#104 = Volume 35, Part 1 = March
NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE
Weird Pages: The SF Novels of Steve Katz and William T. Vollmann. Two significant postmodern authors have written sf novels that have not been given just attention: Steve Katz’s Saw (1972) and William T. Vollmann’s You Bright and Risen Angels (1987). Although containing the necessary elements of the genre, these novels were not marketed as sf by their respective publishers. Nor have they been acknowledged by sf writers, readers, and critics, with just two exceptions of which I am aware: Larry McCaffery has interviewed both writers, and in the March 1988 SFRA Newsletter, Rob Latham praised Vollman’s “satiric science-fictional tour de force,” noting its “pervasive” “connection with cyberpunk” (33).
Steve Katz is one of our most neglected leading authors of contemporary fiction, having started his career in 1968 with the commercial New York houses Holt, Reinhart and Winston, Random House, and Knopf. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, commercial publishers were taking a chance on experimental fiction, hoping to discover the next Richard Brautigan, Donald Barthleme, or Kurt Vonnegut—iconoclasts writing the kind of fantastic, formally innovative (and possibly science-fictional) prose that was so striking in Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), In Watermelon Sugar (1968), and Snow White (1968). “There was a time when it seemed like reputable publishers and weird writers were thinking much in the same way,” Katz says in Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists (220). Katz has received little scholarly attention, although in 2007, W.C. Bamberger published, through the revived Borgo Press Milford series “Popular Writers of Today,” a critical study, 43 Views of Steve Katz, that contends that Katz is “the greatest living novelist in English” (3).
With a 2005 National Book Award under his belt for Europe Central, William T. Vollmann has not been ignored; although not a commercial success, he has earned a reputation as a cult writer. His first novel was an adventurous work of cyberpunk, although the cyberpunk community never claimed it as such. Vollmann is an important living American novelist, according to Larry McCaffery, who, in his introduction to Expelled from Eden: A William T. Vollmann Reader, recounts interviewing him in Manhattan around 1990: “I came away from that first meeting convinced that ‘I have seen the future of American fiction’” (xxxii). In Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors, McCaffery contends that “[Vollman] is the recklessly daring Captain Ahab of a new generation of ‘post-postmodern’ authors” (310). You Bright and Risen Angels (1987) put Vollmann on the map, as they say. While its sales were modest, critics and readers of contemporary American literature took notice.1 It was published around the same time that cyberpunk was growing running feet. Subtitled “A Cartoon,” the novel recounts the computer-game-like story of a programmer who, referring to himself as “the author,” invokes a huge cast of characters from his hard drive: intelligent insects, barbarous humans, and the Blue Globes, units of electricity that wish to dominate the world. He then observes their curious, brutal interactions as they perform the scripts to their drama. The novel offers commentary on revolutionaries, fascists, war, and violence, as well as a critique of the scientific/computer/information age, American capitalism, the exploitation of workers in the industrial space, and oppression through political zealotry. “Interconnected narratives ... move back and forth across vast areas of history and geography,” writes McCaffery, “overflowing with literary and historical references and other sources of arcane information .... [T]he book’s wild flights of improvisational prose and its intensity of vision all served to proclaim that the Post-Pynchon era of American fiction had finally arrived” (Expelled, xxii). Other critics seemed to agree. Rave reviews appeared in the New Statesman, USA Today, and The New York Times Book Review.
