.

Now, I’m going to get back to reading. We’re shuffling around one of our courses so that we’ll have two seminars on Monday, thus freeing up an extra day during the week. That means I’ll have to do a little more preparation to be ready for Monday’s discussion in the Philosophy module.