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2017-09-28 10:00 am

In honour of National Poetry Day.

I pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave me birth;
Let me rest my eyes on the fleecy skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth
Let me breathe unrationed air again
Where there’s no lack or dearth

Let the sweet fresh breezes heal me
As they rove around the girth
Of our lovely mother planet,
Of the cool green hills of earth [...]

We rot in the molds of Venus,
We retch at her tainted breath.
Foul are her flooded jungles,
Crawling with unclean death.

We’ve tried each spinning space mote
And reckoned it’s true worth:
Take us back again to the homes of men
On the cool, green hills of Earth.

Rhysling, Blind Singer of the Spaceways, "The Green Hills of Earth" (1947)
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2017-09-25 08:34 am

New Book on Robert A. Heinlein

I think most people who used to follow me on LJ are now on facebook but I am cross posting just in case.

After my book on Heinlein went beyond a length that most academic publishers could manage (it may be around 500 pages) I decided to go with a Crowdfunding publisher called Unbound. They can keep the price down to affordable levels.

Of course I would love it if you bought the book:

ebook £12
ebook and hb £35

But what I really need is signal boosting. Please copy and paste.
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2014-08-20 08:17 am

My Loncon 3 report

If I don’t do this convention report now it won’t happen.

My convention was rather strange, in that it was very much confined to the space of the Exhibits Hall. That might sound dull but it really wasn’t. It was also strange in that for me the fun was in seeing everything I’d had in my head for two years come into place very physically. I had realised years ago that my mistake in theatre had been to get involved in performance. I should have gone in for direction, so much, much more fun and I hold by that now. For all I enjoyed my panels, the real joy of the convention began when Shana Worthen and I stood in that empty hall, the banners newly rigged, and realised it was ours.

Read more... )
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2014-01-26 04:23 pm

The Eight SFF Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism

The Eighth Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism will be held from Monday 11 August 2014 to Wednesday 13 August, immediately before Loncon 3, the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention.

We are pleased to announce that the venue will be the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, founded by Charles II in 1675, and the home of the Prime Meridian. This is across the Thames from the Excel site where Loncon3 will take place. Price: £200.

The tutors for 2014 will be:
Andy Duncan, Professor of English at Frostburg State University, Frostburg MD, winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Award and two World Fantasy Awards, and winner of the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.

Neil Easterbrook, Professor of English at the Texas Christian University, and a prolific reviewer and critic, whose monograph on China Miéville is due to be published in 2014.

K.V. Johansen, a Canadian writer of fantasy, science fiction, and children’s fiction, who has also published three books on the history of children’s fantasy. Her adult novel Blackdog was shortlisted for the Sunburst Award in 2012.

Please apply to Send a short piece of critical writing, and a one page cv. Deadline for Applications: February 28th 2014
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2014-01-15 09:55 pm
Entry tags:

Twelve Years a Slave (some thoughts).

As by the time I joined LJ I was no longer teaching American history, most of you probably don't know that I taught African American history (17th through the end of the 20th century) for almost a decade. My specialist period was 1880 to 1950 (the civil rights era everyone has forgotten) but I studied US and Carribbean slavery as an undergrad and taught it also.

Read more... )
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2014-01-12 12:14 pm

August in the UK--possibly a little too much to do?

It's beginning to look as if you could get a lot of bang for your buck if you decided to come to London for Worldcon. This is what I know is happening so far:

9th and 10th August: Nine Worlds Geekfest at the Raddison Heathrow:
11-13th August Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass. We are running late in advertising because the Greenwich Royal Observatory is hosting us and we haven't quite got it nailed down, but it will be happening.
14th-18th August Worldcon
20th August Bujold Conference, Anglia Ruskin Cambridge:
21st August: Irradiating the Object: M. John Harrison Warwick University (UK)
22nd-23rd August: SF/F Now (
22nd-24th August Shamrokon (the Eurocon):
5th-7th September British Fantasy Con:
5th & 6th September Diana Wynne Jones conference, Newcastle: (NB York and Newcastle are very close together so it’s possible to do both Fantasy Con and the DWJ conference).

