Monday, December 05, 2005

SF and the sublime

Romanian Foundation contributor CORNELL ROBU has published a book developing ideas in his essay "A Key to Science Fiction: the Sublime" (Foundation 42: Spring 1988). The book, O chiee pentru science-fiction is published by Casa Cartii de Stiinta, Cluj-Napoca. Robu identifies the ideas of the sublime from Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant -- infinity, immensity, "delightful horror" -- as a key to science fiction's "sense of wonder".

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Forthcoming conference

The Founding Conference of the British Society for Literature and Science

Proposals for 20-minute papers are invited for the founding conference of the British Society for Literature and Science. The conference will be held at the University of Glasgow from 24-26 March 2006. Papers may address topics in the interactions of literature and science in any period. Presenters need not be based in UK institutions.

Proposals are on any topics are welcome, but we would especially encourage proposals reflecting on methodological questions (particularly questions of history and historicisms) or on how this interdisciplinary field can benefit by broadening or redefining its disciplinary base, for example by considering what the sociology of science can bring to science and literature studies. We also invite panel proposals for three papers of 20 minutes; members of the panel should be drawn from more than one institution.

Please send an abstract of no more than 400 words (or in the case of a panel, abstracts for each paper) to Dr Alice Jenkins, Department of English Literature, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ or, by 30 November 2005. If using email, please send abstracts in the body of messages; do not use attachments. In sending hard copy, please include an anonymous proposal and a cover sheet giving contact details.

Please send any queries to Dr Alice Jenkins at the postal or email addresses above.

Dr Alice Jenkins
Department of English Literature
University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ
0141 330 5699

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Memories of the Worldcon in Glasgow seem to be fading (maybe it was the Finnish party, subsidised by Finlandia vodka), but the convention turned out to be one of the best events in years. There was a strong showing at the Science Fiction Foundation table, where two books were launched: Christopher Priest: the Interaction edited by Andrew M. Butler and Parietal Games: Critical Writings by and on M. John Harrison edited by Mark Bould and Michelle Reid ("Foundation Studies in Science Fiction", 5 & 6). This proved even stronger when Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn won a Hugo for "best related book" for the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (Cambridge University Press) -- see photos above).

Other British Hugo winners were Susanna Clarke (Best Novel : Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell),Charlie Stross (Best Novella), Sue Mason (Best Fan Artist),David Langford (Best semi-pro magazine: Ansible, David Langford (again) (Best Fan-Writer, and the Plokta Cabal (Best Fanzine). The Special Interaction Committee Award (not a Hugo Award)went to David Pringle, former editor and publisher of Interzone.The "Big Heart Award" (a kind of "services to fandom" award, was jointly awarded to Walter Ernsting, John-Henri Holmberg and Ina Shorrock: I'm particularly pleased about the last as Ina is a friend and one of the founders of the Liverpool group of the 1950s.

Ina Shorrock

Some other photos:

Would you award a Hugo to this man? Edward James at the Voyager party. (right)

French writer Jean-Claude Dunyach

Jon Courtenay Grimwood: the only man who managed to look cool at the Voyager "Pirate Party" (right).

The Hugo Winners, 2005

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

From Alien (environments) to The (Glasgow) Matrix

A journey across the Atlantic to the Science Fiction Research Association conference in Las Vegas last month and the forthcoming (I leave tomorrow) World SF Convention in Glasgow has meant comparatively little time for blogging, but I've managed to get some more links up on the to Hub. I was chagrined when the server fell apart last week (it now appears to be better -- thanks, Rob!) but I was secretly pleased when several people actually noticed that the Hub was down.

Las Vegas was like everyone told me it would be -- "there's no there there"; "24-hour gambling hell"-- but it still surprised me my first experience of Las Vegas was the rain. This is meant to be the Nevada desert, yet I step out of the airport to feel raindrops falling on my head and lightning flashes in the hills. I ended up standing beneath an Eiffel Tower in the rain, wondering which city I was in. It felt like the time I caught a cold in the Peruvian rainforest . . .

But evidence that I have been thinking of sf: Roz Kaveney's interesting new book on sf film is reviewed below.

