Saturday, September 30, 2017

I've been cited!!! (sorta kinda maybe well not really)

Although I've now a decent among of published articles for an early career academic, considering the glacial pace of academic publishing, it takes quite a while for anyone's ideas to disseminate widely enough to be cited by other scholars. My only essay out long enough for citation is my first, an article on Stephen R. Donaldson and the idea of genre. By a stroke a great good fortune, the director of my undergraduate senior thesis, Dr. Donald "Mack" Hassler, was compiling a volume of essays with Clyde Wilcox called New Boundaries in Political Science Fiction and, well, to make a long story short, he threw a young protege a bone, and gave me my first publication.

Anyway, you can imagine my excitement when I recently saw that someone had cited me. Actually, tbh, I've been cited once before to my knowledge -- way back in 2011 or so, a scholar named Patricia Kennon quoted from me in a contribution to Irish Children's Literature and Culture: New Perspectives on Contemporary Writing (2011), quite the pleasant surprise when I found out a few years later.

Within the last few weeks, though, as I worked on my aliens article for SRD,  a new essay on Donaldson by someone named Emily Auger, Gothic Science Fiction: 1980-2010 (2011), came to my attention. It's a pretty decent article, too, pressing on Donaldson's aversion to posthuman identities (through the metaphor of ruined skin and the technology of genetic mutation in his Gap novels); although perhaps excessively theory-heavy, Donaldson deserves more discussion & this certainly fits the bill.

Anyway, the Works Cited quickly drew me like a moth to light, and voilĂ  -- my 2008 article made the cut. "What part did she actually cite?" I wondered. So I read the article, and . ... well, apparently I didn't make the cut. 

Alas and alack, Dr. Auger made no reference to my article anywhere in hers, despite the WC reference. Seems as if she included the citation isolely for completeness's sake, but couldn't find any rational means of incorporating a direct quote or paraphrase. Technically in terms of MLA, that's a no-no, but can't say that I mind, honestly. Truth be told, I'm a bit embarrassed by my essay. Although Political Science Fiction came out in 2008, I mostly wrote the article in 2005, my final year of undergrad. I haven't read the essay since then, dead-sure that there'd be some absolute undergrad howlers in there, but the encounter with Dr. Auger's essay forced me to revisit the piece. Luckily, my library had a copy. And . . . .

. . . . well, it isn't as bad as I'd originally feared. Sure, there were a few howlers. For example, I had used the phrase "social construction of evil" despite (I easily see now) not knowing exact what that phrase meant. Also there were some truly cringe-worthy over-generalizations on what fantasy literature is and does. Plus several additional counterarguments that should have been rebutted, possibilities I just wouldn't have known enough about back then to counter. Still, all in all, it's not bad for someone in their first year of an MA (the period when I actually sent the final manuscript to Dr. Hassler). Nobody reading it today could realize that, of course, but so it goes.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Evangeline Walton, papers!!!

So, some random coolness. Browsing through our U of A Special Collections, I realized that we have the papers for Evangeline Walton, a relatively well-known American fantasy writer, pre-Tolkien. She did a number of books based off Welsh legend and the Mabinogion trilogy. I bought a number of her books from a used bookstore last fall, intending to read her, but never quite got around to it. Anyway, apparently she spent the last part of her life in Tucson, so gave her papers to the university.

If I ever get some time or the opportunity, I might try taking advantage of that collection for an article, perhaps.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Another weird Tolkien pop culture reference - the GANDALF trial

When I recently got the editorial comments back for my review of Okja (dir. Bong Joon-ho) for Science Fiction Film and Television, the only tweak they required was some clarification on the A.L.F. (Animal Liberation Front). My review, they said, made it sound as if Bong had simply created the group for the film, when in fact it is a very real, clandestine, leadership, world organization for animal rights.

Yeah well, er, um. . . . I won't admit this to THEM, but I actually had no idea that it was real. Somehow, despite all my background research on the film, it never once occurred to me that Bong might be using a real organization to help his protagonist. (*embarassed*) Anyway, after some quick googling, I tweaked the review accordingly. During the course of this googling, however, I stumbled upon something called "the GANDALF trial" from the U.K. in 1997. 

Now, no need to panic -- everyone's favorite wizard is by no means guilty of any high crimes or misdemeanors. Instead, GANDALF is the acronym -- and they tried really hard to make this work -- for Green Anarchist and A.L.F.. The wikipedia entry for this head-scratching event is here. In short, a number of animal rights activist were jailed for conspiracy to commit property damage. The acronym was the brainchild of their defense team, and it just goes to show how strong an environmentalist message could be read into The Lord of the Rings

A weird sidenote -- surely, methinks, I must have casually encountered information about this before, somewhere. Maybe I'll have a look through Patrick Curry's criticism again, since he's the best known environmentalist Tolkien critic, and he tends toward comprehensiveness. Still, this is the first time the GANDALF trial seems to have registered with me.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Oh, an encyclopedia article on aliens in Stephen R. Donaldson