If anyone fancies a marathon and wants help sorting out travel, drop me a note.
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2013-05-03 07:49 am

Personal update

On Monday I passed my 365th day at work. I haven't quite finished my probation as I still have to submit an application to the Higher Education Academy, but I am still happy, they seem to be happy with me, and the honeymoon period lasted an entire year which isn't bad going (it's going to end in the next two weeks when I have to tackle two awkward situations).

Every new year needs a goal, and in addition to:
1. finish a book
2. stage an exhibit hall at Worldcon

there is

3. Work life balance.

Despite 1 and 2 I am making progress on this and began as I mean to continue with celebratory drinks on Monday night, and skiving off this afternoon (I have a meeting in Greenwich this morning and I am not going back to the computer. I will of course compensate tomorrow when the weather is supposed to be poor.)

So, assuming you want to, how to get to see Farah:

If you are in Cambridge ask me about lunch, after work drinks, and early dinners. Anything that ends later than 9pm is tricky unless I'm not at work the next day. Tuesdays are often bad because I have 9am meetings the next day and that means a 6:10 train.

If you are in London, then it's Friday evenings (when I'm working from home most days) and the weekends. Assume I am writing most weekends but can be tempted if it's after 3pm.

*This is a diploma mill that has somehow achieved recognition among universities by presenting itself as a quality assurance/chartered institute/academic fellowship. See here: It accredits you as a "good" practioner by asking you to write an essay.
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2013-04-28 02:58 pm

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson (Clarke Awards-Women)

This is probably the most mentioned title from the submissions from women to the Clarke Award.

It's a lot of fun and had it been short listed it would have been a worthy nominee that would have led to even more discussion. It's set somewhere in Arabia*, and tells the story of a young hacker who accidentally develops a programme that can identify any user from the content, pattern and signature of their work; stories of djinn rescuing young men, subverting authority and making females pregnant come in to the book as well; and finally it's a fairy tale in which the boy rescues the princess but marries the girl next door. Along the way we get a quote from The Return of the Jedi and a cameo appearance from Aladdin's genie.

The problem is that it really does lurch from sf to fantasy and back: one minute we are developing computer code, the next we are in a moving alley way with lots of markets and shops (Diagon Alley anyone?) inhabited by Djinn. The sf sections feel very Jon Courtenay Grimwood (that's a good thing), the fantasy sections feel rather Holly Black (also a good thing). All of this is supposed to be connected by a very important and very old book that can be connected by some sort of coding exercise, but it never quite hangs together. The book is quite consciously an attempt to link two traditions (and both Eastern and Western characters indulge in crass generalisations about each other in an attempt to do this by both being wrong) and yet....

The book on the short list that Alif the Unseen is most like, is Harkaway's Angelmaker: both try to merge magic with science, but, although as a reader I actively prefer Alif, it is Harkaway who does a better job of subverting this particular genre borderland.

*With quite a lot of the orientalism that this implies, even while it tries to go beyond that.
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2013-04-28 10:15 am

Personal opinion on the Clarke books.

This is not a guess who is going to win, because it's the Clarke Award. The only time I ever managed to guess in advance I was a judge.

But my opinion and preference, for what's worth:

Read more... )
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2013-04-28 10:02 am

Ken MacLeod, Intrusion (Clarke Award)

I left this book until last because commenting is dead awkward: I read the rough draft for this as I have for Ken's books for a decade now, and I had more to do with it than I have with some of the others. Many of the arguments in the book about the oppressive potential of protectionist liberal feminism were grounded in ferocious discussions we've had over the years.

