Science Fiction Studies

#119 = Volume 40, Part 1 = March 2013


Cutting Up in der Kunsthalle. The Kunsthalle, a small gallery in Vienna’s glorious museum district, mounted an exhibit on the art of William S. Burroughs, entitled “Cut-ups, Cut-ins, Cut-outs,” from 15 June to 21 October 2012. The well-organized program featured a screening room where Burroughs’s collaborations with British filmmaker Antony Balch—e.g., Towers Open Fire (1964), an assaultive collage that captures the challenging immediacy of fictions such as Nova Express (1964)—could be viewed, along with rooms displaying Burroughs’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes haunting photo-collages and his late experiments with abstract painting and “shotgun art” (plywood panels adorned with photos and slathered with paint from cans blasted open with a rifle). Displays of rare first editions of his work and of underground publications to which he contributed filled out the collection, while speakers in the ceiling played, on continuous loop, Burroughs’s “cut-in” tape experiments. While the intended goal was no doubt to immerse visitors in a cauldron of cognitive estrangement, the overall set-up had a Teutonic cleanliness and orderliness that rather undercut the effect—though this was perhaps appropriate to its subject, who was always so buttoned-down on the outside while manic visions churned within.

The promotional material provided by the Kunsthalle talked up Burroughs’s influence on popular and avant-garde music, from the Beatles to Brian Eno, yet the show itself featured little of this legacy. While there was a modest sampling of the 1980s ‘zine culture that embraced Burroughs as an inspiration, there was total silence on the deep debts owed to him by British New Wave sf—though one of the funniest cut-ups on display was a rather contemptuous collage of a gushy fan letter from J.G. Ballard. Copies of a CD gathering Burroughs’s cut-ins, Real English Tea Made Here, were available for sale, as were copies of the exhibition catalogue.—Rob Latham, University of California, Riverside

The Politics of Adaptation Conference. Held September 23 and 24, 2012, in Frankfurt, Germany and organized by Dan Hassler-Forest (Universiteit van Amsterdam) and Pascal Nicklas (Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz), this multi- and interdisciplinary conference brought together an international collection of scholars to explore the political ramifications of adaptation beyond the usual anxious questions of “fidelity” to some privileged “original.” The conference’s inaugural paper, from Thomas Leitch of the University of Delaware, provocatively reframed the writing of history (and perhaps all academic work) as a process of adaptation rather than pure inspired creation, noting that any new work of history is judged precisely through its relationship to existing scholarship: too much fidelity, and the work is derivative, and thus uninteresting; too little fidelity, and the work is crackpottery, and thus dismissed. Imelda Whelehan of the University of Tasmania similarly discussed the history of Tasmania itself as a site of and for adaptation, considering the purposes to which different aspects of the island’s history had been put by different writers and scholars. Joyce Goggin (also of the Universiteit van Amsterdam) went further still in this direction, considering the cityscape of the famous Las Vegas Strip asan adaptation of world architectural history in miniature. Additional papers considered the biological basis for adaptation in the pattern-recognition capacities of the primate brain; the role of adaptation in Marxian and Lacanian theory; the adaptation, appropriation, and corruption of existing video texts as fodder for memes on YouTube; and cross-cultural piracy and appropriation in the Global South.

Of particular interest to sf scholars is the work of Erik Steinskog (Københavns Universitet) on Afrofuturist themes in the music and music videos of Michael Jackson, particularly in his neglected mid-1990s HIStory: Past, Present, and Future period; while these videos may in some sense have no “original,” they can nonetheless be thought of as adaptations of an associated set of Afrofuturist texts and tropes to a new media form. In the final panel, Dan Hassler-Forest, Peter Paik (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and I took up recent adaptative works in the fantasy, horror, and superhero genres. Paik analyzed the artistic failure of the film version of Watchmen (2009) as a token of the impoverishment of contemporary culture, and as evidence that adaptation does not necessarily require any sort of interpretation; what is worst about Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, he argued, is precisely the fact that it seems not to have “adapted” the Alan Moore original in any way at all. In Hassler-Forest’s paper on Game of Thrones, he considered not only how the book series, song of ice and fire (1996-), adapts Tolkien and other entries in the sword-and-sorcery genre, but also how this series subsequently was adapted for television, considering how HBO’s cherished branding of “Quality TV” had to be adapted to allow the culturally denigrated fantasy genre to participate at all. Finally, my paper on Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s metafictional Cabin in the Woods (2011) took up the film as an appropriative adaptation with no single, named original to explore the film’s simultaneous celebration and critique of the horror genre. The political energy of each of these adaptations seems to be located in an injunction to put away such genre work because it is on some level deeply bad for us. These texts are thus self-divided, seeking on one level to create a great entry in a genre while at the same time creating the last entry in this genre. The close affinity between adaptation and genre criticism here becomes inescapable; attempting to adapt its genre to a new register, each text ultimately suggests the vitality of this genre has been completely exhausted.

