Today is Blogging Against Disablism Day (or BADD for short), and this is my first year participating. For those of you new to my blog and my work, when I’m not running Academic Editing Canada, I’m busy with my independent scholarship in disability studies and science fiction. I recently wrote a post about my disability identification, “Fragments: Disability, Community, and Me,” if you’re curious, and many of the posts on this blog deal with my reflections on being a chronically-ill graduate student, and how that experience informs my research today. I also edit science fiction (SF), and I want to mention some good news right away— because I’m super proud of it—that Accessing the Future, an anthology of disability-themed speculative fiction stories that I co-edited with Djibril al-Ayad, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly!
There are many things that I could write about when it comes to my experiences of ableism, but I thought I’d share some of my observations as an independent scholar invested in bringing disability studies into science fiction studies. At the moment, I am frustrated with the genre academic community's engagement with disability—it is still such a marginalized conversation outside the handful of us who work at this intersection (mostly grad students and recent PhDs).
There are many oversights and microagressions I have witnessed or encountered in my role as scholar and writing about them in any specific detail feels unsafe and “unprofessional.” I know that this is ableism at work. I can say that I have felt devalued in my interactions with a few journal editors. I have made requests for accommodation on presentation times that were entirely ignored. And I’ve had to withdraw an accepted paper at a conference because its scheduling was so mishandled. These are just a few incidences that have affected my ability to fully participate, and I have heard many, many more examples of ableism from my disabled academic friends and peers. It is extremely common to hear, for example, in all kinds of academic and casual conversations, professors using ableist language, like “lame” and “crazy,” to describe unpopular or unusual ideas and people. This language hurts.
Articles addressing disability in any meaningful way are infrequent finds in genre journals—and, if they do appear, most of them are locked behind paywalls where I (and everyone else who lacks access to university journal databases) cannot read them. While I appreciate the difficulty of scheduling large, multi-track conferences, it is frustrating that the few papers about disability are often placed on panels about “otherness” or monstrosity (this has happened twice to me). It seems that genre conferences do not know where to effectively place a disability studies paper and this is a problem. It makes talking about disability in a sustained, critical way (that intersects with feminist, queer, anti-racist, and such other important concerns) that much more difficult.
While Disability Studies is becoming less marginalized in science fiction studies, there is a long way to go for it to move from a momentarily interesting “hot topic” to an actually active and engaged conversation that does not rely on a small handful of people to constantly bring it up. Since I started presenting on disability in SF at conferences (though I am not able to attend more than one or two a year I do follow what’s going on online), I have learned just how new and marginal disability studies is in the academic genre community. For example, the Science Fiction Research Association’s annual conference theme this year is “The SF We Don't (Usually) See: Suppressed Histories, Liminal Voices, Emerging Media.” Although many axes of identification were included in the original call for papers (CFP), there was no mention of disability! It took the wonderful Ria Cheyne to point out its absence before “disability and ability” were added to the CFP. Furthermore, there are no papers, from what I can tell from their conference program, that directly address disability. This is an all too common scenario that I have seen played out too many times.
Additionally, in a practical sense, there needs to be more people talking about disability and calling out ableism because so little is actually happening to improve the working conditions for a countless number of disabled graduate students, adjunct/sessional and tenured faculty, and administrative staff. Just check out some of the stories on PhDisabled (which is an amazing resource for disability recognition and advocacy). Conference organizers need to work harder in ensuring that their venues are fully accessible and in developing clear policies around accommodations for people with disabilities. Journals need to be open access and available on a variety of platforms.
I can’t speak to how other academics are trained in graduate school, but I know that for me, the process of interrogating cultural truths was held up as a foundational goal. I also know that when I see an absence of knowledge, especially one that causes or reinforces existing harm, I feel an obligation to speak up and say, “this is something we need to be talking about.” This is how I feel about the representation of disability in science fiction. There are very few popular SF texts that show realistic depictions of disability, whether it be physical or cognitive disability, chronic illness, or neurodiversity. It is a niche topic in terms of academic study but literature and film (and all media) show us what is and what is not possible. SF is an important place where cultural producers and consumers think through what kinds of lives matter and who gets to take part in creating the future world. I believe that genre scholars have a responsibility to meaningfully and significantly engage with disability—both theoretically and practically—sooner than later.
I am not keen on publishing in academic journals these days, but this particular CFP is important and definitely worth signal-boosting. If this is an area of interest to you, I highly recommend Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction by Grace L. Dillon.
Extrapolation special issue on Indigenous Futurism, edited by Grace L. Dillon, (Anishinaabe), Michael Levy, and John Rieder.
In the last decade and a half, a number of scholars have explored the way that SF throughout the last century and a half has borne a close relationship to colonial, and later postcolonial history, discourses, and ideologies. One of the most prominent features of colonial ideology in SF has been the widespread assumption that the future will be determined by the technological and cultural dominance of the West, the “progress” of which often entails the assumption that non-Western cultures will either disappear or assimilate themselves to Western norms. Indigenous Futurism designates a growing movement of writing, both fictional and critical, that envisions the future from the point of view of Indigenous histories, traditions, and knowledges—and in so doing situates the present and the past in ways that challenge (neo/post)colonial ideologies of progress. This special issue of Extrapolation aims to bring together critical and scholarly explorations of and responses to fictional or theoretical and critical work in or on Indigenous SF, where SF is broadly conceived of as including science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, and slipstream.