Having re read it this morning, I still think it's the best book Ken has written since Learning the World

Hope lives in a very near future Islington, where ante-natal care has become a reason to deprive women of a lot of freedom. Next on the list is a pill which protects children from lots of mild illnesses. There is a religious exemption but Hope doesn't qualify and has no intention of faking it. It doesn't help that her objections are nebulous and much more focussed on the issue of coercion than the pill itself. But when Hope resists in the face of increasing pressure, she finds she's become an "easy case to make an example of" and that she is now the focus of social workers, police, and professional resisters. It's a classic story of "little man encounters authority" and discovers the world does't work the way he thought it did. Except it's a woman. Of which more in a moment.

The book is set in one of the few future visions of Britain that I can recognise from where we are now: it's thoroughly multicultural, in a Haggis Pakora way*, in that this is no blended utopia, there is plenty of racism, institutional racism is rife and white folk can easily remain cheerfully oblivious of the experiences of their non-white friends.

The book passes the Bechdel test effortlessly: women have conversations with each other and they aren't about men or shoe shopping; it passes whatever the race version of this one is, in that non white people have conversations with each other about science and politics rather than about white people or about racism (tho there are a few of those).

It pays enormous attention to landscape, both physical and social, and it has a sly humour that keeps catching me off guard.

It has a few of Ken's trademark twitches, and a classic "huh?" kind of ending, but as he manages not to send cities into space, it's quite moderate by Ken's standards.

I like it a very great deal, in case that isn't clear.

*see Iain Banks, Whit
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2013-04-27 09:35 am

Chris Beckett, Dark Eden

Andre Norton style lost colony survival story in which young man sets out on a trek to find The Truth.

Good stuff:
descriptions of alien world;
sense of a language and culture dying;
worked through ideas on what happens genetically to a small colony;
modern high stakes ending.

Bad stuff:
girl-peer spends too much time thinking how very Different and Special, young man is*;
only two types of sex: vaginal for conceiving, anal for avoiding it, and it's all heterosexual**
I've read this story before, several times, so it's all in the execution.

If I were thirteen this is exactly the kind of book that would have got me hooked on science fiction.


One more Clarke book to go, Intrusion

* This might have worked with a significant age difference but they are depicted as the same age, and generally speaking, 15 year old girls regard 15 year old boys as jerks.
**I'm happy to accept that women don't want to make children in this society with men who have cleft palates because of the risk to their future children, but this seems to be a society without love-drive to idiotic sex, or without blow jobs for just fun, and even without circle jerks for un partnered sex. Maybe there is homosexuality but I was skimming by that point.
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2013-04-16 08:47 am

Peter Heller, The Dog Stars (Clarke book)


Man and Partner survive on their own with dog after major disease epidemic destroys America. They have an airplane. Eventually He Finds a Woman. She is a Doctor (so bloody useless then, what you want for community care is a nurse or midwife). A possible medication is found (VItamin D? G-d give me strength, that's not how disease works).

End of book.

Lyrical, elegiacally, delusional about the likelihood of lone v. communal survivors as US apocalyptic novels tend to be.

Sf? By definition, has to be, but written as classic YA introspection.

There is always one wtf? novel on the Clarke list, as sure is eggs is eggs. This is at least a beautifully written one.
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2013-04-12 08:38 am

How to budget a conference.

I've just received a conference proposal that is utterly reliant on grants to break even. As this is not the first I've seen recently, I post below a quick guide to how to cost your conference.

Add up:
Cost of travel and accommodation for speakers
cost of food and drink etc*
cost of room hire
cost of equipment hire
cost of printing/paper/pens

Divide by the number of people you expect to attend.

That figure is the base figure that you are going to charge *students*. For the "Regular" rate, you add on, how much is up to you.

This ensures your conference breaks even,** with a little to spare for extras.

You then go looking for financial support. If you get it, you can offer student bursaries.