Steve Katz did not enjoy that kind of reception for Saw when it was released in 1972. There were good reviews—the NYTBR claimed that he was “a witty fantasist who can homogenize pop detritus, campy slang and hallucination to achieve inspired chaos.”2 There were technical problems, however. “Knopf didn’t put enough glue in the bindings of the first two thousand copies,” Katz says, “so the pages came off and started showering down over the heads of the reviewers .... [Knopf] didn’t go back and re-do it” (Anything Can Happen 222).3 Saw is about many things—the Second Coming, Armageddon, home-cooked meals, and an Astronaut “who visits our Earth from a distant galaxy where the inhabitants are as different from us as we are from an undersea mountain’s comprehension of snow” (30). A young woman named Eileen, a typical New Yorker with urban ennui, is introduced in the beginning. She seems to have terrorist inclinations. “I really need to blow up the New York Times,” she admits. “Everybody would be much better off if it were a bunch of cinder” (8). She tells this to a hawk that she meets in the park. She can talk to animals, and animals, from birds to puppy dogs, talk back. Katz’s animals are not animated the way that Vollmann’s insects are, and Eileen may simply be insane. In the park, she also crosses paths with a “sphere” that has come from the sky and can converse. She takes the sphere home and tries to have sex with it. “You need to be touched,” says the sphere (22), and it makes love to her. In the morning, the sphere is gone, replaced by the Astronaut, “a small, handsome man” (26). He informs her that she can no longer be the main character in the novel, which he has re-titled from Saw (“was” backwards) to Leroy. “I am here to replace you as the protagonist,” he says. “You may leave or remain … as a secondary personage” (27). The Astronaut then blows up The New York Times for her, and a giant cylinder smashes the world flat in the end. Never available in paperback, this quirky book was reissued in a Print on Demand trade format by FC2 in 2003.
Astronauts were a hot topic in those days. In 1972, Barry Malzberg published Beyond Apollo with Random House, which caused a minor tidal wave of controversy for its explicit use of deviant sex and its experimental, recursive structure—and which won the first John W. Campbell Award. Malzberg’s was the type of writing that Campbell would never have published and was adamantly against. Malzberg had published The Falling Astronauts the year before, and Samuel R. Delany’s 1967 “Aye, and Gommorah…” was about astronaut groupies (among many other things). Yet readers of sf were unaware of Katz’s astronaut. Saw was shelved as mainstream fiction. It can be classified as New Wave, but like Vollmann and cyberpunk, it has not been accepted as such in the sf canon.
Vollmann’s novel immediately sets its tone by proclaiming itself as not a novel but a cartoon. In the prologue, “Shape-shifting,” he, “the author,” asserts that “I may disguise myself as any other animate or inanimate object as follows” (4). So begins the first section, “The History of Electricity,” an introduction to a lonely author who wishes to create life because “there is no one left in the world” (9). At his computer terminal, he presses the “resurrection button,” summoning forth his “bright and risen angels” (9) from their graves. His cast of characters is brought to life by the electrical current: there is the hero, Bug; Mr. White, who has established a totalitarian secret organization called the Society of Daniel (for Daniel Boone); shady Dr. Dodger, who is in cahoots with the evil forms of electricity—i.e., the Blue Globes with which the insects are at war; and the treacherous Big George, who is able to hijack the author’s narrative and change the course of events and history. “I will remain especially faithful to those first few pages,” the author writes before Big George can take over, “since in the beginning of the story I cannot but be reminded that every key-stroke I make upon my typewriter may be transmitted through the wall outlet just behind my head” (12). The elements of cyberpunk are here: a keyboard cowboy in the guise of the author, a reckless hero who has a call to action, in the shape of the character Bug, and evil techno-villains (the Blue Globes). All are living in a virtual world, subject to hacking and software viruses.
In each novel, characters get pushy and take over. Big George commandeers the storyline in Vollman’s novel: he has the power to alter the text from the software script. In Katz’s, the Astronaut pushes Eileen out of the book and becomes the protagonist. Even the authors are orphaned from their own words. “It dulls the senses,” Katz writes in the last section, titled “The First Chapter”:
What I can’t see and what will never be told fills the world I prefer to inhabit. I stopped in at Doubleday to take a look for Creamy & Delicious, a book of short pieces of mine that was brought out in the summer by Random House, and then ignored. It made a lousy product. There it was on the shelf, shining brighter than all the other books, brighter even than City Life by Donald Barthleme .… I hung out there and watched the shelf to see if anyone would pick up my book. No one did. (162)
He then goes to a party. “I don’t like parties of poets. They are too tall. I have to talk to their chests” (169). He informs people that he is writing a book called Leroy: Starring the Astronaut. Then the Astronaut shows up and they both leave, going to a bar to chat. “He spun some unforgettable tales .... He told me many amazing things” (170).
Vollmann engages in the same reflexivity as Katz. A real-life prostitute named Brandi4 enters the metafictional arena:
Sure enough, there she was, nodding her head back and forth standing there on the corner of Cole and Haight; back and forth went Brandi’s head, her beautiful junky’s face went up and down as if she were listening to secret music through a headphone cassette player, but there wasn’t any music and her head hit the wall. (607).
