Science Fiction Studies

#90 = Volume 30, Part 2 = July 2003


Postscript to an Addendum to The Sociology of SF. My doctoral thesis was written in 1978: The Sociology of Science Fiction (Borgo, 1987) was a belated edition. When Robert Reginald, proprietor of Borgo Press, made plans to reprint the book in 1995, he asked me to write a new introduction and an extra chapter to update the text. The second edition never appeared and the extra chapter was eventually published as “The Final Chapter of The Sociology of Science Fiction” (Foundation 79 [Summer 2000]). This postscript cannot make any claim to be based on inside information; I apologize in advance for the fact that everything that follows is obvious.                

The major trends observed in my 1995 addendum were, first, the progressive displacement of sf by fantasy in bookshops and the increasing prevalence of television and movie tie-ins within that remainder; and second, the progressive displacement of “hard sf” (by which I mean sf interested in the possibilities inherent in rationally plausible future technological development) by “futuristic costume dramas” employing the normalizing story arcs fundamental to television series and strongly favored by movies.1 Both trends have continued, as reflected by the ongoing decline in the sales of the magazines that constitute the last redoubt of hard sf’s monster-haunted nightland: Locus 505 (February 2003) reports that Analog’s mean circulation declined from 72,000 in 1995 to 42,115 in 2002, while Asimov’s Science Fiction declined from 59,000 to 31,831. Science Fiction Age has vanished from the scene entirely.                

Although the figures reported by Locus for sf novels published in 2002 show an increase in the number of titles (from 239 in 1995 to 256), this was considerably less than the increase in fantasy titles (from 227 to 333). Titles described as “Media-Related” showed a slight decline from 204 to 200, while those described as “Horror Novels” fell from 193 to 112, due to the lessening of the R.L. Stine-inspired boom in the publication of horror fiction for younger readers. In the absence of reliable data regarding the proportion of hard sf within the category, or the sales of individual titles, these figures are difficult to interpret with any confidence; but it seems to me that there are a few contextual factors worthy of consideration. These include changes in the eco-nomics of book production that facilitate turning a profit on very small print runs (less than 300), thus buoying up the number of titles published in a market where overall sales are falling; and also the fact that the continued availability of genre products is increasingly limited by the short life-span of modern books. It is still easy for researchers to find copies of books published in the 1970s and 1980s because print runs were large and most returns were remaindered; but many books published in the 1990s, which were produced in much smaller print runs and whose returned copies were mostly pulped, have effectively been erased from the record. There are also some significant ongoing cultural changes that cannot help but affect the nature of published science fiction.                

Although the continuing displacement of sf by fantasy is obvious in the Locus statistics, there are subtler processes of displacement concealed within them. These include an increase in the number of “techno-thrillers” that are categorized as sf by Locus but not labeled as such; in such books, science- fictional devices are entirely submissive to the basic formula of the thriller genre, employed solely to provide threats to be countered and canceled out. The techno-thriller subgenre now collaborates with horror sf in further increasing the dominance within commercial futuristic fiction of “Frankenstein fables” whose collective effect is technophobic, xenophobic, and deeply antipathetic to the cause, or even the idea, of progress.2 This pattern of evolution is intimately connected with a significant demographic shift in the constituency of sf’s readership during the last thirty years.                

The results of the annual survey reported in Locus 498 (July 2002) record the average age of its readers as 42, a reduction (from 44 in 2001) for the first time in the survey’s history that is attributed by the editor to the influence of Locus On-Line. But the figure is still in advance of the average age of 41 cited in 1995. The readership of Locus is by no means representative of the readership of the genre as a whole; but the long-term upward drift recorded by its surveys suggests that a high proportion of sf readers have now been following the genre for many years, and that their numbers are no longer being replenished by the recruitment of younger readers. No one could any longer say, however ironically, that the Golden Age of sf is thirteen.                

To some extent, this shift merely reflects a general decline in the reading of young people, which is now being greatly assisted by the education system. Literary studies are everywhere in sharp decline while film studies are in the ascendancy, partly because of the pattern of student demand but mainly because of pedagogical convenience. A video can easily be shown to an assembled class (regardless of size), while there is no power on earth that could move all the members of the same class to read anything with similarly comparable attentiveness. For this reason alone, literary studies are doomed to be relegated to the margins of academic esotericism. Even if literate young people were not being encouraged to abandon printed texts in favor of visual media, however, there would still be a mass exodus of young readers from those areas of the sf marketplace where serious speculative fiction still clings to a precarious existence.            