*this can be just tea and coffee, or you might need to provide other meals if you are isolated. Cost a banquet separately as there are many reasons people might not want to go.
** my first conference made a loss because I'd set the standard rate at cost + £20, and then given a student discount of £20. The problem was that more than 50% of attendees were students.
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2013-04-10 07:04 pm

Nod by Adrian Barnes (Bluemoose) - Clarke Reading Project

This is “just” a cosy catastrophe, a story about what happens when people can no longer sleep and start to go slowly, inevitably, mad, told by one of the few people who stays awake. I started reading thinking “same old same old” and ended utterly gripped by the really impressive writing.

I can imagine this as a winner.
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2013-04-08 06:57 am

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

A quick catch up: I'm reading the Clarke List, the female writers not submitted, and a handful of perceived "near misses", and will do a long write up just before the awards on May 1st. You will find the original post here

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

I wanted to like this book a lot more than I actually did, because while the premise is sound, and some of the descriptions are stunning, I was constantly niggled at by the 1940s plot and a subtext that I really didn’t need.

There was also a certain "follow the man in the white hat" element to the plot: Swan (and the reader) just had to *believe*. There wasn't a lot of room left for skepticism.

Read more... )
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2013-04-05 09:52 am

Clarke Awards (trying not to break friends' pages)

One of the nice things that’s happened with the new job is time to read. Not enormous time, but more than I’ve had for awhile. Certainly enough to read twenty books.

I intend to read the Clarke list because as it happens, I’ve only read one of the nominees, and unless you read at least two thirds I don’t think you get to argue with the judges.

The books:
Nod by Adrian Barnes (Bluemoose)
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (Headline)
Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)

But given the arguments I thought I’d take a look at the submissions by women. I’ve been through the submission list, including those writers whose sex I didn’t know. I labelled them sf/f; sf; or fantasy. I won’t be reading the fantasy. If I put a book in this category it really is fantasy, I have given the benefit of the doubt where I could (at the bottom of this post you’ll see descriptions from Amazon).

Read more... )
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2013-04-04 05:28 pm

Clarke Awards (male short list)

Liz Williams gives a very good explanation (no, it is not a defence) here:

I just wanted to add: about eighteen months ago I asked on LJ which women had UK contracts for science fiction. The result was dismal. Where women did have contracts they were likely to be in YA, a genre I read but which often has aspects to it that weaken its sf (and I'm not talking about romance, but consequence: see The Inter-Galactic Playground for the argument if you care). A bunch of us realised that we were rapidly heading for a year in which there would be very few women eligible for the BSFA or Clarke awards.

i) we were right
ii) there are rather more books by women coming out next year in the major presses.

The more I've dug, the more I've come to think the issue is with the buyers. Go look at your local book shop and library. See if you can find any science fiction by a woman other than LeGuin. If you can't, ask them why not. Shops can claim market but a library is *obliged* to cater for you as a constituent.

I have no comment on the short list itself; I've read one, am mildly surprised about the absence of M John Harrison, and I've ordered the rest. Comments on the actual list later.
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2013-04-02 06:40 pm

Call for Chapters for an Edited Collection on The Female Hero in Modern Fantasy

Call for Chapters for an Edited Collection on The Female Hero in Modern Fantasy

I invite proposals for a collection of essays exploring the female hero as a distinct character type in modern fantasy, covering works published from the 1950s through the present. Although this study will focus on literature and film adaptations, interdisciplinary approaches are welcome and encouraged. The audience for this work includes scholars, students, and fans of fantasy genres.

This collection is under contract with McFarland and Company with publication scheduled for summer 2014.

This study aims to provide a multi-faceted and thorough look at an important character type in fantasy that only begins to demonstrate significant empowerment in the latter twentieth century. Authors will explore the nuances and implications of female heroism with a goal to contribute to the further evolution of the character type as well as to the critical study of fantasy. A major concern of this work will be the notion of power itself, as it is claimed or used by the female hero, as well as in how it is represented by and around her, and the ways in which her stories reflect contemporary notions of power/powerlessness for women, men, and society in general both within and outside the text.

