Eighth SFF Criticism Masterclass 2014

I know, it’s ages since I’ve done a proper post here.  I do mean to do that, but in the meantime, I’d like to plug this year’s Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass.

People I think would find this immensely valuable: pretty much anyone who wants to write seriously about science fiction, at whatever level you’re currently operating. Great for learning, great for networking. And no bar on applying if you’ve attended previously.

Please share!

Here’s a link to details:

http://www.sf-foundation.org/node/199

Atlantis, conferences, Kieron Gillen and loads of other stuff

So, the BBC’s Atlantis has started – indeed, it’s up to episode 4.  I thought it started off rather more confidently than did Merlin, with which is is most often compared (though it looks more like Sky’s short-lived Sinbad, from which it has borrowed the theme of “we cannot tell him who he truly is”).  There’s a great explanation of why these characters may not behave exactly as to would expect them to, given their names – yet at the same time, effective use is made of the audience’s (and Jason’s) foreknowledge of the implications of names like Medusa and Oedipus, to create the same feeling of foreboding that the audience’s knowledge of the basics of Arthurian myth brought to Merlin.  Mark Addy gives good value as a Hercules who is not the Hercules you’d expect.  And I did like the atmospheric cave of the Minotaur in the first episode (at one point I thought they might suggest that this was an entirely psycological threat – that there was no Minotaur at all, and everyone was destroyed by their own fears – but in the end they chose the more obvious monster route).

I note in passing that an awful lot of the mise-en-scène of this Greek series is rather, well, Roman, particularly in the architecture.  This comes out most clearly in the third episode, which has bull-leaping transported into an amphitheatre.  I also note that Jack Donnelly is expected to take his shirt off at least once an episode. And that they seem to adhere to the Murray Gold school of incidental music.

Overall, though, I’m a bit disappointed.  No cliché is left unturned, especially when Sarah Parrish is onscreen as wicked scheming Pasiphae.  This might have been more easily born if we had more of Alexander Siddig’s Minos; Siddig is an actor whose natural instinct is to say “Scenery?  I’ll have some of that, please.  Nom, nom, nom.”  But he’s really not on screen very often.  And I just don’t think the series has the strength for the Saturday night alternative to Doctor Who slot it’s been placed in, as opposed to a Sunday teatime slot.

Juliette Harrison is a bit more enthusiastic, as you can tell from her blog posts on the first three episodes, here, here and here. I expect a review of episode four will follow soon.

Classics Closet also had a post on Atlantis, but unfortunately their website is down for the moment. This means we also can’t at the moment read Lottie Parkyn on Joss Whedon.

Lottie has also tweeted a picture from the set of Hercules: The Thracian Wars.

There is another Hercules movie coming up, Hercules: The Legend Begins, for which a trailer has been released for. This movie looks like an unsurprising mix of Lord of the Rings300GladiatorPercy Jackson and Clash of the Titans.

Cara Sheldrake has written the next part of her write-up of Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space .

Speaking of Cara, on 8 November she’ll be giving a version of her Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space conference paper, on “History, Identity and Independence: Children’s Time-Travel to Roman Britain”, as part of the Institute of Classical Studies’ Early Career Seminar for Classical Studies. In the same seminar series, Stephe Harrop gives a version of her conference paper, “The End of the World? On the Wall with Rudyard Kipling and George R.R. Martin”, on 6 December.

Meanwhile, Eleanor OKell gives a version of her paper, “Classical Names as key to The Hunger Games“, at Leeds City Museum in 31 October. The second Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, goes on general release on 22 November.  There’s a trailer here.

And a version of Liz Gloyn’s paper should be appearing soon in Strange Horizons.

In the latest issue of Vector, Andy Sawyer writes about I.O. Evans’ Gadget City, inspired by Nick Lowe’s mentioning of it at the conference.  You can get hold of a copy of Vector by contacting the British Science Fiction Association.

