#86 = Volume 29, Part 1 = March 2002
NOTES AND CORRESPONDENCE
Coding Out the USA. Avalon, the first film directed by Mamoru Oshii since Ghost in the Shell (1995), is unusual in many ways. It was released in Japan in January 2000 and in Europe in February 2001. No release date has been set for the US, the major market for sf films. The Internet has nothing to say about this: only that a US distributor (Miramax) was not found until mid-2001. Although it is a beautifully made live-action film (Oshii’s first) with appropriate computer special effects that conflate all of Oshii’s postmodern obsessions— artificial intelligence, virtual reality, computer games, cyborg consciousness, gorgeous anerotic brunettes, state-of-the-art mecha and the inevitable basset hound—there are good reasons to expect that the film will fail to make much money, except as a cult film. From beginning to end, the aesthetics of Avalon, and its vision of the science-fictional world, ignores America, whose cultural hegemony appears only as a fleeting impression. Avalon is an sf film made as if the US had never produced an sf film.
Avalon’s live action was filmed in Poland, with Polish actors and Polish dialogue. In the first few minutes, this is disorienting, but it quickly becomes natural. Oshii had good reasons for filming in Poland: costs are low, the Poles are eager to jump-start their impoverished film industry, and they offered the use of their military hardware (crucial, since even firing small arms is prohibited in Japan). In interviews Oshii has said that “I have always loved Polish cinema, and I wished to return to its universe and make it live in a film of my own” (Pedroletti).
The film’s action is divided between a real world in a dark, decrepit Polish city and the world of a virtual reality war-game, the Avalon of the title, where teams of players and a few solo warriors fight battles that resemble theater combat in World War Two and a Half, or replays of Budapest 1956 and Prague Spring. European audiences are not used to seeing sf in such homely settings. Not since Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), whose influence on Avalon is clear, has a nineteenth-century European city been the setting for a major sf film.
There’s a historical logic to this within sf. Cyberpunk writers were never happy with completely wired New Cities. Their postmodern metropoli were in decay, and the matrix was a compensation for (as well as a cause of) the collapse of civil space. When they tired of urban depression, they turned to European cities, which somehow maintained their vitality despite having very little biz to offer—Gibson found it in London in Mona Lisa Overdrive (1989), Sterling in Prague in Holy Fire (1997). Wong Kuen Yin has pointed out how Oshii used Hong Kong to create the sense of postmodern urban spaces overlapping earlier ones in Ghost in the Shell (US release, 1996). Sf-anime almost always depicts its cities as Americanized—street signs and shops are generally bilingual, in Japanese and English. It’s as if the American presence is inescapable. In Patlabor 2 (1993), also directed by Oshii, it isn’t even a matter of vague cultural infiltration; there’s an overt American threat to re-occupy Japan. By placing the action of Avalon in a generic Central European city, evoking Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, or Sarajevo, Oshii is following the cyberpunk logic of bringing the problem closer and closer to the present moment. It is part alternate history, part true history. Late in the film, in a moment shocking for audience and heroine alike, we are transported to a game-level known as “Class Real,” where the setting jumps ahead in time from socialist dreariness to throbbing contemporary business, ads, and color. Thrown from one allegory into another, the film evokes a historical shock that few Americans can imagine.
There are many other touches that make the film seem like a bona fide Central European film from the Golden Age of the 1960s. Sepia cinematography, old books, lusciously photographed still-lives of cabbages and potatoes and sausages, ubiquitous cigarette smoke and vodka, and the quiet of cities that sleep, are all images evoking daily reality in the Middle Europe of the Cold War. The soundtrack, by Kenji Kawai, who also wrote the score for Ghost in the Shell, in places evokes Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana; but just as Ghost was dominated by the haunting pseudo-archaic Japanese credit-theme, Avalon returns again and again to a gorgeous lyric aria sung in Polish. This song embodies the film’s operatic longing, which takes material form at the end in a diegetic orchestral performance in a sumptuous European concert hall—one of the most striking meta-cinematic moments in the film.
The language of the computer-net in the film is, however, English, as if that were inevitable in any world. And once again, the word ghost is uttered as an English-loan word, as it was in Ghost in the Shell, even though Polish and Japanese have more than enough words of their own for ghosts. This System-English in Avalon seems to have no real native land, as if to say that English is the matrix’s native tongue, the command language. There are some allusions to the Alien films; major characters are named Ash and Bishop. But even here Oshii plays a polyvalent trick. Bishop is in fact a Bishop, a character-class—he wears a clerical collar, but it’s clear that this extremely high rank has as much to do with chess as with religion. In one brilliant game-battle scene, the characters perform an action that is pure chess-strategy, an allusion that must be dear to audiences that revere chess as the ultimate game.
