Science Fiction, LMC3214: Golden Age, Part 2 and SF Film Lecture

In today’s class, I covered large swaths of background material on Ray Bradbury, Robert A. Heinlein, and Tom Godwin. Then, I gave the class a rough sketch of the development of SF film through the SF-film boom of the 1950s as preparation for tomorrow’s viewing of Forbidden Planet. After lecture, we discussed the readings from Monday and Tuesday: Asimov’s “Reason,” Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Heinlein’s “All You Zombies–,” and Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.”

I was glad to hear that Godwin’s story connected emotionally with some students despite it being “hard SF.” There were also a number of students  who preferred “All You Zombies–” and were already familiar with time travel narratives, which supported my lecture argument about Heinlein’s reliance on reader’s experience with the SF mega-text. One student on Bradbury’s story said, “This was the first story that made me feel sorry for a house.” After class, I had a great conversation with two students about Cold War anxieties and the shifting experiences of SF in film and television via new media.

Science Fiction, LMC 3214: Exam 1 and Lecture on Golden Age SF Part 1

Today, my students bravely wielded their pens and Blue Books to endure their first exam in our Science Fiction class. The exam covered Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through the early SF film serials. The exam had twenty short and long answer questions. A few students completed the exam in the allotted 60 minutes, but I gave the rest of the class an additional 15 minutes to complete the test. I made it very clear that I could not give credit to illegible responses, so I think that the writing component slowed some students down. I will take this into consideration as I plan the second exam while making my lecture notes for the upcoming two weeks of class.

After the exam, I delivered the first part of my lecture on Golden Age SF. I covered a rough sketch of the Golden Age, John W. Campbell, Jr., and Isaac Asimov. In tomorrow’s class, I will lecture on Robert A. Heinlein, Tom Godwin, Ray Bradbury, and the maturation of SF film. We will discuss the readings for Monday and Tuesday, too: Asimov’s “Reason,” Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains,” Heinlein’s “All You Zombies–,” and Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.”

2010 John W. Campbell, Jr. Conference July 16-18

James Gunn sent out the following reminder about the John W. Campbell, Jr. Conference in Lawrence, KS. Two years ago, it was held in conjunction with the SFRA Conference, and a good time was had by all. Read below for the details:

Lawrence, KS—New stars will shine at the annual John W. Campbell Science Fiction Conference July 16-18 at the University of Kansas.  In addition to the presentation of the Campbell Award for the Best Science-Fiction Novel of the Year and the Sturgeon Award for the Best Short Science Fiction of the Year, the Campbell Conference will be devoted to the science-fiction short story and the career of the late Theodore Sturgeon.  The awards are some of the most prized in the science-fiction field.

A great friend of K.U.’s science fiction programs, Sturgeon , who died in 1985, was an annual guest writer at the University’s Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction and cited by experts as one of SF’s finest short-story writers, if not, indeed, the best of all time.  Kurt Vonnegut , who named his pulp writer Kilgore Trout after Sturgeon, called him “a master storyteller.”  Samuel R. Delany referred to Sturgeon as “the American short-story writer.”  James Blish called him “the finest conscious artist science fiction ever produced.”  Sturgeon’s daughter Noёl, professor of women’s studies at Washington State University, will be present for the first time to present the award to its winner, yet to be disclosed.

In a special addition to its usual round-table discussion on Saturday, July 17, the Campbell Conference will offer a reading of Sturgeon’s stories from 10:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Kansas Union’s Oread Bookx.  Oread Books also will host a group autographing session from 12:45-1:45 that will feature the winners of the Campbell and Sturgeon Awards, four winners of Nebula Awards and a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Crawford Award, and two earlier Sturgeon Awards, a winner of the Hugo and Damon Knight SFWA Grand Master awards, a new member of the Campbell Award jury, and half-a-dozen other writers.

Some two dozen writers enrolled in the  Writers Workshop on Science Fiction and its novel-writing sister workshop will be in attendance as well as students enrolled in the Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction that begins the following Monday, local science-fiction enthusiasts, guests, and other students and faculty.