In other conference news, registration is now open for Monstrous Antiquities on 1-3 November, and the programme is up. Lots of relevant stuff in there.

On 9-10 January there’s a conference, Antiquity in Popular Literature and Culture. They will be releasing their programme soon, and I shall look through it for papers relevant to our interests.

And there’s a call for papers up for From I, Claudius, to Private Eyes: the Ancient World and Popular Fiction, taking place in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. 16-18 June. They should be pretty receptive to our interests – one of the organisers, Lisa Maurice, spoke at Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space. The call closes on 31 December.

This coming Friday, 24 October, our fellow-travellers in the Mediaeval Science Fiction group have a roundtable discussion with some major figures, including Edward James and Andy Sawyer, both of whom were on the conference committee. I shall be going, and will report back here.

I picked up from Facebook a link to Janet and Chris Morris’ The Sacred Band, part of a larger series of Greek-inspired fantasy novels. This came out in December, but I wasn’t aware of it before now.

There’s a consistent idea that our favourite Greek-inspired superheroine, Wonder Woman, can’t be made to work on screen, for reasons that are, frankly, bullshit.  To disprove this, Rainfall have made a short and rather wonderful Wonder Woman film. Meanwhile, former Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone waxes lyrical about the Amazons on her Tumblr, and DC are reprinting their first New 52 Wonder Woman stories as a DC Essential.

In other comics news, not strictly fantasy, but Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly have launched Three. What is particularly interesting is that Gillen has gone out of his way to consult members of the University of Nottingham’s Centre for Spartan and Peloponnesian Studies. He’s also posted some writers notes on the first issue. As if there weren’t already enough reasons to love Kieron Gillen.

A round-up of interesting stuff

A bit since I’ve posted, so here’s some more links that should be of interest.

First of all, I should have recommended long ago the Classical Reception Studies Network. The CRSN promotes all aspects of Classical reception. They are particularly keen for people from outside Classics departments to join them.

On Sphinx, the Bristol Classics blog, Neville Morley, who I was sad couldn’t make the Liverpool conference, writes about Ken MacLeod’s novel The Cassini Division, suggesting the possible influence of Thucydides. I mentioned this to Ken, who told me that he actually hasn’t read Thucydides – but that doesn’t mean that he’s not influenced by the historian’s ideas, since they are thoroughly situated in the cultural zeitgeist.

Over at The Classics Closet, Jarrid Looney writes about Rick Riordan. I’ve finally got around to seeing Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, but have yet to see the sequel.

Liz Gloyn writes rather brilliantly about Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia. This piece has made me think about this novel again, and I shall come back to this when I next write about Lavinia (as I do plan on doing).  Liz’s piece has also sparked some interesting discussion on Twitter.  A version of her paper from the conference will be appearing in Strange Horizons soon.

Our other favourite Liz, Liz Bourke, fulfills her obligation to those who funded her trip to the conference with a piece on Lucian’s True History.

Liz B also draws my attention to the Call for Papers for Supernatural Creatures: from Elf-Shot to Shrek, the Second Łódź Fantastic Literature Conference in Poland. The conference has its own web page.

The BBC has an upcoming Greek fantasy series Atlantis, which begins on 28 September. It’s made by people who had worked on Merlin, but it looks to me aesthetically more like Sky’s ill-fated Sinbad. The ever-reliable Juliette Harrisson has been writing about the show. On Pop Classics, she uses it as a lead on to a post about five awesome women of Greek mythology. On Den of Geek, she reports from the set.

And finally, the Tor/Forge blog, Kendare Blake writes about her novel Antigoddess, a story of dying Greek gods.

This week’s interesting things

First of all, there’s still a few hours to submit proposals to the three calls for papers mentioned in the last post here.

Liz Gloyn at Classically Inclined writes about Coalescent by Stephen Baxter. I have some issues with the details of the presentation of Late and Post-Roman Britain in Baxter’s novel, but the parts that depict the attempt to maintain normality in the fact of catastrophe are excellent. Liz is reading Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia at the moment, and I hope that will get a blog post as well.