The question arises: why would Oshii make an sf film that will not appeal to Americans and that seems to establish a bond between Central European and Japanese sensibilities? The film has already been greeted with critical enthusiasm in Europe. This is especially true in Francophone countries. Avalon won the Grand Prix at the 2001 Utopiale and was shown as a special entry at Cannes. It appears that the French in particular recognize the affinities between the French sf tradition, from Chris Marker to Les Humanoïdes Associées, and Oshii’s work. But it may well go further than this. Does this film, made by one of the most influential contemporary directors of sf film in the world, prefigure the development of an alternative line of global sf, perhaps in overt resistance to the conventions of US spectacular sf? As the US’s historical present becomes increasingly entangled in the conventions of spectacular media—brought home by the images of the World Trade Center attack and the video-bombings of Afghanistan, and the relentless mustering of patriotic consensus by telemedia—will sf artists resisting US cultural power strive for a new style to represent technologies of virtualization?
Avalon’s conclusion is also unusually open for an sf film. Utterly unlike The Matrix (1999), with its bogus messianism, but also unlike eXistenZ (1999), with its grudging acceptance of the right to construct virtual realities, Avalon appears to ignore the question of whether the game-world is as legitimate as reality. It is truly a gamer’s vision, the product of a mature otaku consciousness (an oxymoron?), where old debates about the relationship between game and the real are bracketed out. In Avalon, myth and game establish the frame, and the Real is not the final level. Oshii has declared his dissatisfaction with Hollywood films about virtual reality, which always end with a return to the real world: “because those real worlds exist inside film they themselves are lies. Reality is a questionable thing” (Ellis). Such films as The Matrix—for which Oshii appears to have little enthusiasm—“are all wrapped in a pretty Judeao-Christian morality that has all the virtues except that of engaging in the debate and managing some honest reflection, free of reactionary prejudices that claim that virtuality is unambiguously bad” (Astec, online article). If virtuality has been one of the main domains of postmodern US power, Avalon may be an attempt to conceive of that domain in other terms.—ICR
Astec. “Avalon: Mythe virtuel.” CinemAsie. <www.cinemasie.com/index.php?url=/fiches/fiche.php&film=avalon>. Accessed Jan. 1, 2002.
Ellis, Sara. “Avalon.” Akadot. <www.akadot.com/reviews/avalon1.html>. Accessed Jan. 1, 2001.
Pedroletti, Brice. “L’étrange guérilla urbaine d’Avalon.” Le Monde interactif. 7 février 2001. <www.interactif.lemonde.fr/article/0,5611,2857--144107-0,FF.html>. Accessed Jan. 1, 2002.
Wong. Kin Yuen. “On the Edge of Spaces: Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, and Hong Kong’s Cityscape.” SFS 27.1 (March 2000): 1-21.
The Horizons of Wells’s Numerology. When writing on Wells in the very early 1970s, I too, like Prof. Ruddick (SFS 28.3: 342), became exercised with the obviously provocative number of the Time Traveler’s first stop. I also hit on the fact that in 802,701 there were two “markers” or “sememes”: one was the zero in the middle, the other was the difference of 101 between the digits left and right of the comma signifying thousands. The zero fits well into the cosmic thermodynamics that (according to pessimistic nineteenth-century theories, and according to the structure of The Time Machine) tend toward zero. And the 101 fits well into my hypothesis of sociobiological evolution as the organizing principle of that story. But I found that when the subtraction of 101 is prolonged beyond 701, this interval had a strange numerological property: it resulted in a symmetry between the positive numbers 802 and 701 on the one hand, and the negative numbers to which one eventually gets. Here is how this works:
802 - 101 = 701 701 - 101 = 600 600 - 101 = 499
499 - 101 = 398 398 - 101 = 297 297 - 101 = 196
196 - 101 = 95
So far nothing remarkable. But when continuing subtraction beyond zero, the first two recurrences of three-digit numbers replicate the original digits in inverse order:
95 - 101 = -6
-6 - 101 = -107
-107 - 101 = -208
-208 - 101 = -309; etc.
The symmetry I speak of is the inverse or mirror-symmetry between 701 and 107 and between 802 and 208. It would also apply to a putative 903 (802+101) and 309, as well as to 600 and 006, but it would break down beyond that because the extra zero (!) in the positive numbers changes all: 1004 vs. 410.