The appeal of science fiction has always been heavily dependent on the myth of the Space Age. Futuristic fiction is attractive to large numbers of young people to the extent that it offers images of the future in which they will live that are sufficiently upbeat to counterbalance the natural tendency of melodrama to deal in figures of menace. The great majority of sf writers has always tended to use the genre’s key motifs—aliens and inventions of every kind—as figures of menace to be ritualistically destroyed; but until recently writers were routinely able to deliver compensation by setting such melodramas against a celebratory backdrop of heroic frontiersmanship and expansive conquest, in exactly the same manner as the Western genre. The prophets of genre sf were understandably distressed when J.G. Ballard pointed out during the 1960s that once the Space Age was over—which would happen before the end of the twentieth  century—there would be nothing left for serious speculative sf to explore but the inexorable and irreversible devastation of the earth’s ecosphere as it suffered what Garrett Hardin calls the “Tragedy of the Commons”; this is, however, exactly what has happened.   

Now that the Space Age has been relegated to a past so ancient that vociferous skeptics are beginning to claim that it never happened at all, and no one can any longer doubt that ecocatastrophe will overwhelm the planet long before the end of the twenty-first century, serious futuristic fiction no longer has any good news to deliver to young people contemplating their own prospects. Diehard optimists with a limpet-like commitment to the philosophy of progress may still write stories set in the aftermath of the coming disaster, in which global society might conceivably be regenerated in a saner mold; but such far-set speculations offer cold comfort to anyone presently alive. Whatever intellectual profit young people might obtain from serious sf, there is no way that they can possibly find it attractive. Space fiction will doubtless continue to exist, and perhaps to thrive; but it must now address itself to readers—and therefore requires to be studied—as a subgenre of consolatory fantasy with no greater imaginative authority than tales of goblins, ghosts, or gods. The pretensions to intellectual seriousness that sf’s  adherents once proclaimed were always dubious, but they are utterly fatuous now.            

It is probably true that the sf marketplace tracked by Locus will remain commercially active for some years because of the continued involvement of adult readers. The inexorable aging of this population is, however, bound to re-emphasize currently visible trends in the nature of the sf that is produced, inevitably favoring normalizing story arcs. The only interest that most adults have in future possibilities lies in the faint hope of avoiding them; change is something that most adults would dearly like to prevent if they could, and even preserving the status quo is, from their viewpoint, a poor second-best to the illusion that the lost past might somehow be recovered. The vast majority of adults cannot help but love the normalizing endings that are fundamental to techno-thrillers, horror-sf, and television sci-fi, and that are almost universal in commercial movies—because Frankenstein fables speak directly and soothingly to the craven psychological imperatives of the adult mind.            

It is probably safe to assume that everyone likely to read this brief essay is, like me, an adult who would love to turn the clock back to happier times, so I am sure that my readers will be sympathetic if I close with a passage plucked from the archives:

In the introduction to the first edition of this book, I quoted Howard Becker’s argument to the effect that all good sociology ought to annoy people, because the goodness of sociological analyses resides in their ability to strip away the illusions and pretenses with which members of society surround their customs, preoccupations, and institutions; I went on, inevitably, to express the hope that all readers of the text might be horrified by it. This was, I now admit, a trifle over-optimistic; there is not much in chapters I to VI to horrify anyone, whether the anyone in question is a reader, a writer, or an academic interested in the history and potential of science fiction (or, like me, all three). I have tried a little harder to make chapter VII more horrifying to members of all these categories; I cannot yet tell how well I might have succeeded in respect of others, but I can testify with my hand on my heart that the facts set out therein certainly horrify me.

This was to have been the final paragraph of the new introduction that (had it ever appeared) would have graced the second edition of The Sociology of Science Fiction.—Brian Stableford, Reading, England

            1. For a detailed discussion of normalizing endings and their inappropriateness to serious sf, see my article “How Should a Science Fiction Story End?”
            2. The argument supporting this case is elaborately laid out in my article.

Hardin, Garrett. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science 162 (1968): 1243-48.
Stableford, Brian. “How Should a Science Fiction Story End?” The New York Review of Science Fiction 78 (February 1995): 1, 8-15.