Someone named Frank, a “double agent” working for the Blue Globes, is looking for her. When he finds her, the two smoke crystal meth from a glass pipe: “Something bitter and icy entered his body” (618). This drug use is an odd and sudden insertion into a fantastical novel whereby Vollmann exits the cartoon and moves toward the grotesque:
[Frank] could now see exactly what he had to do to own Brandi. It was only necessary to let her dream, to make her to do tricks for him because she owed him money .... [I]t was only necessary to be like poor bright and risen Brandi herself and promise her all the things which he would never give her. (622)
The final chapter, “World in a Jar,” offers Big George’s account of an experiment in which fruit flies are put in a jar with yeast. They eat and eat and procreate and eat, and then their dead bodies cover the food in the glass jar as they continue to feast on the dead and procreate more, “encrusted with fecal dots” (624), until the jar is so black with excrement and corpses that one can no longer see into it. “The larvae took over and grew wings and buzzed about the steadily more polluted vial like traffic helicopters in New York as cars snorted and farted in the blue-grey air” (624). Big George is presenting what appears to be a metaphor of the human race, devouring and using the planet, trapped in the Greenhouse Effect as “they went on buzzing and swarming until the vial dried up completely and then they were still” (624). “Bugs are a good metaphor,” Vollmann claims:
Bugs are amoral. You can’t blame them for being that way. Bugs aren’t courageous. They’re always scuttling in and out of crevices, always trying to better themselves; they’re always prepared to hide, and always ready to attack. With the possible exception of social insects, they don’t have concepts of friendship or kindness, or mercy. In other words, bugs have developed the same kind of practical survival mechanisms that all the people in Angels have. Survival by this amoral expediency of hiding, scuttling, grabbing what’s available, attacking when you have to. (Some Other Frequency 327)
In the epilogue, Big George and the author battle for control of the final text: “We bright and risen angels are all in our graves, as I, the author, can assure you; for Big George has locked me into the Society of Daniel for the sake of productivity, and when I close my eyes I can remember only the framed colored plots of silicon micro-wafers” (632). In the end, the bugs lose and humans continue to exploit and pollute until, like the fruit flies in the jar, everything is used up and everybody simply dies, waiting in their digitized graves until the next time that the author presses the resurrection button and the morality play is acted out once again.
In Katz’s Saw, the world comes to its end as it is flattened by an apocalyptic cylinder. It starts off tiny, “smaller than a cigarette” (135), and as it rolls, it gets bigger. It gets so big that it starts to flatten down everything in its path—cars, people, buildings. It is destroying New York City while Katz and the Astronaut drink and talk in the bar until closing time.
The bartender closed the bar behind us, and we stepped out just as it was totally flattened. It was a surprise. Everything was flat, just me and the Astronaut as verticals. (170)
They are passive about it, though. The world has been turned into a pancake and there is not much that they can do. They have given in to fate. “One can speculate about the veracity of these contents and decide for himself,” Katz writes in his preface, “but whatever the conclusion it is still a matter of mystery that they exist at all, and in a form that can please or amuse us” (v).—Michael Hemmingson, San Diego
1. Vollmann received a Mrs. Giles Whiting Award based on the strength of Angels. The award, which at the time was $25,000, is intended for emerging writers, with no application process.
2. This is cited online at the Colorado Poets Center <http://colopoets.unco.edu/
3. Saw was published with matte boards in a 5x7 format, like a textbook, and priced at $3.50. Those were the days! Another Knopf quasi-sf novel, David Ohle’s Motorman, was issued in 1972 in the same format. Motorman is a curious little book: 117 pages divided into 110 terse mini-chapters, it is set on a world with two suns and several moons, and concerns a man who has had four sheep hearts implanted inside him. It was originally a short story in Esquire when Gordon Lish was the fiction editor; Lish also helped to place Ohle’s book with Knopf. (In a private conversation sixteen years ago, Lish told me that he also had something to do with Saw’s placement at Knopf, but I am not sure to what extent). Motorman vanished as soon as it came out but remained something of a cult item until it was reissued in 2004 by 3rd Bed Press.
