Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Academic publishing is so, so slow. . .

As I was updating my CV for the upcoming academic jobs season, I came to a stunning realization.**

Currently, I have nine articles published (7 refereed, 2 non-refereed) . . . and nine articles pending. In other words, exactly half of my finished work, over two years of pencil-breaking effort, still isn't available publicly to other scholars. Two are forthcoming, and the others are a mix of "under review" or "revise & submit." And the main culprit, of course, is the drastic slowness of academic publishing.

One of pending pieces, for example, was listed as "accepted and forthcoming" for three years before I finally pulled it and submitted it elsewhere, where it's now under review again. Both my currently forthcoming articles were written for the Baum Bugle two years ago, but the editor has been holding on them.*** Another article has been in circulation for a year. I still have faith in it, though, since it was passed over by three different journals that rarely published science fiction or fantasy. Well, why haven't I submitted it to a journal that does SF&F? Because I already have articles under review at all the major ones

It's enough to make one bang one's head against the wall. And, if headaches were anything like academic publishing, it would come four months after initial contact.

Incidentally, thank goodness for The Journal of Tolkien Research. They publish material almost immediately upon acceptance, and my prior experience has been that they finish the first stage of peer review in less than a month. Why more journals aren't like JTR, I'll never know. (Except that I do, of course.)

**Okay, this realization has struck me many, many times before.

*** To be fair, Sarah told me that one of them would take two years to publish, and she's been holding the other "in reserve" in case a planned feature falls suddenly through.

Fafnir makes the DOAJ

Well, here it is -- Fafnir: A Nordic Journal of SFF Research is now officially on the Directory of Open Access Journals! Apparently, we've been a member since July 19th. I filled out the application last April or early may; a rep contacted me with some questions in mid-July, but I though we'd get a confirmation e-mail of acceptance or something. Nope. So we've been a member for two months, but I've only just noticed.  Still, this is pretty cool. The DOAJ is a good, volunteer-run directory for journals who follow good practice in open access publishing, and it's nice that we have that academic cachet now.

Next step: the DOAJ Seal of Approval, which is awarded to OA journals that follow best practice in open-access publishing. That'll take some added steps, including deep archiving and some changes to our copyright policy, which'll probably require approval by the editorial board, but we'll make it.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

On Stephen R. Donaldson's Website. . .

. . . and by "on" SRD's website, I mean that I personally am on his website!

So, a cool thing that happened. I know SRD, slightly, from ICFA 39 -- he goes every year, and in 2018 I foolishly gave a paper on him during the conference. He came, of course, and we chatted briefly afterward. Although Martina insists that I didn't embarrass myself, I'm less sure. It certainly felt incredibly weird to actually talk with someone whose books have been a mainstay of my life since the 7th grade,*** and I'm not good with normal chit-chat, so I exited the situation perhaps too hurriedly. Yet he, personally, was quite the gentleman -- and "gentleman" is certainly the right word here; I've rarely encountered who radiated courtesy in quite the same way. At any rate, before I chickened out, he gave me his e-mail, we exchanged a few messages, and that was that for a while.

Then, last August, my article on SRD, feminism, and sexed violence was published in Extrapolation, and I e-mailed him to let know him. He thanked me. A few days later, though, he messaged back . . . wondering if he could put my article on his website (!). Now, there's a few other scholarly works on there, by W. A. Senior and Benjamin Laskar, but I was floored. I checked with the publisher -- no copyright violation so long as certain conditions were met. So, poof: it's up there now. Check out my article on SRD's website.

*** Incidentally, how many 12-year-olds, honestly, should be reading Lord Foul's Bane? (And you know the scene I'm talking about.) That was my childhood for you, though.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Issue 6.1 of FAFNIR just published!

If you've been wondering when FAFNIR (vol. 6.1, 2019) would be published, well, it's out! There's 155 pages of academic SF&F goodness. 

We have material from Adam Roberts and Stefen Ekman, plus peer-reviewed research on Ray Bradbury, C. M. Kornblurth, Hayao Miyazaki, Knights of Sidonia, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and comic book Golems.

There's also two conference reports -- one by Paul Williams on ICFA 40, and another by myself on the Ursula K. Le Conference held in Paris from June 19th-21st.

Rounding out the issue are four book reviews:
  • Audrey Taylor's Patricia A. McKillip and the Art of Fantasy World-Building
  • Dale Knickerbocker's (ed.) Lingua Cosmica: Science Fiction from Around the World
  •  J.P. Telotte's Animating the Science Fiction Imagination
  •  William Davies's (ed.) Economic Science Fictions
Lot of hard work went into this issue and, I gotta say, this is my third issue, but it seems like Fafnir is getting better all the time. Congrats to the entire editorial team.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Pretentious, Verbose, and Dull -- A Lament on Samuel R. Delany

My blog post title gives me a vague feeling of guilt. I know, I know -- we're supposed to like Delany. He's both LGBTQ+ and African-American, especially at a time when SFF desperate needed the diversity. Even more importantly, he's probably the most theory-orientated major writer of science fiction and fantasy out there, and thus there's just oodles of material in his writings that causes literary theorists to salivate.