Ninsei Street, Chiba City, in Gibson’s Neuromancer. Two years ago I asked Kazuko Nakajima, a Canadian teacher of Japanese at New College, Toronto, where I teach, what the word “Ninsei” meant. When she replied, with a disappointment that made me feel awkward at having asked for help she could not give, that it was no word at all in Japanese, my puzzlement about “Chiba City Blues,” Part I of William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), deepened. Case’s story begins in the twelfth government-designated city of Japan, a great port lying on Tokyo Bay between Tokyo to the west and Narita airport to the east. Gibson must have chosen Chiba City because it was familiar to him. Dorothy Porter, from the City Office of North Vancouver in British Columbia, has explained to me that North Vancouver became “sister city” to Chiba City on February 10, 1970, to “encourage a mutual exchange in the fields of culture, economy, and otherwise.”1 Students from one city were regularly sponsored as visitors to the other. Naomi Ishii, North Vancouver Liaison in Chiba City’s Office of the Mayor today, tells me that, according to Gibson’s 1986 epilogue to the first Japanese edition of Neuromancer, he had never visited Japan but had learned about Chiba City from Japanese students taught by his wife in Vancouver.2                

Gibson’s extrapolation of Chiba City as a high-tech world was prescient: Makuhari Messe, the largest convention center in the Far East, is now situated on its waterfront. In 1989, Chiba City was designated as the country’s research center for high-definition (now “high-vision”) television. During the early 1980s, Chiba City must have seen itself not just as an international cargo port but as a futuristic urban center in the planning—or, in Gibson’s own words, as “a deliberately unsupervised playground for technology itself” (11). Tokyo Disneyland, a world-famous “playground” located just west of the city in Chiba Prefecture, opened on April 15, 1983. Case, of course, travels to Chiba City to find a cure for his damaged nerves, and he receives his cure after meeting Armitage and Molly at the Chiba Hilton in the second chapter.3 The Chiba National University Hospital, well known for its advanced facilities, opened in 1980 and maintains its reputation today for cutting-edge medical technology.                

Denied access to the matrix, unable to afford the cure he needs, and reduced to drug-dealing, murder, and theft, Case at first has little reason to be satisfied with Chiba City. Gibson’s first sentence, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” (3), nicely registers Case’s loss in a metaphor that also recalls Chiba City’s technology. But why does Case live and deal there in a street called Ninsei?                

An official illustrated color map of Chiba City today highlights in red two “night leisure” areas just north of the harbor: the streets surround an avenue named Sakae-cho and a district not far from the Chiba Chuo rail station. Naomi Ishii explains that Sakae-cho, a red-light, yakuza-frequented district for men’s entertainment, was busier and more notorious during the early 1980s than it is today. Gibson’s “Night City” may well be based on what he learned about Sakae-cho, but there is no street near it, or anywhere else in Chiba City (then or now), named Ninsei.                

Case himself could have found why Gibson chose the name in the same way I did when teaching Neuromancer last year: an advanced Google search for the word “Ninsei” in Web pages that lacked the words “Gibson,” “Neuromancer,” “Chiba,” and “Case.” Around 1647-48 the Japanese potter Tsuboya Seiemon moved from Nonomura, a village in the province of Tamba, to Kyoto, where he opened his own kiln in Omuro near the temple of Ninna-ji. Before his death, which occurred sometime between 1681-88, Seiemon became the greatest potter in Japan; Masahiko Sato describes him as “a designer of extraordinary imagination and ability” (94). Seiemon turned native pottery into great art by superimposing intricate, colorful designs on his clay with enamel overglazes. Traditionally, the tea- and water-jars, bowls, and incense burners made by Kyoto potters used iron or cobalt underglazing and simple designs; but Seiemon laid on his sandy clay base exquisite images of birds, flowers, landscapes, temples, and trees in gold, red, silver, and other vibrant colors. The needs of the Japanese tea ceremony fueled the pottery industry, but its designs also expressed Buddhist spirituality. By 1657, Seiemon had redefined himself for his customers by adopting a new name, “Ninsei,” a neologism (not in the Japanese language then or since) that he made by fusing the first syllables of the names of the temple near his kiln, Ninna-ji, with his own proper name, Seiemon.4 Gibson named his near-future cyberpunk street not from the high-technology industry today, but from a master of an important high technology in seventeenth-century Japan.                

Ninsei Street is described as the “heart” of Night City, the lawless cityscape against which Case scratches out a dying fall. The drinking spots he frequents likewise recall Japanese pottery. Ratz’s “bar for professional expatriates,” where we first meet Case, is the Chatsubo, the Japanese word for tea-jar. Later Case mulls over his dwindling clients and his erstwhile girlfriend, drug addict Linda Lee, in the Jarre de Thé, a teashop. Case’s suspected nemesis, Wage, makes his headquarters the Namban (36), a Japanese word meaning southern barbarian; it is used to describe non-Japanese pottery, inferior ware from other parts of Asia, China, and the Philippines (Cort 132-33, 421).       

