Monday, March 26, 2007, 12:02 PMThe arrival of Michael Bywater meant that it was time to open some wine and settle back for a highly entertaining paper, ‘Zorking Hell: How the PC made Hobbits of us all’. Although this was great fun (and appropriately interactive considering that Michael was exploring the possibilities of interactive fiction) it also raised some really fascinating questions about genre and narratology, and provided an excellent finale to a thoroughly enjoyable day.
Monday, March 26, 2007, 11:54 AMAll together again after tea for the final panel. Keverne Smith offered a thoughtful and illuminating reading of The Tempest as a precursor of SF. Prospero’s uncanny feat of necromancy has gained a cumulative reflexive charge through the countless SF writers – such as Simmons and Gaiman – who have reanimated the play’s shade to inform their own works.
This was followed (in a late change to the programme) by a most suggestive paper by Simon de Bourcier on links between the works of Pynchon and 2001, a Space Odyssey. This included an investigation of tesseracts – although I was introduced to this concept at a tender age through reading Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time my understanding has not moved on much over the course of the past 30 years, so I found this part of the paper quite challenging!
However I did wonder whether some of the portentous references to seeing stars at climactic moments which Simon identified constituted an hommage to that great early SF work, Dante’s Divine Comedy, , all 3 books of which end with a similar epiphany.
Monday, March 26, 2007, 11:28 AMI was sorry not to be able to attend this session on steam- and cyberpunk, especially as it focused on issues and authors – especially Neal Stephenson and Kurt Vonnegut– that strongly interest me. This panel was instead chaired by Simon de Bourcier. Sandor Klapcsik’s paper, ‘Cyberpunk and the Contemporary Canon’, explored the relationship between postmodernity and SF, as did Lovorka Gruic-Grmusa’s ‘The Postmodern Perspective: is Science Fiction only a Tool?’, with its analysis of the increasing ‘science fictionality’ of the (post)modern world. The final paper, Jason Ellis’s ‘Projecting Victorians into the Future in the Works of H.G. Wells and Steampunk’ traced the links between the works of Neal Stephenson and Wells’s ‘A Story of the Days to Come’.
Monday, March 26, 2007, 11:09 AMAfter lunch we had two parallel sessions. ‘SF and the Victorians’ opened with Christopher Pittard’s compelling paper,‘Dick/ens: Bleak House and science fiction dystopia’. The parallels Christopher found between Dickens’ novel and Bladerunner were fascinating, and I found myself trying to discover still more links of my own between these two ostensibly very different productions.
A late change in the programme meant that the next paper, Amanda Potter’s lively analysis of the presence of Philoctetes in an episode of Torchwood took us away from the Victorians and back to the Classics. However both her paper and Christopher’s were linked in that each raised issues of methodology when looking at apparent ‘allusions’ in texts or films which cannot be identified securely with a single author who may or may not have had ‘intentions’.
Finally, Katalin Kocsis offered a very enjoyable account of how Wells’ The Island of Dr Moreau negotiates the boundaries which separate fantasy from SF. Her focus on the human/animal divide took us back to some of the issues raised by Genevieve Liveley in her parallel exploration of the human/machine interface. These reminders of SF’s preoccupation with how we can define the human also connected with Rowlie Wymer’s analysis of SF and Tragedy. Both genres so often centre on an encounter between ‘outsider’ and ‘insider’ – and then proceed to call such categories into question.
Sunday, March 25, 2007, 06:29 PMAfter coffee we regrouped for two papers on genres not usually associated with SF, pastoral and tragedy. The first speaker was Andy Sawyer, who offered a very thought-provoking analysis of the relationship between pastoral, as a closed system with widely understood conventions and restraints, and the parallel (though often superficially dissimilar) worlds created in SF. Though in fact, as Andy demonstrated with particular reference to U K Le Guin, some SF works offer a weird kind of reverse pastoral of the (post-apocalyptic) future, when humanity has returned to a more primitive existence.
The second paper of the session was given by my colleague Rowlie Wymer. He argued that although tragedy, a genre characterised by its preoccupation with the past, seems incompatible with the future oriented world of SF, both genres share a capacity to engage with the predicament of humans and of humanity in the face of ineluctable forces, whether these are the gods or physical laws. This excellent paper was a revised version of 'Tragedy and the Future', the last essay in Tragedy in Transition which will shortly be published by Blackwell.
This panel was chaired by another Anglia Ruskin colleague, Chris Beckett, who is himself an SF writer. I strongly recommend his recent novel The Holy Machine which I read pretty much in one sitting.