Roz Kaveney, From Alien to The Matrix: Reading Science Fiction Film (I. B. Tauris, 2005: 208pp, £9.95, ISBN 1-85043-806-4)

In From Alien to the Matrix, Roz Kaveney does two things, and does both of them uncannily well. The first is a theoretical defence of what she calls the “geek aesthetic” in considering sf films (and by extension, any popular art form). By this, she means both the “active consumption” of an art form – the simple but oft-overlooked fact that “sitting through films and television shows can be the start of appreciating them, not simply an end in itself – and the “hobbyist” nature of the means of production of many of these artefacts, which begins with many of their creators starting off as fans and the creative fan-cultures which centre around phenomena like fan-fiction. Films, and particularly sf films, says Kaveney, are “thick texts”: products not just of the creative process which makes them but “all stages of that process . . . like scars or vestigial organs”. Unlike many people who write about sf film (but by no means all: this is not a knee-jerk reaction against critics of the field) Kaveney is versed in wider aspects of science fiction and sf fandom and understands/is part of/forms its collegiate nature. When she remarks that sf film is not only often about Big Dumb Objects but is itself a kind of Big Dumb Object she is the person who invented the term. And when she goes on to dissect particular cinematic texts, which is the second and longest part of the book, it is as critic and fan noting how these texts work and why, and how and why, in some particular cases, they don’t work.

And she does this with wonderful skill and wit. This is a book which needs to be read as an object lesson in how to consider a science fiction film.

Kaveney considers, for example, why Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers doesn’t work as what Vehoeven seems to think it is (a satire) because it is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of Heinlein’s novel; and why the Trek-located satire of Galaxy Quest works (because it is based upon an understanding of the strengths of fictions like Star Trek as well as their parodiable aspects). A chapter on invasion films moves from The War of the Worlds and The Thing to Mars Attacks and Signs and covers a large amount of territory in a comparatively small space to examine the way this once-powerful theme seems to have worn out. Another chapter on comedy looks at the way the idea of the “robot” is used in Dante’s Small Soldiers, while the following two chapters consider the idea of “cognitive dissonance” in films that question ideas of identity, especially Dark City and the less-depth-but-more-style The Matrix and its sequels: it would have been interesting, although a digression, to have seen Kaveney on the several books which have claimed The Matrix as a work of philosophical or religious interest. The rest of the book pulls some of the ideas discussed so far together and develops them along with the idea of “creation as product” to consider the “franchise” films, which share, in one respect, sf’s “collegiality” but in another respect are almost at the other pole.

Sf’s ideas, says Kaveney, have “hinterland”. They are passed along in an ongoing dialogue between writers and readers (and writers and writers: and readers and readers). The hinterland of sf film tends to be film rather than sf – “Most filmed SF fails to work as SF simply because it lacks contact with a broader context of influence” – and even here much sf film, suggests Kaveney, avoids dialogue with other cinematic genres (the noir and Hitchcockian suspense film may be an exception). She wonders whether the “franchise” film such as the Star Wars series, which sets up its own background, could be an exception, but despite the vast amount of fannish exegesis and enthusiasm finds that this is not the case. Here, I think, is the most interesting part of the book. Kaveney takes us through the sequence and shows how George Lucas fails to engage with his source material in any radical or even interesting way. (Kaveney is silent about Joseph Campbell and the “monomyth” for, I think, good reason: if a mythic “universal” is present in a text that says nothing at all about how interestingly or effectively that universal is presented: something many writers on Star Wars have overlooked in their enthusiasm.) In more depth, and with more attention to detail Kaveney considers the “Alien” quartet as one of the comparatively rare cinematic sf sequences that do possess a “hinterland”, where changes in the sequence become a dialogue with previous versions rather than attempts to tie up loose ends. Direction, acting, sets, script and cinematic technique all play their parts, as do the theoretical stances on questions like gender and sexuality which we bring to bear as we “read” the character of Ripley as she changes throughout the series.

Kaveney herself approaches the films she analyses as (if you like) a fan. That is, she is watching these films because she likes them, or hopes to like them, or finds them interesting. She is knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and communicates this knowledge and enthusiasm. You come out of the book knowing a lot more than when you started it, but never feeling that reading it is a substitute for seeing the films: instead, what you want to do is rush to the video and watch the films again in the light of what she shares. But as she writes with the best of fannish verve so she writes with the best of academic engagement. This is a jargon-free zone and, apart from a few glitches which read like sentences in need of repair, wonderfully reader-friendly. In short, this is a book which will be enormously helpful to people studying sf film, but will also be a sound and friendly companion to those for whom a science fiction film is a Saturday night in with a six-pack and a few friends.

Andy Sawyer, July 2005

Monday, July 04, 2005

Photos of the Hub Launch

Left: Brian, Stephen and Ramsey.
Right: Brian Aldiss reading his poem.

An alternative account of the Hub project: all these poets!

Ballad of The SF Hub

Andy Sawyer.
(Who is really, really sorry. He couldn’t help it . . .)

