Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science fiction. Show all posts

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

CFP: Stage the Future: The First International Conference on Science Fiction Theatre

Saturday April 26, 2014
School of English, University of Royal Holloway

Keynote Speakers:
Jen Gunnels (New York Review of Science Fiction)
Dr. Nick Lowe (University of Royal Holloway)

Science Fiction Theatre doesn’t officially exist. You won’t find it listed as a sub-genre of either science fiction or theatre and you won’t find it on Wikipedia (though you will find a 1950s TV series with the same title – luckily, there is a theatre entry in the SF Encyclopaedia). Apart from that, there seems to be only one book on the subject so far, called “Science Fiction and the Theatre” and that was more than twenty years ago.

And yet Theatre itself was born out of the Fantastic. It began as a religious ceremony filled with metaphysical concepts and mythological beings, and it went on with fairy tales (especially as children’s theatre) and fantasy (see A Midnight Summer’s Dream, Faust, and many more), never denouncing its mystical roots. Even when it seemed to convert to Realism, it gave birth to the Absurd. Still one cannot help but notice that, though its performance has undergone major changes in the digital era, thematically theatre seems hesitant to take the next big step and follow cinema and literature to the science-fictional future.

This is strange because there have been many science fiction plays, some of them quite important in the history of theatre. Consider Beckett’s Endgame and its post-apocalyptic setting. Consider Karel ńĆapek who actually coined the term “Robot” in his science-fiction play “R.U.R.”, recently added to Gollancz’s “SF Masterworks” series. Consider even Rocky Horror Show and the Little Shop of Horrors.

But in the end, even if there was none of the above, even if there had been no robots, aliens or demigods in theatre so far, now would be the time for them to dominate the stage. In the age where real robots are sent to Mars, in the age of Star Wars, Avatar and the Matrix (and so many superhero films every year), theatre cannot stay behind.

This conference is the first of its kind and hopes to raise awareness of the need for a new theatre that is already here; a theatre that has its roots in the past and its eyes on the future.

This event aims to bring together scholars, critics, writers and performers for the first international academic conference on Science Fiction Theatre. Papers are welcome on any topic related to speculative theatre. Topics might include, but are not limited to:

-Depictions of future times
-Utopia and Dystopia
-Proto-science-fiction in theatre
-Ancient Speculative Theatre (Prophets, Monsters, Gods)
-Theatrical adaptations of science fiction novels and films
-Science and Theatre
-Science and the Human
-Performing the Non-Human and the Post-Human
-Temporality, SF and Theatre
-Dramaturgical Analysis of the Unknown
-Space Opera and Science Fiction Opera
-Theatre and the Weird
-Other fantastical theatres (Horror, Fantasy, Supernatural)

The conference welcomes proposals for individual papers and panels from any discipline and theoretical perspective. Please send a title and a 300 word abstract for a 20 minute paper along with your name, affiliation and 100 word professional biography to the conference convenors by 28 February 2014.

The conference is organised by Christos Callow, PhD candidate, Department of English, University of Lincoln and Susan Gray, PhD candidate, Department of English, University of Royal Holloway.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

CFP: Caietele Echinox/Echinox Journal - Fantasy and Science Fiction

Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Caietele Echinox
Volume 26 (2014)

Caietele Echinox/Echinox Journal is a biannual academic journal in comparative literature, dedicated to the study of the social, historical, cultural, religious, literary and arts imaginaries. It is edited by Phantasma, the Center for Imagination Studies of the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania. It is accredited by ERIH (European Research Index for the Humanities – NAT) and CNCS (The Romanian Nacional Council for Scientific Research) and indexed in EBSCO Publishing, CEEOL (Central and Eastern European Online Library), MLA International Bibliography and FABULA.

The possibility to build other worlds, different from those we live in, is emphasised in two important streams of modern literature: fantasy and science-fiction. Fantasy literature became famous in the second half of the 20th century. Developing the theoretical hallmark set by J. R. R. Tolkien in his essay “On Fairy-Stories” (1947), researchers like C. N. Manlove, W. R. Irwin, Eric S. Rabkin, Roger C. Schlobin, Brian Attebery, Rosemary Jackson, Kathryn Hume, and more recently Lucie Armitt and Farah Mendlesohn tried to define this type of literature, by establishing its historical and cultural roots, and disclosing fictional/ rhetorical/ imaginary mechanisms that enable the construction of “secondary worlds” (in Tolkien’s own words). There are still questions that need answers and any theoretical contribution and attempt to clarify concepts in this field are welcome. How do space and time function in fantasy fiction? Which methods and concepts work best to interpret this type of fiction? How far can we go to establish its roots? How did the narrative structure of fictions about possible and impossible worlds change throughout time? What kind of relationship can emerge between fantasy literature, the digital environment that creates alternative worlds, and the filmic portrayal of well-known stories such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Neverending Story, Harry Potter, and so on? What relevance does fantasy literature have for the modern and postmodern individual?