Topics might include but are not limited to:
· fictional and theoretical confrontations of Western science and Indigenous knowledges
· use of Indigenous traditions in fiction or theory to envision a sustainable future
· responses to and evaluation of Indigenously-inflected SF in any medium from any geographic location
· representation and use of Indigenous traditions in classic SF texts
· Indigeneity and SF adventure fiction, Indigeneity and space opera, Indigeneity and the New Weird
· challenges of publishing and distributing Indigenous Futurism
We invite submissions of 5,000-12,000 words to John Rieder (rieder[at]hawaii[dot]edu) by April 1, 2015. Submissions should conform to the usual requirements of Extrapolation.
Last year when I went to ICFA, my only hope was that people would be nice to me. It was my first time trying on the “Independent Scholar” label and I worried that no one would pay much attention to anything that I had to say. Happily, however, this was a groundless concern and I ended up having an extremely positive experience (which spawned this post). This year, I went to ICFA with a different set of hopes and fears (but mostly excitement).
Since last March, I have made some good headway in my independent scholarship, most notably my soon-to-be published (in August) edited collection, Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure. In addition to that book, I also have several peer-reviewed articles/chapters in process, as well as a few non-academic bits of writing floating about (my favourite being the Afterword I wrote for Outlaw Bodies). I viewed this year’s ICFA as the start of my official debut as an Independent Scholar (capital letters and all). I knew that I would be meeting and talking with a great deal of lovely people, but I still had some anxiety about the reception of my latest work. My previous papers had arisen out my doctoral research, all thoroughly vetted and evaluated by my thesis committee. My research and writing about disability in science fiction, though, has happened in the comfortable bubble of my home office. While I have had a passing conversation or two about disability studies in the past year--and obviously have been engaging with it in depth for my collection-- I hadn’t yet tested my new knowledge base on the spot, in front of a room of my colleagues. So I worried. What if I interpreted the theory wrong? What if everything I have read is embarrassingly out dated? What if nobody cares?
As usual, I was stressing about nothing. It turns out that I do know what I am talking about. Of course I still have so much more to read and learn, but I am definitely on the right track. One of the highlights of the conference for me was talking for hours with another disability studies and genre scholar, Derek Newman-Stilles (visit his wonderful blog, Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy). Next year, we want to organize a panel discussion on reading disability in genre literature. We both agree: The timing is right, the interest is there, and disability is an identity position that deserves greater engagement within genre studies. With such conversations in mind, I have left ICFA feeling a great sense of forward momentum in my scholarship. I have finally found my niche and connecting with so many supportive people warmed the long burnt out cockles of my academic heart.
I also left ICFA with a renewed sense of advocacy for graduate students and underemployed adjuncting PhDs. There is still a lot of work to do around raising awareness and developing plans for action around the job market (both academic and non-academic). I talked with at least 10 grad students who had no exit plan at the end of their degrees. Most were clearly struggling to fully comprehend the financial reality about to befall them once they left their programs. I also talked with many sad and angry adjuncts--far too few actually enjoyed their current job position or felt any optimism about their future as academics. Now that I am operating on the outside, the stratification of labour within the academy is even more obvious…and more appalling. I can no longer imagine being within that system and needing to fight a daily battle for fair and equitable employment. In the upcoming years, I would like to see some sort of panel discussion that addresses alternative work strategies for genre scholars. The science fiction and fantasy fan communities are robust and might offer previously unconsidered opportunities for MAs and PhDs wanting to engage with genre in a meaningful (and perhaps paying) way. This year I had several grad students and TT faculty directly ask me about my independent scholarship, so the interest in non-traditional academic career paths is definitely there.
Next week I am off to the Eaton/SFRA conference and I am feeling, overall, a lot more confident about my scholarship going into it. I still have some of the same groundless worries bouncing around at the back of my brain, but I am getting so much better at ignoring them. When I was in grad school I could not have imagined this life that I have carved out for myself. While I have no clear goals for the future outcome of my independent scholarship, I am starting to make long(ish) term plans (e.g. write a book). Whenever my anxieties creep up now, I remind myself: an uncertain future is also a flexible one. And thank Cthulhu for science fiction.
Hey! An interesting and worthwhile academic SF conference being organized by my PhD thesis supervisor (who is wonderful) at McMaster University. I will definitely be sending in a proposal! Here are the details:
“Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre”
Featuring Robert J. Sawyer
September 13-15, 2013
On the occasion of Robert J. Sawyer’s donation of his archive to Mills Memorial Library, the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University is hosting an international conference entitled “Science Fiction: The Interdisciplinary Genre,” a meeting of academics, writers, professionals, amateurs and fans, focusing on Canadian Science Fiction in general and Sawyer’s work in particular.
While the core of the event will be academic papers, we will also feature authors, editors, booksellers, librarians, commentators, and, of course, readers. Special guests are Robert J. Sawyer (author), John Robert Colombo (specialist of Canadian literature), Julie E. Czerneda (author), David G. Hartwell (editor, Tor), Élisabeth Vonarburg (author), Robert Charles Wilson (author), and Chris Szego of Bakka Phoenix Books.
