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, 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, Guest Scholar Luncheon with Maria Nikolajeva

Friday’s Guest Scholar Luncheon began with a caesar salad, roasted vegetables, and lemon cakes.  Melissa, Brian and I had a table all to ourselves in the front left corner of the ballroom, which was also advantageous, because we got to grub first.  When you’ve only had a piece of lemon cake and coffee for breakfast, you’re ready to get your grub on.

Maria Nikolajeva’s “Time and Totalitarianism” presentation was an interesting reading on subversive Soviet culture, Diana Wynne Jones’ A Tale of Time City, and Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity.  The word that I came away from her reading is heterachronia–a multitude of times–similar to heterotopia, which means a multitude of places.

ICFA 2009, Science Fiction, Space/Time, and Postmodernity Panel

Surprisingly, I woke up in time this morning to visit Starbucks for coffee and a piece of lemon loaf, return to my room for a shower, and arrive just in time for the 8:30am panel on SF, Space/Time, and Postmodernity.  David M. Higgins moderated the panel, which included Veronica Hollinger, DeWitt Douglas Kilgore, Megan Bygness, Neil Easterbrook, and Patricia Melzer.

Veronica, who I last spoke with last year as I was preparing for my fourteen hour drive back from the Science Fiction Research Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, devoted her opening statement to the growing crisis of representation in SF signaled by the unknowability of the future following the technologically transformative singularity or what some call the “spike” or the “rapture of the nerds.”  If, as some writers, critics, technologists, engineers, and scientists imply, the singularity takes place, then the world following the asymptotic leap will result in a radical change to human history that makes logical extrapolation (the hallmark of many SF definitions) impossible.  We will encounter what Vernor Vinge calls “the unknowable soon,” and any imaginative thought about what that future might be like is devoid of an understanding of how complete the change the singularity will constitute.  It is this point that I think may be the only knowable element of the singularity event.  

Dewitt, who made this his first ICFA visit, discussed the political potential of postmodern decenteredness, and how that decenteredness may be more desirable than modern positivist assumptions about progressive metanarratives.  He pointed toward political hope in a lack of center, because an unbounded world with no privileged center means that we need not be apprehensive of the past or future in constructing a better world.  Additionally, he said that we are bounded by space/time in the sense of our movements within the world and by the fact of our birth and death.  Furthermore, we believe that we know the end of the universe with mathematics and cosmological theory.  However, the real interesting and complicated bit was when he brought in Fred Hoyle’s steady state theory of the universe to discuss postmodernity.  During the q&a, he noted that the relationship between physical theory (i.e., relativity and total decentering) and the social world is problematic for talking about the social and political.  

Neil, who recently won SFRA’s Clareson Award (check), shared some thoughts on Mark Curie’s About Time, which concerns the concept of time embedded in narrative (something that might be useful for A.P.’s paper on time in fantasyland).  The three key concepts that he mentioned were David Harvey’s idea of space/time compression in the postmodern world, postmodern style and “accelerated recontextualization,” and “archive fever,” or the frenzied archiving of contemporary social life–the anticipating the future and storing it in the past.  It is the last concept that Neil found most interesting, because it is something that we see all around us with the way people (myself included) continually document the present for preservation in the past, or as Derrida wrote about it Archive Fever (which is actually about Freud), “domesticating topologies of the future.” 

Patricia, who I joined along with a bunch of other great folks for lunch the other day, talked about the queering of time and mentioned works including Edelman’s No Future and Halberstam’s A Queer Time and Place.  The important question here is how can we resist heteronormativity’s structuring of the future?  She asked, “can SF offer anything to queer time, or should we all go to the bathhouse?”  No one in the audience could come up with an example of SF that properly engaged queer time.  The closest that I could imagine while sitting there was Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations,” because the male pilot chooses to kill the young girl (the image of the child in Edelman’s work).  However, the pilot does this to save the lives of colonists (I don’t have a copy of the story with me now–were these miners or colonists?  Are the genders of the people on the planet mentioned?  An all male group would skew how this is interpreted).  The consensus was that we should all go to the bathhouse.

Megan wanted to engage the audience with a discussion of time in contemporary television–namely, Lost.  Unfortunately, very few audience members regularly watch that program.  She did mention the double narrative streams (on the island vs. flashback), and the time consumed in ancillary texts (logs, puzzles with hidden maps, etc.) meant to allow one to better understand the show on television.

Toward the end of the panel, I asked Veronica about her thoughts on Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity University (SU), which provoked some comments from the entire panel regarding the relationship between capital, technological innovation, and the singularity.  I’ve been interested in the impetus for SU, because I noticed in the online pre-application and follow-up application there is an emphasis on “leadership.”  I wonder if their idea of the singularity is one that can be controlled by capital and the market–leaders of industry or innovation, perhaps.  Or, it may be their belief that leaders may take us to the threshold and then what–take us through, push us over, or throw us off?  If the singularity is a profound and incomprehensible shift in the world and humanity’s place in the world, I’m not necessarily sure that I want the kinds of “leaders” that may be enlisted for SU.  Time, of course, will tell.

CFP: IAFA, Time and the Fantastic

Graham Murphy sent out a CFP for the 30th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.  Next year’s theme is “Time and the Fantastic.”  I was at IAFA earlier this year, and it was much fun!  I got to meet a lot of great folks, see some old friends, and listen to a number of excellent presentations.  Also, IAFA is a great place to connect with authors that you may study.  Below is the CFP, so please read and send in an abstract.  See you in Orlando!

The 30th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts

Time and the Fantastic


The 30th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts will beheld March 18-22, 2009, at the Orlando Airport Marriott in Orlando,Florida. The conference begins at 3pm on Wednesday and ends at 1 am on Sunday upon the conclusion of the conference banquet. Malcolm J. Edwardsand Brian Stableford write that “the metaphysics of time continues to intrigue writers inside and outside the genre” of the fantastic; thus, the focus of ICFA-30 is on the intriguing relationships between time and the fantastic. Papers are invited to explore this topic in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other related modes of the fantastic. In addition, we especially look forward to papers on the work of our honored guests:


Guest of Honor: Guy Gavriel Kay, Aurora Award-winning, Caspar Award-winning, and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award-nominated author of the Fionavar Tapestry (The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest

Road), Tigana, A Song for Arbonne, and The Last Light of the Sun


Guest of Honor: Robert Charles Wilson, Hugo Award-winning author of Axis, Spin, The Chronoliths, Darwinia, Mysterium, and A Bridge of Years


Guest Scholar: Maria Nikolajeva, author of The Aesthetic Approach to Children’s Literature (Scarecrow), The Rhetoric of Children’s Literature (Scarecrow), and From Mythic to Linear: Time in Children’s Literature (Scarecrow)


As always, we also welcome proposals for individual papers and for academic sessions and panels on any aspect of the fantastic in any media. The deadline is October 31, 2008.


We encourage work from institutionally-affiliated scholars, independent scholars, international scholars who work in languages other than English, graduate students, and undergraduate students.


The Jamie Bishop Memorial Award for an Essay Not in English is open to all members of the IAFA. The IAFA Graduate Student Award is open to all graduate students presenting papers at the year’s conference. Details are available via Robin Reid, Second Vice-President (Robin_Reid@tamu-commerce.edu). Finally, the Dell Magazines Undergraduate Science Fiction Award will also be handed out at this year’s conference.


Visit http://www.iafa.org for more details.