I was intrigued by this result, for had Wells chosen some other numbers, this effect might not have ensued. It would hold for 906,805 (in fact even better, for all the descending three-digit numbers would be the symmetrical obverse of all the negatively ascending numbers, e.g. 906 of -609, 805 of -508, 704 of -407, etc.) but would not hold at all for 702,601. I tried all kinds of other permutations (multiplication, division) but found no further illumination.
Not being a numerologist, I could not and cannot see where this leads us further. I therefore let the matter rest among my notes until Professor Ruddick’s article referred to it. I write now in the hope a better trained numerologist may be found among the SFS readers to tell us whether this helps with The Time Machine. These days, when a bad disease is being fought with an even worse medicine, I’m even beginning to suspect that the horizons of this perennially fascinating story may have a much larger application than to the social class which gave it birth.—Darko Suvin, Emeritus Professor, McGill University
E-Files: The Return of A, B, and C. In 1973, the first issue of SFS featured a debate about the nature of sf between participants identified only as A, B, and C. In 1999, an editorial exchange about the merits of The Matrix revived the custom of alphabetical debate in SFS. The comments below were exchanged by SFS editors the opening week of The Fellowship of the Ring, and the week that the March issue closed.
A. I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring over the weekend. It’s a beautiful film in its way, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I wish I had been younger, though. Something kept bothering me throughout. I know that Lord of the Rings was recently voted the greatest book of all time in a Waterstone’s poll. I’ll bet that after this movie it will prove to be the best-selling work of fiction in a hundred years. (All time?) What bothers me is that the film—and, I guess, the book itself—is so absolutely, totally stuck in the past that it hardly means anything at all. The visual style of the film is varied and entertaining, but the sets and scenes look as if they were all designed to resemble the different illustrations in the various editions. There are Burne-Jonesish moments, there are Maxfield Parrish-ish moments, there are scenes taken right out of the big lush edition I own, published just ten years ago, and there are scenes from the Tolkien calendar, 1997.
At first I was thrilled that every scene seemed just as I imagined it when I read it last (not that long ago). Then this got annoying, as if I had read a movie, and everyone else had imagined the same thing. That’s the ticket! It’s as if the film was made so that people would recognize the story, and not feel anything extra or new. That may be an element in the original book, too. But the Sauron motif really was new at the time, since Tolkien was displacing Hitler. There’s no Sauron now, just the fond memory. Sauron has been distributed through the entire human universe, on the cellular level. So basically the movie (and the book for those who voted it #1) is much more escapist than it was for Tolkien. The elves have left Middle Earth? Well, we haven’t taught Elvish in our schools for ages.
I don’t think the movie is cynical, and it’s more honest than most Hollywood films. But it’s floating in the void, a work more pre-Raphaelite than Tolkien’s was, and if it’s the story that our generation considers the greatest in history—well, at least it’s a pagan story.
Maybe we now fit the classical definition of a decadent culture, one that can’t even imagine its real problems, let alone ways of approaching them, and sees value only in tales of lost innocence and golden ages.
What was new and ingenious for me was Christopher Lee as Saruman—and the wizard-fight between him and Ian McKellan as Gandalf. Decades of Hammer film versus the Royal Shakespeare Company were slammed into that moment, and Hammer won (revealing the profound debt that English Dracula B-culture owes to Prospero and Owen Glendower). The conception of Saruman was, now that I think about it, very fresh and wry. Did you all see it? What did you think?
B. I saw Fellowship of the Ring on New Year’s, a lazy way to spend the afternoon. I think it’s the best fantasy film made in years and I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. But I have little to say about it apart from that. I couldn’t read the books, and I still don’t much see the point of all the sound and fury. It’s old-boy, old-school, old-hat fantasy. I just can’t get the enthusiasm up to think much about it. Obviously I don’t care for Tolkien (although I much admire Peter Jackson’s filmmaking).
C. The movie seemed to me strongly tied to Tolkien’s era. Peaceful communities are menaced by a new order of evil, a dark city under construction (complete with newly constructed beings) that portends the end of agrarian peace and prosperity. Hatred has found a place to grow. “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Yeats wrote “The Second Coming” in 1922, the year Tolkien turned 30. This world of the trilogy—total war, absolute evil—was their milieu, their world.