When thinking how to launch the Hub
We thought “How would it go?”
Would anyone be interested?
Would anybody show?
And even if it all went well,
Would anybody know?

Let’s call in Ramsey Campbell,
He knows a trick or three,
On how to work an audience
Convulsed with chills, or glee.
And he has sent his archive
To gather dust with we.

Let’s invite some stellar names,
It only is polite.
They may not even want to come,
But anyway they might.
But don’t neglect the scholars
For they have seen the light.

For sf’s academic!
MAs and Ph.ds
Swarm round the Universities
Like ants or mice or bees,
And bursars smile contentedly
Considering the fees.

And how much wood is hewn and pulped
For books and essays written
By earnest-looking scholars
With fame and tenure smitten
Who stroke their newly-minted tome
As if it were a kitten?

But where can all these scholars find
Intellectual inspiration?
Oh, there can’t be a library
With so much information?
As if by magic summon up
Our own SF Foundation.

Now safely based in Liverpool
Are books and pulps galore
From single-issue fanzines
To all you want and more
Of bio-bibliographies
All spread out on the floor.

But how to let the people know,
And catalogue it well?
Along there comes AHRB
With its financial spell.
(That’s Arts & Humanities Research Board,
As if you couldn’t tell.)

Our archive’s Stapledonian,
A Time and Space romance.
There’s Wyndham’s triffid manuscripts,
His wartime notes from France.
We’ve Lionel Fanthorpe paperbacks!
We have to stand a chance.

The grant is granted, in comes Roy,
With his mighty band
As Heather, Steph, and Elinor
Take manuscripts in hand.
To see it all encoded,
Ah, wouldn’t it be grand!

So here we are, the task is done,
Apart from all that stuff
Falling off of Andy’s desk,
But that is quite enough.
And back again to plan the launch,
And show that we are tough.

Then letters fall upon our desks:
McCready’s and then mine.
“It looks like Stephen Baxter’s coming.”
“Well, wouldn’t that be fine!”
“And Brian Aldiss, he says yes.”
“Go out and buy more wine!”

And now the launch, here Ramsey comes
(And everyone’s on time),
But he refuses speechmaking,
Declaiming forth in rhyme!
His puns excruciating,
His sentiment sublime.

But as our blushes fade away
From cheeks to burning throat,
Another shock to modesty
As Brian waves a note
And confesses that upon the train
An ode was what he wrote.

Oh shall I call on Stephen
To extemporise
Or follow the example
Of Brian’s words so wise?
I think he mentioned “to the pub”?
Well mine’s a double size!

But Baxter steps out to the breach
Extemporising well.
There isn’t any rhyme in it
As far as we can tell.
He’s praised the SF Hub again
So we won’t give him hell.

And now here come the journalists
To talk to me and you
Of why we think the SF Hub
Is something brave and new
So say “Sf’s postmodernist”
And don’t say “Doctor Who”.

So thank you, Horrormeister,
And thank you, Clarke’s Successor!
And thank you, Dean of Brit Sf!
It could have been a mess, or
Something not the maddest monk
Reveals to his confessor.

But thanks to thee, AHRC*,
And thanks to the Foundation,
And thanks to the University
We’re reached our destination.

*Not a typo. The Arts and Humanities Research Board earlier this year became the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Thank goodness the rhyme still fits!

Brian Aldiss's poetical tribute

The SF Hub: an ode

Brian W. Aldiss

(On the Virgin trains Oxford-Lime Street
Tuesday 12 April)

Delivered at the launch of the SF Hub, University of Liverpool, 12th April 2005.

I wondered as my train wound north
What was the SF hub:
A something pedagogic
Or another fannish club?

Would Tubb & Vargo Statten be
On show at SF Hub
Or all of Lionel Fanthorpe’s works
Enshrined here. Crikey, there’s the rub!

Are Heinlein, Blish & Wells all there
With Wyndham, landmark of the Hub,
With Dick & Asimov & Stapledon
Down to the newest writing cub?

Farah might be there of course
While Andy owns the SF Hub –
Ramsey, who speaks, & Clute: maybe
Both God & Beelzebub!

The Queen might come with silver spade
Marking the founding of the Hub
By planting here an English oak
Or else a measly little shrub.

When we’ve got the speeches done with,
We Great Ones of the Hub,
Shall we, in ways traditional,
All clear off to the nearest pub?

Ramsey Campbell's "SF Hub" poetic tribute

[The Science Fiction Hub]

(Ramsey Campbell : Delivered at the launch of the SF Hub, University of Liverpool, 12th April 2005).

