Wednesday, June 12, 2019

And another link (exemplary book proposal). . . .

And here's another link to Robertson's blog, which I'm posting mostly to remind myself of it: his book proposal to Johns Hopkins UP for a really exciting-looking book on genre fantasy. Can't wait for it to come out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

History of Fantasy Scholarship

Very good blog post, by Benjamin J. Robertson, on the history of fantasy scholarship. He's also noted elsewhere on his blog how badly the fantasy genre needs theorizing, so I think I'm turning into a major fan.

Basically, fantasy criticism has focused on four topics:
  1. the literary history of fantasy, its antecedents in folklore, fairy tales, epics, the romance, the pastoral, etc.;
  2. the question of the impossible
  3. the distinctions and relationships between fantasy and the fantastic
  4. the rhetorical strategies through which fantasy achieves its ends.
This list is basically a variation of the more Tolkien-focused list of topics that I'll be presenting at Leeds IMC in a month. In addition, fantasy criticism's excessive concern with definition has also been a major hurdle. 
And I'm pleased to note that I've read all the books Robertson discusses -- including recent ones by Farah Mendlesohn, Michael T. Saler, Stefan Ekman, Brian Attebery, and Helen Young. Good stuff.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Fiction read (January - June 2019).

Well, for the first six months of 2019, my reading hasn't been too skimpy. Alas, about half of this occurred in January and February, when I breezed through the final books of The Wheel of Time. The latter four months I spent much more time reading nonfiction & literary criticism, which isn't included here.

Overall, there's 9,250 pages of fiction here (arguably less, since I used the paperback versions of the Jorden/Sanderson). That's an average of about 51 pages per 182 days. That's just a tad less than the final six months of 2018 (viewable here), and less than the first six months of 2018 (see here). Alas.
  • Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, The Gathering Storm, 1100 pg
  • Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, The Towers of Midnight, 1200 pg
  • Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson, A Memory of Light, 1300 pg
  • Robert Silverberg, ed. Legends 3, 400 pg.
  • Robert Silverberg, ed. Legends 2, 350 pg
  • Robert Silverberg, ed. Legends 1, 300 pg.
  • Glen Cook, Port of Shadows, 400 pg.
  • Marion Zimmer Bradley, Darkover Landfall, 150 pg
  • Kim Stanley Robinson. Aurora, 500 pg.
  • C. J. Cherryh, Downbelow Station, 300 pg.
  • Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama, 200 pg.
  • Zoe Heller, Notes on a Scandal (What was She Thinking?), 250 pg.-
  • G.D. Sanders, The Taken Girls, 400 pg. 
  • H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream Cycle of H. P. Lovecraft, 400 pg.
  • H. P. Lovecraft, The Transition of H. P. Lovecraft, 400 pg.
  • Shirley Jackson, We have Always Lived in the Castle, 150 pg.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation, 200 pg
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Authority, 350 pg.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Acceptance, 350 pg
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Veniss Underground, 200 pg.
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Shriek: An Afterword, 350 pg.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Snafu of Peer Reviewing. . . .

Well, this is a new one for me. I'd sent out an article for review about 3 1/2 months ago. The other day, the editor responds that the article had been rejected, which is fine, but no explanation was given -- and no reader's reports. So I wrote back, asking about them. Since the journal had the article for nearly four months, I assumed such reports existed.

The sub-editor wrote back:
We leave it to the discretion of our readers and editors whether to include the readers’ reports with the verdict. While it is uncommon that both readers decline to share their reports, it does happen. While I am not privy to the specific circumstances of your case, readers typically decline to share if they think that their anonymity is compromised by their comments. Likewise, if the editors feel that a report is unhelpful—for any number of reasons—for the author, they will not include it.
So, huh.

For my part, I can't really see why the first reason (compromised anonymity) would apply -- it's not that hard, I don't think, to make oneself anonymous. That leaves the second reason. The sub-editor's response was purposefully vague but, reading behind the lines, the reports were either (A) vapid or incompetent, which seems unlikely for a top-line journal, or (B) so unnecessarily abusive that the editor decided to spare me psychological anguish.**

My imagination, of course, gravitates toward the most melodramatic reason, i.e. the "abusive" thesis, and the situation is familiar to me from Scientia -- some of our more inexperienced reviewers  could be way too harsh, so sometimes I or my co-editor would edit down the unhelpful bits. A good editor does censure out those unhelpful reviews.

I don't know why I received no reader reports, ultimately, but it's still aggravating to have an article languishing for months without any substantive feedback. Waste  of time, really. Nothing to do but roll-up the ole' sleeves and send out the poor little darling back out again, though.

** A third option exists, I suppose -- the reviewers were simply "blah" about the argument, even if well-written, so rejected the piece. That must be pretty common for journals that receive 150+ submissions per year. If that was the case, though, there's no reason to refrain from sending along the reports.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Tolkien Biopic

Well, every blogger is writing about the recent Tolkien biopic, so I might as well get in on the action. I really wanted to like it, especially as several reviews of the film by other Tolkienists have been suspiciously harsh. And there were parts of it that I certainly did enjoy. All the parts with the TCBS, both young actors and older ones, were well written -- funny, witty, charming, precisely the sort of good male companionship I imagine Tolkien cherished.