The multimodal or interdisciplinary approach to the creation, reception and study of the SF genre has been a salient characteristic from Hugo Gernsback’s initial conceiving of the term “scientifiction” in 1926. Later, literary theorists such as Darko Suvin insisted on the particular knowledge, competency and frame of mind required in order to decipher the genre’s figurative meaning: SF, according to Suvin,
is an educational literature, […] irreversibly shaped by the pathos of preaching the good word of human curiosity, fear, and hope. […] It demands from the author and reader, teacher and critic, not merely specialized, quantified positivistic knowledge (scientia) but a social imagination whose quality of wisdom (sapienta) testifies to the maturity of his critical and creative thought.
Indeed, Sawyer’s work has garnered the attention of both the literary and scientific communities for its technical accuracy presented through speculative imagination, appealing to both the rational imperative and the sense of wonder inherent in the union of science and fiction. While Sawyer’s stated mandate is foremost to “intrigue,” and not strictly to “educate,” he insists that “[r]esearch is the heart and soul of modern SF writing; scientists are handing us gigantic ideas and mind-boggling stuff” on which to base stories. Through rigorous research initiatives, Sawyer has cultivated and contributed valuably to knowledge in various fields and his expertise is highly sought-after in both popular culture and official circles: for example, he explains that when he was writing “Frameshift, I thought I didn’t know enough genetics, so I dived in to learn all about it… and ended up on Rivera Live on CNBC talking about the Human Genome Project and advising Canada’s Federal Department of Justice about it.” Sawyer’s work and that of other thinkers and writers, past, present and future, have the power, “with words, [to] reach across time, even after death, to influence people.” Human knowledge thus becomes increasingly accessible thanks to the various media through which it is approached and transmitted. Diverse perspectives on knowledge serve to shed new light on traditional thinking and sf clearly represents radically different perspectives:
Multidisciplinary studies are the future: one of the reasons I write so much about the burgeoning science of consciousness […] is that it is so multidisciplinary: neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, AI researchers, anesthesiologists, quantum physicists, philosophers, and even some of us lowly science-fiction writers have made important contributions.
It is in the spirit of an interdisciplinarity approach to science, fiction and science fiction that we invite thinkers of varying descriptions to propose talks aimed at enriching the discussion. While the conference is focused on Canadian SF and especially the literary work of Robert J. Sawyer, papers may address the broader issues at stake, notably the scientific and ethical ramifications at the core of the fictional intrigues: machines matching human capabilities (or the singularity), synthetic biology, etc. We would also welcome panel proposals should you feel inclined to organize your talk and those of willing collaborators under a single topic.
The principle language of the event will be English, though we would like to explore the possibility of running certain panels in French, according to the needs of presenters and interest of other participants. Please indicate if you are a native speaker of French or sufficiently fluent and whether or not you would prefer to give your talk in French or if you are in a position to attend talks and panel discussions in French.
Please send proposals (of 300 words max.) by March 31st, 2013 to both C. Annette Grisé <grisec[at]mcmaster[dot]ca> and Nicholas Serruys <serruys[at]mcmaster[dot]ca>.
We will also endeavor to publish a volume of selected articles, ideally within the year following the event.
 Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979): 40.
 Sawyer quotes taken from an interview conducted by Roger Deforest and posted April 3rd, 2007 on the website Hard SF: “Robert J. Sawyer Confronts Our Damn Life Clocks in Rollback.” <http://www.hardsciencefiction.rogerdeforest.com/?mode=8&id=6>
The Outlaw Bodies anthology, co-edited by Lori Selke and the Djibril al-Ayad (of The Future Fire), is now out and available for purchase (available at Lulu.com, Amazon.com, and Amazon.ca [kindle version only]). Please check it out and buy a copy!
I had the honour of writing the “Afterword” for the book, and I can assure you that every story in the collection is engaging, thoughtful, and a pleasure to read. I recently connected with writer Fabio Fernandes and asked him some questions about his short story,"The Remaker," as well as about his thoughts on the future of outlaw bodies.
- - -
K: What does it mean to you to be an “outlaw body?” What is the future of the “outlaw body?”
F: I see an outlaw body as a body free of labels and/or judgments of society. An outlaw body can be something as radical as a modified body (from implants/piercings/tattoos to gender change) or a body that chooses its own way of living (from drug use to abortion - mind you, these examples do not entail anything necessarily extreme or bad). Basically, an outlaw body is a free body.
The future of an outlaw body is its assimilation into the main body of the society as a "normal" (in the Foucaultian sense of the word, for really there is no such things as “normal” and “abnormal,” those being labels used by the society/system/régime in order to exert control on the individuals), even mainstream thing. Among young people today (between 20-30 years old), tattoos and piercing have become quite common, and I wonder what will be an outlaw body twenty years from now.
K: Do you perceive a difference in the way North American SF approaches “outlaw bodies” from South American SF? Is the “centre” the same? Do those on the margins have commonality with one another?
F: Yes, I do perceive a difference. Regarding abortion, for instance, there is a plethora of cases in the US where legalized abortion clinics are attacked and its doctors harmed or even killed (ironically, by religious fanatics who call these doctors babykillers, but THEY can shoot and kill doctors). I never heard of such a thing happening in Latin America, at least in Brazil and Lat Am countries near us, like Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. There are protests, and abortion is criminalized, fully or partially, in some of these countries. But the outlawing boundaries seem to be more pliant, flexible, even tolerant.
The center seems to be almost the same, perhaps due to globalization, but even before (we should never underestimate the power of "normalization" – mediocrity thrives in the center, and there are mediocre people all over the world. Mediocrity abhors anything that is not deemed normal by the system.
