Thursday, June 28, 2018

Harlan Ellison passes . . . .

Oh no . . . just saw on the SFRA listserv that Harlan Ellison, one of my top 5 writers of all time, died earlier today. 

I first encountered him in the first collection of short stories I ever truly loved, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Wonder, edited by David G. Hartwell. The story was "On the Downhill Side." It struck me as only so-so, but it was enough -- or Hartwell's headnote was enough, perhaps -- to have me seek out Ellison collections at the library. . . . and I remember being blown away by Approaching Oblivion (particularly Ellison's introduction, "Knox," and "Silent in Gehenna") and Deathbird Stories, including "Pretty Maggy Moneyeyes," "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," and "The Deathbird." 

After that I relentlessly sought out every Ellison story I could find. Since this was before the days of Amazon (and I was too poor to buy books anyway), looking for an Ellison collection was basically the first thing I did whenever I walked into a new public library.* Then I buckled down, saved my pennies, and finally got The Essential Ellison: A 35-year Retrospective, a collection of his greatest hits -- including "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," other favorites of mine.**

I've never encountered another writer who wrote with so much rawness and pure intestine-seizing anger. A rather raw youth myself, full of libertarian individualism and anti-religious ire, Ellison was like ecstasy.

When I re-read his best stuff a few years back as an adult, I did so with some trepidation, worried that he might not have held up over time. But he did. His absence leaves a large hole in the field of science fiction.

* I did the same thing with Stephen R. Donaldson works and, if you can believe this, books on table tennis.
**There's now an updated 50-year retrospective out.

Teaching NON-HUMAN SUBJECTS: Monsters, Ghosts, Aliens, and Others

So, thanks to a retirement within the department, a General Education literature course called "Nonhuman Subjects: Monsters, Aliens, Ghosts, and Others" open up . . . and my application to teach it was accepted. 

I'm surprisingly excited to teach this course -- "surprisingly" since, while I like teaching, I don't like it nearly as much as I like research. Hence much of my reading over the last month has been to familiarize myself with monster theory and, of course, reading a bunch of relevant texts (particularly those ghost stories I mentioned in my previous post). 

Anyway, I've developed a pretty nifty looking syllabus (I <3 multimodality), but here's the reading list:

  • Beowulf, translated by Seamus Haney
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, translated by Simon Armitage
  • Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, edited by J. Paul Hunter
  • Crane, Stephen. "The Monster"
  • Hill, Susan. The Woman in Black
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Canterville Ghost and Other Stories
  •  Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis. Translated by Corngold
  • Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
  • Lovecraft, H. P. “The Call of Cthulu,” “The Rats in the Walls.”
  • Pohl, Frederick. “Day Million.,” &   Levine, David D. “Firewall.”
  • The Host (2006), directed by Joon-ho Bong—rentable on
  • District 9 (2009), directed by Neill Blomkamp—rentable on
  • Cleman, John [essay]. “Blunders of Virtue: The Problem of Race in Stephen Crane’s ‘The Monster.’”
  • Tolkien, J.R.R. [essay]. “The Monsters and the Critics.”
  • Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome [essay]. “Monster Studies: Seven Theses.”
Some hapless English department also made a post for my course as a means of helping enrollment. Here it is!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ghost Stories

So, after really liking Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, I've made a foray into other ghost stories. Currently most of the way through M. R. James's work. Although it kinda reminds me why I never got into ghost stories in the first place (the "weird" factor just isn't intellectually interesting enough for me), I did have an odd de ja vu experience while reading "Casting the Runes." First, I was just predisposed to like this story -- the villain is a warlock who goes crazy after having his paper on alchemy rejected via peer review. Right up my alley, right?

But I continue on with the story, and I realize it's striking similar to an academic horror novel I once read, Publish and Perish. Well, I look things up, and sure enough, the author's note admits to using James's original story as a pastiche. Strikingly appropriate, of course, but it's odd the connections you see if you keep on reading long enough.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

If you're an academic, please don't write like this. Ever.

Cultural Studies is a nice field of study, but damn, they can be awful, pretentious, and self-indulgent writers. Examples from one article that I'm now not going to bother reading all the way through:
  • "The prowling and lurking, interrogating, and transmogrifying textual (re-)composition of monsters is deconstructive, abjective, and intertextual."

And, under the theory that no Foucault reference in an introductory clause can be too convoluted or verbose, we get the following anti-gem:
  • "Writing after, and thus chasing, Foucault's prowling, knowledge-altering (and mutating) monster . . . ."

And, in the "Short sentences and more rigorous main verbs, academics, dammit!" category, we get:
  • "The conundrum that emerges from the friction between, on the one side, the scrutinizing and destabilizing intellectual disposition of literary theory and, on the other, the metonymic and representational mode of the anthology to represent a theoretical field selectively is compounded, I would argue, by the cultural and aesthetic – the deconstructive – nature of the monster. "

I'd like to say such writing is a relic from the 1990s, but this came out just this year. Blurgh.***

 *** Actually, I remember back in grad school a professor telling us a story about a French-to-English translator friend of his. The translater friend had said, "The hardest part about translation is transforming French academic waffle into crisp clean English propositions." Personally, as some may suspect, I have a very Tolkien-esque view of the French.  :)

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Fiction Reading List: 1-1-18 through 5-31-18

So, back as an undergrad and an MA, I used to keep detailed reading lists of my reading for a semester, just as to keep track of my productivity. I eventually got out of that habit, and it actually became impractical during my doctorate -- I "read" so much literary criticism, often simply gutting the book for the main ideas and arguments, that it's not quite fair to give such books a page count. (At least with fiction you can be assured my eyes have diligently gone over every page.)

Well, I managed to do a productivity report for the first 5 months of 2018. I'm not counting any non-fiction or literary criticism, of which there was a fair bit. Here are just normal books (including some C.S. Lewis) that I've read:

N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate, 350 pg.
N.K. Jemisin, The Stone Sky, 350pg.

Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn 600 pg.
Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension, 800 pg.
Brandon Sanderson, The Hero of Ages, 700 pg.

Blake Charlton, Spellwright, 300 pg.
David Gemmel, Legend, 300 pg.
Paul Kierney, The Ten Thousand, 350 pg.

Paul Edwin Zimmer, The Dark Border (2 vols): 750 pg.
John Bellairs, The Face in the Frost, 150 pg.
Paul Kearney, The Ten Thousand, 350 pg.
Lois McMaster Bujold, Paladin of Souls, 450 pg.
Lovecraft, H.P. The Call of Cthulu and Other Weird Stories, 400 pg.
Walton, Evangeline. Above Keri-Is and Other Stories, 150 pg.
Laura E. Goodin, Mud and Glass, 350 pg.

L. Frank Baum, The Lost Princess of Oz, 300pg.
L. Frank Baum, The Tin Woodman of Oz, 250 pg.
L. Frank Baum, The Patchwork Girl of Oz, 200 pg.
L. Frank Baum, Tik-Tok of Oz, 200 pg.
L. Frank Baum, Rinkitink of Oz, 200 pg.
Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 150 pg
Roald Dahl, Twits, 100 pg.

Jonathan Strahan, Lou Anders, editors. Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery, 500 pg.

C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 100 pg.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 200 pg.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 200 pg.
All in all: 8,750 pages of fiction read. So, about 60 pages per day over the course of 150 days from January through may. The bulk of this has been read during the first three months of that period -- the latter period saw a lot of time devoted to writing and reading literary criticism, which hasn't made this list.