A collection on the politics of adaptation, coming out of the work presented at the conference, is planned.—Gerry Canavan, Marquette University, Milwaukee

Philip K. Dick in the Ruhr. It was to be expected that the thirtieth anniversary of Dick’s death (1982) would trigger a series of events in the US and abroad, and that is what has happened. The PKD Festival at San Francisco State University in September 2012 was the climax of the celebrations in Dick’s own city, state, and country. But Dick is a global author. He was already considered an important figure in (and outside)the sf field  in France, Italy, Germany, and Japan in the last years of his life, when very few scholars and fans dared defend him and his fictions. Those were the times when the boldest defenders of the validity of sf in US academia did not want to touch Dick with a stick (if the popular idiom is allowed) because of his religious enthusiasms and the notorious 2-3-74 experiences —understandably, as the priority then was to establish sf as a respectable form of fiction and an acceptable object of academic research and teaching. In those years, the PKD Society, led by Paul Williams, was a sect of initiates who kept the flame alive in the US, but in other countries there were small armies of fans, experts and scholars who took Dick quite seriously, seeing him as a writer whose oeuvre, though strongly rooted in sf, stretched its branches over other fictional lands—such as fantasy, realism, postmodernism. I mention the Italian case only because I know it well: from the writings of a painstaking and competent interpreter like Carlo Pagetti a whole school of PKD scholarship was born, including Salvatore Proietti, Gabriele Frasca and others.

Things have changed in the US, thanks to Fredric Jameson, Jonathan Lethem, and the team of scholars who have worked on the new selection of the Exegesis (2011), some of whom were present at the San Francisco PKD Festival. But Dick remains an important figure abroad as well. No wonder then that the other large-scale event of the 2012 anniversary took place in Germany in the heart of the Ruhr district, a post-industrial area which fits certain prophetic Dickian atmospheres, with a peculiar mix of old technologies of coal and steel and new high-tech research labs. The conference, called “Worlds Out of Joint: Re-Imagining Philip K. Dick,” took place on 15-18 November 2012. Surely Dick is a writer for our late modernity, and the titles of several presentations at the conference are proof of this: “From Exegesis to Ecology,” “Philip K. Dick and the Variable Future of Neoliberalism,” “The Paranoia of Globalization,” “PKD as Pioneer of the Brain Revolution,” “Dick’s Mechanical Man.”

But let’s get back to the idea of Dick as a global writer. I am perfectly aware, having taken part in the San Francisco Festival, of how Dick was a “local” writer: walking in the streets of a city where half the population is of Asian descent, one immediately understands why The Man in the High Castle (1962) had to be written there (or better, in nearby Marin County). But his global dimension is undeniable: speakers and presenters at the Dortmund conference came from Japan, Latvia, Italy, the UK, France, Hungary, Finland, Australia, and Poland. The organizers of the event, Walter Grünzweig, Stefan Schlensag (whose presentation on Dick and the graphic novel was remarkable), and Alexander Dunst, are German, and then there was a sizeable American delegation, whose most prestigious representatives were Laurence A. Rickels (who read The Simulacra [1964] in a complex and multilayered framework of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, Cold War politics, and technology history) and Eric Davis (always able to enter the labyrinth of the Exegesis and take his listeners with him, without getting lost).

Other highlights included Mark Bould’s opening speech on Dick and slipstream cinema, Roger Luckhurst’s accurate and enlightening keynote speech on Dick and the history of psychiatry in the US, and Takayuki Tatsumi’s lively lecture on Dick’s impact on Japanese sf. But many of the shorter presentations deserve a mention: Salvatore Proietti’s well-researched exploration of the relations between Dick’s oeuvre and the counterculture, Ian C. Davidson’s analysis of mobility and automobility in Dick’s early novels, Chris Leslie’s discussion of the presence of the military-industrial complex in the novels of the 1960s, Dirk Vanderbeke’s examination of the small town as a recurring locus in Dick’s fiction, Irina Novikova’s mapping of Dick’s presence in the Soviet Union and today’s Russian-speaking countries, Daniel Cape’s painstaking discussion of the use of rotoscope in Richard Linklater’s adaptation (2006) of A Scanner Darkly (1977), and Matt Englund’s brilliant re-evaluation of the neglected Galactic Pot-Healer (1969).

What I found particularly interesting is that this conference proved without a doubt that there is a new generation of PKD scholars. Not a few of scholars present were born after Dick’s death, and started reading his novels when the “cultural emotion” that generated his writings had vanished. This is in itself proof of the vitality of Dick’s oeuvre, a body of texts that, to paraphrase John Keats, when old age shall this generation waste, shall remain, in midst of other woe than ours, friends to man. Which is probably what Dick—all the fears and paranoia haunting him notwithstanding—probably had in mind when he wrote them.—Umberto Rossi, Rome

Aramcheck Crawls Out of the Woodwork: The PKD Festival in San Francisco. For the thirtieth anniversary of Dick’s death, the PKD Festival, originally held in Fort Morgan, Colorado (where Dick was buried in 1982), moved well into Dick’s own territory, San Francisco. While the first edition of the Festival (2010) was fundamentally a gathering of true-blue PKD fans (and rather small), this event, having been organized by David Gill of San Francisco State University, also had an academic side.