So, Stephen R. Donaldson's one of my favorite writers, someone on whom I did my undergrad senior thesis. (I went to Kent State, where he got a MA, and they have a nifty SRD special collections.) Well, recently there was a volume asking for articles on the aliens in the work of various writers/tv shows/movies. The story of this volume is rather interesting. Mike Levy, a quite well-known sf and fantasy critic, tragically passed away recently, and his widow asked the fantasy scholar Farah Mendlesohn to take over this book he'd been contracted to write. (Together, Levy and Mendlesohn recently wrote a fantastic book on Children's fantasy literature; the cover itself should win an award.) Well, Dr. Mendlesohn wasn't that much familiar with aliens, according to her own admission, so she outsourced the writing of many of the essays and individual encyclopedia articles. I volunteered to write an article on aliens in SRD, and she just green lighted me.

I'm excited about this. Donaldson deserves to be more widely discussed than he is, and even here his sf Gap series is unfairly neglected in favor of his first two Covenant trilogies. Plus, I've always thought his Amnion were a super cool idea for aliens -- one of my personal favorites. Moreover, SRD's continuing concern for human nature  (and an alien species that runs counter to everything he imagines human nature to be) is a nice contrast to the many theorists, most often strangely enough in the humanities, who consistently deny the coherence or morality of any concept such as "human nature." As might be imagined, I'll be bringing up some notions of posthumanism to be on the discussion.

I already got a draft done, and it should be finished in a few days.

There but for the Grace of the Job Market Go I

If life is inherently random, the academic life is randomness squared. With parts of Texas (including half of Houston) underwater because of Hurricane Harvey, and the same with Floria due to Hurricane Irma, it's hard to avoid thinking about the fact that half the academic jobs for which I applied last year were in either Texas or Florida. I actually had two job interviews in Texas, one in Tyler and another in Houston. Had fate brought me to Houston in particular, I'd be an evacuee right now. As it is, in the desert it's been weeks since I've seen rain.

Best wishes to everyone weathering the storm(s).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Scientia et Humanita Issue 7 has been published!!!

Okay, okay, technically, the print version of the journal came out several months ago. Yet, due to various technical foibles, the online open access version has just been put up here. Okay, technically, the print version has been up for a few weeks, at least the full pdf version and the individual articles . . . but lacking the editor's introduction. Now, though, everything's fine and dandy. Issue 7 can be found here.

I'm very excited about this issue. Not only was this my first tenure as editor in chief, overseeing all aspects of production, but we had a quite nice mix of authors this year -- see my editor's introduction here for more details. Included in this year's issue:

  • "Corpus Christi, Superstar? Decoding the Enigma of the York Mystery Cycle"
    • by Hillary K. Yeager, grad, English
  • "Self-Leadership Strategies and Performance Perspectives Within Student Aviation Teams"
    • by Christopher R. Bearden, undergrad, psychology
  • "Does Criminal History Impact Labor Force Participation of Prime-Age Men?" 
    • by Mary Ellsworth, grad, econcomics
  • "Playing Games as Cultural Expression: Mah Jong, Chess, and BourrĂ© in the Works of Amy Tan and Tim Gautreaux"
    • by Sara Hays, grad, English
  • "Bram Stoker’s Anxieties Concerning the Emancipation of Women"
    • by Rebecca Clippard, undergrad, Japanese & Spanish
  • "The Impact of the HOPE Scholarship on High School Graduation in Georgia"
    • by Muhammad A. Yadudu, grad, economics
  • "Policy Analysis on Youth Aging Out of Foster Care"
    • by Calista Barberi, grad, social work
  • "An Analysis of Euroskepticism’s Influence on Britain’s Vote to Leave the European Union"
    • by Kayla McCrary, undergrad, international relations

We had a record number of submissions this year (25) but only accepted 8 articles, making this our most competitive issue yet. Nice mix of grad/undergrad  as well as mix of disciplines. It also may be our best looking issue yet, since  we did extensive proofreading and layout-checking.

Major innovations accomplished under my tenure:
  • re-vamped our main Scientia website.
  • re-builted our website
  • Composed a Scientia style guide
  • Developed criteria for accepted articles from the social sciences and natural sciences
  • Formalized my criteria for acceptance of articles, which'll be useful for future issues
  • instituted a new process of proofreading that sees both editorial, staff, and author proofs 

Fun stories:
  • One of authors, when I asked which citation style she was using, replied, "APA . . . I think." (Okay, that counts as a horror story.)
    • In fact, judging from this year's issue, APA is apparently the hardest citation style for anyone to get right.
  • When I asked our layout editor why, for her contribution to the issue, she wasn't using the hanging indent formatting for her works cited page, we both realized that, somehow, she never realized that function existed in Word. Instead, she did hanging indents by hitting "enter" and tapping the spacebar 5 times.
  • When we had one econ article unfortunately not make it past faculty review, our reviewer suggested Mary E. as a possible replacement. She revamped a class presentation into an awesome article in the few weeks just prior to us going to press.
  • Chris Bearden, our undergrad winner of the Deans' Distinguished Essay Award, also gets the informal award of "Most Improved Essay in Shortest Amount of Time." He managed to do an unholy amount of revision to his article in only 10 days. He's also a veteran who's just been accepted into the MA program for psychology at MTSU.
All in all, I'm extremely proud of all our authors and staff -- the amount of work everyone put in to make this a quality issue was immense. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Heading to Kalamazoo!

