2017 SFF Masterclass – places still available

Please share.


Three days of extremely enjoyable discussion and exchange of ideas and in the delightful environment of the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the Masterclass is highly valued by past students. Places are still available on a first come-first served basis. Applications welcomed from Past Masterclasses students.

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 masterclass@sf-foundation.org.

For more details, see: http://www.sf-foundation.org/node/228

2017 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in SF Criticism – Applications open

Applications are now open for the 2017 Science Fiction Foundation Masterclass in Science Fiction Criticism. The 2017 Masterclass, the Eleventh, will take place from Friday 30 June to Sunday 2 July. We are delighted to have once again secured at the Royal Observatory Greenwich as a venue.

The 2017 Class Leaders are:

Nick Hubble (Brunel University)

John J. Johnston (Egypt Exploration Society)

Stephanie Saulter (author of Gemsigns and sequels)

Price: £225; £175 for registered postgraduate students.

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 masterclass@sf-foundation.org.

Applications received by 24 April 2017 will be considered by an Applications Committee. Applications received after 24 April may be considered if places are still available, on a strictly first-come first served basis.

Past Masterclass students are encouraged to apply again (though we will prioritise applications from those who have not been previous students).

Information on past Masterclasses can be found at http://www.sf-foundation.org/masterclass. Please direct any enquiries to masterclass@sf-foundation.org.

Tony Keen, SFF Masterclass Administrator

December round-up

9780190661076_p0_v1_s453x700(Yes, I know it’s now January.)

Hi there. This blog has been quiet most of 2016, but I hope to make it a bit more regular in 2017. Here then is a collection of relevant publications, posts and conferences from the end of 2016.

Brett Rogers and Ben Stevens’ follow-up to Classical Traditions in Science FictionClassical Traditions in Modern Fantasy, is now out from Oxford University Press. Those with a Nook can get the ebook discounted from Barnes and Noble. Brett and Ben have been honoured by the SCS for their work on Classics and sf.

Our Mythical Childhood… The Classics and Literature for Children and Young Adults includes chapters on J.M. Barrie and J.K. Rowling, and much other material that speaks to our interests, particularly where modern Young Adult fantasy is concerned. This is part of a larger project, Our Mythical Childhood, where you can find more relevant material.

There’s a new edition of Adam Roberts’ History of Science Fiction out, with its opening chapter in ‘SF and the Ancient Novel’ (which can be purchased separately, though at more than the cost of the whole ebook!).

Richard A. Spencer’s Harry Potter and the Classical World: Greek and Roman Allusions in J.K. Rowling’s Modern Epic came out in 2015. Katherine McDonald reviewed it for Classics For All in November.

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures has a special issue on Science Fiction and the Bible.

starwarsromanempire11Just before Rogue One appeared, Vince Tomasso wrote about the use of Rome in Star Wars, making interesting points about the interrelationship between ideas of America, Rome and the Galactic Empire, ideas complicated now by Rogue One‘s clear drawing of parallels between Imperial forces and the US Army in Iraq. I agree with Vince that the First Order plot in The Force Awakens is a bit arbitrary (or, to put it another way, ‘nonsense’) – it’s all handwaving so that J.J. Abrams can restore the Empire vs. Rebels dynamic of Episodes IV-VI. It’s also very clear, as Peter Bondanella and Martin Winkler both saw a long time ago, that Lucas’ vision of Rome is heavily filtered through the movies of the 1950s and 1960s. The arch at the end of Episode I looks Roman because (as many reading this probably know) the whole victory parade through Naboo is a virtual shot-for-shot copy of the triumphal procession of Commodus into Rome in Anthony Mann’s 1964 epic Fall of the Roman Empire. Vince’s blog, Reboot the Past, regularly features articles on sf/fantasy and Greece and Rome. Rogue One itself has the usual references to the Senate, but perhaps less on America-as-Rome than previous movies.

Also in the run-up to Rogue One, Smithsonian.com ran an article on Lucian’s True Histories.

Curtis Whitacre writes about Dionysus (in particular) in The Wicked + The Divine.

One of the things I (Tony) have been involved in this year is The Slings and Arrows Graphic Novel Guide. It’s an ever-growing site, by no means comprehensive as yet. But there’s plenty there relevant to our interests. I can’t possibly cover everything here, but they include: various Asterix volumes; The Wicked + The Divine; Kieron Gillen’s Three; Atlas’ VenusGreek Love; Eddie Campbell’s Bacchus; various titles featuring Hercules; Marvel Illustrated’s The Odyssey; Democracy; and, of course, loads of Wonder Woman.