Much of the value in the gathering came from the synergy created between the participants with a scholarly background, such as Laurence Rickels and Erik Davis, and those from fandom, including several who were personal friends of Philip K. Dick during various phases of his life. It was a  rich exchange of information, insights, comments, perspectives, and also—being a conference devoted to a writer endowed with an indestructible and unstoppable sense of deadpan humor—jokes. Maybe the key word is integration, a term used in a more specific sense by Rickels in his mesmerizing lecture on The Simulacra (1964) in the context of other post-war US fictions by such writers as Pynchon and Vonnegut: integration of people who personally knew Dick and those who know his writing well; integration of what intelligent and passionate fans have done and what competent and knowledgeable scholars are doing; integration of what the written sources offer and what circulates in speeches and conversations.

I might use a phrase Dick once dropped in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965), when Anne Hawthorne tells Barney Mayerson that the Episcopal Church has “apostolic succession.” This idea—of an unbroken continuity of sacred tradition—might also, in a secularized form, be applied to PKD scholarship. This does not, of course, mean that only those who have personally met Dick possess some esoteric truth about his writings, but there is no doubt that—notwithstanding his world-wide fame—Dick also has a specific local dimension. It is a Californian genius loci, we might say, that can be better grasped when a scholar gets in touch with the geographic reality of the place and the people who inhabit it. Listening to the Biographical Panel of the Festival, with Charles Platt, William Sarill, Grania Davis, and Marc Hafele, I must admit that my picture of Dick’s world was refocused.

In fact, one of the conclusions reached during the festival is that Lawrence Sutin’s biography, Divine Invasions (1989), is not sufficient for PKD scholarship. Though I believe that biographical interpretations belong to the nineteenth century, I am well aware, having worked on Dick’s Valis trilogy (1978-85), that nobody can tackle these and other novels without taking into account the facts of Dick’s personal life, because Dick put himself in the novels, sometimes in a scrambled form, sometimes as “Phil Dick, the write.” We badly need another biography, more complete than Gregg Rickman’s (which covers only half of Dick’s life) and more detailed and less biased than Sutin’s. All the presentations and panels about “Dick the man” led me to believe that Sutin highlighted what was weird and deranged in Dick’s life. Though Dick’s personality was undoubtedly complex and contradictory, though the suspicions of mental problems may be justified, Dick’s sometimes weird fiction manages to communicate quite well with a range of different personalities, many of whom are not weird at all.

Other highlights of the festival were Erik Davis and Ted Hand’s panel on Dick and religion, where this controversial issue was treated in a competent and reasonable way by two scholars whose knowledge of Dick and religious matters is impressive, leaving one to wonder why there has been such critical embarrassment about religious components in Dick’s fiction; Jonathan Lethem’s keynote speech, enlivened by his indisputable mastery of oratory, where he indicated two main points in Dick’s literary evolution, the Point Reyes integration, around 1960, when he hybridized sf with realistic fiction in works such as Martian Time-Slip (1964), and the lesser-known Orange County integration, the last phase in Dick’s career, when he turned himself into Phil Dick the character; the Exegesis panel, where Pamela Jackson and other editors explained the selection and the editing of Dick’s staggering manuscript; the projection of John Alan Simon’s extremely interesting independent film (2010), based on Radio Free Albemuth (1976); and Paul M. Sammon’s multimedia presentation on Blade Runner (1982), an account of the making of that milestone of sf cinema.

One more moment should be however mentioned: Stefan Schlensag’s presentation on the reception of Dick’s oeuvre in Germany. If this Festival had one defect, it is the very small number of foreign guests, especially from non-English-speaking countries. Schlensag competently showed how and when Dick reached Germany, and how his fame in that country was limited to the world of sf readers and practitioners; during this presentation I realized how different this story was from the one I know all too well—that is, Dick’s triumphal march in Italy, where he is now considered a respectable and fascinating American fiction writer inside and outside sf. The followers of Philip Kindred Dick’s literary achievements are no longer a small sect of fans—compared by Lethem to Aramcheck, the secret subversive organization in Dick’s Albemuth—but a little army of readers and experts with different professional backgrounds, an army that is relentlessly growing as younger Dickheads (when written with a capital D, an honorific title) join the battle. Another PKD Festival has been announced, to be held in 2014, probably in Orange County, California. It will offer a good opportunity to fill the (very few) gaps of the San Francisco event.—Umberto Rossi, Rome