What have tea and its ceremonies to do with Case’s Chiba City blues? Mid-twentieth-century America used the term “tea” for recreational drugs, especially marijuana.5 Case spends much of his time taking drugs: in the Chatsubo he has, not tea, but “a potent species of Brazilian dex” (7) or “speed” (9): that is, amphetamines. Linda Lee succumbs to addiction before her murder (8). The operation that Wintermute bankrolls to rehabilitate Case for his mission against Tessier-Ashpool includes a procedure on his liver that frees him from this “dangerous dependency” (46). When Case leaves Ninsei, he stops using its “tea.” The closest he gets to his old speeding habits is fighting aggressive security software termed “ice,” another slang word for amphetamines.                

The tea ceremony (cf. Anderson) and its pottery offer Gibson a witty play on drug addiction, but is that the sole reason for Gibson’s choice of the potter Ninsei? For a novelist of such superb gifts, that would be too easy. Gibson evidently modeled his concept of the matrix, like that of Ninsei Street, on the aesthetics of Nonomura Ninsei’s art. The cyberspace into which Case jacks gives him a high not unlike a trip on drugs. And his sensory experience of the matrix resembles the art of Ninsei, both the potter and the street.               

Gibson describes Ninsei Street as two places: “By day, the bars down Ninsei were shuttered and featureless, the neon dead, the holograms inert, waiting, under the poisoned silver sky” (7). The sky dominates the place during the work day. Even at night, its sky is “that mean shade of gray” (15), but Ninsei Street itself becomes “a neon shudder” and “electric dance” (15, 46). By night, the street is loud with crowds and explosions and bright with holograms (23). Gibson’s contrast of neon lights against a gray sky captures well the contrast of Ninsei’s tea-jars, which in a similar manner superimpose brightly-colored enameled life on clay that is the non-color of sand. The exquisite tea-jar of six squabbling crows reprinted here (“Stoneware painted with overglaze enamels and silver,” according to the museum) illustrates this three-dimensionality. The sandy bottom and the no-color sky frame these vivid birds. Around the tea-jar, they stand out like moving figures against a bland cinematic backdrop.                

Early in Neuromancer, Ninsei Street becomes a metaphor in Case’s mind for the matrix itself. The Chiba City sky, “a gray disk,” reminds him of “the noncolor of the matrix” (31, 52). Case describes his Ninsei wanderings as being “like a run in the matrix”; the street itself is “a field of data ... data made flesh” (16). In his dreams, Case sees the matrix as “bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void” (5), the equivalent of the gray Chiba sky above and Ninsei Street’s neon lights below. The Jarre de Thé also resembles Ninsei Street in its “red neon replicated to scratched infinity in mirrored walls” (143). Wintermute’s later “Chiba construct” (236), a digital set-piece intended to motivate Case in his mission to free the AIs, realizes the metaphoric parallels between Ninsei Street and the matrix. Neuromancer’s beach setting does as well, with its clay-colored sand functioning as background for the vivid ghost of Linda Lee (244), who resembles the hologram ghosts of Ninsei (23). When Case reaches the Tessier-Ashpool mainframes, he sees what looks like “an endless neon cityscape” (256, 261-62).  

Gibson’s comparison extends from places to persons. Ninsei is an artist, and so is Case. Ratz, the barkeep of the Chatsubo, addresses Case half a dozen times as “artiste” (2, 21, 33, 234-35, 268). Just as Ninsei represents both underworld street criminals and matrix fauna, so Case is one of two artists, depending on where he is. At first, in Chiba City, Case fits Riviera’s later characterization of him as a “failed con artist” (250). When Ratz calls Case “friend artiste” and the “artiste of the slightly funny deal” (4), the Chatsubo cyborg barkeeper is thinking of Case’s black market deals, though with more affection than Riviera. When Case moves online, however, his art becomes genuine, influenced by the potter who gives his name to the street on which Case works.                

Gibson actually invokes two seventeenth-century Japanese art-forms, pottery and origami, each dependent on skilled hands, to convey the abstract art of negotiating cyberspace. Case moves through the matrix with a “fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding of his distanceless home” (52). He negotiates the matrix-world as if engaged both in Ninsei’s “fluid neon” clay-shaping and in origami—paper-folding in which one creates animals, people, and plants by folding one or more square pieces of paper without cutting or gluing.6 This deft minimalist art-form well suits the “grace of the mind-body interface” by which Case exerts “the lightest touch on the switch” (262) to steal a password. His art comes from the dexterity and elegance of motions executed by his hands. In Chiba City, at his lowest point, Case is shown “curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn’t there” (5; emphasis added). Because Gibson only mentions origami once, care should be taken not to overvalue its role. Of the two art forms, Gibson’s use of Tsuboya Seiemon’s seventeenth-century pottery technology is more important to both Case’s history and Gibson’s aesthetic.                

