Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Hating on Authors -- JK Rowling Edition

So, I recently saw a thread on Twitter hating on J.K. Rowling, and then asking, "What other celebrities are dead to you based on what they've said/done"? The thread had over 65 comments ... some of them hating an author for legitimate reasons, others for less legitimate ones. None of this really makes sense to me .... neither for Rowling, who besides her comments on trans people (with which I disagree) is still an charming, liberal, and extremely talent author, nor for other people.

After all, if a writer does well, sure, praise them -- if a writer says wrong, disagree with them? But to "cancel" them? Such self-righteous demands for ideological and moral purity strike me as profoundly unhealthy. It's not a good attitude to take with artists, politicians, family, or friends. Worse, if a writer is suddenly deemed "impure," then they're considered absolutely impure by the denouncers -- and that's what the original Twitter thread was implying. Not a single word of their previously admired work, or writing, or activism has been changed, yet they are deemed irrevocably tainted, without the possibility of nuance or forgiveness or how any divergence from the denouncer's viewpoint can be anything less heretical.

Now, I know the inevitable response: "But writer X has said Y, which causes incredibly harm to Z."

In many cases, though, this "harm" is more abstract than concrete. Still, such claims are often nonetheless made in tones of outrage or indignation ... which is a tricky emotion. Outrage is both rational and irrational ... rational in the sense that you always require reasons for your anger, irrational because it tends to that absolutism that is the very opposite of philosophic thinking.

But even as a reader, a writer's works (or a politician's accomplishments) are largely separate from their biography. Is Curt Schilling any less of a Hall of Fame pitcher because he's a loudmouth asshat? What difference does that make, to anything?

Friday, September 11, 2020

Terry Goodkind -- wow. Just wow.

Daaaaaamn. So, I'd somehow gone through my entire life without knowing anything about Terry Goodkind. I read maybe a quarter of Wizard's First Rule back in the early 2000s, but never finished it. Anyway, I started reading his sequel in the Sword of Truth series, Stone of Tears, and I'll comment on that in another blog post. But I looked up some of his GoodReads reviews, and they were brutal. Even more to the point, I also started looking up some of Goodkind's author interviews, and ...

.... oh my god, this dude is seriously batshit crazy. He's a complete Ayn Rand Objectivist nut job who doesn't think his novels are fantasy because they're too literary, and Goodkind also believes his novels have forever changed the same fantasy genre that he's too literary to have read himself. Plus, he's offended if someone compares him to Robert Jordan (despite ripping off most of Jordan's world-building).

So, for your horrified fascinated, here's a random string of Goodkind quotes.


"My books are novels that deal in important human themes involving the faculty of reason. I tell these stories through heroic characters."

"I am not an obedient subservient cog of a group, slavishly following the group's conventions. I am a thinking individual acting of my own free will."

"Don't be fooled. The assertion made by these detractors is a note wrapped around a brick thrown through the window. These people are not fans. There are hundreds if not thousands of fantasy books that fulfill their professed taste in books. Why would they continue to read books they claim are bad? Because they hate that my novels exists. Values arouse hatred in these people. Their goal is not to enjoy life, but to destroy that which is good."

"[On the War on Terror]: Unless you can name the philosophies and people dedicated to killing you, how can you possibly hope to fight it? No war has ever been won defensively. Killers must be hunted down and eliminated. Evil ideas must be countered with rational ideas. Most of the means employed to protect us, such as the sham of airline check ins are merely public relation stunts. We will never win this war until we get the guts to name our enemy, Islamic fundamentalist and stop negotiating with them."

"What I have done with my work has irrevocably changed the face of fantasy. In so doing I've raised the standards. I have not only injected thought into a tired empty genre, but, more importantly, I've transcended it showing what more it can be-and is so doing spread my readership to completely new groups who don’t like and wont ready typical fantasy. Agents and editors are screaming for more books like mine. They can’t find any."

"Funds for government services, for example the courts, should be collected from those who use them. All welfare should come from those who volunteer their own money, not the money of others, not the victims of theft (the tax payer). "

 A USA Today interview:

"Because most fantasy is about world-building and magic, a lot of it is plotless and has no story. My primary interest is in telling stories that are fun to read and make people think. That puts my books in a genre all their own."

"[I don't use Elves or Dwarves because ...] I'm not writing fantasy ... My purpose is not weirdo cultural diversity. I repeat: I am writing stories about important human beings."

"If you notice a similarity [between me and Robert Jordan], then you probably aren't old enough to read my books."

"Philosophy is what has an influence on me. Current affairs and politics are driven by the same philosophy, therefore my stories always seem to be relevant to what's happening at the moment. . . . A thief in the 18th century is the same as a thief in the 20th century is the same as a thief 1,000 years ago. A murder is a murder, regardless of the age in which it is committed."