The website Legonium: Where Latin Meets Lego includes quite a lot of stuff with sf or fantasy themes. Pretty amusing as well.

Now, some conference news:

Booking opens on 17 January for the 2017 Classical Association Conference, which this year takes place from 26-29 April in Canterbury, jointly convened by the Open University and the University of Kent. Looking at the conference programme, there are several sessions relevant to our interests. On Thursday morning there are sessions on ‘Star Wars and Classical Reception’ (this one is convened by me), and ‘Classical Fantasy and Fiction’, and a paper on ‘Livy’s Syracuse as a model for an alternate-reality Rome’ (which unfortunately clashes with the Star Wars panel). On Friday there’s a session on ‘Ancient Attitudes Towards the Oceanic Uncanny’, and a paper on ‘Magic, materiality and the senses in Roman Britain’. And on Saturday afternoon there’s a session on ‘Modern Amazons on Page, Stage and Screen’, with lots of Wonder Woman content.

‘Transnational Monstrosity in Popular Culture’ is taking place at York St John University on 3 June. Plenty of scope there for Classical monsters. The CFP closes on 1 March, and you can follow news about the conference on their Twitter account, @TNMonstrosity.

The Hercules Project is holding a conference, ‘Celebrating Hercules in the Modern World’, at Leeds on 7 July. The CFP closes on 31 January.

Very close to out interests is ‘Reception Histories of the Future: a conference on Byzantinisms, speculative fiction, and the literary heritage of medieval empire’, which takes place in Uppsala, Sweden, over 4-6 August, a week before Worldcon 75 in Helsinki. Unfortunately, a commitment to another event keeps me away. Call for Papers, for panel ideas and other offers of participation closes on 28 February.

The journal New Directions in Folklore has a Call for Papers for an issue on The Folk Awakens: Star Wars and Folkloristics in Popular Culture. CFP closes on 31 January.

On 12 January, Verso Books are hosting an event in Somerset House on Thomas More’s Latin work of science fiction, Utopia: ‘Imagining the Perfect World: Utopias in Cities and Fiction’.

Speaking of Wonder Woman, as we were a bit ago, we’ve seen the trailer for the 2017 movie in the cinema a few times in the past few weeks. Looking forward to this.

A last little thing – I was watching a documentary on Charlton Heston, for the obvious stuff (and noting how much of the fantastic there is in The Ten Commandments and – to a lesser extent – Ben-Hur), and noticed that in his 1971 sf movie The Omega Man, in Heston’s home there is a bust of the Emperor Caracalla. Read into that what you will.

Thanks to Ben Stevens, Alex Middleton, Vince Tomasso and others for bringing all of this to my attention. If anyone has noticed anything else related to sf and the Classics, please leave a comment here or e-mail me at a.g.keen@open.ac.uk, and I’ll include it in a future mailing.

CFP: RECEPTION HISTORIES OF THE FUTURE: a conference on Byzantinisms, speculative fiction, and the literary heritage of medieval empire

From AnnaLinden Weller:

RECEPTION HISTORIES OF THE FUTURE: a conference on Byzantinisms, speculative fiction, and the literary heritage of medieval empire

Uppsala University

August 4th-6th, 2017


The study of Classical reception in modern speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) is an old and broad field, with roots in both the academy and the popular press. However, much as Classics is often reluctant to look beyond the temporal borders of the antique world and venture into its medieval Greek imperial successor, the consideration of classical reception in speculative fiction has mostly neglected the significant impact of Byzantium and other post-Roman imperial formations and their literatures on modern SFF. However, many of the central thematic tenets of the literary heritage of medieval empire – including but not limited to decadence, the post-Roman world, the problem of defining barbarian and citizen, and the use of ‘Byzantine’ settings and symbology as codes for the foreign or exotic – have had deep effects on the development of science fiction and fantasy in the 20th and 21st centuries.

This conference aims to bring together some of the most innovative modern writers of speculative fiction with scholars working at the cutting edge of Byzantine reception studies for a two-day discussion of Byzantinism, decadence, empire, and storytelling. The conference will therefore collapse the distance between practitioners and critics, and bring reception studies into a direct dialogue with one of today’s most vibrant genres of popular fiction. Planned activities include public events at local bookstores, presentations of scholarly papers, and group panel discussions between writers and scholars. A post-conference publication will include both essays, academic articles, and commissioned fiction.

