I’m very happy to be able to say that I’ll be one of the teachers for this year’s SF Foundation Criticism Masterclass. My fellow teachers will be Pat Cadigan (Hugo and Clarke-Award-winning author) and Nick Lowe (classical scholar and sf film critic). The Masterclass is being held from 17-19 July in the marvellous and appropriate setting of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Details of how to apply are here; there are comments from attendees at past Masterclasses here.
I know I’ve not posted much here lately – partly because I’ve been completing an MSc, and partly because I’ve been starting work on some new projects which I’ll describe here soon. There are lots of interesting things to come in 2015, as will become clear soon…
As noted earlier, I’ll be at Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention being held in London in mid-August. I’ll be on a couple of panels, as per the following schedule. If you’re there, do come up and say hi!
When is a Fantasy not a Fantasy?
Thursday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 9 (ExCeL)
Many of the more liminal fantasies play with the idea of psychosis as a blurring the boundaries of the world (Megan Lindholm’s Wizard of the Pigeons, Steve Cockayne’s The Good People, Jo Walton’s My Real Children); many ‘mainstream’ novels present worlds built of dream, the afterlife, or metaphor. What determines whether something is a fantasy or not: authorial intent, genre signals, reader perceptions? How far should we accept characters’ own sense of the world, and when can we judge them as unreliable witnesses?
Miriam Weinberg (M), Greer Gilman, Paul Kincaid, Graham Sleight, Jonathan Strahan, Catherynne M. Valente
The Evolution of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
Friday 18:00 – 19:00, Capital Suite 13 (ExCeL)
The SFE is 35 this year, and is now in its third edition. This panel will discuss how the SFE came about, and how it has changed with the times. What are the processes that go into creating an encyclopedia, and what are the pitfalls? How has the transition to an online format shaped the third edition? And in what ways does its increasing internationalisation reflect transformations in the field at large?
Rick Wilber (M), Jonathan Clements, John Clute, David Langford, Graham Sleight(, Neal Tringham
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)
In a review of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, John Clute wrote, ‘It is not easy — it should not really be feasible — to write a tale set in twentieth century that is not a tale about the twentieth century.” A number of other recent books, including Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century, Christopher Priest’s The Adjacent, and Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century, are also ‘about’ historicising the near-past in this sense. How is the fantastic gaze operating on the twentieth century? Do we have enough distance to see it clearly yet?
Graham Sleight (M), John Clute, Peter Higgins, Elizabeth Hand, Christopher Priest
Looking Back On Anger: remembering 70s sf in the 21st century
Sunday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 4 (ExCeL)
Almost 30 years on from Jeanne Gomoll’s “Open Letter to Joanna Russ“, this panel will look at how the science fiction of the 70s is remembered today. Which works have stayed in the public eye, and which have faded away? Whose commentary still speaks to us, and what was the conversation like back then? What has proven to be problematic, and what remains unresolved?
Pat Murphy (M), Jeanne Gomoll, Lesley Hall, Christopher Priest, Graham Sleight
Regenerating the Closet
Monday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 4 (ExCeL)
In their classic incarnations, shows such as Star Trek and Doctor Who attracted substantial queer fanbases and uncountable fanworks that worked to queer the text — the latter discussed in one of this year’s Hugo nominees, Queers Dig Time Lords. Both franchises have been relaunched in the last decade. What do these new versions, products of a supposedly more tolerant time, tell us about changes (or lack of changes) in narrative and social expectations for queerness and queer characters?
Graham Sleight (M), Leo Adams, S. J. Groenewegen, Erin Horakova, Amal El-Mohtar
I’m just back from a great Readercon, and looking forward to going to Loncon 3, the World Science Fiction Convention, next month. I’ll be posting my Loncon schedule shortly, but in the meantime this is a quick post to say that I’ll be interviewing Geoff Ryman – author of The Child Garden, 253, Lust, and Was... (among others) for the BSFA on 30th July in London. Full details are here – admission is free and all are welcome.
I’ll be attending Readercon, just outside Boston, the weekend after next. It is, as it says, ‘an annual conference or convention devoted to “imaginative literature” — literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called “slipstream.”‘ – now in its 25th year. I’ll be appearing on several program items, as listed below. Do come along and say hello – and note particularly my solo talk at 2pm on Friday. They’ve put me in one of the bigger rooms, and it’ll be kind of embarrassing if it’s only me in there…
Thursday July 10
8:00 PM F Many Things Worry You, but Nothing Frightens You: Outgrowing Horror. Leah Bobet, Ellen Datlow, Elizabeth Hand (moderator), Kit Reed, Graham Sleight, Sonya Taaffe. In the Nightmare Magazine essay “The H Word: The Failure of Fear,” Dale Bailey wrote about enjoying horror despite no longer finding it horrifying. How does what scares us change as we age? How does horror written for children differ from horror written for adults? Can you outgrow horror, or are adults and children simply frightened by different things?