The Campbell and Sturgeon Awards will be presented at a dinner on Friday, July 16.  The Campbell Conference will be held in the Kansas Union on July 17.  Both are open to the public but require advance registrations available on the Center for the Study of Science Fiction website <www/ku.edu/~sfcenter>.   The Oread Books readings and autographing session are free.  Participants can bring their own books or purchase books available in Oread Books.

SFRA 2008 – Sunday

With killer headache in hand, I made my way down to the SFRA business meeting on Sunday morning, the last day of the conference.

President Adam Frisch began by saying that SFRA is in “excellent shape.”  Vice-President Lisa Yaszek has worked hard on recruitment measures and we now stand at 344 members strong.  Treasurer Mack Hassler told us how the organization’s finances are in order, and we’re expanding the support a scholar program so that they are now “grants” that must be applied for.  This is good, because there’s more to go around and it will add a valuable line to one’s vita.  The four areas of funding will be travel, membership, research, and organizational grants.

Other important business concerned the transition of the sfra.org website from Virgina Tech’s servers to a private hosting company.  We’re thankful for Virginia Tech’s hosting, but there are limitations to what we can do organizationally and operationally on their servers.  Karen Hellekson, acting as interim Web Director, is facilitating the move and the expansion of SFRA services online.

Another organization matter concerned the addition of a position for Director of Public Relations.  This person will help promote the organization under the direction of the Vice President.  More on this later…

There were some convention updates on current and future SFRA meetings.

Ritch Calvin said that the 2008 SFRA meeting in Lawrence seems to be within budget.

Lisa Yaszek told us about the 2009 meeting in Atlanta, GA and sponsored by Georgia Tech and hosted by Lisa and Doug Davis.  It’s going to be on June 11-14, 2009 at the Wyndham Midtown with the dual themes (one just wasn’t enough!):  “Engineering the Future” and “Southern Fried Science Fiction and Fantasy.”  The Guest of Honor is Michael Bishop, and Guest Authors include F. Brett Cox, Paul di Filippo, Andy Duncan, Kathleen Ann Goonan, and Jack McDevitt.  I will post a full announcement soon separately.

Craig Jacobsen said that 2010 in Phoenix is on track with the theme, “Points of Contact,” and there’s a venue lined up near the airport for that meeting.

Pawel Frelik said that Poland 2011 (SFRA tries to hold its meeting in Europe every third year, this year was an exception because of the decline of the dollar) is proceeding well.  He has secured institutional support, and Lublin will be a great host city with easy access from the airport to the city center, hotels, and campus.

A final project worth mentioning is that SFRA Review has worked out a deal with the University of South Florida to host back issues of the Review electronically.  If you have old issues, you should drop a line to Karen Hellekson, because they need to patch some holes in their checklist for scanning (it is a destructive process, but the issues will be available to everyone online after being scanned).

In other news, dues will remain the same.

Whew.  Some good-byes later and review books exchanged hands, I checked out, spoke briefly with Veronica Hollinger, and hit the road.  On the way out of Kansas, I lost my toll ticket, but the toll lady was kind enough to believe that I got on the interstate at exit 202.  I hit 75 mph on the way back so I wouldn’t be on the road so long and to see how much it affected my fuel economy (not much–1.5 mpg less to 39 mpg).  On the way home, I saw a large billboard that looked like a green background, white text road sign that simply said “JESUS.”  There’s something science fictional about the religious iconography and messages between Ohio and Kansas.  Also, the worst roads that span an entire state are in Indiana.

When I pulled into Kent late Sunday evening, my odometer showed that I had driven 1,685 miles during the whole trip, and it was a great trip!  Thanks to everyone that was a part of 2008 SFRA in Lawrence, Kansas.  Thanks to Ritch Calvin, Karen Hellekson, and Craig Jacobsen for organizing and pulling it off without a hitch.  Thanks to Kansas University, Center for the Study of Science Fiction, the Campbell Conference, Jim Gunn, and Chris McKitterick for inviting SFRA to Lawrence this summer.  I had a great time, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again at SFRA 2009 in Atlanta, GA!