Ninsei Street realizes the thrill of the matrix in the world of “meat,” the disembodied life in the embodied one. Case finally has a choice to make: whether to waste away physically and join Dixie Flatline online or commit himself to a world of DNA. Molly precipitates that choice by leaving a goodbye note for Case at the Chiba Hyatt on “a single sheet of stationery, folded once, weighted with the shuriken” (267). At the beginning of the novel, the shuriken, reflecting “the street’s neon”—that is, Ninsei—represents “the stars under which he voyaged” (12). At the end, it still does. Case rejects the offer made by the new AI, the fused Wintermute-Neuromancer, tossing the shuriken against the huge Cray wall monitor. He takes a new job in the Sprawl and meets a girl named Michael. He returns to the vividly colored world that the potter Ninsei depicted in overglazed designs.                

Artificial, man-made beaches are now found in Chiba at Inage, Makuhari, and Kenugawa—ironically, they are reminiscent of the digital beach construct that tempts Case in the novel.7 Yet he holds out for the real thing. Indeed, not far from Chiba City, across the Boso Peninsula to the west, are Byobu-ga-ura, Hasunuma, and Kujukurihama, the true sandy beaches of the Chiba Prefecture.—Ian Lancashire, University of Toronto

Credit line for photos: Asia Society, New York. Mr and Mrs John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection; photography credit: Lynton Gardiner. Used with kind permission.

                1. The proclamation was signed in Chiba City by Thomas H. Reid, then mayor of North Vancouver, and Saburo Miyauchi, then mayor of Chiba City. I am grateful to Dorothy Porter for this information (personal letter, Feb. 13, 2003).
                2. I want to thank Naomi Ishii, an avid reader of sf and early admirer of Neuromancer, for answering my questions about Chiba City in her letter of March 5, 2003, and Jason Thompson, Coordinator for International Relations/Prefectural Advisor, Chiba City Office of the Mayor, who translated her letter into English.
                3. Today there are two Hiltons in Chiba Prefecture, the Hilton Narita near the international airport to the east, and the Hilton Tokyo Bay near Disneyland to the west. Case’s “coffin” hotels are of course found throughout Japan; these “capsule hotels” offer the guest every high-tech amenity consistent with motionless relaxation.
                4. Naomi Ishii writes: “In the Japanese translation, the street name was written using the same Chinese characters as the ones used for the potter. When I first came across the street in the book [which caused much interest among Chiba City Hall employees when it came out], my immediate thought was that its name was after that of the potter’s. Further, because Ninsei was originally a Cha-tsubo (tea jar/bottle) potter, I thought it was interesting and also of relevance that an establishment by the name of Cha-tsubo also appeared in the book” (personal letter, March 5, 2003).
                5. A 1967 citation in the Oxford English Dictionary entry, “tea,” sb. 7c, shows that US usage applied the term “tea” to marijuana brewed in a hot drink.
                6. For an account of origami in English, see Randlett. Against expectation, Gibson does not extrapolate from computationally-based arts such as mathematics or fractal geometry, although he may have remembered metaphors of faster-than-light travel that use the curving of spacetime under Einsteinian relativity; he might have recalled other sf voyagers, such as the space-folding guild navigators in Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965). David Lynch’s film (Dune [1984]) uses the space-folding metaphor explicitly.
                7. I am grateful to Yumi Hasegawa of the Japan National Tourist Organization in Toronto for information about Chiba Prefecture, a peninsula with about five hundred kilometers of coastline.

Anderson, Jennifer L. An Introduction to the Japanese Tea Ritual. Albany: State U of New York P, 1991.
Cort, Louise Allison. Shigaraki: Potters’ Valley. 1979. Rpt. New York: Weatherhill, 2000.
Gibson,William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984.
Randlett, Samuel. The Art of Origami: Paper Folding, Traditional and Modern. New York: Dutton, 1961.
Sato, Masahiko. “Ninsei.” Kyoto Ceramics. Trans. Anne Ono Towle and Usher P. Coolidge. 1968. Rpt. New York: Weatherill/Shibundo, 1973. 69-94.