The elves in the film look like Eloi, though they are prescient, not decadent. Morlock-like beings serve evil Sauron. But there are “good” proles here, too, the agricultural hobbits. Pastoralites far from Power, hobbits are not interested in much beyond tradition (genealogy) and regularly scheduled meals. As a hobbit (and, it is hinted, as a very young one), Frodo can be trusted to bear the ring to where it can be melted down. Tolkien stresses the importance not of coming into power but of divestiture—getting rid of it. In some ways this emphasis is also found in Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974). But Frodo must destroy the ring, whereas Le Guin’s hero Shevek must find a way to safely disseminate his power, his scientific breakthough. Utopian fiction seeks a good consensus to bear the weight of power and knowledge (or it assaults and examines a bad consensus): the focus of both dystopian and eutopian sf is on communities and cultures, not on individuals. Epic and fantasy, of course, put destiny into one exemplary character’s hands. Those earlier genres rest on the possibility of heroism.
The Fellowship trilogy was published during the mid-1950s, and in some ways the saga’s emphasis (again, like that of The Dispossessed) suggests the dilemma of J. Robert Oppenheimer, his ultimate horror at the genie he had let out of the bottle, the nuclear threat that he had helped to create. I agree that there is a strong Victorian element, too. The smallness of the hobbits and their deep interest in food suggest their childish innocence. To make big-eyed Frodo the custodian of culture reflects the Victorian (cf. Alice in Wonderland) and Edwardian (cf. Peter Pan) indulgence of what Anthony Trollope called “baby worship.” Beyond their childishness, the hobbits are creaturely, too, with their shoeless, large, hairy feet. The innocence of nature, the natural power that is the only basis of benign Power: you’re right, A, it is pagan. The barefoot hobbits are prelapsarian.
I found the movie visually flat, with characters typically posed against monumental painted backdrops. The use of rich color, which usually heightens depth, in this case (as in Gone With the Wind), tends instead to reinforce the silhouettes of the character(s) being back-lighted. Tiny figures, the Fellowship, are dwarfed by natural phenomena (caves, waterfalls, fire). The passage by boat past the monoliths of the ancient kings is a perfect pictorial representation of Bakhtin’s dictum that the epic world is set in “an absolute past of national beginnings and peak times” (“Epic and Novel”). Bakhtin says that the epic always is about the world of the gigantic fathers, about memory and tradition; the genre of the novel, by contrast, is about change, assimilation, adaptation. Epic is about titanic forces: Odysseus swims alone for days, contending with an angry open sea. Yet he survives, and finally triumphs, and readers can only wonder at the scale of his achievement. In epic, Bakhtin said, the achievements of godlike (often partly divine) heroes astonish the diminished “now,” the current population.
Dystopia encroaches on pastoral in Tolkien: forests are uprooted to construct a pandemonium, a metallic infernal city. But the movement within the first half-hour is from pastoral and its opposite—dystopia—to broad epic: a journey, a quest, takes over.
Tolkien, with his profound knowledge of the early stories of Western culture, gave the eighth century back to the twentieth. He’s the anti-Heinlein who familiarized readers with the deep past, the world-view of Beowulf. He illuminated the Dark Ages, making us understand old Western European notions of leadership and heroism. (What a white movie! With the vaguely Highland/Celtic dwarf and vaguely Nordic elves standing in for cultural “others,” and metallic-looking created beings standing in as the minions of evil. But the faithful retainer-hobbit Sam, with his trustiness and his respectful “Mr. Frodo”—this seems English/modern rather than epic/heroic, closer to Bunter and Lord Peter Wimsey than Achates and Aeneas.)
I didn’t see the clash between the wizards because whenever a sound track becomes very loud I close my eyes to avoid witnessing the coming mayhem. There’s many a John Carpenter movie I’ve sat through but hardly viewed. In any case, whether this is a truly successful epic will be clear only when the sequels are released. To me the series seemed to be off to a good start.—Eds.
Science Fiction in Greece. The first international sf conference held in Greece took place on the campus of Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, from October 18 to 21, 2001. The focus was on “Biotechnological and Medical Themes in Science Fiction.” Writers, editors, translators, critics, academics, and enthusiastic readers from Austria, Australia, Canada, England, Poland, the US, Sweden, and Greece exchanged views on recent sf’s treatment of biotechnology. An honored guest of the conference was Mrs. Judith Blish, who lives in Athens.
Primarily sponsored by the Greek Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture, the conference was also supported financially by the Rector and the Research Committee of Aristotle University, HSBC Bank, and various Greek publishers and sellers of fantastic literature. The Canadian publisher Tesseract Books Collective donated copies of Elisabeth Vonarburg’s The Maerlande Chronicles (1992), which were included in every speaker’s packet.