K: Speaking of “the centre” and the “margin,” how do you feel about the term “non-Western SF”" As a commonly used phrase among North American SF reviewers, it clearly keeps authority, or the origin, of SF in the Western world. How do you approach such definitional genre terms? What are your preferences for describing your own writing/your position as a writer?
F: It's really curious, because I am a writer living in the Western world. As I wrote once in a guest post for Jeff VanderMeer, I even qualify as an American - though a South American citizen. But there seems to be a whole lot of issues regarding Latinos. I was recently at a Literature conference here in São Paulo and the keynote speaker was a Professor of Latin American Studies at an university in the USA Midwest. He was speaking of how we see ourselves when living in the US – we accept our position of immigrants and Latinos, but with a grain of salt, because we speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and this is still causes estrangement, both to Brazilians and also to Spanish Latinos. Most of the time Americans don't even know what to make of it. Living as we do in globalization times, I find it really curious that we still must have these labels. Of course there are lots of cultural differences between the SF made in the US and the SF made in the rest of the world, but, as you said (and I agree entirely), currently the Anglo-American sphere, represented by the UK and the US, sets the rules for science fiction. That’s okay to me, because pretty much the same happened to rock'n'roll decades ago...
...but since its inception in the 50s, Brazil also started to present a strong contribution to the scene, which slowly thrived and finally florished in the early 1980s, with a particular rhythm that can be recognized as rock, but has characteristics of Brazilian folk and the Jamaican ska, among others. The same thing can be said about Brazilian SF. During decades we emulated Anglo-American SF, but during the last 20 years or so we slowly emerged as a country that can produce good SF, using the same tropes SF in every corner of the world uses, but giving it a special flavor. I have a sort of schizophrenic approach regarding this: usually I write SF that takes place in Brazil in Portuguese, and when I write in English I use to write about more global themes and scenarios, or even off-Earth. I still find it hard to write in English things that are very Brazilian in essence; I don't want to be labeled as an “exotic” writer, so that's still a thing I must come to terms with.
K: When it comes to keeping up with the pace of technological change – as “The Remaker” partly addresses – how do you see privilege (class/nationality/gender/etc.) come into play?
F: I tried to portray a near future society which everything is subdued a bit – that is, the presence of IAs is as normal a thing as the use of iPhones, because these so-called artificial intelligences are mostly glorified errand boys with voices, so nobody gives a damn if they are really aware or not, as long as they do what their masters paid the corporations that created them to do. A similar thing happens with trans- and metagenders in this story. In fact, São Paulo is one of the most GLBT-friendly cities in the world (our Gay Pride parade is one of the biggest of all, if not the biggest), and there is more acceptance of trans individuals right now than ever in our history, so it’s not a far-fetched thing to extrapolate that a bit to 2026 and think our society will be really accepting and proud of diversity, in class, nationality (we're also receiving a lot of immigrants from Bolivia, Portugal, Haiti and a few from France, Spain and the USA, by the way) and gender.
K: Cyberpunk is clearly one of your generic inspirations in “The Remaker” – what draws/drew you to the subgenre? Many argue that cyberpunk is long-dead, but your story, in my opinion is an example of a current take on the subgenre. How would you classify (post)cyberpunk today?
F: I’ve been considered a steampunk author of late (see The Steampunk Bible, for instance, and a small participation in Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's Steampunk II), but I was a cyberpunk writer in Brazil since I first read Neuromancer in 1989. So, even though I'm writing in a lot of different subgenres now (I'm just finishing a space opera novella, and I edited a New Weird anthology in Brazil, which has also a story of mine in it), I was always a punk by heart, and a cyberpunk by gut and gusto. I believe we can’t afford not to be post-cyberpunks today, given the current economic situation in the world. Social unrest continues, economic crises abound, and even countries like Brazil, which are far better now than when the Cyberpunk Movement was active, still suffer from a series of maladies (problems in healthcare, education, and drug dealing, to name a few) which should give us enough reasons to think twice before abandoning cyberpunk scenarios and motifs.
K: Lastly, “The Remaker” deals with issues of ownership and authority over creative works. What kind of future do your foresee for copyrights over creative works? Is this an area where science fiction writers can lead the way (I'm thinking of writers like Cory Doctorow)? By opening up creative works for further engagement by others, do we also open up a more inclusive space for marginalized/outlaw bodies to make their own mark? What is your take on the future of copyright?
F: I fervently hope that copyright as we know it today will be dead sometime in the next two or three decades. I don't think Cory Doctorow is making any less money that he would make if he had chosen the traditional copyright path. Besides, a very important thing writers should not forget is that writing is just part of the process. I recommend the beautiful documentary José e Pilar, about the last years of José Saramago. The documentary was as much focused on his relationship with his wife, journalist and translator Pilar del Río, as it is in all his travels to participate in conventions, literary fairs and lectures. This is an important part of the writer’s work, and it probably (I'm thinking now in the lesser known writers, who don't make much money with the royalties of their books) is her/his main source of income. Writers are like musicians: first you create, then you go meet your audience, not only to do book signings, but also to talk to them, about literature, about your work, about whatever the writer feels comfortable to talk about. And earn money with it. I believe this process should be honed so the writer can make more money with this post-writing work, in the very least.
K: Thank you for considering these questions Fabio. Your answers are enlightening and show a hope for the future of outlaw bodies – wherever they may reside. I appreciate your time and effort!