Christina Phillips’ Tainted “dabbles a wee bit in the paranormal”. The cover suggests that I’m not the target audience for this novel, but it is relevant to out interests, and so should be noticed.

The ever reliable Juliette Harrison at Pop Classics writes about The Song of Achilles by Madeline-Miller. Especially worth reading here is her rant about how Song of Achilles is not sold as a fantasy novel, despite obviously being such. She also has one of her regular posts about a Xena episode.

Charlotte’s Library writes about Earth Girl by Janet Edwards with a link to another review. This is a book about archaeologists from the future investigating the remains of the twentieth century; not directly in our target area, but I think of interest.

In movie news, Dwayne Johnson has Tweeted some shots from his forthcoming movie Hercules. This looks like standard Greek mythological fantasy, of the sort that has dominated movie versions of the ancient world for the past decade.

An exception to that will be the forthcoming Pompeii, the first trailer of which has just been released. Now, this isn’t fantasy – but note how they have cast Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones‘ Jon Snow), and visually coded the movie to look like fantasy (in the same way that parts of Titanic are visually coded to look like SF). Time also has an article on why all plans for a movie featuring one of the best classically-inspired superheroines, Wonder Woman, have been stillborn. Personally I think it is because conventional Hollywood wisdom remains that female-led action movies don’t sell.

io9, meanwhile, wonders why fantasy movies fail at the box office (except when they don’t). This touches on a few movies in which we’re interested (primarily the Percy Jackson series). My view is that one could easily write the same article about bromance comedies, or Stallone movies, or any other genre. These movies tank because the Hollywood system is inimical to the production of good movies, and we should be more surprised that anything good emerges at all, rather than that so much of the product is awful.

There’s a Doctor Who conference next week. I’m afraid it’s too late to register (though you might try contacting the organizers), and I shan’t, unfortunately, be there. But it’s worth noting that on Tuesday there will be a session on “Myth, Hope, and Heroes”, including Amanda Potter speaking on “Who’s Monsters? Classical monsters rewritten in Doctor Who episodes ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’ and ‘The God Complex’”. And on Wednesday James Walters gives a talk on “The Burden of Time: The Doctor as Sisyphean Hero”.

Finally, one of the issues that confrints classicists getting interested in science fiction is the definition of the subject. Two very interesting articles have recently been republished, one by Paul Kincaid, and one by John Rieder. I recommend reading them both. More than once.

As ever, let me know of anything else relevant you spot.

A post of multiple subjects

I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog for a while.  But things have been happening, and here is a collection of them.

First up, some calls for papers, all of which close on 31 August.

Monstrous Antiquities is a conference on Archaeology and the Uncanny in popular culture. This looks like being great, and is right in the area of our interests. I shall certainly be going.

I shall also be going to the the 2014 Classical Association conference. This is a general Classics conference, but in the past has been receptive to papers in the sf/Classics area. The same is true of AMPRAW, the Annual Meeting of Postgraduates in the Reception of the Ancient World.

Petra Schrackmann, who spoke at the conference, sends me the following:

“The German-based Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung/Association for Research in the Fantastic, founded in Hamburg in 2010, aims to connect researchers of the fantastic from many different fields. It is a bit like the Science Fiction Foundation; there is a Journal for Research of the Fantastic and an annual conference. Unfortunately, the essays in the journal are almost exclusively in German, but there are always English panels at the annual conference, so it might be interesting for attendees of the Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space conference.

“Each GfF conference is focused on a specific topic – this year, the conference is in Wetzlar, Germany (end of September), and the topic is ‘Writing Worlds – Models of World and Space in the Fantastic’ – but there usually is an open track for papers that focus on different aspects of the fantastic, so the program is always very diverse. Since I heard many times at the Liverpool conference that there are so few opportunities where the Classics and fantasy/science fiction can be combined, I thought that the Association for Research in the Fantastic might be of interest to you.