Still, my intense dislike for Delany's fiction is hard to express -- only slightly alleviated, I must admit, by Delany owning one of the all-time great beards

Case in point:

I recently forced myself to digest the first two books in his S&S fantasy series, Return to Nevèrÿon. I entered into these books with mixed hopes. On one hand, it's virtually the only S&S -- thanks to Delany's Marxist, psychoanalytic, and poststructuralist leanings -- to get serious academic respect.

On the other hand, I have encountered Delany before. Several years ago, I read Triton (1976), a long-winded and (in my view) intellectually suspect work, and The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction vastly disappointed me. My issues with that book are perhaps indicative of my dislike of Delany in general. There, he displayed an impressive range of knowledge about high theory concepts, but the lack of sustained analytical rigor appalled me. The "notes" in the title perhaps should have indicated this, but I could find no discussion of any concept that was not also more clearly, and more rigorously, available in books by actual philosophers or academics. It was like reading the literature review of a dissertation by a moderately competent doctoral student. Why read second-hand interpretations when the original works are so much more clearly expressed? Perhaps calling Delany a critical theory dilettante is unfair, but there it is.

Anyway, back to the Nevèrÿon books. My main objections are all found in my blog title, so let's just list them out here.
  1. Verbose. Good gawd, Delany is long-winded. There is one section in Tales of Nevèrÿon where a character re-tells the creation story from Genesis from a feminist perspective . . . for six pages. I got the main gist after the first paragraph; the rest is just crazy. Indeed though, this verbosity seems like a general feature of Delany's writing. Close reading is nearly impossible for me -- skim-reading was my basic modus operandi. Alongside that, there are several scenes where Delany virtually halts the narrative in some unimportant setting, mentions his characters doing some narratively pointless things (like setting up camp or cooking), and just allowing his mouthpiece characters to engage in dull dialogue that expresses the ideas Delany wishes to express
  2. Boring. Granted, boredom can be subjective, but there's a number of concrete items here. 
    1. First, obviously, is the verbosity -- when a reader feels that every other word is unnecessary, that of course is a problem.
    2. Extended monologues; lack of action. Despite being S&S, the plot -- such as it is -- is only a thinly disguised vehicle for various long monologues. There are entire chapters where Character X expounds at length on some pet topic, such as Gorgik in Neveryóna discoursing not-so-eloquently to Pryn on the city Kolhari, or Madame Keyne**  discoursing not-so-eloquently to Pryn on capitalism. Occasionally, Pryn interjects an occasional remark, but nothing substantive. . . they just prompt more monologue.
      1. Actually, Delany's form is closer to lecturing than fiction. His characters are too often mere authorial mouthpieces for complex ideas better expressed in a different format. Other characters, like Pryn, are simply passive listeners. Delany's attempts to give depth or nuance to these characters all fail drastically. 
        1. In fact, Delany frequently reminds me of the extended monologue by Dr. Matthew O'Connor to Nora Flood in Nightwood (Djuna Barnes, 1936). An no, I couldn't read that closely either.
    3. Suspense. Oddly enough, Delany seems to entirely ignore the possibility for narrative suspense, which seems like genre fiction's biggest selling point. I'm not talking about ending books with big booms or battles, either -- the culmination of character arcs can be important suspense points, too. Yet, as I mentioned, there don't seem to be any characters in Delany -- just conveyers of authorial ideas through lecture-like dialogue who happen to have odd personal names.
  3. Pretentious. I've hit upon this before when discussing The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. Delany is basically writing "philosophical" novels that partake of the worst of both worlds -- on the philosophical side, a lack of sustained analysis and rigor, and a deep failures of narrative engagement on the literary side.
    1. In particular, I'm thinking of "The Tale of Old Venn" from Tales from Neveryón, another case of character X lecturing characters Y and Z for dozens and dozens of pages. Anyway, Venn**** talks about the emergence of a money economy among the barter-economy Rulvyn, and all the implications for alientation that a second-order semiotic system like "money" implies. All Venn's ideas might have been -- and are -- more concisely and engagingly presented by academic works. Encyclopedia entries or introductions to theory, even. Read as fiction, it's just murder.
    2. Also, speaking of pretentious . . . opening every chapter with a dense epigraph from some academic or critical theorist is NOT a good way to show readers just how smart you are.
All told, reading the first two books in the Return to Nevèrÿon, there was simply nothing that I found admirable. For all Delany's unquestioned originality -- for example, using BDSM to reflect class relations is a stroke of inspiration, no matter how poorly written its execution -- I have rarely encountered an author with so little emotional depth to their work.

 ** Madame Keyne's name, in case you didn't notice, is a clear play on John Maynard Keynes.
**** By the way, also if you haven't noticed, Venn = Venn diagram, since she's the overlap-point between multiple cultures and ways of life. Oh, Delany, you scamp.