F: Thank you, Kathryn! I loved the questions!
In only two weeks from today, I will be off to Chicago for Chicon 7 - The 70th World Science Fiction Convention. To say that I am looking forward to it is an understatement. I am totally excited! Being my third time attending, I feel like I have a good grasp on how to navigate the con. At the top of my list of things-to-do this year is attend lots of author readings and try and stay awake past 9:00pm so that I can go to the parties. I'm also happy to be a panelist this year. At Anticipations (Montreal) and Renovations (Reno) I delivered academic papers, but didn't want to go that route this year (which is good, seeing as there is no academic track as far as I can tell). While it is still possible that it might change (especially in terms of my fellow panelists), here is my draft panel schedule:
Thursday 3:00 - 4:30 The Alien as Metaphor
Movie aliens aren't real aliens; they're humans in disguise. What do movie and TV aliens tell us about us? Is it surprising that during the Cold War the enemy aliens were often from Mars... the "Red Planet?" Do the aliens of "Avatar" tell us something about how we exploit primitive cultures? Is "Paul" a variation of the "fan as Slan?" We have met the aliens and they are us.
Panelists: Daniel M.Kimmel, Eric Hayden, Jason Schachat, John G. Hemry/Jack Campbell, Me! (moderator)
Thursday 4:30 - 6:00 Should SF Be More Optimistic?
When authors talked about the slow pace of technological innovation, the technologists turned around and criticized science fiction for its lack of vision in recent years, saying SF authors spend too much time on dystopian visions like The Road, The Walking Dead, and the I, Robot film. What happened to the optimistic future of Star Trek? Are writers spending too much effort on worst-case scenarios instead of what might be accomplished? Is any of this the fault of readers, publishers, or media companies?
Panelists: Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, Me!, Katy Stauber, Lynda Williams ORU (moderator), Niall Harrison
Sunday 9:00 - 10:30 Fat People in Space
Based on our genre, there aren\'t any. Why not?
Panelists: Farah Mendlesohn (moderator), Julia S. Mandala, Me!, Petrea Mitchell
Sunday 3:00 - 4:30 Innerspace vs. Outerspace
Are the stars, or even the solar system, in humanity's future? Recent progress in genetics, neuroscience, computing, and nanotechnology has far outstripped progress in space exploration or travel. The problems that press on people and society the most - health care, aging, mental health, energy supplies, a damaged environment - have more to do with managing our planet than venturing into space. Should science fiction spend more time on the topics of inner space than outer space?
Panelists: Bill Higgins (moderator), Edward M. Lerner, Me!, Tad Daley
Overall, I am happy with the topics, but I wish that I had better time slots. I guess as a newbie to the SF community, I'm off to as good of a start as anyone, so I'm certainly not complaining. I do find the gender break down of the panelists interesting. For instance, there aren't any men listed on the "Fat People in Space" panel, and there are no women panelists on the "Alien as Metaphor" panel (except for me of course, but I'm listed as moderator). Gender parity is definitely something I will be paying closer attention to this year.
I hope that I will be able to reconnect with all of the cool people I met at previous cons, as well as get to know a whole lot more. I'm ready Chicago!
Paradoxa is seeking submissions of previously unpublished essays on subjects related to AFRICAN SCIENCE FICTION
In 2010, Pumzi, the first Kenyan sf movie, won the best short film award at the Cannes Independent Film Festival, and the South African co-production District 9 was nominated for multiple Oscars. In 2011, Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor became the first author of African extraction to win the World Fantasy Award, with Who Fears Death, and South African Lauren Beukes became the first person from Africa to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award, with Zoo City.
Recent journal issues (African Identities 7.2, Science Fiction Studies 102, Social Text 20.2), edited collections (Barr's Afro-Future Females) and monographs (Lavender's Race in American Science Fiction, Nama's Black Space and Super Black) have been devoted to afrofuturism, African-American sf and African Americans in sf. In addition, there have been numerous publications on the relationships among sf, imperialism, colonialism, postcolonialism, globalization and Empire (cf. Science Fiction Studies 118, Hoagland/Sarwal's Science Fiction, Imperialism and the Third World, Kerslake's Science Fiction and Empire, Langer?s Postcolonialism and Science Fiction, Raja/Ellis/ Nandi's The Postnational Fantasy, Rieder's Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction).
Yet sf from Africa, and the Africa(s) in sf, remain relatively unexplored. In order to address this lacuna, the "Africa SF" issue of Paradoxa is interested in essays that address:
1. Critical work on sf by Africans, including such novels as Mohammed Dib's Who Remembers the Sea (1962), Sony Labou Tansi's Life and a Half (1977), Kojo Laing's Woman of the Aeroplanes (1988), Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars (1992) and Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters (2006), Ng'g' wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow (2006), Lauren Beukes' Moxyland (2008) and Zoo City (2010), and Ahmed Khaled Towfik's Utopia (2008), and such films as Sankofa (Gerima 1993), Les Saignantes (Bekolo 2005), Africa Paradis (Amoussou 2006), District 9 (Blomkamp 2009), Pumzi (Kahiu 2009), and Kajola (Akinmolayan 2010). Can such novels as Ousmane Sembene's The Last of the Empire (1981) and Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's I Do Not Come to You By Chance (2009) be productively read as sf? Is there African sf produced in other media?