4. Brandi appeared in Vollmann’s early books and he has been photographed with her. She has become a fixture for Vollmann fans, a crack-addicted street prostitute about whom Vollmann writings lovingly, although she steals from and betrays him. She generally has appeared in factual essays: putting her in an sf novel makes for “weird pages.”
Bamberger, W.C. Forty Three Views of Steve Katz. The Milford Series, Popular Writers of Today 71. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo, 2007.
Katz, Steve. Saw. New York: Knopf, 1972.
Latham, Rob. “SF Without the Safety Net?” SFRA Newsletter 156 (March 1988): 33-35.
McCaffery, Larry. Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1996.
───── , and Tom LeClair. Anything Can Happen: Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1983.
───── , and Michael Hemmingson, eds. Expelled from Eden: A William T. Vollmann Reader. New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2004.
Malzberg, Barry. Beyond Apollo. New York: Random House, 1972.
─────. The Falling Astronauts. London: Arrow, 1971.
Ohle, David. Motorman. New York: Knopf, 1972.
Vollmann, William T. You Bright and Risen Angels. New York: Atheneum, 1987.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. NY: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1969.
On Warren Miller: Correction. I have just discovered that my article “Come Alive By Saying No: An Introduction to Black Power SF” (SFS 34.2: 220-240) contains a rather embarrassing blunder. In my discussion of African-American novels of the 1960s and 1970s that imagine revolution, I excluded Edwin Corley’s Siege (1969) because I had been unable to find definitive biographical information about him. But I did include Warren Miller’s The Siege of Harlem (1964) as being among the novels written by African-Americans—it turns out mistakenly. It is no excuse for such sloppiness, but in my defense James Baldwin did say of Miller’s earlier Harlem novel The Cool World (1959) not only that it was one of the best of its sort but also that he could not tell whether the author—a Pennsylvanian Jew—was black or white. (I am indebted to Robert Nedelkoff for this information.) In a sense this error does not undermine my argument about African-American authors of the period being unable to imagine a post-revolutionary future; rather, it is perhaps instructive that only a white author was capable of doing so.—Mark Bould, U of West of England, Bristol
Errata. Unfortunately, I have found a few typos in my review of Gabriele Frasca’s L’oscuro scutare di Philip K. Dick (Philip K. Dick’s Dark Scanning), which appeared in SFS 34.3: 495-98. On page 497, there is a reference to Frasca’s “150-line sentences.” It is true that Gabriele has a baroque style, but that long a sentence would place him more in the field of psychopathology than in that of artistically written literary criticism. More importantly, Dr. Valerio Massimo De Angelis, who edited with me the proceedings of the 2000 Dick conference in Macerata, was incorrectly identified: he mysteriously became “Valerio Massima.” I hope that this can be corrected in the next issue of SFS.—Umberto Rossi, Rome, Italy
Nobel Prize to Doris Lessing. The 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Doris Lessing. The Nobel website <nobelprize.org> praises her science-fictional series Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–1984) as having “expanded the science fiction genre. The series studies the post-atomic war development of the human species. Lessing varies thoughts about colonialism, nuclear war and ecological disaster with observations on the opposition between female and male principles. Among inspirations for the work was the Idries Shah’s school of Sufism that she discovered in the 1960s.”—CM
Wolfe Receives World Fantasy Award. At the World Fantasy Convention held in Saratoga last November, Gary K. Wolfe was honored with a special World Fantasy Award “for reviews and criticism in Locus and elsewhere,” as the World Fantasy awards page <worldfantasy.org> puts it. We offer warm congratulations to Professor Wolfe, a longtime consultant and friend of SFS. His first article for the journal, on Cordwainer Smith, appeared in July 1977.— Eds.