Friday July 11
12:00 PM CO Welcome to Readercon. Graham Sleight, John Stevens, Emily Wagner (moderator). Tropes, “reading protocols,” “the real year” of a book, “slipstream” fiction, “fantastika,” “intrusion fantasy”: Readercon panel blurbs (and hallway conversations) borrow vocabulary from a wide range of sources that new attendees may not have encountered. Veterans of other conventions may also be wondering where the costumes and filkers are. Readercon regulars and concom members provide a newcomer’s guide to Readercon’s written policies and well-worn habits as well as a rundown of our favorite critical… um… tropes.
2:00 PM G I’m a Believer. Graham Sleight. Graham Sleight discusses the question of belief in sf and fantasy. What do we mean when we say we find a story believable? How much do stories require or demand our belief? And how much do characters have to believe the stories they’re in? Authors mentioned include Jane Austen, John Crowley, Dante, Greer Gilman, M. John Harrison, Kelly Link, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Scalzi, and Jo Walton—as well as the theories of Brian Attebery, John Clute, Thomas M. Disch, and Farah Mendlesohn. Sleight’s scribbled notes for the talk also suggest that it will discuss Cecil and Carlos, branding theory, hard SF, the Hovercraft of Disbelief, Monty Python, and Matt Smith. Probably.
3:00 PM G Speculative Fiction and World War I. John Clute, Felix Gilman, Victoria Janssen (leader), Jess Nevins, Graham Sleight, Sonya Taaffe. On 28 July 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and World War I began. Hugo Gernsback had not yet named science fiction at the time, but proto-SF stories inspired by the war exist, many early SF writers would draw inspiration from their experiences of the wartime era, and alternate history stories of WWI are numerous. WWI had a tremendous effect on fantasy and horror stories as well, with surrealist, expressionist, and apocalyptic modes flourishing alongside tales of lost arcadias. Looking back 100 years later, how did WWI shape the readers and writers of speculative fiction and the genre as a whole?
7:00 PM F Storyability, Tellability, and Speculative Fiction. Judith Berman (leader), John Clute, Alex Jablokow, Tom Purdom, Graham Sleight. Graham Sleight’s Readercon 24 talk, “The Wrong Future,” tied Harvey Sacks’s concept of a scenario being storyable—something that can be told as a story, and is worth telling to others—to SF. Sleight cited the TARDIS and transporters as technology that make scenarios more storyable because they cut out all the “get this character from point A to point B” concerns, and suggested that space travel is storyable in a way that climate change, for example, is not—unless it leads to (or is escaped by) the singularity, which is. Which speculative scenarios are more or less storyable, and why? And how does Sacks’s companion concept of tellability—being entitled or permitted to tell a story—connect with speculative fiction’s focus on the protagonist, and with recent discussions on who gets to star in and narrate speculative works?
Saturday July 12
10:00 AM G Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled. Jonathan Crowe, Gavin Grant, Kate Nepveu, Graham Sleight, Gayle Surrette (moderator). In a 2013 review of Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed, Stephen King stated, “While I consider the Internet-fueled concern with ‘spoilers’ rather infantile, the true secrets of well-made fiction deserve to be kept.” How does spoiler-acquired knowledge change our reading of fiction? Are some books more “deserving” of going unspoiled than others? If so, what criteria do we apply to determine those works?
For the second consecutive time, I’ve served as a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards this year. The shortlist has just been announced. Needless to say, I think it’s a terrific selection, and that anyone who picks up one of the nominated works will find it rewards their attention.
…since I last posted. My excuses: I’ve been busy at work, with my MSc, and with a couple of other things that have to stay embargoed right now. At the moment, I’m also in the middle of the most intense reading period for the Shirley Jackson Awards. It’s my second year as a juror for these awards and, obviously, I can’t yet say much about the works I and my fellow jurors are looking at. I’m confident we’ll be able to announce some strong shortlists, though. My most recent writing assignment was, rather dauntingly, providing an introduction for a new Gollancz edition of James Tiptree Jr’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Since the book is probably my single favourite collection of short sf, it was a great honour to write this. The new edition is due out in July. Along with a few other introductions and short reviews, my big project this year is bashing into book form some of the reviews and essays I’ve written in the recent past. About which more anon…