Ninth Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism 2015

The Ninth Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism will be held from Friday 17 July to Sunday 19 July 2015

The SFF Masterclass involves three days studying texts supplied by three class leaders.  It is a great way to broaden your critical perspectives, sharpen some critical tools, and to make contacts with other people writing on SF and Fantasy.  The class leaders are drawn from professional writers, academics and fans, and this is a great opportunity to learn from people experienced in their craft.
Anyone interested in writing seriously about science fiction and/or fantasy, at whatever level they are in their careers, is welcome to attend.  This includes not just critics and reviewers, but historians and other scholars.  Those who have attended past Masterclasses are also welcome to apply (though we will prioritise applications from those who have not been previous students).
Past students have found these events immensely beneficial, and often return.  For some reports and endorsements from past students and class leaders, see the Facebook page for the Masterclass;
We are pleased to announce that the venue will again be the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, founded by Charles II in 1675, and the home of the Prime Meridian.
Price: £200£150 for registered postgraduate students.
The Class Leaders for 2015 will be:
Pat Cadigan, multiple Clarke and Hugo Award-winning author of Synners and Fools, and Official Queen of Cyberpunk.
Nick LoweBSFA Award-winning critic and writer of Interzone‘s ‘Mutant Popcorn’ column.
Graham Sleight, Hugo Award-winning Managing Editor of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia.
To apply please send a short (no more than 3,000 words) piece of critical writing (a blog entry, review, essay, or other piece), and a one page curriculum vitae, to  Applications received by 28 February 2015 will be considered by an Applications Committee consisting of Tony Keen, Andy Sawyer and Kari Sperring. Applications received after 28 February may be considered if places are still available, on a strictly first-come first served basis.
Information on past Masterclasses can be found here.

New stuff you need to know

Forgive me for I have sinned. It has been far too long since I blogged at this site. And there are things you need to know (and not just that Atlantis is back …)

First off, there will be another conference on Classics and Science Fiction, this time in the US, organized by Brett Rogers and Ben Stevens.  The Once and Future Antiquity: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction takes place 27-29 March 2015. The deadline for the call for papers is 15 December 2015.

Speaking of Brett and Ben, their collection Classical Traditions in Science Fiction should be out by the end of the year (the OUP website says October 2015, but that seems to be wrong). This will be followed by Classical Tradtions in Fantasy. Meanwhile, the proceedings of the 2012 Paris-Rouen conference have come out:  L’Antiquité dans l’imaginaire contemporain – Fantasy, science-fiction, fantastique, edited by Mélanie Bost-Fievet and Sandra Provini. This is an important volume, not least because it demonstrates that not all important works on Classical Reception are anglophone. Some pieces from Swords … are also starting to appear. Liz Gloyn’s and Stephe Harrop’s papers from the Hadrian’s Wall session are on Strange Horizons. And Foundation 118 is mostly devoted to a special issue reprinting six papers from the conference. Fantasy author Juliet McKenna, a Classics graduate herself, has written about this issue.

I’m very pleased that there is now more material appearing in print discussing the intersection of Classics and SFF. For too long these have been conversations going around – now finally the products of these conversations are starting to appear, and we can point people making enquiries of us at actual bibliography.

There are a few reports of the conference that I haven’t mentioned: Liz Bourke in Strange Horizons, Chris Pak in the SFRA Review, and myself and Cat Wilson in Foundation 116. I also talked about the conference on Classics Confidential.

Back in October there was a talk in Leeds on Greece and Rome in Star Trek. The audio should become available soon. Other interesting pieces on this blog include Malcolm Heath on the location of Atlantis, Bev Scott on George Lucas (not yet uploaded), and Eleanor OKell on The Hunger Games.

I shall leave you with notice of a conference that may be of interest to readers of this blog: Sideways in Time: Alternate History and Counterfactual Narratives. The CFP for this also closes on 15 December.

BSFA Lecture at Loncon 3

paula-jamesA special BSFA Lecture will be given at Loncon 3 by Dr Paula James (Open Unversity), and is entitled ‘Pygmalion’s Statue and her Synthetic Sisters: The Perfect Woman on Screen′. The lecture will be given at 20.00 on Saturday August 16th, the ExCel Centre, London Docklands. The lecture is open to any member of Loncon 3.

Paula James is a familiar face and voice to anyone who has studied the Open University’s Arts Foundation courses over the past fifteen years or so, or any of their courses in Classical Studies. Paula is Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies and Staff Tutor in Arts at the OU. She began her academic career after raising her family, and joined the Open University in the 1990s. She is an expert in Latin Literature, particularly the Metamorphoses of Ovid and Apuleius. She also writes on the reception of Latin texts in modern cinema. She has written an excellent introduction to Ancient Rome, Understand Roman Civilization, now in its second edition, and has jointly edited works on the imagery of Trade Union banners and the parrot in literature. Her most recent book is Ovid’s Myth of Pygmalion on Screen: In Pursuit of the Perfect Woman (2013), and it is from this work that her talk to us is derived.
The BSFA Lecture is intended as a companion to the George Hay Lecture, which is presented at the Eastercon by the Science Fiction Foundation. Where the Hay Lecture invites scientists, the BSFA Lecture invites academics from the arts and humanities, because we recognise that science fiction fans aren’t only interested in science. The lecturers are given a remit to speak “on a subject that is likely to be of interest to science fiction fans” – i.e. on whatever they want! This is a special lecture for Worldcon, and is the seventh BSFA Lecture.

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:

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.