“Next year, the conference will probably take place in Klagenfurt, Austria. There’s no Call for Papers yet, but I guess it will be available in early October, and the deadline for abstracts will most likely be at the end of 2013.”

Last month I went to see the latest restoration of the 1963 Cleopatra.  Along with spotting that Rex Harrison never shows his bare legs through the movie, I realised that there is a fantastic element in the movie.  This comes when Pamela Brown’s High Priestess conjures up for Cleopatra a vision in  the fire of the murder of Caesar.  This sort of accurate prophecy is an element of the fantastic that can often been found in ancient world tales where all other traces have been removed.  In retellings of the Trojan War that strip out the gods, such as David Gemmell’s Troy novels of Eric Shanower’s Age of Bronze, still retain the prophetic power of Cassandra – and in Robert Grave’s I, Claudius, the Sibyl foresees the rediscovery of Claudius’ manuscript in 1900 years.  I think Juliette Harrisson has written on this.

Work on an article related to our topic turned up this syllabus for a course on sf and mythology.

Mary Beard wrote an article to accompany her television programme on the emperor Caligula. I mention this here because of her reference to the Judge Dredd story that featured Judge Cal.  (Sadly that didn’t make it into the programme itself.)

Leeds City Museum has been running a series of lunch time talks, that have been uploaded in audio form to the web.  Two are of interest to us.  Owen Hodkinson talked about “His Greek Materials: Philip Pullman’s Use of Classical Mythology”, whilst Regine May spoke on Becoming an Animal: Apuleius’ Golden Ass and Disney’s Brave.  Regine’s paper is accompanied by a pdf.

In the blogs, Cara Sheldrake has posted parts 2 and 3 of her write-up of the conference. On Pop Classics, Juliette Harrisson reviews Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (with spoilers).  I haven’t seen this movie yet, but plan to, and will write it up here when I do.  And at The Classics Closet there’s an article on Batman creator Bob Kane, making a (slightly tenuous, in my view, I’m afraid) connection between Batman and Odysseus. 

Finally, can I justify including the new Lynx Apollo ads, set in space? No? Probably for the best.  Let me know in a comment here or by e-mail of anything else you spot that’s relevant.

A couple of interesting links

First off, I have become aware of the Medieval Science Fiction project, supported by the Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies at King;s College London.  Their Twitter account is here, and they had a session at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds (the day after ‘Swords, Sorcery, Sandals and Space’ – had I but known!). There’s a write up here. They are doing much the same as we are for the Greco-Roman period, and I shall follow their work with interest.

The other link is the first part of Cara Sheldrake’s write up of the conference. I look forward to future installments.

Edit: And I want to add this CFP for a conference on Lois McMaster Bujold.

Rounding off the conference

In July 2010, I happened to mention to my friend Farah Mendlesohn that I’d always wanted to run a conference on Classics and Science Fiction. It was, after all, my own specialist research area. “Would you like to run that as the next SF Foundation conference?” she asked. I didn’t wait long before replying.

Three weekends ago, that conference took place. There are things I would do differently – for a start I’d have made sure my own book was out in time. But considering how often I feared that the conference might not happen at all, or that it would fall far short of my hopes for it, I can only feel that the final result was a great success. We had a really high level of quality in the papers, and were able to have multiple streams. We had about as many people as the venue could comfortable accommodate. And all through the weekend I saw people from widely divergent disciplines have conversations, make contacts, forge friendships. That was why I ran this conference in the first place, and I am very pleased.

I thank everyone who came, but in particular I thank Andy Sawyer, Fiona Hobden and Shana Worthen. Without them the conference would not have happened.

On the Monday, I finished off the conference with a few words about where we might go with the topics and ideas discussed at the conference.  Here, I’d like to develop that brief discussion.