In what concerns the science-fiction literature, the call envisages papers focusing both on different subgenres of SF and on the borderline works between SF and other genres. The first category includes articles that discuss and analyse works by the so called ‘Hard SF’ authors (such as, but not limited to, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, David Brin, Gregory Benford, Hal Clement or Stephen Baxter), ‘soft’ and social SF that revolve around themes connected to economics, social sciences, political science, psychology and anthropology (Arthur C. Clarke, The Strugatsky Brothers, Stanislaw Lem, Janusz Zajdel), utopian / dystopian fiction (developed by or related to George Orwell, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Doris Lessing, Aldous Huxley or Karel Capek), Cyberpunk, Biopunk, Steampunk and Dieselpunk fiction (William Gibson, Steve Stiles, Bruce Sterling, Neil Stephenson, Pat Cadigan, and others), feminist SF (Ursula Le Guin or Margaret Atwood), time travel narratives similar to those written by H.G Wells, military SF (John Ringo, David Drake, David Weber or S.M Stirling), uchronias and alternate history novels (Ward Moore, Philip K. Dick or Murray Leinster), superhuman or apocalyptic Science-Fiction (Olaf Stapledon, A.E van Vogt, George R. Steward or Ridley Walker) or Space Opera (L. Ron Hubbard, Edward E. Smith or Joss Wheedon). Bordeline SF includes horror stories by authors that have incorporated in their narratives science fictional elements (such as Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley or Edgar Allan Poe), works that combine SF with fantasy elements (Ann McAffrey), or with mystery (Kurt Vonnegut and others).

Deadline: January 1, 2014
Please follow Echinox Style Sheet

Send your papers to Corin Braga

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Review: Monk Punk, ed. by A.J. French (Pill Hill Press, 2011)

I was offered a copy of this short story anthology to review for another website, and I must say I was sold just on the title. The -punk suffix is fairly ubiquitous now: since cyberpunk, we’ve had steampunk, clockpunk, dieselpunk, biopunk, golempunk, the list goes on. ‘Monkpunk’ as a concept seemed to promise something new, but yet also something I’d seen before in the many diverging medieval representations of monks, in the contemporary texts inspired by them (like Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, to give an obvious example), but also in texts inspired by Buddhist monasticism and Eastern spirituality.

The introduction to the collection, which was written by D. Harlan Wilson, addresses this converging newness and oldness, while also raising another important paradox in the name. In exploring the histories of the terms ‘punk’ and ‘-punk’, Wilson points out that they have consistently been associated with the transgressive, but also with specifically externalized transgression. This is a distinct contrast with the internalized world of the ‘monk’. He writes:
‘The ascetic life of a monk might qualify as transgressive and brutal in itself, if only in its deviation from social norms, its wilful introversion, its maintenance of certain ideological values, and its repudiation of basic Darwinian instincts. In the broader spectrum, however, monks mind their own business, whereas punks, by force or will or submission, make other people’s business their own.’ (p. 1)
This juxtaposition fascinates me, as does the notion of the ‘wilful introversion’ of the monk as a transgressive act, and, again, it reminded me of a number of medieval narratives and images of monks. Wilson’s introduction went on to promise great things of the Monk Punk collection: it is, he states, ‘the latest, newest trajectory in the evolving foray of Beat literature. It harnesses the energy and the logos of its forerunners. And it carves out a singular line of flight.’ (p. 3) These are big claims for a small press short story collection! However, I was more than happy to jump in and see whether it lived up to them.

Before I turn to the stories themselves, a final word on Wilson’s introduction. I loved the way the line between passionate reader and academic critic was blurred in this piece, particularly in the way Wilson presented his introduction almost as a manifesto. At times, though, some balance was lost, and some parts tended towards being a little too pretentious and overblown for my tastes (I don’t think a sentence is really improved by the phrase ‘sans the drumming of Nietzschean hammers’, for instance). The style and tone is not for everyone, and is quite unusual in a collection of this sort, but my overall impression was that it worked as both as an introduction to a book, and an introduction to a concept.

There are 23 stories in Monk Punk, mostly by emerging writers (some are first publications). Story settings range from the UK to the Himalayas, from Asia to Outer Space. The stories take place in a variety of time periods, from the Middle Ages to the distant future.