The conference addressed the accusations of recent critics that Anglophone sf (both in its written and cinematic forms) distorts facts, projects a dystopian biofuture, and sounds false alarms about science, infecting the public with a mood of distrust and skepticism and damaging the image of science. The conference succeeded in showing that the imaginative/speculative scenarios of sf are relevant to real biological innovations; sf can offer nuanced reflections on pressing social issues. Serious sf can contribute to national and cultural debates on biotechnological and medical dilemmas, especially the debates on genetic engineering and human cloning. Although most of the conference papers dealt with written sf, a few discussed cinema, television series, theatrical sf, or comic books.
The most difficult task for the president of the organizing committee was the announcement that the three American guests of honor—Greg Bear, Joan Slonczewski, and Susan M. Squier—would not be attending. The events of September 11th and the latest developments in Afghanistan did affect the conference. There was widespread disappointment, particularly among the Greeks, who had been looking forward to the presence of these guests. Welcoming addresses were given by the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, Ekaterini Douka-Kabitoglou; the chair of the School of English, Savas Patsalidis; the president of the Fantastic Club of Ioannina, Nikos Theodorou; and the secretary of the Science Fiction Club of Athens, Giorgos Katsavos. The opening ceremony ended with a talk by professor of biochemistry and toxicology Anastassios Kovatsis, who provided evidence from ancient fragments demonstrating that the pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles was the first to speculate on DNA. Canadian sf writer Candas Jane Dorsey spoke on the real/virtual body and the human desire for transformation, concluding that in the wake of the events of September 11th, people realized that the real body was never safe. Molecular biologist Athena Andreadis (Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center) praised the “forerunner role of sf,” pointing out that a positive stance toward biological engineering can lead to the creation of “sophisticated, modulated futures” and away from “the established Frankensteinian fears.” Looking at “parables of mutation and cloning,” Darko Suvin (McGill University) contended that sf does not function as a “straightforward extrapolation seriously developing scientific horizons,” although it can alert the public to possibilities latent in technoscience under capitalism. He pointed out that sf “cannot decide about the scientific feasibility of the hypothesis, it can only assume it as a given and investigate its social, collective, and personal consequences.”
The first day, Sheryl Hamilton (McGill University) explored the intersections of science, journalism and sf; Brigitte Scheer-Schazler (University of Innsbruck) spoke about Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”; Elisabeth Kraus (Karl-Franzens University) examined the biotech body in works by Rebecca Ore, Pat Cadigan, Greg Egan, and Greg Bear; Andrew Enstice (Australian Catholic University) focused on David Zindell and the trans-human condition (drawing parallels between the fiction and the events of September 11th); and Richard McKinney (Lund University) approached the ethical complexity and change in contemporary transmimetic fiction from a “perspectivist perspective.” On the evening of the first day, the participants enjoyed a musical performance titled Ars Moriendi, a science fiction cantata composed for the conference by Petros Theodorou. Each participant was given a CD of the cantata, with libretto printed in both Greek and English.
The second day opened with American sf writer and astronautical engineer Gerald David Nordley, who used slides to demonstrate how biomedical advances can make interstellar civilization possible without fantasy space drives. He was followed by Pawel Frelik (Maria Curie-Sklodowska University), who discussed Paul DiFillipo’s stories. A speaker from the Agricultural University of Athens, Spyros Kintzios, speculated on the possibility of resurrecting ancient organisms (plants and animals) as presented in such works as Jurassic Park. During a session on cloning, Janeen Webb (Australian Catholic University) presented a survey of Anglophone novels and short stories, Katerina Kitsi-Mitakou (Aristotle University) explained the ways the female womb has been colonized by male science from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Naomi Mitchison’s Solution Three, and Domna Pastourmatzi focused on Eve ou la repetition by French geneticist Jacques Testart, a novel exploring the social, ethical, psychological, and gender implications of an illegal human cloning experiment. The second day ended with a talk by the Canadian writer/poet Timothy Anderson, who focused on the manipulation of desire via the metaphor of bioengineering in his recently published novel, Resisting Adonis, and an examination by William Schultz (University of Athens) of Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Australian sf writer and critic Russell Blackford opened the third day, speaking on the “unequivocally pro-science” stance of Greg Egan and Sean Williams. Neil Gerlach (Concordia University) examined “biogovernance as a means of social control” in Philip Kerr’s A Philosophical Investigation and Michael Cordy’s Crime Zero. He explained that these novels indicate “ruptures that can occur” when a governmental system perceives crime control as a technical rather than a moral issue, authorizing biotechnology to manage risky populations and populations as risk. In the evening, Edward Higgins (George Fox University) talked about the Quaker ethos as science praxis in Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean, while Zoe Detsi illuminated the “cannibalistic quest for longevity” in Manjula Padmanabhan’s award-winning play Harvest 2010. In the session on sf cinema, Michalis Kokonis analyzed bodily and generic transmutations in David Cronenberg’s films, while Monika Messner (University of Innsbruck) pinpointed the social, psychological and political issues raised in the film X-Men. Looking at Paul Verhoeven’s film Hollow Man, Claudia Schwarz (University of Innsbruck) argued that “invisibility has become a matter of medical and biotechnical transformation rather than of magic devices” in sf. Among the Greek speakers, Ioannis Vassiliadis examined the hypothesis of creating “artificial saints” through genetic engineering in the recent novel Ta Gonidia tis Agiotitas (The Genes of Holiness) by Greek sf writer Diamantis Florakis. Georgios Papantonakis (University of the Aegean), pointed out the reluctance of Greek writers of children’s sf novels to engage in themes that deal with biotechnology and genetics. Only Kira Sinou has dared to introduce her young readers to such topics as cryonics and genetic experimentation, though with a didactic and moral emphasis. Fledgling Greek sf writer Alexia Athanasiou (from Corfu) critiqued several episodes in the original Star Trek. Philologist and translator Rania Katsarea argued that the award for the best bioscience scenario must go to American society rather than to any genre of the fantastic, because of the numerous real-life “extraordinary” stories of individual engagement in biotechnology and genetics.
On the fourth and final day, translators Spyros Vretos and Nerina Kioeseoglou pondered the definition of human identity in the light of body-and- gene-modifying technologies. Vretos framed his talk with a quotation from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “there would this monster make a man; any strange beast there makes a man.” He argued that the industrialized world will have to redefine the concept “human being” to include creatures that may result from the unprecedented evolutionary changes precipitated by the new biotechnologies. Finally, Evi Sampanikou (University of the Aegean), with the aid of over 50 slides, commented on representations of mutation, cryonics, cloning, artificial intelligence, and hyper-technologies by European comic book artists, including Philip Druillet, Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, Horacio Altuna, Buchet and Morvan, Jodorowski and Moebius, Tanino Liberatore and Stefano Tamburini, Jordi Bernet, Schuiten and Peeters, and Enki Bilal. Tatiana Rapatzikou (University of East Anglia) examined the new “terminal identity” that emerges from the visual art of Orlan; she illustrated how through the use of medical technologies, the French multimedia/performance artist “raises serious questions” about the female body and the relationship between art and life.
On Saturday October 20th, the foreign speakers were taken to Vergina (an hour’s drive by bus) for a guided tour of King Philip’s tomb. They had lunch and coffee out in the sun near the archaelogical site and enjoyed themselves so much that they arrived back late for the evening’s session. This late arrival resulted in small delays in the program but no real harm was done and everyone had a second opportunity to express their appreciation for the trip to Vergina during dinner at Tiffany’s Restaurant that night. The companionable feasting and talk continued late into the night, reaffirming that life and hospitality survive even in the shadow of global crisis.
The conference’s final event was an award ceremony for best sf story; the competition, aimed at encouraging aspiring Greek authors, was announced a year ago. The first prize was awarded to Demetrios Delaroudis for “The Virus of Babel” and the second prize to Thanassis Vembos for “Surgical Strikes.”
The conference, first of its kind on Greek soil, drew the attention of the Greek media. Television channels both major (Mega, Ant1, Tempo) and local (ET3) covered the event. Interviews were solicited from the president of the organizing committee and also from Candas Jane Dorsey, Athena Andreadis, Darko Suvin, and Gerald D. Nordley. There were daily reports in local and national newspapers and magazines; in fact, the newspaper Makedonia devoted the entire issue (October 14, 2001) of its Sunday insert-magazine, Panselinos (Full Moon), to sf in general and the conference in particular. On October 17, Eleutherotypia (Freepress), a national newspaper with a wide circulation, printed a four-page report in its weekly magazine Ennea (Nine), which was followed by another four-page report after the completion of the conference (October 7). Other newspapers providing coverage included Adesmeftos Typos (IndependentPress), Aggelioforos tis Kyriakis (Sunday Messenger), Athens News, Estia (Hestia), Ethnos (Nation), Expresso, Kathimerini (Daily), Ta Nea (The News), Thessaloniki, and Hmerisios Kyrikas (Daily News). The magazines Norel VIP and Close Up, and the fanzines Kosmiki Diastasi (Cosmic Dimension) and Dramatourgoi tou Yann (Dramatists of Yann) were also part of an extensive media coverage that placed sf in the foreground for a few weeks.