Everything else . . . well, not so much.

Most of the problem is simply how hard it is to portray literature and literary men on the silver screen. In order to capture audience attention, you need some sort of physical action or correlate to show, but it's really hard to depict language invention dramatically. There was a dining scene between Tolkien and Edith where the writers and director sure do their darnest to make a discussion of language come alive, and other places as well. For example, Tolkien's mother reads a story of Norse legends to John Ronald and Hilary as boys, but I always wince when film actors do "dramatic" readings of literature as if it were a high-budget stage production. Readings just don't happen that way, and it's pretentious if one tries. There was another scene with a professor of Gothic instructing young Tolkien in the power of language, but this was another cinematic case where an actor's Deep and Sonorous voice was leaned upon heavily by the writers to produce an emotional effect that should have emerged naturally from the writing itself.

In general, I truly wonder how many readers not intimately acquainted with Tolkien picked up on that (though my wife did thoroughly like the film).

Only two things I exceptionally hated, though. It's hard to tell, but the movie makes it seem as if both Rob Gilson and G. B. Smith died within the first few days of the Somme -- Gilson did, but Smith died about five months later. Well, the film shows Tolkien, frantic over Smith's condition, race to the Front, accompanied by his faithful batman "Sam," and actually goes over the top in his mad desire to see Smith, where he apparently sees visions of Mordor and dragons and I don't know what else. Artistically, sure, I know what they were doing, but this scene, which assuredly never happened anywhere on the front, makes Tolkien seem -- rather than a devoted friend -- like a deranged lunatic. (And a deranged lunatic who disobeys orders and neglects his other military duties as well, incidentally.) And then of course Tolkien spends most of the battle lying half-comatose in a pool of muddy water, being absolutely useless. Groan; wince.

Second thing I hated: the writers/director gave homosexual undertones to Smith's affection for Tolkien. It's all very understated, of course, but when Tolkien is distraught that Edith has become engaged, Geoffrey -- while looking longingly into Tolkien's eyes -- talks about the greatness of unrequited love. There's no hard evidence for any of this, of course, other than the common stereotypes and old jokes about the British public schooling system. But what I specifically object to is how much I suspect Smith and Tolkien himself would have despised such an insinuation -- would, in fact, have been deeply offended by it. The directer/writers obviously wanted Special Progressive Points for Diversity, which in itself is fine, but not at the cost of deeply offending the subjects of the biopic itself, in my view.

Overall, the film could have been much worse . . . but it's not nearly the masterpiece for which one might have hoped.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Mullen Postdoctoral Research Fellowship

A bit of good news! Just heard word that I've won a R. D. Mullen Postdoctoral Research Fellowship from Science Fiction Studies

It's small, only up to $3,000, but it'll fund a 10-day research trip to the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy at UC Riverside. There, I'll be delving into the archives to uncover anything I can about the "pulp" alliterative revival. I discovered that this was a thing when I was looking at Paul Edwin Zimmer's alliterative poetry (published last November in Mythlore). Zimmer explicitly credited Poul Anderson as well as Tolkien for being his alliterative poetry guru . . . which is interesting cuz I've never heard anyone else mention Anderson as a part of the 20th-century alliterative revival. C. S. Lewis, Auden, and Seamus Heaney are always the people mentioned alongside Tolkien. Even more interestingly, Zimmer also says that he knows (but leaves unnamed) a number of other poets trying to follow in the alliterative footsteps of Anderson and Tolkien. So, my proposal, which the SFS committee apparently liked, is just to delve into pulps and fanzines in the hopes of encountering oodles of new information about this revival.

I'll probably head out in August, I'm thinking. What with the conferences and the trip to Europe, this'll be a helluva busy summer.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Copyrights! Licensing! Academic Publishing!

So, our latest project with Fafnir has been retrofitting our new layout and design to our two 2018 issues (i.e., the issues since Laura and I joined the team); part of the job has entailed creating a new -- and the first -- cover design, front matter, plus a Table of Contents template.

In addition, I've taken on the self-appointed task of registering Fafnir with the Directory of Open Access Journals in the hopes of raising our academic street cred and visibility.

Well, the process has been eye-opening.

First off, all due credit to the people who originally founded Fafnir, who prepared much of the information being directly required by the DOAJ. That makes things radically simpler. As I'm going through their lengthy application, though, I'm discovering that there's so many things I had no clue could be a part of academic publishing, especially for open access journals. 