Highlights of the collection for me were R.B. Payne’s ‘The Key to Happiness’ (though this was more to do with the recasting of an old monster in a new guise, rather than the presentation of the monk), Mark Iles’s ‘The Cult of Adam’ (a brilliant premise, though let down a little by some rather clunky exposition) and George Ivanoff’s short but memorable ‘The Last Monk’ (a rather haunting story of someone who survives the apocalypse).

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed these stories and they were, to an extent, fresh and original, the collection itself is a bit of a let-down. It certainly didn’t live up to the high promises of D. Harlan Wilson’s introduction.

Broadly speaking, the collection is divided on Eastern/Western lines. On the one hand, we have Buddhist(-esque) monks, who usually live alone in contemplative spiritualism, but who display deadly martial arts skills when called upon. On the other, we have Christian(-esque) monks, who form cultish, cloistered brotherhoods, prone to ritualistic behaviour, conspiracy and (on occasion) sacrifice. The problem with Monk Punk in general is that it rarely moves beyond this, and the stories begin to feel a little same-y. I had some trouble differentiating the solitary-Eastern-monk-with-badass-fighting-skills stories (of which there are six), as they trod very similar ground. Similarly, the cultish Western monks – who variously worship fish deities, refuse to let recruits leave their circle, sacrifice children, carry out violent initiation ceremonies and conjure/fight demons – are repetitive.

In the latter case, I had a couple of other problems too. I’ll admit one of these is down to my own personal taste – the (apparently unending) influence of H.P. Lovecraft is fairly obvious throughout this collection, particularly in the recurrence of water gods and fish-worshippers. I’m afraid I’m in the minority of people who don’t think fish-people and squid gods are particularly frightening or creepy, and so I tend to find the Lovecraftian deep a little silly. More significantly, however, I also found that some of the ‘Western’ stories lacked the background knowledge needed to convince me of their setting. Some small slips were made in a couple of the stories – a bible verse is misattributed, for instance – but bigger issues can also be found. For example, a small group of twelfth-century monks renounce Christ and worship a water deity: this is described as ‘heresy’ and results in ‘one of the biggest religious trials in history’. As a medievalist, this seemed a little unbelievable to me – there is no way this tiny group of blaspheming (not heretical) men would have overshadowed the politically and culturally threatening crowds of Templars and Cathars that were tried in this period.

Technical details aside, some of the stories attempted something beyond the Eastern/Western binary, with differing degrees of success. The more sci-fi inspired stories tended to take ‘monkpunk’ to other planets, with alien cults, gods and monsters appearing in a number of the stories. Elsewhere, Gayle Arrowood’s ‘Capital Sins in a Dominican Monastery’ offered a more comedic take on monastic life, which was a refreshing change of pace. Sean Monaghan’s ‘Suitcase Nuke’ was a hard-boiled tale of secret agents and terrorists (though the monastery setting seemed something of an afterthought, and Monaghan’s tale was the only one in the book that probably would have worked just fine without the monks). Unfortunately, the only story that attempted to focus on a religion other than Buddhism or Christianity – ‘Nasrudin: Desert Sufi’ by Barry Rosenberg, which tells the story of a colonial explorer who meets a Sufi guru – was marred by racist and misogynist caricature, which made it rather unpalatable.

‘Monkpunk’ as a concept still holds my attention. I will continue to list Eco’s Name of the Rose amongst my favourite books. And there are some stories in the Monk Punk collection that have done justice to the fascinating theme. Overall, though, the collection lacked the originality and energy promised by both the title and the introduction. The jury is still out on whether or not ‘monk’ really can be a ‘-punk’, I’m afraid.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

CFP: 8th Global Conference: Visions of Humanity in Cyberculture, Cyberspace and Science Fiction

Thursday 18th July–Saturday 20th July 2013

Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom

Call for Presentations:

This inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary project aims to explore what it is to be human and the nature of human community in cyberculture, cyberspace and science fiction. In particular, the project will explore the possibilities offered by these contexts for creative thinking about persons and the challenges posed to the nature and future of national, international, and global communities.