There’s no payment for joining this club.
Of sf it stands as the hub.
And also of horror,
To some people’s sorrow.
Of fantasy too it’s a nub.

First let Andy Sawyer be fĂȘted.
His work cannot be overrated.
He still stocks the shelves,
Whereas, pleasing themselves,
Public libraries treat books as dated.

Next behold the formidable Brian.
His mastery there’s no descrying.
Stephen Baxter’s no dope:
His inventions have scope.
Both chaps’ talents reward our descrying.

Many others are stored in the files.
There are Wyndham and Russell in piles.
There is Greenland (the man),
The great Olaf to scan,
And Brunner – he goes on for miles.

But the hub’s the achievement of Roy.
It’s very much more than a toy.
Three years in the making
And now ours for the taking –
Altogether a reason for joy.

And now it is launched on the net
With verses you’ll hope to forget.
May it grow on the Web
And its power never ebb
So researchers shall not up be het.

The Launch of the SF Hub: 12th April 2005

Probably the second post ought to be an account of the Hub's launch, and here it is:

With fewer than normal jokes about “going boldly”, The Science Fiction Hub, a new venture into science fiction scholarship developed by the University of Liverpool Library with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board, was launched on Tuesday April 12th at the Sydney Jones Library, University of Liverpool with an address by Liverpool author Ramsey Campbell.

The Hub ( was developed by project manager Roy McCready as a web-based route into the multi-disciplinary riches of science fiction. It contains several unique features. Building on the Science Fiction Foundation Collection of 30,000 books and over 2,000 magazine and fanzine titles deposited with the University of Liverpool in 1993, the Hub allows search of the catalogue records of this major resource as well as the lists of other archive collections held by the University, including the Olaf Stapledon, Eric Frank Russell, and John Wyndham Archives. During the three-year Hub project, 20,000 journal articles (including many from scarce fanzines) have been indexed and recorded on the University catalogue. The Hub also provides easy links to other major library holdings of science fiction and significant scholarly web resources including, for instance, the largest database of material about sf, Hal Hall’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database at Texas A & M University.

The Hub was launched with a flurry of thank-yous from Science Fiction Collections Librarian Andy Sawyer, who claimed not to be in training for his Oscar nomination, and a description of the Hub from Roy McCready. Author Ramsey Campbell, who had rushed to deposit an extensive archive when the SFF came to Liverpool, returned and declaimed a poetic tribute to all concerned. Also in attendance were Brian Aldiss and Stephen Baxter, two of the authors who have deposited archive material. Not to be outdone, Brian read a poem he’d written on the train to Liverpool. Faced with a challenge to compose a praise-song in thirty seconds, Stephen Baxter nevertheless uttered a well-chosen impromptu welcome to the Hub.

Although Roy McCready is moving on from the project, there will be a process of tidying-up, cataloguing new material, and adding new links over the next few months. Comments and information are therefore welcome, to Andy Sawyer (

It is hoped that the Hub will be of use not only to researchers in science fiction and fantasy, but also to those many scholars in other disciplines who find sf – the literature of speculation and extrapolation – useful for their research.

Thanks to Ramsay Campbell, Brian Aldiss, and Stephen Baxter for their support. Almost immediately to come: the texts of the poems themselves.

Friday, July 01, 2005

First post (initial whisper)

So here we are. To recapitulate: HUBbub is a look at the sometimes unruly (hence the title) conversation of science fiction. It’s a way of putting out information about the SCIENCE FICTION HUB, an on-line resource for sf researchers (and researchers of anything else who may find science fiction useful) built by the University of Liverpool Library, home of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I’ll also be posting reviews and comments about books and journals of sf criticism, and any relevant news which comes my way. Please note, though, that this is a personal blog: the Science Fiction Hub is not a body which expresses opinions, and while the University of Liverpool as a corporate body may well have opinions they will not be expressed here. What I say is what I say and nothing else. Other people are welcome to join in. You can’t have a hubbub without competing voices, true. But I'm quietly inserting this into the babble so I get get used to blogging. I wouldn't be surprised if there were changes made . . .

People who know me may know that I am Reviews Editor of Foundation. This blog is not a sneaky attempt to increase the review coverage of non-fiction in Foundation: what I said above with respect to opinions goes for the Science Fiction Foundation. But if you don’t subscribe to Foundation, why not? BACK ISSUES can be bought from me from me: just ask.

I am just back from the Science Fiction Research Association annual conference in Las Vegas, of which more, probably, anon. I have some links to add to the SF Hub pages, of which the first is going to be a link to this blog so that people can actually know that it exists.