Details of the Conference

The conference is organized by AnnaLinden Weller, a postdoctoral researcher in Byzantine Studies,  who writes speculative fiction under the pen name Arkady Martine. It is supported by the “Text and Narrative in Byzantium” project (principal investigator: Professor Ingela Nilsson) within the Department of Linguistics and Philology at Uppsala University. The conference will bring together scholars working on the reception of Byzantium, scholars working on classical reception in speculative fiction, and active writers producing speculative fiction in order to broaden and deepen the consideration of how medieval literatures and Byzantinism have far-reaching impact on the popular imagination. Since speculative fiction is a crucial mode of popular cultural expression of life in the modern and technological world, exploring the significant reception of medieval literatures – a ‘non-technological’ and foreign/distant subject in comparison – within it is of real interest to both the scholarly community and the general public.

There has been substantial recent scholarly interest in the reception of classics (and Classics) in speculative fiction. This interest has come both from the academy (volumes like Rogers, Brett M. and Benjamin Eldon Stevens, eds. 2015. Classical Traditions in Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press., and Bost-Fiévet, Mélanie and Sandra Provini, eds. 2014. L’Antiquité dans l’imaginaire contemporain: Fantasy, science-fiction, fantastique. Paris: Classiques Garnier) and from the popular SF press (i.e. Liz Gloyn’s “In a Galaxy Far Far Away: On Classical Reception and Science Fiction” in the SF magazine Strange Horizons, available at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2015/20150427/1gloynb-a.shtml). However, very little work has been done to explore the equally prevalent reception of postclassical Greco-Roman subjects and themes in speculative fiction. This conference aims to bring scholars, writers, and the general public together to investigate medieval imperial receptions – and concepts of Byzantinism – which are deeply embedded in speculative fiction. Recent work on Byzantine reception has examined Byzantinism in contemporary film and art, and explored the reception of Byzantium in Enlightenment and fin-de-siècle literature, but has not addressed the presence of post-Roman themes and ideas in speculative fiction. This conference’s three days of discussion and the subsequent publication of a volume of essays from international scholars and commissioned fiction from leading writers in the speculative fiction genre will contribute to the closure of these gaps.

The thematic elements of post-Roman imperial formations and the literatures which they produced – including but not limited to decadence, the post-Roman world, the problem of defining barbarian and citizen, and the use of ‘Byzantine’ settings and symbology as codes for the foreign or exotic – are of substantial importance to writers of speculative fiction. Byzantium has been an explicit setting in several significant novels (Turtledove’s Videssos cycle, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic) and many of its central thematic tenets — an empire gone decadent, the permeability of frontiers, the creation of an imperial ideology and the survival of that ideology – appear in others: perhaps most intriguingly in Ann Leckie’s recent Hugo and Nebula-award-winning Imperial Radch books, which, while not being specifically Roman or Byzantine, can be interpreted usefully by being viewed through a Byzantine lens. These and other questions of the reception of post-Roman concepts and literatures are what this conference is meant to engage with.

A major aim of this conference is to bring writers and academics – practitioners and analysts – together in innovative ways. While portions of the conference will allow academics to present prepared papers in the traditional format of a short lecture on recent or ongoing with a subsequent question period, the majority of the panels will be themed discussions in which a group of panelists have a public conversation on a pre-arranged topic, guided by a moderator. This method of discussion comes from the world of speculative fiction conferences and produces a focused, vibrant, and wide-ranging exploration of the subject. It is also widely accessible to a popular audience, even when the discussants are specialists. An entire day of the conference will be reserved for this format. Additionally, since there is substantial public engagement with speculative fiction topics — as well as significant public interest in Byzantium – this conference will open up the group panels to the general public on that day, bringing both Byzantium and speculative fiction to the Scandinavian audience in a direct and engaging manner. The public, creative professionals, and academics will all be able to share in the investigation of the effects of Byzantinism on popular culture.

The volume that results from this conference will include both academic articles written by leading reception history scholars, critical essays on Byzantium and medieval empire written by members of the speculative fiction community, and new speculative fiction on Byzantine themes commissioned especially for this project from award-winning and bestselling authors.

Call for Papers (Academic Track) – Deadline February 28, 2017

Please submit an abstract of approximately 300 words which describes research which responds to or contributes to the discussion of Byzantine and post-Roman reception in speculative fiction, to annalinden.weller@lingfil.uu.se.

Alternately or additionally, suggest topics for group panel discussions which you would be interested in participating in, alongside writers and other creative professionals.

