ABC Cancels Defying Gravity

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?

The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction

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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.

Defying Gravity Looks Promising

Screen shot 2009-09-05 at 5.17.57 PM

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.

CFP: German Fantastic Conference by Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung, 30 Sept-03 Oct, 2010

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.

Organization:
Lars Schmeink
Universität Hamburg
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Von-Melle-Park 6
D-20146 Hamburg

Prof. Dr. Astrid Böger
Universität Hamburg
Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Von-Melle-Park 6
D-20146 Hamburg

Prof. Dr. em. H.-H. Müller
Universität Hamburg
Institut für Germanistik II
Von-Melle-Park 6
D-20146 Hamburg

Fandom, Otaku, and Home Guys in Taiwan

Last week in Taipei, Taiwan, 朱學恒 (Xuei-Hen Ju) recently hosted a big get-together for fans and readers of his blog, 朱學恒的阿宅萬事通事務所 (Xuei-Hen Ju’s Home Guy’s Guide to Everything–I’m not sure about this translation–it could also mean “everything is good”) called 725阿宅反抗軍千人誓師大會 (July 25 Home Guy’s Resistance Army–1000s Show Your Commitment).

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this event. You may also be wondering what the heck is a ‘home guy.’

Xuei-Hen Ju is a Taiwanese blogger and translator of English language SF and fantasy novels including Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings, but he originally majored in electrical engineering. He is considered a ‘home guy’, originally because of his education, and later because of his passion for what we in the States would consider geekdom.

Home guy (阿宅) is a term that was originally reserved for folks who majored in computer science in school, but now the term has an expanded meaning that encompasses someone who is shy, plays video games, and reads comic books (girls are a marginalized minority in this group but there are definitely some out there). Home guys are aligned with geekdom, fandom, otaku, and other marginal groups who are passionate about some aspect of pop culture, SF, fantasy, etc. Due to these cross cultural connections, I wanted to mention the Xuei-Hen Ju’s work and the home guy phenomenon to an English language audience.

Xuei-Hen Ju uses his blog to promote his own kind of ‘homeness.’ In many ways, he encourages other home guys to break out of the reductionist and stereotypical boxes that have in the past confined and stifled social acceptance of home guys. Through his blog, books, and the 725 event, he promotes a socially aware and proactive sense of what it means to be a home guy.

Like an otaku Tony Robbins, Xuei-Hen Ju inspires other home guys to follow their passion and tap into their enthusiasms, not as a cross to bear but as a marker for their sense of self. Also, he tells others that anyone, despite their educational background or personal condition, can achieve personal happiness–that it is up to each home guy to achieve what it is that he wants. He connects masculinity to his vision of the home guy by rallying others to maintain social justice (e.g., if you see someone abusing a dog, it is the home guy’s duty to call that person out) and do something with passion. The subtitle of his site is 熱情從來不是被找到的,而是奮戰努力才能獲得的!(Passion is never to be found, but gained by fighting!).

His idea about what it means to be a home guy may be skewed toward men more so than women. During his posts, he does occasionally insert pictures of attractive girls during an otherwise non-girl related post just to pause or breakup the flow of what he may be talking about.

However, he is conscious of respect for women when he threw the 725 event, because he warned the other home guys to not hit on girls in attendance (but they could do what they wanted to outside the event). If you click through to the 725 event post with pictures of the event, you will see a number of girls in the audience, and some of the Star Wars cosplayers were women, so there are home girls/gals, too.

More about the 725 event: I definitely recommend you clicking here to read (if you know Chinese) and see the pictures of the extremely successful event. There was music, Star Wars cosplay and demonstrations, presentations, and video game play on the 400″ screen. There are men, women, and children in the audience. And, the audience beat out an earlier torrential rain storm that killed power to the adjacent movie theater and shopping mall. Folks from all over Taiwan converged on Taipei to go to the free event, and they were determined to go come hell or high water (literally).