Presentations, papers, performances, and workshops are invited on issues related to any of the following themes:

- the relationship between cyberculture, cyberspace, science fiction
- cyberculture, cyberpunk and the near future: utopias vs. dystopias
- technologies of the future today: equality and access
- science fiction and cyberpunk as a medium for exploring the nature of persons
- humans and cyborgs; the synergy of humans and technology; changing views of the body
- human and post-human concepts in digital arts and cinema
- digital artistic practices and aesthetics
- mobile media, place and the telematic body
- bodies in cyberculture; body modifications; from apes to androids
– electronic evolution; biotechnical advances and the impact of life, death, and social existence
- artificial intelligence, robotics and biomedia: self-organization as a cultural logic
- gender and cyberspace: new gender, new feminisms, new masculinities
- cyberculture of virtual worlds and videogames
- interactive storytelling, emergent narratives, transmedia storytelling, alternate reality games
- nature, enhancing nature, and artificial intelligence; artificial life, life and information systems
- networked living in future city, new urban lifestyles
- human and post-human politics; cyborg citizenship and rights; influence of political technologies
- boundaries, frontiers and taboos in cyberculture

The Steering Group particularly welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. Papers will also be considered on any related theme.

What to Send:

300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 8th February 2013. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 10th May 2013. Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to both Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract, f) up to 10 key words

E-mails should be entitled: VISIONS8 Abstract Submission.

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Joint Organising Chairs:

Daniel Riha 

Rob Fisher 

The conference is part of the ‘Critical Issues’ series of research projects run by Inter-Disciplinary.Net. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and challenging. All papers accepted for and presented at the conference are eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers may be invited to go forward for development into 20-25 page chapters for publication in a themed dialogic ISBN hard copy volume.

For further details of the conference, please click here

Please note: Inter-Disciplinary.Net is a not-for-profit network and we are not in a position to be able to assist with conference travel or subsistence.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Jack Williamson, Darker Than You Think (1948; Gollancz, 2003)

Last year, in one of the discussion sessions at our conference on female werewolves, the keynote speaker (Prof. Peter Hutchings) mentioned a piece of 'classic' werewolf fiction that has been sadly overlooked in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries - Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think. Hutchings' description of the book's content and genre sparked a lot of interest. He mentioned that the book had been out of print for several years, but had recently been reissued. I remember predicting that sales of the new edition would probably go up immediately following the conference - and, though I don't know about any of the other delegates, I certainly went out and immediately bought a copy.

Embarrassingly, despite buying the book last September, I have only just found time to read it. Mea culpa. But I've now read it, and here is my review!

Williamson's novel, first published in 1948, tells the story of Will Barbee, a former student of Dr. Lamarck Mondrick (an anthropologist/palaeontologist/archaeologist, with a background in psychiatry - bear with me on this one!) who is currently working as a journalist. The novel begins with Barbee arriving at an airport to cover the return of Mondrick and his team, who have been researching 'something' in Asia for the past two years. As he waits for the plane to land, he meets a mysterious young woman named April Bell, who is also apparently a journalist.

Immediately intrigued, attracted and frightened by April, Barbee begins to get a feeling of foreboding. As he surveys the families of Mondrick and his team, this feeling grows. Sure enough, when Dr. Mondrick arrives, the professor begins to make a startling announcement about a shocking discovery... and then promptly dies. This begins a series of frightening events, as Barbee becomes more closely involved with April Bell and slowly learns the truth of Mondrick's discoveries. As the title of the book suggests, the truth is "darker than you think".

The first chapter of the novel is entitled "The Girl in White Fur". The first description of April Bell reads as follows:

"She looked as trimly cool and beautiful as a streamlined electric icebox.
She had a million dollars' worth of flame-red hair. White, soft, sweetly
serious, her face confirmed his first dazzled impression - that she was
something very wonderful and rare. She met his eyes, and her rather large
mouth drew into a quick pleasant quirk." (p. 1)

It shouldn't be too difficult for you to guess what sort of creature April Bell is. If I add that dogs growl at her, she has an aversion to the silver jewellery worn by Rowena Mondrick and that she carries a bag with a kitten in it (the second chapter of the book is called "The Kitten Killing"), I don't think there is much room for doubt.

Sure enough, it is soon apparent that April is intent on leading Barbee into the world of "lycanthropy" (or, as is probably more accurate, shapeshifting). Much of the presentation of lycanthropy in Williamson's book will be familiar to fans of werewolf fiction. In 'were' form, Barbee and April speak of being "free", enjoying human blood and hunting, are nocturnal and murderous. Barbee's first transformation is somewhat painful, but it becomes easier and more desirable. As noted, the sexual allure of the female werewolf is made apparent throughout the book.

However, though Williamson's presentation of lycanthropy is (in some ways) a standard one, there are some interesting to note about Darker Than You Think. Firstly, and most obviously, the book is a very early example of this 'standard' representation. We might all know a lot of the tropes Williamson employs, but this is a result of the vast swathes of fiction that has come since (some of which has been influenced by Williamson's book directly, but not all).