Tales from the British Museum. My book The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy came out in October 2012. It started as a cultural history of how the Victorians “invented” the curse that famously took down the Fifth Earl of Carnarvon six weeks after the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1923. The story is a delirious mix of Egyptology, Gothic horror, a touch of sf, and large doses of colonial angst. My book soon became slightly more than a sifting of textual traces of histories, fictions and rumors, however, once I got on the trail of two Victorian gents who had been known to have been cursed by the objects they took out of Egypt. I spent ten years, on and off, in the archives and libraries of London, hunting for traces of Thomas Douglas Murray (1841-1911) and Walter Herbert Ingram (1855-1888). At a late stage of writing the book, I was pole-axed to receive an email from the great-granddaughter of Ingram, who had been trampled by an elephant he had failed to shoot properly in Berbera in 1888; his grisly death was lovingly described in the first-ever letter Rudyard Kipling wrote to H. Rider Haggard. The great grand-daughter had, she said, some family heirlooms I might be interested in seeing. Oh boy. And so this project began to spill out of the textual world and into very strange fragments of the material world.

In a small village in the Sussex Downs, I was shown the (wrong bore) bullet that Walter Ingram had fired at that elephant, the bullet that had, in effect, killed him, since the wounded animal just kept coming and trampled him to death. I was also shown a little silver plaque, once mounted on an object that was long gone, which read: “Looted at Ulundi, 1879,” a simple, brutal statement that proved that Walter Ingram had been at the last battle in the punitive Zulu Wars, when the Royal Kraal had been razed to the ground by British troops with vengeance on their minds, the king and his last defenders massacred.

I should have seen this coming: it was a project about the unwritten history of private collections and the secret histories of public museums. But what I really didn’t anticipate was how mummy materials would continue to come at me even after the book was done, handed in, copyedited, proofed, published. These things are still shuffling inexorably towards me.

Last summer, a BBC producer and I spent a couple of weeks writing a thirty-minute radio documentary, True Tales from the Crypt (BBC Radio 4, 20 September 2012). I recommend having a BBC producer on hand: they can open doors ineffectual professors cannot. Several years into the project, I had eventually found a way around the skeptical curators to get into the archives of the British Museum to read their legendary Correspondence Files (they keep every letter, however mad, received by the museum, including quite a few, it turned out, by one of my cursed gentlemen). But Laura Thomas, my producer, picked up the phone and within days got me face-to-face with the famous “Unlucky Mummy” of the British Museum, a haunted mummy-board that had not been on display in the Egyptian Rooms for some time. Near the back door of the Museum we took an unfamiliar turn, slipped through a sequence of locked doors, and ended up in the extraordinary “Stone Storage Basement,” Egyptian statues of Sekhmet and other gods trailing off down the corridors into the gloom. There, moved temporarily from Conservation, was the Priestess of Amen-Ra, the Unlucky Mummy that had been given to the museum in 1889 after allegedly causing much havoc and misery. She continued to smile serenely, and I could look into the notoriously malignant eyes of that accursed object. John Taylor, the curator, talked with marvelous fluency and with just the right hint of irony as he expounded on the rumors and fabulations that have accrued around the Priestess. Disappointingly, he did not think it likely that the Priestess had been on board the Titanic in April 1912.

The attitude of museum curators seems to have shifted considerably in the last few years. From exasperation with the persistence of patently unscientific beliefs in curses that don’t exist in Ancient Egyptian culture, a new generation of curators has decided to work with these stories rather than against them, animating their collections in new ways. About five minutes from the British Museum, buried in an unremarkable quarter of University College, is the Flinders Petrie Museum. William Flinders Petrie was the first professor of Egyptology in London in the 1890s, and he collected about 80,000 objects from his decades of fieldwork in Egypt, where he basically invented modern scientific process in archaeology. Petriewas also a contemporary of Francis Galton, who coined the term “eugenics,” and he collected skulls for Galton to help prove certain theories of racial development. The museum is incredibly evocative, the original Victorian vitrines crammed into narrow spaces. The public programs there, run by Debbie Challis, now include a “Gothic trail” that takes a route through the collection, capitalizing on oddities like the association of Egyptologist Margaret Murray with the Museum. Murray was a supposed to be a skeptic, yet also wrote the rather notorious book, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921), that proposed a secret, continuous history of black magic cabals from the cult of Diana to the present day. It delighted occultists in the 1920s, and influenced H.P. Lovecraft. To have a literary scholar of the Gothic and sf come in and lecture surrounded by coffin lids and magical amulets now seems entirely run of the mill. It is slightly unnerving to be so haughtily assessed by the bust of Margaret Murray in the corner as you speak, however.

I am also now working with the curators of the amazing Wellcome Institute collection, a vast archive of weird and wonderful medical objects from around the world built up by Henry Wellcome in the early twentieth century. I had already had a mildly uncanny experience in the Wellcome Institute library, reading the papers of the surgeon Thomas Pettigrew, who was a major figure in public unwrappings of mummies in London in the 1830s. Turning over a book, a square of mummy bandage had slid out of the back cover—a slice of human remains dumped on the desk in front of me. This was proof enough of the habit of giving a memento of the mummy to audiences who had paid a fair amount of money to witness Pettigrew chisel away at corpses, looking for amulets and precious stones.