2. Critical work on Afrodiasporic authors, filmmakers, musicians and artists, especially as they address Africa, imperialism, colonialism, postcolonialism, globalization, Empire, and/or diaspora, such as Steven Barnes, Octavia Butler, Copperwire, Samuel R. Delany, Tananarive Due, Minister Faust, Andrea Hairston, Pauline Hopkins, Nalo Hopkinson, T. Shirby Hodge, Anthony Joseph, LaBelle, Nnedi Okorafor, Outkast, Parliament-Funkadelic, Charles Saunders, George S Schuyler, Nishi Shawl, Sun Ra, and John A. Williams.
3. Critical work on the representation of Africa in sf by non-African authors, such as JG Ballard, VF Calverton, George Alec Effinger, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Theodor Hertzka, Julian Huxley, AM Lightner, Ian MacDonald, Mike Resnick, Mack Reynolds, Jules Verne, as well as in comics (e.g., Marvel's Black Panther, the British-authored Nigerian Powerman) and other media.
Prospective contributors may contact the guest editor with questions about a particular topic's appropriateness. Double-spaced submissions should be between 6,000 and 10,000 words in length, not including “Works Cited,” and prepared in accordance with MLA style. Please forward manuscripts as MS Word attachments. Within the email itself include name, affiliation, 250-word abstract, and any other relevant information. Submissions should be directed to Paradoxa's guest editor, Mark Bould at mark.bould[at]gmail.com by March 1, 2013. For more information about Paradoxa see www.paradoxa.com.
The current furor over the University of Birmingham offering an “honorary" research assistant position has caused me to reflect on my own unpaid scholarly pursuits. It is absolutely wrong for a university to expect their research workforce to perform for free, but as an independent scholar, the unpaid aspect of the work – and for me it is work, not a hobby – is a necessary given. At least once a week, when I’m up against a deadline of my own making, I think to myself (usually out loud to the increasing annoyance of my partner), “Why am I doing this again?” When you are working “for free” it is important to be clear about the purpose of your efforts (otherwise, you’ll lose motivation and accomplish nothing). Increasingly, this blog pulls in traffic from people looking for more information (ideas?) about being an independent scholar. There are growing numbers of MAs and PhDs out there who are hesitant to lay down their research books simply because they aren’t in a teaching or tenure-track position at a university. I think that this is a good thing.
For the curious and the disbelieving alike, here are a few of the benefits of being an independent scholar:
While the current academic job market and over-production of professionally unprepared PhDs (in the Humanities and Social Sciences) are not ideal situations, the fact that more post-graduate degree holders are seeking outside alternatives to researching and publishing can only increase awareness that there is a need for higher education reform. The vast majority of PhDs who leave academe for non-academic jobs aren’t solicited for their opinions on their experience of graduate education, nor are they an audible voice in advocating for reform. Once out of the university system most PhDs get on with their lives, and rightly so, but their silence makes it harder to convince people within and outside of academe that reform is needed.
For myself, transitioning from a PhD student who advocated for more transparency (in regards to funding and academic job market figures) into a fully fledged independent scholar was a relatively easy decision. Once I admitted to myself that I still desired to continue my studies on my own, I realized that I was also placing myself in a unique position to voice my concerns about the faltering state of graduate education in North America. As an independent scholar who attends academic conferences and engages with my academic peers online, I have kept one foot in the door of the Ivory Tower. From the threshold, I get to tell those inside exactly why I left academia (while demonstrating my academic competence) and the public on the outside can hear me too. As an independent scholar, I know that my voice is being heard without any professional risk.
When I left academe, I said good-bye to a formal system of professional support and community. Now I work at home. By myself. I interact with my clients through email and phone conversations, so my work life can feel fairly isolated sometimes. In addition to making me a memorable individual at business networking events (since no one else has “independent SF scholar” on their business card), my independent scholarship fulfills my need to be part of a larger community. Through my participation in the science fiction community – both academic and fannish – I get to meet and talk with people whose intellectual passions mirror my own.
At academic conferences, I enjoy the opportunity to be among my scholarly peers and get caught up with the latest research in my wider field of study. At SF conventions, I meet other fans from diverse walks of life and have fun participating as an “expert” on panels. By identifying myself as an independent scholar, especially within the fan community, I occupy a unique position of expertise that has connected me with some of my favourite writers and created new friendships and work partnerships.
I get to read and write about whatever I want for whomever I want. It’s wonderful not having to worry about funding or departmental politics that (not-so) quietly dictate what one should or should not study. While I was a grad student, I deeply felt pressure to perform intellectually in specific ways that were not necessarily natural or agreeable to me. As an independent scholar, I never worry about whether or not my research is in vogue at the moment. If a peer-reviewed journal isn’t interested in my latest article, no big deal. I’ll send it to an SF-blog or post it on my own instead. My goal is to put my work out there for other interested parties to read – where that place is (online or in print, academic journal or SF book review blog), doesn’t matter to me so much.
Being an independent scholar has also given me the confidence to take risks in my intellectual pursuits. Freed from the pressures of academia, where publishing success determines advancement and changing one’s disciplinary focus is an arduous process, I find myself sketching out projects that I never considered before. If I’m going to be an independent scholar, I might as well take risks with that scholarship. While I still fully intend to keep my SF research going, I have decided that my next book-length project will be on theory – I want to rethink and reframe the concept of agency. Not a small task. Just writing that out for public eyes makes me sweat a bit, but it’s also damn exciting. Independent scholarship doesn’t come with a set of rules and regulations, so why contain my intellectual efforts to what I already know (and what already exists)?
