Last night, Yufang and I watched ABC’s new science fiction drama, Flashforward, or what I lovingly call, “the show about the friendship bracelet of death.” ABC doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to SF, so I’m not expecting a long run of this show even with it starring Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) and Hikaru Sulu (John Cho). There is, however, a shadowy hobbit (Dominic Monaghan) and a would-be pirate (Jack Davenport) who may bring the fantastic into the mix and save the science fiction that ABC can’t seem to successfully execute.
I just got a copy of Heather Masri’s Science Fiction: Stories and Contexts from Bedford St. Martins as I build a science fiction course for (hopefully) future use. This is a really cool collection.
It is chocked full of fiction–short stories and excerpts–that are introduced by Masri. But that’s not the really slick feature. What I like about the collection is the thematic groups of stories paired with critical essays. For example, the first section on “Alien Encounters,” which includes stories by Wells, Weinbaum, Bradbury, Le Guin, Butler, Egan, and others, is paired with a selection from de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Jung’s The Shadow, and Fanon’s The Face of Blackness. The “Utopias and Dystopias” section has A. E. van Vogt’s “The Weapon Shop,” Ellison’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman,” Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed,” and more by Zamyatin, Knight, Varley, Ryman, and Hopkinson. With these terrific stories, there are Hannah Arendt’s Ideology and Terror: A Novel Form of Government, William H. Whyte Jr’s The Organization Man, and Jameson’s “Progress versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future?”.
Not everyone will agree with all of the selections, but I believe that this is a useful and well considered turnkey effort toward a theory centric science fiction course.
Okay, so just as I was getting into Defying Gravity, ABC cancels the show according to Ace Showbiz via I09. Obviously, I will be able to see the episodes that won’t air on ABC, but it really grinds my gears when a network pulls the plug on a show before it gets off the ground–well, they did, but you know what I’m saying.
I enjoy watching SF on television, but I’m beginning to develop a tick from good show cancellations. I have to ask myself, should I invest myself in a particular show, knowing that it could get canned half way through the season?
What does this mean for SF show producers? Is there a way to develop a cost effective, low budget, high concept SF show? As we know from reading SF, the science fictional aspect of a story need not be overwhelming–it can be subtle. Can this translate well into a visual media like television, or do we need something visually awesome to let us know that what we are watching is SF?
I just received my copy of The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction today. After browsing through the entire volume, I’m amazed at how much amazing work is packed into this single volume by such a broad swath of the science fiction scholar community. I can see this anthology being useful in an SF survey course or as a companion for any scholar who wants a quick and thorough introduction to a particular field of study within SF scholarship.
In the screen capture above, you can see the starship Antares streaming away from Earth in the second episode of the ABC show, Defying Gravity.
When I first heard about Defying Gravity, I was very afraid that it was going to be a disaster despite Ron Livingston’s lead in the show. However, I took some time off from my SFRA 2008 Proceedings chapter revision to watch the pilot on Hulu yesterday.
The premise of the show is to send a manned mission on a grand tour of the solar system after our successful (albeit with casualties) mission to Mars. The hook for the show is that there is a bit of mystery regarding the replacement of two crew members at the last moment due to an undiagnosed medical condition, and a whispered true purpose to the mission (sounds like 2001: A Space Odyssey without HAL).
I believe that the show deserves a shot based on the pilot, so I’m going to continue watching to see how it develops. However, I am going to take the show with a healthy pinch of salt, because there are narrative tropes (e.g., cocksure and subordinate astronauts/pilots and affect-lacking deceptive administrators that deserve to be laid to rest) and some not-so-sound science and engineering that are unavoidably endemic to much SF television. I will say that its use of flashback and dreams add to rather than detract from the show’s ability to tell its story.
You can catch episodes on ABC, Sunday nights at 10:00PM EST, and for a limited time on Hulu here.
Read on for the announcement for the first conference for the newly formed Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung or GFF (Association for Research in the Fantastic) at the University of Hamburg, Germany. German SF studies has been had the turbopumps running for a number of years, but I believe a conference like this will really light that candle!
Call for Papers
1st annual and founding conference of the Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung
(GFF)(Association for Research in the Fantastic)
Fremde Welten – Wege und Räume der Fantastik im 21. Jahrhundert
(Strange Worlds – Paths and Spaces of the Fantastic in the 21st Century)
University of Hamburg, Germany – 30. September – 03. October 2010
The success of Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, the Wachowskis’ Matrix-trilogy and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings has put a worldwide spotlight on themes of the fantastic, forcing academics to reevaluate the genres and to grant them prominent position in literary or cultural criticism. The overwhelming appeal of the fantastic – in any of its facets – has not gone unnoticed by the media and has led to intensified academic negotiations of the genres. In Anglo-American culture this popularity met with existing structures, such as the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (IAFA) or
the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), which in turn welcomed the newfound public and academic interest.
In German culture, on the other hand, academics involved with the fantastic are without networks, orga ni zation or affiliation. It therefore seems the ideal moment to establish an Association for Research in the Fantastic [Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung (GFF)] as a basis for linking German language scholarship in the fantastic with its international counterparts and thereby making this scholar ship more visible and accessible, and allowing for international exchange. To this end, in October 2010 the University of Hamburg will hold the first annual and founding conference of the GFF. The conference, “Fremde Welten – Wege und Räume der Fantas tik im 21. Jahr hundert” (“Strange Worlds – Paths and Spaces of the Fantastic in the 21st Century”), is emphatically conceptualized as international and interdisciplinary. It conceives of the fantastic in its broadest definition as an umbrella term for all fantastic genres, such as fantasy, horror, gothic, science fiction, speculative fiction, as well as fairy tales, fables and myth. The interdisciplinary approach of the GFF includes research interests from fields such as literature, film, tv, culture, art, new media, architecture and music as well as incorporating impulses from sociology, anthropology, historical science or philosophy. The
international approach is guaranteed by the bifocal orientation of the
association as well as the conference. On the one hand, it reaches out to German speaking scholars working in the field, but on the other expressly encourages membership by international scholars working on German language fantastic.
The conference emphasizes the fantastic in its importance and relation to popular culture and understands it as a reflection of power relations and conflicts of interest. The popular anticipates these conflicts and expresses it before other social discourses can. By definition, the fantastic is able to negotiate alternative worlds and transgressive experiences of time and space, and thus represents a paradigmatic field of inquiry for cultural spaces. With historically specific developments of the 21st century in mind, the fantastic allows us to reveal social changes as no other genre does. What is the popular appeal of the fantastic grounded on? What alternatives does this cultural production offer?
The conference “Fremde Welten – Wege und Räume der Fantas tik im 21.
Jahr hundert” aims for a re view of the status quo in German language
scholarship of the fantastic, as well as open up a dia logue with international research done in this field. It intends to unite researchers and scho lars and to initiate an exchange of ideas. In reference to the conference title we therefore ask con ference contributors to consider the following questions (among many possible others): What paths have led the fantastic to its position today and which ones lie ahead? Which spaces has the fantastic entered or perhaps established?
The organizers call for proposals to be handed in by April 1st 2010. Proposals are possible as paper presentations (paper sessions of up to 3 presenters, 20 min each), panel discussions (moderated, with 3-5 panelists) or author readings from all areas of the fantastic, either in German or English. Please send your proposals of no more than 250 words, with a short biographical note and contact data per email to: lars.schmeink [at] uni-hamburg.de Any further information can be acquired at the same address.
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Prof. Dr. Astrid Böger
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Prof. Dr. em. H.-H. Müller
Institut für Germanistik II