Looks like my abstract has just been accepted for the 53rd International Congress in Medieval Studies, held in Kalamazoo, MI. Even though I'm not a medievalist, I'm super excited about this. This conference always has a large number of Tolkien panels, and I have the great good fortune to share panel honors with not one but two Tolkien scholars with whose work I'm familiar. First is Jane Chance, certainly in the top 5 of All-Time Tolkien scholars, and the person who's largely responsible, so I gather, for the large Tolkien presence in this conference over the years. The other is Andrew Higgins, who co-edited the scholarly edition of A Secret Vice with Dimitra Fimi -- a book that I reviewed for JFA not too long ago. My review was strongly positive, of course (they did a good job), but the expectation of meeting a person whose work I reviewed is somewhat nerve-wracking!

Anyway, this conference is still a good long ways away -- May 10th-13th, 2018. That'll just be after spring semester. I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, September 1, 2017

British Fantasy Novelist Joe Abercrombie . . . sigh.

So, a whiles back during the writing of an article on Glen Cook (a personal favorite), I realized that I just didn't know much about fantasy lit written post-1980s and -1990s. Which makes sense -- that's around when my reading habits greatly diversified. Still, it was hard to make a case for Cook's uniqueness when I hadn't read several of the most recent writers he's been compared to, so I recently made a foray into Joe Abercrombie, known for writing a "grimdark" type of military fantasy.

Anyway, reading Mr. Abercrombie has caused me a severe case of eye rolling.

I've read Before They are Hanged (2007), the second novel in his First Law trilogy, and half of The Heroes (2011), a stand-alone novel set in the same universe. That was enough for me to get a sense of his style and literary character. My thoughts:


Sometimes, a writer simply tries too hard to be sardonic, cynical, and world-wise, and that's the impression Abercrombie gives. There's tons of observations of the sort, "war is awful, terrible, horrific, pointless, wasteful, devastating" and so on, but also a simultaneous sense that war is the one arena of human experience that gives its participants a special insight into How Dark Things Really Are. Neither Glen Cook nor Steven Erikson, for example, ever succumb to that temptation, but Abercrombie's books seem to revel in it. 

That ethos gives off the strong sense that Abercrombie's First Law books appeal directly to teenage boys struggling to form an identity amid a nascent sense of masculinity. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- since roughly half the world's population has to go through the experience of being a male teenager, a category that includes myself, that sort of fiction is useful. The problem that emerges, however, is when someone outside that very narrow age window tries reading the book. Unlike Cook or Erikson, I just didn't see anything that could potentially appeal to full-grown adults.

In fact, Abercrombie reminded me, not of any other fantasist I know, but of a very popular writer of military historical fiction: Bernard Cornwell. I once read three of Cornwell's Sharpe series of books, which were well-written and well-researched but which all followed the exact same formula. Abercrombie isn't a formula writer in that sense, but he made the same appeals: the knowledgeable and competent military male who has to wage a constant struggle of incompetent or clueless military personnel.


Really nothing to write Middle-earth about here. Only about a half dozen countries with pretty clear real-world analogues, whose sole purpose seems to be constantly at war with one another. The plot,  as well as the characters if they appeal to you, are the only sources of interest here.

Also, the names tend to suck. Sometimes I suspect him of delving into various central and Eastern European languages for his names. For example, my wife says that Crown Prince Ladisla is actually a Czech name ("Ladislav"), and some of the others suggest similar connotations, but I'm unfamiliar enough with those languages to really say for sure. Regardless, many of the names also just seem made up out of the blue.

Another thing of note. Abercrombie has his "Northmen," a standard fantasy analogue of Vikings and berserkers and whatnot, but his major country, loosely based on Western Europe, is called "The Union," which is as jarring a name as I could imagine. If that name sounds weirdly modern (and the technology in Abercrombie is all medieval), that's probably because it is. The Union's major military figures talk and act straight out of 19th-century military history -- just think of "I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General." This may be entirely subjective, but Abercrombie's historical mishmash just constantly irritated me.


Once I got past all the irritating things, I did think quite well of Abercrombie's narrative skill. By the book's end, his literary mannerisms and cliched tropes still irritated, but Before They are Hanged is certainly not the slog it could have been. 

That said, you'd also have to accept that this book is all plot. Abercrombie doesn't seem to have anything interesting or worthwhile to say (or for a critic to write about), and I have a limited patience for reading plot-only novels. Hence reading 1 1/2 of his books seems enough for me -- if you've read one, I suspect, you've read them all, kinda like with Bernard Cornwell.

All in all, I can understand some of the popularity of Abercrombie's books, but he hardly seems to belong with the major modern fantasists.