Despite the absence of the three American guests, the conference was a success, bringing together sf readers and critics from many countries and various parts of Greece. Greek fans, translators, booksellers, scholars, and students met sf writers from Australia, Canada and the US, heard excellent papers, and engaged in vivid discussions. The conference placed sf at center stage, showing that it has a role to play in the cultural debates regarding biotechnological and medical advances. The events of September 11th have demonstrated in the most graphic manner that it is useful to deal with the inconceivable in the realm of imagination first, using fictional hypotheses to work out solutions to social problems rather than deriving our knowledge and wisdom from the bitter source of hindsight. Forward-looking, serious sf is definitely up to the challenge. —Domna Pastourmatzi, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki
SFRA Conference. The Science Fiction Research Association will hold its annual conference in New Lanark, Scotland, from June 28-30, 2002. The conference co-ordinators are Farah Mendlesohn and Andrew M. Butler. Author Guests of Honor will be Pat Cadigan, Paul McAuley, and Ken MacLeod; the keynote address will be given by Andy Sawyer, curator of the Science Fiction Foundation Collection and the John Wyndham Archive. Because of the venue, a planned industrial village of the early nineteenth century, the papers are expected to have a special focus this year on social radicalism, Utopia, and migration/expulsion.—Farah Mendlesohn, Science Fiction Foundation
New Wells Journal. The inaugural issue of The Undying Fire: The Journal of the H.G. Wells Society of the Americas seeks articles on any topic relating to Wells’s life and work. Essays with an interdisciplinary focus are especially welcome. To be published annually, each issue will include five to seven essays ranging from ten to thirty pages. Longer essays will be considered in the case of outstanding merit only. Follow current MLA guidelines and submit three copies and the file on disk. Essays will be evaluated by our editorial board, which we are proud to announce includes Robert Philmus, David C. Smith, and W. Warren Wagar. Submission deadline for the first issue is February 1, 2002; anticipated date of publication is late spring/early summer 2002. Submissions should be sent to: Eric Cash, Editor, The Undying Fire, ABAC 32, 2802 Moore Highway, Abraham Baldwin College, Tifton, GA, 31794-2601. Rejected manuscripts will be returned if SASE has been provided. Membership dues for the society are $15 for one year (write for further information), but membership in the H.G. Wells Society of the Americas is not a requirement for submission/consideration. Individual issues of The Undying Fire will sell for $5. For further details, contact Eric Cash at the following address:<ecash@ abac.peachnet. edu>.—Eric Cash, Abraham Baldwin College
The Reception of H.G. Wells in Europe. An international conference at the University of Leipzig, Germany will be held July 12-14, 2002, as part of the “Athlone Reception of British Authors in Europe” series. Presentations on all aspects of Wells’s reception in Europe are encouraged, including translations of his work, his critical reception, his influence on European writers, his political impact, and his influence on technological and scientific changes in modern life. Selected conference proceedings will be published. Speakers include Patrick Parrinder (Reading), George Slusser (California-Riverside), Elmar Schenkel (Leipzig), Maria Teresa Chialant (Naples), Danièle Chatelain (Redlands), José Manuel Mota (Coimbra), Roger Cockrell (Exeter), and John S. Partington (Reading). For further details, contact Dr. John S. Partington, 14 St. Annes Road, Caversham, Reading RG4 7PA. <J_S_Partington@ hotmail.com>.—John Partington, University of Reading
New Electronic SF Magazine. Future Orbits, a new sf magazine, will be published exclusively in today’s major electronic book formats and will be distributed via email. The first issue features “Blues for Amy” by Nebula-finalist K.D. Wentworth, and short fiction by Thomas Marcinko, Fiona Curnow, Keith Brooke, Paul E. Martens, and Karl El-Koura, as well as a commentary by Geoffrey A. Landis. Future Orbits can be read on desktop computers, laptops, and handheld computers, including Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs, Franklin eBookmans, and Rocket eBooks. To receive a free copy, send an email to <firstname.lastname@example.org>, including your email address and whether you would prefer the Adobe Acrobat PDF, Microsoft Reader, Mobipocket, or Rocket eBook version of Future Orbits. The issue may also be requested at: <www.futureorbits.com/freeissue/free_premiere_issue.html>. For a limited time, subscribers for six issues (US$7.95) will receive two additional issues. Subscribe at the following address: <http://www.futureorbits.com/Subscribe /subscribe.html>.—Tom Vander Neut, Editor/Publisher, Future Orbits
Cordwainer Smith Award to Olaf Stapledon. On November 5th, the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award was officially handed over to John Stapledon, son of the author of Last and First Men (1930),Odd John (1935), Star Maker (1937), and Sirius (1944). John Clute, one of the judges, presented the award at a gathering sponsored by the Science Fiction Foundation at the Sydney Jones Library, University of Liverpool, which houses the Stapledon Archive. On September 2, at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia, the first Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award for “a science fiction or fantasy writer whose work displays unusual originality, embodies the spirit of Cordwainer Smith’s fiction, and deserves renewed attention” was given to Stapledon (1886-1950). The prize has been established by the Cordwainer Smith Foundation in memory of Paul M.A. Linebarger (1913-1966), whose visionary stories as “Cordwainer Smith” are among the science fiction field’s most haunting achievements. The jury for this first award consisted of Robert Silverberg, Gardner Dozois, John Clute, and Scott Edelman.