Hong Kong 2003. This past March 26-29, the Chinese University of Hong Kong hosted “Hong Kong 2003: Technoscience, Material Culture, and Everyday Life,” a three-day conference convened to explore facets of the growing interconnectedness of technoculture and daily life in the twenty-first-century global village. Invited guests at this very stimulating meeting included Ronald Inden, Lisa Raphals, Mark Hansen, Gregory Benford, and Dmitry Bulatov. Papers and presentations ranged over a wide field of topics and, as befits a conference on technoculture, many presentations were supplemented—in that paradoxical Derridean fashion—by the engagingly hi-tech audio-visual material made possible by excellent facilities at CUHK. Among the presentations were a reading of the films of Wong Kar Wai as renewed French New Wave cinema; a fascinating report on “Nu Shu,” a thousand-year-old women’s language found in Hunan Province, and its relationship to both weaving and computer technology; an introduction—with stunning images—to “chimerical art,” in which bio-genetics meets aesthetics and the results are like nothing found in nature; a consideration of the virtual physicality of video game-playing; an argument for the parallels between contemporary Internet groups and early sf fan communities; a meditation on (American) Empire and science fiction; a retrospective of early examples of posthuman subjects in sf; and an evaluation of masculinity in the context of the construction of virtual Internet identities by young men in China.                

This conference was built on the very successful “Hong Kong 2001: Technology, Identity, and Futurity: East and West in the Emerging Global Village.” Like the 2001 meeting, it was organized by the Center for Research and Development of Cyberculture and the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in conjunction with the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of the University of California, Riverside. Gary Westfahl represented the Eaton Collection at the conference, which was warmly co-hosted by Professor Wong Kin Yuen, Director of the Center and Chair of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies, and Dr. Amy Chan, the Center’s Research Associate.                

“Hong Kong 2003” was everything I look for in a conference and more. The program was stimulating, participants were intelligent people who shared my taste for HK’s excellent food, the conference schedule unfolded like clockwork, and it all took place in the city of the twenty-first century. At the same time, of course, the world was rather too much with us. By the last week of March, war had broken out in the Middle East and SARS had broken out in Hong Kong. Some participants canceled their plans to attend the conference, others showed up to read their papers and then disappeared, only a few students sat in on the daily sessions, and nearly everyone was wearing—or at least carrying—a medical mask. In spite of what we referred to as “the current difficulties,” however, most of us are already looking forward to the next in what I hope will become a series of conferences focused on the promises and vicissitudes of contemporary techno-cultural life. Interested readers may look over the conference program and its attendant events at < hk/~b105685/2003con.htm>.—VH

Special Issue of Rhizomes: “Retro-Futures” will be the focus of the Spring 2004 issue of Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge <www.>. The focus will be on historic utopias, nostalgic speculations, neo-traditions, modern primitives, archaic science fictions, invented traditions, primitivism, futurism, retro fashion, futurology, neo-paganism, the space age, and any other combination of old and new. Send an email attachment or html/web pages to <> or <dheckman@>, or see our contact page: < contact.html>. The deadline for abstracts is November 15, 2003; papers are due by January 15, 2004.  Rhizomes opposes  the idea that new thinking should follow established patterns. We promote experimental work located outside current disciplines. As our name suggests, Deleuzian approaches are welcome, though not required.—Davin Heckman

SFRA Announces Awards. At the annual meeting of the Science Fiction Research Association in Guelph, Ontario (June 26-29, 2003), Gary Westfahl was honored with the Pilgrim Award for lifetime achievement in sf scholarship. This year’s winner of the Pioneer Award for best sf article is Lance Olson, for “Omnophage: Rock ‘n’ Roll and Avant-Pop Science Fiction,” which was published in Veronica Hollinger and Joan Gordon’s Edging into the Future (U of Pennsylvania P, 2002. 30-56). Joe Sanders is the winner of this year’s Thomas Clareson Award for distinguished service to sf scholarship.—CM

ICFA 2003. This year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, held as usual in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (March 19-23, 2003), focused on “Dark Myths and Legends in the Fantastic” and featured Charles de Lint as author guest of honor, S.T. Joshi as scholar guest of honor, and Ramsey Campbell as guest author. The three were active and accessible participants, with de Lint and his wife Mary Ann Harris singing and playing guitar and mandolin around the pool in the evenings. The prolific Lovecraft scholar Joshi gave an entertainingly over-the-top guest-scholar speech in which, deploying such memorable phrases as “over-blown word-bags of hypertrophic horror,” he urged critics to pass courageously evaluative judgments on weird fiction.                