First of all, if you want to know what you missed at the conference, either through not being there, or being in another stream, Liz Bourke has an epic thirteen-part write-up of the conference. Liz Gloyn has also written up the conference, whilst Cara Sheldrake has written a brief response, which hopefully will be the first in a series. As already noted here, I’ve Storified the Tweets from the conference. Edward James will be writing the conference up for Science Fiction Studies, Liz Bourke will write it up for Strange Horizons, and I shall be doing the same for Foundation.  Please let me know if there are any write-ups I’ve missed.

What next?  Well, I shall keep updating this blog with relevant material, and hopefully making this site a resource for people interested in this subject.  In that light, I would like to bring to your attention the list of links to the right.

A couple of theoretical pieces got mentioned in Nick Lowe’s plenary lecture.  One is a blog post I wrote several years ago (and which I shall be revising for my forthcoming book): ‘The “T” stands for Tiberius: models and methodologies of classical reception in science fiction’. The other, rather more advanced, is Brett Rogers’ and Ben Stevens’ article from Classical Receptions Journal in 2012: “Classical receptions in science fiction”.

There are a few other online pieces I’d like to link to.  A couple are directly related to the conference.  Jarrid Looney (now newly Doctored) spoke via a not-wholly reliable Skype link on  “‘There is both the god in man, which reaches for fire and stars, and that black dark streak which steals the fire to make chains’: The Dual Identity of Prometheus in Modern Media Culture”.  Some of the ideas are discussed by him in a post on “Prometheus” on The Classics Closet (which has also recently featured a post on True Blood). Liz Gloyn spoke on “‘By a Wall that faced the South’: Crossing the Border in Classically-influenced Fantasy”. She’s previously written about one of her case studies, Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist, in an article called “’It Had, Indeed, More Than Its Share of Pleasant Things’: Classical Allusion and Hope Mirrlees’ Lud-in-the-Mist.

There are some other pieces I’d like to draw your attention to. In a subsequent issue of Classical Receptions Journal (Vol. 4, no. 2, 2012, pp. 209-223), Sarah Annes Brown writes on “Science fiction and classical reception in contemporary women’s writing”. The complete article is only available to subscribers, but you can read the abstract.

Clarke-award winning sf writer Chris Beckett has written a short piece, “The Egret and the Gander”, which is, as Daniel Franklin observes, is a reception of the Achilles/Hector story, though unconsciously, as Chris only realized this when it was pointed out.

And finally, though not touching on SF, this is an interesting post on Classical Reception, which certainly touches on what we do.

So, where next? There are plenty of relevant calls for papers out. I’ve already mentioned Broadcasting Greece, which closes today. There’s also the call for Penny Goodman’s Commemorating Augustus conference, which closes on 1 December. I also encourage everyone to consider submitting a proposal to the Academic Track for Loncon 3, the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention, which takes place in London. The call for papers closes on 31 December. Again, please let me know of anything I’ve missed.

And there are always journals to submit to. I’ll mention here particularly Foundation. I also recommend joining the Science Fiction Foundation.

There is a lot of upcoming activity relevant to our interests. There is a conference on Translating Myth at the University of Essex in September, though it seems disappointingly short of direct engagements with sff. In books, there are collections coming out, one of last year’s Paris-Rouen conference, and two collections edited by Brett Rogers and Ben Stevens, Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Classical Traditions in Modern Fantasy. Meanwhile, I am working on a collection of my previously-published and unpublished case studies, whilst Bob Cape is alos working on a monograph. And Jennifer Ann Rea is writing a book on the reception of Virgil in science fiction.

And what of our own publication plans? Well, we definitely have them. There are a number of different options on the table, and we’ll be sorting out exactly how we pursue this over the next few weeks. We shan’t be able to publish all the papers in a single volume, but there are other options we’re exploring. Watch this space.

I also got a definite impression that there was a groundswell of opinion in favour of doing all this again, perhaps in a couple of years. Well, again, watch this space. I can’t say what at the moment, but things are happening.