Off-Broadway H.G. Wells SF Festival. Last Fall, from October 11 to November 4, RadioTheatre, which recreates the atmosphere of old-time radio broadcasts, staged an H.G. Wells Festival, presenting radio-style dramatizations of The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Time Machine (the initial setting was moved up to 1911), and The War of the Worlds, set in 1934 for this production. All were adapted and directed by Dan Bianchi. The series received a lukewarm review from Jason Zinoman in The New York Times (October 17), but at least one blog <Techyum.com> disagreed: “It’s H.G. Wells; it rocks.”—CM
Edward Sorel Drawings Remember Four Utopias. Two pages of drawings inspired by literary utopias/dystopias appeared in the December 24-31 year-end issue of The New Yorker. The works chosen for illustration were Thomas More’s Utopia (1515), Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915), Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888)—Bellamy’s work inspired the best of the pictures—James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (1933), and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (1957). The captions are sardonic; the pictures are exuberant.—CM
Call for Articles. Humanities E-Books invites proposals in two series, “Science Fiction Sightlines” and “Science Fiction Monographs.” Sightlines are guides of 25,000–30,000 words that target individual works or series published after 1970; they follow a strict series format of Notes, Annotations, Essay, and Bibliography. The “Monographs” series is open to all critical work on the genre since 1970. Investigation of generic fusions with crime, fantasy, romance, comedy, children’s literature, and the novel of manners are especially welcome. Enquiries and proposals should be sent to the general editor of both series, Professor John Lennard, at <john.lennard @uwimona.edu.jm>. HEB is a profit-sharing publisher of e-books only, in Adobe and Mobipocket formats. For information and details, including target works and authors and format guidelines, please visit <www.humanities-ebooks.co.uk> and click on “For Authors.”—John Lennard, U of the West Indies at Mona
Utopian Studies Society Conference. “Bridges to Utopia,” 9th International Conference of the Utopian Studies Society, will meet at the University of Limerick in Ireland from July 3-5, 2008. The sessions will examine topics related to utopianism in its historical articulation and contemporary realization. Keynote speakers are Joe Cleary (National University of Ireland, Maynooth), Bernard Gendron (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), Peadar Kirby (University of Limerick), and Nicole Pohl (Oxford Brookes University). The deadline for registration at the standard fee is May 23, 2007. Inquiries on academic, logistical, and other practical matters should be made to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The campus is beautifully situated on the banks of the river Shannon just outside the city of Limerick.—Farah Mendelsohn, Middlesex University
Language and the Scientific Imagination. The 11th Conference of the International Society for the Study of European Ideas will be meeting in Helsinki, Finland from July 28-August 2, 2008 at the University of Helsinki. The chair for the workshop on “SF and Symbolic Communication” is Elena Abrudan of Babes-Bolyae University, Romania <email@example.com>. Other workshops address “How the Popularization of Science and/or Technology Is Realized in Different Media,” for which the contact person is Ciro Imperato of Helsinki University <firstname.lastname@example.org>, and “Human Discourse and Science Fiction: The Nature of Modern Philosophy,” whose panel-leader is Bojka Djunanovic of Montenegro <email@example.com>. The deadline for submitting abstracts is April 11, 2008. Papers themselves cannot exceed 10 pages or 3000 words including any notes; they should be sent to the workshop Chair. For further information, including costs, see the conference website: <http://isseu2008.haifa.ac.il/>.—CM
CFP: Queer Utopias and Dystopias. The 2008 Queer Studies Graduate Symposium will be held May 17, 2008 at the University of California, Davis. Images of utopia and dystopia proliferate within mainstream discourses around immigration and citizenship, marriage and family values, and environmental degradation. Within this context, queer projects must work to diagnose the utopian longings and dystopic concerns connected to hetero- and homo-normative neoliberalisms and nationalisms. At the same time, however, queer scholarship has begun to ask what it might mean to risk engaging with the utopic as a theoretical, political, and aesthetic tool for social change. Recent debates around temporality in queer studies have grappled with the value of the future and the utopian. While some maintain that discourses of futurity remain inextricably linked to heteronormative generationality and that notions of utopia remain irredeemably tainted by colonialist and imperialist histories, others insist on the potential for queer reworkings