The Wellcome public programs team asked if I would like to choose an item from the collection to discuss in their “The Thing Is…” series (24 February 2013). I had seen a display in their galleries of magical amulets and wondered if these were available. The curator gently pointed me towards the mummified child, crocodile, and cat that now reside in the Science Museum collection, on permanent loan from the Wellcome. A cat? Many stories of mummy curses involve Bubastis, the cat goddess—Robert Bloch wrote one for Weird Stories and Sax Rohmer The Green Eyes of Bast, a decidedly queasy woman/cat hybrid horror from 1920. The Earl of Carnarvon had caught the addiction to excavate when in his first season he unearthed a mummified cat. The excavator Arthur Weigall claimed this cat had burst the bonds of its mummy wrappings in an act of rage, long anticipating Carnarvon’s fateful encounter with Tutankhamun. It seemed only right to ask if this was one that we could get out of storage in front of an audience. It rests in the archive, “ÒProvenance Unknown,” likely acquired in one of Henry Wellcome’s tireless frenzies of acquisition. Mute objects forced to become museal artifacts: why not work to articulate the meaning of stories of curses and vengeance, the counter-history that surely haunts all collections.—Roger Luckhurst, Birkbeck College, London

Fi-Sci: Directed Entertainment Narrative Generation. There are multiple examples of sf writers inspiring and even predicting genuine future technologies, from the satellites of Arthur C. Clarke to the social robotics of Isaac Asimov, but no one has yet systematically studied the contributions of sf to scientific research. We are exploring a novel approach to generating or extending research projects, called Fiscience (pronounced “fiss-see-ense”). Fiscience (or Fi-Sci for short) involves the generation of entertainment narratives at different stages of a science research project so as to explore and produce new ideas that the project can investigate. Broadly, the method involves contacting multiple professional sf authors and asking them to generate story pitches (at most one to two paragraphs) based on specified research projects. The authors are encouraged to generate “ideas-based” stories, not ones focused on character. These ideas will then be evaluated, by scientists collaborating on the projects, for their potential application within the three projects. Initial contact has raised a number of questions for further exploration, such as “Who owns the copyright to the pitches?”Ó and “How might writers contribute if the development of characters and plot is out of scope?”

Thus far, four authors have agreed to be involved in future research, including one who was recently nominated for a John W. Campbell Award and another who has won an Arthur C. Clarke Award. Authors are sent project descriptions for the following three projects that they are then asked to rank by preference: (1) Real-Time Hallucination Simulation and Sonification through User-Led Development of an iPad Augmented Reality System: using simulation of visual hallucinations, an individual can overlay their hallucinations in real-time on the iPad screen over the iPad’s video camera image, which allows the hallucinations to be converted into sound through visual sonification, thus providing another avenue of expression for the hallucinating individual; (2) Intelligent Multi-agent System Informed by Imitative Communicating Whales: combining research in artificial intelligence, cognitive science, marine biology, and computer music, a communication system based on the evolution of Humpback whale song in social groups is used to model musical evolution, machine learning, multi-agent modeling, and the behavior of schools of whales; (3) Brain-Computer Interface for Monitoring and Inducing Affective States: research in EEG-based emotion detection informs a system in which affective music is composed and expressively performed via the detection of affective state in a human listener that will inform development of EEG and other biosensors to detect affect and the use of algorithmic performance and composition to induce certain affective trajectories. Authors are then sent the main documentation for their preferred project, and they generate their story pitches based on it, following a timescale of their own choosing. Thus far, responses are still being collated and further authors are being recruited. A large research institute has expressed a strong interest in using the Fi-Sci approach to brainstorm a new batch of research grant proposals for their institute.

We include here one response to Project 2, by Anita Sullivan, as an example of this research, called “The Nano-bots Story.” A laboratory group of simple nano-bots are given pre-programmed physical tasks: complete a maze, carry an object from one point to another, open a door, etc. They are also able to verbalize using digital sounds derived from whale song. They have “ears” that sense audio vibrations. After running the experiment continually with the same group, the nano-bots begin to respond.

1. The nano-bots start to develop a basic system of signals (left, right, here, away, up, down). They begin to collaborate on tasks that would be too difficult for one nano-bot to complete alone (e.g., tripping a see-saw, carrying a heavy object, reaching an object that requires them to climb on each other). Conclusion: language doesn’t just enable intelligence, it creates it.

2. Experimentally, a system is set up where individual nano-bots become randomly separated from the group. The isolated nano-bot “calls” to the group. The group “calls” back. Not only that, each nano-bot has its own call-sign. It has given itself a “name” and has an identity that the group recognizes. Conclusion: language creates self and social place.