This year’s conference had a smaller sf presence than in previous years because not only of fewer sf papers, but of fewer sf editors. Carol McGuirk and I were the sole representatives of SFS, but we had good talks with Javier Martinez of Extrapolation and Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James of Foundation. While dark fantasy may have been the official theme, my ICFA, defined by a panel called “Cross-Pollination in Modern Fantasy” and this year’s Theory Roundtable, had hybridity as its theme. The panel included John Clute, Ellen Datlow, Elizabeth Hand, Peter Straub, Gary K. Wolfe, and Farah Mendlesohn. Taking as its springboard Peter Straub’s issue of Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists (fall 2002), the discussion characterized the present state of fantasy-writing as generically cross-pollinated. The Theory Roundtable self-servingly (since I moderated, helped by Len Hatfield) used Gary K. Wolfe’s “Evaporating Genre: Strategies of Dissolution in the Postmodern Fantastic,” from Veronica Hollinger’s and my recent Edging Into the Future: Science Fiction and Contemporary Cultural Transformation (U of Pennsylvania P, 2002). Wolfe’s chapter explores the implications of the blurring of distinctions among the fantastic genres, and he served as a respondent in the lively discussion.—JG

In Memoriam, Jacques Chambon. It is my sad duty to announce that the French sf and fantasy publisher Jacques Chambon has died unexpectedly from a coronary. He was a major figure: among other activities, he directed the “Presence du Futur” collection in Editions Denoël, collected various anthologies of excellent quality, and was editor of the French series “ImaGine” in Editions Flammarion. During his career he published many famous authors, including Dan Simmons, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Silverberg (a four-volume anthology of Silverberg’s short stories is in process, with volume three released in March). Jacques also discovered such younger French authors as Olivier Paquet, whose first novel was released only a few weeks ago. He was an excellent translator and an enthusiastic leader for many of us. French sf mourns his loss.—Jean-Claude Dunyach

Science Fiction Book Club’s Top Ten. The editors of the Science Fiction Book Club have been circulating a list of the ten “most significant” sf and fantasy novels of the last 50 years, according to a story in USA Today (March 3, 2003). (The story did not explain the context: the SF Book Club is celebrating its own fiftieth anniversary.) As with all such lists, the comparative rankings or title/series selected might be debated, but few would dispute the influence, in and out of the genres, of the authors: 1. J.R.R. Tolkien for Lord of the Rings (1954-55), 2. Isaac Asimov for the FOUNDATION trilogy (1963; the original stories appeared from 1942-50), 3. Frank Herbert for Dune (1965), 4. Robert A. Heinlein for Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), 5. Ursula K. Le Guin for A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), 6. William Gibson for Neuromancer (1984), 7. Arthur C. Clarke for Childhood’s End (1953), 8. Philip K. Dick for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), 9. Marion Zimmer Bradley for The Mists of Avalon (1983), and 10. Ray Bradbury for Fahrenheit 451 (1953).—CM

Rare Edition of “Utopia” Donated to the Eaton Collection. The J. Lloyd Eaton Collection at the University of California, Riverside, has acquired from an anonymous donor a rare copy of the second edition of Thomas More’s Utopia (1517); only seven copies of this early printed book are held by US research libraries.—CM

Society for Utopian Studies Conference. The twenty-eighth annual meeting will be held in the Bahia Resort Hotel in San Diego, CA, from October 30-November 2, 2003. Our meetings are ideal occasions for intellectual interchange in a cooperative, noncompetitive, congenial, and convivial environment. At each meeting, the society presents the Arthur O. Lewis Award for the best paper given by a junior scholar at the previous annual meeting and the Eugenio Battisti Award for best article in each volume of Utopian Studies. For  information about joining the Society for Utopian Studies, see <>; for further information on the conference itself, contact <>.—Paul Majkut, National University (San Diego), Conference Chair

Mythcon 2003. The 34th annual meeting of the Mythopoeic Society will convene in Nashville from July 25-28, 2003. Guests of Honor include Sherwood Smith and Dabney Hart. The theme is “From Athena to Galadriel: The Image of the Wise Woman in Mythopoeic Fiction.” Wisdom, both rational and intuitive, has often been symbolized by feminine figures, from Pallas Athene to George MacDonald’s goddess-figures, Charles Williams’s Sibyl Coningsby, Tolkien’s Galadriel, Lewis’s Psyche, and others.