SFRA 2008 – Friday Awards Ceremony

On the way to the ceremony, I had the opportunity to talk to Jim Gunn and tell him that we share the same birthday (July 12).  Also, I ran into Kathleen Ann Goonan, who had just arrived to the hotel after dealing with a myriad of travel complications.  Luckily, she did arrive on time, and rushed to her room to prepare for the ceremony.  Before leaving, she introduced me to her dad, Tom Goonan.  He’s a seasoned veteran of the Second World War, and he worked with Kathy on her latest novel, In War Times.  I had a great time talking with Tom on the way down the hall about the war and changes to American theaters (I brought this up after having just seen WALL-E in an old single screen theater in Akron, Ohio).

The Friday night awards ceremony was held jointly at the Holiday Inn Holidome in Lawrence, Kansas by the Science Fiction Research Association and the Campbell Conference.  Master of Ceremonies for the evening was Chris McKitterick of the University of Kansas.

The ceremony began with the Campbell Conference awards–the Campbell and Sturgeon Awards.  The first was the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award for best short fiction.  For the first time ever, it was a double tie for first and second.  The second place winners were “Memorare” by Gene Wolfe and “The Master Miller’s Tale” by Ian R. MacLeod.  The first place winners were “Tidelines” by Elizabeth Bear and “Finistera” by David R. Moles who was in attendance at the conference.

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel went to Kathleen Ann Goonan’s In War Times, which justly triumphed over Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union (second place) and Ken MacLeod’s The Execution Channel (third place).

After a short break, SFRA took center stage to honor a number of its members.  The first award given out was the Graduate Student Paper Award for best paper delivered by a graduate student at the previous annual conference.  This year’s recipient was Joseph F. Brown for his paper delivered at last year’s SFRA in Kansas City, Missouri.  He’s looking for a job now, so hook him up!

Ritch Calvin stepped up to the podium to give the next award, the Mary Kay Bray Award for “the best essay, interview, or extended review to appear in the SFRA Review in a given year.”   He called Jason Ellis (me) to the stage to receive the award for two reviews–Starship Troopers (SFRA Review #280) and Brasyl (SFRA Review #281).  As I walked up to the front jets of adrenalin exploded in my bloodstream and a crazy smile was pasted over my face.  I thanked Ritch and then I pulled out my acceptance remarks:

I would like to thank the Mary Kay Bray Award committee, as well as the SFRA executive board and all members.  Since I first joined SFRA three years ago, I’ve learned we have a great organization that I’m proud to be a member of and contribute to in order to play a part in its success.  In my reviews, I hope that I help some of you out with your work just as many of you have helped with mine.  Also, SFRA Review is a terrific resource that is as good as we collectively make it, so I’d like to encourage everyone to contribute more top-rate fiction, non-fiction, and media reviews.

I don’t often get an opportunity to stand in front of so many friends, so I’d like to take this occasion to thank a few of you who helped me reach this point in my career.  I’d like to thank Patrick Sharp for taking a chance, Lisa Yaszek for opening the wider world of SF to me, Andy Sawyer for that Boxing Day excursion and much more, Mack Hassler for pulling for me, and Eugene Thacker for my first copy of SFRA Review.

When I got to that last part, I was choking up and some tears made it past my defenses.  It wasn’t just winning the award that made me so happy, but all of the help that good folks had given me along the way.  There’s many more people that I would have liked to thank while I was at the podium, like Kathy Goonan for that wonderful day at Georgia Tech and my parents for helping me afford to go conferencing this year at IAFA and SFRA.  It was great winning the Mary Kay Bray Award, but it’s even better knowing that I have a lot of friends in such a supportive community of scholars.