3. Continuing the experiment, the researchers withdraw all tasks from the nano-bots. With nothing to do it is assumed they will stop communicating. In fact what happens is they break into smaller fluid groupings and “burble.” The communication cannot be about physical actions as the nano-bots have no physical needs and no programmed tasks. They appear to be “just chatting.” But what about? Conclusion: language creates abstract thought.

4. In the next experiment, the researchers combine one established group of nano-bots with another. These two groups have applied their sound-systems in different ways: they speak different languages. When first set a task, the two groups cannot collaborate and stay separate. But gradually, through the process of achieving goals, the two groups learn each other’s languages. (They speak more simply and loudly to members of the foreign group!) During rest periods, the nano-bots generally reassemble in their old groups. Conclusion: language creates division and connection/ group identity.

5. In the final experiment, the researchers play synthesized whale song to the nano-bots. The nano-bots have an instant and profound reaction. They howl. Do they dislike the music? Are they interpreting the whale song as unhappy? Or has the whale song told them of a world they cannot comprehend, beyond the tasks of the laboratory where creatures think and move freely.

Conclusion: language creates imagination … misery and hope.—Alexis Kirke and Eduardo Miranda, Plymouth University

The Posthuman at Home. In the spirit of the Olympic and Paralympic games, the Wellcome Institute in London held the exhibition Superhuman (19 July to 16 October 2012), which displayed a number of objects, artworks, and installations showcasing historical through recent technologies that have changed and are changing humankind. In addition to the main exhibition, there  were a number of public events, including the Human Limits symposium, which gathered five academics and public figures who work on or promote human enhancement. Considering the large amount of press during the summer about prosthetics and performance-enhancing drugs, the exhibition was excellently timed. A theoretical complement to the praxis of enhancement technologiesshowcased at Superhuman was the conference Enhancement, Emerging Technologies, and Social Challenges, held 10-14 September 2012 at the Inter-University Center in Dubrovnik, a collaborative effort hosted by the New York Institute of Technology, the University of Dublin, the University of Erlangen-Neuberg, and the University of Zagreb.

The first item on display in the Superhuman exhibit space was a small Icarus statue on loan from the British Museum, from the third century CE. From our vantage point, Icarus represents a myth concerning the ambivalence of new technologies rather than the hubris of youth, the exhibit catalog asserts. Held in the Wellcome Institute’s permanent exhibition space, this installation addressed seven themes. The first, “Enhancement,” is an opportunity to consider definitions and presents a number of familiar objects and medical interventions such as press announcing the birth of Louise Brown, the first IVF baby, and a breast implant, false teeth and fake noses for syphilitics displayed with an iPhone, all forms of prosthesis. Much of the exhibition was dedicated to such augmentation, both functional and aesthetic. Running continuously on a small screen, Matthew Barney’s three-hour Cremaster 3 (2002)proved impossible to watch in its entirety, but next to the screen Aimee Mullins’s least-functional object was displayed: rather than sprinter’s blades, a pair of polyurethene, jellyfish-like tendrils, sinuously and beautifully extending from the knees. Sports enhancement was a recurrent image, from Össur’s carefully engineered “Cheetah” running prostheses to a history of incidents involving performance-enhancing drugs. A video showed the collapse and death of Tom Simpson at the 1967 Tour de France from dehydration following a cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol, juxtaposed with images of the 1904 Olympic marathon winner, Tom Hicks, who received two strychnine injections during his run.

The most interesting pieces at the exhibition were perhaps those that explicitly explored the relationship between technology and the human body. Fritz Kahn’s lithograph El hombre como palacio industrial (Man as Industrial Palace; 1930) is a vivid illustration of technological metaphors for the various functions of the body. Floris Kaayk’s mockumentary Metalosis Maligna (2006), about a technological parasite that transforms organic tissue into mechanical protrusions, has disturbing images of an elderly patient whose arm and skull are overgrown and partially replaced by meccano-like growths. For me, however, Revital Cohen’s The Immortal was the most fascinating: composed of a set of medical tools, it connects a heart-lung machine, a dialysis machine, an infant incubator, a mechanical ventilator, and an intraoperative cell salvage machine into a circuit. Modified to operate in concert, it is described on Cohen’s website as “a series of organ replacement machines connected in a semi-biological circuit” and demonstrates a fully technologized metabolic circulatory system (using saline) operating independently of the human body. The exhibit also frames the anticipated further development of technologies of enhancement, beginning with a wall that shows a timeline from the present to 2050, taken from h+ magazine, and recorded statements from a group of experts: Andy Miah discussing technology and sports; Anders Sandberg promoting transhumanism as an improvement of the species; Bennett Foddy and John Harris querying resistance to technological interventions they feel promote longevity; and only Barbara Sahakian articulating any ambivalence as she discusses cognition-enhancing drugs (such as Ritalin and Modafinil).