The rest here comes from an interview with Fantasy Book Critic. So, it really pisses Goodkind off when when you skim his books:

"Every word that I write is critical. .... To skim and just kind of hit a few words in every paragraph, you miss all the work that I put in to make those characters humans."

And he's also very keen on having "non-fantasy" book covers:

"My goal has always been to change the cover art in a way that represents the spirit of what the book is about."

And .... well, just ouch.

"Take, for example, what we're doing in Iraq. The basic thing we're trying to do is enforce democracy. Democracy is a free-floating concept. There's no goodness [inherent] in democracy. Gang rape is democracy in action. Why should we enforce democracy? Why should we have Americans die so [Iraq] can elect a government who wants to kill us? "


Monday, August 24, 2020

A busy, busy summer . . and happy fall semester!

Although I'm used to working everyday, this summer has been especially crazy in terms of teaching:
  • Directed Self-placement Advising through May and June
  • Three weeks in late June revising my online Monsters module
  • actually teaching that online Monsters module in July and August
  • GAT Orientation and Preceptorship in August
  • plus various professional development workshops.
Plus, there was all my other writing/research activities . . . finishing up on long essay in May, writing two encyclopedia entries in June, and thus spending July and August writing and research my research proposal for Specters of Tolkien: History, Totality, and Thymos at the Beginning of Epic Fantasy. (This last one is still ongoing.)

Now, though, I've just submitted final grades for my Monsters class . . . on the first day of Fall semester. Thus, I'm about to embark on a luxurious 4-hour summer vacation before going back to the grind.

Wouldn't trade academia for the world, though.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Turnaround Times in Academic Publishing

So, after sending back the proofs of a recently accepted article within 8 hours of receipt, the editor wrote to me:
Wow, that is the quickest turnaround where we know you actually looked at the proofs in journal history. :)
Which, of course, is nice!  I do try, after all.

But it also makes me reflect that, really, there's no real reason any stage of the academic publishing process has to take so long (besides the writing and revision stages.) When I receive reviews for Fafnir, I return commentary within 24 hours. And my peer reviews are finished in a week -- not the months it normally takes others -- unless I need to consult some special hard-to-get source. It's just a matter of staying on tops of things. No wonder academics are so stressed all the time.

Monday, August 10, 2020

A use for!

So, the website tends to be highly panned by real academics -- it's free to upload your papers, but the website's attempts to get people to buy subscriptions are pretty desperate. (For instance, their myriad notifications that "Someone just viewed your paper X in an search" give a misleading impression that more people are reading your work than truly are.) But one nice feature they have: if you download a paper, you can leave a note to the author explaining your reason for downloading. And I just received the following note:
I am taking a class about The Hobbit at my local bookstore in DC with Verilyn Flieger and she recommended this article.
Which is amazing that Dr. Flieger actually knows the article and recommend it to someone -- a lay reader, no less.** That really bucks me up. The essay in question is "Unraveling The Hobbit’s Strange Publication History: A Look at Possible Worlds, Modality, and Accessibility Relations," which was published in 2017 by the journal Fastitocalon (which now appears to be defunct). Since it's not actually an article I remember really well, I gave it another read, and I'm 99% percent sure the reason it earned Dr. Flieger's  recommendation was for its discussion of The Hobbit's publication history. Re-reading the piece, though, does make me wince. . . . although it's well-written, I've really smoothed out my academic prose style over the last three years. The re-read just makes me itch for some judicious edits. Alas.

But still, what a nice message to have read.

** Also, what an awesome idea to do community outreach like that.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

2020-2021 Preceptorship


I applied for -- and received -- a preceptorship from the U of A Writing Program to help train and mentor incoming graduate students, who will teach English 101 and English 102 online. Initially, I didn't even think of applying. More than enough things currently on my plate, you know, including teaching sections of Honors module for incoming freshman in the Fall, but I applied when our WP director suggested the idea to me. Overall, since our GTAs will be teaching the program's pre-designed online courses, which I know inside and out, I was pretty sure that I'd get the position. Still, it's quite nice . . . and I'm slowly growing more excited about the prospect.**

So, for the rest of August, I'll help prepare our Orientation Week for graduate teaching assistants -- the first time, in fact, I've ever been on the other side of one of these things. Teaching everything through Zoom, though, is disappointing. I'd love the energy of meeting all our new GTAs during orientation -- it would have reminded me of my own graduate students days. Likewise, it was disappointing how my Directed Self-Placement advising (my other summer job) happened over Zoom as well.*** But, once the year starts, I'll lead a small group of GTAs and mentor them from week-to-week as they learn the ropes of teaching online for the first time.

All in all, this summer has been crazy busy. Besides my normal research and writing, the Directed Self-Placement position, and now the preceptorship, I'm also teaching my online Monsters course. No rest for the weary!

**In order to balance out my schedule, though, I had to drop my two Honors modules, which is a bummer.

*** In the Directed Self-Placement, we simply gave incoming freshmen advice on which Writing Program courses to take. Easy position mostly handled through email, but we did -- or were supposed to have -- several in-personal orientation sessions for students who wanted facetime. COVID-19 really sucks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Fafnir's nominated for a World Fantasy Award!

