Friday, November 13, 2015

On Statues, History and Community...

Let me make something absolutely clear. I will never tell someone what they should or should not be offended by.  I also feel that a larger,  more inclusive and welcoming tent is a better tent, and that any changes that make the tent more inclusive are generally good. Got it?  Good. I don't want anybody to misunderstand where I'm coming from, though Goddess knows someone probably fucking will.

Have you out there ever been really angry at Conservative right wingers in america?  Okay, let me refine the question. Have you ever felt uncomfortable critiziing the policies of the Obama Administration because the other people critizing him are raving fucking lunatics screaming about Muslim Manchirian Candidates and socialist FEMA trailers?  Seriously. Its hard to be a left leaning critic of the Obama Adminstration because MOST of his critics are fucking crazy, and you face the real danger of getting lumped in with the crazies.

I feel like that right now. Because I have an opinion on the relevance of the World Fantasy Award trophy, but the REASONS for that opinion have little in common with the kind of rabid culture-war/Sad Puppy/GamerGate confluence that has included grandstanding, bloviating, death threats and other horrible fucking things.

Most of the rhetoric from people opposed to changing the award statue do NOT seem to interested in talking about why a silly statue, based on a silly sketch by Gahan Wilson might be important or relevant to 21st century Fantasy literature.  Instead they want to behave like spoiled children who have had toy taken away from them.  Fuck you and all you spoiled, entitled fuck-ups who have derailed any meaningful conversation about this. You are the reason we can't have nice things.

And one of those nice things is the ability to have a conversation, to politely disagree, and to be willing to accept the choices made by others, even though you disagree with them. 

Your rhetoric, and your threats, and your animosity and resistance to change do nothing to make the Fantasy genre and the community that has grown up around it better, in any aesthetic or moral way.  You are all Cthulhu cultists who would rather destroy the world instead of seeing it change. You are the problem.

But there are always people like you. It is in your nature. And the rest of the world will move on, and you will fade into the night, and be remembered poorly, if at all.

The people I don't want to fade away are the people who created the world fantasy award.  They helped create something good and lasting and important to the broader literary community. I want the judges from years past, and the adminstrators, and the board members who have shepherded this unweildy mass of craziness from year to year, and decade to deacde to be remembered, and respected for their contributions to to the community.

And I would like their reasons for doing things, and the icons they chose, and the shit that was important to them to be remembered and respected in its proper context.

The first world fantasy convention was held in Providence, Rhode Island, as a tribute to HPL . The people who attended, and helped create the award were inspired by WEIRD fiction as much as it was by High Fantasy. "The Extruded Fantasy Product" craze had not yet come to dominate the publising industry, and the label "fantasy" was still a very big-tent label that encompassed all the "weird fiction"of the 20th century.

Some contemporary commentators don't see the connection between horror, and fantasy fiction, and that is just one more reason why this history should be remembered. I often hear "what does horror have to do with fantasy" and it is a conversation that I would like to see carried out in a respectful, wide ranging way -- contemporary weird fiction and horror fiction writers are a very important part of the Big Tent that I spoke of earlier. I hope in the wake of the currently ugliness, this important history... of the award, of the genre, and the people who created the award is not lost or dismissed.

Over the course of my professional career I have worked with and published the work of many people who were involved in the Fantasy community in the 70s, when this award was created. I invite anybody who has personal recollections of those conventions to contact me, publicly, or privately, and please share this history. 

I am not interested in getting into a shit-slinging contest with anybody. I am not interested in attacking this decision, nor the people who made it, nor the people who advocated for it. I'm intersted in the history of the Fantasy genre and the people who helped shape it. I would love to see a host of primarly source materials come to light. Convention reports and Convention histories. Fan histories. Writer's auto-biographies (published and unpublished) and their first hand observations. As anybody who attends world fantasy knows, it is a secrete carnival of folks who LOVE fantasy fiction, filled with circles within circles within circles. The world Fantasy convention that I go to is not the world fantasy convention that other people go to. And that is part of the magic. And this applies to the literature as well. The stuff that moves me may not be the stuff that moves others, but it is all part of a larger tradition.

These are the types of things that I would like everyone to remember. These are the types of conversations I would like people to have. The shit-slinging cultists who just want to destroy everything should be ignored until they fade into the night.  But don't let the productive and important conversations about our genre's history go away or be forgotten. Remembering and talking about this tradition honors the history of the genre and the people in it far better than a single face on an awards trophy.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Course topics: eras and themes

Chronological Examinations of Science Fiction:

Pre-pulp SF, and the early Gernsbeck Years
(Wells, shelly, Jules Verne, ??, Amazing)

Planetary Romance and the later pulp years
Burroughs. Burroughs Burroughs. EARLY FANDOM.

Golden Age of SF
Camble/astounding. House writers and the big 4. Camble ideas as written by various house writers (mirror themed novels). Non-astounding Golden Age material. Compare US to British in this era (very different mix. Also, Orwell, and non "genre" science fiction of era).  Serial Structure... or why those golden age novels are structured the way they are. Fix Ups.  Transitions from Fantasy markets to Science fiction markets (How Pern and Darkover became science fiction). Fandom.