Call for Interest & Panel Topics (Creative Track) – Deadline February 28, 2017

If you are a speculative fiction writer or industry professional who would like to participate in the conference, write to arkady.martine@gmail.com with your contact details, professional experience, and ideas for panels.

Practical Information

This conference conveniently takes place the weekend before WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, Finland – Sweden is quite close to Finland! Come early, start talking about speculative fiction before WorldCon even begins.

Brett Rogers and Ben Stevens win prestigious award

This is worth breaking silence on this blog for.

Brett Rogers and Ben Stevens have won the Society for Classical Studies Outreach Prize, for their work promoting research into classical traditions in modern science fiction and fantasy, most obviously in their books Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and Classical Traditions in Modern Fantasy, and the conference ‘The Once and Future Antiquity’, as well as various articles and blog posts and other activities at their universities.

This news I think really shows that our research subject has arrived, and is taken seriously.

Urgent call for paper on Classics and Star Wars

Classicists (and possibly SF people around Canterbury): I am putting together a proposal for a Star Wars and Classical Antiquity panel for the Classical Association in April (https://www.kent.ac.uk/secl/classics/news/?view=6250), and have just had a speaker drop out. Would anyone like to be part of this? If so, please send me (a.g.keen@open.ac.uk) a 200-word abstract by close of play tomorrow (30 August), as the deadline for submitting panels is 31 August. Please note speakers must register for the conference, and I have no funding to support attendance.

Warsaw Conference

Just starting in a few hours is a conference in Warsaw on “Chasing Mythical Beasts… The Reception of Creatures from Graeco-Roman Mythology in Children’s & Young Adults’ Culture as a Transformation Marker”. You can download the programme booklet here, which makes clear that it is packed full of discussions of modern children’s fantasy, so directly relevant to what this blog is interested in.

Also there’s a Tumblr post here about Amazons in the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie.

Like a phoenix from the ashes …

At the Classical Association Annual Conference in Edinburgh a week ago, where I was part of a session on ‘Science Fiction and Classical Mythology’, along with Lynn Fotheringham, Nick Lowe, and the person who brought us all together, Marian Makins (you can find the abstracts in this document, at least until the site gets taken down, as it no doubt will soon), Frances Foster bemoaned the fact that nothing got published on this blog any more. So I have decided to resurrect it, though the Twitter account will remain dormant.

There’s a new issue out of Transformative Works and Cultures, the critical journal of the Organization for Transformative Works, who, among other things, maintain the fanfiction archive Archive of Our Own. This is a special issue on ‘The Classical Canon and/as Transformative Work’, edited by the redoubtable Ika Willis. I have a piece in here. I haven’t yet had time to read the rest, but dependable authors (and speakers at the ‘Swords, Sandals, Sorcery and Space’ conference) such as Amanda Potter and Juliette Harrisson have contributed.

Just this last weekend, Brett Rogers and Ben Stevens, who have previously brought us Classical Traditions in Science Fiction and ‘The Once and Future Antiquity’, together with Jesse Weimer, organized ‘The Modern Prometheus; or, Frankenstein’. The paper titles look really good, and I look forward to the publication.

Fantasy writer and Classics graduate Juliet McKenna writes about the importance of knowing how views of the past change, using attitudes to Greek homosexuality as her example.

C.E. Murphy has a new novel about Atlantis, Atlantis Fallen. I haven’t read this yet, so can’t comment.

Finally, Katherine McDonald has a blog post about the use of Latin in the 2008 Doctor Who episode ‘Planet of the Ood’ (the episode which follows immediately the famously Classical ‘Fires of Pompeii’), and how that text draws upon Seneca and Cicero and Petronius – maybe. The post is interesting in itself, but it also led me to Penny Goodman writing about the Latin in Murray Gold’s ‘Vale Decem’, and Philip Boyes’ gloriously fannish trawl through Classics in Doctor Who, in two posts. I’ve covered myself much the same material in a more academic fashion, in my contributions to Space and Time and Impossible Worlds, Impossible Things, and Amanda Potter will be writing about this for a forthcoming volume on Broadcasting Greece. Philip misses The Armageddon Factor, but brings my attention to the Greeks in Four to Doomsday, which I had missed. And I think that ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ very much is a celebrity historical in the general style of New Who, the celebrity in this case being Vesuvius itself. But Philip makes a lot of good points I shall have to consider when I return to this material.

Anyway, that should do for now.