of futurity and utopia to disrupt dominant narratives. This symposium invites conversations around the interconnections between the utopic and the dystopic within conservative and radical projects. In what ways does the utopian function within academic, activist, and artistic projects; and how is the dystopian invoked within these different contexts? What are the limits and possibilities of “the utopic” or “the dystopic” as theoretical and political frameworks? How do discussions of queer utopias and dystopias engage with other fields of scholarship, such as postcolonial, feminist, environmental, disability, and/or critical race studies? What are the ethics of utopia? How are ideas about embodied difference deployed in utopic and dystopic narratives, either as something to be transformed, secured, or eliminated? Do queer reworkings and critiques of utopia/dystopia risk figuring “queer” as inherently resistant or revolutionary? In what ways do utopian longings and dystopian fears involve not only the invocation of imaginable futures but also the opening of the future to the not-yet-imaginable? How might queer utopias and dystopias involve not only temporal modalities but also spatial productions? Possible topics include (but are not limited to): relationships between utopia and dystopia; relationships between nostalgia and utopia; queer futures, pasts, presents; competing utopias; spatial and/or temporal utopias; utopias and the archive; bodies and embodiments; cultural productions, performances, and emerging public cultures; the utopia of a pre-AIDS past and/or a post-AIDS future; the risks and limits of utopia; digital and virtual spaces; literary and film representations; nationalist and/or imperialist utopias; sociality, community and/or kinship. We invite scholarship from a broad range of disciplines, especially interdisciplinary work in queer theory and transgender theory. We especially encourage work that critically engages mutually constitutive articulations of race, class, sexuality, dis/ability, gender, citizenship, religion, and nationality. We also welcome papers that engage activism and community organizing. Please send abstracts of up to 500 words with a curriculum vitae to <firstname.lastname@example.org> by March 14, 2008. Along with this abstract, please indicate if your presentation requires any AV equipment. Acceptances will be sent out by March 21, 2008. The symposium website is <www.queersymposium.org>. For more information, email Toby Beauchamp, Liz Montegary, and Cathy Hannabach at <email@example.com>.—Toby Beauchamp, Liz Montegary, and Cathy Hannaback, U.C. Davis
Michael Moorcock Conference. As the deadline for papers has passed, we offer this notice to those who might be interested in attending as non-presenting delegates. On July 5 and 6, 2008, the Liverpool John Moores University will host “The New World Entropy,” a conference on Michael Moorcock. The conference will provide a rounded picture of the writerly environments in which Moorcock has developed, contextualizing his work in terms of his interactions with other writers. We aim to develop a critical appreciation of Moorcock’s best-known writings and also to consider his historical development as a writer. Papers will cross the boundaries of genre (as Moorcock himself has done) and will relate Moorcock to friends and associates whose writings and work connect to his own. The goal is a series of lively and diverse responses to Moorcock’s remarkable body of work. For further information, contact <Mark.Williams@ uea.ac.uk> and Martyn.Colebrook @ english.hull.ac.uk>. All correspondence should have the phrase “Moorcock Conference” in the subject line.—Mark Williams, University of East Anglia; Martyn Colebrook, University of Hull
CFP: Cyberculture Conference at Oxford. The February 15th deadline for 300-word proposals will have passed by the time that this issue of SFS is in the hands of readers, but as full papers are not due until June, those interested in participating might contact the organizers to see if space is still open.
“Visions of the Human in Cyberculture, Cyberspace and Science Fiction” will be held from July 1-3, 2008 at Mansfield College, Oxford. This inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary project aims to explore what it is to be human and the nature of human communities in cyberculture, cyberspace, and sf. Papers will explore the possibilities that these contexts offer for creative thinking, as well as any challenges they pose to national, international, and global communities. Papers, short papers, and workshops are invited on the relationship between cyberculture, cyberspace, and science fiction; on humans and cyborgs; on human and post-human politics, including cyborg citizenship and rights; on electronic persons, communities and identities; on cyberpolitics, including cyberculture and orientalism; on religion and spirituality in cyberculture, sf, and cyberpunk; on cyberspace and mass communication; on cyberculture and the green movement; and on the cultures of computer gaming.