Above all else, it feels wonderful to be able to do the work that I was trained to do. I spent six years in graduate school learning how to be a researcher, writer, and educator because I enjoyed those roles. While I get to put my skills into practice through my paid working engagements (as an academic coach and copyeditor), my time is spent helping other people with their intellectual or professional pursuits. I absolutely love working with my clients, but I still have a strong desire to do independent research into my own areas of interest. If anything, I am more motivated to keep my clients happy because their business gives me the financial freedom to take the time to write academic articles and attend SF cons.
In the past year, I have surprised myself at the level of success I have already achieved as an independent scholar – by the end of next year, I will hopefully have published at least three peer-reviewed articles, one peer-reviewed book (my edited essay collection, Technology as Cure: Representation of Disability in Science Fiction), and three non-academic pieces of writing. This list doesn’t include all of the smaller writing and SF-fandom projects that I’m involved in or the conferences/conventions at which I will be presenting . Basically, I experience all the best parts of being an academic without the institutional constraints.
Being an independent scholar is not for everyone. It requires a certain privileged position – I have a full-time working partner, no children, and state heathcare – and a willingness to work with no expectation of financial reward. I’ve become a firm believer, however, that one should live their passion. For me, I want a life full of science fiction and life-long learning. Even though this work will not produce any income (and often costs money to pursue), the benefits I have experienced as an independent scholar make the financial sacrifice worth it.
What does it mean to be “well-read?” This is a question that I have spent a good deal time thinking about the past several months. For most of my life, “well-read” has meant someone who had read the entire English literary canon and can throw off opinions on writers from Homer to Shakespeare to Faulkner. I vividly remember preparing myself for my undergraduate education by going to the public library to read “the Classics.” What I didn’t anticipate at the time, however, was how boring I would find them. Now I appreciate the value in reading “foundational Western literature,” but few canonical tomes have ever really excited me or made me think, “Wow, I want to read more of that!” Accompanying my lack of interest in these must-read texts was a sense of guilt and worry – I should enjoy Dickens, but I just don’t. Do I not understand the appeal? Everybody else in my first year English class seemed to love carrying around their Norton Anthology of Literature, but I simply performed the work I was tasked with little joy.
Since I had a lack of interest in the canon, I pursued courses in other genres of literature throughout my undergrad when I could: environmental writing, regional-Western Canadian poetry, Russian literature of the 20th century (Bulgakov, not Tolstoy). The result of my careful picking and choosing around the core-required courses is that I had read a little bit of everything from everywhere. If there were gaps in my knowledge of the canon, surely this would not be held against me when I entered into my Master’s degree.
During grad school, unfortunately, any confidence I had gained from undergrad was quickly stamped out. I almost consistently felt – and was made to feel by many of my peers – like I was embarrassingly “under-read.” I can’t even count the number of time where a (usually male) colleague said to me, “Oh! You haven’t read that?” Regardless of how they framed their derision, their meaning was clear: I was not as well-read as them and therefore somehow less intelligent/undeserving of graduate education/an idiot. I now know that much of this kind of combative conversation and literary peacockery is tied into gendered and classed ways of discourse, and academia encourages the assessment of one’s intelligence based on who/what they have read.
Of course, being well-read is important when you are an academic. Clearly, if you are researching and writing about a particular topic, it is best that you know as much about it as possible. But the distinction between what you need to read and what you should read is complicated and always changing. What you “should read” is often politically driven, based on which academic celebrity is in vogue this year, which splinter discipline is grabbing all the funding, etc. In my experience, peers who came from well-to-do homes were much “better read” than myself. By belittling my literary experience, these people were also reminding me, perhaps unintentionally, that I was outside of the norm. I was not, for all intensive purposes, “well-read” (which is too close to “well-bred” for my comfort).
One of the ways in which people (in academia, or really anyplace where there are pretentious jerks) maintain the illusion of their being “well-read” is to dismiss the knowledge of others. When I said, “I’m working with feminist SF writers,” snobbish colleagues would retort, “Have you read [insert whatever SF writer that they have read]?” Even if the conversation got to the point where I told them about the writers that I was working with, writers unfamiliar to them, these privileged peers would still insist in eliding my interests with theirs, which, by default, were better, smarter, more important and worthy of study. It sucked to be continually intellectually marginalized, but I kept on reading what I enjoyed despite my sense of genre-induced isolation.
When I first started involving myself with SF fandom, I brought all of my grad school insecurities with me. At the first con I attended (WorldCon in Montreal), I was overwhelmed at how well-read the other fans were that I was meeting. I only knew the little corner of feminist SF that I had studied for my dissertation. There was just so much SF out there that I hadn’t even heard of, never mind read. But, unlike my grad school peers, most of the fans I talked with weren’t condescending when I said, “I haven’t read that yet.” It really hit home to me that I was in a different world of reading when I explained my interest in feminist SF … and people not only asked me who my favourites were, but they wanted my recommendations! Up until that con, no one I talked to about my work asked me what they should read. Reciprocal interest AND respect? I hardly knew how to respond!