This collection defines “modern fantasy” to include a variety of subcategories, including fairy tale, children’s fantasy, dark fantasy, science fantasy, the gothic, high and low fantasy, and magical realism. Likewise, “hero” has myriad meanings; we will work from a broad understanding of one who is not simply a protagonist but who risks her own well-being to benefit the greater good.
The book will be divided into sections each focusing on a type of female hero, broadly defined: “Pathfinders: Empowered Women of Medieval Romance and Fairy Tale”; “Underestimated Overachievers: Unlikely Female Heroes”; “Show Stealers: Female Sidekicks”; “Unwilling Do-gooders: Female Villains and Villain-Heroes”. These topics may be adjusted depending upon the essays that are accepted for publication. Please let me know if you would like clarification on any of these subheadings.
Chapters may focus on single or multiple authors and texts/series. Possible topics could cover texts by authors including but not limited to:

Suzanne Collins
Susan Cooper
Roald Dahl
Diane Duane
Neil Gaiman
Robin Hobb
Diana Wynne Jones
Tanith Lee
Ursula Le Guin
Madeleine L’Engle
George R.R. Martin
Anne McCaffrey
Robin McKinley
Stephenie Meyer
Tamora Pierce
Terry Pratchett
Philip Pullman
Rick Riordan
J.K. Rowling
Jonathan Stroud
Laini Taylor
Scott Westerfield
Jane Yolen

Submit a 2-page proposal (or a full-length essay if available) and a short biography as Word documents to Dr. Lori Campbell via email: or Queries are welcome at either address.

The deadline for proposal submissions is May 10, 2013.

All submissions must be original and previously unpublished. Please note that being invited to submit a full-length essay based on the proposal does not guarantee inclusion in the final publication. Based on the proposals, selected contributor candidates will be requested to submit their full-length essays of 7,000-12,000 words in MLA format. The editor will make all final decisions regarding publication on the merit of the full-length essays.

If your proposal is selected, your first draft of the full-length essay will be due by August 1, 2013.

About the Editor:
Lori M. Campbell, a lecturer in the Department of English and Film Studies Program at University of Pittsburgh, specializing in fantasy, children's literature, myth and folktale, and the gothic. Her book, Portals of Power: Magical Agency and Transformation in Literary Fantasy, was published by McFarland and Company in 2010. Her other publications include articles on J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Frances Hodgson Burnett, J.M. Barrie, Thomas Hardy, and William Morris, as well as introductions to new Barnes and Noble editions of classics by J.M. Barrie, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the Brothers Grimm.
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2013-03-30 10:55 pm

A matched set?

Well, not quite. But Edward and I are utterly delighted that the Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature has been nominated for this year's Hugo Awards.

Below is the list of all the contributors and chapters. Thank you all.

Introduction Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn
Part I. Histories:
1. Fantasy from Dryden to Dunsany Gary K. Wolfe
2. Gothic and horror fiction Adam Roberts
3. American fantasy, 1820–1950 Paul Kincaid
4. The development of children's fantasy Maria Nikolajeva
5. Tolkien, Lewis, and the explosion of genre fantasy Edward James
Part II. Ways of Reading:
6. Structuralism Brian Attebery
7. Psychoanalysis Andrew M. Butler
8. Political readings Mark Bould and Sherryl Vint
9. Modernism and postmodernism Jim Casey
10. Thematic criticism Farah Mendlesohn
11. The languages of the fantastic Greer Gilman
12. Reading the fantasy series Kari Maund
13. Reading the slipstream Gregory Frost
Part III. Clusters:
14. Magical realism Sharon Sieber
15. Writers of colour Nnedi Okorafor
16. Quest fantasies W. A. Senior
17. Urban fantasy Alexander C. Irvine
18. Dark fantasy and paranormal romance Roz Kaveney
19. Modern children's fantasy Cathy Butler
20. Historical fantasy Veronica Schanoes
21. Fantasies of history and religion Graham Sleight.