I liked the idea of the event being free, and I don’t exactly know how it was pulled off. Perhaps there was corporate sponsorship, or Xuei-Hen Ju used his own money to pay for the space and the setup. Directly, he didn’t get any money by hosting the home guy get-together, but he did sells some copies of his popular book, which he would personalize for attendees (and those not there–but by saying “loser, why didn’t you come out?!”). Also, there are the Home Guy Army t-shirts that are in some of the pictures. Oh, and the event itself wasn’t advertised anywhere else, except on Xuei-Hen Ju’s blog. Essentially, he told his blog following, home guy friends to “Come here on this particular day and let’s show everyone what we can do.”

You should definitely check out Xuei-Hen Ju’s blog, and if you know Chinese, you should find out more about home guys and Taiwan fandom. From talking with Yufang (who was sweet to tell me about the 725 event, and who I asked to help me with the translating and descriptions), Taiwanese popular culture is an amalgamation of cultures from surrounding countries. It seems that much of the culture consumed in Taiwan comes from other places, but I suspect that there must be a local flavor to the way that other cultures are interpreted, consumed, and enjoyed by home guys and every other Taiwanese person. I think that more work should be done on SF fandom in Taiwan, because that country and its people are more unique than many due to their position as a cultural crossroads.

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, 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, 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.  

CFP: The Postnational Fantasy: Nationalism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction

Call for Papers:

The Postnational Fantasy: Nationalism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction

We seek chapter proposals for our forthcoming anthology to be published in Spring 2010.  The Postnational Fantasy: Nationalism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction places itself at the nexus of current debates about nationalism, postnational capitalism, the reassertion of third world nationalism and its cosmopolitical counterparts, and the role of contemporary Science Fiction (SF) and fantasy in challenging, normalizing, or contesting these major conceptual currents of our times.  This new collection of essays, thus, brings together, in one volume, the interplay of critical and theoretical insights both from Postcolonial and Science Fiction studies.

In a way SF and Postcolonial Literature both have traditionally dealt with the question of the other.  Thus, while SF has been traditionally concerned with the issues of the alien and the ontological other, the leading postcolonial works have usually focused on giving voice to the silenced colonized others.  Just as the SF writer must ‘train’ the reader in his or her imagined setting, so does the postcolonial author feel the need to inform the reader while attempting to represent the postcolonial subjects. This combination of representation and didactics, crucial to SF and postcolonial writing, can therefore be an interesting starting point for bringing the two overlapping fields of artistic endeavor together, as both have a lot to offer in theorizing and debating the national, the postcolonial, and the cosmopolitan in the era of high capital. As of now, not many critical texts attempt to rewrite postcoloniality through a textual and theoretical reading of contemporary SF nor has there been a worthwhile attempt in postcolonial studies to incorporate the contemporary SF in the cultural and political debates. It is, therefore, one of the goals of this volume to enrich both Postcolonial Studies and SF studies with a nuanced borrowing and intermixing of their primary texts and modes of interpretation, which would, we hope, enrich both fields of study by sharing their common and particular modes of reading and responding to the texts. Important also in our study would be the nature of representation itself, but especially the affective value of the texts in generating and foregrounding the questions of feelings invoked by the SF and the postcolonial text, and the impact of this emotive state on the issues of national, postnational, and cosmopolitan identity formation.

We invite essays of 5,000-6,000 words in length exploring the following themes, or any other themes that might fall within the purview of our stipulated vision of the anthology: 

·      Issues of nationalism and national identity in SF and fantasy.

·      The idea of the other in the context of geopolitical identities.

·      The setting/background of the fantastical in the context of contemporary debates of the cosmopolitical.

·      The postcolonial imagination of SF and fantasy from the Third World.

·      The affective value of SF and its connotation in the context of global politics.

·      SF as an additive of resistance or postnational alternative.

·      The questioning of gender and heteronormativity in SF in an age of cosmopolitanism.

We strongly encourage young scholars and advanced graduate students to contribute to the anthology. Please send your proposals, not more than 200 words, along with a brief bio by April 30, 2009. Send your proposals to the editors at pnfantasy@gmail.com. Include your proposal and bio in the body of your email and also as a Microsoft Word attachment. Essays selected for inclusion in the final volume will be peer-reviewed by specialists in the field.

About the Editors:

Dr. Masood Raja, Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory
Department of English, Kent State University

Swaralipi Nandi, PhD Scholar
Department of English, Kent State University

Jason W. Ellis, PhD Scholar
Department of English, Kent State University