Secondly, the novel's genre is quite difficult to define. The opening chapters have a noirish quality, with the hardbitten reporter meeting the femme fatale and getting drawn into a dangerous mystery - it should come as no surprise that Will Barbee drinks way too much whisky! Elsewhere, the book feels more like what is now known as urban fantasy, with episodes that read like science fiction, science fantasy and psychological thriller. For instance, the explanation of the mechanism of lycanthropy draws heavily on theoretical physics - though this may seem somewhat dated for those with a background in science - as well as on more traditional ideas of the animal 'spirit'.

I will confess, some parts of Williamson's novel left me less than enthused. The reason for this was that I felt that too much had been explained too soon. April offers Barbee a fairly lengthy explanation of her own circumstances early in the novel, as well as the 'scientific' explanation of lycanthropy. She tells him about the murders and why they must happen, and (apparently) what the strange box Mondrick has brought from Asia contains. Barbee's attempts to come to terms with this, and his vacillations between his 'human' nature and his murderous lycanthropy take up a large part of the novel.

However, what I wasn't prepared for was how much Williamson holds back until the final chapters of the novel. The final 'reveal' is most definite worth waiting for. Though the novel appears to be about the mystery of who the "Child of Night" actually is - and I must confess, I did work that out - what is really worth waiting for is the final 'tying together' of all the strange threads of the novel - Mondrick's research, his strange wife, the references to palaeontology, archaeology, psychiatry and physics, and the strange box that has returned from the expedition.

And I'll say no more on what that explanation is, as I think the book is well worth reading for that alone. The characters may be a little dated and cliched, and the plot a little far-fetched in places, but the final 'solution' and the novel's ending are certainly unlike most things you will find in a werewolf book. At the risk of sounding a little trite, lycanthropy in Williamson's novel really is "darker than you think".

On the back of the 2003 Gollancz paperback edition, Douglas E. Winter describes Darker Than You Think:

"It is arguably the best, and certainly the best remembered, American novel about lycanthropy."

I'm not sure I necessarily agree with this assessment, but I would certainly suggest that Williamson's novel is a must-read for any fans of werewolf fiction, and April Bell certainly belongs on a list of fascinating female werewolves.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Two Horror Film Festivals for October

We'll be absolutely spoilt for horror films this October.

First up... The Bram Stoker Horror Film Festival runs in Whitby from the 14th-17th October. Featuring 'independent narrative features, documentaries and shorts from around the world', this festival promises to offer films that you may not have chance to see elsewhere, including some world premieres. In addition to this, awards will be given in several categories.

As well as the films, there will be some pretty impressive special guests, a Hammer exhibition, talks and a Vampires' Ball on Saturday 16th October. And, of course, the whole thing takes place just yards away from where the Demeter ran aground (and spiritual home of all goths) - Whitby.

There are a few different passes and ticket options available on their website, and (if you don't fancy the films) tickets can be bought separately for the Vampires' Ball.

And if that's not enough...

Grimm Up North! Manchester's Premier Horror and Sci Fi Festival is returning for its second year. Running 28th-31st October at The Dancehouse in central Manchester, this festival features films, talks and special guests (including Ramsey Campbell and Christopher Priest).

Among the films already announced are Reel Zombies and Alien vs. Ninja. Visit their website and sign up for the newsletter to find out more.

Again, there are a variety of ticket options, including a few early-bird passes that allow you to save up to £40 on tickets.

(I should add that we are quite big fans of Grimm Up North! here at She-Wolf, as they've been really supportive while we've been getting the project off the ground.)

So between the two festivals, you should be able to get enough frights to keep you awake for most of November. Enjoy.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Oxfam Manchester Sci Fi/Horror/Fantasy Event

The lovely people at Oxfam Manchester have sent me details of an event they are running that might be of interest to some. Funnily enough, it's being held at the shop that I used to manage before I left the world of charity retail for academia. Sometimes, it's a very small world.

Manchester Oxfam is holding a FREE science fiction/fantasy/horror event at the
Oxfam Emporium, 8-10 Oldham Street, on Thursday, July 8, from 6-8pm. We have debut Manchester horror novelist Tom Fletcher, Dr. Who writers Paul Magrs and Steve Lyons and and feminist sci-fi writer Gwyneth Jones all reading, there will be a sci-fi quiz, music, drinks and refreshments, and an informal Q&A. Cos play is encouraged with a prize for the best costume. For more information email Emma Cooney or call 0161 273 2019.