Instead of a verbal game of one-up-manship or a pure info-dump, the majority of people I talk to at cons are interested in sharing resources with me. I’m not saying that there aren’t still politics and power issues at play at cons when it comes to “the books that you should read” (because there most certainly are problems), but that there is a greater general openness to a variety of engagements with genre which is simply not as present within academe.
My experience with fandom, then, is a mixed bag when it comes to people using the phrase “well-read.” Since SF has so many subgenres, and many that bleed into the larger genres of fantasy and horror, very few people can claim to be well-read in all of it. Going to SF cons has helped me appreciate what it means to be truly well-read. If I’m sitting next to someone in their late-50’s who has been reading SF since they were a teenager, there is no way that my five years of directed scholarly SF readership will match their experience. And chances are good that they haven’t read the disgusting amounts of academic theory that I have, which help me frame my SF readings in, I hope, unique and productive ways.
I feel increasingly more comfortable in telling people, “I have not read that! I’ll put it on my list.” I have turned my lack of knowledge into opportunities to connect and learn from other fans. It’s impossible to read everything and I’ve finally stopped trying – and caring – to do so. By being amongst a diverse group of fannish people, I better understand the inherent unfairness of the phrase “well-read.” The amount and kind of books that I have read are dependent on the time, money, education, and health that are available to me at any given moment. These are factors with which we all must contend, but few acknowledge in their evaluation of what it means to be “well-read.”
I am happy with my little corner of books, but I still I want to read more and I want read widely. I am, however, constrained by finances, time, and ability. I would rather sit down with a person who has read a few novels well, than with somebody who has read a lot of books just for the sake of having read them. I’m sure that I will continue to encounter people who have read everything and think that they are better for it. But I don’t give them my time or attention anymore. I’m interested in learning about people’s passions – why did a certain book grab them, what do they recommend? To me, to be “well-read,” then, has come to mean “to love-what-you’re-reading.” More sharing, less judgement. Let's throw out the literary yard sticks!
Now help me decide on what book I should read next …
Yesterday, I finally sat down and did some project management for my work life. Without intending it, I have officially become one of those people who must plan out their appointments and deadlines weeks – if not months – in advance. I am taking this new need for long-term planning as a sure sign that I am a fully functioning, on-my-way-to-success, real live Independent Scholar. It turns outs that all I needed to do to get to this point of alternative employment, was to start doing it. Like client work, interesting scholarship is rarely going to fall in your lap – you need to create opportunities for it to happen.
Last August I pitched my idea for Technology as Cure? Representations of Disability in Science Fiction [working title] at WorldCon, and by the winter I was selecting the essays that would make up the collection. Now it’s May, and I am writing the Introduction to the book, while my contributors buckle down on their second draft. My goal is have the full drafted manuscript off to the publishers for peer review in mid-summer. I am damn excited about this project – the contributors have written excellent, ground-breaking work and it seems that many people I meet are keen on picking up the book when it comes off the press. While I am still without a contract for the collection, I am fully confident that I will have one by the end of the year (if not much sooner).
In my role as editor of the volume, I have gone through a crash course in academic publishing. In many ways, the process is a lot less intimidating than I first imagined. I was worried that both academics and publishers would be uninterested in working with me, once they noticed my lack of university affiliation. But, like my experience at ICFA in March showed, I have not encountered any bias that was not easily overcome. Along every step of the editorial process for Technology as Cure, I have gone through bouts of self-doubt: Will this contributor respect my deadline? Will this seasoned academic be insulted by my request for extensive revisions? As always, my worry has been pointless. All of the contributors are committed to the project and I’ve discovered that I can edit with the best of them. It’s incredibly satisfying to be doing the kind of work that I was trained to do.
In order to give my recent scholarly activities adequate attention, I have had to limit the amount of paid client work I have been taking in. This meant making a financial sacrifice. And it’s been worth it. I have gone through a lot of soul searching this past year and I have had to evaluate life’s “big questions.” For me, it has come down to what I want out of my working life and I have chosen happiness, learning, and health over the potential to make more money. If I worked a traditional full-time office job, there is no way that I could pursue my research and writing into science fiction. Besides, I know for certain that traditional forms of employment are not for me – I’ve worked in various offices, taken on different roles within the academy, and no job has ever been fulfilling as the one I created for myself. I simply love being a self-employed scholar.
The next few months are going to be intense. Here is what’s on my plate right now: a few book reviews, paper at WisCon (May 23-28 in Madison, WI), wrapping up first full draft of Technology as Cure?, writing an Afterword to short story collection on “Outlaw Bodies” (Edited by Lori Selke and Djibril al-Ayad), submitting an article to JFA (special issue on the Canadian Fantastic), and offering feminist feedback on one of my new SF colleague’s novel. Plus whatever other random projects I end up taking on/falling into as I keep working with academic copyediting and coaching clients. My fall is shaping up to be just as busy – if not busier – in terms of scholarship, so I am trying my best to dedicate enough time for all of that reading and writing.
All of this happened because I started writing blog posts about my SF interests and joined in the SF community (making initial connection over Twitter, the only social network I am on - @BleedingChrome). Each connection I made gave me a little more confidence to take the next step, to propose bigger, more adventurous projects. I can’t think of one day in the past three weeks where I didn’t love what I was working on (both in terms of paid and unpaid work). While I still get stressed out about what my future will be like (because it is so uncertain), I am not overwhelmed by it anymore. Instead, each day, I look at my work calendar and think to myself “this is awesome!” And it is.