For example:
  • The name of our platform or hosting service. (Our what?)
  • any software/spiders crawling through our website. (Spiders? Like Shelob?)
  • Download statistics. (I knew things like this existed, but no idea how to access them for Fafnir.)
  • A plagiarism policy and checker (which, while seemingly obvious, I never imagined necessary for an academic journal).
  • A Deposit Policy Directory (only a vague idea what this is). Also not yet sure if this is the same or different from a digital archive independent from our publisher (something we don't have yet).
So, many of these things I've only just now learned about, thanks to the DOAJ applications, and realized would be necessary and helpful. And that doesn't include all the professional organizations besides DOAJ that I realized are available in support for academic journals.
  • Council of Editors of Learned Journals
  • The Keeper's Registry (for digital archive information, although this is about to close)
  • Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)
 However, the only thing absolutely confounding me at the moment is the language for copyright and licensing. Apparently, Fafnir already has Creative Commons licensing, although I had to troll through several websites looking for  the machine-readable licensing information. But I'm also starting to suspect that our CC licensing is contradicting Fafnir's retention of the copyright for academic articles -- apparently, "best practice" is that copyright remains with the author, but our original editors were obviously concerned that authors might someday decide to abrogate our open access policy somehow. So, that's the current debate. In the meantime, I've learned more about licensing, pre-print & post-print rights, and whatever else than I ever wanted  to know.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

U of A Special Collections (grump, grump)

The thing I loathe about our university library is its relentless tendency to put books, absolutely pointlessly, into Special Collections. If an item is relatively rare, sure, fine, of course. Rare items are the special forte of Special Collections -- but the emphasis should be on rare. 

Unfortunately, they apparently love putting perfectly normal books in there all the time, which means that they can't be checked out. Not only is this inconvenient (I have to be at the library), but sometimes large volumes must be read in their entirety in their uncomfortable -- and usually excessively chilly -- reading area.

What's even more aggravating is that they apply to these perfectly normal, common books the same sort of draconian reading rules, such as treating items as if they might disintegrate into dust at any moment, that should only sensibly apply to one-of-a-kind illuminated medieval manuscripts. Yeah, yeah; I'm whining. First-world scholar problems and all that. Doesn't make things any less annoying.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

SF Book Club disaster

So, two months ago, a group of us lecturers had our inaugural SF book club get-together, and it was a rousing success. We tackled Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora, which, although we all disagreed with its main theme vehemently (i.e., focus completely on ecologically self-improvement and waste no time on space exploration), it generated a fantastic discussion.

Not so much this iteration's SF selection, C. J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station.

On the surface, Cherryh's book looked quite promising. Won a Huge in 1981, shortlisted for a Locus award, nominated as one of the top 50 SF books of all time, and written by an author whom (while I've not read her previously) has been widely praised to the skies by various SF enthusiasts. So, we gave it a go.

Unfortunately, out of the 5 of us who attended, none actually finished the book. I came closest at 80% of the way through; no one else came close to that, and a few of us didn't even make it 50 pages in.

Most of the problem was just readability, I suppose -- Downbelow Station just throws you into things without any explanation, and the sense of confusion never really gets better. For myself, I did have a number of positives to note. For example, once things get going, Cherry does handle the plot quite nicely , full of twists and turns, and the intrigue is quite fast-paced. My main objection was literary -- her book just didn't seem to be about anything. While I don't require a good guys / bad guys scenario, obviously, I just couldn't figure out the stakes on why either the Union, Mazian, the Pell Stationers, etc, should come out on top. The plot just seemed like pure plot, a lot of things going on, like a mainstream thriller. And while there were a few tidbits to praise (some feminism, some anti-colonialist sentiment, although I hated the Hisa, who were basically just dumbed-down Ewoks), the book didn't contain anything much else intellectually substantial. The Konstantin family seemed like the good guys, at least in a Lawful Good Atreides-of-Dune sort of way, but that wasn't enough to convince me that what they were fighting for mattered to anyone but them. I would have liked to discussed the female anti-hero, Capt. Signy Mallory, who sexually assaults one of her male prisoners, but no one had gotten far enough along in the book to even discuss that.***

Anyway, all in all, the session was a bust, and very disappointing. One positive: this fiasco convinced us to only choose books for which someone  can vouch. (Previously, the idea was to pick books that none of us had read.) So our next selection will be N. K. Jemisin's The Broken Earth trilogy.

The whole Mallory thing is why I went looking for Mercedes Lackey's songs the other day. Her Signy Mallory song can be found here.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Songs of Valdemar!

Growing up, one of my all-time fantasy series was Mercedes Lackey's The Last Herald-Mage trilogy. I re-read it several years ago, and it help up admirably well -- easily the best work Lackey's done, in my view, as I've never cared much for her other works. (This was also my first literary exposure to a non-heterosexual character.)

Anyway, there were a number of songs at the end of the trilogy's final book. Randomly surfing around, I discovered that all these songs are on youtube. The lyrics, I've always found, are competent -- but Lackey has a fantastic voice, and that just tickles me pink. Nice and soothing instrumentals, too. Awesome stuff. Check it out here.**

***The link opens to "Shadow Lover," but you can click the other Valdemar songs on the upper-right column.