This lack of dissent was ultimately the result of the way the exhibition was framed. By showing the audiences that we have always enhanced ourselves, the exhibition suggests that future enhancements will be inevitable. Indeed, the spirit of the Clynes-era cyborg haunted the exhibition, suggesting that it has become the dominating folk metaphysics of our time. When metaphor becomes ontology it might be time to go searching for new metaphors. And, like an echo from J.B.S. Haldane’s Daedalus (1923), the Icarus myth has transformed from a cautionary tale to a celebration of the ingeniousness of new technologies. The companion Human Limits symposium gave more attention to the notion of human limitations, and included events such as a screening of Aelita: The Queen of Mars (1924), accompanied by live music. Kevin Fong, a rocket scientist/medical doctor/TV celebrity, discussed how only 100 years ago vast parts of the map were still unexplored and how we must now turn to space as a new frontier. Graeme Gooday discussed the early days of electricity, noting that sf plays a role in determining the possible uses of many new technologies, citing as an example the social patterns that emerged with the introduction of the telephone. Christine Cornea discussed how the “Earthrise” picture, taken from lunar orbit in 1968, became the emblem of the environmental movement, while Anders Sandberg presented why he believes transhumanism is beneficial. The most fascinating paper was by Karen Throshby, a sociologist who has swum the English Channel, who discussed {softlineassistive technologies: a host of regulations exist to ensure that the swim is as “natural” as possible, but the list of allowable and prohibited equipment raises questions about what is or is not considered augmentation: no swimsuitswith arms; goggles and swim caps are allowed, but not buoyant swim caps. Throsby explained how (especially male and fit) swimmers would gain body fat to increase buoyancy yet would rhetorically refer to the fat as something outside of themselves.

The Enhancement conference in Dubrovnik encompassed a number of approaches to human enhancement that have crystallized over the last two decades: ethical discussions dominated, with presentations by philosophers, medical- and bioethicists, and theologians. Art and other cultural expressions were acknowledged as privileged sites to explore moral issues, and there were a number of critical assessments of enhancement-related art and video games, and presentations by artists of their own projects. Space precludes me from discussing all presentations in detail, but a few motifs are worthy of note. Much discussion of human enhancement has a tendency towards a utilitarian calculus, but the papers discussing ethics of enhancement at the conference thankfully took other approaches. A concern for dignity and virtue ethics was evident in the work of two of the organizers, Stefan Lorenz Sorgner and Donal O’Máthuna, as well as the contributions from Pieter Bonté and Sangkyun Shin. Colin Hickey argued for enhancement in the context of Kant’s duty to cultivate one’s talents, while Pieter Lemmens made a Stieglerian analysis of whether enhancement technologies represent a proletarianization of human abilities. The most surprising paper among the philosophers was by Ben Curtis, who, taking the arguments of Alan Buchanan and Jeff McMahon as axiomatic, argued that a cognitively enhanced “post-person” would have more intrinsic moral worth than any current human. Perhaps unsurprisingly, transhumanism, with its quasi-eschatological leanings and emphasis on betterment, attracted theologians such as Felix Krause and Mateja Donkovic.        

Monika Bakke presented a fascinating paper on the rising interest in the microbiome, discussing Sonja Bäumel’s Expanded Self (2012), where Bäumel, after lowering herself into a giant petri dish, cultivates the bacteria she previously applied to her skin. In the following days, an eerie imprint of her body grows in the bacterial flora of the tank. This was contrasted to Craig Venter’s microbiome project and a talk he did at NASA on 30 October 2010. With echoes of Clynes and Kline’s “Cyborgs and Space” (1960), Venter proposes to change human bacterial flora to adapt astronauts for the living conditions in space. Margaret Barkovic and Neva Lukic presented Jalila Essaidi’s 2.6g 329m/s, a “second skin” created out of spider’s silk and designed to be bulletproof. David Louwrier discussed his bioart project Solar Fish that planned to inject zebrafish embryos with photosynthetic cyanobacteria to enable the fish to obtain energy directly from the sun: the project was ultimately prevented by an EU law restricting experiments on embryos less than eight days old. David Roden argued that academic debate on transhumanism is split between what he calls “critical posthumanism” and “speculative posthumanism”: according to Roden, these views are presented, for example in Cary Wolfe’s What is Posthumanism? (2010), as radically different. Contra Wolfe, Roden adopts the term “wide human descendant” and suggests that neither human essentialism nor a privileging of disembodiment (critiqued by N. Katherine Hayles) are inevitably problematic.