The Mythopoeic Society is an international literary and educational organization devoted to the study, discussion, and enjoyment of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and mythopoeic literature. We believe that the study of these writers can lead to greater understanding and appreciation of the literary, philosophical, and spiritual traditions that underlie their works, and can engender an interest in the study of myth, legend, and the genre of fantasy. Find out more about the Society and previous Mythcons at <>.—Dr. Theodore J. Sherman, Middle Tennessee State University

CFP: Humans and Cyborgs. The deadline for full papers is perilously close to the date readers will be receiving SFS, but those with material at hand may find it possible to propose a talk for a conference on “Visions of Humanity in Cybercul­ture, Cyberpunk, and Science Fiction” that will take place August 11-13, 2003 in Prague, Czech Republic. The conference launches a new annual conference and publication series. Papers and workshops will address the relationships among cyberculture, cyberspace, and science fiction; sf and cyberpunk; the synergy of humans and technology (including cyborgs); human and post-human politics; cyborg citizenship and rights; bodies in cyberculture; electronic evolution, gender and cyberspace; virtual worlds and home worlds; artificial intelligence; protest and war in cyberspace; nationality and nationalism in cyberculture; the state and cyberspace; taboos in cyberculture; and the green movement in cyberculture. The deadline for 300-word proposals will have passed by the time that SFS goes to press; full papers are due 11th July 2003. Inquiries and proposals should be sent to: Christopher Macallister, University of Kent at Canterbury <> or Rob Fisher, <>. The organizers request that full papers be sent as an attachment in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF. All papers accepted for and presented at the conference will be published in an ISBN e-Book. Selected papers will be developed for eventual book publication. Further details may be found at <> and <>.—Christopher Macallister, University of Kent, Canterbury; Dr. Rob Fisher, InterDisciplinary.Net

CFP: First Global AI Conference. “Artificial Intelligence: Exploring Critical Issues” will be held October 20-22, 2003 in Vienna, Austria. This inter- and multi-disciplinary conference seeks to bring together those concerned with the practical, philosophical, ethical, and aesthetic questions raised by Artificial Intelligence. Papers, reports, presentations, and workshops are invited on such topics as A.I. as “Other,” A.I. and the posthuman, A.I. and virtual war (a revolution in military affairs?), A.I. as a gendered identity, artificial intelligence and artificial emotion, A.I. embodiment (robot, cyborg or database?), defining intelligence from the Turing Test to Bladerunner’s Voigt-Kampff, cyberpunk and the re-imagining of A.I., portrayals of A.I. in film and literature, and A.I. and Orientalism (is the future Asian?). Papers will be considered on related themes as well. Three-hundred-word abstracts should be submitted by Friday, June 27, 2003. Full draft papers should be submitted by Friday, September 19, 2003. The abstracts should be sent to both of the Organizing Joint Chairs; they may be in Word, WordPerfect, PDF, or RTF formats. As with the Prague conference listed above, all papers will be published in an ISBN eBook; selected papers will be developed for publication in a themed hard-copy volume. The project will also be supported by an email discussion group and ISSN e-journal. For further details and information, please go to: <http://www.inter->.—Christopher Macallister, University of Kent at Canterbury; Dr. Rob Fisher, Inter-Disciplinary.Net

SF Conference in France. An important week-long conference on science fiction will be held this summer at the Centre International de Cerisy la Salle (Normandie) from August 23-30, 2003. Organized by Gilles Menegaldo and Roger Bozzetto, the colloquium’s theme is “From Star Wars to the Year 2000.” It will offer a retrospective look at the sf genre as a whole and especially those newest hybrid forms of sf—in literature, cinema, comics (bande dessinée), and interactive games—that emerged during the final two decades of the twentieth century. For a tentative list of conference participants and paper abstracts, see <>.—ABE

Transgressing the Frontier. Original essays are invited for a collection tentatively entitled Transgressing the Frontier: Modernity, American Ideology, and Cinema. The volume will explore the role of ideology in current film, emphasizing boundary-breaking and exploration from a variety of scholarly perspectives. Ideally, this collection will be a comprehensive introductory textbook that explores the critical intersection between film and culture and will be suitable for use at both undergraduate and graduate levels. We would like to see essays on American film or foreign films about America, especially films from the last ten years. Methodological approaches might include feminism, Marxism, postcolonial studies, sociology, literary analysis, anthropology, ethnography, cultural studies, historical analysis, psychology, and theater and performance studies. Please submit any queries or completed manuscripts (MLA or Chicago style, 20-25 pages in length, with 250 word abstracts) to <>. The deadline for submission of completed papers is August 16th, 2003. This collection will be co-edited by Bennett Huffman and Elliot Atkins.—Matthew Wolf-Meyer, University of Minnesota

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