It still hasn't really sunk in yet, but our academic journal, Fafnir, has just been nominated as a finalist for the 2020 World Fantasy Award in the "Special Award: Non-Professional" category! I'm just blown away by this nomination. Sure, we've worked hard the last three years to professionalize Fafnir, and there's been tons of improvements. But . . . honestly, as an academic, it just never even occurred to me that I'd be engaged in something that falls under the World Fantasy Award umbrella. So, needless to say, I'm still processing -- but in a good way.  ;)

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Saving this for later . . .

According to the weblog of Wayne G. Hammond & Christina Scull, there may be a new "most accurate" edition of The Lord of the Rings.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Fiction Reading List (January - June 2020)

As usual, I'm not counting the non-fiction I've read -- just the made-up stuff. Final stats: 8,300 pages over 182 days, or 46.1 pages per days.

Counts for 2019 can be found here and here; counts for 2018 here and here. All and all, not the worst I've done (that would have been the prior six months span), but still not fantastic . . . at least I had the Patrick Rothfuss books upping this term's count a bit.

THE LIST (Jan. - June 20202)
Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker, 650 pg.
Gail Z. Martin, The Summoner, 300 pg (DNF).
Terry Pratchett, The Color of Magic, 300 pg.
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind, 700 pg.
Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear, 1100 pg.
Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor, 500 pg.
Fletcher Pratt and De Camp, "The Wall of Serpents," 100 pg.

Peter S. Beagle, Summerlong, 250 pg.
Laura E. Goodin, After the Bloodwood Staff, 300 pg.
John Myers Myers, Silverlock & Reader's Companion, 300 pg (DNF).
Clive Barker, The Books of Blood (Volumes I-III), 500 pg.
Andy Weir, The Martian, 350 pg
Andrzej Sapkowski, Blood of Elves, 400 pg.

Poul Anderson, Twilight World, 250 pg.
Poul Anderson, The Boat of a Million Years, 500 pg.
Poul Anderson, War of the Gods, 300 pg.
Poul Anderson, Harvest the Stars, 500 pg.
Poul Anderson, The Stars are Also Fire, 400 pg
Poul Anderson, Harvest the Fire, 200 pg

Rudyard Kiping, Rewards and Fairies, 100 pg (DNF)
Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book, 150 pg
Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book 2, 150 pg

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

When Did Poul Anderson Write THE BROKEN SWORD?

We all know that he first published the novel in 1954 . . . but when did he write it? The question came up because my two latest entries for The Literary Encyclopedia, a biographical entry of Poul Anderson and an account of his best fantasy novel, just went online a few days ago. There, I mentioned that Anderson began and completed The Broken Sword in 1948. Well, no sooner did that happen than another scholar sent me a message asking for my source.

And, wouldn't you know, I can't find it now. The issue's seriously bugging me. 

It's pretty well established that The Broken Sword is Anderson's earliest written novel, which he wrote before Vault of the Ages (1952). Vault was composed in the 1951-1952 range; it uses an idea similar to one that appeared in "Tiger by the Tail" (1951). Likewise, Anderson mentions in his Foreword to the [January] 1971 revised edition of The Broken Sword that he wrote the original novel "twenty-odd years ago". So the latest possible completion date for the novel is almost certainly 1951.

Anyway, I'm really kicking myself for not making a better note of 1948 date. I'm 95% certain I got it from Sandra Miesel's Against Time's Arrow: The High Crusade of Poul Anderson (1978). Unfortunately, although my university library has a copy, it's been closed for months due to COVID. But the 1948 date isn't listed in any of Miesel's articles in my possession. Plus, I know I jotted "1948" down in my notes sometime during Sept./Oct. 2019, which was way before I read any of Miesel's numerous introductions & forewords. So the source text has to be Time's Arrow, I'm thinking. Unable to double-check, however, is it possible that I mentally conflated "completed in 1948" with only "began in 1948"? 

Errrrrrrr . . . . yes, I suppose. (Dammit.) Judging from circumstantial evidence, there's at least a chance that The Broken Sword was begun in 1948 but not completed within that calendar year. Anderson graduated college in 1948 but published only one short story in that year. Since he never seriously tried to find a job in engineering, he was probably writing The Broken Sword at that time. Not sure how he supported himself, by the way; I've not yet found any record of him holding down a non-writing job in his lifetime.

In 1949, though, Anderson published only four short stories. What else was he doing at that time? No idea. But, by 1950, he certainly seems to have moved onto other things -- published 9 short stories and, according to his college transcript, entered grad school (though he left without taking a degree). Thus, his time was pretty well occupied, and I don't see how he could have done any serious work on The Broken Sword. So, did Anderson finish the fantasy classic in 1948 or 1949? Gaw, this question is really aggravating me now.