The conference schedule—with a long break during the middle of each day—allowed more time for informal discussion. Since the attendees were mostly from outside of Croatia, this created a strong community. Enhancement was the third conference this collaboration has spawned, and the organizers are promising a fourth in 2013.—Hallvard Haug, Birkbeck College, London

“Sounds of Space” Workshop. Convened by Alexander C.T. Geppert, Williiam R. Macauley, and Daniel Brandau—all members of the research group “The Future in the Stars: European Astroculture and Extraterrestial Life in the Twentieth Century”—the workshop “Sounds of Space” took place at the Freie Universität Berlin on 30 November 30 and 1 December 2012. And what a great event this was: in many ways, it can serve as a template for successful, small-scale academic meetings. The theme was clearly defined but still invited a wide range of approaches; the single-track sessions featured only twelve speakers, which helped avoid hasty switchovers; and it offered more than ample time for discussions— ultimately the most important element of such gatherings. The goal of the workshop was to examine the role of technology, craft skills, and situated knowledges in representing outer space and space exploration in a wide range of sonic forms, from mission recordings to musical compositions seeking to reflect the vastness or emptiness of outer space. The main focus was on the period extending from the late 1940s to 1980, the heyday of the Space Age, but several presentations focused on more recent aural phenomena such as the sonification of astrophysics or contemporary musical genres.

The most rewarding aspect of the event was its multidisciplinarity, which brought together scientists, musicologists, museum curators, and sociologists of science as well as scholars of cultural and sound studies. While the workshop did not ostensibly focus on the sf narratives of the Space Age, the phrase “science fiction” was constantly invoked, starting with James Wierzbicki, whose books include a study of the electronic score of Forbidden Planet (1956) and who, in the opening keynote lecture, suggested a tentative classification of the imagined sounds of outer space in the sf films of the 1950s and 1960s. Other papers of immediate interest for SFS readers included Johan Stenstrőm’s presentation on Aniara, Harry Martinson’s 1956 Swedish sf verse epic later adapted as an opera (I wonder how many of us knew about it: I certainly didn’t, and its existence adds yet another piece of evidence to the discussion of local sf traditions), and Stefan Helmreich’s discussion of Scrambles of Earth, a mock alien audio-text exploring the idiosyncrasies of non-human hearing/listening. Ultimately, however, all papers offered fascinating points of entry for those interested in sf and its intersections with science, politics and—more importantly—sound arts and music, a field whose intersections with sf are in dire need of further scholarship. A volume of essays based on the presentations is planned.—Pawel Frelik, MCSU, Lublin, Poland

Who Originated the SF Term “Chronoclasm”? It may be that John Wyndham invented the word “chronoclasm” for his time paradox story “The Chronoclasm,” first published in February 1953 in Star Science Fiction Stories (edited by Frederik Pohl). Minus the definite article, it was first published in one of Wyndham’s own collections as the lead story in what was originally also titled Chronoclasm but was published in 1956 as The Seeds of Time. Are any readers aware of a pre-February 1953 use of the term in an sf novel, story, play, or poem, or in some form of related (or not related) nonfiction? If not, Wyndham should be credited with inventing the word “chronoclasm” or perhaps just its sf meaning. He is, of course, already famous as the inventor of the word “triffid” and its vegetable life form.

The word “chronoclasm” does not appear in any printed or online version of The Oxford English Dictionary and its supplements. It is also not to be found in Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction, edited by Jeff Prucher. There is, however, an online Wiktionary entry that lists these four meanings:
                1. The intentional destruction of clocks and other time artifacts.
                2. (politics) The desire to crush the prevailing sense of time, due to a conflict regarding the fixation of linear time in a community.
                3. A temporarily frazzled mental state resulting from confusion over what time it is.
                4. (science fiction) An interference with the course of history caused by time travel.

Unlike the full-scale OED, this entry unfortunately does not provide four dated quotations providing original or early instances of the four meanings.

Elana Gomel’s Postmodern Science Fiction and the Temporal Imagination (2010), one of the best twenty-first-century theoretical analyses of sf, uses the word “chronoclasm” as the appropriate theoretical term for the kinds of “time paradox” involving a “time loop” (so well illustrated by Rian Johnson’s 2012 film Looper). She does not specify a particular individual as originating this usage although she does quote a passage from J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) that includes the adjective “chronoclasmic.” On 24 October 2011, David Pringle, in an email, first alerted me to Ballard’s use of “chronoclasmic” here. He assumed, as do I, that Ballard had adapted the word from Wyndham’s “Chronoclasm” (albeit Ballard’s usage is closer to Wiktionary’s third meaning than to the sf meaning). After all, Wyndham’s catastrophe novels influenced Ballard’s early catastrophe novels. But there is no question that, in “Chronoclasm,” Wyndham is using the neologism in Wiktionary’s sf sense and in the sf sense intended by Gomel. After talking about time travel into the past causing “chronoclasms,” Wyndham’s time traveler, Octavia Lattery, provides this definition: “Chronoclasms—that’s when a thing goes and happens at the wrong time because somebody was careless, or talked rashly” (22). As for uses of the term in recent sf, Chronoclasm Chronicles is a current successful series of video games, and “Chronoclasm” (July 2011) is the title of a Big Finish Productions audio drama based on the 1977 Doctor Who script “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.”—David Ketterer, University of Liverpool

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