The New Wave
Early Galaxy deviations from the golden age norm, and other new Wave Anticedents.  Feminist SF. New worlds/morchock and Harrison.  Changing standards of paperback publishing (more explicity sex allowed) and now that fueled the later half of the new wave period.  Again, not differences/similiarites in Britsh/American SF during this period. Fandom.

Gibson's first published shorty story, Fact Sheet Five, through the publicaction of Snowcrash, which offically ended the "cyberpunk" era. Cover some antecedents. (brunner?). 

Trends in Modern SF (The last 30 years):
New Space Opera, Dystopia, Steampunk, HardSF Renascence,  and other big fat reprint anthologies

Thematic and other ways to look at SF

Young Adult and juvenile Adventure Science Fiction:
 Tom swift to Heinlien to Suzanne Collins

Feminist Science Fiction Revolutions
The Language of the Night (Le Guin, 1979) and How To Suppress Women's Writing (Russ, 1983).

British Science Fiction Traditions and trends
Orwell, brunner and Ballard, with Whindim and others.  Banks. New Space Opera.

Utopian Traditions: advocacy vs observation
Early pre SF utopian Novels, Rand, KSR, etc etc 

Dystopian Literature
Brave New World, Orwell, brunner, ballard, Kim Stanly Robinson, Atwood, paolo.

Apocalyptic and post apocalyptic literature
M. P. Sheil, Walter Miller, The Road, Kim Stanley Robinson

 Alternate History
Turtledove to Kim Stanley Robinson. Steampunk.

Paradox of Other in Science Fiction literature
Disproportionately homogenous nature of Science fiction literature and fandom, and how this is at odds with its immigrant roots and thematic concerns. Writers of Color, and how minority writing communities view Science Fiction. Passing vs not passing (pseudonym)

How Science Fiction won the War and made itself irrelavant.
larger examination of science fictions influence and presence in other facets of popular culture, and how this impacted the literature of SF.

Science Fiction and Imperialism:
British and American science fiction. Steam Punk and Alternate history. Dystopian reflections on empires in decline.

Dying Earth Traditionns in SF
Hodgson, Jack Vance, Wolfe and beyond...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Survey of Science Fiction?

Every time someone comes into the bookstore and says they are teaching a class on Science Fiction, I get excited. And just about every time I talk to them, I end up sad and disappointed. Either they have a very narrow and skewed vision of what science fiction is, or they have very little real experience with science fiction literature, and probably know less than their students. 

I'm not trying to be catholic or anything... but words have meanings. Even words used to described science fiction.  When you say "Speculative fiction is real, and Science fiction is not..." I get concerned. When you say "Hard SF... Like Robert Heinlein" I get REALLY concerned.  I know there's plenty of back and forth discussions about terms and labels and meanings... but there are some very real, and useful classification systems that have proven to be valuable in creating a shared language to talk about science fiction, or have at the very least have been beneficial in terms of sparking debate and critical dialog.

So instead of bitching about the dearth of quality Science fiction course work out there, I'll try and do something about it.  I  am about to embark on a full set of course work and syllabus, modeled after various English lit programs, designed to convey a complete view of Science Fiction Literature..... A Science Fiction Certification program, if you will. Get this certificate and you should be able to confidently, and competently teach an Science Fiction class. Or at least argue about it online in a really well informed manner.

The beginnings of any English degree is usually the dreaded "Survey" Course:
British Lit 1600-1800, followed by British lit 1800 - 1920. Followed by Modern British Literature.  I'm sure all you English majors remember the bane of the Norton Anthologies, and the undergraduate reading lists...   Survey courses are usually not terribly exciting stuff...

Except... Most people don't have a sense of science fiction as a literature.  They have a sense of the pop culture and movie bits... but science fiction lit is mostly invisible...

First first stop is to gather together all of the "Written as text books" anthologies, and examine how and why they were organized.  I'm leery of a straight chronological overview...  its all well and good to start out with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne... but I don't think they are the best place to START talking about science fiction... The history and prehistory might be a good upper division specialty course, but I don't think it should be the first thing a modern reader with no genre experience should be presented with. Science fiction is a populist literature about the present.  It should be fun. Not dusty and dry and unrelated to the contemporary reader's life.

I remember when The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction first came out there was a huge outcry from SF grognards. "Where was Heinlein" and "This is focused to much on contemporary writers" where the two big complaints I remember.  Looking back, these two things seem to be one of the books strong points, and not weaknesses. (sorry Bob... its true... Your work doesn't age very well.  I'd slot Heinlein into two different SF courses:  "Golden Age"  and "Juvenile and YA SF")

Anyway... That's where I want to start... Anthologies that serve as a Survey of Science Fiction Literature:

  • There was The Norton Anthology of Science Fiction edited by Ursula K. Leguin.
  • There was Age of Wonders edited by David G. Hartwell
  • and There's the Weislian Anthology of Science Fiction edited by Arthur Evans and Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

Who else has attempted to create a "survey course" framework for Science Fiction, via Anthology?  I'd love to hear about any others out there... either contemporary, or older ones.... Getting a sense of the different frameworks to present the genre is what I'm looking for. Barring an actual anthology, I'd love to see course syllabi and reading lists from teachers who have attempted this on their own.

Please pass this query around, and make any recommendations in the comments or send me an email, if you prefer. Right now I'm focused on presenting SCIENCE FICTION... but I'll consider ancillary course work in Fantasy and horror fiction down the line. :)