The next award was the Pioneer Award, which is given to the “writer or writers of the best critical essay-length work of the year.”  Lisa Yaszek presented this year’s award on behalf of the committee that read over 300 critical essays to determine the winner.  This year’s winner of the Pioneer Award is Sherryl Vint for her March 2007 Mosaic essay, “Speciesism and Species Being in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”  Sherryl does fantastic work, and is deserving of this honor.  And yes, I will get you that Transformers paper very, very soon!

Doug Davis took to the stage next to introduce the Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service, which “is presented for outstanding service activities-promotion of SF teaching and study, editing, reviewing, editorial writing, publishing, organizing meetings, mentoring, and leadership in SF/fantasy organizations.”  Doug had already pumped me for dirt, er, background info on this year’s winner, so it was wonderful hearing the way he wove some of my anecdotes about the recipient, Andy Sawyer of the University of Liverpool, into his speech.  Andy took to the stage and gave an over-the-top acceptance speech that was hilarious and heartfelt.  Afterwards, Andy told me that I’m a dead man.  That’s okay, because I’m glad that Andy and I got to share the stage that night.

The final award of the evening was also the SFRA’s longest running award–the Pilgrim Award.  Originally named for J. O. Bailey’s book, Pilgrims through Space and Time, it honors “lifetime contributions to SF and fantasy scholarship.”  Adam Frisch announced the award winner as the UK writer and critic, Gwyneth Jones.  Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it to the conference, but she asked Adam to give her acceptance speech that was a little long, but worth its weight in wittiness!

After the award ceremony drew to a close, a number of us mulled around and enjoyed the cash bar.  Doug, Pawel, and I talked for awhile, and I met Anne K.G. Murphy of the Science Fiction Oral History Association.  Kathy, her husband Joe, and Tom closed out the banquet room.  I ended the evening talking with Jason Embry, Patrick Sharp, and Craig Jacobsen about zombies, video games, and recent movies–I hope all you guys have seen WALL-E by now, or will after reading the media review that I just emailed Ritch!

Another SFRA 2008 installment tomorrow…

SFRA 2008 – Driving to Lawrence

I hit the road early on Wednesday, July 9, leaving Yufang holding a wet Miao Miao (she darted out the door as I was loading up) as the torrents of rain continued unabated across Ohio.  I had decided before leaving that I would maximize my fuel economy in order to stretch the overall savings and convenience of driving there.  My speed fluctuated between 55 and 60 mph, and I regulated my driving style so that I accelerated slow and easy.  I monitored my fuel maximization progress with a ScanGauge II plugged into my car’s computer.  After taking 15 hours and two fuel tanks of gas, I averaged 41.5 mpg.  Saving those gallons of gas took a toll on me, and I had no trouble falling asleep that night!

On the way to the conference, I saw a number of interesting sights.  A few of them included a billboard advertisement warning against drunk driving sponsored by a St. Louis funeral home, a gigantic 12-or-so story tall Christian cross next to the interstate, a McDonalds in Missouri with an enclosed reading room and fireplace rather than a playground, and a B-2 Stealth Bomber turning on final and landing to the south.

SFRA 2008 in Lawrence = Pure Win

I got back late Sunday night from my July 10-13 jaunt to Lawrence, Kansas and the 2008 Science Fiction Research Association annual conference held in conjunction with the Campbell Conference.  It’s an almost thirteen hour trek between Kent, Ohio and Lawrence, and my car performed beautifully both ways (getting between 39 and 41.5 mpg).

I consider the conference a great success!  Andy Sawyer and I both won awards on Friday evening, and I learned that Jim Gunn and I share the same birthday (July 12).  I presented one paper, and participated on a “SF and video games in the classroom” round table.  Also, I picked up a lot of ideas and tips for my beginning teaching career.  I got to hang out with a lot of old friends, and I made a few new ones.  Also, I had the opportunity to talk with Tom Goonan–Kathleen Ann Goonan’s father.

I’m still decompressing from the trip and the stressful few weeks leading up to it.  Therefore, expect short, but plentiful, updates during the coming week that details my adventures in SF at SFRA 2008.