The gathering at the Sydney Jones Library marked the transmittal of the award to Stapledon’s family with a short ceremony. John Clute said that he “felt strongly that Stapledon had been a central figure in the great century of science fiction that had now passed, who used the free arena of sf to expound a cosmogony of daunting vastness; and that the young sf readers of 2001 should not let his memory slide away. Hence the Award.” Mr Stapledon expressed how honored he was to receive the award to commemorate the fiction of his father. It is the wish of the Stapledon family, he said, that the award would eventually join the Stapledon Archive, which is one of the most important archives of a science fiction writer in a British library.—Andy Sawyer, Sydney Jones Library, U of Liverpool
Anatomy of Wonder. Greenwood Press is now distributing Anatomy of Wonder 4 (originally published by Bowker in 1995) in a trade paperback edition for $39. Orders can be placed at 1-800-225-5800.—Neil Barron
Utopian Studies Society: Call for Papers. The Utopian Studies Society will hold its annual meeting on June 25-27, 2002 at the University of Nottingham, UK. The Utopian Studies Society is a multi-disciplinary and inclusive organisation of people with an interest in the study and practice of utopia, utopianism, and utopian lifestyle. The Society was established in 1988 by a group of British scholars, following an international conference on utopianism at New Lanark. The theme of this year’s conference will be “Utopia in Dark Times.” September 11th saw the world shaken by acts of terrorism. Is utopia possible in dark times? Does it offer hope? Is the utopian impulse destructive? This conference will attempt to explore this theme through discussion of papers on utopias, dystopias, and utopian experiments in the past, present, and future. Proposals for papers are very welcome and should be submitted by e-mail to Ruth Levitas at <email@example.com> and to Vincent Geoghegan at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For further information, contact the local organiser Lucy Sargisson at <email@example.com> and visit our website at <www.utopianstudieseurope.org>.—Lucy Sargisson, Univ. of Nottingham
Society for Utopian Studies: Call for Papers. The twenty-seventh annual meeting of the Society for Utopian Studies will be held in Orlando, Florida, October 24-27, 2002 at the Four Points Sheraton Downtown. Founded in 1975, the Society is an international, interdisciplinary association devoted to the study of utopianism in all its forms, with a particular emphasis on literary and experimental utopias. The Society publishes the journal Utopian Studies and a newsletter, Utopus Discovered, which contains information about upcoming conferences and workshops, and a bibliography of recent publications in the field. The Society’s annual meetings provide an ideal venue for intellectual interchange in a cooperative, non-competitive, congenial, and convivial environment. At each meeting the Society presents the Arthur O. Lewis Award for the best paper by a junior scholar given at the previous annual meeting and the Eugenio Battisti Award for the best article in each volume of Utopian Studies. Membership in the Society includes announcements regarding the annual meeting, as well as subscriptions to Utopian Studies and Utopus Discovered. Dues are $45.00 for regular membership, $20.00 for students, retired and unemployed, and $75.00 for libraries and institutions. For more information, see our website at <www.utoronto.ca/utopia>. If you wish to organize a panel or present a paper, submit a 1-2 page abstract by May 15, 2002 to: SUS 2002, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, P.O. Box 161348, Orlando, FL 32816-1348, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, fax 407-823-6261. For information about registration, travel and accommodations, please contact our Local Arrangements Chair: John Barberet, 407-823-3122, <barberet@ mail.ucf.edu>. —Lyman Tower Sargent, Society for Utopian Studies
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