Abstracts of 300-words should be submitted by February 15, 2008. If your paper is accepted for presentation at the conference, an 8-page draft paper should be submitted by June 6, 2008. 300-word abstracts should be submitted to both Organizing Chairs: Owen Kelly <firstname.lastname@example.org> and Rob Fisher <email@example.com>. For further details, see <http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/ati/Visions/V3/cfp.html>.—Owen Kelly, Arcada University, Helsinki, Finland; Dr. Rob Fisher, Inter-Disciplinary.Net, Oxfordshire
Visionaries on Matters Martian Converge on UC-Riverside. “Chronicling Mars,” the 26th J. Lloyd Eaton Conference, will meet from May 16-18 on the University of California–Riverside campus, as reported in the November issue of SFS (34.3: 532-33). Authors now scheduled to participate form a specially impressive roster, including Ray Bradbury, Frederik Pohl, and (via teleconference) Sir Arthur C. Clarke, as well as Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, Ben Bova, David Brin, Geoffrey Landis, and Kim Stanley Robinson. The revived Eaton promises to be a memorable occasion.—CM
Change of Venue for SFRA 2008: New CFP. SFRA 2008 will meet in Lawrence, Kansas, on July 10-13 at the University of Kansas. Individual abstracts or panel presentations grouping three or four papers are invited on any topic, but particularly welcome are abstracts on the conference’s broad theme: “Creating, Reading, and Teaching Science Fiction.” SFRA likewise encourages panels and papers analyzing sf in nonliterary media, a recent extension of the organization’s traditional focus. Abstracts should be sent to Karen Hellekson at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Presenters who require audiovisual equipment should indicate what they will need. A volume of conference proceedings is planned. Authors are encouraged to drop off their papers at the meeting to be considered for the volume. These papers will be treated as drafts: work chosen for inclusion in the volume will be revised before publication. The deadline for paper or panel proposals is Monday, March 31st.
The conference was originally scheduled to meet at Trinity College in Dublin. The SFRA Executive Board made the difficult decision to relocate due to the decline of the U.S. dollar against the Euro and the greatly increased expense of travel for U.S. attendees. SFRA members who submitted proposals for Dublin should resubmit them for the Kansas meeting. The University of Kansas boasts an excellent library collection of science fiction, and the relocated meeting promises to be stimulating as well as more affordable for the majority of SFRA’s members.—CM
Strung Out on SF. A new blog, io9 (the letters i and o, the number 9), debuted with the New Year to cover sf-related news in popular culture. The site is affiliated with Gawker Media and its editor is Annalee Newitz, a writer for Wired and Popular Science. This promises to be a delightful site to visit. The early highlights included spectacular photographs of the Garnet Star Nebula (IC 1396) and other images taken by Eric Africa, an amateur astronomer working out of his backyard with a $4,000 Takahashi telescope. Another early entry resurrected “Your Life in 1975,” which appeared in the magazine Tempo in 1955 and predicted a 30-hour work-week, household helicopters, and electric cars. Comments the editor: “What did we really get in 1975? Gerry Ford, economic recession, and The Captain and Tenille.” The website address is <http://io9.com/>.—CM
Robot News from Around the Globe. Toyota has recently introduced an advanced robot that can play Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” on the violin. Unquestionably a breakthrough in terms of the precision of movement now possible in the design of robotic limbs, it seems a strange choice otherwise, unless the intent is to send the robot to graduation ceremonies at MIT and CalTech. The new robot may be Toyota’s bid to wrest humanoid-robot dominance from Honda’s popular Asimo model.
Honda developed the prototype for Asimo as long ago as 1986. Their most advanced model, unveiled in 2005, can recognize faces and voices and makes very lifelike movements. Today’s Asimo is slightly over 4 feet tall and weighs 119 lbs. The robot can walk at speeds of almost 4 miles an hour, using a loping gait reminiscent of Groucho Marx playing Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1933). Asimo’s body looks like a small, streamlined spacesuit. Honda denies any tribute to Isaac Asimov, stating that ASIMO stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility: perhaps the tribute remains only implied in order to avoid legal issues.
Meanwhile, Love and Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships (Harper/Collins 2007) has just been published by David Levy, who predicts a future reminiscent of some classic sf plots, including Lester Del Ray’s “Helen O’Loy” (1938) and Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover (1981). Levy foresees the development and marketing of “sexbots” as early as 2050. The current Asimo is constructed like a transformer, with large hinges linking torso and legs, but an interview with Levy by Friz Lanham in the Houston Chronicle (January 2, 2008) hints that research into sexing robots is already well underway: “Japanese companies are working to produce sex robots for people living in outlying fishing villages.” Since rural fishing communities are one of “Gojiro’s” favorite stomping grounds, any new Godzilla films may have to introduce a romantic (and robotic) counterpart for the lonely beast.—CM, RL
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