Friday, June 21, 2019

Ursula Le Guin Conference in Paris

Well, this one's in the books -- there's a few panels today, but they're in French, so that counts me out. Just completed two days of the The Legacies of Ursula K. Le Guin: Science, Fiction and Ethics for the Anthropocene conference here in Paris, the City of Light, and it was pretty awesome, as one might suspect. I'll write up a full conference report for Fafnir later, but here are some preliminary impressions.

There was initially some trouble with acoustics -- we were in an old, domed, converted anatomy theater at the Institut du monde anglophone where the echoes were awful, and, until we learned how to deal with them, the first few presentations were unfortunately simply unintelligible. Similarly, the hard wooden benches and tables were extremely uncomfortable, but maybe that's just European? 

Anyway, though, once we worked out the echoes, many of the papers were fascinating, and it really hit home that I'm missing a big chunk of Le Guin's career by not ever having read Always Coming Home. (Apparently, from discussions, I'm not the only one for whom that "novel" constitutes a gap.) My own panel went swimmingly well -- two presentations on The Dispossessed, including mine, and another on The Lathe of Heaven, which made me wish I had re-read that novel in preparation for the talk. Our Q&A were also lively, and get this -- my presentation was on Le Guin and Leo Strauss's reading of Plato, and someone in the audience was actually a huge Strauss fan. So huge, in fact, that he even named one of his children Leo.***

Afterwards, we all had drinks at a local cafe, and had a huge conference dinner (paid for by the conference) at a restaurant called La Petit Prince. Wonderful food, and I talked to a ton of interesting folk. Got home sometime after midnight.

Oh, and Julie Phillips (Le Guin's biographer, and also a keynote speaker) led a small excursion to the hotel, called Hotel de Seine, where Le Guin stayed during her Fullbright year here in Paris. She also met her future husband Charles Le Guin here. Phillips's keynote, of course, discussed Le Guin's Parisian year; Brian Attebery's keynote discussed Always Coming Home as a linchpin of Le Guin's career.

Granted that a conference report doesn't count for anything on one's c.v., but I'm quite looking forward to writing this one!

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*** Incidentally, Strauss is big among American political scientists, China, and . . .  well, France itself. In fact, I was walking past a book shop on the way to the conference where I saw a French monograph on Strauss in the book shop window. Basically floored me. Amazing that an academic book got such a bookstore placement, and even more amazing that it was a technical work on Strauss, of all people.

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.

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** 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.